The ravages of the economic downturn have left a series of empty storefronts in my neighborhood. They exist as specters of a former up-and-coming enclave of local businesses. Now they’re home to hurried graffiti, the occasional panhandler and once a year to tax accountants. Yes, the hallows of what used to be a local retail gems are now spots for seasonal businesses to sort out how much you’re paying the government for, as Oliver Wendell Holmes put it, “civilization.”
Which pretty much sums up Tax Day 2011. The middle class and small businesses have been wrecked by “too big to fail” Goliaths who engaged in ethically reprehensible – yet shockingly legal practices. And now regardless of how our government failed to guard against an economic catastrophe, we still have to pay our share of taxes to that same government.
So we all have to “tighten our belts” now, right? All of us? In this together? To get through this tough economic climate…together?
Well, apparently, “too big to fail” also means too big to pay federal taxes.
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) released his list of the top 10 worst corporate tax avoiders. A post on his website notes, “Exxon Mobil made $19 billion in profits in 2009. Exxon not only paid no federal income taxes, it actually received a $156 million rebate from the IRS, according to its SEC filings.” It continues, “Over the past five years, while General Electric made $26 billion in profits in the United States, it received a $4.1 billion refund from the IRS…Bank of America received a $1.9 billion tax refund from the IRS last year, although it made $4.4 billion in profits and received a bailout from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department of nearly $1 trillion.”
There are other names on Senator Sanders’ list: Chevron, Boeing, Valero Energy, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, ConocoPhillips and Carnival Cruise Lines.
Yes giant corporations – making giant profits – and keeping it all by engaging their cost-effective cavalry of accountants. In some cases actually getting paid by the treasury.
A Government Accountability Office report in 2008 found that nearly two-thirds of US companies pay no income tax. So when teachers, firefighters and policemen are being fed a line about “shared sacrifice,” it really means “shared sacrifice” among other teachers, firefighters and policemen.
Those on Sanders’ list of corporate tax cheats, Bank of America seems to be in the crosshairs of a few of organizations. And rightly so, Bank of America paid no federal income tax in 2009. None. And yes, it was a bailout recipient during the final days of the Bush Administration. Some 115 foreign tax-haven subsidiaries enabled the Bank of America – to not pay federal taxes to its namesake – America. So it’s fitting that the Move Your Money project mentions them specifically. Wikileaks is also releasing damaging documents about the banking behemoth.
And US Uncut, which describes itself as “a grassroots movement taking direct action against corporate tax cheats and unnecessary and unfair public service cuts across the U.S. Washington’s proposed budget,” calls Bank of America their primary target.
US Uncut accepts no donations whatsoever and held demonstrations over the weekend. The rallies successfully shut down BofA branches in DC and San Francisco for the day.
So far the idea of corporations actually paying their taxes has garnered a wide spectrum of support. Last week, Bill O’Reilly and guest Lou Dobbs got miffed at General Electric not paying any federal taxes. It’s mainly because O’Reilly could somehow blame it squarely (and unfairly) on Obama even though it’s been going on since the current President was a state senator. On his Fox News Channel show, O’Reilly said, “I want GE to pay their fair share like the rest of us.”
And the leftwing – most notably The Nation magazine among others – has been covering US Uncut’s actions with interest.
Wait – Bill O’Reilly and The Nation actually agree on something?!
Carl Gibson spokesperson for US Uncut explains the support: “This message is magnetic – if you make money here – you should pay taxes here.”