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I should start this homily on inequality by distinguishing income from wealth. Income is your annual wages or salary, as well as your earnings from a business, pension or government benefits such as Social Security, etc.

As the average U.S. worker’s real wages have stagnated for more than a decade, income disparity has become enormous. The bottom 90 percent of us average $30,000 a year, while the top 0.01 percent and 0.001 percent (about 1,400 taxpayers) rake in average annual incomes of $35.1 million and $152 million, respectively.

Meanwhile, even mediocre CEOs pocket many millions a year, and the greediest Wall Street hucksters annually amass more than $1 billion in booty. Until relatively recently, the ethical standard was for workers to gain a proportionate share of the income growth we generate. But in the last dozen years, the rich have been gobbling more and more of the total income pie, so the bottom half of Americans now get only 14 percent.

As gross as income inequality is, though, it’s dwarfed by the lesser-known wealth disparity that has engulfed our land, mocking our egalitarian pretensions.

Wealth is your net worth, the total financial value of every asset you own: your home(s), business, stocks, cash, real estate, cars, yachts, jewels, gold, art, toys and … well, everything, minus debts.

— Startling statistic: 1 in 5 Americans have zero net worth — or less. Many of us owe more than we own and, living paycheck to paycheck, can’t get ahead to build a nest egg.

— More startling statistic: U.S. wealth disparity is the greatest of any advanced economy in the world, with the richest 1 percent holding more of our nation’s wealth than the bottom 90 percent of us.

— Even more startling: Just three Americans — Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Bill Gates (Microsoft) and Warren Buffett (Berkshire Hathaway) — possess more personal wealth ($248 billion) than the entire bottom half. Yes, more than 165 million of us combined.

The rapidly widening divide between the rich and the rest of us is neither natural nor accidental. During the past half-century, myriad corporate and governmental decisions — from labor law to campaign finance regulations — have methodically slanted America’s economic and political systems so that money and power flow from the many to the few. The plutocrats’ most effective and least reported-on tool is America’s tax structure.

For most of us — workers, professionals, farmers, small-business folks, etc. — income taxes are generally straightforward. The rich are different. Multimillionaires and billionaires don’t usually draw the bulk of their fabulous incomes from paychecks but from their enormous financial assets, i.e., their wealth. This inherited or accumulated wealth generates “capital income” — and further wealth — with little or no work by the asset holder.

As the Center for American Progress’ excellent report Ending Special Tax Treatment for the Very Wealthy details, the moral basis of U.S. tax policy has been perverted since the 1980s by legislative and regulatory twists that tax work but let these massive accretions of wealth skate by virtually untouched. Thus, the ultrarich, who benefit the most from our country’s economy and public infrastructure, pay the smallest proportion of their incomes to sustain it.

Today’s tax laws offer a carnival of loop-the-loops, whirligigs and other tax-free joyrides for those who’ve stockpiled capital income. For example, while you might pay the top tax rate of 37 percent on ordinary income, someone selling a capital asset like stock pays only 20 percent tax on income from that sale.

Nearly 70 percent of such capital gains are made by America’s richest one percent, who reap trillions of dollars a year in savings through such special tax treatments. This windfall allows them to amass and concentrate even more of America’s wealth in their sheltered accounts and buy the political clout to push through laws that the great majority oppose — such as 2017’s Trump-McConnell trillion-dollar tax giveaway to the rich. (Facing overwhelming public opposition, the GOP wrote the bill behind closed doors, allowed no public hearings and rammed it into law on a partisan vote.)

And round and round it goes … unless and until we stop it.

To read the Center for American Progress’ report, go to

Populist author, public speaker and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes The Hightower Lowdown, a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing fights by America’s ordinary people against rule by plutocratic elites. Sign up at


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Former President Donald Trump, left, and former White House counsel Pat Cipollone

On Wednesday evening the House Select Committee investigating the Trump coup plot issued a subpoena to former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, following blockbuster testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who said the lawyer had warned of potential criminal activity by former President Donald Trump and his aides.

The committee summons to Cipollone followed long negotiations over his possible appearance and increasing pressure on him to come forward as Hutchinson did. Committee members expect the former counsel’s testimony to advance their investigation, owing to his knowledge of the former president's actions before, during and after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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