Later On

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Archive for December 11th, 2013

Here’s why conservatives should worry more about long-term unemployment

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Very interesting article, full of evidence and free of diatribe.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 December 2013 at 2:28 pm

Four things corporations really do not want to disclose

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And they’ll fight like mad. Jia Lynn Yang writes in the Washington Post:

Political spending by public companies will remain in the dark longer, now that the Securities and Exchange Commission has said it won’t be taking up the issue as a priority for 2014.

But the amount spent on political campaigns is just one in a long list of things about a company that are usually impossible to glean from the outside. Important information about America’s biggest and most powerful companies that investors, journalist, and activists would really like to know remains under wraps, despite the thousands of pages of documents a publicly traded company files for public consumption in a given year.

Here are four of the things that transparency advocates would most like to see Corporate America open up about.

1)  How much companies pay in U.S. federal income taxes

Given the amount of fighting and lobbying over the tax code, it’s a strange fact that no one can tell what any given company is actually paying in taxes. Publicly traded firms list a U.S. federal “current tax provision” number in their annual reports, but that’s an accountant’s estimate used to calculate earnings, not the actual sum of the company’s U.S. federal tax bill. And although firms also list the sum of federal, state and foreign income taxes paid,  it’s not broken out among the different jurisdictions.

Frustrated by what I wasn’t finding in public filings earlier this year, I asked every company in the Dow 30 to disclose the amounts of their federal tax bills for the most recent year; they all declined.

Allan Sloan at Fortune magazine has suggested that, short of congressional action, the Financial Accounting Standards Board, a private group that establishes accounting principles, should require companies to disclose the information. So far, there have been no changes announced.

2) Where employees are located

Here, again, is a case where political rhetoric — in this case about job creation — outstrips what we actually know about companies and what they do. Companies do not have to disclose where their employees work, making it hard to track how their headcounts in the United States compare with their counts in other countries, especially as firms go increasingly global.

Companies will sometimes break down their employees by region or continent, but just getting a “North America” number doesn’t help an analyst or investor figure out how many of those employees work in the United States, Mexico or Canada. When they don’t disclose their worker counts, companies often cite competitive pressure. Of course there’s also plenty of political pressure, as no company wants to get called out for outsourcing.

Without the numbers, though, it’s hard to evaluate promises from firms that they’ll create jobs in this country if they’re granted a certain tax rule change, or if regulations are loosened. In February 2012, Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) introduced a bill called the Outsourcing Accountability Act that would require companies to disclose how many of their jobs were overseas and how many were in the United States. The bill was defeated in the House by a 230-to-175 vote.

3) Where earnings come from

Until 1998, companies had to disclose the geographic breakdown of their earnings, sales and assets. Now, they only have to disclose sales and assets. Why does this matter? One of the reasons companies have been able to reduce their tax bills so much is they can shift their earnings from high-tax countries to low-tax ones. This is primarily done by tech and pharmaceutical companies because they rely so much on intellectual property, the kinds of assets that are easy to move from place to place on paper.

When you can’t tell where companies earn their money, it’s hard to track some of this aggressive tax planning. Not only that, but the lower disclosure standard has actually caused firms to alter their behavior, according to some recent research. Companies that don’t disclose where they make their profits are more likely to shift their income to lower their tax burden, says a May study by a group of professors from the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and the Michael F. Price College of Business at the University of Oklahoma. The study found that between 1998 and 2004, firms that did not disclose where their earnings were dispersed geographically had worldwide effective tax rates more than four percentage points lower than firms that chose to continue disclosing that information.

With lawmakers trying to figure out how to reform corporate taxes — and regularly getting stymied in the process — the study suggests there’s an easy way to discourage income shifting that doesn’t require touching the corporate tax code at all. Just force companies to disclose the same information they used to reveal.

4)  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 December 2013 at 2:01 pm

Posted in Business

All legislators in Iowa and in South Dakota are members of ALEC

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UPDATE: More on ALEC in this new report from Democracy Now!.

ALEC = American Legislative Exchange Council, a far-right group that writes model legislation (e.g., “stand your ground” laws) and then tries to get the laws passed in every state: it’s an approach to a kind of weak Federalism, building up a legislative stance state by state. The requirements are pretty strict, as described at AlterNet by Eric Zuesse:

The far-right American Legislative Exchange Council claims that every member of the state legislature in two states belongs to ALEC.

Recently leaked documents from the ALEC Board Meeting, Aug. 6, 2013, Chicago, Illinois, [3] list the number and percentage of each state’s legislature that have signed onto ALEC. Under “# of Legislators,” and “# of ALEC Members,” Iowa has 150 in each column, and South Dakota has 105 in each column. The third column, for both states, shows the “% of ALEC Membership in Legislature” as being “100%.” At the opposite end, the lowest percentage is 1%, in New York. The second-lowest is New Jersey, 2%. The third and fourth lowest, tied, are just 4%, in both Maine and Vermont. The fifth-lowest is New Hampshire, 6%. That table appears on page 39 of the report.

Page 20 presents the text of the oath of office that the leading ALEC member in each state must swear to in order to win or retain his position: “I will act with care and loyalty and put the interests of the organization first.”

When asked about this, ALEC’s senior director of public affairs told Britain’s Guardian [4], “All legislators are beholden to their constituents’ interests first — if they are not, they will be held accountable at the ballot box.”

In other words, if ALEC’s lead legislator in any state violates his oath to ALEC, he stands to lose the vast campaign contributions from the corporations that fund ALEC. The purpose of those corporate campaign donations is to make sure that state legislators are “held accountable” to ALEC. ALEC survives by persuading conservative voters to vote for the stooges the corporations that fund ALEC want to write the laws for them.

In some countries, this is called corruption, or even fascism, but in the United States, it’s called politics, or even (by the five Republicans on the U.S. Supreme Court) freedom of speech.

A few members of ALEC are conservative Democrats, whom the large corporations support only because most of the voters in those districts already know that the Republican Party is controlled by large international corporations (which are sometimes called, in the U.S., “Wall Street”). The best-financed Democrats in those less right-wing districts are usually the most conservative Democrats there.

This is how American politics is controlled from the top. It’s also why the United States has the most unequal distribution of wealth of all of the world’s economically developed nations [5]. When a few aristocrats control the minds of many fools, that’s what happens, and it’s not democracy but instead the Orwellian opposite, commonly called fascism.

Pages 15 and 17 of the report contain a “Memorandum” to ALEC from its law firm, explaining how the so-called “Jeffersonian Project, Inc., has been established as an organization exempt from tax,” and by means of which sub-organization their mega-corporate sponsors can get tax-deductions for their lobbying expenses, via ALEC. The lawyer says, “The Jeffersonian Project is indirectly controlled by ALEC through a provision in its bylaws requiring that its board of directors be appointed (or removed) by ALEC.”

These people aren’t kidding around, and all other U.S. taxpayers have to take up the tax-load the controlling elite slough off in this way. Conservatives say that such “social services” (ALEC is, after all, an “educational organization”) should be shed by government and performed instead by the private sector, via charities, which are really just ways for these people to get tax writeoffs for things like lobbying the legislators and propagandizing the public. It’s a smart business plan, used by many astroturg groups whose top executives receive considerable remuneration for their services to the aristocracy.

The documents identify ALEC’s national chairman as John Piscopo, of whom Wikipedia says, “In October 2012, he was one of nine US state legislators who went on an industry-paid trip to explore the Alberta tar sands, publicly described as an ‘ALEC Academy’.”

More than half of the tar sands are owned by David and Charles Koch, who are the chief financial backers of ALEC. ALEC is strongly pushing the Keystone XL Pipeline, 25 percent of which would be owned by the Koch brothers. The pipeline would carry the Kochs’ tar-sands oil to two Koch refineries near the Texas coast for shipment to the European Union, but the EU’s environmental laws prohibit such oil under the EU’s anti-global-warming provisions. President Obama is trying to force the EU to weaken those regulations in order to increase the net worth of the Kochs by around $100 billion [6]. It seems that the Kochs don’t need to pay Obama to do their bidding; perhaps he does this service out of his personal conservative respect for them, but it’s not something he discusses publicly.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 December 2013 at 11:13 am

Guns: Focus on need rather than right

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Interesting column in the NY Times from Gary Gutting, which takes an approach that I think gun advocates can accept: Look to whether a gun would actually be helpful in your living circumstances:

In September, Navy Yard; in November, a racially fraught shooting in Michigan and a proposed “stand-your-ground law” in Ohio; now the first anniversary of the Newtown massacre — there’s no avoiding the brutal reality of guns in America. Once again, we feel the need to say something, but we know the old arguments will get us nowhere. What’s the point of another impassioned plea or a new subtlety of constitutional law or further complex analyses of statistical data?

Our discussions typically start from the right to own a gun, go on to ask how, if at all, that right should be limited, and wind up with intractable disputes about the balance between the right and the harm that can come from exercising it. I suggest that we could make more progress if each of us asked a more direct and personal question: Should I own a gun?

A gun is a tool, and we choose tools based on their function. The primary function of a gun is to kill or injure people or animals. In the case of people, the only reason I might have to shoot them — or threaten to do so — is that they are immediately threatening serious harm. So a first question about owning a gun is whether I’m likely to be in a position to need one to protect human life. A closely related question is whether, if I were in such a position, the gun would be available and I would be able to use it effectively.

Unless you live in (or frequent) dangerous neighborhoods or have family or friends likely to threaten you, it’s very unlikely that you’ll need a gun for self-defense. Further, counterbalancing any such need is the fact that guns are dangerous. If I have one loaded and readily accessible in an emergency (and what good is it if I don’t?), then there’s a non-negligible chance that it will lead to great harm. A gun at hand can easily push a family quarrel, a wave of depression or a child’s curiosity in a fatal direction.

Even when a gun makes sense in principle as a means of self-defense, it may do more harm than good if I’m not trained to use it well. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 December 2013 at 11:05 am

Posted in Daily life, Guns

Health Care Exchange Is Vastly Improved, Users Say

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Good news, which should be cheer to Congress, which was complaining mightily when the exchange wasn’t working. I expect to see some guarded praise from the Right…  well, no, not really. Lizette Alvarez and Jennifer Preston report in the NY Times:

After two months of false starts, error messages and pleas for patience from the once-hobbled federal online health care exchange, Karen Egozi, the chief executive of the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida, watched on Monday as counselors navigated the website’s pages with relative ease.

Click. Next page. Click. Next page. The website, HealthCare.gov, was working so well that Ms. Egozi, who oversees the 45 navigators in eight locations who help consumers enroll in health plans, said her team gave the system an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10, meaning that most people got as far as selecting a plan or taking home information to select a plan. It felt like a champagne moment.

“I’m 80 percent satisfied,” Ms. Egozi said. “I think it will be great when it’s 100 percent.”

A little over a week after the deadline that President Obama gave for fixing the federal health care exchange, the system is definitely working better, according to consumers and navigators interviewed in several states. The technical errors that had bedeviled visitors to the site for weeks seemed to have been tamed by the patchwork of hardware and software fixes ordered by the administration, and applicants were finally selecting health care plans under the president’s new law, the Affordable Care Act. By last week, the number of applicants who dropped a plan into their virtual grocery carts was climbing at a rapid clip.

Still, the interviews indicated, some technical obstacles persist. After shoppers clicked all the way to the plans, for example, the system was not letting some people actually choose one. In other cases, people were asked to try again later.

Improved entry into the online marketplace has also exposed a new layer of problems and confusion for applicants who are suddenly finding their efforts to buy insurance delayed by requirements that they provide proof of identity or citizenship or that they wait for determinations on Medicaid eligibility.

For the most part, though, the news for the beleaguered online exchange, which serves 36 states, is improving. Since early December, the federal exchange website has run without crashing, officials said. In the first week of December, about 112,000 people selected plans — compared with about 100,000 in all of November and only 27,000 in October. Last week, more than half a million people created accounts on the federal website, according to people familiar with the health care project.

Technical experts involved with the exchange said they are now preparing for a surge of applications before Dec. 23, the enrollment deadline to receive coverage by the first of the year. Although those preparations will require some significant changes to the system, the work will be easier now that the site seems stable during heavy use, the experts said.

In offices spread across the country, from Florida and Pennsylvania to Wyoming and Wisconsin, all of them states that rely on the federal government’s insurance exchange, navigators and applicants reported far fewer problems.

“I was hearing so much about the glitches in the system that I was worried that it wouldn’t work,” said Caroline Moseley, 54, who lost her job as a housing program analyst for the City of Philadelphia. After asking a navigator from the nonprofit Resources for Human Development for help in finding a plan, Ms. Moseley chose one that costs $27 a month with a $6,000 deductible. “It was a great experience,” she said. “The site was running very smoothly. It took about 30 minutes tops.”

Stephanie Lincoln, 60, of Lansdowne, Pa., also had quick success with the exchange — after a frustrating experience trying to submit an application online in October and November. With the help of a navigator, Caroline Picher, working at the local library, Ms. Lincoln signed up in just one hour on Friday for a policy that will cost $113 a month, with no deductible.

“I am one of the people whose plans were canceled,” Ms. Lincoln said. “It was just the easiest thing in the world.” . . .

Continue reading.

Brian Beutler discusses the improved performance and links to other reports of progress; from his article:

. . . Here’s one from the State in South Carolina:

An elbow-injuring fall in March proved nearly as painful financially as physically for Carolyn Gates, who was uninsured and ended up with an $8,000 bill for her emergency room visit.

She felt much better Wednesday after a visit to the S.C. Progressive Network’s Columbia office, where she worked with Navigator Tim Liszewski to sign up on the Health Insurance Marketplace under the Affordable Care Act. While Gates and her husband slowly pay off that emergency room debt, she’ll also be paying a $107-per-month health insurance premium next year.

“As far as I’m concerned, it was the best thing ever,” Gates said. “I told my Bible study about it, and three said they’re going to sign up.”

And here are several more from the St. Louis Post Dispatch:

At the Columbia location of Primaris Healthcare Business Solutions, an enrollment event Monday proved successful for all of its visitors. Jeremy Milarsky, navigator program manager, said he didn’t experience any website glitches and all of his appointments with consumers ended in successful plan selections.

“Today was, I would say, an enrollment event with a capital ‘E,’” he said.

The St. Louis Area Agency on Aging, another nonprofit group assisting consumers with health insurance enrollment, held several outreach events this week. Mark Smith, case management coordinator, said navigators are still seeing some website problems, but also significant improvement. The new feature that allows users to delete their applications and begin again has helped, he said, and the majority of people at the events have been able to select a plan. . . .

Progress is good, right? Things are looking up (except for those in states that refused to expand Medicare for their citizens).

Written by LeisureGuy

11 December 2013 at 10:40 am

Congress Wants More Scrutiny of New Arms Export Rules – and Obama Administration Doesn’t

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Obama seems to like a closed administration, with secrecy throughout. His comments on “transparency”, it is now clear, were mere rhetoric in which he had no belief, stated (presumably) because people like to hear that sort of thing. At ProPublica Cora Currier looks a the Obama Administration’s latest effort to work in secrecy:

As ProPublica reported this fall, the Obama administration is rolling back limits on some U.S. arms exports. Experts are concerned that the changes could result in military parts flowing more freely to the world’s conflict zones, and that arms sanctions against Iran and other countrieswill be harder to enforce.

Now, some in Congress are seeking to add back some oversight mechanisms lost in the overhaul – over opposition from the administration.

As part of the administration’s larger changes to what many view as an antiquated arms export system, thousands of military items have moved out from under the State Department’s long-standing oversight to the looser controls of the Commerce Department.

Commerce Department officials have said that, as a matter of policy, they will continue human rights vetting of recipient countries and reporting big sales to Congress, things the State Department was legally required to do.

bill introduced in the House Foreign Affairs Committee last month would add back those and other legal requirements for many military items moving to Commerce control.

The bill is intended to “preserve Congressional oversight of arms transfers as the administration implements its Export Control Reform Initiative,” said Daniel Harsha, a spokesman for the committee.

While administration officials declined to comment on the pending legislation, they have quietly resisted it.

“They’ve opposed it because they don’t think it’s necessary,” said Colby Goodman, a consultant to the Open Society Policy Center who was formerly with the U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs. (Open Society provides funding to ProPublica.) “The administration appears to prefer having human rights vetting in policy only.  Unfortunately, this stance makes it easier for the administration to ignore such vetting when it suits them.”

Brandt Pasco, a lawyer who helped craft the overall export changes, said Congress may be over-reacting. “Most of what’s being transferred over, the reason it was being moved to the Commerce system was that it was not seen as being enormously sensitive,” said Pasco, who added that the human rights requirement risked creating “needless bureaucracy” for unimportant items.

The Senate is also considering legislation in response to the changes, though its approach may have less practical effect than that of the House.

The president decides what stays on the State Department’s control list, and the current standard is items that provide a critical military advantage to the U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., has put forward an amendment to the annual defense spending bill that lays out broader criteria for the president’s decision. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 December 2013 at 10:23 am

Don’t We Want to Reveal the Good News About Workplace Safety?

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In Pacific Standard Michael Todd wonders why companies are not proud of their improving safety record:

Last month the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration proposed (PDF here) that companies with more than 20 employees publicly post information about on the job injuries and illnesses. Federal law already mandates that these companies keep track of that data; the new regulation would allow the public to see the numbers and the companies (but not the victim IDs) which in turn would lead businesses to work even harder at being safe.

The idea fits in with the less-is-more type of regulation President Obama has extolled. “We are seeking more affordable, less intrusive means to achieve the same ends – giving careful consideration to benefits and costs,” he wrote in a 2011 op-ed. “This means writing rules with more input from experts, businesses, and ordinary citizens. It means using disclosure as a tool to inform consumers of their choices, rather than restricting those choices.”

Perhaps predictably, some employer lobbies oppose the rule, although the only cost identified by OSHA is staff time emailing existing data to the agency once a year (or quarterly for places with 250 or more workers). “Publicly disclosing specifically injury and illness data serves little public good,” Amanda Wood of the National Association of Manufacturers told NPR. “It’s easily misinterpreted and can lead to unfair conclusions or judgments about a company or particular industry.”

That’s kind of a standard response when a business, or a government, for that matter, is asked for greater disclosure: the public’s too dumb to understand what they’re seeing. It’s not just businesses making this case, nor do they necessarily see their argument in the damning light I’ve used—the editors of Scientific American, I’d argue as an example, probably have a fairly generous view of their readership.

“The injury and illness data that is to be made public by the proposed rule won’t include information that explains how the injury occurred, such as whether an employee acted in an unsafe manner or failed to follow the employer’s safety rules,”explains attorney Michael J. Moberg at Lexology, the website for corporate counsels. “The incomplete information OSHA intends to make public may allow competitors, plaintiff’s lawyers, unions, and others to distort this information and wrongly label employers as unsafe or as ‘bad actors’.” Seems like a case for fuller disclosure, then, not less …

(Moberg also points to the Obamacare computer debacle, and hints that government itself might not be competent to handle posting this potentially sensitive information.)

Then again, opposition may fall more along the Howard Beale model – businesses are fed up with regulation, even cheap and easy ones. As one new paper on the regulatory burden of workplace safety rules notes, “In 2011 USA businesses were required to comply with 165,000 pages of regulations, covering all areas, not just safety.” (If it’s any consolation, many Western democracies are in the same boat, authors Andrew Hale, David Borys, and Mark Adams write in the journal Safety Science, although some are bailing out the flood of silly rules faster than others.)

While they were looking mostly at more onerous workplace rules and not at disclosure, Hale and company touch on one the benefits that public shaming has over imposed rules: “If external rules are phrased as goals, outcomes, or risk-management process rules, the task of translation and adaptation remains inside the company and can still power the motor of rule management.” In short, companies know how to manage companies better than the government knows how to manage companies.

Given these concerns, you might think workplace injuries were becoming more of a problem to he covered up than a success story to be trumpeted. Liability costs aside—and that’s a legitimate concern—workplace injuries in the U.S. actually are falling and have been for some time.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 December 2013 at 10:15 am

Posted in Business, Medical

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