The Women of Color ‘Solutionaries’ Who Are Taking On Detroit’s Deep Divisions

“Nobody asked us if we wanted a new hockey stadium in the middle of the city,” said community activist Sajeda Ahmed, in an interview for a new report on the role of women of color on the future of Detroit. “Nobody asked our opinion, and we’re the ones who have to live around it and deal with everything that comes along with it.”

It’s hardly surprising that Ahmed, a Bangladeshi-American woman, isn’t much of a Red Wings fan. White men completely dominate hockey. As a community activist in a city ravaged by poverty and joblessness, she can think of many needs more pressing than an ice rink.

So who exactly was behind the new Detroit hockey arena that opened last month? That would be Mike Ilitch, the billionaire owner of the Red Wings and Little Caesars Pizza. Although he died in February of this year, Ilitch is credited with selling the arena plan to local officials and obtaining about $ 324 million in public subsidies for the project.

This is only one example of billionaire-driven development in Detroit. Dan Gilbert, who made a fortune as the founder of Quicken Loans, now runs a venture capital company that has bought more than 90 buildings in Detroit’s urban core – enough to earn the area the nickname “Gilbertville.”

Asked how she would handle Detroit’s re-development efforts, Ahmed said, “Definitely the first thing I’d do is make sure that women’s voices are heard. That’s something that we have not seen so far in this revitalization. It’s been big businessmen and policymakers making all these decisions.”

The importance of giving women of color a seat at the table is a major theme of “I Dream Detroit: The Voice and Vision of Women of Color on Detroit’s Future,” a new Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) report based on in-depth interviews, focus groups, and surveys with Black, Latina, Arab, and Asian women across the city.

Women of color make up 47 percent of Detroit’s population and yet more than 70 percent of those that participated in an IPS survey said they do not feel included in city’s economic development plans.

Linda Campbell, one of the 20 women of color profiled in the report, has played a leadership role in several coalition efforts to steer economic resources towards low-income residents. She’s contributed to efforts to increase the local minimum wage, ensure access to affordable housing, and leverage public investments in economic development for jobs and education.

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This Artist is Taking a Historic Step Forward in U.S.-Iranian Relations

iran-us-art-mural

(Photo: Boring Lovechild / Flickr)

On a wall in Boston, artist Mehdi Ghadyanloo is taking a quiet but historic step forward in U.S.-Iranian relations.

His fanciful mural on an air intake structure in Boston’s Dewey Square represents a first. Ghadyanloo, who has completed more than a hundred surrealistic murals in downtown Tehran, is the first Iranian artist to do work commissioned by municipal authorities in both Iran and the United States.

This exercise in mural diplomacy couldn’t come at a more opportune time. Iran is back in the news after Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential elections. The president-elect has promised, at the very least, to renegotiate the nuclear deal with Iran. The Republican-controlled Congress wants to impose new sanctions.

Quietly, however, the Obama administration has moved to build on the rapprochement initiated by the 2015 nuclear deal. In September, the Obama administration greenlighted a Boeing deal to sell commercial jets to Tehran. The Treasury Department also loosened the sanctions regulations to make it possible for foreigners to use dollars in transactions with Iran. And the administration wants to encourage more U.S. firms to do business in the country.

Still, Iran has complained that the United States has not done all that it promised to usher the country back into the global economy. And European allies, eager to push forward with a broader agenda of engagement with the country, have been dismayed at how Washington has focused its cooperation so narrowly on nuclear matters.

That’s what makes Mehdi Ghadyanloo’s recent U.S. tour so noteworthy. He knows nothing about nuclear weapons. His work isn’t political. But precisely because his utopian landscapes are so far from the worlds of nonproliferation and geopolitics, Ghadyanloo’s work opens up a window on what could be: a true detente in the relationship between Tehran and Washington akin to the sea change in U.S.-China relations in the 1970s. Just substitute murals for ping-pong.

Read the full article on U.S. News and World Report.

The post This Artist is Taking a Historic Step Forward in U.S.-Iranian Relations appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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This Tax Law Professor is Taking on the Super Rich

Capitol Hill

(Image: Shutterstock)

Tax law professors don’t normally have much of a public profile. Victor Fleischer does. In fact, one business journalist has just tagged this ace analyst from the University of San Diego “the closest thing the tax world has to a rock star.”

Most rock stars have big break-out hits. Fleischer’s big break-out came about a decade ago when his scholarship exposed an incredibly lucrative tax giveaway to the rich that hardly anyone knew existed. The “carried interest” loophole, Fleischer detailed, was helping private equity and hedge fund billionaires chop their tax bills by nearly half.

Thanks largely to Fleischer, this preferential tax treatment of “carried interest” has now become the single most notorious loophole in the federal tax code. But the carried interest tax break — a giveaway that’s saving America’s financial industry heavyweights an estimated $ 18 billion a year — has survived this notoriety. Congress has still never come close to repealing it.

That may be about to change. At least some lawmakers are showing signs they’re really ready to take on Big Finance. The clearest sign of all: Senator Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat who’ll chair the Senate Finance Committee if Republicans lose their Senate majority this November, has just hired Victor Fleischer as his co-chief tax counsel.

Understandably, most of the commentary around this surprise hire has so far revolved around the future of the carried interest loophole. But Fleischer, we need to keep in mind, has never been a one-trick pony. He has his eyes on tax loopholes friendly to the rich that go way beyond carried interest.

One of these loopholes just happens to be more obscure than carried interest used to be, and much more lucrative for America’s super rich. Meet the federal tax code’s preferential tax treatment of “founders’ stock.”

Most of America’s super rich owe their exceedingly good fortune in life to the companies they founded. And most of these founders owe the immensity of their good fortune to the wink-wink the tax code extends them at tax time.

Overall, Fleischer calculates, this winking drains more out of the federal treasury than the carried interest loophole. Yet the founders’ stock loophole continues to operate almost totally under the radar.

Why the indifference? Founders’ stock, for starters, involves all sorts of impenetrably complicated tax concepts, everything from “the time value of money” and “remittance obligations” to the lock-in effect of the “realization doctrine.”

The carried interest story, by contrast, remains easy to tell: Private equity kingpins raise funds from investors to buy and sell companies. They typically pocket 20 percent of the profits from all their wheeling and dealing.

This 20 percent clearly represents payment for services rendered and ought to be taxed no differently than a commission an auto salesperson makes. But the carried interest loophole lets private equity movers and shakers claim this income as a capital gain, a label that saves them about $ 160,000 in taxes on every $ 1 million they rack up.

The unfairness and outrageousness of this special treatment could hardly be easier to understand.

Strip away the conceptual underbrush around taxing founders’ stock and the same dynamic emerges: Extremely rich people get to avoid paying standard tax rates on the vast bulk of their income.

Consider two software hotshots with an idea for the next super-hot high-tech thing. They take their know-how to a venture capital company. The venture capitalists (VC’s) like the idea and pump operating cash into it. In return for the cash, the VCs get stock in the fledgling new company.

The software hotshots, also known as the “founders,” get stock too, as payment for their expertise and labor. This stock could eventually have extraordinary value. But the current tax code essentially lets the founders sidestep paying any meaningful tax on it.

“The tax treatment of founders’ stock,” notes Fleischer, “represents a critical design flaw in a progressive income tax system” that “contributes to the broader trend of increasing inequality, particularly at the very top of the scale.”

Fleischer sees the current tax preference for founders’ stock as part of an even bigger political and cultural problem: America’s over-the-top genuflecting before entrepreneurial “genius.”

This genuflecting has translated into a wide variety of special tax breaks for entrepreneurs, with the preferential treatment of founders’ stock only one among them. The justification for all these tax breaks? Tax breaks for entrepreneurs, we’re assured, “create jobs and fuel economic growth.”

But researchers have found next to no evidence that tax breaks for entrepreneurs advance either of these goals, as Fleischer points out in an insightful and entertaining paper that appeared this past spring in the Fordham Law Review.

“Tax breaks mostly reward entrepreneurs for activity they would have engaged in anyway,” he points out.

What about the argument that we as a society have to be willing to reward entrepreneurs for the risks they take? Lots of Americans, observes Fleischer, take risks and get no tax breaks for their risk-taking.

“It is not self-evident,” he writes, “why risk taking by rich executives and venture capitalists is more valuable than risk taking by, say, a Korean-American grocer, a Mexican-American restaurateur, a farmer in California, or an Uber driver in Miami.”

“The current tax code,” Fleischer sums up, “has become an echo chamber for the economic forces driving the increase in income and wealth inequality, the blurring of economic and political influence, and the degradation of paid work.”

Welcome to Capitol Hill, Victor Fleischer. We need you there.

The post This Tax Law Professor is Taking on the Super Rich appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Sam Pizzigati is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and co-edits Inequality.org. 

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These States are Taking Tax Reform into Their Own Hands

raise-up-ma-tax-fairness

(Photo: SEIU Local 509)

States across the country are taking on the issue of tax fairness with vigor, looking to raise significant revenue and put a halt to the growing economic divide. Revenue raising campaigns in California, Massachusetts, and Oregon want to increase taxes on millionaires and the most profitable corporations at the ballot.

In light of growing inequality, other states should take notice.

The income of the top one percent is over 25 times higher than what the bottom 99 percent is paid across the country. In certain states, according to a new report from the Economic Policy Institute, that figure is more than 40 times higher.

Perhaps more troubling, in 15 states the top one percent took all of the income gains in the wake of the Great Recession. Not most of it, all of it.

While there is no panacea for dramatically reducing this level of inequality, one part of the solution comes from the tax code: raise taxes on the very wealthy and invest the revenue on programs of social uplift.

Three states have stepped up to begin to address this rising inequality through changes in their tax codes, providing a model other states should consider emulating.

Massachusetts

A ballot initiative campaign is underway in Massachusetts to pass a millionaires tax in the Commonwealth. The Raise Up Massachusetts coalition supporting the campaign claims the initiative received a 70 percent approval rating and will raise about $ 2 billion per year in revenue for education and transportation infrastructure in the Bay State. The campaign recently received support from 135 of the 200 representatives in the state legislature and will appear on ballots in the 2018 election.

California

In 2012, the Golden State temporarily raised state level income taxes on millionaires to the highest in the country with a rate of 13.3 percent on incomes over $ 1 million. In the years following, the California economy has seen significant growth, disproving conservative economists‘ predictions that calamity would ensue. Voters will decide in November whether to make the tax increase, and the $ 5 billion in annual revenue that comes with it, permanent.

Oregon

Corporate taxes on large and profitable corporations in Oregon are the lowest in the country. Voters will weigh in on whether to change that this November thanks to a ballot initiative campaign from A Better Oregon. The initiative raises rates on corporations with over $ 25 million in sales in the state with revenue earmarked to fund early education, K-12 education, health care, and senior services.

These states are not alone. Efforts to raise taxes on the wealthy are also underway in Minnesota, Maine, and Colorado according to Bloomberg News.

With Congressional inaction guaranteed at least until after the election, and likely long after that, it’ll be up to the states to take the fight against inequality in their own hands. Activists and legislators in states not currently taking action should draw inspiration from these states and consider launching campaigns of their own.

The post These States are Taking Tax Reform into Their Own Hands appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Josh Hoxie directs the Project on Opportunity and Taxation at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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Burning Issues: Taking on ISIS

In order to eliminate the threat of ISIS, the United States has to support eliminating the conditions that have led people in Syria and Iraq to conclude that ISIS is the lesser of two evils, says Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, in this Burning Issues video.

Bennis’ book Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror fundamentally questions U.S. strategy against the effort to build an extremist caliphate.

Fighting ISIS militarily is not the only strategy, Bennis says. A credible plan to defeat ISIS “starts with what every medical student learns on her first day in medical school: First, do no harm… Stop the drone attacks. Stop the air strikes.”

Bennis argues that presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s plan to set up a no-fly zone in Syria and to engage in other forms of military escalation in the Middle East is “incredibly reckless.” Of Donald Trump, “God knows what he would do.”

Bennis also laments that “our movements have not demanded of any of the candidates” focus much more on these global issues of peacemaking.

The post Burning Issues: Taking on ISIS appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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Lidl taking concrete steps to introduce living wages in its supply chains

Lidl told us that it is taking concrete steps to introduce living wages in its supply chains! That’s great news! in August, almost 140,000 consumers signed a petition drawn up by Fairfood and SumOfUs demanding that Lidl take action to ensure living wages to all workers in their supply chains. The petition was partly a response to the report ‘Caught in a trap’ published by Fairfood in April 2015, which revealed that the shrimp sold at Lidl is peeled and processed by exploited Asian shrimp workers who earn poverty wages and work under harsh labour conditions.

Lidl has a Code of Conduct in which it indicates that it aims to pay wages that cover the cost of living in its supply chains. However, the current reality is that these wages often fall below the living wage rate. Sadly, this is not only the case in the Asian shrimp industry. In most food supply chains in developing countries, wages are extremely low, working weeks are long, labour conditions are harsh and workers live in poverty while producing the food we consume in Europe. That’s why we ask Lidl to ensure living wages to all workers in their food supply chains.

Lidl petition_DEF_28-09-15

Lidl to share concrete action plan on 27 October

Fairfood has been in conversation with Lidl already for a few months to discuss the issue of living wages. Now, these conversations finally seem to have led to concrete steps. Lidl has been actively looking for ways to implement living wages. They cannot tell us yet in which supply chains or timelines, but they have promised us that they are developing concrete action plans and they told us that they will share these with us on 27 October. That’s great news and we are looking forward to seeing Lidl’s commitments. However, we will only be satisfied when Lidl shows us concrete plans including: timelines, the supply chains to be addressed and how it will guarantee that fair payments actually end up in workers’ wages.

Lidl UK already committed to living wages in Britain

We know that Lidl is able to take steps and that they are taking the issue of living wages and their employees seriously: Lidl UK has recently committed to paying living wages to its entire staff in Brittain. Now it is time to take this step forward and work on the implementation of living wages to all workers in their global food chains. We are looking forward to 27 October to see if Lidl is indeed taking these almost 140,000 worried consumers seriously. So stay tuned!

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California’s commercial drone industry is taking off – Post-Bulletin

California's commercial drone industry is taking off
Post-Bulletin
Competition from Chinese manufacturers has already pushed 3D Robotics and some other American drone companies to make their hardware in other countries. Anderson's company has an engineering center in San Diego, but manufactures its drones in …

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California’s commercial drone industry is taking off – Los Angeles Times


Los Angeles Times
California's commercial drone industry is taking off
Los Angeles Times
So far, many commercial and civilian drones are being designed here but made abroad, creating high-tech engineering jobs in the U.S. while the manufacturing is in low-cost countries like China and Mexico — underscoring the challenge of creating U.S

and more »

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U.S. ag ready to make hay in Cuba Vilsack optimistic over China taking GMO … – Politico

U.S. ag ready to make hay in Cuba Vilsack optimistic over China taking GMO
Politico
ILRF: POVERTY, CHILD LABOR PERSIST ON COCOA FARMS: Despite substantial efforts by their governments, child labor and poverty persist on the cocoa farms of Ghana and the Ivory Coast, says the International Labor Rights Forum in a 64-page paper released

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U.S. ag ready to make hay in Cuba Vilsack optimistic over China taking GMO … – Politico

U.S. ag ready to make hay in Cuba Vilsack optimistic over China taking GMO
Politico
ILRF: POVERTY, CHILD LABOR PERSIST ON COCOA FARMS: Despite substantial efforts by their governments, child labor and poverty persist on the cocoa farms of Ghana and the Ivory Coast, says the International Labor Rights Forum in a 64-page paper released

and more »

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