In today’s On the News segment: The super rich have skipped out on paying $100 billion dollars in estate taxes since 2000; Americans are working harder than ever, but most people won't be seeing a larger paycheck; as renewable energy becomes more popular, the oil and gas industry is getting scared; and more.
I'm Jim Javinsky - in for Thom Hartmann – on the news…
You need to know this. The super rich have skipped out on paying $100 billion dollars in estate taxes since 2000. And, that incredible number doesn't even factor in the billions that they saved using loopholes like capital gains, or by stashing their money in tax havens around the world. A new report from Bloomberg News says that special tax loopholes used primarily by the super rich have made the estate tax system “essentially voluntary” for those at the top. Basically, billionaires like Shelly Adelson and the Walton family set up special trust funds, like the Walton-created “grantor-retained annuity trust” or GRAT, in which they stash millions of dollars worth of stock. Once those GRATs expire – typically after two years – the billionaires cash out the stock, keep their original investment, along with a profit, and pass on the balance to their heirs. All the while, avoiding taxes on the whole scheme. By using these completely legal, but highly unethical, tactics, the super wealthy have stashed away $100 billion in a little over a decade. That amount is enough to pay for every child in our nation to go to preschool for ten years, and it could wipe out the entire first round of sequester cuts. One hundred billion could have provided a substantial benefit to our nation, and it's only one of many tax loopholes that the super rich use to get out of paying their fair share. The super rich like to call estate taxes “death taxes,” but trust-fund schemes like this that are actually killing investment in our nation. If billionaires want to do business in our great nation, it's about time that they start contributing to the commons that make it possible.
In screwed news... Americans are working harder than ever, but most people won't be seeing a larger paycheck. According to new data released by the Labor Department, this summer, American workers increased their productivity at the fastest pace since 2009. Higher productivity means that corporations are making bigger profits, but wages aren't keeping up. As if that wasn't bad enough, the very corporations that are benefiting from increased productivity are the ones fighting to keep the minimum wage as low as possible. They are perfectly fine with John Q. Taxpayer picking up the tab for public benefits – like food stamps and Medicaid – that make it possible for low-wage workers to survive. The Right constantly rails against food stamp recipients, calling them lazy and telling them the “get a job,” but the fact is – they already have one. American workers are more productive than they've ever been – but they aren't getting paid what they deserve. Corporations should share some of the benefits of higher productivity, and give American workers one heck of a raise.
In the best of the rest of the news...
As renewable energy becomes more popular, the oil and gas industry is getting scared. So, they've been pressuring lawmakers to end tax credits that help make renewables – like wind energy – more affordable. Thankfully, some of our elected leaders aren't willing to back down to the fossil fuel industry so easily. The Production Tax Credit is an extremely important renewable energy tax credit, which is set to expire at the end of this year. As much as the oil lobby would love to keep their own tax subsidies, and eliminate those for green energy, 24 U.S. Senators are fighting to stop that from happening. The group sent a letter to the Senate Finance Committee, asking them to continue investing in green energy. They wrote, “Clean energy tax incentives are critical to ensuring that American consumers have access to clean, low-cost energy and critical to keeping American businesses and worker competitive in this key growth sector of the global economy.” And, millions of Americans agree – our nation should be helping the wind and solar industries grow, create jobs, and produce even more clean energy – not subsidizing oil companies at the expense of our planet.
According to RadCast.org, elevated radiation levels are being reported in areas where snow is falling, and that may indicate some radioactive fallout. Salisbury, Massachusetts is reporting levels of 52 counts per minute, with spikes of 80, and Robbinsville, New Jersey is averaging 43, with peaks of 72. Lakewood, Colorado is hovering at 70 counts per minute, and spiking at 100, triggering RadCast's alert. Tucson, Arizona is sitting at 50 counts per minute, and spiking at 74, and Portland, Oregon is hovering at 33, with highs of 56. RadCast.org reminds us that their alert level is 100 counts per minute, and they recommend showering and cleaning pets after being outdoors in areas reporting radiation over that level.
And finally... The Pope turned 77 this week, but he didn't want an over-the-top birthday party. Although the Pontiff was given a cake by the children of the Vatican, he chose to celebrate his special day with local homeless people. The Pope's birthday cake was given to him by kids being treated at the Vatican's Pediatric Dispensary of Santa Marta, which treats some of the poorest children in Rome. Then, he invited four homeless men to come to mass, and share a meal with him in Vatican City. One of the four homeless men even brought his dog to the “family-style” breakfast, and the Pope's household staff was invited to join the small celebration. By dining with the sick and the homeless, Pope Francis has once again shocked the world by actually following biblical teachings.
And that’s the way it is today – Wednesday, December 18, 2013. I’m Jim Javinsky - in for Thom Hartmann – on the news.