Saturday Soother – July 10, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Sunset at White Sands NP, NM – 2021 photo by Guyin6300dollarsuit.

Gabriel Zucman and Gus Wezerek had an opinion piece in the NYT about the divergence between personal and corporate tax rates:

“In the decades after World War II, close to 50% of American companies’ earnings went to state and federal taxes. Economically, it was a golden period. Middle-class incomes grew at roughly the same rate as those of the richest Americans.

But as globalization gave companies the ability to choose where they recorded profits, Congress scrambled to keep their business by lowering corporate taxes. In 2018, American companies were taxed at an average effective rate of less than 14%, by our calculations.”

For the past 30 years, corporate tax breaks have helped business owners amass huge amounts of money, much of which is kept offshore. Their gain has been the loss for middle-class Americans, who have footed the bill, as Congress has supported our federal budgets by raising taxes on wages:

This chart shows the result of Republican policies. Corporate taxes are at an all-time low, while many profitable corporations pay no tax at all, and workers’ taxes on wages have risen. This has caused a huge and still growing gap in income and wealth between the rich who lead America’s corporations and the rest of us.

Let’s spend a minute on some tax arcana. There used to be a tax regulation that kept income out of tax havens. It is called unitary taxation, a method of allocating corporate profit to a particular state (or country) where that corporation has a taxable presence. It attributes the corporation’s total worldwide profit (or loss) to each jurisdiction, based on factors such as the proportion of sales, assets, or payroll in that jurisdiction.

If this were in effect, it would slow the parking of profits in tax havens by multinationals. California and other states used to use unitary taxation. It was the subject of two US Supreme Court cases: Mobil Oil v. Vermont and Exxon v. Wisconsin, both decided in 1980 in favor of the unitary tax principle. In other words, in favor of the states.

In 1983, the US Supreme Court again ruled in favor of unitary taxation but this time on a worldwide basis in their Container Corporation vs. Franchise Tax Board decision.

That’s when St. Ronnie pressured California and other states to adopt a restricted version known as the water’s edge method that excludes the profits of foreign affiliates from a state’s pre-apportionment tax base. This allowed profit-shifting to tax haven affiliates to mushroom to what we see today.

Biden is trying to end the race to the bottom on corporate tax rates. But even if Congress approves the 15% global minimum corporate tax, it won’t be sufficient to close the growing economic gap between America’s corporations and its workers. Taxing multinationals at 15% would still leave them facing a lower rate than the average American pays in state and federal income tax.

What’s really needed is a 25% percent minimum corporate tax. That would bring in about $200 billion in additional revenue annually. Over 10 years, that would be enough to pay for nationwide high-speed internet, free community college and universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds.

All are worthy uses of tax dollars, but it’s doubtful that all Senate Democrats, much less enough Senate Republicans would support a 25% floor for corporations.

A Republican Congress took a shot at reforming the hiding of offshore profits with their 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act, which failed. Data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis suggest profits booked in foreign tax havens have not declined since the law was passed.

In 2018, US corporations reported more profit in Ireland than in Mexico, China, Germany and France combined. For example, in 2018, Facebook made $15 billion in profit in Ireland, about $10 million for each of its Irish employees, while Bristol Myers Squibb’s reported profit in Ireland worked out to about $7.5 million per employee.

For decades, Congress tried unsuccessfully to play catch-up as business owners and a handful of tax havens have driven our tax policy. The result is that we’re a nation where working-class Americans are left with underfunded public schools while the wealthiest Americans are boarding rocket ships in some ego-fueled game.

Time for a post-tropical storm Elsa break! Just when you think all is lost, you discover it isn’t. For the first time, Queen Elizabeth has decided that you can now have a picnic on the front lawn of Buckingham Palace. Don’t get too excited, there are rules: No knives to slice your cheese, no dogs, no prosecco. Besides, 78,000 people are already on the waiting list:

Now take a moment, and listen to Czech composer Bedřich Smetana’s String Quartet No.1 In E Minor “From My Life“, the Largo movement by the Amadeus Quartet, recorded in 2013:

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Why Won’t Manchin Help Keep Jobs in West Virginia?

The Daily Escape:

Grand Canyon NP at golden hour – photo by indieaz

Viatris is a new pharmaceutical company formed by the merger of Mylan and Upjohn late last year. Their strategy for improving profits post-merger was as is usual, to restructure and cut $1 billion in costs. One victim of the cost-cutting is the Viatris plant in Morgantown, West Virginia. The company announced the plant would close last December.

The Morgantown plant has been in operation since 1965. It employs between 1,500 and 2,000, whose jobs will be offshored to India and Australia. These are well-paying jobs in one of America’s poorer states. The bulk of the layoffs will occur on July 31, when 1,246 people will be let go, including 764 union workers and 482 nonunion staff. Complete closure will happen by March 2022.

Mylan reported $3.9 billion in profits in 2019. Naturally, local union president Joe Gouzd had harsh words for Viatris:

“This is the last generic pharmaceutical manufacturing giant in the US, and executives are offshoring our jobs to India for more profits. What is this going to do to us if we have another pandemic?”

The local union represents about 900 workers. Gouzd said:

“…we’re going to rid ourselves of 2,000 high-paying jobs in north central West Virginia, taking out $150m to $200m out of the local economy…”

The West Virginia legislature passed a bill calling on Governor Jim Justice and Joe Biden to save the jobs. Biden has proposed taxing companies that offshore jobs, but it remains to be seen whether he will be successful.

Senators Elizabeth Warren and Marco Rubio introduced the Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Review Act to study America’s over-reliance on foreign countries in pharmaceutical industry, but neither West Virginia Senator has sponsored the bill.

The Guardian reports that Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito has ignored pleas to work with Biden officials to save the plant. Democrat Joe Manchin, whose daughter Heather Bresch served as Mylan’s chief executive until she retired in 2020, didn’t fully ignore their requests to get involved; he held a Zoom meeting in December that might as well have focused on “thoughts and prayers.”

Isn’t it curious that the state’s two Senators aren’t trying hard to keep jobs in their state?

You probably hadn’t heard that Bresch collected $37.6 million when she stepped down from Mylan. You also missed that under her leadership, Mylan recently undertook what’s called a “tax inversion”, changing its headquarters for tax purposes from Pittsburgh, PA to the Netherlands, reaping big tax breaks. So, less tax revenue for America.

Earlier, Mylan disclosed that it is in an ongoing lawsuit by the Public Employees Retirement System of Mississippi that alleges misconduct by the company. The suit alleges “misrepresentation and concealment of violations of FDA regulations governing pharmaceutical product quality and safety.” In 2016 and in 2018, the FDA found documentation, record-keeping, quality-control and cleaning issues. The plant was shut down temporarily after the 2018 findings. It then reduced production volume by about two thirds, and “right sized” plant staff.

But we initially heard about Ms. Bresch during Mylan’s EpiPen pricing controversy. They had been hiking prices for years on their epinephrine injector to the point where many people could no longer pay for it. Along with the EpiPen fiasco, Mylan paid $465 million to the federal government to settle claims it underpaid Medicaid rebates.

Understandably, the town and the state are looking for ways to head off the layoffs. Last week, members of the union and others rallied outside the state capitol in Charleston to urge Republican governor Jim Justice to help save the facility. According to the union, Justice said his administration was trying to find an alternative to closure, including holding talks with two companies that have expressed an interest in buying the plant.

But Justice said that Viatris was not cooperating:

“We’ve talked with Viatris, and we continue to struggle with them….They’re difficult to work with. The least they could do …is be cooperative.”

So, Viatris isn’t the best of corporate citizens. That doesn’t make them different from most multinationals. That means political pressure is the only leverage that will keep these jobs in America.

Yet, when you see these two “bipartisan” Senators not lift a finger to help the soon-to-be unemployed citizens of their own state, you have to ask: Why haven’t they done more?

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Senate Authorizes New Industrial Policy

The Daily Escape:

Oro Valley, AZ – 2021 photo by PoohBear512

On June 8, the Senate passed a major industrial policy bill that would direct government investment toward critical technological sectors. The bill is intended to reinvigorate the manufacturing segment of the US technology sector, providing alternatives to supply chains dependent on Chinese microchips. Some argue that it also lays the foundation for long-term economic and technological competition with China. The bill passed with a filibuster-proof 68 votes.

The debate over industrial policy is politically charged because it goes to the heart of a deeper, long-standing controversy over the role of free markets and the role of the government in the economy.

Proponents of a state-directed and funded industrial policy argue that the government has the duty to structure the economy in the national interest, since the free market may fail to do so. We know that manufacturing provides stable, well-paid employment, but that isn’t factored into an individual firm’s decision-making. We can look at American firm’s offshoring of production even though it has cost jobs domestically while also offshoring manufacturing know-how.

As we discovered with Covid, it is very important to produce critical goods domestically. Industrial policy can help a country determine what critical goods it needs to produce domestically, such as medical supplies, or military equipment, for national security reasons. We learned about the automotive chip shortage, which is part of the greater issue of foreign control of global computer chip production.

There is also an argument that the government should fund R&D because the societal benefits go far beyond what companies will ever invest in.

Industrial policy fell out of favor in the US during the 1980s and 1990s with the development of the Washington Consensus, that defined economic development as the result of free-market policies such as the privatization of state enterprises and promotion of free trade.

But because of our competition with China, there’s a renewed interest among DC politicians across the aisle with again doing what Republicans have castigated Democrats for doing: “Betting on winners and losers”.

The bill authorizes the lion’s share of the money, totaling $190 billion, for a major rethinking of federal science, technology and research spending. It creates a new technology division within the National Science Foundation to focus on emerging areas including artificial intelligence. It also gives $10 billion for the Commerce Department to invest in new technology hubs so that other regions and cities across the country can attract the same sort of economic opportunities as Silicon Valley.

If some version of the bill eventually passes both Houses and is signed into law by Biden, it represents a major shift in how the US government manages its relations with the tech sector.

Both Republican and Democrats now suddenly seem interested in government intervention in domestic markets. It turns out that bipartisanship is on the menu whenever the issue is socialism for corporations. We can easily pass legislation that sends $ billions to corporations, but money for voting rights, people’s domestic lives, and infrastructure? Not now, maybe not ever.

China has invested in R&D while the lion’s share of American firms have squandered their money on share buybacks. Shame on us for supporting tax cuts for corporations! If only we had the foresight to know how stupid those things were. Here’s a chart:

Source: Council on Foreign Relations

Oh wait. Many of us had that foresight.

We did this with Japan back in the late 1970s. Earlier, we outspent the Russians in the space race.

This time we will probably give $ billions to the some of the same companies that decided to move their factories to China in the first place. Oversight will be crucially important.

Nothing we do will prevent China from educating its people, building new infrastructure, and focusing on STEM. But we can keep our edge over the Chinese by focusing on education, basic research, infrastructure upgrades, and STEM.

And the Chinese won’t be an easy target.

While we debate whether intelligent design and Critical Race Theory should be taught in our schools, the Chinese will be colonizing the Moon. While we fight about the 2nd Amendment, the Chinese are moving to dominate the global economy.

Most of the bill funds domestic investments to remain technologically competitive and reduce dependence on our economic adversaries. This seems like sound policy.

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Monday Wake Up Call – June 7, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, Paines Creek Beach, Cape Cod MA – May 2021 photo by Kristen Wilkinson Photography

People worldwide are finally waking up to the tax mischief of multinational corporations. When Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen announced earlier this year that it was time to end the “race to the bottom” and implement a global minimum tax for corporations, few took her seriously.

But now we could be on the cusp of a once-in-a-generation moment that would benefit funding of our public services immensely.

On Saturday at the G7 meeting, the members agreed to back a new global minimum tax rate of 15% for companies to pay on income, regardless of where they are based. The deal is focused on two main changes: reallocating taxes towards countries where economic activity takes place, rather than where these firms choose to book their profits, along with setting a minimum tax rate.

If enacted, the agreement would stop large multinational companies from locating in tax havens, which will force them to pay more taxes. This is clearly revolutionary. The winners would be large economies where multinationals sell a lot, but where they book little taxable profit, thanks to tax loopholes that allow them to siphon off income into low-tax jurisdictions.

This has become a larger problem since the rise of the digital giants like Apple and Google, companies with mostly intangible assets. The most obvious losers will be the tax haven countries that, more than half a century ago, started taking advantage of globalization by drastically lowering their tax rates.

The most sophisticated firms, those with battalions of tax lawyers and accountants, have for years employed tax loopholes in individual countries’ tax laws to minimize their total tax liability. While not all tax loopholes deal with international sales, they are a prime method that the biggest firms use to avoid income taxes.

The NYT cites a report from the EU Tax Observatory which estimated that a 15% minimum tax would yield an additional $58 billion in tax revenue per year.

Between 2011 and 2020, Amazon, Facebook, Alphabet (the owner of Google), Netflix, Apple, and Microsoft paid roughly $219 billion in income taxes, which amounted to just 3.6% of their more than $6 trillion in total revenue, according to the Fair Tax Foundation.

Had these six firms paid the prevailing tax rates in the countries in which they operate, they would have given global tax authorities over $149 billion more than they did over the past decade.

But tax reform isn’t a sure thing. Next month, the G7 must sell the concept to finance ministers from the broader G20 group of nations. If that is successful, officials hope that a final deal can be signed by the Group of 20 leaders when they meet next in October. Ireland, which has a tax rate of 12.5%, has come out against the global minimum tax. China has been quiet, but is considered unlikely to buy in.

G7 finance officials think that if enough advanced economies sign on, other countries will be compelled to follow suit. They plan to exert political pressure on Ireland to join the agreement.

The Biden administration has been eager to reach an agreement because a global minimum tax is an ingredient in its plans to raise the US corporate tax rate to 28% from the current 21%, to help shave the deficit. While Republicans and corporations think that increasing taxes would make American companies less competitive, getting other countries to go along with a minimum tax rate on overseas profits would minimize the home field disadvantage to American companies.

Time to wake up, America! We need our Congress, along with world leaders, to step up and enact this new tax policy. Changes to the tax code requires approval from both Houses of Congress, so this may never happen.

To help you wake up, listen to a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Everything Is Broken” by RL Burnside, with an all-star supporting cast including Buddy Guy with the first guitar solo, Derek Trucks with the second guitar solo and James Cotton on solo harmonica.

You may not be aware that Rolling Stone has a list of their top 80 Dylan covers . Here’s Burnside’s blues take on Dylan:

Sample lyric:

Broken hands on broken ploughs,

Broken treaties, broken vows,

Broken pipes, broken tools,

People bending broken rules.

Hound dog howling, bull frog croaking,

Everything is broken.

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US Banks Want Another Bailout

The Daily Escape:

Beach near Avon Fishing Pier, NC – April 2021 photo by Greg Kiser

Many of you know that Wrongo spent many years as a banker for one of the top-three US banks. Banks have several challenges when trying to make a buck. They must first find a borrower. The borrower must be able to afford and repay the loan, and when the loan is repaid, the banker must find another borrower. That summarizes the raison d’etre for loan officers and banks in general. Full disclosure: Wrongo receives a pension from the big bank.

That background may help with the following story from the NYT:

“The Biden administration’s efforts to provide $4 billion in debt relief to minority farmers is encountering stiff resistance from banks, which are complaining that the government initiative to pay off the loans of borrowers who have faced decades of financial discrimination will cut into their profits and hurt investors.”

This debt relief is part of the $1.9 trillion stimulus package that Congress passed in March. It is intended to make amends for the discrimination that Black and other farmers of color have faced from lenders and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). More from the NYT:

“But no money has yet gone out the door. Instead, the program has become mired in controversy and lawsuits. In April, white farmers who claim that they are victims of reverse discrimination sued the USDA over the initiative.

Now, three of the biggest banking groups — the American Bankers Association, the Independent Community Bankers of America and National Rural Lenders Association — are complaining about the cost of being repaid early.”

The impacted banks will receive 120% of the outstanding loan balances. They are getting that additional amount to help cover their costs and taxes. Their complaint is that 120% isn’t enough, that they have been short changed because they won’t receive future interest on a loan that will no longer exist.

What has happened to corporate America if this is really a legitimate issue?

When a bank loan is repaid early, the bank now has that money available to lend again. The bank isn’t losing money, they’re losing the ability to earn the total return they projected when they originally made the loan. Most loans have a right of prepayment, usually without penalty. So, once repaid, the bank has an opportunity to create new loans and a new earnings stream with a new borrower.

Where’s the problem unless Wall Street requires another bail-out because they can no longer operate profitably under their basic business model?

A glitch is that the banks do not always hold the loans they originate to maturity. Instead, they package them and sell them to other investors. The bank lobbying groups have been asking the USDA to step in and make the loan repayments on behalf of the borrower. Of course, this makes what was a loan to a Black (or other minority) farmer a riskless US government security.

The USDA says that obliging the banks would put an undue burden on taxpayers and that the law doesn’t allow the agency to pay interest costs or reimburse secondary market investors. This quote from Bill Bridgeforth, a farmer in Alabama who is on the board of the National Black Growers Council says it all: (brackets by Wrongo)

“Look at the two groups: You have the Black men and women who have gone through racism and discrimination and [some] have lost their land and their livelihood….And then you have the American Bankers Association, which represents the wealthiest folks in the land, and they’re whining about the money they could potentially lose.”

In addition to the banks, a group of white farmers in Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Ohio are suing the USDA, arguing that offering debt relief on the basis of skin color is discriminatory. The lawsuit was filed by a group led by (who else?) the former Trump administration troll Stephen Miller. Miller’s fear of people of color getting anything is at the diseased heart of America’s economic, justice, and social systems.

Investing involves risk, including the risk of losing money. These banks aren’t going to “lose” money. And they’re ignoring the historical injustices visited on these farmers while focusing on their bottom lines. They’re also ignoring that they were an important part of that systemic racism.

This is another example of a huge flaw in our national ethos: The notion that maximizing business profits must always be a primary consideration when formulating government policy, and that enriching shareholders should take precedence over everything else.

The banks protesting debt relief for Black farmers says plenty about their sense of entitlement, particularly when their profits are soaring. It’s more proof that we need revolutionary change to American capitalism.

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Another Problem for Biden: Who Controls the Arctic Ocean?

The Daily Escape:

Cape Porpoise, ME – April 20, 2021 photo by Eric Storm

American has only two icebreakers that can operate at the North Pole. One is more than 40 years old, and the other is in drydock. This is a problem because the Arctic ice cap is melting, and many countries plan to use the Arctic Ocean as a much quicker transit route from Europe to Asia.

Why is this a big deal? Rockford Weitz, professor at the Fletcher Maritime Studies Program of Tufts University, has an article in The Conversation about the looming competition for control of the warming Arctic Ocean. He points to a recent voyage:

“A tanker carrying liquefied natural gas from northern Russia to China tested that shorter route this past winter, traversing the normally frozen Northern Sea Route in February for the first time with the help of an icebreaker. The route cut the shipping time by nearly half.”

It’s clear that even including the cost of having an icebreaker along for the trip, traversing the Arctic Ocean was cost-effective. The polar ice is melting quickly, so countries will need more icebreakers to help LNG tankers cross the Arctic.

Russia has 46 icebreakers and has 11 under construction. The US has three and has three under construction. Wikipedia says that the US icebreaker situation is currently so dire that the US Coast Guard is loath to send the working icebreakers too far north, because if one breaks down, it would almost certainly have to call for help from a nearby Russian icebreaker.

That demonstrates how bad US/Russian relations have become. At one time, both powers could cooperate on this kind of prosaic thing.

There’s more at stake. The US Geological Survey estimates that about 30% of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and 13% of undiscovered oil may be in the Arctic. As waters become passable, that will attract both more shipping and more mineral exploration. Weitz also says that the competition for control of the Arctic has reached new levels:

“Russia is now attempting to claim more of the Arctic seabed for its territory. It has been rebuilding Cold War-era Arctic military bases and recently announced plans to test its Poseidon nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed torpedo in the Arctic.”

It’s remarkable to learn that the US military has been caught flat-footed with the retreat of Arctic sea ice. The retreat of the polar ice cap and the opening of a Northern passage have both been well covered in the media for years. Yet, both the arms merchants and hawks in Congress somehow missed this profit opportunity?

More from Weitz:

“Congress put off investing in new icebreakers for decades….Now, the lack of polar-class icebreakers undermines America’s ability to operate in the Arctic region, including responding to disasters as shipping and mineral exploration increase.”

Congress has authorized construction of three more heavy icebreakers at a total cost of around US $2.6 billion but has so far funded just two of them. They take years to build. A shipyard in Mississippi expects to deliver the first by 2024.

The US has one heavy icebreaker, the Polar Star, that can break through ice up to 21 feet thick. It was commissioned in 1976. While it is usually in Antarctica each winter, it was sent to the Arctic this year to provide a US presence, presumably to counter the Russians.

But the Polar Star’s crew had to fight fires and deal with power outages and equipment breaks. Our second icebreaker, the much smaller Healy, commissioned in 2000, also suffered a fire on board in August 2020 and had to cancel its Arctic operations.

How is it possible that we spend roughly 10 times more on defense than Russia, but once again, we’re behind in a strategic situation? This proves that our defense procurement is corrupt. It has been for a very long time.

We have two problems. First, today’s Earth Day, and on its 51st anniversary, the Arctic Ocean is melting because of global warming. Despite that, the world’s saying: let’s all go up to the Arctic and produce more global warming. Second, our Defense Department has known for years that Russia had a big advantage in icebreakers, and that climate change would certainly open the area to competition.

What did the military and our Congress Critters do about these totally knowable things? As usual, nothing. American politics has become self-destructive.

Once again, the only skills the US Congress displays are obstruction and corruption. The beat goes on.

What did you expect?

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Biden’s Infrastructure Plan

The Daily Escape:

Crepuscular rays at White Sands NM, NM – photo by dantreks

Biden announced his big infrastructure plan on Wednesday. The American Jobs Plan is a $2+ trillion proposal that is an expansive interpretation of the word “infrastructure.”

Naturally, Republicans are against it. South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem (R) disparaged it on Fox:

“I was shocked by how much doesn’t go into infrastructure…It goes into research and development. It goes into housing and pipes and different initiatives, green energy.”

So, Republicans aren’t sure what “infrastructure” is? Or maybe, they want Biden restricted to being President Pothole? They must know that “pipe” and “green energy” are well within the definition of “infrastructure.”

But they would be against it, no matter how little it contained. Today’s Republican Congress is even worse than it was in 2009. Back then, Obama’s stimulus bill to combat the Great Recession, (like Biden’s stimulus bill after COVID-19), received zero GOP votes in the House. In the Senate, Obama got three more Republican votes than Biden. And in the 2010 midterms, the GOP regained control of both chambers, setting its template for 2022.

Now In 2021, Republicans no longer run on policy. They’re running against a mythic Democratic party bent on imposing socialism, demeaning Christianity, defunding the police, coddling menacing migrants, and supporting angry American minorities.

If you’re a Republican politician, you’re not offering any actual policy. They’re offering to fight Democrats, and that seems to be enough to get reelected. This means that Republicans will filibuster any bill the Democrats can’t pass through reconciliation.

Biden knows that. So, his legislative strategy prioritizes rebuilding American infrastructure, something that has a broad consensus within the electorate. His plan includes a commitment to confronting climate change (and creating jobs) by modernizing the electrical grid, encouraging the development of alternative energy sources, and building charging stations across America.

He plans to combat poverty and buttress the middle class through funding childcare, universal pre-K, and free community college, while extending the child tax credits authorized by his stimulus plan.

Taken together, his American Jobs Plan represents Biden’s belief that the pandemic has changed what is politically possible. He proposed to open the way to expanding government’s role in addressing our economic and societal weaknesses, on a scale of spending we wouldn’t have dreamed possible.

He’s taken the ideas originally outlined in the Green New Deal in 2019 and repackaged them under the more politically popular umbrella of infrastructure, including some of the same goals. Biden’s plan isn’t the Green New Deal in sheep’s clothing, regardless of what Republicans say.

To help cover the costs of his plan, Biden proposes raising taxes on corporations, the affluent, estates, and capital gains, starting with corporate taxes. He’s proposing an accompanying tax plan, the Made in America Tax Plan. If it passes, it will pay for the American Jobs Plan in 15 years, and reduce deficits from then on.

Biden proposes to set the corporate tax rate at 28%, from its current rate of 21%, nowhere near the 35% tax rate before the 2017 tax cuts. He also plans to discourage offshoring of corporations and to get rid of subsidies for fossil fuels. Here’s a chart that gives some historical perspective about Biden’s corporate tax proposal:

It’s clear that despite Republican wailing that the infrastructure plan is a “trojan horse” for raising taxes, the reality is that corporate taxes will still be lower than at any point since the 1940’s.

Even this may be a bridge too far, since the Senate’s most conspicuous swing vote, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WVA), says that while he favors tax hikes, he insists that infrastructure legislation should be passed with bipartisan support.

This suggests a longish legislative process. As a realist, Biden will be happy to again pass landmark legislation with no Republican support. But first he must get Manchin to labor through the thankless work of establishing that the GOP is unwilling to work toward a meaningful compromise.

OTOH, a new Morning Consult/Politico poll says that by a two-to-one margin voters prefer an infrastructure bill that includes tax hikes to one that does not have those tax hikes. That means the GOP may be in trouble if it castigates Biden and Democrats if they pass his plan.

Despite Wrongo’s early misgivings, Biden is the reset button that America desperately needed. He was outwardly moderate but has moved to embrace more progressive positions.

But we shouldn’t underestimate the damage Republicans can do with their singular focus on power and winning the 2022 mid-terms.

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Monday Wake Up Call, Minimum Wage Edition – March 8, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Point Betsie Lighthouse via Michigan Nut Photography

At the risk of wearing you out about the minimum wage, there are a few more things to consider. The Brookings Institution found that more than 23.8 million people made less than $15 per hour in 2019, according to an analysis of census data.

This is useful, because the actual working population earning the minimum wage or less was only 1.1 million workers in 2020. The larger population is a better approximation of the number who would see a wage hike under the proposal.

By state, of the 23.8 million people who make less than the proposed minimum wage, around 12.4 million (52%) live in the 22 states with two Republican senators. By contrast, 7.3 million (31%) live in the 23 states that have two Democratic senators. The remaining 4.2 million live either in states with one senator from each party or, in DC. Here’s a handy map:

This makes it clear that while low-wage work is everywhere, the worst effects are concentrated in the south and Midwest. Nine states already have passed some form of ramp to a $15/hour minimum wage. While a number of red states have raised their minimum wage, Florida is the only one on track to $15.

Opposition to raising the minimum wage to $15/hour is mostly Republican. All Senate Republicans voted against it, along with eight Democratic Senators who voted against including it in the newly passed Covid relief bill. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) is one Dem who voted against it, even though Arizona has already passed one of the highest minimum wages in the country ($12.00). The question is why would Sinema deny the same benefit to others.

And no Republican Senators, not even the few with populist pretensions, have endorsed a $15 minimum wage. This is despite the fact that the policy commands supermajority support in opinion polls. Republicans oppose it saying that it will cause small business job loss. But data are not conclusive on this point. Regardless, the GOP sees its “populist” base as business owners of different sizes.

But there are far more workers in the US than there are small-business owners. Condemning a large swath of the workforce to economic precarity so that a much smaller strata can keep mining profits won’t improve America’s general welfare.

The map showing states’ share of minimum wage workers also correlates with the states that take the most out of the US Treasury via the Earned Income Tax Credit. So those states take tax money from the blue states to pay their low wage workers welfare, while their Republican leaders call the blue states sending their tax dollars, socialist.

And they also refuse to make their business owners pay their own citizens a living wage. Most Republican Senators could not care less about our lowest paid workers. And, in general, the real costs of supporting their lowest paid workers are borne by taxpayers.

These Senators fall into two categories: One says of course, he and his wonderful colleagues across the aisle favor a higher minimum wage, who wouldn’t? But maybe not that high, maybe a little lower, who knows, but not $15.

The other says of course he favors a $15 minimum wage, who wouldn’t? But, sadly, this just isn’t the time. Maybe tomorrow? Maybe next week? Maybe in 20 years? But for sure, now isn’t the right time, Covid you know.

Time to wake up America! The time is now to pass an increased minimum wage. And $15 should be the floor, not the ceiling. To help you wake up, we turn to Bunny Wailer, who died last week. Now, all the original members of Bob Marley and the Wailers are gone.

Blackheart Man” is the debut album by Bunny, released in 1976. He’s joined here by Bob Marley and Peter Tosh of The Wailers on backing vocals, and the Wailers rhythm section on some tracks. Let’s listen to “Dreamland”, his song of repatriation, from the album:

Lyric:

There’s a land that I have heard about

So far across the sea.

There’s a land that I have heard about

So far across the sea.

To have you on my dreamland

Would be like heaven to me.

To have you on my dreamland

Would be like heaven to me.

 

Oh, what a time that will be,

Oh, just to wait, wait, wait and see!

We’ll count the stars up in the sky

And surely, we’ll never die.

And surely we’ll never die.

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The Coming Eviction Tsunami

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, Northern CO near WY border – 2020 photo by Maxwell_hau5_caffy. Note the beetle kill.

On Monday, the Republicans released their latest coronavirus stimulus package, the so-called HEALS Act. HEALS stands for Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools.

We know that it drastically reduces unemployment assistance, but it also doesn’t include an extension of the federal eviction moratorium. Last Friday, the federal moratorium on evictions in properties with federally backed mortgages and for tenants who receive government-assisted housing expired.

They should have called it the Republican HEELS Act.

Since Republicans want to cut the amount of federal enhanced unemployment insurance from $600/week to $200/week, it’s likely that many fewer Americans will be able to make their rent payments.

Housing advocates had been pushing for at least $100 billion in rental assistance, as well as a uniform, nationwide eviction moratorium. According to the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, we may be looking at something like 19 to 23 million, or 1 in 5 people living in renter households could be at risk of eviction by October.

But that may be optimistic. CNBC published this map of potential evictions by state, based on an analysis by global advisory firm Stout Sirius Ross. It shows the percentage of renters in each state that could face eviction:

For example, 59% of renters in West Virginia (highest) are at risk of eviction, compared to 22% in Vermont (lowest).

The average number for the US is about 43% of tenants are at risk of eviction. That equates to 17.6 million households. The study estimates that there will be 11.9 million eviction filings in the next four months. They think that there will be two million evictions filed in both August and September, leaving 8 million for October and November.

Let’s have a thought experiment. The study assumes that there will be two million evictions filed in both August and September, and another four million in each of the following two months.  Let’s stipulate that each household averages 2.5 humans.

August: 2 million evictions equals 5 million homeless

September: 2 million evictions equals 5 million homeless

October: 4 million evictions equals 10 million more homeless

That totals 20 million people who are casting about for shelter as the cold weather hits the US, with another 10 million to come in November, for 30 million total.

This is an apocalypse.

An important consideration is that perhaps as many as 7 million of them may be registered voters who will be disenfranchised in November, since they no longer live at the address where they are registered.

Think about what’s coming from this change to the Republican bill: Millions of people will be realizing that they have absolutely nothing left to lose, people who feel as though there’s no way out. Then they find they are suddenly ineligible to vote.

2020 has forced our eyes open. All generations that are younger than the Boomers already feel as though any opportunity they had for a sound future has been stolen. In the midst of a global pandemic, they’ve seen Washington deny them healthcare, a safety net, and fritter away most of the societal stability they had.

So where are we heading?

If evictions occur on a grand scale, we’ll be in uncharted waters. It’s not just people being thrown out on the street, there’s no one else moving in. Residential landlords with no tenants face a dilemma, the same situation that has already affected commercial landlords: Few tenants and those who remain are looking for lower rents. When residential properties in the cities become vacant because of eviction or other reasons, and nobody is around to move in, what happens?

Squatting is likely. Carving residences into smaller and smaller units was common during the Depression, and that’s likely to happen again. Our biggest problem is that there is no obvious way to get America off the current Road to Ruin. DC is a disaster on all fronts.

Once the pandemic emergency is past, we will understand the extent to which the rich and politically well-connected have been taken care of, while the poor have largely been destroyed.

We’ve learned beyond a shadow of a doubt how political action, including $multi-trillion bailouts can be mobilized quickly for the right class of people, while helping the rest of us can be dismissed out of hand.

Same old story in America.

What can/should Biden do to change this?

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Monday Wake Up Call – May 18, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Colorado River, from South Kaibab trail, Grand Canyon NP, AZ  – photo by DJ Memering. The bridge is called the Black Suspension Bridge. It is 5,260 ft below the canyon rim.

The CARES Act was sold as emergency funding for individuals and small businesses. In all, Congress has authorized $3.3 trillion in coronavirus relief in four separate acts over the last two months. The stated intent of those bills was to protect the American economy from long-term harm caused by the overall impact of the virus.

Alas, Congress also took care of their true constituents, Big Oil and other fossil fuel companies. Those companies got CARES Act tax breaks. The subsidies were supposed to help bail out small businesses pounded by the pandemic, but at least $1.9 billion of it was sent to fossil fuel companies and their executives.

Bloomberg News reports:

“$1.9 billion in CARES Act tax benefits are being claimed by at least 37 oil companies, service firms, and contractors”

Bloomberg used the example of Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc. who manipulated the bailout: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“As it headed toward bankruptcy, Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc. took advantage of a little-noticed provision in the stimulus bill Congress passed in March to get a $9.7 million tax refund. Then, it asked a bankruptcy judge to authorize the same amount as bonuses to nine executives.”

But, Diamond’s refund wasn’t all. Some went to their larger competitors. More from Bloomberg:

“…$55 million for Denver-based Antero Midstream Corp., $41.2 million for supplier Oil States International Inc. and $96 million for Oklahoma-based producer Devon Energy Corp.”

In addition, Kevin Crowley reports that Marathon Oil got $411m, Occidental $195m, and Valero $110m.

Hats off to all of our Senators, Congresscritters and the Trump administration! They all continue pursuing a pro-fossil fuel agenda, even as the economic disaster of the pandemic unfolds. Bernie Sanders tweeted:

“Good thing President Trump is looking out for the real victims of the coronavirus: fossil fuel executives,”

But, Bernie apparently voted for the bill, which passed the Senate in a unanimous vote. Hypocrisy much, Bernie?

These loopholes in the Act were deliberately written in so that corporations could feed at the trough along with small businesses, and we the people. Moreover, the initial bill was written in the House, although presumably in consultation with Trump and the Republicans. So, you can view this as either the cost of doing business for Democrats, or as just another day at the office listening to the lobbyists. Subsidy legislation has been a bipartisan objective.

Its always been this way. Here’s a cartoon from 1920 that could be drawn today:

Let’s remember that a big issue was the requirement for oversight, particularly after Trump said he wasn’t interested in having any. A compromise was struck so that an oversight commission could be empaneled to keep track of how the money was spent.

Today, it remains without a leader. Four of the five members of the Congressional Oversight Commission have been appointed, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi, (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, (R-KY) have not agreed on a chair.

While the current members of the panel can perform some oversight, without a leader, it can’t hire staff or set up office space. In addition, the four members have not met as a group since the economic rescue law was passed. The PBS NewsHour quotes John Coates, a professor of law and economics at Harvard Law School:

“If the commission is not functioning — which it is not — then there is no oversight on a huge part of the economic rescue law…”

We seem to be able to bail out the rich every few decades, and we always seem to do it on the backs of the poor. It will probably happen again in another 10 years or so. Between these bailouts, politicians and pundits appear on all of the news shows, and write very serious articles proclaiming the need to resist socialism and to preserve “the free market” for the sake of “wealth creation and innovation”.

Time to wake up America! This great con has been going on for all of Wrongo’s lifetime and by looking at the cartoon above, for a few lifetimes before. Yet voters seem to be oblivious to this insidious form of corruption each and every time they go to the polls.

To help America wake up, let’s listen to Drive by Truckers, and their tune “Armageddon’s Back in Town” from their 2020 album, “The Unraveling

Sample Lyric:

There’ll be no healing
From the art of double-dealing
Armageddon’s back in town again

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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