Fed Up with Washington, DC? Look to Washington State.

tax-budget-rich

(Photo: Flickr/ Takver)

Forward thinking in Washington these days is limited to federal law-makers scheming new and innovative ways to bolster the fortunes of the ultra-wealthy at the expense of just about everyone else.

That is, in Washington, DC. On the other side of the country in Washington State, and specifically Seattle, policymakers are taking a much different tack, choosing to build an economy that works for everyone.

Congress, and other states, should take notice.

The Seattle City Council voted on July 10 to pass a city-level income tax on its wealthiest income-earners. The small 2.25 percent tax will only apply to income over $ 250,000 for individuals, or $ 500,000 for married couples, and will raise an estimated $ 125 million per year.

This new revenue will strengthen the city’s public programs to address homelessness and affordable housing, create jobs and reduce carbon emissions, and improve the city’s education and transit.

The new revenue will also shore up federal funding lost as a result of budget cuts from the Trump administration. Opposition to the president’s budget proposal was a motivating factor for many, leading organizers to name the campaign “Trump-Proof Seattle.”

Katie Wilson co-founded the Transit Riders Union, which helped coordinate the campaign. As she put it, “We can’t count on solutions at the federal level coming anytime soon, so we need our city and our state to step up for the most vulnerable members of our community.”

Stand up the city did. Whether state lawmakers, and the state supreme court, mirror the sentiments of their largest metropolis remains to be seen. Washington State has among the country’s most unfair tax structures — it’s one of just seven states without a statewide income tax — and opponents of Seattle’s income tax claim it violates the state constitution.

It’s not just on tax and budget issues where Seattle is leading the charge for a more equitable future. In 2014 the city council passed the first minimum wage increase scheduled to rise to $ 15 an hour. Other cities have followed, including San Francisco and, just recently, Minneapolis.

Research from University of California-Berkeley professor Michael Reich shows that significantly raising the minimum wage boosts worker pay and hasn’t led to either job losses or a slowdown in economic growth, among a slew of other social and economic benefits.

The federal minimum wage remains at $ 7.25 an hour, so low that there isn’t a single city in the country where a worker can afford to live and support a family on that wage.

Yet Congress has shown less than zero appetite for raising the wage either under President Obama or President Trump. Many Republicans in Congress, including Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander and a number of his colleagues, have gone so far as to call for abolishing the federal minimum wage altogether.

On taxes, Congress is also working directly against the needs and wishes of working and middle-class families. Repealing the Affordable Care Act, the issue most animating Capitol Hill right now, is a thinly veiled effort to pass massive tax cuts for the rich — to the tune of $ 346 billion over 10 years exclusively aimed at households with incomes over $ 200,000.

What would the rest of the country get in return for this massive handout to the already wealthy? Well, about 23 million people would lose their health insurance. And it would pave the way for an even more comprehensive set of tax cuts for the wealthy. Ugh.

Hopefully Washingtonians of the east coast variety will take a look to their namesake brethren in western Washington for inspiration. Congress is heading tragically toward deeper inequality, a path riddled with unnecessary harm for working people. It’s not too late to change course.

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Corporate Allies in Washington Take Aim at CEO Pay Reform

CEO-pay-median-worker

(Photo: Fred Ho / Shutterstock)

It’s not easy defending America’s overpaid CEOs, but somebody’s gotta do it. At least that seems to be the sentiment of the corporate lobby groups, politicians, and regulators who make up what might be called Washington’s CEO Pay Apologists Club.

Lately, this bunch has been on quite a tear. House Republicans’ health-care law will eliminate an Obamacare tax penalty on excessive compensation among insurance executives. Their Wall Street reform plan, scheduled for a vote this week, nixes several Dodd-Frank executive-pay reforms, including a ban on risk-inducing Wall Street bonuses and a regulation requiring publicly held corporations to report their CEO-worker pay gap.

These assaults take a certain amount of political courage at a time when corporate CEOs are making even President Donald Trump look like Mr. Popularity. In a March 2017 Harris poll, Americans gave corporate chieftains a favorability rating of only 24 percent, about half the share who approve of Trump’s job performance.

Even a majority of self-identified Republicans favor a fixed ceiling on CEO pay. Of course, none of the modest Obama-era reforms now on the chopping block went anywhere near that far. But that hasn’t dampened GOP hostility toward them.

Read the full article on The American Prospect.

 

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If Washington Won’t Rein in Corporate Greed, Your State Might

ceo-worker-pay

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Josh Elliott is fed up with overpaid CEOs. As the owner of a Connecticut natural foods market with 40 employees, he says he could never justify pocketing hundreds of times more pay than his employees.

“I’m very much a capitalist,” Elliott told me in an interview. “But there need to be limits.”

Skyrocketing CEO pay and inequality last year motivated this 32-year-old businessman to launch a successful bid for a seat in the Connecticut General Assembly. Elliott hit back hard on the campaign trail against right-wing claims about high taxes driving wealthy job creators out of his state.

“This is not an issue of over-taxation — it’s an issue of taxing the wrong people and the wrong entities,” he told the New Haven Register. “When the middle class has to subsidize huge corporations like Wal-Mart that criminally underpay their workers, the narrative that we are overtaxed ought to be outed as ludicrous.”

Since taking office, Rep. Elliott has co-sponsored several bills aimed at narrowing our economic divide, including two that directly address the CEO pay problem.

One of these bills mirrors a Portland, Oregon law enacted last December that imposes a tax penalty on publicly traded corporations with CEOs making more than 100 times their typical worker pay.

These laws don’t set a ceiling on how much corporations can pay their executives. But they do provide an incentive to rein in excess CEO pay and lift up workers at the bottom end. They can also generate significant revenue for urgent needs like funding pre-school programs or fixing roads and bridges.

Legislators in Illinois, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and San Francisco are also considering CEO pay tax proposals.

Elliott’s other bill would use the power of the public purse to reduce pay disparities. If enacted, companies with CEO-worker pay ratios of more than 100 to 1 wouldn’t qualify for state subsidies and grants.

That would help ensure taxpayer dollars are used wisely. Research has shown that narrower pay gaps make businesses more effective by boosting employee morale and reducing turnover rates.

Elliott pointed out that he’s able to go to the state capital in Hartford four times a week when the General Assembly is in session because he trusts his managers to do a good job running the market in his absence. “You need to have good employees to make money,” he told me.

While efforts to narrow CEO-worker pay gaps are spreading around the country, Republicans in Washington are working to undercut them.

How? By killing a federal disclosure law requiring corporations to report the gap between their CEO and median worker pay. This data, scheduled to become available in early 2018, would make the kinds of policies Elliott is promoting much easier to administer.

But overpaid CEOs — and their lobbyists — want to throw up as many obstacles as they can. The massive Financial CHOICE Act, which just passed a House committee, would eliminate the pay ratio disclosure regulation, along with loosening other regulations on big Wall Street banks. It could come up for a full House vote soon.

But as the debate shifts, Elliott is confident that bold proposals for change will eventually gain traction.

“The conservative narrative is that business owners are the job creators,” he told me. “But if the CEOs and owners of capital have unlimited potential for their own compensation, they’re just taking money away from their employees. And that’s a system that is simply unsustainable.”

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Terrorists Who Struck Washington in 1976 Face More Murder Charges

(Photo: Flickr / Annais Ferreira)

The extradition is a reflection of the perseverance of many of the key lawyers who’ve been doggedly pursuing justice for Letelier and Moffitt and many other victims of the Pinochet dictatorship for four decades. (Photo: Flickr / Annais Ferreira)

Forty years ago, agents of the Chilean dictatorship assassinated two colleagues at my organization, the Institute for Policy Studies, less than a mile from our office in downtown Washington, DC.

The murder of Orlando Letelier and Ronni Karpen Moffitt was a devastating blow to their families, friends, colleagues, and human rights supporters around the world. But over the decades, this brutal act has also led to important legal precedents— and some measures of justice.

Now comes news of another possible measure of justice. On May 17, Chile’s Supreme Court asked the U.S. government to extradite three former Chilean secret police agents. The request is in connection with the murder of United Nations diplomat Carmelo Soria in Chile in July 1976.

All three of these men were also involved in the Letelier-Moffitt assassination. And this current trial could help make up for the fact that none of them served lengthy sentences for a crime that, until 9/11, was the most notorious act of international terrorism in U.S. history.

Michael Townley, a hired American hitman for the Chilean secret police, pled guilty in 1978 to organizing the Letelier-Moffitt assassination. In the book Assassination on Embassy Row, John Dinges and Saul Landau explain how Townley crawled under Letelier’s car outside his suburban Washington home in the early morning hours of September 19, 1976 and attached a bomb with electrical tape.

Two days later, two right-wing Cubans detonated that bomb, killing the two IPS colleagues as they drove to work down Massachusetts Avenue. One of these Cubans was Virgilio Paz, also a target of the current extradition order.

The third man the Chileans are seeking to put on trial in the Soria case is former Chilean Army captain Armando Fernandez Larios, who also pled guilty for his role in murdering Letelier and Moffitt.

After testifying against other culprits, Townley received only a five-year sentence and then entered federal witness protection, as did Fernandez Larios after less than two years in jail. Paz spent a decade in U.S. prison before being set free in 2001.

The extradition request could lead to more prison time for this trio of Letelier-Moffitt assassins. And it is a reflection of the perseverance of many of the key lawyers who’ve been doggedly pursuing justice for Letelier and Moffitt and many other victims of the Pinochet dictatorship for four decades.

Spanish lawyer and former IPS associate Joan Garces has worked with Soria’s widow, Laura Gonzalez Vera, to pursue criminal cases against her husband’s killers in Spain and Chile for many years. Garces is the same lawyer who filed the Spanish case that led to the arrest of Pinochet in London in 1998. UK authorities eventually released the former dictator on humanitarian grounds and despite efforts to prosecute him in Chile, he died in 2006 without facing trial.

American lawyer Michael Tigar, who, along with Sam Buffone, represented the Letelier and Moffitt families in a successful and precedent-setting civil suit against the Chilean dictatorship, has worked in recent years to help lay the foundation for the Chilean court’s current extradition order.

Together with his wife, Jane Tigar, he founded a student clinic at the American University’s Washington College of Law that filed a lawsuit against Townley in connection with the Soria murder. This suit formed a sufficient factual basis for the Chilean court to begin formal proceedings in that country.

“The precedent of the Letelier-Moffitt case, and the ongoing struggle by IPS and others to keep these memories fresh, has once again yielded some results,” Michael Tigar told me in response to the news of the extradition order.

He cautions, however, that it is not at all certain whether the U.S. Department of Justice will comply with the order, given that both Fernandez Larios and Townley are under witness protection.

And yet this latest development is a clear reminder of the power of persistence. This year, IPS and others will mark the 40th anniversary of the Letelier-Moffitt assassinations with a series of events to honor these fallen colleagues while also recognizing the important legal achievements sparked by this tragedy —and the continuing work to champion human rights for all.

The post Terrorists Who Struck Washington in 1976 Face More Murder Charges appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Sarah Anderson directs the Global Economy project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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Italy may be the next big migrant route – Washington Post


Washington Post
Italy may be the next big migrant route
Washington Post
BRENNERO, Italy — Since the days of ancient Rome, conquering armies have traversed the Brenner Pass, a scenic gorge in the Alps connecting the boot of Italy to the heart of Europe. Now, nations to the north fear that this vital passage will become the …
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Benin has a new president: Patrice Talon, an ironic outsider politician – Washington Post


Washington Post
Benin has a new president: Patrice Talon, an ironic outsider politician
Washington Post
Instead, Benin voters — and most of the first-round candidates — turned to a different kind of outsider. Known as the “king of cotton,” Patrice Talon is first and foremost a businessman who built his empire in the cotton-ginning industry. But his

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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

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Benin has a new president: Patrice Talon, an ironic outsider politician – Washington Post


Washington Post
Benin has a new president: Patrice Talon, an ironic outsider politician
Washington Post
Instead, Benin voters — and most of the first-round candidates — turned to a different kind of outsider. Known as the “king of cotton,” Patrice Talon is first and foremost a businessman who built his empire in the cotton-ginning industry. But his

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Benin has a new president: Patrice Talon, an ironic outsider politician – Washington Post


Washington Post
Benin has a new president: Patrice Talon, an ironic outsider politician
Washington Post
Instead, Benin voters — and most of the first-round candidates — turned to a different kind of outsider. Known as the “king of cotton,” Patrice Talon is first and foremost a businessman who built his empire in the cotton-ginning industry. But his

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Ex-CIA officer faces extradition from Portugal to Italy for alleged role in cleric’s rendition – Washington Post


Washington Post
Ex-CIA officer faces extradition from Portugal to Italy for alleged role in cleric's rendition
Washington Post
More than 13 years after an Egyptian cleric was kidnapped off the streets of Milan by CIA operatives, one former agency officer now living in Portugal faces extradition to Italy, where she was sentenced to four years in prison for the abduction

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