Liquid error: undefined method `select!' for #<ContentNode::ActiveRecord_Associations_CollectionProxy:0x0000564321c31a30> Did you mean? select _select!

Posts from

Super-rich tax cheats can now expect to avoid audits after years of Republican sabotage guts IRS

Alan Pyke

Alan Pyke Deputy Economic Policy Editor, Think Progress

Here is a picture of neglect: Out of every 100 taxpayers who reported more than $1 million in income last year, just three got audited by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

The feds were similarly reticent to examine the filings of corporate taxpayers, auditing less than half of the 633 separate business entities that currently hold assets whose value exceeds $20 billion.

These alarming figures are just the continuation of a multi-year downward trend on basic accountability for those taxpayers who are best positioned to pay fancy accountants to skulk through the tax code looking for places to hide their loot from the public.

The decline in the number of audits of high-income individuals is particularly stark, as Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) noted in their report on the data, released Thursday. Twice as many million-dollar earners were audited in 2010, at which time the IRS identified $5.1 billion in unpaid taxes from 32,494 audits. Last year’s considerably more torpid effort to provide oversight of the well-to-do pulled in just $1.9 billion, per TRAC.

More ...

Maxine Waters to consumer watchdog workers demoralized by Trump sabotage: You are not alone

Alan Pyke

Alan Pyke Deputy Economic Policy Editor, Think Progress

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) has a message for the federal consumer watchdog workers fighting to protect your wallet from white-collar predators: Don’t let the bastards grind you down.

In an open letter, the prominent progressive darling and long-time leader of the House Financial Services Committee’s Democrats sought to encourage Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) employees who’ve seen stark changes under the new management of Republican appointees who would rather their agency not exist.

The morale-boosting missive also served as a reminder to employees that a whistleblower portal can protect them from recriminations should they feel the need to report malign conduct by President Donald Trump’s administration.

“Let me assure you that actions to weaken the Consumer Bureau from within as Director Mulvaney attempted to do will not go unchecked or unnoticed,” Waters wrote to the staffers. After the Democrats took back the House, Waters became chairwoman of the Financial Services Committee.

“If, in the course of your work, you are a witness to waste, fraud, abuse or gross mismanagement, please do not hesitate to alert me and my staff,” she wrote.

 The letter also directed concerned staffers to a confidential whistleblower reporting tool housed at the Financial Services Committee website.

More ...

Zinke used Thanksgiving to sneak a Koch adviser and party loyalist into key public information role

Alan Pyke

Alan Pyke Deputy Economic Policy Editor, Think Progress

After attracting more scandals in 18 months than his four predecessors managed in  16 years, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke quietly shut the door to further public scrutiny of his office over the Thanksgiving break.

The secretary gave control of incoming Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to former Koch Industries adviser and longtime Zinke consigliere Dan Jorjani in an order dated November 20 but first uncovered Monday afternoon by the Center for Biological Diversity.

Zinke’s move on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving is best understood as a reshuffling of his resources, from attack to defense. Jorjani has worked for the agency since at least May 2017, serving as the chief lawyer putting Zinke and Trump’s agenda into black-letter policy action. He worked with energy industry interests to pen the rollbacks of Obama-era regulatory decisions protecting migratory birds and rejecting a mining proposal at the edge of Minnesota’s Boundary Waters, according to reporting by Pacific Standard’s Jimmy Tobias.

As Zinke’s management of the department drew scandalous scrutiny — like so many other Trump cabinet secretaries, Zinke appears to play fast and loose with ethics rules governing travel costs — Jorjani wrote to a colleague that Interior staffers’ primary responsibility is to protect Zinke from negative press. He will now be the central gatekeeper of the agency’s documents when journalists, watchdogs, and other citizens seek insight into the conduct of their government

More ...

Here’s the pricetag Senate Dems are charging Mitch McConnell to leave DACA out of the budget deal

Alan Pyke

Alan Pyke Deputy Economic Policy Editor, Think Progress

In exchange for leaving out a key program protecting about 800,000 undocumented immigrants, Senate Democrats have pried several billion dollars in funding increases for other domestic policy priorities out of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

A document circulating among House Democrats and outside ally groups like NDD United labels the total haul of the deal as “a $131 billion increase for non-defense programs.” That figure is calculated based on how spending levels would have automatically dropped if lawmakers failed to reach a deal to waive so-called “sequestration” — the automatic annual cuts to spending that Congress has partially waived each year since 2012.

Compared to that same kind of routine sequestration mitigation budgeting, the deal’s increases to spending on domestic programs are smaller, a combined $57 billion over two years. That is a large number in a vacuum, but small in context of the massive figures involved in providing services to the public. The first year of the deal, for example, adds $26 billion more than simply canceling sequestration would have done  — making the new cap $542 billion total, which is still less than the inflation-adjusted spending Congress approved on such services in 2011. Schumer has in effect won a 5 percent bump to domestic spending caps that leaves the long-suffering cash-starved systems like public housing far behind the funding levels experts say they need.

The document also boasts that the deal between McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) would flout President Donald Trump’s will. Trump proposed a $54 billion cut to the category for Fiscal Year 2018, meaning the Schumer-McConnell “non-defense funding cap will be $117 billion higher than the level requested by President Trump,” the sheet says.

More ...

Trump Liberates Kansas from the Governor who Wrecked its Economy

Alan Pyke

Alan Pyke Deputy Economic Policy Editor, Think Progress

Kansas won’t have Sam Brownback to kick around anymore.

The second-term Republican governor who wrecked his state’s economy and ruined the education system to give rich Kansans a tax break will quit his job to accept a new posting as Ambassador-At-Large for International Religious Freedom.

Brownback’s nomination marks the second time President Donald Trump has tried to help the onetime presidential hopeful move on from the economic and political crisis he fueled on the High Plains. The first — a cushier gig in Rome working on food policy — fell through a couple months before Brownback’s political situation went from “bad” to “humiliating.”

The recent nomination, announced by the White House on Wednesday, is a political bailout for Brownback. The governor now leapfrogs a shortlist of experts Trump’s team had already prepared in order to run away from his failures that have harmed the quality of human life in his home state.

Brownback’s governorship was defined by what he called a “real, live experiment” in extreme right-wing fiscal policy, a version of Reaganesque trickle-down ideology with the volume knob turned to 11. The state all but eliminated taxes for the wealthy, not just slashing rates but allowing anyone who could afford some creative accounting to pretend to be a small business and start paying zero percent state income tax.

More ...

Betsy DeVos Rolls Back Regulations Holding For-profit Colleges Accountable

Alan Pyke

Alan Pyke Deputy Economic Policy Editor, Think Progress

Taxpayers and striving would-be students alike lost big on Wednesday. Twice.

The federal government will abandon two signature efforts to hold for-profit colleges accountable to the taxpayers who fund them or the Americans who take out loans to attend their classes, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced.

DeVos has canceled a pair of new regulations intended to thwart firms that over-promise and under-deliver on higher education credentials marketed primarily to lower-income adults eager to trade low-wage jobs for long-term careers. The move comes two months after DeVos rescinded another Obama-era policy aimed at protecting student loan borrowers from predatory debt servicers.

One of the now-ended federal policies is known as the “gainful employment rule.” It was hammered out over years of research and compromise, and was finalized in 2014. The policy restricted companies’ access to taxpayer-funded student loan dollars if too few of their graduates ultimately find jobs that pay well enough to allow them to repay their loans. While some critics worried the final rule was too lax, the outgoing Obama team announced that some 800 programs nationwide were failing to meet its standards as of early January.

More ...

Trump budget could mean fatally cold winters for some of America’s poor

Alan Pyke

Alan Pyke Deputy Economic Policy Editor, Think Progress

Last winter, you helped six million American households — all of them poor and most of them home to a senior citizen, young child, or disabled adult — keep the heat on through the winter.

You didn’t do it on purpose. The government did it for you, through a program American lawmakers created in 1980 in hopes that no one in the world’s richest country would have to choose between buying groceries and avoiding hypothermia.

Since the dawn of the Reagan era, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) has subsidized the utility bills of tens of millions of Americans through hoary northern winters and blistering southern summers.

That nearly four-decade legacy would end forever under President Donald Trump’s first budget proposal. The plan’s broader fiscal irresponsibility is clear — it hands wealthy people hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks while paring back or outright canceling scores of public services and investments in the nation’s future — but its true cruelty is easier to spot down in the details.

More ...

Days after administration promised not to touch food stamps, Trump budget reportedly will cut them

Alan Pyke

Alan Pyke Deputy Economic Policy Editor, Think Progress

“As far as I’m concerned we have no proposed changes” to the food stamps program, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue told congressmen last Wednesday. “You don’t try to fix things that aren’t broken.”

Perdue’s comments, delivering during a Wednesday House Agriculture Committee hearing, seemed to signal that President Donald Trump would not seek to shrink America’s efforts to help low-income families feed themselves.

Yet just five days later, a leaked budget document seems to show the White House is going back on Perdue’s commitment — contemplating some combination of policy changes and outright budget cuts for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as food stamps) and other key food supports for the poor.

The leaked spreadsheet lists proposed budget requests for thousands of different government line items, without any of the accompanying policy information that would explain the changes underlying shifts in spending. Without those details, observers can only speculate about what is driving Trump’s proposed changes to federal spending. But the document shows clear and substantial cuts from 2017 budget levels.

More ...

North Carolina Bill Would Kick 133,000 People off of Food Stamps

Alan Pyke

Alan Pyke Deputy Economic Policy Editor, Think Progress

For most people, the food stamps program is about fighting hunger.

For North Carolina state Sen. Ralph Hise (R), however, it seems to be about fighting the concept of unfairness — even if it means booting 133,000 human beings off of the food assistance rolls.

Hise defended the Republican senate leadership’s decision to rescind a 2010 expansion of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) eligibility by arguing that the current system, under which more people are less hungry, isn’t fair.

The 2010 rules make anyone who qualifies for another North Carolina poverty assistance program eligible for food stamps as well, for households with incomes up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. It’s a common policy known as broad-based or categorical eligibility, which streamlines the administrative process for poverty programs whose benefits come from federal dollars, not state budgets.

But to Hise, local NBC affiliate WRAL reports, that program creates a pernicious “double standard” for food assistance.

More ...

Texas hunters who blamed immigrants actually shot each other, cops say

Alan Pyke

Alan Pyke Deputy Economic Policy Editor, Think Progress

When police first found a hunting guide and his client bleeding from gunshot wounds on a south Texas ranch in early January, everyone on the scene had their stories straight.

The hunters told police they suspected the shooters were undocumented immigrants they had seen on the ranch earlier in their trip. Their story soon jumped into online right-wing circles, thanks in part to Texas Commissioner of Agriculture and Donald Trump ally Sid Miller.

But it was a lie, according to police and, now, a grand jury. Investigators determined that guides Walker Daughetry and Michael Bryant in fact shot at one another by accident, striking Daughetry and hunter Edwin Roberts in the process. Daughetry and Bryant were indicted for third-degree felonies last Wednesday.

Miller, who previously courted online infamy with a vulgar tweet about Hillary Clinton during last year’s election campaign, deleted his initial Facebook post about the incident after news broke that police were suspicious of the hunters’ story. But his leap to promote the hunters’ story in the immediate wake of the shootings was more labor-intensive than simply sharing a news report.

More ...

Union Matters

A Just, Inclusive and Sustainable Economy

From the AFL-CIO

This week, labor leaders from across the country descended on New Orleans to map out the path ahead for our movement. From trade and public education to equal pay and paid leave to back pay for federal contract workers and bargaining power for all, the AFL-CIO Executive Council tackled the issues that will define working people’s fight for economic justice in 2019 and beyond.

Sending waves through Washington yesterday, the Executive Council’s most notable decision was its announcement that, “if the administration insists on a premature vote on the new NAFTA in its current form, we will have no choice but to oppose it.” Here are a few highlights from the statement:

  • Trade policy must be judged by whether it leads to a just, inclusive and sustainable economy....By that measure, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which has driven the outsourcing of so many good jobs, has been a catastrophic failure. More than 850,000 U.S. jobs were shipped overseas under NAFTA between 1993 and 2013.
  • By design, NAFTA distorted power relationships in favor of global employers over workers, weakened worker bargaining power and encouraged the de-industrialization of the U.S. economy.
  • After a quarter-century of this race to the bottom, workers in all three NAFTA countries find it more difficult to form unions and negotiate collective bargaining agreements.
  • The NAFTA renegotiation requires strong labor rights provisions and strong enforcement provisions that as of today are not yet in the agreement.
  • The current effort by the business community to pass the new NAFTA is premature, and if it continues, we will be forced to mobilize to defeat it, just as we mobilized to kill the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

***

More ...

New NAFTA Must Create an Economy for All

New NAFTA Must Create an Economy for All