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About Liz Iacobucci

Liz Iacobucci is the former Public Information Officer for the State Employees’ Association of New Hampshire, SEIU Local 1984. Over the past three decades, she has served in government at the federal, state and municipal levels; and she has worked for both Democratic and Republican politicians.

Yo, Wharton! Tax Cuts DON’T “Create Jobs” !!!

Photo by mSeatttle via Flickr Creative Commons license

Photo by mSeatttle via Flickr Creative Commons license

Just how bizarre can this election get?

Yesterday, the Wharton School of Business released its predictions about the long-term effects of Donald Trump’s tax plan.  Their report uses something called “dynamic scoring” – which is an economic model that assumes tax cuts will create jobs.  (You remember that old saying about the word “assume.”)

Somebody call the fact-checkers.  That assumption should have been thoroughly debunked by now.

Remember, that assumption was the basis of the 2001 Bush tax cuts.  (Remember how those tax cuts were supposed to be “temporary”?)  That’s when thinktanks started using this “dynamic scoring” model, courtesy of the Heritage Foundation.  Those particular tax cuts were supposed to generate 1.6 million new jobs by 2011.  They were supposed generate enough federal revenue to pay back the entire federal debt.  They were supposed to save Social Security and Medicare.  (You can read the 2001 Heritage Foundation report here.)

Instead, those tax cuts sent the federal deficit soaring – and that’s when Alan Greenspan suggested cutting Social Security to pay for them.  (Remember, most of those tax cuts benefitted rich taxpayers.  But Greenspan wanted to cut our benefits – benefits we have pay for, with each paycheck – to make those tax cuts permanent.)

Now, here comes Trump.  And he wants to give the rich the GREATEST TAX CUT EVER – an average $1.1 million tax cut.  Each.  (Nevermind that he’s going to raise taxes on single mothers and families with lots of children.)

And Wharton says those tax cuts are going to magically “create jobs.”  (Nevermind that tax cuts haven’t ever
“created jobs” in the past.  Wharton’s dynamic scoring model says things will be different, this time.)

Let’s get real.  The folks who have been getting tax cuts haven’t been spending their extra money creating jobs.  They’ve been spending their extra money playing the stock market.  Wall Street keeps hitting record highs, and all that money had to come from somewhere.

It’s really hard to track what individual billionaires spend on the stock market.  But corporations have been getting tax cuts, too – and their spending is easier to find.  I added it all up a few days ago… and in 2015, corporations spent $5.5 trillion on the stock market, buying shares of their own or other companies.

$5.5 trillion, in one year.  It’s hard to wrap your head around that number, so let’s think of it in some other ways…

  • It could have been used to create 70 million jobs, at the median wage
  • It’s more than 25% of the federal debt
  • It’s more than six times what Social Security paid out in benefits last year

And they spent it buying stock from other stockholders.

So… apparently, that’s what happens when we give corporations tax cuts.  They pass the extra money along to “investors.”  They don’t create jobs with it.

The reality is, corporations don’t create jobs out of the goodness of their heart… they create jobs when they need to.  When the workforce they have can’t keep up with the demand for their business.

Notice that word: demand.  Capitalist economies only grow when there is increased demand.

And that means if government keeps taking money out of the pockets of consumers (single mothers, families with lots of children) and giving it to investors (GREATEST TAX CUT EVER), our economy is going to keep shrinking.

Nevermind what Wharton’s fancy-schmantsy dynamic scoring model might imagine.


BTW, it just so happens that Trump is a Wharton alumnus.  But I didn’t see that fact included in any of the press coverage of Wharton’s economic prediction.

Presidential Race: Different Tax Policies Would Have HUGE Effects On Working People

Underneath all the headlines about emails and wandering hands, there are some very important policy differences between the two presidential candidates.  Let’s start with tax policies.

Donald trump 5 (Gage skidmore Flikr)Donald Trump:

  • His plan would give highest-income taxpayers – those with incomes of more than $3.7 million – an average tax cut of $1.1 million.
  • About 8 million large families and single parents would see their taxes increase under his proposals.
  • His tax plan would add about $7.2 trillion to the national debt over the next decade.
  • His plan would cut taxes for hedge fund operators and other money managers by more than a third — allowing them to use a special 15% “pass-through” tax rate.

hillary clinton (WisPolitics.com FLIKR)Hillary Clinton:

  • Her plan would reduce taxes for low- and moderate-income households by an average of $100.
  • High-income taxpayers would see an average tax hike of $118,000.
  • Her tax plan would increase federal revenue by $1.4 trillion over the next decade (which could be used to lower the federal debt, or to offset spending).

Donald Trump is old enough to remember what happens when the rich get tax cuts:

  • Ronald Reagan’s 1981 tax cut: “Despite the tax cuts, business investment remained weak… The ballooning budget deficit forced Mr. Reagan to give ground” and taxes were raised again in 1986. And the deficit kept growing, until George H.W. Bush broke his “no new taxes” pledge in 1990.
  • George W. Bush’s 2001 tax cut package was supposed to create enough new jobs to pay back the entire federal debt.  Instead, those tax cuts contributed to record-setting federal deficits.
  • Bush’s 2003 tax cut package didn’t fix the economy, either; and as the deficit kept rising, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan suggested reducing Social Security to pay for the cuts.
  • By 2006, even the US Treasury was saying that tax cuts for the rich don’t do much of anything… other than cut taxes for the rich.

But here we are, just three weeks from the election, and the mainstream media is focused on leaked emails and wandering hands… and there’s almost no mention of the fact that Trump wants to give the highest-income taxpayers an average $1.1 million tax break

There’s almost no mention of the fact that his proposal would add $7.2 trillion to the national debt.

There’s almost no mention of the fact that these sorts of tax cuts never, ever generate the kind of job growth that they’re supposed to.  (Why?  Maybe because corporate decision-makers keep spending their extra money on Wall Street rather than hiring workers.  Just last year alone, corporations spent more than $5.5 trillion buying shares of stock in their own or other companies.  That same amount of money could have created more than 70 million median-wage jobs.)

Three weeks out from the election, and almost no-one in the mainstream media is looking at how Trump’s “greatest tax cut ever!” would actually affect our country.  So if you think your friends might be interested in this, please use social media to share it.

The Tax Policy Center analysis of the presidential candidates’ tax policies is available here.

Verizon Spends Billions To Buy AOL & Yahoo Then Cuts Thousands Of US Jobs

2015-07-25_Mass_Rally_Stand_Up_To_Verizon

Verizon’s Greedy Corporate Businesss Model Is Exactly
What Is Wrong With Our Economy

Continuing our “What’s wrong with the economy” series using Verizon as a case study…

You can read about Verizon’s decision to lay off 4,800 American workers in yesterday’s NH Labor News.  (You might have missed it in the mainstream press, under all the election headlines.)  The cuts include seven call centers as well as some retail stores.

How is Verizon going to serve its customers, once all those call centers are closed?  The company “is offshoring customer service calls to numerous call centers in the Philippines, where workers are paid just $1.78 an hour and forced to work overtime without compensation.”  (Wow.  Not exactly a living wage.)

Guess what else was in the news yesterday.  Verizon’s agreement to buy Yahoo for $4.83 billion.  So…right now, Verizon is laying off thousands of American workers while it’s spending billions to acquire another company.  Does that make any sense to you?

And I’m feeling déjà vu.

Remember that Verizon workers had to strike, earlier this year, after working without a contract for eight months while the company demanded employee concessions?  That was at the same time Verizon was buying AOL for $4.4 billion.  Does that make any sense?  Why would a company that can afford to buy another company need draconian cuts to employee pensions, health care, and benefits for workers injured on the job?

And when Verizon “buys” another company, what, exactly, does it purchase?  AOL and Yahoo sell ads on the internet, they don’t have much in the way of bricks-and-mortar assets.  So, Verizon is spending billions of dollars to… buy another company’s stock.  After spending $5 billion to buy back its own stock.

Doing the math here?  Looks to me like… between 2015 and 2016, Verizon will spend a total of $14 billion on shares of corporate stock.  At the same time it is closing US call centers, laying off American workers and demanding concessions from its unions.  Money coming out of workers’ pockets, going into the pockets of stockholders.

While you’re getting mad, remember how Congress has structured our tax system.  Investment income is taxed at about half the rate of wage income; and it’s completely exempt from Social Security and Medicare taxes.  So the next time you hear a politician talking about how those systems are “going bankrupt”… ask them what would happen if they taxed investment income the same way they tax our wages.  I’m guessing it would fully fund Social Security and Medicare, as well pay down a good chunk of our federal debt.  But back to Verizon.

This is what’s wrong with our economy: CEOs and directors would rather purchase stock than pay workers. And so workers’ pay has been stagnant since the 1970s… even as our productivity has kept rising.

Meanwhile, the stockmarket is in the stratosphere.  And Verizon’s stock price keeps rising.

VZ stock chart

And Verizon’s corporate officers are doing just fine. (Read the rest of our Verizon series, starting here.)

And the Federal Trade Commission has already signed off on Verizon’s offer to purchase Yahoo … so it looks like Yahoo stockholders will be getting all those billions of dollars, while Verizon’s American workers face unemployment and its Philippines employees work unpaid overtime.

Because the folks who make corporate decisions would rather buy stock than pay workers.


Things weren’t always this way.  Once upon a time, it was illegal for corporations to repurchase their own stock.  But in 1982, the SEC created a regulatory “safe harbor” — and since that time, stock buybacks have skyrocketed.  Last year, corporations spent more than $650 million buying back their own stock.  All of that is money that could have been used for job creation or wage increases or facility expansion.  Sadly, some of that money came from the pockets of workers who were laid off, had their wages cut, or were forced to accept benefit cuts. (Read more about what Verizon “bought” with their 2015 $5 billion buyback program here.)

Once upon a time, corporate mergers and acquisitions were more closely regulated; but once the regulations were loosened again, mergers have risen to an all-time high.  Last year, corporations spent $5 Trillion buying up other corporations.  Again, that’s money which is not being used for job creation, wage increases or new plants and equipment.  And, again, some of that money came from the pockets of employees declared “redundant” when their company was acquired.  (Read more about AOL layoffs when Verizon acquired the company here.  Read more about Yahoo layoffs expected when Verizon acquires that company here.)

Source: Third Way

Source: Third Way


Do the math yourself. It adds up to more than $5.5 Trillion that corporations spent — just last year — buying stock rather than creating jobs.

And some folks wonder why our economy is in such a mess.

If you’re a union member who might vote for Donald Trump…

Donald trump 5 (Gage skidmore Flikr)…please consider this:

Buried in this week’s document leak to the UK-based Guardian, there is a check from Donald Trump for $15,000 – made payable to Wisconsin Club for Growth – and dated April 3, 2012, the same day that Trump met with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in New York.

Remember what was going on in Wisconsin, back then?  Remember there was a recall election after most of the state’s public employees had their bargaining rights stripped away?

The Wisconsin Club for Growth was one of the “dark money” organizations that supported Walker during that recall attempt.  But because it calls itself a “non-profit” – rather than a political organization – it doesn’t disclose its donors or adhere to contribution limits.

Because of the leaked documents, we now know that Donald Trump was one of the donors who helped Scott Walker stay in office.

Remember what happened next?  In February 2015, Scott Walker pushed “Right to Work” through the Wisconsin Legislature in just days – and then said his experience taking on unions made him qualified to take on ISIS.  (Yep, he said that.)

Photo by Lacrossewi from Wikimedia Commons

Thousands fill the Wisconsin State Capitol rotunda in protest of Gov. Scott Walker’s “Budget Repair Bill.” Photo by Lacrossewi from Wikimedia Commons

Remember the old adage, if you want to know where a man’s heart is, just look how he spends his money?  This “dark money” contribution came from Donald Trump personally — not from the Trump Foundation, or the Trump Organization.

Yes, that’s right.  According to the check image that was leaked to the Guardian, Donald Trump actually spent his own money

to help protect Scott Walker, after Walker stripped union rights away from public-sector employees; and
to help preserve Scott Walker until Walker could strip rights away from private-sector employees.

So, if you’re angry about the economy and just looking for some sort of radical change… well, I get that.  There’s lots to be angry about.

But before you decide who to vote for…

…please consider how Donald Trump spends his money.

Nuns on the Bus Stop in Concord for Rally to “Mend the Gaps”

2016-07-22 Nuns on the Bus Sr Simone Campbell

Sr. Simone Campbell addresses the crowd, while some of the Nuns on the Bus take shelter from the heat under umbrellas.

About 125 Granite Staters braved today’s heat to meet Sister Simone Campbell and the Nuns on the Bus at a State House rally to “Mend the Gaps” between us that weaken society, including gaps in income, healthcare, housing and access to democracy.

Campbell and nearly 20 Catholic sisters from around the country are visiting 13 states and both major party conventions on a tour that began July 11.  The tour’s goal is “to bring a politics of inclusion to divided places, change the conversation to mending the vast economic and social divides in our country, and counter political incivility with our message of inclusion.  NETWORK’s 44 year-old faith-filled political message is an alternative to the anger, fear, and polarization of this election cycle.  We believe in faithful citizenship, which compels us to travel the country to listen to the lived experiences of people in their communities and hold elected officials accountable to the promises they have made to legislate for the common good.”

The sisters are caucusing with local advocates in Manchester tonight, and will hold a rally in Boston tomorrow starting at 10:00 am on the front lawn of Boston College High School, 150 Morrissey Boulevard, Boston, MA 02125.  The full tour schedule is available at www.nunsonthebus.org.

At today’s rally, the sisters distributed brochures comparing candidates’ positions on “Mending the Gaps.”  Download the brochure comparing Kelly Ayotte with Maggie Hassan here and the brochure comparing Hillary Clinton with Donald Trump here.

Granite Staters shared their stories about the growing gaps in our economy which are making the American dream unattainable for too many families.

  • Jazmine Langley and Olivia Zink of Open Democracy signed the Bus before it left Concord, on the way to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

    Jazmine Langley, a Democracy Fellow with Open Democracy/NH, spoke about the challenges facing her as a biracial woman. “I have seen oppression up close. I have witnessed the gaps woven into the fabric of our country that are very much racially and socioeconomically based. From drug addiction to poverty. From police brutality to mass imprisonment. From strict voter ID laws to felon disenfranchisement. Our elected representatives and ourselves need to be held accountable for mending this gap. Whether that is by trying to spark legal reform in getting big money out politics, registering more voters, or fighting voter suppression laws, doing non-profit work dedicated to some aspect of this issue, or just educating yourselves, families, friends, and children about the issue at hand – it all makes a difference. This is our democracy, so this is our fight!”  You can watch Jazmine’s speech here.

  • Amy Shaw, a mother of two living in Rochester spoke about the challenge of finding affordable childcare. “Even with both my husband and I working, we couldn’t afford to send our kids to daycare. I had to quit my job because my monthly income wasn’t going to cover my childcare costs.” Watch Amy’s remarks here.
  • Jen Cole, of Pittsfield, said “Low wages make it challenging to pay the bills week to week but nearly impossible when life throws you a curveball. My husband was diagnosed with cancer four years ago and could not work for several months. We had to survive off of my income and rely on family and friends to help us through what was already a difficult time. If someone is working full time they should be able to make ends meet and not have to fear they’ll lose everything if they get sick.”
  • Sister Eileen Brady, of Nashua, is a Social Worker and Advocate at the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter. As a Sister of Mercy, she has been a staunch advocate for peace and justice for decades.  “The Sisters of Mercy have been trying to ‘Mend the Gaps’ since 1858,” Sister Eileen said.  She shared stories of people she has met through the Nashua Soup Kitchen, “My friends who have no place to live tonight.”  You can watch her remarks here.

“Pope Francis challenges all people to come together to work for the common good,” said Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, executive director of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, which launched the first Nuns on the Bus tour during the 2012 presidential campaign. “On our journey as Nuns on the Bus we will talk to those Pope Francis voters and, hopefully, inspire them to make mending the gaps the defining issue of the 2016 election.”

2016-07-22 Nuns on the Bus crowd2

Part of today’s crowd on the State House lawn.

“Every New Hampshire family deserves a fair shot at the American dream but rising costs, stagnant wages and unfair workplace policies are putting that dream out of reach for too many working people,” said Amanda Sears, director of the Campaign for a Family Friendly Economy, a co-sponsor of the Concord rally.  “The visit from the Nuns on the Bus today highlights the need for family friendly policy solutions that lift workers and make our communities stronger.”

Today’s program was emceed by Gail Kenney of the United Church of Christ Economic Justice Mission Group.  Jack Bopp and Arnie Alpert led everyone in a rousing rendition of “We’re All Riding with the Nuns on The Bus.”  Opening prayers were offered by Rev. Gary M. Schulte, the Conference Minister of the New Hampshire Conference of the United Church of Christ, and Woullard Lett, president of the Manchester, NH branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Today’s rally was cosponsored by organizations including AFSC’s NH Program, NH Voices of Faith, Granite State Organizing Project, United Church of Christ Economic Justice Ministry, NH Campaign for a Family Friendly Economy, NH Sisters of Mercy, and Stamp Stampede.

 

 

 

Dear Platform Committee: Stock Buybacks Should Be Illegal

Bernie Sanders Hillary ClintonThis weekend, the Democratic Party Platform Committee will put the finishing touches on the party’s official policy positions.

What’s not in there, yet?  A clear stand against corporate stock buybacks.

Hillary Clinton made buybacks part of her presidential platform almost a year ago.  Bernie Sanders has been talking about buybacks even longer than that.

But while the presidential candidates were talking about the issue, corporations spent $600 billion buying back their own stock. (And that’s just counting what the big corporations spent.)

If that money had been spent on new hires, rather than just on concentrating corporate ownership, it could have created almost 8.5 million jobs.  (That’s at the average US wage, including benefits.)

Image by Rose Lincoln, 1199SEIU

Image by Rose Lincoln, 1199SEIU

Imagine what the US economy could look like, if 8.5 million more of us were working right now.  Instead… well, you can read “US companies have spent $2 trillion doing something that has absolutely no impact on their business” for yourself here.  (That’s what the past five years of buyback spending adds up to: $2 trillion.  Yes, “trillion” with a “T.”)

Buyback spending drives up stock prices, which enriches corporate executives and investors who sell their stock.  But it’s not an investment in the corporation’s future – just the opposite, in many cases.  A lot of recent buybacks have been financed by new corporate debt, in a practice that one Wall Street insider described to me as “monetization of future revenues.”  They’re borrowing against future corporate revenues to pay stockholders now.  They’re mortgaging the future, rather than investing toward it.

This used to be illegal, back when the economy worked for the middle class.  This weekend, the Democratic Party Platform Committee should take a clear stand: it ought to be illegal, now.

Read more NH Labor News coverage about stock buybacks here.

Verizon: Lining Their Pockets With Taxpayer Money While Workers Walk Out In Strike

NALC Members Stand With IBEW and CWA Members Against VerizonVerizon is not just a case study of what’s wrong with our economy – it’s also a classic example of what’s wrong with our politics.

A couple of years ago, the Sunlight Foundation investigated 200 of America’s most “politically active” corporations, and how much each one received in federal contracts and financial support.  Verizon was #14 on their list.  Look at the report and do the math yourselfLess than $100 million in political spending, and they received $3.5 billion back from the federal government… which would mean Verizon got about $35 back for every dollar of political spending.  And that’s just in federal contracts and federal financial support.

But their lobbying has had other benefits, too.  According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Verizon spent about $12 million on federal lobbying last year.  They had 98 federal lobbyists promoting the corporation’s interests on issues including immigration, international trade, healthcare and the environment.  But the leading issue was taxes.  LOTS of lobbying on taxes.  (See it all here.)  Which might explain the corporation’s federal tax rate.  According to Citizens for Tax Justice, Verizon’s effective federal tax rate is… negative.

————–

And that’s just at the federal level.  Verizon has a business segment of “State and Local Government Solutions.”

The National Institute on Money in State Politics shows more than $22 million in political contributions from Verizon-affiliated organizations to candidates for state and local office. (Who knew?  Verizon has “Good Government Clubs” in California, Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey, Texas, Pennsylvania and Virginia. “Clubs” ??!?)

Can’t help but notice Verizon’s recent press release: “Verizon selected as provider on $150 million Commonwealth of Virginia network and communications contract.”  The National Institute on Money in State Politics tracks $3 million in political contributions to Virginia politicians.  Can’t help but wonder if there’s a connection.

(Can’t help but wonder how many other states would show the same pattern, if anyone took the time to look.)

————–

Meanwhile – can’t help but notice – the corporation is racking up OSHA violations and FCC penalties and financial redress via the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

————–

Nearly 40,000 Verizon workers are now on strike, after working without a contract since last August.  Read more NHLN coverage here.

Pfizer Jacks Up Drug Costs, Pays Billions to Stockholders

Prescription Prices Ver5

Photo by Chris Potter via Flickr

Ever wonder why prescription drug costs are so high? Take a few minutes and read Bill Lazonick’s piece on Pfizer.

From January 2001 through September 2015, Pfizer paid out [to stockholders] $95.5 billion in buybacks and $87.1 billion in dividends.

That’s $182.6 billion paid to stockholders… compared to $37.1 billion paid in corporate taxes over the same time frame. Do the math. That’s almost five times more money paid to stockholders than paid in taxes.

Now, stop and think about this. Why are stockholders getting all that money? When shares are bought and sold on the stock exchange, none of that money goes back to the corporation. Instead, the money goes to the previous owner of the stock – who may have owned that stock for less than a second. (Read more about “high frequency trading” here.)

And yet, most corporations pay lots of money to their stockholders. For what? Passing stock from one owner to another isn’t investing in the corporation’s future. So far in 2015, Pfizer has paid more than twice as much to stockholders as it has invested in R&D.

Why are stockholders getting all that money?

— — — —

tieby Unsplash via PixabayPaying money to stockholders benefits corporate executives who are “paid for performance.” (How this works, using Verizon as a case study, is a previous NHLN post.) In the case of Pfizer’s CEO, “75% of his long-term equity awards are earned based on relative and absolute total shareholder return.” In other words, the CEO’s compensation depends on Pfizer paying money to shareholders. If stockholders don’t get enough money, the CEO doesn’t get that compensation. And it’s not just the CEO. All of Pfizer’s top corporate executives are paid according to whether they meet “shareholder return” targets.

Back to Bill Lazonick’s piece:

In 2014, [Ian C.] Read as [Pfizer] CEO had total direct compensation of $22.6 million, of which 27 percent came from exercising stock options and 50 percent from the vesting of stock awards. The other four highest-paid executives named on Pfizer’s 2015 proxy statement averaged $8.0 million, with 24 percent from stock options and 41 percent from stock awards.

Remember, a good chunk of that compensation was based on the amount of money paid to stockholders. Which probably explains why Pfizer is paying so much more to stockholders than it’s spending on R&D.

— — — —

dollar by TBIT via PixabayWhere does all that money come from, anyway?

From Bloomberg:

Pfizer Inc., the nation’s biggest drugmaker, has raised prices on 133 of its brand-name products in the U.S. this year, according to research from UBS, more than three-quarters of which added up to hikes of 10 percent or more. … In a note Friday, analysts at Morgan Stanley said Pfizer’s net prices grew 11 percent a year on average from 2012 to 2014.

The Wall Street Journal documented Pfizer’s three-year market research campaign to decide the price of a new breast cancer drug.

“[I]ts process yielded a price that bore little relation to the drug industry’s oft-cited justification for its prices, the cost of research and development. … Staff members put together a chart estimating the revenue and prescription numbers at various prices… The chart showed a 25% drop in doctors’ willingness to prescribe the new drug if it cost more than $10,000 a month.”

Two years ago, AARP investigated the pricing strategy for another Pfizer drug, with an expiring patent:

[T]he manufacturer of the popular anti-cholesterol drug Lipitor employed an unusually aggressive strategy — including a pay-for-delay agreement, a coupon program, and a substantial price increase — to try to maintain revenue and market share after Lipitor’s patent expired. … Several major U.S. retailers have filed lawsuits against Pfizer and Ranbaxy that accuse them of violating antitrust laws by striking a deal that kept generic versions of Lipitor off the market… Pfizer’s chief executive reported that they maintained three times more market share than what is traditionally seen when blockbusters lose patent protection, “add(ing) hundreds of millions of dollars of profitability to the company.”

And a bunch of Pfizer’s profits come from government spending. There isn’t a lot of available research into government spending on pharmaceuticals, but what I’ve found is enlightening. As of 2010, Pfizer’s Lipitor – in varying strengths – represented three of the top-20 drugs prescribed under both Medicare and Department of Defense health programs. As of 2003, Medicaid was spending almost $650 million a year just on Lipitor.

That’s a lot of taxpayer money going to Pfizer.  While the corporation is paying twice as much to shareholders as it’s spending on R&D. While it’s paying five times as much to shareholders as it’s spending on corporate taxes. While Pfizer is trying to use the US corporate tax rate to justify off-shoring profits through a merger with Allergan.

While Pfizer’s CEO is receiving millions in compensation based on the amount of money the corporation pays to stockholders.

— — — —

hands by Gaertringen via PixabayAnd where else does that money come from?

If you have family or friends on Medicare, you probably know that the price of prescription drug coverage is going up significantly next year – even though there will be no Social Security COLA.

If you’re a State of New Hampshire retiree, you know that your cost of drug coverage is going up significantly next year – even though there hasn’t been a retirement COLA for the past six years.

The billions being paid to Pfizer stockholders are coming out of a lot of pockets… including the pockets of people who are spending their “golden years” choosing between medicine and food.

One more time: why are stockholders getting all that money? What have they done to deserve it?

This Thanksgiving: How To Talk About The Economy Without Getting Into An Argument

man yelling with megaphone

Is your family one of those families… where Thanksgiving dinner always ends up in a political argument?

First thing to remember is that arguing won’t get you anywhere. Research shows that when the people you’re talking with hold strong beliefs, arguing with them only makes it harder for them to change those beliefs. And “when people’s confidence in their beliefs is shaken, they become stronger advocates for those beliefs. … when faced with doubt, people shout even louder.”

Political scientists call it the “backfire” effect – and if you’re an activist, you need to know about it (and remember it). Also remember that there are neurological differences between “Republican” and “Democratic” brains… and there are behavioral differences… although scientists are still trying to figure out exactly what those differences mean.

no_megaphoneSo what are you supposed to do? If you’re, say, sitting around the Thanksgiving table when Great Uncle Chester starts berating your college-graduate niece about the fact that she’s living at home rather than in her own apartment…?

Start by finding common ground. There’s always something to agree on, if you just look hard enough. Even if it’s just a gentle restatement of what the other person said. “Yes, Uncle Chester, we all agree that college graduates should be able to find jobs that allow them to support themselves.”

Then, add a little reality in there. “But that doesn’t seem to be happening in the current economy. There are a whole lot of twenty-somethings who are still living at home.”

Try to use personal examples rather than just facts. “I remember what my neighbor’s son went through, when he graduated two years ago. It took him 18 months to find a job, and even then he earned barely enough for him to make his student loan payments.”

When you talk about facts, try to frame them as a question, not a statement. “Don’t you think that the economy has changed from when you graduated college? Remember how working in a bank used to be a highly-respected job? Did you know that, these days, almost one-third of bank tellers need food stamps?”

Don’t push too hard. With Uncle Chester, you might not be able to persuade him of anything other than that he should stop berating your niece. (And if you push any further, the conversation might get loud and become a “nobody’s going to win this” argument.)

But continue the conversation, if your audience seems receptive. “Did you know that, these days, banks are paying billions of dollars to stockholders, rather than paying their tellers a decent wage?”

— — — —

no_megaphoneDo you have a second cousin Mildred who insists that “cutting taxes for job creators” is the answer to everything?

Find something you both agree on. “Nobody likes paying taxes.”

Add a personal story. “I remember when we got President Bush’s ‘tax refund checks’ back in 2001 and 2008. It was nice to get the money, but I didn’t invest it. I don’t know anybody who invested it. Most people either kept the money in the bank or used it to pay down debt.”

Then, a little reality. “Did you know that Congress has been cutting taxes on ‘job creators’ since Ronald Reagan was President? Back then, they used to call it ‘supply side economics.’ But it didn’t fix the economy; all it did was create a huge budget deficit. So after a few years President Reagan gave up on the idea and increased taxes again.”

Is Mildred still listening? If she looks interested, rather than angry, give her a few more facts. “Did you know that corporations are spending literally trillions of dollars buying back their own stock? Rather than building new factories or hiring new employees, they’re buying back shares of their own stock in order to keep stock prices high.”

Is she still listening? “And corporations are even borrowing money – bonds they will be paying back for decades – in order to give money to their stockholders now. So I don’t think CEOs would really invest money from tax cuts in ‘job creation.’ Don’t you think they would just pay it out to stockholders?”

Is she still listening? “I wonder what would happen to our tax rates, if corporations were paying taxes at the same rate they used to, before the SEC started allowing companies to buy back their own stock. Don’t you think that we might be paying less in taxes?”

— — — —

no_megaphoneDo you have a brother-in-law who isn’t bothered by increasing inequality? Who thinks CEOs actually deserve to receive 373 times as much as their employees are paid?

Then you ought to read this Pacific-Standard magazine article about a recent International Monetary Fund report.

And you can start the conversation with something like, “We all agree that economic growth is a good thing.”

Then add a little reality. “Did you know that income inequality actually hurts our country’s economic growth?”

Add a story. “Gosh, I wonder if this is why Macy’s is having such a hard time. None of my friends are planning to do their Christmas shopping there.   It seems like everybody is shopping discount stores or making their gifts, this year.”

Use questions. “How can the economy recover, if ordinary people don’t have money to spend? Did you know that one in ten American jobs is in retail? What’s going to happen to that sector of the economy if wages stay stagnant?  What’s going to happen to the rest of the economy?”

Know your audience, and either stop (before things get loud) or keep going. “Did you know that increasing the income share to the bottom 20% – even just by a tiny bit – helps the whole economy grow?”  “Do you think that’s why the economy grew more, back when income was a bit more equal?”

— — — —

no_megaphoneAnd if the conversation turns to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) treaty… please be thoughtful and careful about what you say.

Personally, I’m tired of politicians pitting people against each other. And factory employees in Singapore are working to feed their families, just like we are.

The problem with the TPP isn’t overseas workers, it’s how much power the treaty would give to corporations. It’s how much power the treaty would give to big banks. It’s the idea of America giving up our right to enforce our laws, when those laws are inconvenient to multinational corporations. It’s the idea of turning over even more of our country’s sovereignty to international “investor-state dispute settlement” (ISDS) tribunals.  Read more about how the TPP empowers corporations on the Public Citizen website.

So please, if you’re opposing the TPP, don’t talk about how overseas workers are taking “our” jobs. The real problem is how much it will benefit corporations.

The real problem is that corporate profits are at all-time highs… while labor’s share of that bounty is pretty close to its all-time low.

And the TPP is likely to make that problem worse, not better.

But that’s not the fault of the migrant workers in a Malaysian electronics factory.

— — — —

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope the conversation around your dinner table is a peaceful one.

— — — —

no_fearBut if the conversation turns to Paris and Syrian refugees, please be especially careful. Fear is one of the most basic human emotions… it’s also one of the most destructive… and one of the easiest to manipulate.

Journalist Naomi Klein is the author of “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.” She’s done a lot of research into how corporatists use disasters to push through political change. Read her work about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina here.

“For more than three decades, [economist Milton] Friedman and his powerful followers had been perfecting this very strategy: waiting for a major crisis, then selling off pieces of the state to private players while citizens were still reeling from the shock, then quickly making the ‘reforms’ permanent. In one of his most influential essays, Friedman articulated contemporary capitalism’s core tactical nostrum, what I have come to understand as the shock doctrine. He observed that ‘only a crisis— actual or perceived—produces real change.’ ”

I think of her work every time someone mentions the Bush tax cuts. Back in 2001, the federal government had a budget surplus; and in the first few weeks of September, the Washington Post did a poll that found 57% of Americans wanted the Bush tax cuts reversed, in order to preserve that surplus. Then 9/11 happened. And a decade and a half later, we still haven’t gotten tax rates restored to Clinton-era levels… and the federal debt has increased by $12.4 trillion.  (And we’re being told we need to cut Social Security, rather than restore the tax rates that President Bush cut even further “while citizens were still reeling from the shock” of 9/11.)

The Paris attacks renewed the atmosphere of fear that I remember after 9/11… and we’ve already seen how some politicians want to use that fear to change government policies. The good news is: my Facebook feed is full of people pushing back against these proposals, questioning them and using historical analogies to say “This is not what America stands for.” The bad news is: Facebook feeds are determined by an algorithm that tends to reinforce what people already believe.

So… when the conversation turns to Paris, and ISIS, remember the advice above.  Arguing isn’t going to help. You need to find some way to help the people you’re talking with step away from their fear, and step into the reality that their fear allows them to be manipulated. Find something to say that you both agree on – most people agree that refugees should be vetted before being resettled – and work from there.

After Billions of $$$ to Stockholders, UnitedHealth Claims Poverty Due To Obamacare

By LaurMG, used by CreativeCommons license via Wikimedia Commons

By LaurMG, used by CreativeCommons license via Wikimedia Commons

SMH.

Yesterday’s 24/7WallSt article about UnitedHealth said that an “earnings warning” issued by the corporation “could be a serious blow to at least part of ACA/Obamacare.”

UnitedHealth’s latest advice to investors is that the corporation now expects slightly lower 2015 profits.  (Can’t help noticing: that recalculation includes a write-off of “$275 million related to the advance recognition of 2016 losses.” Nevermind that we haven’t actually gotten to 2016 yet; UnitedHealth is already calculating losses.)

Apparently, that press release was worth the headline “UnitedHealth Warning Creates Huge Spillover, With Big Implications Ahead.”

Just a month ago, 27/7WallSt was writing happier news about UnitedHealth. Quarterly earnings per share were better than expected, and better than 2014. Premiums were up 9.87% over last year. The company was adding about 100,000 new subscribers a month (1.7 million new people a year). And for the first three quarters of 2015, things were so rosy that UnitedHealth spent $1.1 billion buying back its own stock.

Plus, UnitedHealth paid out another $1.3 billion to shareholders in dividends, just in the first three quarters of 2015.

So… $2.4 billion paid out to shareholders in the first nine months of this yearand now suddenly there’s supposed to be some sort of crisis?  Wow.

Back to 24/7WallSt: “What has been interesting to see here is that UnitedHealth actually has seen its shares soar under ACA/Obamacare.”  Yes, that’s what happened.  The Affordable Care Act passed in 2010.  Here’s what UnitedHealth’s stock price history looks like:UNH stock chart

Looks like UnitedHealth’s profits are up since Obamacare, too.  Here’s what their quarterly earnings-per-share history looks like:UNH EPS chartAm I the only one having a hard time seeing how this is a problem for UnitedHealth?

Back to 24/7WallSt. The headline from last month’s article: Are UnitedHealth Earnings Enough for Investors?

Hmmn.  Is investor greed the real crisis for Obamacare?

— — — —

insuranceYep, there’s more.

As of yesterday, the corporation’s new profit expectations “reflect a continuing deterioration in individual exchange-compliant product performance.”  Yep, they’re talking about policies sold to individuals through ACA exchanges, which apparently are not “performing” very well.  From the press release: “UnitedHealthcare has pulled back on its marketing efforts for individual exchange products in 2016. The Company is evaluating the viability of the insurance exchange product segment and will determine during the first half of 2016 to what extent it can continue to serve the public exchange markets in 2017.”

In other words: individual policies aren’t “performing” very well, from the corporation’s perspective.  So UnitedHealthcare may stop selling them.

UnitedHealth is currently the largest health insurance provider in America. Other large health insurance providers – Anthem and Cigna, Humana and Aetna – have plans to merge, which “could shrink the number of major companies in the health insurance industry from five to just three. And that could mean fewer options and higher rates for consumers and the employers that provide health insurance.”

And according to yesterday’s 24/7WallSt article, UnitedHealth’s (newest) earnings forecast “could be used by the companies to support those pending health insurance mergers.”  Apparently on the theory that the four other insurers are too small to compete in the individual policy “product segment.”  (Even though Centene Corp. and Kaiser Permanente seem to be doing just fine.)

Am I the only one wondering why UnitedHealth’s latest earnings warning would justify the mergers of its largest competitors?  Given the corporation’s “soaring” stock price.  Given the corporation’s growth in earnings-per-share.  Given the fact that the UnitedHealth paid out $2.4 billion to shareholders just in the first nine months of this year…?

Am I the only who remembers that Obamacare was intended to rein in profiteering by insurance companies?

Remember what it was like, back then?  “In the midst of a deep economic recession, America’s health insurance companies increased their profits by 56 percent in 2009, a year that saw 2.7 million people lose their private coverage.  The nation’s five largest for-profit insurers closed 2009 with a combined profit of $12.2 billion.”

So, yeah, I suppose someone could “blame” Obamacare for UnitedHealth’s current financial situation.  And the fact that UnitedHealth’s per-share profit (EPS) is 75% higher now than it was in 2009.

But if anybody’s going to start passing blame around, now that “the 2016 presidential election has brought the health care argument up more times than can easily be counted”…

I think we should also be talking about whether Obamacare managed to stop the corporate profiteering, like it was supposed to.

— — — —

Can’t help noticing…

Yesterday’s headlines were fueled by the sudden drop in UnitedHealth’s stock price, which followed its revised earnings statement.

But that was yesterday.  So far today, the stock price has recovered more than half of yesterday’s decline.

Which still leaves the stock trading at about four times its price in 2009.

— — — —

Read more NHLN coverage of stock buybacks here.

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