Allison Kilkenny | The Nation

Allison Kilkenny

Allison Kilkenny

Budget wars, activism, uprising, dissent and general rabble-rousing.

#OccupyWallStreet: Searching for Hope in America

Adbusters, the nonprofit, anti-consumerist organization, made the first call for an occupation of Wall Street back in July when they posted an article on their website titled “#OCCUPYWALLSTREET.” The rallying cry proposed a massive occupation of Wall Street—some 20,000 individuals—a “fusion of Tahrir with the acampadas of Spain.” The group declared: “It’s time for democracy not corporatocracy.

Adbusters latched on to the idea of an American Tahrir, also adopting the concept of new media protest at the genesis of the movement, even opting to include Twitter’s now-famous hashtag in its branding campaign.

Two months later, the protest came to fruition. A hallmark of leftist activism is the amalgam of diverse movements present at protests. Alexa O’Brien, a spokesperson for US Day of Rage, one of the groups participating in the protest, says they are focused on reinforcing the First Amendment: the rights to peaceably assemble and to free speech on public sidewalks.

Other protesters carried signs in solidarity with Troy Davis, while another group, the Platypus Affiliated Society, explained that it’s an educational group focused on problems and tasks inherited from the old left. But all parties agreed that Wall Street, and particularly the class divide, are bad for America.

“Corporate greed is bankrupting America,” says Chris Priest, a representative from US Uncut. “Wall Street is the pinnacle of corporate greed that bankrupted the country, and is imposing severe cuts on the middle and working class. They’ve seen no consequence for the financial depression they caused.”

A protester named Larry says that he joined the movement to protest the pitiful conditions of workers, particularly black and Hispanic employees. He fears the budget cutbacks will disproportionately affect the poor majority. “Wall Street makes its money off of exploitation,” he says. “We’ve sacrificed enough. That’s how they’ve got their billions.”

Spurring a Tahrir or Spanish revolution was an incredibly lofty goal, and all told, about a thousand protesters made it down to Wall Street. It seems some element—some unseen ingredient—is missing from America’s climate to spur the great cultural revolution seen in the Arab world. Of course, everyone has a different diagnosis for why the anti-establishment mass protests haven’t hit America’s shores yet.

Austin Mackell, an independent journalist stationed in Egypt, explains that the Arab Spring was a mixture of urban youth and traditional industrial activism. “Many credit the general strike that took place in the last few days before Mubarak’s ouster as critical in amping up the pressure on him.” Basically, he explains, a country needs the newer, sexier image of a young revolution, but it also needs the basic tools of organized, older labor to keep things focused.

Mia Foster says she was curious to check out the Wall Street protest because she was present at the ongoing massive Spanish protests that began in May. RTVE, the Spanish public broadcasting company, estimates that between 6.5 and 8 million Spaniards have participated in the protests thus far. Often compared to the Arab Spring, the Spanish protests demanded radical changes in Spanish politics, and are being waged in response to high unemployment, welfare cuts, capitalism, and what is perceived as a two-party political duopoly.

“It was organized through Facebook. Then the people decided to stay in [Puerta del Sol] square. We were inspired by the Arab Spring,” she says. “We want real democracy now. It’s a very radical demand. Eighty percent of the population supported the protests, even the right wing. We have worse labor conditions, we don’t have access to houses, and we have 20 percent unemployment.” Incredibly, 125 days later, the protests and occupations in Spain are ongoing.

Of course, Occupy Wall Street didn’t live up to the legacy of Tahrir or Spain. Mia glances around the square where a group of protesters have now gathered to do some yoga and half-heartedly smiles, “I am sure in Spain there are more people in solidarity with this action than are here.”

Matthew Prowless says he doesn’t mind the mixture of causes and affectations—what he calls “window-dressing”—for a far more serious cause. Unlike the majority of the college-aged activists, Matthew is a 40-year-old father of two who says he is attending the protest because he had no other recourse.

“My home has been seized, I’m unemployed, there’s no job prospects on the horizon. I have two children and I don’t see a future for them. This is the only way I see to effect change,” he says. “This isn’t a progressive issue. This is an American issue. We’re here to take our country back from the corporations,” adding he fears for the future of the United States where corporations can now spend unlimited, anonymous dollars to elect the candidates of their choices.

As for activist yoga, Matthew laughs, saying he likes it. “I’m not here to change every aspect of the world. I’m just here to change the most important part of the world, and that’s elections. The yoga people bring attention to it, and they support our cause.”

Of course, it’s become a cliché to pine for an American Tahrir. Nowhere is it written that a revolution must follow a specific formula in order to be effective. Perhaps America’s revolution won’t happen with a bang as it did in the case of the Arab Spring. It might have already arrived in the form of a gradual drip that began in Wisconsin, and then Ohio, and will arrive tomorrow as a flood in forty-eight other states.

Note: This is an early filing on the protest. The “general assembly” is still happening and the “occupation” part of the protest won’t begin until later this evening.

Youth Continue to Fight for Their Future

Throughout the budget battles, it’s become a common GOP tactic to invoke the martyred image of impoverished future children in order to depict President Obama’s spending plans as being irresponsible and reckless.

'We keep kicking the can down the road and splashing the soup all over our grandchildren,” said Senator Tom Coburn of the nation’s debt.

“It’s a debate over whether we act responsibly so our children and grandchildren aren’t left carrying the burden of unsustainable debt,” said Senator Orin Hatch.

Ironically, the GOP’s plans to slash budgets in the name of fiscal solvency will not only likely put any future children at a permanent disadvantage, but also currently hurt real-life youth who are now fighting back against austerity.

In addition to groups consisting of young citizens, such as US Uncut, many other cells have sprung up across the country opposing the budget cuts.

Local students from Opa-Locka organized and held a protest Monday to bring awareness to the state of education and how budget cuts are affecting their future.

Fifty participants in Teen Upward Bound, a teen advocacy program that assists in reading and life skills, met at the corner of 13521 NW 27th Avenue Monday afternoon to speak out about their educational rights.

“The students have really taken to this cause,” said Executive Director Jannie Russell in a press release. “We advocate at our program students being leaders in their community at every level.”

The students say they held the protest to bring awareness of steep budget cuts.

Opa-Locka is located in Florida, meaning it falls under the supervision of Governor Rick Scott, a man who has gone to war with the education budget of his state. It was Scott and Florida’s Legislature that cut $1 billion from education in this year’s budget, a drop of 8 percent, which equals cuts of $542 per student.

Meanwhile, in California, students are legendary for their protests, most recently for the sit-ins staged in opposition to budget cuts at their school. The occupation was in response to CSU President Milton Gordon’s refusal to sign a symbolic declaration in defense of public education when Cal State was facing at least $500 million in cuts during the next fiscal year.

Now that Cal State students are facing an additional 12 percent fee hike, more protests are likely. When the Board of Trustees announced the new fees, they simultaneously approved a salary of $400,000 for the new president of San Diego State, Elliot Hirshman ($350,000 in state funds and $50,000 from the campus’s foundation), a raise of more than $100,000 from his predecessor’s salary.

When the trustees voted to increase fees by 12 percent, around 100 students and faculty members were there to protest the meeting. Lt. Gov Gavin Newsom and student trustee Steve Dixon also opposed the hike.

While the student protest movement does occasionally have brief moments of shining promise (California’s sit-ins and occupations are always heartening to witness), there does appear to be an endurance problem in the youth protest community.

For example, US student protests pale in comparison to what is happening in Greece. Now, that’s for a variety of reasons, first and foremost being that the US and Greek economic situation are vastly different and Greece is in much worse shape than the United States. Additionally, the 2010 Greek riots were in part fueled by residual anger stemming from 2008 when Greek policemen killed a 15-year-old student.

But why the lack of moxie on the US side? Well, part of the problem may be that millions of poor kids have already been priced out of an education. Simeon Talley over at Campus Progress explains how the disinvestment of education has been happening for generations:

[A]s Tom Hayden, one of the co-founders of Students for a Democratic Society, told me “The question for today’s student is not whether they can read Zinn, Anais Nin or Noam Chomsky, but whether they can afford to.”

Hayden added:

The challenges they (students) face on their campuses are far different than the past and perhaps more profound. Tuition costs at UM in 1960 were one hundred dollars, and I can’t remember if that was for a semester or an entire year. So I could obtain my degree, edit the paper, go south to the civil rights movement for two years, return and enter graduate school, and never feel I was falling behind in the competitive economic rat-race…. A student today falls tens of thousands of dollars in debt, even after holding two part-time jobs, a burden which limits their career choices. Dropping out for social activism brings competitive disadvantage.

When we take these things into consideration—cost of tuition, cost of living, in addition to possible at-home issues like helping their family with cost of living arrangements, health care payments, insurance—suddenly, it becomes clear that we shouldn’t be disappointed that American youth are “lazy” but rather amazed that so many students continue to fight for a better future despite having the deck stacked overwhelmingly against them. 

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Budget Cuts and the Pelican Bay Hunger Strike

Prisoners in California’s Pelican Bay State Prison’s Secure Housing Unit (SHU) began an indefinite hunger strike two weeks ago, and the reports coming in are harrowing.

The Prison Reform Movement posted a testimonial earlier in the week from a SHU nurse, who stated that the prisoners have not been drinking water and there have been “rapid and severe” consequences, adding that nurses are crying, and some of the prisoners have been unable to make urine for three days.

The prisoners began the strike “in order to draw attention to, and to peacefully protest, twenty-five years of torture via [California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation]’s arbitrary, illegal, and progressively more punitive policies and practices,” according to their official statement, dated July 1, 2011.

Those torturous conditions (years of confinement in steel, windowless cages for more than twenty-two hours a day, no real access to natural light or human contact) are likely to only get worse during these times of economic austerity.

Much attention was paid to Governor Jerry Brown’s plans to “realign” the prison system in order to reduce overcrowding and save the state money, but these orders followed months of harsh cuts that left prisons unable to adequately care for and supervise the hundreds of thousands of prisoners left in California’s incarceration system.

In May, Brown eliminated more than 400 positions at CDCR, in addition to 5,550 positions statewide. The move terminated thirty-three executive-level jobs at Corrections, and more than 100 management and supervisory positions.

Many rightly criticized the whopping annual state prison payroll of $2 billion. However, California’s huge prison budget doesn’t stem from prisoners dining on caviar and lobster. The budget exploded because of “three strike” laws that rapidly expanded the jailed population.

But even without such unfair laws, California’s prison system would still be in trouble, according to the LA Times. Growing numbers of inmates arrive with communicable diseases (nearly a fourth of them have the tuberculosis virus), one in five has mental problems or brain damage, staffing numbers are already among the lowest in the country, and although a third of its employees are women, the department has a history of sexual discrimination. Furthermore, the department has an especially difficult time locating new employees to fill open positions in desolated locales where new prisons are opening.

While some of the Pelican Bay prisoners’ demands don’t hinge on their prison being sufficiently funded (things like eliminating collective punishment, for example, can be done for free), other items such as providing better, more nutritious food and expanding constructive programs will cost the state money, and during a time of budget cuts, the governor isn’t likely to lend a sympathetic ear to society’s pariahs.

Brown will likely be able to neglect the prison system without a majority of his constituents retaliating against him in the voting booths. Unlike when he slashed school spending by $1 billion, Brown is this time neglecting a population that many people feel deserve whatever comes to them, even though, let’s remember, prisons are supposed to rehabilitate individuals, and are not simply caves into which we throw and abandon human beings, leaving them to die.

Additionally, movements like the Innocence Project have proven that innocent men and women are incarcerated all the time, and this should always be remembered when political leaders adopt cavalier “to hell with ’em all” attitudes.

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Budget Battles Force One-Sided Compromises

The national calls for “shared sacrifice” during these times of austerity presuppose that giant corporations like Goldman Sachs and Exxon Mobil share the same amount of privilege and power as, say, your grandmother.

If the upper one percent has to pay slightly more taxes, say the GOP and some Democrats, including the president, then octogenarians have to say bon voyage to their traditional Social Security and Medicare payments.

It remains to be seen if the GOP is willing to meet President Obama halfway on his plans to tax the wealthy at slightly higher rates. Even if the president did get the GOP to acquiesce in this one area, the lavishly rich would still be taxed at historically low rates (no one is seriously considering going back to Eisenhower’s 91 percent, or Nixon’s 70 percent).

Basically, this is all a fight to go from 35 percent to the Clinton-era 39 percent top marginal rates. A four percent increase simply doesn’t carry the same punch as significantly gutting the social safety net for the poor majority. A single mother of four is going to feel the toll of dwindling food stamps way, way more than a hedge fund manager is going to feel the miniature tax creep—if it happens at all.

Yet, this narrative of “shared sacrifice”—as if all parties are equally sacrificing their means—has fully permeated the national discourse.

Nowhere is this kind of one-sided compromise more apparent than the funding chaos that just ensued in New Jersey. Using his line-item veto authority, Governor Christie hacked away at the Democrat-controlled legislature’s spending plan, slashing $900 million from the budget.

Christie nixed healthcare funding for low-income workers, tax credits for the working poor, and money for AIDS relief and mental health services, yet he managed to add funds ($150 million) for some of the wealthiest towns in the state.

The governor’s attack against the poor follows his recent signing of a law that limits the ability of New Jersey’s public employees to collectively bargain for healthcare benefits, and cuts the paychecks of those workers in order to increase their contributions towards healthcare plans and pensions.

The state Democrats laid down during this vicious attack on the working poor in the spirit of bipartisanship, naturally. Sharing the sacrifice, and what not. Of course, then the Democrats were simply shocked—shocked!—that a Republican governor, who they had just sold out their own party in order to support, would then turn around and stab them in the back. Senate President Stephen Sweeney furiously spat that Christie was a “bully” and a “punk,” and that he wanted to “punch him in his head.”

But there was no need for Sweeney to feign surprise. This is the era of the one-sided compromise, where millionaires are taxed at rock bottom rates while the working poor have their pensions stolen from them.

The starkness of Christie’s one-sided compromise is made all the more apparent when one considers that his education cuts could be reversed simply by implementing a millionaire’s tax. Of course, that would entail calling for actual shared sacrifice, and that simply isn’t acceptable.

Instead, the governor decided to briefly go to war with the state Supreme Court over education funding before the court ultimately found that he hadn’t allowed the schools to provide for their students, and ordered the state to restore $500 million in funding.

In a speech on Tuesday, President Obama coupled his demand for tax increases on the wealthy with a pledge to take on spending in “entitlement programs.” These two items are often paired together as if they carry equal weight.

Cutting the fat from an upper tier that is currently enjoying historically lavish wealth and gutting state pension plans are not equivalent acts. It makes sense when John Boehner crafts this comparison, but it’s disconcerting when President Obama plays into the false narrative.

Budget Nightmares: Government Shutdowns, Slashed Tax Credits

Protesters flooded Minnesota’s Capitol grounds yesterday on the eve of a government shutdown in response to tense budget negotiations. The governor and Republicans must close a $5 billion gap for the next two-year budget cycle, but legislators are torn over how to accomplish that goal.

Though government officials and Governor Mark Dayton have kept the details of the negotiations largely secret, Minnesotans were quite vocal in their demands. Activists stated that they’re open to compromise, but don’t think the burden of the state’s budget woes should be dumped exclusively upon the shoulders of the poor.

"An all cuts budget would be devastating, what we need now is compromise so that we can move forward and continue to make our state better,” [said LeAnn Wallace].

Early today, the government of Minnesota officially shut down, leaving 20,000 Minnesotans out of work and others without statewide services. However, before the shutdown began, the state’s residents had already begun to see the effects of a statewide shutdown.

Motorists hoping to stop for a bathroom break were beginning to see "closed" signs on rest areas, and camping enthusiasts were being kicked out of state parks, which all closed at 4 p.m. Nonprofit organizations rushed to make last-minute decisions on whether to get financial help or curtail services....

At the morning rally, nonprofit groups urged a budget solution that would tax wealthy Minnesotans. Mary Cecconi of Parents United said that while leaders have promised to limit cuts to education, other state-funded programs are important for Minnesota children, too.

 "If you're trying to help kids grow up to be productive citizens who will seed the economy, they don't grow up in a vacuum," Cecconi said. "To succeed in school, they need healthy families and communities supporting them.”

Minnesota isn’t the only state currently facing a government shutdown. Governor Terry Branstad (R-IA) and Democrats fought over funding for abortion at University of Iowa hospitals, a disagreement that put the overall budget in jeopardy. Additionally, New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie threatened to veto Democratic lawmakers’ budget.

Even in states where a budget compromise was successfully struck, citizens still face grave cuts. In an analysis of Wisconsin’s state plan, the AP documents several ways the new budget will reshape priorities at the detriment of the poor.

Among the changes, poor families with two or more children will see their tax credits reduced. Overall, the tax credits for poor families in Wisconsin will be reduced by $65 million over the next two years.

Meanwhile, life for business owners will get a little easier. The budget creates a new capital gains tax deferral for investments in Wisconsin-based companies, loosens taxes charged to multistate corporations, and creates a new tax credit for manufacturers and agricultural businesses.

Medicaid will get more expensive, since the new budget cuts $500 million from healthcare programs, and citizens will face higher co-pays and deductibles. The budget also allows the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents to increase tuition by up to 5.5 percent beginning with the fall semester, a move that will price many poorer students out of an education.

And that’s just scratching the surface. The full consequences of the cuts will be ubiquitous and devastating for millions of residents, and the aftermath of austerity in Wisconsin is really a microcosm of the larger national trend of state legislators asking the poor to shoulder the burden of budget cuts.

Currently, it seems like state governments operate in one of two modes: paralysis or aggressive punishment of the poor. 

New Wisconsin Budget Grants Broad Power to Gov. Walker to Remake State Health Programs

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker is set to sign a two-year budget that provides tax breaks for state businesses, individual taxpayers and multi-state corporations yet includes zero state sales or income tax increases, and limits the amount schools and local governments can raise property taxes.

Furthermore, the budget contains deep cuts in education spending, health care and programs for the poor. The state will slash aid to public schools by $800 million over two years, and cut Medicaid by $500 million by increasing co-pays and deductibles. Poor families will see a reduction in their income tax credits if they have two or more children.

Critics of Gov. Walker’s myopic plan fear -- by granting tax breaks to corporations, freezing property taxes, and slashing the social safety net -- the governor will bleed Wisconsin dry in the long run.

These same critics say the devastating cuts to schools and public programs place an unfair burden on the middle class.

"Everybody knows we needed to make cuts, everybody knows we had to ask public employees to be part of the solution, too, and we were willing to do that," said state Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber, D-Appleton. "But the way that this does it really, really puts a lot of the solution on top of people who can least afford the cuts that are given to them."

Opponents of Walker’s budget plan also say it’s laughable that Republicans are claiming to be fiscally responsible when they’re guaranteeing the future bankruptcy of the state.

Scot Ross, executive director of One Wisconsin Now, a progressive advocacy group, said the cost of the budget's tax cuts will "skyrocket" in coming years.


"In the next 10 years, it's $2.3 billion," he said. "It's impossible to say they (Republicans) are tackling the structural deficit when they are putting all these new obligations that will come online with a massive cost."

A particular point of contention are those corporate tax breaks Walker is dealing out in the midst of these harsh budget cuts. 

"Part of the reason we had deficit problems in Wisconsin was because of the tax policies that allow the wealthy to squirrel more of their assets, but also because much of our tax revenue is generated by people having good-paying jobs," Ross said. "So when the economy collapsed, people were spending less money, they had less money to tax.

 "And this system that the Republicans are enacting, in terms of gutting public education, in terms of what they are doing to the tech college system and our university system, will in the long run cost us revenue because people won't have the skills to have good-paying jobs."

Essentially, Walker’s plan is a shortsighted giveaway to the wealthy and corporations that ultimately will leave the state much weaker in the future.

The new state budget also grants broad power to Walker’s administration to remake BadgerCare Plus and other state health programs with little legislative oversight.

"It's a terrible precedent," said David Riemer, director of Community Advocates Public Policy Institute.

 State legislators, he said, basically have given the governor the power to undo laws on books for the programs.

 "The Legislature just sort of capitulated," Riemer said.

 It also enables state legislators to sidestep some potentially controversial decisions.

 "This makes it very difficult for the public to hold their elected officials accountable for these decisions," [Bob Jacobson, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Council on Children & Families] said.

The budget also contains anti-choice measures such as defunding nine Planned Parenthood health centers, which provide preventive care to over 12,000 uninsured women, adding new restrictions on the services provided by family planning providers, and blocking women facing unintended pregnancy from accessing unbiased and non-directive information about their options.

Walker’s budget also makes men ineligible for the BadgerCare Family Planning Program.

It is clear Walker’s budget will benefit some individuals, but what is equally apparent is that those beneficiaries won’t be the majority of working class Wisconsinites.  

Thousands Protest Budget at Wisconsin Capitol

Thousands of protesters once again converged on Wisconsin’s Capitol Tuesday to protest Governor Scott Walker’s controversial state budget proposal that strips unions of their right to collectively bargain.

Among those in attendance were leaders such as former state Democratic Party Chairman Joe Wineke, who said the governor’s radical plans had managed to bring together divergent groups that might not have otherwise found solidarity in a unified cause.

”They've ticked off the environmental community, senior citizens, the disabled, reproductive-rights proponents, the University of Wisconsin."

Wisconsin Republicans are now in full-blown panic mode following the announcement that there will be nine Senate recall elections (six Republican, three Democratic) in July.

In a Hail Mary maneuver, Republican Party officials planned to run spoiler Democrat candidates in the recall elections, the idea being that sham candidates would force a Democratic primary and buy Republicans another month until the general election.

And the desperate moves kept coming Tuesday when Republicans enacted an “extraordinary session” in order to pass the state budget, the first time lawmakers have ever used the rapid political process to pass a budget in at least eighty years. (A live blog of the extraordinary session can be found here).

Meanwhile, Wisconsin’s state Supreme Court ruled against unions this week by ordering the reinstatement of Governor Walker’s law that ends collective bargaining. The culmination of these events was the mass protest at the Capitol yesterday.

Earlier in the week, around 100 tenants of Walkerville marched from their encampment at the Capitol down East Washington to the headquarters of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce in order to draw attention to what they claim is one of the organizations behind some of the worst provisions in the proposed state budget.

One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross, who also runs a site called WMC Watch, emphasized the $2.3 billion in tax breaks included in the budget for corporations over the next 10 years, on top of the $1.6 billion in cuts to public schools, $250 million from the UW System, and $71 million from the Wisconsin technical college system.

"This is about all people!" noted Monica Adams from the Madison chapter of Take Back the Land. "This not only about middle class workers, this is about undocumented workers. This is about able-bodied people, this is about differently abled people. This is about people of color, this is about white people, this is about everybody...the budget is just the beginning." 

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US Uncut, Yes Men to Bust Corporate Tax Dodgers in Cayman Islands

The activism groups behind a widely circulated (and false) AP report stating GE would return its entire 2010 tax refund of $3.2 billion to the US Treasury appear to be getting the band back together. US Uncut and The Yes Men are planning another event to draw attention to the massive problem of corporate tax dodging, but this time they’re taking their activism directly to the source of America’s lost revenue: the Cayman Islands.

The groups have posted a Kickstarter account to help raise $10,000 by June 30 in order to fund the fact-finding mission.

US Uncut expresses the purpose for the quest:

In order to understand why thousands of teachers are losing their jobs across the country, we set out to discover where the leak was in Uncle Sam's revenue bucket. In Washington, we found myriad lobbying groups and politicians bickering about tax repatriation holidays, negative corporate tax rates and comprehensive tax reform. Oh my! But nobody could explain where the money went, and how to get it home?

Nearly exhausted, we were about to throw in the beach towel when a sign came—in the form of a palm tree. Could it be that all the money is just a few tropical waves south of Key West? Sitting in off-shore bank accounts, just waiting to be brought back to share with eager shareholders and upstanding citizens alike?

“After the fun we had with GE, we wanted to do something bigger, to really strike at the heart of tax dodging," says US Uncut founder Carl Gibson, “The central problem of this whole thing is a system that allows companies to dodge nearly all of their tax obligations by registering, for example, two inches of space at an office building in the Caymans as an ‘international corporate headquarters.’ ”

The project is focused on embarrassing some of the more well-known companies participating in the Win America Campaign, which was also the group’s reasoning behind its recent protests against Apple, a big supporter of WAC.

“WAC lobbyists use language soaked in faux patriotism about how the money is ‘trapped overseas’ and the need to ‘bring the money home,'” says Gibson. “Well, we're doing it for them. If our tax dollars are being held hostage in the Cayman Islands, then there should be a ragtag group of taxpaying citizens ready to swoop in and bring it home. And that's what we plan to do.”

US Uncut plans to use the 10 large on a film crew and flights, and the group has certainly targeted the right place. Author Nicholas Shaxson, one of the predominant experts on the problem of tax dodging, says the United States loses an estimated $100 billion every year because of these tax havens, and the Cayman Islands harbors one of the biggest pools of illicit cash.

President Obama himself called the Cayman Islands operation “the biggest tax scam on record.” One of Obama’s stock applause lines was a true-life story he would tell about a single building in the Cayman Islands which houses 12,000 corporations. "That's either the biggest building,” then-Senator Obama would say, “or the biggest tax scam on record.” Cue wild applause.

The building Obama was referring to is called the Ugland House in George Town, and it actually houses about 19,000 registered companies.

In the Caymans, huge multibillion-dollar corporations pay a measly $3,000 annual fee for the privilege of avoiding contributing back to a society that simultaneously showers the top echelon of businesses with more and more corporate tax cuts. This is the equivalent of a mugging victim then marching to an ATM to doll out a stack of twenties to their assailant.

Since being elected, however, President Obama has done little to stem the problem of corporate tax havens. Back in 2008, Carl Levin crafted the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act, legislation then-Senator Obama threw his support behind, and which has, like most bills that make sense, been floating in purgatory ever since.

This theft isn’t just hard on citizens who are struggling to survive in a country with shrinking revenue, but also on legitimate businesses that do pay their fair share in taxes. Quite simply: tax dodging is bad for American businesses, too, which can never hope to compete with the sweet deals multinational corporations enjoy with their partners, the US government.

Legislative paralysis is precisely why US Uncut and The Yes Men are planning this action to draw the American people’s attention back to the problem of tax dodging. The groups hope to remind President Obama that the reason his applause lines were so popular is because Americans are enraged by the unscrupulous tax dodging practices of big US corporations.

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US Uncut Protests Apple's Tax Dodging Practices

US Uncut protested Apple stores this weekend to oppose the company’s federal tax dodging practices. The group staged a series of “dance-in” protests in stores nationwide.

Specifically, the group has taken issue with Apple’s support of the “Win America Campaign,” which would allow Apple to keep $4 billion (overall corporations would shelter $80 billion in taxes) that might otherwise have gone back to the federal government during a time of severe economic austerity. Members of the Win America coalition include Microsoft, Cisco Systems, Kodak, Google, Oracle and Adobe Systems.

US Uncut Boston:

Technology companies are infamous for this kind of tax dodging behavior. For example, Google and Microsoft both funnel profits through tax havens in Ireland and the Netherlands. Overall, the funneling scheme costs the United States about $60 billion every year.

US Uncut DC:

During a time when teachers are losing their jobs, US Uncut says it’s unjust to place the bulk of economic burden on the shoulders of the poor, especially when those who caused the financial collapse with shady derivatives trading go unpunished.

“Our rallying cry is, ‘we all pay our taxes, and why don’t they?’” said Ryan Clayton, a co-founder of US Uncut. “At the same time as we’re firing firefighters, teachers and cops, it’s just really irresponsible for them to not be paying their fair share of the public burden.”

“The middle class has to make that up, either through cuts, or through higher middle-class taxes,” he said.

Most outrageously, Apple isn’t even the worst offender. The company’s effective tax rate of 24 percent is still a larger percentage than other tech companies pay, such as Google, Hewlett-Packard, Yahoo and eBay.

But it is Apple’s brand popularity and largely positive public reception that attracted US Uncut, though protesters have taken issue with Apple’s labor practices in the company’s outsourced factories and privacy policies in the past.

“Most of the other companies aren’t really gonna give a damn if we go after them. They’re not concerned for their reputation. [With Apple] there’s a little more leverage,” [says] US Uncut spokesperson Joanne Gifford.

Another US Uncut spokesperson further explains why Apple was targeted:

“If we can put enough shame on Apple’s brand by showing up at their stores, we can hopefully get Steve Jobs and the Apple team to leave the WinAmerica campaign.”

Reports indicate that one of the livelier protests on Saturday occurred in Madison, Wisconsin’s Apple store located in West Towne Mall. Madison Twitter user @annelyttle tweeted a series of photos from the protest, adding “Nefarious #taxdodger #Apple keeps trying to kick us out of their store but we’re coming in waves. #usuncut.”


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Seniors Fight Back Against Real-Life Death Panels

Hundreds of New York City senior citizens will converge at the Emigrant Savings Bank building at 49-51 Chambers Street this Friday for the New York City Council Committee on Aging public budget hearing.

The seniors are opposing $39 million in cuts to their services, including Mayor Bloomberg’s plans to close seventeen more senior centers citywide (in addition to the twenty-six that were closed in 2010), and to significantly reduce services in the remaining centers.

The cuts are in addition to $50 million the mayor already cut from the Department for the Aging over the past three years—a cumulative total of about $90 million, a whopping 50% budget cut to senior services. 

Such services could end up costing the city more in the long run. For example, consider that taxpayers will end up supplementing costs for nursing home replacements, unless the mayor is planning to simply kick out seniors onto the streets, which will be free.

New York isn’t the only state where retirees are fighting back against austerity. In Maine, retired state workers and teachers rallied at the State House on Wednesday to protest changes to their pension benefits proposed by Governor LePage.

LePage’s proposal includes freezing cost of living increases for retired teachers and state workers for three years and reducing the cap on increases from 4 percent to 2 percent. The governor is also proposing about $200 million in tax cuts.

Jackie Roach of Oakland, who retired in 1994 after 38 years as a teacher, urged the crowd to call lawmakers and tell them to reject the proposed budget changes.

“It’s wrong for Gov. LePage to pay for his tax breaks for Maine’s wealthiest residents by cutting the pensions of Maine’s retired workers,” she said.

Seniors in Florida are enduring a particularly vicious assault from Governor Scott as they face millions of dollars in state budget cuts. Facilities are set for $187.5 million in cuts in addition to $2.1 billion in Medicare funding reductions over the next ten years.

Scott also issued significant cuts to hot meals programs that provide food to many of Miami’s most needy seniors, in addition to other cuts to homeless veterans, a council for deafness, a children’s hospital, cancer research, public radio, whooping-cough vaccines for poor mothers and aid for the paralyzed, all while requesting $30 million in corporate tax cuts.

These kinds of cuts will be devastating for seniors, according to the Coalition to Protest Senior Care.

Seventy percent of the funding lost would’ve paid staff salaries, forcing nursing homes to make tough decisions about their operating budgets once the cuts go into effect July 1.

Most of the staff positions on the line at certified nursing assistants like Palm Garden CNA Sheryle Chambers, who admits she’s more than just a nurses aid for residents when they move in.

“Because a lot of them come and drop them off and never see them again. So, we’re the family members they see on a daily basis,” she said. “The residents are going to suffer,


It is in large part because of these types of policies that Scott is currently one of the least popular governors in the United States, which may be why he’s taken to kicking out political opponents of his budget signing ceremonies.

Scott’s cronies consider the signing of public budgets “private events,” which is why Russ Abrams, a $60,000-a-year special assistant to Scott instructed a deputy to remove a group of Democrats from the signing.


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