As if we needed more proof that we’re in another Gilded Age, railroad barons reared their ugly heads last week, forcing employees to the precipice of a strike. Why?
As if we needed more proof we’re living in another Gilded Age, railroad barons reared their ugly heads last week, forcing employees to the brink of a nationwide strike. Top corporate execs were opting once again to minimize their workforce to maximize shareholder value, in this case by demanding workers be available around-the-clock.

Jamelle Bouie put it simply in the New York Times: “The largest freight railroad carriers in the country were willing to cripple the transportation infrastructure of the United States rather than allow their workers to take the occasional day off to see a doctor or attend to their families.”

At least one American CEO has a more expansive, humane definition of what shareholding should mean. Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard has announced that he’s reconstituting the lucrative outdoor outfitter’s ownership structure to fund a trust that fights climate change.

“Instead of extracting value from nature and transforming it into wealth for investors,” Chouinard is pledging to “use the wealth Patagonia creates to protect the source of all wealth.”

We have more online on this historic move, a “logical extension” to Chouinard’s “lifelong commitment to defending the Earth.” Also on this week, a look at how another global billionaire celebrity, King Charles III, could put his fortune to much better use.

Our railways may have avoided a strike for the time being, thanks to eleventh-hour help from the Biden administration, but billionaire greed continues to thwart workers’ basic livelihoods. A tale as old as time — and we stand more than ready for a new one!

Chuck Collins and Rebekah Entralgo,
for the Institute for Policy Studies team
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In New York, Video Game Workers Aim to Unionize
Video game workers aren’t playing around: They’re organizing! In late July, quality assurance testers at an Activision Blizzard King studio in Albany, New York announced they had formed a new union affiliated with the Communication Workers of America. Game Workers Alliance Albany is rallying support for stronger pay and benefits, along with a more equitable workplace culture and friendlier conditions for remote workers.

Amanda Laven, a lead audio tester and an organizer of the new CWA union, still vividly remembers Activision Blizzard King’s grueling “crunch” periods before important releases, “at least three or four months of 50-plus hours every week.” Activision Blizzard King workplaces have also fallen under scrutiny for a pernicious culture of harassment and discrimination,  behaviors consistent with the game industry more broadly.

“We want to have a voice at the table, have more of a say in the way that our studio is run,” says Laven, whose Albany union hopes to join some 25 peer organizations organized with CWA support over the last two years. Journalist Eddie Velazquez has the scoop.
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Another Slap on a Contemptible Billionaire’s Wrist
The world’s most prominent pro basketball league has fined billionaire Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver $10 million — and suspended him for a year — after over 300 interviews uncovered a long history of Sarver acting “aggressively” against employees. The NBA action came after an independent law firm investigation documented a series of Sarver’s racist and sexist behaviors. Sarver, a real-estate magnate who bought the Suns 18 years ago, says he accepts the NBA’s decision, but also maintains that his “errors in judgment” don’t reflect either his “personal philosophies” or “values.” The NAACP has blasted the NBA penalty package as a “shameful” gesture that fails “to adequately address” Sarver’s “years-long nourishment of a toxic culture.” Adds NAACP president Derrick Johnson: “Fining a billionaire $10 million is nothing but a speeding ticket.”
Every State Can Close the Medicaid Coverage Gap
Texan Anthony Cook has chronic pain but no health insurance. Some two million Americans face the same Medicaid coverage gap. They can’t afford an individual plan, but find they can’t qualify for any state or federal health insurance programs. Without options, Americans like Cook find themselves forced to manage ailments with over-the-counter medicines that chip away at their savings.

The federal government has offered funds to allow states to expand Medicaid and extend more affordable health insurance options to their residents. But Texas and 11 other Republican-controlled states have refused to accept the aid.

“If Texas expanded Medicaid, I’d be able to actually see those doctors who could help me get my body fixed,” notes Cook, “rather than just patching it up at the ER while I suffer through painful, fixable problems.”
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The First Billionaire to Ever Become the UK’s King
By November 1948, our postwar U.S. “Baby Boom” had been roaring along for nearly three years. But America’s media spotlight didn’t go whole-hog on babies until that November, the month that saw the young Queen Elizabeth give birth to her first, the British empire’s future king. New moms in the USA basked in this royal motherhood glow. Many of them with newborn sons would spend the next decade or so only half-jokingly assuring one and all that their little one would no doubt be sitting in the White House just about the same time little Charley made it to his throne. No U.S.-born sons of ’48, as life turned out, ever made it into the White House. And poor Charles, for his part, ended up having to wait for his throne far longer than anyone in 1948 likely ever imagined. But something else unexpected played out in that long interim. Poor Charles became fabulously rich.’s Sam Pizzigati has more.
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What's on 

Chuck Collins, Making Earth the Shareholder. Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, a reluctant billionaire, puts company in trust devoted to address ecological crisis.

Chuck Collins and Helen Flannery, Weaponizing Charity to Advance a Political Agenda. Barre Seid’s record-breaking $1.6 billion donation to the Marble Freedom Trust boosts right-wing advocacy efforts. This kind of dark money giving allows multi-millionaires to buy influence and set the public agenda — avoiding taxes in the process.

Sam Pizzigati, Return of the Railroad Robber Baron. If you don’t pay me $300 million, the new CEO at CSX is threatening, I’ll let your workers keep their jobs.

Sam Pizzigati, Two Nations Joined at the Hip by English — and Inequity. The UK and the USA have each spent the last half-century enriching the few and failing the many.

Elsewhere on the Web

Kate Pickett, Here we go again, Social Europe. What we really need now: a root-and-branch reshaping of our economy, away from neoliberal, extractive capitalism toward a system built on more communitarian, egalitarian, and democratic ideals, with sustainability and well-being as its goals.

Sonali Kolhatkar, ‘Positive Thinking’ Industry Exposed by Barbara Ehrenreich, LA Progressive. Looking back at how this brilliant social critic helped us understand the corporate effort to put a smiley face on inequality.

Matt Witt, Building strong communities could be a team sport, Writers on the Range. Building strong communities and families will always be a team sport, but billionaires and their corporations seem to be playing a different game.

Jane Chung, Besiege the Ivy League, American Prospect. Wealthy universities replicate and exacerbate wealth and racial inequity. They enroll more students from families in the richest 1 percent than from the poorest 60 percent combined.

Melissa Hellmann, To understand tax inequality, I went to the town that birthed Nirvana, Center for Public Integrity. The share of state and local taxes paid by the USA's lowest-income households runs 54 percent over what our wealthiest households contribute.

Matthew Cunningham-Cook, How Wall Street Is Funding the Culture War, The Lever. A chilling look at how the exceptionally wealthy can mold discourse to their advantage, insulating themselves from the social harms caused by their profiteering.

Francisco Ferreira, The analysis of inequality in the Bretton Woods institutions, LSE Research Online. A new look at the evolution of thinking about inequality at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Connor Gibson, Charles Koch’s Shape-Shifting Influence Machine, Center for Media and Democracy. Right-wing pressure groups in the network of billionaire Charles Koch remain busy restructuring to keep their operations opaque.
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