Wealthy Heir Says: “Tax Me!”


(Photo: Shutterstock)

Samantha Waxman has personally benefited from access to wealth through her family. But as a child of teachers and a product of public schools, she took it personally when the Council of the District of Columbia opted to give wealthy estates a special-interest tax break instead of funding education, housing, and other services. She decided to do something about it.

On Friday May 12th, she testified in front of the DC Council in favor of the estate tax. “I urge the Council in the strongest possible terms to leave the estate tax alone,” Waxman said in her prepared testimony.  “Do not give millionaires and their heirs a tax break on the backs of poor people in this city.”

Waxman currently co-leads the DC chapter leader in Resource Generation, a national network of young people with wealth who organize for the equitable distribution of wealth, land, and power. The chapter is working to ensure that poor and working-class District residents share in the city’s growing prosperity.

The Mayor’s proposed budget includes business and estate tax cuts that will cost the city revenue now, at a time of critical need—unless DC Council chooses to delay them. In the proposed budget, people with estates valued at up to $ 5.5 million will get a special tax break, which will cost the city an estimated $ 12 million per year in lost revenue, money that could be dedicated towards the plan to end chronic homelessness or adequately fund schools instead.

A number of advocates and organizations came together to press the DC Council to stop the cuts. Spearheading the effort are the DC Fiscal Policy Institute and Fair Budget Coalition, two organizations that work to ensure that the voices of low-income residents are heard in the budget process. Resource Generation’s DC chapter joined the coalition to demonstrate to elected leaders that wealthy people don’t support sky-high inequality and the racial wealth gap.

“I want to live in a city with public goods and services that provide for everyone’s well-being,” said Waxman. “To make that happen, rich people need to pay their fair share. I need to pay my fair share. And what do I get in return? I get to know that my neighbors can go to the doctor when they get sick. That they can live in safe, affordable housing. That they can drop off their kids at a great school.”

Her message broke through to the DC Council. “It’s incredibly powerful when someone who could be in line for a tax cut says ‘Please don’t!’ because they want their taxes to pay for community investments that help us all,” said Ed Lazere, executive director of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute.

The efforts of Resource Generation’s DC chapter to ensure that wealthy people don’t get a special tax break at the expense of crucial social services mirrors a national effort to Defend the Estate Tax, coordinated by the Patriotic Millionaires.  Their letter, which will be going public this week, already has over 600 signatories, including 75 who will personally pay the estate tax, as a parent or inheritor.

“Will you support critical programs that promote wide-based prosperity,” Waxman asked the DC Council, “Or will you promote dynastic wealth and increasing inequality? It’s up to you. I know where I stand.”


Who Suffers the Most from the U.S. Drug War? Families


(Photo: Shutterstock)

Angela Pryor, a 41-year-old woman from Ross County, Ohio, is not living the life she thought she would.

She used to stay at home and take care of her kids while her husband, Jesse, went to work as a carpenter. But as Jesse fell into opioid addiction, Angela had to pick up the slack. It became even harder when he ended up in jail for selling drugs. And harder still when Jesse overdosed and passed away in 2015.

Now Angela’s struggling to care for her five children alone. She’s even lost her house, the Atlantic reported recently.

A few hundred miles to the east, in Washington, another familiar scene played out in the pages of the New York Times.

When Charlene Hamilton’s husband, Carl Harris, was jailed for selling drugs, she was left behind to take care of the kids, pay the rent and feed the family. Like Angela, Charlene found herself homeless more than once. She slept in a car for a month while her kids stayed with other relatives. Meanwhile in prison, Carl started using the drugs he once sold.

The similarities in their stories don’t stop there. Both families lived in communities plagued by joblessness. In Ohio, the decline of good-paying manufacturing jobs combined with health problems have led to a drug epidemic, largely among white men, that was responsible for more than 3,000 deaths statewide just last year.

Meanwhile, majority-black communities have been suffering from unemployment for decades. In the District of Columbia the unemployment rate for black residents — now at 13.4 percent — has actually gotten worse since the recession, even while every other racial and ethnic group in the city has seen an improvement.

These are the conditions that can lead a husband and father like Carl Harris or Jesse Pryor to turn to drug use, abuse and trade. It is what’s called economic despair. And it’s happening all over the country.

As extreme inequality gets worse and the middle class disintegrates, many formerly middle-income white Americans are now experiencing the sorts of pain long suffered by poorer communities of color.

All that’s bad enough. But there’s one man who seems determined to make it all worse: Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Reversing an Obama-era guideline, Sessions recently told federal prosecutors to go after low-level drug offenders and to seek the toughest possible penalties against them.

It’s an unmistakable return to widely discredited mandatory minimum sentencing laws that treat drug use and abuse as a crime, rather than a mental or physical health issue. (Interestingly, Sessions shows little interest in prosecuting the white-collar criminals who are the cause of much of the income inequality that can lead to drug use in the first place.)

The effects of a return to harsher drug law enforcement go beyond the loss of our white and black fathers, husbands and friends. These policies will stifle children for generations to come, as new data show.

Sociology professor Kristin Turney “found that children with incarcerated parents were three times more likely to suffer from depression or behavioral problems, and twice as likely to suffer from learning disabilities and anxiety,” The Nation reported.

That same story quotes a former New Orleans city councilman and former teacher who is an ex-offender himself. He said that when he speaks to schoolchildren and asks if any of them have a family member in prison, “just about everybody raises their hand.”

These students are more statistically likely to drop out, too, which of course makes it more difficult to get a job, continuing the cycle of economic despair.

Poor white families who are now suffering can learn a lot from the suffering that poor black families have endured from this system for decades. These communities can come together to fight reactionary drug war policies like Sessions’, which exacerbate everyone’s suffering.

The Essie Justice Group is one such effort that brings together those often forgotten victims — the women and the families left behind — of the war on drugs, mass incarceration, and the economic inequality wrapped up in all of it.

Gina Clayton, who founded the group, has this message for those women like Angela and Charlene: “This loss that I’ve experienced is not OK, and we all need to do something about it.”


Envisioning a Post-Trump Future

Donald Trump

(Photo: Gage Skidmore/ Flickr)

America’s original “Red Scare,” in the years right after World War I, ushered in a decade of intense political repression and deeply conservative public policy. Yet this dark time had a bright side. These dark years saw the beginnings of a political realignment that led to the New Deal and a memorable assault against that era’s outsized inequality.

Gar Alperovitz and his colleagues at the Next Systems Project make a compelling case that we might be witnessing the beginnings of a similar realignment here early in the Trump era. Their new book, Principles of a Pluralist Commonwealth, lays out what our future could look like if we collectively decided to put people and the planet ahead of short term profit.

Donald Trump has dominated the news cycle for months now, sucking up all the air in whatever room his name comes up in. Alperovitz challenges us to think past today’s daily scandals to consider exactly what kind of society we want to live in. We are living, he suggests, in the “prehistory” of the next major system change.

This concept of prehistory is critical to the vision the Next Systems Project presents. History is full examples in which major systemic change appeared impossible, yet forward thinking people continued to push forward despite never knowing if they’d live to see the social change they sought. Civil rights activists of the 1930s and 40s are just one example, a group whose names are mostly uncelebrated despite their absolutely critical role in laying the groundwork for what would become the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act a generation later.

Today, we can take inspiration from these visionary leaders to work towards system change that often feels like it will never come.

This new Alperovitz book, available for in a free in a beautifully designed online format, takes readers through a full redesign of the various systems that make up our economy and broader society. The guiding principles of this redesign: a commitment to democratizing our politics and our wealth, to transforming our corporations into worker-owned co-operatives and our Wall Street banks into community- run credit unions.

Longtime readers of Alperovitz will recognize many of the concepts from his previous works, notably his most recent book What Then Must We Do?. The premise for the title of that book comes paraphrased from Leon Trotsky in which Alperovitz asks, “If you don’t like state socialism and you don’t want corporate capitalism, then what do you want?” The answer Alperovitz and his colleagues suggest to this intriguing question is “pluralist commonwealth”, a model wholly different from the binary framing of capitalism vs. socialism.

In the future Alperovitz envisions, we would transition away from fossil fuels, speculative banking, concentrating wealth, ever-extended work weeks, and rising unemployment. We would build an economy that values in which everyone is valued, recognizes the limitations of the planet are recognized, and decentralizes power is decentralized.

Without visionary thinking, we can too easily fall into cycles of self-defeating cynicism. The Next Systems Project is offering a critically important space where we can envision the society we want and debate how we might get there.


The Walmart Tax


(Photo: pisaphotography / Shutterstock)

How much does the typical employee earn at Walmart, America’s largest private employer?

We don’t know exactly and won’t until next spring, when corporations begin disclosing figures on their median — most typical — worker pay. Federal regulations that went into effect just before Donald Trump took office now require this disclosure.

In the meantime, we do already know how much Walmart’s highest-paid people are making. Publicly traded companies like Walmart have to disclose what they pay their top execs. Most of what they pay comes in the form of stock, and calculating the value of these stock awards can get tricky. Accounting experts regularly disagree on which execs are actually making the most.

Earlier this month, business analysts at Bloomberg chimed in with their latest executive pay scorecard. In 2016, Bloomberg reports, four U.S. corporate executives collected over $ 100 million each, and a fifth, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, came up just short at $ 99.7 million.

America’s biggest executive pay package in 2016? That went, says Bloomberg, to an executive at Wal-Mart. Marc Lore, the CEO of Wal-Mart’s e-commerce division, ended the year with a windfall worth an incredible $ 236.9 million.

Let’s break that down a little. Lore essentially took in the equivalent of over $ 4.5 million per week. In effect, Lore earned in a single week what a Walmart worker paid $ 11 an hour would have to work 199 entire years to match.

This sort of discrepancy doesn’t in the least bother big-time corporate compensation consultants like Steven Hall, the managing director at Steven Hall & Partners. Nine-digit executive pay packages, Hall readily acknowledges, can seem “startling.” But, he adds, these nine-digit executives have “proven talents.”

At Walmart, suggests Memphis retail worker union president Lonnie Sheppard, that magical “proven talent” just happens to include fleecing taxpayers. Walmart pays its workers so little, Sheppard notes, that huge numbers of them “are forced to rely on public assistance programs like food stamps, Medicaid, and subsidized housing.”

In 2014, Americans for Tax Fairness has computed, providing that assistance cost American taxpayers $ 6.2 billion.

Average Americans, says Sheppard, are paying what amounts to a hidden “Walmart tax” — and the only people who really benefit from this tax subsidy sit in Walmart’s executive suites.

That situation, of course, ought to be reversed. Average Americans shouldn’t be paying a hidden tax that benefits Walmart execs. The tax burden should rest instead on companies like Walmart that pay near-poverty wages — and then expect taxpayers to foot the bill for the hurt that low wages leave in their wake.

So how could we shift the tax burden onto the Walmarts of the world? The British Labour Party has just advanced a new common-sense approach that builds on landmark local action that the Portland city council took this past December.

Labour wants to levy a new tax on corporations that pay executives excessively more than workers. Under the Labour plan, a corporation that pays any executives more than 20 times the national living wage — a standard a bit above the minimum wage — would pay 2.5 percent of that excess over 20 times in tax. And any corporation that pays over 20 times the national median wage, a higher figure, would have to pay a tax of 5 percent on the resulting excess.

Still another Labour proposal would deny all government contracts to companies that pay their top executives over 20 times what they pay their own workers,

Measures like these, says British economist Faiza Shaheen, would “force companies to think twice about unfair wages at the top.”

Marc Lore, once upon a time, might have agreed on the need for that rethinking. Lore, before he joined Walmart, penned an online column entitled “Chasing Money Will Cripple Your Career.”

Lore explained in that piece that he had started his own career in the financial industry, where the workplace culture measures success purely by the size of your bonus. A near-heart attack, writes Lore, changed his thinking. He came to realize, his piece concludes, “that success is not a measure of your salary, title or degree, but the impact you have others and the collective happiness of the people you touch.”

Pay-ratio taxes, along the lines of what the Labour Party is proposing in the UK, just might help bring that “collective happiness” a little closer


Donald Trump Is Playing ‘Bad Cop’ With His Extremist Budget Proposal


(Photo: Shutterstock)

An ambitious opening bid is a basic tactic of negotiation, basic enough that Donald Trump (or his ghostwriter, at least) wrote about it in The Art of the Deal: “My style of deal-making is quite simple and straightforward. I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing … Sometimes I settle for less than I sought, but in most cases I still end up with what I want.”

Trump’s draconian budget proposal has all the signs of a gambit designed to get what Trump, and his negotiating partners in Congress, really want, which is a slightly less draconian budget. So it’s cold comfort to its intended targets – the poor, the sick, many in rural red states Trump won – that the budget plan won’t pass in its current form. No president’s budget plan ever does. “Dead on arrival” is how John McCain described it, though his objection was that it does not shift enough money from welfare recipients to defense contractors.

Make no mistake: Trump’s budget will be horrific no matter what form it takes in an eventual appropriations bill. Some of the highlights – these are things the White House sees fit to brag about – include cutting children’s health insurance, disability insurance, farm aid, food stamps, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and the coup de grace: halving Medicaid spending by over $ 600bn.

This is a betrayal of Trump’s campaign promise, to working class voters who will bear the brunt of these cuts, not to touch Medicaid. It’s made possible by our lack of universal healthcare, instead of which we have a patchwork of targeted health programs for those who can’t or mostly don’t vote – children and poor people – and are thus politically easy to cut.

Congressional Republicans are already feigning shock at some of the more egregious cuts Trump has in mind, including money for cancer and Alzheimer’s research, and Meals on Wheels, calling them “a bridge too far”; elderly people, after all, actually do vote. Don’t be fooled, though. The same lawmakers fanning themselves and reaching for the smelling salts have been pushing the same austerity program for decades. Cutting Medicaid is something Paul Ryan said he’s been dreaming of since he was “drinking at a keg”, while Mitch McConnell has complained that Americans are “doing too good with food stamps, Social Security, and all the rest”. The Environmental Protection Agency and the National Endowment for the Arts have been Republican targets for elimination since the 80s.

Read the full article on The Guardian.



Trump’s Apology Tour


(Photo: The White House / Flickr)

Conservatives used to love to lambaste Barack Obama for traveling abroad and “apologizing” for U.S. conduct. Mitt Romney popularized the argument during one of the presidential debates in 2012. The “apology tour” became an oft-repeated meme among the president’s critics.

According to the Heritage Foundation, the former president “apologized for his country to nearly 3 billion people across Europe, the Muslim world, and the Americas.” Presumably Heritage prefers that the United States unapologetically enslave Africans, commit genocide against Native Americans, torture and kill people in other countries, subvert democracies, and cozy up to dictators.

Being an empire means never having to say you’re sorry.

In fact, though it would have been appropriate if he had, Obama never actually apologized for U.S. actions. But right-wingers were always looking for ways to interpret the president’s words in order to give credence to even more ludicrous arguments: that Obama wasn’t born in the United States, that he was a Muslim, that he embraced socialism or black nationalism. Only someone alien to American ways, Obama’s critics implied, would apologize for his country’s errors.

The man currently occupying the White House is positively allergic to apologies. Now on his first overseas trip as president, there’s no likelihood that an actual apology will pass Trump’s lips while he’s on foreign soil. And he doesn’t know enough history to make any informed comments on what America has or hasn’t done around the world.

But Trump needn’t apologize for his country: There’s plenty in his own conduct that requires contrition. At a time when his already low level of support has plummeted further at home, the president needs all the friends he can get overseas. That’s why his current trip amounts to an implicit apology tour: to make amends with Muslims, Jews, the Pope, and a handful of Europeans.

Making Out with the Saudis

Presidents usually make their first international trip to somewhere in North America. John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama all went to Canada. Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush took their maiden voyages to Mexico. The outliers were Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter, both of whom visited Europe.

So, where does Donald Trump go on his initial foray outside America? Mexico is clearly off the list, since he repeatedly pledged to wall off the country and make Mexicans pay for their own quarantine. In Canada, meanwhile, Justin Trudeau has taken stances, particularly on refugees, that are in stark contrast to Trump’s. Perhaps if the Netherlands had made Geert Wilders prime minister or France had elected Marine Le Pen president, Trump would have made a beeline to those countries first.

Instead, Trump decided to go to a place that doesn’t have any elections, welcomes virtually no refugees, discourages political demonstrations, and is about as religiously fanatical as the right-wing evangelicals who still stand by their man in the White House. Indeed, Saudi Arabia is the next best thing to visiting a red state and basking in the support of homegrown fanatics.

Saudi Arabia was also the perfect place for Donald Trump to apologize to the world’s Muslims.

Of course, the speech that Trump delivered in Riyadh to the Arabic Islamic American Summit didn’t sound particularly apologetic. In fact, the president spoke of extremism as if it were only a problem for the Muslim world (oh, how useful it would be if Dylann Roof just admitted already that he’s a secret Muslim). America “seeks peace,” Trump asserted, but “Muslim nations must be willing to take on the burden, if we are going to defeat terrorism and send its wicked ideology into oblivion.”

And, of course, Trump tactfully made no mention of Saudi contributions to extremist ideologies such as their funding of the spread of Wahhabism worldwide (not to mention the participation of Saudi individuals in terrorist attacks like September 11). Instead, the only nation he singled out for criticism was Iran: “The Iranian regime’s longest-suffering victims are its own people. Iran has a rich history and culture, but the people of Iran have endured hardship and despair under their leaders’ reckless pursuit of conflict and terror.”

Strangely, those same long-suffering people just turned out in record numbers in a competitive election that gave incumbent Hassan Rouhani a commanding mandate for a second term. Iranians savored the irony, with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif chiming in on Twitter: “Iran — fresh from real elections — attacked by @POTUS in that bastion of democracy & moderation,” Saudi Arabia.

But Trump’s words were nevertheless a kind of apology to the Muslim world — at least, certain portions of the Muslim world.

After all, in the past the president hadn’t restricted his negative comments about Islam to extremists. He’d talked about closing mosques, creating a database of all Muslims in the United States, and preventing all Muslims from entering the country. He declared that “Islam hates us.” His travel ban executive order didn’t mention Muslims by category nor did it include Saudi Arabia among the seven (then six) countries listed. But the intent, as a number of court rulings have emphasized, was to exclude people coming to these shores by religion.

Some of Trump’s hardcore supporters were not entirely satisfied with his speech in Riyadh. Pamela Geller was upset that Trump didn’t dump on the Koran. Her partner in Islamophobia, Robert Spencer, groused that Trump didn’t do enough to link Islam with extremism.

They failed to understand the essence of the speech: Trump needs Saudi help (military as well as economic) just as he must rely on the Gulf States, Turkey, Iraq, and Jordan. These countries all happen to be Muslim. So, even if he never apologizes for the wretched things he said in the past, Trump must still do a measure of groveling to maintain his coalition of those willing to the bomb the shit out of the Islamic State.

The president will even sell $ 110 billion of arms to the most reactionary Muslim country in the world. Money speaks louder than apologies.

Patching Things Up with the Jews

Trump loves to combat charges of anti-Semitism by pointing to his Jewish son-in-law Jared Kushner and now-Jewish daughter Ivanka. It’s a preposterous argument. After all, his marriages to various women certainly didn’t prevent him from engaging in outrageous acts of misogyny over the years.

During the presidential campaign, the Trump crew used plenty of sly anti-Semitic tactics to appeal to the 12 percent of Americans with deeply entrenched antipathy toward Jews. The campaign associated Hillary Clinton with a secret international financial elite. It used a Star of David to label Clinton “corrupt.” It refused to dissociate or condemn the anti-Semitic tweets and comments of supporters.

Once in office, the administration didn’t improve on its record. It issued a Holocaust remembrance statement without mentioning Jews (and deliberately spurned the State Department’s version that did). Trump’s attacks on the press have echoed Nazi-era broadsides. Anti-Semitic incidents spiked after the election.

It’s entirely possible that Trump doesn’t understand the latent anti-Semitic content of his remarks. After all, he’s ignorant of some basic facts, like that Israel is located in the Middle East. Also, it’s not exactly easy for an anti-Semite to be a New York real estate developer or a big macher in Florida. But no matter: On his first foreign trip, Trump desperately needed to balance his visit to the Saudis — and some nods in the direction of the Palestinians — with an implicitly apologetic drop-in to Israel.

Trump’s shift actually began earlier, when he had to court funder Sheldon Adelson and abandon whatever minimal even-handedness he maintained on Israeli-Palestinian issues. At the outset of his presidential campaign, Trump seemed to put the onus on Israel to make the necessary changes to facilitate a peace agreement with Palestinians. But with the prospect that Adelson, a big fan of hard-right Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, would shift his funding away from a failing Marco Rubio, Trump pivoted to pandering.

Jackpot: Adelson became the largest financial backer of the Trump campaign.

In Israel, Trump didn’t make any apologies for his campaign tactics. Nor did he apologize for sharing Israeli intelligence on the Islamic State with the Russian government. But visiting Israel so early in his presidency sent a strong signal of solidarity with the government of Netanyahu. Trump also donned a yarmulke and stood at the Western Wall and later visited to the Holocaust remembrance museum at Yad Vashem.

As with his overtures to Muslims, Trump is only interested in reconciling with some Jews. His approval rating among most American Jews, three-quarters of whom describe themselves as liberal or moderate and object to the divisive policies of Netanyahu, remains abysmal: a mere 31 percent. He’s betting that a “huge” peace deal between Israel and Palestine will win over this constituency. It’s a long shot, to say the least.

A Holy Trinity

Pope Francis is the un-Trump. He is inclusive, humble, and focused on the needs of the poor.

But the pope also has a backbone. During the election campaign, he effectively accused Trump of being un-Christian for his approach to refugees and immigrants. “For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful,” Trump wrote in response. “If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS’s ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president because this would not have happened.”

This was the trifecta of religious intolerance: Trump had managed during his campaign to offend Muslims, Jews, and Christians. You’d think that someone who rarely attended church, routinely engaged in fornication, and broke numerous other commandments would tread very carefully with regard to the Abrahamic faiths. But Trump has never been accused of lacking chutzpah.

But now the president has a chance to make amends with his pilgrimage. The pope, who has washed the feet of inmates from Italian jails, charitably welcomed the serial sinner to the Vatican. He was gracious, but he also raised some controversial issues, such as health care and assistance for immigrants. He also gave Trump a 2015 encyclical on climate change. The president promised to read it. That’s as unlikely as a formal apology from the president — but his presence at the Vatican was at least a gesture in that direction.

The final stops on Trump’s itinerary will be Brussels and Sicily. He’ll have a chance to apologize to NATO for questioning its existence, EU officials for supporting political candidates eager to dismantle the institution, and G7 leaders for leading a populist revolt against globalization.

True, even on these issues, Trump has been retreating from his more extreme campaign positions. But don’t expect any explicit apologies. In one respect, Trump and the pope share something in common. The Donald firmly believes in his own infallibility. Plunging approval ratings, rising talk of impeachment, and the prospect of blistering losses in next year’s midterm elections haven’t shaken his faith.

No surprise: Trump is that rare form of monotheist who believes in no God but himself.


Cities and States Can Lead the Way Towards a Clean Energy Transition

The Trump administration has continuously claimed that the presence of fossil fuel industries are needed for job growth. But new data released from the Department of Energy doesn’t back that claim up, IPS Climate Policy director Basav Sen told Rising Up with Sonali.

“It shows that renewable energy provides disproportionately more jobs than fossil fuels. So what the administration really wants is to preserve the profits of fossil fuel industries and their CEOs,” he explained.

What we’re seeing as federal climate policy becomes more irresponsible is that the states are picking up the slack.

IPS recently released a report on states’ roles in accelerating the transition from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy, mainly through a strategy of implementing and expanding Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS). RPS is legislation at the state level that mandates utilities to increase the share of energy that they get from renewables, while decreasing the share of electrical power coming from fossil fuels, Sen explained. Twenty-nine states and Washington, D.C. currently have existing RPS, with the potential to expand their plans and raise targets, Sen explained, setting up a good example for grassroots people to enact RPS in states that are less friendly to renewable energy.

“The key to creating RPS legislation is to build a multi-issue and multi-sector coalition that brings together low income communities, people of color, small businesses, and rural communities,” Sen said. “The idea is to impress upon state legislators that there is a very broad base of support, which can counteract the influence of big businesses and fossil fuel industries.”

The states that have been most successful ensured that they were adopting clean energy in fair and equitable ways, where low-income communities could reap the benefits of renewable energy, such as solar energy, too.

“Most low income communities are made up of renters, who can’t install solar panels if they rent or live in multiple family apartments. But there is a growing trend of sharing renewables in the form of offsite solar panels, collectively owned by people living in communities, located on the roofs public buildings,” Sen explained.

Furthermore, Sen’s report found that solar energy already accounts for nearly 43 percent of direct U.S. employment in electric power generation even thought it only makes up a tiny fraction of the energy we use to power our country.

“So you can imagine how many more jobs will be created if instead of investing in obsolete technologies like coal, we put our money and public investment in expanding wind and solar energy,” Sen concluded.

Watch the full interview on Rising up with Sonali. 

The post Cities and States Can Lead the Way Towards a Clean Energy Transition appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.


The Hidden Bombshell in the Comey-Trump Story

Khalil Bendib / Otherwords.org

How can you tell an authoritarian when you see one? We know the 20th century hallmarks — brown shirts, street rallies, and the like. But there’s an autocratic attitude, some historians suggest, that can easily be traced across the centuries.

To put it simply, New York University professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat told Democracy Now recently, “authoritarians believe that institutions should serve them, and not the other way around.”

Just ask Jim Comey — who, as recently as October, might’ve been Donald Trump’s favorite person.

Less than two weeks before the November vote, the now-former FBI director announced that he was reopening an investigation into one of Trump’s favorite subjects: Hillary Clinton’s emails. For that, Trump praised Comey’s “guts,” while Clinton now blames Comey’s announcement for costing her the election.

Trump seemed happy to accept that help. But in a twist, Comey also found the guts to investigate whether Trump accepted help from the Russians, too. For that, he was fired this month. “This Russia thing” was “a made-up story,” Trump complained by way of explanation.

All that’s explosive enough. Even more so was a subsequent revelation: That Trump had called on Comey to “let go” of an investigation into Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser who’d been ousted for lying about his own contacts with the Russians.

That little bombshell is now headline news all over. But buried in the New York Times story about that memo was another, less noticed bomblet: “Alone in the Oval Office,” the paper reported, Trump said “Comey should consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information.”

That’s right: In addition to asking Comey to stop investigating his friend Flynn, the president called on the FBI director to arrest journalists who published things Trump found unflattering. Perhaps including stories like this one.

Was this an impulsive request? Not likely. In fact, the administration appears to have been laying the groundwork for this for some time.

Take WikiLeaks. Trump once said he “loved” the group for publishing leaked Clinton campaign emails. But then it earned the White House’s enmity by also publishing details about CIA hacking.

Trump’s CIA director has since described WikiLeaks as “a hostile foreign intelligence service” and warned that “America’s First Amendment freedoms” will not “shield them from justice.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions is now trying to bring a case against the group’s founder, Julian Assange.

While leaking classified information may be a crime, publishing it most certainly isn’t — that’s been protected by the Supreme Court since the early 1970s. In this respect, any charges brought against WikiLeaks could equally be brought against virtually every newspaper and TV station in the country.

Which, by all appearances, is the idea. When CNN asked if the WikiLeaks case could lead to charges against other outlets, Sessions didn’t bother to deny it.

Of course, this is all under the auspices of a candidate who called journalists “lying, disgusting people” and even wondered aloud about whether he’d kill them as president. (He ultimately said no, but seemed reluctant.) And it’s the same White House that wants to sue journalists whose reporting it disputes.

But consider that Michael S. Schmidt, the Times reporter who broke the Comey memo story, happens to be the very same person who reported on Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. Has anyone benefited more from that reporting than Trump?

It all depends on the headlines that come next, apparently.

They’ve surely been spotty about it, but in a democracy public institutions — from law enforcement to the free press — are supposed to serve the public, not the president. If Trump can’t accept that, maybe he’s the one who should be fired.


El Salvador – When The Seeds Of Resistance Bloom

Originally in Democracy Center.

If ever there was an example of how the seeds of a local battle flowered into a formidable global campaign, it was this one. At a time when organised dissent is both under attack and more urgent than ever, we not only need to celebrate the victories that involve genuine international solidarity, we need to learn from them.

We sat down with five (of the many) people that have been deeply involved in this titan effort to reflect on what they achieved and how, and the lessons that they have learned in the process.

Our interviewees were Vidalina Morales from the Economic and Social Development Association of Santa Marta (ADES); Pedro Cabezas from Association for the Development of El Salvador, (CRIPDES) and Saul Baños from the Foundation for the Study of the Application of the Law (FESPAD) – all three are member organisations of the National Roundtable against Metallic Mining in El Salvador (Pedro Cabezas was also communications coordinator for the International Allies); Manuel Pérez-Rocha from the Institute of Policy Studies in Washington DC; and Jen Moore from Mining Watch Canada.

We focus here in particular on what we can learn from the international campaign against the World Bank case, but also look at some aspects of the simultaneous effort to support the anti-mining struggle on the ground in El Salvador. The international legal case was just one of a range of intervention strategies used by the corporations involved. The organising effort that successfully countered all of them holds valuable lessons for strategic campaigning everywhere.

Read the full article on The Democracy Center.


Inequality Makes Us Sad


(Photo: Shutterstock)

On average, our economy tanks every seven years or so. By now we should have a pretty good idea of why that tanking happens, how we can protect ourselves, and what the impact will be. Unfortunately, we don’t.

Recessions remain a bit like death, inevitable yet near impossible to predict. Like death, recessions also generate sadness. The Great Recession, a new collection of research papers out of the Russell Sage Foundation shows, generated a great deal of sadness.

In 2010, one year after the official end of the Great Recession, reported happiness hit its lowest level since researchers first started recording the measure in the mid 1970s.

This shouldn’t be too surprising. In the Great Recession, home prices tanked, unemployment skyrocketed, and retirement accounts shriveled up. And many of the families the Great Recession hit the hardest have not recovered financially, leaving millions of households now more susceptible to the next downturn, not less.

“Americans are financially worse equipped to handle unemployment now than a generation ago,” the Russell Sage researchers point out “thanks to deteriorating household wealth and unemployment insurance benefits.”

Endurance athletes and psychologists will both tell you that humans can adeptly block out memories of pain and suffering. In the retelling of stories, we often gloss over the ugly parts and choose to remember the pleasantries. This also appears to hold true for macroeconomics.

In the period since the last recession, the stock market has more than tripled in value. Yet this increase has essentially only benefited those at the top. Our too-big-to-fail banks have grown even bigger, and reckless behavior has returned to the financial markets. Inequality has also been rising steadily, with nearly all the income gains of the “recovery” going to the top 1 percent.

Public policy holds much of the responsibility for this growing inequality. The federal minimum wage has not budged from $ 7.25 an hour, a go-hungry wage for families. Federal tax expenditures — mortgage subsidies and beyond — go overwhelmingly to the already wealthy and do little to help low- and middle-income workers save.

That reality hits Black and Latino families particularly hard. Racist policies have blocked them from wealth-building opportunities for generations.

The researchers at Russell Sage have provided a sober reminder that the Great Recession brought with it brutal and wide reaching pain. We need to take action now to soften the blow of the next recession and prevent the suffering we know is coming. Changing our public policies to reach these goals, the data show, will make us a happier.

Read the new Russell Sage research collection in the Foundation’s Journal of the Social Sciences.