Isaiah J. Poole

A Newly Elected Democratic Socialist On How to Win in Trump Country

“I’d like to think of myself as ordinary,” says Ross Grooters as he describes his life in Pleasant Hill, Iowa, an eastern suburb of Des Moines. But then he corrects himself. “Most people’s passions or enjoyment are not going out and doing activist things, so that’s where I’m not an ordinary Joe.”

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9 Reasons to Stop the GOP’s Giant Tax Gift to the Wealthy

Americans for Tax Fairness has just published “Nine Terrible Things About the Republican Tax Plan.” All are good reasons for you should get on the phone with your member of Congress and tell them to vote against this travesty of a tax bill.

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Fighting Racism Where White Workers Are Hurting, Too

Since 2011, Maine’s bombastic Republican governor Paul LePage has given America a taste of what it might be like to live under a Donald Trump presidency.

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It Doesn't Have to Be 'Us' vs. 'Them'

It’s increasingly easy to believe that our country is irreconcilably divided. But that’s not quite the America that Michael Morrill saw from his perch in Reading, Pennsylvania the weekend before the Republican convention in Cleveland.

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People’s Summit Attendees Leave Determined To Keep 'The Bern' Alive

After an intense weekend of speeches and discussion about the future of the progressive “political revolution” sparked by the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, the People’s Summit ended Sunday with a charge to continue to keep “the Bern” blazing through a myriad electoral and justice campaigns.

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This Is Your Victory: Fast Track for a Bad Trade Deal Is Derailed

You did it. Despite furious lobbying by the Fortune 500, entreaties from the Republican leadership in Congress and personal, last-minute appeals from President Obama, fast-track trade authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership has been thrown off-track.

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Reclaiming Populism: Progressive Movement Is Alive and Well in the 21st Century

Eugene Lim was on his way to hitting rock bottom. After graduating from Chicago’s Shimer College in 2011, he’d spent two years trying to find a permanent job. And he was increasingly blaming himself for his plight.

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4 Ways the Next Fight Over Spending in Washington Could Seriously Affect Your Life

We’ve heard many conservative elected leaders adopt a new tone when they talk about income inequality, but this week House Republicans will double down on the same-old-same-old when they release their proposed federal budget, which will continue their push to enrich the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us.

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Polls Show Americans Skew To The Left of Hillary Clinton's "Vital Center" Agenda

Hillary Clinton invoked what she called the “vital center” in a speech before the New York Historical Society this past weekend as the place where most Americans want their politicians to be.

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7 Corporations That Pay Their CEOs More Than They Pay in Taxes

This week leaders in Congress are trying to decide what action to take on a set of “tax extenders” – a hodge-podge of tax breaks that range from the arguably meritorious to the patently absurd that could cost the government as much as $590 billion if Congress adopted a package favored by House Republicans.

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Top Corporate Tax Cheats: Corporate Behavior So Bad Even Fortune Magazine Can’t Stomach It

Fortune Magazine is out with its list of “Top American corporate tax avoiders,” members of the S&P 500 that “sure seem American—except when it comes to paying taxes.”

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Now the Kochs Are Coming After Your Solar Panels

Now the Koch brothers are coming after my solar panels.

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Black America Is Living Through a Great Economic Depression -- What's Obama Going to Do About It?

When President Obama formally unveiled his fiscal 2014 budget on Wednesday, a lot of the progressive movement focus was on his plan to cut Social Security benefits through a reduced cost-of-living adjustment called the “chained CPI.” But there was another scandalous policy decision reflected in that budget as well, and this one is a sin of omission: There will not be an all-out effort to address the depression-level unemployment conditions among African Americans.

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10 Ways Right-Wingers Will Try to Wreck Any Economic Recovery

Conservatives have a legislative agenda for 2011 that will hurt your ability to get or keep a job, your neighborhood's ability to recover from the recession and this country's ability to regain its footing in the global economy.

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Will the Credit Card Companies Get Their Pound of Flesh?

Editor's note: after this column was published the Senate passed a bill reining in the credit card industry. The bill will now be taken up in the House where its passage is likely.

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Priced Out of Prescription Drugs

The outlook for prescription drug costs, and for health care costs generally, continues to be ominous. Price increases of more than 100 percent for certain prescription drugs means it is more important than ever to give the Medicare program the power to bargain with drug companies for the best price, so that seniors and taxpayers don't bear an unfair burden because of these price hikes.

The latest Making Sense alert calls for getting this issue back on the front burner of the political debate, and it comes as researchers at the University of Minnesota report that prices of some drugs have gone up well over 100 percent, and in a few cases over 1,000 percent, in the past year.

Cost increases like these are already expected to have a ripple effect on private insurance premiums. An Aon Consulting report released this week projects that health care costs will be up 10.6 percent next year, increases that will be reflected in the health insurance premiums that people can expect to pay next year.

Even in the face of these cost increases, conservative lawmakers still oppose a commonsense policy shift that would simply allow Medicare to do what other government agencies that provide health care are able to, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Defense, the Public Health Service and the Bureau of Prisons.

Because federal negotiation is prohibited, elderly Americans are being overcharged billions of dollars. Agencies that negotiate get much better drug prices than the private Part D insurance plans do. If Medicare was allowed to negotiate with manufacturers, the program would save approximately $90 billion a year, which could be passed along to the elderly in the form of lower costs or greater benefits.

From 2002 to 2007, prescription drug prices increased by 50 percent, more than 21�2 times faster than inflation. Eight in 10 Americans think that the cost of prescription drugs is too high, and four in 10 report struggling to pay for medication prescribed by their doctors.

Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., have asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate these drug price increases. That is an urgently needed first step. But while that investigation is happening, we should be asking candidates where they stand on allowing the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate fair prescription drug prices or on creating a real Medicare prescription drug plan (one actually run by Medicare) that forces drug companies to compete to provide drugs at the lowest price.

Eighty-seven percent of Americans support "a proposal to allow Medicare to use its bargaining power to negotiate prescription drug prices with manufacturers." Lowering Medicare drug costs -- and reducing the influence of the drug industry -- is critical to bringing skyrocketing prescription drug and health care costs under control for all Americans.

New Signs Of A Middle-Class Collapse

A hearing in late July on the middle-class squeeze by the congressional Joint Economic Committee did not get much attention at the time, but a warning at that hearing by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., that what's happening to the middle class is not just a squeeze but a "collapse" is resonating in the wake of this week's bad economic news.

Sanders is arguing for "bold and aggressive" measures to address that collapse in an interview on "Meet the Bloggers," the weekly Brave New Foundation program which will stream live at 1 p.m. today. I will be featured on the program with Amanda Logan at the Center for American Progress.

Thursday's reports on consumer inflation and unemployment claims reveal the latest blows delivered to working-class families by the current economic downturn. Consumer prices going up at an annual rate of 5.6 percent last month, far above the 3.1 percent average increase in income. At the same time, the number of people receiving unemployment claims is 3.42 million, the highest level in almost five years.

With these trends, the legacy of Bushonomics is poised to add one more item to its legacy: "stagflation," the combination of a stagnant economy and rising unemployment that had conservatives in the late 1970s indicting President Jimmy Carter and Democrats in Congress as failures on the economy.

The difference between the 1970s and today is that families earning five-figure salaries enter this dangerous economic period facing record economic disparity.

"I do think this is one of the most underreported issues of the past 10 years," Sanders told the Joint Economic Committee on July 24. "The reality is that in many respects the middle class of this country is collapsing. The vast majority of our people have seen a decline in their standard of living," while those at the top of the income ladder are beneficiaries of a wealth gap between the very rich and the middle class that has not been seen since the late 1920s.

One of the witnesses at the hearing, Elizabeth Warren, a Leo Gottlieb professor of law at Harvard Law School, said that while inflation-adjusted median household income has declined by $1,175 since 2000, basic expenses for average families have increased by more than $4,600.

"Seven years of flat or declining wages, seven years of increasing costs, and seven year of mounting debts have placed unprecedented stress on the ordinary families. By every critical financial measure, these families are losing ground. Without changes in critical economic policies, the strong middle class that has been the backbone of the American economy and the American democracy is in jeopardy," she testified.

The case keeps getting stronger for a new, bold change in economic policy explicitly designed to help working-class families regain their footing. Sanders will outline his ideas on the Meet the Bloggers program, which will be available for on-demand viewing after the live streaming.

Living Standards Under Stress

It does not take much to understand why a hard-core Republican district in Mississippi would elect a Democrat to the House of Representatives by a nine-point margin. Mississippi is a state under particularly serious economic stress, a point brought home in a report released this week by the Campaign for America's Future.

"The Stress Test" shows in graphic detail the impact that seven years of conservative economic policies have had on working families. It explains why this week's Washington Post-ABC News poll indicates that "nearly seven out of 10 Americans are worried about maintaining their standard of living."

The most recent, and perhaps most dramatic, threat to standards of living has been in the form of higher gasoline prices, which have risen 33 cents a gallon just in the past month, according to The Post. But the erosion in living stands has been a long time coming and it comes from multiple sources, according to the Stress Test report.

Consider this: In Mississippi, since 2000 the average weekly wage has done up, in inflation-adjusted terms, $33 since 2000. But there are plenty of indications that Mississippi families have nonetheless fallen behind, even if you leave out the whopping 128 percent increase in gasoline prices during that period. The percentage of people without health insurance increased 63 percent since 2000, and the number of jobs with health coverage declined 12 percent. Seventy-four percent more people�it's now almost one in 10�spend at least a quarter of their income for health care than was the case in 2000.

In Mississippi, the number of people who are below the poverty line is up 8 percent, bankruptcies are up 27 percent and home foreclosures are up 92 percent.

On a national level, "The Stress Test" reports:

American Workers Get an Overdue Pay Raise

With all of the talk about the conservative obstructionism in Congress that is keeping important bills from becoming law, Tuesday brings something worth celebrating: The federal minimum wage, which had been frozen at $5.15 an hour for almost 10 years, increases 70 cents an hour, to $5.85 cents an hour.

The minimum wage increase is the one item on the Democrats' change agenda that has actually become law since the party took control of Congress last year. It came at what some activists consider too high a price, since it was attached to a measure authorizing continued funding for the Iraq war as well as a package of business tax cuts. Nonetheless, for more than 5.3 million workers, the increase is real, and real important as the first step in a broader effort to improve conditions for working people in America.

The sponsor of the minimum wage increase bill in the House, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif, has called the increase a "down payment" on a larger effort to make sure that American workers receive their fair share of the wealth their labor produces.

"Thirteen million Americans will be able to better provide for their families because of action taken by this Democratic Congress to raise the minimum wage," Miller said in a statement his office issued Friday. "In the wealthiest country in the history of the world, it is an outrage that anyone who works full-time would still wind up in poverty. Everyone who puts in an honest day's work should receive a fair day's pay. That's why, as a first step, this minimum wage increase is so urgently needed."

It is also a day to reemphasize that while conservatives insist on doling out favors to America's richest, with the predictable outcome that the wealthiest 1 percent have massively profited while the bottom 20 percent have fallen behind in the Bush era, a progressive economic policy of ensuring fair wages and benefits for workers helps the entire economy.

"I think it is very symbolic that this was our first accomplishment," said Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. He added that it was particularly, and sadly, ironic that a bill intended to help people at the bottom of the economic ladder was attached to a bill that continued the administration's catastrophic policies in Iraq. It showed the contrast between the priorities of the Democrats and those of the Bush administration, Cohen said. Cohen and Miller were among the members of the House who spoke to bloggers and progressive radio hosts in the Capitol Tuesday in a room set up by the Democrats to celebrate the minimum wage increase.

John Arensmeyer, a former owner of an e-commerce company who now is president of Small Business Majority, said in an interview I did with him that all of the evidence that he has seen from such organizations as the Fiscal Policy Institute and the Economic Policy Institute is that "when you have a higher minimum wage, you have a healthier economy."

"In order to have a healthy, stable, 21st century economy, it's necessary to have a wage floor that approximates the minimum you can live on," Arensmeyer said. While conceding that there are some differences in the economics of running a technology firm and a restaurant or a small grocery store, he said that in his own experience "at the end of the day it was worth it to pay a little more" for a more loyal, committed worker.

And while some businesses may have to increase prices to cover the cost of increased worker pay, there is also increased spending power to offset those increased costs. In the end, the economy is better off.

Two more 70-cent wage increases are on the horizon as a result of the bill passed by Congress, which would bring the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour by July 2009. That sounds great-but consider this: In my first jobs as a teenager in Washington D.C., I earned what was the federal minimum wage from 1968 to 1974, $1.60 an hour. The equivalent wage today, if the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation, would be $8.96 an hour. (You can use one of several consumer price index calculators available on the Internet, such as this one from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, to compare the new federal minimum wage to the wage you earned at your first job.)

A multi-front offensive helped overcome obstinate conservative opposition to the minimum wage increase. It included well-honed economic arguments, state-level initiative campaigns, compelling personal stories, hardball electoral politics and the framing of the issue in moral terms. Given the continued Republican intransigence on everything else on the Democrats' "new direction" to-do list, all of that and more will be needed in the coming weeks to break through the wall of resistnce set up by Senate Republicans and the White House.

"We just keep prodding and keep trying to raise the visibility of these issues," Miller told me in an interview. "Clearly in the case of the minimum wage there was so much agitation in this country to get this done; it had been 10 years and people said, 'Get over it. Get it done'—which works every now and then in Congress."

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