Commentary

NCSU student paper speaks the truth about Wal-Mart

One of the best newspaper editorials of the week in North Carolina can be found in The Technician — the student paper at N.C. State. It’s a take down of the Walton family of Wal-Mart infamy (and its many predations) entitled “Save money, exploit the poor.” After highlighting the fact that the company is closing hundreds of stores around the country, including 17 in North Carolina, the authors say this:

“So why is Wal-Mart closing so many stores all at once?

Looking at Wal-Mart’s stock prices for the past year, they do seem as though they have significantly decreased. However, when you look at trends for the past five years, they seem fairly typical, especially considering that shares peaked at $91.35 per share in January 2015. Another indicator that Wal-Mart isn’t closing stores due to financial difficulties? They still plan to open 300 new stores in the coming year. 

Wal-Mart as a whole is not suffering, though the Walton family would have you believe otherwise. The Waltons, with more wealth than the lowest 42 percent of American families combined, is the richest family in the U.S. It’s hard to imagine that the company ranked No. 1 in Fortune 500’s 2015 list of largest companies by revenue is hurting so badly. An annual revenue of $482 billion, Wal-Mart’s economic weight is comparable to the GDP of Norway.

In an effort that seems like damage control, Wal-Mart released the news that it will be substantially raising its minimum wage, with more than 1.2 million employees receiving pay raises. Assuming this does more than account for the inflation of the past few years, such an upgrade is long overdue, considering the employer’s past discrepancies, such as eliminating healthcare coverage for many part-time workers and raising the premiums for health plans in 2014.

Wal-Mart’s actions likely come from a place of fear that its top spot is in danger. It’s anxious to revitalize the business that has shown possible signs of slipping. 

If the company had executed these actions with any sort of grace, then it would have seemed marginally human. What Wal-Mart has instead indicated is how completely it regards its employees as disposable — almost as disposable as those local business owners who suffered from those now-closing stores being established in the first place.”

Commentary

Powerful new infographic connects tax policy to the nation’s raging inequality

As the good people at the great website Too Much Online regularly point out, U.S. inequality is now hitting astounding levels. Consider the following from the group’s recent newsletter:

“You can’t really appreciate how phenomenally unequal the United States has become until you take a gander at America’s peer nations. Consider the UK, for instance. Britain has emerged as one of the world’s most unequal nations. New official UK stats certainly reinforce that reputation.

In the UK, the new numbers show, the richest 10 percent hold 45 percent of the nation’s private wealth. The poorest half own just 9 percent.

But this UK inequality simply pales against the inequity across the pond. In the United States, the latest Federal Reserve figures point out, the top 10 percent owns 75.3 percent of our national wealth. And the households of the bottom half? Their wealth holdings add up to just 1.1 percent.”

Now check out the group’s new infographic about how our regressive tax structure contributes to this situation:

taxing-the-ultra-rich-a-little-history-1-638

Commentary

C’mon, “free market” lovers, tell us how THIS promotes “liberty”

You have to hand it to the modern class of plutocrats that dominates the American economy. It’s increasingly clear that a goodly number of them really have no sense of shame or boundaries. The latest and powerful exhibit for this proposition can be found in a new story in the New York Times entitled “For the Wealthiest, a Private Tax System That Saves Them Billions.”

Here’s the gist:

“With inequality at its highest levels in nearly a century and public debate rising over whether the government should respond to it through higher taxes on the wealthy, the very richest Americans have financed a sophisticated and astonishingly effective apparatus for shielding their fortunes. Some call it the “income defense industry,” consisting of a high-priced phalanx of lawyers, estate planners, lobbyists and anti-tax activists who exploit and defend a dizzying array of tax maneuvers, virtually none of them available to taxpayers of more modest means.

In recent years, this apparatus has become one of the most powerful avenues of influence for wealthy Americans of all political stripes, including Mr. Loeb and Mr. Cohen, who give heavily to Republicans, and the liberal billionaire George Soros, who has called for higher levies on the rich while at the same time using tax loopholes to bolster his own fortune.

All are among a small group providing much of the early cash for the 2016 presidential campaign.

Operating largely out of public view — in tax court, through arcane legislative provisions and in private negotiations with the Internal Revenue Service — the wealthy have used their influence to steadily whittle away at the government’s ability to tax them. The effect has been to create a kind of private tax system, catering to only several thousand Americans.

The impact on their own fortunes has been stark. Two decades ago, when Bill Clinton was elected president, the 400 highest-earning taxpayers in America paid nearly 27 percent of their income in federal taxes, according to I.R.S. data. By 2012, when President Obama was re-elected, that figure had fallen to less than 17 percent, which is just slightly more than the typical family making $100,000 annually, when payroll taxes are included for both groups.”

The story goes on to explain the creepy and outrageous details of how this obscene money grab by hedge fund managers and other fabulously wealthy parasites has come to fruition (and has been greatly abetted by the Right’s ridiculous and destructive war on the I.R.S.).

All in all, it’s apt story for North Carolinians to ponder at the conclusion of another year in which their own state government has handed millions upon millions to the state’s wealthiest residents while actually raising taxes slightly on folks at the bottom. Let’s hope it causes even some local market fundamentalists to reevaluate their stance and spurs people of all ideologies to action in 2016.

Commentary

Start of presidential money primary highlights the madness of the Supreme Court

Gene Nichol

Prof. Gene Nichol

In case you missed it over the weekend, Gene Nichol had a fine editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer in which he shined a light on the utter madness of the narrow U.S. Supreme Court majority that, has, effectively, handed our national presidential elections over to a small group of billionaire plutocrats.

Here’s Nichol, after reminding us of Lincoln’s famous call to “allow the governed an equal voice in the government”:

“Few spectacles could more profoundly debase Lincoln’s sense of the meaning of America than the recent parade of presidential hopefuls seeking audience, in supplication, before a growing list of billionaire funders.

The Koch brothers announced that a billion dollars is up for grabs in 2016 for the candidate who most pleases them. Casino operator Sheldon Adelson, who reportedly coughed up $100 million in 2012, allowed tribute to be paid, and sought, a couple of weeks ago at his Las Vegas hotel. Republican candidates appeared with bells on.

Hedge fund magnate Robert Mercer announced he’ll sponsor Ted Cruz. Rick Santorum, once again, will carry the colors of investment manager Foster Friess. Florida billionaire Norman Braman will provide at least $10 million for Marco Rubio. Jeb Bush’s new Super PAC, Right To Rise, will reportedly secure $100 million of individual and corporate donations before the end of May.

Democrats are no better. Hillary Clinton followed up her announcement that curing the evils of money and politics will be a core component of her campaign by traveling to California to seek massive contributions for the Priorities USA Super PAC. She’s confident we’ve forgotten the Lincoln bedroom leases and the overtly purchased attentions (and pardons) of her husband’s administration….

The Washington Post described the unfolding primary as “a brawl of billionaires.” The elites of the super donor class shield and secure their own, seemingly essential, primary. The Center for Responsive Politics reminds that, in 2012, about a hundred people and their spouses contributed 67 percent of all Super PAC funding. The 1 percent of the 1 percent of the 1 percent.”

After reminding us that this ridiculous situation has all been made possible by a series of Supreme Court rulings that have equated unfettered spending by billionaires with “free speech,” he concludes this way:

“We are not without weapons. Jurisdiction can be curtailed. New seats can be added to the court. Judges can be impeached for attempting to destroy democracy. Enough is enough. Tom Paine wouldn’t put up with this. Neither would old Abe.”

He’s right. let’s get to work.