Missing the Mark on Climate Justice

What really struck me about Trump’s RNC speech, Janet Redman told the Real News Network, is that he’s presenting himself as the “law and order president” — increased security against immigrants, defeating the barbarians of ISIS — and the concept of Americanism over globalism.

He didn’t talk much about climate, which, Redman said, might be a good thing since he has been a vocal climate change denier, except in the cases where it affects his real estate.

But during her campaign, Hillary Clinton has been missing an opportunity to be the candidate advocating for climate justice, according to Redman. Clinton has talked about closing down mines and mine workers having to lose their jobs, “and the way she said it was callous, without a broader framework of a just and fair transition,” that could be achieved by putting economic anchors in place to protect the workers who might lose their jobs, Redman said.

Clinton’s framing of the transition away from the fossil fuel industry as a threat to jobs plays into Trump’s pro-coal rhetoric “that there’s no way to do this without the collapse of an entire sector,” Redman said.

The Democratic party platform, Redman explained, has strong components, like protecting those who are hit first and worst by the damaging effects of climate change. They’d be smart to include that climate justice analysis to the DNC, Redman said, for example, addressing the lead water crisis in Flint as a climate justice issue that deals with systemic racism, poverty, and pollution.

“There’s a real opportunity right now to link the economic justice, racial justice, and environmental justice issues that would would actually help us move forward on these issues and galvanize a broader audience that is really being left out of the RNC,” Redman said.

The post Missing the Mark on Climate Justice appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Janet Redman directs the Climate Policy Program at the Institute for Policy Studies.


This Tax Law Professor is Taking on the Super Rich

Capitol Hill

(Image: Shutterstock)

Tax law professors don’t normally have much of a public profile. Victor Fleischer does. In fact, one business journalist has just tagged this ace analyst from the University of San Diego “the closest thing the tax world has to a rock star.”

Most rock stars have big break-out hits. Fleischer’s big break-out came about a decade ago when his scholarship exposed an incredibly lucrative tax giveaway to the rich that hardly anyone knew existed. The “carried interest” loophole, Fleischer detailed, was helping private equity and hedge fund billionaires chop their tax bills by nearly half.

Thanks largely to Fleischer, this preferential tax treatment of “carried interest” has now become the single most notorious loophole in the federal tax code. But the carried interest tax break — a giveaway that’s saving America’s financial industry heavyweights an estimated $ 18 billion a year — has survived this notoriety. Congress has still never come close to repealing it.

That may be about to change. At least some lawmakers are showing signs they’re really ready to take on Big Finance. The clearest sign of all: Senator Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat who’ll chair the Senate Finance Committee if Republicans lose their Senate majority this November, has just hired Victor Fleischer as his co-chief tax counsel.

Understandably, most of the commentary around this surprise hire has so far revolved around the future of the carried interest loophole. But Fleischer, we need to keep in mind, has never been a one-trick pony. He has his eyes on tax loopholes friendly to the rich that go way beyond carried interest.

One of these loopholes just happens to be more obscure than carried interest used to be, and much more lucrative for America’s super rich. Meet the federal tax code’s preferential tax treatment of “founders’ stock.”

Most of America’s super rich owe their exceedingly good fortune in life to the companies they founded. And most of these founders owe the immensity of their good fortune to the wink-wink the tax code extends them at tax time.

Overall, Fleischer calculates, this winking drains more out of the federal treasury than the carried interest loophole. Yet the founders’ stock loophole continues to operate almost totally under the radar.

Why the indifference? Founders’ stock, for starters, involves all sorts of impenetrably complicated tax concepts, everything from “the time value of money” and “remittance obligations” to the lock-in effect of the “realization doctrine.”

The carried interest story, by contrast, remains easy to tell: Private equity kingpins raise funds from investors to buy and sell companies. They typically pocket 20 percent of the profits from all their wheeling and dealing.

This 20 percent clearly represents payment for services rendered and ought to be taxed no differently than a commission an auto salesperson makes. But the carried interest loophole lets private equity movers and shakers claim this income as a capital gain, a label that saves them about $ 160,000 in taxes on every $ 1 million they rack up.

The unfairness and outrageousness of this special treatment could hardly be easier to understand.

Strip away the conceptual underbrush around taxing founders’ stock and the same dynamic emerges: Extremely rich people get to avoid paying standard tax rates on the vast bulk of their income.

Consider two software hotshots with an idea for the next super-hot high-tech thing. They take their know-how to a venture capital company. The venture capitalists (VC’s) like the idea and pump operating cash into it. In return for the cash, the VCs get stock in the fledgling new company.

The software hotshots, also known as the “founders,” get stock too, as payment for their expertise and labor. This stock could eventually have extraordinary value. But the current tax code essentially lets the founders sidestep paying any meaningful tax on it.

“The tax treatment of founders’ stock,” notes Fleischer, “represents a critical design flaw in a progressive income tax system” that “contributes to the broader trend of increasing inequality, particularly at the very top of the scale.”

Fleischer sees the current tax preference for founders’ stock as part of an even bigger political and cultural problem: America’s over-the-top genuflecting before entrepreneurial “genius.”

This genuflecting has translated into a wide variety of special tax breaks for entrepreneurs, with the preferential treatment of founders’ stock only one among them. The justification for all these tax breaks? Tax breaks for entrepreneurs, we’re assured, “create jobs and fuel economic growth.”

But researchers have found next to no evidence that tax breaks for entrepreneurs advance either of these goals, as Fleischer points out in an insightful and entertaining paper that appeared this past spring in the Fordham Law Review.

“Tax breaks mostly reward entrepreneurs for activity they would have engaged in anyway,” he points out.

What about the argument that we as a society have to be willing to reward entrepreneurs for the risks they take? Lots of Americans, observes Fleischer, take risks and get no tax breaks for their risk-taking.

“It is not self-evident,” he writes, “why risk taking by rich executives and venture capitalists is more valuable than risk taking by, say, a Korean-American grocer, a Mexican-American restaurateur, a farmer in California, or an Uber driver in Miami.”

“The current tax code,” Fleischer sums up, “has become an echo chamber for the economic forces driving the increase in income and wealth inequality, the blurring of economic and political influence, and the degradation of paid work.”

Welcome to Capitol Hill, Victor Fleischer. We need you there.

The post This Tax Law Professor is Taking on the Super Rich appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Sam Pizzigati is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and co-edits Inequality.org. 


Russia’s DNC Hack is Just the Tip of the Tundra

The email trove that WikiLeaks released on the eve of the Democratic National Convention has all the hallmarks of a dirty tricks campaign.

The messages reveal, among other things, that the Democratic National Committee tried its best to tilt the electoral playing field in favor of Hillary Clinton. For anyone who has had even the slightest interaction with the Democratic Party — or mainstream politics at all in America— such politicking is nauseating, but routine.

More unusual about the revelations is who acquired the information. The proximate source for the WikiLeaks dump is a hacker named Guccifer 2 — not to be confused with the original Guccifer, a Romanian hacker who broke into Hillary Clinton’s email account and is now in a U.S. jail. Guccifer 2 also claims to be Romanian, but his command of the language is weak to non-existent.

Despite Guccifer’s professed hatred of Russian foreign policy, all signs so far point to Russian hands behind this latest hacking scandal. Russian intelligence agencies had apparently been vacuuming up material from within the DNC for a year or so and only went public with the info when they were shut out of the system last month. They created the Guccifer persona to cover their tracks and used WikiLeaks as their messenger.

It’s big news for a foreign entity to try to manipulate U.S. elections. Of course, you could argue that turnaround is fair play. The United States has manipulated many a foreign election in the past.

The problem with this argument is three-fold. First, U.S. meddling in overseas politics is inexcusable. But we need a moratorium on such activities, not acceptance of other countries following suit in a veritable arms race of democratic tampering. Second, if it is indeed behind the latest attack — and no definitive proof has yet emerged — Russia is backing not just a particular political candidate but the first authentic fascist to have a fighting chance of getting to the White House (“fascist” is not used here as an epithet but as the only political science term that accurately captures Trump’s combination of authoritarianism, nationalism, racism, and economic populism).

Third, the hacking scandal is only one of many ways that Russia is rewriting the rules of international engagement. As a failed superpower that retains its membership card in the nuclear club, Russia has affected an outlaw style, like Anonymous or Julian Assange. Instead of direct confrontation, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his team have thrown on masks and skulked in the shadows: “little green men” in Ukraine, an army of Internet trolls posting Kremlin disinformation on websites, implausibly deniable assassinations of critics. It all makes The Americans, the current FX series about KGB sleeper cells in the 1980s, seem all too current.

What complicates the story, of course, is the risk of a new cold war — strike that, a new hotwar — between the United States and Russia. The fault line running through Central Europe is extraordinarily dangerous, not to mention superpower competition elsewhere in the world like Syria and the face-off between two nuclear arsenals on hair-trigger alert. The last thing the world needs now, with new terrorist attacks happening every day in a different country, is a cage match between the bear and the bald eagle.

So, here’s the triple challenge: counter Russia’s hactivism, reduce tensions between Washington and Moscow, and prevent the election of America’s homegrown Putin. It’s a tall order. But no one ever said that geopolitics is easy.

The Russian Exception

The Chinese government asserts outrageous claims to the entire South China Sea, cracks down on domestic political dissent, and twists arms in Tibet and Xinjiang. But you won’t find many American commentators — left, right, or center — who try to justify this behavior. Similarly, there are only a few nostalgic revolutionaries who bend over backwards to explain away the defects of Cuban socialism or Venezuelan Chavismo.

But Russia is in a category all its own when it comes to defenders in the United States. Vladimir Putin, a right-wing, homophobic nationalist, has attracted support from the usual like-minded crazies, such as Lyndon LaRouche and Franklin Graham. More unusually, an ideologically diverse and highly credentialed group of Americans has leapt to Putin’s defense, including former DIA head Michael Flynn, former U.S. ambassador to Russia Jim Matlock, and Russia specialist Stephen F. Cohen.

For someone like Matlock to stick up for Putin reflects a thorough disenchantment with Washington’s Russia policy. During the Clinton era, the United States resurrected a containment strategy toward the country when a more cooperative arrangement was both possible and feasible. As one of the first people to document what I called “containment lite,” I am angry as well. But this anger has not blinded me to Putin’s obvious defects.

Other authoritarian symps are more persuaded by the “hegemonic counterforce.” During the Cold War, some anti-imperialists supported the Soviet Union not for ideological reasons but because it was the only geopolitical force strong enough to prevent the United States from running roughshod across the globe. For those today who believe that the United States alone is responsible for all the world’s evils, any country that stands up to the global bully deserves a measure of support.

In this regard, Putin’s brutality is a plus. He has no qualms about adopting the very worst traits of U.S. foreign policy and adding some nefarious innovations of his own.

Russian Foreign Policy

Russian involvement in the politics of other countries doesn’t stop with its recent efforts to tilt the U.S. election away from the woman Putin thinks tried to dislodge him from power back in 2011. Investigations into Russian interference in France, Bulgaria, and Hungary are ongoing. The Kremlin has specifically supported efforts to undermine the cohesion of the European Union, which puts Putin in the company of various far-right Euroskeptic parties like Golden Dawn in Greece, the National Front in France, and Jobbik in Hungary.

Political hacking is only the tip of the tundra. There’s also:

Targeted assassinations: While the United States conducts drone strikes to take out its foreign opponents, the Putin team employs different methods against its domestic foes. Two former KGB agents slipped polonium into the tea of Alexander Litvinenko, a renegade intelligence officer, leading to his painful death by poisoning. Prison guards beat to death Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who stood up to massive Russian tax fraud.

Other critics who have died under mysterious circumstances include opposition politicians Boris Nemtsov and Sergei Yushenkov and journalists Anna Politkovskaya and Paul Klebnikov. Russian officials have routinely pointed to other culprits, particularly Chechens.

Moreover, it has been devilishly difficult to trace culpability to Putin himself. Suffice it to say that standing up to Putinism is a very dangerous occupation.

Cross-border incursions: Russia has long claimed a kind of Monroe Doctrine approach to its “near abroad” — particularly those areas with large numbers of Russian speakers. The Russian government has supported breakaway attempts by such communities in Moldova and Georgia. The case of Ukraine, however, is much more significant because Russian troops have helped to annex part of Ukrainian territory (Crimea) and worked with separatists in the Donbas region to carve off another hunk of the country.

Even if, as critics argue, the United States helped orchestrate a coup in Kiev to oust Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and fascists then took over the government, Russian actions would be suspect (Ukraine, after all, did not declare war on Russia or attack the country). In fact, however, Yanukovych was dislodged by a popular uprising and not a coup, U.S. involvement in this uprising was minimal, and fascists have had only marginal influence on the Ukrainian government (and even less today).

Sure, the country is corrupt, and Ukrainian oligarchs enjoy a great deal of power. But that’s no justification for invasion, any more than leftist orientation justified the Bay of Pigs operation or U.S. efforts to oust the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

Aerial bombing campaigns: The United States has pioneered the post-Cold War use of aerial bombing to achieve military and political goals on the ground. Russia was relatively new to this game when it started its own bombing campaign in Syria to back the Bashar al-Assad regime and weaken its armed opponents.

Not surprisingly, the Russian campaign has led to the same kind of “collateral damage” as U.S. air strikes. In six months of strikes on such targets as schools, hospitals, and markets, Russian bombers killed as many as 2,000 civilians in Syria in the first six months of the campaign. Despite a pledge to draw down its air strikes, Russian bombing continues, most recently leading to dozens of civilian deaths in the campaign to retake Aleppo.

Expanded military capabilities: Russian military spending has jumped considerably since 2011, when Putin introduced a $ 700 billion modernization program. The Russian military budget remains a far cry from the Pentagon’s annual allocation — roughly a tenth. Moreover, falling oil prices and sanctions over Ukraine have constrained Russian spending, leading to a 5 percent cut in 2016.

Still, Russia has tried to keep up in asymmetric ways — upgrading its nuclear arsenal andinvesting in cyberwarfare. Meanwhile, Russia is second only to the United States in its arms sales, and the wars in Ukraine and Syria will boost those exports even more.

Colder War

Still, the view from Moscow can’t be very reassuring for the Putin team.

NATO has expanded to the very borders of the country. At the most recent summit in Warsaw in July, NATO members agreed to bulk up on the eastern flank with four multinational battalions. The United States will send 1,000 soldiers to Poland, while the UK, Canada, and Germany will send troops to the Baltic countries. The Anakonda 2016 military exercises — which involved 31,000 troops, half of them Americans — no doubt ruffled feathers in the Kremlin. So too did the activation of an anti-missile system in Romania in May (with something similar to go one line in Poland in 2020).

Russia hasn’t simply watched these developments. It has moved troops into its western regions and is preparing to put nuclear-capable missiles in Kaliningrad by 2019. The nuclear weapons of both countries, meanwhile, remain on hair-trigger alert. Neither side has made any commitments to future arms control measures, including de-alerting of nukes.

This buildup of forces and tension in Central Europe is somewhat mitigated by U.S.-Russian cooperation elsewhere in the world. Both countries were involved in negotiating the nuclear deal with Iran. Both countries have negotiated an albeit fragile and frequently violated ceasefire in Ukraine. Secretary of State John Kerry unveiled a recent plan to increase the coordination of intelligence and air strikes in Syria, which hasn’t been particularly popular among European allies. This nascent coordination in fighting terrorism has prompted some Russian experts to speculate about expanding cooperation to other issues.

The speculation isn’t just taking place in Moscow. In his last months in office, President Obama might try a “reset lite” with Russia. As reported in The Washington Post, the administration is considering a number of landmark moves before it leaves office, including a pledge of “no first use” of nuclear weapons, supporting a UN Security Council resolution on a comprehensive nuclear test ban, a scaling back of the nearly trillion-dollar nuclear modernization plan, and an offer to Moscow to extend New START limits for another five years.

The next U.S. president must go beyond arms control and negotiate a new Central European initiative with the countries of the region, Russia, and the European Union. The initiative would combine energy security with demilitarization and provide stability funds so that countries like Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia can substitute economic growth for civil conflict.

So, there is potential to deescalate the emerging cold war. The trick of it is to persuade European allies to go along. And the wild card is the U.S. presidential elections.

American Oligarch

Donald Trump is well on his way to securing the endorsements of right-wing populists the world over. Noted Dutch Islamophobe Geert Wilders and Brexit engineer Nigel Farage both showed up at the Republican national convention. Hungary’s Viktor Orban has endorsed the Donald, confident that he “is the best for Europe and for Hungary.”

And then there’s Vladimir Putin. Donald Trump is “a really brilliant and talented person, without any doubt,” Putin told the press. “It’s not our job to judge his qualities, that’s a job for American voters, but he’s the absolute leader in the presidential race.”

For his part, Trump has shown Putin some love as well. He has promised to sit down and negotiate a deal with the Russian leader. He has been lukewarm on the NATO commitment to defend members that have been attacked. And the American oligarch has considerable ties to his Russian counterparts. According to The Washington Post:

Since the 1980s, Trump and his family members have made numerous trips to Moscow in search of business opportunities, and they have relied on Russian investors to buy their properties around the world.

“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Trump’s son, Donald Jr., told a real estate conference in 2008, according to an account posted on the website of eTurboNews, a trade publication. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

For those who see Trump as a vehicle for an even greater rapprochement with Russia if he gets elected, I caution skepticism. Trump negotiates hard bargains with potential business partners, forcing them to accept weak terms or face expensive lawsuits. Vladimir Putin is not a construction company, a real estate agent, or a would-be entrepreneur. He will not likely accede to Trump’s uninformed bullying.

If Putin stands up to the American behemoth as he has done in the past, but this time one presided over by Donald Trump, the new president will not likely take the slight in stride. “When people wrong you, go after those people, because it is a good feeling and because other people will see you doing it,” he wrote in The Art of the Deal. “I love getting even.”

This time around, Trump won’t just have lawsuits to throw at the recalcitrant. He’ll have nuclear weapons at his disposal.

So, to return to the triple challenge, deescalating U.S.-Russian tensions is not enough. Nor is simply countering Russia’s hacking of geopolitics to gain asymmetric advantages. Even defeating Trump is not sufficient. When it comes to the United States and Russia, it will require a package deal.

In 1975, the United States, the Soviet Union, and the countries of Europe negotiated a grand compromise on sovereignty, human rights, arms control, and educational exchanges. The Helsinki Accords proved that compromise was possible even during the Cold War.

We desperately need a Helsinki Accords of the 21st century.

The post Russia’s DNC Hack is Just the Tip of the Tundra appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus.


Death by Traffic Stop

What’s worse than being pulled over nearly 50 times? Believe it or not, quite a few things.

Like racking up over $ 7,000 in fines and fees when you make just $ 30,000 a year. Or bearing the constant stress of being pulled over and fined, finally paying off one fine only to get more piled on. Even worse, there’s getting your license revoked because you had a hard time paying, but still needing to drive your car to get to work to be able to pay off the steady stream of fines, late fees and court fees.

This was Philando Castile’s life even before that final traffic stop, when a police officer shot him dead as he calmly reached for his wallet in compliance with the officer’s instructions. He’d received nearly 90 citations since 2002, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Castile paid a dear price for being a black man commuting through affluent white communities on his way to work. And it turns out that he’s hardly alone.

Myron Orfield, a law professor at the University of Minnesota who studies racial profiling, found that black people driving through the white suburbs of St. Paul are seven times more likely to be pulled over than white people and twice as likely to be arrested. In St. Anthony, where Castile was pulled over and killed, nearly half of all arrests are of black people, even though they make up only 7 percent of the local police jurisdiction.

Read the full article on U.S. News and World Report’s website.

The post Death by Traffic Stop appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Karen Dolan directs the Criminalization of Race and Poverty project at the Institute for Policy Studies.


Poorer Than Their Parents


(Photo: Shutterstock)

The promise of market economics is supposed to be that as an economy grows, the paychecks of wage earners grow with it. But according to a new study, this is no longer the case.

Who’s hit hardest by the new unequal reality? Young people.

During the last economic expansion, the period dating from 1993 to 2005, a full 98 percent of workers saw their wages rise in the 25 major advanced economies around the world. Granted, the rise wasn’t evenly distributed, but the proverbial rising tide did lift most boats, at least slightly.

But from 2005 to 2014, the subsequent period encapsulating the Great Recession and so-called recovery, just a third of wage earners saw their incomes rise. The vast majority of earners – around 65 to 70 percent – saw their paychecks decline or stagnate. In the United States, the proportion with stagnant wages was a full 81 percent.

The new report, entitled “Poorer Than Their Parents? Flat Or Falling Incomes In Advanced Economies,” comes from the McKinsey Global Institute. As the title suggests, the study examined the prospects for over 800 million workers in the 25 wealthiest countries and found that the rising generation is at serious risk of ending up poorer than their parents.

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Josh Hoxie directs the Project on Opportunity and Taxation at the Institute for Policy Studies.


A Revolution That Reverses Militarism and Occupation

U.S. military aggression

(Photo: Osipovva)

Despite our frequent elections, the United States’ militarized foreign policy continues to wreak death, destruction, and dispossession on people and nations around the world. Any political revolution worthy of the name must seek to reverse that reality.

In order to end Washington’s permanent wars, we need to reignite dormant social movements and connect them with emerging ones. The self-defined peace movement, facing serious challenges today, must remobilize in tandem with rising movements fighting against racism and inequality, and for immigrant, gender, and labor rights, climate justice, and beyond.

This effort should include three major campaigns. First, a call for a massive reduction of the military budget. This year’s planned $ 619 billion Pentagon budget is about 40 percent of the military spending of the rest of the world combined—and that’s not even counting the $ 179 billion we’ll spend on veterans this year. Communities facing job losses when unnecessary weapons systems are canceled or bases are closed should be compensated with redirected military funds for job training and refitting factories.

Read the full article on the Nation’s website.

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Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism project at the Institute for Policy Studies.


New Report Shows Utility Tax-Dodging Worth Billions

Utilities companies pay the lowest effective tax rate of any U.S. business sector, and in 2015 this tax-dodging added up to billions in lost revenue that could’ve been used to fight climate change, according to a just-released report by the Institute for Policy Studies.

The report, Utilities Pay Up, provides detailed information on the 40 publicly held utilities that were profitable in 2015. Key findings:

Utilities Are Even Better at Tax-Dodging than Multinationals

  • The utilities industry pays the lowest effective federal tax rate of any business sector. Of the 40 U.S. publicly held utilities companies that were profitable in 2015, 23 paid no federal income taxes and 16 paid no state taxes.
  • The most extreme example of utilities tax-dodging in 2015 was Southern Company, a fierce Clean Power Plan opponent, which reaped $ 210 million in federal and state tax refunds, despite $ 3.6 billion in pre-tax income.
  • The industry’s low IRS bills are largely due to depreciation tax breaks. According to Citizens for Tax Justice, the 23 profitable utilities that paid no federal taxes in 2015 reported $ 11.5 billion in benefits from special tax rules that allow corporations to write off the cost of their investments faster than they wear out.

Revenue Potential from Fair Taxation of Utilities Companies

  • If the 40 profitable utilities had paid the average rate retailers pay, they would’ve paid more than $ 11.7 billion in additional federal taxes. At the state level, if these firms had paid the statutory rate, they would’ve paid an estimated additional $ 2.3 billion— for a total of $ 14.1 billion in additional federal and state revenue.

Energy Efficiency Costs that Could be Covered by Fairly Taxing Utilities

  • The $ 14.1 billion in extra revenue that could have been generated through fair taxation would be enough to create more than 88,000 energy efficiency jobs or weatherize homes for up to 3 million low-income families.

“Our corporate tax system is so broken that large, profitable utilities get away with not paying their fair share and instead channel money into fighting regulation to protect families and the planet from pollution. It’s time for utilities to pay up,” notes Janet Redman, IPS Climate Policy Director and a co-author of the report.

“Domestic U.S. utilities are even better at tax-dodging than the multinationals,” said Sarah Anderson, IPS Global Economy Director and another report co-author. “If we denied these firms costly and ineffective tax breaks, we could substantially increase investment in sustainable job creation and energy efficiency.”

The 21-page report and related graphics are available at http://www.ips-dc.org/utilities-pay-up/. For more information, contact: sarah@ips-dc.org or janet@ips-dc.org

The Institute for Policy Studies (IPS-DC.org) has conducted path-breaking research on corporate tax-dodging and financing for a clean energy transition for more than a decade.  Recent related reports have received significant media coverage, including in The GuardianCBS, and Yahoo Finance. IPS also provides a constant stream of inequality analysis and solutions through the website Inequality.org.

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The post New Report Shows Utility Tax-Dodging Worth Billions appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Sarah Anderson directs the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.
Janet Redman directs the Climate Policy Program at the Institute for Policy Studies.


The American Dream Moved to Canada


(Photo: Shutterstock)

Does your family aspire to the American Dream of a decent paying job, a few weeks of paid vacation, a home of your own, and the hope of retiring before you die?

Maybe try Canada.

Our country has historically prided itself on being a socially mobile society, where your ability is more important than the race or class you’re born into. Indeed, during the three decades after World War II, social mobility increased — particularly for the white working class.

That mobility became part of our self-identity, especially when juxtaposed with the old “caste societies” of Europe and their static class systems. Today, however, that story has been turned on its head.

If you forgot to be born into a wealthy family, you’re better off today living in Northern Europe or Canada, where social safety nets and investments in early childhood education have paid big dividends for ordinary citizens. In fact, Canada now has three times the social mobility of the U.S.

Young people in the U.S. face huge inequalities of opportunity, in large part based on the wealth — or lack of wealth — of their parents. Researchers call this the “intergenerational transmission of advantage,” referring to the dozens of ways that affluent families boost their children’s prospects starting at birth.

Affluent families make investments that give their kids a leg up through childhood enrichment activities, including travel, music lessons, museum visits, and summer camp.

As they grow older, wealthier kids have better access to college guidance, test preparation, financial literacy skills, and debt-free or low-debt educations.

Then, as they enter the workforce, wealthy young adults have access to their parents’ social networks and are able to take unpaid internships to help them develop job skills. Meanwhile, children in families unable to make these investments fall further behind.

Combined with the 2008 economic meltdown and budget cuts in public programs that foster opportunity for middle and low-income families, we’re witnessing accelerating advantages for the affluent and compounding disadvantages for everyone else. And once inequalities open up, research says, they rarely decrease over time.

The U.S. could rise to this challenge, as we did in the years after World War II and in the early 1960s, by resolving to make robust public investments in policies that include everyone.

But in our increasingly plutocratic political system, the very wealthy — who have oversized political influence along with oversized bank accounts — have less stake in expanding opportunities for the rest of us, as their own children and grandchildren advance through privatized systems.

We can’t stop well-off families from passing advantages to their children, but we can give everyone else a fair shot.

High-quality early childhood education, universal access to health care and nutrition, resources for those with learning disabilities and special needs, and tuition-free higher education for first-generation college students are key initiatives that would help level the playing field.

We could make this possible by taxing wealth. Revenue from a steeply progressive estate or inheritance tax could capitalize an education opportunity trust fund.

If we don’t take action, the United States will further drift toward a caste society fractured along class lines, where opportunity, occupation, and social status are determined by inherited advantage.

By then, our presidential race won’t be the only thing tempting people to move to Canada. 

The post The American Dream Moved to Canada appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Chuck Collins directs the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies.


I Can’t Watch Another Police Killing


(Photo: betto rodrigues / Shutterstock.com)

Philando Castile and Alton Sterling became the latest black Americans to turn into Twitter hashtags when videos of their deaths at the hands of police circulated on social media.

But I couldn’t bring myself to watch them.

I still remember the helpless frustration I felt, my stomach twisting in knots, as I watched the video of Eric Garner being choked to death while screaming “I can’t breathe.” Over and over again, I subjected myself to the emotional and psychological trauma of watching someone who could have easily been me being murdered.

Afterward, I decided that it’s not worth my wellbeing to ever watch another video like that. That’s meant taking long breaks from social media and TV news.

But it’s not like I can’t see what’s going on.

In my 23 years as a New Yorker, liberal and conservative mayors alike — from Rudy Giuliani to Bill de Blasio — have aggressively targeted struggling black and Latino communities in the city with policing.

Coupled with the war on drugs that the U.S. has been waging on poor communities of color for decades, that means poor black people are more likely to have encounters with the police. And we’ve all seen how those encounters can end.

Similar patterns play out all over the country. Despite a news cycle driven by the latest videos of black people dying at the hands of police — with individual circumstances endlessly debated each time — it’s beyond clear that the men and women who are killed aren’t just unlucky people in isolated encounters.

Instead, as Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayer writes, “They are the canaries in the coal mine whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere.”

There’s ample data to support that the United States has a big problem with police violence and racially biased policing. According to The Guardian, nearly 600 people have been killed by the police so far this year. And young black men are 9 times likelier than other Americans to die at the hands of cops.

Shocking videos will come and go. But this violence will be present regardless of whether we’re watching. The problem is systemic, and demands a systemic solution.

That means analyzing federal, state, and local laws that drive patterns in police behavior and leave no room for accountability. This can give us specific things to rally around for change.

For example, special prosecutors, not secretive grand juries, should prosecute all police officers accused of unjustified shootings. And every department should have civilian review boards empowered to conduct independent investigations and provide oversight.

Congress should strengthen existing laws against systemic police misconduct by lowering the legal threshold for bringing civil rights lawsuits against police departments, and allowing private citizens and organizations to bring pattern-or-practice lawsuits, not just the Department of Justice.

Additionally, when departments are found to have violated people’s civil rights, instead of simply entering an agreement to reform, these departments should have their federal funding immediately suspended. And cases of abuse should be brought to trial in a federal court.

Moreover, all officers should get racial bias training, and training that emphasizes de-escalating tense situations.

Thinking systemically also means supporting community organizers and protesters working to bring the anti-blackness of policing in the United States to the forefront of our national consciousness — and applying strategic, sustained pressure on our elected officials until they do something to end police violence.

Finally, it also means keeping up on the news — while avoiding the urge to click “play” every single time there’s a new video of a police shooting.

In a country with a not-so-distant history of lynching black people and leaving their bodies hanging to terrorize entire communities, these state-sanctioned executions must never seem normal.

The post I Can’t Watch Another Police Killing appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Joshua Serrano is a New Economy Maryland fellow and former Criminalization of Poverty Project researcher at the Institute for Policy Studies.


Would Americans Ever Back a U.S. Military Coup?


(Photo: deepspace / Shutterstock.com)

News of the military coup in Turkey was dribbling in on Saturday afternoon when I was having lunch with a group of six friends in West Virginia. Suddenly, one person looked up from her salad and said, “If Trump gets elected, I’d support a military coup in this country.” At least one other person at the table seconded her opinion.

I was astonished. Since when had the “military option” become a viable political strategy in the United States? Maybe it was the ghost of John Brown or something in the drinking water out there near Harpers Ferry. Or perhaps the peculiar conjunction of Turkey and Trump had elicited what must surely be an unpopular sentiment in America.

Then I did some research. It turns out that the views around the table matched those of average Americans. According to a September 2015 poll by YouGov, nearly one-third of respondents (29 percent) “could imagine a situation in which they would support the military seizing control of the federal government.” That number went up to 43 percent in a hypothetical situation in which the government was beginning to violate the U.S. constitution.

Back in September, Republicans were more than twice as likely as Democrats to back the coup scenario. It would be interesting to redo the poll today, as voters begin to contemplate a Trump presidency. Consider, for instance, journalist and Bernie Sanders supporter Shaun King, who recently created a firestorm on the right when he tweeted, “If Donald Trump becomes President, you are fooling yourself if you think we’re far from having a coup our own selves. I’m dead serious.”

Trump’s rhetorical flouting of international and national laws has prompted many an unexpected speculation. In an interview with Bill Maher back in February, ex-CIA head Michael Hayden talked about Trump’s pledge to kill the family members of terrorists. Hayden said:

“If he were to order that once in government, the American armed forces would refuse to act.”

“That’s quite a statement, sir,” Maher said.

“You are required not to follow an unlawful order,” Hayden added. “That would be in violation of all the international laws of armed conflict.”

“You’ve given us a great reason not to support Trump. There would be a coup in this country,” Maher joked.

Hayden said he didn’t mean to imply that the military would provoke “a coup.”

Indeed, many members of the military brass would likely resign rather than openly defy their commander in chief. As for the rank and file, they support Trump over Clinton two to one. But that doesn’t mean they’re particularly enthusiastic about the choice. According to a Military Times poll, “More than 61 percent indicated they are ‘dissatisfied’ or ‘very dissatisfied’ with Trump as the Republican nominee, including 28 percent of those who intend to vote for him.” It’s hard to predict from these statistics how the military would respond if a Trump administration began to shred the constitution.

But it’s not hard to predict how Americans feel about the military overall. Americans have long trusted the military more than any other institution in society. In 2016, according to Gallup, Congress achieved a 9 percent trust rating, the Supreme Court and the presidency 36 percent, organized religion 41 percent, the police 56 percent, and at the top of the list, the military at 73 percent. Only small business has ever approached the same level of trust as the military, according to the averages Gallup has collected over 43 years.

So, it’s no real surprise that, when given a choice, Americans would lean toward the military to safeguard their laws and their liberty. But before you start weighing the relative merits of accepting either Trump or the U.S. military going rogue – the former upending the constitution and the latter sticking up for it – let’s take a closer look at what just transpired in Turkey.

Keystone Kops Craft Kemalist Coup

When it comes to coups, the Turkish military should be the experts. After all, they’ve successfully executed 3.5 of them over the last half-century: in 1960, 1971, 1980, and 1997 (the last being a half-coup since the military, rather than intervening directly, pressured the government to resign).

It’s been nearly 20 years since this last half-coup, and obviously the Turkish military has gotten rusty after deviating from its once-a-decade routine. Last weekend, the coup leaders looked more like rank amateurs than seasoned pros. They failed to take out or otherwise neutralize President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was vacationing on the Mediterranean coast at the time. They seized control of the least important state TV channel. They didn’t secure important government buildings. They told their supporters to go home and then fired on the civilians who did come out onto the streets. They seemed to have forgotten about the existence of social media. They weren’t even able to forge a pro-coup consensus within the military itself.

The attempt was so botched that it generated numerous conspiracy theories – that Erdogan had engineered the whole thing, that the president had heard rumblings and deliberately ignored them, that the Americans were somehow behind it all.

The truth is much more mundane. Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party have been weakening the military for more than a decade, systematically working to remove the military’s influence on government. They’ve used earlier coup rumors to go after military officers – as well as journalists and officials – supposedly involved in a “deep state” controlling Turkish politics behind the scenes. As a result, the Turkish military is a far cry from the all-powerful institution of the 1970s and 1980s.

I was convinced, after visiting Istanbul in 2013, that the military had become a spent force. At the time I wrote:

The AKP has effectively contained the Turkish military through judicial and constitutional means. The threat of a coup, so prevalent in modern Turkish history, has largely disappeared. Not only have constitutional changes and court cases reduced the power of the army, the Erdogan government has also come close to resolving the decades-long civil war with the Kurdish PKK. The end of this conflict would go a long way toward removing the military from public affairs.

But then the Erdogan government decided to initiate two wars: against the Gulen movement and against the Kurds. The Gulen movement, named for its leader Fethullah Gulen who currently lives in the United States, preaches a liberal variety of Islam and runs a number of schools worldwide. It was also a major supporter of Erdogan and the AKP. But Erdogan began to worry about the spreading influence of Gulen supporters in the police, the judiciary, and the government itself. They began to resemble the “deep state” that Erdogan wanted to extirpate. In late 2013, he turned against the Gulen movement. The Erdogan government subsequently accused Gulen of orchestrating the coup and has demanded that the United States extradite him.

Meanwhile, Erdogan was concerned that domestically the Kurdish minority stood in the way of greater centralized power in Ankara and that Kurds in Syria stood in the way of greater Turkish influence over the outcome of the war against Bashar al-Assad’s regime. But taking on the Kurds meant ushering the military back into public life in Turkey. As Erdogan pushed for a new constitution to grant the presidency more powers and cracked down on any segments of society that might stymie his ambitions, he had to ensure that at least part of the military was on his side.

Some in the military were not happy with the bargain, whether because they disapproved of Erdogan’s power grab, the campaign against Gulen or the renewed conflict with the Kurds, or the AKP’s challenge to the Kemalist tradition, which respects a strict division between religion and state. According to the statement they released to the press, the coupsters offered to restore precisely what many in Turkey believe Erdogan has taken away from them: “Turkish Armed Forces have completely taken over the administration of the country to reinstate constitutional order, human rights and freedoms, the rule of law and the general security that was damaged.”

If they couldn’t count on the military closing ranks behind them, the coup leaders at least needed the support of the Turkish population. This wasn’t going to be easy, given that Erdogan’s party won around 50 percent of the vote in the last election. Even Turks who vehemently oppose Erdogan and would agree with the content of the coup statement did not believe that the military was the agent of their salvation. “The worst democracy is better than the best coup,” one Turkish liberal told The New York Times.

Having quashed the coup, Erdogan is moving quickly to consolidate his advantage by purging the military and the courts. The Turkish government has detained more than 7,500 people, including 2,800 officers and soldiers and more than 100 generals and admirals, and dismissed 2,700 judges and 9,000 civil servants. Most recently, the government suspended more than 15,000 educators and asked 1,500 university deans to resign. Call it a counter-coup, but it’s just an industrial-strength version of what Erdogan has been up to now for several years. In fact, for the government to act so quickly, it must have had lists of its targets drawn up well in advance.

That doesn’t mean that Erdogan planned the coup. It just means that sometimes your adversaries help clear your path to power.

Which brings us back to the Donald.

A Man, A Plan, A Coup

According to the aforementioned YouGov poll, 43 percent of Republicans could imagine the necessity of a military coup in the United States, rising to 55 percent in the event of constitutional violations. Those numbers look a lot like the kind of support Donald Trump enjoyed during the Republican primaries when a plurality, but not a majority, voted for him. Only when the primary season was coming to an end did his numbers rise above 50 percent among Republican voters.

It’s tempting to conclude that the same folks who approve of a military intervention into politics support Donald Trump’s intervention into politics. Trump is, in a way, a one-man coup. He is an outsider. He has contempt for the normal workings of democracy. As he has amply demonstrated in his dealings in the business world, he rules by fiat and by twisting arms.

But the mechanism by which Trump seizes power will not be a coup. For the moment at least, the ballot box still rules. If he manages to attain the White House in November, it will not because of the brilliant organizing of the Republican Party, which is divided, feckless, and craven. It will be because his adversaries hand him the opportunity on a platter.

I know Recep Tayyip Erdogan – well, not really – and Donald Trump is no Erdogan. But the Donald’s will to power is comparable. It’s up to Trump’s adversaries to prevent him from crowning himself president – or else there will be many more conversations next fall about the plusses and minuses of military coups.

The post Would Americans Ever Back a U.S. Military Coup? appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

John Feffer directs Foreign Policy in Focus, a project at the Institute for Policy Studies.