Saturday, January 25, 2014

New Report; Billions In Fossil Fuel Handouts

From last year.

By dturnbull 

   Today Oil Change International has released a new report with Earth Track that exposes some $4 billion per year in new fossil fuel subsidies which have gone unaccounted for in previous estimates. And what’s worse? It’s growing.

Our new analysis dives into a shady corporate structure called “Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs)” and seeks to do a more thorough job of quantifying the value of tax avoidance the fossil fuel industry is able to enjoy by utilizing these structures. MLPs were largely ruled out by the IRS for most US industries some 25 years ago, but special rules continue to provide eligibility for fossil fuels, and have allowed a growing range of oil and gas activities to escape corporate income taxes entirely.

(cross-posted from Oil Change International)

The report, entitled “Too Big to Ignore: Subsidies to Fossil Fuel Master Limited Partnerships,” finds that the oil, gas, and coal sectors have increasingly dominated the MLP universe, now comprising well over three-quarters of the total. Existing estimates of the taxpayer costs associated with fossil fuel MLPs are deceptively low, reducing the pressure to end this tax break once and for all.

Whose benefiting from MLPs? Many oil, gas and pipeline companies you’ve likely heard of, including Enbridge, Sunoco, and TransCanada.  These MLPs not only enable firms to escape corporate income taxes on profits, but they allow their partners to delay most tax payments on distributions for many years – a huge benefit.

Forbes magazine – not the most liberal of outlets – has called MLPs an “income and a tax shelter rolled into one investment.” And we continue to provide this double benefit to fossil fuels more and more each year.

According to the new report, MLPs cost the US treasury as much as $13 billion in lost tax revenue between 2009 and 2012. Previous estimates put this figure six times lower. And this number, in the absence of any action otherwise, is only expected to grow.  Fossil fuel interests continue to convert to MLPs at an alarming rate through asset spin-offs, mergers, and by seeking expanded eligibility granted not only by Congress, but also through rather secretive IRS rulings.

Fossil fuel subsidies like the benefits received by the use of MLPs continue to help these companies dig up the fuels that are burning our climate. Not only does the U.S. oil boom imperil our communities and climate, but the increasing use of Master Limited Partnerships allows the industry to pay even less of its share of the taxes needed to support those same communities. The fossil fuel industry is busy destroying our air, water, land, and climate, all the while finding new ways to avoid taxes.

And as report author, Doug Koplow of Earth Track said:

“Tax subsidies to fossil fuels through Master Limited Partnerships go against both the fiscal and environmental interests of our country, yet are repeatedly overlooked in most federal oversight reports on subsidies. Though recent efforts have looked to expand Master Limited Partnership subsidies to some renewable energy resources, the evidence suggests that the fossil fuel sector will continue to capture the vast majority of the MLP subsidies even with an expansion.  In the context of the climate crisis we face, the continuation of this subsidy to fossil fuels is inappropriate regardless of any potential benefits to new industries."

For more information…

The report can be found here.

Our press release announcing the report can be found here.

Originally posted to dturnbull on Mon Jul 22, 2013

Friday, January 24, 2014

Saterday Satire:Chris Christie

Jay Leno : "President Obama is giving the NSA new guidelines on gathering data on American citizens. He says the NSA can no longer violate anyone's constitutionally protected right to privacy. That, of course, will be Target's job."
"We are so lucky to live here in California with a huge snowstorm back east. Actually, Governor Chris Christie is very happy about this weather. He's got something else to blame the road closures on."
Jimmy Fallon: "Target just announced that it is dropping health insurance for part-time employees and they're blaming it on Obamacare. I guess now if Target employees need to pay for healthcare, they'll just have to use their customers' credit cards."
Conan O'Brien: "We need rain. Governor Jerry Brown has declared California to be in a state of drought emergency. So ladies, when I ask you to take a shower with me, I'm just trying to conserve water."
"Chris Christie is getting a lot of support from New Jersey's Hispanic community. Some Hispanics like his moderate conservatism while others believe if you hit him he'll break open and spill out candy."
"Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis says Governor Chris Christie canceled a position for him when he did something Christie didn't like. When asked what he did, Lewis said 'a sit-up.'"
David Letterman: "Earlier today Governor Chris Christie was re-inaugurated. It was a beautiful ceremony. They even had that phony sign language guy. When Governor Christie was sworn in, he put his right hand on a menu. Immediately following the ceremony, Christie closed the Holland Tunnel."

Thursday, January 23, 2014

People who are homeless

By iampunha

I think it is good to be this cold. I think that the majority of us in this country are too comfortable for empathy and although an apartment with walls can never be as cold as outdoors, it gives me a little bit of an idea of what that must be like. It also makes me aware of how quickly ones hands and feet can actually start to hurt due to being cold.

I got in my car this morning, turned it on, grabbed the ice/snow scraper, equipped it with my left hand still in my pullover sleeve, ran over to my wife's van and hurriedly shoveled five-inch-deep snow off it for several minutes.

She could do the rest a few hours later. My hands were already stinging from the cold, even though my body was blocking the wind. Plus, the rest was ice, which meant removing the scraper from my sleeve, grabbing plastic that had just been not suffering in 7-degree cold (with wind chill subtracting however many cruel ticks on the thermometer), and having snow warm in my sleeve and collect as a cold, wet punishment for a good deed.

Then I got in my well-running car, drove on mostly clear roads to my office job, which supports my family of three well enough, and sat working, checking things here and occasionally watching the wind play with snow and trees and cars.

The wind out there.

Not in here, where I was warmer and undisturbed by poverty, verifying information about two-thousand-dollar technology and leadership classes.

Articles about the recent cold focus mostly on the people likely to read the articles. Here's an example, translated for privilege:

Allison Pennell said not having a [day off from taxpayer-funded public education, heat, safety and food] was "a hard pill to swallow" for her two children, [who don't have to panhandle]. "They [had the energy to complain about where they would be educated, warm, safe and fed], but they had to [stay somewhere else for all of those free-to-them benefits]," she said.
The article then goes on at length about how much snow is falling all over the place, how cold the outside is and how public officials are dealing.

But people who are homeless don't have tablets to read the news as they warm themselves over coffee, so who cares?

We are not expected to care about people we don't know -- people we rarely look at.

People we avoid looking at because we do have money, but we don't trust strangers, or we are afraid of being assaulted, or we desperately do not want to care about a need with a face a foot away from us because then there goes saving for that television.

We do not want to confront, or look in the eyes, people who are homeless.

We do not want to even walk past them because then we will hear them asking for money we all know we have. I spent a summer walking past the same people who were homeless every day, and I did my utter best to avoid looking at a single pair of eyes.

They are unwanted by most, unimportant to most, and so uncovered in most news reports. Instead, the news reports on the people who have money for houses and cars and the like.

I wonder if any reporter for a metropolitan newspaper or national news service called a homeless shelter from Virginia to Maine asking about deaths due to exposure, which is code for lack of empathy.

The people who write and assign and edit these stories are assuming two things:

1) You too have more empathy for that guy shoveling his walkway than for the homeless.

2) You actually don't realize the homeless are ignored (government services notwithstanding) at their most vulnerable. When you read weather stories, you're thinking about flights, cancellations, road and traffic conditions, and pictures of people walking amid whatever natural hijinx. Has someone snapped a picture of a squirrel busily doing whatever on ice that's normally water?

So confident is the news team behind weather coverage that you don't care about the homeless that you won't find a homeless reference in the first third of a weather story. Second third? Maybe. Third third, usually. And even then, it's the director of a local homeless shelter, not an actual homeless person. See?

Even a story about helping people who are homeless quotes none through the first four pages. This story is one of two in the top ten Google News hits for "who is homeless" that actually names a person who is homeless, and the other one names a crime suspect who is homeless.

That linked top ten search result includes tonight's funniest concept: Merchants want the city to just get the homeless to skedaddle so they can have their pretty gem show and pretend homelessness doesn't exist. So delightfully pretentious, no?

"This isn't quite as ... artistic as last night's," you're thinking. "I was hoping for something as ... anti-inspirational as your line about lumps of human."

I'm hoping for a country that doesn't spend a billion dollars on an Air Force information technology project that doesn't work while also cutting spending on people who really do need that "extra" ten dollars a week.

At 600,000 people who are homeless, ten dollars per person per week would take more than three years to spend (thanks to kck for alerting me to the error).

A couponer could come damn close to feeding a person for ten dollars a week.

I have never liked or respected the concept that the problem of evil makes us that much more thankful for the good in this world.

But I have a hard time arguing against it. So when I read rubyr's comment about the good of cold, I understood it immediately and agreed as quickly.

But it goes much further than cold. It goes much further than weather. It speaks to a general level of empathy I'm convinced we're losing in this click-to-interact world.

This online world allows us to choose very specifically what kind of information we want and what kind we want to ignore. And just as you can ignore news about the cold by removing or hiding weather stories from your online media sources, you can ignore any other thing you plain don't like.

We are increasingly teaching ourselves that if we don't like something, like a two-year-old fighting asparagus (mistakenly; that stuff's amazing), we can just throw it on the floor and ignore it.

Things we did not like as children -- vegetables, homework, cleaning where light rarely goes -- we had to deal with. Now we can click to hide that political garbage that relative posted. In doing so, we are not only atrophying our ability to tolerate things we dislike, but also discarding our opportunity to educate that relative -- and, crucially, that relative's friends. Even a polite disagreement with facts is a better situation than the philosophical purity, the echo chamber, we're encouraging.

Whether it's the weather or the opinion we dislike, sometimes the protection is worse than the attacker.

Throughout this diary is this phrase:

people who are homeless

Used it for a reason. In Introduction to Special Education, I learned about people-first language.

Say a person uses a wheelchair; people-first language would say "a person who uses a wheelchair" rather than "a wheelchair-bound person." The first wording emphasizes the person first and the other element second.

Our phrasing when talking about people who are homeless tells us some terrible if unintended things about ourselves. The worst is that when we discuss homelessness, we often do not even denote that we are talking about people. We discuss "the homeless." We discuss homelessness and joblessness and poverty without ever using personal pronouns ("they" is vague and general) or even person-based nouns, like "people who do not have jobs."

Rhetoric changes opinions. Same-sex marriage is a controversial issue, but far more people are getting behind marriage equality.

And "died from exposure" is much less saddening and action-inspiring than "died because she was frigid and alone outside because her relatives gave up on her after she got hepatitis C from a guy she had sex with so she could pay rent for one last month because her job was outsourced to Mexico, and the shelter wouldn't let her in again because she's a troublemaker because she got in a fight because someone tried to steal her boots, so she had nowhere."

I used to end my diaries with a call to action to donate or write a letter or whatever. This call to action is different.

From this moment on, don't ever talk about people who are homeless without using the phrase people who are homeless. Invite your audience to think of people first and anything else about them second. Once you get them thinking about people -- a perfectly safe concept -- you are well on the way to getting people who are homeless the help they deserve.

And here is help for people who are homeless and for people who are homeful but who need other kinds of help.

Originally posted to iampunha on Wed Jan 22, 2014

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

White House Selling "Free Trade" Deal, But Who's Buying?

  From Common Dreams Jon Queally, staff writer

  TPP is a very bad deal for American workers, period.

(Photo: Friends of the Earth)Though progressives

Though progressives both inside Congress and out have come out strongly against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and a bill introduced last week that would give President Obama "fast track" authority to sign the "free trade" pact without legislative wrangling, the White House appears to be redoubling its efforts to get what it wants.

As The Hill reports Tuesday:

The White House is making a major push to convince Congress to give the president trade promotion authority, which would make it easier for President Obama to negotiate pacts with other countries.

A flurry of meetings has taken place in recent days since legislation was introduced to give the president the authority, with U.S. Trade Representative Mike Froman meeting with approximately 70 lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in the House and Senate.

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough has also been placing calls and meeting with key Democratic lawmakers in recent days to discuss trade and other issues.

The "fast track" bill in question was introduced in the Democrat-controlled Senate last week by the reliable friend of big business Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and co-sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). The companion bill in the House was introduced by Republican Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan, though it has so far received no Democratic co-sponsors with only his fellow GOP caucus members lining up in support.

Earlier this month, more than 150 Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to Obama describing their concerns about the TPP and the fast track legislation under consideration.

“For too long, bad trade deals have allowed corporations to ship good American jobs overseas, and wages, benefits, workplace protections and quality of life have all declined as a result,” said Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and George Miller (D-CA) in a joint statement alongside the letter. “That is why there is strong bipartisan opposition to enabling the Executive Branch to ram through far-reaching, secretly negotiated trade deals like the TPP that extend well beyond traditional trade matters. At the core of the Baucus-Camp bill is the same Fast Track mechanism that failed us from 2002-2007.

“Our constituents did not send us to Washington to ship their jobs overseas, and Congress will not be a rubber stamp for another flawed trade deal that will hang the middle class out to dry. Instead of pursuing the same failed trade policies we should support American workers by making the necessary investments to compete in today’s global economy.”

Outside opponents of the deal itself—unwavering in their critique—have used the fight over "fast track" to exhibit what they see as the undemocratic nature of globalized trade deals like the TPP. And as the implementation of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) recently celebrated its twentieth anniversary, many of those opponents argue that NAFTA's terrible economic, social, and environmental legacies should be all the warning needed to put the brakes on such deals.

"Like NAFTA, the TPP will handcuff our ability to set regulations in key areas like finance, industry, the environment, public procurement and fostering programs to create jobs at home," argued Manuel PĂ©rez Rocha, an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, in a recent essay. "Free trade offers corporate subsidies for the rich and cut-throat competition for everyone else. So it should come as no surprise that communities across the continent and the Western Hemisphere are mobilizing in what can be expected as the battle against the TPP."

And Dave Johnson, writing for the Campaign for America's Future, explains how "fast track authority" is used to undermine congressional oversight and cut out the American people from the conversation over trade policy:

If passed, [fast track] means trade bills that come before Congress will have limited debate, will have to be voted on in a short period, and can’t be amended or filibustered.

This rigged process gives the big corporations an opportunity to set up a crisis atmosphere around trade agreement votes; by saturating the country with ads, the airwaves with TV and radio talkers, the newspapers with op-eds, and generally creating a fog of PR and spin promising jobs and prosperity-for-all if it passed, and the death of the economy and all children under the age of 5 if it does not. Meanwhile behind the scenes they will be handing out the cash and job offers to get the required votes.

Obama is expected to make a large public push for the TPP in his upcoming State of the Union address. Whether he can sell the idea to the American people or receive so far absent support from most Democratic lawmakers in Congress remains to be seen.

According to The Hill:

No House Democrats are co-sponsoring the bill, however, and Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), the Ways and Means ranking member, and Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), the panel’s former chairman, have both criticized it. They said the legislation doesn’t give enough leverage and power to Congress during trade negotiations.

Getting TPA passed would be a major victory for the administration and one that would please business groups, but the White House will first have to convince Democrats to go along with it.

One senior administration official said the White House has been in dialogue with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle “with a real focus on Democrats” to explain TPA and take into account their concerns.

“Any trade matter presents challenges,” the senior administration official said, adding that the White House officials are “devoted” to working with members on the issue.

The Democratic opposition makes it highly unlikely that the trade promotion authority bill, in its current form at least, will go anywhere.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Welfare: Good for the Economy

  With all of the bullshit coming from the Republican side of the isle about how food stamps and unemployment checks make people ‘ lazy,’ I’d thought that I would post an article about how these government programs are good for our economy.

   This article comes from liberaldad2.

The Republicans are demanding that the government cut back spending on social welfare programs like unemployment insurance, food stamps, aid to poor families and other welfare programs.  I have always believed that a wealthy nation has an obligation to care for its least fortunate members on ethical and moral grounds, but clearly we have a disagreement with our more conservative brethren on that issue.  However, there is a purely economic argument that shows investing in our poorest individuals will pay benefits for the American economy, including America’s businesses.  Here is how it works – Economics 101.

If the government gives one dollar to a poor individual, he is going to spend it.  Maybe not all of it, but some fraction, let’s say 90 percent (10 percent goes into a savings account or some other investment).  Maybe on food or clothing or a vacation trip to Las Vegas, maybe on alcohol or drugs – from an economics perspective, it doesn’t matter.  Then the recipients of the 90 cents will also have more money to spend.  They in turn will spend 81 cents of that money in much the same way, injecting even more money into the economy.  Some fraction will go into labor and goods from their suppliers to meet the increased demand, and some will be discretionary for personal luxury items.  Then 72 cents of that 81 cents will also get respent, and so on, over and over again.

And let’s not forget taxes.  When the first recipient spends his 90 cents, he will pay sales tax.  And the recipient will pay income tax on the extra profit he makes.  That means that a substantial fraction of the one dollar that was originally spent by the government will come back in additional taxes.  Of course taxes will reduce the amount available for discretionary spending, but that can be easily accounted for.

This is called the multiplier effect.  Let’s assume that everyone in the supply chain would spend 90 percent of the money they receive and save the other 10 percent, and we also assume that the sales tax rate is 8 percent, that gross income generates taxable profit at an average of 5 percent, and that the marginal income tax rate is 28 percent.  Then the numbers show that for the $1 in government spending, $4.87 is injected into the economy, $0.54 goes into savings and tax revenues increase by $0.46.

Take a good look at those numbers.  Remarkably, the one dollar gets multiplied, increasing spending across the entire economy, mostly going directly into the private sector.  Plus the banks see a significant increase in investments, and the government gets almost half of its money back.  Note that the sum of the money saved and the money returned in taxes equals the entire original investment.  This has to be true, because the money keeps getting passed on.  In fact, if the savings rate is lower, say 5 percent instead of 10, then the multiplier is even larger.  Money injected goes to $6.82, savings drops to $0.36 and taxes increase to $0.64.  Again the sum of the savings and taxes equals the original investment.  No, this is not voodoo economics, a healthy economy really works that way.  This is how wealth is created.  Not to mention jobs.

Conversely, when the government cuts those programs and doesn’t put that money into people's hands, the same multiplier effect punishes the economy many times over.

Ironically, and sadly, the poorest people in the supply chain save the least (that's why they are poor).  If you give the same dollar to a billionaire (for example, by reducing his taxes), he won't spend much of it - it will mostly go into savings - so the multiplier gets reduced.  Giving the money to the poorest, who are most likely to go out and spend it, actually generates the greatest amount of wealth.

Of course the government has to raise the $1.00 in the first place, either through taxes or borrowing, and therein lies another tale.  But based on this example, the government really only needs to raise $0.54 (or $0.36, depending on the savings rate) in order to spend that $1.00.  There will of course be a redistribution from federal to state and local revenues, but state and local welfare programs also inject money back into federal taxes, so there is some balance.  This seems like a bargain to me.

So this looks like a no brainer – government spending on social welfare programs directly benefits businesses and banks in the private sector with a big multiplier – how could anyone who favors business object to that?  Every time a social welfare program gets cut, American businesses get another kick in the teeth because their customers have less money to spend.  And that is not voodoo, that is real.

Originally posted to liberaldad2 on Fri Jan 17, 2014

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Health Insurers: Whining About Socialism All The Way to the Bank

By cskendrick on January 7,2013

Not one of the major publicly-traded health insurers' stocks underperforms the S&P500 market index and hasn't since summer 2009 when we all started this very interesting conversation about how Obamacare would destroy private insurance.

The insurers are whining about how socialism is killing them all the way to the bank. Aetna, perhaps the most publicly opposed to the ACA based on its close association with one Joe Lieberman (h/t NYCeve),  bought Coventry Health in a bold move to expose itself even more to socialism. HCA went public again in 2010 an odd play for a corporation fearing market exposure in the aftermath of PASSAGE of the Affordable Care Act.  (In another bold risk management move, HCS fobbed off former chair Rick Scott onto the state of Florida.)

So that means not only the voters, not only common decency but ruthless pursuit of returns isn't on the side of 'repeal and replace'. My theory on why: Once ACA is in place, companies will no longer have to manage in-house health packages for employees. The large companies, exempt in theory from Obamacare, will voluntarily phase out their benefits on the premise that, like in every other developed country on Earth, health insurance is a conversation between the people and their public servants.

(more below the squiggleract.)

We're an increasingly multinational corporate world. Big multinationals don't like coming to America and finding out they have to pay expensive health care packages for employees that they don't have to pay for anywhere else. It won't happen fast, but it will happen faster than the 30 years it took American workers to lose their defined benefit pensions.

Now, with pensions, this was something Republicans couldn't get enough of back in the day, because it started up when 'the day' and all future ones were quite bright and rosy in GOPers' eye. The golden age of the Reagan Empire. We wear de-risking now. De-risking is cool. Which makes it all the more amusing that now it's happening under Obama's watch the same thing is evil. For how it was Cool When Republicans Did It But Socialism Now, Michael Baroneone only has to peek at the prose of Michael Barone on the topic.

Perhaps this isn't the health care world as it should be in anyone's eyes. Liberals object to setting up a system that compensates institutions and individuals that will
never stop contributing to a party that wants to deconstruct the public space. Tactically speaking, centrists/pragmatists/whatever the most awesome label is this week might want to revisit the merits as well. (And thanks for the cash in the meantime, Democrats, while we continue to hate you lots and plot your complete destruction. Love, the insurance industry.)

On the other side of the aisle I am quite sure Republicans don't like government assuming the risk, ever, and they've long since moved on to hating on the miniscule tax increases to passive investor income (a dip in after tax returns that is more than made up for by the reduced volatility in those reduced, because less risk AND over time the reduced long term liabilities to private corporations who will now be off the hook for health packages for their staff.) But... taxes. But... socialism. But... Obama gets credit if this works (but not from us). But... Duck Dynasty Sarah Palin something.

Thing is, the cray-cray crew don't have any strategy but stamping their feet and (see: October shutdown) threatening to tall OUR ball and going home. Not because of triumph of liberalism. Not because Tea People are suddenly feeling, okay, yeah, my kids have health issues and I am diabetic and my work health plan is getting ridiculously expensive and this website's not ALL that bad so I'm enrolling.

ACA is going to work because it makes a lot of already rich people and corporations even richer. Companies getting to dump trillions more of long term liabilities as they volunteer their associates into Obamacare (because freedom) is why no one's coming to the rescue of the 'Repeal and Replace' set, any more than anyone came to the rescue of first private workers' then public servants' pensions since the 1980s.

ACA is better than no ACA by far: We're not replacing socialized medicine with ACA, so this isn't quite the same as swapping out pensions with 401Ks. (So, perhaps there's a point for Barone there...if one accepts that Doing More For The American Worker Is Always Bad And Really Bad If It Makes Democrats Look Good). This is something new...and the irony is that corporations (same as with the 401K conquest of private retirement funding) are liking what they're seeing....even if they have no intention by and large of funding Democrats. (They'd rather just have less crazy Republicans, good luck with that Corporate America. Keep us posted.)

So in a nutshell: Giving the risk and expense of keeping you, the working stiff, healthy and alive back to you (with a little help from your government) is what ACA is all about. Oh, and it makes some serious coin for insurers in the meantime (see: Stock performance since 2009).

For that reason - it makes some serious loot for people who don't necessarily have a problem with socialism, only sharing it with the little people - ACA is here to stay, because it takes a LOT of risk off Corporate America's books in the long run and saves shareholders trillions, perhaps many trillions, in the bargain.

If fewer people get sick and die and bankrupt their families in the process, that's nice, but the insurers who are doing so well financially, because socialism, won't ever thank Democrats for the solid.

They'll continue whining all the way to the bank...and that, ironically, is why ACA's here to stay.

Crossposted at Daily Kos