Action Alert: Speed Aid to the People Not to the Corporate Class

March 24th, 2020 - by Robert Weissman / Public Citizen & Robert Reich / The Guardian UK & Linette Lopez / Business Insider

We Are at War: Tell Trump to Speed Mobilization to Slow the Pandemic —

Robert Weissman / Public Citizen 

 (March 21, 2020) — This is a global challenge with no precedent in our lifetimes. We are, in essence, at war with the coronavirus. We must act accordingly. 

The coronavirus is threatening to overwhelm our entire health care system. Medical professionals don’t even have enough of basic supplies like the cotton swabs needed to administer tests. 

Think about that for a second: Our ability to defend ourselves from this pandemic could come down to a lack of something as seemingly insignificant as cotton swabs. 

There’s also a beyond-severe shortage of other critical equipment, like masks and ventilators. And without markedly expanding our nation’s manufacturing capacity, once a vaccine is developed we still wouldn’t be able to make it fast enough or in sufficient quantities. 

The federal government can — and is the ONLY entity that can — solve these problems. 

President Trump must immediately wield something called the Defense Production Act — historically used in time of war — under which the government can compel American companies to prioritize making goods required for national security. 

Trump has suggested he will use the law at some point. We need it now.

ACTION: Tell Trump to employ the Defense Production Act RIGHT NOW to drive generation of the supplies, treatments and capacity that our health care system, and the world’s people, are desperate for. Add your name.
Thanks for taking action. Stay safe. 
Robert Weissman is the president of Public Citizen 
PS: This message is part of our ongoing outreach to help you stay informed and involved as our nation and the world grapple with the coronavirus emergency. Public Citizen, 1600 20th Street NW, Washington DC 20009.

Reich on the Trump Bailout

It’s Morally Repulsive How Corporations Are Exploiting This Crisis. Workers Will Suffer

Robert Reich / The Guardian UK

Using power and privilege to exploit the weak and vulnerable in the face of a common threat is morally repugnant. Call it ‘Burring’ after Richard Burr’s stock sell-off

 (March 23, 2020) — Societies gripped by cataclysmic wars, depressions or pandemics can become acutely sensitive to power and privilege.

Weeks before the coronavirus virus crushed the US stock market, the Republican senator Richard Burr apparently used information he gleaned from his role as chairman of the Senate intelligence committee about the ferocity of the coming pandemic to unload 33 stocks held by him and his spouse. They were estimated at being worth between $628,033 and $1.72 million in some industries likely to be hardest hit by the global outbreak.

While publicly parroting Trump’s happy talk at the time, Burr confided to several of his political funders that the disease would be comparable to the deadly 1918 flu pandemic.

Then the market tanked, along with the retirement savings of millions of Americans.

Even some pundits on Fox News are now calling for Burr’s resignation.

When society faces a common threat, exploiting a special advantage is morally repugnant. Call it “Burring” However tolerable Burring may be in normal times, it isn’t now.

In normal times, corporations get special favors from Washington in exchange for generous campaign contributions, and no one bats an eye. Recall the Trump tax cut, which delivered $1.9 trillion to big corporations and the wealthy.

The coronavirus should have altered business as usual. But last week’s Senate Republican relief package, giving airlines $58 billion and billions more to other industries, is pure Burring.

The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, tried lamely to distinguish it from the notorious bank bailouts of 2008. “We are not talking about a taxpayer-funded cushion for companies that made mistakes. We are talking about loans, which must be repaid, for American employers whom the government itself is temporarily crushing for the sake of public health.”

But the airlines are big enough to get their own loans from banks at rock-bottom interest rates. Their planes and landing slots are more than adequate collateral.

Why do airlines deserve to be bailed out? Over the last decade they spent 96%of their free cashflow, including billions in tax savings from the Trump tax cut, to buy back shares of their own stock. This boosted executive bonuses and pleased wealthy investors but did nothing to strengthen the airlines for the long term. Meanwhile, the four biggest carriers gained so much market power they jacked up prices on popular routes and slashed services (remember legroom and free bag checks?).

United’s CEO, Oscar Munoz, did his own Burring on Friday, warning that if Congress doesn’t bail out the airline by the end of March, United will start firing its employees. But even if bailed out, what are the odds United would keep paying all its workers if the pandemic forced it to stop flying? The bailout would be for shareholders and executives, not workers.

While generous toward airlines and other industries, the Republican bill is absurdly stingy toward people, stipulating a one-time payment of up to $1,200 for every adult and $500 per child. Some 64m households with incomes below $50,000 would get as little as $600. This will do almost nothing to help job-losers pay their mortgages, rents and other bills for the duration of the crisis, expected to be at least the next three months.

The Republican coronavirus bill is about as Burring as legislation can be — exposing the underlying structure of power in America as clearly as Burr’s stock trades. In this national crisis, it’s just as morally repulsive.

Take a look at how big corporations are treating their hourly workers in this pandemic and you see more Burring.

Walmart, the largest employer in America, doesn’t give its employees paid sick leave, and limits its 500,000 part-time workers to 48 hours paid time off per year. This Burring policy is now threatening countless lives. (On one survey, 88% of Walmart employees report sometimes coming to work when sick.)

None of the giants of the fast-food industry — McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Duncan Donuts, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Subway — gives their workers paid sick leave, either.

Amazon, one of the richest corporations in the world, which paid almost no taxes last year, is offering unpaid time off for workers who are sick and just two weeks paid leave for workers who test positive for the virus. Meanwhile, it demands its employees put in mandatory overtime.

Here’s the most Burring thing of all: these corporations have made sure they and other companies with more than 500 employees are exempt from the requirement in the House coronavirus bill that employers provide paid sick leave.

At a time when almost everyone feels burdened and fearful, the use of power and privilege to exploit the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of others is morally intolerable.

We are all in this together, or should be. Whatever form it takes, Burring must be stopped.

The GOP Coronavirus Relief Package Is a Dream for Big Corporations, and a Nightmare for Struggling Americans

Linette Lopez / Business Insider

 (March 20, 2020) — At a press conference on Thursday, President Donald Trump reiterated that his administration wants to put workers first in its efforts to mitigate the economic devastation caused by the spread of coronavirus.

And while that is ideal, his party is crafting legislation that does just the opposite.

The administration on Tuesday said they were crafting a rescue package of at least $1 trillion which included plans to send checks to Americans “in about 2 weeks,” according to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

But Mnuchin’s two weeks turned into “before the end of April” in a meeting with Senate Republicans immediately following the press conference. After that it went back to early April, but the payment — at least for poor Americans — became less generous.

According to a bill released Thursday, Republicans are now talking about prioritizing money for “taxpayers” (by which they mean only income tax, not things like sales tax which all Americans pay). Under this plan, Americans who make less than $75,000 would get up to $1,200 while poor families who pay less in taxes would get $600.

It’s also been reported that GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham and soon-to-be White House Chief of Staff Rep. Mark Meadows are actively trying to convince Trump to reject these cash payments all together.

This idea is ludicrous, stingy, and harmful to our economy and society in crisis.

In fact there are a bunch of ideas in this bill that would do nothing to help struggling Americans:

  • The bill waives nutrition requirements for meals for senior citizens — the population most likely to get sick and end up needing care.
  • And of course, in the Senate Republican bill big corporations get a huge tax cut. In fact, they would pay far less tax on their foreign entities. Making them bring cash home from abroad was one of the selling points of the GOP tax cut that was passed at the end of 2017. Corporate lobbyists have been working against it ever since. Now, in the middle of a crisis, they got it.

All of that is stomach churning, but the worst part is what will happen to low income families. Punishing Americas poorest at a time like this is not only callous, but would slow our economy’s recovery.

If there’s anything we’ve learned from China’s experience with coronavirus, it’s that you want to keep the economy as going as normally as possible while people are practicing social distancing. That means ensuring that people can pay as many bills as possible and that, when the social distancing period is over, people have money in their pockets to spend again.

We need to be generous to *everyone right now. It’s the only way we’re going to get through this with minimal damage. Unemployment claims are about to explode, with data from only 15 states putting them somewhere around 600,000 and the possibility that as many as a million people could file for unemployment insurance over the next week. Wall Street is now coming to terms with the idea that this could be the worst global recession since WWII.

House Democrats are trying to put together a more generous plan, offering Americans $2,000 a month with an additional $1,000 for every child until the crisis is over. This is more like it. But all of this needs to move faster. We don’t have time for callous proposals, we have to do right by Americans right now. 

Trump’s party should put our money where his mouth is and actually help all American workers through this calamity, not grandstand on ideology to hurt the poor.

Except companies that spent all their cashflow on stock buybacks during boom times and are now asking for a bailout. The President said on Thursday that they should be treated differently from companies that invested their money. I agree. They shouldn’t be allowed to do stock buybacks if they accept taxpayer money, and their executive compensation should be regulated.

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