Posts from Richard Eskow

Medicare For All: Accept No Substitutes

Richard Eskow

Richard Eskow Writer, Host, "The Breakdown;" Senior Fellow, Campaign for America's Future

This week, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced the Medicare for All Act of 2019. A companion bill of the same name has already been introduced in the House by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA). That’s good news for the country. Unfortunately, these bills are facing opposition from what, for some people, will be an unexpected direction.

I don’t mean Republicans. They’ve already lost the health care debate, in one sense, now that large majorities of voters support Medicare for All. The real threat may well come from its Democratic friends. They’re the people who say they support Medicare for All’s “goals,” but claim to have found a better way to achieve them.

Intentionally or not, Medicare for All’s “frenemies” are sowing confusion about it. Among them is Ezekiel Emmanuel, who argues, “At least four different approaches to health reform could truthfully carry the Medicare for all label.”

Why would that be so? The term was crafted by Sanders, Jayapal, and their allies to describe a single-payer system, administered by the government, with no copayments or deductibles, and without the participation of private insurers.

To be sure, the idea’s frenemies have added to the chaos. A variety of watered-down alternatives to Medicare for All have been proposed, most with names that sound like “Medicare for All”: “Medicare X,” “Medicare Extra for All,” “Medicare for America” … (I’m still waiting for a proposal called “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Medicare for All!”)

These plans are Medicare for All decoys. They claim to resemble Medicare for All, at least in their outcomes, but they’re not. Each depends on some naive combination of employer cooperation, insurance company goodwill, “smart shopping,” and Rube Goldberg-like fiscal contraptions. Each would continue to force working Americans to spend thousands of dollars on premiums, copays, and deductibles, at a time when most families say they’d have trouble finding $1,000 to cover an emergency.

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An Economy in the Fast Lane – With No Brakes

Richard Eskow

Richard Eskow Writer, Host, "The Breakdown;" Senior Fellow, Campaign for America's Future

Donald Trump has been bragging about the economy a lot lately. He says the United States is now the “economic envy” of the world. Unfortunately, Trump is once again trying to reshape reality to fit his own delusions. Reality is refusing to cooperate.

It’s true the U.S. economy is in the fast lane, by some measures, just as it was in the final years of Barack Obama’s presidency.  But where, exactly, is it headed?

And what will happen when the next blowout comes, as it inevitably will?

We know one thing: average Americans, who have seen their incomes stagnate while inequality rises, and their wealth declines, will bear the brunt of the next recession.

Less Than Amazing

First, it should be noted that what Trump calls an “amazing” economy isn’t amazing for everyone. As Bernie Sanders correctly notes, 40 percent of Americans don’t have $400 on hand for an emergency – a brake job, for example, costs $567 on average for both axles – and 43 percent of Americans (50 million households) can’t afford to meet their basic monthly expenses.

A full two-thirds of Americans would have trouble coming up with $1,000 for an emergency.

More than 44 million Americans are struggling with more than $1.5 trillion in student debt. Others struggle to pay credit card debt, mortgages, and usurious payday loans.

Nor is the world likely to “envy” the tens of millions of Americans living in poverty, including the estimated 5.3 million Americans living in deep poverty like that of the poorest Third World countries.

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For Captured Regulators, Repealing the Volcker Rule is Child’s Play

Richard Eskow

Richard Eskow Writer, Host, "The Breakdown;" Senior Fellow, Campaign for America's Future

Perhaps the most condescending and unintentionally revealing comments any banker made in the wake of the banker-created 2008 financial crisis came from Jamie Dimon, CEO of too-big-to-fail bank JP Morgan Chase.

“Not to be funny about it,” Dimon told a congressional panel in 2010, “but my daughter asked me when she came home from school ‘what’s the financial crisis,’ and I said, ‘Well it’s something that happens every five to seven years.”’

Millions of Americans lost their homes in the wake of Wall Street’s crisis – which, come to think of it, isn’t that funny at all.

Downturns are so simple, Dimon implies, that they can be explained to schoolchildren in a single sentence. Dimon also admitted his own industry’s ineptness and irresponsibility when he told the panel that “in mortgage underwriting, we somehow missed that home prices don’t go up forever.”

Dimon wasn’t the only banker to tell Congress that the titans of Wall Street were clueless. “We never knew what was happening at any minute,” said Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein.

Perhaps schoolchildren should have been doing the underwriting. Their analyses couldn’t have been much worse, and their ethics would almost certainly have been better.

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How Trump and the GOP’s SCOTUS Screw Workers

Richard Eskow

Richard Eskow Writer, Host, "The Breakdown;" Senior Fellow, Campaign for America's Future

Many  have observed, correctly, that the Supreme Court’s recent 5 to 4 decision upholding forced arbitration for employees is a “devastating blow” to the rights of working people. This decision by the court’s conservative majority will affect an estimated 60 million workers, who will now be unable to band together to fight the legal and financial power of their employers when they have been mistreated in the workplace.

Judges in the Machine

Americans have traditionally viewed the Supreme Court as an unbiased, apolitical institution. But today, more than ever, this is an illusion. The court’s conservatives are now an openly partisan cadre. They’re political operatives, not jurists. They’re part of a vast and well-funded Republican machine that seeks to screw American workers so it can further enrich its wealthy patrons.

Were it not for some underhanded Republican machinations, they wouldn’t even have a court majority.

Republican justices openly placed party above country in 2000 when they handed the presidency to a fellow Republican despite being unable to defend their decision as a precedent for future rulings. If they hadn’t done that, neither John Roberts nor Samuel Alito would be on the Court today.

Another cog in the Republicans’ anti-worker machine, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, denied a rightfully-elected president another Supreme Court appointment when he and his GOP Senate colleagues refused to hold confirmation hearings for Obama’s nominee, the moderate, highly qualified and widely respected Federal Judge Merrick Garland. Obama picked Garland to fill the seat of Antonin Scalia, the conservative ideologue who sat on the court from his appointment by Ronald Reagan in 1986 until his death in 2016.

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Mnuchin Flips Tax-Scam Grift, Hopes Nobody Notices

Richard Eskow

Richard Eskow Writer, Host, "The Breakdown;" Senior Fellow, Campaign for America's Future

With a little-noticed remark at a friendly event, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin discarded his past arguments for the Trump/GOP tax bill. All Mnuchin could offer in their place was one of the oldest and most discredited ideas in the conservative playbook (and that’s saying something).

It was a startlingly cynical move, even for the preternaturally cynical gaggle of gold-plated grifters running our government – a crowd whose sole ambition is the single-minded pursuit of additional wealth for themselves and their fellow Gilded Age grandees.

When the final taxonomy of these Trump Era swamp creatures is conducted, a special category will be reserved for Mnuchin, the Goldman Sachs banker turned Treasury Secretary who took a leading role in selling the Trump/GOP tax scam to the American people. His rule seems to be: If they don’t believe one lie, tell another.

Selling the Scam

From the tax bill’s name – the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” – to the arguments made in its favor, the bill has been a three-card monte played on middle-class Americans.

This revamp of this age-old streetcorner scam was devised by Trump, in collaboration with GOP congressional leaders Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, but Steve Mnuchin was the pitchman holding the bets and fast-talking the crowd.

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Death by Inequality: Poverty and Racism Are Killing America’s Children

Richard Eskow

Richard Eskow Writer, Host, "The Breakdown;" Senior Fellow, Campaign for America's Future

A new report concludes 600,000 children have died in the United States for no reason over a 50-year period. Thousands more will die this year, and next year, and the year after that. 600,000 is a lot of people. it’s more than the population of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Or Oakland, California. Or Minneapolis, Minnesota. Or Omaha, Miami, Atlanta, and Milwaukee.

An entire city of children has been lost.

This is the real “death tax.” It’s a tax on poverty, a tax on race, a tax on political powerlessness. And it’s paid with the lives of the innocent.

These deaths should have led every news broadcast and been a banner headline in every newspaper in the country. They would have been, if terrorists had killed these kids. After all, we changed our way of life after 3,000 people died on 9/11.  But after the deaths of 600,000 children, nothing’s changed at all.

Lost Children

The report, published in the journal Health Affairs, compared child mortality in the United States with that of 19 other comparably developed nations. Here’s what the authors found:

A child born in the U.S. is 76 percent more likely to die before reaching adulthood than a child born elsewhere in the developed world.

“From 2001 to 2010 the risk of death in the U.S. was 76 percent greater for infants and 57 percent greater for children ages 1–19.”

“During this decade, children ages 15–19 were eighty-two times more likely to die from gun homicide in the U.S.. Over the fifty-year study period, the lagging U.S. performance amounted to over 600,000 excess deaths.”

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Mulvaney’s In, Bankers Win, and Trump Shafts Americans Again

Richard Eskow

Richard Eskow Writer, Host, "The Breakdown;" Senior Fellow, Campaign for America's Future

A Trump-appointed judge has issued his ruling. Mick Mulvaney – the Tea Party Congressman turned Trump apparatchik – will run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The political extremist who once said the CFPB was “extremely frightening,” who called it “a joke… in a sick, sad kind of way”  and said he would “like to get rid of it,” is now its Acting Director.

Mulvaney didn’t wait for the judge’s ruling before taking the helm. He showed up at the office bearing doughnuts for the staff.

Were the condemned being served their last meal?

A quick review of the CFPB website on Monday showed that he had already placed himself at the top of the org chart:

 

On his first day on the job, Mulvaney froze all hiring and rule-making, bringing the bureau’s critical work to an effective standstill. The banks had won the first round. And Trump proved once again that, when it comes to fighting for working Americans, he’s just another fast-talking huckster.

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Orrin Hatch’s “Bullcrap” on Taxes Is Exactly That

Richard Eskow

Richard Eskow Writer, Host, "The Breakdown;" Senior Fellow, Campaign for America's Future

That’s the epithet Orrin Hatch threw at his fellow senator, Sherrod Brown, during a meeting of the Senate Finance Committee.  Brown’s offense? He pointed out that Republicans aren’t shooting straight when they say their tax cuts for the rich will help the middle class.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) had called the GOP’s bluff with an amendment to their bill that would have cancelled tax cuts for corporations if middle-class wages don’t rise – something Republicans have promised their tax plan will deliver.

Republicans promptly blocked it.

Stating the Obvious

As he spoke for Wyden’s doomed amendment, Brown commented upon the obvious. “I just think,” he said, “it would be nice, just tonight, before we go home, to just acknowledge, well, this tax cut really is not for the middle class, it’s for the rich.”

Apparently that remark hit a little too close to home, because Sen. Hatch pretty much lost it. “I come from poor people,” Hatch said, “and I’ve been here working my whole stinkin’ career for people who don’t have a chance. And I really resent anybody saying that I’m just doing this for the rich… We didn’t have anything. So don’t spew that stuff on me — I get a little tired of that crap!”

Added Hatch: “This bullcrap that you guys throw out here really gets old after a while.”

Believing In Opportunity

The problem with Hatch’s impassioned tirade is that Brown was correct, and voters know it. Only one-third of registered voters support the Trump/GOP tax plan, according to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, while slightly more than half oppose it.

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Why We Need to Confront the Billionaires’ Paradise

Richard Eskow

Richard Eskow Writer, Host, "The Breakdown;" Senior Fellow, Campaign for America's Future

The concentrated wealth of the global plutocracy is the dark matter of the world economy: it is rarely glimpsed and difficult to measure, yet it reshapes everything around it.

Two recent reports – the UBS/PwC report on the “new Gilded Age” of the international billionaire class, and the “Paradise Papers”  released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) reveal ways corporations and the ultra-wealthy avoid taxes. In doing so, they offer a glimpse into this darkness.

Together, these releases tell us a lot about the wealthy few who run the world.

We now know that the British royal family has been less than open with the people they rule, who preserve their dubious privilege to monarchy. And we have learned that, by investing in a Lithuanian shopping center as an end run around taxes, U2’s Bono may have finally found what he’s looking for.

But these reports also help us see how much we still don’t know about the powerful few. In an era when, according to the Institute for Policy Studies, only three Americans  – Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffett – own more wealth than half of our entire population, we need to do more to understand  – and confront – the super-concentration of resources.

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Medicare For All Can Reshape the ‘Art of the Possible’

Richard Eskow

Richard Eskow Writer, Host, "The Breakdown;" Senior Fellow, Campaign for America's Future

Bernie Sanders unveiled his Medicare for All bill this week, and 16 Democratic senators signed on as cosponsors. The last time he introduced a bill like it, not one senator was willing to join him. They considered the idea impossible, utopian.

Times have changed.

The senators who shared a podium with Sanders understand this bill won’t pass in today’s Republican-dominated Congress. They signed on because it’s a good idea, and because they recognize that by doing so they can both reflect and reshape a shifting political landscape.

They’re aware that Sanders’ presidential campaign triggered a wave of energy and activism that continues today. They recognize that this nascent political movement is a powerful political engine, and its diverse millennial base makes it the Democratic engine of the future.

They understand how change happens: as an ongoing dance between street-level activism and electoral politics.

A Declaration of Principles

With this bill, 17 senators – nearly one-third of the Senate’s Democrats, including several presidential prospects – are saying health care is a human right and a public good. That’s a declaration of principle.

They are also defending the principle of progressive taxation. The program would be funded through higher taxes on the wealthy, eliminating special tax breaks, a one-time tax on offshore profits, and a fee levied against big banks.

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Union Matters

America’s Wealthy: Ever Eager to Pay Their Taxes!

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

Why do many of the wealthiest people in America oppose a “wealth tax,” an annual levy on grand fortune? Could their distaste reflect a simple reluctance to pay their fair tax share? Oh no, JPMorganChase CEO Jamie Dimon recently told the Business Roundtable: “I know a lot of wealthy people who would be happy to pay more in taxes; they just think it’ll be wasted and be given to interest groups and stuff like that.” Could Dimon have in mind the interest group he knows best, Wall Street? In the 2008 financial crisis, federal bailouts kept the banking industry from imploding. JPMorgan alone, notes the ProPublica Bailout Tracker, collected $25 billion worth of federal largesse, an act of generosity that’s helped Dimon lock down a $1.5-billion personal fortune. Under the Elizabeth Warren wealth tax plan, Dimon would pay an annual 3 percent tax on that much net worth. Fortunes between $1 billion and $2.5 billion would face a 5 percent annual tax under the Bernie Sanders plan.

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No Such Thing as Good Greed

No Such Thing as Good Greed