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Don’t Be Fooled By Walmart’s Promotional Stunt About Increasing Wages

This week the nations largest employer made national news by announcing they would raise their minimum wage to $11 an hour and provide a $1,000 bonus to 1.5 million American employees. They say that this move to increase wages and provide employee bonuses is all thanks to the Republican Tax Plan that President Trump signed into law this month.

However a closer review of this new announcement shows that it is all a publicity stunt.  They are also using the publicity stunt to cover up the news that they are closing 60 Sam’s Club stores across the country.

Making Change at Walmart director Randy Parraz explains what is happening in his statement: 

“While pay raises are usually a good thing, this is nothing but another public relations stunt from Walmart to distract from the reality that they are laying off thousands of workers and the ones who remain will continue to receive low wages. The fact is that Walmart is not permanently investing the estimated $2 billion it will receive annually from Trump’s tax giveaway to its workers – it is keeping almost all of it. This announcement is attempt to repair a crumbling image, while ignoring thousands of its workers who struggle year after year to pay their bills or depend on government assistance.

Once you crack the veneer, you see that Walmart’s wage increases does not raise hourly wages for many of its workers. Hourly wages for those workers making above $11 dollars will essentially stay the same. Workers will get a one-time bonus or raise, but not both.

Instead of taking Walmart at its word, we would hope that the Members of Congress, civic and state leaders, and the media, ask Walmart for actual facts about what this means for workers. Empty words will not lift Walmart workers out of poverty, an actual living wage will.”

Looking deeper into Walmart’s own statement you can clearly see that this is nothing more that publicity stunt to continue the myth that tax cuts somehow help corporations fuel wage increases.

The Wage Increase

Walmart’s press release further explains how this pay increase will into effect.

An increase in Walmart’s starting wage rate to $11 an hour, effective in the Feb. 17, 2018, pay cycle. The change is in addition to wage increases already planned for many U.S. markets in the coming fiscal year. The increase applies to all hourly associates in the U.S., including stores, Sam’s Clubs, eCommerce, logistics and Home Office.

Facing backlash over low-wages and protests from OUR-Walmart, Walmart announced they would raise wages from $7.25 to $9 in 2015 and raise them again to $10 in Feb of 2016.  Logic would dictate that a pay raise to $11 was overdue at this point.  Not to mention that Target, one of Walmart’s biggest rivals, announced last September that they would be raising their wages to $11 in January of 2018 and would continue to push wages up to $15 by 2020.

The Bonuses

Praising the newly passed tax cuts, Walmart said they would be giving out $1,000 bonuses to their “associates.”  As Parraz already explained, those bonuses are along going to the people who will not be getting a wage increase.  The devil is in the details.

“A one-time bonus benefiting all eligible full and part-time hourly associates in the U.S. The amount of the bonus will be based on length of service, with associates with at least 20 years qualifying for $1,000.”

So to qualify for one of Walmart’s generous bonuses, you would have to be a full-time employee, making more than $11 already and have at least 20 years with the company.  Since less than 50% of Walmart’s employees are full-time, combined with the high turnover of the retail industry, it really makes you wonder how many of Walmart’s 1.5 million employees will even see that bonus.

The Cost

There is no denying that raising wages and giving away bonuses is going to hit Walmart’s bottom line. But when you put it into perspective, it will not hurt them as much as you might think.

“This increase in wages to associates will take effect in February and will be approximately $300 million incremental to what was already included in next fiscal year’s plan. The one-time bonus represents an additional payment to associates of approximately $400 million,” said Doug McMillon, Walmart president and CEO.

That is $900 million dollars in payouts. Yes, that is a lot of money.  It looks like a ton of money.  However when you take into account that Walmart did $482 billion dollars in revenue last year and collected $13.6 billion in profits. $900 million is less than 10% of their profits. The wage increase would only be about 3% of their profits.

Maybe we should also take into account that in October of 2017, Walmart used $20 billion of its own profits to “buy back” their own stocks to artificially increase their stock prices.

Joe Ciolli from Business Insider wrote:

“Walmart is sweetening the pot for shareholders before its annual meeting, using the oldest trick in the book.

The retailer on Tuesday morning announced that it had authorized up to $20 billion in stock buybacks over the next two years. That’s a massive amount of capital to be allocated for repurchases, which are frequently used by companies to boost shares during times devoid of other positive catalysts.”

According to our research, that $20 billion dollars would do a lot for Walmart workers.

Layoffs

On January 12, the day after Walmart announced they would be increasing wages, they announced that they would be closing 63 (or 10%) of their Sam’s Club stores across the country.

“We know this is difficult news for our associates and we are working to place as many of them as possible at nearby locations,” said John Furner, president and CEO of Sam’s Club.

So far this year, Sam’s Club has closed two stores in my area and kicked 250 people out of a job.  Given both of the stores had about 125 employees, it would be safe to assume that nearly 8,000 workers are going to lose their jobs with the closing of these 63 stores.

The Tax Cuts

Walmart is praising the new Republican Tax Cuts for their ability to raise wages. Of course they neglect to mention that they spent millions lobbying Congress to oppose a minimum wage increase and to lower their corporate taxes.

The corporation will shed an estimated $2.2 billion dollars from their annual tax bill next year thanks to Republicans.  That cuts their tax bill by nearly 40%.  I won’t even go into how much the Walton Family is worth and how this tax bill will greatly benefit them. I will say that the Walton Family saved an estimated $670 million just because their income comes from dividends paid out from their Walmart stock holdings which are taxed at a drastically reduced rate compared to “regular income.”

So you see, Walmart the corporation is going to pocket $1.8 billion dollars this year in tax savings even after they spend $300 million to raise wages in their promotional stunt.

Do not be fooled by Walmart’s newly found generosity. They were going to raise wages anyway but now they can use this tax cut as a promotional stunt at the same time.  The Walmart executives are going to use this Tax Scam to line their pockets and continue to pay their low wages. Everyday.


After this post was first published, Walmart announced that they would be laying off an additional 3,500 “Co-Managers” and replacing them with lower paid “assistant manager” position.  Those who are being laid off are encouraged to apply for the new position.

Talk about a slap in the face.

Read more from ThinkProgress


Update: Original publication had the incorrect profit numbers. 

 

Yo, Wharton! Tax Cuts DON’T “Create Jobs” !!!

Photo by mSeatttle via Flickr Creative Commons license

Photo by mSeatttle via Flickr Creative Commons license

Just how bizarre can this election get?

Yesterday, the Wharton School of Business released its predictions about the long-term effects of Donald Trump’s tax plan.  Their report uses something called “dynamic scoring” – which is an economic model that assumes tax cuts will create jobs.  (You remember that old saying about the word “assume.”)

Somebody call the fact-checkers.  That assumption should have been thoroughly debunked by now.

Remember, that assumption was the basis of the 2001 Bush tax cuts.  (Remember how those tax cuts were supposed to be “temporary”?)  That’s when thinktanks started using this “dynamic scoring” model, courtesy of the Heritage Foundation.  Those particular tax cuts were supposed to generate 1.6 million new jobs by 2011.  They were supposed generate enough federal revenue to pay back the entire federal debt.  They were supposed to save Social Security and Medicare.  (You can read the 2001 Heritage Foundation report here.)

Instead, those tax cuts sent the federal deficit soaring – and that’s when Alan Greenspan suggested cutting Social Security to pay for them.  (Remember, most of those tax cuts benefitted rich taxpayers.  But Greenspan wanted to cut our benefits – benefits we have pay for, with each paycheck – to make those tax cuts permanent.)

Now, here comes Trump.  And he wants to give the rich the GREATEST TAX CUT EVER – an average $1.1 million tax cut.  Each.  (Nevermind that he’s going to raise taxes on single mothers and families with lots of children.)

And Wharton says those tax cuts are going to magically “create jobs.”  (Nevermind that tax cuts haven’t ever
“created jobs” in the past.  Wharton’s dynamic scoring model says things will be different, this time.)

Let’s get real.  The folks who have been getting tax cuts haven’t been spending their extra money creating jobs.  They’ve been spending their extra money playing the stock market.  Wall Street keeps hitting record highs, and all that money had to come from somewhere.

It’s really hard to track what individual billionaires spend on the stock market.  But corporations have been getting tax cuts, too – and their spending is easier to find.  I added it all up a few days ago… and in 2015, corporations spent $5.5 trillion on the stock market, buying shares of their own or other companies.

$5.5 trillion, in one year.  It’s hard to wrap your head around that number, so let’s think of it in some other ways…

  • It could have been used to create 70 million jobs, at the median wage
  • It’s more than 25% of the federal debt
  • It’s more than six times what Social Security paid out in benefits last year

And they spent it buying stock from other stockholders.

So… apparently, that’s what happens when we give corporations tax cuts.  They pass the extra money along to “investors.”  They don’t create jobs with it.

The reality is, corporations don’t create jobs out of the goodness of their heart… they create jobs when they need to.  When the workforce they have can’t keep up with the demand for their business.

Notice that word: demand.  Capitalist economies only grow when there is increased demand.

And that means if government keeps taking money out of the pockets of consumers (single mothers, families with lots of children) and giving it to investors (GREATEST TAX CUT EVER), our economy is going to keep shrinking.

Nevermind what Wharton’s fancy-schmantsy dynamic scoring model might imagine.


BTW, it just so happens that Trump is a Wharton alumnus.  But I didn’t see that fact included in any of the press coverage of Wharton’s economic prediction.

Verizon Spends Billions To Buy AOL & Yahoo Then Cuts Thousands Of US Jobs

2015-07-25_Mass_Rally_Stand_Up_To_Verizon

Verizon’s Greedy Corporate Businesss Model Is Exactly
What Is Wrong With Our Economy

Continuing our “What’s wrong with the economy” series using Verizon as a case study…

You can read about Verizon’s decision to lay off 4,800 American workers in yesterday’s NH Labor News.  (You might have missed it in the mainstream press, under all the election headlines.)  The cuts include seven call centers as well as some retail stores.

How is Verizon going to serve its customers, once all those call centers are closed?  The company “is offshoring customer service calls to numerous call centers in the Philippines, where workers are paid just $1.78 an hour and forced to work overtime without compensation.”  (Wow.  Not exactly a living wage.)

Guess what else was in the news yesterday.  Verizon’s agreement to buy Yahoo for $4.83 billion.  So…right now, Verizon is laying off thousands of American workers while it’s spending billions to acquire another company.  Does that make any sense to you?

And I’m feeling déjà vu.

Remember that Verizon workers had to strike, earlier this year, after working without a contract for eight months while the company demanded employee concessions?  That was at the same time Verizon was buying AOL for $4.4 billion.  Does that make any sense?  Why would a company that can afford to buy another company need draconian cuts to employee pensions, health care, and benefits for workers injured on the job?

And when Verizon “buys” another company, what, exactly, does it purchase?  AOL and Yahoo sell ads on the internet, they don’t have much in the way of bricks-and-mortar assets.  So, Verizon is spending billions of dollars to… buy another company’s stock.  After spending $5 billion to buy back its own stock.

Doing the math here?  Looks to me like… between 2015 and 2016, Verizon will spend a total of $14 billion on shares of corporate stock.  At the same time it is closing US call centers, laying off American workers and demanding concessions from its unions.  Money coming out of workers’ pockets, going into the pockets of stockholders.

While you’re getting mad, remember how Congress has structured our tax system.  Investment income is taxed at about half the rate of wage income; and it’s completely exempt from Social Security and Medicare taxes.  So the next time you hear a politician talking about how those systems are “going bankrupt”… ask them what would happen if they taxed investment income the same way they tax our wages.  I’m guessing it would fully fund Social Security and Medicare, as well pay down a good chunk of our federal debt.  But back to Verizon.

This is what’s wrong with our economy: CEOs and directors would rather purchase stock than pay workers. And so workers’ pay has been stagnant since the 1970s… even as our productivity has kept rising.

Meanwhile, the stockmarket is in the stratosphere.  And Verizon’s stock price keeps rising.

VZ stock chart

And Verizon’s corporate officers are doing just fine. (Read the rest of our Verizon series, starting here.)

And the Federal Trade Commission has already signed off on Verizon’s offer to purchase Yahoo … so it looks like Yahoo stockholders will be getting all those billions of dollars, while Verizon’s American workers face unemployment and its Philippines employees work unpaid overtime.

Because the folks who make corporate decisions would rather buy stock than pay workers.


Things weren’t always this way.  Once upon a time, it was illegal for corporations to repurchase their own stock.  But in 1982, the SEC created a regulatory “safe harbor” — and since that time, stock buybacks have skyrocketed.  Last year, corporations spent more than $650 million buying back their own stock.  All of that is money that could have been used for job creation or wage increases or facility expansion.  Sadly, some of that money came from the pockets of workers who were laid off, had their wages cut, or were forced to accept benefit cuts. (Read more about what Verizon “bought” with their 2015 $5 billion buyback program here.)

Once upon a time, corporate mergers and acquisitions were more closely regulated; but once the regulations were loosened again, mergers have risen to an all-time high.  Last year, corporations spent $5 Trillion buying up other corporations.  Again, that’s money which is not being used for job creation, wage increases or new plants and equipment.  And, again, some of that money came from the pockets of employees declared “redundant” when their company was acquired.  (Read more about AOL layoffs when Verizon acquired the company here.  Read more about Yahoo layoffs expected when Verizon acquires that company here.)

Source: Third Way

Source: Third Way


Do the math yourself. It adds up to more than $5.5 Trillion that corporations spent — just last year — buying stock rather than creating jobs.

And some folks wonder why our economy is in such a mess.

Watch The Young Turks Epic Take Down Of Carrier’s Decision To Lay Off 1,400 Workers

If you thought the greed of corporations could not get any worse, just look at what United Technologies ( Carrier air conditioning corporation)  just did to 1,400 workers at their Indianapolis plant.

Carrier just announced that they would be laying off 1,400 workers over the next year to move the plant to Mexico where workers make around $6 a day.

The manager who broke the news to the workers made it very clear that this was a “business decision.”

But was it really as tough a decision as the manager claims it was?

The Young Turks laid out the truth about how corporations have rigged the entire political system to make it even easier for corporations like United Technologies/ Carrier to toss American workers aside for low wage workers in another country.

Outside of the billions in profits that United Technologies brought in last year and the outrageous CEO pay there is one more thing that really caught my attention, their stock buyback program.   Yes they dumped millions of dollar into buying back their own stock to artificially boost their own stock prices, which is exactly how many of the corporations executives are compensated.

Watch this short 15 minute video from the Young Turks as they explain how corporations have rigged the system for those at the top.

Here are three articles on United Technologies stock buy back program:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/united-technologies-unveils-12-billion-buyback-1445343580

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-utc-results-idUSKCN0SE1AR20151020

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/united-technologies-sets-6-billion-accelerated-buyback-2015-11-12

Related reading on stock buybacks from the NH Labor News:

Read the series about Verizon as a case study of what’s wrong with the economy, starting here.

Read “What Mitt Romney taught us about America’s Economy” here.

Read “McDonalds: Paying Billions (of Borrowed Money) to Stockholders” here.

Read more NHLN coverage of stock buybacks here.

Pfizer Jacks Up Drug Costs, Pays Billions to Stockholders

Prescription Prices Ver5

Photo by Chris Potter via Flickr

Ever wonder why prescription drug costs are so high? Take a few minutes and read Bill Lazonick’s piece on Pfizer.

From January 2001 through September 2015, Pfizer paid out [to stockholders] $95.5 billion in buybacks and $87.1 billion in dividends.

That’s $182.6 billion paid to stockholders… compared to $37.1 billion paid in corporate taxes over the same time frame. Do the math. That’s almost five times more money paid to stockholders than paid in taxes.

Now, stop and think about this. Why are stockholders getting all that money? When shares are bought and sold on the stock exchange, none of that money goes back to the corporation. Instead, the money goes to the previous owner of the stock – who may have owned that stock for less than a second. (Read more about “high frequency trading” here.)

And yet, most corporations pay lots of money to their stockholders. For what? Passing stock from one owner to another isn’t investing in the corporation’s future. So far in 2015, Pfizer has paid more than twice as much to stockholders as it has invested in R&D.

Why are stockholders getting all that money?

— — — —

tieby Unsplash via PixabayPaying money to stockholders benefits corporate executives who are “paid for performance.” (How this works, using Verizon as a case study, is a previous NHLN post.) In the case of Pfizer’s CEO, “75% of his long-term equity awards are earned based on relative and absolute total shareholder return.” In other words, the CEO’s compensation depends on Pfizer paying money to shareholders. If stockholders don’t get enough money, the CEO doesn’t get that compensation. And it’s not just the CEO. All of Pfizer’s top corporate executives are paid according to whether they meet “shareholder return” targets.

Back to Bill Lazonick’s piece:

In 2014, [Ian C.] Read as [Pfizer] CEO had total direct compensation of $22.6 million, of which 27 percent came from exercising stock options and 50 percent from the vesting of stock awards. The other four highest-paid executives named on Pfizer’s 2015 proxy statement averaged $8.0 million, with 24 percent from stock options and 41 percent from stock awards.

Remember, a good chunk of that compensation was based on the amount of money paid to stockholders. Which probably explains why Pfizer is paying so much more to stockholders than it’s spending on R&D.

— — — —

dollar by TBIT via PixabayWhere does all that money come from, anyway?

From Bloomberg:

Pfizer Inc., the nation’s biggest drugmaker, has raised prices on 133 of its brand-name products in the U.S. this year, according to research from UBS, more than three-quarters of which added up to hikes of 10 percent or more. … In a note Friday, analysts at Morgan Stanley said Pfizer’s net prices grew 11 percent a year on average from 2012 to 2014.

The Wall Street Journal documented Pfizer’s three-year market research campaign to decide the price of a new breast cancer drug.

“[I]ts process yielded a price that bore little relation to the drug industry’s oft-cited justification for its prices, the cost of research and development. … Staff members put together a chart estimating the revenue and prescription numbers at various prices… The chart showed a 25% drop in doctors’ willingness to prescribe the new drug if it cost more than $10,000 a month.”

Two years ago, AARP investigated the pricing strategy for another Pfizer drug, with an expiring patent:

[T]he manufacturer of the popular anti-cholesterol drug Lipitor employed an unusually aggressive strategy — including a pay-for-delay agreement, a coupon program, and a substantial price increase — to try to maintain revenue and market share after Lipitor’s patent expired. … Several major U.S. retailers have filed lawsuits against Pfizer and Ranbaxy that accuse them of violating antitrust laws by striking a deal that kept generic versions of Lipitor off the market… Pfizer’s chief executive reported that they maintained three times more market share than what is traditionally seen when blockbusters lose patent protection, “add(ing) hundreds of millions of dollars of profitability to the company.”

And a bunch of Pfizer’s profits come from government spending. There isn’t a lot of available research into government spending on pharmaceuticals, but what I’ve found is enlightening. As of 2010, Pfizer’s Lipitor – in varying strengths – represented three of the top-20 drugs prescribed under both Medicare and Department of Defense health programs. As of 2003, Medicaid was spending almost $650 million a year just on Lipitor.

That’s a lot of taxpayer money going to Pfizer.  While the corporation is paying twice as much to shareholders as it’s spending on R&D. While it’s paying five times as much to shareholders as it’s spending on corporate taxes. While Pfizer is trying to use the US corporate tax rate to justify off-shoring profits through a merger with Allergan.

While Pfizer’s CEO is receiving millions in compensation based on the amount of money the corporation pays to stockholders.

— — — —

hands by Gaertringen via PixabayAnd where else does that money come from?

If you have family or friends on Medicare, you probably know that the price of prescription drug coverage is going up significantly next year – even though there will be no Social Security COLA.

If you’re a State of New Hampshire retiree, you know that your cost of drug coverage is going up significantly next year – even though there hasn’t been a retirement COLA for the past six years.

The billions being paid to Pfizer stockholders are coming out of a lot of pockets… including the pockets of people who are spending their “golden years” choosing between medicine and food.

One more time: why are stockholders getting all that money? What have they done to deserve it?

This Thanksgiving: How To Talk About The Economy Without Getting Into An Argument

man yelling with megaphone

Is your family one of those families… where Thanksgiving dinner always ends up in a political argument?

First thing to remember is that arguing won’t get you anywhere. Research shows that when the people you’re talking with hold strong beliefs, arguing with them only makes it harder for them to change those beliefs. And “when people’s confidence in their beliefs is shaken, they become stronger advocates for those beliefs. … when faced with doubt, people shout even louder.”

Political scientists call it the “backfire” effect – and if you’re an activist, you need to know about it (and remember it). Also remember that there are neurological differences between “Republican” and “Democratic” brains… and there are behavioral differences… although scientists are still trying to figure out exactly what those differences mean.

no_megaphoneSo what are you supposed to do? If you’re, say, sitting around the Thanksgiving table when Great Uncle Chester starts berating your college-graduate niece about the fact that she’s living at home rather than in her own apartment…?

Start by finding common ground. There’s always something to agree on, if you just look hard enough. Even if it’s just a gentle restatement of what the other person said. “Yes, Uncle Chester, we all agree that college graduates should be able to find jobs that allow them to support themselves.”

Then, add a little reality in there. “But that doesn’t seem to be happening in the current economy. There are a whole lot of twenty-somethings who are still living at home.”

Try to use personal examples rather than just facts. “I remember what my neighbor’s son went through, when he graduated two years ago. It took him 18 months to find a job, and even then he earned barely enough for him to make his student loan payments.”

When you talk about facts, try to frame them as a question, not a statement. “Don’t you think that the economy has changed from when you graduated college? Remember how working in a bank used to be a highly-respected job? Did you know that, these days, almost one-third of bank tellers need food stamps?”

Don’t push too hard. With Uncle Chester, you might not be able to persuade him of anything other than that he should stop berating your niece. (And if you push any further, the conversation might get loud and become a “nobody’s going to win this” argument.)

But continue the conversation, if your audience seems receptive. “Did you know that, these days, banks are paying billions of dollars to stockholders, rather than paying their tellers a decent wage?”

— — — —

no_megaphoneDo you have a second cousin Mildred who insists that “cutting taxes for job creators” is the answer to everything?

Find something you both agree on. “Nobody likes paying taxes.”

Add a personal story. “I remember when we got President Bush’s ‘tax refund checks’ back in 2001 and 2008. It was nice to get the money, but I didn’t invest it. I don’t know anybody who invested it. Most people either kept the money in the bank or used it to pay down debt.”

Then, a little reality. “Did you know that Congress has been cutting taxes on ‘job creators’ since Ronald Reagan was President? Back then, they used to call it ‘supply side economics.’ But it didn’t fix the economy; all it did was create a huge budget deficit. So after a few years President Reagan gave up on the idea and increased taxes again.”

Is Mildred still listening? If she looks interested, rather than angry, give her a few more facts. “Did you know that corporations are spending literally trillions of dollars buying back their own stock? Rather than building new factories or hiring new employees, they’re buying back shares of their own stock in order to keep stock prices high.”

Is she still listening? “And corporations are even borrowing money – bonds they will be paying back for decades – in order to give money to their stockholders now. So I don’t think CEOs would really invest money from tax cuts in ‘job creation.’ Don’t you think they would just pay it out to stockholders?”

Is she still listening? “I wonder what would happen to our tax rates, if corporations were paying taxes at the same rate they used to, before the SEC started allowing companies to buy back their own stock. Don’t you think that we might be paying less in taxes?”

— — — —

no_megaphoneDo you have a brother-in-law who isn’t bothered by increasing inequality? Who thinks CEOs actually deserve to receive 373 times as much as their employees are paid?

Then you ought to read this Pacific-Standard magazine article about a recent International Monetary Fund report.

And you can start the conversation with something like, “We all agree that economic growth is a good thing.”

Then add a little reality. “Did you know that income inequality actually hurts our country’s economic growth?”

Add a story. “Gosh, I wonder if this is why Macy’s is having such a hard time. None of my friends are planning to do their Christmas shopping there.   It seems like everybody is shopping discount stores or making their gifts, this year.”

Use questions. “How can the economy recover, if ordinary people don’t have money to spend? Did you know that one in ten American jobs is in retail? What’s going to happen to that sector of the economy if wages stay stagnant?  What’s going to happen to the rest of the economy?”

Know your audience, and either stop (before things get loud) or keep going. “Did you know that increasing the income share to the bottom 20% – even just by a tiny bit – helps the whole economy grow?”  “Do you think that’s why the economy grew more, back when income was a bit more equal?”

— — — —

no_megaphoneAnd if the conversation turns to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) treaty… please be thoughtful and careful about what you say.

Personally, I’m tired of politicians pitting people against each other. And factory employees in Singapore are working to feed their families, just like we are.

The problem with the TPP isn’t overseas workers, it’s how much power the treaty would give to corporations. It’s how much power the treaty would give to big banks. It’s the idea of America giving up our right to enforce our laws, when those laws are inconvenient to multinational corporations. It’s the idea of turning over even more of our country’s sovereignty to international “investor-state dispute settlement” (ISDS) tribunals.  Read more about how the TPP empowers corporations on the Public Citizen website.

So please, if you’re opposing the TPP, don’t talk about how overseas workers are taking “our” jobs. The real problem is how much it will benefit corporations.

The real problem is that corporate profits are at all-time highs… while labor’s share of that bounty is pretty close to its all-time low.

And the TPP is likely to make that problem worse, not better.

But that’s not the fault of the migrant workers in a Malaysian electronics factory.

— — — —

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope the conversation around your dinner table is a peaceful one.

— — — —

no_fearBut if the conversation turns to Paris and Syrian refugees, please be especially careful. Fear is one of the most basic human emotions… it’s also one of the most destructive… and one of the easiest to manipulate.

Journalist Naomi Klein is the author of “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.” She’s done a lot of research into how corporatists use disasters to push through political change. Read her work about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina here.

“For more than three decades, [economist Milton] Friedman and his powerful followers had been perfecting this very strategy: waiting for a major crisis, then selling off pieces of the state to private players while citizens were still reeling from the shock, then quickly making the ‘reforms’ permanent. In one of his most influential essays, Friedman articulated contemporary capitalism’s core tactical nostrum, what I have come to understand as the shock doctrine. He observed that ‘only a crisis— actual or perceived—produces real change.’ ”

I think of her work every time someone mentions the Bush tax cuts. Back in 2001, the federal government had a budget surplus; and in the first few weeks of September, the Washington Post did a poll that found 57% of Americans wanted the Bush tax cuts reversed, in order to preserve that surplus. Then 9/11 happened. And a decade and a half later, we still haven’t gotten tax rates restored to Clinton-era levels… and the federal debt has increased by $12.4 trillion.  (And we’re being told we need to cut Social Security, rather than restore the tax rates that President Bush cut even further “while citizens were still reeling from the shock” of 9/11.)

The Paris attacks renewed the atmosphere of fear that I remember after 9/11… and we’ve already seen how some politicians want to use that fear to change government policies. The good news is: my Facebook feed is full of people pushing back against these proposals, questioning them and using historical analogies to say “This is not what America stands for.” The bad news is: Facebook feeds are determined by an algorithm that tends to reinforce what people already believe.

So… when the conversation turns to Paris, and ISIS, remember the advice above.  Arguing isn’t going to help. You need to find some way to help the people you’re talking with step away from their fear, and step into the reality that their fear allows them to be manipulated. Find something to say that you both agree on – most people agree that refugees should be vetted before being resettled – and work from there.

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