Sunday, March 13, 2016

Pfizer's Irish Tax Dodge & 21st Century Conservative Ethics

Trump supporter grappling with a protester in VA (AP)
The headline-grabbing violence erupting between rival protesters at recent Donald Trump rallies serves as a harsh reminder that the current state of divisive American politics, much like the one-hour "Spring Forward" earlier this morning marking daylight savings time, is an extremely sharp double-edged sword that cuts in different ways.

For those like me who are definitely not "morning people", there's an immediate lingering sense of unfairness from having a precious 60 minutes of sleep snatched away.

But on the other hand there's that revitalizing feeling that comes from the increased light stretching into the early evenings, heralding summer's approach.

While the temperatures hovered in the low 60's today, the gray overcast skies over Hamilton, New Jersey and lack of sunlight or breeze combined to create a sense of stillness that reflects the mild sense of disorientation I felt waking up into the one-hour shift forward into daylight savings time.

It's not unlike the sense of disorientation that 21st century conservative ethics, ideology and politics have cast over the American landscape.

For example, a February 25th press release issued by the organization Americans For Tax Fairness detailed the efforts of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer (maker of drugs like Viagra, Celebrex and Lipitor) to exploit gaping loopholes in the U.S. Tax Code by merging with a small pharmaceutical company based in Ireland called Allergan in a sketchy effort to avoid a staggering $35 billion in U.S. taxes by shifting it's base across the Atlantic to Ireland.

Please note that Americans For Tax Fairness is NOT to be confused with conservative anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist's Americans For Tax Reform; the organization that created the notorious and fiscally irresponsible "No New Taxes" pledge that has been signed by hundreds of Republican politicians across the country.

Pfizer's move, a practice known as corporate inversion that enables American companies like Apple to avoid paying billions in U.S. taxes, would shift it's taxable base to Ireland even though the global pharmaceutical giant would still be headquartered in New York.

As the executive director of Americans For Tax Fairness Frank Clemente observed in the AFTF press release:

"By dodging taxes while increasing prescription drug prices, Pfizer squeezes American families and communities from two sides at once. In the company's biggest insult to America yet, Pfizer's merger would allow it to go on enjoying all the benefits of being based here - everything from a publicly-educated workforce, to an excellent communications infrastructure, to a reliable patent system - without adequately paying to support them."

Pfizer certainly isn't the only U.S. company trying to use the avoidance of paying their fair share of taxes as a strategic move to increase profits.

But it's a reflection of the power lobbyists have to spend millions to influence the politicians who create these kinds of obscure tax loopholes for large corporations - the same politicians who view unemployment insurance, nutrition assistance programs, housing subsidies and even job training programs as "government waste".

Well over a 100,000 people have signed an online petition (you can too!) that will be delivered to the White House encouraging the President and Treasury Department to deny a massive pharmaceutical manufacturer like Pfizer the right to skip out on paying $35 billion in taxes by simply changing their address.

Tap water flows from tainted pipes in Flint, Michigan
Corporate tax inversion is just one troubling aspect of a Republican philosophy of further widening the wealth gap in this nation by shifting even more of the tax burden onto the middle-class and the working poor through the pursuit of destructive policies that place profits for corporations, big institutional investors, and wealthy individual investors over the collective interests of the nation and the average American.

The suppression of wage increases for average workers, or the reluctance of Republicans in Congress to authorize emergency funds for critical infrastructure repairs to the water system in Flint, Michigan are just two examples.

You can also see that divisive philosophy reflected in Republican efforts to manipulate energy policy in favor of fossil fuel producers by trying to suppress the ability of individual American home owners to have the right to choose to use solar power to save on energy costs.

Tim Dickinson's February 11th Rolling Stone article "The Dirty War On Solar Power"  chronicles the coordinated nation-wide effort of Republican lawmakers, extremist billionaire Republican rainmakers like the Koch brothers and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) - the activist conservative policy-making think tank they finance- to pressure state lawmakers in states like Nevada and Florida to re-write laws that impose steep rate hikes and unjustified fees on home owners who want to choose renewable energy sources like solar power.

Anti-solar Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott
Dickinson's article offers a glimpse into the power that investor-owned utilities wield over state politics and the Republican lawmakers who willingly write legislation (often drafted by ALEC) that puts up barriers to rooftop solar.

The very same politicians who rail about the excessive intrusion of state and federal government into commerce and private industry use government legislation on behalf of fossil fuel providers to stop average Americans from putting solar panels on their own roofs to draw power from the sun .

As Dickinson observes, Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott (pictured above) has personally accepted over $1 million of the $18 million in campaign contributions that the state's biggest power utilities have donated to state politicians in Florida since 2004.

Ironic that the biggest political donors in the Sunshine State are anti-solar power utilities that reap profits from the burning of fossil fuels.

There's something deeply troubling and distinctly un-American about Donald Trump encouraging riled-up supporters at his rallies to engage in outright thuggery against people protesting the hatred and bigotry he peddles; and his offering to pay the legal fees of those arrested for assault.

Just as the policies and ideology advocated by the 21st century Republican party are less about the common interests and "general welfare"of the American people than the enrichment of the privileged few.

A point that seems to elude the disenfranchised masses packing into arenas to listen to yet another billionaire who exploits their anger and frustration by telling them what's wrong with the country to obscure the fact that the Republican party and the unrestricted flow of Dark Money into the political system are the architects of the very circumstances that fuel their rage against those who actually have nothing to do with it.

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