Our regular featured content-On This Day In History May 6 by TheMomCatThese featured articles-The Super Moon Of May by TheMomCatLittle League by ek hornbeckV.P. Biden Supports Gay Marriage, WH Walks It Back by TheMomCatGreece is the Word by ek[...]
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(Rishi Menon/Creative Commons)After World War II, a simple idea settled into the American character if not the American body politic. It goes like this: If you are willing to work hard and play by the rules, America is a place where an you can achieve success in any endeavor. Implicit in this idea, this American Dream if you will, is the idea that what success means is up to each individual. If success means a lot of money in the bank, you can get that. If it means uncovering the secrets of the atom, selling flowers, publishing a book, getting elected to public office, raising a child, or finding God, America is the place were any person with a little moxie could succeed. This also implies the inverse: If you don't achieve success, however you define it, there is something wrong with you, not America. Hold this thought. I have a brief story to tell.
I have a friend from a previous job who is, by my reckoning, a fairly typical Midwestern White American man. He grew up with the things you'd expect: parents, suburban house, not much money but enough to eat and change clothes every day. Pop culture, high school football, etc. He served in the Navy and worked through college, got married a couple of times and is raising two kids. We've kept in touch over the years through a mutual love of boxing, which brought about a long overdue phone call about the big fight this weekend. We talked boxing, bills, children, a little politics. then things turned personal via my invitation. The last few years have been rougher than some previous, at least in financial terms. Like so many others in this country, he's fallen in to the trap of unemployment, foreclosure, and bad credit. He's at a loss figuring out why he hasn't been successful. I had already known about some of the troubles from my last visit to his house in Reading, PA. Just recently things had gotten worse. I enjoy talking, but as an aspiring writer, I enjoy listening even more. "I feel like I've been running on a treadmill and just fell off," he said.
Now you and I, the politically well informed, know about all the things that have happened over the past 30 years and especially the past four or five. We know about how the decline of unions, the decline of inexpensive education, globalization, free trade, deregulation, and technology have all contributed to the substantial decline of upward mobility in this country. We know that factors beyond my friend's control are the primary factor in why he's a statistical norm and not a statistical asterisk. We want to put a bunch of policies in place to fix those numbers. Others believe these things are self correcting. But what do you tell someone like my friend who believes his falling down is his fault? How do you explain to him why it is some folks manage to remain intact in these times, while others do not? Perhaps we need to take a look at the basic tenet set forth in the American Dream.
What is the policy that will fix the American Dream? I don't mean the policies that will repair what the American Dream is meant to provide, but the very idea of the American Dream itself. My friend probably thought at some point that he too could climb up into the sky and go to the moon as an astronaut. But in actuality, the path there was and will remain the province of a select few military engineers and others lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time. You yourself may have thought that daydreaming about being president meant that all you had to do was work toward it and boom! You're in the oval office. But alas, most of those who dream of being president will never actually see it happen no matter how hard they work toward it. However, a few will get there. Why them and not you? Our national ethos doesn't take into account the whims of fate and luck. In my view, these are the things that govern our lives far more than how hard we work or our national policies.
Who we are as a people is not just the age old debate about the role of government and individual liberty, although those questions certainly spring from it. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness have been our North Star since the beginning. Perhaps we need to add "good luck" to our national ethos. Obviously we cannot legislate good luck, but we can mitigate the effects of bad luck. We could put in place policies that do this with a better, more functional political system. More important, in my view, is teaching our people that not everything is a merely a matter of legislation or self-improvement. That fortune plays a key role in where we are born, to whom we are born, and the opportunities and adversities that come our way throughout. Sometimes people just draw a bad hand. When they do, we should help them because it could happen to any of us. But none of us should feel like my friend, that every national calamity is a personal failure of some sort. Hermain Cain's famous edict "if you're not rich, its your fault" is lacking in a world where often things are beyond any individual's control.
I thought a lot about my friend, recalling the last time I saw him. The bags under his eyes. The worn sneakers with holes in them. The look of weariness on his face. Eyes with some glint of hope, but saddened by feelings of inadequacy and failure. The hurt and slight anger as he reluctantly accepted my $20 bill. He needs a a good night's sleep, if not several. There should be a morning when he can examine his running form and check the mechanics of the rollers. Then get back on that treadmill. I told him so: "With a little luck, you'll find a job. But right now, go home and go to bed." Our country could use a good night's sleep. Some self reflection on our creed. Policies that at least somewhat tame the whims of fate. And a bit of good luck.
This is why we can't have nice things. Former Bain Capital executive Edward Conard--showing that the .01 percent have their finger on the pulse of America--wrote a book declaring that massive income inequality is actually a good thing.
Conard understands that many believe that the U.S. economy currently serves the rich at the expense of everyone else. He contends that this is largely because most Americans don?t know how the economy really works ? that the superrich spend only a small portion of their wealth on personal comforts; most of their money is invested in productive businesses that make life better for everyone. ?Most citizens are consumers, not investors,? he told me during one of our long, occasionally contentious conversations. ?They don?t recognize the benefits to consumers that come from investment.?
This is the usual defense of the 1 percent. Conard, however, has laid out a tightly argued case for just how much consumers actually benefit from the wealthy. Take computers, for example. A small number of innovators and investors may have earned disproportionate billions as the I.T. industry grew, but they got that money by competing to constantly improve their products and simultaneously lower prices. Their work has helped everyone get a lot more value. Cheap, improved computing helps us do our jobs more effectively and, often, earn more money. Countless other industries (travel, telecom, entertainment) use that computing power to lower their prices and enhance their products. This generally makes life more efficient and helps the economy grow.
The idea that society benefits when investors compete successfully is pretty widely accepted. Dean Baker, a prominent progressive economist with the Center for Economic and Policy Research, says that most economists believe society often benefits from investments by the wealthy. Baker estimates the ratio is 5 to 1, meaning that for every dollar an investor earns, the public receives the equivalent of $5 of value. The Google founder Sergey Brin might be very rich, but the world is far richer than he is because of Google. Conard said Baker was undercounting the social benefits of investment. He looks, in particular, at agriculture, where, since the 1940s, the cost of food has steadily fallen because of a constant stream of innovations. While the businesses that profit from that innovation ? like seed companies and fast-food restaurants ? have made their owners rich, the average U.S. consumer has benefited far more. Conard concludes that for every dollar an investor gets, the public reaps up to $20 in value. This is crucial to his argument: he thinks it proves that we should all appreciate the vast wealth of others more, because we?re benefiting, proportionally, from it.
Let's hear it for the Chicago School of Economics claptrap. For thirty plus years we've been hearing this and it yet the economy gets worse and worse for not only the 99 percent, but for the country as well. We went to the biggest creditor nation to the biggest debtor nation. The economy isn't driven by innovation and risk, you selfish ass. Let's stop perpetuating this meme once and for all.
The economy is driven by demand. Period. Full stop. All the innovation and risk in the world means nothing if people can't afford to purchase the products.
As Thom Hartmann puts it:
The Republicans got what they wanted from Wanniski's work. They held power for thirty years, made themselves trillions of dollars, cut organized labor's representation in the workplace from around 25 percent when Reagan came into office to around 8 of the non-governmental workforce today, and left such a massive deficit that some misguided "conservative" Democrats are again clamoring to shoot Santa with working-class tax hikes and entitlement program cuts.
I am sick and tired of these wealthy, selfish elites getting a platform to rationalize their avarice when we have demonstrable proof that all this "job creators" and "innovators" driving the economy is nothing but bovine excrement. Where are the damn jobs? Why are wages stagnating? Why is it that in the wealthiest nation in the world 1 in 5 children are going to bed hungry or malnourished? T
ell me, Mr. Conard, what innovation did you provide to the country when you acquired and broke up companies? Yes, some products have reduced in price due to innovation (it's lovely if you can afford a big screen plasma TV for under a grand, or get a laptop for under $500...but the number of American families who can afford that are falling dramatically) but other costs have gone up dramatically, like health care and education. But those facts are inconvenient to Conard:
More to the point, Conard doesn't seem to understand the negative consequences of income inequality, certainly not in any form beyond an abstract red line on a graph. Viewing the economy simply as risk and reward divides the population into rich and not-rich, rather than increasingly wealthy and vastly expanding poor. It collapses the lower and middle classes into a monolith of moral distinction; they're simply "not innovators," a label that occludes everything awful about poverty, from quality of life to its cyclical and self-reinforcing nature. Conard's model also assumes lower prices are a financial salve in and of themselves. But simply because food is cheaper does not mean that someone living below the poverty line can afford enough of it, especially as median incomes decline along with prices. And Timothy Noah points out that while the prices of goods have declined in the past few decades, the prices of other, more important services, like higher education and health care, have gotten drastically more expensive. How a shrinking middle class, having to work longer hours to keep itself healthy and increasingly unable to afford education, creates a greater amount of innovators is something Conard doesn't address. Not only do innovators suffer when an enervated society can't afford to purchase their products, but innovators themselves have to come from somewhere. The income inequality that Conard endorses as the reward for innovators is the very same process that prevents future innovators from coming up. Conard waves many of these concerns away. He came from a solidly middle class family and built up a massive personal fortune, and suffers from the biographical delusions of many self-made men, roughly: I did it, therefore everybody else can, too.
Too bad that Conard's self-serving rationalizations actively prevent that from happening.
Florida's douchebag governor,
Sick Rott Rick Scott, vetoed $2 million dollars the state legislature had appropriated for legal assistance to the poor. This is the second year in a row Governor Skeletor has showed his disdain for the legal process and the needs of ordinary Floridians:
A $2 million veto by Gov. Rick Scott will mean fewer attorneys to represent low-income residents through foreclosure proceedings, domestic violence hearings and consumer fraud cases, legal aid officials and a top Democrat lamented Wednesday.
The Florida Bar Foundation describes The Florida Access to Civil Legal Assistance Act's purpose thusly: "Administered by the Florida Bar Foundation, FACLA funds help low-income Floridians with civil legal needs, such as protection from domestic violence, elder and child abuse, and entitlement to federal benefits, including veterans' benefits."
Not only is this veto hardhearted in the extreme, it's also shortsighted. According to Florida Bar Foundation President Michele Kane Cummings:
"Based on a recent study The Florida Bar Foundation commissioned from Florida Taxwatch, 2008-09 FACLA funding of $1 million created 170 non-legal jobs in the state economy, produced $13 million of economic output, provided $22 million of disposable income, and generated $13.86 of economic impact for every $1 spent on legal aid by the state for FACLA funding. That's a pretty good return."
I'm shocked to find that Governor Gollum really isn't all about creating jobs and helping the economy. Shocked. Asshole.
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Wichita, Kansas?Angelo Lopez is familiar to Everyday Citizen readers who enjoy his cartoons, his[...]
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As you know, this week is the anniversary of the Kent State Killings. On May 4, l970, members of the Ohio National Guard fired into a crowd of Kent State University demonstrators. The guardsmen fired 67 rounds in 13 seconds, killing four students and wounding nine. One of the wounded was paralyzed permanently.This post is a fast three-parter.? First, the new evidence. Via Digby we...
According to a new survey by Pew, the Supreme Court is held in greater contempt by Americans than in anytime in the last quarter century. After a favorability rating as high as 80%, as the court has become more and more corporately oriented and more obviously partisan and more obviously in thrall to the one percent, that favorability rating has plummeted to 52%. And "[u]nlike evaluations over much of the past decade, there is very little partisan divide. The court receives relatively low favorable ratings from Republicans, Democrats and independents alike."
Many groups have different beefs with the Supreme Court but the one that almost everyone agrees was most horrendous is the 5-4 Citizens United decision ceding our nation's political system to wealthy, unaccountable corporations. The idea of a constitutional amendment was immediately embraced by many opponents of the decision-- but that takes a long, long time and is not very easy-- especially with the Koch-financed, anti-democracy organization ALEC in control of so many state legislatures. A couple of weeks ago E.J. Dionne wrote about a plan to get around it that New Yorkers are looking at:
One would like to think that the court will eventually admit the folly of its 2010 ruling and reverse it. But we can?t wait that long. And out of this dreary landscape, hope is blossoming in the state of New York. There?s irony here, since New York is where a lot of the big national money is coming from. No matter. The state is considering a campaign finance law that would repair some of the Citizens United damage, and in a way the Supreme Court wouldn?t be able to touch.
The idea is that to offset the power of large donors, citizens without deep pockets should be encouraged to flood the system with small contributions that the government would match. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has pledged to a state overhaul of this sort, based on the one already in force for New York City elections. In his state of the state address in January, Cuomo spoke of how urgent it is to ?reconnect the people to the political process and their government.? He could make himself into a reform hero across the country if he and the Legislature created a model law for other states, and the nation.
The New York City program is straightforward: The government gives participating candidates $6 in matching funds for every dollar raised from individuals who live in the city, up to the first $175. At a maximum, this means a $175 contribution is augmented by $1,050 in public funds. That?s a mighty incentive for politicians to involve more citizens in paying for campaigns. In the city system, participating candidates have to live within certain spending and contribution limits. In a new statewide system, there are likely to be no spending restrictions but lower limits on contributions.
The beautiful thing is that this approach should answer most of the criticisms offered by those who defend the Citizens United world. I say ?should? because advocates of current arrangements will find a way to oppose any reforms. But the New York Revolution, if it happens, would undercut many of their arguments ? including their constitutional claims.
The New York reform does not limit anyone?s capacity to participate. It creates incentives for more people to participate. It does not reduce the amount of political speech. It expands the number of people speaking through their contributions. It does not protect incumbents. On the contrary, it opens the way for candidates who might otherwise be driven from the competition by established politicians with access to traditional funding sources.
In short, it makes our democracy democratic again.
A record number of people agree: The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) should regulate corporate political spending.
As of today, more than 178,000 comments have flowed into the agency, thanks largely to the unique bedfellows in our Corporate Reform Coalition, which includes institutional investors managing a combined total of $800 billion in assets, as well as public officials, legal scholars, good government groups, environmental organizations and more. This is a huge milestone: We have set the all-time record for comments submitted to the SEC.
Coalition members urged the agency-- and encouraged their members and the public to weigh in-- to create rules that would push corporate political spending into center stage. Specifically, the SEC should shine light on the corporate political activity of all publicly traded companies.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy?s opinion in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission-- the case that opened the floodgates to corporate cash in elections-- strongly endorsed comprehensive disclosure requirements. The SEC could and should put these assumed requirements in place for the publicly traded companies they oversee.
Several prominent law professors filed a petition with the SEC in August, urging it to require publicly traded companies to disclose their political spending. Numerous others have joined their voices to the call for SEC action, from state treasurers to representatives and senators to the former CEO of one of the country?s biggest mutual funds, John Bogle of Vanguard. Now, average investors and the public are getting in on the act and are calling for reform as well.
Mandating transparency is well within the SEC?s authority. The SEC should help the public and shareholders hold CEOs accountable for what they spend in politics.
It should make you really angry. This makes me see red. I am pissed off, not for myself, but for any woman who is now faced with having her trust in an institution that is part of our primary health care system betrayed.
We go to a doctor for our health. We invest trust in that relationship. Inextricably tied to that trust is the relationship to a pharmacy that will fill a prescription from that doctor. We trust that the pharmacy may even catch an error.
Who could have possibly foreseen a time when the pharmacist would abnegate his or her part of the health partnership, and work against our health instead of protecting it?
This unethical blight is spreading across the nation. It has been years in the making but is perhaps finally beginning to sink in to our consciousness, and I am posting the RX sign blood red as a flag of danger.
You can no longer trust certain members of the profession to uphold their ethical oaths.
Last week it was Kansas, where senators voted 23 to 16 to approve a bill that would give pharmacists the right to refuse to fill a prescription for anything they "believe" may terminate a pregnancy. The bill's language is so loose that it gives license to pharmacists to refuse to dispense the morning after pill, which is not an abortifacient. Frankly, I wouldn't give a damn if it were.
In recent years, the proliferation of right-wing zealots who are pharmacists is on the rise. There are pharmacies in the U.S. that will not sell condoms or anything related to birth control. The state legislatures that have adopted "conscience clauses" are growing in number.
This goes hand in hand with the betrayal in medical schools, many of which fail to teach OB/GYN students how to do certain crucial procedures related to pregnancy termination. Pushing back against this are groups like Medical Students for Choice, but they need our help.
Years ago I warned my students that their right to birth control was under attack. Few heeded that warning at the time. Now that it is coming to pass, will we be able to reverse these betrayals?
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Among the many proofs that giant corporations own even the most populist, well-intentioned portions of our nation is the willingness of American leaders who presumably know better to promote and partner with egregious corporate criminal WalMart.
Bruce A. Dixon at Black Agenda Report, via Firedoglake:
Five or six years ago, Wal-Mart had a big problem. It was the largest private employer in the U.S., but its historic growth model was running up against a wall. There were simply no more small and medium sized towns whose markets could be swallowed, prevailing wages depressed, and whose family-owned hardware, grocery, clothing and other stores could be replaced by a publicly subsidized Wal-Mart. Most of the uncolonized territory, from Wal-Mart's point of view, was in and near large urban areas outside the South, places like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
The challenge, from Wal-Mart's point of view, was to identify and buy up a brand new bunch of public officials and opinion makers, many of them African American. Wal-Mart had to find and hire black and Latino-oriented advertising and PR agencies to write to write the commercials for those audiences, and stage the events where they handed out scholarships or basketball uniforms. They had to extend their model of public and secret tax breaks, campaign contributions, selective charity, and corporate welfare to a new bunch of elite participants, our own black political class.
Among the first and most prominent Wal-Mart conquests was Tavis Smiley, who at the time was still doing his annual State of the Black Union broadcasts on C-SPAN. And despite his doubtless sincere protestations against poverty, Tavis remains to this day an occupant of the Wal-Mart stable.
The facts are that new retail in existing urban and suburban areas is almost never a net job creator. People don't get more money to spend because there are more stores or different stores to spend it in. New retail, whether it's Ikea, Wal-Mart or whatever, simply diverts business from the places people already shop. Besides that, Wal-Mart's business model of corrupting public officials, lying about job creation numbers, rampant sex and race discrimination, relentlessly low wage and benefit levels, and aspirations to monopoly control of local markets across the country make it a bad neighbor, a worse boss, an unfair competitor and sometimes a criminal enterprise.
Recent news reports that top Wal-Mart officers conspired to hide evidence of how their culture of official bribery operated in Mexico have thrown its practices worldwide and here at home under renewed scrutiny by the public, and even by the Department of Justice. But revealing a corner of Wal-Mart's corrupt practices, which are really pretty much standard stuff everywhere in the capitalist world, and protecting the public against them are two very different things.
Protecting black America against the ravages of corporate capitalism has never been the strong suit of today's black political class. In that class alone, Wal-Mart has many more players in its pocket than just Tavis Smiley. Former Atlanta congressman and mayor Andrew Young was a prominent early sellout to Wal-Mart. Since then the retail giant has acquired hundreds of local preachers and politicians like Chicago aldermen for example, often purchased for what look like embarrassingly small contributions to their churches, political war chests or favorite charities, unless there are other sums of money under the table which the records don't reflect.
Perhaps the biggest single black notable in the Wal-Mart pocket these days is the First Lady, Michelle Obama.
As the White House's resident advocate for healthy eating and exercise, Ms. Obama has leveraged her image as a priceless asset to Wal-Mart, endorsing its drive to penetrate new urban markets, crush competition, and gobble up even more public tax breaks and subsidies. But in the real world, more urban Wal-Marts, and giving more public subsidies and market share to the amoral company that already accounts for 27 cents of every dollar spent on groceries in this country is not so much the solution to urban "food deserts" as it is the solution to Wal-Mart's problem of how to raise that 27 cents to 30, 40 or 50 cents of every grocery dollar in its corporate coffers. That's the problem Michelle Obama is helping solve, not the problem of accessing decent food at reasonable prices.
Nobody sensible believes recent reports of rampant corruption in Wal-Mart's board rooms are anything but the smallest tip of a glacier of bribery, conspiracy and criminality. There are competing visions in the land. One is the vision of our black political class, our black misleadership class, of which Michelle Obama is a prominent member. Their vision is about extending corporate power, not protecting us from it. Ultimately it's we who need protection from them.
It has been barely four decades since corporations seeking the kind of political influence criminals like WalMart now take for granted would be laughed - if not tarred, feathered and railroaded - out of town.
The knowledge and moral center that enabled such political independence from corporations resides in living memory. It is not quite yet a lost art.
Michelle Obama rejecting WalMart would make huge strides toward restoring that independence.
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Vice President Joe Biden on Sunday endorsed equal rights for married gay men and lesbians -- and President Barack Obama's top aide said that the president had "precisely" the same position.
"The good news is that as more and more Americans come to understand what this is all about is a simple proposition," Biden told NBC's David Gregory. "Who do you love? Who do you love and will you be loyal to the person you love? And that?s what people are finding out what all marriages at their root are about, whether they're marriages of gay men or lesbians or heterosexuals."
"The president sets the policy," he acknowledged, but "I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men marrying women are entitled to the same exact rights. All the civil rights, all the civil liberties. And quite frankly I don?t see much of a distinction beyond that."
Biden added that he didn't know if President Barack Obama would support full same sex marriage rights in his second term.
"I don't know the answer to that," the vice president admitted. "People fear that which is different and now they're beginning to understand."
Obama campaign senior adviser David Axelrod quickly took to Twitter to say that his boss had the exact same position on marriage equality.
"What VP said-that all married couples should have exactly the same legal rights-is precisely POTUS's position," Axelrod tweeted.