Category: Allied Approaches

Trump Budget Would Slash Funding for Manufacturing Extension Partnerships

Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch

Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch Digital Media Director, Alliance for American Manufacturing

It seems like a thousand news cycles ago now, but President Trump unveiled his proposed 2020 budget on Monday.

The $4.75 trillion budget includes major cuts to federal spending for domestic programs while increasing funding for defense and border security. Lots of people are fired up about it, but it’s important to keep in mind that Congress has the ultimate say over the budget — and lawmakers have rejected many of Trump’s budget requests in the past.

Still, the budget does offer a glimpse into the Trump administration’s priorities for the upcoming year, and as such we spent some time digging through the document for items that may impact manufacturing. One thing in particular caught our eye: Trump’s proposal to severely cut — and eventually phase out — federal funding for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) program.

This is a terrible idea. Just terrible.

MEP runs a network of centers in all 50 states and Puerto Rico designed to help small and medium-sized manufacturers improve their businesses, including through things like product development, worker training programs, and business continuity planning.

MEP punches above its weight when it comes to achieving results. The $128 million invested in MEP during fiscal year 2017 generated almost $1.9 billion in returns to the federal treasury, according to a study by the Upjohn Institute.

Meanwhile, MEP has helped create 985,117 jobs since its founding in 1988. That’s nearly a million jobs!

That’s not all, either. When MEP celebrated its 30th anniversary last year, it noted it has worked with 94,033 manufacturers, helping generate $111.3 billion in sales and $18.8 billion in cost savings for its clients.

That is why it strikes us as foolhardy for the Trump administration to try to gut the program. Trump proposes cutting current funding levels by $125 million for fiscal 2019 — which would leave just $5 million left for the program. Eventually, the federal government would cut off all funding, according to the proposal.

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Putting Billionaires in Their Place

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

America’s billionaires have suddenly realized they just may be facing an existential crisis. A good chunk of the American people, they now understand, would rather billionaires not exist. Every billionaire, as a key aide of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has famously quipped on his popular Twitter feed, represents “a policy failure.” The nation needs, posits a recent New York Times op-ed, to “abolish billionaires.”

Our more pugnacious billionaires — and their devoted admirers — have greeted this new abolitionist thrust with predictable scorn. National Review columnist Kevin Williamson has tagged the case against billionaires as “irredeemably stupid.” Any attempt to tax billionaires out of existence, suggests three-comma investment banker Ken Moelis, would surely “crush the economy.”

More sober defenders of the billionaires in our midst take care to acknowledge the widening — and troubling — gap between the fabulously wealthy and everyone else, but then urge us, all the same, to “think twice before seeking to flatten every tycoon.”

“It may seem counterintuitive,” adds Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt, “but billionaires can be good for democracy, and a bulwark against tyranny.”

Bill Gates, the holder of the world’s second-largest fortune, agrees: “The idea that there shouldn’t be billionaires — I’m afraid if you really implemented something like that, that the amount you would gain would be much less than the amount you would lose.”

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Airport Screeners Still Shorted Pay for Work During Shutdown

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Some 1,000 of the nation’s 40,000-plus airport screeners, among the lowest-paid federal workers -- whose morale is also at rock bottom, surveys show -- “haven’t received the bulk of their back pay” from when they had to toil during GOP President Donald Trump’s 5-week partial government shutdown.

The screeners, officially known as Transportation Security Officers, complained to their union, the Government Employees (AFGE). It in turn had to raise the issue with their employer, the Homeland Security Department, says AFGE President J. David Cox

Cox discussed the screeners’ situation in a brief March 13 interview during the AFL-CIO Executive Council meeting in New Orleans. The screeners were among the almost 420,000 federal workers whom Trump forced to toil without pay during the shutdown, which started at midnight Dec. 21. He locked another 380,000 or so workers out.

Forcing the screeners to toil without back pay, and leaving them wondering how they would feed their families and pay the rent, may have driven one Orlando Airport screener, depressed over the situation, to commit suicide, his AFGE local president said.

Trump shut down nine Cabinet Departments, including Homeland Security, in his unsuccessful campaign to force Congress to yield to his demand for $5.7 billion for his Mexican Wall, which foes call both racist and ineffective.

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Lumber Liquidators Agrees to $33 Million Penalty for Dangerous Made in China Flooring

Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch

Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch Digital Media Director, Alliance for American Manufacturing

You might remember that back in 2015, the television news program 60 Minutes aired an investigative report finding that national chain Lumber Liquidators was selling Made in China laminate flooring containing dangerously high levels of formaldehyde, a substance known to cause cancer.

The segment – if you feel like getting angry today, just watch it below –  prompted the government to investigate, and a class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of the 760,000 customers who had purchased the poisonous flooring.

In 2018, Lumber Liquidators was ordered to pay a $36 million settlement as a result of the class action lawsuit. And on Tuesday, the company agreed to pay a $33 million penalty to settle federal charges that it misled its investors about the flooring. Reuters reports:

The Justice Department settlement includes a deferred prosecution agreement, under which the government agreed not to prosecute Lumber Liquidators for securities fraud so long as the company upgrades oversight and cooperates with its ongoing probe for three years. … The amount the company will pay represents Lumber Liquidator’s net profits from the sale of 100 percent of its Chinese laminate from January through May 2015, U.S Attorney’s office said.

The company also has completely replaced its senior executive team, and “installed experienced executives who have displayed a commitment to building an ethical corporate culture,” according to U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger.

As 60 Minutes reported, the Chinese-made laminate flooring sold by Lumber Liquidators contained astonishingly high levels of formaldehyde. When a team of investigators featured in the report tested 150 boxes of the flooring, they found every single piece of it exceeded California emissions standards, some 20 times above acceptable levels. A 2016 federal investigation confirmed much of those findings.

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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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House passes sweeping voting rights, electoral reform bill

Addy Baird

Addy Baird Reporter, ThinkProgress

House Democrats passed expansive legislation last week aimed at increasing ballot access, including making Election Day a federal holiday, as well provisions for publicly financing elections and requiring presidents to release their tax returns.

The bill, known as HR 1, passed by a vote of 234-193 Friday. It has been a top priority for Democrats since the party took back the House in November, following an election marked in large part by voting rights issues, including Stacey Abrams’ refusal to concede in the Georgia gubernatorial election and the passage of Amendment 4 in Florida, which re-enfranchised 1.4 million formerly incarcerated people.

While many of the individual provisions have been considered in previous bills, progressive voting rights and electoral reform legislation has been essentially nonexistent since Democrats lost the House eight years ago, and the party has made HR 1 their top priority since taking back the chamber.

Though the bill is unlikely to pass the Senate — and even less likely to be signed into law by President Donald Trump — legislators and activists have cheered the bill’s passage as step one and hope it will become law should a Democrat win in 2020.

“In the years since the Supreme Court struck down critical protections in the Voting Rights Act, voters of color have faced intimidation, voter suppression and an outright theft of our electoral power,” Jennifer Epps-Addison, network president and co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy, said in a statement Friday. “HR1, the For the People Act, is a step forward in ensuring that all of us, no matter who we vote for, what we look like, or what we believe, can have our voices heard in our democracy. It improves access to the ballot, strengthens election security, ends partisan gerrymandering, and bolsters oversight and accountability of elected officials. Democracy is best when all of us can participate in it.”

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New NAFTA Must Create an Economy for All

New NAFTA Must Create an Economy for All

Union Matters

Support the Equality Act

From the AFL-CIO

Rep. David Cicilline and Sen. Jeff Merkley last week reintroduced the Equality Act in the 116th Congress. A landmark piece of civil rights legislation, the bill would extend comprehensive protections to LGBTQ working people.

Currently, private employers in 29 states can legally fire workers based solely on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Equality Act would ensure that civil rights protections are extended equally to LGBTQ Americans.

Amending existing federal civil rights laws, it would explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in education, employment, housing, credit, federal jury service, public accommodations and the use of federal funds.

More than 70% of Americans—including a majority of Republicans—support passing the kinds of protections found in the Equality Act.

The Equality Act’s record number of co-sponsors in the House of Representatives is 239.

 “No one’s civil rights should depend on the ZIP code they happen to be in at the moment.” —Pride At Work Executive Director Jerame Davis

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