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American Businesses: Success Is Because Of Government, Not In Spite Of It

While big business whimpers about high statutory tax rates, the effective tax rate paid by most corporations in America is often far lower than most other developed nations (thanks to loopholes and accounting tricks). Meanwhile, corporate tax receipts accounted for 30 percent of US federal revenues in the mid-1950s. In 2009, they made up just 6.6 percent of federal revenue streams.

In other words, not only are big corporations funding a smaller percentage of our shared social safety net, they’re paying a smaller percentage into funding the future infrastructure that they desperately need.

Imagine if big business got its way and corporate taxes were slashed even further. How would businesses suffer?

What would Oprah and Henry Ford have done?

Imagine if, when Henry Ford wanted to start the Ford Motor Company, he had to not only drill for oil himself but also oversee the laying of pipelines and production infrastructure across government-owned land so his cars could have gas to make them go. And when the American auto industry was expanding in the 1940s and 50s creating jobs throughout the nation, imagine if Chrysler and General Motors had to not only build their own factories and assembly lines but actually plan and construct the roads and interstate highways for cars to drive on.

Imagine if Oprah had to regulate the television spectrum for herself and that at random, bandwidth pirates could intrude on broadcasts of the Oprah Winfrey Show because there was no Federal Communications Commission monitoring ownership of and access to the public airwaves.

Imagine if every restaurateur today had to invest in his or her own food safety teams to make sure the meat served isn’t toxic. Imagine if every small business in remote rural communities had to generate its own electricity on site because the government wouldn’t have helped fund the expansion of power lines to those distant places. Imagine if every corporation had to educate its entire workforce from childhood to adulthood because there were no public schools.

Bill Gates would have had to run phone lines.

What if, when Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, he couldn’t get a patent from the United States government to protect his idea? Or for that matter, if there had been no laws to protect private property and no law enforcement, Bell might have had to sit up all night with a gun guarding his invention – instead of going out in the world and figuring out how to use it. When Bill Gates wanted to start Microsoft, consider if instead of drawing on the government-created infrastructure of the original Internet (which he accessed early on in high school through the publicly funded University of Washington), Mr. Gates not only had to invent Windows, but also invent the entire World Wide Web and run the wiring for the phone lines that originally connected all his potential consumers.

When Warren Buffet launched his investing career that ultimately earned him billions, imagine if in addition to hiring lawyers to run his business, Mr. Buffett had to hire judges, too, and create entire court systems to oversee and enforce the types of binding contracts on which the stock market relies. For that matter, imagine if Buffet had to print his own currency and negotiate its value against the currencies of all other individual investors.e infrastructure of private sector success

Taxes fund the infrastructure of private sector success

Businesses in the United States don’t succeed in spite of our government, in many ways, they succeed because of our government. Through our taxes, we fund the legal and economic infrastructure of private sector success. By definition, those businesses that get the most out of that infrastructure are those that should give the most back.

At a time when economic conservatives want to slash spending that helps the poor and middle class rather than raise the already-low effective taxes of big business, it’s shameful that corporations like General Electric and Bank of America effectively pay no taxes. In the context of the larger American story, where successful businesses of today support the public infrastructure for the businesses of tomorrow, saying that corporations should pay even less is downright un-American.

By: Sally Kohn, AlterNet, July 22, 2011

July 24, 2011 Posted by | Bank Of America, Big Business, Budget, Businesses, Congress, Conservatives, Corporations, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Deficits, Economic Recovery, Economy, Federal Budget, General Electric, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Politics, Regulations, Republicans, Right Wing, Tax Increases, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Republican Paradox: The Party That Can’t Say Yes

For days, the White House has infuriated its Democratic allies in Congress by offering House Republicans more and more in exchange for a deal to raise the debt ceiling and prevent default. But it was never enough, and, on Friday evening, it became clear that it may never be enough. Speaker John Boehner again walked away from the “grand bargain” he had been negotiating with President Obama, leaving the country teetering on the brink of another economic collapse.

At the White House podium a few minutes later, the president radiated a righteous fury he rarely displays in public, finally placing the blame for this wholly unnecessary crisis squarely where it belongs: on Republicans who will do anything to upend his presidency and dismantle every social program they can find. “Can they say yes to anything?” he asked, noting the paradox of Republicans, who claim that financial responsibility and debt reduction are their biggest priorities, rejecting yet another deal that would have cut that debt by at least $3 trillion.

Mr. Obama, in fact, had already gone much too far in trying to make his deal palatable to House Republicans, offering to cut spending even further than the deficit plan proposed this week by the bipartisan “Gang of Six,” which includes some of the Senate’s most conservative members. The White House was willing to cut $1 trillion in domestic and defense spending and another $650 billion from Medicare, Medicaid and even Social Security.

Much of that savings would have come from raising the eligibility age for Medicare benefits and reducing the cost-of-living increases that elderly people depend on when receiving their health and pension benefits. It could have caused significant damage to some of the nation’s most vulnerable people.

The “bargain” would require that alongside these cuts, tax revenues would go up by $1.2 trillion, largely through a rewrite of the tax code to eliminate many deductions and loopholes. That’s substantially less in revenue than the $2 trillion in the “Gang of Six” plan. The problem is that while much of the cutting would start right away, most of the revenue increases would be put off, in part because a tax-code revision would take months, and in part to allow House Republicans to say they did not agree to any specific tax revenue increases.

Democratic lawmakers were rightly furious when they heard about these details this week, calling the plan wholly unbalanced. But, in the end, it was Mr. Boehner who torpedoed the talks. He said Friday evening that he and the president had come close to agreeing on $800 billion of the revenue increases (the equivalent of letting the upper-income Bush tax cuts expire as scheduled next year — not much of a heavy lift) but could not stomach another $400 billion the White House wanted to raise through ending tax loopholes and deductions.

So, on the eve of economic calamity, the Republicans killed an overly generous deal largely over a paltry $400 billion in deductions. Mr. Obama was willing to take considerable heat from his liberal critics over the deal, and the Republicans were not willing to do a thing to anger their Tea Party base. As the president forcefully said, there is no evidence that House Republicans are capable of making those tough decisions. If last-ditch talks beginning Saturday fail, they will have to take responsibility if the unimaginable — a government default — happens in 10 days and the checks stop going out.

By: The New York Times, Editorial, July 22, 2011

July 24, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Consumers, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Deficits, Democracy, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Federal Budget, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Medicare, Middle Class, Politics, President Obama, Public, Public Opinion, Republicans, Right Wing, Tax Credits, Tax Increases, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Teaparty | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Domestic Budget Extremists: Republicans, Zealots and The Threat To Our Security

If China or Iran threatened our national credit rating and tried to drive up our interest rates, or if they sought to damage our education system, we would erupt in outrage.

Well, wake up to the national security threat. Only it’s not coming from abroad, but from our own domestic extremists.

We tend to think of national security narrowly as the risk of a military or terrorist attack. But national security is about protecting our people and our national strength — and the blunt truth is that the biggest threat to America’s national security this summer doesn’t come from China, Iran or any other foreign power. It comes from budget machinations, and budget maniacs, at home.

House Republicans start from a legitimate concern about rising long-term debt. Politicians are usually focused only on short-term issues, so it would be commendable to see the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party seriously focused on containing long-term debt. But on this issue, many House Republicans aren’t serious, they’re just obsessive in a destructive way. The upshot is that in their effort to protect the American economy from debt, some of them are willing to drag it over the cliff of default.

It is not exactly true that this would be our first default. We defaulted in 1790. By some definitions, we defaulted on certain gold obligations in 1933. And in 1979, the United States had trouble managing payouts to some individual investors on time (partly because of a failure of word processing equipment) and thus was in technical default.

Yet even that brief lapse in 1979 raised interest payments in the United States. Terry L. Zivney, a finance professor at Ball State University and co-author of a scholarly paper about the episode, says the 1979 default increased American government borrowing costs by 0.6 of a percentage point indefinitely.

Any deliberate and sustained interruption this year could have a greater impact. We would see higher interest rates on mortgages, car loans, business loans and credit cards.

American government borrowing would also become more expensive. In February, the Congressional Budget Office noted that a 1 percentage point rise in interest rates could add more than $1 trillion to borrowing costs over a decade.

In other words, Republican zeal to lower debts could result in increased interest expenses and higher debts. Their mania to save taxpayers could cost taxpayers. That suggests not governance so much as fanaticism.

More broadly, a default would leave America a global laughingstock. Our “soft power,” our promotion of democracy around the world, and our influence would all take a hit. The spectacle of paralysis in the world’s largest economy is already bewildering to many countries. If there is awe for our military prowess and delight in our movies and music, there is scorn for our political/economic management.

While one danger to national security comes from the risk of default, another comes from overzealous budget cuts — especially in education, at the local, state and national levels. When we cut to the education bone, we’re not preserving our future but undermining it.

It should be a national disgrace that the United States government has eliminated spending for major literacy programs in the last few months, with scarcely a murmur of dissent.

Consider Reading Is Fundamental, a 45-year-old nonprofit program that has cost the federal government only $25 million annually. It’s a public-private partnership with 400,000 volunteers, and it puts books in the hands of low-income children. The program helped four million American children improve their reading skills last year. Now it has lost all federal support.

“They have made a real difference for millions of kids,” Kyle Zimmer, founder of First Book, another literacy program that I’ve admired, said of Reading Is Fundamental. “It is a tremendous loss that their federal support has been cut. We are going to pay for these cuts in education for generations.”

Education programs like these aren’t quick fixes, and the relation between spending and outcomes is uncertain and complex. Nurturing reading skills is a slog rather than a sprint — but without universal literacy we have no hope of spreading opportunity, fighting crime or chipping away at poverty.

“The attack on literacy programs reflects a broader assault on education programs,” said Rosa DeLauro, a Democratic member of Congress from Connecticut. She notes that Republicans want to cut everything from early childhood programs to Pell grants for college students. Republican proposals have singled out some 43 education programs for elimination, but it’s not seen as equally essential to end tax loopholes on hedge fund managers.

So let’s remember not only the national security risks posed by Iran and Al Qaeda. Let’s also focus on the risks, however unintentional, from domestic zealots.

By: Nicholas Kristoff, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, July 23, 2011

July 24, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Consumer Credit, Consumers, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Deficits, Democracy, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Education, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Homeland Security, Ideologues, Ideology, National Security, Politics, Public, Republicans, Right Wing, States, Teaparty, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Personal Parachutes: How Elites Could Profit From A U.S. Debt Crisis

Have you developed a hedging strategy to protect against America’s rapid decline? Or repositioned your portfolio to take advantage of orphaned Treasury securities? Or stashed some cash so you can buy distressed assets from the newly bankrupt?

If you’re like most Americans, the answer is, of course not. But if you work on Wall Street, the man-made debt crisis that’s brewing in Washington might represent a surprising opportunity to make money. As the whole world knows by now, the U.S. government will no longer be able to borrow money as of early August, unless Republicans and Democrats swallow their vitriol and come up with a compromise deal that will begin dealing with America’s oversized debt and allow the government to function normally. The nation’s mushrooming debt load is a big problem, but abruptly halting all federal borrowing would transform it into a disaster, since it would require vast government spending cuts that would promptly trigger another recession.

The ongoing assumption is that legislators will puff and posture until the last second, then congratulate themselves for making a deal that should have been in place months ago. But even if politicians avert the worst-case scenario, the size of the debt and the deep dysfunction in the nation’s capital are likely to cause other trouble. It’s increasingly likely, for instance, that rating agencies like Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s will cut America’s credit rating from AAA—the top rating, which the United States has held for decades—to a notch or two lower. That would force thousands of institutional investors to determine whether they can keep holding Treasury securities or whether they need to dump them. Even small spending cuts that come as part of a deal to raise the federal borrowing limit could cut into weak economic growth, especially if they go into effect immediately.

The knock-on effects of a U.S. debt downgrade, sharp spending cuts or a “policy mistake” in Washington could rattle financial markets, depress hiring and drive confidence back down to recessionary levels. But smart investors know that one man’s crisis is another’s opportunity, and the monied class is planning how to profit if America goes bust. As the New York Times reported recently, some hedge funds are stockpiling cash, to buy U.S. government securities at fire-sale prices if there’s a credit downgrade and conservative investing vehicles like pension or money-market funds are forced to dump Treasuries. Others are trying to identify institutions that might be damaged by a U.S. debt crisis and forced to sell assets that vulture investors could buy on the cheap. Another way to gamble on America’s collapse is to invest in credit-default swaps that would pay out if the United States defaults on its debt. The price of such insurance has doubled recently, indicating a lively market for bets against America.

The modern financial markets are sophisticated casinos that allow steely investors to gamble on almost anything, including gloom-and-doom scenarios that could potentially harm millions. Though it might sound unctuous, betting on the likelihood of adverse events is a healthy part of a free market, because it creates an even stronger incentive for those who would suffer from bad outcomes to prevent them—and punishes those who destroy value, such as CEOs who mismanage their companies. But it doesn’t always work that way, and besides, this kind of gambling is generally open only to professional investors or those wealthy enough to have experts handling their money.

In his 2010 financial disclosure forms, for instance, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor listed a small investment in a fund that bets against U.S. Treasury securities and would benefit if the U.S. government defaulted or something else happened that devalued Treasuries. That became controversial, since Cantor is one of the key Republicans involved in the debt negotiations and a conservative stalwart who insists there should be no new taxes as part of a deal. Cantor’s office says the fund is in his wife’s and his mother-in-law’s name and amounts to less than $4,000, while the vast majority of Cantor’s retirement savings are invested in conventional securities that would lose value if there were a true U.S. debt crisis. But Cantor’s portfolio is probably similar to those of other affluent Americans, with traditional investments offset by a hedging strategy meant to minimize losses if something profoundly bad happens.

Ordinary Americans who lack investment funds or live paycheck-to-paycheck don’t have much of a hedging strategy, however, which makes them directly vulnerable if Washington wrecks the economy and jobs gets even scarcer. Some economists think the drawn-out debt drama—and the near-total absence of action on other big problems, like the foreclosure epidemic or sky-high unemployment—is already causing harm. Businesses, for instance, have virtually stopped hiring while they await the outcome of the Washington Follies. A sliding stock market reflects jittery investors who can’t figure out if they should invest in a global recovery or gird for Armageddon. “Washington is locked in a budget war that will determine the U.S. economy’s fate, not only for this year and next but for generations,” writes economist Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics. “Lawmakers may well misstep on this path to fiscal sustainability.” If they do, many of them will no doubt have their own personal parachutes. If possible, get your own.

By: Rick Newman, Columnist, U. S. News and World Report, July 22, 2011

July 24, 2011 Posted by | Capitalism, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Consumers, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Deficits, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Federal Budget, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Income Gap, Jobs, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, Public, Republicans, Unemployment, Wall Street | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Debt Ceiling: What Killed The Deal And What Might Make One Happen This Week

There are a lot of good articles running through what happened between Thursday night, when a deal seemed likely, and Friday evening, when the talks fell apart. New reports suggest that Boehner is trying to prepare a deal by tomorrow evening, to prevent the markets from dropping Monday. So here’s the short version of what just happened, and where we’re likely to be going:

On Tuesday, the Gang of Six proposed a deal that would raise tax revenues by $2 trillion — which showed there was support among Senate Republicans for a deal that raised taxes by about $2 trillion. On Thursday, congressional Democrats rebelled over reports that the deal Boehner and Obama were negotiating had only $800 billion in new revenue, and it wasn’t even clear how those would be achieved. That night, Obama called Boehner looking for about $400 billion more in revenue to have something he could sell to Democrats. That would have brought the deal from $800 billion in revenue to $1.2 trillion in revenue. He didn’t get a call back until the next day at 5:30 p.m. — by which point the call was unnecessary. Boehner had already told the media that he was leaving the talks.

Republicans are emphasizing that the White House went from asking for $800 billion in revenue to $1.2 trillion. The word you’re hearing from them is “reneged,” but the White House emphasizes that negotiations were ongoing, and both sides were asking for more as they tried to figure out what they could both agree on and pass through Congress. Boehner, for instance, wanted further cuts to Medicaid, a trigger that would repeal the individual mandate and the Independent Payment Advisory Board if the entitlement cuts didn’t come through, and a tighter cap on discretionary spending. “They make it seem like the president made some ultimatum on $1.2 trillion in revenue,” says a senior administration official. “He didn’t. He said, ‘If you can’t do this, let’s figure out what we can do.’ ”

The “what we can do” would probably have been to ratchet back the entitlement cuts. Or maybe another solution would have been found. It’s hard to say because Boehner didn’t come back with a counteroffer. He simply left the negotiations.

But let’s zoom out on where the negotiations left off. Spending cuts would have totaled about $3 trillion, with a bit less than a trillion dollars of that coming from entitlements and other forms of mandatory spending. Revenue increases — none of which would have come from raising marginal tax rates — would have been between $800 billion and $1.2 trillion. The package would have extended the unemployment insurance and payroll tax cut provisions passed in the 2010 tax deal. All in all, that’s about a trillion dollars less in revenues than the Simpson-Bowles/Gang of Six deals advocated, and about $2.6 trillion less in revenue than simply letting the Bush tax cuts expire in 2012.

There’s a question as to whether this was the very best deal Republicans could get or simply close to it. But it’s hard to believe that it was so bad that it ended the talks. What seems likelier is that Boehner spent some time between Thursday and Friday talking to his members and found that his party simply didn’t support a deal with the White House. For one thing, a deal would include some amount of revenue, and that was a hard sell under any circumstances. For another, letting the president look like a dealmaker would potentially dim the GOP’s chances of retaking the White House in 2012. As my colleague George Will put it Thursday, a deal “would enable President Obama to run away from his record and run as a debt-reducing centrist.”

And so Boehner walked. Fundamentally, this looks like the same calculation that ended the last round of talks over a 4 trillion deal. What’s different this time is Boehner’s plan B: The Speaker of the House appears to believe that a deal struck between congressional leadership would perhaps be easier to sell to his members. Since it’s hard to see Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid making deeper concessions than Obama did, it’s hard to see why that would be true, save that the deal might not look like such a victory for the White House.

Perhaps taking the benefit for Obama off the table will be enough. I’m doubtful. It’s more likely that what we’re really doing now is wasting time until the markets plummet and Boehner’s members decide that a deal is better than no deal. And there’s a very good chance that the first major show of market concern could come tomorrow night, when the Asian markets open. Boehner is hoping to present a plan by then, but a plan is very different from a deal. A plan is something politicians can come up with. A deal, we’re increasingly finding, is something that we need the markets to force.

By: Ezra Klein, Columnist, The Washington Post, July 23, 2011

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July 24, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Consumers, Debt Ceiling, Deficits, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, Federal Budget, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Individual Mandate, Lawmakers, Media, Medicaid, Politics, President Obama, Press, Public, Pundits, Republicans, Right Wing, Tax Increases, Taxes, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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