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The G20 must take necessary steps to reform the international taxation system to stop wealthy tax dodgers, beginning at its Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors meeting this weekend (22-23 Feb) in Sydney.
Oxfam says that billions of dollars are lost each year in tax loopholes and avoidance. This gap must be plugged. Much of this money should be spent on services such as health and education in developing countries, helping to lift people out of poverty and reduce their dependence on aid.
Oxfam spokesperson Dr. Helen Szoke, the chief executive of Oxfam Australia, welcomed news that the Australian Government had included international tax reform as a priority issue for its 2014 presidency of the G20.
As a result, this year's G20 will be judged on how it tackles tax avoidance, promotes international tax transparency and ensures that developing countries benefit from the changes, particularly in relation to information sharing. "As the G20 host, Australia has the responsibility of leadership to help restore fairness and integrity to the international tax system," Dr. Szoke said.
"The international tax regime is broken. This is contributing to widening income inequality and the scandal that we see today of the 85 richest people owning the same wealth as half the world's population," she said. "Rich corporations and individuals cannot be allowed to keep squirrelling their profits away in tax havens in order to dodge their tax responsibilities."
"This combination of tax avoidance and low tax rates facilitates the illicit flow of huge amounts of capital from the world's poorest countries. Between 2008 and 2010, sub-Saharan Africa lost on average $63.4 billion dollars this way each year, or more than twice what it received in aid."
G20 finance ministers must make progress towards better-functioning domestic and international tax systems. These systems are vital for both rich countries to strengthen their economies, and developing countries to help them achieve sustainable economic and human development.
"The only way to ensure that developing countries will benefit from these tax reforms is to involve them in the process from Day One," Dr. Szoke said. "That is why, this weekend, we want to see G20 Finance Ministers agree on a process that will allow all developing countries to participate in the OECD-led Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) project."
BEPS seeks to crack down on companies that declare their profits in low-taxing countries and their losses in high-taxing ones, in order to wriggle out of their tax liabilities.
Oxfam also is asking for progress on transparency. "The G20 should require multinational companies to publish a breakdown of their employees, assets, sales, profits and taxes in every country where they operate," she said.
"Reforming the international tax regime and increasing transparency will not only help lift people out of poverty and reduce dependency on aid, but will help the G20 achieve its aims this year for stronger economic growth and employment," Dr. Szoke said.
Oxfam International is a global movement of people who are fighting inequality to end poverty and injustice. We are working across regions in about 70 countries, with thousands of partners, and allies, supporting communities to build better lives for themselves, grow resilience and protect lives and livelihoods also in times of crisis.
Helen Gym's campaign manager has said charter school advocate Jeffrey Yass is "bankrolling a false smear campaign against the only candidate in the race with a real vision to invest in Philly's public schools."
Jeffrey Yass—Pennsylvania's richest man, a registered libertarian, and a charter school advocate—has given over $1 million to a group trying to convince Philadelphians not to vote for progressive mayoral candidate Helen Gym, a former teacher and public school supporter, in Tuesday's Democratic primary.
Gym is one of nine candidates appearing on the Democratic ballot, though based on polling she is considered a top contender alongside two fellow former Philadelphia City Council members—Allan Domb and Cherelle Parker—as well as Jeff Brown, a supermarket chain founder, and Rebecca Rhynhart, Philly's ex-comptroller.
Brendan McPhillips, Gym's campaign manager, said in a statement to The Philadelphia Inquirer earlier this month that the billionaire is "bankrolling a false smear campaign against the only candidate in the race with a real vision to invest in Philly's public schools."
"This is how billionaires keep their own taxes low while killing public education funding."
Gym co-founded the citywide group Parents United for Public Education in 2006 and her campaign website details her plans for Philadelphia schools, pledging that "as mayor, Helen will lead an education-first agenda that recognizes the future of our city relies on the health and well-being of our young people."
\u201cBillionaire Jeff Yass has spent $1 million+ on the Philadelphia mayoral race.\n\nHe was also the fourth biggest political spender on federal races in the 2022 elections.\n\nThis is how billionaires keep their own taxes low while killing public education funding.\u201d— Americans For Tax Fairness (@Americans For Tax Fairness) 1684245702
The Inquirer reported that Yass—who has primarily funded Pennsylvania Republicans but also given money to groups backing Democrats who support expanding charter schools—couldn't be reached for comment, but Coalition for Safety and Equitable Growth treasurer Mo Rushdy said the super PAC's donors believe "our next mayor needs to have a commonsense approach to solving the problems facing Philadelphia" and "Helen Gym is the wrong person to confront these challenges."
It's not that the $1.1 million is a lot of dough—it is for you and me but not so much for Yass. He reportedly has a net worth of $28.5 billion, and is said to have spent at least $18 million on politics ahead of last year's primary, some on the Pennsylvania governor's race but a lot on candidates, both Republican and Democrat, who support what he calls "school choice." (The anti-Gym PAC has other backers including Josh Kopelman, The Inquirer's board chairman, who gave $50,000.) But why is Yass so committed to his vision of an America where mostly nonunionized charter schools or religious schools thrive while what his crowd insists on calling "government schools" wither?
It matters because Yass and his giant wad of cash are just one major point of attack on what's becoming an all-out assault on U.S. public schools in the 2020s—one that combines billionaires like Yass and their free market voodoo economics with the uglier, in-the-trenches culture wars of doctrinaire conservatives convinced that "woke," pink-haired teachers are indoctrinating kids about race or LGBTQ rights.
On Tuesday in Pennsylvania, voters will be making choices about the future of public schools not just in Philadelphia—where several buildings are closed due to asbestos, amid a broader crisis of disrepair—but in school board elections in smaller communities like Kutztown, torn asunder by campaigns to ban books from Gender Queer to Two Degrees, or Central Bucks, riven by months of conflict over issues such as LGBTQ-friendly books or stickers. It's part of a national climate in which school board meetings resemble hockey games, while teachers are increasingly demoralized.
American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten shared Bunch's column on social media and joined unionized Philly educators and Gym for a Monday night campaign event.
"It’s been a decadeslong journey to get here. Standing alongside educators again and again to stop school closures, end a state takeover, and demand fair funding," Gym tweeted of the event. "Now it's time to finish the job we started all those years ago. We will fulfill the promise of our public schools."
\u201c(3/3) And of course a very special thank you to @rweingarten for coming to town for this special evening. #helenformayor #unionsforhelen #phled\u201d— PFT (@PFT) 1684203546
Although her campaign follows recent progressive mayoral victories is Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles, "Gym is loath to discuss the national implications of her race," CNNreported Monday. She told the network that "I'm running for office to change the way people actually live in this city," pushing for change "that has to be felt by the people themselves, not by an ideology, not by a quote-unquote abstract movement."
However, progressives across the country have their eyes on Gym. The American Prospect managing editor Ryan Cooper wrote last week that "if she can pull out a victory, it could provide a lesson for how progressives can win in crime-wracked big cities."
In a Sunday viewpoint for In These Times, David I. Backer, an associate professor of education policy at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, highlighted how Gym's "unbelievably long list of her accomplishments" as a city council member shows what she could do as mayor.
\u201cToday Philadelphia votes for the city's next mayor.\n\nHelen Gym, a former public school teacher, community organizer, and city council member, has surged into the lead as an unabashed progressive fighting for working people and public schools.\nhttps://t.co/0x71aBvrbg\u201d— More Perfect Union (@More Perfect Union) 1684248448
"Helen really represents the coming of age of the progressive movement," Our Revolution executive director Joseph Geevarghese told CNN. "She emerged as a community activist and organizer, she then sought political power, sought to bring movement politics into the political realm… Helen's trajectory reflects the trajectory of the progressive movement."
Our Revolution is among dozens of progressive advocacy groups, unions, and politicians who have endorsed Gym—including Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson along with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Reps. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez rallied with Gym at Franklin Music Hall in Philadelphia over the weekend.
"They've got money, but we've got the people," Ocasio-Cortez reportedly told the crowd. "I always say to my team back home, progressives win in a street fight, and that's what we've got here in Philly today, a street fight. We need to be knocking on every door, texting all our friends. We talk about youth organizing up, which means people need to call their tías, their tíos, their uncles, their cousins, todo, everybody."
"Big Pharma is manipulating and breaking the law to expand corporate profits at the expense of patients and taxpayers."
The U.S. pharmaceutical industry's aggressive and often unlawful efforts to prevent competition and keep drug prices elevated cost American patients, insurers, and federal health programs more than $40 billion in 2019 alone, according to a report released Tuesday.
The new report—put out by the American Economic Liberties Project and the Initiative for Medicines, Access, and Knowledge (I-MAK)—focuses specifically on pharmaceutical companies' antitrust law violations, which the groups say are a key reason why U.S. drug prices are astonishingly high compared to those of other rich nations.
Examining the 100 top-selling drug products in Medicare Part D—which covers prescription medicines—and Medicaid, the report estimates that Big Pharma's antitrust violations "increased Part D gross spending by 14.15%, or $14.82 billion, and increased Medicaid gross drug spending by 9.05%, or $3.15 billion, in 2019 for the top 100 drugs in each."
Assuming that pharmaceutical companies' antitrust violations similarly affected retail brand drug spending, the report estimates that "U.S. patients and payers spent an additional $40.07 billion on pharmaceuticals in 2019."
“American families are paying far too much for prescription drugs, in large part due to rampant corporate lawlessness," said Erik Peinert, research manager and editor at the American Economic Liberties Project.
The report highlights 10 illegal anticompetitive schemes that U.S. pharmaceutical companies deploy to juice their profits and keep prices high, including horizontal collusion, patent fraud, no-generics agreements, and sham citizen petitions aimed at convincing regulators to delay approval of potential competitor drugs.
"This report documents the many ways Big Pharma is manipulating and breaking the law to expand corporate profits at the expense of patients and taxpayers," said Peinert. "The Federal Trade Commission has begun fighting back, but it needs more assistance from Congress and other agencies to crack down on these illegal practices and deliver for patients."
Shortly following the new report's release, the FTC sued to stop the biopharmaceutical giant Amgen from acquiring Horizon Therapeutics, warning that "rampant consolidation in the pharmaceutical industry has given powerful companies a pass to exorbitantly hike prescription drug prices."
\u201c\ud83d\udea8BIG: Our new report with @IMAKglobal finds Big Pharma\u2019s antitrust violations cost Americans a whopping $40 BILLION on branded pharmaceuticals in 2019.\n\nYou can read the report below, but here\u2019s some additional context and policy solutions.\ud83d\udc47\ud83e\uddf5\nhttps://t.co/FfsRoYm4QM\u201d— American Economic Liberties Project (@American Economic Liberties Project) 1684244370
The researchers behind the report offer several specific examples of how large pharmaceutical companies have used their power and dominance of certain markets to push up prices.
The nation's insulin market, they argue, "has been distorted by multiple overlapping anticompetitive schemes in recent years," including the "illegal listing" of products and "collusion" among top manufacturers in violation of RICO law, as well as "exclusionary rebates to drive patients toward brand products and away from substantially cheaper authorized generic versions."
The groups estimate that Medicare Part D and Medicaid "would have spent approximately 50% less on three of the four major insulin brands (Levemir, Novolog, Lantus) in 2019 but for the anticompetitive strategies used by the major insulin manufacturers."
The report also accuses AbbVie and Allergan—which the former acquired in 2020—of engaging in a "sustained, consistent pattern of illegally blocking generic and biosimilar competition in violation of the antitrust laws."
In the case of Bystolic, a blood pressure medicine, "Allergan entered illegal pay-for-delay agreements to prevent and delay generic competition" for the drug before 2019.
The groups estimate that Part D and Medicaid would have spent 90% less on Bystolic and its generic equivalents in 2019 had Allergan not entered the pay-for-delay agreement, which the FTC says cost U.S. consumers and taxpayers $3.5 billion a year in the form of higher drug prices.
The report also points to a whistleblower lawsuit alleging that Janssen Pharmaceuticals—which is owned by Johnson & Johnson—committed patent fraud to prolong its monopoly on Zytiga, a prostate cancer drug.
"The patent system is at the root of enabling many of the antitrust violations we identified and which are leading to higher drug prices," said Tahir Amin, an executive director of I-MAK.
To combat the pharmaceutical industry's abuses and lower costs for patients, the American Economic Liberties Project and I-MAK recommended that lawmakers and regulators act to completely ban pay-for-delay agreements, modify patent laws to "ensure that drug companies cannot use bad-faith patent strategies to perpetually extend monopolies," and ramp up penalties for antitrust violations, among other changes.
"Until Congress and the United States Patent and Trademark Office ensure stricter standards that would prevent the granting of many of the types of patents that are leading to these violations in the first place," Amin said, "Americans can expect to see their drug prices continue to rise."
"The technology will create legions of opportunities to deceive and defraud voters in ways that extend well beyond any First Amendment protections for political expression, opinion, or satire," warned Public Citizen president Robert Weissman.
The head of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen on Tuesday called on the two major U.S. political parties and their presidential candidates to pledge not to use generative artificial intelligence or deepfake technology "to mislead or defraud" voters during the 2024 electoral cycle.
Noting that "political operatives now have the means to produce ads with highly realistic computer-generated images, audio, and video of opponents that appear genuine, but are completely fabricated," Public Citizen warned of the prospect of an "October Surprise" deepfake video that could go viral "with no ability for voters to determine that it's fake, no time for a candidate to deny it, and no way to demonstrate convincingly that it's fake."
The watchdog offered recent examples of deepfake creations, including an audio clip of President Joe Biden discussing the 2011 film We Bought a Zoo.
"Generative AI now poses a significant threat to truth and democracy as we know it."
"Generative AI now poses a significant threat to truth and democracy as we know it," Public Citizen president Robert Weissman said in a statement. "The technology will create legions of opportunities to deceive and defraud voters in ways that extend well beyond any First Amendment protections for political expression, opinion, or satire."
As Thor Benson recently noted in Wired:
There are plenty of ways to generate AI images from text, such as DALL-E, Midjourney, and Stable Diffusion. It's easy to generate a clone of someone's voice with an AI program like the one offered by ElevenLabs. Convincing deepfake videos are still difficult to produce, but... that might not be the case within a year or so.
"I don't think there's a website where you can say, 'Create me a video of Joe Biden saying X.' That doesn't exist, but it will," Hany Farid, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley's School of Information, told Wired. "It's just a matter of time. People are already working on text-to-video."
In a petition sent Tuesday to Federal Election Commission acting General Counsel Lisa J. Stevenson, Weissman and Public Citizen government affairs lobbyist Craig Holman asked the agency to "clarify when and how 5 USC §30124 ('Fraudulent misrepresentation of campaign authority') applies to deliberately deceptive AI campaign ads."
"Federal law proscribes candidates for federal office or their employees or agents from fraudulently misrepresenting themselves as speaking or acting for or on behalf of another candidate or political party on a matter damaging to the other candidate or party," Weissman and Holman noted.
"In view of the novelty of deepfake technology and the speed with which it is improving, Public Citizen encourages the commission to specify in regulation or guidance that if candidates or their agents fraudulently misrepresent other candidates or political parties through deliberately false AI-generated content in campaign ads, that the restrictions and penalties of 52 USC §30124 are applicable," the pair added.