If you won’t speak up for yourself, who will?

— by Nick Hanauer, via Democracy for America

President Obama and the Department of Labor just proposed giving millions of Americans a raise, increasing the overtime threshold from $23,600 a year to $50,440. From the fearful squawks coming from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business lobbyists you’d think the sky was falling.

But all this trickle-down scare-talk about job-killing regulations and unintended economic consequences is just that — trickle-down scare talk —  without an ounce of empirical data to back it up.

Business lobbies are already hollering this will kill jobs. Baloney. We call it: Chicken Little Economics.

Far from the end of the world, middle-class Americans never did better than when the overtime threshold  —  the annual salary below which workers are automatically entitled to time-and-a-half overtime pay — was at its peak.

President Obama’s plan is a courageous step in the right direction. It’s like a minimum wage hike for the middle class. The Department of Labor has started the rule-making process to make the increase official. They’re taking public comment right now, and we need you to let them know you support it.

Say no to Chicken Little Economics! Join me, Robert Reich, and Democracy for America and tell the Department of Labor that you support President Obama’s plan to raise overtime pay.

A half-century ago, more than 60 percent of salaried workers qualified for overtime pay. But after 40 years in which the threshold has been allowed to steadily erode, only about 8 percent do. If you feel like you’re working longer hours for less money than your parents did, it’s probably because you are.

The erosion of overtime and other labor protections is one of the main factors leading to worsening inequality. But a higher threshold would help reverse this trend.

Under the higher salary threshold, employers would have a choice: They could either pay you time-and-half for your extra hours worked, or they could hire more workers at the standard rate to fill your previously unpaid hours. Employers could put more money into your pockets, or put more leisure time at your disposal while directly adding more jobs. And either would be great for workers and great for boosting economic growth.

Submit your comment to the Department of Labor today: tell them to raise the overtime threshold.

Here’s why the right-wing and the business lobbyists are wrong about overtime. Lower- and middle-income workers don’t stash their earnings in offshore accounts the way CEOs do . When workers have more money, they spend it. Businesses have more customers; and when businesses have more customers, they hire more workers.

A higher overtime threshold would increase total employment, tightening the labor market and driving up real wages for the first time since the late 1990s.

Conservative pundits and politicians will attempt to preserve the status quo by warning that a return to more reasonable overtime standards would somehow cripple our economy, hurting the exact same workers we intend to help.

But that’s what they always warn about every regulation – from the minimum wage, to Obamacare, to child labor laws. Yet it never turns out to be true. And trickle-down economics looks more like Chicken Little Economics with every passing day.

Let’s put an end to Chicken Little Economics. Join me, Robert Reich, and DFA: tell the Department of Labor you support the new overtime rules.

Thank you for taking a stand against income inequality.

Corporate Rights Trump Women’s Health in Hobby Lobby Ruling

‘This ruling goes out of its way to declare that discrimination against women isn’t discrimination.’

– Lauren McCauley, staff writer at Common Dreams


Defenders of women’s health and reproductive freedom are reacting with anger to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Monday which ruled that an employer with religious objection can opt out of providing contraception coverage to their employees under the Affordable Care Act.

Writing for the majority side of the 5-4 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Justice Samuel Alito argued that the “the HHS mandate demands that they engage in conduct that seriously violates [employers’] religious beliefs.”

Rights advocates were quick to condemn the court’s decision.

“Today’s decision from five male justices is a direct attack on women and our fundamental rights. This ruling goes out of its way to declare that discrimination against women isn’t discrimination,” said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

“Allowing bosses this much control over the health-care decisions of their employees is a slippery slope with no end,” Hogue continued. “Every American could potentially be affected by this far-reaching and shocking decision that allows bosses to reach beyond the boardroom and into their employees’ bedrooms. The majority claims that its ruling is limited, but that logic doesn’t hold up. Today it’s birth control; tomorrow it could be any personal medical decision, from starting a family to getting life-saving vaccinations or blood transfusions.”

Ninety-nine percent of sexually active women in the U.S. use birth control for a variety of health reasons, according to research by women’s health organizations.

“The fact of the matter is that birth control is a wildly popular and medically necessary part of women’s health care,” said Nita Chaudhary, co-founder of UltraViolet, a national women’s advocacy organization.Chaudhary adds that despite it’s clear necessity for the reproductive health of the majority of women, one in three women have struggled at some point to afford birth control.

Monday’s ruling focuses specifically on companies that are “closely-held,” which analysts report covers over 90 percent of businesses in the United States.

The dissenting opinion, penned by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and supported by Justice Sonia Sotomayor and mostly joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer, acknowledges that the decision was of “startling breadth” and said that it allows companies to “opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

The opinion was based largely on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which provides that a law that burdens a person’s religious beliefs must be justified by a compelling government interest.

“There is an overriding interest, I believe, in keeping the courts ‘out of the business of evaluating the relative merits of differing religious claims,'” Ginsburg adds, concluding: “The Court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”

Echoing Ginsburg’s concern, Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State called the ruling “a double-edged disaster,” saying it “conjures up fake religious freedom rights for corporations while being blind to the importance of birth control to America’s working women.”

Similar reactions were expressed on Twitter following the news. Summarizing the crux of the decision, NBC producer Jamil Smith wrote:

The Hobby Lobby decision means that in terms of personhood, corporations > women. And Christianity > everyone else.

— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) June 30, 2014

Others, joining Ginsburg’s outrage that now “legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs” would be denied essential health coverage, expressed their opinions under the banner “#jointhedissent.”

#jointhedissent Tweets

The majority opinion leaves open the possibility that the federal government can cover the cost of contraceptives for women whose employers opt out, leaving many to look to the Obama administration for their next move.


  This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

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A Win For Workplace Fairness

— by CAP Action War Room, The Progress Report

President Obama Just Announced The Single Largest Expansion Of LGBT Workplace Protections In Our Country’s History


As many as 9 out of 10 voters believe federal law already protects LGBT workers from discrimination. But it doesn’t. And while the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) was passed by the Senate this year, it has stalled in the House; Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has made it clear that there is “no way” ENDA will pass this year.

Enter the latest chapter of the Obama Administration’s “year of action.” The White House announced today that President Obama will issue an executive order requiring that all companies who contract with the federal government must not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Think Progress reporter Zack Ford has the details:

The order, expected to be finalized in the coming weeks, is an extension of orders previously issued by past presidents — most recently Johnson — similarly banning employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin among all contractors and subcontractors who do over $10,000 in business with the government in any one year.

The protections will reach over one million LGBT workers across the country, making it the single largest expansion of LGBT workplace protections in our country’s history. There continue to be 29 states that offer no employment protections on the basis of sexual orientation and 32 with no protections based on gender identity, but many LGBT workers in those states will now have workplace protections for the first time ever. As many as 43 percent of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people and 90 percent of transgender people have experienced some form of harassment or discrimination in the workplace.

As with Obama’s executive order raising the minimum wage for employees of federal contractors to $10.10, this order will cover an enormous number of people but still relies on Congress to pass a law making sure that millions more LGBT Americans have the freedom to work.

Recently, some LGBT advocates have been giving second thoughts to the current ENDA bill in Congress, based on a religious liberty exemption that could have the potential interpreted too broadly. Here’s Zack Ford again:

The LGBT movement has also become increasingly divided over whether ENDA in its current form is worth pursuing. After two decades of failed consideration in Congress, the bill has been weakened by an exemption that would grant religious organizations unprecedented privilege to continue discriminating against LGBT people. A number of state groups and legal organizations have recently dropped their support for ENDA because they believe that the exemption goes too far and codifies into law the idea that LGBT identities are incompatible with faith. The executive order is thus an important step even if ENDA eventually passes.

BOTTOM LINE: Americans of any sexual orientation and gender identity should have the freedom to work and the right to equal treatment in the workplace. President Obama’s latest executive action is the biggest expansion of those rights in American history. There is more left to be done when it comes to giving all Americans equal protection, and Congress should follow the President’s lead by passing a federal law that ends unfair and discriminatory workplace practices that hurt LGBT workers and their families.

Resources on LGBT Workplace Discrimination:

This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.

Are We Doomed to Ever More Inequality?

New research suggests that we’re certainly headed that way unless we go beyond token changes.

— by Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati

America’s ongoing debate over economic inequality may be turning a new page.

Starting in the 1980s, during the debate’s first chapter, pundits and policymakers battled over whether the United States was in fact becoming more unequal. This initial debate is over now. No serious analyst argues any longer that the gulf between America’s rich and everyone else hasn’t jumped substantially.

The debate’s second chapter — over the impact of the wealth of the ultra-rich — is still playing out. A decade ago, mainstream orthodoxy held that we didn’t need to worry about how much wealth the ultra-rich were amassing. We needed to focus instead — and only — on creating opportunity for people at the bottom of the economic ladder.


This perspective has lost substantial ground. Most top analysts now agree that we endanger our democracy and destabilize our economy whenever we let income and wealth concentrate.

Today’s inequality experts have moved on. They’re now debating a more fundamental proposition. Is growing inequality, they’re asking, the default for modern market economies?

Before World War II, that seemed to be the case. Deep inequality and equally deep economic crises appeared inevitable in market economies. Then, in the decades right after World War II, everything seemed to change.

The United States became significantly more equal. The wealthy saw their share of national income plummet. A new prosperous mass-middle class took shape, first in the United States and then across the developed world.

But this middle class golden age didn’t last. Since the 1970s, our plutocrats have returned and middle class prosperity has faded. Can that prosperity be restored?

Enter the French economist Thomas Piketty, a global superstar on matters of distribution. A dozen years ago, a Piketty book on French incomes helped revolutionize how researchers calculate — and think about — the incomes of society’s richest.

All those numbers you see about the incomes of America’s top 1 percent? They typically trace back to Piketty’s pioneering work. Now this French scholar has a new book, due out this March in English, and some of the world’s most respected experts on inequality are positively swooning over it.

The World Bank’s Branko Milanovic has dubbed Piketty’s new work, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, “one of the watershed books in economic thinking.”

Piketty’s analysis actually begins back in the 18th century. This historical sweep helps him present equality’s mid-20th century heyday as an “unrepeatable phenomenon,” the product of cataclysmic world war and severe shocks to the body politic.

In the mid-20th century epoch, Piketty details, the economies of major developed nations grew at a faster rate than the return the wealthy could collect from their income-producing assets. That had never happened before — and hasn’t since. The return from capital — the income that asset ownership generates — has always outpaced the overall economic growth rate.

Why does this matter? The wealthy own a disproportionate share of society’s assets. If the income these assets generate is rising faster than the economy is growing, society’s wealth will inevitably end up concentrating at the top, as we’ve seen over the past four decades.

Left uninterrupted, Piketty argues, this dynamic might well return us to levels of inequality last seen in 19th-century Europe, a time when the top 1 percent held 60 percent of all wealth — almost double the share of national wealth America’s current top 1 percent holds.

What will it take to interrupt this intense wealth concentration? Nothing short of full-throttled redistribution, says Piketty. We would need to levy a progressive wealth tax on a global scale to prevent the world’s super rich from shifting their assets to low-tax havens.

Piketty’s work, in effect, changes our frame of reference. If modern market economies generate growing inequality as a matter of course, then reversing that inequality will take a great deal more than a few tweaks around the edges.

OtherWords columnist Sam Pizzigati, an Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow, edits the inequality weekly Too Much. His latest book is The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class. OtherWords.org

Seven Terrible State Bills

— by ThinkProgress War Room | Mar 27, 2013

Recently, we discussed some of the terrible bills floating around out there in state legislatures. Here’s another look at some of the worst proposals, including a couple that were signed into law this week:

  • NORTH DAKOTA: The state’s Republican governor signed a trifecta of terrible anti-abortion bills, which are likely to have the effect of banning abortion in the state. One bill unconstitutionally bans abortion after just six weeks, which is before many women even know they’re pregnant. An even more insidious bill takes up the anti-abortion movement’s favorite new tactic: drastic overregulation of abortion clinics to all but guarantee that they will have to close. These so-called TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws are also moving in North CarolinaMississippiTexasAlabama, and Virginia.
  • KANSAS: A new bill will allow the state to quarantine HIV positive individuals, something Kansas actually banned back in 1988.
  • INDIANA: An anti-abortion bill was going to mandate forced ultrasounds before a woman is provided with the abortion pill. Lawmakers explain that they are dropping the controversial provision in order to focus on their real goal: regulating abortion clinics out of existence.
  • VIRGINIA: Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-VA) signed a bill that will mandate that Virginians present photo identification when they vote, which will disproportionately impact young people, minorities, and the elderly.
  • KENTUCKY: The legislature passed a so-called “religious freedom” bill that allows individuals to ignore laws based on the vague notion of “sincerely held religious beliefs,” opening the door to discrimination against LGBT people, among other problems. Gov. Steve Beshear (D) vetoed the bill, but unfortunately his veto was overridden yesterday.
  • PENNSYLVANIA: Top Republicans in the state have yet to abandon a GOP plan to rig steal the White House by rigging the distribution of the state’s Electoral College votes. Republicans in Virginia, Florida, Wisconsin, and other states dropped the idea, but Pennsylvania Republicans are keeping it on the table.
  • ARKANSAS: In addition to its race to the bottom on abortion, Arkansas is considering some highly regressive tax changes. As part of an effort meant to stimulate growth, an Arkansas legislative committee passed two tax cuts that will largely benefit the rich and then rejected one that would benefit the working poor. A recent study found that state-level tax cuts don’t promote job growth.

Another week, another set of terrible proposals moving out in state legislatures.

Evening Brief: Important Stories That You Might’ve Missed

This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.