By Marianne Hill

Women’s Equality Day, August 26, is both a celebration of women’s progress and a reminder that equality remains a goal, not a reality.

On this day in 1920, women gained the right to vote under the 19th Amendment. Today, over 90 years later, the struggle to advance women’s rights is concentrated on the economic front -- with an end to discrimination against women in the labor force a critical, and hotly-debated, objective.

Two proposals now stalled in Congress would improve women’s odds of getting a fair shake at the workplace. They face an uphill battle, but it’s one worth fighting.

Many companies pay their male employees more than even better-qualified women in the same job. The best-known victim of pay discrimination today may be Lilly Ledbetter, but her case is far from unique. Consider the lawsuit against Wal-Mart, the one that the Supreme Court ruled could not proceed as a class action suit. The firm’s records, cited by the plaintiffs, showed that although more than two-thirds of the firm’s hourly employees were female, only 15 percent of store managers were women. “Women were paid less than men of equal seniority in every major job category, even though women on average had higher performance ratings and lower turnover rates than men,” states the Public Justice Center.

The Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act would close many of the loopholes and lax penalties that have made the Equal Pay Act of 1963 ineffective in ensuring pay equity in such cases. Studies show that bias against women begins at hiring and persists at promotion time. According to the American Association of University Women, one year after graduating from college, women earn only 80 percent as much as their male counterparts in the same field, and after 10 years of experience, women earn only 69 percent as much. In other words, the pay elevators for women start lower, are slower and don’t go as high as those for men. And the wage gaps are worse for black and Hispanic women.

A woman working full-time in 2009 earned at the median only 77 percent of what a man earned. Over the course of her lifetime, this translates into $400,000 of lost earnings. At the bottom of the wage scale, poor adults are largely women, and the poverty rate of 15 percent among working age women is 30 percent higher than that for men. The top of the income scale is dominated by men: approximately 80 percent of persons earning $100,000 or more per year are men.

The Fair Pay Act of 2011 would require employers to make public the job-related data that is basic to determining whether or not there has been discrimination. At present, women who believe they have been discriminated against cannot get the data on jobs and pay scales they need without filing a lawsuit. At some firms, they cannot even ask co-workers about their pay.

The other bill, the Paycheck Fairness Act, clarifies that wage differences must be based on job characteristics, not on gender. And, if wage discrimination is proven in court, individuals would be able to receive full compensatory and punitive damages, as is already true in cases of discrimination based on race. It would prohibit retaliation by firms against employees who raise wage parity issues.

Eliminating the wage gap is particularly important in families where the woman is the only job-holder. And, among families with children under 18 years of age, 34 percent of working mothers are the sole earners in their family. Progress towards pay equity, then, is vital to the future of American families, and it depends on the passage of proposals like the Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act.
Hill is an activist who holds a Ph.D. in economics.
Copyright © American Forum 8/11

Monday, August 22, 2011

Proud to Invest in America

By Paul Egerman

I love America, and have proudly invested in America. I have invested by building successful businesses employing thousands of American workers. And I have invested in our country by paying taxes.

But our nation loses $100 billion a year to tax dodging by some of our largest corporations and wealthiest people. That’s a trillion dollar hole in our national treasury over the next decade unless we act now to plug it.

Tax dodging companies are disinvesting in our country – not investing in it.

Many U.S. multinational companies use a gimmick called “transfer pricing” – shifting patents to their offshore subsidiaries, for example – in order to pretend they've earned their profits in a tax haven like the Cayman Islands, Bermuda or Luxembourg, even though their operations there may be little more than a mail box. What they’re really doing is transferring their U.S. profits offshore and transferring their tax responsibilities to the rest of us.

In this global version of a shell game, corporations move their profits to offshore shell company subsidiaries; the U.S. parent company reports to the IRS that they've made almost no profits, or even lost money on their U.S. operations. These companies are passing the buck to other taxpayers and robbing our national treasury of funds we need.

It sickens me that businesses like mine responsibly paid taxes at the rate of 35 percent on millions of dollars in profits while companies like GE would pay zero percent on billions of dollars in profits. Even worse, they had so many tax loopholes and tax subsidies that Uncle Sam actually owed them money. From 2008 to 2010, GE had $7.7 billion in pretax U.S. profits and $4.7 billion in tax refunds, giving it a negative 61.3% tax rate, reports the tax experts at Citizens for Tax Justice.

We need to ask what kind of country we want to have and who is going to pay for it.

I have been fortunate to live the American Dream. I know my success is due to many factors. I know, for example, as a software entrepreneur, that I would have had no business at all without the government assistance I received for my college education, or the government research that led to the Internet.

It’s obscene that computer and internet companies like Google, Microsoft, Apple and Cisco are part of a coalition clamoring for a tax holiday to “repatriate” profits they shifted to tax havens to avoid U.S. taxes.

It’s obscene that so many members of Congress are willing to legislate austerity for American workers, small businesses and retirees while leaving the door open for big corporations to dodge taxes through tax havens.

We all benefit from public services, infrastructure and research paid for by tax dollars – education and public transportation, the Centers for Disease Control and food safety inspections, roads, bridges and waterways, the Small Business Administration and economic development programs, police and courts, and the public safety nets, from unemployment insurance to food stamps, that so many depend on in these hard economic times.

Instead of reducing our debt by cutting vital services, we need to close two big tax deficits - the tax haven deficit and the deficit from the Bush tax cuts for the affluent. Each is worth a trillion dollars over the next decade.

The Stop Tax Havens Abuse Act introduced recently in Congress by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) and Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) would close the loopholes that reward those who disinvest in America and dodge taxes to unfairly boost their corporate treasuries. It should be a no-brainer solution in deficit reduction.

It is simply outrageous that we would ask unemployed and disabled Americans and Medicare and Social Security recipients to sacrifice more while continuing to shower tax savings on millionaires and billionaires who have a larger share of the nation’s income than any time since the 1920’s.

It’s time for Congress to plug the loopholes that allow our largest corporations to avoid billions of dollars in taxes, and it’s time for Congress to ask our wealthiest individuals, including people like me, to also pay our fair share of taxes. After all, American corporations and wealthy individuals should be proud to support our country and invest in its future.

Paul Egerman, a software entrepreneur, is co-founder and former CEO of the medical information technology company eScription.
Copyright © American Forum 8/11

Pam Solo
By Pam Solo and Grant Smith

The reactor disaster in Fukushima is so fresh in our memories that it may seem incomprehensible to think that the history of that tragic (and still unfolding) event in Japan could ever be rewritten and distorted. But history tells us that the nuclear power industry is very adept at revising the facts about every major reactor disaster.

Consider the Three Mile Island (TMI) reactor crisis in the United States. Thanks to years of industry propaganda, many Americans now assume that the panic that followed in the wake of this near-disaster situation derailed the nuclear power industry in the United States, halting its forward momentum in its prime. (Just watch: If the industry falters after Fukushima, it will once again pin the blame on “unreasoning panic” by the public.)

Panic was not the issue after the Three Mile Island. In reality, the U.S. nuclear power industry was already dead in the water by the time of the TMI accident. The culprit was not unreasoning panic on the part of the public. What killed nuclear power more than a quarter of a century ago was cold, hard economics: Nuclear power was just too expensive to build.

Remember the promises made about nuclear power?

First it was “atoms for peace.” But we now know that our nuclear arsenal was the priority. Then it was “too cheap to meter.” But the truth is that nuclear power has been a financial fiasco, declared by Forbes in 1980 as the worst financial disaster in business history.

Little has changed since then, including the nuclear power industry’s enormous lobbying influence and public relations clout. While Wall Street continues to take a pass on financing risky reactors, President Obama and bipartisan Congressional supporters continue to cheerlead the so-called “nuclear renaissance” even as the worst industrial disaster in history continues to play out in Japan. The possibility of an accident, we were told, was next to impossible. But we’ve had three major incidents in 30 years and numerous near misses.

Now “clean” is the mantra in support of nuclear power for politicians and environmentalists alike who think only of reducing CO2. Is nuclear power a clean energy source? Not so much. The evidence paints quite a different story: routine, low-level, radioactive emissions, tritium leaks into water supplies, thousands of tons of fish each year annihilated at water intakes, thermal pollution of lakes and streams, tens of thousands of tons of extremely toxic high-level nuclear waste generated with thousands more to come.

The industry began trumpeting the “nuclear renaissance” in 2003. Yet, not one nuclear unit has been built in the United States. The average price for one reactor increased from an estimated $3 billion in 2002 to $10 billion in 2010 – not including the inevitable cost overruns that have plagued nuclear power construction since the beginning.

In 2009 Citigroup Global Markets wrote: “Three of the risks faced by (nuclear plant) developers – construction, power price and operational – are so large and variable that individually they could bring even the largest utility to its knees.” This analysis is playing itself out now.

In Florida, Progress Energy announced in 2006 that a reactor would cost $6 billion in 2006. By 2010 it was estimated to be over $22 billion.

The price of the French nuclear power plant project in Olkiluoto, Finland has doubled and faces a costly four-year delay. Duke Energy has petitioned the North Carolina public utility commission for rate recovery of over $400 million just to design two nuclear plants. Duke, in North Carolina, and AEP, in Indiana, are pushing legislation to further shift design, construction and operational costs of nuclear plants to ratepayers.

In the meantime, the chronic and seemingly intractable problems for nuclear power continue. In December of 2009, Mark Cooper, a nuclear expert, said that 90 percent of the plants applied for at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had been cancelled or faced delays.

We’ve been down this road before … and it is truly the road to financial ruin. Ratepayers were saddled with an estimated $200 to $300 billion in cost overruns from completed nuclear plants from the 1960s through the 1980s; nearly $50 billion for abandoned plants. Due to industry whining during the deregulation craze in the 1990s, claiming that nuclear power couldn’t compete in deregulated markets because of the high cost of nuclear power, ratepayers once again bailed out the nuclear industry to the tune of $40 billion.

So, how does nuclear power essentially defy the financial law of gravity and continue to be touted by indefatigable boosters?

According to the Institute for Southern Studies the industry has spent an estimated $640 million on lobbying. The goal has been and continues to be not to reduce financial risk but to shift it to taxpayers and ratepayers.

What have we learned after 60 years with nuclear power? The bottom line comes down to this: Nuclear power is an extraordinarily expensive and dangerous way to boil water. Don’t take our word for it, just ask the people in Fukushima.
Pam Solo is the president and founder of the nonprofit and nonpartisan Civil Society Institute and facilitator of the Citizens Lead for Energy Action Now. Grant Smith is a senior energy policy analyst to the Civil Society Institute and former executive director of the Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana, where he worked for 29 years.
© American Forum 8/11

Mitchell Szczepanczyk
Steve Macek
By Steve Macek and Mitchell Szczepanczyk

The British tabloid, News of the World, owned by conservative media-mogul Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., has been implicated since 2005 in intercepting voicemails of celebrities and politicians. But recently the newspaper has been swept up in explosive new allegations that its staff also intercepted voicemails of victims of the July 7, 2005, London bombing, of relatives of deceased British soldiers, and of a 13-year-old murdered girl.

Ramifications snowballed. Within a week of the new allegations, Murdoch closed News of the World after 168 years of operation, firing the paper's 200 employees. A class-action lawsuit filed in March against Murdoch about lax oversight was quickly amended to include the new allegations, and News Corp.’s stock lost $10 billion in value in the scandal’s first two weeks. The company's top U.K. executive, Rebekah Brooks, has tendered her resignation, and the scandal derailed an attempt by Murdoch to secure majority control of BSkyB, Britain's largest satellite broadcaster. The scandal has also impacted the head of Scotland Yard, who resigned once ties between News of the World and Scotland Yard became known.

But the Murdoch media empire extends across the world and the scandal may well have repercussions on this side of the Atlantic. News of the World is alleged to have paid a New York police officer to secure voicemails of victims of the 9/11 attacks, and the FBI has apparently opened an investigation. What's more, the editor of Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal who served as the editor at News of the World during the time of voicemail intercepts has also resigned in disgrace.

Clearly, Murdoch must face accountability for crimes committed under his watch, and one way the U.S. government could hold him accountable would be to repeal News Corp's TV broadcast licenses.

By law, American TV stations must be licensed by the FCC, and those licenses carry a requirement of having to serve the "public interest, convenience and necessity.” Theoretically, the FCC has power to take away the license of any broadcaster who fails to live up to this standard (though the FCC has historically never exercised this power without being ordered to do so by courts).

The idea of stripping News Corp of its TV licenses already has gained traction in the wake of the voicemail scandal. Murdoch reacts to license challenges about as well as werewolves do a full moon. When the FCC threatened a single Murdoch TV license in 1997, Murdoch's chief lobbyist threatened then-FCC-chair Reed Hundt, saying that Hundt wouldn't be able to "get a job as a dog catcher" if he pulled even a single Murdoch TV license.

But Murdoch is now in the hot seat and the window for broadcast license renewals (and rejections) begins next year. Moreover, the FCC is already considering pending license challenges affecting a number of stations in Chicago, Milwaukee, Wisc., and Portland, Ore. Some of those stations are Fox affiliates. (Full disclosure: One of the co-authors of this op-ed is a party to one of those challenges.) Given the speed with which News Corp's voicemail hacking scandal has developed, prompt action by the FCC will be required, and we encourage the FCC to use its power to withdraw licenses of broadcasters owned by criminals.
Macek is an associate professor of speech communication at North Central College and Szczepanczyk is an organizer with Chicago Media Action.
Copyright (C) 2011 by the American Forum. 8/11

By Timothy Murray

Every day in America, half a million people sit in local jails awaiting trial. They are there because they can’t afford to make bail. Two of every three of these people are charged with nonviolent offenses and are simply waiting to face their accusers.

Meanwhile, well-publicized and well-off defendants like former International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn can make bail easily, no matter how high, and are released before court action. In effect, they have purchased their freedom until their trial begins.

The cost to local taxpayers to feed and house those who can’t make bail is $9 billion a year. We could save those dollars, ease prison overcrowding and bring more justice to the entire system with some relatively simple reforms.

Nearly 50 years ago, then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy convened the country’s first national conference on this issue, describing the pretrial justice and bail system in America as “unsafe, unfair and ineffective.” Unfortunately, that description remains accurate today. This outdated and dangerous system only benefits the special-interest, for-profit bail bond industry. It favors those who have the money to obtain bail, regardless of how dangerous those people are.

Recently a group of prestigious criminal justice organizations, together with the Office of Justice Programs at the U.S. Department of Justice, convened another national meeting on pretrial justice and bail reform. The 2011 conference examined the nation’s progress toward a fair, safe and accountable system and sought to outline proven solutions.

States like Illinois and Kentucky banned for-profit bail bonds decades ago. Instead, they substituted a system that relies on family and community supervision for those charged with nonviolent offenses. This includes frequent contact with a supervising officer, mandatory assessments for substance abuse, and mental health and drug testing. The reforms also included simple court reminder programs so that nearly everyone –- 92 percent of those awaiting trial in Kentucky -- shows up in court to face their charges.

We need to fix the unjust pretrial system in which dangerous criminals who happen to be wealthy can purchase their freedom while nonviolent offenders must remain behind bars. We must move to a system based on danger to the public, not dollars. Judges must be empowered with the best possible tools to determine who should be held and who can be released with appropriate supervision pending trial.

Our local jails are increasingly overcrowded, at tremendous cost to our already-strapped local governments. Sensible reforms of state and local pretrial justice procedures should focus on safety while containing costs to the taxpayer.465 words
Murray is executive director of the Pretrial Justice Institute which is the nation's only nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring informed pretrial decision making for safe communities through technical assistance, training and advocacy.
Copyright (C) 2011 by the American Forum. 8/11