Monthly Archives: February 2019

Photo: Dollar bills. Credit Kim Dombrowski

The power that the dollar brings to U.S. foreign policy

This outstanding article shows how the need to use dollars in international trade and finance gives the United States great foreign policy power. European countries, for example, do not agree with the U.S. policy of sanctioning Iran, but are forced to go along, so as not to lose access to U.S financial and other markets. Venezuela owns CITGO, but sanctions are preventing it from receiving money from CITGO’s sale of oil to the United States, Venezuela’s major source of money for imports.

The dollar is still king. How (in the world) did that happen? Peter S. Goodman New York Times February 22, 2019

Photo: Dollar bills. Credit Kim Dombrowski

Photo: Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange.

Limit corporate stock buybacks

Limit corporate stock buybacks Sen. Chuck Schumer and Sen. Bernie Sanders New York Times February 3, 2019
“…Companies, rather than investing in ways to make their businesses more resilient or their workers more productive, have been dedicating ever larger shares of their profits to dividends and corporate share repurchases. When a company purchases its own stock back, it reduces the number of publicly traded shares, boosting the value of the stock to the benefit of shareholders and corporate leadership. Between 2008 and 2017, 466 of the S&P 500 companies spent around $4 trillion on stock buybacks, equal to 53 percent of profits. An additional 40 percent of corporate profits went to dividends. When more than 90 percent of corporate profits go to buybacks and dividends, there is reason to be concerned.”

Photo: Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange. Credit The Timeless Gentleman

The erosion of U.S. democacy. Credit Freedom House

Democracy in Retreat: Freedom in the world 2019

Freedom House February 4, 2019

In 2018, Freedom in the World recorded the 13th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. The reversal has spanned a variety of countries in every region, from long-standing democracies like the United States to consolidated authoritarian regimes like China and Russia. The overall losses are still shallow compared with the gains of the late 20th century, but the pattern is consistent and ominous. Democracy is in retreat.

In states that were already authoritarian, earning Not Free designations from Freedom House, governments have increasingly shed the thin façade of democratic practice that they established in previous decades, when international incentives and pressure for reform were stronger. More authoritarian powers are now banning opposition groups or jailing their leaders, dispensing with term limits, and tightening the screws on any independent media that remain. Meanwhile, many countries that democratized after the end of the Cold War have regressed in the face of rampant corruption, antiliberal populist movements, and breakdowns in the rule of law. Most troublingly, even long-standing democracies have been shaken by populist political forces that reject basic principles like the separation of powers and target minorities for discriminatory treatment.

Some light shined through these gathering clouds in 2018. Surprising improvements in individual countries—including Malaysia, Armenia, Ethiopia, Angola, and Ecuador—show that democracy has enduring appeal as a means of holding leaders accountable and creating the conditions for a better life. Even in the countries of Europe and North America where democratic institutions are under pressure, dynamic civic movements for justice and inclusion continue to build on the achievements of their predecessors, expanding the scope of what citizens can and should expect from democracy. The promise of democracy remains real and powerful. Not only defending it but broadening its reach is one of the great causes of our time.

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Obtaining income through the government 2019

United States

How big companies won new tax breaks from the Trump administration Jesse Drucker and Jim Tankersley New York Times December 30, 2019
As the Treasury Department prepared to enact the 2017 Republican tax overhaul, corporate lobbyists swarmed — and won big.

Corporate tax avoidance in the first year of the Trump tax law Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy December 16, 2019
When drafting the tax law, lawmakers could have eliminated special breaks and loopholes in the corporate tax to offset the cost of reducing the statutory rate. Instead, the new law introduced many new breaks and loopholes, though it eliminated some old ones. The unsurprising result: Profitable American corporations in 2018 collectively paid an average effective federal income tax rate of 11.3 percent on their 2018 income, barely more than half the 21 percent statutory tax rate.

How FedEx cut its tax bill to 0 Jim Tankersley, Peter Eavis, and Ben Casselman New York Times November 17, 2019
The company, like much of corporate America, has not made good on its promised investment surge from President Trump’s 2017 tax cuts. The $1.5 trillion 2017 federal tax cut reduced FedEx’s tax bill from an effective rate of 34 percent to zero. Real investment did not go up. However stock buybacks did. Companies that make up the S&P 500 index had an average effective tax rate of 18.1 percent in 2018, down from 25.9 percent in 2016.

Tainted pork, ill consumers and an investigation thwarted Matt Richtel New York Times August 4, 2019
Drug-resistant infections from food are growing. But powerful industry interests are blocking scientists and investigators from getting information they need to combat the problem.

Trump’s proposed H-2A rules would harm, not help, U.S. farm workers and reduce protections for both domestic and foreign field laborers Jocelyn Sherman United Farm Workers July 26, 2019

Trump has chosen lobbyists to run EPA, HHS, DOD, and Interior Rachel Maddow CNBC June 20, 2019
Rachel Maddow reports on the industry lobbyists running federal agencies in the Donald Trump administration and notes the irony of Trump boasting at a Florida rally of staring down lobbyists just hours after tapping former Raytheon lobbyist Mark Esper to run the Department of Defense (replacing former Boeing executive Patrick Shanahan).

Bosses pocket Trump tax windfall as workers see job promises vanish, AT&T, General Motors and Wells Fargo vowed to use tax cuts to create jobs. In fact, they did the opposite. Michael Sainto The Guardian June 16, 2019

If those who work for Uber are classified as employees of Uber and not as independent contractors, Uber (and other employers similarly situated) will have costs rise significantly because of greater protections and benefits that employees are due. Thus Uber and other companies are working to keep their workers classified as independent contractors by government agencies.
Is gig work a job? Uber and others are maneuvering to shape the answer. Noam Scheiber New York Times March 26, 2019

Scientists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that two of three widely used pesticides were so toxic that they jeopardized the existence of more than 1200 endangered species, which could have led to restrictions on their use. However release of the report was blocked by political appointees.
Interior nominee intervened to block report on endangered species Eric Lipton New York Times March 26, 2019

Amazon will pay $0 in taxes on $11.2 billion of profit in 2018 Yahoo News February 16, 2019

There is a constitutional right to a fair trial. Thus people are harmed when the relevant government does not provide sufficient resources to enable people to have a fair trial.
One lawyer, 194 felony cases, and no time Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Jugal K. Patel New York Times January 31, 2019

How cities make money by fining the poor Matthew Shaer New York Times January 8, 2019
“In many parts of America, like Corinth, Miss., judges are locking up defendants who can’t pay — sometimes for months at a time.”

Other Countries

The Trump-Russia Investigation and the Mafia state Masha Gessen The New Yorker January 31, 2019
“Magyar describes the Mafia state as one run by a “patron” and his “court”—put another way, the boss and his clan—who appropriate public resources and the institutions of the state for their private use and profit.”