Category: From Campaign for America's Future

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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Co-Governing Puts Us ‘In The Room Where It Happens’

By David Hatch

What does it mean to move “from protest to power?” That’s the question People’s Action members like me asked at our national convention in Washington, D.C. two years ago. At that time, just a few months into the Trump administration, 72 grassroots leaders out of the more than twelve hundred gathered there took a pledge to take action by running for public office.

Many of these activists – and even more from our network across the country – have now made good on these commitments. They are part of the #PeoplesWave of officials we have helped elect. In all, 300 candidates endorsed by People’s Action got elected in midterm and municipal elections, and 150 of these are movement activists who rose up from the ranks of our own member organizations.

“On election night I didn’t win, WE won!” said Sarah Godlewski, Wisconsin’s newly elected State Treasurer, when she spoke to a gathering of these newly minted electeds last month, as People’s Action members gathered once again in D.C.

At this year’s convention, these leaders celebrated their victories and began to dig in on what it means to move from protest on the outside of government to power on its inside, and importantly, linking the two together.

Sarah had never considered running for office, but as a longtime member of Citizen Action of Wisconsin (CAWI), she was part of the fight in April of 2018 to save the State Treasurer’s office from former governor Scott Walker’s attempt to dissolve the office so he could put the state’s finances under his own control, to eliminate oversight.

Sarah and CAWI won that fight, and when no people’s candidate stepped forward to run for State Treasurer, Sarah put herself in the ring. Sarah has a financial and government background – she co-founded a socially conscious investment fund after working for the U.S. State Department and Department of Defense.

Now, as Wisconsin’s Treasurer, Godlewski has followed through on her commitment to co-govern. She regularly appears on CAWI’s weekly podcasts, and has jointly organized events to build community awareness about the ways she’s using the State Treasurer’s office to lower interest payments on student loans and to solve difficult public pension issues.

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ALEC Wants To Make Protest Illegal In Illinois

Maggie Ellinger-Locke Staff Attorney, Greenpeace USA

Dangerous anti-protest legislation is working its way through state assemblies all across the U.S., chipping away at the right to protest and undermining social justice movements. State legislators have introduced nearly 100 bills curbing your right to protest since the resistance at Standing Rock began. And if oil and gas companies get their way, Illinois will now be added to the list.

HB 1633, a bill targeting activists, has already overwhelmingly passed the Illinois House of Representatives and is now pending in the State Senate. It has been slated for a hearing next Tuesday, May 14, at 5 p.m., and people can submit witness slips for or against the bill here. 

If this bill is enacted, protesters in Illinois will no longer be able to resist the expansion of fossil fuel pipelines in their communities without risking felony charges.

Specifically, this bill seeks to increase criminal penalties for people who trespass on so-called critical infrastructure facilities. The bill almost exactly lifts its language from a model bill authored by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the secretive group of corporate lobbyists trying to rewrite state laws to benefit corporations over people.

The bill would broadly redefine “critical infrastructure” to include oil and gas pipelines and processing facilities, and turn peaceful activity by protesters into a class four felony punishable by up to three years of incarceration and a heavy fine.

In Illinois as other states, this bill is based almost word-for-word on ALEC’s model critical infrastructure bill, which was inspired by legislation first passed in Oklahoma in 2017, in response to the months-long protests at Standing Rock which stalled construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

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A ‘Buyback’ for Our Future?

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

People who are trying to do good — with a Green New Deal, for instance, or Medicare for All — regularly find themselves confronting a simple and sometimes sneering gotcha question: So where’s the money coming from?

How about we start putting this same simple question to the top executives of Corporate America?

These execs are currently spending incredibly vast sums buying back their own companies’ shares of stock off the open market. In 2018, researchers at Dow Jones report, 444 of America’s top 500 firms spent dollars on stock buybacks. Lots of dollars: $806.4 billion in all, up 55 percent over the year before and up 37 percent over the previous all-time buyback annual record high.

These stock buybacks have no redeeming social value. Buybacks don’t make corporations more efficient or effective. They just make the rich richer. Buybacks reduce the volume of shares that trade, in the process upping earnings per share and share value. Who benefits from these upticks? Top corporate execs see an immediate boost. Over 80 percent of their pay comes from stock-based compensation.

The wealthy overall benefit, too. America’s top 1 percent, researchers at Goldman Sachs observed earlier this year, now own half of all the nation’s shares of stocks, with nearly 85 percent in the pockets of America’s wealthiest 10 percent.

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Bring Back Eisenhower Socialism

Chuck Collins

Chuck Collins Director the Program on Inequality and the Common Good , Institute for Policu Studies

Anytime a politician proposes a wildly popular idea that helps ordinary people, a few grumpy conservatives will call them “socialists.” Propose to reduce college debt, help sick families, or ensure the super-rich pay their fair share of taxes — suddenly you’re a walking red nightmare.

Utah Republican Rep. Chris Stewart is so alarmed he’s convened an “Anti-Socialism Caucus” to ward off “the primitive appeal of socialism” that will “infect our institutions.” Democrats’ talk of restoring higher income tax rates on the wealthiest or helping families with childcare was enough to trigger Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to quip, “We’re not going back to socialism.”

These same politicians consistently vote for tax cuts for the rich and to gut taxes and regulations on corporations so they can exercise their full freedom and liberty — to mistreat workers, pollute the environment, and rip off their customers.

The “shrink government” fear-mongers want you to believe there are only two flavors of economic ice cream. Choose strawberry and you get liberty-choking gulag communism. From this vantage, any proposal to rein in the unchecked power of global corporations and the rule-rigging rich is creeping socialism.

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Putting Billionaires in Their Place

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

America’s billionaires have suddenly realized they just may be facing an existential crisis. A good chunk of the American people, they now understand, would rather billionaires not exist. Every billionaire, as a key aide of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has famously quipped on his popular Twitter feed, represents “a policy failure.” The nation needs, posits a recent New York Times op-ed, to “abolish billionaires.”

Our more pugnacious billionaires — and their devoted admirers — have greeted this new abolitionist thrust with predictable scorn. National Review columnist Kevin Williamson has tagged the case against billionaires as “irredeemably stupid.” Any attempt to tax billionaires out of existence, suggests three-comma investment banker Ken Moelis, would surely “crush the economy.”

More sober defenders of the billionaires in our midst take care to acknowledge the widening — and troubling — gap between the fabulously wealthy and everyone else, but then urge us, all the same, to “think twice before seeking to flatten every tycoon.”

“It may seem counterintuitive,” adds Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt, “but billionaires can be good for democracy, and a bulwark against tyranny.”

Bill Gates, the holder of the world’s second-largest fortune, agrees: “The idea that there shouldn’t be billionaires — I’m afraid if you really implemented something like that, that the amount you would gain would be much less than the amount you would lose.”

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Union Matters

PRO Act Would Put Power Back in Workers’ Hands

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

Between 1935 and 1965, union membership rose precipitously in the United States. Wages increased in tandem with productivity, benefits improved, the middle class blossomed and income inequality dwindled.

Those good times are over, however. After 1965, the rate of unionization steadily fell from the high of about 30 percent to 10.5 percent now. Wages stagnated after 1970, even as productivity increased. Income inequality rose to Gilded Age rates.

This was no accident. It was a result of a calculated campaign launched by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and financially fed by corporations and right wing billionaires. They secured appointment of conservative, anti-union judges who ruled against unions. They bankrolled right-wing political candidates who passed anti-union legislation. And they subsidized anti-union organizations that taught corporations how to skirt the law and twist workers’ arms to defeat union organization efforts at workplaces.

Now, however, Democrats in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate have introduced legislation intended to reverse the union slide by restoring workers’ rights. 

The Protecting the Right to Work (PRO) Act, introduced on May 2, would make it easier for workers to form unions and would more effectively punish employers that violate the rights of workers trying to organize.

The proposed law would facilitate unionization, which Democrats believe would raise workers’ wages and reduce income inequality. Union workers earn about 13 percent more than nonunion workers and receive better benefits and pensions.

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The Richest Fantasy

The Richest Fantasy