The Supreme Court takes up a gerrymander so egregious even its Republicans may strike it down

Ian Millhiser

Ian Millhiser Senior Constitutional Policy Analyst, Think Progress

Virginia has not held a democratic election for its House of Delegates for many years — though unless the Supreme Court intervenes in a case known as Virginia House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill, that’s about to change.

To be sure, the commonwealth goes through the motions of permitting its citizens to cast ballots and then counting those ballots every two years. But Virginia’s gerrymandered maps preordain Republican control of the state house. In 2013, Republicans won a 67-33 supermajority in the House of Delegates, despite the fact that Democrats swept Virginia’s statewide races in the very same election. After the 2017 elections, the GOP majority shrunk to 51-49 — but that’s after Democrats won the statewide popular vote by more than nine points.

Last January, a federal court ordered enough of the state house maps redrawn to give Democrats a very good shot of gaining a majority in the 2019 elections. The fate of this court’s decision that Virginia’s legislatively drawn maps constituted an illegal racial gerrymander is now before the Supreme Court — which will hear oral arguments next Monday.

Ordinarily, the Roberts Court is where voting rights go to die. Just last term, in Abbott v. Perezthe Supreme Court effectively held that white Republicans enjoy such an extraordinarily strong presumption of racial innocence that it is virtually impossible for voting rights plaintiffs to prevail when they accuse lawmakers of drawing district lines with racist intent. And that was before Justice Anthony Kennedy allowed President Donald Trump to choose his successor.

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When Dorms Mimic Mansions

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

At Princeton, they like to do things in style. One of the newer dorms on the university’s New Jersey campus has triple-glazed windows framed in mahogany.

Princeton — and the rest of America’s elite private universities — can easily afford such exquisite touches. These institutions of higher education are sitting on mountainous caches of cash, as the just-released new annual numbers on collegiate charitable contributions make abundantly clear.

Three elite schools — Harvard, Stanford, and Columbia — each received over $1 billion in new donations last year. The 20 universities with the year’s highest charitable hauls took in 28 percent of the contributions America’s colleges and universities pocketed in 2018. These 20 schools enroll just 1.6 percent of the nation’s college students.

Princeton, according to the latest public figures, holds an endowment worth $23.4 billion, the equivalent of over $2.8 million per student.

Should any of this concern you? Should those mahogany windows particularly bother you in any way? Probably should. You, after all, are helping pay for that mahogany.

Billionaires like former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, the patron of Princeton’s triple-glazed-window dorm, get to deduct off their taxable income the millions they contribute to their elite alma maters. Before last year, Americans with deep pockets could use charitable donations to write off up to 50 percent of their annual income. Today, thanks to the Trump tax cut enacted in 2017, our wealthiest can use those donations to write off up to 60 percent of that income.

In other words, average taxpayers are subsidizing billionaire contributions to “Grand Old Ivy.” For every $1 million billionaires make in contributions, they currently save in federal income taxes — and the federal treasury loses in revenue — $370,000. State governments lose dollars, too.

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Women’s national team escalates dispute with U.S. Soccer, filing gender discrimination lawsuit

Lindsay Gibbs

Lindsay Gibbs Sports Reporter, ThinkProgress

The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team took a big step in its ongoing wage dispute with the U.S. Soccer Federation on Friday — which, not coincidentally, was International Women’s Day — when it filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the organization.

“Despite the fact that these female and male players are called upon to perform the same job responsibilities on their teams and participate in international competitions for their single common employer, the USSF, the female players have been consistently paid less money than their male counterparts,” the complaint, filed by all 28 members of the USWNT in United States District Court in Los Angeles, states.

“This is true even though their performance has been superior to that of the male players — with the female players, in contrast to male players, becoming world champions.”

Indeed, the USWNT has won three World Cup titles, most recently in 2015, and is one of the favorites headed into the 2019 Women’s World Cup this summer in France. It is currently the top-ranked women’s soccer team in the world. The men’s team failed to even qualify for last year’s men’s World Cup.

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The big cheat of 2018: Corporations make billions in profits, demand tax refunds from the American public

Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit Author, editor, expert on income inequality

Many of our country’s largest corporations make billions of dollars in income, use deferrals and write-offs and credits to underpay their current tax bills by staggering amounts, and in some cases claim foreign profits and U.S. losses despite having much of their sales and assets in the United States. These captains of American capitalism are brazenly ignoring their responsibility to their own nation, a nation in desperate need of funding for education and infrastructure and job training.

The corporate tax rate nosedived from 35% to 21% in 2017, but the thirty companies listed here paid only 8.7% of their reported U.S. income in current federal taxes (even worse, an estimated 7.4% if U.S. income were based on a true percentage of sales). That’s $30 to $35 billion – from just 30 companies – that is owed to the American public.

Who’s the worst? Big tech?

Amazon claimed a REFUND on its $11 billion in U.S. profits. It did the same on nearly $6 billion in profits in 2017.

Netflix paid a 35 percent tax on its foreign earnings, a NEGATIVE TAX on its largest-ever U.S. earnings.

IBM had 37% of its 2018 revenue in the U.S., but claimed only 6% of its income in the U.S., and despite making a total profit of over $11 billion, it claimed a REFUND on its federal taxes.

Big Pharma?

Pfizer, whose CEO Ian Read once complained that U.S. taxes had his company fighting “with one hand tied behind our back,” had nearly half of its sales in the U.S. in 2018, yet claimed a $4.4 billion LOSS in the U.S. along with over $16 billion in foreign profits.

Abbott reported 35 percent of its revenues in the U.S., but a LOSS in the U.S. along with a $3.3 billion foreign profit.

Big finance?

Berkshire Hathaway made 85% of its $4 billion in profits in the U.S. in 2018, yet claimed a $1.6 billion tax REFUND while paying over a billion dollars in foreign taxes. Warren Buffett’s company had deferred $77 billion in recent years, then used Trump’s corporate tax break to write off over $25 billion. Billions of dollars owed to the American public just disappeared.

Bank of America paid 3% in federal taxes in 2018, 5% in 2017. Citigroup had 46% of its 2018 revenue in North America but declared only 31% of its profits in the United States. In the last two years it has paid only 7% in U.S. taxes on its declared profits.

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Jobs and Medicare for All Bargaining for the Common Good Comes of Age

Joseph A. McCartin Director, Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor & the Working Poor

The week-long strike by the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) in January 2019 marked the most significant struggle yet in a movement by teachers and other public-sector workers called Bargaining for the Common Good.  By striking over a long list of community-generated demands and with the support of a dense network of allies, LA teachers moved bargaining away from the union-versus-taxpayer framework into which public employers routinely push such conflicts.  Instead UTLA made itself the spearhead of an effort to reshape LA’s priorities around a common good agenda.  Drawing on several years of experimentation by public-sector unions around the country, and coming hard on the heels of the #RedforEd teachers uprisings of 2018, the LA strike illuminated a significant shift in union strategies, one that holds profound implications for the future of organized labor and the relationship of unions to working-class communities.

Judged by the “pure-and-simple” union standards of a generation ago, the UTLA strike might have been deemed a failure because it did not add a penny to the six-percent raise the LA school board had offered teachers prior to the walkout.  But the strike was anything but a failure. The union fought over issues that went far beyond salaries, issues at the heart of public education and its centrality to the aspirations of working-class Angelenos.

The teachers won commitments from the school district to reduce class sizes by four students by 2021, increase investment in the schools, hire school nurses and full-time librarians, reduce standardized testing and random searches of students, and launch a dedicated hot-line for immigrant families who need legal assistance.  Many of these demands were crafted with allies like the Association of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), and they explicitly challenged the austerity agenda of LA school superintendent Austin Beutner, a wealthy philanthropist and former investment banker who was installed by the LA school board in 2018 despite having no prior experience in education.

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