Every April we sit down to pay our taxes, calculating the amount of our monthly earnings which have already been drained, or worse, discovering we owe money. But not everyone faces this burden. Those of us in the working class pay a disproportionate amount of taxes compared to the wealthy, and some of the wealthiest corporations pay no taxes at all! In other words, we pay, but they take home all their profits.
The tax system is a maze of laws and loopholes. It’s simple enough to just pay the standard amount, but in order to save, we have to claim deductions, itemize them, keep records of everything. And what if you have two or three jobs? With all the different tax forms to fill out no wonder people get headaches around tax time?
What do the wealthy do? They employ dozens of financial experts and manipulators to hide their money, minimize their costs and make sure they pay as little as possible. Households earning more than $10 million per year pay 19 percent in taxes, while households making $55,000 per year will pay 27 percent of their income.
The rules are even more unfair when you look at how corporations are taxed. Corporations are supposed to pay an average of 35 percent taxes on their profits. But after the lawyers and financial experts go to work, the average Fortune 500 company only pays 12.6 percent in taxes. In fact, the richest 280 companies only paid 4.6 percent and 26 companies managed to pay minus seven percent – the government paid them!
How do the corporations do this? They move their money around to avoid paying. For example, JP Morgan Chase has 50 subsidiary companies based in tax havens like Bermuda and the Bahamas. Companies park their money in offshore accounts and keep it off the books. Then when it comes to tax time they pretend to pay their “fair share” which is really a fraction of their wealth. Corporations, banks and wealthy individuals are sitting on around 21 trillion dollars in off-shore accounts around the world.
April 14, 2013
In other words, while workers are forced to pay almost a third of their earnings, the wealthy, the banks, and the corporations pay very little or sometimes nothing at all. In fact, for every dollar that the average tax payer pays, corporations only pay 22 cents.
It is even more shocking to see how the tax system has changed over time. Today’s tax rate on the wealthy of 35 percent is nothing compared to the 1970s when the wealthy were taxed at a rate of 71 percent. The millionaires and billionaires of the 1970s did not go hungry, or take their kids out of private school, or miss payments on their mansions. The rich have simply gotten richer. In 1970, the average CEO made 50 times as much as the average worker. Today the average CEO makes 300 times as much as the average worker. The changes in the tax system are no different than every other aspect of this society – exploitation has increased on the backs of the workers.
What are we paying for? The tax money that comes out of our pockets is hardly getting us the things we need. Education is a good example. Education is getting worse and worse as schools deteriorate and budgets are slashed. The result is an education system ranked #29 in the world. And higher education costs have shot up drastically, robbing working class students of a chance to go to college. The tax money clearly isn’t going to things like education. So where is it going?
In fact, 57 percent of the federal budget is spent on the military – an increase of five percent from last year. In other words more than half of the taxes which go to the federal government are spent on the world’s biggest killing machine – the U.S. military. Whose priorities does this reflect, except for the companies who profit by dominating the world.
Taxes are worse than just a headache, they are a symptom of the injustice of this society. By doing the work, workers are the ones who create all of the wealth. But we are robbed by the corporations when they profit off our work. And we are robbed again when taxes are collected, and used pay for a system that does not meet our needs. At tax time, we are the ones who pay, but they are the ones who profit.
Last week California Senator Leland Yee was brought up on so many charges that his story seems like a TV show. Yee has been charged with taking bribes, wire fraud, working with the former leader of a Chinese criminal organization – Raymond (Shrimp Boy) Chow – and conspiracy to smuggle firearms, including $2.5 million in weapons.
Yee has a record of being the kind of politician that says one thing and does another. The SF Chronicle has written that Yee has made campaign promises to voters only to turn around and do the exact opposite once he’s elected, receiving funds from businesses that benefit from his new position. So this charge of smuggling weapons isn’t that surprising even though Yee regularly speaks in favor of bans on automatic weapons. The idea that he would smuggle weapons while arguing for a ban on them is just a more extreme version of the way he has operated throughout his career.
Other Democratic politicians have tried to distance themselves from Yee, condemning his corruption – the last thing they want is an investigation into any of their own political dealings. Yee was one of three Democratic senators brought up on similar charges, along with Ron Calderon and Rod Wright. They’ve been suspended from their roles as senators but will still collect their salaries of $95,000 per year.
So politicians have been taking money for political favors? And this is supposed to be surprising? Being willing to say and do anything to get elected is just what it means to be a politician. The partnership between politics and business is so close it’s hard to even tell the two apart. Businesses get priority contracts, tax breaks, subsidies, bail outs, free passes on legal violations and in exchange politicians expect to be paid off.
Politicians don’t just take bribes – they build their entire careers off of being the servants of the corporations. Yee is being charged for doing on a small scale what the government, banks and corporations do on a large scale all the time – but for them it isn’t corruption, just business as usual.
What about the largest banks in the world carrying out trillion-dollar housing scams, targeting working families? Millions of families lost their homes, their jobs, their retirement. All of this was because of the corruption of large banks, mortgage firms, government credit agencies. Dozens of politicians knew about what was happening and did nothing. Of course nobody ever went to jail for any of this – because politicians made sure they passed the laws so these scams would be legal. That’s what it means to be a politician in this society.
Yee has been charged with small-time weapons smuggling, but this is nothing compared to the largest arms dealer in the world – the U.S. government. To carry out the interests of U.S. businesses around the world, the U.S. government uses a brutal military to overthrow elected officials, to prop up dictatorships, to torture and assassinate opposition figures in other countries. This is a military responsible for the deaths of millions of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, the same military that is carrying out regular drone strikes on civilians, the same government responsible for spying on U.S citizens, recording our emails and phone conversations, and threatening journalists for reporting information that challenges official government positions. But all of this is perfectly legal.
Living in their society means dealing with their dishonesty on a daily basis. It means politicians who present one face to the public only to deal behind our backs as servants of the banks and corporations.
None of the corruption charges against Yee or any of the others are really that surprising. If we want to talk about corruption – it is their whole system that is corrupt!
Ukraine has become the focus of the world’s attention. Three months of mass-protests centered around the Maidan square in Kiev has led to the removal of the Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych and the creation of a new government claiming to represent the interests of the people. The Russian government under Vladimir Putin has called this new government illegitimate and has sent troops into the Crimean peninsula, the Southeastern section of Ukraine. The Obama administration has responded by condemning Russia’s military action and supposedly supporting the interests of the Ukrainian people. But what is really going on here? In fact, Ukraine and its people are caught in the middle of a worldwide competition between the U.S. government and the Russian government – neither of whom have the interests of the Ukrainian people in mind.
The conditions of life for ordinary Ukrainians have become unbearable. Wages in Ukraine are half of what they are in surrounding countries such as Russia and Poland. More than one quarter of the population of Ukraine is living below the poverty line. And since 1991 more than 15 percent of Ukraine’s population has left the country seeking jobs in other parts of the world.
It was these conditions which sparked the uprising which overthrew the Ukrainian government. People’s anger was directed at the Russian-backed president Viktor Yanukovych. However, the new government which has emerged is closely linked to Europe and the United States. The people’s revolt has been turned into a power struggle between the U.S., Europe and Russia.
What is really at stake in Ukraine? Control over the vast natural gas supply which is piped from Russia through Ukraine into Europe. Russian natural gas supplies more than 30 percent of the natural gas which is used by countries in Western Europe. Control over the pipelines that travel through Ukraine is essential to controlling this natural gas supply.
If Ukraine is in the hands of the United States and Europe, they will be able to control the flow of gas and set prices. If it is in the hands of Russia, the Russian elite will call the shots. Democracy and human rights have nothing to do with it.
All around the world there is a competition between the United States on the one hand, and Russia on the other hand. Through economic and military alliances the United States and Russia extend their influence. The United States may be the most powerful military and economic power in the world, but this doesn’t stop Russia from using its influence to make alliances with Syria, Iran, and other states that stand in the way of U.S. military and economic goals.
The United States government condemns human rights abuses and oppression carried out by the governments of Russia, Syria and Iran. But the United States supports regimes such as Saudi Arabia in which there is no freedom of speech or democratic rights, where workers are treated as slaves and women have no rights.
The Unites States government condemns military invasion, such as the Russian government is carrying out in Ukraine. But the United States invaded and occupied Afghanistan and Iraq, murdering millions of people to replace these governments with new ones. In 2011 the U.S. and its European allies carried out a bombing campaign to replace the government of Libya. In other words, the U.S. and European governments have done exactly what they accuse Russia of doing right now.
How can we believe any word that comes out of these politicians mouths? Their claims of standing up for human rights and democracy are nothing but lies to hide their real interests – to serve of the banks and corporations. As the governments of the U.S., Europe, and Russia threaten to escalate the conflict in Ukraine we should say loud and clear this has nothing to do with our interests or those of the Ukrainian people.
March is Women’s History Month, a month to acknowledge the contributions and struggles women have made in history. But despite the gains women have achieved, they still remain underpaid at work, unequally burdened with childcare and housework, and face abuse on a daily basis. The struggle of being a woman is far from over and in some cases it is going backwards.
Being a woman means doing it all. Women are day care workers, housekeepers, cooks, janitors, psychologists, drivers. When both a man and a woman are working – or even when only the man is unemployed – the woman still does the majority of the housework. It’s like working an unpaid second job. According to Salary.com, stay-at-home moms put in close to 100 hours of household and childcare duties every single week. If this were paid work the average mom’s salary would be $113,586 a year.
And working moms, on top of 40-hour work weeks, spend an additional 58 hours on household and childcare jobs. If they were paid an average wage, they would earn an additional $67,435 per year. Being a woman means figuring out the
impossible. Finding childcare is always a struggle especially while trying to make a living. The waitlists for childcare programs never seem to end and further cuts to food and housing assistance have only made a bad situation even worse.
Mothers can’t afford not to work and still take care of the kids. This often means leaving a child at home and going to work. It comes down to hoping everyday that things work out, at least until tomorrow. Being a woman today means unequal pay and work. On top of all the unpaid hours women put in, a woman today can still expect to be paid less than men simply because she is a woman. It’s true, women’s struggles have somewhat closed the wage-gap between men and women but it’s still far from equal. And working mothers face even more wage discrimination. There is a larger wage-gap between mothers and women without children than there is between women and men. Women without children can expect to earn 10 percent less than their male counterparts. Mothers earn 27 percent less, and single mothers earn between 34 percent and 44 percent less than men.
On top of all this there is a daily threat of violence that comes with being a woman in general. Most often the murders and beatings of women are done by their male partners. The leading cause of death for pregnant women in the U.S. is
being murdered by their partners. But even more often, women survive the violence, battered and beaten with scars lasting a lifetime. The number one cause of injury to women in the U.S. is being brutalized by men. One out of every three women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, one out of five women have been raped in their lives, and one in four women have been the victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner.
Violence against women stretches across borders. A woman born in South Africa has a greater chance of being raped than learning how to read. On average a woman is raped every 17 seconds in South Africa. There is the story of Malala Yousufzai, the schoolgirl shot in the head by the Pakistani Taliban for advocating education for girls. Not long after there was the gruesome case of a young woman
brutally gang raped on a bus and left for dead in India. None of this has happened without a fight though. Women have been incredibly courageous in the face of oppression, holding protests, organizing rallies, and pushing forward.
Working more, working harder, getting less, and struggling to hold families together. These are the struggles that women face in the world today. If Women’s History Month is to acknowledge anything, it should be that the struggle of women around the world is far from over.
The Civil Rights Movement from the 1950s -1970s was one of the most significant social movements in U.S. history. It involved millions of people in its ranks. It was a grass roots movement often organized locally. It involved elementary school children in Selma, Alabama and the elderly, registering a man to vote for the first time, in Lowndes County, Alabama who was over 100 years old. It appealed to the consciences of hundreds of northern white students who came to participate in the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964. A whole generation of local leaders emerged, people like Robert F. Williams, a machinist from Monroe, North Carolina and women leaders like Rosa Parks, a seamstress from Montgomery, Alabama, and Fannie Lou Hamer, a Mississippi sharecropper.
It was a movement filled with ingenuity and imagination. There was certainly violence and danger but it was also joyful, full of singing and defiant celebration – a festival of the oppressed. Consciousness changed over night and what started out as the act of conscience quickly mushroomed into a massive social movement. The American apartheid system, in place for hundreds of years, was overturned in a decade of action.
The Civil Rights Movement was launched in 1955 with the Montgomery Bus Boycott and followed in 1957, by the fight to desegregate Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas. Then, in 1960, a few courageous Black freshman from a local state university sat in at the segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. The student movement quickly spread. Within two weeks there were demonstrations in 15 cities in five southern states. Then in 1961, the Freedom Rides challenged the federal government to defend the right of all of its citizens to ride on interstate transit. By September of 1961 there were actions in more than 100 cities in 20 states, and more than 70,000 participated, 3600 got arrested and 58 faculty were expelled for participating in the movement.
The movement spread with voter registration drives and community organizing on multiple issues. In 1963, there were 1,412 demonstrations in just the first three months of the year. And the March on Washington in that summer brought one quarter of a million people to the capitol. Millions of people were active in small and larger ways. Thousands of activists gained valuable experience and a new order was born.
Young college students and other youth were the spark of the movement but it was made up primarily of working class and poor people. Members of The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters were often the backbone of the movement, bringing their experience to bear on organizing. The energy and activism of the Civil Rights Movement went on to contribute to every other important U.S. social movement of the 1960s and ‘70s. And it was a movement that had an international impact, linked to the struggles going on all over the world as people fought to liberate themselves from colonialism. Many activists of the Civil Rights Movement helped build the movement against the war in Vietnam.
It is important this February to remember and honor the struggles of the past. And today when we are facing multiple crises – growing inequality, conflict and war and global warming that threatens the very life on our planet, it is especially necessary to remember the lessons of the past; for they hold the key to our future. Consciousness can change quickly and social movements can be born. When ordinary people decide to stop being treated as victims and instead to be actors on the stage of history – extraordinary things have happened. And they can happen again.by a few daring individuals or small groups.
In Memory of Pete Seeger May 3, 1919 to January 27, 2014). Pete was a songmaster of movements from the 1930s to the 21st century. He introduced songs that helped carry the movement forward in the dark days when people filled the jails, to the brighter days when we filled the streets. His songs and joyfully defiant sprit reflected the movements he was a part of.
Lately many of us have been commenting on the spring weather and flowers in bloom – in January. But as nice it seems it makes us uneasy and it should. In California, lakes, rivers and reservoirs are at record low levels. The snow pack, which stores freshwater in the form of snow and ice, barely exists. In rural areas, the fire season never stopped. Many species of fish, including salmon, are threatened. For farmers and ranchers, especially for family farms, it means a severe loss to their herds and crops. We are going to continue to feel the effects of this crisis as food and water costs go up.
Records are being broken around the world – record rainfall, record drought, record heat and record cold. In some parts of the world these extremes have meant the loss of tens of thousands of lives due to storms, crop failures, lack of water for animals and forcing millions from their homes
This crisis is caused by the drive for profits, by the banks and large corporations. They have continued with business as usual, dismissing the warnings of scientists around the world. Those who profit from the fossil fuel industry – oil, coal and natural gas want us to believe that this climate change is natural. Or they claim that human created climate change or global warming is just a “theory”. Scientists do agree that global warming is a reality and are testing their theories to figure out how and what is going on and how fast it is taking place.
We are told that the problem is too great and complex for us to understand and combat. But that is the message of those who defend their profits with this insanity. If we continue on this path, we are headed towards the end of life as we know it on this planet. James Hansen, a former head climate scientist at NASA, says we have to drastically reduce our carbon emissions or it is “game over”.
So what solutions are proposed? Instead of taking radical measures that aim at the root of the problem, the politicians propose minor alterations in how we work and live. We are told to use less water – that’s right. Drive less – that’s right. Use less electricity – that’s right. Recycle and waste less – that’s right. But that’s not enough. And it puts it all on us and that’s NOT right. The solution does lie with us. But not mainly as consumers, but as the majority who do the work of this society.
We do not profit from the continued destruction of the environment. We do not benefit from breathing in noxious fumes from cars, power plants or factories. Our children do not have healthy lives when they are being poisoned by the chemicals and toxins in the foods we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe.
So, what do we do? First we need to understand the source of the problems and to listen to what the scientists are saying instead of listening to the oil executives and their politicians. And we can start to be active where we are by dealing with what is happening on the job and in our communities. People all around the world are doing just that.
In Pittsburg, CA, hundreds of people have begun to organize against bringing massive amounts of crude oil to be stored in their community. Across the country people are opposing fracking – the pumping of poisonous water, under high pressure, deep underground to force out the natural gas trapped in the rock formations. People in Canada and the U.S. are mobilizing to block the extraction, shipping and refining of toxic tar sand oil of the Keystone XL pipeline. People near the Port of Oakland and Richmond are mobilizing against air borne pollution responsible for asthma.
Of course this is not enough. The real question in front of us is either climate change or system change. We are a part of this planet and must protect it in order to protect ourselves. The one percent, who own and run this system, are threatening our lives and the existence of life on the planet. We can’t afford to leave them in charge. We have no interest in continuing to live and work in a society whose goal is the profit of a few at the expense of everything else. We are the majority and if we are decided and determined and we organize – imagine what we can do. And, in reality, we have no other choice.