Chris Murphy is Selling Us On ‘Empire Lite,’ and We’re Falling For It

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This story plays out consistently in American politics: a lawmaker or candidate comes along and advocates for one or a few positions activists of some sort have been waiting years for a public figure to get behind.

Encouraged, those activists whole-heartedly embrace the politician without first looking closely into the nuances of his or her record and positions.

That’s what’s going on right now with Chris Murphy, the Democratic U.S. senator from Connecticut. He took the lead on challenging the U.S. military’s role in the Saudi war on Yemen, something few other members of Congress were willing to do, and he’s backing that up with calls to rethink U.S. policy abroad.

He’s started a website titled “Chance for Peace” and positioned his political brand around “A Progressive Foreign Policy.” The reaction, from what I’ve seen, has mostly been applause.

But, if you talk to peace activists in Murphy’s home state—people much more familiar with his track record—they’ll tell you to be much more skeptical.

“Progressive doesn’t mean pacifist,” Joanne Sheehan, a Norwich, Conn., activist with the War Resisters League, told me recently. “It doesn’t even mean anti-militarist.” Continue reading

In Four Years, Taxpayers Spent $18-Million On Medicaid Assistance For Workers at Rhode Island Companies Receiving Millions in Economic Development Tax ‘Incentives’

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Between the state’s 2014 and 2017 fiscal years, Rhode Island allocated $18-million through its Medicaid-funded Rite Care and Rite Share medical assistance programs to employees working at companies that simultaneously received more than $114-million in state subsidies designed to spur job growth and workforce development.

CVS Health topped the list for total Rite Care and Rite Share expenses, as well as total tax incentives received. According to Rhode Island Unified Economic Development Reports, CVS employees and their dependents utilized $5.7-million in medical assistance during the four-year period in which the Woonsocket-based company also received $63-million in tax benefits.

Since 2008, CVS has received more state subsidies than any other business: $175-million of the nearly $350-million disclosed in the Division of Taxation’s annual reports on tax credits and incentives.

The second and third highest totals for Medicaid-funded benefits were at jewelry maker Tiffany & Company, and submarine builder Electric Boat, with employees and their dependents receiving $4.5-million and $3-million in government-funded health insurance benefits, respectively. Continue reading

Connecticut’s General Dynamics Giveaway and Its ‘Astroturf’ Supporters

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The term “astroturfing” comes to mind when reading recent testimony given in favor of a bill under consideration in Connecticut, titled, “An Act Establishing the Apprenticeship Connecticut Initiative,” a proposal with a seemingly well-intentioned name and an obscured agenda: to handout government money to the highly lucrative defense contractor General Dynamics-Electric Boat.

The Trojan Horse here—the bill, among other “investments,” would result in the allocation of $100-million in state grants to fund infrastructure projects at the submarine maker’s Groton shipyard—is not lost on skeptical and genuinely grassroots organizations such as the Connecticut Association of Smaller Manufacturers, which said taxpayers have reason to “fear the complexity of this bill is masking a hidden agenda.”

“The Federal government pays submarine manufacturers billions of dollars to deliver and service their products and these manufacturers can well afford their own capital spending,” the organization said in written testimony recorded April 2. “During a time of fiscal distress, this is an insult to the Connecticut taxpayer. Imagine what we could accomplish if we gave our technical highs schools a $100M grant.”

The organization concluded: [T]he deck seems heavily stacked toward large corporations.”

But you’d never get that sense from reading testimony given by the innocently titled Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology, which never mentions Electric Boat by name or the $100-million grant to subsidize “acquisition of lands, buildings, machinery, equipment or any combination thereof.” Continue reading

The Myth of General Dynamics-Electric Boat and Its ‘Middle Class Jobs’

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The author Joan Didion famously wrote, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”

In Rhode Island and Connecticut, we tell ourselves myths about Electric Boat in order to justify building war machines.

There are the obvious myths: that a fleet of nuclear-armed submarines costing upwards of $104-billion will be a force for peace in the world; that executives at parent company General Dynamics gobbling up millions of dollars in compensation each year on the taxpayer dime are “patriotic”; and that some other community will build these weapons systems anyway if Southern New England doesn’t—so why shouldn’t we?

The fourth myth, which might be the most rich, is that the top brass at General Dynamics-Electric Boat actually care about our community, that they’re people committed to providing us with “good middle class jobs,” the kind of “blue collar” work that still provides an income you can raise a family on. Continue reading

Despite State Law, Rhode Island Has Never Evaluated Its Business Tax Incentives

[NOTE: An audio version of this story aired on Rhode Island Public Radio.]

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In 2013, Rhode Island lawmakers directed the state’s revenue department to analyze tax incentives created to spur economic development. The idea was to assess whether those incentives were actually working.

Linda Katz, co-founder and policy director of the non-profit Economic Progress Institute, was one of the people who supported the law.

“It’s the bang for the buck,” said Katz, whose organization advocates for policies that benefit lower-income Rhode Islanders. “We want to know if we’re giving away money in order to either attract a company here, keep a company here, try to ignite some activity, that we know that, at the end of getting that tax break, we’re actually better off than we were before the company got here.”

But there’s one key problem: the state has yet to produce a single evaluation required under the law. The first report was due last June. Continue reading

General Dynamics Doesn’t Need Money From Connecticut or Maine

[NOTE: A version of this opinion article was published in The Day newspaper, of New London, Conn.]

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General Dynamics is not a poor company.

Far from it.

Like all of the country’s top defense contractors, its stock is trading at record highs. As of this writing, one share in the Falls Church, Virg.-based company costs more than $226, nearly $55 more than tech giant Apple.

General Dynamics’ current market capitalization, a measure of a company’s value, is $67.2-billion, up $14.6-billion from 2016. To put that into context, Maine’s entire gross domestic product was $59.3-billion in 2016.

On a recent earnings call, CEO Phebe N. Novakovic told analysts the company’s revenue last year exceeded $31.7-billion, outperforming the prior year by $412-million. Cash flow for the year was $3.45-billion.

And things should only get better. Continue reading

General Dynamics CEO Calls Republican Tax Law a ‘Happy Event’

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Top brass at defense contractor General Dynamics, owner of New England subsidiaries Bath Iron Works, and Electric Boat, say they are buoyed by the anticipated reduction in their company’s effective tax rate under the sweeping “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” pushed into law last month by Republican members of Congress and Pres. Donald Trump.

On an earnings call earlier this week, Chief Financial Officer Jason W. Aiken told analysts the company, based in Falls Church, Virg., will likely see its 2017 full year rate of 28.6 percent drop to 19 percent in 2018.

According to a transcript of the call available online, Chief Executive Officer Phebe N. Novakovic characterized the passage of the tax overhaul as “a happy event.” Continue reading

Rhode Island is Still Not Complying With Its Own Law on Evaluating Tax Incentives

[NOTE: This story is part of an ongoing reporting project being developed for Rhode Island Public Radio.]

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Rhode Island appeared to be headed in the right direction in 2013 when it signed into law the Economic Development Tax Incentives Evaluation Act, officially requiring regular analysis of its many “business development” tax breaks to corporations.

But, more than four years on from its enactment, the Evaluation Act has yet to amount to much more than a symbolic victory for the advocates for government and corporate accountability who helped push it through.

Continue reading