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Allison Kilkenny | The Nation

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Allison Kilkenny

Allison Kilkenny

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

iHate Tax Cheats: US Uncut Targets Apple

US Uncut, the anti–corporate tax dodging group, recently announced that Apple is its newest target. In a press release, the organization declares it will stage actions across the country on June 4 against the popular company.

The group is demanding Apple remove its support of the Win America Campaign (WAC), an effort aimed at repatriating $1 trillion in foreign accounts back to America at just a 5 percent tax rate. Essentially, WAC’s efforts would lead to a $4 billion tax cut for Apple.

The Win America campaign backs a Congressional proposal called the Freedom to Invest Act of 2011 that seeks to give corporations that shelter profits overseas—including giants like Apple, Microsoft, Google, Adobe, Cisco and many others—a limited-time “tax holiday” that would allow them to return their profits to the United States without paying traditional rates of taxes.

“Apple plays huge games with their taxes. By disguising profits in the United States as foreign earnings in low-tax countries, Apple dodges billions of dollars of taxes they should be paying,“ the group stated.

Last month, Apple reported a record March-quarter growth rate of 83 percent with a 95 percent profit growth and record iPhone sale growth of 113 percent. The company’s second-quarter revenue was a record-setting $24.6 billion.

“When this ‘Win America’ tax cheat coalition wins, we all lose as Americans,” US Uncut San Francisco organizer Ana Corrie stated in the group’s press release. “We are all disappointed to see a great company like Apple participate in such a deceitful campaign that violates their commitment to operate in a socially responsible manner.”

Other companies, such as Bank of America, Pfizer, Duke Energy, General Electric and big oil companies all use this technique of disguising profits as earnings in low-tax countries to lower their tax liability, and on a far lager scale, but US Uncut is targeting Apple due to the company’s popularity. The group hopes to draw attention to the problem of tax dodging by focusing on a brand universally recognized by working Americans.

“I love my iPhone, but I hate tax cheats,” said US Uncut spokesperson Carl Gibson, “The only winners in the WAC effort are the same corporate executives who continue to steal $1 trillion out of our nation’s coffers every decade. We all pay our fair share of taxes, and Apple should too.”

Thus far, the group has put together an “Action Scenario” detailing a typical scenario for how a flash mob might occupy an Apple store. Such an event entails unveiling signs, banners, chanting and distributing leaflets to customers. But it also can involve the more creative approaches of dressing like Apple employees and participating in dance parties.

“It’s outrageous for a company that got $4 billion in tax credits last year to only pay 85 percent less than they should in taxes while the public services we all depend on get the axe,” said US Uncut San Francisco organizer Joanne Gifford. “Should we really be giving away tax loopholes to the folks who sell iPads at the same time we cut Grandma off Medicare? It’s shameful.”

“We already got duped once by this hoax of repatriating profits with the ‘American Jobs Creation Act of 2004’ under Bush,” said US Uncut spokesperson Ryan Clayton, “It did not create jobs and only opened the door for tax haven abusers to continue to cheat the system. As the saying goes: ‘Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.’ ”

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Recalling Rick: Group Attempts to Fire Michigan's Governor

Over the weekend, several thousand people demonstrated at Michigan’s Capitol to protest against Governor Rick Snyder’s budget cuts in state funding for public schools. The state has already reduced per-pupil funding by $170, but Snyder has proposed an additional cut of $300 for the fiscal year, which would start on the first of October. 

The governor and leaders of the GOP-controlled legislature struck a deal to restore $100 to $200 per student, the amount depending on whether schools districts adopted “best practices,” according to officials.

Some in attendance at Saturday’s protest called for Snyder to be removed from office. It would take about 807,000 signatures, or 25 percent of the gubernatorial votes from the 2010 election, to recall Snyder.

In a written statement on their website, firericksnyder.org, the sell-described nonpartisan PAC states the recall effort was launched in opposition to what they perceive as a “direct threat to the democratic values held by the people of Michigan.”

Specifically, the group takes issue with the signing and passage of the Emergency Financial Manager bill, which gives the governor “sweeping control of towns, cities and school districts by allowing him to appoint individuals as well as corporate entities to key positions overseeing those establishments, empowering them to nullify all existing contracts while renegotiating their own.”

One of the central organizers of the event was the Michigan Education Association (MEA). Iris Salters, president of MEA, expressed frustration with Snyder’s policies.

“We’re here to let people in our communities know that the very people who were on this lawn are the people that are responsible for the services that they get every day,” Salters said “If we don’t take care of those who are providing for us our public services, then our quality of life won’t be worth squat.”

Also in attendance were the Michigan AFL-CIO and some UAW members who joined the protest in solidarity.

UAW members Deborah Davis and Mack Beale came to the rally from Detroit. Davis is a retired union member and fears her pension could be at risk. Beale said he couldn't tolerate cuts to education.

"It affects my grandchildren, my nieces and my nephews," he said.

"Stop saying you're for education, and then cutting money for education," Beale said.

Hundreds of protesters also gathered outside the House and Senate chambers on the second floor of Texas’s state Capitol this weekend to protest $4 billion proposed education cuts.

Chants from the crowd were audible inside the chambers as lawmakers held Saturday working sessions in their hectic winddown toward the Legislature's May 30 adjournment. 

A group of about 75 to 100 protesters assembled just outside the front door of the House chamber, chanting: "We're watching. We vote." Many of the demonstrators wore white T-shirts emblazoned with "The Eyes of Texas are Upon You—Vote No to Education cuts."

Protesters remain angry with lawmakers despite legislative leaders’ claim that they’ve softened the blow by reducing the cuts from an initial proposal of $10 billion.

"I got up at 5 this morning to come down here because the state of Texas is about to destroy its public school system," said Christine Fougerousse of Fort Worth, a senior English teacher at Arlington High School. "I hope that the current budget doesn't pass. If that means we need to go to a special session, let's do it."

… 

Harriet Irby, 68, of Pantego, a retired teacher, said she fears that the cuts will worsen problems that already plague the state's education system.

"It's in bad shape now, and when they cut it deeply, it can only get worse," she said. "We can't have a functioning democracy without a public school system that works." 

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California Protesters Refuse to Become 'Wisconsin of the West'

Budget protests continued in California this week as hundreds of San Jose city workers gathered at City Hall plaza Tuesday night to dispute the city budget that aims to cut staff, salaries, and benefits.

Waving signs and chanting, "They say cut back, we say fight back!" the protesters rallied, then marched from the plaza to the council chamber, where Mayor Chuck Reed and the council had scheduled an evening meeting to discuss the 2011-12 budget.

 The 300 or so protesters—mostly city employees and union members, some faith leaders and community members—are fighting proposed budget cuts that will slash neighborhood services, reduce library and community center hours, cut funding for youth programs including gang prevention, and lay off police and firefighters.

 The city faces a general fund shortfall of $115 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1. When that gap is closed, the general fund budget will total $819 million.

Under the proposed cuts, nearly 200 police and 64 firefighter positions would be eliminated, library services and hours would be reduced to three days per week, ten hub community centers would have their hours reduced, and park ranger jobs would be slashed by more than half.

"San Jose will not become the Wisconsin of the West—we will not let that happen," Lee Saunders, [secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO], told the crowd gathered outside City Hall early Tuesday evening.

Pensions have long been a loathed target of austerity hawks who view the system as wasteful even though a conducted city audit indicates that 40 percent of city retirees, as well as survivors and other beneficiaries, have annual pensions earnings of less than $24,000 a year.

In Sacramento, hundreds of police officers and staff members also protested Tuesday night before a city council budget hearing to oppose $12 million in cuts. On the chopping block are 167 police department positions, including 80 police officers.

Those opposing the police cuts pleaded for observers to consider the consequences of firing law enforcement employees. For example, longer waits when you call 911.

"Every second counts, especially when you have a loved one who's suffering a heart attack, a mother finding her child floating in a pool. Minutes count," supervisory dispatcher with Sacramento Police Department Paul Troxel said.

 Troxel said his job is on the line.  "With the budget cuts, my rank (as) supervising dispatcher would be eliminated," Troxel said.

Here in New York City, we saw the consequences of these kinds of budget cuts during a particularly bad blizzard in early January. Mayor Bloomberg’s decision to fire 400 sanitation workers meant that there were less workers to clear the streets, which resulted in Emergency Medical Service workers having a hard time reaching distressed citizens.

The city had a backlog of around 1,300 critical calls—not calls for minor occurrences, but critical, life and death stuff. Over a thousand of those went unanswered.

With resources in short supply, the EMS was forced to limit CPR time to 20 minutes. Desperate and unable to wait for the limited EMS response team to come and save them, residents of Forest Hills dragged people from a fiery building and transported them to a nearby hospital on sleds.

That’s the reality of a world quick to cut services at the bottom instead of moderately raise taxes at the top, which is why California residents are trying to stop that dystopian vision before officials unleash it. 

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Massive Wall Street Protest Draws Over 20,000

More than 20,000 protesters descended upon Wall Street Thursday to demand an end to Mayor Bloomberg’s draconian education cuts and his soft touch approach to billion-dollar companies.

The May 12 event began as a series of splinter cell protests in the radius surrounding Wall Street that ultimately converged on the financial district.

Those in attendance included Reverend Al Sharpton, the United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, and various members of the City Council. 

At the education protest, teachers came out in droves to protest Bloomberg’s recent decision to lay off thousands of teachers. Additionally, educators were demanding Bloomberg ask his rich friends on Wall Street to sacrifice along with everyone else.

David Pecoraro, a math teacher at Beach Channel High School and a parent to a high school freshman, attended the protest to represent the interests of his students and his son.

“All are going to be denied the right to a quality education because of these politically motivated, unnecessary cuts,” said Pecoraro, adding that it’s not just a matter of denying educations to youth, but the education cuts are dangerous in some cases, too. Some of his son’s classes use heavy machinery, and the cuts mean there’s less faculty to supervise the students. “[Bloomberg] is playing with the kids’ lives,” he said.

On top of the thousands of teachers Bloomberg plans to lay off, the mayor hasn’t replaced the 5,000 educators who were also fired in the last five years.

Pecoraro doesn’t see the layoffs as part of a fair compromise plan in which all citizens are asked to share sacrifice. “I haven’t seen any of [Bloomberg’s] billionaire friends lose anything,” he said. “There’s no millionaire’s tax on the city level. The Bush tax cuts got extended, so these guys are still partying hardy. The party’s got to end. I’m tired of people trying to take my kid’s education away.”

Protesters consistently referred to the city’s $3.2 billion budget surplus (pdf) as proof that the mayor hasn’t run out of money, but rather he’s simply making bad decisions by catering to the interests of the wealthy elites.

Michelle Hamilton, a teacher at The Albert Einstein School, said that Bloomberg isn’t asking the people responsible for tanking the economy to forfeit anything. “The sacrifices are being asked for from everyday people,” said Hamilton.

Meanwhile, teachers are desperately treading water in their overcrowded, underfunded schools. Hamilton puts her own money into buying books for her students, and in order to pay for trips and basic supplies.

The situation makes for a bleak future. “It’s not fair, but it’s also not wise. You can’t build a country when you’re not educating children properly."

Some attendees view the budget cuts as a first shot in a much larger cultural conflict between the wealthy ruling elites and working class people. Mike Fox, a teacher at a Brooklyn charter school, believes the cuts and layoffs are the start of a class war. “It’s anti-city worker, so I’m here not just as a teacher, but for sanitation workers, policemen, firemen, all of the people who make the city work,” he said.

As for sharing the burden, Fox said he doesn’t see people other than the poor sacrificing, and Bloomberg is playing too nice with the corporations on Wall Street when he should be demanding they contribute fairly to society.

“Corporate sacrifice is an oxymoron,” he said. “I don’t think that’s in their vocabulary. I don’t think that’s in their nature. You know that expression don’t ask the question if you don’t want to hear the answer? Don’t ask them to sacrifice. You tell them what they have to do. We have legislatures. We have political leaders. Lead. Don’t ask. Tell.”

Educator Gloria George called Bloomberg’s decision to lay off thousands of teachers “disgusting,” adding, “I think the mayor should come into our classrooms and see the wonderful jobs our teachers do every single day. The cutbacks mean we’ll have overcrowded classrooms, no more libraries, no more art, no more gym. Where are all of those children going to go?”

When it comes to comparing the sacrifice on Wall Street with the sacrifice paid by schools, George said it’s not even a worthy comparison. “[Wall Street] is talking about their jobs. We’re talking about saving the lives of children.”

Eileen Feliciano Quinn, a schoolteacher, silently struggles for a few moments to think of a response to Bloomberg’s cuts that doesn’t include profanity. “It’s B.S.” she finally remarks. “He has enough money to keep teachers in the schools, and he’s protecting Wall Streeters. Why are they not sacrificing? We saved them, didn’t we? It’s their turn to save us.”

“We can’t get smart boards in our classrooms for the kids because the principal doesn’t have any money,” she added. Smart boards are interactive, computer-driven whiteboards that are used as cutting edge technology in many schools. Many educators view the boards as a good way to keep American students up to pace with other countries that also employ the high-tech tools.

“We don’t have an art teacher because we don’t have the money,” Quinn said, “We don’t have a science teacher because we don’t have the money. The only reason we have a music teacher is because it’s through a grant.”

Arthur Goldstein, the UFT chapter leader at Francis Lewis High School described the overcrowding that already plagues NYC schools and how the cuts will make things exponentially worse. “We have a building designed for 2,100 kids. We have 4,200 kids in it. If Mayor Bloomberg cuts 8 percent of working teachers, we’re going to be even more overcrowded,” he said.

Goldstein teaches in a trailer. In fact, the trailer has been his teaching home for eight years. His school halved every classroom with a divider, so instead of holding 34 students, each room now holds 68 pupils. “The rooms have paper-thin walls. You can hear every sound...It’s unconscionable that Mayor Bloomberg treats any school like this,” said Goldstein.

Bloomberg’s decision to grant $60 million to Geoffrey Canada to build a charter school raises Goldstein’s ire (other donors included Goldman Sachs and Google). Goldstein sees this as wealthy elites and corporations funding charter school ventures while public schools go to waste. “[Bloomberg] treats us like something he wiped off the bottom of his shoe. I don’t know how this man sleeps at night,” he said.

The May 12 protest was overwhelmingly peaceful, with tens of thousands of activists moving throughout the city streets in an orderly fashion. However, a small group of anarchists did cause a ruckus at one point, and the NYPD swiftly put up a pliable fence to contain the cell, though many people who were not part of the bloc, including myself, also got swept up. It was then that a shoving match began between police and protesters. The NYPD used crushing force against the activists, at one point physically shoving protesters backwards by their faces. Ultimately, the police arrested several people.

When my cameraman and I managed to escape the half-hearted kettle, we joined up with the protest again and spoke with UAW member, Gibb Surette, who said the country’s resources are being wasted on military spending and tax giveaways for the rich. “Then we’re being told there’s nothing left in the cupboard for children, poor people, sick people, job development, or just about anything else we need,” he said.

Powerful interests are siphoning the wealth for themselves during a time of financial crisis, he added. “It reminds you of hyenas. When hyenas go out and look for resources, they prey on the very young, they prey on the very old, they prey on the sick and those who can’t defend themselves.”

Larry Goldbetter, another UAW worker, explained why the union joined the march on Wall Street. “This is where the money is. This is where the thieves who stole it are. We’ve come for what’s ours,” he said.

Goldbetter wasn’t impressed by Bloomberg’s call to share the burden. “We’ve sacrificed enough. [Wall Street] is handing out bonus checks. We’ve come for what’s ours. We created all of this wealth.”

Image courtesy of C.S. Muncy

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Sixty-Five Arrested at Kickoff of California Teachers' Protest

California's largest teachers' union started off its “State of Emergency” campaign with a daylong rally at the Capitol that included about 1,000 teachers, parents, school supporters and religious leaders. Attendees urged lawmakers to pass a tax extension to avoid further education cuts.

Though the protest was overwhelmingly peaceful, law enforcement officials arrested about 65 protesters after warning them to leave the Capitol rotunda after the building closed at 6 p.m. The activists were charged with misdemeanor trespassing.

Those arrested were mostly college-age protesters from the Bay area, but also included about a dozen schoolteachers, including the president of the Oakland Education Association, the union that represents 2,700 teachers in the Oakland Unified School District.

Before their arrest, protesters gathered en masse in the Capitol’s rotunda, chanting slogans like, “Teachers and students united for justice,” and displaying signs urging lawmakers to “Tax the rich.”

"We're not just here to lobby. We're here to raise some hell," Betty Olson-Jones, president of the Oakland Education Association, said as the arrests began.

"Amen! Shame!" said [California Teachers Association] members in light blue T-shirts as CTA President David A. Sanchez and other speakers blasted what they said is corporate greed and politics that have scapegoated public employees, gutted government budgets and put children, the poor and the infirm at risk.

"It's not right that the rich and big businesses don't pay their fair share of taxes," Sanchez said.

Here are Sanchez, educators, and supporters explaining the importance of the “State of Emergency” campaign.

Prison guards in Ohio turned out Monday to protest the possible sale of five Ohio prisons to private companies. Though the state could be looking at a $1 billion surplus due to rising revenue, the sale of the prisons will nonetheless go to the Senate this week.

None of the companies are from Ohio, so any profits would be going out of state, said James Adkins, who works at the Ohio Reformatory for Women and serves as a representative of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association (OCSCA).

 The state will be losing valuable workers if Grafton Correctional and other prisons are sold and guards move to other professions because they can’t work at the wages offered at the private prisons, according to union members.

 Dan Sablack, chief steward at Lorain Correctional Institution, which is also in Grafton, said there’s a chance that Grafton Correctional’s officer of the year, 57-year-old former minister David Partlow, might be among those out of a job because he only has four years of seniority.

 "It’s a shame we have to lose that kind of expertise to go to a private facility if we have a budget surplus that will allow us to keep the prisons state owned,” Sablack said. 

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California Teachers Protest Cuts, Gov. Snyder Heckled at Parade

Teachers in California today are launching the weeklong “State of Emergency” movement in order to pressure lawmakers into suspending any further education cuts.

The events, which are being organized by the California Teachers Association, will take place all across the state, culminating with large rallies in the major cities, including San Francisco, on Friday. The group has planned a variety of different styles of activism, including sit-ins at the State Capitol.

Unlike spontaneous displays of budgetary frustration in other states, California organizers planned in advance for the protest by running television and radio spots, according to David Sanchez, president of the California Teachers Association.

"It's based on the frustration and concern of California teachers and educators and other classified folks... of how difficult things are getting in the classroom and schoolhouse," Sanchez said, describing the sentiment as "enough is enough."

In the last three years, California school funding has been cut by $20 billion.

Gov. Brown’s budget proposals calls for reducing education spending by $7.3 billion, and the governor has said that public schools could face at least $4 billion more in cuts. Additionally, 30,000 teachers have been laid off statewide in the past few years, according to the teachers union.

The cuts would mean larger class sizes and a shorter school year in a state that already has one of the shortest school years in the country.

In Michigan, protesters greeted Gov. Rick Snyder during Benton Harbor’s annual parade. The governor has become the center of much controversy lately due to his statewide budget that includes deep cuts in education, while providing billions in tax breaks for businesses, and his proto-fascist use of appointed “emergency manages” to reject, modify, or terminate the terms of any existing contracts or collective bargaining agreements and dissolve local governing bodies of schools and cities.  

Activists chanted “Recall Rick” as the governor passed.

Some of the protesters, who were led by the AFL-CIA, came from as far away as Kentucky.

"People are waking up," said Betsy Coffia, who traveled from Traverse City, Mich. to protest the parade. "Michigan didn't have a Wisconsin, things just sneaked in behind us. We're starting to realize that unless we the people start getting engaged, and make our voices heard, we're going to lose what we thought we had."

Michigan Rep. Al Pscholka was also scheduled to appear in the parade, but declined to participate after he heard about the scheduled protest.

Pscholka said he was “deeply disappointed and angered” about the news of the protests, and while the protesters have a right to exercise their First Amendment liberties at the parade, “that doesn’t make it appropriate.”

There may be some sore feelings on the part of Pscholka due to the fact that his own constituents are trying to force him out of office via recall for a variety of offenses, including his role as the author of the Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) legislation.

Conveniently, the new EFM rules could abet Pscholka’s finances.

In addition to being the state Representative from the area that includes Benton Harbor, Pscholka is a former aide to Congressman Fred Upton, a man who has deep ties into shoreline development efforts all along Lake Michigan including in Benton Harbor…

Pscholka himself was the president of the Board of Directors of the Cornerstone Alliance in 2008, the group that developed the Harbor Shores golf course and luxury residential development that snagged some of Benton Harbor's public park for its own use. This is a fact he conveniently left off his campaign site's About page when he ran for Congressman.

The first use of the new EFM law to take over a city's government was right in Benton Harbor, the area that Rep. Pscholka represents and where he has deep financial interests. And the first thing Harris did after dismissing the City Council was to rejigger the Planning Commission and Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, the two groups who make crucial decisions regarding shoreline development in Benton Harbor. Harris replaced some of their members with new members selected by him.


With that blatant conflict of interest in mind, it’s no surprise residents of Benton Harbor want to recall Pscholka. Here is a representative using, and in some cases changing, the laws to benefit his financial self-interest. 

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NY Teachers Vow 'Wisconsin-Style' Protest

New York teachers are vowing to protest in the wake of Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to layoff thousands of educators. 

"Mr. Mayor, it’s not going to happen, and enough is enough!" shouted Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, as he whipped up a roaring crowd at the UFT’s spring conference in midtown New York.

 A ballroom-full of educators rose to their feet, clapping and chanting, "Enough is Enough."

A surprise guest, Wisconsin State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, the man who led 13 fellow lawmakers out-of-state in order to block Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union legislation, received a standing ovation from the crowd.

The UFT, along with many other unions, plan to draw tens of thousands of supports for the May 12 march from City Hall and other sites to Wall Street to oppose Bloomberg’s cuts and demand the big banks start paying their fair share.

In Pottstown, Pennsylvania, a crowd of more than 100 parents, students, and teachers filled the middle school auditorium to protest budget cuts aimed at music, arts, the library, and physical education.

Speaker after speaker championed the academic, social and developmental benefits of the arts, including Sally House, a longtime music teacher in the district whose retirement was approved by the board the same night.

"Pottstown has a longstanding tradition of excellence in its music program," said House, who is currently the chairwoman of the music department. "to expect the music department will be able to serve all of our students with the equivalent of possibly three fewer teachers is absolutely ludicrous," she said.

"It would be like taking a tree and cutting off its roots and expecting it to grow," House added. "Don't give them less than they have now. So many of them already have less."

But perhaps the most moving testimonials came from the students themselves.

Rachel Levengood, a sixth-grade honor student, told the board that "soldiers are fighting for our freedom overseas, and it's a shame we have to fight for our education here in a free land."

Teachers in California are planning a week of action May 9 through 13 to oppose their state’s budget cuts.

Sacramento city leaders got an earful from city workers and educators alike when they announced plans for $39 million in cuts, which could put 366 jobs on the chopping block.

Meanwhile, many GOP leaders appear to recognize they’ve gone too far in supporting some of the Republican Party’s more extreme plans for austerity.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) both indicated they’re looking for alternative to Rep. Paul Ryan’s extremely controversial budget plan to cut and privatize Medicare.

Even the House Speaker distanced himself from Ryan when Boehner called the Congressman’s budget plan just an “idea,” adding he wasn’t “wedded” to a single budget framework.

Clearly, the GOP is paying attention to these anti-austerity protests and the polls, which strongly indicate voters want to maintain their social services, and especially Medicare. 

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March on Wall Street to Oppose Bloomberg's Mass Teacher Firings

Mayor Bloomberg announced Friday that he intends to eliminate 4,100 teaching jobs through layoffs and another 2,000 through attrition.

In response, a broad coalition of students, unions and activist groups have planned a May 12 march on Wall Street to demand the big banks and millionaires start paying their fair share during these times of economic crisis.

“There is no revenue crisis; there is an inequality crisis,” On May 12’s organizers said in a written statement. “The Big Banks that crashed our economy, destroyed jobs, caused millions to lose their homes, and bankrupted city and state budgets, are reaping record profits—and yet they are refusing to pay their fair share of what it will take to rebuild our economy. From Wisconsin to Wall Street people are fighting back!

The event website features videos from participants who explain why they'll be taking part in the march.

Organizers are planning for thousands of working people, students, seniors, people on public assistance, and community activists to descend upon Wall Street this Thursday. Participants include SEIU workers, the United Federation of Teachers, the Communication Workers of America, ACT UP, Code Pink, Greater NYC for Change, Urban Youth Collaborative, the Working Families Party, and many more. (A full list of the parties involved can be found at the event’s official website).

The city’s billionaire mayor attempted to soothe constituents’ nerves when he announced the mass firings. “I understand the frustration that parents and teachers feel; I feel it too,” he said.

His statement didn’t impress students, parents, and teachers from Francis Lewis High School, who joined forces with some local politicians to protest the potential layoffs. Protesters held signs that read, “You say cut back, we say fight back!” and “Remove snow, not teachers!”

Bloomberg is also taking heat for his proposal to close 20 fire engine companies and slash library funds by 29 percent, a move that critics claim will force branches to open only three days a week.

The mayor did manage to find funds for 4,400 of the 16,000 child-care slots for low-income children that were scheduled to be cut, though opponents dismissed the administration’s boasting as a “shell game” because the funding is still a $50 million drop in funding compared to last year. Additionally, the administration refused to consider tax increases on the wealthy to raise funds.

Bloomberg has consistently placed the blame for the cuts on Albany which slashed funding for the city. In turn, Governor Cuomo says austerity is necessary to balance the state’s books.

The Democratic governor’s time in office has been highly contentious. Just three months into his term, hundreds of citizens turned out to protest his budget cuts.

"Andrew Cuomo's budget is straight out of Reagan's playbook," said Richard Kirsch, a senior fellow at the Roosevelt Institute think tank. "It's tax cuts for the rich at the expense of everyone else."

It was Cuomo who implemented historic cuts ($1.5 billion) to school aid and healthcare for the poor ($2.4 billion) without increasing taxes and blocked the Assembly Democrats’ effort to continue an income tax surcharge on New Yorkers making over $200,000 a year. Then he blocked a compromise that would have increased the tax only on those making $1 million a year.

Whether the weight of blame falls on Bloomberg or Cuomo (or both), the state’s leaders continue their tradition of asking the poor to sacrifice while refusing to ask the same of the rich and privileged.  

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Wisconsin-Style Occupation Planned in California

The Wisconsin backlash against Gov. Walker’s union-busting crusade is widely seen as some of the most effective protests against austerity partly because activists occupied the state Capitol and refused to leave. These acts of physical resistance are truly the last refuge of the liberal class, according to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges. In fact, he says liberals have a “moral imperative” to perform them.

[I]f we don’t begin to physically defend the civil society, all resistance will be ceded to very proto-fascist movements such as the Tea Party that celebrate the gun culture, the language of violence, seek scapegoats for their misery.”

In other words, it’s not enough to sign on-line petitions. The only acts that still strike fear in the hearts of the wealthy and powerful are mass acts in which bodies fill rotundas and the halls of power.

Following the Wisconsin tradition of meaningful protest, the California Teachers Association is planning a weeklong “State of Emergency” campaign designed to focus on budget cuts in schools and the need to avoid further reductions to spending.

CTA President David Sanchez told delegates to the state Democratic Party convention last weekend that protesters will stage "daily sit-ins" inside the Capitol.

State of Emergency hopes to convince legislators to pass a state budget with tax extensions estimated to generate some $12 billion for the state and local governments, and also to change the tax structure in order to support stable funding for public education.

In the last three years, California school funding has been cut by $20 billion.

Long-time peace activist Cindy Sheehan has also pledged to occupy the Capitol in an attempt to obtain a meeting with Gov. Jerry Brown, though Sheehan’s goals extend far beyond the education cuts and apply to austerity, in general.

"The savage austerity measures proposed by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown are an attack on the vulnerable people of this state, and no amount of partisan politicking can hide that fact," she said.

Sheehan has already braced herself for the possibility of arrest.

"I'm willing to be arrested, if that's what it's going to take," she said. "I want to go through the proper channels to request a meeting with Gov. Brown in the establishment way, but I'm willing to also try in a non-establishment way."

In Ohio, protesters continue to resist Gov. Kasich’s union assault. While thousands gathered outside the Statehouse yesterday to demand job creation, a separate protest was held to oppose Senate Bill 5, a Republican measure signed by Kasich that limits collective bargaining for public employees.

Thousands of citizens have descended on the Statehouse in the past few months to protest Senate Bill 5, a reality that inspired this very strange response from the governor: “If they’re out here protesting, it makes for good news I guess,” he said.

During another Ohio protest yesterday in Bexley, Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman joined officials from several city suburbs to decry legislators’ plans to repeal the Ohio estate tax.

Only 7.5 percent of Ohioans are wealthy enough to pay the tax, so Coleman views the repeal as a giveaway to the rich.

"They're cutting taxes for the rich, while at the same time, they're cutting services to ordinary people," Coleman said. "Residents should be outraged over this immoral act."

Columbus collects about $9 million per year in taxes from the estates of residents, a small portion of the city's $705 million general-fund budget.

Bexley collects an average of $1.7 million per year, about the cost for all of its fire protection or half the cost of running the police department, said Councilman Ben Kessler.

"This is a gigantic impact on the city of Bexley's income," he said. 

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Obama Administration Plans Corporate Tax Cut in Year of Record Profits

As nationwide budget protests continue this week, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is prepared to unveil the Obama administration’s plan to lower the top corporate tax rate from the current 35 percent to less than 30 percent, and as low as 26 percent.

In order to pay for the cuts, the proposal calls for closing loopholes and slashing exemptions. Politico reports that Geithner has already begun meeting privately with CEOs, academics, labor unions, and liberal and conservative think tanks, and his aides say he is “encouraged by the response.”

Part of that optimism stems from the fact that Democrats and Republicans are both allies of the business world.

One top business lobbyist, speaking on condition of anonymity, said corporate tax reform should be “the easiest piece” of a complex fiscal bargain “because you have people in both parties in the business community.”

Meanwhile, the number of people who filed new applications for jobless benefits leaped 43,000 last week to 474,000, the highest level in almost nine months.

The surge in unemployment comes at a time when US corporations are more profitable than ever. The end of 2010 saw some of the biggest gains in the business world, according to data from the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis. Corporations reported an annualized profit of $1.68 trillion in the fourth quarter, up from the previous record of $1.65 trillion in the third quarter of 2006.

In the first quarter of 2011, Exxon-Mobil, the world’s biggest and most profitable corporation, raked in $10.7 billion. That’s a 69 percent increase over the same quarter last year, and the highest quarterly profit since 2008. This is happening during a time when citizens are searching underneath the couch cushions to scrape together enough change in order to fill their gas tanks so they can go file for unemployment benefits.

Exxon also happens to be one of US Uncut’s top targets. The oil giant uses offshore subsidiaries in the Caribbean to avoid paying taxes in the United States. The company paid zero US income tax in 2009, while enjoying billions in taxpayer-funded subsidies and its CEO’s total compensation reached over $29 million.

Now, in addition to raking in record profits by sheltering revenue in foreign tax havens, Exxon and its Fortune 500 comrades, rest on the brink of enjoying more sweeteners in the form of tax breaks.

Of course, tax havens are only one part of a rigged system that allows corporations to make bank during economic recession. There are also the practices of government subsidies, (read: taxpayer subsidies) outsourcing jobs, and buying off politicians that allow top corporations and their CEOs to flourish while one in four American children survives on food stamps.

While I was watching CNN this morning, a talking head made the comment that the corporations were forced to “go lean” during the recession, but now that the economy is recovering, they refuse to hire simply because they like being lean! Why wouldn’t they? Corporate America is enjoying record profits, so there are no incentives to hire an expensive American worker (with their pesky unions’ minimum wage demands, rational work schedule, and health benefits) when they can outsource the same job for cheap labor overseas.

Another alternative is to just bust unions and treat workers like they’re employed in the third world, a path chosen by Wal-mart, which secured a spot at the top of the Fortune 500 list released today.

Then there’s the problem of corporate lobbying and bribery. Corporate America dominated Washington’s lobbying spending in the first quarter of 2011, according to a report from the Center for Responsive Politics. The US Chamber of Commerce spent just over $17 million in the three-month period. Next was General Electric (the “King of Tax Dodgers”) with just over $9 million, and AT&T with spending just over $6.8 million.

Corporations learn to grease the wheels early, which is why their financial support of political candidates is so bipartisan. Before the presidential election, John McCain received three times more money from the oil industry than President Obama. However, Obama received more in campaign cash than McCain from the employees of some of the biggest oil companies: Exxon, Chevron, and BP, three companies that routinely grace the top echelons of the Fortune 500 list.

It’s no wonder that the big companies with the most money buy the most access and win the most favorable pieces of legislation.

The Obama administration is considering these corporate tax cuts during a time when almost every state is experiencing some kind of budget cut protest. Teachers, police, fire-fighters, unions, students, and their supporters have occupied state Capitols and campuses to demand a one-tier America where everyone (citizens and corporations, alike) sacrifice during times of fiscal crisis. 

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