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How The Civil War Never Ended For Black America

Originally published on AlterNet

Hundreds of African-American men marched to the White House this past Sunday. They were not wearing hoodies in honor of Trayvon Martin. They were not making the “hands up don’t shoot” gesture in honor of Michael Brown.

They were wearing blue wool trousers and greatcoats, forage caps and cavalry boots — in honor of African American soldiers who fought in the Civil War. Their aim: to correct a wrong made in 1865, when black soldiers were left out of the Grand Review, the Union Army’s victory parade.

1865? Seriously? With all the critically important racial justice causes of 2015?

“Everything about the Civil War is present tense,” author C.R. Gibbs told me. “This is not settled. Ferguson and Baltimore are just match flares on a long historical fuse.”

One need look no further than the U.S. Supreme Court docket for evidence of the Civil War in our contemporary lives. In March, the court heard a case regarding a request by the Sons of Confederate Veterans for a special Texas license plate featuring a Confederate battle flag.

In 2010, the Virginia public school system introduced a 4th grade textbook with bogus claims about thousands of loyal slaves fighting on the side of the Confederacy. The source? The Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Such disinformation is part of a broader neo-Confederate movement to deny that slavery was a major factor in the conflict — and to bury the history of African-Americans’ active role in their own emancipation.

Dr. Clarence Anthony Bush, whose great-grandfather fought in a light artillery regiment of the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT), told me it’s especially critical for young people to learn this little-known history. “Some African-Americans feel a little ashamed, thinking it was Abraham Lincoln who gave them their freedom. When you know your people fought for their freedom, it changes the way we look at ourselves and what our abilities are.”

Bush created a gospel jazz musical about black Civil War soldiers that was performed at the African American Civil War Museum in Washington, DC. Nearby is a monument engraved with names of the more than 200,000 USCT members. By war’s end, they made up 10 percent of federal troops.

For years, the museum has been tracking down descendants of black Civil War soldiers, recording their stories, and organizing them for the big Grand Review 150. On the eve of the parade, they hosted a vigil in which descendants from across the country paid tribute to their ancestors. Audrea Barnes, a second cousin of First Lady Michelle Obama, spoke about one of their mutual slave ancestors, Jerry Sutton (aka Suter), who ran away from a plantation in Alabama and joined the USCT’s 55th Regiment. Through archival research, she’s learned of his struggles for military pay equity and a failed attempt to obtain a veteran’s disability pension.

While the pension program was supposed to be color-blind, Brigham Young University research confirms that African-American veterans received less than their white counterparts. In part, this was a result of a lack of necessary documentation, but bureaucrats were also less likely to believe their claims. For example, they approved 44 percent of white soldiers’ claims regarding back pain, compared to only 16 percent of such claims by black soldiers.

A century and a half after the Civil War, racial inequalities in America are still staggering. Median income for nonwhites is only 65 percent that of whites. The wealth gap is even wider, with white families’ net worth six times that of non-whites.

Jeremiah Lowery, a 29-year-old labor activist with Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, told me he attended the Grand Review because “Just like the slogan ‘Black Lives Matter,’ black history matters too. They started to break down institutions of slavery 150 years ago. Today we have institutions that block people from earning a living wage and make people victims of brutality in the streets. It’s all connected.”

African-Americans led the Grand Review in 2015, but hundreds of white re-enactors also marched. “We even had people who’ve always re-enacted as Confederates put on Union uniforms today,” said African-American Civil War Museum Director (and former civil rights activist) Dr. Frank Smith.

Asked whether the event was more poignant in light of the explosion of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Smith said, “The Civil War led to the passage of the 14th Amendment, which was supposed to ensure that the federal government protected African-Americans when states didn’t. These young men don’t feel safe. And today it’s not just in the South, it’s in the North too. The fact that people are in the streets, though — that’s what gives me hope.”

Sarah Anderson directs the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC, and is a co-author of the Institute’s 20th anniversary Executive Excess report, “Bailed Out, Booted, and Busted.”

This article was originally published by AlterNet.

Photo: Washington, D.C. Infantry units with fixed bayonets, May 1865. Via Wikicommons.

Will Congress Be Duped Again On Offshore Taxes?

Like a savvy bargainer on a used-car lot, big multinational corporations have mastered the art of feigning indifference and walking away.

What they walk away with is their profits, stockpiling them abroad where they legally remain untaxed until returned to the United States. Then these corporations threaten to keep the cash offshore permanently unless Uncle Sam gives them a deep discount on their tax rates.

It’s a timeworn, but effective, trick. While the rest of us are stuck paying the sticker price, Congress is considering a special deluxe tax rate for these giant corporations.

Congress last fell for the old “walk away” in 2004. And the American people got burned.

That year, legislators gave 843 giant firms an 85 percent discount on offshore profits they “repatriated.” This reduced their long-term tax bills by about $100 billion.

Legislators opted for this one-off revenue bump in part because they believed, naively, that the companies would create U.S. jobs with the repatriated funds. They even called the tax break legislation the “American Job Creation Act.”

Like new owners of a bargain basement Beemer, though, the companies basically squealed their tires and sped away. Rather than hiring more workers, many simply used the money to boost shareholder dividends and executive pay.

Meanwhile, the profit-shifting revved up again, as firms maneuvered to create leverage for further discounts.

Big pharmaceutical companies, which are particularly good at tax-dodging tactics like registering their patents in tax haven countries, were some of the biggest abusers of the 2004 tax break.

Pfizer, for example, repatriated $40 billion to take advantage of the discount. Instead of boosting jobs, the drug company laid off more than 58,000 employees over the next six years.

Legislators appear to have learned little from the 2004 boondoggle. Pending bills in both the House and Senate would once again offer deeply discounted rates on repatriated profits.

President Barack Obama has a slightly stronger proposal: All overseas stockpilers would pay a mandatory 14 percent rate on offshore profits they currently hold, and then 19 percent thereafter. But that’s still a huge reduction over the ordinary 35 percent corporate tax rate, giving companies a powerful incentive to continue to shift profits overseas.

A handful of corporate giants stand to reap the vast majority of benefits from this trick.

According to a new report I co-authored for the Institute for Policy Studies and the Center for Effective Government, just 26 companies account for more than half of the $2.1 trillion in untaxed profits U.S. corporations currently hold offshore. Since 2004, these 26 firms’ overseas stashes have grown more than fivefold.

Lawmakers claim that short-term revenue from a discount tax on offshore profits is needed to pay for urgent investments in public infrastructure. But if we’re serious about fixing our crumbling bridges, roads, and dams, we should start by fixing our broken corporate tax system.

The taxes Pfizer and six other drug companies currently owe on their offshore profits, for example, would be enough to fix the 1 out of every 9 U.S. bridges in disrepair. We need to insist that all U.S. businesses pay their fair share of infrastructure and other public services.

Otherwise, we’ll just be taken for a ride.

OtherWords columnist Sarah Anderson directs the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies and is a co-author of the report “Burning Our Bridges.”

Distributed by OtherWords.org.

Photo: 401(K)2013 via Flickr

Wall Street Bonuses Vs. The Minimum Wage

Purveyors of Ferraris and high-end Swiss watches keep their fingers crossed toward the end of each calendar year, hoping that the big Wall Street banks will be generous with their annual cash bonuses.

New figures show that the bonus bonanza of 2013 didn’t disappoint. According to the New York State Comptroller’s office, Wall Street firms handed out $26.7 billion in bonuses to their 165,200 employees last year, up 15 percent over the previous year. That’s their third-largest haul on record.

That money will no doubt boost sales of luxury goods. Just imagine how much greater the economic benefit would be if that same amount of money had gone into the pockets of minimum-wage workers.

The $26.7 billion Wall Streeters pocketed in bonuses would cover the cost of more than doubling the paychecks for all of the 1,085,000 Americans who work full-time at the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

And boosting their pay in that way would give our economy much more bang for the buck. That’s because low-wage workers tend to spend nearly every dollar they make to meet their basic needs. The wealthy can afford to squirrel away a much greater share of their earnings.

When low-wage workers spend their money at the grocery store or on utility bills, this cash ripples through the economy. According to my new report, every extra dollar going into the pockets of low-wage workers adds about $1.21 to the national economy. Every extra dollar a high-income American makes, by contrast, only adds about 39 cents to the gross domestic product (GDP).

And these pennies add up.

If the $26.7 billion Wall Streeters pulled in on their bonuses last year had instead gone to minimum-wage workers, our economy would be expected to grow by about $32.3 billion — more than triple the $10.4 billion boost expected from the Wall Street bonuses.

This immense GDP differential only speaks to one price we pay for Wall Street’s bonus reward culture. Huge bonuses, the 2008 financial industry meltdown made clear, create an incentive for high-risk behaviors that endanger the entire economy.

And yet, nearly four years after passage of the Dodd-Frank financial reform, regulators still haven’t implemented the modest provisions in that law to prohibit financial industry pay that encourages “inappropriate risk.” Time will tell whether last year’s Wall Street bonuses were based on high-risk gambles that will eventually blow up in our faces.

Low-wage jobs, on the other hand, endanger nothing. The people who harvest, prepare, and serve our food, the folks who keep our hotels clean, and the workers who care for our elderly all provide crucial services. They deserve much higher rewards.

Sarah Anderson directs the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies and is the author of the new report Wall Street Bonuses and the Minimum Wage.

Cross-posted from Other Words

AFP Photo/Stan Honda