News Release Archive - 2012

On Budget Talks: “Close Offshore Tax Loopholes” Says Anti-Poverty Network

ERIC LeCOMPTE, JENNIFER TONG, [email]
LeCompte is executive director and Tong is communications director of the Jubilee USA Network, an alliance of religious denominations, human rights groups and development agencies focusing on global poverty.

The Network says in a recently-released statement: “If corporations paid the $150 billion in taxes that they avoid per year through offshore tax loopholes it would more than cover the $109 billion in automatic spending cuts that are set to begin on January 1, 2013. … These loopholes allow many of America’s largest corporations and wealthiest individuals to avoid taxes by using accounting gimmicks to shift profits made in America to offshore tax havens, where they pay little to no taxes. At least 83 of the top 100 publicly traded corporations in the U.S. make use of tax havens, including Walmart, Coca Cola and Pfizer. When these corporations skip out on their taxes, U.S. citizens are left to pick up the tab. Reclaiming the $150 billion lost to offshore tax loopholes would more than cover the $109 billion in automatic spending cuts that will take effect in 2013 if Congress fails to avert the fiscal cliff. …

“More than half of all banking assets and a third of multinational company investments are routed through tax havens. It is estimated that for every $10 a country receives in development aid, $15 exits the country as a result of tax dodging. Corporations are operating in developing countries and robbing resources by using offshore tax havens to hide their money instead of paying their taxes — curbing this behavior at home sends a message that it should not be tolerated around the world.”

Social Security Facts: Doesn’t Add to the Debt; Is a Bigger Creditor than China

As many continue to call for cuts to Social Security around the so-called “fiscal cliff” talks, a leading analyst on Social Security is available for comment.

NANCY ALTMAN [email]
Co-director of Social Security Works, Altman said today: “There is much confusion about Social Security’s relationship to the federal debt of the United States. The issue is not one of opinion or point of view, but fact. The debt of the United States is subject to a statutory limit, which must be raised from time to time in order for the government to issue additional bonds, which in turn is necessary to ensure that the government can continue to function and does not come to a grinding halt. The fact is that cutting Social Security’s benefits does not create any additional room under the debt limit; it does not change by a single day how soon the nation hits that limit. This is counterintuitive and different from cuts to military, agriculture or other federal spending. But it is hard, cold fact. Social Security has no borrowing authority. It is a creditor, not a debtor. The United States has a total debt of around $16 trillion, $2.7 trillion of which is owed to Social Security, that is, to the workers of this nation and their families.”

Background: China is commonly referred to as “the largest lender to the United States” as in this layout by the New York Times “Who Is Owed by the United States.” But China holds about $1.2 trillion of U.S. debt — less than half that of Social Security.

UN Finally Acting on Cholera in Haiti

The United Nations has announced the launch this afternoon of “the Secretary-General’s Initiative for the Elimination of Cholera in Haiti.”

BEATRICE LINDSTROM, [email] Lindstrom is a staff attorney with the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, which filed a lawsuit against the UN on behalf of thousands of Haitian cholera victims last year. She said: “We are pleased that the UN is finally acting in accord with its legal obligations and taking action to eliminate cholera. This is a positive first step, but there is still a long way to go before justice is served and no time to lose.  Haitians will continue to die needlessly until there is clean water.  Haitian families who have already lost everything to cholera have the right to be made legally whole and deserve a formal recognition of responsibility from the UN.”

Oliver Stone and Just Foreign Policy launched an Avaaz petition for the UN to take responsibility for cholera in Haiti: “The people of Haiti are fighting a deadly cholera epidemic introduced by UN troops that has killed thousands and sickened hundreds of thousands more. Since it caused this catastrophe, let’s push the UN to help Haitians stamp out killer cholera for good.

“Since it began in October 2010, Haiti’s cholera epidemic has killed over 7,700 and brought untold suffering to poor communities, as the prize-winning documentary “Baseball in the Time of Cholera” vividly depicts. Although doctors, scientists, and even UN Special Envoy Bill Clinton recognize that UN troops brought the epidemic to Haiti, the organization has refused to take responsibility.”

HSBC Case: Are Huge Banks Now Too Big to Indict?

The New York Times reports this morning: “State and federal authorities decided against indicting HSBC in a money-laundering case over concerns that criminal charges could jeopardize one of the world’s largest banks and ultimately destabilize the global financial system. … While the settlement with HSBC is a major victory for the government, the case raises questions about whether certain financial institutions, having grown so large and interconnected, are too big to indict.”

RUSSELL MOKHIBER [email]
Editor of Corporate Crime Reporter, Mokhiber said today: “Twenty years ago, if major corporations engaged in criminal wrongdoing, they would be forced to plead guilty to a crime. Today, if major corporations engage in criminal wrongdoing, they get deferred or nonprosecution agreements. These agreements were intended for minor street crimes, not major corporate crimes. But the corporate crime bar has flipped the practice so that now these agreements are the way major corporate crime cases are settled. According to press reports, prosecutors working the HSBC case wanted to force the giant UK bank to at least plead guilty to Bank Secrecy charges. But higher ups in the Obama administration warned about the effects of a guilty plea on the broader economy. Obama has set in stone a double standard of justice — deferred prosecutions or no prosecution for corporate criminals, guilty pleas for living, breathing criminals.”

Analysts Criticize Kristof’s Arguments for Cutting Supplemental Security for Children with Severe Disabilities

SHAWN FREMSTAD, [email]
REBECCA VALLAS, [email]

Senior research associate at the Center for Economic Policy Research, Fremstad just wrote the piece “Nicholas Kristof Bravely Urges Congress to Cut Supplemental Security for Children with Severe Disabilities,” which states: “In Sunday’s New York Times, Nicholas Kristof tells us that he hopes ‘budget negotiations in Washington may offer us a chance to take money from SSI [Supplemental Security for low-income children with severe disabilities] and invest it in early childhood initiatives.’ In essence, we need to destroy an effective social insurance program for children with severe disabilities in order to … Save the Children!

“In the real world, these two things — basic economic supports for low-income parents caring for severely disabled children and educational initiatives — are complementary. … But in Kristof’s World, which based on his opinion piece, appears to be located in the small, all-white and staunchly Red-voter Breathitt County in rural Kentucky, economic support for parents caring for disabled children and early childhood programs only work at cross purposes. Citing anecdotal evidence from a sample of one person living there as well as the testimony of a long-standing critic of Supplemental Security who has proposed block-granting it, Kristof sensationally claims that parents are ‘profiting from children’s illiteracy’ and pulling their kids out of literacy classes in order to keep them disabled and eligible for Supplemental Security.”

Vallas is a staff attorney and policy advocate at Community Legal Services in Philadelphia. She said today:”Kristof’s allegation that low-income Kentucky families are pulling their children out of literacy programs in hopes that they’ll qualify for SSI amounts to the worst kind of demonization of the poor. It also fundamentally misunderstands the SSI program. Instead of spinning myths about a vital program, let’s get the facts straight.

“Illiteracy in and of itself is not a basis for SSI eligibility. A child must have a medically documented impairment that results in “marked and severe functional limitations” in order to qualify for benefits.  Inability to read at grade level may be an indicator of a learning disorder or other mental impairment, but on its own is not sufficient to qualify for SSI.  Likewise, doing well in school doesn’t mean a child will lose benefits. Academic performance is just one evidentiary factor considered in evaluating a child’s eligibility for SSI.

“Media-driven claims alleging supposedly widespread fraud in the SSI program have become a time-honored tradition. Yet at each juncture, they’ve been shown to be unsupported by the facts. In the mid-1990s, a flurry of media reports accusing parents ‘coaching’ their children to ‘act disabled’ for purposes of SSI eligibility caused Congress to narrow the eligibility rules and cause more than a hundred thousand children with disabilities to lose critically needed benefits. Those claims were later shown by GAO, SSA, HHS and a score of other investigations to be baseless – but the damage had already been done. Congress had already legislated by anecdote. …”

Fremstad said: “This year marks the 40th anniversary of Supplemental Security Income. Signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1972 with broad bipartisan support, Supplemental Security provides basic income supplements to millions of seniors and people with severe disabilities.  Unfortunately, media coverage of Supplemental Security too often amounts to little more than recycling ‘urban myths’ about the program, especially when it comes to benefits for children with severe mental impairments, instead of accurately reporting on the real ways it improves their lives.”

Fremstad and Vallas recently co-wrote the report “Supplemental Security Income for Children with Disabilities” [PDF] for the National Academy of Social Insurance. Among their findings, Supplemental Security:

* “Reduces costly and harmful institutionalization of children with severe disabilities by supporting family-centered care.

* “Reduces poverty and increases economic security by offsetting some of the extra costs and lost parental income associated with raising a child with a severe disability.

* “Supports work and education for parents and youth.

* “Reduces financial and other stressors that can adversely affect parental well-being and can lead to separation or divorce.”

Protests Against Betrayal of “Nobel’s Will”

Reuters reports today: “Around a thousand members of left-wing and human rights groups marched in Oslo on Sunday to protest against the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union. … Past prize winners Desmond Tutu, Adolfo Perez Esquivel and Mairead Maguire have also said the EU does not deserve the award.”

The three Peace Prize recipients recently wrote: “The European Union, announced by the Norwegian Nobel Committee as the winner of the peace prize for 2012, clearly is not one of ‘the champions of peace’ Alfred Nobel had in mind when he described the purpose in his will. We ask the Board of the Foundation to clarify that it cannot and will not pay the prize from its funds. …The purpose of the peace prize is clarified by recent research. In 2008 Fredrik S. Heffermehl, a Norwegian lawyer and author and a former IPB [International Peace Bureau] Vice President, published the first known legal study of the prize and its purpose. In 2010 he published “The Nobel Peace Prize: What Nobel Really Wanted” (Praeger, 2010), with later updates in Chinese, Finnish and Swedish (Leopard, 2011).” See full text of their letter.

FREDRIK HEFFERMEHL, [email]
Author of “The Nobel Peace Prize: What Nobel Really Wanted,” Heffermehl said this morning on the program Democracy Now!: “The Prize has come to serve the exact opposite of what it was intended to serve … to support the work for breaking the military tradition and creating global peace or demilitarized global peace order. It’s a very radical idea.”
Heffermehl said today: “A summit of the European Union that today receives a prize that pretends to serve Alfred Nobel´s peace plan, will this coming Friday adopt a military cooperation program that spits in the face of the peace by disarmament ideas Nobel wished to support by his prize for a global demilitarization of international relations. … The peace movement Nobel wished to support has protested against the prize to the EU and — if the Swedish authorities fail to intervene and stop payment — is considering legal action against the Nobel Foundation in protection of their rights.

“Nobel wished to support the peace movement in political opposition to traditional official military and power politics. In his will Nobel calls the recipients the ‘champions of peace’ (fredsförfäktare, Friedensverfechter) no doubt having in mind the movement working for a demilitarized global peace order (eine entmilitarisierte ‘Völkerverbrüderung’).”

See full text of Nobel’s will, which calls for the Peace Prize to be awarded to those who have done the most “…for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”

Doha Deal will Result in “Unprecedented Ecological and Social Collapse”

MEGAN VAN BUSKIRK via John Foran,  [email], @m_cvb
Buskirk is with the Canadian Youth Delegation. She said today: “The fossil fuel industry has a plan to burn over five times the amount of carbon our atmosphere has room for, and with projects like the tar sands, the Bakken oil shale and other extreme extraction technologies, they want to go beyond that. Simply put, the failure in Doha underlies a simple point: we can either have a healthy planet, or a profitable fossil fuel empire — not both.”

MICHAEL K. DORSEY [in Doha, Qatar (GMT+3) until late Dec. 8], [email], @GreenHejira
Dorsey is a visiting fellow and professor of environmental policy at Wesleyan University’s College of the Environment, concentrating on issues of international equity, politics of biodiversity and environmental justice with a focus on Amazonia. He said today: “After two weeks of negotiations, the final texts emerging from the climate talks here in Doha, Qatar will put the planet on a doomsday course. … The proposed cuts of 20 percent by 2020 are meaningless when the European Union has already reduced emissions by 18 percent. African countries demanding cuts of 40 to 50 percent to have a chance of limiting climate change to 2 degrees — will see unprecedented ecological and social collapse because of the Doha Deal. …

“Rich countries have failed to make any collective financial commitments to enable developing countries to adapt to climate change and make the transition to a low emissions future. The Doha Deal continues to prop up collapsing carbon markets and promotes welfare for fossil fuel polluters. We desperately need a plan to shutter these toxic markets. The people of the planet need more urgent action on cutting climate pollution. We must have a plan on the books, at the multilateral level, to defund the fossil fuel sector.”

SIMONE LOVERA, [email], ANNE PETERMANN  [email]
Based in Paraguay, Lovera is the executive director of the Global Forest Coalition. Petermann is executive director of the Global Justice Ecology Project. They put out a news release yesterday Forest Groups Denounce False Solutions to Forest Loss at UN Climate Summit,” which states: “As negotiations failed to finalize an agreement on a controversial forest policy called REDD+ during the ongoing UN Framework Convention on Climate Change talks in Doha, forest groups published a letter challenging claims that the drivers of forest change are being addressed by countries within the REDD+ negotiations. Negotiations on REDD+ turned sour in Doha as developing countries realized they can expect very little funding for this highly controversial forest scheme over the coming years.”

TOM GOLDTOOTH, [email], via John Foran, [email]
Goldtooth is the executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network. He said today: “Hurricane Sandy; Typhoon Bopha; the continued melting of the ice in the Arctic directly impacting the livelihood of its Arctic Indigenous peoples; to drought conditions throughout the world. Mother Earth is speaking. Nature is speaking, but the government parties here at COP 18 are not listening.” Goldtooth appeared on Democracy Now! this morning. Foran is professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Egypt: Who Does Morsi Represent?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS [email], @sharifkouddous
Available for a limited number of interviews, Sharif Abdel Kouddous is a Democracy Now! correspondent based in Cairo. He reported this morning: “Six people were killed [in protests]. Over 670 have been injured. And many are laying the blame for this violence at the foot of President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. …

“The Muslim Brotherhood is saying, ‘Look, we’re allowing for the democratic process to take place. If in fact there is a majority that does not approve this constitution, then let them speak at the polls. Let them speak with their votes.’ However, the opposition is saying that this is a false choice that is being presented to them, that on the one hand, there’s a choice of accepting a constitution that many members of the opposition, as well as members of the Coptic Christian church, Egypt’s [largest] minority group, did not have a hand in passing, and on the other hand, if the constitution is voted down, there has been no clear plan given by the president of what would happen then. Presumably, Morsi would retain these unchecked and sweeping powers that he granted himself in the decree. So, they’re saying that this is a false choice being presented to them.”

NOHA RADWAN [email]
Associate professor of Arabic and comparative literature at University of California at Davis, Radwan was born in Egypt and was among the participants in the 18-day Tahrir protests in Jan-Feb. 2011. She said today: “In addition to the valid claims of being unethical, unpatriotic and contrary to the teachings of Islam that are filling the Egyptian media and most of its households, I would also add that the violent assaults orchestrated by the Muslim Brothers against the demonstrators protesting Morsi’s most recent constitutional decree outside of Al-Ittihadiyya presidential palace yesterday, December 5. 2012, are a tactical error on the part of the Brotherhood. It is an act of arrogance and hubris that will undoubtedly affect their future negatively and significantly. …

“It has already lost President Morsi any legitimacy he may have had in the eyes of the Egyptians who were willing to give him a chance to prove that he was ‘a president for all Egyptians’ as he repeatedly claimed and not a ‘president for the Brotherhood’ as his detractors insisted.”

Radwan notes that Morsi also failed to address “the country’s chronic problems of poverty and unemployment and a debilitating inequality in income and wealth distribution that most view as a ticking time bomb.” Instead, his government pursued “a mad run for investments, primarily from the Saudis and the Qataris and for international capital in the form of donations or even loans.

“This is not the planning of reformers, activists or even politicians and aspirants for power. This the planning of capitalists and business entrepreneurs, not surprising if one believes along with many observers of the Muslim Brotherhood that the real decisions of the Brotherhood and the presidency are currently being made not by Morsi or the Brotherhood’s supreme leader, Muhammad Badie, but by its deputy chairman and former candidate, Khairat al-Shatir. Al-Shatir is a self-declared multi-million dollar business tycoon whose wealth and business interests have neither been denied by him or unknown to others.” See in Salon: “Demonized in the U.S. as radical terrorists, Egypt’s Islamists are actually led by free-market businessmen.”

Walmart Pushes Workers onto Medicaid as Obamacare Architect Goes to Big Pharma — and the Blogger who Predicted Both

MARCY WHEELER [email], @emptywheel
The Huffington Post recently reported in “Walmart’s New Health Care Policy Shifts Burden To Medicaid, Obamacare” that “Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, plans to begin denying health insurance to newly hired employees who work fewer than 30 hours a week, according to a copy of the company’s policy obtained by The Huffington Post. … ‘Walmart is effectively shifting the costs of paying for its employees onto the federal government with this new plan, which is one of the problems with the way the law is structured,’ said Ken Jacobs, chairman of the Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley.”

Wheeler — who blogs at EmptyWheel.net — just wrote the piece “Walmart Takes Advantage of Health ‘Reform’ It Championed,” which states: “What HuffPo doesn’t mention in its piece on this, though, is that this is all presumably by design. Walmart, after all, was one of the partners behind the push for Obamacare. In fact, as things started to drag in summer 2009, Walmart partnered with Center for American Progress and SEIU to try to nudge the process along.”

Wheeler wrote in 2009: “The one way — just about the only way — a large employer can dodge responsibility for paying something for its employees is if its employees happen to qualify for Medicaid.

“If Walmart wanted to avoid paying anything for its employees [under “Obamacare”], it could simply make sure that none of them made more than $14,403 a year (they’d have to do this by ensuring their employees worked fewer than 40 hours a week, since this works out to be slightly less than minimum wage). Or, a single mom with two kids could make $24,352 — a whopping $11.71 an hour, working full time. That’s more than the average Wal-Mart employee made last year. So long as Walmart made sure its employees applied for Medicaid (something it already does in states where its employees are eligible), it would pay nothing. Nada, zip. Nothing.”

Wheeler similarly highlighted the revolving door aspects of who was behind the legislation at the time. Glenn Greenwald just wrote the piece “Obamacare Architect leaves White House for Pharmaceutical Industry Job,” noting “Few people embody the corporatist revolving door greasing Washington as purely as Elizabeth Fowler. … When the legislation that became known as ‘Obamacare’ was first drafted, the key legislator was the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus, whose committee took the lead in drafting the legislation. As Baucus himself repeatedly boasted, the architect of that legislation was Elizabeth Folwer, his chief health policy counsel; indeed, as Marcy Wheeler discovered, it was Fowler who actually drafted it. As Politico put it at the time: ‘If you drew an organizational chart of major players in the Senate health care negotiations, Fowler would be the chief operating officer.’

“What was most amazing about all of that was that, before joining Baucus’ office as the point person for the health care bill, Fowler was the Vice President for Public Policy and External Affairs (i.e. informal lobbying) at WellPoint, the nation’s largest health insurance provider.”

On Tuesday, Politico reported Fowler now “is leaving the White House for a senior-level position leading ‘global health policy’ at Johnson & Johnson’s government affairs and policy group.”

Wheeler wrote a series of pieces in 2009, highlighting the revolving door: “to the extent that Liz Fowler is the author of this document, we might as well consider WellPoint its author as well.”

Note: Yesterday, Max Baucus and the Center for American Progress participated in a “Fix the Debt” event organized by Peter Peterson, who has long demonized Social Security.

Uproar Grows as Sen. Feinstein’s Husband Profits from Post Office Privatization

GRAY BRECHIN [email]
HARVEY SMITH [email]
Brechin is founder and project scholar of the Living New Deal Project. Brechin has written a series of articles, including “Selling off the Post Office: Berkeley calls out Richard Blum” and “Congress to Postal Service: ‘Drop Dead!‘”— which states: “The fire sale of our post offices is accelerating while the media remain largely asleep at the wheel.” Smith is president of the National New Deal Preservation Association and an organizer for the Committee to Save the Berkeley Main Post Office. He wrote the piece “Post Office Sale is a Surrender to Corporate Interests.”

Activists will be protesting Tuesday and have distributed a flyer headlined “Richard Blum Philanthropist, Opportunist, Thief of our National Heritage!” and stating: “Save the Berkeley Post Office is leading a Rally and March to Blum Capital and Senator Feinstein’s Office. …

“Towns and cities throughout our entire country are losing historic post offices. The giant real estate company CBRE advises the USPS on what post offices to sell and then profits as the listing agent. University of California regent Richard Blum is the chairman of CBRE. Blum is married to California Senator Dianne Feinstein.

“The USPS proposes to sell Berkeley’s beautiful 1914 Main Post Office. It has two priceless New Deal art works. Our grandparents paid for this building and countless others in the country that are on the USPS hit list. Over 3,700 post offices are at risk of sale or closure. Sold post offices have morphed into restaurant and offices.

“At some we must ask permission to see our public art work. The USPS was established in Article I of the Constitution. Benjamin Franklin was our first Postmaster General. Until 1971, the Post Office was under Congress, and funded by taxpayers. Since 1971, the USPS has received no federal tax dollars.

“Congress’s 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act transfers $5.5 billion each year from the USPS to the U.S. Treasury. The media reports that the USPS has defaulted on their annual payments. But no one reports that as of September 2012, the Treasury held $45.3 billion in the Postal Service Retiree Health Fund, a one-year increase of $1.5 billion. In four years, the USPS has cut the number of career employees by nearly 20 percent … a loss of 129,000 jobs.”

The website SaveThePostoffice.com is a general resource; see the article about real estate profiteering: “Eureka! The Postal Service finds gold in California,” which states: “The Postal Service has been actively selling off historic post office buildings for over a year now. About forty have been sold or put up for sale. They’re scattered around the country, but for some reason more than a third of them are in California.”

Also, see IPA news release “Nader: Post Office Crisis ‘Manufactured’.