Thursday, December 26, 2013

Facebook Got Multi-billion Dollar Tax break; Yet Dictates Public Policy

Facebook made over $1 billion in profits this year [2013] but won't be paying any taxes. Instead, he company will receive a $429 million tax refund.

Facebook won’t pay taxes again, will get refund instead

Published time: December 19, 2013 16:25 in Russia Today
Edited time: December 19, 2013 17:33

 . . . .

From Citizens for Tax Justice, a progressive group on tax issues:

Yet, while Facebook evades tax responsibility, its leader Mark Zuckerberg manipulates public education policy. For example he gave a strings attached gift to Newark, NJ:

From Mother Jones

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Warning: A "Natural" Fetish is Harmful to Your Health - Collide-a-Scape |

Warning: A "Natural" Fetish is Harmful to Your Health - Collide-a-Scape |

Warning: A “Natural” Fetish is Harmful to Your Health

By Keith Kloor | December 23, 2013 8:35 am From Discover Magazine's website
Natural prod
Last week an expert panel of physicians advised Americans to “stop wasting money” on multivitamins:
We believe that the case is closed— supplementing the diet of well-nourished adults with (most) mineral or vitamin supplements has no clear benefit and might even be harmful. These vitamins should not be used for chronic disease prevention. Enough is enough.
Good luck with that. As the New York Times notes,
Demand for vitamin and mineral supplements has grown markedly in recent years, with domestic sales totaling some $30 billion in 2011.
(It’s a big business in the UK, too.)
Naturally (pun intended), the Natural Products Association, the industry trade group for this modern-day snake oil, was none too happy, insisting that dietary supplements “are overwhelmingly safe.” Not that they would know, of course, since the vast majority of the products are unregulated. As for their safety, the Times ran a front page piece on this issue yesterday: 
Dietary supplements account for nearly 20 percent of drug-related liver injuries that turn up in hospitals, up from 7 percent a decade ago, according to an analysis by a national network of liver specialists. The research included only the most severe cases of liver damage referred to a representative group of hospitals around the country, and the investigators said they were undercounting the actual number of cases.
While many patients recover once they stop taking the supplements and receive treatment, a few require liver transplants or die because of liver failure. Naïve teenagers are not the only consumers at risk, the researchers said. Many are middle-aged women who turn to dietary supplements that promise to burn fat or speed up weight loss.
“It’s really the Wild West,” said Dr. Herbert L. Bonkovsky, the director of the liver, digestive and metabolic disorders laboratory at Carolinas HealthCare System in Charlotte, N.C. “When people buy these dietary supplements, it’s anybody’s guess as to what they’re getting.”
Gee, so much for that precautionary principle I keep hearing about from organic, anti-GMO folks. Speaking of, where are the consumer watchdogs and health advocates who are so obsessed with genetically modified foods? Surely, this Wild West of health products would be of concern to them?
Not surprisingly, the Natural Products Association has jumped aboard the GMO labeling movement:
This is really very simple – people have a right to know what’s in their food.
People also have a right to know if pills branded as “natural” might destroy their insides.
As the Times piece says,
unlike prescription drugs, which are tightly regulated, dietary supplements typically carry no information about side effects. Consumers assume they have been studied and tested, Dr. Bonkovsky said. But that is rarely the case. “There is this belief that if something is natural, then it must be safe and it must be good,” he said.
Gee, I wonder where consumers get that idea from?
Marc Gunther explains it well and also suggests:
The challenge for all of us is to get beyond the simple dichotomies that characterize so much conversation around food. Natural vs. processed. Local vs. global. Small vs. big. Genetically-modified vs. conventionally bred. Organic vs. everything else.
I’m all for that. Meanwhile, I’ll be looking for the champions in the Food Movement to take on the existing fuzzy labels, dubious health claims and very real dangers of the “natural” food products industry.

Friday, December 13, 2013

State conservative groups plan US-wide assault on education, health and tax policies - Guardian report on State Policy Network

State conservative groups plan US-wide assault on education, health and tax

• State Policy Network co-ordinating plans across 34 US states
• Strategy to 'release residents from government dependency'
• Revelations come amid growing scrutiny of tax-exempt charities

• Read key excerpts from the SPN proposals
• Portland Press Herald: group's plan to eliminate taxes
• Texas Observer: the money behind the fight to wreck Medicaid
Conservative groups across the US are planning a co-ordinated assault against public sector rights and services in the key areas of education, healthcare, income tax, workers' compensation and the environment,documents obtained by the Guardian reveal.
The strategy for the state-level organisations, which describe themselves as "free-market thinktanks", includes proposals from six different states for cuts in public sector pensions, campaigns to reduce the wages of government workers and eliminate income taxes, school voucher schemes to counter public education, opposition to Medicaid, and a campaign against regional efforts to combat greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.
The policy goals are contained in a set of funding proposals obtained by the Guardian. The proposals were co-ordinated by the State Policy Network, an alliance of groups that act as incubators of conservative strategy at state level.
The documents contain 40 funding proposals from 34 states, providing a blueprint for the conservative agenda in 2014. In partnership with the Texas Observer and the Portland Press Herald in Maine, the Guardian is publishing SPN's summary of all the proposals to give readers and news outlets full and fair access to state-by-state conservative plans that could have significant impact throughout the US, and to allow the public to reach its own conclusions about whether these activities comply with the spirit of non-profit tax-exempt charities.
Details of the co-ordinated approach come amid growing federal scrutiny of the political activities of tax-exempt charities. Last week the Obama administration announced a new clampdown on those groups that violate tax rules by engaging in direct political campaigning.
Most of the "thinktanks" involved in the proposals gathered by the State Policy Network are constituted as 501(c)(3) charities that are exempt from tax by the Internal Revenue Service. Though the groups are not involved in election campaigns, they are subject to strict restrictions on the amount of lobbying they are allowed to perform. Several of the grant bids contained in the Guardian documents propose the launch of "media campaigns" aimed at changing state laws and policies, or refer to "advancing model legislation" and "candidate briefings", in ways that arguably cross the line into lobbying.
The documents also cast light on the nexus of funding arrangements behind radical rightwing campaigns. The State Policy Network (SPN) has members in each of the 50 states and an annual warchest of $83m drawn from major corporate donors that include the energy tycoons the Koch brothers, the tobacco company Philip Morris, food giant Kraft and the multinational drugs company GlaxoSmithKline.
SPN gathered the grant proposals from the 34 states on 29 July. Ranging in size from requests of $25,000 to $65,000, the plans were submitted for funding to the Searle Freedom Trust, a private foundation that in 2011 donated almost $15m to largely rightwing causes.
The trust, founded in 1998, draws on the family fortune of the late Dan Searle of the GD Searle & Company empire – now part of Pfizer – which created NutraSweet. The trust is a major donor to such mainstays of the American right and the Tea Parties as Americans for Prosperity, the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec), the Heartland Institute and the State Policy Network itself.
SPN's link to Searle, the Guardian documents show, was Stephen Moore, an editorial writer with the Wall Street Journal. Moore, who advises Searle on its grant-giving activities, was asked by SPN to rank the proposals in two halves – a "top 20" and "bottom 20". It is not known how many of the 40 proposals were approved for funding, nor which may have been successful.
Moore told the Guardian that he is an unpaid adviser to the Searle Foundation, having been a lifetime family friend to Dan Searle. He said the grant decisions were made by Searle's sons and grandsons based upon the late businessman's "commitment to the advancement of free enterprise and individual rights".
The proposals in the grant bids contained in the Guardian documents go beyond a commitment to free enterprise, however. They include:
• "reforms" to public employee pensions raised by SPN thinktanks in Arizona, Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania;
• tax elimination or reduction schemes in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Maryland, Nebraska and New York;
• an education voucher system to promote private and home schooling in Florida;
• campaigns against worker and union rights in Delaware and Nevada;
• opposition to Medicaid in Georgia, North Carolina and Utah.
SPN's president, Tracie Sharp, told the Guardian that "as a pro-freedom network of thinktanks, we focus on issues like workplace freedom, education reform, and individual choice in healthcare: backbone issues of a free people and a free society."
In its grant bid, the Maine Heritage Policy Center asked for $35,000 to support a "research and demonstration project" that would "release residents from extreme government dependency". It would turn the state's poorest area into what the Portland Press Herald describes in its report from Washington County as "a gigantic tax-free zone".
SPN Maine executive summary extract
Dubbed "FreeME", the initiative would eliminate state income tax and sale taxes from residents and businesses until the economic conditions in the county rise to the statewide average. The hole in the county's income from lost tax revenues – estimated at $35m a year by the think tank – would be filled through budget cuts.
Medicaid is the target of a grant proposal coming from the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), an influential thinktank funded largely by rightwing foundations and corporations including the energy tycoons the Koch brothers, tobacco company Altria and the telecoms giant Verizon. The Texas Observer has investigated the contents of the document and points out that in its request for $40,000 from Searle, TPPF claims credit for blocking Medicaid expansion in the state.
"[S]topping Medicaid expansion is just the first step," the proposal says, adding that the "missing piece to complete our message is an economic forecast" showing how block-granting Medicaid would "bring significant savings" to the state. That information would then be used to garner attention from the media.
The Observer describes TPPF as "one of the most influential state-level thinktanks in the nation". One of its former executives was Ted Cruz, now US senator for Texas, who today is the keynote speaker at the national conference in Washington of SPN's sister organisation, the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec).
Several hundred miles to the north east in Massachusetts, the Beacon Hill Institute requested $38,825 from Searle to weaken or roll back a five-year effort by states in the region to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The institute said it would carry out research into the economic impact of the cap-and-trade system operating in nine states known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
BHI appeared to have already arrived at its conclusions in advance, admitting from the outset that the aim of the research was to arm opponents of cap-and-trade with data for their arguments, and to weaken or destroy the initiative. "Success will take the form of media recognition, dissemination to stakeholders, and legislative activity that will pare back or repeal RGGI," the funding proposal says.
SPN Maine summary extract
The Beacon Hill Institute, technically an affiliate rather than a full member of the SPN, operates out of the economics department of Suffolk University in Boston. David Tuerck, its executive director, denied the group had engaged in lobbying. "There is never any lobbying," he told the Guardian. "Maybe I need to look up the definition again, but lobbying consists of buttonholing legislators and other policymakers to get a particular result on a particular issue, and we never do that."
But Suffolk University, which hosts the Beacon Hill Institute as a research arm of its economics department, sharply criticised the research proposal to the Searle Foundation. In a statement to the Guardian, the university said the grant bid had not been submitted to the university, as required, and that the university would never have approved the proposal. "The stated research goals, as written, were inconsistent with Suffolk University's mission."
Watchdogs that monitor the work of SPN and other conservative networks in the US said that the centralised coordination of state-level campaigns showed a significant attempt to build local activism into a nationwide movement. Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, which issued a recent report on SPN, said that the local identity of the network's members belied a larger purpose. "They appear to be advocating purely local interests but what they are promoting is part of a larger national template to radically remake our government in a way that undermines public institutions and the rights of workers," she said.
The SPN said that its co-ordinating role was justified because local and state issues were increasingly impinging on national politics. "There's no mystery here," Sharp said. "The whole idea of a state policy network is that individual thinktanks can be in communication, share best practices and analysis, and combine their efforts when they see a benefit from doing so."
Some of the grant bids to Searle focus specifically on prominent local politicians the thinktanks hope to influence. The grant bid that emanated from New Jersey, from the Common Sense Institute (CISNJ), another tax-exempt "research and education organization", floats the idea of a campaign to support the efforts of the Republican governor Chris Christie in ending the ability of public employees to claim untaken sick days and vacation leave in their retirement packages.
"Governor Chris Christie has been waging a war to eliminate this practice; and CSINJ would like to provide ammunition," the proposal says. The thinktank plans to produce a "research study" which it would call "Busting the Boat Checks" – an allusion to the phrase Christie uses to denote the watercraft retirees are claimed to buy on the back of sick and holiday leave payments.
The institute conceives a "media campaign" with its aim being the "full elimination of unused sick and vacation leave payouts".
"We believe our study can be used to sway public sentiment further and be used as a brandisher for reform in Trenton," it says.
SPN New Jersey excerpt

CSINJ's president, Jerry Cantrell, denied that the grant bid involved any element of lobbying, insisting instead that his group was providing a service that in the past might have been done by the decimated local media.
"CSINJ is an education organization focused on providing the public with facts and the truth. We don't represent any interest besides the folks who are burdened by this practice – the taxpayers," he said.
He said the proposal was focused on the "abusive practice of accumulating sick or vacation day payments over an entire career and using them as retirement bonus. We've seen too many instances of high level individuals working out the door with $500,000-$750,000 claiming to have never missed a day in 30 years of employment."
The proposal from the Illinois Policy Institute for a campaign to deal with Chicago's government worker pensions crisis by switching to 401(k)-style retirement plans similarly focuses on a politician – in this case Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The proposal says that "Mayor Emanuel has privately expressed the need for 401(k)-style changes to truly achieve reform."
SPN Illinois extract
The institute plans to "leverage the leadership potential of Mayor Emanuel … as the spark for wider pension changes in Illinois." It adds that "friendly legislators would be welcome to draft legislation modelled on our policy work and work in tandem with Mayor Emanuel to move it forward in the legislative process."
John Tillman, CEO of the Illinois Policy Institute, told the Guardian that Emanuel had been "an outspoken proponent of pension reform that includes moving to a 401(k)-style, defined contribution system." He saw no problem with the lobbying that the think tank undertakes.
"We are not allowed to do any campaigning or electioneering, and we don't. We are allowed to spend a significant percentage of our expenditures on lobbying and we are very proactive in lobbying for liberty-based policy, including the urgently needed pension reform. We report our activities accordingly."

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Real News Network: 1 out of 3 Bank Tellers in NY on Public Assistance

Jessica Desvarieux, of the Real News, December 9, 2013

1 out of 3 Bank Tellers in NY on Public Assistance

New report finds bank executives receive big bonuses, while 39% of frontline bank employees must rely on welfare because of insufficient wages -   December 9, 13

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Deborah Axt is on the Board of the Make the Road Action Fund, which together with New York Communities for Change, ALIGN, and the Communications Workers of America, form the Committee for Better Banks. Make the Road Action Fund and its sister organization, Make the Road New York, represent about 27,000 working class and immigrant New Yorkers through community organizing, policy design, and the provision of legal and survival services. Deborah is an attorney and is the lead architect of Make the Road's low wage worker organizing and policy work, leading low wage organizing in multiple sectors.


1 out of 3 Bank Tellers in NY on Public AssistanceJESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
Here's something you might not know. One in three bank employees in New York State are on public assistance. That's according to a new report released by New Day New York Coalition titledLeveraging New York's Financial Power to Combat Inequality. And this news comes almost two months after the University of California Berkeley Labor Center and University of Illinois published a study that said that more than 50 percent of fast food workers rely on public assistance programs due to their low wages.
Here to talk about the report is Deborah Axt. She's on the board of the Make the Road Action Fund, which together with New York Communities for Change, ALIGN, and Communications Workers of America from the Committee for Better Banks wrote the report.
Thanks for joining us, Deborah.
DEBORAH AXT, BOARD MEMBER, MAKE THE ROAD ACTION FUND: Thank you so much for having me.
DESVARIEUX: So, Deborah, can you just described for us the conditions for the average teller in the United States banking industry?
AXT: Yes. I mean, what we're talking about here are jobs that the public generally perceives to be entry-level jobs on a path to a professional career. And what they really are, often, is completely dead-end jobs, where workers are trapped in forcibly part-timed work, low-wage work, with high-pressure sales goals, sometimes wage theft, even. And, you know, these are really rough jobs. Workers report often being pressured to sell deals, products, bank accounts, credit cards that are not necessarily in the best interests of the clients, and that they realize this is true but have no ability to blow the whistle on these kinds of unethical practices at the banks.
DESVARIEUX: So what are your recommendations for alleviating some of these issues?
AXT: Well, the first thing is that we need to make sure that that workers have a path to speak out. We need to make sure that there are whistleblower protections in place in states and cities like New York and that we don't give out subsidies. Right now we're giving out hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies to big banks in New York City and New York State alone with very little accountability for the job creation goals that are involved in those deals, and certainly with no checks with workers to make sure that they are being treated well and that their jobs are helping to lift people out of poverty.
DESVARIEUX: I'm sure there are some people listen to this saying that at the end of the day there needs to be some form of unionization. Is that your ultimate goal? Are you hoping that tellers eventually will organize themselves to form a union?
AXT: Make the Road, New York Communities for Change, ALIGN, and CWA that form the Committee for Better Banks have certainly had a long history of helping workers to organize into worker centers, into unions where appropriate. And so we believe strongly that workers need the right to organize and that they should be supported by the community members that we represent as well. And so we are here and would have their backs if that's what they choose.
This is just the first step at looking at this industry. We have been actively organizing in car washes and supermarkets and in fast food restaurants, but we've just turned our attention to the banking industry to see what was going on with workers there and were shocked to discover that the treatment in the banking industry is much like the treatment in other exploitative low-wage industries. But this is a place that you wouldn't expect it. This is the place where the boss, the CEO, is actually the boss of capitalism, right, the boss of our international economic system. You know, they're billionaires. They are well compensated. This is an industry that certainly can afford to treat workers properly, to treat workers with dignity.