RI Future reports that the General Assembly voted to increase the minimum wage.
While it’s far short of a living wage– taking into account the high cost of housing just as an example, it’s a good move. For all you out there who sweated at a press all summer for $3.65/hr and met people who worked in the factory for decades– remember that now, as then, some of the most essential work is underpaid. Rhode Island’s industry has moved to China, but we still need workers. You can’t outsource elder care.
If you buy into the myth that ‘job creators’ are financiers and stock traders, you will gripe about the lavish $0.35/hr raise for people doing the toughest jobs. If you value an economy that attracts good workers to the state you will see this as a baby step in the right direction.
In 2010 the Republicans were very serious about taking over the House. The NRCC-- their version of the DCCC-- suited up for full on war early on and they decided to not just go after weak struggling freshmen who had won in the Democratic wave year of 2008, many of whom had come in on President Obama's coattails, but to also go after very senior Democrats, some of whom had been in office "forever" and who were powerful, heavily-financed committee chairmen. So it wasn't just backbencher weak links like freshmen Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ), Travis Childers (MS), Suzanne Kosmas (FL), Bobby Bright (AL). Michael McMahon (NY), Harry Teague (NM), and Kathy Dahlkemper (PA), but also powerful old warhorses like John Spratt (SC), the Budget Committee Chairman, first elected in 1982 and Ike Skelton (MO), the Armed Services Committee Chairman, first elected in 1976.
These two powerful chairman easily outspent their GOP opponents:
John Spratt ($2,497,633)- Mickey Mulvaney ($1,510,414)
Ike Skelton ($3,107,552)- Vicky Hartzler ($1,351,176)
Jamie Wall- $445,906
Pat Kreitlow- $559,444
Rob Zerban- $821,063
Jamie Wall- 54% from individuals, 32% from PACs
Pat Kreitlow- 64% from individuals, 34% from PACs
Rob Zerban- 80% from individuals, 8% from PACs
This is where having a one-percenter running for president really begins to show the differences. Willard is saying he would replace Obamacare with a law that would make sure those with preexisting conditions can still get coverage. He's apparently unaware we already have such a law (HIPAA), which permits you to lose or change jobs without jeopardizing your ability to maintain coverage, because he's never lived in that world and seems to have paid little or no attention to how the rest of us live.
So he's offering to fix something that doesn't need fixing. The problem is not keeping the coverage: The problem is the cost of the coverage, which insurers are free to jack into the stratosphere on the basis of your preexisting condition. "What's the big deal, can't you just write a check?" Just another example of what it's like to live on Mt. Olympus:
While the Affordable Care Act would prevent insurers from denying coverage to anyone with a pre-existing condition beginning in 2014, Romney?s provision is far more limited ? and would only protect Americans who already have coverage.
As The New Republic?s Jonathan Cohn has pointed out, the federal government already forbids insurers from denying coverage to the continuously covered through the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). But the measure has been seen as a failure because ?there is no limit on what insurers can charge under HIPAA? and the law does ?little to regulate the content of coverage, leaving the door open to insurers to offer bare-bones policies. In addition, HIPAA notice requirements are weak, making it hard for people to know about this protection.?
Romney could offer to bolster the existing law, but given his general laissez-faire approach to health care and opposition to ?government interference? in the private sector, it?s unlikely that he would want to impose new regulations on insurers. Without a mandate for everyone to purchase coverage, the protection would also attract sicker people who need care and increase premiums for all enrollees. In other words, it?s a poor solution that will leave millions still searching for coverage.
Welcome to ThinkProgress Economy?s morning link roundup. This is what we?re reading. Have you seen any interesting news? Let us know in the comments section. You can also follow ThinkProgress Economy on Twitter.
Welcome to The Morning Pride, ThinkProgress LGBT?s daily round-up of the latest in LGBT policy, politics, and some culture too! Here?s what we?re reading this morning, but please let us know what stories you?re following as well. Follow us all day on Twitter at @TPEquality.
- Referendum 74, which would reject Washington’s new marriage equality law, has officially qualified for the ballot.
- The New York Police Department has established a new Patrol Guide for the treatment of transgender people, including more respectful search procedures and calling individuals by their preferred name.
- Boston.com had to remind Massachusetts residents that same-sex couples still don’t have marriage equality under federal law.
- Friend of the blog and infamous glitterbomber Nick Espinosa saved his mother’s own home from Citibank’s attempt to foreclose.
- Ontario is poised to add gender identity and gender expression to its Human Rights Code today.
- The photo of two male Israeli soldiers holding hands that was posted on Facebook was completely staged.
- LGBT activists are calling on the International Olympic Committee to take a bold stand against countries that criminalize homosexuality.
- Bishops from the Anglican, Catholic, and Orthodox churches all want Uganda’s “Kill The Gays” bill to advance.
- Social attitudes in Northern Ireland have hardened against the gay community.
- Italian soccer player Antonio Cassano regrets hoping for a gay-free team.
- Baltimore gay rappers are loud and proud.
- The Pittsburgh City Council declared yesterday “Sharon Needles Day” to celebrate its hometown hero’s victory on this season of RuPaul’s Drag Race (see her with Councilman Patrick Dowd in the banner photo).
- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wishes everyone a Happy Pride Month:
The new (paywalled) profile of animation king Seth MacFarlane in the New Yorker is refreshingly honest, if not always admirable:
When I asked about ethnic jokes, MacFarlane offered the enlightened-liberal defense?at first. “We are presenting the Archie Bunker point of view and making fun of the stereotypes?not making fun of the groups,” he said. “But if I’m really being honest, then maybe there’s a part of me that’s stuck in high school and we’re laughing because we’re not supposed to. I don’t know the psychology. At the core, I know none of us gives a shit.” He went on, “Some people say that stereotypes exist for a reason. I’m in no way qualified to make that determination. But I’m sitting in a room with a writing staff that is in large part Jewish, and those are the guys pitching the jokes.”
When I made my list of awesome women of color behind the camera in television, I was actually surprised how many of the folks people recommended and spotlighted had come through MacFarlane’s shows. I wonder if one of the things they learned there was how to make content palatable to the kinds of people who so often serve as Hollywood gatekeepers.
- A day after the U.S. accused Russia of supplying helicopters to Syrian government forces and the U.N. declared the conflict a “civil war”, the New York Times reports that the U.S. was consulted on arms deals funded by Saudia Arabia and Qatar that sent Turkish Army anti-tank missiles to Syrian rebels.
- Israeli President Shimon Peres today, in Washington to receive the top U.S. government distinction for civilians, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, will ask the administration to release Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard. In 1995, almost ten years after his conviction and sentencing to life in prison, Israel granted Pollard citizenship and campaigned for his release, which is opposed by many top American security officials but supported by some Members of Congress.
- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Tehran yesterday ahead of talks between Western powers and Iran next week in Moscow over its nuclear program. The U.S. has long courted Russia to press Iran to cut a deal. The Moscow talks appeared to be on shaky footing until a recent call between the E.U. foreign office and Tehran’s chief negotiator, who now says all nuclear issues will be on the table.
- The food crisis that has long wracked North Korea, a result of the international community’s isolation of the eccentric Communist dictatorship, affects millions of children, according to a new U.N. report. Almost a third of children there suffer from stunted growth as the government funds military build-ups, though it’s recently acknowledged a crisis.
- Just four days before a runoff vote for the presidency, Egypt’s parliament appointed a 100-member assembly to hash out a new constitution for the country. The panel was said to represent greater diversity than normally found in post-revolutionary elected bodies, which have been dominated by Islamists, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood.
The House met in pro forma session only.
The Senate held no roll call votes, approving the nomination of Andrew Hurwitz to the 9th Circuit by voice vote, which somehow became a matter of great controversy, at least for Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA). In addition, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) moved to take up and adopt his resolution regarding the alleged White House security leaks, but his request was objected to by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR).
Other than those items and a few non-controversial unanimous consent items, the day was given over to trying to work out deals on amendments to the farm bill. There have been over 100 amendments proposed, and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is hoping to keep the work manageable so that the underlying bill doesn't bog down. To that end, he and other Dems are looking at a minimum to restrict things to amendments directly germane to the bill. But to no one's surprise, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has insisted on testing the limits, by attempting to bring an amendment to cut off U.S. aid to Pakistan until that country frees a prisoner said to have helped the CIA locate and target Osama bin Laden. What does that have to do with the farm bill? Nothing. But this prisoner presents a sympathetic figure, and Rand Paul probably doesn't want to pass a farm bill, anyway, so he figures he can gum up the works for a bit, while still looking good for trying to stand up for this guy, even though the situation has nothing to do with agriculture.
Reid responded by moving a basic package of just a few amendments that he hopes will be sufficient to get the bill the necessary support, and then filling the amendment tree in order to block Paul's amendment. The move, however, also blocks everyone else's amendments. So it's something of a calculated risk in terms of whether or not it pisses off enough supporters of the farm bill to turn them into no votes, either on the underlying bill or on cloture. The opportunity is still available to employ some additional parliamentary maneuvering to allow more and different amendments later on, if necessary. But for right now, and for the purposes of Today in Congress in particular, the story is that they'll be moving ahead with just this modest package of amendments.
Looking ahead to today:
That's the set-up you need in order to understand the Senate's day, which will consist of two votes, both of which are technically on amendments offered by Reid, but which actually contain the text of an amendment offered by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) on sugar subsidies, and a different one by Rand Paul on food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. After that, it's anyone's guess as to where they'll go. But that's a problem for tomorrow in Congress, and we'll leave that mess for whichever sucker ends up writing that column to figure out!
Today's floor and committee schedules appear below the fold.
Who says bipartisanship is dead? Not Charles H. Ferguson, Oscar-winning director of the documentary Inside Job and author of the recently released Predator Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption and the Hijacking of America.
American politics may be more polarized than at any time since the advent of public opinion surveying. But on one thing our parties are united, says Ferguson: that the care and feeding of upper crust swells is their number one priority.
While Bill Clinton raised the eyebrows of some when he seemed to throw Team Obama under the bus over its attacks on Bain Capital, Ferguson wasn't the least surprised by the Big Dog's display of disloyalty. When Clinton praised Romney's "sterling business career" and then warned Democrats not to disparage the investor class by getting "into the position where we say this is bad work, this is good work" Ferguson saw this as further proof "both major political parties have become captives of the moneyed elite."
It's a state of affairs that Ferguson calls "duopoly." And over the last generation, says Ferguson, America has experienced a profound realignment of its politics as the two parties have formed a "cartel" that competes for Wall Street money while "colluding to hide this fact" through fierce partisan battles over social and "values" issues that disguise the similar positions Republicans and Democrats take on serving the interests of America's financial oligarchy.
The best proof of this, says Ferguson, is that four years after "a horrific financial crisis caused by massive fraud" not a single financial executive has gone to jail. "And that's wrong," says Ferguson.
Ronald Reagan used to illustrate the size of the federal government by getting us to imagine a stack of dollar bills stretching from Washington D.C. to the moon or winding around the world however many times it took for the Great Communicator to make his point about our government being way too big.
The graphic was as misleading as it was effective. But it got me thinking about how high the stack of 7-Elevens knocked over by black teenagers now rotting in jail would have to be to equal the trillions in world-wide wealth incinerated by the high rollers whose access to capital let them rearrange our economy in ways that benefited only them.
In his 2010 documentary, Inside Job, Ferguson (who earned a PhD in political science from MIT) described what he called "the systemic corruption of the United States by the financial industry and the consequences of that systemic corruption."
New York Times columnist Joe Nocera illustrates one consequence of that corruption in the story he recently told about Richard Engle, a home buyer who spent 18 months in jail after his conviction for what Nocera calls "lying on a liar loan."
Engle reported wildly inflated income in order to get a mortgage that didn't require income verification in the first place. Then he paid the price when IRS agents rummaged through his trash and found incriminating evidence of fraud.
Unless the conviction is overturned, says Nocera, Engle will spend the next five years on probation and the rest of his life with a felony on his record. Yet, not a single top executive at any of the firms that nearly brought down the financial system has spent so much as a day in jail, fumes Nocera, as the Justice Department has "taken after the smallest of small fry -- and then trumpeted those prosecutions as proof of how tough it is on mortgage fraud. It is a shameful way for the government to act."
Ferguson makes a good case that over the last 30 years the US financial sector "has become a rogue industry."
Banking used to be boring and "banking hours" were more than a cliche. But far from performing its proper role of channeling funds into productive uses," Ferguson says the financial sector "has become parasitic and dangerous, a semi-criminal industry that is a drag on the American economy."
Unregulated finance imposes huge net costs on the American and global economy, says Ferguson, since "a high fraction of financial sector revenues and profits now come from sophisticated forms of skimming, looting or corruption, unethical activities with no economic value."
As violators go unpunished, America becomes "a rigged game" that "resembles a third world dictatorship more than an advanced democracy," one in which opportunities are denied to those not born to wealth.
If allowed to continue, warns Ferguson, "this process will turn the us into a declining, unfair society with an impoverished, angry, uneducated population under the control of a small ultra-wealthy elite ripe for religious and political extremism."
The rot is already far advanced, says Ferguson: medium household income peaked in 1999 and by 2010 had declined 7 percent. Average hourly income (correcting for the growing number of hours worked) has barely changed in the last 30 years. Ranked by income equality, the United States now places 95th -- right behind Nigeria, Iran, Cameroon and the Ivory Coast -- as "economic power in US has become far more concentrated both structurally and individually."
But the greater worry is not that the financial industry has "gone rogue" but that the political power of finance has been institutionalized to the extent that the oligarchy at the core of this new financial capitalism is now America's de facto sovereign.
That was always the devil Ronald Reagan threatened to unleash when he and the Republican Party connived 30 years ago to make finance the face of American capitalism. For, what sets finance apart from other industries is the sovereign-like function it already performs: creating money. And that is what credit is - real money -- no different from the kind that would be created should Goldman Sachs somehow get its hands on the printing presses at the US mint.
Like the poor, the super-rich will always be with us, as will their super-sized influence over our politics. But in more recent years, a subtle shift has occurred in our language.
We still hear about the usual pull that individual plutocrats exert over candidates and elections, of course. But more and more we hear grave concerns expressed about the emergence of a genuine plutocracy to compete with, and perhaps supersede, democracy itself.
Garry Wills is one of the nation's most prolific Village Elders, the author of more than 40 books on such topics as Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, Madison's Federalist Papers, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and the Gospels of Jesus Christ's apostles. Wills is no one's idea of an ideological or hysterical bomb thrower.
Yet, even Garry Wills thinks it's not unreasonable to start talking openly about an American Plutocracy -- with a capital "$."
The 2012 election may be the very last chance Republicans have "to put the seal on their plutocracy," said Wills, because Republicans are "in a race against time." Demographics, he says, are creating a Democratic wave that will very soon be able "to wash away the plutocracy before it sets its features in concrete."
Governor Scott in Florida is defying a Department of Justice order to stop purging Democratic-leaning voters from its rolls, and governors in other Republican-controlled states are furiously engaged in similar voter suppression efforts because, says Wills, plutocrats "are desperate to get their present gains and future goals cemented into place while they still control the necessary means for their project."
That includes getting more conservatives on the Supreme Court who "support drastic reduction of labor rights, voting rights, citizen rights," says Wills. It includes protections for corporate and lobbying power that can be fixed in ways difficult to undo or dislodge. The whole corporate superstructure of our economy can be made "too big to fail." And finally, says Wills, plutocrats can "use their great ally, war or the threat of war" to create the fear and anger that have always been the plutocratic state's best friends.
Like all political systems, plutocracy needs institutional supports to sustain it. It found one in the Supreme Court's Citizen United ruling that formalized the dominance of big money in politics. It found another in Republican abuse of archaic Senate rules like the filibuster and Senate "holds" that has allowed the GOP to institutionalize Minority Rule.
And since institutions are the handiwork of value-bearing human beings, those institutions will also embody certain explicit values and principles as well. Ferguson's predatory plutocrats quite naturally have devoted considerable time and attention toward cultivating those values which they think support those institutions which augment the plutocracy's power and influence.
Laissez faire capitalism, for instance, is an economic system that creates wealth. But even more important from the conservative's point of view, it is a repository of beliefs about human character, social justice, fairness, property ownership, community and individual rights. And finance "vulture" capitalism is parasitic in another sense as it scavenges for public support by fastening itself to the homey virtues of an American Work Ethic the public has already embraced as a mechanism for distributing wealth and rewards based on bright ideas, hard work and risk.
Like all predators in the wild, modern capitalists need tall grass to camouflage themselves from their prey. And so as today's prevailing form of finance capitalism has proven itself undependable as a source of jobs and wealth creation for average Americans, supporters of unregulated capitalism have retreated back to the protective cover of their own tall grass as they try to sell laissez faire on the basis of its abstract value system alone -- "freedom," for instance, even if it is a freedom that leaves us to the mercy of oligarchs and predatory plutocrats without the protective cover of an "intrusive government" on such important matters as workplace safety, fair wages, clean air and clean water.
As Ferguson himself powerfully points out: "A nation that allows predatory, value-destroying behavior to become systemically more profitable than honest, productive work risks a great deal. America, like all societies, depends heavily on idealism and trust, including the willingness of ordinary citizens to behave honestly and to make sacrifices. While many Americans do not yet realize how unfair their society has become, that condition will not last indefinitely."
Like most efforts whose aim is more diagnosis than prescription, Predator Nation's obligatory chapter on "what should be done" is the thinnest in the book.
To roll back some of the gains plutocrats have made in turning America into a predator nation controlled by the narrow upper class we've come to know by name, Ferguson recommends improving educational quality and access to college; bringing the financial sector under control; controlling the impact of money in politics; reforming the tax system so that corporations pay their fair share and the wealthy cannot create a hereditary financial aristocracy by bequeathing estates intact to their heirs; and strengthening antitrust and regulation corporate governance.
These are all sound and sensible suggestions. But as I suspect even Ferguson would admit, these reforms are over-matched when measured against the magnitude of the problems they are meant to surmount.
Conservatives have devoted more than three decades and billions of dollars to a well-funded, well-organized and well-thought through plan for taking over the country by changing its culture and the way Americans think and feel in order to support institutions and values which favor the New American Plutocracy to the disadvantage of We The People.
If progressives intend to retake our country from a plutocracy so close to victory it can taste it, then progressives must have a generation-long plan of their own which is adequately scaled to the arduous task at hand. And the first step to take is for the Democratic Party to figure out just whose side it is on.
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Cross posted from The Stars Hollow GazetteThis is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.Find the past "On This Day in History" here.June 13 is the 164th day of the year (165th in leap years)[...]
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