Labor unions call for repeal of Trump tax cuts

Top U.S. labor unions are saying they’ve had enough of the Trump tax cuts and want them repealed.

Unions including the United Auto Workers (UAW), the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA), and the National Education Association joined dozens of progressive groups on Tuesday in sending a letter to Congressional leaders that blasted the Trump cuts as unfairly designed and fiscally irresponsible.

The Trump tax law, known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), “made massive and permanent cuts to corporate taxes and temporary cuts to individual and estate taxes that have largely benefitted the wealthy and eroded tax revenues,” they wrote to Congressional leadership and the heads of the top tax-writing committees.

Individual provisions in the Trump tax cuts are set to expire next year and the 2024 election will determine whether they are renewed, modified or ditched altogether. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that extending the individual cuts will cost $3.3 trillion through 2035.

But the unions, following the lead of some other progressive organizations, are saying they want to think beyond the will-they-won’t-they framework of the possible extensions and for the tax code to be overhauled.

“Tax reform must result in a more progressive tax code that asks higher-income and higher-wealth households, corporations, and Wall Street to pay a greater share of their income in tax than they would in the absence of the TCJA,” they said.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) substantiated the union claims in 2019, finding that “the individual income tax cut largely went to higher-income individuals.”

The TCJA’s decrease in the corporate rate, which was dropped from 35 percent down to 21 percent, did not result in higher real wages for workers, which grew in 2018 by less than the overall growth in labor compensation.

“This … indicates that ordinary workers had very little growth in wage rates,” CRS determined.

One of the provisions set to expire next year is the inheritance and gift tax exemption regime, which was raised from $5.6 million to $11.8 million per individual. For 2024 the exemption is $13.61 million per individual or $27.22 million per married couple.

A reversion to previous levels “will result in a significant increase in the number of estates subject to federal estate tax and a higher estate tax liability for estates already subject to the estate tax,” according to an analysis by LPL Financial.

Conservatives have also proposed some unconventional big-picture tax reforms in recent years, notably an across-the-board 23-percent sales tax on all consumption that would replace the tax code.

“This is an idea whose time has come,”Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.) told The Hill in an interview last week.

“Probably the most hated tax of all is the payroll tax,” he said. “We all recognize and realize that we have to pay taxes and we’ve got to support the government, but we would prefer a consumption tax where we can be in control.”

Tax cuts have been centerpieces of Republican economic policies for decades, with major reductions enacted during the Trump, Bush and Reagan administrations.

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Great Osobor: English basketball star set to make $2m before turning pro

The forward was born in Spain before moving to the UK. Now a changing US college landscape has helped him land a hefty payday

In US college sports, the biggest money still goes to the coaches, like Jimbo Fisher, the Texas A&M football coach whose prize for failure over the past few seasons was a $77m buyout . But the players have begun to take a piece of the pie, too, for the first time in the 150-plus-year history of sports on campuses. And one of the biggest scores of all has just gone to a Spanish-born, English-trained basketball star.

Before becoming a star on the US college basketball circuit, Great Osobor played in England for Myerscough College in Preston. Osobor, a 6ft 8in forward, was not a highly touted prospect before coming stateside. He began his career in 2021 at Montana State, a lower-tier Division I school with almost no history of basketball success. Osobor was just a role player for the Bobcats, and after two seasons, he transferred to Utah State, another small DI institution in Logan, a little more than an hour north of Salt Lake City. Osobor was a breakout star of the 2023-24 season, leading the Aggies with 18 points and nine rebounds per game.

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The Worst Best Economy Ever

Joe Biden is, at the moment, losing his reelection campaign. And he is doing so while presiding over the strongest economy the United States has ever experienced.

The jobless rate is below 4 percent, as it has been for nearly two and a half years. Wage growth is moderating , but it is higher than it was at any point during the Obama administration; overall, Biden has overseen stronger pay increases than any president since Richard Nixon. Inflation has cooled off considerably , meaning that consumers’ purchasing power is strong.

Yet Biden’s approval rating is below 40 percent. His disapproval rating is 56 percent . Donald Trump is beating him handily in most key swing states. And there’s a chance that Trump might edge out Biden in the popular vote , particularly if he continues to expand his popularity with Black and Latino voters in blue and purple states.

This reality has engendered panic among many Democratic campaign operatives, and no small degree of dismay too. What does it mean if Biden can’t win a campaign as an incumbent in an economy like this—during an election in which most Americans say the economy is the most important issue to them?

Voters’ dissatisfaction with Biden and Biden’s economy seems to have two central components: Americans think less of the economy than the headline numbers suggest, and they are thinking less about the economy at all.

Indeed, the sunny numbers about the economy—the low jobless rate, strong wage growth, soaring wealth accumulation, and falling inequality—fail to account for some cloudier elements. Americans remain stressed by, and ticked off about, high interest rates and high prices. Homes and cars, in particular, are unaffordable, given the cost of borrowing and insurance. And inflation has moderated, but groceries and other household staples remain far more expensive than they were during the Trump administration.

The majority of Americans are better off because their incomes have grown faster than prices. But most people, understandably, think of their swelling bank account as a product of their own labor and price increases as a result of someone else’s greed. People want prices to come down. That’s not happening.

Americans also tend to say that even though they are personally doing well, the overall economy is doing poorly. Political scientists think this has to do with the news they are consuming, which tends to focus on the negative or to caveat good trends : Wage growth poses challenge for the Federal Reserve! Holding economic conditions constant, financial reporting has gotten more negative over the past four decades. This negativity gap was big during the end of the Trump administration, and it’s even bigger during the Biden administration . Social media puts a gloomy filter on the news too. Folks click on and share dire stories more than they do upbeat ones.

At the same time, American voters’ perception of the state of the economy has become heavily mediated by their partisan biases: Republicans tend to think the economy is a wreck if Democrats are in charge, and Democrats tend to think the economy is a disaster when Republicans are in the White House. That is dampening voters’ overall assessment of the economy right now. “The size of the partisan divide in expectations has completely dominated rational assessments of ongoing economic trends,” Joanne Hsu, the director of the University of Michigan’s surveys of consumers, has concluded .

Yet even many Democrats are not convinced that this is a good economy. In one recent poll, just 22 percent of self-identified liberals said they were better off now than they were a year ago . That’s perhaps because they’re all reading and watching those glum news reports. And it is perhaps because Democrats are clustered in coastal states battered by the cost-of-living crisis.

The direction of the economy seems to be a factor as well. At least some leading indicators are declining , pointing to a “fragile—even if not recessionary—outlook,” according to the Conference Board, a nonprofit think tank. Debt is rising; fewer building permits are being issued ; in some states, unemployment is up. (California’s jobless rate has increased 0.8 percentage points in the past year .) “Economic indicators are not speaking with one voice,” John Sides, a political scientist at Vanderbilt University, told me. “Given the salience of inflation relative to other factors, it’s easy for the public to feel bad. It’s easy for reporters to write stories about bad things.”

Still, the stock market is booming. Millennials are catching up to Baby Boomers in wealth accumulation and homeownership rates. Low-wage workers are making huge income gains . In terms of growth, the United States is trouncing its high-income peers around the world. There’s a massive boom in new-business formation. Consumers, their grumbling about high prices aside, keep spending.

Yet voters don’t seem to care. The public’s perception of Biden’s economy has proved remarkably stable—even as prices have moderated, even as stocks have taken off, even as the unemployment rate has remained at historically low levels. That fits with research showing that voters pay more attention to downturns than to upturns: They seem more apt to punish a party in power if there is a recession than they are to reward a party in power for overseeing a boom. The economy might be less salient for voters when it is good than when it is bad.

The trend also fits with emerging political-science and polling literature showing that economic factors are weighing less heavily on voters’ assessment of the president. Gas prices used to be a good proxy for the public’s feelings about the performance of the White House. But there has been “hardly any association” for the past decade, Kyle Kondik at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics has found. Similarly, presidential approval used to be strongly correlated with the consumer-sentiment index, the political scientist Lee Drutman has shown, but that stopped being the case back in 2004.

Why is the link between the economy and political sentiment fraying? Ironically, the dramatic improvement in material well-being over the past 50 years might be part of the answer : As countries get richer, voters have more latitude to vote their values , putting topics such as environmental protection, LGBTQ rights, and racial equality ahead of issues such as taxes, jobs, and wealth redistribution. This election cycle, voters might cite the economy as being the most important issue to them when talking to pollsters and journalists, but they may ultimately show up to vote (or change their vote) on the basis of another issue—abortion , say, or immigration .

Plus, American voters have become more partisan in recent decades—more likely to be immovably aligned with one party or another, and to see their political affiliation as a major component of their personal identity. Polarization “attenuates” the effect that the economy has on elections: Reliable Republicans just aren’t going to vote for Biden, and reliable Democrats just aren’t going to vote for Trump.

That leaves a sliver of persuadable voters. Drutman describes these folks as “disaffected from both parties, and mostly disengaged. They skew less wealthy, and younger, than the rest of the electorate. They defy easy ideological categorization. They vote sometimes, if they can be convinced the stakes are high enough to pay attention, or a new candidate breaks through and energizes them.” At the moment, neither candidate seems to be doing a great job of engaging those pivotal voters, many of whom don’t seem to like either of them .

A strong economy did not save Trump from becoming a one-term president. It might not save Biden either.

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The Politician Whom SNL Is Tiring Of

Whether it’s an impression from a cast member or from its teeming roster of celebrity guests , Saturday Night Live’s political sketches often favor highlighting the absurd over making a point. That approach has only snowballed in our current era, when a growing swath of politicians practically write their own punch lines. James Austin Johnson’s eerily precise rendition of Donald Trump —a far cry from Alec Baldwin’s mumbly, squinty-eyed caricature—infuses the former president with such verisimilitude that sketches featuring him don’t require much, beyond leaning into the word salad.

In the cold open of last night’s season finale, SNL took on the press conferences Trump has hosted during his hush-money trial in Manhattan. “I’m really enjoying this post-court press conference in this very weird and depressing hallway,” Johnson, as Trump, began. He went on to suggest why he might really be running for president a third time: “For me, much better to not win and say it was rigged and then get very rich raising money to stop the steal and you never have to do president again.” Even if that argument had some truth, a November win could possibly erase Trump’s legal troubles—something the sketch called out, as Johnson quipped, “If you’re tired about hearing all of my trials, all you gotta do is vote for me, and it’ll all go away.” His trials might, but SNL’s drained coverage of him would not.

As SNL wraps up its 49th season, and looks ahead to the celebration of its 50th this fall, the show seems exhausted by what it’s treating like yet another election. In cold opens such as this and many others this season, its Trump sketches have simply replicated what the former president has been up to in the news. The show’s political commentary had more bite on “Weekend Update,” whose format lends itself to incisive wisecracks that don’t need much of a setup—as when Michael Che joked about Trump’s request that he and Joe Biden stand during the two presidential debates they’ve agreed to this summer. “So that’s the status of our presidency,” Che said. “Standing is a feat of strength.”

The show’s non-Trump sketches make clear that the writers and performers can still work up sharp, engaging takes on contemporary life—provided the subject isn’t something we’re forced to think about all the time. SNL’s satire exhibited more piquancy last night with the parody commercial for Xiemu, a thinly veiled take on the fast-fashion brand Shein and the online shopping hub Temu, both of which have been criticized for pushing low-quality goods with a negative environmental imprint.

The idea was pretty straightforward: The ad featured models showing off $5 shoes and $3.99 tank tops, while a voice-over revealed the horrific labor conditions required to produce such cheap clothing, and the cascading problems resulting from those conditions. (Notably, a low level of lead in all of the clothing.) By SNL’s standards, the sketch was cutting, especially when the voice-over turned on consumers. “Be real, is this shady?” asked a model played by Ego Nwodim. “If it was, would you stop buying it?” the voice-over retorted.

Compared with past commercial parodies, such as the CVS send-up about men who rush to the drugstore on Valentine’s Day to purchase a last-minute gift for their girlfriend, the Xiemu bit was certainly more loaded. While calling out the obvious fell flat during the Trump cold open, the “Fast Fashion Ad” sketch managed to take a scathing stance by doing the same with Temu and Shein. Weariness is antithetical to good comedy, and perhaps SNL’s writers feel the strain of finding humor in a political climate that feels closer to a heated reality-TV brawl .

Ahead of its 50th season, which will surely arrive with no shortage of fanfare, SNL has the summer to recharge for the upcoming election. Its enthusiasm for taking on politics may have dulled since Baldwin first impersonated Trump , but you’d rather it not slog through the obvious. The election itself promises enough of that.

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The Key to Understanding HBO’s The Sympathizer

In a recent scene from HBO’s The Sympathizer, a communist spy whom we only know as the Captain (played by Hoa Xuande) sits outside a Los Angeles car-repair station, staking out the man he’s planning to kill. His target is a former senior military officer, Major Oanh, who fled with him from Vietnam to the U.S., and who is starting over as a mechanic. When the Captain learns that Oanh is importing expired Vietnamese candy as a side hustle, he confronts him. To his shock, the man embraces him. “It’s a new world here,” Oanh tells the Captain. “If you fully commit to this land, you become fully American. But if you don’t, you’re just a wandering ghost living between two worlds forever.”

Adapted from Viet Thanh Nguyen’s 2015 Pulitzer Prize–winning novel , The Sympathizer follows a protagonist who seems perennially trapped in this between. The Captain is a North Vietnamese secret-police agent embedded high up in the Southern Vietnamese military. As a biracial, half-French man, the Captain is at once strikingly visible in public and yet socially invisible; he’s been, as he says early in the first episode, “cursed to see every issue from both sides.” But what vexes him even more is the realization that he uses his identity as an excuse to avoid taking firm moral stances. By circumstance and by choice, he moves through society as a specter.

Although The Sympathizer isn’t a literal ghost story, this is a compelling prism to view the adaptation through. The series, created by Park Chan-wook and Don McKellar, introduces the Captain after he’s been captured by the North Vietnamese army (which he’s spying for), sent to a reeducation camp, and stuck in a room to write his confession. He begins by writing words we hear in a voice-over: “I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces,” a nod to the opening of Ralph Ellison’s 1952 novel, Invisible Man, whose similarly unnamed narrator unpacks feeling adrift and anonymous “because people refuse to see me.” In The Sympathizer, the word spook takes on a dual meaning, describing a spy—a job that hinges on being imperceptible—and also a disembodied presence that’s neither dead nor alive.

The Captain narrates his imperfectly detailed memories, which span decades and move between Vietnam and the U.S. He jumps back and forth through time, revealing a man caught as much between physical and psychic worlds as between loyalties. The two people he cares most about in the world—his best friends and “blood brothers” Man and Bon—were on different sides of the war: the former was a higher-up in North Vietnamese leadership, the latter was a South Vietnamese paratrooper and assassin.

[Read: Viet Thanh Nguyen on why writing is a process of “emotional osmosis” ]

But unlike in many traditional ghost stories, the Captain isn’t an omniscient figure narrating from the afterlife. He is wrestling with competing political and cultural ideologies and with Vietnam’s legacy of colonialism and war. He is a frequent subject of derision as a mixed-race man: In one scene in Vietnam, the Captain explains that he’s long endured acquaintances and others “spitting on me and calling me bastard,” dryly adding that “sometimes, for variety, they call me bastard before they spit.” Even those who the Captain believes respect him see his humanity as conditional. In the novel, his longtime boss—known only as the General—fires him for flirting with his daughter: “How could you ever believe we would allow [her] to be with someone of your kind?” the General asks.

This sense of alienation is exacerbated in the U.S., where the Captain embeds within the exiled South Vietnamese community. There, he and his fellow countrymen are, as he describes in the novel, “consumed by the metastasizing cancer called assimilation and susceptible to the hypochondria of exile.” At one point in the show, a fellow émigré and journalist named Sonny (Alan Trong) tells him, “Arguably, I’m more Vietnamese than you … biologically”—and yet the Captain is regarded as being too Vietnamese by many of those he meets in the U.S. In an especially atrocious scene after the Captain’s arrival in Los Angeles, a former professor he connects with (Robert Downey Jr.) gives him the dehumanizing assignment of writing down his “Oriental and Occidental qualities” side by side. Afterward, the professor pressures the Captain to read the list aloud to university donors at a cocktail party.

[Read: The Vietnam War, as seen by the victors ]

Not even the Captain’s Marxist proclivities can anchor him after he moves to America, a bastion of capitalism that he’s been taught to hate but secretly enjoys. Though he technically identifies as a Communist, in the series he doesn’t come off as an active, passionate believer. He also becomes involved in American pop culture, when he’s asked to be a cultural consultant on an Apocalypse Now–esque film. Yet the Captain is frustratingly static in these Hollywood scenes. He’s unconvincing when he implores a movie director named Niko Damianos (also played by Downey Jr.) to hire Vietnamese actors in speaking roles. Even the way he pushes back against the inclusion of an unnecessarily violent scene feels tepid; when the director fires him, the Captain walks away in indifferent silence.

In interviews, Nguyen has said that hauntings are inextricable from stories about war and the trauma it leaves behind. He has also noted that Vietnamese culture is full of ghost stories, whose spirits bear both malicious and benevolent intent. The visual language of The Sympathizer takes care to point out that those hovering in the afterlife stay close to the living. Shrines to the deceased, many adorned with fruits, incense, and vases full of flowers, pervade the show’s world, including in the Captain’s home and in the General’s office. Later in the series, literal ghosts also take shape: Major Oanh and another person the Captain murders constantly reappear to taunt him and offer unsolicited opinions.

As the series progresses, the Captain becomes more and more numb, stymied by the realization that neither communism nor capitalism—nor either of the two countries, or racial identities, or best friends he’s torn between—will make him whole. The Sympathizer drives home the salient point that social invisibility has a way of hollowing someone until they’re unrecognizable, even to themselves. It gestures toward a haunting truth: To stand for everything is akin to standing for nothing.

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