Archive for the ‘Social Justice’ Category

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In a move apparently to be more progressive and inclusive, Burger King recently changed its motto from “have it your way” to “be your way.” It’s good the company is trying to be more inclusive, but, the company’s recent decision to merge with Tim Hortons and move its headquarters to Canada which reportedly could score tax reductions for the company, is the opposite of progressive, it’s downright regressive.

By merging with Tim Hortons and reincorporating as a new company in our neighbor to the north, Burger King is deserting its American consumer base, leaving average citizens to pick up the tab for the lost taxes from a profitable U.S. business. A business that will continue to operate in our country, have management and workers here, despite becoming on paper a foreign entity.

The whopper of a tax move is called an “inversion” and it is a way for a company to transfer headquarters on paper to another county with lower tax rates or other policies that reduce the amount of U.S. taxes a corporation pays. Dozens of corporations have done it in recent years, and more have deals currently in the works. Each new company announcing its intent to defect to a foreign tax jurisdiction fans the flames of consumer displeasure.

Recently, America’s largest drugstore chain, Walgreens, made a tactical retreat and dropped plans to reincorporate after merging with a Swiss company in order to invert. After shoppers and activists united in calling on the company to stay true to its U.S. roots and pay its fair share of corporate taxes, Walgreens decided to keep its headquarters (and tax contributions) here in America.

Given all the rightful criticism of American people and press to the problem of inverted companies, it was welcome news when the U.S. Treasury Department announced last week that it is taking some small but positive steps that went part of the way toward addressing inversions. Treasury did that by limiting economic incentives of these inversion deals. The changes to the interpretation of the tax code took away some of the benefits of inversions like ending some types of subsidiary loans, restructuring deals, and cash and property transfers.

Currently, under the tax code, when companies merge and reincorporate in another country but retain 80 percent of their previous shareholders, they are classified as “inverted” under the tax code. That means the inverted company is treated as domestic for tax purposes and is not able to escape paying its fair share of taxes. The new changes from Treasury tighten up the “80 percent rule” by ensuring that companies aren’t able to artificially shrink via dividend payouts or grow by counting passive assets like cash in order to squeak in below the 80% previous shareholders threshold.

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Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, an opponent of Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan, is convening a “Jobs 1st Summit” in Pittsburgh this week.

Pennsylvania currently ranks 48th out of the 50 states in job growth. Despite the abundance of evidence that regulations can create jobs, Corbett often echoes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce talking point about “job-killing regulations.”

An instructive item on the summit agenda is an energy industry panel moderated by Chris Abruzzo, secretary of Pennsylvania’s EPA.

Abruzzo claimed during confirmation hearings to be unaware that climate change is harmful. And Pennsylvanians are supposed to trust this official to protect our air, water and public lands?

Abruzzo’s appointment and role at the summit as moderator of a discussion among executives of polluting industries shows the absurd degree Corbett’s administration is willing to distort the priorities of government agencies that are supposed to protect the public interest.

Such a summit of CEOs begs the question: Does giving corporations everything they want translate to prosperity to the rest of us?

The obvious answer: Of course it doesn’t.

by Burkely Hermann

Lobbying usually gets a bad rap, and sometimes for good reason: it can be part of corporate special interest money’s current corruption of the political system. But during the first-ever national Single-Payer Lobby Day events in May, real people lobbied for a good cause that benefited the general public, not just a wealthy few.

As Congress’ August recess approaches and activists prepare to make in-district visits with their lawmakers’ offices, now is a good opportunity to recall my experience lobbying for single-payer.

As an undergraduate student who is currently interning with Public Citizen, I participated in the second day of events, which kicked off with a training for participants. I saw many different faces in the room, which was filled with about 75 people, ranging from nurses, who are part of National Nurses United, physicians who are members of PNHP, union leaders fighting for healthcare justice and concerned citizens who want a universal and inclusive healthcare system.

Next was an informational panel featuring single-payer advocates, labor leaders and physicians railing against the unjust lack of coverage, administrative waste caused by billing multiple insurance companies and urging Congress to pass a Medicare-for-all single-payer healthcare system. Representatives Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.) also spoke to participants about their single-payer bills, H.R. 676 and H.R. 1200. Rep. McDermott focused on building on the existing reforms put in place by the Affordable Care Act, while Conyers advocated directly for single-payer.

Participants in the lobby meetings spoke of single payer as a fair and comprehensive solution to the many shortcomings of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). I joined my fellow Marylander single-payer lobbyists, consisting of physicians, labor leaders, concerned citizens and a dietician. A member of PNHP, which advocates for a national single-payer healthcare system, led our lobbying team, but the group still made decisions collectively.

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The US Chamber of Commerce just published another blog post slamming an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rulemaking that could clarify the rules for nonprofits and reduce the influence of undisclosed political spending (like the more than $35 million the Chamber spent in 2012). The Chamber points out that vague rules are bad rules, and that the IRS’s first draft of proposed rules was deeply flawed. We agree!

The IRS also agreed that the proposed rules needed revision — that’s why the IRS is revising the rules and planning to reissue a new draft in early 2015.

The Chamber piece points out that unclear rules can have a chilling effect on democratic participation, which is precisely why tax law experts formed the Bright Lines Project five years ago (full disclosure, now housed at Public Citizen). The current rules that define political activity for nonprofits are based on the vague notion that IRS agents will be able to evaluate all the “facts and circumstances” surrounding each case to determine if something is political or not. Better would be bright-line definition for political activity to ensure that nonprofits know what they can and can’t do when it comes to political activity.

We agree with the Chamber that the first draft of the rules didn’t quite get there, and would have prevented nonprofits from participating in our democracy in ways that should be encouraged (like hosting debates and holding get-out-the-vote drives). So we’re glad to see the IRS taking another crack at fixing this important problem with the existing system.

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One year ago today, the Senate passed Resolution 202, establishing National Whistleblower Appreciation Day on July 30. Passage of Resolution 202 was led by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and was passed by unanimous consent.

Truly remarkable in this era of partisan rancor.

And it’s not just Congress that sees the importance of this issue. The Obama administration has also been doing its part to increase whistleblower protections for those who disclose waste, fraud and abuse. On November 27, 2012, President Obama signed into law the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA). The WPEA provides millions of federal workers with the rights they need safely to report government corruption and wrongdoing.

President Obama also has issued Presidential Policy Directive 19 (PPD-19), which extends whistleblower protections to the federal government’s intelligence community employees. The directive provides for reinstatement, compensatory damages, restoration of back pay and other remedies in cases where retaliation for whistleblowing is substantiated.

PPD-19 is great news for direct employees of the federal government. However, it fails to offer or extend any whistleblower protections to employees of intelligence community contractors, like Edward Snowden.

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