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Richard (RJ) Eskow
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Richard (RJ) is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America’s Future and the host of The Zero Hour, a weekly program of news, interviews, and commentary on We Act Radio. The Zero Hour is syndicated nationally and is available as a podcast on iTunes. Richard has been a consultant, public policy advisor, and health executive in health financing and social insurance. He was cited as one of “fifty of the world’s leading futurologists” in “The Rough Guide to the Future,” which highlighted his long-range forecasts on health care, evolution, technology, and economic equality. Richard's writing has been published in print and online. He has also been anthologized three times in book form for “Best Buddhist Writing of the Year.”

Entries by Richard (RJ) Eskow

The Middle Class and Working Poor's Lifelong Losing Game -- In 10 Slides

(55) Comments | Posted September 16, 2014 | 8:27 AM

They say a picture's worth a thousand words. If that's true, the following 10 images could provide the lyrics for a thousand blues songs. The graphs are taken from series of recent reports which, when considered together, create a paint-by-numbers picture of the lifelong losing game faced by working Americans.

...
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5 Reasons the SEC's Executive-Pay Rules Matter -- And 5 Ways to Use Them

(0) Comments | Posted September 11, 2014 | 10:42 AM

Two little-known rules on corporate reporting of executive pay are currently being reviewed by the Securities and Exchange Commission. While they have received almost no press coverage, these rules could have far-reaching consequences for our nation's economy and the future of the middle class.

The Dodd Frank law requires corporations...

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Dems Can Win on Social Security -- By Fighting to Increase It

(33) Comments | Posted September 9, 2014 | 10:26 PM

A new poll confirms that voters don't just want their Social Security benefits protected, they want them expanded - in overwhelming numbers, across geographical distances, and crossing all party lines. It's not just "liberals" who feel that way. Three out of four Republican voters support it.

What's more, voters...

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Democrats in DC Must Fight for More Jobs -- Or Risk Losing Their Own

(8) Comments | Posted September 8, 2014 | 11:29 AM

Investors got some great news last Friday, even as the report for job seekers was far worse than expected. August job figures came in far below economists' expectations (which, even if reached, would have been insufficient to bring a swift end to our employment crisis.)

"The remarkably weak GDP growth...

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Democrats, Meet the Minimum-Wage Movement

(66) Comments | Posted September 5, 2014 | 11:26 AM

"We're a movement now," fast-food worker Latoya Caldwell said Wednesday of the effort by employees in her industry to raise their minimum wage to $15 per hour. That movement's latest action was a one-day strike that took place in 150 cities across the country on Thursday. It included acts of...

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Looks Like The 'Burger King's' Subjects Are Royally Pissed Off

(75) Comments | Posted August 28, 2014 | 10:39 PM

Tolstoy wrote in War and Peace that "kings are the slaves of history." And when the "king" in question depends on the patronage of happy customers for his well-being, his monarchy is also a slave to public opinion. Unfortunately for Burger King, which intends to renounce its American status for tax...

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Obamacare's "Secret Trick"

(7) Comments | Posted August 27, 2014 | 10:30 AM

Our economy is broken. There's one economy for the wealthy, and another for the rest of us. This division has been worsened by the behavior of corporate executives who manage their corporations for short-term personal gain, rather than for long-term fiscal soundness.

Could a "secret trick" help change that?

This...

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A Stock-Market Milestone Is Reached, But Who Cares?

(3) Comments | Posted August 26, 2014 | 11:38 AM

There was great economic news on Monday -- for somebody.

Monday morning the stock market passed another historic milestone, as the S&P 500 composite index briefly passed the 2,000 mark before ending the day on a record-breaking high. That barrier had symbolic value for many investors, although perhaps not as much...

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Robots Are People, Too

(1) Comments | Posted August 21, 2014 | 2:57 PM

"This is an economic revolution," a new online video says about automation. The premise of "Humans Need Not Apply" is that human work will soon be all but obsolete.

"You may think we've been here before, but we haven't," says CGP Grey, the video's creator. "This time is different."

The video...

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Happy Birthday, Social Security - But Stay Away From That Cake!

(6) Comments | Posted August 14, 2014 | 9:39 AM

August 14th is Social Security's birthday, and I keep having this nightmare. In it, 300 million Americans are singing Social Security's praises and celebrating its 79th year. Then a giant cake is rolled out while everybody sings "Happy Birthday" - and out pops Alan Simpson, looking like Freddy Krueger and...

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'Running as Democrats While Sounding Republican' -- Hey, What Could Go Wrong?

(10) Comments | Posted August 12, 2014 | 10:52 AM

They say that one swallow doesn't make a summer, and one Politico story certainly doesn't make a campaign season. But if a recent article there is correct -- if the Democratic Party's strategy this year really is "Running as a Dem (while) sounding like a Republican" -- then the...

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How Big Is a $16 Billion Bank Fraud Settlement, Really?

(6) Comments | Posted August 8, 2014 | 11:26 AM

Preliminary reports say that a $16 to $17 billion settlement will soon be announced between the Justice Department and Bank of America. That would break the record for the largest bank settlement in history, set less than a year ago by a $13 billion agreement between Justice and...

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As Congress Adjourns, GOP Declares 'Omission Accomplished'

(23) Comments | Posted August 4, 2014 | 10:19 AM

Our long national nightmare is over -- for the moment. Congress has adjourned for summer recess after a session which can safely be described as "historic," both for its historic lack of accomplishment and the historically low regard in which it is now held by the public.

But...

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Don't Panic! We Can Expand Social Security and Medicare

(22) Comments | Posted July 29, 2014 | 10:56 AM

Actuarial science is the art of prediction. And speaking of predictions, here's one that hasn't been wrong yet: No matter what new data emerge about Social Security and Medicare, the well-funded opponents of those two worthy programs will always insist that we're on the brink of catastrophe -- unless something...

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Keith Ellison and the Worker-Led Wage Wave [Video]

(2) Comments | Posted July 28, 2014 | 4:42 PM

Rep. Keith Ellison, activist Joseph Geevarghese, and Eskow on The Zero Hour


There were no formalities when we interviewed Rep. Keith Ellison, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and activist Joseph Geevarghese on the crowded and clamorous floor of this month's Netroots Nation conference. Ellison made his position clear as soon as we began rolling tape, saying "the real story today, in my humble view, is not income inequality."

"The real story is what we're doing about income inequality."

"There are green shoots popping up all over this country," he added, citing worker-driven organizations like Good Jobs Nation.

Throughout the course of the conversation, Ellison and Geevarghese listed progressive movement successes, past and present. Added Ellison:

"We're not in confusion about who is leading the drive for a fair economy. It is the workers. As members of Congress, these are our constituents. We're doing nothing but heeding the call of the people ... We in the Progressive Caucus see ourselves as the legislative arm of this wave of this wave of progressive action."

We asked Ellison about the (probably apocryphal) Franklin D. Roosevelt story, in which he met with progressive organizers and told them, "I agree with you. Now go out there and make me do it."

"We're not saying 'make us do it,'" answered Ellison. "We're saying 'what's our assignment now?'"

We asked Geevarghese and Ellison the question we've asked other politicians, activists, and leaders: Are the days of the prosperous middle class we knew in the fifties and sixties gone?

"Those days can be restored," said Ellison, "with some stout organization that's going on now."

"The way the American middle class was built in the fifties," added Geevarghese, "started in the thirties and forties with widespread strikes and sitdowns and walkouts..."

If progressives in Congress are waging a joint struggle with workers, its first front has been the minimum wage. With a Republican majority adamantly opposed to change and Democratic leadership that has often been less than fully engaged, the struggle has led to a series of worker actions around the country -- most notably among fast-food and Walmart workers.

The action has recently shifted to the federal government, which spends $1 trillion annually to employ five million workers through contracts for concessions, services, goods, loans, and grants. Good Jobs Nation reports that the federal government is the nation's largest employer of low-wage workers. Geevarghese noted that momentum for federal action built during a series of worker actions at Washington locations which included the Pentagon, the Ronald Reagan Building, the Old Post Office, Union Station, and the American History, Air and Space, and Natural History museums.

In the video, Ellison contrasted recent government policy with FDR's insistence that government jobs pay a good wage. These workers actions, along with expressions of support from a variety of progressive allies, helped build the momentum -- and the pressure -- which led to President Obama's recent Executive Order requiring all federal contractors to pay a minimum of $10.10 per hour. (The order takes effect upon renewal of each contract.)

The next front in the living-wage struggle, at least on the federal level, is likely to take the form of an attack on wage theft. This is the practice of systematically robbing low-wage employees of earned income with tactics that include fraudulently assigning hours to different locations to bypass overtime laws and pressuring front-line supervisors to falsify records by lowering the number of hours worked. (Former McDonald's shift supervisor Kwanza Brooks told us how she and other managers conducted wage theft in the clip below.)

Former McDonald's shift supervisor Kwanza Brooks discusses wage theft

Wage theft is a far greater problem than most people realize. Researchers in Los Angeles County found, for example, that workers there were losing $1 billion per year to it. Losses came to more than $2,000 per year on annual income of just over $16,500.

Good Jobs Nation estimates that 35 percent of the nation's top 100 wage-stealing corporations are federal contractors. In a hearing held by the Congressional Progressive Caucus last Thursday, Congress heard from workers who had been defrauded and had been subjected to illegal retaliation after raising objections (from employers who continue to enjoy lucrative government contracts).

Ellison and Geevarghese noted that the Executive Order which raised the baseline wage for federal workers appears to have had a ripple effect. The mayor of New York City and the leader of the Cherokee Nation have both subsequently issued similar orders, and the wage floor has since been raised at Delta Airlines, American Airlines, and The Gap.

While they praise the president for his $10.10 Executive Order, observers have pointed out that he could do more for federal workers with additional orders. From the New York Times "Taking Note" blog:

"(The president) could ... require preferential treatment in the federal bidding process for employers who offer better pay and benefits than their competitors. He could use executive orders to improve compliance among contractors with wage and safety standards ... He could require companies that seek to do business with the federal government to have a record of fostering and maintaining labor peace..."

Times contributor Teresa Tritch also noted that the $10.10/hour requirement could be "expanded to cover businesses and workers that provide the government with goods, including uniforms, food and other supplies."

Tritch offers a good summary of needed actions. If the recent past is a predictor, they'll only become reality if working Americans first demand them -- and then find elected allies like Keith Ellison to help make them a reality.

This post was originally published by the Campaign for America's Future. The Zero Hour is

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Chiding CEOs, At Walgreens & Other Corporate Defectors

(14) Comments | Posted July 24, 2014 | 11:59 AM

Walgreens is the pharmacy that, at least according to its website, can be found "at the corner of Happy & Healthy." If its executives have their way, however, it may soon be found near the intersection of Ziegelackerstrasse and Untermattweg in Bern, Switzerland. By acquiring a much smaller Swiss company...

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Snakes and Ladders at Netroots Nation

(0) Comments | Posted July 21, 2014 | 10:59 AM

At the emotional high point of this year's Netroots Nation conference in Detroit, Rev. William Barber II concluded his roof-raising opening-night invocation by asking, "Can I be a preacher for three minutes?"

"My son is an environmental physicist," Rev. Barber said, "and he told me, 'Daddy, if you ever get...

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Are Disabled Americans Pawns in a Larger Social Security Game?

(5) Comments | Posted July 16, 2014 | 10:59 AM

Sen. Sherrod Brown discusses Social Security expansion with me on The Zero Hour

William Galston writes in the Wall Street Journal about a Republican senator's plans to force a confrontation on government disability benefits....

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7 Reasons Consumers Won't Love the $7 Billion Citigroup Deal

(6) Comments | Posted July 15, 2014 | 8:56 AM

The Justice Department's settlement with Citigroup was finally announced yesterday. A $7 billion settlement against a too-big-to-fail bank? What's not to love?

We'll answer that with another question: If the settlement that the Justice Department just negotiated with Citigroup is meant as punitive, why did Citigroup's stock go up when...

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Citigroup's $7 Billion Fraud Deal: The Clique's Still Clicking in DC

(3) Comments | Posted July 10, 2014 | 11:38 PM

Pop quiz: Which bank is widely considered too big to fail, needed (and got) a $45 billion government loan during the financial crisis, recently failed a stress test performed by the Federal Reserve -- and has enjoyed a revolving-door relationship with both the Clinton and Obama administrations?

If you answered...

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