Seattle more effective than DC?


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

In the face of gridlock at the federal level, Seattle is leading the way towards a more just economy.

By Josh Hoxie

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.

Josh Hoxie directs the Project on Taxation and Opportunity at the Institute for Policy Studies. Distributed by OtherWords.org

1984 at the Grocery Store

Amazon is buying Whole Foods, and that’s bad news for humans.

By Jim Hightower

Wall Street analysts tell us that Amazon’s $14 billion buyout of Whole Foods isn’t only a win-win for both of them, but also for consumers, for Amazon intends to lower the organic grocer’s prices.

Really? Yes, they say, because Amazon will use its amazing computer-driven tactics to cut Whole Foods’ cost of selling groceries.

But Amazon’s robotic “efficiency” is achieved by cutting people. It ruthlessly squeezes suppliers, for example, demanding that they give bankruptcy-level wholesale prices to the retail colossus.

That means that small organic farmers and food artisans are destined to be squeezed out of Whole Foods, displaced by deep-pocket, global food makers who are willing to cut corners on quality and the environment in order to get on Amazon’s new grocery shelves.

Next on the chopping block is Whole Foods’ helpful and friendly work force. Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, doesn’t view workers as assets, but as costs. So to jack up the grocery chain’s profits, he’ll cut those “costs” — aka, people.

He’s already testing a store concept that has no cashiers to interfere with your shopping “experience.” It uses computer sensors to take your money electronically, instead of paying bothersome humans to do the job of checking you out and — God forbid — conversing with you.

Oh, another plus of connecting us to the corporate computers is that they’ll track and record our every move and every purchase, building a detailed personal profile on each of us in order to… well, to do what? And why?

According to the calendar, we’re living in 2017. But the Brave New Future of Amazon’s electronic, robotic Whole Foods Market tells us we’re living in the corporate version of 1984, where human needs for jobs and personal relationships are subverted to the corporate love of automation and avaricious profits.

OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also the editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown. Distributed by OtherWords.org.

Is This How the World Sees America Now?

A scathing review of the president’s performance at a recent global summit should raise red flags.

By Jill Richardson

Donald Trump recently returned from meeting with the other powerful countries of the G20 group — one of his first big performances on the world stage. So how did it go?

Not swell, according to a no-holds-barred account delivered by Chris Uhlmann, an Australian journalist. Uhlmann made four main points about how the rest of the world sees the U.S. president.

First, Uhlmann charged, Trump has “no desire or capacity to lead the world.” He called him “a man who barks out bile in 140 characters” and “wastes his precious days as president at war with the west’s institutions, like the judiciary, independent government agencies, and the free press.”

It’s hard to refute that latter point. How much time has Trump wasted watching cable news, or insisting that he got more votes or had bigger crowds at his inauguration than he really did?

How much time has our entire country wasted focusing on nasty tweets, such as the recent one claiming that TV personality Mika Brzezinski has a low IQ?

Second, Uhlmann concluded, Trump “craves power because it burnishes his celebrity. To be constantly talking and talked about is all that matters.” Worse still, he said, “There’s no value placed on the meaning of words. What’s said one day can be discarded the next.”

That’s a reasonable conclusion about an administration whose lies are flimsy and easily debunked, but delivered forcefully all the same. Moreover, Trump himself has shown little shame in making hateful remarks that would embarrass any other leader, from making fun of a disabled journalist to bragging about sexually assaulting women.

Third, Uhlmann warned, one must not “confuse the speeches written for Trump with the thoughts of the man himself,” because ” it’s the unscripted Trump that’s real.”

Again, he isn’t wrong. This can be said to some degree of all presidents. The words of a speechwriter or the tactics of a clever political strategist may be executed at the White House, but they don’t necessarily represent the thoughts or feelings of the president.

This is less of a problem when written speeches and unscripted remarks are similar. But Trump often reads a well-scripted speech and then turns around right afterward to make entirely contradictory off the cuff remarks.

And last, Uhlmann assessed, as a result of all this, “the G20 became the G19” and “the U.S. was left isolated and friendless.”

You may disagree with parts of this assessment. Perhaps you like Trump. Maybe you think his policy proposals are good ones.

But it’s impossible to refute this last point — that under Trump, the U.S. has forfeited its position of leadership in the world. Note that the other 19 countries had to issue their own statement about addressing climate change, now that Trump has pulled the U.S. out of those discussions.

Leadership can only occur when others recognize the authority of and follow the leader. I could declare myself leader of the free world right now, but nobody would buy into such a claim.

Therefore, whether Americans agree with other nations or not — on trade, on climate change, on anything — Americans have no choice but to earn their respect and cooperation if we wish to be a world leader.

At present, under Trump, our country is not doing that.

You can call German Angela Merkel or Chinese Premier Xi Jinping any names you want. But until our country elects someone who can work constructively with them, our global influence is going to suffer.

And, correspondingly, our ability to achieve any goal that requires international cooperation will suffer as well.

OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. Distributed by OtherWords.org

Worried Sick About Prescription Costs

Drug corporations are bleeding Americans dry, and the proposed health care repeal will make things worse.

By LeeAnn Hall

Ask about health care at a summer cookout, and you’ll likely get an earful about how drug corporations are gouging us, leaving many families to choose between buying medications or putting food on the table.

Why? Because corporations put profits before patients.

Look at a corporation like Mylan, the maker of EpiPen, which raked in $480 million in profits last year and paid its chairman $97.6 million, all while raising the price of the medication to more than $600 per dose.

Or take it from an analyst from the Sequoia mutual fund, a big investor in the drug company Valeant, who put it bluntly: “The capitalistic approach to pricing is to charge what the market will bear.”

Meanwhile, I’ve been hearing from people around the country who are terrified that the health care repeal now before Congress will put life-saving medications even farther out of reach for them and their families.

From Alaska to Alabama, people are worried sick about being able to get insulin for diabetes, blood pressure drugs, and prescriptions for panic attacks, ovarian cysts, lupus, celiac disease, thyroid cancer, hemophilia, and many other conditions.

I’ve heard from people whose lives depend on medications priced at $6,000 a month or more. If the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid are slashed, they don’t know how they’ll survive.

So it’s understandable that health care repeal is a dud when it comes to public opinion, with the Republican leaders’ bill before Congress garnering support from only 12 percent of voters.

It’s also no surprise that making drugs more affordable is a winning proposition with the electorate. More than 60 percent of Republicans, Democrats, and independents think it should be a top priority for lawmakers to lower the price of prescription drugs.

In other words, voters think we can and should change the rules to curb drug corporations’ excessive profits and monopolies.

It’s only fair. The public pays for much of the research to develop prescription medications. And we believe medications should be a public good, affordable for everyone in the country.

One way to start is to require Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices. We could also shorten monopolies on lifesaving drugs, and make drug corporations justify their pricing by disclosing how much they spend on research, manufacturing, and marketing.

These solutions are popular, but none of them is included in the health care repeal legislation now before Congress. Instead, it hands drug corporations more than $25 billion in tax giveaways.

For them, that means higher profits. For us, it means higher premiums, higher deductibles, higher drug prices, and even the possibility our plans won’t cover medications at all.

Even worse, seniors, children, and people with disabilities will be kicked off Medicaid.

Nobody voted for that.

This health care repeal represents a real failure of Republican leadership to do what’s necessary to protect people and change the rules for drug corporations.

It’s also a betrayal of the promise made by President Trump, who once complained, “We’re the largest buyer of drugs in the world, and yet we don’t bid properly.” He even accused drug corporations of “getting away with murder.”

Let’s do what’s right for our country. Stop this health care repeal, and get down to the task of making health care — including lifesaving medications — affordable and available for all.

LeeAnn Hall is the co-director of People’s Action and a member of the executive committee of Health Care for America Now. Distributed by OtherWords.org.

Trump’s Worst Collusion Isn’t With Russia — It’s With Corporations

The billionaires who backed Trump are making out a lot better than Putin.

By Peter Certo

I’ve always been a little skeptical that there would be a smoking gun about the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia. The latest news about Donald Trump, Jr., however, is tantalizingly close.

The short version of the story, revealed by emails the New York Times obtained, is that the president’s eldest son was offered “some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary” and “would be very useful to your father.”

More to the point, the younger Trump was explicitly told this was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Donald, Jr.’s reply? “I love it.”

Trump Jr. didn’t just host that meeting at Trump Tower. He also brought along campaign manager Paul Manafort and top Trump confidante (and son-in-law) Jared Kushner.

We still don’t have evidence they coordinated with Russian efforts to release Clinton campaign emails, spread “fake news,” or hack state voting systems. But at the very least, the top members of Trump’s inner circle turned up to get intelligence they knew was part of a foreign effort to meddle in the election.

Some in Washington are convinced they’ve heard enough already, with Virginia senator (and failed VP candidate) Tim Kaine calling the meeting “treason.”

Perhaps. But it’s worth asking: Who’s done the real harm here? Some argue it’s not the Russians after all.

“The effects of the crime are undetectable,” the legendary social critic Noam Chomsky says of the alleged Russian meddling, “unlike the massive effects of interference by corporate power and private wealth.”

That’s worth dwelling on.

Many leading liberals suspect, now with a little more evidence, that Trump worked with Russia to win his election. But we’ve long known that huge corporations and wealthy individuals threw their weight behind the billionaire.

That gambit’s paying off far more handsomely for them — and more destructively for the rest of us — than any scheme by Putin.

The evidence is hiding in plain sight.

The top priority in Congress right now is to move a health bill that would gut Medicaid and throw at least 22 million Americans off their insurance — while loosening regulations on insurance companies and cutting taxes on the wealthiest by over $346 billion.

As few as 12 percent of Americans support that bill, but the allegiance of its supporters isn’t to voters — it’s plainly to the wealthy donors who’d get those tax cuts.

Meanwhile, majorities of Americans in every single congressional district support efforts to curb local pollution, limit carbon emissions, and transition to wind and solar. And majorities in every single state back the Paris climate agreement.

Yet even as scientists warn large parts of the planet could soon become uninhabitable, the fossil fuel-backed Trump administration has put a climate denier in charge of the EPA, pulled the U.S. out of Paris, and signed legislation to let coal companies dump toxic ash in local waterways.

Meanwhile, as the administration escalates the unpopular Afghan war once again, Kushner invited billionaire military contractors — including Blackwater founder Erik Prince — to advise on policy there.

Elsewhere, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon and other architects of the housing crash are advising Trump on financial deregulation, while student debt profiteers set policy at the Department of Education.

Chomsky complains that this sort of collusion is often “not considered a crime but the normal workings of democracy.” While Trump has taken it to new heights, it’s certainly a bipartisan problem.

If Trump’s people did work with Russia to undermine our vote, they should absolutely be held accountable. But the politicians leading the charge don’t have a snowball’s chance of redeeming our democracy unless they’re willing to take on the corporate conspirators much closer to home.

Peter Certo is the editorial manager of the Institute for Policy Studies and the editor of OtherWords.org.

Jared Kushner and National Security

By Mel Gurtov

Jared Kushner’s latest revision of his financial picture reveals a very wealthy man, and couple, who continue to profit enormously from the Trump presidency. But beyond the numbers lies the fact that Kushner, like his father-in-law, seems incapable of telling the truth about either the full extent of his financial empire or the extent of his contacts with foreigners—Russians especially—whose interests are intertwined with his own.

Here’s the current picture for Kushner and Ivanka Trump:

1. He holds managerial and/or leadership positions in 266 real estate and related organizations, most of them in New York City and some in New Jersey.

2. He lists income of over $6 million from two assets—his real estate and media companies.

3. His wife, Ivanka Trump, lists 17 sources of income; and together, they list an additional 221 income sources, mostly real estate but also interest earned on bonds and other financial instruments, with values ranging from $1,000 to $25 million. Kushner failed to list more than 70 of those income sources previously.

4. Their list of financial liabilities is headed by credit lines from Valley National Bank (New Jersey) and Deutsche Bank, each in the range of $5-25 million.

5. The couple continues to earn tens of millions of dollars from their real estate and other businesses, including those they supposedly divested or resigned from. According to the Washington Post’s review of Kushner’s latest filing, he “resigned from 266 corporate positions, and [Ivanka] Trump stepped down from 292 positions… But they still control assets worth at least $139 million, along with another $66 million, at minimum, of assets that are tied to Trump’s stakes in her fashion brand, the Trump hotel in Washington and other real estate projects, according to the filings. And they both continue to draw large sums from outside interests: The couple has jointly made at least $19 million in income from business ventures and listed more than $80 million in real estate and other revenues since the start of 2016 …”

Nicholas Kristof makes the case for removing Jared Kushner from his White House job because he’s a security risk. Innocent until proven guilty, for sure; but the circumstantial evidence of a cozy, potentially compromising relationship with the Russians—notably, the secret meeting with Russians in the company of Donald, Jr., the plan to set up a backchannel communications link in the Russian embassy, and the failure to disclose several other meetings with officially connected Russians—is very strong.

In a word, Jared Kushner reeks of corrupt, unpatriotic behavior that may lead to indictments. He will probably be the first person pardoned by President Trump. But in the meantime, Kushner should be removed from office and his security clearance denied—as a matter of national security.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University.

APB: The US-China-North Korea Tangle

By Mel Gurtov

It’s not too early to sound alarm bells about the downward turn in US-China relations. Trump’s evident frustration with China over its presumed failure to rein in North Korea has already led to a number of steps that have rankled Beijing. These include a State Department report on human trafficking that includes sharp criticism of China’s denial of human rights; statements from the administration about China’s unfair trade practices; a major US arms sale to Taiwan; and a US frigate’s sail-by in South China Sea waters close to Chinese-claimed territory.

A phone call on July 3 from Trump to Xi Jinping comforted the Chinese leader on one point: Trump’s pledge to continue to honor the “One China” principle and prior US-China understandings regarding Taiwan. But even on that point, and no doubt with the $1.4 billion arms sale in mind, Xi reportedly said he “hopes the US will properly handle the Taiwan-related issues in accordance with the one-China principle and the three Sino-US joint communiqués.” Xi also said that while US-China relations had “achieved important results” since his meeting with Trump at Mar-a-lago, “at the same time, the two countries’ relations had been influenced by some negative factors.”

On the face of it, the Xi-Trump conversation seems like a positive exchange. But the Chinese account does not mention that Trump, according to a New York Times report today, also warned China that the US may have to take unilateral steps in dealing with North Korea, which has just tested another long-range ballistic (nuclear-weapons-capable) missile. That warning will only accomplish two things: It will tell China that the brief honeymoon in US-China cooperation is over, and will show once again that Washington has failed to learn the lesson of years past that China cannot, and will not, pressure Kim Jong-un to cease nuclear and missile tests and denuclearize.

Trump has said that Obama’s North Korea policy of “strategic patience” is dead. But Trump’s threat of military action against the North is worse. The Chinese have put forward a “freeze-for-freeze” proposal—a halt to US military exercises on the Korean peninsula in exchange for a halt to North Korean weapons tests—that makes far more sense. Only direct US-North Korea dialogue holds any prospect of reducing the risk of an unprecedented calamitous war.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University.

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