'Close the Tax Loopholes' Day

Today is Tax Day, but perhaps we should rename it "Close the Tax Loopholes Day." That is the message delivered by Sharon Ward, Director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, in an op-ed in Friday's edition of The Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Here's a highlight:

Many Pennsylvanians will grumble this week as they race to file their tax returns on time. Others will be laughing all the way to the bank.

Take General Electric, the nation's largest corporation. You would expect G.E. to have a pretty sizeable tax bill, right? Think again.

Despite worldwide profits of $14.2 billion (including $5.1 billion in U.S. profits), G.E. owed Uncle Sam nothing in federal taxes. In fact, the company got $3.2 billion back in tax benefits.

At a time when Washington is cutting a wide array of critical services — from food for nursing women and infants to heating assistance for seniors — policy makers continue to look the other way when it comes to tax loopholes.

These loopholes allow corporations to shift foreign profits into accounts in Ireland, the Netherlands and Bermuda to avoid U.S. corporate taxes. These gimmicks are so well known they have nicknames — the Double Irish and the Dutch Sandwich — and they have a huge cost, as much as $90 billion a year.

The giveaways are alive and well in Pennsylvania's antiquated tax system, too.

If your family earned more than $33,000 this year, congratulations! You paid more in income taxes than 85 percent of Pennsylvania corporations. Seventy-four percent of Pennsylvania corporations did not pay one dime in income taxes.

Read the full op-ed.

Should Democrats be business-friendly, or business-savvy?

We keep hearing over and over that governments need to be "business-friendly." Well, over the years they've gushed with corporate-oriented friendliness, as the post above from Sharon Ward demonstrates vividly. But the friendliness has not been reciprocated; indeed governments -- and the people they represent -- have long been at the wrong end of an abusive relationship. So we need at least one major Party to quit that "business-friendly" talk. We need it to advance the idea that governments need to be "business-savvy." It's not going to be the Republicans. So Democrats? Are you looking to make people think you're actually a not just a weak tea version of the Corporate Owned Party?

Here's some of what you could say if you want to be "business-savvy, Democrats. "We are constantly told that not only should we be "business-friendly" but that government ought to be "run like a business." Well, you actually can't do both. Because businesses -- especially big, powerful businesses -- aren't about being "friendly" to anyone, except insofar as it will enable them to empty their "friends" pockets. These businesses care only about selling products, ruthlessly if they have to. First they will spend vast sums warping your mind to believe you need their stuff. Toothpaste that whitens better, paper towels that wipe cleaner, cars that get to 60 mph quicker, sneakers that will get you respected, jeans, shoes, razor blades, icy cold beer and many thousands of other things that will get you the best sex ever, and on and on and on and on.

Then they will pretend that what they're selling at absurdly high prices is actually "on sale." "Marked down Thursday only!" "Secret sale, best customers, only." "Emergency sale, no reasonable offer refused." They'll also tell you that they can help you become rich, and living in a mansion, without risk. "Buy your dream house now, refinance later at low, low rates." "Just let the experts at the Gozanga Growth Bullshit Store manage your money; we put YOUR interest first."

There are businesses that want government to be their friends that will literally steal your money at rigged casinos. There are others that will sell you the secret to getting your kids to love you, or at least not yell at you so much. The secret, of course, is that you must buy whatever it is that they brainwash your kids to long for, until obsolete 5 minutes later -- again, and again, and again. There are lots of companies -- and who we know who they are -- that just don't care if they kill the planet. Because Wall St., which rules them, wants them to make a profit NOW. Period. End of conversation, exept for the press releases that will deny everything.

Having gotten you to spend what little you have to buy the products of these companies, and borrowed to the max to boot, some of them will sell you the little pills that will put your anxiety over the pointlessness of it all to rest. The little red, white and blue pills that we all can't live without and which often lead to little more relief than would sugar pills.

So imagine a government that ran as single-mindedly in its self-interest as one of those very profitable companies. Would it be a "friend" to whatever business knocked on the door with its hand out? Would it give tax breaks away to companies in exchange for vague promises to create jobs in return? Would it give away its best assets (i.e., land, service contracts, political power) for any reason that didn't get it a guaranteed return of at least equal value? Would it let some unruly minority of voters set its agenda because they shouted loudest at a town hall meeting? Answer yes to that last one if you think a few shareholders could get away with that stuff at a GE Board meeting." They should say all of this, as loudly and as often as they can. Because voters know that it's all true.

And Democrats should tell voters that they will say this to CEO's: "Sure we want to be your friend. But friends don't rip off friends. If you want help from us, you have to help us with what we're here for, to provide jobs, decent housing, health care and a sustainable environment for our residents. And you'll want us to maintain our self-respect. So you'll want us to ensure that if you don't fulfill promises to provide benefits to your workers and our residents in proportion to our gifts to you, we will take those gifts back. And because we both know that you are kind of unruly and prone to excess, we're going to see to it that despite your promises, you don't actually harm our City. So we'll regulate your environmental and work place practices, make sure you treat your employees and customers fairly, and once you're here and doing well, make sure you treat all of us fairly by paying a reasonable tax bill. And we won't want you complaining about, or trying to weasel out of, any of it."

And that's how, Democrats, you can be "business-savvy". Because if you don't actually start being business-savvy, Democrats, the corporatocracy is coming to take over your government, the people you would like to represent, and then you. And not necessarily in that order.

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