Monday, July 1, 2013

36 Hard Questions About The U.S. Economy That The Mainstream Media Should Be Asking

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If the economy is improving, then why aren't things getting better for most average Americans?  They tell us that the unemployment rate is going down, but the percentage of Americans that are actually working is exactly the same it was three years ago.  They tell us that American families are in better financial shape now, but real disposable income is falling rapidly.  They tell us that inflation is low, but every time we go shopping at the grocery store the prices just seem to keep going up.  They tell us that the economic crisis is over, and yet poverty and government dependence continue to explode to unprecedented heights.  There seems to be a disconnect between what the government and the media are telling us and what is actually true.  With each passing day the debt of the federal government grows larger, the financial world become even more unstable and more American families fall out of the middle class.  The same long-term economic trends that have been eating away at our economy like cancer for decades continue to ruthlessly attack the foundations of our economic system.  We are rapidly speeding toward an economic cataclysm, and yet the government and most of the media make it sound like happy days are here again.  The American people deserve better than this.  The American people deserve the truth.  The following are 36 hard questions about the U.S. economy that the mainstream media should be asking...
#1 If the percentage of working age Americans that have a job isexactly the same as it was three years ago, then why is the government telling us that the "unemployment rate" has gone down significantly during that time?
#2 Why are some U.S. companies allowed to exploit disabled workers by paying them as little as 22 cents an hour?
#3 Why are some private prisons allowed to pay their prisoners just a dollar a day to do jobs that other Americans could be doing?
#4 Why is real disposable income in the United States falling at the fastest rate that we have seen since 2008?
#5 Why do 53 percent of all American workers make less than $30,000 a year?
#6 Why are wages as a percentage of GDP at an all-time low?
#7 Why are 76 percent of all Americans living paycheck to paycheck?
#8 Why are so many large corporations issuing negative earnings guidance for this quarter?  Does this indicate that the economy is about to experience a significant downturn?
#9 Why is job growth at small businesses at about half the level it was at when the year started?
#10 Why are central banks selling off record amounts of U.S. debtright now?
#11 Why did U.S. mortgage bonds just suffer their biggest quarterly decline in nearly 20 years?
#12 Why did we just witness the largest weekly increase in mortgage rates in 26 years?
#13 Why has the number of mortgage applications fallen by 29 percent over the last eight weeks?
#14 Why has the number of mortgage applications fallen to the lowest level in 19 months?
#15 If the U.S. economy is recovering, why is the mortgage delinquency rate in the United States still nearly 10 percent?
#16 Why did the student loan delinquency rate in the United States just hit a brand new all-time high?
#17 Why is the sale of hundreds of millions of dollars of municipal bondsbeing postponed?
#18 What are the central banks of the world going to do when the 441 trillion dollar interest rate derivatives bubble starts to burst?
#19 Why is Barack Obama secretly negotiating a new international free trade agreement that will impose very strict Internet copyright rules on all of us, ban all "Buy American" laws, give Wall Street banks much more freedom to trade risky derivatives and force even more domestic manufacturing offshore?
#20 Why don't our politicians seem to care that the United States has run a trade deficit of more than 8 trillion dollars with the rest of the world since 1975?
#21 Why doesn't the mainstream media talk about how rapidly the U.S. economy is declining relative to the rest of the planet?  According to the World Bank, U.S. GDP accounted for 31.8 percent of all global economic activity in 2001.  That number dropped to 21.6 percent in 2011.
#22 Why is the percentage of self-employed Americans at a record low?
#23 What are we going to do if dust bowl conditions continue to return to the western half of the United States?  If the drought continues to get even worse, what will that do to our agriculture?
#24 Why is the IRS spending thousands of taxpayer dollars on kazoos, stove top hats, bathtub toy boats and plush animals?
#25 Why did the NIH spend $253,800 "to study ways to educate Boston’s male prostitutes on safe-sex practices"?
#26 Why do some of the largest charities in America spend less than 5 percent of the money that they bring in on actual charitable work?
#27 Now that EU finance ministers have approved a plan that will allowCyprus-style wealth confiscation as part of all future bank bailouts in Europe, is it only a matter of time before we see something similar in the United States?
#28 Why does approximately one out of every three children in the United States live in a home without a father?
#29 Why are more than a million public school students in the United States homeless?
#30 Why are so many cities all over the United States passing lawsthat make it illegal to feed the homeless?
#31 Why is government dependence in the U.S. at an all-time high if the economy is getting better?  Back in 1960, the ratio of social welfare benefits to salaries and wages was approximately 10 percent.  In the year 2000, the ratio of social welfare benefits to salaries and wages was approximately 21 percent.  Today, the ratio of social welfare benefits to salaries and wages is approximately 35 percent.
#32 Why does the number of Americans on food stamps exceed the entire population of the nation of Spain?
#33 The number of Americans on food stamps has grown from 32 million to 47 million while Barack Obama has been occupying the White House.  So why is Obama paying recruiters to go out and get even more Americans to join the program?
#34 Today, there are 56 million Americans collecting Social Security benefits.  In 2035, there will be 91 million Americans collecting Social Security benefits.  Where in the world will we get the money for that?
#35 Why has the value of the U.S. dollar fallen by over 95 percentsince the Federal Reserve was created back in 1913?
#36 Why has the size of the U.S. national debt gotten more than 5000 times larger since the Federal Reserve was created back in 1913?

More Evidence That America's Middle Class Is Sliding Toward the Third World

The U.S. is near the bottom of the developed world in median wealth, probably the best gauge for the economic strength of the middle class.

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A recent article by Les Leopold informed us that our nation is near the bottom of the developed world in median wealth, probably the best gauge for the economic strength of the middle class. The source of the information, theGlobal Wealth Databook, provides additional evidence of our decline from our once-lofty position as an egalitarian country with opportunities for nearly everyone.
The data is summarizedbelow. Column 4 reveals that the U.S. is near the top of the developed world in average wealth, in good part because of its many millionaires (Col 8). Median wealth per adult, in Column 5, is much lower. As a sign of the distance between America's middle class and its national wealth, Column 6 shows that the ratio of median to mean in the U.S. is lower than in any country except Russia.
The impact of all this is shown in Column 7. Median-level adults in the U.S. get a smaller percentage of their nation's wealth than in any other country except China and India.
To view Column 7 in another way, a middle-class adult in Finland owns $122 for every billion dollars of his or her nation's wealth. In Canada it's $13. In the U.S. it's 60 cents. Only China (40 cents) and India (30 cents) give their middle-class adults less.
America's middle class is sliding out of the developed world and toward third-world status. Column 9 makes it clear. Among all the nations of the world with at least a quarter-million adults, only Russia, Ukraine, and Lebanon are more unequal in their wealth distribution. Most of the third world countries are, sad to say and hard to believe, fairer to their middle classes than we are.

Thirteen Facts About America's Tax-Dodging Corporations

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A judicious writer avoids adjectives like “mindblowing,” especially when covering political or economic issues. But no other word seems to describe the stunning reality of corporate taxation in modern America, which cries out for the italics-heavy, exclamation-point-driven format made famous by Ripley’s Believe It or Not.
Stylistic overkill? Read these thirteen facts and you may change your mind.
1. We’re told we can’t “afford” full Social Security benefits, even though closing corporate tax-haven loopholes would pay for Obama’s “chained CPI” benefit cut more than ten times over!
Abusive offshore tax havens cost the US $150 billion in lost tax revenue every year (via FACT Coalition). That’s $1.5 trillion over the next ten years.
The “chained CPI” cut, proposed by President Obama and supported by Republicans, is projected to “save” a total of $122 billion to $130 billion over the same time period by denying benefits to seniors and disabled people.
It’s true. “Serious” politicians and pundits are demanding that ordinary people sacrifice earned benefits, while at the same time allowing corporations to avoid more than ten times as much in taxes.
2. Corporate tax rates are near their 60-year low, even though profits are at a 60-year high!
Need we say more?
3. Wells Fargo got $8 billion in tax breaks, even as executives at its subsidiary Wachovia avoided indictment forlaundering money for the Mexican drug cartels!
That’s right. Wells Fargo paid a negative tax rate of -1.4 percent between 2008 and 2010 while Wachovia, a Wells Fargo subsidiary, admitted to laundering more than $378 billion for Mexican drug gangs.
We’re talking about crazed killers like “El Loco” and gangs like “Los Zetas” – gangs who cut people’s heads off and toss them out onto disco dance floors or display them in the town square.
Wachovia bankers ignored repeated warnings from law enforcement officials, and continued to launder money for cartels that have murdered tens of thousands.
And yet no criminal indictments were handed down because, as a Senate investigator told Bloomberg News, “”There’s no capacity to regulate or punish them because they’re too big to be threatened with failure.”
4. Some other huge corporations paid less than nothing, too.
Pepco Holdings (-57.6% tax rate)
General Electric (-45.3%)
DuPont (-3.4%)
Verizon (-2.9%)
Boeing (-1.8%)
Honeywell (-0.7%)
5. The amount of money US corporations are holding offshore is an estimated one trillion dollars!
Rather than tax these profits the way other countries do, corporate politicians are promoting a tax “repatriation” break that would let corporations “bring this money home” while paying even less than their currently low rates.
They tried that in 2004 and it didn’t create any jobs. In fact, corporations took the tax break and then fired thousands of people. What “repatriation” did do is line a lot of wealthy investors’ pockets.
So, naturally, they want to do it again.
6. One building in the Cayman Islands is the official location of 18,857 corporations!
According to the Government Accountability Office, a five-story building called “Ugland House” is home to nearly twenty thousand corporations. That’s impressive, especially for such a small edifice. (Perhaps it has supernatural half-floors and space-time defying “mind tunnels” like the office in Being John Malkovich.)
While impressive, Ugland House’s distinction pales next to that of 1209 North Orange Street in Wilmington, Delaware. According to one investigation, that address is home to 217,000 corporations.
That’s because Delaware has very generous tax rules – and, as a result, is home to more than half of all the corporate subsidiaries in the United States.That’s startling, since only 1/342th of the nation’s population lives in that state (917,092 residents, out of a national total of 313,914,040, according to the latest census results).
7. Conservatives complain about the “official” corporate tax rate in this country, but corporations actually pay roughly one-third of the official rate in actual taxes.
The official, or “statutory,” corporate tax rate is 35 percent. But the actual rate paid by American corporations is only 12 percent, less than that paid by many middle-class Americans.
(Source: The FACT Coalition.)
In fact, US Corporations pay less tax as a percentage of the GDP than corporations in Canada. Or Japan …
… or South Korea. Or Norway. Or Luxembourg, New Zealand, Israel, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Belgium, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Finland, and Italy.
(Source: OECD StatsExtract interactive database.)
8. Corporations used to pay 30 percent of Federal taxes, and now they pay less than 7 percent!
That’s because the corporate tax rate has plunged since Dwight D. Eisenhower was President and is now the lowest it’s been in modern history.
(Source: FACT Coalition.)
9. Big corporations paid $216 million to Congress and got $223 billion in tax breaks!
As Citizens for Tax Justice and USPIRG reported, 280 large and profitable corporations contributed $216 million to Congressional campaigns over four election cycles and got nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars in tax breaks.
That’s a terrific investment for them – a return of more than a thousand to one – but it’s a bad deal for the American people.
10. We don’t even know who owns some corporations, even though that makes it easier to evade taxes, dodge creditors, avoid paying alimony or child support, and even fund terrorism!
Here are some examples of investments that might represent a terror threat. Corporate interests are blocking disclosure rules that would help protect our national security.
11. Bank of America committed foreclosure fraud, was bailed out by the government, and then paid no taxes on $4.4 billion in profit!
That’s right. In 2010, while BofA was negotiating a sweet settlement deal for its foreclosure fraud, it paid nothing in taxes. (Source: FACT Coalition.) Zero, on $17.2 billion in offshore earnings. (Source: Americans for Tax Fairness.)
Its $4.1 billion tax break came on the heels of the bank’s taxpayer-funded bailout, immunity from prosecution for its criminal employees, and a cushy government settlement for its foreclosure fraud.
Now David Dayen reports that the bank has apparently continued to defraud customers in violation of its government settlement. Whistleblowers have stated in affidavits that they were “told to lie” to customers, continued to deceive homeowners before foreclosing on them, and flipped customers to new servicing companies to invalidate previous homeowner agreements.
12. What they call “tax reform” would actually prevent our elected representatives from giving businesses financial incentives to improve our lives!
The word “reform” is an honorable one that’s been put to some dishonorable uses lately. “Entitlement reform,” for example, is merely a euphemism for gutting Social Security and Medicare.
Similarly, corporate-backed politicians are pushing a formula for permanent corporate tax breaks and calling it “tax reform.” They insist their “reform” be “revenue neutral” and say it will “broaden the base while lowering the rate.”
Here’s an English translation: The current, unsustainably low rates for corporations would be made permanent, while eliminating many tax deductions in the name of “simplification.”
Here’s what that really means: The domestic tax credit for creating jobs? Gone. Tax breaks for protecting the environment with clean energy, rather than harming other people’s health and leaving a mess for the rest of us to clean up? Gone.
All in all we’d lose dozens of important policies that make our lives better, while permanently fixing corporate taxes at today’s cushy giveaway rates.
“Reform”? Ripoff is more like it.
13. Despite their greed, mismanagement, and freeloading, tax-dodging corporations are using shell organizations like “Fix the Debt” and “the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget” to tell ordinary Americans they have to sacrifice even more to preserve corporate wealth!
These organizations are using the heads of failed banks – people like Chase’s Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs – to dispense “advice on the economy.” That’s like getting navigation tips from the captain of the Exxon Valdez.
(Tax breaks for Exxon Mobil: $4.1 billion between 2008 and 2010. The company paid no taxes at all in 2009.)
These executives and their paid spokespeople tell the rest of us we need to “sacrifice” and “tighten our belts” so that their party can go on forever. And too often they’re treated as credible sources, rather than as corrupting influences on our public life.
It’s all true – and there are many more astonishing facts to be found in the world of corporate taxation. To fix the economy more people will need to learn about them – and demand that they be changed.
The writer and analyst in me wants to apologize for all the italicizing and all those exclamation points. But the American citizen in me wants to shout the truth out for all the world to hear – believe it or not!