Category: Allied Approaches

Let’s decode Trump’s Afta-Nafta trade deal

Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower Author, Commentator, America’s Number One Populist

In a very weird twist in his chaotic 2016 presidential campaign, Candidate Trump started sounding like a genuine, workaday populist, fuming at his rallies about the devastating effects of Nafta and other international trade deals, and how they’ve shafted America’s blue-collar workers. He was right, and The Donald promised his mad-as-hell working class he would not stand for it. Of course, the pampered son of privilege never meant it. And, sure enough, as president, Trump promptly sold out workaday Americans to his real base: The global corporate elite.

He’s now delivered to Congress his New! Improved! Nafta! It is a piece of Trumpscam that he rebranded–Ta-dah!–the United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA). This issue of The Lowdown is sounding the alarm about the extraordinary level of corporate avarice and malevolence that is baked into it. We’re urging all Lowdowners to pay attention, spread the alarm, and act while there is still time to fix it–possibly turning Trump’s raw deal into a good deal.

The pitch

“Keep your eye on the ball” is not only a core principle for baseball players, but also for us commoners trying to assess exactly what the spinmeisters of global trade are hurling at us. Their deals are and always have been large-scale hustles, filled with hypocrisy, deceit, and greed. Promoted as fair and good for all, they’re invariably rigged with profiteering schemes that lock into law advantages for corporations over the common good of consumers, the environment, labor, independent businesses, governments, and all other democratic forces.

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Taxes, Grand Fortune, and Gloria Vanderbilt

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

Hundreds of advocates for a more equitable economy will be gathering in Washington, D.C. this coming Tuesday for an all-day conference on “Taxing the (Very) Rich.” Hundreds more will be streaming online and watching as conference speakers explore a variety of bold new proposals, everything from an annual tax on wealth to tax penalties on corporations that pay their top execs unconscionably more than their workers.

Many of these same proposals will then soon likely surface again almost immediately, at next week’s first set of national debates for the Democratic Party’s White House hopefuls. Most of the 20 debaters figure to endorse one — or more — of the ideas that get Tuesday’s “Taxing the (Very) Rich” spotlight.

In other words, we’re shaping up to have a really good week for tax justice. We haven’t had a political climate this open to new initiatives for taxing the super rich since FDR sat in the White House.

All this political momentum, not surprisingly, has America’s flacks for grand fortune more than a little bit worried. They thought they had us convinced that upping taxes on the rich would wreck the economy and penalize “success.” But Americans aren’t buying what the flacks are selling. Our richest owe their “success,” many more of us now understand, to an economy they’ve spent the last four decades rigging.

Serenades to the “successful” are clearly not winning over a deeply skeptical — and cynical — American public. So the flacks are switching gears. They’re doubling down on the cynicism all around us. They’re arguing that taxing the super rich will always be a fool’s errand — because the rich and their armies of lawyers and accountants will always be able to stay a step ahead of Uncle Sam.

So why bother trying to tax the rich, the argument goes, when these deepest of pockets can simply evade whatever taxes Congress imposes? Just accept reality, the flacks implore us. The rich will always stay rich.

That happens not to be true. History shows we can make real progress against grand concentrations of private wealth. We did just that in the mid-20th century, a time when Americans making more than $400,000 a year faced top income tax rates over 90 percent and heirs to grand fortunes had to watch estate tax rates as high as 77 percent carve multiple millions off their inheritances.

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GOP congressman voted for tax cuts, now says America is too indebted to pay for appropriations bill

Josh Israel

Josh Israel Senior Investigative Reporter, Think Progress

Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-PA) voted against a bill last week that would fund the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education for the next year.

His reasoning? He says the measure included “support of taxpayer-funded abortions” — which it does not — and that he does not believe the nation can afford that, after tax cuts he voted for massively expanded the budget deficit.

Smucker is a longtime opponent of abortion rights. In his bi-weekly newsletter — delivered Sunday and tweeted out on Monday — the second-term congressman explained his objection in a section called “In Defense of the Unborn.”

“Last week, the House Democrats offered a spending package (H.R. 2740) that will spend billions more than our current budget caps allow—including in support of taxpayer-funded abortions,” he wrote.

“Our nation is more than $20 trillion in debt, and longstanding policy has been to separate abortion from healthcare funding. The bill would overturn these provisions and would also undermine other critical protections for the lives of the unborn. I couldn’t support these provisions and opposed the bill.”

Smucker included a link to a floor speech from Friday in which he railed against the provisions.

While the bill, which cleared the House, would continue limited funding for fetal tissue research and would lift a gag order by President Donald Trump for family planning providers who mention abortion, it does not actually provide any funding for abortions.

“Hyde Amendment” prohibitions also were included in the bill, which would make it harder for poor women and gender minorities to access abortions.

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The Frontlines of the Health Care Fight in Western Pennsylvania

Savannah Kinsey Healthcare Rights Committee Coordinator, Put People First! PA

Editor’s note: Savannah Kinsey presented this testimony during a House Budget Committee on Poverty in America on June 19, 2019. The hearing was part of a series of events in Washington, D.C. organized by the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival to highlight the campaign’s Poor People’s Moral Budget.

I am 22 years old, a member of the LGBTQ community, and I am from Johnstown, Pennsylvania, which is a town of about 20,000 people in Western Pennsylvania. The population of Johnstown is about 77 percent white, 14 percent African American, and 4 percent Latino.

I graduated from Greater Johnstown High in 2014. And even though I graduated, everyday life is still very challenging. This is because the school system is very flawed and doesn’t teach the real history of this country. Education should teach all of us to hear and understand everyone’s differences, and backgrounds that they have come from.

Johnstown used to be a booming steel mill town. But once the mills closed, it went downhill. If you’ve heard of my town at all, it’s probably because of our opioid problem. I’ve known a few people who’ve died, including my friend Nycki.

She was poor, like a lot of people in Johnstown. In fact, Johnstown has the highest poverty rate of any town in the state. Thirty-eight percent of all people and 63 percent of people under 18 are living below the official poverty line.

Nycki turned to drugs and that led to going in and out of jail. She never got the treatment she needed. When she overdosed two years ago, she left behind a four-year-old daughter. Nycki was just 26 years old.

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How The Super-Rich Avoid Paying Their Share

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

We have a great deal of statistical data, in America today, about the economic circumstances of Americans who live in poverty. We know far less, by contrast, about Americans who live amid great wealth. And much of what we do know, suggests a revealing new study, turns out to be wrong.

America’s wealthiest, this new study details, almost certainly hold substantially greater personal fortunes than our standard analyses of the nation’s distribution of wealth indicate.

What are these conventional analyses not taking into account? A simple reality of our deeply unequal age: Extravagantly wealthy people cheat on their taxes. Regularly. Extravagantly, too. Our super rich are stashing vast chunks of their personal fortunes in offshore tax havens, generating billions annually in new income that — to their governments — goes unseen and untaxed.

Just how enormous has this tax evasion by the super rich become? University of California-Berkeley economist Gabriel Zucman and his Scandinavian colleagues Annette Alstadsæter and Niels Johannesen calculate — in a just-published American Economic Review paper — that offshore tax havens are enabling our world’s richest 0.01 percent to evade 25 percent of the income taxes they ought to be paying.

The holdings of this wealthiest one-hundredth of 1 percent, the three researchers relate, make up about 50 percent of the overall assets parked in tax havens. The super rich are using these havens, add Zucman and his colleagues, to conceal about 40 percent of their total personal fortunes.

The most recent Federal Reserve Board figures on U.S. inequality, released this past March, put the top 1 percent’s share of American personal wealth at 32 percent, up from 23 percent in 1989. Other estimates place the top 1 percent share closer to 40 percent. But with the new calculations from Zucman and his colleagues, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy’s Matthew Gardner reflects, even this 40 percent estimate could well be a distinctly “low-ball number.”

But can we trust the numbers from the Zucman team? After all, how could a mere trio of researchers unearth hidden fortunes that the super rich spend big bucks to keep hidden? These three particular researchers had some unconventional assistance.

Over recent years, whistleblowers at some of the private banks and legal firms that cater to wealthy tax evaders — remember the “Panama Papers”? — have exposed vast stores of financial records that document the daily nitty-gritty of tax-evading transactions. The Zucman team tapped these records.

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The Black Working Class Was Hit Especially Hard by Factory Job Loss and Industrial Flight

Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch

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

If you’ve visited the Internet sometime over the past two-and-a-half years, you almost certainly have come across a diner story.

You know the one. A reporter from a big fancy news outlet with its headquarters in New York City or D.C. flies out to a working-class town in Ohio or Michigan or Pennsylvania or maybe even Wisconsin and stops at the local diner — or maybe a sports bar. There, the reporter talks to people over pancakes and coffee or chicken wings and beer about their political opinions and why they think Donald Trump got elected president, then files a story and immediately flies home.

There were so many of these stories in recent years — full disclosure: we shared them and even are featured in some — that predictably there was pushback. One of the criticisms is that these pieces aim to figure out the white working-class voter but leave out the voices of people of color who also live in these places.

While some folks have taken pains to capture diverse voices — Chris Arnade comes to mind — there are examples where this criticism is valid. Slate was among the outlets that critiqued The New York Times for visiting Youngstown, Ohio, but failing to capture the voices of the majority-minority city, which is 43 percent black.

And Slate went a step further, sending reporter Henry Grabar to Buckeye State to get the perspective of “the people in Youngstown, Ohio that the national media usually ignores.” Grabar’s report highlights the unique struggles that the black community in Youngstown has faced over the past several decades, writing that whatever “went wrong for the white working class here went even worse for their black counterparts.”

It’s not just Youngstown. Back in 2016, Gerald D. Taylor — himself a Youngstown native! — highlighted some of these issues in the report Unmade in America: Industrial Flight and the Decline of Black Communities. As Taylor notes, manufacturing in the mid-20th century allowed many black families the opportunity to begin to build a nest egg, own their own homes and move into the middle class.

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Across the Border: Teaching Service-Learning as Labor Activism

Michelle Fazio Associate Professor, University of North Carolina

Summer is already in full swing and with that comes the promise of fresh, local produce available at community-supported agricultural (CSA) farms and farmers’ markets. North Carolina, ranked as the leading producer of tobacco and sweet potatoes according to the USDA, has long held the position of being one of the highest-producing and diversified agricultural leaders in the U.S. Many of my students who live in the rural Southeast region of the state come from farming backgrounds themselves and, as a result, have a strong understanding of what it takes to run a family farm.

However, my students, like most consumers, are far less familiar with the realities of the over 150,000 migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their dependents who labor each year on these farms, contributing to billions of dollars in North Carolina’s economy. These individuals—both H-2A (temporary agricultural workers) and undocumented immigrants—remain invisible to most and are the second lowest paid workers nationwide, making on average $11,000 per year. Without access to overtime, sick leave, workers’ compensation, or the ability to fight wage discrimination, farmworkers have the fewest workers’ rights in the nation, yet, as we know, their labor hand-picking food feeds the world.

Farm work is dangerous work. According to Charles D. Thompson, Jr. and Melinda F. Wiggins, farmworkers suffer from many job-related illnesses due to prolonged exposure to sun, heat, and pesticides and often have limited access to drinking water in the fields. Unsanitary living conditions, including inadequate toilet facilities, also result in multiple occupational hazards that range from dermatitis and Green Tobacco Sickness (GTS) to respiratory illness and repetitive work injuries. Farmworkers are also extremely isolated from other communities and face food insecurity, lack access to pre-natal care or health care for children, and suffer from depression.

These matters were exacerbated by the devastation caused by last fall’s Hurricane Florence, which flooded the Southeastern corridor for weeks. As NPR reported, fear over Trump’s anti-immigration policies and inflammatory rhetoric frightened farmworkers away from seeking much-needed food and medical assistance. The severe flooding left many out of work and in need of shelter, but workers were either unable to leave their camps because of their remote location or did not qualify for assistance. Fortunately, local non-profit agencies devoted to promoting migrant farmworker justice, such as the Episcopal Farmworker Ministry (EFwM) and Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF), answered the call and provided bottled water and other supplies. They also initiated a fund-raising campaign to support the rebuilding of homes and additional services for the workers and their families.

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'Eye-Popping': Analysis Shows Top 1% Gained $21 Trillion in Wealth Since 1989 While Bottom Half Lost $900 Billion

Jake Johnson Staff Writer, Common Dreams

Adding to the mountain of statistical evidence showing the severity of U.S. inequality, an analysis published Friday found that the top one percent of Americans gained $21 trillion in wealth since 1989 while the bottom 50 percent lost $900 billion.

Matt Bruenig, founder of the left-wing think tank People's Policy Project, broke down the Federal Reserve's newly released "Distributive Financial Accounts" data series and found that, overall, "the top one percent owns nearly $30 trillion of assets while the bottom half owns less than nothing, meaning they have more debts than they have assets."

The growth of wealth inequality over the past 30 years, Bruenig found, is "eye-popping."

"Between 1989 and 2018, the top one percent increased its total net worth by $21 trillion," Bruenig wrote. "The bottom 50 percent actually saw its net worth decrease by $900 billion over the same period."

 

"Enormous crisis," Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) tweeted in response to Bruenig's analysis.

"We have the worst inequality in this country since the 1920s," wrote Jayapal, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. "Three wealthiest people in America have as much wealth as the bottom 50 percent."

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Reposted from Common Dreams

Congress has never let the federal minimum wage erode for this long

David Cooper

David Cooper Senior Economic Analyst, EPI

June 16 marks the longest period in history without an increase in the federal minimum wage. The last time Congress passed an increase was in May 2007, when it legislated that the minimum wage be raised to $7.25 per hour on July 24, 2009. Since the minimum wage was first established in 1938, Congress has never let it go unchanged for so long.

When the minimum wage remains unchanged for any length of time, inflation erodes its buying power. As shown in the graphic, when the minimum wage was last raised to $7.25 in July 2009, it had a purchasing power equivalent to $8.70 in today’s dollars. Over the last 10 years, as the minimum wage has remained at $7.25, its purchasing power has declined by 17 percent. For a full-time, year-round minimum wage worker, this represents a loss of over $3,000 in annual earnings. Moreover, since its historical peak in February 1968, the federal minimum wage has lost 31 percent in purchasing power—meaning that full-time, year-round minimum wage workers today have annual earnings worth $6,800 less than what their counterparts earned five decades ago.

A simple way to fix this problem once and for all would be to adopt automatic annual minimum wage adjustment (or “indexing”), as 18 states and the District of Columbia have done. The Raise the Wage Act of 2019 would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2024—boosting wages for nearly 40 million U.S. workers—and establish automatic annual adjustment of the federal minimum wage. Automatic annual adjustment would ensure that the paychecks of the country’s lowest-paid workers are never again left to erode.

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Reposted from EPI

Millions to lose benefits under Trump’s proposal to change how poverty is defined, new study shows

Amanda Michelle Gomez

Amanda Michelle Gomez Health Reporter, Think Progress

A new study released Tuesday shows just how insidious the Trump administration’s proposal to change the way the federal government measures poverty actually is. In short: millions could lose health and food benefits.

By way of background, in May, Trump’s budget agency sought public comment on updating the inflation rate used by the Census Bureau to determine the poverty line and estimate who’s poor. This technical change matters a lot because the federal poverty line is used to determine who’s eligible for government benefits like Medicaid, food stamps, and other assistance programs.

The administration floated a lot of options to replace what’s known as the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is what the government currently uses to estimate the federal poverty line. But given the administration’s desire to slash benefits, as made clear over the years in proposed budgets and bills, it is likely to use a measurement that would redefine poverty in a way that cuts federal assistance to millions of low-income Americans.

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) analyzed the effects of one optionthe administration is likely leaning towards: “chained CPI” (or C-CPI), which was also used in the GOP tax bill passed in 2017. Chained CPI usually grows slower than traditional CPI, which means a lot of low-income people would be at risk of losing aid if the administration moves forward with this option.

The CBPP estimated that by the 10th year of calculating the poverty line using chained CPI, millions of people — including pregnant women and children — would become ineligible for or receive less help from various government programs.

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A Friendly Reminder

A Friendly Reminder

Union Matters

This Deep Pocket Lets His Millions Do His Talking

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

Ask hedge fund mogul Bernard Selz why he’s bankrolling the anti-vaccine movement and you won’t get much of an answer. The Washington Post tried, calling Selz at his Manhattan home. The answer offered up by the woman who answered and refused to identify herself: “There’s nothing to say.” Actually, the 79-year-old Selz ought to have a lot to say about why he’s invested over $3 million over the last few years into groups claiming that federal health officials are covering up the dangers from the measles vaccine. Before 1963, the year current measles vaccinations began, 400 to 500 Americans a year died from the disease.

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