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Multi-Millionaire CEO 0nclass Warfare

MSNBC, James Downie, MSNBC Opinion Editor, September 16, 2023

The wealthy’s arrogance is wholly unearned.

Tim Gurner wants you to be miserable. Yes, you.

Speaking at the Australian Financial Review’s “property summit,” the property developer and CEO — net worth $584 million — complained that the country’s 3.7% unemployment rate was, in fact, a problem. “We need to see unemployment rise. Unemployment has to jump 40, 50%,” said Gurner, because “arrogant” workers aren’t productive enough for his liking. “We need to see pain in the economy. We need to remind people that they work for the employer, not the other way around.”

For these words, we should thank Gurner. Not because his theory — that low unemployment and the shift to work from home have hurt productivity — is accurate. Australia’s recent dip in productivity started in mid-2022, well after workers were initially sent home and unemployment recovered from its initial pandemic-induced increase. (Gurner admitted his remarks “were wrong” in a subsequent apology.) No, we should thank him for saying the quiet part out loud, baldly stating what the uber-wealthy think of you and me.

As Georgetown University’s Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò wrote, “I can rarely do better at explaining the connection between capital and social-political domination than just pointing at what the guys with the capital do and say.” Though Gurner’s words have gotten unusual exposure on social media, others of his means have expressed similar distaste for the 99%. “The 1% work harder,” said billionaire Sam Zell. “The 1% are much bigger factors in all forms of our society.” According to the Pew Research Center, a majority of the wealthiest Americans believe the “poor have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything in return.”

This condescension has consequences not just for employees, but also for consumers. It was no coincidence that as inflation spiked last year, corporations posted record profits. The work of economist Isabella Weber and others has shown that many corporations with market power didn’t raise prices because of supply chain issues or upward pressure on wages but simply because they could. “We have more room to take the price as we need to,” Chipotle’s CEO told investors in late 2021. A Kroger executive bragged that “a little bit of inflation is always good for our business.” Your checkbook is merely another thing to exploit as much as possible in the quest for endless growth to satisfy shareholders. As for the free market? “Competition is for losers,” Peter Thiel is fond of saying.

The wealthy’s arrogance is wholly unearned. In the U.S. from 1978 to 2021, according to the Economic Policy Institute, economic productivity grew more than 60%. Yet the typical worker’s wages — which in previous decades had roughly tracked productivity — grew just 18%. The wages of the top 1% of earners, however, grew 385%. CEO pay grew by more than 1,000%. In some sectors, the disparity is even starker: Union workers at the Big Three American automakers are preparing to strike this week, in part because wages for workers on auto production lines have dropped 30% since 2003. Meanwhile, in just the last four years, pay for the three companies’ CEOs grew more than 40%, with each taking home $21 million to $29 million in 2022 alone.

And yet, when politicians like Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or other, more moderate voices, like former President Barack Obama, point out these truths, they are accused of stoking “class warfare.”

But the rich have been conducting class warfare for decades. Since the 1970s, the wealthy, particularly in the U.S., have been remarkably successful in supporting politicians and policies that widened income gaps. As inequality rose, many governments hollowed out safety nets — except, of course, when banks needed to be bailed out.

Read More: MSNBC

Top Dems Press Supreme Court To Block Billionaire Tax

THE LEVER, Julia Rock, September 16, 2023

Obama’s former acting Solicitor General and a senator-turned-lobbyist are helping a dark money group pressure the high court.

The former Supreme Court lawyer for the Obama administration and a Democratic senator-turned-lobbyist are pressuring justices to block Congress from ever instituting a wealth tax on the superrich, according to court filings reviewed by The Lever.

Former Obama acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal recently submitted an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case Moore v. United States on behalf of the group Saving America’s Family Enterprises (SAFE). That anonymously funded group — whose board includes corporate lobbyists — has spearheaded campaigns against Democrats’ efforts to tax the inheritances and wealth of millionaires and billionaires. 

Now the group is aiming to use the seemingly obscure corporate taxation case to elicit a broad ruling that outlaws all wealth taxes. 

Katyal is an MSNBC mainstay who came to prominence as a liberal defender of Republican President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominees, all of whom will now rule on the case. In recent years, Katyal has helped Nestlé defend itself in a child slavery case before the Supreme Court and representedJohnson & Johnson in its bid to use bankruptcy to block lawsuits from cancer victims.

Listed on the Katyal-authored amicus brief alongside SAFE is the group’s senior adviser, former Louisiana Sen. John Breaux (D), who also lobbies for ExxonMobilNorfolk Southern, and Boeing — corporations whose top executives could have a financial interest in the outcome of the case. Breaux also lobbies for billionaire financial magnate and Democratic megadonor James Simons.

SAFE is organized as a so-called social welfare nonprofit, which allows it to hide the identity of its donors and avoid taxes while spending money to influence policy decisions.

In response to recent ethics scandals at the Supreme Court, 34 Democratic senators have signed onto legislation that would require organizations filing amicus briefs to disclose their donors. But because that bill is stalled, SAFE can pressure the Supreme Court to block a wealth tax while refusing to disclose its benefactors.

SAFE did not respond to a Lever request for a list of its donors.

Katyal v. Billionaire Tax

Democratic lawmakers and the Biden administration have touted a wealth tax as a way to tackle record levels of inequality and fund programs that slash poverty and expand access to healthcare and education.


LABOR Auto Workers Strike Plants at All Three of the Big 3

LABOR NOTES, Luis Feliz Leon, Jane Slaughter, September 15, 2023 

“For the last 40 years, the billionaire class has been taking everything and leaving everybody else to fight for the scraps,” UAW President Fain said. “We are not the problem. Corporate greed is the problem.”

Tick, tock. At midnight the clock ran out, and auto workers massed on picket lines.

The first-ever simultaneous strike at the Big 3 automakers—General Motors, Ford, Stellantis—started September 15 with 13,000 workers walking out of three assembly plants in Michigan, Ohio, and Missouri. There are 146,000 Auto Workers (UAW) members at the Big 3.

The UAW is calling its strategy the “stand-up strike,” a nod to the Flint sit-down strike of 1936-1937 that helped establish the union.

The shot across the bow came two hours shy of midnight via a very short Facebook Live video where UAW President Shawn Fain shared the strike targets: Stellantis’s Toledo Assembly Complex in Ohio; GM’s Wentzville Assembly Center, near St. Louis; and the final assembly and paint departments at Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant, west of Detroit. These plants make highly profitable full-sized SUVS and trucks, including the Jeep Wrangler, Chevy Colorado, and Ford Bronco.

Fain laid out the union’s escalation strategy on Wednesday. The union will target a few plants at first, letting the Big 3 know the union is willing to inflict financial pain.

The idea is to keep the companies guessing. If they don’t move on the union’s demands, more pain will be applied—but the companies won’t be able to predict where.

“An all-out strike is still a possibility,” Fain said.


Some members who’d been expecting an all-out strike right away were disappointed. On Thursday, some at Toledo Assembly wore black in mourning. But as the deadline approached, regional director Dave Green was seen in town and people’s spirits were buoyed as it became apparent that their plant would be one of the strike sites.

A few hours before the deadline, Chris Falzone, working the evening shift at the Toledo Assembly plant, reported the scene inside. “Corporate management is walking the floor, along with all the first- and second-shift management, in case of a strike,” he said. “What I’m hearing from paint shop is that they are emptying the paint department in Gladiator and Wrangler side in case of a strike.” He was walking the floor distributing leaflets about what happens if they continue to operate under an expired contract at midnight.

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Meanwhile day-shift workers like Auston Gore, a 12-year veteran on the assembly line and a strike captain, were waiting at home. “We’re all waiting on pins and needles,” Gore said. “Normally, I’d be going to bed right now. But I’m staying up late.”

Workers at Toledo Assembly have been pinning their hopes on being selected to strike, because they expect that management will resort to a campaign of terror against the workers who stay on the shop floor.

“The company puts up a facade that they care about their employees, telling us that we are one big family,” said Gore. “Meanwhile, they’re going to have their supervisors walking around dinging us for the tiniest stuff if we are working under an expired contract. We feel like unprotected prey.”


Poverty Rate Soared in 2022 As Aid Ended and Prices Rose

NEW YORK TIMES, Ben Casselman, Lydia DePillis, September 13, 2023

The increase in poverty reversed two years of large declines.

Poverty increased sharply last year in the United States, particularly among children, as living costs rose and federal programs that provided aid to families during the pandemic were allowed to expire.

The poverty rate rose to 12.4 percent in 2022 from 7.8 percent in 2021, the largest one-year jump on record, the Census Bureau said Tuesday. Poverty among children more than doubled, to 12.4 percent, from a record low of 5.2 percent the year before. Those figures are according to the Supplemental Poverty Measure, which factors in the impact of government assistance and geographical differences in the cost of living.

The increases followed two years of historically large declines in poverty, driven primarily by safety net programs that were created or expanded during the pandemic. Those included a series of direct payments to households in 2020 and 2021, enhanced unemployment and nutrition benefits, increased rental assistance and an expanded child tax credit, which briefly provided a guaranteed income to families with children.

Nearly all of those programs had expired by last year, however, leaving many families struggling to stay ahead of rising prices despite a strong job market and improving economy. Overall poverty now looks much the way it did in 2019, with the notable difference that financial hardship has declined among Black households, reflecting higher incomes in recent years.

The Share of Children in Poverty More Than Doubled

The poverty rate for those under 18 rose to 12.4 percent last year.


Many Senior Citizens Expect To Die With College Loan Debts

THE HECHINGER REPORT, Jon Marcus, September 11, 2023

With student loan repayments about to restart, more people with ballooning college debt are aging into retirement

Marjorie Sener was still in her 20s when she took out a loan for about $5,000 to get some college credits she hoped would eventually add up to a bachelor’s degree.

That goal was thwarted when her partner became ill.

“The burden of our living expenses fell on me,” said Sener, who lives in the Dallas suburbs. “I devoted all of my resources to keeping our heads above water.”

But while Sener never got her degree, that student loan kept growing, fattened by compounding interest.

Now, at 74, she owes more than $55,000, or 10 times what she originally borrowed, and has put off any hope of retiring. Sener still works, as a legal secretary, juggling her student loan debt with other expenses, including medical costs from recent cancer treatments.

Some 114,000 Americans have had their Social Security garnished because they couldn’t make their student loan repayments.

“My payments are as small as I can make them, since I cannot repay the full amount,” she said. “My financial goals are to be able to pay my rent, afford my car and medical bills and hopefully be able to provide for my own funeral expenses.”

She isn’t joking. Sener expects to never get rid of her student loan obligation.

“The fact is, I’ll never be able to pay the full debt,” she said. “It’s just something that binds my life.”

And the lives of a rising number of other older Americans.

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The number of people age 60 and older who still have student loan debt has sextupled since 2004, and the amount they owe is up 19-fold, the think tank New America reports; there are now 3.5 million of them, who collectively owe more than $125 billion in student loans.

Related: ‘August surprise’: That college scholarship you earned might not count

This is not, by and large, debt that parents assumed to send their kids to college. For three-quarters of federal borrowers 65 and older, it’s money they borrowed for their own educations and have been paying off for decades the Government Accountability Office, or GAO, found.

That’s a situation about to get much worse. More people with even larger student loan debt are aging into retirement just as the Biden administration’s plan to forgive up to $20,000 of this debt for recipients with incomes under $125,000 has been blocked by the Supreme Court and the Covid-19 pause in repayments ends.


Smart Ass Cripple: How SSI Keeps People Poor

THE PROGRESSIVE, Mike Ervin, September 9, 2023

Current rules for SSI recipients make it difficult to get financial help from friends and family.

Relying on Social Security Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is no picnic—especially if it is one’s main and perhaps only source of economic support.

First of all, the maximum monthly SSI payment is $914 for an individual. But if two people who receive SSI get married, they get penalized. The highest allowable monthly payment for a married couple, when both are receiving SSI, is $1,371.

If a married couple wants to maintain SSI eligibility, they can’t have more than $3,000 in financial assets. The asset limit for an individual is $2,000.

And if all that isn’t petty and chintzy enough, people who get SSI can also be docked for having in-kind income. The Social Security Administration (SSA) says in-kind income is “food, shelter, or both that somebody else provides for you.”

So, for example, if someone who gets SSI also receives free or reduced room and/or board from someone trying to help them get by, SSA can reduce their monthly payment. According to SSA, of the 7.3 million people who received SSI in January 2022, about 793,000 of them were hit with an in-kind reduction from their monthly amount.

But in August of this year, SSA published a proposed rule change in the Federal Register to make the calculation it uses to determine in-kind housing reduction amounts less stringent. In February, SSA also published a separate proposed rule change that would completely eliminate the inclusion of food as an in-kind deduction. 

That’s good, but both of these changes are still just proposals. They’re not official yet. Proposed rule changes in the Federal Register are open for public comment for a period of time. The agency then reviews all comments and either reissues the rule as final, amends it, or withdraws it. The process does not move quickly.

The deadline for commenting on the latest proposal is October 23. Even if the rule eventually becomes final as it is currently written, it will still be only a partial improvement. People who get SSI could still be docked for their in-kind housing support, just for a lesser amount and not as frequently. And SSA acknowledges in the proposal that seeking this change was inspired by the fact that this lesser standard is already in effect in seven states where it has been mandated by court rulings.

How about getting rid of the whole idea of in-kind SSI deductions? When one person is trying to live off of no more than $914 a month, or a married couple is trying to live off of no more than $1,371, they need all of the help they can get. Receiving some support from someone else is not a luxury.


How the War on Poverty Stalled

THE NEW REPUBLIC, Kim Phillips-Fein, September 7, 2023

The study of poverty has flourished in recent decades. Why haven’t the lives of the poor improved?

In 1962, a 33-year-old freelance writer who had little institutional or academic standing published a book widely credited with helping inspire the creation of Medicaid, Medicare, Head Start, and food stamps—representing the commitment of the federal government to a war on poverty. No one expected The Other America to have such an effect, including its author, Michael Harrington, who insisted he’d be pleased if it managed to sell a couple of thousand copies. Instead, boosted by a glowing review in The New Yorker, it sold 70,000 in its first year.

Harrington came slowly to write about poverty. By the time he did, he was himself on the social margins, albeit by choice. He had grown up the only child of a middle-class family in St. Louis, gone to college, and flitted in and out of law school and a Ph.D. program in English. In the early 1950s, he joined the Catholic Worker movement, the radical lay Roman Catholic organization led by Dorothy Day, which asked believers to take a vow of poverty. He lived in the communal Catholic Worker house on Chrystie Street in New York’s Lower East Side, ministering to the impoverished denizens of the Bowery. As his spiritual faith waned, he left Day’s orbit and joined another band of outsiders: the Young People’s Socialist League, a groupof Trotskyists and former Socialist Party members who denounced the Communist Party and capitalism with nearly equal ferocity. That’s where he was when the editor of Commentary asked him to write an article looking into the problem of poverty in the “affluent society” (to quote John Kenneth Galbraith) of 1950s America.

The opening pages of The Other America set out the problem: There was a “familiar America” of postwar prosperity, of televisions and radios and automobiles and suburban homes, and then there was a shadowland—“another America”—of between 40 and 50 million people who lived in poverty. The poor might not be literally starving, as they were in other countries, but they were “maimed in body and spirit,” their lives twisted and deformed by material lack, and their existence “invisible” to the broader society.

Matthew Desmond’s latest book, Poverty, by America, sets out from a very different starting point. In the early 1960s, when Harrington published his book, poor people were hardly part of political discourse at all; today, there are few who would be so naïve as to claim to simply not know poverty exists in American society. As a result, Desmond presents his book not as an exposé but as an effort to answer the question: Why? Why is there still so much poverty in the United States? Poverty for Desmond is not the result of invisibility, of being left behind. Rather, the root cause of poverty is exploitation. People are poor because other people benefit from the presence of poverty: “To understand the causes of poverty, we must look beyond the poor. Those of us living lives of privilege and plenty must examine ourselves.”

Desmond is in many ways better placed than Harrington ever was to launch an appeal to the moral conscience of the nation. From precarious, just-about-middle-class origins, Desmond has risen to become the equivalent of academic royalty: He teaches sociology at Princeton University, has won the MacArthur “genius” grant, and received the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction for his 2016 book, Evicted, which made the striking argument that losing one’s home affected future economic chances and position at least as much as incarceration. Yet The Other America has a moral hopefulness that Poverty, by America cannot quite summon, and today’s political circumstances make it almost unimaginable that Desmond’s book will have a similar effect. The institutionalization of the study of poverty has changed what it means to chronicle it.

The Other America emphasized the tremendous variety of ways to be poor. Harrington wrote that American poverty deserved a novelist to chronicle its textures and sensibilities, and in the spirit of George Orwell going to Wigan Pier, he observed communities of impoverished people: migrant farmworkers; the aged poor; the alcoholic poor; the Black residents of poor, urban neighborhoods; bohemians who were “voluntarily” poor. But in all these cases, his analysis of poverty treated it as a problem, in large part, of exclusion. Poor people were those shut out of middle-class affluence. They lived in geographically remote regions, in segregated inner cities or in rural Appalachia. They lacked the skills and education to participate in the great postwar economic boom. Leaving some people out and including others, technology and progress generated poverty just as they generated wealth.

Perhaps the most famous idea in The Other America is that of a “culture of poverty,” Harrington’s borrowing of a concept developed by anthropologist Oscar Lewis, whose scholarship focused on poverty in Mexico. Being poor in the United States meant more than not having money; it was “a culture, an institution, a way of life.” On one level, Harrington was describing the escalating series of crises that might define life in poverty and prevent an individual from rising out of it. A child might develop asthma, an allergic response to a dusty, run-down building; her mother might have to miss work for a day to take her to the doctor. For a middle-class employee, this would be covered by a sick day; for a poor worker, it could mean getting fired. Lost wages might mean lost rent and then eviction. The older sister of the asthmatic child might then shoplift to get food or medicine or a trinket, leading to a stint in jail—and so forth. The complex web of forces that shaped the life of an impoverished person gave the lie to glib ideas about individualism whereby hard work equals upward mobility.


Lessons From Gramsci for Social Movements Today

DISSENT, September 1, 2023 Mark Engler and Paul Engler  

From Gramsci’s political thinking and practical strategizing come a set of ideas that arguably have only grown more salient with time.

He has been called one of the most original political thinkers of the twentieth century. “If academic citations and internet references are any guide,” one historian pointed out, “he is more influential than Machiavelli.” And his impact on the way we think about the processes of social change has been described as “little short of electrifying.”


How People Are Fighting the World’s Reliance on the War Economy

Local Peace Economy, April M. Short, August 20, 2023

Many people are already investing themselves in the local peace economy as they divest from the economy of war.

War is not innate to humanity; it is learned culturally, and intentional systems of peace can prevent it from happening, according to anthropological research. We are living at a critical time in the history of humanity in which preventing and divesting from war are essential to our future existence—especially given the realities of the global climate crisis and the fact that the U.S. military is the worst single polluter that exists (and not even mentioning the unspeakable potential for destruction that nuclear weapons pose). If war is cultural, then we can prevent it by intentionally moving ourselves into a culture of peace. How do we do this? We begin with ourselves. We begin to break our war economy habits, and actively divest ourselves, wherever possible, from the ways in which the war economy takes hold in our lives. And we purposefully invest ourselves at the local level in what is often called the peace economy—the caring, sharing, supportive economies that already exist all around us.

The economy of war thrives on extraction and materialism, so it has—for thousands of years, and by no accident—made trite (or violently stifled) the things that are most valuable and important about living: caring; nurturing; love; art; peace; expression; and connection with nature, our bodies, and each other. The war economy, which is the overarching economic system of our times, promotes a culture that actively devalues play and community, and overly values hard work and individualism—to the grave detriment of mental and physical health. It uplifts money hoarding, competition, and the flaunting of one’s material wealth over generosity, sharing, collaboration, and appreciation. It stifles grief and asks us to harden ourselves against the expression of feeling rather than inviting us into depths of emotion where we can realize the gift of being alive in this world, together, for just a brief time.

The results of this unsustainable and unnatural lifestyle are ugly: Clear-cut, monocropped tree farms where once thrived biodiverse FernGully-esque old grove forests in the Pacific Northwest, the Amazon, and around the world; endless mining and building projects that plunder habitats, natural wonders, and Indigenous communities; worsening mental health afflictions, an opioid addiction epidemic, and soaring suicide rates; toxic chemicals and microplastics in our soils, oceans, streams, and bloodstreams that are causing irreparable damage to the planet and our bodies; people treated like criminals for experiencing homelessness, even amidst a devastating cost of living crisis; racist, militarized police murdering people in broad daylight, and often walking free even when they’re caught on camera; hustle and greed culture and the agony that comes with living a daily grind; so much unnecessary loneliness and stress… and this list could go on and on.


LABOR Hollywood Guilds Team Up With LA Labor Unions for a ‘Hot Strike Summer’

WRAP PRO, Jeremy Fuster, July 28, 2023

SAG-AFTRA and WGA are joining forces with hotel workers, UPS drivers, teachers and others for solidarity marches.

Hollywood writers and actors aren’t the only unionized workers picketing in Los Angeles right now. In a show of force for the labor movement, the WGA and SAG-AFTRA are teaming up with workers across the city to march in solidarity for better wages and working conditions.

Hospitality workers union Unite Here 11, which has been on strike since June 30, staged a solidarity rally in Hollywood Friday that saw hundreds of its members join up with entertainment industry workers to march from the W Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard past the famous intersection of Hollywood and Vine and on to the Netflix offices at Sunset Bronson Studios, where they were met with cheers by writers and actors on the daily picket lines.

“Unite Here Local 11, we are so happy to have you here!” yelled a WGA picket chant leader into a bullhorn. “L.A. is a union town, and this is going to be a hot strike summer!”

As the strike began, UH11 members led the march and were joined by members of the WGA and IATSE Local B-192, which represents employees at Universal Studios Hollywood. On the way to the Netflix offices, the march passed by a SAG-AFTRA picket line at the nearby Sunset Gower Studios, where some of the actors union members joined the march while others swapped signs with Unite Here members.

Susan Minato, co-president of Unite Here 11, noted that her union is connected to Hollywood labor by more than just their simultaneous strikes, as some members of UH11 are also members of WGA and SAG-AFTRA

“We have all heard the story of the waiter or the bartender who got discovered by talent agencies,” she said. “It is true that our relationship with entertainment labor has deep roots because many people have been members of both unions.”