Trump’s Tax Cuts Are the Biggest Wealth Grab in Modern History

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On Nov. 2, Republicans in Congress finally released the details for their tax plan. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is a massive overhaul of the tax code and spending priorities—and nothing short of a boon to the very wealthy at the expense of everyone else.

I’m old enough to remember way back to Nov. 1, when CBS released a poll showing most Americans wanted to see the wealthiest households and biggest corporations pay more, not less, in taxes. This is in sync with poll data from Gallup, collected year after year since 1992, that shows a solid majority of Americans believe the wealthy pay too little in taxes.

Given such overwhelming support for raising, not cutting, taxes on the wealthy, it makes sense that President Donald Trump and his allies in Congress would present their tax plan as benefiting the middle class rather than the rich. It’s about “people who are low- and middle-income,” says House Speaker Paul Ryan, “not about people who are really high-income earners getting a break.” Trump has even claimed “the rich will not be gaining at all with this plan.”

Unfortunately, those are bald-faced lies.

Read the full article on Fortune.

The post Trump’s Tax Cuts Are the Biggest Wealth Grab in Modern History appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.


The History of Taxes, in One Mega-Rich Family


(Photo: elycefeliz / Flickr)

David Rockefeller has just passed away.

You may have already heard that news. You may have not. America’s major media outlets haven’t treated Rockefeller’s death — at age 101 — as a top-of-the-news story.

How things change. Once upon a time, any breaking news that involved a Rockefeller almost automatically qualified as news not to be missed. And for good reason.

A century ago, David Rockefeller’s granddad, John D. Rockefeller, ranked as America’s richest man. No other fortune in the United States — or the world — came even close in size to his.

When old John D. passed away in 1937 at age 97, newspapers treated his death as a mega big deal. Front-page headlines everywhere. Editorial pages filled with reflections on his long and lucrative life.

One of those reflections came from America’s most noted 20th-century pundit, columnist Walter Lippmann. The nation, Lippmann observed, would likely never see a fortune as grand as Rockefeller’s ever again. John D. had “lived long enough to see the methods by which such a fortune can be accumulated outlawed by public opinion, forbidden by statute, and prevented by the tax laws.”

In the United States, Lippmann added, “sentiment has turned wholly against the private accumulation of so much wealth.”

John D. Rockefeller raged mightily against that public sentiment over his life’s last decades. He fiercely denounced, for instance, the drive to enact a federal income tax.

“When a man has accumulated a sum of money within the law,” old John D. intoned, “the people no longer have any right to share in the earnings resulting from the accumulation.”

The people felt otherwise. A federal income tax became the law of the land in 1913. That tax would go on to whittle down the fortune John D. later left his six grandchildren.

The most celebrated of those six, longtime New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, would end up feeling intensely embarrassed about his diminished financial status, as one Washington insider discovered in 1974.

That insider, a veteran lobbyist by the name of Tom Korologos, vetted Nelson Rockefeller to be then-President Gerald Ford’s vice president.

“I’ve got something to worry about,” Korologos remembers Nelson grimacing. The former governor, Korologos soon learned, didn’t want to publicly reveal his personal financial picture.

“His concern,” the vetter explained, “was that when it became public, he wasn’t going to be as rich as everybody thought he was.”

What had happened to the fabled Rockefeller family fortune? Taxes.

Beginning in the early 1940s and lasting into the 1960s, the federal tax rate on individual income over $ 200,000 annually hovered around 90 percent.

And many states also had their own progressive taxes. In New York, the state tax rate on top-bracket income stood at 15.375 percent.

Deep pockets could, of course, deduct their state taxes off their federal taxable income. But those deductions didn’t change the basic bottom line: The extravagantly rich, in mid-20th century America, were losing their capacity to be extravagant.

Nelson Rockefeller passed away in 1979, just before the Reagan Revolution began undoing the progressive tax system that had so shaved his net worth. His younger brother David, a banker, lived on to prosper in the rich-people-friendly political environment the Reagan years ushered in.

Where Nelson watched his wealth shrink, David saw his wealth soar. At his death, Forbes magazine put David’s net worth at $ 3.3 billion, the world’s 604th largest fortune.

What would John D. Rockefeller think about how his last grandchild’s life turned out? He might be a tad disappointed that his flesh and blood no longer ranked as the richest of the world’s rich. But he’d probably be overjoyed that in America the rich still rule.

At least for now.

Sam Pizzigati is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.


The Hunt for Black Family History

Family Tree

(Photo: Niall Williams / Flickr)

Maybe you’ve seen those commercials pushing Americans to “discover their stories” by digging into their family histories.

Millions of Americans find meaning from these searches. My mom is one of them. She’s doing a deep dive into our family history, reviving the stories of past ancestors in America.

She discovered that the German last name we have wasn’t our original family name. Somewhere — perhaps in Ellis Island, once a gateway for millions of European immigrants — our name was changed. That’s made it hard to learn about our history before emigration.

On my father’s side, though, the fog of history hides much more than names — and it’s incredibly more painful. You see, my father is African-American. And for black Americans, searches on sites like yield blank spots on the family tree.

Before the Civil War, after all, our ancestors were considered property, not people. This means there are no marriage certificates, medical records, or school or census records. Instead, pre-Civil War family research means sifting through bills of sale, auction records, and property ledgers with uncertainty as families were often torn apart.

Even if my family had lived in a state that abolished slavery before the Civil War, or if someone from my family was a freed person in the North, I’d still have to do extensive research to find them. Many free blacks were kidnapped and forced back into slavery under federal laws like the Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793 and 1850.

African-American genealogy is also difficult because of names.

Enslaved Africans were forced to take the last names of slave owners, which were often changed when individuals were sold to another family or institution. After the Civil War, emancipated blacks sometimes took on the names of their former masters, as is the case with part of my family, or made up new last names altogether.

Even after emancipation, black Americans continued to face persecution in the South and beyond. Many fled West or North or elsewhere, and the paper trail is nonexistent or impossible to follow.

When they did make it somewhere else, they still faced lynchings, arson attacks, bombings, and theft from hostile whites. These acts of terror erased records and histories, along with families and people.

Now, however, there are some exciting breakthroughs in the search for family history for African Americans.

The Freedmen’s Bureau Project recently launched a new website,, which includes the names of almost 2 million men, women, and children.

It brings together resources from various archives, museums, libraries, and digitized documents collected by the Freedmen’s Bureau, which was established in 1865 to provide services to newly emancipated communities. Its archives include bank records, marriage and death certificates, military service records, migration information, and so much more.

The new site also allows a partial name search, a game changer.

Oral histories of formerly enslaved people are another invaluable resource — check out the Library of Congress to start. Others include records kept by African-American newspapers, Benevolent Societies, churches, and so forth, which are available online and in public libraries.

Finally, DNA tests are another new tool for people tracing their ancestry.

But DNA can reveal a painful lineage. For example, black women were often raped by slave owners or forced to have intercourse with enslaved men to bear children into slavery. How do you deal with that in a family tree?

I’m grateful for the chance to glimpse new branches of my family tree. But ultimately, every one of my African ancestors was kidnapped from Africa. So even if I find a ship manifest or pay for a DNA test, I’ll never fully know the places, stories, and families that are my ancestry.

This is the painful legacy of our collective American history.

Mandisa Routheni is a New Mexico fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.


The Black History of the New Economy


(Photo: Joe Brusky / Flickr)

These are snapshots of the struggles and successes for a so-called new economy — the fight for a people- and planet-first world that is more equitable, sustainable and democratic. And this shift is being pioneered by the black community. In other words, the Movement for Black Lives is the new economy movement and has been for decades.

Take farmer cooperatives, for example. After being barred from the Southern Farmers’ Alliance, southern black farmers founded the Colored Farmers’ National Alliance and Cooperative Union in 1886. Their purpose was to “elevate the colored people of the United States, by teaching them to love their countries and their homes; to care more for their helpless, sick and destitute” and “become … less wasteful in their methods of living.” The union peaked at about 1 million members in 20 states, and it was a key force in the populist movement, the formation of independent parties and the fight for voting rights in the 19th century.

This is just one sound bite from the profound history of the people- and planet-first agenda. So the new economy movement is, in many ways, not new and has deep roots in black community organizing.

Yet black liberation continues to be sidelined in its thinking and action. Today’s new economy movement has predominately white leadership, overemphasizes class without race and has offered solutions that disproportionately disrupt black communities.

The post The Black History of the New Economy appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Mandisa Routheni is the New Mexico Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.


History Shows us we Don’t Need Billionaire Doctors to Make Medical Breakthroughs


Dr. Jonas Salk, 1955. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong has helped make a little medical history. The good doctor holds over 95 patents. He pulled off the first pig-to-human cell transplant to treat diabetes. And one of the drugs he designed and developed, Abraxane, keeps cancerous cells from dividing.

How much of a personal reward does Dr. Soon-Shiong merit for contributions like these? No one, of course, can definitively say. How much in personal rewards has Dr. Soon-Shiong actually collected over the course of his medical career? That figure we can pin down.

Dr. Soon-Shiong, the wealth trackers at Bloomberg tell us, has amassed a personal fortune worth $ 9.7 billion. And plenty more is coming. Dr. Soon-Shiong currently serves as the CEO of NantKwest, a San Diego cancer research firm. The pay deal he cut last year, we’ve just learned from required filings, will bring him at least $ 148 million for his CEO labors — and maybe as much as $ 330 million.

Do these sums strike you as a tad excessive? Fans of Dr. Soon-Shiong don’t see things that way. They believe Medical progress requires lush rewards. The possibility of hitting it spectacularly rich, their argument goes, gives physicians like Dr. Soon-Shiong an incentive to work ever harder to conquer cancer and other illnesses.

But the historical record shows brilliant doctors don’t need the incentive of becoming fabulously rich to make their medical breakthroughs. Dr. Jonas Salk certainly didn’t.

In the 1950s, Salk developed the first successful vaccine against polio, the disease that terrified young American families in the years after World War II. In 1952, the polio epidemic’s peak year, U.S. health officials counted 58,000 cases, with children making up most of the victims. Over 3,100 died from polio that year. Many thousands more faced lives in “iron lungs.”

Salk’s dogged research brought families real hope. In 1954, a massive field trial of his new vaccine passed with flying colors. Mass inoculations began in 1955.

Within a few short years, polio had virtually disappeared. The chairman of the American Medical Association board would go on to label this momentous achievement “one of the greatest events in the history of medicine.” No one disagreed.

And how many millions did Dr. Salk reap from his striking medical success? Not one. Salk, the son of a New York City garment worker, didn’t feel he had any right to make a fortune off his research. He never filed for a patent that would have “monetized” the vaccine for him.

Salk would explain why in a live national interview with his era’s most famous news broadcaster, Edward R. Murrow.

“Who owns the patent on this vaccine?” Murrow asked the newly-famous doctor.

“Well, the people, I would say,” Salk replied. “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”

How much did Salk’s public-spirited approach to the drive against polio cost him personally? A Forbes analysis in 2012 concluded that Salk “would have been richer by $ 7 billion” if he had patented his vaccine.

Some might argue that we ought to see Salk as a special case, the sort of saintly figure who only comes around once a millennium. We shouldn’t consider his example, this perspective holds, a realistic precedent for how we should expect medical researchers to behave.

But Salk, in his day, hardly rated as wildly unique. His chief medical competitor Albert Sabin also developed a powerful and effective polio vaccine in the 1950s. Sabin never patented his work for personal profit either.

Mid-20th-century America seems to have abounded with public-spirited talents like Salk and Sabin. That shouldn’t surprise us. The rules of the economic game in mid-20th-century America encouraged public-spirited behavior.

Much of that encouragement came from the federal tax code. In the 1950s, tax rates actively discouraged greed and grasping. Income over $ 400,000 — about $ 3.5 million in today’s dollars — faced a 91 percent tax rate.

This steep tax rate on top-bracket income sent a clear social message: Some things matter more than making tons of money. Our contemporary tax rates, by contrast, send no such message. Today’s super rich — Americans who routinely take in over $ 100 million a year — seldom pay over 25 percent of their overall incomes in federal tax.

Tax bites this gentle encourage today’s medical entrepreneurs to go for the gold at every opportunity. Consider the gold that awaits Joseph Papa, the new CEO at Valeant Pharmaceuticals. Papa’s new pay deal, notes Fortune magazine, will hand him a stunning $ 500 million if Valeant’s stock price hits $ 270 per share, the company’s share price territory last July.

The prospect of a windfall this huge gives Papa an enormous incentive to hike Valeant’s share price by whatever means necessary. The greater the profit he can squeeze out of the drugs that Valeant markets, the greater the personal windfall he gets to pocket.

Valeant is already squeezing at a phenomenal pace. The company specializes in buying up drug patents, then quickly raising the prices of its new drugs to whatever the market can bear.

Under current patent rules, this strategy makes eminent business sense. The returns can be other-worldly. Since 2013, for instance, Valeant has hiked the price of Cuprimine, a drug for one rare condition, by 5,787 percent.

The resulting profits have made Valeant a hedge fund favorite. Patients and their families — and the doctors who feel a real professional responsibility to them — have less reason to cheer.

“We spend a lot of time with our patients talking about options based on what they can and can’t afford,” explains Dr. Richy Agajanian, a California oncologist. “As doctors, we are constantly juggling what’s best for patients versus what they can afford.”

How can we go beyond all this juggling? Having more public-spirited Dr. Salks and Dr. Sabins around would help. But what we need even more: egalitarian-minded rules for our economy — on everything from patents to taxes — that make public spiritedness the only logical choice.

The post History Shows us we Don’t Need Billionaire Doctors to Make Medical Breakthroughs appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Sam Pizzigati is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.


The sinister, secret history of a food that everybody loves – Washington Post

Washington Post
The sinister, secret history of a food that everybody loves
Washington Post
The economists believe that societies cultivating crops like wheat and barley may have experienced extra pressure to protect their harvests, galvanizing the creation of warrior classes and the development of complex hierarchies and taxation schemes


Preliminary MSHA data indicate 2015 was safest year in mining history

Preliminary MSHA data indicate 2015 was safest year in mining history

ARLINGTON, Va. – The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration today released preliminary data for calendar year 2015, updating the “Mine Safety and Health at a Glance” page. The charts include information on inspections, violations and number of mines and miners. They also show fatality and injury rates for coal, metal and nonmetal, and all mining.

The data show that last year was the safest year in mining history, both in terms of number of deaths and fatal and injury rates. These rates are calculated based on hours of miners’ exposure, a relative measure taking into account recent employment changes in the mining market.

“The progress we made in 2015 is good news for miners and the mining industry. It is the result of intensive efforts by MSHA and its stakeholders that have led to mine site compliance improvements, a reduction of chronic violators, historic low levels of respirable coal dust and silica, and a record low number of mining deaths,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health.

In 2015, 28 miners died in mining accidents, down from 45 in 2014. The fatal injury rate, expressed as reported injuries per 200,000 hours worked, was the lowest in mining history for all mining at 0.0096, down from 0.0144 in 2014 and 0.0110 in 2011 and 2012. 

The fatal injury rate for coal mining in 2015 was 0.0121, the lowest rate ever. The previous fatal injury rate low was set in 2011, during a period of peak employment in the coal industry.

In the metal and nonmetal mining industry, both the number of fatalities and the fatal injury rate were cut almost in half from the previous year’s figures. The fatal injury rate of 0.0085 was close to the all-time low of 0.0079 set in 2012. 

The all-injury rate – reported by mine operators – also dropped to a new low in 2015 at 2.28. Coal’s all-injury rate fell to 2.88, the first time it dropped below 3.0. Metal and nonmetal’s all-injury rate fell to a new low of 2.01.

The numbers of miners and mining operations were down in 2015, and accordingly, MSHA conducted fewer inspections. Even accounting for the decline in the number of mines, compliance improved, demonstrated by an 11 percent reduction in the number of citations and orders issued.

Assessments of penalties dropped to $ 62.3 million in 2015, with approximately 2 percent of violations not yet assessed.

MSHA will release a final version of the calendar year data in July.

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The Rich History of Hungarian Wine – Eater

The Rich History of Hungarian Wine
According to legend, close to harvest time one year, Hungarian farmers were forced to leave their fields in order to battle the Turks. Upon their return, the … Firstly, American railway links between the midwest and eastern seaboard made it possible


Alexandria History: George Washington, The Farmer – Virginia Connection Newspapers

Alexandria History: George Washington, The Farmer
Virginia Connection Newspapers
He also raised cattle, pigs, sheep, and poultry. #He also saw the importance of crop rotation to … This change in farming methods and crops also began moving Mount Vernon away for dependence on slave labor. He constantly engaged in well documented …

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The Rich History of Hungarian Wine – Eater

The Rich History of Hungarian Wine
According to legend, close to harvest time one year, Hungarian farmers were forced to leave their fields in order to battle the Turks. Upon their return, the … Firstly, American railway links between the midwest and eastern seaboard made it possible