Tag Archives: profits

Starbucks, Amazon pay less taxes in Austria than sausage stand

Multinationals like coffee chain Starbucks and online retailer Amazon pay fewer taxes in Austria than one of the country’s tiny sausage stands, the republic’s center-left chancellor lamented in a recent interview published.

Chancellor Christian Kern, head of the Social Democrats and of the centrist coalition government, also criticized internet giants Google and Facebook, saying that if they paid more tax subsidies for print media could increase.

“Every Viennese cafe, every sausage stand pays more tax in Austria than a multinational corporation,” Kern was quoted as saying in an interview with newspaper Der Standard, invoking two potent symbols of the Austrian capital’s food culture.

“That goes for Starbucks, Amazon and other companies,” he said, praising the European Commission’s ruling this week that Apple should pay up to 13 billion euros ($14.5 billion) in taxes plus interest to Ireland because a special scheme to route profits through that country was illegal state aid.

Apple has said it will appeal the ruling, which Chief Executive Tim Cook described as “total political crap.” Google, Facebook and other multinational companies say they follow all tax rules.

Kern criticized EU states with low-tax regimes that have lured multinationals – and come under scrutiny from Brussels.

“What Ireland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg or Malta are doing here lacks solidarity towards the rest of the European economy,” he said.

He stopped short of saying that Facebook and Google would have to pay more tax but underlined their significant sales in Austria, which he estimated at more than 100 million euros each, and their relatively small numbers of employees – a “good dozen” for Google and “allegedly even fewer” for Facebook.

“They massively suck up the advertising volume that comes out of the economy but pay neither corporation tax nor advertising duty in Austria,” said Kern, who became chancellor in May.

($1 = 0.8965 euros)

Watchdog: Seller of EpiPen heavily lobbied Wisconsin GOP

Citizen Action of Wisconsin says Mylan, the seller of EpiPen, “contributed thousands of dollars to GOP state legislators in Wisconsin and spent tens of thousands on lobbying to influence the Legislature to help it increase its market in Wisconsin. The legislation is helping Mylan build the monopoly it needs to overcharge for the medication.”

Since 2014, Mylan’s corporate PAC made thousands of dollars in contributions in Wisconsin exclusively to Republican state legislators, focusing on those who serve on the Senate Health Committee, according to CAW based on data compiled by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

Mylan also spent $42,000 between 2013 and 2014 and $24,500 between 2015 and 2016 lobbying in Wisconsin on issues “… affecting the manufacture, distribution, or sale of prescription drugs and medical devices,” as well as on what became 2013 Wisconsin Act 239 and 2015 Wisconsin Act 35 and broadly on “anything relating to generic pharmaceuticals.”

These two measures expanded the scope of users of EpiPens to “recreational and educational camp, college, university, day care facility, youth sports league, amusement park, restaurant, place of employment, and sports arena,” as well as “public, private, or tribal schools.”

Together this expansion is projected to cost the state $77,500 per year for the state to administer.

CAW said “in return for its political donations and lobbying, Mylan has successfully induced state legislators into participating in its marketing scheme to wring windfall profits out of Wisconsin families seeking protection from severe allergic reactions.

The group cited a Wisconsin Public Radio radio report and said Mylan has used state legislation to expand the EpiPen market “in order to position itself to reap a cash windfall from raising prices. With no justification other than profit, Mylan has increased the price of EpiPens by 5 fold since 2007, to the current price of $633 for a two-pack.”

“It is hard to imagine much worse than a family priced out of a medication that could save their child’s life because of the greed of a drug corporation,” said Robert Kraig, executive director of CAW. “Mylan is engaging in grossly unethical business practices with the assistance of state legislators. Under current Wisconsin law, drug corporations like Mylon have the unlimited ability to charge unjustified prices for life-saving medication.

“What Mylan is doing is like selling food or water at a grossly inflated price during a natural disaster. Wisconsin families are trying to pay the inflated price because of the potential life-saving value of the drug.”

CAW said lawmakers should stop promoting the expansion of the EpiPen market and take up state Rep. Debra Kolste’s legislation on prescription drug transparency, which would force Mylan to justify the price of its medications.

Hit by climate change, Central American coffee growers get a taste for cocoa

Farmer Abelardo Ayala took a tough decision on his estate in San Juan Tepezontes, a traditional coffee-producing region of El Salvador: to swap his coffee trees for cocoa as a warming climate hit his crop.

Ayala said his plantation — situated between 600 and 1,000 metres (1,969-3,281 feet) above sea level in the south-central department of La Paz — had been ideal for growing coffee. But with rising temperatures, production became difficult.

In the last four years, recurring drought, a plague of coffee borer beetles, and other problems linked to climate shifts put his coffee plantation on the ropes.

The farmer tried sowing varieties resistant to a widespread fungus called roya (coffee rust), which affects the leaves and harms bean production, but that failed to protect his harvest.

In low-lying areas, many producers have abandoned their crops, or sold their land to urban developers.

But Ayala started to study the benefits of cocoa, including its low cost of production, good price on international markets, and environmental value such as protecting water basins and wildlife.

“People here are starting to cultivate cocoa in zones where before there was coffee,” the farmer told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Drought and climate change are making it impossible to work with coffee, so we produce cocoa now.”

Mexico and Central America, which together produce one fifth of the world’s Arabica coffee beans, have been hit hard by roya and the volatility of coffee prices in the last few years.

“The situation has led many producers to change from coffee to cocoa. It is happening step by step,” said Nicaraguan farmer Luis Moreno, referring to growers in Jinotega department, one of the country’s principal coffee regions.

“Where they have coffee, they get a harvest and then take out (the plant) – so now they are left only with cocoa cultivation,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

MORE PROFITABLE

Moreno is technical coordinator for the People’s Community Action Association (APAC), which has been giving cocoa plants and technical help to small producers since 2014. He says the program has been a success so far.

The farmers find it cheaper to grow cocoa because it needs fewer workers and around 40 percent less investment in inputs than coffee, while international prices are buoyant. “It is more profitable,” Moreno said.

According to VECO, a Belgium-based NGO that works with small-scale farmers in developing countries, Central America has around 25,000 cocoa producers, spread across Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador, growing cocoa on roughly 12,700 hectares (31,382 acres).

VECO estimates cocoa production will expand to around 25,500 hectares in 2019.

“Many studies prove that coffee production will move higher up because of global warming,” said Karen Janssens, regional director of VECO. “For this reason, cocoa could be an alternative for producers whose estates are in lower zones.”

ANCESTRAL COCOA

When the Spanish arrived in Mesoamerica in the early 1500s, they observed that indigenous people used cocoa seeds like currency.

Cocoa is a species native to the region, and was cultivated by the Aztec, Mayan and Pipil people until the 19th century when coffee was introduced from Africa, largely replacing cocoa.

Nestor Perez, a member of the Salvadoran National Indigenous Coordinating Council (CCNIS), said indigenous communities began re-introducing cocoa trees on their lands in 2014.

“We can see (this trend) not only from an economic or environmental point of view, but we can also link it with our cultural identity, because our people grew cocoa traditionally,” Perez said.

Indigenous peoples use cocoa to make chocolate, or in ceremonies where they burn cocoa seeds and chocolate in a wood fire to express gratitude to “Mother Earth” for the harvest.

But while cocoa production may be better suited to low altitudes in a warmer world, the writing is not yet on the wall for coffee.

Experts predict farmers will continue to produce coffee in mountainous areas, or adapt the way they cultivate it as the climate changes.

Some coffee producers are making an effort to revive their crop.

Francisco Flores Recinos, for example, has started planting cocoa and other fruit trees among his coffee plants to diversify production on his estate in Jayaque in central El Salvador.

Flores Recinos is growing around 4 hectares of cocoa interspersed with coffee as part of a project supported by the Salvadoran Agriculture Ministry, which is helping more than 300 farmers cope with climate shifts.

“I thought of mixing cocoa and coffee in some areas of my estate where there was water nearby, before roya attacked,” the producer explained.

If his coffee trees do suffer from roya, the profit from his cocoa crop will help cushion any losses, he added.
Reporting by Nelson Renteria; editing by Megan Rowling. Made possible by Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org.

Democrats push health care reform, GOP pushes repeal

Americans filled 4.3 billion prescriptions last year, and they’re still ailing from the skyrocketing cost of drugs.

Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Rodham Clinton gave voice to patient problems and consumer complaints this fall, with both issuing plans to rein in outrageous prices for prescription medicine.

“The pharmaceutical industry has become a health hazard for the American people,” said Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont. “We now pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs and one in five Americans … cannot afford to fill the prescriptions their doctors write.”

In 2014, an estimated 34 million people could not fill their prescriptions because of costs. Surveys now show that about 70 percent of Americans believe drug costs are unreasonable and that drug companies put profits before people.

Those polls were conducted before Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli made headlines in September for raising by more than 5,000 percent the price of Daraprim, a medication used to treat toxoplasmosis in AIDS patients. 

Within hours of Turing purchasing the right to retail Daraprim, the price for a pill that’s been sold for $13.50  went to $750.

“For Turing to charge insurance companies and self-pay individuals with a cost (so much) greater for the same drug is unconscionable,” said Scott Caruthers, chief pharmacy officer of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the largest global AIDS group.

AHF president Michael Weinstein said Turing’s greed “is likely to go down in history as the straw that broke the camel’s back on drug pricing.”

Shkreli announced in late September that he would lower the cost “in response to the anger.”

Sanders, an advocate of universal health care, in mid-September released a prescription drug plan that said the federal government should use its bargaining power to negotiate with companies for better prices; allow imports from licensed Canadian pharmacies; prohibit deals that keep generics off the market; and require drug companies to report information affecting pricing.

Clinton, as first lady, led an effort blocked by congressional Republicans that would have provided comprehensive, universal health care. She responded to Turing’s price-gouging almost immediately, pledging on Twitter a plan to reform the prescription drug market that would “both protect consumers and promote innovation — while putting an end to profiteering.”

Clinton has since issued a series of proposals to address rising drug costs, including a monthly $250 cap on out-of-pocket drugs to help patients with chronic or serious health conditions.

The candidate also proposed requiring that health insurance plans provide for three sick visits per year without counting toward a patient’s annual deductible and offering a refundable tax credit of up to $5,000 for families for excessive out-of-pocket care costs.

“When Americans get sick, high costs shouldn’t prevent them from getting better,” Clinton said in a statement. “With deductibles rising so much faster than incomes, we must act to reduce the out-of-pocket costs families face.”

A survey recently released by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found that employer-sponsored health insurance premiums rose about 4 percent in 2015, considered a moderate increase. But since 2010, both the share of workers with deductibles and the size of the deductibles have increased sharply — about seven times over the rise in worker wages.

A recent Kaiser analysis found comparable countries outperforming the United States on life expectancy at birth, cost-related barriers to health care access and the burden of disease, which takes into account years of lost life due to premature death and years of life lost to poor health.

The Obama administration expects to see improvements as more people have greater access to care under the five-year-old Affordable Care Act, which mandated insurance coverage, expanded eligibility for Medicaid, prohibited insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, provided for preventative care and lifted lifetime health benefit caps.

New data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that the national uninsured rate dropped to a historic low of 9.2 percent in early 2015, with 15.8 million people gaining coverage since the health care marketplaces opened in 2013.

Still, the GOP focus in the health care debate is almost solely on repealing the Affordable Care Act. Congressional Republicans have voted more than 50 times to repeal all or parts of the law and, on Sept. 29, they voted again to advance legislation that would dismantle the ACA.

The House Ways and Means Committee chaired by Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan voted along party lines to repeal the mandate requiring Americans to get health insurance and also the mandate requiring larger companies to provide health benefits to employees.

Ryan, in a statement, said, “This bill is a big step toward dismantling Obamacare. … By tearing down many of the worst parts of the law — like forcing people to buy insurance only to later tax them for it — we would stop Obamacare in its tracks and start working toward a more affordable, higher-quality, patient-centered system.”

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker also wants the Affordable Care Act repealed, although health care advocates in the state maintain provisions have mostly benefited Wisconsinites.

“The ACA has dramatically reduced the number of uninsured in Wisconsin and improved access to preventive health care,” said Jon Peacock, research director for the nonprofit Wisconsin Council on Children and Families.

The WCCF said by the end of June, more than 230,000 Wisconsinites had signed up for a marketplace plan under the ACA and about 90 percent were eligible for tax credits to offset costs.

Wisconsin vets urge Ron Johnson to return campaign check

Wisconsin veterans are calling on U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson to return a $5,400 campaign donation from a California corporate executive said to have manipulated national and international law to charge U.S. servicemembers exorbitant rates for phone calls to family.

Gregorio Galicot, president of BBG Communications Inc., racked up profits by “fleecing” U.S. troops and charging up to $400 to make a phone call to loved ones from overseas, according to the veterans in a letter to the senator.

His practices drew national headlines in 2012 and were widely condemned while a class action lawsuit was brought.

“It is an unacceptable and outrageous decision for you to accept thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from an individual whose wealth is built in part by fleecing American service members attempting to call their loved ones. It’s utterly disrespectful to those who serve our country,” the veterans wrote to Johnson, who is a Republican.

The letter is signed by retired U.S. Army Spc. Randy Bryce of Caledonia, retired U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Mike Balistriere of Wauwatosa, retired U.S. Army Sgt. Marriah Gatling of Milwaukee and retired U.S. Navy E-5 Tracy Sperko of Milwaukee.

The letter follows …

To: Senator Ron Johnson 
CC: Betsey Ankey, Campaign Manager, Ron Johnson for Senate 
Ron Johnson for Senate, Inc. 
2810 Crossroads Drive #3900 
Madison, Wisconsin 53718 
8/18/2015 

Senator Ron Johnson, 

On behalf of Wisconsin veterans, active military members, reservists, and National Guard members, we write to demand you return $5,400 in campaign contributions from Gregorio Galicot, President of BBG Communications Inc, who has manipulated national and international law to defraud American service members by charging exorbitant rates for phone calls to family members from overseas. 

It is an unacceptable and outrageous decision for you to accept thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from an individual whose wealth is built in part by fleecing American service members attempting to call their loved ones. It’s utterly disrespectful to those who serve our country: 

Two Companies Accused Of Fleecing U.S. Troops [Daily Beast, 3/6/12] 
Gregorio Galicot’s Company, BBG, Was Subject Of A Class Action Suit Alleging That It Charged Returning Soldiers More Than $40 For Calls Lasting Seconds [Daily Beast, 3/6/12] 
Army Staff Sgt. Eric Lamotte Was Charged $265 To Leave A Voicemail And $400 To Make A Call [San Diego Union-Tribune, 3/6/12] 
Specialist Reynald Matias Was Charged $51 For A Two-Minute Call [New York Times, 3/2/12] 
Sgt. Kyle Herman Was Charged $83.92 For Four Minutes [New York Times, 3/2/12] 

Furthering our concern, other members of the U.S. Senate condemned this company and its actions as early as 2012, leading us to believe you should be aware of this issue and have chosen to accept this money anyway. 

The right thing to do and the proper way to show respect for the American men and women who serve is to return this campaign contribution. 

Sincerely, 

Randy Bryce, U.S. Army, Spc4 (Ret.), Caledonia 
Mike Balistriere, U.S. Marine Corps, Lance Corporal (Ret.), Wauwatosa 
Marriah Gatling, U.S. Army, E-5 Sergeant (Ret.), Milwaukee 
Tracy Sperko, U.S. Navy, E-5 (Ret.), Milwaukee

Ganja-preneurship: College starts class on the business of marijuana

Start stoner-friendly munchies stands in Colorado. Or open a lounge near a marijuana dispensary in Oregon.

Or try selling fertilizer to weed growers, dude.

“Opportunities are endless, whatever we can create in our heads,” said Dean Warner, an Anne Arundel Community College student in Arnold, Maryland.

Earlier this month, the college launched a class exploring business opportunities around the country’s expanding marijuana market.

“The people that made the money in the Gold Rush were not the guys with the nuggets,” said professor Shad Ewart. “It was the people who sold them the picks, the shovels, made the blue jeans, opened the banks.”

Last year, Maryland became the 18th state to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. Someone caught with less than 10 grams, however, still faces a fine up to $100 for a first offense.

Four states — Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Colorado — went further to make pot legal for recreational use. When combined with medical marijuana taxes and fees, Colorado earned $3.5 million from pot sales in January of last year.

“I’m just trying to open their eyes to the opportunities,” Ewart said. “Be the guy that supplies the lighting, the nutrients, the dirt.”

He’s taught business and marketing classes at the college for more than 15 years.

His latest class was almost called “Ganja-preneurship” (too provocative, he said) and is instead called — Entrepreneurial Opportunities in Emerging Markets: Marijuana Legalization.

It began Feb. 2 when he wrote the course number on the board.

“You see the green pen?”

Laughs.

“The green that I’m talking about in this class is money.”

Understand, this class is not Cheech & Chong.

“That’s a part I want to de-emphasize,” Ewart said.

A similar course is offered at the University of Denver, though Ewart said area colleges offer no such courses.

His class _ also almost called “Canna-business” — comes as advocates want to see last year’s decriminalization law extended to cover rolling papers and other paraphernalia.

The first proposal to decriminalize pot in Maryland was introduced in 2011. Similarly, Ewart said he’s spent two years lobbying administrators to allow his course.

Four times, he appeared before the committee that approves new courses, he said. Typically, a new course is approved in one semester, he said.

“Other (professors) have been a little bit nervous,” he said.

Last year’s General Assembly session also saw the expansion of medical marijuana laws in Maryland to allow patients access to pot if approved by doctors. That expansion allowed up to 15 growers.

County Executive Steve Schuh, who served last session in the House of Delegates, voted against both decriminalization and medical-marijuana expansion. Schuh’s position hasn’t changed, said Owen McEvoy, his spokesman.

“That being said, we have to respect the position of the community college to dictate their curriculum,” McEvoy said.

Seventeen students enrolled in the class to learn everything from the history of marijuana in Ancient Egypt to its economic impact today. There will be readings, but no textbooks.

“There’s nothing out there _ I looked,” Ewart said.

Alexander Rossi, a 2014 graduate of South River High School, enrolled after betting on penny stocks of startup marijuana growers. He earned more investing, he said, than working his job at Jerry’s Seafood in Bowie.

The class attracted older students, too, like Michael Malone. He owns Cancun Cantina West in Hagerstown.

“Businesses are changing,” he said. “This is the future.”

Information from: The Capital, http://www.capitalgazette.com/

An AP member exchange.

Fight back against WE Energies’ assault on clean energy in Wisconsin

[UPDATED WITH RESPONSE FROM DEPUTY DIRCTOR OF COMMUNICATION AT FRIENDS OF SCOTT WALKER, WHO ALSO SERVES AS COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR OF THE PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION OF WISCONSIN]

Sustainable energy is one of the world’s fastest-growing industries — and it’s the best medicine available for our dying planet. But thanks to the state’s current leadership, most of whom owe fealty to the fossil-fuel industry, Wisconsin is losing out on the jobs as well as the environmental rewards of having proactive sustainable energy policies. 

Germany, which leads the world in wind energy, now receives nearly one-third of its power from that sustainable source. Many smaller countries are ahead of that record, according to a Sept. 14 story that appeared in the New York Times.

By contrast, Wisconsin’s goal is 10 percent.

Koch Industries, Exxon-Mobil and the other energy dinosaurs that exert a shocking level of control over public policy in the United States — and especially in states like Wisconsin, where their well-paid puppets firmly control every aspect of government — are running scared. Very scared. Instead of forging forward and ensuring they’ll reap the inevitable profits to be made from clean energy, they’re doing everything in their power to halt it.

Their actions are not only selfish and immoral, they’re bad business. Their pawns invoke Ayn Rand’s vision of capitalism to support their actions, but Rand did not believe in a system in which half-wits inherit oversize fortunes then use them to buy political influence that halts entrepreneurism and innovation in its tracks. In Rand’s capitalist Utopia, the green-energy visionaries would be the heroes and the privileged, fossilized obstructionists to industrial progress would be the villains.

David Koch, you are no John Galt.

It’s not just the Kochs and their friends who are terrified of progress, it’s also the public utilities. WE Energies is beside itself looking for ways to halt the growth of alternative energy.

We Energies has a proposal on the table that would force customers with 6 kilowatt solar panels (the average rooftop size) to pay $273 per year in “fees.” But let’s get real — those aren’t fees, they’re penalties. Another proposal from the regional monopoly would prohibit customers from leasing their rooftops for solar panels owned by others. This is free enterprise?

Madison Gas & Electric has similar proposals before the Public Service Commission.

And as if those assaults on clean energy weren’t enough to satisfy the craven multimillionaires who run WE Energies, they also want to charge all customers a $9 to $16 per month connection fee for adding alternative energy sources.

“If approved, these punishing changes will potentially shut down the clean energy marketplace in We Energies’ territory,” concluded Wisconsin’s John Muir chapter of the Sierra Club.

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission, which is considering these proposals, is a three-person state executive regulatory board that “serves at the pleasure of the governor.” Two of those three members, including the chairman, were appointed by Gov. Scott Walker, who’s frequently criticized for being in the back pocket of Koch Industries.

We urge readers to contact the commission and demand it to deny the latest corporate-right request to penalize clean energy and the environment. The deadline for filing your opinion with the commission is Oct. 7. To participate electronically, go to http://psc.wi.gov/consumerinfo/intervenor.htm. If you need assistance with the process, contact Becky Yoh at  or at 608-261-8521.

RESPONSE FROM THE PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION OF WISCONSIN:

My name is Nathan Conrad and I am the Communications Director at the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (Editor’s Note: and also deputy communications director of Friends of Scott Walker). A small clarification needs to be made in your recent editorial “Fight back against WE Energies’ assault on clean energy in Wisconsin.” While PSC Commissioners are appointed by a sitting Governor they do not “serve at the pleasure of the governor.” Each Commissioner is appointed to a fixed 6- year term, with the advice and consent of the Senate, to the quasi-judicial agency known as the PSC. (Wis. Stat. 15.06(1)).  They are not beholden to the executive branch of state government and make all decisions based on the entirety of the record before them in an open docket. Commissioners cannot be dismissed simply at the pleasure of the Governor once they are appointed. (Wis. Stat. ss. 17.07(3), 17.001.)   I ask that you remove your quotes to the “serve at the pleasure of the governor” section in the second to last paragraph — or amend your editorial to reflect this.   Thank you,   Nathan Conrad
Communications Director
Public Service Commission of Wisconsin

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‘Windfall’ explores the business of climate change

“Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming” (The Penguin Press), by McKenzie Funk

Apparently, if you look at climate change the right way, it looks like money instead of disaster — if you’re looking at it from a corporate boardroom, for example, and not, say, coastal Bangladesh.

Journalist McKenzie Funk spent six years traveling the world to report “Windfall,” his account of how governments and corporations — many of whom heavily contribute to the problem of global warming but balk at mandates to cut greenhouse gas emissions — are confronting climate change with engineering, money and lawyers.

Funk has written a book humanizing the problems of climate change, focused on the colorful entrepreneurs who see in an increasingly inhospitable world golden opportunities for indoor skiing, firefighters employed by insurance companies, Dutch-made seawalls and floating beaches for South Pacific resorts that otherwise might disappear.

He finds that, for those who can afford to adapt, things will be fine, probably. Then he investigates what will happen to everyone else — the Bangladeshis stuck on the wrong side of an Indian border fence, the Africans frantically trying to build a wall of trees to keep the Sahara from expanding, the proudly independent island nations told to consider merging since they’re all losing land anyway.

Funk doesn’t waste time with climate change skeptics — there’s enough scientific evidence to back up the environmental effects he describes. Instead, he considers a thornier issue: the true cost of adapting to climate change.