Category: From Campaign for America's Future

Wealth That Concentrates Kills

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

The weight of the wealth that sits at the top of America’s economic order isn’t just squeezing dollars out of the wallets of average Americans. That concentrated wealth is shearing years off of American lives.

The latest evidence for that squeeze on American wallets comes from the Census Bureau. Researchers there have just released results from their latest annual sampling of U.S. incomes. In 2018, the new Census stats show, incomes for typical American households saw a “marked slowdown.”

In effect, average Americans have spent this entire century on a treadmill getting nowhere fast. The nation’s median — most typical — households pocketed 2.3 percent fewer real dollars in 2018 than they earned in 2000.

The “vast majority” of American households, note Economic Policy Institute analysts Elise Gould and Julia Wolfe, “have still not fully recovered from the deep losses suffered in the Great Recession.”

America’s most affluent households have been having no such problem. Average top 5 percent incomes have increased 13 percent overall since 2000, to $416,520. The new Census Bureau figures, based on a sampling of U.S. households, tell us that top 5 percenters are now collecting 23.1 percent of the nation’s household income.

But these Census Bureau figures significantly understate just how much income America’s richest are annually grabbing, mainly because Census researchers “top code” high incomes to keep the identity of sampled deep pockets confidential. All incomes above fixed top-code levels get recorded at the top code. These levels have changed over the years, but the Census Bureau’s continuing reliance on top coding leaves us with figures that fudge the real extent of our inequality.

Analyses based on other data sources — like IRS tax return records — show that top 1 percenters alone are pulling down over 20 percent of America’s household income, essentially triple the top 1 percent income share of a half-century ago.

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Tax The Rich Before The Rest

Chuck Collins

Chuck Collins Director, Program on Inequality, Institute for Policy Studies

Presidential candidates should take a pledge: The middle class should not pay one dollar more in new taxes until the super-rich pay their fair share.

Already candidates are outlining ambitious programs to improve health care, combat climate change, and address the opioid crisis — and trying to explain how they’ll pay for it.

President Trump, on the other hand, wants to give corporations and the richest 1 percent more tax breaks to keep goosing a lopsided economic boom — even as deficit hawks moan about the exploding national debt and annual deficits topping $1 trillion.

Eventually someone is going to have to pay the bills. If history is a guide, the first to pay will be the broad middle class, thanks to lobbyists pulling the strings for the wealthy and big corporations.

Here’s a different idea: Whatever spending plan is put forward, the first $1 trillion in new tax revenue should come exclusively from multi-millionaires and billionaires.

Four decades of stagnant wages plus runaway housing and health care costs have clobbered the middle class. In an economy with staggering inequalities — the income and wealth gaps are at their widest level in a century — the middle class shouldn’t be hit up a penny more until the rich pay up.

The biggest winners of the last decade, in terms of income and wealth growth, have not been even the richest 1 percent, but the richest one-tenth of 1 percent. This 0.1 percent includes households with incomes over $2.4 million, and wealth starting at $32 million.

They own more wealth than the bottom 80 percent combined. Yet these multi-millionaires and billionaires have seen their taxes decline over the decades, in part because the tax code favors wealth over work.

This richest 0.1 percent receives two-thirds of their income from investments, while most working families have little capital income and depend on wages. But our rigged system taxes most investment income from wealth at a top rate of about 24 percent — considerably lower than the top 37 percent rate for work.

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The AMA Gets Out Of The Way Of #MedicareForAll

Tim Wilkins Our Future

In a major step forward in the fight for universal health care, the American Medical Association (AMA) has quietly pulled out of a lobbying group that seeks to undermine the growing support for Medicare For All. 

“The AMA has made the right – if overdue – call by leaving the Partnership For America’s Health Care Future, and to stop giving their credibility to this effort by big corporations to put profits before people’s health,” said George Goehl, the director of People’s Action, one of the nation’s largest networks of multiracial grassroots groups, which has made the fight for Medicare For All a top priority. 

In April, nearly a thousand People’s Action members took over the lobby of the Partnership’s offices in Washington, D.C., to demand that the PAHCF and its member organizations end opposition to universal health coverage. 

“We’re here because we’ve had enough,” wrote Goehl and Maria Elena Letona, the board president of People’s Action Institute, in a letter the activists delivered to the PAHCF. “We’re calling on PAHCF to immediately cease and desist from all attempts to undermine Medicare For All, and join us in the fight to ensure that health care is a right for everyone.”

The PAHCF was formed in 2018 by the nation’s largest drugmakers, insurance companies and private hospitals, including Blue Cross/Blue Shield, the Federation of American Hospitals and Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) to oppose Medicare For All. The AMA was a founding member of the organization.

Despite its benevolent-sounding name, this Partnership was formed with the express intent to kill momentum towards universal health coverage. The PAHCF spent $148 million on lobbying members of Congress in 2018 alone, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. 

The PAHCF has spent millions more this year on lobbying and ads against Medicare For All, including $200,000 on television adsin Iowa alone this month – an effort to influence the views of presidential candidates and voters in that early caucus state. 

In June, People’s Action activists from the Jane Addams Senior Caucus, Physicians for a National Health Care Program and Students for a National Health Program (SNaHP) occupied the main floor of AMA’s national convention in Chicago to demand they end their opposition to Medicare For All.  

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Trump Needs To Keep His Promise To Superfund

Lois Gibbs Our Future

The New York State Commissioner of Health issued an order of evacuation of pregnant women and children under the age of two living in the Love Canal Neighborhood.”

That was on August 2, 1978, when the first emergency action was taken to evacuate families from Love Canal – my neighborhood – in Niagara Falls, New York.  Dangerous chemicals were leaking throughout our community from a 20,000-ton chemical dumpsite, causing birth defects, miscarriages and cancer.

Five days later, Governor Hugh Carey visited Love Canal, and President Carter declared a federal health emergency. Ultimately, the government helped move over 800 families, and our activism led to the creation of Superfund to clean up and protect communities like ours from toxic pollution.

The Love Canal crisis helped give birth to the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), commonly known as the Superfund program, and the modern environmental protection movement. 

But today, 41 years after the nation first heard the cries for help from the people living near Love Canal, our country is moving backwards. Our government is not keeping its promise to clean up communities affected by toxic waste. This is ironic, because Trump has long claimed cleaning up Superfund sites is a priority for his administration. 

Superfund’s cornerstone principle was that the “polluter pays.”  President Jimmy Carter signed the Superfund bill with this in mind, knowing thousands of polluted communities around the country would need resources to eliminate public exposure to toxic chemicals. Cleanup would be funded by a tax on the industries that use these toxic chemicals.  

This tax on chemical uses provided a financial incentive for corporations to use safer chemicals, and find ways to recycle or send their wastes to other companies for reuse. It also provided funds to clean up sites that were abandoned when a corporation closed or from the legacy disposal of wastes.

The original Superfund bill passed in 1980 with bipartisan support – and this consensus worked well for 20 years, under Presidents Reagan, G.H.W. Bush, and, for a while, under President Clinton.

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How Teachers Helped Oust Puerto Rico’s Governor

Jeff Bryant Writing Fellow, Our Future

As Americans lament the current sorry state of democracy in Washington, D.C., government by the will of the people was very much alive recently in Puerto Rico, where a prolonged general strike that virtually shut down the island forced Governor Ricardo Rosselló to announce his resignation.

During the strike, huge crowds mobbed the governor’s mansion around the clock, closed highways in the capital of San Juan, and persuaded some presidential candidates in the Democratic Party to join in calling for the governor to resign.

Protesters had multiple grievances, but a “final straw” seems to have been a series of text messages leaked to an independent news organization in which the governor and his closest associates insulted political opponents and allies, members of the news media, and the LGBTQ community. Another notable target for insults in the text exchanges were the island’s public school teachers, whom the governor’s chief financial officer at the time, Christian Sobrino, called “terrorists.” (Sobrino and other top officials participating in the chats have resigned since the messages went public.)

Puerto Rico’s school teachers have been a constant nemesis to the Rosselló regime, and the island’s largest teachers’ union, the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (AMPR), united with other labor unions on the island to organize the general strike. Randi Weingarten, the leader of the American Federation of Teachers, which AMPR is an affiliate of, joined in the calls for Rosselló’s resignation.

The teachers’ disagreements with Governor Rosselló started long before the release of the insulting texts.

“People in Puerto Rico felt betrayed by the governor,” says Myrna Ortiz-Castillo in a phone conversation. Ortiz-Castillo is a third-grade teacher and serves as finance secretary at the AMPR local in Bayamon. She insists, “He is supposed to be the person who takes care of the people. Instead he took care of his friends.”

One of the “friends” Ortiz-Castillo is referring to is the charter school industry. During his tenure, Rosselló pushed through the first law allowing charter schools on the island, and after the bill passed, he continued to press for opening more charters. Now it seems his ousting, and the legacy of corruption he leaves behind, will likely damage prospects for the charter industry in Puerto Rico for some time.

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New York Points A New Way Forward For The Nation

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

What happens at America’s state level can sometimes reverse the political momentum of the entire nation. We experienced just such a reversal in 1978, when California conservatives pushed our country to the right. We may be poised to take a new direction, thanks to important victories in New York State for progressives.

Back then, on a calm June day, conservatives engineered a California earthquake. They won nearly two-to-one voter support for a ballot initiative that wrote a cap on local property taxes into the state constitution. This “Prop 13” initiative would in short order crater funding for California’s world-class public services.

For business interests, meanwhile, Prop 13 would prove to be a gift that keeps on giving. Before 1978, corporate property owners footed two-thirds of the state’s property tax bill, homeowners one-third. After 1978, that ratio flipped, leaving the homeowner share at two-thirds.

But Prop 13’s most lasting impact would be political. Prop 13 gave America’s cheerleaders for grand private fortune a simple winning formula for electoral success: Make elections about cutting taxes. Always.

Conservative pols would follow that formula. In the immediate wake of Prop 13, over a dozen other states enacted similar tax caps. In the 1980 presidential election, Ronald Reagan would then ride this tax-cut wave into the White House. Once in office, his administration quickly set about rewriting America’s economic rules — to privilege the rich and the corporations that make them richer.

Today, four decades later, we’re still living amid the extreme inequality Prop 13 did so much to create. But now, in a state a continent away from California, the surprise outcome of another titanic political battle may well signal the dawning of a new and far more egalitarian epoch.

New York has just enacted — over fierce billionaire opposition — legislation that takes a giant step toward defining decent, secure housing as a basic human right.

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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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Farm workers in New York deserve overtime pay

By David Dyssegaard Kallick and Daniel Costa

After decades of advocacy, New York stands at the brink of potentially passing the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act, a bill that would extend to the agricultural sector the right to organize and the right to overtime pay that most workers in other industries enjoy. Governor Cuomo has said he will sign the measure if it passes.

Democrats recently took leadership of the state senate and have a longstanding majority in the state assembly. Both chambers have an opportunity to take advantage of those majorities in a way that results in a historic improvement for the lives of workers who toil in difficult conditions for low pay in New York’s fields and dairies.

But victory is far from certain: plenty could happen between now and June 19, when New York’s legislative session ends. The New York Farm Bureau, unsurprisingly, is saying the bill “could dramatically change agriculture and hurt our rural economy.”

new report from the Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI) shows how the bill will help farmworkers, be manageable for farm owners, and offer tangible benefits to local communities.

The bill will most obviously be a gain for farmworkers in New York. On average, it will increase weekly earnings by between $34 and $95 per week. That’s money that will also be spent in the local economy, helping boost local businesses (and adding to sales tax revenues).

Other states have enacted laws requiring that at least some overtime be paid to farmworkers after a certain number of hours. In California—the largest agricultural state by far with over $50 billion in cash receipts going to farms and ranches—the legislature and governor enacted a law in late 2016 that gradually phases in overtime pay for farmworkers beginning this year.

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Mitch McConnell Is Democracy’s Grim Reaper

Adrienne Evans Executive Director, United Vision for Idaho

Donald Trump has proven himself unfit for the presidency at nearly every twist and turn. The lengths he will go to circumvent the constitution, violate the rule of law, and sink to unthinkable depths of immorality are shamelessly on display.

These efforts are only possible because of a more insidious danger – a man who has conscripted the Republican party to destroy our democracy, and the institutions designed to protect it.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is Trump’s most powerful weapon and one of the greatest threats to democracy, and the health and well-being of everyone in America.

This week, when asked about Democratic proposals including Medicare for All, McConnell said, “If I’m still the majority leader of the Senate after next year, none of those things are going to pass the Senate. They won’t even be voted on. So think of me as the grim reaper. None of that stuff is going to pass. None of it.”

Let that sink in. McConnell wants to be known as the personification of death in the form of a cloaked skeleton wielding a large scythe.

McConnell wields his power in the Senate to diminish the checks and balances designed to protect our nation from autocratic rule. He’s determined to take away your health care, and he’s motivated to do whatever it takes to make sure that happens, just so he can demonstrate this power.

Remember McConnell’s repeated and failed attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, decrying all the while that entitlement programs cost too much and must go? Then he ushered through the GOP tax bill, handing tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy that are estimated to increase the federal debt by $2 trillion over the next 10 years, and triggering cuts to vital programs for middle- and low-income people.

Disguised as a tax cut, this tax giveaway to the rich destabilized Medicaid and crucial resources that offer assistance to our poor, elderly, and people with disabilities. It put Social Security that people have worked a lifetime for, and rely on in retirement, at risk by driving up the deficit. It reworked medical tax deductions and threatens 13 million people who could lose their health care by 2027, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

McConnell exerts his power to destroy the very institution he presides over, and stack the courts with ideologues. By bending the rules to his liking, he has rammed through a record number of judicial confirmations to the lower courts, many to lifetime appointments, and landed two arch-conservative nominees – both hand-picked and groomed by far-right judicial activists – on the Trump Supreme Court.

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A Nation Where Only The Rich Have Homes?

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

In our daily lives, as anyone who keeps a household budget can attest, the unexpected happens all the time. A refrigerator motor fails. Some part on your car you never realized existed breaks down. A loved one passes away and you have to — you want to — be at the funeral a thousand miles away.

“Unexpected” expenses like these will, sooner or later, hit all of us. But all of us, says new research out of the Federal Reserve, can’t afford them.

In fact, just under 40 percent of Americans, says the Fed’s sixth annual household economics survey, “would have difficulty handling an emergency expense as small as $400.”

A fifth of American adults, the new Fed study adds, had major unexpected medical bills last year. An even larger share of Americans — one quarter — “skipped necessary medical care in 2018 because they were unable to afford the cost.”

Meanwhile, 17 percent of American adults can’t afford to pay all their monthly bills, even if they don’t experience an unexpected expense.

The new Fed report offers no anecdotal color, just waves of carefully collected statistical data. For a sense of what these stats mean in human terms, we need only look around where we live, particularly if we live in one of the many metro areas where inequality is squeezing millions of Americans who once considered themselves solidly “middle class.” Places like the Bay Area in California.

San Francisco, recent research shows, now has more billionaires per capita than any other city in the world. By one reckoning, San Francisco also has the highest cost of living in the world, as all those billionaires — and the rest of the city’s ultra rich — bid up prices on the most desirable local real estate.

But the Bay Area squeeze goes beyond the confines of San Francisco. Nearby Oakland and Berkeley are facing enormous affordable housing shortages as well. The Bay Area as a whole now has more than 30,000 homeless.

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Union Matters

Labor Wins

From the AFL-CIO

On Tuesday, the labor movement drove historic wins for pro-worker candidates like Governor-Elect Andy Beshear in Kentucky and new legislative majorities in Virginia. Not only did union members come out to vote in droves, 270 union member candidates were elected to public office last night and counting. This adds to the total of more than 900 union members elected up and down the ballot in last year’s midterms, a product of the Union Member Candidate Program launched by the AFL-CIO just two years ago. The share of union members who won in the 2018 midterms is two-thirds. The program will continue through 2020 and beyond, electing even more union members to public office. 

“Our efforts recruiting, training and supporting labor candidates have led to the passage of pro-worker legislation from coast to coast and everywhere in between,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said.

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work