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Seriously Taxing the Rich Will Take ‘Guts’ — and More

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

Jan Schakowsky doesn’t need to apologize for anything. This veteran member of Congress from Illinois has a record second to none on issues that matter to working people. Over the course of her 20 years on Capitol Hill, Schakowsky has introduced much more than her share of innovative legislation, bills like her Patriot Corporations of America Act, a measure designed to give companies that pay their top execs only modestly more than their workers a better shot at winning government contracts.

But today, in a special Congressional Progressive Caucus Capitol Hill briefing on taxes, Schakowsky did some apologizing of sorts. Her previous attempts at making the U.S. tax code more progressive, she acknowledged, had called for a tax rate on America’s highest income bracket at no more than 49 percent.

Schakowsky called that 49 percent — a figure close to the top rate during most of the Reagan years and a dozen points over the current top rate — the highest rate she “had the guts” to propose. But then, she added, along came Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her call last month for a 70 percent top rate “for the richest among us.”

“And lo and behold,” smiled Schakowsky, referencing the favorable polling on that 70 percent proposal, “the American people think that’s a good idea.”

Schakowsky went on to pledge that she’ll be working with Ocasio-Cortez, her Congressional Progressive Caucus co-host for today’s tax briefing, to draft legislation that enshrines a new, considerably higher top rate in America’s tax code.

In a sense, the bold Ocasio-Cortez move to propose a 70 percent top rate — a rate totally unimaginable in polite political circles just weeks ago — has liberated Schakowsky to go as bold on taxing the rich as she has always wanted to go, and that couldn’t be better news. Today, at a time of intense income and wealth concentration, we need to be bold — on multiple tax fronts.

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What LA Teachers Tell Us About Rising Inequality

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

Back during the 1960s and 1970s, in cities, suburbs, and small towns across the United States, teacher strikes made headlines on a fairly regular basis. Teachers in those years had a variety of reasons for walking out. They struck for the right to bargain. They struck for decent pay and benefits. They struck for professional dignity.

The teachers’ strike in Los Angeles, America’s second-largest school district, was the latest high-profile walkout in a new surge of teacher activism that began last year. L.A. teachers went on strike to demand the same dignity and decency teachers sought in the mid-20th century. But the L.A. struggle, many observers believe, amounts to much more than a battle over how school officials treat teachers.

Teachers in L.A. went on strike, in a most fundamental way, against how unequal America has become. They’re speaking out against our billionaire class.

In Los Angeles, our billionaires have been up to no good. They’ve essentially staged an unfriendly takeover of the L.A. board of education, shoveling mega millions into the campaigns of school board candidates pledged to advancing an agenda that funnels public tax dollars to “charter schools” that have next to no accountability to the public.

The newly elected billionaire-friendly board majority then proceeded to hire as superintendent a billionaire investment banker with no background in education. That billionaire proceeded to go about making L.A. a model for privatizing big-city school districts the nation over. Teachers in Los Angles are striking to stop him.

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No Money for Pensions, But Plenty for Parties

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

Private equity work has been sweet for Marc Leder, the numero uno at Sun Capital Partners. He’s parlayed his takeovers of troubled firms into a fortune big enough to make him a co-owner of the Philadelphia 76ers in basketball and the New Jersey Devils in hockey. New York’s tabloids, meanwhile, have come to dub the hard-partying Leder “the Hugh Hefner of the Hamptons.” The secret to his success? Private-equity firms, notes Center for Economic and Policy Research economist Eileen Appelbaum, plunder assets from the companies they buy, then send them into bankruptcy to sidestep their obligations to workers. Over the past decade alone, Sun Capital has bankrupted five firms and left their pension funds $280 million short. Leder, for his part, claims that the “vast majority” of Sun Capital deals have been successful. And he only parties hearty, the private-equity kingpin adds, 25 nights a year.

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U.S. Tax Policy Can Turn on a Dime. Has Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Just Turned It?

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

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Prices, Plutocrats, and Corporate Concentration

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

Andrew Leigh, a member of the Australian parliament, has a side gig. He just happens to be a working economist. Other lawmakers may spend their spare hours making cold calls for campaign cash. Leigh spends his doing research — on why our modern economies are leaving their populations ever more unequal.

Leigh’s latest research is making some global waves. Working with a team of Australian, Canadian, and American analysts, he’s been studying how much the prices corporate monopolies charge impact inequality.

The conventional wisdom has a simple answer: not much. Yes, the reasoning goes, prices do go up when a few large corporations start to dominate an economic sector. But those same higher prices translate into higher returns for corporate shareholders.

Thanks to 401(k)s and the like, the argument continues, the ranks of these corporate shareholders include millions of average families. So we end up with a wash. As consumers, families pay more in prices. As shareholders, they pocket higher dividends.

But this nonchalance about the impact of monopolies, Andrew Leigh and his colleagues counter, obscures “the relative distribution of consumption and corporate equity ownership.” Average families do hold some shares of stock, but not many. In the United States, for instance, the most affluent 20 percent of households own 13 times more stock than the bottom 60 percent.

These bottom 60 percent households, as a result, get precious little return from the few shares of stock they do hold, not nearly enough to offset the higher prices they pay on corporate monopoly products.

“On net, that means it’s nearly impossible for the typical U.S. family to make up for higher prices via the performance of their stock portfolio,” notes a Washington Post analysis of the Leigh team research. “When prices rise, low- and middle-class families pay. Wealthy families profit.”

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Can an Unequal Earth Beat Climate Change?

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

We either keep fossil fuels in the ground, or all of us are going to fry. So essentially posits still another new blockbuster study on climate change, this one just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Our fossil-fuel industrial economy, the study details, has made for the fastest climate changes our Earth has ever seen.

“If we think about the future in terms of the past, where we are going is uncharted territory for human society,” notes the study lead author Kevin Burke from the University of Wisconsin.

“In the roughly 20 to 25 years I have been working in the field,” adds another researcher on the effort, Wisconsin’s John Williams, “we have gone from expecting climate change to happen, to detecting the effects, and now, we are seeing that it’s causing harm,” as measured in property damage and deaths, in intensified flooding and fires.

The last time climate on Earth saw nearly as drastic and rapid a climate shift, scientists relate in another new study published in the journal Science, came some 252 million years ago, and that shift unfolded over the span of a few thousand years. That span of time saw the extinction of 96 percent of the Earth’s ocean species and almost as devastating a loss to terrestrial creatures.

Other scientific studies over this past year — most notably an October report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that warned we have a dozen years to avert a climate catastrophe — have made similarly alarming observations and together provided an apt backdrop for this month’s United Nations climate change talks in Poland.

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A New Twist for a Billionaire Addicted to Silence

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

The billionaire Richard Sackler doesn’t much like talking to the press, especially since in-depth media analyses have labeled Purdue Pharma, the privately held firm that’s made his family rich, a key profiteer behind the opioid crisis that last year cost nearly 50,000 Americans their lives. But Sackler’s low-profile may be fading. A Kentucky court last week ruled that depositions in a 2015 lawsuit against Purdue, including one from Sackler himself, must now be unsealed. The Sacklers are currently facing “mass litigation” for the overprescribing and deceptive marketing of the addictive painkiller OxyContin. That hasn’t stopped Richard from moving to profit from this mass addiction. He has patented, news reports have revealed, a “reformulation of a drug used to wean addicts off opioids.” The addict advocacy group PAIN has condemned this new patent for Sackler and his associates as morally “reprehensible.” Adds the group: “Maybe they can patent a funeral parlor next.”

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If Democrats Fracture, This Will Be the Fault Line

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

Back in the closing years of the 20th century, the British Labour Party leader Tony Blair thoroughly redefined his party’s essence. Labour, Blair believed, had to shake off the past and become a political force “on the side” of the upwardly mobile, not just workers and their unions.

Blair’s chief strategist, Peter Mandelson, would capture the new Blairite sensibility with a quip that would go viral in the UK, even before the days of social media.

“We are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich,” Mandelson opined, “as long as they pay their taxes.”

And those taxes would stay modest in the years after Blair’s electoral triumph in 1997. Prime minister Blair would pay precious little attention to the increasing concentration of British income, wealth, and power in the hands of a filthy rich few.

How did that benign neglect work out for average people in the UK? Not so well. Families in Britain’s industrial belt, reeling ever since the 1980s free-market fundamentalism of the Conservative Party leader Margaret Thatcher, continued on a dispiriting economic slide.

Corporate and banking honchos, meanwhile, stuffed their pockets and eventually crashed the British economy. For an encore, they helped shove Great Recession Britain into years of austerity that placed the full burden of economic recovery onto the backs of low- and middle-income households.

This toxic economic stew would bubble over into a widespread political frustration that right-wing fringe elements would shamelessly exploit. The resulting wave of racism and xenophobia and a national mood sour and cynical,” concludes one UK commentator, have become Tony Blair’s “legacy.”

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Even Super Good Times Sometimes Stop Rolling

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

India’s self-styled “King of the Good Times,” the Kingfisher beer and airline baron Vijay Mallya, seems to be in store for lots of not-so-good times. This past September, a local court ordered the sale of the super yacht Mallya had abandoned in Malta — complete with 40 crewmembers — after his arrest in London on fraud and money-laundering charges. Earlier this month, another court ruling awarded the abandoned crew almost $1 million in back pay. Mallya is now fighting extradition to India. The cells in India’s Mumbai Central Prison, he’s complained to British authorities, lack natural light. The 62-year-old is also tweeting regularly that he’s not getting “fair treatment” from politicians and the media. Mallya’s yacht, meanwhile, has begun a new life as a charter boat renting for $850,000 per week.

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Charmer Has a Severe Case of Upper Class Angst

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

The business press has pinned the label “charming” on Iain Tait, the 40-something with an inside track at becoming the top banana at one of the UK wealthy’s top wealth managers. But Tait himself acknowledges that money managers can be “strongly opinionated” and “picky.” What these days has Tait at his prickly pickiest? The prospect of Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn becoming the UK’s next prime minister. His wealthy clients, Tait told one British journalist last week, are worrying themselves sick about Corbyn’s egalitarian, pro-worker leanings: “It is now, without a doubt, the first thing that clients ask us: ‘What can we do to protect our wealth against Corbyn?’” Fears about Corbyn, Tait adds, “have doubled over the past couple of weeks.” What are Tait and his wealthy pals not particularly worried about? The new stats showing that British workers have just experienced the weakest paycheck decade since the 1870s.

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Union Matters

The Call for a General Strike

Richard Cucarese

Richard Cucarese Rapid Response Coordinator, USW Local 4889

It’s been only a few weeks since Labor pushed back against the longest, most punishing government shutdown in recent history, but sadly, over the jubilant cheers of victory, the ominous drumbeats of Congress warring in the trenches could be heard again, leaving 800,00 AFGE members pondering if they’ll be furloughed once more.

President Trump’s decided that the ‘Wall to Nowhere’ will be the hill to die on in this inane battle of attrition, government workers livelihoods be damned.  Keeping this in mind, the ominous question should be how much longer will it be before Trump and the entitled imperialists of D.C. realpolitik turn their sights towards millions of American workers, over 40% of whom, according to CBS News data, are one missed paycheck away from poverty?

As we suffer under the grim reality of decades long wage stagnation, no calls for a realistic minimum wage increase to keep the One Percent’s vulture bankers from our doors, nor a social program of Medicare For All, easing the burden of burgeoning medical costs overrunning the populous meager discretionary incomes, the powers that be seem more than willing to shutter government again, leaving scores unemployed, airport safety and security in perilous shape and costing the taxpayers $3 billion to do so.

And while Congress apparently shows no guilt spending an inconceivable $1.45 trillion dollars for 2018/19, to voluntarily spill blood in every conceivable corner of the globe promoting crony capitalism, strong armed acquisition of natural resources and the continuation of imperialistic follies, the long suffering American worker is left sifting through the rubble, limping through countless miles of crumbling infrastructure, closed factories, failing schools, bankrupting college loan payments, mass shootings and scores of broken dreams, leading to shortened life expectancy, drug overdoses and suicides.

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Let's Talk About Wealth

Let's Talk About Wealth