Today marked US Uncut’s second big nationwide protest. From coast-to-coast, more than forty cities joined in a day of action protesting the tax-dodging practices of massive corporations that they see as the real source of the country’s deficit.
“I’m tired of people calling for shared sacrifice and it’s all coming from the workers and nothing’s coming from the top,” says protester Dave Sonenberg. “I’m sick of companies like Bank of America not paying their taxes.”
Bank of America hasn’t paid a nickel in federal income taxes for the past two years, and in fact raked in an additional $1 billion in tax “benefits.” The bank is enjoying these profits after accepting $45 billion from taxpayers, which the company then got to count as a deduction when they paid back the money.
Big corporations get to play by a whole different set of rules, says tax expert Bob Willens of New York-based Robert Willens LLC:
It’s also not unusual for a company to pay no federal taxes, while still paying state and local taxes, Willens said. Items that can be deducted for federal purposes aren’t always deductible for state and local returns, he said. State taxes can also be based on the amount of capital deployed in a state, not pre-tax income.
This is why two-thirds of corporations in America pay no federal income taxes. If they were forced to, we’re told, the whole country would suffer. Jobs would be lost, salaries slashed. Thank heavens we’ve avoided such calamity by allowing corporations to shape legislation in their favor.
In 2010, Bank of America handed out $2.2 million in campaign contributions to Congressional representatives and PACs (36 percent went to Democrats, 64 percent to Republicans). By throwing around that much cash, huge companies like BoA have a big say when it comes to crafting legislation that permits them to escape paying taxes, according to US Uncut organizer J.A. Myerson.
“The reason it’s not illegal is because they have bought and paid for the people who make the laws. The laws are made to accommodate this sort of nefariousness,” he says, adding that the process is wrong, and ordinarily that would mean approaching Congress to ask them to fix it, but there’s no point in attempting that when the system is so heavily rigged in favor of the rich and well connected. “So what US Uncut is doing right now is not Capitol Hill lobbying because that doesn’t seem like it’s a fruitful avenue. It’s trying to directly undermine the ability of Bank of America to earn record windfall profits by depleting the public trust that they are an upstanding member of society.”
The rigged game has left citizens feeling burnt and angry. An activist named Sally says BoA’s practice of evicting people from their homes without the original mortgage notes is illegal, but that “illegal doesn’t seem to matter.”
Organizers created fake checks that represent what Bank of America should have paid in taxes during 2009 ($1.5 billion). The plan was to go into BoA, attempt to cash the checks, and then ask for a manager when the understandably flummoxed teller didn’t know what to do. US Uncut planners reminded the protesters to be courteous to everyone: the tellers, the manager and police. The process appeared to go on without a hitch until my cameraman and I went into BoA with US Uncut organizer Duncan Meisel.
The bank’s manager recognized Meisel from being part of the Uncut protests and immediately asked for the police to remove us. Meisel said he was in the bank to cash the check, and when the officer discerned it was fake (because it looks incredibly fake), he told us to leave, claiming we were giving the tellers “a hard time” before.
“Get out,” the cop ordered. “You want to get out or get a criminal summons?” At which point, my cameraman, Zach Roberts, stated he was a Bank of America customer, a credential that didn’t appear to impress the officer at all.
“You want to play games?” he asked. “Give me your ID.” Meisel stated that he intended to leave, but he also produced his wallet and extended it to the officer, who grabbed it and shoved Meisel backwards.
The police then detained Meisel inside BoA before ultimately giving him a ticket for disorderly conduct. Afterwards, Meisel harbored no ill feelings toward the officer. “It sounds like he had a bad day today, but it’s not anything personal. I know cops have it bad these days because there’s budget cuts coming from them. There’s budget cuts coming from everybody. I’d rather not have a summons, but I don’t hold it against anyone.”