Commentary, News, Trump Administration

Editorial: Trump tax law enriches him, harms people of color

In case you missed it, a May report from the progressive Roosevelt Institute skewered the so-called Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Republicans’ tax code rewrite introduced and approved in late 2017 by Congress and President Trump.

Now, head over to WRAL for a weekend editorial from former Raleigh City Council member Brad Thompson. Thompson examines exactly who wins and who loses in one of Trump’s few legislative victories since his inauguration.

From WRAL:

President Donald Trump’s new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, supported by U.S. Rep. George Holding, R-N.C., promised a huge tax cut for the middle-class, job growth, and trickle-down heaven. That was all hype.

Trump said the bill “would cost him a fortune.” The truth is he personally benefited enormously, if only from the 2.6 percent decrease in the highest tax bracket.

This new law significantly changed the tax code. It did not improve the parts of the code that were rigged against people of color. In some ways, it made the problem worse.  This law was intended to enrich the president, Congressman Holding and wealthy donors.  It did just that.

The tax cuts on corporations are much larger than for individuals. In addition, the cuts for corporations are permanent. The cuts for individuals are temporary and expire.  There is no increased job growth as a result of these corporate tax cuts.  The trickle down myth is passed down from one generation of the wealthy to the next, but it has never been true.

“Hidden Rules of Race,” a new report from the Roosevelt Institute by Darrick Hamilton and Michael Linden, brings to light four important ways in which the new tax law will negatively impact people of color. The authors conclude, “in addition to disadvantaging low- and middle-income people in favor of the rich and powerful few, the Trump tax law, specifically preys upon people of color.”

  • The Trump tax law overwhelmingly benefits millionaires and billionaires, not low-income or middle-class Americans as Trump and Holding promised. As the “Income Gap” (which the Pew Research Center calls a “Grand Canyon-sized void)” grows, the wealthy get more of the tax cuts.
  • The Trump tax law primarily benefits already wealthy people who already had access to the educational, systemic, and human resources necessary to accumulate wealth. The “Racial Wealth Gap” is the reality that the average wealth for families is much higher than for African-Americans. Our dreadful history of discrimination in housing, lending, and employment has legally obstructed the ability of African Americans to accumulate wealth over generations.
  • The Trump tax law is expected to encourage state and local governments to add fees and fines to make up lost revenue. As Peter Edelman exposes in his new book, “Not a Crime To Be Poor,” court costs, bail, fines, and incarceration for non-violent behavior all act to keep people of color in an endless loop of economic distress where great harm is done to families and communities.17
  • The Trump tax law is estimated to cost $1.9 trillion in lost revenue in the next 10 years. We have already seen that this Congress is willing to cut medical, health, and social services to offset some of their tax cuts. This is not sustainable.

Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said, “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.”

If he only knew.

Defending Democracy, immigration, Trump Administration

Misleading “missing children” narrative gains traction amidst an already terrible month for immigrant community

Even by the standards of what has become a disturbing status quo as of late, the past month has been plagued by dehumanizing rhetoric and violent actions directed at immigrants and children of immigrants. It is part of a growing and horrifying narrative encouraging violence and reprisals toward the immigrant community in our nation – stemming from the highest office in the land.

© Tomas Castelazo, www.tomascastelazo.com / Wikimedia Commons

This is all taking place as stories exploded this past week regarding the “missing children” and the tremendous fear and misinformation circulating this issue. Read more

Education, News, Trump Administration

Secretary Betsy DeVos touches off controversy again, says schools can report undocumented students

President Trump and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is under the microscope again.

This time, some are criticizing the wealthy GOP booster after she told members of Congress this week that local schools and communities should decide whether to report undocumented students and families to federal immigration authorities.

DeVos, who was selected for the top education post last year by President Donald Trump, has angered public school advocates before, over topics like teacher strikes, school choice funding, and a remarkably uncomfortable interview with 60 Minutes.

From ABC News:

The head of the Education Department shifted the responsibility of reporting undocumented students to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to principals and teachers when she said on Tuesday, “it’s a local community decision.”

“I think that is — that is a school decision,” DeVos said during her testimony before the House Education and Workforce Committee after Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y., pressed her on the issue of undocumented students. “It’s a local community decision and again I refer to the fact that we have laws and we also are compassionate and I urge this body to do its job and address and clarify where there is confusion around this.”

Espaillat immediately rebuked the secretary’s statement, stressing that immigration policies are defined and executed by the federal government, not by communities.

“Let me just remind Madam Chair that immigration law is federal law,” he said. “It’s not a local law. It’s not governed by a municipality.”

“You cannot have immigration law for one state be different for another state and it applies to everybody across the country,” he added.

This is not the first time the secretary has faced controversy.

During her tenure at the Department of Education, she has faced criticism for comments she’s made on school safety, black history, and other matters.

In March, she said arming teachers “should be an option for states and communities to consider” during an interview after a visit to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

In her highly contentious confirmation hearing, DeVos stirred up vehement objections to her nomination after hedging on an answer about guns and ultimately conceding that guns might be needed in schools in states like Wyoming to defend against “potential grizzlies.”

Her most recent comments are drawing considerable backlash from civil rights groups.

“Let’s be clear: Any school that reports a child to ICE would violate the Constitution. The Supreme Court has made clear that every child in America has a right to a basic education, regardless of immigration status. Secretary DeVos is once again wrong,” Lorella Praeli, director of immigration policy and campaigns at the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement.

During the heated exchange with Espaillat, DeVos referenced a Supreme Court decision that ruled that all children — regardless of their immigration status — are entitled to a free public education.

“This was a Supreme Court decision rendered many years ago and so there are undocumented children in K-12 education today that we support and we give education to on a daily basis.”

Critics pointed to that same 1982 decision, Plyler v. Doe, as they sought to poke holes in her testimony.

“The Court determined in 1982 that the Constitution requires all public schools to provide a free public education, from Kindergarten to 12th grade, to every child, regardless of immigration status,” Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said. “Any public school or school district that denies an education to any undocumented child – whether by refusing to enroll, by limiting access to the programs and benefits provided to other students, or by reporting a child to ICE – has violated the United States Constitution.”

NC Budget and Tax Center, Trump Administration

Trump administration turning its back on refugees, a moral and economic failure

The Trump administration is following through on its threat to bar America’s doors against people fleeing violence and persecution. Trump’s cruel words are matched with devastating deeds, snuffing out America’s light of liberty in many corners of the world.

A new report from the Fiscal Policy Institute shows how dramatically refugee resettlement has declined on Trump’s watch and provides compelling evidence that we are turning away the very people that have long made America the economic power of the world.

Beyond documenting how dramatically the Trump administration has reversed America’s history offering safe harbor to people facing persecution the world-over, the report shows that these policies will hurt the U.S. economy.

The report’s authors interviewed business owners about their experiences hiring and working with people who arrived in the United States as refugees, and the results show that Trump’s policies are cutting businesses off from precisely the kind of dedicated employees that proprietors love to find. For example:

  • Refugees tend to be more loyal employees: Most business owners reported that, once hired, refugees tend to stay in their jobs longer than other workers. As any employer will tell you, replacing good employees is expensive and challenging, so having reliable refugees as part of a workforce can be an enormous plus.
  • Successful refugee hiring can help employers find more reliable workers: Once companies figure out how to successfully support refugees as they become employees, these businesses often find it easier to recruit more people from refugee communities. Just as with retention, finding skilled and dedicated employees efficiently can be an enormous boon for businesses.

Turning our back on people facing war and torment is wrong, and this moral failing will come with economic ramifications now and into the future.

Environment, Trump Administration

NC State professor “retained” by Chemours is basis for claims that DEQ groundwater standards too stringent

NC State University professor of toxicology Damien Shea says his analysis of GenX shows current health advisory goals are too stringer. Shea has been “retained” by Chemours for his expertise. (Photo: NC State University)

This post has been updated with comments from Damien Shea, who responded the day after this story was posted.

Analysis by a NC State University professor and scientist paid by Chemours is the basis of the company’s claim that voluntary state groundwater standards for GenX are too stringent.

Damien Shea is a professor of environmental toxicology at NC State and the principal investigator and University Director of the Department of Interior’s Southeast Climate Science Center.

 Although his work is widely published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, Shea also testified at a federal trial as an expert witness on behalf of BP. He told  the court that data from the Deep Horizon oil spill showed there was “no harmful exposure from oil-related chemicals or dispersants in nearly all of the area investigated.”

Federal government experts had criticized Shea’s findings, saying that they were based on too broad of an area to be definitive. NOAA scientists found large die-offs of marine species, including turtles, and lingering reproductive effects on survivors.

Last week Chemours called the state’s interim groundwater standard of 10 ppt for GenX — based on the EPA’s benchmark — “arbitrary, unfair and capricious.”  Chemours made these claims in a 30-page response to the Division of Air Quality’s notice that it could prohibit the company from emitting any GenX or related compounds from its Fayetteville Works facility.

Chemours told DEQ that internal company studies found 70,000 ppt was safe for groundwater and drinking water. Shea’s analysis is included the 950 pages of supplementary documents. He wrote that someone would have to drink 1,400 liters of water per day “from the most contaminated tap for their whole life” for their health to be harmed.

Shea argues that while GenX can cause liver tumors in mice, that is not applicable to humans. However, exposure to GenX can be linked to many non-cancer but equally harmful health effects on the liver.

Nor do Shea’s findings address harm to other organisms, both land and aquatic.

Shea could not be reached for comment. 

Shea said that he had raised concerns about the procedure and data the state used last summer to determine the provisional health goal for drinking water. Six months later Chemours contacted him, Shea said, and asked if he would complete his analysis and put it in writing.

“My analysis and the documents I wrote are entirely consistent with the opinions I expressed before Chemours ever contacted me,” She said. “I can assure you that I would provide an objective an unbiased analysis of the data regardless of who was financially supporting the work.”

DEQ said it is still reviewing Chemours’ response.

Scientists often debate findings and research. However, when a scientist receives payment from a private company for their analysis, it raises questions about the independence of the methods.

Overall, peer-reviewed science is scarce on GenX, regardless of where the compound is entering the environment — groundwater, drinking water or air. In fact, the lack of peer-reviewed studies is one of the main challenges facing the state’s Science Advisory Board as it tries to recommend a drinking water standard for GenX.

There are no studies involving humans, and only two on rats and mice. The state health department used one available rodent study in establishing the first provisional health goal of 70,000 ppt for drinking water; a second rodent study prompted state officials to reduce the acceptable level to 140 ppt.

The EPA has not set a groundwater or a drinking water standard for GenX.

Jamie Bartram, chairman of the Science Advisory Board, declined to comment on Chemours’ findings. The SAB, he told Policy Watch, “is still studying the issue. It would be inappropriate for us to pre-empt its conclusions.”

The SAB could make its recommendation on a drinking water health goal in June.

Despite assertions to the contrary, Chemours in North Carolina and its corporate parent, DuPont, have not been transparent in their dealings with the public and DEQ. Chemours has repeatedly failed to disclose the full extent of spills, discharges and air emissions. DuPont hid internal studies showing similar compounds, PFOA and PFOS, harmed public health, while those very substances were entering the drinking water supplies in Ohio and West Virginia.

Chemours is not alone in this conduct. It’s common for companies’ internal studies to downplay or deny health and environmental harm from their products: the tobacco industry and cigarettes, the biotech industry and pesticides, Westinghouse and PCBs.

It’s also common for industry influence to shape EPA decisions. But under EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, there is not even a pretense that science is the foundation of its rule-making.

As Chemours accused state environmental officials of being too tough on the company regarding groundwater standards for GenX, national media reported that the EPA intentionally hid damning data on the health effects of similar fluorinated compounds.

Several national media outlets, including the Washington Post and Politico, reported that the EPA has suppressed a study showing that PFOA and PFOS are dangerous to human health at lower levels than previously thought.

The EPA in 2016 set a health advisory — which is not enforceable — of 70 ppt combined for PFOA and PFOS. According to national media, federal toxicologists found that exposure at one-sixth of that level could be dangerous for sensitive populations, such as infants and breastfeeding mothers.

However, EPA officials did not want to disclose this information because it could be a “public relations nightmare,” especially for the Defense Department. Military bases have been contaminated with PFOA and PFOS because those compounds are found in firefighting foam, used in training exercises.

In Atlantic, NC, two drinking water wells at the Marine Air Station at Cherry Point tested above the lifetime health advisory of 70 ppt, according to results released May 4. That investigation is continuing.