Nel's New Day

December 16, 2019

Despite Congress, Gun Culture May Change

Last Saturday was the seventh anniversary of the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown (CT) when a 20-year-old killed 20 children between six and seven years old and six adult staff members. People hoped that this tragedy would change the culture of unrestricted gun ownership in the U.S., but the number of mass shootings accelerated with more huge tragedies such as the one on Valentine’s Day in 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland (FL) where a 19-year-old killed 17 people.

In a study of mass shootings since 1966, the DOJ discovered these commonalities among shooters: an experience with childhood trauma, a personal crisis or specific grievance, a “script” or examples that validate their feelings or provide a roadmap, and access to a firearm. The study used the FBI definition of killings of four or more people in a public place excluding the shooter(s).

Mass shootings are more frequent and deadly with 20 percent of the 167 episodes in 53 years occurring in the past five years. Those shootings in the past five years show a dramatic increase of shooters motivated by racism, religious hate, and misogyny. More shooters are motivated by hate than by mental health issues. Nearly 70 percent of shooters were suicidal before or during the shooting with higher numbers for school shooters.

One theory of curbing the number of mass shootings is giving them no attention in the media and connecting people with outside resources. But the study also recommends limiting access to weapons. That’s the one thing that the current Congress refuses to do. Yet almost half the shooters bought weapons legally, and another 13 percent got them from friends and family.

One month ago, two Democratic senators were trying to persuade Republicans that they should strengthen background checks for gun purchases to make them for all people, not just those who buy from licensed dealers. People can buy from individuals and at gun show with no checks. The House had already passed the bill. At the same time of the debate, a student at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita (CA) shot and killed two schoolmates before killing himself.

During the Santa Clarita school shooting, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) objected to “fast-tracking” a background check bill because she might not be able to lend a rifle to her grandson. She saved her GOP colleagues from being forced into a vote that would get them in trouble with either their constituents or the NRA. A year ago, Hyde-Smith told her constituents that voter suppression is a “great idea” to make it harder for liberals to vote. Video here.

The 42 “active shooter” incidents at Pre-K through 12 school grounds between 2000 and 2018 identified by the FBI overlook many shootings that go under the radar. Definitions of school shootings differ. Everytown, an independent, non-profit group studying gun violence, reported at least 99 incidents of gunfire on school grounds in the first 345 days of 2019. These included three suicides and 63 injuries in addition to the FBI “active shootings.” In a database from the Gun Violence Archives defining a shooting by at least one person shooting at another person at a school during regular hours or an extracurricular activity on the property, ABC found 26 shootings since January with half of them on Fridays. Six people were killed and 44 were injured, not including the assailant. The majority of incidents—57.6 percent—were at the end of or during sporting events, specifically basketball and football games. Those events are detailed here.

Overall, over 370 mass shootings occurred in the first 330 days of 2019, an average of eight mass shootings a week, according to the Gun Violence Archive. It defines mass shootings as four or more people, not including the shooter, shot but not necessarily killed.

People minimize school shootings because they are a small fraction of firearm crimes, but these occurrences devastate schools and communities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children exposed to violence can suffer “a wide array of negative health behaviors and outcomes, including alcohol and drug use and suicide.

Families of victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre gained a victory from the Supreme Court that ruled they can sue Remington, the maker of the AR-15 used in the attack. The case proceeds in the Connecticut courts. Although Remington will likely win the case, discovery will require the company to turn over documents that reveal its marketing secrets that may show the company encouraged the shooter to use the weapon for the slaughter. Suing gun manufacturers has been almost impossible since a congressional law passed in 2005.

The Supreme Court is also hearing a case that has been settled by law. When the NRA objected to New York City transportation restrictions, the state changed the law, and the case was settled—until SCOTUS decided to hear it. To “win” the case, plaintiffs need Chief Justice John Roberts who only cared about the fact that plaintiff wouldn’t suffer if a majority declared the case moot. The DOJ, on the side of the NRA, claimed that a declaration of moot would keep the plaintiffs from seeking damages for a past violation of their rights. In the past six years they have not made that request, and their lawyer admitted that this has never before come up in a case. Samuel Alito’s and Neil Gorsuch’s questions favored the plaintiffs, and Brett Kavanaugh joined Clarence Thomas in staying silent. The plaintiffs’ lawyer Paul Clement wants the court to send a message.

The existing background check has a loophole that keeps people from complying. Hundreds of thousands of gun background checks are never completed because those that take longer than 88 days must be stopped and purged from the computer system. The FBI fails to complete over 200,000 checks a year—over 1.1 million background checks in the past five years. Background checks may be delayed because law enforcement agencies fail to provide incident records or other records.

Buyers don’t need to wait for a complete background check. After three business days, the dealer can sell the gun; the killer of nine people in the Charleston (SC) church could buy a gun because the background check wasn’t completed. Of the 276,000 background checks now completed within three business days last year, the buyer couldn’t legally own a gun in at least 3,960 cases. The FBI asked the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to reclaim the weapon.

Because of the 88-day deadline, the FBI concentrate on ones it could quickly complete and largely ignored those taking longer than the three days. Almost three-fourths of checks taking longer more than the initial deadline are never completed. The House has passed a bill to extend the deadline before a sale, but Hyde-Smith blocked it.

A loophole in Florida’s gun laws allowed a Saudi Arabian man to legally buy the gun that he used to kill eight sailors and wound eight others at the Pensacola Naval Air Station. All the 21-year-old foreigner in the U.S. under a nonimmigrant visa needed for the purchase was a hunting license.

Since Dick’s Sporting Goods stopped selling assault-style weapons and all guns to those under the age of 21, its net sales grew 5.6 percent, the best quarterly same-store sales performance in six years, showing the success of exchanging narrowly focused hunting goods in favor of items with broader appeal, including women’s and athletic apparel. Now, the chain removed all guns from 20 percent of its stores.

Despite the GOP resistance to saving lives from guns on the federal level, Sandy Hook is having an influence on the state level. In seven years, 21 state legislatures expanded background check requirements, 17 states pass red flag laws allowing law enforcement to take guns people who can be a danger to themselves or others, and 28 states enacted laws requiring people convicted of domestic abuse to give up their firearms in the past seven years.

On the downside, several states passed laws for easier carrying of concealed firearms, even without a permit, and others allow firearms on school grounds with the belief that it will stop mass shootings. NRA claims 460 pro-gun measures have passed state legislatures. Yet several Democrats winning the most competitive Virginia legislative races promised to pass stricter gun controls after Republicans abdicated their responsibilities after the Virginia Beach mass shooting.

With gun safety laws more of a partisan issue, big donors are coming out against the NRA stranglehold. They spent more than the NRA for campaigns and elections in recent history. In the third straight annual Gallup poll, over 60 percent want stricter laws for the sale of firearms, 64 percent in October.  A Fox poll shows that 67 percent want a van on assault weapons, up from 54 percent after Sandy Hook and including 61 percent of rural white people in the U.S. The NRA popularity is down to 42 percent, below the unfavorable rating of 47 percent.

Shannon Watts, who founded Moms Demand Action the day after the Sandy Hook shooting, said, “Congress is where it ends, not where it begins.” The states have begun.

April 16, 2013

Corporations’ Excessive Tax Breaks

While you faithfully paid your taxes by yesterday, 26 major American corporations that made $205 billion in pretax profits paid nothing in federal corporate income tax between 2008 and 2011. In 2011 corporations paid a 12.1 percent effective tax rate, the lowest in four decades. Corporations want to have the same rights as “persons,” but real persons can’t have the tax advantages of corporations.

Corporations get tax breaks when they…

Break the law: BP’s toxic mess in the Gulf of Mexico or Wells Fargo’s abusive lending practices that cost tens of thousands American families their homes were fully deductible.

Fall on hard times: When corporations lose money, they can use these losses not only to fully offset taxes for that year but also carry those losses into the future for up to seven years.

Face no income threshold: After Superstorm Sandy devastated millions of American families, they picked up the full cost of damage equal to 10 percent of their annual reported income before any tax deduction. Corporations can deduct every cent of their losses. Firms including Verizon and other utilities serving the New York and New Jersey areas saved millions of dollars on their 2012 taxes by deducting the full costs of Sandy damage.

Take advantage of deferral: The five million U.S. citizens working abroad pay U.S. taxes on foreign earnings; U.S. corporations can indefinitely delay paying U.S. taxes on income earned abroad.

Go public: Facebook made a profit of more than $1 billion last year but paid no corporate tax and got a refund of $451 million after its initial public offering. Using the tax deductibility of executive stock options, Facebook will avoid paying $2 billion in future year.

Hire a lobbyist: Big business hires 17,500 registered tax lobbyists (5400 of them past Congressional lawmakers) to keep their taxes low while the rest of the people have almost no one arguing their interests.

Keep a cow: Florida, wealthy developers, lawmakers, and some corporations put cows on their land for a short time and then qualify for agriculture tax breaks. From New Jersey to Colorado, people use everything from sheep to beehives to take advantage of this break.

Choose a nation with low or no taxes: U.S corporations have trillions stashed offshore in countries where they have no employees or offices by registered their patents in a tax haven nation that imposes no taxes on corporate income. Until recently, people just muttered about how outrageous these are without realizing their unbelievably huge holdings. Until now.

A computer leak, complete with two million names and email addresses, shows that the rich shelter up to $32 trillion in cash in the British Virgin Islands. Equivalent to the economies of both the U.S. and Japan, this is half the world’s GDP. Just $3.5 trillion could eliminate the world’s poverty in 20 years. Below is a visual with $100 bills double-stacked as high as a person to show just one trillion dollars. The tiny figure in the lower left-hand corner represents a person. Then imagine $32 of these.

trillion

The leaked records detail offshore holdings of people and companies in more than 170 countries and territories over the past 30 years. Among nearly 4,000 American names is James R. Mellon, a member of the dynasty starting such companies as Gulf Oil and Mellon Bank. Like many other owners of offshore entities, he used third parties’ names as directors and shareholders of his companies that transferred tens of millions of dollars among his bank accounts.

The United States is losing at least $150 billion a year in taxes because of these offshore havens, $90 billion from corporations. A study from the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group found that offshore tax dodging annually costs the Commonwealth $1.6 billion. For example, Pfizer pharmaceutical company, with $73 billion stashed in offshore havens, has not reported any taxable income in the last five years in this country.

Documents identified 30 American clients accused in lawsuits or criminal cases of fraud, money laundering, or other serious financial misconduct. They include ex-Wall Street titans Paul Bilzerian, a corporate raider who was convicted of tax fraud and securities violations in 1989, and Raj Rajaratnam, a billionaire hedge fund manager who was sent to prison in 2011 in one of the biggest insider trading scandals in U.S. history.

In the 1990s, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development tried to get tougher on money laundering, but the effort ebbed in the 2000s. Offshore remains a “zone of impunity” for anyone determined to commit financial crimes, said Jack Blum, a former U.S. Senate investigator who is now a lawyer specializing in money laundering and tax fraud cases.

Another legal corporate tax scam has been highlighted by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston, who wrote that 21 states allow 2,700 specially-selected corporations such as GE and Procter & Gamble to keep leftover taxes that are withheld from workers. The state marks the workers’ taxes as paid, and the workers don’t get back any extra taxes.

Workers don’t know that they are losing billions of dollars to corporations. They think that their taxes are going for public projects.

Johnston wrote about the report  prepared by Good Jobs First, a nonprofit taxpayer watchdog organization:

“Why do state governments do this? Public records show that large companies often pay little or no state income tax in states where they have large operations. Some companies get discounts on property, sales and other taxes. So how to provide even more subsidies without writing a check? Simple. Let corporations keep the state income taxes deducted from their workers’ paychecks for up to 25 years.”

Johnston described some deals that states cut with corporations to divert $5.5 billion from public needs to corporate gain, highlighting Illinois, New Jersey, Ohio, and Kentucky. His latest book, The Fine Print, describes laws that allow the largest corporations to raise prices and reduce services. His two earlier books are Perfectly Legal, about taxes, and Free Lunch, about all the subsidies given to rich people. According to Johnston, 2,600 corporations out of the 6 million corporations in this country own 80 percent of the nation’s business assets.

Keep in mind that conservatives are wrong when they tell you that corporations need these cuts to keep creating jobs. They have consistently either cut jobs or moved them overseas in the past few decades while they benefited from keeping the profits, mostly tax free. Almost two years ago, a Federal Reserve report showed that U.S. corporations are holding more cash on their balance sheets than at any time in nearly a half century because they aren’t investing or hiring workers.

We need these loopholes closed. Tell your Congress representatives and senators!

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