It’s Time to Tax Brown

By Lindsay Goss

Brown university’s administration is probably wishing it had taken Mayor Taveras’ back-room deal when it had the chance. While accepting the agreement would have cost Brown at least $4 million more per year in contributions to the city, it would have avoided provoking a very public debate about why that number isn’t much higher. Brown, an elite institution with a $2.5 billion endowment, is not currently legally obligated to pay any property taxes, even on its income-earning properties. And so, ever since the news broke in early January that Brown had rejected the city’s request, the question has shifted from “why won’t a benevolent in- stitution like Brown give more money to the city?” to “why aren’t we taking that money from them in the form of property taxes?”

According to a recent investigation by Stephen Beale for GoLocalProv.com, Brown enjoys a unique status, even relative to the eight other universities, colleges, and hospitals from which Mayor Taveras is also seeking increased payments. Because Brown’s 250-year-old charter declares, “the College estate … shall be freed and exempted from all taxes,” Brown skirts the exceptions that usually apply to property owned by non-profits. These exceptions include property larger than one acre, and property not used directly for educational purposes; for example, 121 Main Street, a section of which Brown rents out to Hemenway’s Restaurant. As a result, Brown “voluntarily” pays a mere $1.6 million in property taxes. If it didn’t enjoy any pre-1776 exemptions, it would owe at least $4.6 million under the current policy; if Brown were fully taxed on all its properties, the bill would be more than $38 million annually. Taveras just wants 25% of this last figure— a little less than $10 million a year. In an attempt at damage control, Marisa

Quinn, spokesperson for the Brown President’s Office, cites the fact that Brown does pay taxes on more recently acquired, income-producing properties. However, according to the agreement Brown reached with the city in 2003, those properties do, eventually, cease to be taxable. Brown will make “voluntary contributions . . . according to an agreed-upon schedule: five years at 100 percent of the property’s existing taxes at the time of purchase; five years at 66.67 percent and five years at 33.33 percent.” After fifteen years of ownership, all of Brown’s properties are ulti- mately removed from the city’s tax rolls, potentially permanently.

In fact, it seems the university doth protest a little too much. A letter— released on January 13, 2012, by the Brown president’s office— a) chastises the city for its “high employee and re- tiree costs”; b) points readers to Brown’s “current contributions” (which include employing people, hiring construction companies, and having students who do volunteer work); c) suggests the city follow Brown’s lead by laying off workers and freezing pay; d) offers to pay $2 million more a year for five years; e) says “we really don’t have as much property as people think”; f) points out that Providence gets money from other institutions and from the state; and g) argues that Brown contributes to Providence by providing stable employment (see “c” above).

But most companies employ people, contract with other local companies, have employees that do community service, and also, in fact, pay property taxes. The real PR problem for Brown lies less in dispelling myths about what it “actually” contrib- utes to the community than in convincing the average person that it is not a contradiction in terms for Brown, tax-exempt because it is a “nonprofit,” to have administrators (and Goldman Sachs board members) on its payroll that make hundreds of thousands of dollars, while providing a service so expensive that the vast majority of Providence residents can’t begin to afford it.

Brown is a corporation, and like any other corporate entity that has to compete for its market share, Brown shorts the city because exploiting tax loopholes makes good business sense. This is why it shouldn’t be up to Brown whether or not it pays for the city services it uses. Brown should be taxed, just like the rest of us.

So what do we do? We can support the city council members who are pursuing changes in legislation that would require property tax payments, and we can put pressure on Brown to make bigger “voluntary contributions” in the meantime. We need more pickets like the one on January 12, 2012, when over one hundred Providence residents, including city workers and students, picketed outside 121 Main Street.

In addition, we have to recognize that the students, faculty and staff of Brown Univer- sity are not automatically the bad guys. In fact, most staff and faculty members would benefit just as any other resident would, from Brown ponying up its share; and students have long been a radical force in society, helping to pressure institutions from the inside. Everyone who believes in economic justice should join this fight— and we should welcome them.

An early Occupy Brown meeting (http://occupyricampus.wordpress.com/)

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Why We Should Support Public Transportation

By Barry Schiller

Buses have considerable environmental advantages over cars, cost less for people to use, and promote economic development by helping people get to work, school, and shopping. They also promote public health through encouraging moderate physical activity by walking or biking to bus stops. These points are well known. In a rational world, our leaders, in preparing Rhode Island for our future, would have already acted to preserve and expand Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) bus service. But there is also an even bigger reason to help RIPTA. Justifying public transit is part of the larger debate about the legitimacy of all government services.

Thirty years of tax cuts for the 1%, deregulation of banks and corporations, and cuts to public service have created a seriously unbalanced situation. The concentration of wealth in the hands of a few and the policies that perpetuate it are shameful, and contrary to what should be our shared values and treating others as we would wish to be treated. Meanwhile, the government is starved of the revenue needed to secure a basic standard of living for all our people, just as the ranks of those needing assistance have grown to epic proportions.

Thus we are at a delicate moment in our nation’s history when this lack of balance has created an atmosphere of uncertainty, fear, distrust, and anger. The dominant narrative has been that the government is broke, the people are broke, and we can no longer afford the social safety net. The dominant prescription has been to subsidize our failed financial industry and other mega-corporations while sacrifices are demanded of the people— the very policies that have brought us to this point. Fortunately, now the Occupy movement has arisen to challenge this dangerous narrative.

Contrary to myth, the US economy is bigger than ever, and its gross domestic product is over $14 trillion. The country is rich, but the money is largely in the hands of a small privileged group. Does it really make sense to coddle them and cut services for the rest of us? Since our economy is so driven by consumer spending, doesn’t it make sense to give help where it is needed?

This is an area where those who care about the 99% should not back down. RIPTA is a battleground where we must stop appeasing the bullies and start pushing back and arguing for public services. And winning this battle will give us momentum for the next cause, and there are many waiting.

Unless the US Congress and the RI General Assembly act soon to provide adequate and sustainable funding for public transit, RIPTA will face massive service cuts next summer when a $10 million deficit looms. RIPTA’s funding stream is largely based on a fixed-cents-per-gallon gas tax that has not only not kept up with inflation, it has actually declined in dollars as folks drive less or use more efficient vehicles. Indeed, over the last six years or so, the revenue per given cent of gas tax has declined from about $4.8 million/year to about $4.2 million, just as RIPTA’s diesel fuel costs have approximately doubled. If this is not addressed, RIPTA projects the next few years will see the loss of all holiday service, most evening and weekend services, and longer waits on many remaining lines. ADA “RIDE” van services for the disabled will no longer be available to complement the discontinued services.

We have until the end of the legislative session in June to stop this from happening and we must start now. A first step is to go to your nearest computer and type “save ripta petition” into your favorite search engine or visit http://www.change.org/petitions/save-ripta to sign the petition. To do more, get involved with the new RIPTA Riders group (for infor- mation, call the RI Sierra Club office, 521-4734) or contact your local state Senator or state Representative and let them know you care. We do have real support from riders, community groups, and even some politi- cal leaders. Together we can save RIPTA!

Barry Schiller is a former RIPTA Board member and a member of RIPTA Riders.

Community Day Center Opens

Occupy Providence Members tour Emmanuel House

Occupy Providence Members tour Emmanuel House

The following speech was delivered to the people of Providence and the media on the steps of City Hall on January 24, 2012, by the Occupy Providence movement after successfully negotiating a community day center for the winter months.

We the people of Occupy Providence have successfully occupied Burnside Park since the 15th of October, 2011. After maintaining a 24-hour-a-day protest, 7 days a week, for more than 100 days, we proclaim that the park is truly the people’s park. Today we celebrate another vic- tory: Occupy Providence has reached an agreement with the City of Providence to open and fund a day center at Emmanuel House for Rhode Islanders who are currently without housing for the duration of winter, in exchange for Occupy Providence agreeing to temporarily suspend the overnight tent occupation in Burnside Park. Occupy Providence is energized and committed to continue organizing, defending the right to protest, and bringing awareness to economic injustices in our country. We are looking to 2012 as a year of great change for the working class, and we intend to be pivotal to that change.

Our decision to accept the City’s counter-proposal for opening the day center does not reflect upon the entirety of our goals in protest- ing a system where the top 1% controls 46% of the wealth, and the richest 10% controls more than 90% of the wealth. Homelessness is a profoundly important issue that our city, our society, and our country need to address. For too long, homelessness and poverty have been treated like a personal deficiency rather than a failure of our economic system. In today’s economic climate, with many foreclosed upon who never thought they’d find themselves in the streets, we need to get honest about the true face of homelessness and poverty in America. It is all of us. It is the 99%. The day center is a first step in recognizing the needs of marginalized Rhode Islanders who find themselves homeless.

The City, the diocese and advocates all coming together on this agreement is an encouraging new beginning.

However, this is only the beginning. We will continue to go after this culture of corporate greed, “too big to fail” banks, government bailouts, and economic inequality, which is especially egregious in regards to race, sex, gender, age, and class. We will take every opportunity to stand against human-made climate change, and the systematic destruction of our global ecosystems by the exponentially expanding industrial and military pollution now threatening our world. We find these issues to be self-evidently interconnected, and we are proud to announce the victory of opening a day center for persons who would otherwise be up against the elements, day in and day out, during the harsh New England winter.

We hope this move can inspire the people of Rhode Island to realize that the voice of protest is a powerful one and that together we can achieve the changes we wish to see in our society. This day center is just one tangible piece of proof that a group of concerned citizens can and will change the world. Occupy Providence will continue to stand in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement and the hundreds of other ongoing occupations around the country and the world. We send our deepest thanks to those who’ve supported us along the way, and we invite you to join us in continuing the struggle in 2012. We are the 99%. Another world is possible.

Living in the Story of the Wizard of Oz

By Lisa Roseman Beade. Adapted from a speech given at Occupy Providence, November 2011

The American Dream for workers lasted only thirty years, from the 1940’s to the 1970’s. That was a time when America made things. Unions were strong, workers were valued, and livable wages prevailed. Like the rest of us, corporations and the wealthy paid their fair share of taxes to support a strong nation. Paying taxes was patriotic. Owning a home and not struggling to raise a family was considered wealth. At least some of us lived in Kansas, and it was called the middle class. American workers moved into it proudly.

The wizards of deregulation began achieving the upper hand in the 1960’s. In 1980, the tornado picked up force with Reagan’s election, and dropped us into Oz. Real wages, which had been rising steadily, began to decline even as profits soared. Given free rein, the wizards of banking took the soaring profits we had produced and began lending it back to us as credit. The wizards of commerce lured us to borrow with the glitter of cheap goods and cheap food, bought with unlimited credit from our declining wages, thereby making themselves more profits. They teased us with the promise of easy payments and vast wealth.

By the late 1980’s, as manufacturing’s decline led to shrinking investment opportunities, real estate became the new get-rich scheme. Soaring housing prices and mortgages without equity fueled inflated expectations of return. Anyone could buy, especially when mortgage brokers being offered enormous kickbacks began falsifying lenders’ information. By 2007, a great majority of mortgages were what the banking industry itself called “liar loans.” When, finally,

the bankers’ greed burst its seams and the debts were called in, they were caught like deer in the headlights. But the crooks were the ones that got bailed out!

We continue to be robbed blind; there are no bailouts for those of us who trusted the process and played by the rules. With the vacuum power of tornadoes, these wizards are sucking out every single drop of capital we contribute to sustain our society and keep it working. And they are sucking up not only our economic, but our civic capital, as well. Not only do we now have the economic profile of a third world nation, but, by creating an atmosphere of terror, these criminals have either bought or coerced our politicians and judiciary into sabotaging our government and suspending our Constitution.

David Intrator, a New York business consultant, recently pointed out that global corporations have no allegiance to nation states, but “only have allegiance to their shareholders and so there is a built-in contradiction to [any allegiance to the United States of America].” They are not only un-American but anti-Capitalist. To see it that way would explain the worldwide nature of the problem as an interna- tional putsch. This is Corporatism, led by global corporations and fi- nancial institutions with no national allegiance. They have used their tornado-force power to mesmerize us, crushing our hopes and dreams and leaving a path of devastation among working people worldwide. In this country just 400 families control 43% of the GNP.

Yet, I’m ecstatic, because brave people of the Occupy movement are hunkering down in public places to protest the theft of our dream and our democracy. We, the people: Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion, have found our collective heart, brain, nerve and courage. We‘ve come out of the poppy fields and have drawn back the curtain. We know who you are, Wall Street! Despite the brutality of your mercenary police departments, in New York, Chicago, and Oakland, we’re going to remain peaceful and we’re not going away. We have finally awakened to our own power and discovered that we are the wealth of this nation and our shift has hit your plan!

So now, I’m calling on you, the 99%, to unite against our oppressors: stop scapegoating your fellow workers; strengthen the unions; don’t castigate those with benefits, demand those benefits for all; support teachers and government workers; and boycott corporate goods and services! Circulate money into your communities (for every $1 spent locally, 45 cents stays in the community). Small banks and credit unions lend to small businesses, so use them. Ask local businesses to carry local food and goods. Remember: cheap goods are produced by cheap labor, so buy less and buy local!

Our resources may be few, but we are the 99%: United, our pennies are riches. I never thought I would call myself conservative, but here’s my dream: I want to go back to Kansas, to a time when I know who produces my food and my goods. I want to treat them respectfully and pay them the living wage and benefits that I would want for myself. I am proud to be a part of the Occupy movement. Please join us!

Lisa Roseman Beade is the author of The Wealth of Nations: A People’s History of RI, a project commissioned by the RI Historical Society, which tells the story of immigration to RI and the struggle & rise of the middle class.

RI Company, Textron, Makes Cluster Bombs

By Layne Frechette

Photo by Chris Mongeau (chrismongeauphoto.com)

The following is a copy of a speech that I gave on November 19, 2011, on the steps of Textron’s headquarters in downtown Providence in protest of Textron’s manufacturing and distribution of certain weapons and of its practice of outsourcing. We are here today to protest the actions of the Textron Corporation. Originally, Textron was a yarn-making company; now, however, it is in the business of making deadly and inhumane weapons that are sold to both the U.S. military and to oppressive governments around the world. Textron is a maker of cluster bombs, weapons which kill innocent civilians; in particular, children who pick them up accidentally long after the fighting ends. Cluster bombs are banned in many other countries: in fact, Textron is under sanction by countries including Bel- gium, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, and Norway for its dealings in cluster bombs. Textron claims that its new “sensor-fuzed weapon,” which is designed to do wide-area damage, is not a cluster bomb; however, the U.S. military refers to it as CBU 97 or CBU 105– CBU stands for cluster bomb unit. In the past, Textron has sold its attack helicopters to oppressive regimes, such as Turkey in its war against the Kurdish minority and to Central American dictatorships in the 1970s. Textron’s only justification for these actions was profit. Moreover, again in the name of profit, Textron has shipped many of its American jobs overseas to countries like China. Despite all this, Textron has been allowed to back its own charter school in town, the Textron/Chamber of Commerce High School, which is named in Textron’s honor. How is such a tyrannical war-profiteer being honored by our community? We want jobs, not war!

Photo by Chloe C

Dangers on the Road to Foreclosure

By Joan d’Arc

Rhode Island has the highest home foreclosure rate in New England. If your home has been foreclosed, or you are considering “walking away,” for instance, to rent or move in with family, there are some legal facts of which you should be aware. Perhaps, even, you’re in the middle of one of those long, drawn out “short sales” or you’re thinking of joining the new wave of voluntary or “strategic defaulters” who have decided to stop investing in your underwater home.

But how fast can you run from “deficiency judgments” and “banking recourse” laws? In Rhode Island, maybe not fast enough.

Homeowner beware: approximately forty states have laws on the books that are blatantly bank-friendly. Rhode Island is a “recourse state,” meaning the bank has recourse to file a lawsuit in court to grab your personal assets, such as other properties, land, or bank accounts, and may even garnish wages. These asset grabs and wage garnishments by banks may have not yet begun, but there is reason to believe they will begin as soon as the banks catch up with the foreclosure free-fall.

The business of banking in many common-law countries is not defined by statute, but by common law. World Law Direct explains: “Several states continue to adhere to the common-law rule that when a foreclosure sale does not yield at least the amount of the mortgage obligation, the mortgagee is entitled to a deficiency judgment measured by the difference between the foreclosure price and the mortgage obligation.” Common law allows lenders to sue borrowers directly, as well as file mul- tiple actions on the same mortgage default.

In the DEPCO v. Macomber case, which occurred during the infamous Savings and Loan scandal in the early 1990s, the Supreme Court of Rhode Island reiterated that the homeowner must pay a deficiency judgment to the bank based on the amount owed on the mortgage minus the “sale” price of the home. In the approximately eleven non-recourse states, the bank can only take the property, and cannot sue in court for any deficiency claimed to be owed to the bank. The states that can be classified as non-recourse for residential mortgages are: Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Washington (and recently joining the list, Nevada). Thus, one task ahead of Occupy Providence is to explore how Rhode Island can go about becoming a non-recourse, anti-deficiency state.

If you go with the short sale, current home sales in Rhode Island are taking way over a year if they sell at all; usually way past the period of time the homeowner can survive financially. During this time, the bank will expect payments on time, and will likely reject any reasonable short sale offer. Why? Because banks are holding the cards and have lots of options; among them, selling the mort- gage to a possibly related entity, or suing the home-owner for deficiency judgment in the state courts.

And there is yet another beast set upon the weary homeowner following foreclosure. Regardless of whether the mortgage is recourse or non-recourse, the deficiency judgment is taxable by the IRS. You will receive a 1099 from the bank on which will be reported your “income” from the sale of the house. That’s right. The IRS considers the bank’s write-off on their books as income on your books. Nothing else quite makes as clear the notion that money is not real.

For the moment, a Congressional bill put forth in 2007 put a stop to this phantom tax until 2010, and then extended it to December 31, 2012. It is currently unknown whether this date will be extended. Other options might be Chapter 7 bankruptcy, Chapter 13 reorganization, or the simple fact of insolvency: that is, if you don’t own any property, bank accounts, trusts, etc., there’s nothing to take from you.

There is no real incentive for banks to spend the billions of dollars they got to help people. The money goes around but does not stop in your hands. We ask anyone interested or knowledgeable in these subjects to please join us in this fight. After all, you are the 99 percent!

Burnside: Our Statue But Not Our Hero

By Patricia Raub. /// Historical Photos courtesy of Rhode Island Collection at Providence Public Library.

Photo by Chloe C

In 1887, Providence dedicated an equestrian bronze statue in the city’s center to Ambrose E. Burnside, who had died a few years earlier. The monument was the work of Launt Thompson, a well-known New York sculptor. It depicted Burnside with his signature side-whiskers, in military uniform and holding binoculars, presumably to monitor a battle unfolding below. The statue was mounted upon a twenty-eight-foot-high granite base.

The statue and base cost $40,000. About $16,000 of the cost was borne by the City and State. The rest was raised by private subscription, with donations ranging from twenty-five cents to $1,000. Rhode Island veterans of war— many of whom had served under Burnside— marched in the ceremonial procession to the dedication site where several dignitaries gave speeches. While we have only the words of the One-Percent from this event, one assumes

that the 99% were proud of their native son, too. They helped raise the funds to build the monument, and they “voted with their feet” by participating in the dedication ceremony.

The monument stood for nearly twenty years in Exchange Place, facing City Hall, with horses, wagons, and carriages moving in all directions around it.

When the new railroad station and federal building were built at the turn of the century and the open area was transformed into a park, the statue was moved further north and set upon a reconfigured base designed by local architect William R. Walker.

Over the years, not everyone treated the monument with the respect that some felt it deserved. During the annual Arts Festival in 1969, the statue was “dabbed and splashed and brushed with almost all the colors there are,” giving it a “psychedelic” look. Many complained that the painting spree was a “desecration and an insult to General Burnside’s memory.” While the horse and rider were embellished with water-based paint, the base was decorated with enamel paint that required sand-blasting to remove. The Superintendent of Parks, however, seemed unfazed, commenting that “much worse things have been cleaned up. I don’t think there will be any problem, and I’ll follow through on it.”

Over forty years later Occupy Providence has again focused attention on the Burnside Statue, holding its General Assemblies at its base, covering the monument with signs and banners, tying a mask over the statue’s face, and affixing a flag to the horse’s tail. Most of the signs and banners have since been removed so that masking tape will not damage the surface of the structure. Nevertheless, the statue has become the visual symbol of Occupy Providence, with tents clustered around it in all directions.

Whose statue is this? It is clearly our statue! When it comes to Burnside himself, however, most Occupiers know little about him besides the fact that he initiated sideburns and he was a Civil War general, apparently not a very good one. So. . .who was Burnside?

Burnside was, variously, the founder of a rifle works company, an officer for the Illinois Central Railroad, president of the Providence Locomotive Works, a three-term governor of Rhode Island, and, at the end of his life, a U.S. Senator. However, Burnside was primarily a career soldier who worked his way up to the rank of Major General during the Civil War.

It is for his actions during that war that Gen- eral Burnside is remembered. At the time of the monument’s dedication in 1887, Burnside was a hero to Rhode Islanders. Yet, few outside the state regarded him favorably. Lincoln’s lukewarm assess- ment of Burnside was that he was a “most meritorious and honorable officer”— whom the President had relieved of his command of the Army of the Potomac after his disastrous defeat at Fredericksburg.

More recently, Civil War historians have consistently ranked Burnside among the ten worst generals of the war, labeling him “a military dunderhead” with a “disturbing record of failure.” Burnside is scarcely a hero.

As a professional soldier before the war, he was responsible for the murder of Apache in New Mexico. During the war, he led his men unprepared into battle, and through his strategic incompetence contributed to the deaths of more than 900 soldiers at Fredericksburg. Later, he denied the right to free speech to anti-war advocate Ohio Congressman Clement Vallandigham, by arresting him. Later, he tried to close down an anti-administration newspaper in Chicago.

In civilian life, Burnside was an industrialist and likely to have been no friend of labor. As a Governor and then U.S. Senator, Burnside was part of a select group of prominent native-born white men who looked out for their own interests rather than the interests of the average Rhode Islanders, a growing number of whom were working-class immigrants.

Whose hero is Burnside? Not our hero. For that matter, not anyone’s hero.

_______________________

Sources

“The Burnside Statue.” New York Times. (June 26, 1887: 9).

“A Clean Base for Burnside.” Providence Journal-Bulletin (June 19, 1969: 25)

Knight Edwards. “Burnside: A Rhode Island Hero.” Rhode Island History (January 1957).

Robert Freeman and Vivienne Lasky. Hidden Treasure: Public Sculpture in Providence
(Providence, 1980).

“General Burnside’s Death.” New York Times (September 16, 1881: 1).

William Marvel. Burnside (Chapel Hill, 1991).

John Nanlon. “Burnside a Hit—Generally Speaking.” Providence Evening Bulletin (June 2, 1969: 2)

Horatio Rogers. Dedication of the Equestrian Statue of Major-General Ambrose E.
Burnside: In the City of Providence, July 4, 1887, with the Oration of General Horatio
Rogers; Together with Some Account of General Burnside’s Funeral, and of the
Movement Resulting in the Erection of the Statue (Providence, 1887).

Craig L. Symonds. “Who Were the Worst Ten Generals?” North & South: The Magazine of Civil War Conflict (May 2004).