Last year, Sylvia Allegretto, a labor economist at the Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics, found that as of 2007, the Walton family — heirs to the Walmart fortune — had a net worth equal to that of the bottom 30 percent of Americans. And due to the effects of the Great Recession that ratio has gotten substantially worse.
New Federal Reserve data analyzed by both Allegretto and Josn Bivens at the Economic Policy Institute shows that the Waltons now hold as much wealth as the bottom 40 percent of Americans combined:
Concretely, between 2007 and 2010, while median family wealth fell by 38.8 percent, the wealth of the Walton family members rose from $73.3 billion to $89.5 billion…In 2007, it was reported that the Walton family wealth was as large as the bottom 35 million families in the wealth distribution combined, or 30.5 percent of all American families.
And in 2010, as the Walton?s wealth has risen and most other Americans? wealth declined, it is now the case that the Walton family wealth is as large as the bottom 48.8 million families in the wealth distribution (constituting 41.5 percent of all American families) combined.
Allegretto charted the change in wealth over the 2007-2010 period:
At the same time that the Waltons have amassed an ever larger fortune, Congress decided to cut the estate tax, a policy for which the Waltons have been pushing for years. And now that the estate tax cut is in place, conservatives are doing everything they can to ensure it doesn’t go away, allowing the Waltons to amass even larger amounts of wealth.
The Olympics are a huge, sprawling event, and every time they happen, I struggle to decide what to make appointment television. But this year, I want to keep tabs on six women. Not all of them have shots at medals, though a number of them do. But I’m excited to see them compete, not just because they’re tremendous athletes, but because they’re sparking important conversations about women’s participation in sports in the first year that every country competing in the games will be represented by both women and men, and that the United States is sending more female athletes to the games than men.
1. Sarah Robles: We’re pretty psyched that our petition inspired online ad company Solve Media to sponsor Robles, the strongest woman in the United States. And as much as it’s unfortunate that Robles had to get by on $400 a month, the news that she was sponsorless sparked an important conversation about which Olympians get financial support and public attention, and why. Plus she’s funny and classy on questions of sexism and her career. But most importantly, she’s unbelievably, mind-blowingly strong. We can’t wait to see her overpower the competition.
2. Gabby Douglas: The 16-year-old from Virginia Beach has lived away from her family for two years to train for the Olympics. And while she isn’t favored for All-Around gold in London, she’s in the hunt, beating favorite Jordyn Wieber in the trials that got them both spots to the games. Olympic gymnastics have traditionally been dominated by American and Eastern European teams and individuals, and the number of women of color who have picked up individual gold medals in gymnastics is small: Chinese gymnasts He Kexin on uneven bars and He Wenna on the trampoline in 2008, Lu Li on the uneven bars in 1992, Ma Yanhong on the uneven bars in 1984, Hong Un Jong, who picked up North Korea’s first Olympic medal with a gold in the vault in 2008. No black woman’s ever taken home a gold medal in Olympic gymnastics (Douglas is the first African-American on the American women’s team since 2000), and it’ll be exciting to see if the immensely likable Douglas can be the first.
3. Sarah Attar and Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani: Saudi Arabia’s done everything it can to downplay the fact that the International Olympic Committee required the country to send its two female Olympians?Attar in the 800-meters, Shahrkhani in judo?to the London games, including not reporting their inclusion on the team in state-sponsored media. And some commentators have suggested that the regime will use their participation as a distraction while it cracks down on women’s rights in other arenas of Saudi life. But the Olympics are about celebrating the best that every country has to offer, even if the country itself doesn’t recognize the talents and aspirations of its own people. We should cheer Attar and Shahrkhani as a way of praising a vision of Saudi Arabia where female athletes like them don’t have to pursue their dreams abroad.
4. Khadija Mohammed: Just 17 years old, Mohammed defied cultural expectations and history to become the first woman from a Gulf state to qualify for Olympic weightlifting, and the first woman from the United Arab Emirates to qualify for the Olympics without needing to receive an invitation from the IOC. Her family’s been publicly supportive, and unlike Saudi Arabia, so has the head of the UAE’s weightlifting federation. And while this has been a challenge in other sports, like soccer, Mohammed will be able to wear a one-piece uniform that covers her hair after the International Weightlifting Federation approved the new styles. It’s a nice reminder that participation is the key goal here, not participation on purely Western terms. Mohammed isn’t expected to contend for a medal this year, but it’s only the beginning of her career.
5. Yelena Isinbayeva: One of the reasons women’s gymnastics has met with some criticism is the youth of the competitors, and the fact their careers are over so early. Isinbayeva, who was considered too tall to be a gymnastic competitor, switched over to pole vault, where she’s broken her own world records again and again. Whether she can recover from two tough years on the competition circuit and a break is one of the big, exciting questions in the track and field competition this year. But whatever the results are, Isinbayeva is an astonishing athlete, and a reminder that young female gymnasts need not be stuck as little girls in pretty boxes.
Royal Dutch Shell is leading the charge in oil extraction. The company has already shipped its fleet of rigs up to Alaska where it is waiting for the go-ahead from the federal government to begin exploratory drilling in icy Arctic waters.
Other companies such as Exxon Mobil, Gazprom, Statoil, and Total are also planning on expanding future operations in the Arctic.
But a growing group of disaster-response officials, political leaders, environmental groups, and scientists are all raising concerns about the environmental impact of this new drilling activity. With virtually no infrastructure in place to clean up an oil spill, the consequences of a well blow-out could be disastrous.
The long-term consequences could be equally bad. As Arctic sea ice continues its death spiral, fossil fuel companies seeing new opportunities under the waters are swooping in — increasing the extraction of carbon-based fuels that are contributing to global warming.
In this podcast, linked above, we’ll speak with Michael Conathan, director of oceans policy at the Center for American Progress, who has been watching the activity in the Arctic closely. He’ll discuss a new report, Putting a Freeze on Arctic Ocean Drilling, and talk about the various environmental and infrastructure challenges in the region.
You can follow our podcast RSS feed here. A transcript of the conversation is below:
Michael Conathan: Now as climate change has taken its toll up there and the sea ice has receded, we?re really starting to see that the Northwest Passage is likely to become a reality in the coming years. So what that?s doing is increasing activity, sort of, across the board, industrial activity in the Arctic. Everything from the long sought after shipping route to ice retreating and exposing areas of the intercontinental shelf that are thought to contain massive oil and gas reserves.
There are also issues of fisheries opening up. There is basically an untapped fishery resource in the Arctic and the world has to decide how they are going to manage that. Are they going to manage it like all other international fisheries or, because it is this untapped resource is there the ability to do something different up there in that regard.
Cruise Lines are starting to look at the Arctic as potential destinations.
So really there is a big of a gold rush going on in the Arctic right now.
Stephen Lacey: What has Shell proposed as it moves into the Arctic to do exploratory drilling? This is a new phenomenon, they are not quite sure what they?re going to find. There are estimates of massive amounts of reserves but they?re not quite sure. This is anybody?s guess?
MC: They?re not sure but Shell has spent several years and over $4 billion trying to get access to these resources in the Arctic, so obviously they believe strongly that there is a significant resource there for them to tap into. Where we are right now is that over the past year or so the Obama Administration has been moving towards issuing permits for Shell to drill 5 exploratory wells. In the Beaufort Sea and the Chuckchi Sea which are bodies of water of the north slope of Alaska.
These are wells that are basically test wells. Shell believes, based on seismic testing, based on geology, that there are significant deposits and resources up there for them to tap into. This is sort of the ?lets prove it? mechanism.
SL: The real scary thing here is not just that we are focusing our resources on more oil and gas, that could accelerate the problem of climate change, but that locally there is no infrastructure in place to deal with an oil spill, if it did take place. Talk about what you?ve found out about when evaluating infrastructure needs and ecosystem constraints.
MC: Yeah there are a couple of issues in that regard. I think, paramount, what we found in our report is the remarkable lack of infrastructure on the north slope of Alaska. This really is the last frontier. It?s incredibly distant. Its 1,000 miles away by air from the closest coast guard station. There is one highway that goes from Anchorage, Alaska, through Fairbanks to the North Slope. There is no rail access. There are no major airports up there. There is just these tiny little communities up there on the North Slope that are not connected by road. Everything is connected by small plane air traffic. The communities themselves, they have no hotels. There is one hotel on the North Slope of Alaska, in Barrow. There is an incredible lack of infrastructure in this region.
When you compare that to the Gulf of Mexico, where most of our current drilling operation takes place, and where the Deepwater Horizon incident occurred, where we had tens of thousands of people who could rush to that area and have places to sleep and wash and eat and take care of the basic needs of, effectively and army of responders. There is nothing like that on the North Slope of Alaska. If there is an accident on the North Slope of Alaska, the infrastructure to deal with it simply does not exist. You can?t get resources there, you can?t get people there, you can?t put them up when they are there.
From an environmental perspective, there is an incredible lack of information about what happens to oil when it?s in icy, Arctic water. It?s a very different situation from when it?s in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The weather conditions, the drilling season will occur from July 1st to either the end of September in the Chukchi Sea or the end of October in the Beaufort Sea. And as you get towards then end of those drilling seasons, that?s when the ice starts to roll back in. And if a spill happens towards the end of that drilling season, now you are dealing with a situation where you have to clean up, you have to respond as the temperatures are getting colder, the light is disappearing, the ocean is literally icing over.
SL: And they may literally have to just keep the spill under the ice if it?s at the end of the drilling season.
MC: Shell has said in their response plans that one of their contingencies is that if a spill occurs at the end of the drilling season and it is iced over, that they let it sit until it melts in the spring and then they deal with it then.
SL: Have you evaluated what they could feasibly recover? They?ve said that they could recover an extraordinarily high amount of oil and when you look at previous oil spills, you are looking at a small fraction of what was actually spilled. Can you go over some of those numbers and what did you find about the feasibility?
MC: There have been wide reports that Shell?s response plans stipulate that they can recover 95% of any spilled oil. That?s a bit of an interpretation of what?s actually in their drilling plan but, regardless, they talk in pretty significant detail about recovering a large percentage of spilled oil; which is difficult to conceive given that they will also acknowledge that we don?t know what oil does in icy water and that you?re going to let it sit under ice for an entire Arctic winter and that you are potentially going to somehow be able to recover an extraordinarily higher percentage of oil than has ever been recovered from any oil spills even under ideal circumstances. So that is a definite concern. That needs further investigation.
SL: So what have the folks at agencies responsible for responding to an oil spill, what have they said about the lack of infrastructure? Have they responded to some of the analysis that you?ve put together? What are people saying publicly about what?s going to happen in this region?
MC: Well one of the, interestingly, the Coast Guard is the primary agency that responds to oil spills. They are sort of our EMTs, our first responders in these instances. Initially, Admiral Robert Papp who is the commandant with the Coast Guard, said that ‘we really don?t have the capacity to respond to a spill in the Arctic.’ He?s on record as talking about that. Subsequently, he?s backed away from some of those statements, saying, you know, ?we will be able to do what?s required for this upcoming drilling season.?
The Coast Guard will have one of their three new ships onsite in the Arctic for the entirety of the drilling season. National Security Cutter is a state of the art Coast Guard cutter and it is really sort of the new flag ship of the Coast Guard fleet. So it will spend the summer up there in the Arctic, watching over Shell?s drilling operations. Sort of left unsaid in the argument is what else that ship would have been doing if Shell had not been doing in the Arctic this summer.
Is it the taxpayer?s responsibility to effectively be up there overseeing a private operation? Which, on the one hand, you?ve got the scenario where sure, if something happens we want our best response capabilities on scene. On the other hand, if Shell is ultimately the entity that is going to profit from these operations, I think that?s a tough thing to say. Especially because having that response capability there takes it away from somewhere else. The Coast Guard is an agency that?s stretched extremely thin.
SL: What I?m hearing you saying when your outlining many of the potential challenges in the Arctic, is that when we think about oil spills, typically we?re looking backward. Why is that way of thinking, always looking toward the previous problem, in this case the Gulf oil spill, why is that problematic when thinking about this range of new issues that we?re presented with in the Arctic?
MC: Yeah, I think it?s not just oil spills where we do that. We do that in everything, we do that in homeland security. You know the shoe bomber tries to take down an aircraft and now we all take our shoes off when we go through security. We all put our liquids in little plastic bags. We?re always responding to the previous threat and that?s certainly the case with oil spill response.
When we really think back at all, you also have to remember that when Deepwater Horizon occurred, that was the first big oil spill after the Exxon Valdez, that was the last real big major focusing event of an oil spill. I don?t want to minimize spills that happened in the interim, but those are sort of looked at as sort of the two major focusing events when it comes to offshore oil spills.
In between those occurrences, we really did nothing to improve our oil spill response technology. We simply didn?t fund the research. So when the BP spill happened, we were still using Exxon Valdez era technology. So we weren?t, in that instance, we weren?t even looking at the last problems, we were looking at no problems, when we were in the down period sort of in between major accidents. Now in the aftermath of BP, everybody is talking about blowout preventers and capping stacks and do you have a vessel on site to drill a relief well? And those are important things and they are important questions to answer but, again, we?re still looking at drilling in the context of the Gulf of Mexico, where you have ideal weather conditions, ideal response capacity, very experienced personnel, lots of scientific research. None of that exists in the Arctic.
So what we really need to be doing is saying ?given the conditions we have in the Arctic and given that we need to know more about these ice operations and that we need to know more about weather patterns and ocean circulation and just the chemistry of what happens with oil in this very different kind of water,? those are areas that are really lacking research and we really haven?t looked at those.
SL: So ultimately when we talk about this it?s impossible not to talk about it within the context of climate change. The environment in the Arctic is changing rapidly and that is opening up potential operations for oil and gas drilling. By doing so, you are drilling for more oil and gas and accelerating the problems that are opening up this area to begin with. The Administration itself has recognized that but has encouraged this process to move forward anyway. How do we talk about this within the climate context and why is it important to continue that discussion given the political discussion that we are having about this?
MC: Well, I think you have to talk about it from a climate perspective because , you?re right, the tragic irony of opening up the Arctic to offshore drilling is that if it were not for climate change, we wouldn?t be able to open the Arctic for offshore drilling. The changing climate has caused the ice sheets to retreat and has allowed access to these resources, which, once extracted, are going to accelerate the negative feedback loop of climate change. That?s just how this process unfolds and so the climate question is integral.
We chose to look at this from the infrastructure perspective, because in addition to the climate conversation we also have to look at the political realities of offshore drilling and of the conversation that is going on today in this country from a political and economic perspective. And if this is going to move forward, it is our job to ensure that it is done in the safest way possible and the problems that it potentially poses and the issues that it raises in terms of environmental damage to this pristine ecosystem are dealt with in the strongest way possible.
President Obama instructed officials last week to offer health insurance to seasonal federal firefighters, and today, the Office of Personnel Management began implementing this policy. Along with covering firefighters and their families, officials said that other agencies could request health coverage for other temporary disaster-relief workers. The new regulation takes immediate effect. “Starting today, the brave men and women of our nation’s federal firefighting forces, as well as their families, will have access to the health coverage they deserve,” Obama said in a statement.
Yesterday, in video flagged by CREDO SuperPAC, a constituent approached Duffy outside a meeting in Wausau and attempted to ask him a question about the minimum wage. Duffy told the man he?s already held his single yearly town hall, got in his car, shut his door, and drove away, leaving the veteran tried to shout his question through the car’s rolled up window:
CONSTITUENT: Mr. Duffy, when are you going to hold your next town hall meeting?
DUFFY: We said we’re going to do one every year, and we’ve done that. So if you want to come set up an appointment in my office, we’d be happy to have you come on by.
CONSTITUENT: What I’d like to know is the law to raise the minimum wage… [Duffy drives off]
Last month, House Democrats proposed increasing the minimum wage to $10, allowing it to catch up to inflation over the past 45 years. Duffy has not taken a position on the bill, but fellow House Republicans continue to block it from coming up for a vote.
Yesterday, Chick-fil-A President and COO Dan Cathy admitted that the company was “guilty as charged” for the millions of dollars it funnels into anti-gay hate groups and ex-gay ministries every year. In an interview today on the Ken Coleman Show, Cathy went beyond defending the anti-gay giving to lashing out at marriage equality activists, praying for “God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.” Listen to it (via Jeremy Hooper):
Yesterday, the ACLU of Colorado sent a letter to Arapahoe County Sheriff J. Grayson Robinson criticizing the department’s “Gypsy Scams” alert, and demanding that Robinson rescind it. The alert describes “Gypsies” as “medium to dark complexioned Caucasian” with “dark hair and dark eyes” who “are often mistaken as Hispanic,? and warns that “Gypsies” commit major crimes like fraud and burglary. Marc Silverstein, ACLU Legal Director said of the alert: ?The investigation of crime should focus on behavior, not complexion. To avoid racial profiling, law enforcement must discard ethnic stereotypes and focus on specific evidence about specific individuals.” The letter also noted that a similar police bulletin in New Jersey resulted in litigation charging a New Jersey police department with illegal racial profiling.
enlargeToday, New York City released test scores for elementary and middle schools' performance during the 2011-2012 school year. In the past, this wouldn't be anything to write home about, much less write on this blog. But after ten years of No Child Left Behind, and people like Michelle Rhee concern-trolling over our top-dog status, test scores have become the determining factor in whether teachers keep their jobs, whether schools receive funding, and drive far too much education policy.
Just look at how today's release has been reported by the New York Times:
Continuing a trend from last year, this year?s numbers are a stark falloff from the high achievements recorded in 2009, when the Bloomberg administration trumpeted proficiency levels approaching 100 percent as proof that its ambitious education reforms were bearing fruit.
Three years ago, 82 percent of students were proficient in math and 69 percent in English, and Mayor Bloomberg touted those scores as he ran for re-election to a third term.
The weight given to those test results should raise eyebrows, particularly since the New York City students were tested on a ridiculous question about pineapples and hares racing.
Children were asked, for example, ?Which animal spoke the wisest words?? To most people, it might seem that the hare?s reaction?that the pineapple was merely a talking fruit and therefore not a credible competitor?was the most relevant and sensible. But to the test designers, the correct answer was the owl, on account of his brilliant insight that pineapples didn?t have sleeves. Pearson strenuously defended this answer, in terms that suggested that its own officials lacked basic literacy skills. In a letter to the New York State education deputy commissioner, obtained by Time magazine, Pearson?s Chief Measurement Officer, Jon S. Twing, insisted that the owl was indeed the wisest animal in the story, because his observation turns out to be the ?moral of the story,? and that the answer could not be the hare, who is ?presented as incredulous that a pineapple would challenge him to a race, but overconfidently agrees to race a pineapple.?
Evidently no one at Pearson Testing thought children might see the hare as thinking that a race against a piece of fruit wasn't overconfidence, but simple fact.
Yet even in the face of such an absurd test question, weight is given to these results. It boggles the mind almost as much as the notion of a hare racing a pineapple might.
Teachers are fed up. They're expected to take a diverse group of kids with different skills and learning abilities and somehow prepare them for a test where stupid questions like that one are considered some form of evaluation of their performance. How can any teacher prepare students for a question like that one, and what kind of education would they actually be delivering if they spent even five minutes teaching kids how to answer ridiculous questions about fruit and rabbits racing?
Yet that is what these tests will be used to do. They will be used to evaluate teachers and they will be used to fire teachers. Earlier this month, the National Teacher of the Year declared war on testing.
"We have got to stop talking about testing and start talking more about developing, supporting and celebrating teachers," she said. "Teachers are the architects of the change we've been waiting for. We've forgotten what a teacher can do that a standardized test can't."
Standing before the delegates as ?one teacher, symbolizing millions,? Mieliwocki told the assembly: ?We may have forgotten how important our teachers were in restoring America's public education system but it's not too late to shift our focus to what really matters.
"If we want real change, lasting change, if we want back the power, the pride, the soaring achievement that is an exceptional public education, then the revolution begins with us."
You can watch the video on C-SPAN here.
The AFT agrees. Going into their convention at the end of the month, they are mobilizing to push back on high-stakes testing as the be-all and end-all of public education and teacher evaluation. Randi Weingarten has been speaking out about the pitfalls of standardized tests and their impact on education for awhile. Huffington Post:
My students were most engaged during project-based learning, when they worked in teams and wrestled with complex topics, such as the decision to drop the atomic bomb during World War II. My proudest moment as an educator was watching my students compete in the We the People civics competition and observing--after all their preparation--the confidence with which our teams debated constitutional issues.
Look at the difference between private and public schools in our country. Most private schools do not administer high-stakes tests, and that is reflected in their curriculum and culture. Freedom from test fixation allows them to provide enriching experiences and in-depth instruction in an array of subjects.
Public schools, in contrast, are required by federal and state laws to administer what numerous experts consider to be too many low-quality standardized assessments, which have significant consequences. This, in turn, drives an excessive focus on the tests, test preparation and tested subjects.
Of course, this was, and is, the goal of school "reformers" like Michelle Rhee. The whole idea is to bury public schools in unreasonable expectations and requirements while leaving private schools to their own devices. We're watching that unfold in Louisiana right now.
The AFT is sponsoring a petition to push back against these high-stakes tests. You can sign it here as a way of supporting teachers who deserve to actually teach, rather than feed Pearson's profit margins.
The Republican-dominated Ohio legislature eliminated early voting in Ohio's elections this year, a restriction that disproportionately effects minority and low-income voters. Those populations use early voting to counteract the long lines they traditionally face on election day in the traditionally under-equipped and understaffed polling places in the neighborhoods.
The new restriction, however, does not apply to military voters, and because of that, the Obama campaign and the DNC are suing.
The campaign claims changes made by the legislature created inequality among military voters who can cast early ballots through the day before the election and all other voters who only have until 6 p.m. on the Friday before the election to vote in-person absentee. This, the campaign contends, is a violation of the equal protection provision of the U.S. Constitution.The early voting restrictions are a holdover from the full package of new voter suppression laws the Ohio legislature passed. Voting rights advocates gained enough signatures to put the new law up for a referendum in November, effectively blocking the implementation of the laws. So, getting tricky, Ohio Republicans tried to repeal their new laws, before the people of Ohio had a chance to kill them. However, they snuck the early voting provision into a separate piece of legislation that has passed. This all leaves the voting procedures for November very much in the air, confusion that Republicans undoubtedly are counting on to suppress Democratic turnout.
?The last three days of early vote are especially important to ensuring a free and fair election,? Obama for America-Ohio Senior Advisor Aaron Pickrell, Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern, and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a joint statement provided to the Beacon Journal today. ?That is why today we are moving forward in the fight to reinstate the last three days of early voting and ensure that all Ohio voters can make their voices heard this November.?
In other words, a typical electoral clusterfuck in Ohio. This suit should also put a halt to implementation of the early voting restrictions.
President Obama's campaign added a new twist to their assault on Mitt Romney yesterday, saying that his jobs plan would create 800,000 jobs overseas. This is largely a talking point, but it's good to look at the consequences of a territorial taxation[...]
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