Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tax Day Tax You? Morgan Stanley Defaults on Japan Debt - Ralph Nader: Cut Off Corporate Welfare & Salman Rushdie - Courage Personified

From my buddy at Down With Tyranny on Tax Day (and you know how much I respect Chris Hedges' opinion!):

Above is an important speech by author Chris Hedges at Union Square in NYC on April 15. It's extraordinary and well worth the 10 minutes of your time. A brief excerpt: We stand today before the gates of one of our temples of finance. It is a temple where greed and profit are the highest good, where self-worth is determined by the ability to amass wealth and power at the expense of others, where laws are manipulated, rewritten and broken, where the endless treadmill of consumption defines human progress, where fraud and crimes are the tools of business. The two most destructive forces of human nature - greed and envy - drive the financiers, the bankers, the corporate mandarins and the leaders of our two major political parties, all of whom profit from this system. They place themselves at the center of creation. They disdain or ignore the cries of those below them. They take from us our rights, our dignity and thwart our capacity for resistance. They seek to make us prisoners in our own land. They view human beings and the natural world as mere commodities to exploit until exhaustion or collapse. Human suffering, wars, climate change, poverty, it is all the price of business. Nothing is sacred. The Lord of Profit is the Lord of Death. The pharisees of high finance who can see us this morning from their cubicles and corner officers mock virtue. Life for them is solely about self-gain. The suffering of the poor is not their concern. The 6 million families thrown out of their homes are not their concern. The tens of millions of pensioners whose retirement savings were wiped out because of the fraud and dishonesty of Wall Street are not their concern. The failure to halt carbon emissions is not their concern. Justice is not their concern. Truth is not their concern. A hungry child is not their concern. Fyodor Dostoyevsky in Crime and Punishment understood the radical evil behind the human yearning not to be ordinary but to be extraordinary, the desire that allows men and women to serve systems of self-glorification and naked greed. Raskolnikov in the novel believes - like those in this temple - that humankind can be divided into two groups. The first is composed of ordinary people. These ordinary people are meek and submissive. They do little more than reproduce other human beings in their own likeness, grow old and die. And Raskolnikov is dismissive of these lesser forms of human life. The second group, he believes, is extraordinary. These are, according to Raskolnikov, the Napoleons of the world, those who flout law and custom, those who shred conventions and traditions to create a finer, more glorious future. Raskolnikov argues that, although we live in the world, we can free ourselves from the consequences of living with others, consequences that will not always be in our favor. The Raskolnikovs of the world place unbridled and total faith in the human intellect. They disdain the attributes of compassion, empathy, beauty, justice and truth. And this demented vision of human existence leads Raskolnikov to murder a pawnbroker and steal her money. When I ran Reprise Records for TimeWarner I paid a lot more taxes than Obama did - and I always felt pretty good about it. I was doing better than more than 99% of the country and I was doing well, at least in part, because of the country. Monday my tax bill came to zero. That's how a Congress filled with rich people structures the tax code for rich people. I didn't feel good about it; I felt unclean and in on the cheating game. I had lunch with my financial advisor, a senior vice president at MorganStanley. We were celebrating because he had just bought a $4 million house on an acre of land in Beverly Hills. He was complaining how grossly undertaxed he is and how unfair it is. When I drove home from lunch I heard this exchange on KCRW (Marketplace) about how, since Reagan got the ball rolling, taxes have sunk, especially for the super-rich. MOON: When we talk about the tax burden, most people, I think, point to the policies enacted under former President Ronald Reagan as the reason that it's been easing over the years. Does he deserve all the credit? THORNDIKE: He deserves a good share of the credit. Although, it's a long-term process in which most of us have seen our taxes drop a least a little bit. But you know the big numbers sort of obscure some of the important smaller numbers. They've dropped quite a bit more for some groups than they have for others. MOON: Now there are no shortages of stories out there about the super rich paying next to nothing, but you're suggesting that across all brackets? THORNDIKE: Well there's been, I think it might be fair to say, a modest decline across all brackets. But there's been a particularly big decline for both ends of the spectrum: for very low-income taxpayers and for very rich taxpayers. For those at the bottom of the income spectrum, they've done pretty well. The bottom quintile taxpayers payed an average rate of 8 percent in 1979, and that dropped to 4 percent in 2007, which is the latest year I have numbers for. But for the rich, they've also done quite well: the top 1 percent had been paying at 37 percent in 1979, and their rate dropped to 29.5. You can even get more granular than that if you look at the top 400 households: their rate from 26.4 percent in '92 - this is a somewhat later number - to 16.6 percent just recently . . . . MOON: Now what about the tax on the super rich? I've heard that that was up to around 90 percent during the Eisenhower years. THORNDIKE: It was over 90 percent during the Eisenhower years, even higher than that during World War II. And actually, those very high wartime rates stuck around for all of the '50s and into the '60s. They start down in the '60s, but only into the 70 percent, and then they keep coming down. So at the very top, the rates were very high, and they've gradually come down quite a long way. MOON: Now I think it's fit to say that there's a reluctance on Capitol Hill to tax the super rich. The politics have changed, maybe on both sides. But in the Republican Party, commitment to low taxes among them, how is that working out? THORNDIKE: I think the Republican Party today is quite a different party than it was in, say, the 1970s or even the 1980s. There is a real commitment to limiting taxes and to tax rate reductions, and perhaps less of a commitment to deficit reduction. It used to be that Republicans, who have always been suitably enthusiastic about reducing tax rates, were more afraid of unchecked red ink. I mean, that fear may be returning now, but I think for the last 20 years or so, we've seen a politics where deficit worries just did not quite to the level of importance that rate cuts did. AP ran a feature by Stephen Ohlemacher that brought up the same kinds of conclusions: "The super rich pay a lot less in taxes than they did a couple of decades ago, and nearly half of U.S. households pay no income taxes at all. The Internal Revenue Service tracks the tax returns with the 400 highest adjusted gross incomes each year. The average income on those returns in 2007, the latest year for IRS data, was nearly $345 million. Their average federal income tax rate was 17 percent, down from 26 percent in 1992 . . . . The top income tax rate is 35 percent, so how can people who make so much pay so little in taxes? . . . [T]he top rate on capital gains is only 15 percent. And corporations, it turns out, pay even less. In return for generous subsidies to the careers of politicians, corporations are able to get away with paying almost no taxes. Due in part to complex tax avoidance schemes, nearly two-thirds of corporations doing business in the U.S. pay no income taxes at all, according to a 2008 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) . . . The GAO also found, in 2008, that 83 of the 100 largest publicly traded U.S. corporations have subsidiaries in tax haven countries or financial privacy jurisdictions. Companies that received taxpayer-funded bailout money or receive lucrative government contracts and use tax havens include American Express, A.I.G, Exxon Mobil, Goldman Sachs and Pfizer. Over $100 billion a year is lost to the federal treasury through off-shoring. According to Tax Shell Game: How Much Did OffShore Tax Havens Cost You In 2010?, a new U.S. Public Interest Research Group report, the use of offshore tax havens results in $434 in additional tax burden for taxpayers around the country. “Main street businesses and ordinary taxpayers without access to an army of accountants to devise elaborate tax avoidance schemes are forced to pick up the tab every year. We’ve already paid to bail out the banks and other big corporations-- is it fair to ask us to pay their taxes as well?” said U.S. PIRG Legislative Office Director Gary Kalman. A Gallup poll from a few days ago showed that a majority of Americans reject the idea that the distribution of money and wealth in the U.S. is fair. They instead agree with the broad sentiment that "money and wealth in this country should be more evenly distributed among a larger percentage of the people." 78% of Democrats and 55% of Independents are in accord here. Only 36% of self-professed Republicans are on the same page. It's a difference in philosophy about the role of government in the lives of people. Conservatives (that includes most Republicans) tend to believe in the law of the jungle. Everyone else sees that government should act as a balance between individuals and the immense power of the dark and very real forces Chris Hedges is talking about in his speech above.
From our friends at Penny For Your Thoughts we hear the latest bankster manipulations (emphasis marks added - Ed.):

This is interesting & curious. I am not quite sure what to make of this news? First, thanks to John @ Paintings Art Etc. for passing it along. It was originally posted by a blogger Sherrie Questioning All. This is the original news story -Morgan Stanley Fund Fails to Repay Debt on Tokyo Property A Morgan Stanley property fund failed to make $3.3 billion in debt payments by a deadline on Friday, handing over the keys to a central Tokyo office building to Blackstone (BX.N) and other investors, the largest repayment failure of its kind in Japan. It marks the latest fallout from a series of highly leveraged investments by Morgan Stanley (MS.N), one of the most aggressive investors in worldwide property markets before the global financial crisis. The $4.2 billion MSREF V real estate fund missed its April 15 deadline to repay 278 billion yen($3.3 billion) worth of debt packaged in commercial mortgage-backed securities on the 32-storey Shinagawa Grand Central Tower, a property which has seen its value plunge, two people involved in the transaction said. . . . This is the largest repayment failure of debt packaged in CMBS in Japan, according to analysts and industry experts, bigger than the 112 billion yen that real estate investor K.K. daVinci Holdings failed to pay on the Pacific Century Place office building. MSREF V bought the Shinagawa property for 140 billion yen in 2004 from Mitsubishi Corp (8058.T) and Mitsubishi Motors (7211.T). The building now houses Microsoft's Japan offices among other tenants. Morgan Stanley repackaged the loans into 125 billion yen worth of CMBS in 2005, according to a website for Morgan Stanley. Taking advantage of a run-up in property prices, MSREF V refinanced its debt on the Shinagawa property in 2007 with new debt worth 278 billion yen, twice the value of its purchase and likely yielding a tidy profit for the fund. The refinanced debt was sold in six different tranches by Morgan Stanley to investors. Was this due to the Fukushima catastrophe? Is this just another part of the mortgage backed securities scam? Bundling debt and selling it, that went sour? Is Morgan Stanley in some sort of major trouble? Requiring another bail-out?
But not to worry. Lack of aggressive regulation will help these guys out again!

Ralph Nader: Cut Off Corporate Welfare to Limbaugh, Hannity Tuesday, April 12, 2011 The tumultuous managerial shakeup at National Public Radio headquarters for trivial verbal miscues once again has highlighted the ludicrous corporatist right-wing charge that public radio and public TV are replete with left-leaning or leftist programming. Ludicrous, that is, unless this criticism's yardstick is the propaganda regularly exuded by the extreme right-wing Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. These "capitalists" use the public's airwaves free-of-charge to make big money. The truth is that the frightened executives at public TV and radio have long been more hospitable to interviews with right of center or extreme right-wing and corporatist talking heads than liberal or progressive guests. PBS's Charlie Rose has had war-loving William Kristol on 31 times, Henry Kissinger 55 times, Richard Perle 10 times, the global corporatist cheerleader, Tom Friedman 70 times. Compare that guest list with Rose's interviews of widely published left of center guests - Noam Chomsky two times, William Grieder two times, Jim Hightower two times, Charlie Peters two times, Lewis Lapham three times, Bob Herbert six times, Paul Krugman 21 times, Victor Navasky one time, Mark Green five times and Sy Hersh, once a frequent guest, has not been on since January 2005. Dr. Sidney Wolfe, the widely-quoted super-accurate drug industry critic, who is often featured on the commercial TV network shows, has never been on Rose's show. Nor has the long-time head of Citizens for Tax Justice and widely respected progressive tax analyst, Robert McIntyre. Far more corporate executives, not known for their leftist inclinations, appear on Rose's show than do leaders of environmental, consumer, labor and poverty organizations. In case you are wondering, I've appeared four times, but not since August 2005, and not once on the hostile Terri Gross radio show. The unabashed progressive Bill Moyer's Show is off the air and has not been replaced. No one can charge PBS's News Hour with Jim Lehrer with anything other than very straightforward news delivery, bland opinion exchanges and a troubling inclination to avoid much reporting that upsets the power structures in Congress, the White House, the Pentagon or Wall Street. The longest running show on PBS was hard-line conservative William F. Buckley's show - Firing Line - which came on the air in 1966 and ended in 1999. Sponsorship by large corporations, such as Coca Cola and AT&T, have abounded - a largesse not likely to be continued year after year for a leftist media organization. None of this deters the Far Right that presently got a majority in the House of Representatives to defund the $422 million annual appropriation to the umbrella entity - Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). About 15% of all revenues for all public broadcasting stations comes from this Congressional contribution. Though he admits to liking National Public Radio, conservative columnist David Harsanyi, believes there is no "practical argument" left "in the defense of federal an era of nearly unlimited choices.." Really? Do commercial radio stations give you much news between the Niagara of advertisements and music? Even the frenetic news, sports, traffic and weather flashes, garnished by ads, are either redundant or made up of soundbytes (apart from the merely 2 minutes of CBS radio news every half-hour). If you want serious news, features and interviews on the radio, you go to public radio or the few community and Pacifica radio stations. Harsanyi continues: "Something, though, seems awfully wrong with continuing to force taxpayers who disagree with the mission - even if their perceptions are false - to keep giving.." Public radio's popular Morning Edition and All Things Considered are the most listened to radio shows after Rush Limbaugh's, and any taxpayer can turn them off. Compare the relatively small public radio and TV budget allocations with the tens of billions of dollars each year - not counting the Wall Street bailout - in compelling taxpayers to subsidize, through hundreds of programs, greedy, mismanaged, corrupt or polluting corporations either directly in handouts, giveaways and guarantees or indirectly in tax escapes, bloated contracts and grants. Can the taxpayer turn them off? Here is a solution that will avoid any need for Congressional contributions to CPB. The people own the public airwaves. They are the landlords. The commercial radio and TV stations are the tenants that pay nothing for their 24 hour use of this public property. You pay more for your auto license than the largest television station in New York pays the Federal Communications Commission for its broadcasting license - which is nothing. It has been that way since the 1927 and 1934 communication laws. Why not charge these profitable businesses rent for use of the public airwaves and direct some of the ample proceeds to nonprofit public radio and public TV as well as an assortment of audience controlled TV and radio channels that could broadcast what is going on in our country locally, regionally, nationally and internationally? (See: Ralph Nader & Claire Riley, Oh, Say Can You See: A Broadcast Network for the Audience, 5 J.L. & POL. 1, [1988]) Now that would be a worthy program for public broadcasting. Get Limbaugh's and Hannity's companies off welfare. Want to guess what their listeners think about corporate welfare? (Ralph Nader is a former presidential candidate and consumer advocate.)
[The 17,800th Visitor to Welcome to Pottersville 2 was from Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand (Hi, Marja!).] I went to see Salman Rushdie at Duke University the other night (compliments of a wonderful member of Atheist Nexus) and it was a rare treat (indeed!). His talk was entitled: "Public Events, Private Lives: Literature and Politics in the Modern World," and it was truly inspiring for bloggers who live to tell the truth about what is occurring and has occurred in the world and honor his wishes about a "writer's imperative" being "to stand up to tyranny." Other than being a fantastically interesting, erudite, incredibly charismatic speaker (which may disturb some naysayers) - and Yankees lover - my only criticism is with the event's planners at Duke. They allowed questions to be posed that obviously had no editorial oversight, and thus a group of several hundred people (a packed-to-bursting (and quite warm) Page Auditorium) were subjected first to a long-winded gentleman who seemed to just be enjoying holding the floor, and then to an underclasswoman asking Rushdie one of the most foolish questions I've ever heard in a Q&A portion for a well-known speaker. Luckily, he only gave a tiny laugh before indulging her ignorance.
DURHAM - After speaking for more than an hour Tuesday evening about the clash of public responsibility with private interest and the writer's imperative to stand up to tyranny, novelist Salman Rushdie took a few questions from the overflow audience at Duke University's Page Auditorium. "You have spoken about how other writers have suffered because of what they've written," asked a young woman. "Have you yourself ever felt endangered?" Rushdie, with a neatly trimmed goatee and looking quite professorial, giggled briefly. "There's a short answer," he replied. "Yes." The author of more than 18 different works was speaking of course of the worldwide controversy engendered by his fourth novel, "The Satanic Verses," which drew protests from Muslims in several countries for what was perceived as an irreverent depiction of the prophet Muhammad. Some of the protests two decades ago were violent, involving death threats to Rushdie and a fatwa - which called for his execution - issued by Iran's then-Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. "I'm happy to say nobody ever got very close [to killing me]," Rushdie responded further to the question. "But the Japanese translator of the novel was murdered. The Norwegian publisher of the novel was shot three times in the back. It was an awful time." While he touched on the awful time and the serious importance of the novelist's work, Rushdie's talk, however, was generally light and witty, literate and wide-ranging, with references that ranged from Jane Austen to Donald Trump. He talked briefly of his hatred for the Boston Red Sox and employed a gift for mimicry in using a variety of accents. But the talk, sponsored by the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute, moved inexorably toward the question, as Rushdie put it, of "Who has power over the narrative? Who has the power to tell the story of our world and our lives?" When tyrants tell the story and determine how it will be told, "they will come after you and try to kill you" if you try to tell it another way, Rushdie said. Instead, he argued, it is the writer's responsibility to tell the story. Writers, Rushdie said, have to "take on the job of telling the truth in a world where the official truth is often a lie." How well writers do that "determines the amount of freedom we have in our lives and our world," Rushdie said. In a world "somewhat brutalized by power," he added, "writers are at the forefront of the opposition to tyranny." Rushdie, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2007, said he is currently working on a memoir of the time when the fatwa was issued and he was in hiding. It was a time, he recalled, "except that it wasn't funny at all, was quite funny." The book, he said, is going to be more than 600 pages long, but he summarized it briefly for the audience. "If you can avoid being sentenced to death by a terrorist leader of a foreign power, just avoid it," he said.
A little more background on Rushdie? (Some editing has been necessary below - Ed.)
DURHAM - Rushdie deliver(ed) the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute's Distinguished Lecture at 6 p.m. April 12, in Page Auditorium. . . . An Indian-born British writer, Rushdie became famous with his second novel, "Midnight's Children," which won England's Booker Prize in 1981. His fourth novel, "The Satanic Verses," was at the center of a worldwide controversy, drawing protests from Muslims in several countries for what was perceived as an irreverent depiction of the prophet Muhammad. Some of the protests were violent, involving death threats issued to Rushdie and including a fatwa - which called for his execution - in 1989 by Iran's then-Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Publication of the book and the fatwa sparked violence around the world, with bookstores firebombed. A bounty was offered for Rushdie's death, and he was forced to live in seclusion and under police protection for several years. "Salman Rushdie is without question one of the greatest writers of the 20th and 21st centuries," said Ian Baucom, director of the Franklin Humanities Institute. "I'm delighted we have the opportunity to host him and hear this lecture. It promises to be a remarkable event." The author of 10 novels, including, most recently, last fall's "Luka and the Fire of Life," Rushdie was appointed a Knight Bachelor by Queen Elizabeth II for "services to literature" in June 2007. A fellow of the British Royal Society of Literature, Rushdie has received, among other awards, the Whitbread Prize for Best Novel (twice), the Writers' Guild Award, the James Tait Black Prize, the European Union's Aristeion Prize for Literature, and author of the year prizes in both Britain and Germany. He holds the rank of commander in the Order of Arts and Letters, France's highest artistic honor. Between 2004 and 2006, he served as president of PEN American Center and continues to work as president of the PEN World Voices International Literary Festival, which he helped to create.

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