Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Ten Worst Corporate Tax Avoiders

The Ten Worst Corporate Tax Avoiders: It's Time for Them to Pay up and Share the Sacrifice

by Sen. Bernie Sanders

March 27, 2011


While hard working Americans fill out their income tax returns this tax season, General Electric and other giant profitable corporations are avoiding U.S. taxes altogether.

With Congress returning to Capitol Hill on Monday to debate steep spending cuts, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said the wealthiest Americans and most profitable corporations must do their share to help bring down our record-breaking deficit.

Sanders renewed his call for shared sacrifice after it was reported that General Electric and other major corporations paid no U.S. taxes after posting huge profits. Sanders said it is grossly unfair for congressional Republicans to propose major cuts to Head Start, Pell Grants, the Social Security Administration, nutrition grants for pregnant low-income women and the Environmental Protection Agency while ignoring the reality that some of the most profitable corporations pay nothing or almost nothing in federal income taxes.

Sanders compiled a list of some of some of the 10 worst corporate income tax avoiders:

1) Exxon Mobil made $19 billion in profits in 2009. Exxon not only paid no federal income taxes, it actually received a $156 million rebate from the IRS, according to its SEC filings.

2) Bank of America received a $1.9 billion tax refund from the IRS last year, although it made $4.4 billion in profits and received a bailout from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department of nearly $1 trillion.

3) Over the past five years, while General Electric made $26 billion in profits in the United States, it received a $4.1 billion refund from the IRS.

4) Chevron received a $19 million refund from the IRS last year after it made $10 billion in profits in 2009.

5) Boeing, which received a $30 billion contract from the Pentagon to build 179 airborne tankers, got a $124 million refund from the IRS last year.

6) Valero Energy, the 25th largest company in America with $68 billion in sales last year received a $157 million tax refund check from the IRS and, over the past three years, it received a $134 million tax break from the oil and gas manufacturing tax deduction.

7) Goldman Sachs in 2008 only paid 1.1 percent of its income in taxes even though it earned a profit of $2.3 billion and received an almost $800 billion from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury Department.

8) Citigroup last year made more than $4 billion in profits but paid no federal income taxes. It received a $2.5 trillion bailout from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury.

9) ConocoPhillips, the fifth largest oil company in the United States, made $16 billion in profits from 2007 through 2009, but received $451 million in tax breaks through the oil and gas manufacturing deduction.

10) Over the past five years, Carnival Cruise Lines made more than $11 billion in profits, but its federal income tax rate during those years was just 1.1 percent.

Sanders has called for closing corporate tax loopholes and eliminating tax breaks for oil and gas companies. He also introduced legislation to impose a 5.4 percent surtax on millionaires that would yield up to $50 billion a year. The senator has said that spending cuts must be paired with new revenue so the federal budget is not balanced solely on the backs of working families.

"We have a deficit problem. It has to be addressed," Sanders said, "but it cannot be addressed on the backs of the sick, the elderly, the poor, young people, the most vulnerable in this country. The wealthiest people and the largest corporations in this country have got to contribute. We've got to talk about shared sacrifice."

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Century After Triangle Fire, Labor Struggles Remain

A Century After Triangle Fire, Labor Struggles Remain

Factory blaze that left 146 dead energized the US worker movement

Peter Fedynsky | New York March 22, 2011

Fire ladders only reached the sixth floor, and onlookers watched in horror as more than 50 people on the ninth floor jumped to their deaths to escape the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.

On March 25, 1911, 146 people died when fire swept through an overcrowded New York City garment factory. The victims were mostly young immigrant women. The so-called Triangle fire fueled public outrage over unsafe and unfair working conditions, which had already been at the center of a bitter struggle between labor and management. A century later, the battle is not over for many workers.

The tragedy happened near quitting time on a Saturday at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, which was located on the top three floors of the Asch Building. A discarded cigarette on the eighth floor set off the conflagration. People on the tenth floor, including the owners, were warned by telephone and escaped.

Most workers - who were on the ninth floor - were doomed by a locked door to prevent theft, panic, a dozen pails of water and a small elevator. At least 50 burned to death. Fire ladders could only reach the sixth floor, and onlookers watched in horror as more than 50 people jumped to their deaths. Nineteen fell into an empty elevator shaft. Twenty more fell from a shoddy fire escape.

Leigh Benin, a professor at Adelphi University and co-author of a book on the Triangle Fire, says greed and cut-throat competition among garment industry owners contributed to the tragedy.

“Their drive for profits persuaded them to do something that was unsafe: put too many people in that space with too few exits," says Benin. "And they certainly didn’t opt to have sprinkler systems, which could have been installed, and they resisted.”

Safety had been an issue two years before in a 1909 strike by 20,000 garment workers. They demanded better pay and shorter hours at a time when 14-to-16 hour work days were common. But garment industry owners not only hired goons and prostitutes to fight women on the picket line, they also bribed police to arrest strikers who defended themselves. Additionally, the Triangle factory owners did not recognize the union.

An estimated 400,000 people - one of every 10 New Yorkers - braved the driving rain to pay their respects to victims of the Triangle fire.
The Triangle fire revived public memory of the strikes. An estimated 400,000 people - one of every 10 New Yorkers - came in a driving rain to pay their respects to victims of the fire.

“And people wondered, had they won that struggle more decisively, had the union been recognized, would this fire have been avoided,” says Benin.

After Triangle, government officials could no longer ignore the public.

“There was this tremendous sense in this country that somebody should do something," says Katherine Weber, author of “Triangle,” a history of the fire. "For the first time, government wasn’t just serving business, wasn’t just serving the interests of commerce, but was actually expected by the people of the United States to take care of people.”

In response, the government set standards for workplace safety, minimum wages and maximum hours. Those standards remain in effect throughout the United States, but not elsewhere.

Last year, a garment factory fire killed 21 workers in Bangladesh.
Just last year in Bangladesh, 21 garment workers died in a blaze similar to the Triangle fire. Shanaz Begum lost her mother in the disaster.

"My mother went to the factory for her night shift duty and as the factory caught fire she could not come out because the gate of the factory was locked and she died," she says.

After the Triangle fire, a jury acquitted factory owners Isaac Harris and Max Blanck of deliberately locking a door to prevent theft. The decision further energized the labor reform movement. But now, those victories of U.S. labor 100 years ago could become an empty triumph, as Americans lose jobs that are shipped to countries without adequate labor laws.

The building where the Triangle fire occurred is now part of New York University.
“Labor, if it wants to prevent that truly horrible eventuality from taking place, needs to be an international movement," says Benin. "It needs to have solidarity across national lines. The corporations are already transnational or multinational. The labor movement has to be the same.”

The building where the Triangle fire occurred was donated to New York University and is now known as the Brown Science Building. Plaques commemorate the victims, and their legacy for the American labor movement is remembered every year.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Cockburn on California Nuke Power

Here, on the Other Side of the Ring of Fire

by: Alexander Cockburn, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

Americans read the increasingly panic-stricken reports of deepening catastrophe at Fukushima 1, speed to the pharmacy to buy iodine and ask, "It's happened there; can it happen here?"

Along much of California's coastline runs the "ring of fire," which stretches round the Pacific plate, from Australia, north past Japan, to Russia, round to Alaska, down America's West Coast to Chile. 90 percent of the world's earthquakes happen round the ring.

The late great environmentalist David Brower used to tell audiences, " Nuclear plants are incredibly complex technological devices for locating earthquake faults."

Halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles is the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, planned in 1968 when no one knew about the Hosgri fault, part of the ring of fire, a few miles offshore. Further inquiry established that there'd been a 7.1 earthquake 40 years earlier, offshore from the plant, completed in 1973. The power company -- Pacific Gas and Electric -- said it would beef up defenses. In their haste, the site managers reversed the blueprints for the new earthquake proofing of the two reactors, and so the retrofit wasn't a total success.

They recently discovered yet another fault and are now worried about "ground liquefaction" in the event of a big quake. In 2008, there was a terrorist attack by jellyfish, which blocked the cold water intake, and the plant was shut down for a couple of days.

Head south another 150 miles, and we get to the San Onofre plant, right on the shoreline. In fact, I've swum in its shadow, in waters highly esteemed by anglers because fish gather there, enjoying the elevated water temp; some also claim the fish there get bigger, faster. There are storage ponds for spent fuel in a decommissioned unit in a spherical containment of concrete and steel with the smallest wall being 6 feet thick, just about the same as the ruptured containment at one of the Fukushima units.

The power company says San Onofre is built to withstand a 7.0 quake. There is a 25-foot sea wall, which is just over half the height of the walls that crumbled like sand last week along Japan's northeast coast. San Onofre is seawater cooled. Environmentalists don't care for that, so they plan to build two cooling towers the other side of Interstate 5, California's main north-south road, thus immune to jellyfish attack, but open to other methods of assault.

The Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast figures the probability of an earthquake 6.7 or higher is 67 percent for Los Angeles, 63 percent for San Francisco. Up where I live, in the Cascadia subduction zone, we have a 10 percent possibility of an 8- or 9-force quake.

There are robust souls who look on the bright side. Some of them are in the pay of the nuclear industry -- President Obama for example, who took plenty of money from the nuclear industry for his presidential campaign, and in his State of the Union address last January reaffirmed his commitment to "clean, safe" nuclear power, about as insane a statement as pledging commitment to a nice clean form of syphilis. This week, Obama's press spokesman confirmed that nuclear energy "remains a part of the President's overall energy plan."

The United States produces more nuclear energy than any other nations. It has 104 nuclear plants, many of them old, many prone to endless shutdowns, all of them dangerous.

The benchmark catastrophe amid peacetime nuclear disasters remains the explosion in the fourth reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power station on April 26, 1986, in the Ukraine. In 2009, the New York Academy of Sciences published "Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment," a 327-page volume by three scientists -- Alexey Yablokov and Vassily and Alexey Nesterenko -- the definitive study to date. In the summary of his chapter "Mortality After the Chernobyl Catastrophe," Yablokov says flatly, "The calculations suggest that the Chernobyl catastrophe has already killed several hundred thousand human beings in a population of several hundred million that was unfortunate enough to live in territories affected by the fallout."

Set Fukushima next to Chernobyl and its ongoing lethal aftermath. Think of Southern California or North Carolina. Nuclear expert Robert Alvarez, who advised President Clinton on nuclear matters, writes this week that a single spent fuel rod pool -- as in Fukushima (or Diablo Canyon or San Onofre) -- holds more cesium-137 than was deposited by all atmospheric nuclear weapons tests in the Northern Hemisphere combined, and an explosion in that pool could blast "perhaps three to nine times as much of these materials into the air as was released by the Chernobyl reactor disaster."

In the past few years, there's been an explicit political trade-off here in the U.S. and in Europe, too, between the nuclear industry and many green organizations and prominent environmentalists, fixated solely on the increasingly disheveled hypothesis of humanly caused global warming. When the House of Representatives (though not the U.S. Senate) voted for a climate bill in 2009, the inclusion of a clean-energy bank to provide financial backing for new energy production, including nuclear, was part of the bargain.

This shameful pact has got to end. Nuclear power is over, or should be. Look at the false predictions, the blunders, the elemental truth that Nature bats last and that human folly and greed are ineluctable ingredients of man's condition. There's no middle ground.

Alexander Cockburn is co-editor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Tell Congress: No more taxpayer $ for more nuclear power

From: Nuclear Information and Resource Service

The situation at the Fukushima nuclear site in Japan continues to deteriorate. We are now looking at the very real possibility--even likelihood--of multiple reactor meltdowns coupled with multiple failures of irradiated fuel pools. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Japan at this hour.

We are posting updates as fast as we can obtain reliable information on our website: Please check often for new information.

The lesson of this catastrophe is clear: we must end use of nuclear power.

And that must start with the prevention of any new nuclear reactors. It is outrageous that the Obama Administration continues to say nuclear power will be part of its "clean energy" strategy. How anyone can view the images coming from Japan and continue to claim nuclear power is somehow "clean" is beyond our ability to comprehend.

If ever there was a time for Congress to hear our voice, it is now.
Click here to take action or go to

Friday, March 4, 2011

Arcata's Law Unconstitutional

Contending that Arcata’s panhandling ordinance is unconstitutional, resident Richard Salzman informed the City Council that he intends to file a lawsuit unless the ordinance is amended.

As written, the ordinance makes it a crime to merely hold up a sign asking for money. By denying citizens constitutional right of free speech, Salzman contends the City Council overstepped its authority.

“If first they silence the poor and the homeless, and I say nothing, who will speak up when they try to silence me?” Salzman asked.

He noted that the section of the ordinance against “aggressive panhandling,” including blocking one’s path, any physical contact or yelling, would be left unchallenged by this legal action.


February 14, 2011

Susan Ornelas, Mayor
Michael Winkler, Vice-Mayor
Shane Brinton, Council Member
Alexandra Stillman, Council Member
Mark Wheetley, Council Member
Randy Mendosa, City Manager
Nancy Diamond, Esq., City Attorney

City of Arcata
736 F Street
Arcata, CA 95521

Re: Unconstitutional Panhandling Ordinance enacted April 16, 2010, as Arcata Municipal Code [AMC] Sections 4280-4282.

Dear City Council, City Manager and City Attorney:

Please take notice that Mr. Richard Salzman, a resident of, and taxpayer within, the City of Arcata, has retained the undersigned to bring an action against the City of Arcata to declare its panhandling ordinance unconstitutional and to enjoin the City from any further enforcement of said ordinance. The purpose of this letter is to invite the City to amend its panhandling ordinance as set forth herein, and thereby avoid the expense, uncertainty and unpleasantness of contested litigation.

Specifically, Mr. Salzman contends that AMC Sections 4282B, 4282C, 4282D, 4282E, 4282F and 4282G are unconstitutional. The overall impact of these sections is to criminalize begging in most of the City where it would be fruitful to beg. Begging is a charitable solicitation. The First Amendment clearly protects charitable solicitations. No distinction of constitutional dimension exists between soliciting funds for oneself and for charity. The fact that a beggar keeps the money she receives does not strip the speech of First Amendment protection. A speaker’s rights are not lost merely because compensation is received; a speaker is no less a speaker because she is paid to speak.

To be lawful, the ordinance must serve a compelling interest that is narrowly drawn to achieve its end. The City’s compelling interest, if one exists, is well-served by the ordinance’s ban on aggressive panhandling, to which Mr. Salzman does not take exception. Mr. Salzman objects to the near-total ban on begging in public fora, the justification for which can be little more than avoiding “annoyance” to the public, hardly a compelling interest in First Amendment jurisprudence. Moreover, the ordinance’s ban on begging is not “narrowly tailored;” indeed, it is embarrassingly broad. To achieve the City’s goal of criminalizing the speech of a few beggars, the City has criminalized all solicitations for money. A girl scout cannot sell cookies on the City’s streets. Nor may any charity solicit money in most of the City. A beggar cannot even hold a sign up to ask for money; a more clearly content-based restriction on speech is difficult to imagine.

The City’s attempt to justify these draconian restrictions on speech under the so-called “captive audience rule” is unavailing. The City’s expansion of that concept to include almost all public space within the City perverts the intent of the rule and strikes at the very heart of discourse in a democratic society- the right to communicate with one’s fellow citizens on the public commons.

Other constitutional concerns are implicated in the City’s ordinance. The criminalization of solicitation implicates equal protection concerns, to wit, the ordinance targets the First Amendment rights of the City’s poorest and most downtrodden residents, while it remains legal to accost members of the public to ask the time of day, or to sign a petition. The complexity of the ordinance, with its crazy patch-work of places where it is illegal to beg, implicates notice and due process concerns. A reasonable citizen of the City lacks adequate notice as to where she may beg and where she may not beg. Likewise, the ordinance’s definition of “panhandling” leaves questions unanswered: Is a check or credit card transaction on the City’s streets illegal, or just a cash transaction? This renders the ordinance subject to challenge for vagueness.

Mr. Salzman would prefer to resolve this matter without litigation, and to that end, invites the City and its attorneys to meet with the undersigned to work toward resolution of the issues raised herein.


Peter E. Martin


Read article in Arcata Eye
and post on Humboldt Herald.
Link to JPR radio show on subject (starts at 30:min mark):