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How to connect race and class to win against divide-and-conquer narratives

August 6, 2019 at 8:07 pm

One of the best workshops I went to this year at Netroots Nation was called “The Race Class Narrative: Putting It to Work.” Put together by SEIU and conducted by Josh Keller (SEIU Minnesota State Council), Tinselyn Simms (SEIU), and Christopher Lampkin (SEIU 1199NW), the seminar helped me answer a question I’ve had for a while: […]

13 ways it costs more to be poor

March 7, 2019 at 9:45 am

In July 1960, James Baldwin wrote the following in an article in Esquire, “Fifth Avenue, Uptown: a Letter from Harlem”: “Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.” This week @girlziplocked asked a wonderful question on Twitter.  What's something about being poor that middle-class people […]

If you want to get the money out of politics, vote in congressional elections

October 10, 2018 at 2:57 pm

I talk to people all the time about politics and one of the things I hear most often is: “We need to get the money out of politics.” Everyone seems to have ideas how to stop this, ranging from third parties to repealing Citizens United to the “small government” ideas of libertarians.  

While researching voting recently, I stumbled across a great report by the U.S. Bureau of the Census on voting in congressional elections that suggests one of the big reasons our government works for the wealthy is that the wealthy vote. 

Here’s a look at the statistics, and why more people voting could go a long way toward reducing the influence of money in politics. 

Dark pleas and the justice gap: 7 questions for Michael Donnelly, candidate for Ohio’s Supreme Court

September 30, 2018 at 10:29 pm

I met Judge Michael Donnelly at an event in Cincinnati where he spoke about some of the issues he was seeing in the justice system. He opened my eyes to a few of the challenges our judicial system faces, so I asked him if he’d answer a few questions. 

1. Transparency in the plea-bargaining process is a major platform of your campaign. Can you explain why?

Five things to keep repeating if we want a better economy for everyone

September 3, 2018 at 11:39 am

I was talking this week about the Mueller investigation with a guy I know from Western New York.

He said he’s sticking with Trump because of the economy and because he believes Trump and his tax cuts for the wealthy are responsible for the current strong economy.

I’ve heard this from many many folks who have bought into the narratives that corporate special interests create about our economy. It’s likely you’ve heard some of this advertising and framing:

  • Tax cuts create jobs
  • We need to grow the economy so everyone will benefit
  • Free markets
  • Regulations “hold back” the economy
  • I’m a capitalist, you’re a socialist
  • The private sector is better at everything

And so on. This powerful marketing is used by corporate special interests to elect politicians who will do what corporate special interests want. More power and money for them.

In my experience, we tend to be good at critiquing these claims without describing what would make a better economy. What should we be striving for? Where do we want to be if we can get there?

Towards this end, I thought I’d share the 5 simple points I’ve found to be most successful in talking about the economy.

ECOT: $2.1 million in donations to Ohio politicians, $1 billion in charter school contracts

July 18, 2018 at 12:39 pm

ECOT stands for the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow. It is a charter school founded in Ohio in 2000 by businessman William Lager and is a story that hasn’t received nearly enough media attention. Probably because it highlights everything that’s wrong with for-profit charter school entities delivering public services.

From 2001 to 2016 Lager’s ECOT received more than $1 billion from Ohio taxpayers to deliver an appalling graduation rate. In 2014, the graduation rate was under 39 percent. For the 2016-17 school year, it was up to a little over 40 percent in four years.This ranks as worst in the nation.

The state of Ohio is working to recover $80 million in overbilled state funds. In 2016, an Ohio audit estimates the school was paid for 9,000 more students than ECOT could document for the 2015-16 school year. In 2018, the state is still working to recover the money, which has since increased to $80 million.

Dave Yost, the Ohio auditor who has himself spoken at past ECOT graduations, said:

With the level of incompetence displayed by both the school and (the Education Department), the regulator, it’s amazing that any money went to education whatsoever.

Over this same period of time, William Lager has donated more than $2.1 million to influential Ohio politicians including several speakers of the Ohio House and Andrew Brenner, the chair of the House Education Committee.

Because much of the news coverage in Ohio only focuses on small pieces of this story at a time, here’s the full story of how ECOT scammed Ohio.

Why companies like Disney are willing to give out temporary bonuses

February 18, 2018 at 12:55 pm

You’ve probably seen announcements from Walt Disney and other companies about bonuses recently. Walt Disney recently announced a $1,000 bonus to each of its 125,000 employees. To the average person, this seems like a significant amount. How is Walt Disney able to do this and, more importantly, why?

In 2017, Walt Disney generated $13.79 billion in pretax income on $54.98 billion in sales. On this income the company paid 34.2 percent in domestic taxes or roughly $4.7 billion. This left Walt Disney with a profit of roughly $9 billion. After paying all of their employees and all of their operating costs and all of their taxes, Walt Disney is returning a profit of $9 billion.

The Trump corporate tax plan drops Walt Disney’s corporate tax rate to 20 percent. Under his plan, Walt Disney only pays $2.76 billion in taxes, saving $1.94 billion. A year. Walt Disney gets to keep an additional $1.94 billion/year (assuming years similar to 2017) in profit forever. Over 10 years, for example, this is a benefit of $19.4 billion.

Now let’s look at what their temporary bonus cost them. Disney announced $1,000 bonuses for 125,000 employees. This is a cost of $125 million or 6.4 percent of what they received in one year of tax savings. Over 10 years, it’s 0.6 percent of the nearly 2 billion/year tax break they received.

Oprah, the Alabama Crimson Tide, and how to adjust to change

January 24, 2018 at 4:16 pm

This year’s NCAA national football championship was won in dramatic fashion by the University of Alabama. 

Most remarkable was that the game was actually a tale of two halfs. The first half was dominated by the Georgia Bulldogs, and the second by the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Alabama’s coach Nick Saban recognized that they couldn’t win doing what they’d been doing in the first half. At halftime, he brought in freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Saban felt Tagovailoa would have a better chance given his superior passing game. It was risky, but Saban felt he wasn’t going to win by doing what he’d been doing. 

In the software development world, this process of trying something, seeing what happens, and then adjusting accordingly is known as agile development. 

What’s agile development got to do with Oprah Winfrey?

How to explain in five minutes or less what happens when the rich get tax cuts

December 18, 2017 at 8:58 am

A political cartoon and a parody of the second scene of Hogarth’s Marriage a la Mode with politicians playing the main parts. A wealthy couple is having breakfast in a richly decorated room, the morning after a card party. (Wellcome Images/Wikimedia)

The corporate special interest group spin is that the rich will spend more if only we give them more in the form of tax cuts.

If people buy this story, then they think they’re doing the right thing by giving rich people tax cuts. That is, it doesn’t even matter if all of the benefits of the GOP tax bill are geared toward America’s wealthiest, because the wealthy will use this money to “create” more jobs as they say.

This is why it’s important to have a simple story about what really happens when the rich get tax cuts. Here’s how to explain in a way that makes it easy for people to understand in five minutes.

How corporate special interests socialize costs: moral hazard

November 26, 2017 at 10:43 am

One of the ways corporate special interest propaganda works is by framing reality so there are only two choices: one good, one bad.

The most common frame used is capitalism vs. socialism. The right is framed as a bunch of wonderful superhuman capitalists out to make the world better through their endless pursuit of profit over everything else. Meanwhile, the “left” is described as a bunch of horrible Venezuelan socialists destined to bring ruin to all of America with their irresponsibility and laziness.

Sadly, all too often we fall for this framing trap and find ourselves in the weak position corporate special interests want us to be in: fighting for something that a majority of people in the United States see as morally wrong.

One way to break out of this trap is to fight a different battle, to reframe the world as democracy vs. oligarchy. I’ve written before about how to make a strong argument for democracy as key to a vital economy.

Another way to do this is to talk about what it is that corporate special interests and the wealthy in our country really want: To privatize the profits while socializing all the costs and risk.