Monthly Archives: November 2015

Evidence That Poor People Aren’t Lazy

by Paul Buchheit, published November 30, 2015 at Common Dreams

(Photo: Shannon Stapleton / Reuters)

Many wealthy white conservative males believe they deserve their good fortunes, and that the poor are taking handouts. But on average little of the money of the wealthiest Americans is spent on productive job-creating ventures. Potential young entrepreneurs, in contrast, are too often mired in debt and deprived of opportunities to prosper.

Based on the evidence, the very people demeaned by the rich as ‘lazy’ are generally the hardest workers.

Most Safety Net Recipients Are Working

Almost 63 percent of America’s work-eligible poor are working, and 73 percent of public support recipients are members of working families. As noted by Paul Krugman, “only 26 percent of jobless Americans are receiving any kind of unemployment benefit, the lowest level in many decades.”

For Those Who Aren’t Working, Living-Wage Opportunities Aren’t Available

Congress has continually thwarted job creation proposals, contributing to a stunning increase in the long-term unemployment rate, from 17.5 percent to 43.7 percent after the recession, and then down to a still-middle-class-crushing 27 percent today.

The Middle Class Produces the Entrepreneurs

Experience has shown that productive new ideas, and the job creation that comes with them, are generated by young middle class people. But as debt and job loss has plagued this part of America over the past 30 years, the number of new startups has dropped dramatically.

Immigrants Bring Even More Entrepreneurship

According to the Wall Street Journal, immigrants make up 13 percent of the population, but 28 percent of the small business owners. Plus, they boost local economies by starting businesses in developing neighborhoods.

Continue reading Evidence That Poor People Aren’t Lazy

Hillary Clinton would give Billions to Billionaires

by Bud Meyers, published November 24, 2015

Compare these two recent posts…

New York Times (November 23, 2015) Giving Billions to the Rich (by Marc Short and Andy Koenig. Excerpts below.)

It’s that time of year again, when Republicans and Democrats put aside their differences to dole out gifts of corporate welfare to a lucky few. Congress will soon take up the so-called tax extenders package, which has more than 50 tax breaks affecting a variety of industries and issues. Lawmakers will undoubtedly spin this as a tax cut that will benefit hardworking Americans and improve our economy; but the reality is, this bill mostly helps the wealthy and the well connected. It’s been this way for nearly three decades. The first tax-extender package in 1988, which was initially supposed to be temporary, opened a door that lobbyists and lawmakers were all too willing to run through. They were drawn by the allure of handing out corporate welfare, with the ability to hide the long-term cost to taxpayers. The Congressional Budget Office doesn’t extrapolate the costs beyond the overall package’s extension, giving the public the false impression that the cost will be both temporary and smaller than a long-term extension. The tax-extender package is now a time-honored tradition, appearing about each year or so since 1988, usually with overwhelming bipartisan support. More than 80 percent of the tax breaks directly benefit businesses, some of which are multinational corporations. The Senate’s two-year extension will cost $95 billion over a decade, but the actual cost to taxpayers in that time frame will likely be closer to half a trillion dollars — if not more. A 2014 analysis by Americans for Tax Fairness found that more than one out of every 10 lobbyists in Washington focused specifically on the extenders package. Given that this bill comes up about every year or two, special interests constantly have the opportunity to demand new handouts. This is exactly the sort of wheeling and dealing that Americans hate. A 2013 Rasmussen poll found that 70 percent of voters “think government and big business often work together in ways that hurt” the rest of us.

Brookings Institute (November 23, 2015) How not to talk about taxes: New York Times promotes misleading language of “loopholes” (by Vanessa Williamson. Excerpts below.)

Reading the New York Times this morning [quotes above], you may have come across an op-ed railing against “corporate welfare” and “crony capitalism” tax breaks that give “billions to the rich.” On first glance, one might think this a leftist critique á la Bernie Sanders. But no. The authors, Marc Short and Andy Koenig, are the president and senior policy advisor at Freedom Partners, the [libertarian/right-wing] political operation worth hundreds of millions of dollars associated with conservative billionaire Charles Koch. The first hint at the authors’ politics comes when they single out particular beneficiaries of the corporate tax break largesse: “Hollywood” and “wind-energy producers,” both business sectors associated with the Democratic Party. Still, a conservative attack on corporate tax loopholes seems like a break from tradition – until you look more closely at what the authors are recommending: across-the-board rate cuts. Several Republican presidential candidates (link, link, link) have been taking a similar policy tack. In each case, the result is vastly lower taxes for corporations and the wealthy, with hand-waving explanations of the budget shortfalls that would likely result. According to Gallup, two thirds of Americans think corporations pay too little in taxes, and about 60% think the wealthy are paying too little. In fact, underpayment by the wealthy and corporations is what bothers Americans most about the tax system — more than the complexity of the system, and even the amount they pay in taxes. Given the overwhelming preference for increasing taxes at the top, it is no wonder that conservative advocates want to cover their policies with a veneer of loophole-closing populism. As I’ve argued elsewhere, this kind of rhetoric is likely to be effective. Most Americans believe in progressive taxation and think the rich should pay more in taxes. But they think “loopholes” are the reason the rich do not pay enough, and they therefore underrate the importance of tax rates. This misperception helps explain why a sizeable minority of Americans support a flat tax – if it closed the loopholes, they mistakenly reason, it might actually raise taxes on the rich. By focusing on loopholes, Short and Koenig manage to advocate for tax cuts for the biggest corporations and the wealthiest Americans. The pseudo-populist approach disguises a wildly unpopular idea.

In other news: Bernie vs. Hillary

Poll: 60% don’t trust Hillary, 62% say she’ll “do anything” to be president. According to a new national survey by Pew Research Center, only 29% of Americans say the term “honest” describes elected officials. The results below are based on more than 6,000 interviews:

74% say their elected officials put their own interests ahead of the nation’s.
72% say elected officials as “selfish” (more so than typical Americans and business leaders).
76% say money has a greater influence on politics and elected officials today than in the past.
56% say large corporations have a negative impact on the country.
65% say the national news media has a negative effect on the country.

Continue reading Hillary Clinton would give Billions to Billionaires

Socialism? You mean like in Sweden?

by Phil Gasper and Tyler Zimmer, published November 24, 2015 

sweden-central-shopping-streets-aIT IS taboo for mainstream politicians in the U.S. to look beyond our borders to find inspiration about how to better run our own society. When comparisons between the U.S. and other countries are made, Democrats as well as Republicans recite the exceptionalist myth that “the United States is the greatest country on earth, period.”

In the first debate of the Democratic primaries in October, Bernie Sanders broke with this stifling tradition. He argued that there is a great deal we can learn from countries such as Sweden, Norway and Denmark. As he put it:

[W]hen you look around the world, you see every other major country providing health care to all people as a right, except the United States. You see every other major country saying to moms that, when you have a baby, we’re not going to separate you from your newborn baby, because we are going to have medical and family paid leave.

According to Sanders, being a “democratic socialist” means fighting for progressive measures like these. However, in a more recent speech aimed at explaining to a mass audience what “democratic socialism” means, Sanders reverted to the more U.S.-centric approach. Rather than Scandinavia, his reference points were Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.

Sanders stated that programs such as Social Security and Medicare illustrate what socialism means to him. The only difference between the U.S. and Scandinavia, then, becomes a matter of degree–whereas the welfare state in the U.S. is anemic and limited, it’s robust and expansive in countries like Sweden.

On the one hand, we should welcome Sanders’ praise for “democratic socialism” and his frequent appeal to the virtues of Scandinavian social democracy. This is certainly a breath of fresh air compared to the patriotic, pro-capitalist chest-beating we’re accustomed to getting from most Democrats and Republicans when anyone questions American capitalism.

Indeed, Hillary Clinton’s response to Sanders exemplifies everything that’s wrong with the way mainstream politicians approach the issue: “[W]e are not Denmark…We are the United States of America…[W]e would be making a grave mistake to turn our backs on what built the greatest middle class in the history of the world.”

Continue reading Socialism? You mean like in Sweden?

Signs of a Dying Society

by Paul Buchheit, published November 23, 2015 at Common Dreams

FBI statistics confirm a dramatic decline in violent crimes since 1991, yet the number of prisoners has doubled over approximately the same period. It’s but one sign of a deeply troubling decline. (Photo: PRCJ/file)

While Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning and John Kiriakou are vilified for revealing vital information about spying and bombing and torture, a man who conspired with Goldman Sachs to make billions of dollars on the planned failure of subprime mortgages was honored by New York University for his “Outstanding Contributions to Society.”

This is one example of the distorted thinking leading to the demise of a once-vibrant American society. There are other signs of decay:

1. A House Bill Would View Corporate Crimes as ‘Honest Mistakes’

Wealthy conservatives are pushing a bill that would excuse corporate leaders from financial fraud, environmental pollution, and other crimes that America’s greatest criminals deem simply reckless or negligent. The Heritage Foundation attempts to rationalize, saying “someone who simply has an accident by being slightly careless can hardly be said to have acted with a ‘guilty mind.'”

One must wonder, then, what extremes of evil, in the minds of conservatives, led to criminal charges against people apparently aware of their actions: the Ohio woman who took coins from a fountain to buy food; the California man who broke into a church kitchen to find something to eat; and the 90-year-old Florida activist who boldly tried to feed the homeless.

Continue reading Signs of a Dying Society

The Origin of ISIS

by Bud Meyers, published November 16, 2015

The U.S. created the current instability in the Middle-East. We deposed the democratically elected president of Iran and replaced him with the Shah, who we strongly supported, leading to their 1979 revolution.

We armed, trained, and funded Al Qaeda (Osama Bin Laden) and the Taliban during the Russian-Afghanistan War, effectively making them what they became. We invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein. There is absolutely no question about our role in creating ISIS.

During the second Democratic debate on November 14, 2015, when the candidates were discussing the troubled Middle-East and the recent attacks by ISIS, Bernie Sanders said: “I am not a great fan of regime change.” (The transcript from that part of the debate is further below.)

Hillary Clinton and George W. Bush should have listened to people like Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley back then. George W. Bush and Co. still claims Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and George W. Bush’s brother won’t admit his brother made a mistake (as Dick Cheney and friends profited from the war while sticking the American taxpayers with trillions in debt.)

Hillary Clinton now says she made a “mistake” by voting to invade Iraq, but she and people like Jeb Bush are also saying that we should trust them now.

Continue reading The Origin of ISIS

Hillary Clinton thinks $250,000 a year is “Middle-Class”

by Bud Meyers, published November 17, 2015

The headline blares: “Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign blasts Bernie Sanders’ policies, says they would raise middle-class taxes”. The article says Bernie Sanders proposal includes a 2.2 percent across the board income tax and a 6.7 percent payroll tax for employers.

The article cites another article at the Washington Post which says Hillary Clinton, for the first time in this campaign, is now committing to the same pledge Obama made: no new taxes on households earning under $250,000 a year.

Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon praised what he called Hillary Clinton’s “bold, aggressive agenda” and contended that the former Secretary of State “believes strongly that middle-class families deserve a raise, not a tax increase.”

A few points I’d like to make:

  1. For one thing, $250,000 a year is not a “middle-class” wage — per Social Security wage data, that’s in the top 1%. Do they deserve a raise too?
  2. A 2.2% across-the-board tax pays for “Medicare for All” — and therefore, eliminates the mandate to purchase an Obamcare healthcare plan.
  3. Upper income earners will pay proportionately higher taxes, so that lower income earners will get the same quality healthcare.
  4. Besides just healthcare, lower income earners will also get paid family and medical leave (which is not automatically included in Obamacare)

Continue reading Hillary Clinton thinks $250,000 a year is “Middle-Class”

Thanks Amazon, but we don’t need your solidarité

by Jessica Reed, published November 17, 2015 

Companies aren’t people. Maybe that’s why their ‘grief’ at the Paris attacks leaves a bitter taste in my mouth

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 10.19.55 AM
‘The pain is shared by all of us, but a golden rule should apply: don’t capitalise on grief, and don’t profit from it.’ Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

It all happened so fast.

The attacks, the sporadic first news reports, the frantic calls to my family in Paris. My stomach in knots, the stream of tweets, the footage of the guy playing Imagine. The bad slogans, the good slogans, the cringe-inducing Facebook posts. The conversation with a friend, whose ex-partner spent hours on the Bataclan floor in a sea of blood before the police arrived.

And then, the condolences for my country.

The condolences expressed by my colleagues.

The condolences expressed by my barista.

The condolences expressed by my doctor.

The condolences expressed by … Amazon.

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 10.20.41 AM

Continue reading Thanks Amazon, but we don’t need your solidarité

Iowans pay millions to be kept in the dark

by The Des Moines Register Editorial staff, published November 15, 2015

A view of the Iowa Capitol from the northeast along Grand Avenue. (Photo: William Petroski/Des Moines Register)

Was there ever a time when the American public was more distrustful of the government?

Was there ever a time when the government was more determined to keep secret the information it collects at the public’s expense?

Government secrecy and public distrust go hand in hand. They feed on each other. And that may help explain why Iowa politicians, despite their fatuous claims of openness and transparency, are actually so contemptuous of “the public’s right to know.”

Recently, the national Center for Public Integrity conducted a state-by-state review of openness and accountability. Iowa received an overall grade of D-plus which, as bad as it is, results in the state being 10th best in the nation. This is a decline from 2012, when Iowa scored a C-plus and was ranked 7th best in the nation.

Unfortunately, few of our state lawmakers pay any attention to public-access laws, and many of those who do characterize those laws as a threat to the privacy rights of citizens.

In fact, it’s the citizens’ rights that are under attack. At a time when government agencies are increasing their collection of information on the public, and are doing so at the public’s expense, they are also closing down access to that information. We’re being billed millions of dollars for the “privilege” of being kept in the dark by people supposedly working on our behalf.

For example:

Fees for non-disclosure: In Iowa, government records are presumed open, which means there must be a specific provision of state law that enables a public agency to deny access. Thanks to Attorney General Tom Miller, many state and local agencies have embraced a policy of charging citizens for a “legal review” to determine whether any such provisions apply to records that they seek. In some cases, these reviews can cost hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars, as citizens are asked to pay the hourly rate of a government lawyer tasked with finding a reason to legally deny them access to the records they’re seeking. These fees are imposed even when no records are provided.

Continue reading Iowans pay millions to be kept in the dark

The Postal Service’s “Retail Channel Strategy”: A blueprint for privatizing the post office

by Save the Post Office, published November 12, 2015

Retail Channel Strategy presentation

t’s been clear for a long time that the Postal Service is in the process of privatizing itself by shifting processing operations to companies like Pitney Bowes through the workshare system and contracting out billions of dollars of work to private corporations (over $12 billion in 2014).  The Postal Service has also been working to privatize its retail operations by creating a vast network of alternative retail channels.

This transformation of the retail system is the subject of a revealing and recently unearthed PowerPoint presentation entitled “Retail Channel Strategy.”  The presentation was prepared as a “discussion document” for the Postal Service by McKinsey & Company back in March 2012.  It’s about how the Postal Service could save billions a year by shifting its retail business from low-traffic post offices to alternatives like private retailers, self-service kiosks, and digital platforms.

The presentation is dated a month after the Postal Service published its five-year plan, “Plan to Profitability,” which was prepared by several other consulting firms, based on previous work by McKinsey (as discussed in this previous post).  The five-year plan indicated that the Postal Service would save $2 billion a year thanks to changes in its retail operations, but it provided no details about how that could happen.

Continue reading The Postal Service’s “Retail Channel Strategy”: A blueprint for privatizing the post office

Why Obama Continued the Bush Policies

by Jeff Schechtman, published November 13, 2015 at WhoWhatWhy

Candid Academic Admits Democracy Thwarted By Unseen Security Elite
National Security Agency with White House reflected in windows. Photo credit: NSA.GOV / Wikimedia, Carol M. Highsmith / Library of Congress

Many people have been confused and even angered that the military and foreign policies of the Bush administration — policies of which the current president and administration were once so critical — have been adopted by them, almost in full.

Has President Obama simply changed course, or is someone else setting our national security policy?

In this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, Prof. Michael Glennon argues that somebody else is calling the shots, members of what he calls the “Double Government.” Initially created under the Truman administration, this unelected layer has grown into a hyper-secret and difficult to control network with over 46 separate federal departments and agencies, and over 2,000 private companies engaged in classified national security operations that costs roughly a trillion dollars a year.

It all started, Glennon argues, with the National Security Act of 1947 that created the CIA, the NSA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The result is a “second government,” that has no oversight, no checks and balances, and is incentivized to perpetuate itself.

Continue reading Why Obama Continued the Bush Policies