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Undocumented Immigrants Paid $11.2 Billion In Taxes While GE Paid Nothing April 24, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Immigration.
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Our guest blogger is Mike Elk, a freelance labor journalist and third generation union organizer based in Washington, D.C. You can follow him for more updates on twitter at @MikeElk.

This past month, there was much outrage over the fact that General Electric, despite making $14.2 billion in profits, paid zero U.S. taxes in 2010. General Electric actually received tax credits of $3.2 billion from American taxpayers.

At the same time that General Electric was not paying taxes, many undocumented immigrants, who are typically accused of taking advantage of the system while not contributing to it by many on the right, paid $11.2 billion in taxes. A new study by the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy shows that undocumented immigrants paid $8.4 billion in sales taxes, $1.6 billion in property taxes, and $1.2 billion in personal income taxes last year. The study also estimates that nearly half of all undocumented immigrants pay income taxes.

ITEP bases its figures of what immigrants pay taxes based on the following factors:

  • Sales tax is automatic, so it is assumed that unauthorized residents would pay sales tax at similar rates to U.S. citizens and legal immigrants with similar income levels.
  • Similar to sales tax, property taxes are hard to avoid, and unauthorized immigrants are assumed to pay the same property taxes as others with the same income level. ITEP assumes that most unauthorized immigrants are renters, and only calculates the taxes paid by renters.
  • Income tax contributions by the unauthorized population are less comparable to other populations because many unauthorized immigrants work “off the books” and income taxes are not automatically withheld from their paychecks. ITEP conservatively estimates that 50 percent of unauthorized immigrants are paying income taxes.

While it’s impossible to estimate exactly how much in taxes undocumented immigrants paid, it is clear that undocumented immigrants are paying more taxes than General Electric, which paid absolutely nothing. This raises the question of who really is leaching off the American system: undocumented immigrants who pay their taxes and are typically too afraid of being deported to receive public assistance or corporations that pay nothing while receiving billions in credits

International Attention Focused on Berkeley Divestment Vote April 14, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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(Roger’s note: as a former elected member of the ASUC Executive Committee (1961 -1962), a precursor to the current Senate, I take special pleasure in posting this item on my blog.  The main argument for the apologists of Israeli apartheid, that it is unfair to single out Israel as a violator of human rights, is specious.  When addressing a particular political problem, one is not obligated to include all others.  Of course there are other governments worthy of condemnation (none more than the government of the United States of America); but the genocidal policies of past and present Israeli governments with respect to the Palestinian peoples, and particularly the Gaza massacre, represent major violations that neither can nor should not be ignored.)

Published on Wednesday, April 14, 2010 by The Daily California (UC Berkeley)by Allie Bidwell

International attention will descend on the ASUC Senate meeting tonight as senators consider upholding the passage of a controversial bill urging the student government and the University of California to divest from two companies that have provided war supplies to the Israeli military.

[Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu. In a recent letter to the UC Berkeley community, Tutu, who won the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts opposing apartheid in South Africa-said he endorsed the bill and urged senators to uphold the original vote, which he compared to similar efforts at UC Berkeley to divest from South Africa in the 1980s. (Wikimedia)]
Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu. In a recent letter to the UC Berkeley community, Tutu, who won the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts opposing apartheid in South Africa-said he endorsed the bill and urged senators to uphold the original vote, which he compared to similar efforts at UC Berkeley to divest from South Africa in the 1980s. (Wikimedia)

The bill names two companies-United Technologies and General Electric-as supplying Israel with the technology necessary to attack civilian populations in Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The bill originally passed the senate March 17 by a 16-4 vote following about six hours of discussion. A two-thirds majority, or 14 votes, is needed in order to override the veto. 

Senators have received more than 13,000 e-mails, roughly split between both sides of the controversy.

Prominent figures including South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, activist Naomi Klein and leftist MIT professor Noam Chomsky have spoken in support of overriding ASUC President Will Smelko’s March 24 veto of the bill. Local and national pro-Israel groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)-an influential Washington, D.C. lobby organization-Berkeley Hillel and the Anti-Defamation League have each stated the bill is divisive and unfairly targets Israel.

Supporters of the bill say divesting from the two companies would make a powerful statement against Israeli actions in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which supporters have compared to apartheid-era South Africa.

In a recent letter to the UC Berkeley community, Tutu, who won the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts opposing apartheid in South Africa-said he endorsed the bill and urged senators to uphold the original vote, which he compared to similar efforts at UC Berkeley to divest from South Africa in the 1980s.

He said in an e-mail Tuesday that he had a message for ASUC senators.

“I salute you for wanting to take a moral stand,” he said in the e-mail. “(Your predecessors) changed the moral climate in the U.S. and the consequence was the Anti-Apartheid legislation, which helped to dismantle apartheid non-violently. Today is your turn. Will you look back on this day with pride or with shame?”

Wayne Firestone, national president of Hillel-a Jewish campus organization-released a statement last month condemning the bill. The statement stated that the bill is “one-sided, divisive and undermines the pursuit of peace” and ignores human rights violations of other countries.

“The ASUC bill will not contribute a whit to the advancement of peace in the Middle East and will only serve to divide the Berkeley community,” Firestone said in the statement.

Pro-Israel activist organization J Street U, joined 18 other organizations-including Berkeley Hillel, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Federation of the East Bay, the Jewish National Fund and StandWithUs/SF Voice for Israel-in crafting an April 5 letter to UC Berkeley Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost George Breslauer stating that they felt the bill was dishonest and misleading.

Among concerns listed in the letter was that the bill “unfairly targets” Israel while marginalizing Jewish students on campus who support Israel.

“Though it states that the ‘ASUC resolution should not be considered taking sides in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict,’ the exclusive focus on Israel suggests otherwise,” the letter states.

Critics of the bill have said senators cannot make a proper judgement of an issue as complicated as the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Student Action Senator Parth Bhatt, who voted against the bill, said he felt the ASUC should not take a stance on such an issue because it marginalizes one community on campus.

“I don’t think the ASUC should put any student in that position,” Bhatt said. “The conflict is very complex and something I don’t think our senators know enough about to vote on.”

But CalSERVE Senator Ariel Boone said she supported the bill because she felt compelled to defend human rights.

“I went to Israel and had a really interesting time with Berkeley Hillel in January, and I have Holocaust survivors among my family,” Boone said in an e-mail. “I have never felt so uniquely qualified to speak on an issue.”

AIPAC has recently stated the need for a strategy to combat anti-Israel sentiments on U.S. university campuses.

“How are we going to beat back the anti-Israel divestment resolution at Berkeley?” said Jonathan Kessler, leadership development director for AIPAC, at a recent conference of the lobbying group. “We’re going to make sure that pro-Israel students take over the student government and reverse the vote. This is how AIPAC operates in our nation’s capitol. This is how AIPAC must operate on our nation’s campuses.”

But according to spokesperson Josh Block, the group did not take a position in the recent ASUC election.

“We don’t rate or endorse candidates,” Block said in an e-mail. “Of course we would always, publicly and consistently encourage pro-Israel students to be active in civic and political life.”

Read statements in opposition and in support of the divestment bill:

Naomi Klein

Noam Chomsky

Desmond Tutu

Hillel

Letter to Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost of UC Berkeley George Breslauer

AIPAC Video

© 2010 The Daily Californian

It Keeps Getting Worse: Obama Nominates Superfund Polluter Lawyer To Run DOJ Environment Division May 16, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Environment.
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by Craig Brown

www.commondreams.org, May 16, 2009

The Center for American Progress’ Think Progress blog is reporting:

President Barack Obama has nominated a lawyer for the nation’s largest toxic polluters to run the enforcement of the nation’s environmental laws. On Tuesday, Obama “announced his intent to nominate” Ignacia S. Moreno to be Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division in the Department of Justice. Moreno, general counsel for that department during the Clinton administration, is now the corporate environmental counsel for General Electric, “America’s #1 Superfund Polluter“:

Number five in the Fortune 500 with revenues of $89.3 billion and earnings of $8.2 billion in 1997, General Electric has been a leader in the effort to roll back the Superfund law and stave off any requirements for full cleanup and restoration of sites they helped create.

This February, General Electric lost an eight-year battle to “prove that parts of the Superfund law are unconstitutional.” One of the 600-person DOJ environmental division’s “primary responsibilities is to enforce federal civil and criminal environmental laws such as” the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Superfund.

Before General Electric, Moreno worked as a corporate attorney at Spriggs and Hollingsworth. Moreno’s name is found in the Westlaw database as an attorney defending General Motors in another Superfund case, the GM Powertrain facility in Bedford, Indiana:

Historical uses and management of PCB containing hydraulic oils and PCB impacted materials has contaminated on-site areas as well as the sediment and floodplain soil within Bailey’s Branch and the Pleasant Run Creek watershed.

Although General Motors entered into an agreement in 2001 with the EPA to clean up the site, a number of local residents whose land has been contaminated by polychorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have sued for damages in Allgood v. GM (now Barlow v. GM), in a contentious and caustic dispute over cleanup, monitoring, and lost property values.

During the Clinton administration, Moreno was involved in another controversial case, unsuccessfully defending the Secretary of Commerce’s decision to weaken the dolphin-safe tuna standard. In Brower v. Daley, Earth Island Institute, The Humane Society of the United States, and other individuals and organizations brought suit against the United States government for actions that were “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and contrary to law,” winning their case in 2000.

Organize! Many Employers Are Just Using the Recession to Stick it to Workers February 19, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Labor.
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by Dave Lindorff

Whatever the truth is about where this economy is heading, one thing is clear: employers are taking every opportunity to slash employment and, if they are unionized, to hammer unions for pay cuts, even when there is no justification for these actions.

Take Safeway Inc., a large national supermarket chain. The company, which had $44 billion in sales in 2007, and which, based upon third quarter figures for 2008 was well on the way to show record sales for 2008, appears to be using the economic downturn as a justification for laying off employees and making remaining employees work harder.

I can only give anecdotal information on this, but the Genuardi¹s Family Market store (a Safeway subsidiary) where I live, in Upper Dublin, PA, an upper middle-class suburb north of Philadelphia, according to its employees, has been laying off cashiers, and slashing its night work force; the people who restock the shelves and unload the delivery trucks when the store is closed. The management is doing this not because sales have slumped. They haven¹t. People may not be buying new cars, but they are still buying food, and in fact, if they are cutting back on eating out, as restaurant chains are reporting, they are probably actually buying more groceries, not less. Management is making these cuts simply because they can get away with it.

The layoffs, in the face of continued heavy business, means that cashiers are working harder. It means that the night staff, cut by half, is working twice as hard. But with jobs getting scarce, what is their option? If they don’t like the speed-up, where are they going to go in the current environment? Meanwhile, if service gets worse, customers will accept the decline because they’ll blame it on the economy, not noticing that there is really no justification for employee cutbacks at the supermarket.

Temple University, which is a major public higher education institution in Philadelphia, is reportedly telling all departments to make substantial cuts in their budgets . This will inevitably lead to layoffs of faculty and support staff critical to the education mission. And yet, what is the justification for such draconian measures? The governor initially announced plans to cut the state’s contribution to the university¹s annual budget for next year by a few million dollars, but the new Economic Recovery Act stimulus package includes huge grants to the states, including Pennsylvania, more than compensating for those cuts. Furthermore, state-funded universities across the country, including Temple, are reporting increased applications and enrollments, as students whose parents cannot afford to send them to private colleges, send them instead to public institutions, and as workers who lose their jobs decide that the economic downturn is a good time to go to college and get an education. That means more tuition revenues coming in. Moreover, student aid, including Pell Grants for lower-income students, have been substantially increased in the stimulus package, meaning more money for public colleges. Money might be marginally tighter at places like Temple (while, as with most public institutions, the university’s endowment is not a significant contributor to the operating budget, small as it is it is certainly significantly reduced because of the market collapse), but it’s certainly not down by enough to put universities in crisis. It may not even be down at all.

It might be understandable that state and local governments would be considering layoffs, or reduced pay and hours for public employees, given the slump in tax revenues from property taxes, sales taxes and income taxes. It is certainly necessary for the auto industry, which has seen sales plummet, to lay off workers. Luxury stores like Circuit City are going bust. But not all employers are hurting alike. Health care industries are still booming. Public colleges are doing fine. Supermarkets are doing well. Energy companies are okay.

Criticism of the nationwide wave of layoffs by companies and employers that really don’t need to beggar their workers or push them out onto the street came from an unusual quarter recently, when Steve Korman, chief executive of a privately held Philadelphia-area company called Korman Communities, blasted corporate executives for laying off workers when they don’t really need to. Korman had gotten upset when he saw Pfizer Inc.’s CEO Jeff Kinder say, on a television business program, that he planned to lay off 8000 workers in anticipation of a merger with Wyeth, another drug company. The layoffs were not being made because Pfizer was losing money or in trouble financially, but rather to improve profits. Korman, who owns stock in Pfizer, got angry and spent $16,000 to run ads in the Philadelphia Inquirer and the New York Times, saying:

“I have listened to the executives of many companies say that they are eliminating thousands of jobs to ‘improve the bottom line,’ I own stock in many of these companies and would prefer that the company make a smaller profit and [that] the stock fall, in the short term, rather than affect the lives of our neighbors and their families as jobs are lost.

“Please join me in reminding all CEOs that we are not just dealing with numbers and profit, but with real people and real families who need to keep their jobs.”

Korman sent individual letters saying much the same thing to 16 companies in which he is an investor, including Federal Express, Google, Cisco Systems, Caterpillar, General Electric, ExxonMobil, Kraft, Nokia, Intel, Johnson&Johnson, Apple, EMC, Chevron, DuPont, Coca-Cola, Oracle and Dow.

If this phenomenon is bad enough that it has upset a prominent capitalist like Korman, it is clearly a major problem.

The irony is that as all these companies slash their workforces, and force remaining workers to work harder, and as public institutions like Temple University and other colleges cut their faculties and increase class sizes for remaining teaching staff, they are undermining any stimulus that taxpayers are subsidizing in the massive stimulus bill, and thus making the recession worse, not to mention wasting the huge deficit-spending measure itself.

Nobody would argue with a company¹s laying off of workers when sales collapse and there is no money coming in, but in many cases this is not what has been happening.

One reason there is a tidal wave of layoffs even at viable businesses and institutions across the country is simply the lack of or weakness of labor unions. With workers at most employers unorganized (unions represent only some 8 percent of private employees), it is easy for managers to engender an attitude of fear and passivity among employees, which makes it easier to pick them off, and to make those on the job work ever harder. Furthermore, without labor contracts, there is little workers can do to resist speedups that can seriously threaten their health, safety and well-being.

Only a new militancy and sense of solidarity among American workers, and a revitalization of the nearly moribund labor movement, can rescue this situation, which will only get worse as the economy continues to sink.

Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net

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