Sunday, October 24, 2021

GOP cheers on race to bottom

            It has the support of the G-7 powers. It has the support of more than 130 nations.

            Promoted by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, it would curb abuses by which corporations escape taxes overseas and help pay for America's immense infrastructure needs.

            Only one thing stands in the way. We'll give you one guess.

            Yep. The Republican Party.

            Yellen's proposal -- a global minimum 15 percent tax rate for multinational corporations and foreign subsidiaries -- has accrued a stunning level of support.

            Even the Retail Industry Leaders Association, including giants like Target and Home Depot, supports it in the name of tax fairness.

            No amount of support elsewhere could lead today's Republican leaders to buy into anything the Biden administration supports.

            No benefit would be beneficial enough, particularly if signed by a Democratic president.

            We're talking about ending what economists call the "race to the bottom," other countries offering microscopic tax rates to induce corporations to establish shell accounts.

            Nothing wrong with that race, say Republicans. That's just "tax competition." We must cut corporate taxes further to compete, they say.

            This "competition" means that Apple, for one, has assigned a huge share of its profits to a subsidiary in Ireland simply because of low, low tax rates.

            Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman calls the trend "leprechaun economics."

            What this all means is that the United States, which provides Apple's home base and so much of what sustains it – highways, railways, health care, clean air and water, college-educated workers -- gets minimal tax income from Apple to provide all that.

            The trend greatly adds to our nation's fiscal straits. In the '60s, observes Krugman, federal taxes on corporate profits accounted for 3.5 percent of gross domestic product. Now? About 1 percent.

            Democrats hope to achieve this through budget reconciliation and a majority vote. With contrarians like Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema being the tails wagging the dog, however, a solid bloc of minority Republicans stands as a virtual veto.

            We continue to be a nation ruled by a minority, and to ignore our responsibilities to the planet and civilization.

            Hence Donald Trump, with fewer votes than Hillary Clinton, won a ticket thanks to the Electoral College to torpedo U.S. support of the Paris Climate Agreement, though Americans by large margins support climate action.  

            But back to the issue of tax fairness:

            A report by ProPublica details the extent to which the nation's wealthiest individuals, Trump-style, paid no or next to no taxes.

            It should alarm everyone that, as the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy reports, 55 corporations that earned a combined $40.5 billion paid no income tax in 2018.

            What do you say, Republicans?

            In 2018, Elon Musk, on track to becoming the world's wealthiest individual, paid no federal income taxes. This is made possible by the treatment of stock valuation as non-income. It may not be cash, but billionaires can of course convert it any time, and can borrow against their shares.

            Now Musk moves to Texas, where he'll pay no state income taxes either.

            The Pandora Papers investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has shone a light on the industry of sheltering the income of billionaires, cons and criminals.

            This is a manifestation of what some economists call the "wealth defense industry --  aimed at hiding monstrous gains from the tax system or otherwise masking the fruits of criminal enterprises.

            On a similar plane is dark money – the means of making policymakers do what special interests want without any means of identifying them.

            The Republicans want it that way. They want "tax competition," and for their horses to win every time.

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Call it the 'Green Real Deal'

           With grimy smokestacks belching out what smokestacks do, the Southern Colorado town of Pueblo used to be known as Steel City.

            Now it can be known as Solar City.

            The town's signature steel plant -- once powered entirely by coal -- is soon to be almost entirely solar-powered.

            The juice – 90 percent of what the plant requires -- will come from 75,000 solar panels across 1,800 acres.

            This is a retrofit that is fit for a nation that needs an energy makeover.

            The steel plant – EVRAZ Rocky Mountain Steel -- has been there 150 years under multiple names and owners, with various stages of activity and dormancy.

            Steel production amounts to 7 percent of the nation's carbon emissions.

Switching this one plant to solar will remove the equivalent of 92,100 cars from the road, reports the Denver Post.

            The solar plant that will transform it into the cleanest steel plant on the planet,  is the work of a U.S. subsidiary of British Petroleum – yes, the dreaded, oil-slick-creating, BP.

            BP, by the way, has committed to producing zero net carbon emissions by 2050.

            Joining in the effort toward the green steel plant in Pueblo was regulated Colorado utility Xcel Energy and the state, through millions of dollars in tax incentives.

            A few years ago Xcel said it would close two coal-fired plants in Pueblo and increase its use of alternative energy.

            The steel plant owners considered moving operations out of Colorado, but the state and the utility intervened. The 300-watt Bighorn Solar project was devised to fill the energy void.

            Consider this analogous for an entire nation that has the opportunity and challenge to retrofit.

            The barkers of high-carbon industries -- that means you, Gov. Abbott; you, Sen. Cruz, and of course the archduke of Mar-a-Lago – have done all they can to throw shade on alternative energy.

            They have good reason: patronage from the merchants of grime.

            In the case of the previous president, his "Clean, beautiful coal" posturing was central to his vacuous "Rust-Belt strategy" in 2016.

            But times are changing. Energy markets are changing. Technology is changing. It's time for industry, and government, to change.

            Donald Trump could not bring back coal, in part because producers of power don't want it.

            Natural gas is a "cleaner alternative." Yes, indeed. But fracking is the furthest thing from clean, not to mention making Oklahoma a tectonic basket case.

            Joe Biden, following in the footsteps of Barack Obama, is right in touting the economic virtues of the alternative energy revolution.

            And a revolution it is. Advances in solar and wind technology are making them more cost-effective and efficient every day.

            The engineering concept called Moore's Law holds that the power of computing via improved microchips increases two-fold every year. This doesn't just apply to smart phones. It applies as well to increasingly efficient silicon cells of solar panels.

            Hence, solar is bearing down on fossil fuels for cost effectiveness, as is wind. We know which runner is going to win the race.

            The doubting class wants to assail solar and wind as undependable. The latter was the "Who? Me?" pose of culpable Republicans when Texas froze last winter in its epic grid meltdown.

            Abbott disgracefully blamed wind generators. But those generators in much colder climes operate just fine.

            The fact is that Texas lawmakers years earlier refused to allocate the funds to keep the state's energy generation infrastructure operative in easily foreseen contingencies.

            This brings up another matter: Modernizing, winterizing and maintaining old-technology energy is costly. It's not the same for solar and wind.

            And by the way, when was the last time a solar pipeline broke and destroyed a swath of American coastline?

            Of course we will need petroleum and natural gas far into the future. But Biden's aspirational idea of the future is far better, far cleaner.

            The Green New Deal is a distraction. The Green Real Deal is where we need to be, today, tomorrow and for however long this planet will have us.

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

 

Sunday, October 10, 2021

When did recklessness become ideology?

            A letter to the editor in the Denver Post asks: Is it "conservative" to resist urgings of health professionals?

            Responding to a story on the low vaccination, low-mask tendencies in Wyoming, the letter-writer calls the linkage to conservatism absurd. He also assails the statement that Wyoming residents resisting vaccines are being "fiercely independent."

            The story in question is a report from Gillette, Wyo., with a vaccination rate of 20 percent.

            Fierce independence? Or herd behavior?

            The latter, says the letter-writer. For one, just about all of these people had the vaccines that spared them polio, pertussis and more. So do their children, vaccinated prekindergarten, because Wyoming requires it.

            The difference now for them? He cites two.

            (1) "Browsing social media for evidence-free things people with no expertise say."

            (2) "The ironclad cult conformity of being on the Trump/MAGA/Q team."

            Throw in Fox News. That's some triumvirate.

            Sure, some Americans, regardless of political slant, were firmly anti-vax before this. But what explains today's red-state, anti-vax, anti-mask phenomenon? The letter-writer nails it.

            It's not independence. It's not conservatism. It's pure arrogance, and recklessness.

            It is traits modeled by the man who as a defeated president sought to blow up democracy in January.

            South of Denver, in Republican-dominated Douglas County, these very traits are on display.

            The high-income county has been identified by the CDC as a COVID high-spread community. Against the reasoned measures laid out to combat the disease, it also is a high-pitched-whine community. And we're talking really high pitches – decibels generally audible to a select few, headed by Tucker Carlson and some Republican governors.

            The county has withdrawn from a joint health district with two other counties. Now a newly contrived health district has revoked the school mask mandate of the previous health district, which was supported by its school district.

            We've heard the song and dance before about the so-called oppression of masks and how they harm the young. I laugh about this when I see a 4-year-old sporting a SpongeBob mask and bounding up the aisle at the grocery store. So oppressed.

            A mask opponent at the Douglas County hearing laid on a violin chorus: "learning cues, social-emotional cues, and developmental milestones missing."

            If keeping children safe in an unvaccinated setting isn't enough, a school official offered this reason: "to keep the schools open uninterrupted."

            The mask foes say "severity should be the metric" for mask mandates and the virus doesn't affect kids like it does adults. Tell that to the families of the 700-plus children who have died in this pandemic.

            It's true that most cases of COVID in children are mild by comparison. That is not the point. The point is that this is a disease that doesn't show its face like the flu or chickenpox. It is not just about what the children might acquire but how the disease spreads.

            That is why experts call it a pandemic.

            More than 140,000 children in this country have lost a parent or grandparent to the virus.

            Once upon a time, "conservative" meant "prudence." Wild-eyed liberals were the ones who flaunted convention.

            Where are so-called conservatives headed with their claims that masks and vaccination infringe on their freedom?

            They are headed down Interstate 95 on Florida's rightward coast, turning east toward Atlantic swells and setting anchor at the Mar-a-Lago Golf Club, where a cult leader plots his return with help from those who want to control the country and maybe the world.

            They will disregard everything about his reckless reign, his corruption, his fomenting of an insurrection, his impeachable acts, his lies about the pandemic, about masks, about everything. They will disregard everything, because to them, he is the ideology. All else – even what health experts say -- is "fake news."

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.