AlterNet.org: Joshua Holland http://admin.alternet.org/authors/joshua-holland en Why the Panic Over Dem Super Delegates Is Rooted in Lazy Reporting http://admin.alternet.org/election-2016/why-panic-over-dem-super-delegates-rooted-lazy-reporting <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Some Sanders supporters are convinced that the super delegates backing Clinton is evidence that the game is rigged.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_367504109_0.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>As the Democrats head to Nevada, Bernie Sanders has 36 delegates, Hillary Clinton has 32, but you might not know that if you’ve been exposed to some lazy or sensational journalism suggesting that Clinton is in the lead.</p><p>Following the New Hampshire primary, a number of outlets reported that Clinton, rather than Sanders, was ahead in the delegate race because she had secured the backing of a number of Democratic super delegates – officeholders, party activists and officials who are not bound to vote for a candidate at the party’s convention in Philadelphia. In fact, if you Google “Democratic delegates,” this graphic appears:</p><p></p><div alt="" class="media-image" height="439" style="width: 600px; height: 315px;" width="836"><img alt="" class="media-image" height="439" style="width: 600px; height: 315px;" width="836" typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/screen-shot-2016-02-11-at-2.12.29-pm.png" /></div><p>And while that storyline plays well with Sanders supporters who have a deep distrust of the party establishment, it’s also complete bullshit – and the last thing anyone should be worried about as we head to the third state on the primary calendar.</p><p>There are 712 Democratic super delegates. While they’re free to back whomever they choose at the convention, an Associated Press <a href="http://bigstory.ap.org/article/98c6fd82b5154d01ae2bc998f69d4f23/clinton-has-early-commanding-delegate-lead-nomination">survey</a> conducted in November found that 359 of them “planned” on supporting Clinton. Only eight said they’d support Sanders. But to count them as Clinton delegates at this stage is putting the cart before the horse in the most ridiculous way.</p><p>It’s highly unlikely that they will come into play in the first place. If Sanders were to arrive at the convention with a majority of bound delegates, but fewer than the 2,382 needed to secure the nomination, it’s hard to imagine the super delegates would dare to buck the will of Democratic primary voters by swinging the count to Clinton’s favor.</p><p>David Karol, a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland and author of The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations Before and After Reform, told me that “there is no historical evidence that super delegates have the backbone to go against a candidate who is leading the primary and caucus voting.” Karol notes that the mere suggestion this might happen became a scandal in 2008. “As a party scholar, I am all for super delegates as an institution,” says Karol, “but it’s really unclear whether they retain the legitimacy to do much of anything.” He notes that the only time super delegates played a meaningful role in selecting a nominee was in 1984, when they put Mondale over the top. But, he notes, Mondale “was well ahead of his rivals and that was a long time ago.”</p><p>Some Sanders supporters are convinced that the super delegates backing Hillary Clinton made some sort of corrupt deal with the Devil. They see it as evidence that the game is rigged. But people only become super delegates because they have a longstanding affinity for, and loyalty toward the Democratic Party. Some may be total hacks, but they’re party hacks, and that makes them unlikely candidates to completely rip apart the Democratic coalition for a generation or two, which would be the only possible result of these unelected delegates overturning the will of primary voters. They share a common sense of duty to the best interests of the institution.</p><p>It is no doubt true that many of them feel a sense of loyalty to the Clintons. But it doesn’t follow that they’d effectively become political suicide bombers because of that loyalty. They want to beat the Republican nominee in November, and those who hold elected office also want to be re-elected. The worst way to accomplish either goal would be to create a massive scandal within the Democratic Party just months before the election. The super delegates aren’t going to destroy the party from within just because they prefer one candidate over the other.</p><p>It’s also true that many of the super delegates who endorsed Clinton did so because they believe that she’s the better candidate for the general election. But that view isn’t set in stone. If the unlikely scenario in which Sanders comes into the convention with more bound delegates but not enough to secure the nomination came to pass, something significant will have happened to shift the nature of the race between now and then. And whatever that something might be, the fact that Sanders was ahead would mean that many of those super delegates would no longer be confident that Hillary is the superior candidate. They’re not crazy. They’re party activists.</p><p>One interesting thing about this brouhaha is that it shows how quickly Americans have come to expect that primaries should be decided through a transparent democratic process. The reality is that for around the first 200 years of our history, people took it for granted that party insiders would choose their parties’ nominees, and only expected the general election to be decided by the people.</p><p>It was only following the chaos of the 1968 Democratic National Convention that binding primaries and caucuses became a universal feature of our political landscape. The super delegates are a legacy of that shift – after the parties reformed their nomination processes, some felt that they had lost too much control. So in 1982, the Democratic Party adopted a resolution that set aside some delegates for party insiders in order to re-establish the party’s influence over who would become its standard-bearer.</p><p>But ultimately, it’s the widespread expectation that the choice of nominee will reflect the will of the voters that makes a super delegate coup so unlikely. They can back whomever they want according to the party’s rules, but it would be a huge violation of the prevailing norms. And that’s why it’s the last thing voters should be worrying about.</p><p><em>[Editor's Note: MoveOn.org has launched a <a href="http://pac.petitions.moveon.org/sign/tell-the-democratic-superdel">petition</a> to get the super delegates to abide by the popular vote results.]</em></p> Fri, 12 Feb 2016 09:00:00 -0800 Joshua Holland, Raw Story 1050553 at http://admin.alternet.org Election 2016 Election 2016 hillary clinton bernie sander 2016 Presidential Election What Trump and Carson Get Wrong: Islam Is as American as Apple Pie http://admin.alternet.org/belief/alternet-comics-brian-mcfadden-martin-shkrelis-free-market-pharmacy <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Since the very beginning, Islam has been part of the social fabric of this country.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/photo_1377532734992-1-0.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->     Not content with alienating single women, Latinos and the LGBT community, the two front-runners for the Republican nomination indulged in some naked Islamophobia this past week.<p>Donald Trump told an audience member at one of his events that he’d “look into” either expelling America’s Muslim population, or the existence of Jihadi training camps on US soil, depending on how charitably one viewed the exchange.</p><p>Then Ben Carson appeared on Meet The Press, where he told Chuck Todd that Islam was inconsistent with the Constitution and said that he “would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation.”</p><p>This kind of bigotry won’t hurt these candidates in the primary. A YouGov poll earlier this year found that only one in five Americans—and one in seven Republicans—held a positive view of Islam. And according to Public Policy polling, only half of Iowa Republicans “think the religion of Islam should even be legal in the United States.” Ben Carson reportedly saw his donations spike after his interview with Todd.</p><p>But this kind of callous disregard for a minority that’s faced serious discrimination—and no small amount of violence—should hurt. The candidates reinforced a central tenet—perhaps the central tenet—of anti-Muslim bigotry: That Islam is an inherently foreign religion that’s incompatible with US citizenship. This view is common among shouty people who protest outside mosques and politicians who push those Constitutionally sketchy bans on “Sharia law.”</p><p>In that sense, claims that Barack Obama is a crypto-Muslim are really a proxy for the belief that he was born in Kenya and is ineligble to be president. A poll earlier this month found that 66 percent of Trump’s supporters said Obama is a Muslim and 61 percent thought he was born overseas. (Perhaps we shouldn’t give Trump, an avowed “birther”, the benefit of the doubt in his exchange with that guy in the audience.)</p><p>It’s a belief based on the kind of widely debunked “history” peddled by David Barton, a popular figure on the tea party circuit who claims that the United States is a “Christian nation” founded by men whose theology resembled Mike Huckabee’s.</p><p>But while Muslims are a small minority, Islam is just as American as Christianity. It’s true that a significant share of Muslims living in the U.S. today were born abroad, but it’s also true that from the very beginning, Islam has always been part of the social fabric of this country.</p><p>In fact, it’s possible that Muslims got here before the first Christians. According to the PBS special, some historians believe that Muslims first arrived in the Americas in the early 14th century, after being expelled from Spain. Others say that Christopher Columbus referred to a book written by Portuguese Muslims who had navigated to the “New World” in the 12th century during his 1492 voyage.</p><p>Those are controversial claims. But it’s clear that Muslims arrived here in significant numbers in the 16th century, along with large-scale European colonization. Some came voluntarily, but many more were brought here forcibly to work as slaves.</p><p> </p><p>According to the Encyclopedia of Religion in the South, 10-15 percent of all slaves were Muslims, many of whom were “literate and highly educated,” and “kept the spirit of Islam burning even while enslaved.”</p><p>Several Muslims fought for America’s independence with distinction under George Washington. Greg Considine, a sociologist at Rice University, wrote for the Huffington Post that one soldier believed to have been a Muslim, Peter Buckminster, “etched his name into American history at the Battle of Bunker Hill by firing the shot which killed Great Britain’s Major General John Pitcairn.” Muslim-Americans fought in the War of 1812, in the Civil War and in every major conflict since.</p><p>From the 1870s until 1924, when the United States severely restricted most non-white immigration, new arrivals from the Middle East—mostly from Syria and Lebanon—swelled the Muslim population. Their descendants have been Americans for many generations.</p><p>Thirty years later, when the US once again opened its doors to new immigrants, a new wave of Muslim immigrants arrived here from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.</p><p>At around that time, the rise of the African-American Muslim Nationalist Movement led to huge numbers of new converts. According to Gallup, 35 percent of Muslims in America today are black—the largest group within the most ethnically diverse faith in the United States.</p><p> </p><p>Estimates vary widely, but there are somewhere between one and six million muslims in the United States. According to a 2004 survey by Zogby International, they tend to “have a favorable outlook on life in America, and wish to be a part of the mainstream.” Almost six in 10 hold at least an undergraduate degree, making them the most educated faith group in this country. Many work in professional fields. America’s Muslim community is believed to be the wealthiest in the world. They have high rates of civic participation, and there’s no evidence that they embrace extremism at a higher rate than Christians or Jews.</p><p>According to Gallup, Muslim women are among the most educated in the country, and work outside the home at a slightly higher rate than American women as a whole. One in three have a professional job. The gender pay-gap among American Muslims is smaller that that of any other group.</p><p>The Pew report prompted Bret Stephens and Joseph Rago to write in The Wall Street Journal that “America’s Muslims tend to be role models both as Americans and as Muslims.” But to varying degrees, they have always faced discrimination and persecution at the hands of America’s Christian majority.</p><p>Muslim slaves were often forced to practice their religion in secrecy. Many were forcibly converted to Christianity. In his book, The Crescent Obscured: The United States and the Muslim World, 1776-1815, historian Robert Allison notes that some anti-Federalists at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 didn’t want to include religious liberty in the Bill of Rights because it would protect the Islamic faith—an argument echoed today by people like Ben Carson, or Representative Jodi Hice (R-Georgia), who wrote that Islam “is a complete geo-political structure and, as such, does not deserve First Amendment protection.”</p><p>Sadly, Islamophobia isn’t just a problem on the right. In the Yougov poll cited above, 43 percent of Democrats said they held an unfavorable view of Islam, and Pew found that “a majority of Muslims say a friend or family member has suffered discrimination since the September 11 attacks.” Casual Islamophobia is often tolerated in a way that bigotry toward other minorities is not.</p><p> </p><p>It’s time for this to stop. After 400 years in the Americas, and having helped build and defend this country, we need to accept that American Muslims are just as American—and just as loyal—as anyone else. </p> Mon, 28 Sep 2015 11:58:00 -0700 Joshua Holland, The Nation 1043158 at http://admin.alternet.org Belief Belief islam us 'Formula For Disaster': Health Officials Warn That You Could Die Playing GOP Debate Drinking Games http://admin.alternet.org/personal-health/formula-disaster-health-officials-warn-you-could-die-playing-gop-debate-drinking <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">&#039;You simply can’t drink every time one of these guys says something silly,&#039; said the Surgeon General.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/061f2c3e0dd08835c94b70fd2a3d5af361678f9c.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Public health officials are urging Americans to exercise caution if they choose to participate in “drinking games” during the first Republican primary debate this Thursday in Cleveland, Ohio.</p><p>“You simply <em>can’t</em> drink every time one of these guys says something silly,” said Surgeon General <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vivek_Murthy">Vivek Murthy</a> during a Wednesday morning press conference. “We’ve got three candidates who are prone to gaffes — Jeb Bush, John Kasich and Scott Walker — and then a half-dozen obscure goofballs vying with Donald Trump for a little media attention. It’s just a formula for disaster.”</p><p>Murthy suggested that people play a safer variation of the traditional debate drinking game by only consuming alcohol when one of the candidates says something reasonable.</p><p>“We’re not saying that people shouldn’t have fun participating in the rotting vestiges of our once-great democracy,” he said. “Just do it responsibly. Instead of, say, shotgunning a beer when Ben Carson compares abortion to a planet-killing meteor wiping out humanity, consider taking a shot if Jeb Bush acknowledges that human activity is contributing to climate change,” he said. “And that drink might even have some therapeutic value when he goes on to argue that we shouldn’t do a damn thing about it.”</p><p>According to Dr. Lawrence Goldfarb, a toxicologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an average man should consume no more than four units of alcohol per day and an average woman should consume no more than three. “So even if you only drank when someone made a dopey, half-baked Neville Chamberlain analogy, you’d still be ingesting potentially dangerous quantities,” said Goldfarb. A “unit” of alcohol equals around 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.</p><p>First responders are preparing for a repeat of 2012, when emergency rooms were inundated with a surge of alcohol-related admissions. A study conducted by researchers at the Tufts University School of Medicine estimated that there were 70,000 additional hospitalizations, on average, following each of the 104 “clown car” debates during that election cycle. “That just counts alcohol poisoning and other drug overdoses,” explained Dr. <a href="http://jgls.edu.in/content/pritam-baruah">Pritam Baruah</a>, one of the authors of the study. “The numbers don’t include injuries from motor vehicle accidents or people’s misguided attempts to wash their brains out with bleach.”</p><p>“The data show that it’s not a clown car at all,” added Baruah. ” It’s a clown bus, and far too many smug liberals are being inadvertently thrown under its wheels by their self-satisfied friends on Twitter.”</p><p>Coastal cities and liberal college towns were among the hardest hit. “The last time these guys competed in the marketplace of ideas, it looked like a war-zone in here,” said Jack Murphy, an ER physician at the Ann Arbor Regional Medical Center in Ann Arbor, Mich.</p><p>“They brought in one semi-conscious kid — he was maybe 25 — who kept repeating, ‘energy, you idiot!’ over and over again like some kind of slurred mantra,” recalls Murphy. “It wasn’t until we’d pumped his stomach and given him five units of plasma that it became clear that the idiot was former Texas Governor Rick Perry and the Department of Energy was the third agency he’d wanted to shut down.”</p><p>“We saved most of them,” Murphy added, looking wistfully around his ER as technicians stocked extra supplies. “But we couldn’t save them all.” There were at least 372 fatalities resulting from alcohol poisoning during the 2012 Republican primaries, according to the Tufts study.</p><p>But public health experts warn the threat to public health may be even greater this Thursday because the officially sanctioned primetime debate will be preceded by an earlier forum for seven candidates who didn’t have enough support in the polls to qualify for the main event. “You’re looking at a solid, five-hour block of wingnuttery that starts right smack in the middle of happy hour on the East Coast,” said Murphy. “We’re certainly preparing for the worst.”</p><p>They also pointed to the potential for higher numbers of admissions due to expanded health insurance coverage under Obamacare.</p><p>At the iconic Townhouse Tavern in Washington, DC — believed to be the birthplace of the progressive “Netroots” movement — bartender Rex “Tweety” Matthews was also expecting a raucous night. “Hell, they’re calling the first debate the ‘kids’ table’,” he said. “How can any progressive resist knocking back a few and exchanging some totally inappropriate Josh Duggar jokes even before the evening really gets started?”</p><p>The primetime debate will be broadcast on Fox News at 9 p.m. EDT. Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace will moderate. The “kids’ table” debate starts at 5 p.m. EDT, and will be moderated by Bill “Eddie Haskell” Hemmer and Martha MacCallum.</p><p><script src="https://actionsprout.io/embed.js"></script><script> <!--//--><![CDATA[// ><!-- window.ActionSproutEmbed('BD2E00'); //--><!]]> </script></p> Tue, 04 Aug 2015 10:40:00 -0700 Joshua Holland, Raw Story 1040513 at http://admin.alternet.org Personal Health News & Politics Personal Health gop debate republicans drinking game alcohol How Right-Wing Billionaires and Business Propaganda Got Us Into the Economic Mess of the Century http://admin.alternet.org/economy/how-right-wing-billionaires-and-business-propaganda-got-us-economic-mess-century <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The corporate Right obscured how they&#039;ve rigged the &quot;free market&quot; so they always come out on top.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_85510096.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p><em><strong>Editor's note:</strong> This is an excerpt from Joshua Holland's book, <a href="https://www.alternet.org/alternetbooks/19/The+Fifteen+Biggest+Lies+about+the+Economy" target="_blank">The Fifteen Biggest Lies about the Economy (And Everything Else the Right Doesn't Want You to Know about Taxes, Jobs, and Corporate America)</a>. </em></p><p>*****</p><p>The Great Recession that began in 2008 wiped out $13 trillion in Americans' household wealth —in home values and stocks and bonds—stoking the kind of anger we’ve seen from pissed off progressives and from the Tea Partiers who dominated the news in the summer of 2009.</p><p>But although a lot of people threw around some angry rhetoric—and even invoked the specter of armed revolution—the reality is that when the economy nosedived, we basically took it. We didn’t riot; we took the bailouts, tolerated our stagnant wages, and accepted that Washington wasn’t about to give struggling families any real relief.</p><p>Yet the meltdown was global in nature, and it’s worth noting that citizens of other wealthy countries weren’t so complacent. As the Telegraph, a British tabloid, reported, “A depression triggered in America is being played out in Europe with increasing violence, and other forms of social unrest are spreading. In Iceland, a government has fallen. Workers have marched in Zaragoza, as Spanish unemployment heads toward 20 percent. There have been riots and bloodshed in Greece, protests in Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary and Bulgaria. The police have suppressed public discontent in Russia.” Another British paper, the Guardian, reported scenes of “Burned-out cars, masked youths, smashed shop windows and more than a million striking workers” in France. French officials went so far as to delay the release of unemployment data, “apparently for fear of inflaming the protests.”</p><p>You might wonder why Americans are so docile compared to others in the face of such a brutal economic onslaught by a small and entitled elite. Any number of theories have been offered to explain the apparent disconnect. Thomas Frank argued eloquently in his book What’s the Matter with Kansas? that wedge social issues—“God, guns and gays”—that the American Right nurtures with such care, obscure the fundamental differences between rich and poor, the powerful and the disenfranchised. Class consciousness, common to other liberal democracies, has been trumped by social anxieties, according to Frank.</p><p>I would offer two additional explanations. First, the 90 percent of Americans who haven’t seen a raise in 35 years compensated for their stagnant incomes and kept on consuming, buying televisions and going out to dinner. How did they do it? First, by bringing women into the workforce in huge numbers, transforming the “typical” single-breadwinner family into a two-earner household. Between 1955 and 2002, the percentage of married women who had jobs outside the home almost doubled.  Workers’ salaries stayed pretty much the same, but the average family now had two paychecks instead of one.</p><p>After that, we started to finance our lifestyles through debt—mounds of it. Consumer debt blossomed; trade deficits (which are ultimately financed by debt) exploded, and the government started to run big budget deficits, year in and year out. In the period after World War II, while wages were still rising along with the overall economy, Americans socked away 7 to 12 percent of the nation’s income in savings annually (the data only go back as far as 1959). But in the 1980s, that began to decline—the savings rate fell from around 10 percent in the 1960s and the 1970s to about 7 percent in the 1980s, and by 2005, it stood at less than 1 percent (it’s rebounded somewhat since the crash—to 3.3 percent at the beginning of 2010).</p><p>The second reason Americans seem complacent in the face of this tectonic shift in their economic fortunes is more controversial: the “New Conservative Movement” built a highly influential message machine that’s helped obscure not only the economic history of the last four decades, but the very notion of class itself.</p><p><strong>The Lies That Corporate America Tells Us</strong></p><p>Let’s return to the early 1970s, when a rattled economic elite became determined to regain control of the U.S. economy. How do you go about achieving that in a democracy?</p><p>One way, of course, is to depose the government and replace it with one that’s more to your liking. In the 1930s, a group of businessmen contemplated just that—a military takeover of Washington, D.C., to stop Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s dreaded New Deal from being enacted. The plot fell apart when the decorated general the group had tapped to lead the coup turned in the conspirators.</p><p>A more subtle approach is to convince a majority of voters that your interests are, in fact, their own. Yet there’s a big problem with this: if you belong to a rarified group, then the notion of aligned interests doesn’t reflect objective reality. And in the early 1970s, the media and academia provided a neutral arbiter of that reality (of sorts).</p><p>We’ve all grown accustomed to conservatives’ conspiracy theories about the corporate media having a far-left bias and college professors indoctrinating American youths into Maoism. In the early 1970s, a group of very wealthy conservatives started to invest in what you might call “intellectual infrastructure” ostensibly designed to counter the liberal bias they saw all around them. They funded dozens of corporate-backed think tanks, endowed academic chairs, and created their own dedicated and distinctly conservative media outlets.</p><p>Families with names such as Olin, Coors, Scaife, Bradley, and Koch may not be familiar to most Americans, but their efforts have had a profound impact on our economic discourse. Having amassed huge fortunes in business, these families used their foundations to fund the movement that would culminate in the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and eventually bring about the coronation of George W. Bush in 2000.</p><p>In 1973, brewer Joseph Coors kicked in $250,000 for seed money to start the now highly influential Heritage Foundation (with the help of the Olin, Scaife, Bradley, and DeVos foundations). In 1977, Charles Koch, an oil billionaire, started the libertarian CATO Institute. Richard Mellon Scaife, a wealthy right-wing philanthropist who would later fund the shady “Arkansas Project” that almost brought down Bill Clinton’s presidency, bought the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in 1970. The American Enterprise Institute, which was founded as the American Enterprise Association in the 1930s and remained relatively obscure through the 1960s, was transformed into an ideological powerhouse when it added a research faculty in 1972. The Hoover Institution, founded by Herbert himself in 1928, saw a huge increase in funding in the 1960s and would be transformed during the 1980s into the Washington advocacy organization that it is today.</p><p>In 1982, billionaire and right-wing messianic leader Sun Myung Moon started the Washington Times as an antidote to the “liberal” Washington Post. The paper, which promoted competition in the free market over all other human virtues, would be subsidized by the "Moonies” to a tune of $1.7 billion during the next 20 years. In 2000, United Press International, a venerable but declining newswire, was bought up by Moon’s media conglomerate, World News Communications.</p><p>With generous financing from that same group of conservative foundations, the Federalist Society was founded in 1982 by former attorney general Ed Meese, controversial Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, and Ted Olsen—who years later would win the infamous Bush v. Gore case before the Supreme Court in 2000 and then go on to serve as Bush’s solicitor general. The Federalist Society continues to have a major impact on our legal community.</p><p>In 2005, one of the most influential right-wing funders, the John M. Olin Foundation, actually declared its “mission accomplished” and closed up shop. The New York Times reported that after “three decades financing the intellectual rise of the right,” the foundation’s services were no longer needed. The Times reported that the loss of Olin wasn’t terribly troubling for the movement, because whereas “a generation ago just three or four major foundations operated on the Right, today’s conservatism has no shortage of institutions, donors or brio.” And that’s not even mentioning Rupert Murdoch’s vast, and vastly dishonest, media empire.</p><p>The rise of the conservative “noise machine” has been discussed at length in a number of other works, and conservatives dismiss it as a conspiracy theory of sorts. In truth, it’s anything but—it’s simply a matter of people with ample resources engaging in some savvy politics in an age of highly effective mass communication. There’s nothing new about that; what’s changed is that the world of advertising and marketing has become increasingly sophisticated, and the Right has played the instrument of modern public relations like a maestro.</p><p>Taken as a whole, it’s difficult to overstate how profound an impact these ideological armies have had on our economic debates. Writing in the Washington Post, Kathleen Hall and Joseph Capella, two scholars with the Annenberg School of Communication, discussed the findings of a study in which they coded and analyzed the content broadcast across conservative media networks. They found a tendency to “enwrap [their audience] in a world in which facts supportive of Democratic claims are discredited and those consistent with conservative ones championed.” The scholars warned, “When one systematically misperceives the positions of those of a supposedly different ideology, one may decide to oppose legislation or vote against a candidate with whom, on some issues of importance, one actually agrees.”</p><p>A larger issue is that the corporate Right’s messaging doesn’t remain confined to the conservative media. The end of the Cold War brought about a sense of economic triumphalism, which infected the conventional wisdom that ultimately shapes the news stories we read—U.S.-style capitalism had slain the socialist beast, proving to many that in the words of Tom Paine, “government is best when it governs least.”</p><p>A wave of mergers also concentrated our media in the hands of a few highly influential corporations. In 2009, there was a rare (public) example of one such corporation nakedly exerting editorial control over the decisions of one of its news “assets.” During a meeting between the top management of General Electric, which owned NBC-Universal with its various news networks, and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, GE executives agreed to force MSNBC’s firebrand host Keith Olbermann to cease fire in his long-standing feud with Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly.</p><p>As journalist Glenn Greenwald noted at the time, “The most striking aspect of this episode is that GE isn’t even bothering any longer to deny the fact that they exert control over MSNBC’s journalism.”</p><blockquote><p>Most notably, the deal wasn’t engineered because of a perception that it was hurting either Olbermann or O’Reilly’s show, or even that it was hurting MSNBC. To the contrary, as Olbermann himself has acknowledged, his battles with O’Reilly have substantially boosted his ratings. The agreement of the corporate CEOs to cease criticizing each other was motivated by the belief that such criticism was hurting the unrelated corporate interests of GE and News Corp.</p></blockquote><p>Five months previously, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough had been criticized for touting GE’s stock on his show, "Morning Joe," without disclosing that the company owned the network that employed him. “I never invest in the stock market because I think—I’ve always thought—that it’s just—it’s a crap shoot,” he said. “[But] GE goes down to five, six, or seven, and I’m thinking, ‘My god. I’m gonna invest for the first time, and I’m gonna send my kids to college through this.’“</p><p>A week after that, Scarborough invited Nancy Snyderman, a regular medical correspondent for NBC’s networks, onto the show to discuss the health care reform bill then moving through Congress. Snyderman, who was presented to the audience as an impartial medical expert, had lost the ABC News job she’d previously held for 17 years due to a conflict of interest. The Nashville Examiner reported that “she was briefly suspended for being paid to promote J &amp; J’s product Tylenol. She later spent four years with Johnson &amp; Johnson as Vice President of Consumer Education.”</p><p>In another ABC segment, Snyderman weighed in on congressional hearings about autism without disclosing that a Johnson &amp; Johnson subsidiary was the target of litigation alleging that one of its vaccines may help cause the condition. It was a “blatant conflict of interest,” in the words of National Autism Association vice president Ann Brasher.</p><p>Snyderman is hardly unique. A months-long investigation in 2010 by the Nation’s Sebastian Jones revealed what he called a far-reaching “media-lobbying complex”—dozens of corporate hired guns who appear on network broadcasts without disclosing their ties to the firms they work for. Jones wrote of “the covert corporate influence peddling on cable news,” citing such appearances as former Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge, who went on MSNBC—which conservatives insist is the liberal antidote to Fox News—to urge the Obama administration to launch an ambitious energy program.</p><blockquote><p>The first step [toward a green economy], Ridge explained, was to “create nuclear power plants.” Combined with some waste coal and natural gas extraction, you would have an “innovation setter” that would “create jobs, create exports.”</p><p>As Ridge counseled the administration to “put that package together,” he sure seemed like an objective commentator. But what viewers weren’t told was that since 2005, Ridge has pocketed $530,659 in executive compensation for serving on the board of Exelon, the nation’s largest nuclear power company. As of March 2009, he also held an estimated $248,299 in Exelon stock, according to SEC filings.</p></blockquote><p>Jones found that during just the previous three years, “at least seventy-five registered lobbyists, public relations representatives and corporate officials—people paid by companies and trade groups to manage their public image and promote their financial and political interests”—had appeared on the major news channels. “Many have been regulars on more than one of the cable networks, turning in dozens—and in some cases hundreds—of appearances,” he wrote.</p><p>There’s a final piece of this puzzle that’s less insidious than what Jones unearthed but probably has a bigger impact on our discourse: the standard-issue “he-said/she-said” reporting that’s so instinctive to neutral, “unbiased” journalists. Reporters are expected to get “both sides” of every story, even if one of those sides is making factually dishonest arguments. And there are an untold number of consultants, corporate flacks, lobbyists, and right-wing think-tankers who are always good for a quick quote for a reporter working on deadline.</p><p>The economic perception that emerges from all of this simply doesn’t depict the economy in which most Americans live and work. Before the crash of 2008, most Americans saw news of a relatively robust economy, with solid growth and rising stock prices. But their own incomes had essentially stagnated for a generation. I’ve long thought that the disconnect may help explain why Americans suffer from depression at higher rates than do the citizens of most other advanced countries—if you think the economy’s solid, everyone else is prospering, and yet you still just can’t get ahead, isn’t it natural to conclude it must be the result of some fundamental flaw in yourself?</p><p>Maybe you do have flaws—sure, you do—but it’s important to understand how the economy helps shape one’s fortunes. In The 15 Biggest Lies, we’ll look at some of the Right’s most cherished rhetoric and try to burn off some of the fog that shrouds our economic discourse.</p> Tue, 17 Mar 2015 13:25:00 -0700 Joshua Holland, AlterNet 1033422 at http://admin.alternet.org Economy Books Economy economy right-wing 15 lies Ayn Rand Railed Against Government Benefits—Yet Accepted Social Security and Medicare For Her Own Needs http://admin.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/ayn-rand-railed-against-government-benefits-yet-accepted-social-security-and <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">At least she put up a fight before succumbing to the imperatives of the real world.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/ayn_rand.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Ayn Rand was not only a schlock novelist, she was also the progenitor of a sweeping “moral philosophy” that justifies the privilege of the wealthy and demonizes not only the slothful, undeserving poor but the lackluster middle-classes as well.</p><p>Her books provided wide-ranging parables of "parasites," "looters" and "moochers" using the levers of government to steal the fruits of her heroes' labor. In the real world, however, Rand herself received Social Security payments and Medicare benefits under the name of Ann O'Connor (her husband was Frank O'Connor).</p><p>As Michael Ford of Xavier University's Center for the Study of the American Dream <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-ford/ayn-rand-and-the-vip-dipe_b_792184.html">wrote</a>, “In the end, Miss Rand was a hypocrite but she could never be faulted for failing to act in her own self-interest.”</p><p>Her ideas about government intervention in some idealized pristine marketplace serve as the basis for so much of the conservative rhetoric we see today. “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand,” said Paul Ryan, the GOP's young budget star at a D.C. event honoring the author. On another occasion, he proclaimed, “Rand makes the best case for the morality of democratic capitalism.”</p><p>“Morally and economically,” wrote Rand in a 1972 newsletter, “the welfare state creates an ever accelerating downward pull.”</p><p>Journalist Patia Stephens <a href="http://www.patiastephens.com/2010/12/05/ayn-rand-received-social-security-medicare">wrote</a> of Rand:</p><blockquote><p>[She] called altruism a “basic evil” and referred to those who perpetuate the system of taxation and redistribution as “looters” and “moochers.” She wrote in her book “The Virtue of Selfishness” that accepting any government controls is “delivering oneself into gradual enslavement.”</p></blockquote><p>Rand also believed that the scientific consensus on the dangers of tobacco was a hoax. By 1974, the two-pack-a-day smoker, then 69, required surgery for lung cancer. And it was at that moment of vulnerability that she succumbed to the lure of collectivism.</p><p>Evva Joan Pryor, who had been a social worker in New York in the 1970s, was interviewed in 1998 by Scott McConnell, who was then the director of communications for the Ayn Rand Institute. In his book, 100 Voices: An Oral History of Ayn Rand, McConnell basically portrays Rand as first standing on principle, but then being mugged by reality. Stephens points to this exchange between McConnell and Pryor.</p><blockquote><p>“She was coming to a point in her life where she was going to receive the very thing she didn’t like, which was Medicare and Social Security,” Pryor told McConnell. “I remember telling her that this was going to be difficult. For me to do my job she had to recognize that there were exceptions to her theory. So that started our political discussions. From there on – with gusto – we argued all the time.</p><p>The initial argument was on greed,” Pryor continued. “She had to see that there was such a thing as greed in this world. Doctors could cost an awful lot more money than books earn, and she could be totally wiped out by medical bills if she didn’t watch it. Since she had worked her entire life, and had paid into Social Security, she had a right to it. She didn’t feel that an individual should take help.”</p></blockquote><p>Rand had paid into the system, so why not take the benefits? It's true, but according to Stephens, some of Rand's fellow travelers remained true to their principles.</p><blockquote><p>Rand is one of three women the Cato Institute calls founders of American libertarianism. The other two, Rose Wilder Lane and Isabel “Pat” Paterson, both rejected Social Security benefits on principle. Lane, with whom Rand corresponded for several years, once quit an editorial job in order to avoid paying Social Security taxes. The Cato Institute says Lane considered Social Security a “Ponzi fraud” and “told friends that it would be immoral of her to take part in a system that would predictably collapse so catastrophically.” Lane died in 1968.</p></blockquote><p>Paterson would end up dying a pauper. Rand went a different way.</p><p>But at least she put up a fight before succumbing to the imperatives of the real world – one in which people get sick, and old, and many who are perfectly decent and hardworking don't end up being independently wealthy.</p><p>The degree to which Ayn Rand has become a touchstone for the modern conservative movement is striking. She was a sexual libertine, and, <a href="http://www.alternet.org/books/145819/ayn_rand,_hugely_popular_author_and_inspiration_to_right-wing_leaders,_was_a_big_admirer_of_serial_killers">according to writer Mark Ames</a>, she modeled her heroic characters on one of the most despicable sociopaths of her time. Ames’ conclusion is important for understanding today’s political economy. “Whenever you hear politicians or Tea Partiers dividing up the world between ‘producers’ and ‘collectivism,’” he wrote, “just know that those ideas and words more likely than not are derived from the deranged mind of a serial-killer groupie....And when you see them taking their razor blades to the last remaining programs protecting the middle class from total abject destitution—Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid—and bragging about how they are slashing these programs for ‘moral’ reasons, just remember Rand’s morality and who inspired her.”</p><p>Now we know that Rand was also just as hypocritical as the Tea Party freshman who railed against “government health care” to get elected and then <a href="http://www.nerve.com/news/current-events/new-anti-obamacare-congressman-complains-about-his-government-health-care">whined that he had to wait a month</a> before getting his own Cadillac plan courtesy of the taxpayers.</p><p>But, as I note in my book, <a href="https://www.alternet.org/alternetbooks/19/The+Fifteen+Biggest+Lies+about+the+Economy">The Fifteen Biggest Lies About the Economy</a>, that's par for the course. A central rule of the U.S. political economy is that people are attracted to the idea of “limited government” in the abstract—and certainly don’t want the government intruding in their homes—but they really, really like living in a society with adequately funded public services.</p><p>That's just as true for an icon of modern conservatism as it is for a poor mother getting public health care for her kids.</p> Tue, 10 Mar 2015 17:47:00 -0700 Joshua Holland, AlterNet 1033082 at http://admin.alternet.org The Right Wing The Right Wing medicare social security ayn rand paul ryan Are Americans Too Stupid For Democracy? http://admin.alternet.org/belief/are-americans-too-stupid-democracy-0 <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">How can we rationally pursue our self-interests when we don&#039;t know what&#039;s going on?</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_173295041-edited.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>In 2011, Newsweek <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2011/03/20/how-dumb-are-we.html">asked 1,000 Americans to take the standard U.S. Citizenship test</a>, and 38 percent of them failed. One in three couldn't name the vice-president. A 2009 study in the European Journal of Communications looked at how informed citizens of the U.S., UK, Denmark and Finland were of the international news of the day, and the results weren't pretty (<a href="http://www.sagepub.com/mcquail6/Online%20readings/19a%20Curran%20et%20al.pdf">PDF</a>).</p><p>“Overall,” the scholars wrote, “the Scandinavians emerged as the best informed, averaging 62–67 percent correct responses, the British were relatively close behind with 59 percent, and the Americans lagging in the rear with 40 percent.” We didn't fare much better when it came to domestic stories.</p><p>Widespread ignorance of objective reality poses a genuine threat to democracy. The people of the United States have ignorance in abundance.</p><p>The way representative democracy is supposed to work is pretty simple: you protect the fundamental rights of the minority (so it doesn't become two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner), and then the majority of citizens, acting in their own rational self-interest, elect representatives who will pursue the greatest good for the greatest number of citizens.</p><p>That's the theory, but “rational” is a key word in that formulation. What happens when lots of citizens don't have a solid grasp of what's going on in the real world?</p><p>Consider some examples that are especially relevant to our current political scene.</p><p><b>People Don't Recognize Their Lack of Competence, Can't Judge the Competence of Politicians</b></p><p>Psychologists David Dunning of Cornell and Justin Kruger of NYU conducted a series of experiments showing that incompetent people vastly overrate their own abilities. "For people at the bottom who are really doing badly — those in the bottom 10th or 15th percentile — they think their work falls in the 60th or 55th percentile, so, above average," Dunning <a href="http://www.lifeslittlemysteries.com/2187-incompetent-people-ignorant.html">told</a> the website Life's Little Mysteries.</p><p>They do just as badly evaluating the competence of others, which poses a problem in a representative democracy. Or, as the Daily Mail <a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2108341/Is-reason-democracy-work-Study-humans-dumb-pick-right-person-lead-us.html">put it</a> in typical tabloid fashion, “the theory of democracy has an unfortunate flaw -- that most of the public are just too stupid to pick the right candidate.”</p><p>Dr Mato Nagel, a sociologist in Germany, recently implemented Prof. Dunning and Prof. Kruger's theories by computer-simulating a democratic election.</p><p>In his mathematical model of the election, he assumed that voters' own leadership skills were distributed on a bell curve — some were really good leaders, some, really bad, but most were mediocre — and that each voter was incapable of recognizing the leadership skills of a political candidate as being better than his or her own.</p><p>When such an election was simulated, candidates whose leadership skills were only slightly better than average always won.</p><p><b>Politicians Think Their Constituents Are Much Further to the Right Than Polls Suggest</b></p><p>It's not just citizens who are out of touch, according to research by David Broockman of the University of California and Christopher Skovron of the University of Michigan. They asked 2,000 state legislators – Republicans and Democrats – to estimate what percentage of their constituents favored same-sex marriage, efforts to combat global warming and universal healthcare. The two scholars found a huge gap between how conservative politicians thought their constituents were and what the polls actually showed. The divide was especially pronounced among Republicans, who overestimated their constituents' rightward tilt by an average of 20 percentage points.</p><p>"For perspective, 20 percentage points is roughly the difference in partisanship between California and Alabama," the scholars <a href="http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~broockma/broockman_skovron_asymmetric_misperceptions.pdf">wrote</a>. "Most politicians appear to believe they are representing constituents who are considerably different than their actual constituents."</p><p><b>The Wealthy Think the Wealthy Should Pay More Taxes, But They Don't Think They're Wealthy</b></p><p>In 2011, Catherine Rampell of the <em>New York Times</em> penned a series of posts showing how confused Americans are about the nation's income distribution and their place in it. “Americans all seem to think they’re 'middle class,'” she <a href="http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/04/27/everyone-is-middle-class-right/">wrote</a>, “even those in the top 5 percent of all earners. As a result they frequently misunderstand what political mantras like 'let’s tax the rich' really mean.”</p><p>She continued in <a href="http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/04/19/rich-people-still-dont-realize-theyre-rich/">a subsequent post</a>:</p><blockquote><p>The latest example is evident in a recent Gallup study, which found that 6 percent of Americans in households earning over $250,000 a year think their taxes are “too low.” Of that same group, 26 percent said their taxes were “about right,” and a whopping 67 percent said their taxes were “too high.”</p><p>And yet when this same group of high earners was asked whether “upper-income people” paid their fair share in taxes, 30 percent said “upper-income people” paid too little, 30 percent said it was a “fair share,” and 38 percent said it was too much.</p></blockquote><p>An income of $250,000 per year put them in the top <a href="http://taxpolicycenter.org/numbers/displayatab.cfm?DocID=2879">4 percent of American households</a> – "upper income" by any reasonable estimate.</p><p><b>Americans Like Sweden's Distribution of Wealth, and Think They Already Have It</b></p><p>In a 2011 study published in <i>Perspectives on Psychological Science </i><span style="font-style: normal">(<a href="http://www.people.hbs.edu/mnorton/norton%20ariely%20in%20press.pdf">PDF</a>)<i>, </i><span style="font-style: normal">Harvard economist Michael Norton and Dan Ariely, a psychologist at Duke, took a look at Americans' perceptions of how wealth is stratified in this country and what an “ideal” distribution of wealth might look like.</span></span></p><p>They found that “respondents vastly underestimated the actual level of wealth inequality in the United States, believing that the wealthiest quintile held about 59% of the wealth when the actual number is closer to 84%.”</p><p>Perhaps more tellingly, “respondents constructed ideal wealth distributions that were far more equitable than even their erroneously low estimates of the actual distribution, reporting a desire for the top quintile to own just 32% of the wealth.” In Sweden, those in the top one percent held 36 percent of the country's wealth when the study was conducted.</p><p><b>Government Spending Has Decreased Under Obama, But Nobody Knows It</b></p><p>A <a href="http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/01/18/fox-news-poll-83-percent-think-government-spending-is-out-control/">poll</a>conducted by Fox News found that 83 percent of Americans think federal spending is “out of control,” up 21 points since 2009.</p><p>But as economist Jared Bernstein <a href="http://jaredbernsteinblog.com/no-government-spending-really-isnt-going-up-right-now/">notes</a>, federal spending as a share of our economic output (which rose rapidly in 2007 and 2008 because of the crash) has decreased since Obama took office in 2009. Even in terms of dollars spent, rather than the share of our output, it's been essentially flat.</p><p></p><div alt="" class="media-image" height="289" width="480"><img alt="" class="media-image" height="289" width="480" typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/large/public/spending_gdp.png" /></div><p>Writing at Forbes, Rick Ungar <a href="http://www.forbes.com/sites/rickungar/2012/05/24/who-is-the-smallest-government-spender-since-eisenhower-would-you-believe-its-barack-obama/">adds</a> that spending has grown more slowly under Obama than any other administration since... wait for it... Eisenhower. That includes the 2009 stimulus package. (And of course, during his first term, Reagan led the pack in terms of increased federal spending. The younger Bush's second term came in second.)</p><p></p><div alt="" class="media-image" height="252" width="377"><img alt="" class="media-image" height="252" width="377" typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/large/public/sloest_spender.jpg" /></div><p><b>The Deficit Has Been Stabilized and Is Shrinking, But Only 6 Percent of Americans Know It</b></p><p>According to the Congressional Budget Office, federal deficits projected over the next 10 years <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2013/02/05/1546041/4-things-the-new-congressional-budget-office-projections-show-us-about-the-economy/">have fallen dramatically</a> – by $4.5 trillion – since late 2010. CBO says this year's deficit will work out to $845 billion, the first time it's been under a trillion dollars since 2008. But over that same period, Americans of all political stripes have become more concerned with the deficit, according to <a href="http://www.people-press.org/2013/01/24/deficit-reduction-rises-on-publics-agenda-for-obamas-second-term/">Pew</a>.</p><p>What's driving that disconnect? Simple ignorance. A <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-02-22/americans-back-spending-cut-delay-amid-budget-deal-push.html">poll</a> conducted by Bloomberg News found that “the size and trajectory of the U.S. deficit is poorly understood by most Americans, with 62 percent saying it’s getting bigger, 28 percent saying it’s staying about the same this year, and just 6 percent saying it’s shrinking.”</p><p><b>Foreign Aid Is Pocket Change</b></p><p>The age-old conundrum in terms of the public's view of fiscal priorities is that Americans want lower taxes, less government and lower deficits, but oppose cuts to any specific programs other than “defense.”</p><p>How does one square that circle? By noting how out of touch most people are with how their tax dollars are spent. A <a href="http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2011/04/01/cnn-poll-americans-flunk-budget-iq-test/">2011 poll conducted by CNN</a> found that Americans, on average, think we spend 10 percent of the federal budget on foreign aid, and one in five said we spend 30 percent or more helping others abroad. The actual figure: about one percent.</p><p>The average American also thinks we spend 5 percent of the budget on public broadcasting, when in fact it's just one tenth of one percent.</p><p>According to a <a href="http://www.gallup.com/poll/149543/Americans-Say-Federal-Gov-Wastes-Half-Every-Dollar.aspx">2011 Gallup poll</a>, “Americans on average say that the federal government wastes 51 cents of every tax dollar, the highest level ever recorded since the poll was first taken in 1979.”</p><p>Waste is a subjective term, but here's where your dollars go, according to the <a href="http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&amp;id=1258">Center for Budget and Policy Priorities</a>.</p><p></p><div alt="" class="media-image" height="480" width="270"><img alt="" class="media-image" height="480" width="270" typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/large/public/whereourtaxdollarsgo-f1_rev9-6-12.jpg" /></div><p><b>So, Should We Just Give Up On Democracy?</b></p><p>Winston Churchill is thought to have said, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” (He did say it, but he was quoting a predecessor at the time.) The problem isn't the form of government, but the ignorance of our polity. And that's a problem that can be addressed.</p><p>The study cited above which found that people in the UK, Denmark and Finland are significantly better informed about the issues of the day noted that some of the differences can be attributed to various models of media funding. The three European countries all have more public television and radio, which the researchers found offered more hard news and analysis, and less puffery.</p><p>Education is another big difference. In those countries, spending on education is more or less uniform between schools and school districts. In the U.S., the amount spent on education varies wildly by school, district and state. And while it's in vogue to blame teachers and their unions for what ails our educational system, the reality is that poverty and inequality are the driving forces behind our kids' relatively low educational outcomes.</p><p>As Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford, <a href="http://www.alternet.org/education/teachers-make-handy-scapegoats-spiraling-inequality-really-what-ails-our-education-system">told AlterNet</a>, “students in American schools where fewer than 10 percent of the students live in poverty actually are number one in the world in reading. The place where we really see the negative effects are in the growing number of schools with concentrated poverty, where more than 75 percent of children are poor. The children in those schools score at levels that are near those of developing countries.”</p> Mon, 29 Dec 2014 10:28:00 -0800 Joshua Holland, AlterNet 1029454 at http://admin.alternet.org Belief Belief Education public opinion deficit economy 4 Bogus Right-Wing Theories About Poverty http://admin.alternet.org/hard-times-usa/4-bogus-right-wing-theories-about-poverty <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">All of the false narratives are intended to distract from the structural causes of poverty and inequality.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_72505693-edited.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>When is a secret not at all secret? Consider the fact that one in three Americans are poor, if we define it as struggling to cover the basic necessities of life. That's according to a Census Bureau analysis, and it was reported in the <em>New York Times</em>, but I have yet to hear a politician or pundit make reference to this eye-opening reality of our vaunted “new economy.”</p><p>In 2011, the Census Bureau took a new look at the “near-poor” – Americans with incomes between 100 and 150 percent of the poverty line. They found that this group, most of whom earn paychecks and pay taxes, represented a whopping one in six U.S. households – a figure that was almost twice as high as had previously been thought.</p><p>When those under the poverty line are added, Census found that a stunning 33 percent of the population was struggling to make ends meet in 2010. Analyzing the Census data, the Working Poor Project <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/15/us-usa-economy-workingpoor-idUSBRE90E05520130115">suggested</a> that the number of near-poor, which they define as those making between 100 and 200 percent of the poverty line, continued to inch up in 2011 as many returning to work in this sluggish recovery have been forced to settle for lower-paying service jobs.</p><p>Nearly five years after economists tell us the “recovery” began, <a href="http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/report-nearly-half-americans-have-no-safety-net-keep-them-out-poverty">almost half of all American households</a> lack enough savings to stay above the poverty line for three months or more if they should find themselves out of work. Another third are living paycheck to paycheck, teetering on the brink with no savings at all.</p><p>It would require a lengthy sociological treatise to fully explain why this isn't considered a huge national crisis. But one part of the equation is the existence of a long-standing and ideologically informed project by the right to portray the burden of living in or near poverty as a liberal delusion. In these narratives, which come in a variety of forms, the poor have it pretty darn good – good enough that we really shouldn't spend much time thinking about them.</p><p>For these conservative think-tankers, pundits and politicians, obscuring America's grinding poverty and spiraling inequality is an exercise in service of a status quo that works pretty well for them, but not for most families.</p><p><strong>1. But the poor have color TVs.</strong></p><p>Consider the <a href="http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2007/08/how-poor-are-americas-poor-examining-the-plague-of-poverty-in-america">boilerplate conservative column</a> about how many wondrous household appliances the average low-income household owns. Back in the 1930s, this argument goes, poor people didn't have running water, but now they have color TVs, so life is good.</p><p>As I write this, <a href="http://sfbay.craigslist.org/zip/">my local Craigslist</a> offers multiple televisions, a dining set, several treadmills, a mountain bike, an oven (with hood), a blender, a coffeemaker, a slew of couches and beds, a piano, a hot-tub (needs repair) and a complete stereo system, all free to anyone who will pick them up. We live in a consumer economy that creates an abundance of surplus and rapidly obsolete goods, and people who struggle to put food on the table can nonetheless get their hands on all manner of electronics for nothing.</p><p><strong>2. The poor have lots of room to enjoy poverty</strong>.</p><p>A similar argument holds that in the United States, poor people have more living space, on average, than low-income households in other developed nations. As the <em>Wall Street Journal</em> was <a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB108751426815241018,00.html?mod=opinion_main_review_and_outlooks">eager to point out</a>, “The average living space for poor American households is 1,200 square feet. In Europe, the average space for all households, not just the poor, is 1,000 square feet.”</p><p>Perhaps that's true, but it's also divorced from context. There is a simple matter of population density at work: in the core states of the European Union, there are 120 people per square kilometer; in the United States, we only have 29 people per kilometer. And the average is a bit misleading as it includes the rural poor – low-income households in tightly packed urban centers don't tend to have 1,200-square-foot apartments.</p><p><strong>3. The poor are actually rolling in money.</strong></p><p>A new and equally distorted argument entered the conservative discourse just recently. It holds that poor families receive $168 per day in government benefits – more than the median weekly income in this country. If that were true, low-income households in the United States would enjoy quite comfortable living standards.</p><p>But as I noted last month, that number is <a href="http://www.alternet.org/economy/how-astounding-new-right-wing-lie-about-economy-born">inflated by around eight-fold</a>. The claim originated with Robert Rector at the Heritage Foundation and then underwent some revisions on its journey to Republican congressional staffers, and finally to the conservative media. It gets to that number by counting things like federal aid to rebuild communities after natural disasters as “welfare,” including programs that assist the middle class and the wealthy and then dividing the costs of all these programs by the number of households under the poverty line, despite the fact that many more families benefit from them.</p><p><strong>4. It’s just how they are.</strong></p><p>And then there are the ever-popular cultural explanations for poverty. This is a storyline based on confusing correlation with causation – a rookie mistake in any introductory college class.</p><p>The Heritage Foundation, for example (it's Robert Rector again), sees a lot of poor, single-parent households, and <a href="http://blog.heritage.org/2011/08/17/one-in-five-children-poor%E2%80%94but-what-does-that-mean/">would have you believe</a> that “the main causes of child poverty are low levels of parental work and the absence of fathers.”</p><p>But this gets the causal relationship wrong. The number of single-parent households exploded between the 1970s and the 1990s, <a href="http://www.edu.pe.ca/southernkings/familysingle.htm">more than doubling,</a> yet the poverty rate remained relatively constant. In fact, before the crash of 2008, the poverty rate was lower than it had been in the 1970s. So, as the rate of single-parent households skyrocketed, poverty declined a little bit. Saying single-parent homes create poverty is like claiming the rooster causes the sun to rise.</p><p>As I've <a href="http://www.alternet.org/module/printversion/151830">noted</a> in the past, this is an essential piece of the “culture of poverty” narrative, and it is nonsense. Jean Hardisty, the author of <em>Marriage as a Cure for Poverty: A Bogus Formula for Women</em>, cited a number of studies showing that poor women have the same dreams as everyone else: they “often aspire to a romantic notion of marriage and family that features a white picket fence in the suburbs.” But low economic status leads to fewer marriages, not the other way around.</p><p>In 1998, the Fragile Families Study looked at 3,700 low-income unmarried couples in 20 U.S. cities. The authors found that 90 percent of the couples living together wanted to tie the knot, but only 15 percent had actually done so by the end of the one-year study period. And here’s the key finding: for every dollar that a man’s hourly wages increased, the odds that he’d get hitched by the end of the year rose by 5 percent. Men earning more than $25,000 during the year had twice the marriage rates of those making less than $25,000.</p><p>Writing up the findings for the <em>Nation</em>, Sharon Lerner noted that poverty itself “seems to make people feel less entitled to marry.” As one father in the survey put it, marriage means “not living from check to check.”</p><p><strong>Why People Are Really Poor</strong></p><p>During a period of less than 20 years beginning in the early 1980s, the American economy underwent dramatic changes. It was a period of policy-driven de-unionization and the offshoring of millions of decent manufacturing jobs. The tax code underwent dramatic changes, as CEO pay sky-rocketed and the financial sector came to represent a much larger share of our economic output than it had during the four decades or so following World War II.</p><p>And our distribution of income changed dramatically as well. During the 35 years prior to Ronald Reagan's election, the top one percent of U.S. households had taken in an average of 10 percent of the nation's income. When Reagan left office in 1988, those at the top were grabbing 15.5 percent of the pie, and by the time George W. Bush took office in 2000, they were taking over 20 percent of the nation's income.</p><p>We can either believe that this shift was a result of changes in public policy (combined with new technologies), or that in just two decades there was some sort of rapid cultural decline among everyone but those at the top of the economic heap.</p><p>All of the false narratives are intended to distract from the structural causes of poverty and inequality, and they ignore two simple and indisputable truths. First, contrary to popular belief, we don't all start out with the same opportunities. The reality is that in the United States today, the best predictor of a newborn baby's economic future is how much money her parents make.</p><p>It also ignores the fact that living in an individualistic, capitalist society carries inherent risk. You can do everything right – study hard, work diligently, keep your nose clean – but if you fall victim to a random workplace accident, you can nevertheless end up being disabled in the blink of an eye and find yourself in need of public assistance. You can end up bankrupt under a pile of healthcare bills or you could lose your job if you're forced to take care of an ailing parent. Children – innocents who aren't even old enough to work for themselves – are among the largest groups receiving various forms of public assistance.</p><p>The reality, despite the spin from the conservative movement, is that poverty in America is very real, and it's anything but fun.</p> Mon, 29 Dec 2014 08:37:00 -0800 Joshua Holland, AlterNet 1029446 at http://admin.alternet.org Hard Times USA Economy Hard Times USA economy poverty The Rent Is Too Damn High — And It Doesn’t Have To Be http://admin.alternet.org/economy/rent-too-damn-high-and-it-doesnt-have-be <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">We&#039;re spending more money on rent without a raise in our income.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/5147745552_930f0b9de9_z.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>A series of ugly economic dynamics have come together to create a serious shortage of affordable housing in the US.</p><p>The rent <em>is</em>too damn high, and here are some reasons why: Demand for rental properties is way up. Millions of families lost homes in the crash. Others, who might have been able to secure a loan to purchase a home when the banks were handing mortgages out like candy are now unable to meet stricter lending requirements that were put in place after the bubble burst. According to <a href="http://www.census.gov/housing/hvs/data/histtab14a.xls" target="_blank">Census data</a>, today’s home ownership rate is around four percentage points lower than it was before the Great Recession.</p><p>Supply isn’t keeping up. The crash brought new housing construction to a screeching halt. Typically, builders add around a million housing units per year to keep up with population growth. But between 2008 and 2010, we added only <a href="http://www.census.gov/housing/hvs/data/histtab7.xls" target="_blank">a half million</a> units, and two million more in the three years since then.</p><p>So demand for rentals has outpaced supply. Before the crash, 10 percent of rental units were vacant. Today, <a href="http://www.census.gov/housing/hvs/data/histtab1.xls" target="_blank">that figure stands at 7.4 percent</a>. You have to go back almost 20 years, to early 1995, to find a vacancy rate that low.</p><p>Meanwhile, incomes for most Americans remain well below what they were before the crash. In fact, when adjusted for inflation, the median income — for the family right in the middle of the pack– <a href="https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/economy/news/2014/09/16/97203/what-the-new-census-data-show-about-the-continuing-struggles-of-the-middle-class/" target="_blank">is below what it was <em>in 1989</em></a>. So taken together, median income and rental costs look like this graphic from <em><a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/06/rental-affordability-crisis-hud" target="_blank">Mother Jones</a></em>:</p><br /><div alt="" class="media-image" height="436" width="596"><img alt="" class="media-image" height="436" width="596" typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://ancientwww.alternet.org/files/story_images/rent_prices_are_going_up_0.jpg" /></div> <em>Created with <a class="lgo" href="https://datawrapper.de/" target="_blank">Datawrapper</a></em><br /><em>Source: <a class="source" href="http://www.jchs.harvard.edu/sites/jchs.harvard.edu/files/jchs_americas_rental_housing_2013_1_0.pdf" target="_blank">Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University</a></em><p> </p><p>That means renters are spending a larger share of their incomes on housing. The federal government defines housing costs as “unaffordable” when they exceed 30 percent of one’s income. The number of households shelling out more than that — and in some cases more than half of their incomes — has been rising, as this graphic reveals:</p><p></p><div alt="" class="media-image" height="427" width="697"><img alt="" class="media-image" height="427" width="697" typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://ancientwww.alternet.org/files/more_of_us_are_paying_more_money_for_rent.jpg" /></div><em>Created with <a class="lgo" href="https://datawrapper.de/" target="_blank">Datawrapper</a></em><br /><em>Source: <a class="source" href="http://www.jchs.harvard.edu/sites/jchs.harvard.edu/files/jchs_americas_rental_housing_2013_1_0.pdf" target="_blank">Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University</a></em><p> </p><p>(Those who can afford to own aren’t necessarily doing better. While loan rates remain low and sales prices haven’t fully rebounded since the real estate bubble burst, the latest trend on Wall Street is to buy up distressed properties in bulk, take them off the market for a while and then resell them down the road when prices go up. Financial reporter <a href="http://www.newrepublic.com/article/112395/wall-street-hedge-funds-buy-rental-properties" target="_blank">David Dayen writes</a> that this process is “starting bidding wars that have driven up some prices well above national averages.” According to the real estate tracking firm Zillow, even with today’s low interest rates, the total costs of owning a home are <a href="http://www.forbes.com/sites/zillow/2013/04/16/high-home-price-to-income-ratios-hiding-behind-low-mortgage-rates/" target="_blank">above historical norms in 24 of the 30 largest metro areas</a> it covers.)</p><p>And these national trends don’t tell the whole story. The real estate markets that were hottest during the growth of the real estate bubble have seen the most painful crashes. So the “affordability gap” is a problem that’s concentrated in select urban areas, and is hitting renters the hardest.</p><p>Some cities — and some states — are taking an aggressive approach to their affordability gaps. Others are doing little or nothing to increase the supply of affordable housing.</p><p>What’s clear is that at the federal, state and local levels, a lot more could be done.</p><p>Stuart Meck, a planning expert at Rutgers’ Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, tells BillMoyers.com that the most effective way to increase the supply of affordable housing isn’t necessarily the easiest political lift: “Probably the most effective way to get affordable housing built is through mandatory inclusionary zoning, where any developer who wants to build market-rate housing has to provide a certain amount of housing that’s affordable for a household making up to 80 percent of the area’s median income.”</p><p>Some communities have enacted optional programs that incentivize developers who choose to build affordable units, but Meck says that landlords tend to shy away from these incentives because of the added administrative work. “It means that every year you have to income-qualify all of the tenants, which adds significant additional costs,” says Meck.</p><p>Another approach is to conduct what the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) calls “an analysis of impediments.” That means going through a community’s zoning requirements and eliminating unnecessary restrictions on adding new stock. “You could allow denser housing, or change your public works standards if they’re gold-plated,” says Meck. “You might allow higher buildings — all of these things might loosen up the code and make it easier to build more housing.” That process can be politically fraught — opinions vary as to what codes are “unnecessary” — but Meck says it can be quite effective in cities with dense zoning requirements.</p><p>Some metropolitan areas have established “regional housing trust funds” which take developer fees, federal block grants for community development and other sources of funding, then turn those dollars around to give developers an incentive to build affordable housing. These programs have borne fruit in communities like Clark County, Washington; Sacramento, California and Columbus, Ohio.</p><p>Forty-seven states have established similar funds, but with varying degrees of effectiveness and a lot of variation in funding levels. In Washington State, a model program called the Housing Trust Fund receives, according to HUD, “steady-stream revenues from various sources, including interest on upfront payments in mortgage transactions, loan repayments, capital bonds, and state legislature funding.” The program was established in 1987, and by 2013, “$5.50 in additional funds had been leveraged for every dollar awarded from the housing trust fund.”</p><p>In 2005, a 10-year MacArthur Foundation grant helped establish Chicago’s Preservation Compact of Cook County. It’s a public-private partnership that brings together housing experts, community organizers and local politicians to identify ways to promote affordable housing through regulation, retrofitting old rundown properties, and reducing landlords’ operating costs with credits to improve energy efficiency and tax breaks. It has generated enough success that four years later, MacArthur put seed money into a similar project, the Ohio Preservation Compact.</p><p>The federal government’s primary tool for making housing affordable is the Section 8 voucher program, named after a provision of the Housing Act of 1937. This program makes up the difference between 30 percent of qualified tenants’ incomes and market based rents. It provides tenants with vouchers they can give to their landlords, or guarantees that the government will make up what landlords who choose to build affordable housing projects would lose compared to building market-rate housing.</p><p>But the Section 8 housing program has faced a series of cuts, including deep reductions as a result of the sequester. And when tenants leave project-based Section 8 housing, they lose the subsidy. So they tend to stay put, and there are long waits for apartments to open up. What’s more, there aren’t enough tenant-based vouchers to go around, and that waiting list is long, too. And then many landlords refuse to accept the tenant vouchers.</p><p>A simple change to the Housing Act requiring landlords to accept the vouchers would resolve the latter problem. Increasing the program’s funding — or at least restoring it to pre-sequester levels — could help deal with the former.</p><p>Then there are outside-the-box ideas that could make an impact. Economist Dean Baker has long advocated that families who lose their homes to foreclosure be granted a “<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/12/opinion/12thu2.html?_r=0" target="_blank">right to rent</a>” their properties at market rate for an extended period of time. This would help on the demand side of the equation by keeping people in their homes rather than moving into rental units while those bank-owned properties sit idle. It’s been endorsed by experts from across the political spectrum — and a bill has been introduced in Congress — but so far the idea has gained little traction within the Beltway.</p><p>The take-away from all of this is that while many of our communities are facing a crisis of affordable housing, it doesn’t have to be that way. There are a number of approaches to this very real problem, but so far our political class hasn’t been up to the task. The real estate lobbies don’t want the restrictions, and, as is true with so many other bread-and-butter issues, the politicians effectively have turned a blind eye to the problem.</p> Wed, 03 Dec 2014 13:40:00 -0800 Joshua Holland, BillMoyers.com 1028109 at http://admin.alternet.org Economy Economy rent affordable housing section 8 income Missing in the American Media: Working People http://admin.alternet.org/economy/missing-american-media-working-people <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Poverty? Jobs? Worker&#039;s rights? Reality has gone AWOL.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/televisionhead.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Working Americans are woefully underrepresented in our mainstream media.</p><p>According to <a href="http://fair.org/take-action/media-advisories/labor-almost-invisible-on-tv-talk/" target="_blank">an analysis by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting</a> (FAIR), the media watchdog group, so far this year “not a single representative of a labor union” has appeared on any of the four Sunday network talk shows (NBC’s “Meet the Press,” ABC’s “This Week,” “Fox News Sunday” and CBS’s “Face the Nation”).</p><p>And it’s not that they were too preoccupied with Beltway politics to examine issues that affect working families. According to FAIR, during the year these “shows touched on issues like poverty, jobs and workers’ rights. There were even discussions of efforts to organize college athletes… But representatives of organized labor were not part of these conversations.”</p><p>Corporate CEOs, in contrast, got plenty of face time on these influential shows. Current and former CEOs made 12 appearances on the four Sunday shows in 2014.</p><p>The challenges real households face are also largely absent from the fictional families we see on TV. In the 1970s, some of the top-rated sitcoms were about hard-working families struggling to get by in a tough economy. Norman Lear became a legendary Hollywood producer with shows like “Good Times,” “One Day at a Time,” “Sanford and Son” and “All in the Family.” All of these shows featured storylines that reflected the the kinds of problems real people face every day — struggling to pay the bills or worrying about losing a job.</p><p>For the most part, today’s sitcoms portray economic insecurity as a charming — and momentary — passage of youth. Lena Dunham’s hit show “Girls” features twentysomething characters who frequently quit jobs because they’re still trying to “find their way” — or are artists just waiting to be discovered. In the meantime, they are <a href="http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/alpha-consumer/2012/04/16/the-economic-reality-behind-hbos-girls" target="_blank">outraged when their parents threaten to stop paying</a> for them to live comfortably in relatively plush New York apartments. Even the characters in CBS’s “Two Broke Girls” live in a hip pad in Williamsburg; when they decide to start their own business, their boss is good enough to lend them $20,000 in seed money.</p><p>The last commercial broadcast show that came close to a realistic portrayal of an American family struggling to make ends meet was probably “Roseanne,” which went off the air in 1997. During her quixotic presidential run in 2012, <a href="http://www.alternet.org/story/155586/roseanne_barr_on_presidential_run%3A_two_major_parties_are_a_%27bunch_of_prostitutes_who_work_for_big_money%27" target="_blank">I asked Roseanne Barr</a> why mainstream sitcoms no longer dealt with the struggles so many working people experience. “I don’t think that would be in the interest of the people who control what goes on here,” she told me. Barr talked about media consolidation following deregulation in the 1990s, and added that corporations ”took control of all content, all context and all message. They think that the plight of the 99 percent of Americans isn’t worthy of being discussed in any media.”</p><p>If that’s the case, then there’s a real gap between the economy many American families experience first-hand and that portrayed in our major media. In advance of the Labor Day weekend, the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University <a href="http://www.heldrich.rutgers.edu/sites/default/files/products/uploads/Work_Trends_August_2014.pdf" target="_blank">released a new report</a> which found that the majority of Americans are “unhappy, worried and pessimistic” about the economy as it reaches the fifth year of recovery from The Great Recession.</p><p>According to the report:</p><blockquote><p>The vast majority of Americans see the recession as having wrought fundamental and lasting changes across a wide number of areas of economic and social life, including the affordability of college (historically important for upward mobility in American society), the age at which people are able to retire, workers’ job security, and retirees having to work part time. While majorities say the recession left permanent changes in these areas, there is about another third who say these areas will not return to pre-recession levels for many years to come. A significant number also think that the workplace will become less attractive in future years… half (53 percent) think job security is a thing of the past…. A large segment (40 percent) bemoans the loss of “good jobs at good pay” for those who want to work. Finally, just over one-third think the U.S. unemployment rate will be stuck at a high level forever (35 percent) and half say it will be for a long time to come (49 percent).</p></blockquote><p>This is the way most families see the economy they’re navigating today, but you would be hard-pressed to know that from turning on your TV.</p><p> </p> Wed, 03 Sep 2014 10:37:00 -0700 Joshua Holland, Moyers &amp; Company 1017852 at http://admin.alternet.org Economy Economy Labor Media News & Politics abc All in the Family cbs face the nation fox news sunday Good Times John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development labor day lena dunham meet the press nbc new york Norman Lear One Day at a Time Person Career roseanne barr Rutgers University Sanford and Son USD united states legendary Hollywood producer media consolidation media watchdog single representative 10 Races That May Hinge on "The War on Women" http://admin.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/10-races-may-hinge-war-women <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Overall, the Democratic advantage is most pronounced among younger, unmarried women. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_181813760.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>As a coherent and consistent political narrative, “the war on women” is relatively new. But the underlying tension between conservative religious beliefs and women’s access to reproductive health care — including legal abortion without overly burdensome regulation and insurance coverage for contraceptives — is not.</p><p>Nor is the gender-gap in American politics. In 2012, Barack Obama took advantage of a record <a href="http://www.gallup.com/poll/158588/gender-gap-2012-vote-largest-gallup-history.aspx" target="_blank">20-point gap</a> between men and women, but similar gaps have been been apparent since the rise of the religious right as a force in American politics, as this chart by Nate Silver illustrates:</p><p><a href="http://cdn.billmoyers.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Screen-Shot-2014-07-17-at-12.56.11-PM.png"><img alt="" src="http://cdn.billmoyers.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Screen-Shot-2014-07-17-at-12.56.11-PM.png" /></a><br />In 2012, Barack Obama lost by 8 points among men and won by 12 points among women, for a 20-point gender-gap.</p><p>The Democratic advantage is most pronounced among younger, unmarried women. Courting this voting bloc is a key strategy for Democratic candidates because, asThe Washington Post <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/women-could-be-critical-to-key-races-and-both-parties-are-going-all-out-to-get-their-votes/2014/04/27/6062ff6e-ce1b-11e3-937f-d3026234b51c_story.html" target="_blank">noted</a> in April, “Women make up a larger percentage of the electorate than men, [and] are disproportionately likely to go to the polls in midterm election years.”</p><p>Getting these voters to the polls will be crucially important for Democrats in this year’s midterms, as their party faces strong headwinds going into November’s election.</p><p>Here, in no particular order, are 10 races where “the war on women” narrative may play a decisive role.</p><p><strong>North Carolina Senate</strong></p><p>US Sen. Kay Hagan (D) holds <a href="http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2014/senate/nc/north_carolina_senate_tillis_vs_hagan-3497.html" target="_blank">a three-point advantage</a> over her challenger Thom Tillis, Speaker of North Carolina’s House of Representatives, which has become one of the most right-wing legislatures in the country. But that modest lead is driven by Hagan breaking even with Tillis among men, while enjoying a significant advantage among women — two polls released in late June had her up with female voters by margins of <a href="http://www.politicsnc.com/reaping-what-he-sowed-the-tillis-gender-gap/" target="_blank">10- and 13-points</a>.</p><p>Hagan’s strategy has been to motivate her voters by tying Tillis to the extremism of the state’s legislature. A typical mailer, sent out by her campaign last week, reads in part:</p><blockquote><p>Less than 24 hours.</p><p>That’s how long it took the North Carolina Senate to sneak sweeping anti-women’s health measures into a totally unrelated bill and then force a vote on it.</p><p>The legislation will limit access to preventive care and health services, and it does nothing to improve patient safety….</p><p>Join me in demanding that North Carolina lawmakers do the right thing, and stop this war on women.</p><p>Thanks for standing with me, as well as with women and families all across North Carolina.</p></blockquote><p><strong>Michigan Senate</strong></p><p>This is an interesting race that pits a Republican woman, former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, against Democrat Rep. Gary Peters in the fight for Michigan’s open senate seat. Incumbent US Senator Carl Levin is retiring.</p><p>Land came out of the gate in April with a TV ad that won high praise for it’s originality. Titled “Really?,” the ad mocks the idea that she could be waging a “war on women.”</p><p><img alt="" src="http://www.alternet.org/files/styles/large/public/media-youtube/dc_AAje-4l0.jpg" typeof="foaf:Image" /></p><p>Land is a proponent of “fetal personhood” legislation which could effectively ban abortion, as well as some forms of contraception and infertility treatments. Despite the success of the ad — and a significant fundraising advantage — Land trails Peters by 5.2 points in <a href="http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2014/senate/mi/michigan_senate_land_vs_peters-3820.html" target="_blank">Real Clear Politics’ polling average</a>, and according to the most recent <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/she-the-people/wp/2014/07/15/lands-clever-anti-war-on-women-ad-didnt-do-much-to-close-the-gender-gap-in-michigan/" target="_blank">Washington Post </a><a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/she-the-people/wp/2014/07/15/lands-clever-anti-war-on-women-ad-didnt-do-much-to-close-the-gender-gap-in-michigan/" target="_blank">poll</a>, “Peters beats Land among women by 13 points, 46 to 33.”</p><p><strong>Louisiana Senate</strong></p><p>Long considered one of the more vulnerable Democratic senators, Mary Landrieu will face off in November against Rep. Bill Cassidy (R), who is very conservative on social issues and opposes abortion, even in instances of rape or incest.</p><p>In heavily Catholic Louisiana, which has seen a series of new restrictions on abortion in recent years, Landrieu’s campaign has <a href="http://www.thenation.com/blog/180383/will-mary-landrieu-engage-war-women-louisiana-senate-race#" target="_blank">been reticent to engage in “the war on women” rhetoric</a>. Throwing another twist in the narrative, Cassidy won praise for his compassion dealing with his unmarried 17-year-old daughter’s pregnancy, which the media <a href="http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2014/07/03/louisianas-bill-cassidy-says-teen-daughter-pregnant-report-says/" target="_blank">reported</a> earlier this month. This race may well hinge on Obamacare if Landrieu remains wary of bringing up the issue of women’s health.</p><p>Cassidy enjoys a slim, <a href="http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2014/senate/la/louisiana_senate_cassidy_vs_landrieu-3670.html" target="_blank">one-point advantage in Real Clear Politics’ polling average</a>.</p><p><strong>Iowa Senate</strong></p><p>In the race for retiring US Senator Tom Harkin’s seat, Rep. Bruce Braley (D) was trailing Republican State Senator Joni Ernst by <a href="http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2014/senate/ia/iowa_senate_ernst_vs_braley-3990.html" target="_blank">less than a point</a> after a series of unforced errors, including an ad portraying Ernst, a veteran who served in the Middle East, as a “<a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/news/iowa-democrat-bruce-braleys-chick-ad-draws-cries-of-sexism/" target="_blank">chick</a>” — a baby chicken — that many found sexist.</p><p>But according to a Quinnipiac poll conducted two weeks later (which had Braley up by 4), the Democrat continued to enjoy a double-digit lead over Ernst among women.</p><p>Ernst has a strong anti-abortion record. In <a href="http://www.lifenews.com/2014/06/17/iowa-senate-candidate-joni-ernst-gets-support-from-pro-lifers/" target="_blank">endorsing Ernst</a>, National Right to Life President Carol Tobias said, “Joni Ernst has been an outspoken leader in the fight to protect innocent human life in Iowa” and “will bring her record of strong pro-life leadership to the U.S. Senate.” She favored a “personhood” bill and another banning abortion after 20 weeks that many consider to be a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade.</p><p><strong>Kentucky Senate</strong></p><p>In one of the most closely-watched races this cycle, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes trails Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in a very red state by just <a href="http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2014/senate/ky/kentucky_senate_mcconnell_vs_grimes-3485.html" target="_blank">1.5 points</a>, and has set a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/15/alison-lundergan-grimes-fundraising_n_5588848.html" target="_blank">record for fundraising in the Bluegrass State</a>.</p><p>This race may be Ground Zero for women’s issues. Grimes has <a href="http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2014/05/22/alison_lundergan_grimes_embraces_her_gender_in_kentucky_senate_race_hints.html" target="_blank">all but called McConnell a sexist</a> dinosaur, highlighting an incumbent whose record includes<a href="http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/04/08/1290553/-McConnell-calls-equal-pay-the-left-s-latest-bizarre-obsession" target="_blank">calling equal pay</a> a “bizarre obsession” of the left, and voting repeatedly against fair pay legislation and the Violence Against Women Act.</p><p><strong>Georgia Senate</strong></p><p>We won’t know who Democrat Michelle Nunn, daughter of former Senator Sam Nunn, will face in November until next week’s Republican runoff between Rep. Jack Kingston and businessman David Purdue, a tea party favorite. But Nunn is considered to be a strong contender to go against the national tide in a red state, and has aggressively courted the women’s vote. It will certainly play in the general election against either Kingston, who voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act and said poor kids should have to <a href="http://crooksandliars.com/2013/12/rep-kingston-we-will-gain-society-forcing" target="_blank">sweep the floors to earn their school lunches</a>, or Purdue, whose company <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/05/georgia-senate-david-perdue-gender-pay-discrimination-lawsuit" target="_blank">paid $15 million in 2007 to settle a class action suit</a> charging that it routinely discriminated against women.</p><p><strong>Colorado Senate</strong></p><p>Incumbent Mark Udall (D) holds a slim, <a href="http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2014/senate/co/colorado_senate_gardner_vs_udall-3845.html" target="_blank">one-point lead</a> over Rep. Cory Gardner. Udall’s first campaign ad came out hard against Gardner’s extreme positions on contraception and abortion. Gardner sponsored the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” which famously would have <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2012/08/19/712251/how-todd-akin-and-paul-ryan-partnered-to-redefine-rape/" target="_blank">redefined rape in federal law</a>.</p><p><img alt="" src="http://www.alternet.org/files/styles/large/public/media-youtube/Y11L7Z2A9vs.jpg" typeof="foaf:Image" /></p><p>Outside groups are running similar ads. According to <a href="http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/first-read/mind-gender-gap-women-boost-dems-key-states-n156141" target="_blank">NBC</a>, which found Udall enjoying a significant lead among women, “70% of Colorado voters in the NBC/Marist poll said they were less likely to vote for a candidate who supports restrictions on the use of contraception.”</p><p><strong>New Hampshire Senate</strong></p><p>This is not a terribly close race — Real Clear Politics rates it “leans Dem” — but it’s worth noting because incumbent Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s lead over former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown is being driven entirely by the gender-gap (Brown first has to win a Republican primary in September but his victory in that race is considered inevitable).</p><p>As he did in Massachusetts, Brown has tried to portray himself as an independent Republican who is moderate on social issues — in 2012 he said he was pro-choice. Shaheen and her surrogates have embraced “the war on women” narrative, and hammered Brown for twice voting against the Paycheck Fairness Act while in the Senate.</p><p>According to a <a href="http://maristpoll.marist.edu/716-new-hampshire-election-2014-gender-gap-drives-contest-for-u-s-senate/#sthash.zllQAunm.dpuf" target="_blank">Marist poll released on Wednesday</a>, Brown leads Shaheen among men by a nine-point margin (51-42), while Shaheen outpaces Brown among women by 25 percentage points (59-34).</p><p><strong>Nevada’s Third District</strong></p><p>We’ve focused on Senate races because control of the chamber is up for grabs in November, but there are a couple of House races worth watching as well.</p><p>One is Nevada’s 3rd congressional district. The district currently leans toward Republican incumbent Joe Heck, but his Democratic challenger, Erin Bilbray, has relentlessly pounded Heck on women’s health issues — and for campaigning with Cory Gardner (see Colorado Senate above).</p><p>Last month, Bilbray released a <a href="http://www.erinbilbray.com/news/BOSVIEW/Joe-Heck-sends-signal-to-Nevada-Women-campaigning-with-Cory-Gardner/" target="_blank">statement</a> to the press:</p><blockquote><p>Southern Nevadans should know that when it comes to being on the wrong side of women’s health issues, Joe Heck and Cory Gardner are two peas in a pod.</p><p>“Congressmen Cory Gardner and Joe Heck both have a history of supporting legislation that could outlaw abortion — even in the case of incest and rape, and common forms of birth control,” said Bilbray Campaign Manager Erica Prosser. “Gardner even co- sponsored legislation to redefine rape. Heck’s hostility towards women’s health care rights won’t go unnoticed – it’s clear he’s too dangerous to continue representing Nevada women in Congress.”</p></blockquote><p><strong>Arizona’s Second District</strong></p><p>Another House race to watch is Arizona’s 2nd congressional district, notable not only because it was held by Rep. Gabby Giffords (D), who in 2011 was wounded in an assassination attempt that killed six others, but also because the Democratic incumbent, Ron Barber, has so far kept the race close despite what National Journal <a href="http://www.nationaljournal.com/politics/dem-poll-gives-barber-edge-as-arizona-house-race-heats-up-20140613" target="_blank">described</a> as “an early ad campaign by groups like the LIBRE Initiative and Americans for Prosperity, two nonprofits with ties to the Koch brothers that have already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars” in the district.</p><p>It’s also a noteworthy race because Barber is up against Republican Martha McSally, who was the Air Force’s first female fighter pilot to fly in combat. It will be interesting to see if a gender gap emerges in this race, despite McSally’s “woman warrior” rhetoric. She is a self-described “devout Christian” who praises the “sanctity of life” on the campaign trail, while Barber is pro-choice, favors fair-pay legislation and has <a href="http://tucson-progressive.com/2014/05/09/cd2-candidates-where-do-barber-mcsally-stand-on-the-issues/" target="_blank">supported extending the ratification deadline</a> for the Equal Rights Amendment.</p> Sun, 20 Jul 2014 13:33:00 -0700 Joshua Holland, BillMoyers.com 1012106 at http://admin.alternet.org The Right Wing Media The Right Wing war on women political race politics America's Response to Child Refugees Fleeing Bloodbaths Is to Take Terrible Care of Them and Send Them Back http://admin.alternet.org/immigration/americas-response-child-refugees-fleeing-bloodbaths-take-terrible-care-them-and-send <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Wingnuts are hurling epithets at fleeing children, and media coverage of their plight is no less repugnant.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_86899966-edited.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Those seething with so much rage and xenophobia that they’d hurl ugly epithets in the faces of children fleeing bloody violence in Central America bring shame to the whole nation. But the response of mainstream America hasn’t been much better.</p><article id="post-88024"><p>The media’s characterization of what’s going on at our southern border as a “crisis,” politicians pointing fingers at one another and Washington’s refusal to provide the resources necessary to care for a small wave of refugees — not to mention the bipartisan push to send them back home — is just as shameful when one considers the context.In June, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)<a href="http://www.unhcr.org/gr13/index.xml" target="_blank">reported</a> that in 2013, the global population of refugees from war and persecution hit 51.2 million — exceeding 50 million for the first time since World War II.Half of them were children.The vast majority were “internally displaced persons,” homeless people within their home countries. Many live in fetid refugee camps run by underfunded NGOs, where they face continuing privation and abuse.</p><p>There are over ten million refugees in Africa, and five million in Asia. More than six million people have been displaced for years, and in some cases decades. The UN estimates that 6.3 million people have been displaced in Syria alone.</p><p>The US has had a hand in this global crisis. According to the UNHCR, Afghanistan accounts for the world’s largest population of refugees; in Iraq, many of the two million people who fled the country after the US-led invasion in 2003 are now returning, despite the fact that many of its 1.7 million internally displaced citizens remain homeless, and more than <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-28155663" target="_blank">one million new refugees have fled ISIS</a>, or The Islamic State. Iraq has also absorbed about one million refugees from Syria.</p><p>Many countries with nowhere near the wealth or infrastructure of the United States have kept their borders open on humanitarian grounds, including Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. The BBC <a href="http://www.unhcr.org/gr13/index.xml" target="_blank">reported</a> in June that “the UN is concerned that the burden of caring for refugees is increasingly falling on the countries with the least resources. Developing countries are host to 86% of the world’s refugees, with wealthy countries caring for just 14%.”</p><p>This immense global tragedy rarely even makes the evening news here. But step back and contrast those grisly statistics with what Americans are casually referring to as a “crisis.”</p><p>Of the world’s almost 12 million international refugees (and people living in what the UNHCR calls “refugee-like situations”), less than 400,000  – or three percent — are in <a href="http://www.unhcr.org/539809d40.html" target="_blank">Latin America</a>.</p><p>In recent years, 20,000 to 40,000 unaccompanied minors were apprehended at our Southern border, and nobody paid much attention. This year, that number is projected to exceed 60,000 — <a href="http://www.vox.com/2014/6/16/5813406/explain-child-migrant-crisis-central-america-unaccompanied-children-immigrants-daca" target="_blank">an estimated 36 percent of whom have a parent in this country</a> —  and that uptick is causing a national freakout.</p><p>It’s anything but a crisis. The US is not only one of the world’s wealthiest countries, we also have one of the lowest population densities in <a href="http://worldatlas.com/aatlas/populations/ctydensityh.htm" target="_blank">the developed world</a>.</p><p>To the degree that there is a crisis on the Southern border, it’s one of our own making: Border Patrol has been overwhelmed by the spike in detainees, especially children, and Congress refuses to devote the modest resources required to care for them in a dignified way. (As economist Dean Baker <a href="http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs/beat-the-press/president-obama-asks-congress-for-01-percent-of-the-budget-to-deal-with-children-at-the-border?utm_source=feedburner&amp;utm_medium=feed&amp;utm_campaign=Feed%3A+beat_the_press+%28Beat+the+Press%29" target="_blank">pointed out</a>, Obama’s request for $3.7 billion to address the spike in refugees — most of which would be spent sending them back to a bloodbath rather than caring for them — represents just one-tenth of 1 percent of the federal budget.)</p><p>This is not our finest hour.</p></article> Wed, 16 Jul 2014 12:16:00 -0700 Joshua Holland, Bill Moyers 1011600 at http://admin.alternet.org Immigration Immigration News & Politics refugees Political Polarization Hits New Extremes as Republicans Move to Far Right http://admin.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/political-polarization-hits-new-extremes-republicans-move-far-right <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">“Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines than at any point in the last two decades.&quot;</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_42648622.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Congress <a href="http://billmoyers.com/2014/03/01/the-gop-wont-pass-immigration-reform-%E2%80%93-and-it-could-prove-disastrous/" target="_blank">hasn’t been this polarized</a> in decades — since scholars developed objective methods of measuring lawmakers’ voting records. Twenty years ago, there was a significant number of Democrats who were more conservative than the most liberal Republican in Congress, and vice versa. Now there’s no ideological overlap between the two parties.</p><p>Political journalists often blame this sorry state of affairs on congressional “dysfunction” (while too often failing to note that <a href="http://billmoyers.com/2013/10/10/the-radicalization-of-the-gop-is-the-most-important-political-story-today/" target="_blank">Republicans have moved further to the right than Democrats have shifted to the left</a>.)</p><p>But <a href="http://www.people-press.org/2014/06/12/political-polarization-in-the-american-public/" target="_blank">a new study by the Pew Research Center</a> suggests that ordinary voters are almost as sharply divided as the lawmakers who represent them. The authors write, “Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines — and partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive — than at any point in the last two decades. These trends manifest themselves in myriad ways, both in politics and in everyday life.”</p><p>That conclusion is based on “the largest study of US political attitudes ever undertaken by the Pew Research Center” — from January through March they interviewed more than 10,000 people.</p><p>According to the report, since 1994, the share of the electorate whose opinions are either consistently liberal or consistently conservative has doubled.</p><p>Partisan rancor has also increased — Democrats and Republicans really don’t like one another. But here we see differences between the parties — there are significantly more Republicans who think that Democrats are “a threat to the nation’s wellbeing” (36 percent) than there are Democrats who believe the same of Republicans (27 percent).</p><p>But there’s also a caveat here: When George W. Bush was in office, more Democrats than Republicans held a “very unfavorable view” of the other party, but that trend has reversed under Obama. So these views may be affected by which party controls the White House. Indeed, Pew finds that approval of presidents “in the opposing party have become steadily more negative” from the 1950s — when almost half of Democratic voters had a positive view of Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower.</p><p>In any event, the study finds a strong link between ideology and antipathy toward the other party — being further out on the ideological spectrum is a pretty good predictor of how much distaste for the other party you’ll have.</p><p><img alt="" src="http://cdn.billmoyers.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Screen-Shot-2014-06-13-at-11.56.38-AM.png" /></p><p>Another area where the parties differ is in “political siloing” — the tendency to interact mostly with like-minded people. Significantly more “consistently conservative” voters (50 percent) say that it’s “important to live in a place where most people share my political views” than consistently liberal voters (35 percent). Similarly, 63 percent of staunch conservatives say most of their friends share their worldview, while 49 percent of liberals say the same.</p><p>That finding, according to Pew, is consistent with our increasing geographic separation, with conservatives drawn to suburban and exurban communities and liberals preferring densely populated cities.</p><p>As far as political gridlock goes, perhaps the most salient finding is that while those who aren’t highly engaged say politicians should meet in the middle on various issues, those who are more politically engaged — more likely to give candidates money, volunteer their time and vote in primaries — say they want lawmakers to “stick to their principles.”</p><p>Carroll Doherty, Pew’s director of political research, <a href="https://twitter.com/CarrollDoherty/status/477488874495942656" target="_blank">says</a> that future studies will investigate possible causes for the widening divide among American voters — and which came first, hyper-polarized politicians or their constituents.</p><p>The Pew data is consistent with the conclusions of other studies. An in-depth<a href="http://www.jsonline.com/news/statepolitics/democratic-republican-voters-worlds-apart-in-divided-wisconsin-b99249564z1-255883361.html" target="_blank">report for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel</a> found that city to be ideologically and geographically polarized — with both sides moving further apart in every election cycle. The University of Chicago’s Boris Shor and Princeton’s Nolan McCarty found that <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2014/01/14/how-u-s-state-legislatures-are-polarized-and-getting-more-polarized-in-2-graphs/" target="_blank">many state legislatures are now even more polarized than the US Congress</a> — and that those divides also are growing wider. (The Sunlight Foundation has <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2014/06/12/the-most-partisan-state-legislatures-in-one-interactive-chart/" target="_blank">an interesting visualization of ideological polarization</a> in state legislatures.)</p><p>Whatever the causes of this increasing political enmity between the parties, it’s making the country ungovernable. You can see that in Washington’s inability to address the foreclosure crisis or persistently high unemployment.</p><p>But it is good for one group of Americans. A study published last November in The Journal of Politics found that political gridlock correlates with the top 1 percent of households gaining a larger share of the nation’s income (<a href="http://billmoyers.com/2014/01/06/study-polarization-and-gridlock-work-well-for-the-wealthiest-americans/" target="_blank">BillMoyers.com spoke with one of the researchers about that finding</a> in January). When politicians are at each other’s throats, it mostly hurts the middle class and the poor.</p> Sun, 15 Jun 2014 11:13:00 -0700 Joshua Holland, BillMoyers.com 1003124 at http://admin.alternet.org The Right Wing Culture The Right Wing republican conservative democrat liberal politics political neighbor neighbors neighborhood divide voters america The Past Isn't Past: The Economic Case for Reparations http://admin.alternet.org/past-isnt-past-economic-case-reparations <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Hundreds of years of slavery and the American-style apartheid known as Jim Crow continue to hurt the economic prospects of African-American babies born today.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2014-06-06_at_12.22.32_pm.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>“The past is in the past; it’s time to move on.”</p><p>That’s a common response to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ eloquent essay in The Atlantic, “<a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/05/the-case-for-reparations/361631/" target="_blank">The Case for Reparations</a>,” and his <a href="http://billmoyers.com/episode/facing-the-truth-the-case-for-reparations/" target="_blank">recent discussion with Bill Moyers</a>.</p><p>But that sentiment betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of how the legacy of hundreds of years of slavery and the American-style apartheid known as Jim Crow continue to hurt the economic prospects of African-American babies born today.</p><p>“The average black family has about one-tenth of the wealth of the typical white family — that’s ten cents on the dollar,” says NYU sociologist Dalton Conley, author of <a href="http://www.ucpress.edu/book.php?isbn=9780520261303" target="_blank">Being Black, Living in the Red: Race, Wealth and Social Class in America</a>. “Income doesn’t explain the gap,” he adds. “African-Americans make about 77 cents on the white dollar, on average — the gap in income is much smaller than the gap in net worth.”</p><p>Even poor white households — those hovering around the poverty line — have $10,000 or $15,000 in accumulated wealth, according to Conley. But “the typical black family at that income level will have zero net worth, or even negative net worth, which means they’re paying interest on top of all their other bills.”</p><p>Conley studied how differences in household wealth impact the next generation’s economic prospects. While much of the discussion of black outcomes has centered around family structure, Conley’s research shows that only two family background measures really have an impact in terms of kids’ performance in school and future placement in the job market: the parents’ levels of education and wealth. “Nothing else seems to matter,” he says.</p><p>While the rate of African-Americans who complete college has increased dramatically since the Civil Rights era, the children of whites who are of college age today are around 50 percent more likely to have parents with at least a bachelor’s degree than blacks.</p><p>This is the reality that often gets lost in our heated debate over whether America has truly moved beyond its racist past — the argument over whether or not we live today in a “post-racial society.” For most of our history, blacks have been deprived of the opportunity to build wealth — through both legal and illegal means, and often with a lot of violence. It wasn’t until the mid-1960s that African-Americans became full citizens of the United States.</p><p>“Wealth,” says Conley, “more than any other socio-economic measure picks up long-term historical legacies that are being passed on from generation to generation. Given this large wealth disparity between whites and blacks, there really is an unequal playing field.”</p><p><strong>Wealth Matters</strong></p><p>Having some net worth impacts families in several important ways.</p><p>Wealth provides a cushion against economic shocks. “It’s a risky economy, and everybody needs a buffer,” says Rachel Black, an expert in asset-building at the New America Foundation. “That’s especially true for those living on the financial margins, where a small dip in their income or an unexpected expense could leave them either making material sacrifices — like skipping meals — or not being able to repair the car that they need to get to work.”</p><p>About one-third of all welfare recipients are African-Americans, a fact that helps perpetuate vicious and bigoted stereotypes about blacks being lazy and “dependent.” But the reality is that hundreds of years of structural discrimination have left black families without the same cushion that even poor white households tend to have, so when things go wrong they’re less likely to be able to get by without turning to public assistance.</p><p>But the most important way that a family’s wealth affects kids’ chances of getting ahead is through what’s known as “intergenerational assistance.”</p><p>“Wealth matters in terms of passing on a family business or helping your offspring with a down payment on a home or financing a job search,” says Dalton Conley. “Simply paying for college is a big part of it — if you have a buffer and don’t have to work two jobs to pay for college, you’re much more likely to graduate in four years.”</p><p>Because chances for young African-Americans to get their degrees diminish without such a buffer, most of today’s proposals for reparations include some sort of college fund to give young blacks the same opportunity to get an education that many white people take for granted.</p><p><strong>Place Matters</strong></p><p>The wealth gap holds down entire neighborhoods. Ta-Nehisi Coates <a href="http://billmoyers.com/episode/facing-the-truth-the-case-for-reparations/" target="_blank">told Bill Moyers</a> that a black family “that has an income of $100,000 a year, on average, actually lives in a neighborhood that’s comparable to a white family that makes $30,000 a year.”</p><p>That’s another manifestation of the black-white wealth gap. Even after the crash in the housing market, most American families hold the lion’s share of their wealth in housing.</p><p>What’s more, home values are a good indicator of the quality of the local schools. That’s a result of a virtuous cycle — neighborhoods with more expensive real estate have healthier tax bases to fund their schools. Excellent schools then attract buyers and drive up home values.</p><p>The fact that poorer neighborhoods tend to have worse schools is yet another way that the black-white wealth gap creates an uneven playing field. A modern reparations scheme could help level it.</p><p>Coates makes an historical and moral case for reparations. The wealth gap is the basis for a practical, unsentimental one. ”Even if you could wave a magic wand and make all other forms of inequality disappear today,” says Conley, “it would take a very long time for that wealth inequality to naturally dissolve.”</p><p><strong>Forty Acres and a Mule</strong></p><p>But what would a modern program of reparations really entail? It wouldn’t consist of the 40 acres and a mule many blacks expected to receive at the end of the Civil War. Fortunately, we have more recent models to look at.</p><p>After World War II, the US invested a huge number of dollars to build a (largely white) middle class with the GI Bill. Veterans returning from the war were eligible to purchase homes with low-interest loans and no down payments, get cheap loans to start businesses and have their tuition and expenses covered if they decided to get an education.</p><p>At the same time, overseas, the US implemented the Marshall Plan, investing billions to bring Europe out of the ruins. ”We might consider the equivalent of a Marshall Plan to uplift black America in the same way the European countries were rejuvenated in the aftermath of World War II,” says William Darity, Jr., a professor of African-American studies and economics at Duke University.</p><p>“I’ve talked about a portfolio of reparations, where four or five different components co-exist, and these could include what people classically think about when they hear the word ‘reparations’ — direct payments to eligible recipients. But they could also include college scholarships and funds that would allow people to start small businesses. They could include some form of long-term financial assets. There are a variety of things that could be done to address these huge racial wealth disparities.”</p><p>But Harvard legal scholar Charles Ogletree asks, “Where do you start? It’s hard to figure out.” He thinks the issue has to be resolved with a worldwide reparations scheme.</p><p>Ogletree opposes paying restitution to individuals. He would dedicate a pool of money to the basics: health care, housing and jobs. He says, “There has to be, at a minimum, a [universal] program of education — to make sure that the newborn children of people of African descent have access to a high-quality education.”</p><p>“If you look at the state of people of African descent centuries after slavery, you still see a high number of African-Americans who are willing to work but are unemployed, who are looking for housing but can’t afford it because of gentrification and other factors, who want their children to get a better education than they had, but can’t do it if they live in communities with poor school systems.”</p><p>Ogletree points out that the federal government issued an apology to Japanese-Americans interned during World War II — and paid reparations to the survivors (even if it was a small sum paid out more than 40 years after the war was over). But as William Darity notes, “no such apology ever has been made by an official entity of the US federal government either for slavery or for the Jim Crow practices that followed slavery.”</p><p>There are other questions: Who would be eligible for a reparations program? What about someone of mixed race — with a black parent whose family suffered the harms of white supremacy and a white parent whose family profited from it?</p><p>“We’re not going to count people’s fractions,” says Darity. “That’s a ridiculous exercise.” Rather, he would use two criteria for eligibility: tracing an ancestor who was enslaved in the US, and having self-identified as “black, colored, negro or African-American” on official documents at some point during the ten years prior to the establishment of a reparations program.</p><p>Darity acknowledges that it may be difficult for some people to demonstrate that they had an enslaved ancestor 200 years ago. “This would give a lot of business to the genealogists,” he says. But there is a more subtle way. “If an individual’s family appears in the 1870 census, but didn’t appear in the 1850 or 1860 census, and they were negro, then it is very likely that they had an enslaved ancestor.”</p><p><strong>Helping Black America by Closing the Wealth-Gap</strong></p><p>These ideas face a significant obstacle. Sixty years of public opinion research reveals an obvious if uncomfortable truth: Most Americans are highly supportive of anti-poverty programs in the abstract, but they take a dim view of those they perceive as helping blacks. (For more on that, see <a href="http://billmoyers.com/2014/03/06/dog-whistle-politics-why-americans-hate-welfare/">BillMoyers.com’s interview with Martin Gilens</a>, author of Why Americans Hate Welfare.)</p><p>But there’s a way to pay our bills that might be an easier lift politically: Closing the wealth gap between the haves and the have-nots. After all, people of color make up a disproportionate share of the have-nots.</p><p>Right now, American public policy runs in the opposite direction. “I think that one thing a lot of people don’t understand is the extent to which we subsidize savings for families that are already wealthy,” says the New America Foundation’s Rachel Black. “We spend about half a trillion dollars a year subsidizing the wealth of people who already have it rather than creating new wealth for families that don’t.” Black says that mismatch is “one of the major drivers of the wealth gap.”</p><p>The biggest asset subsidy in the US is the home mortgage deduction, 77 percent of which is captured by upper-middle-class households making between $75,000 and $500,000 per year, <a href="https://www.nationalpriorities.org/blog/2013/07/08/home-mortgage-interest-deduction-who-benefits/">according to the National Priorities Project</a>. “Rather than helping more families purchase homes,” says Black, the credit only “ends up inflating the size of homes that people buy and inflating the cost of homes, which makes them even less accessible for low-income families.”</p><p>After housing, we spend the most subsidizing people’s retirement savings, and the top 20 percent of earners capture two-thirds of that money. As Black notes, “The people who need this kind of investment — and the ones who benefit the most — are almost entirely left out. This is the exact opposite of effective policy-making.”</p><p>We could rationalize these policies. A number of ideas for helping poorer people build wealth have been around for years. We could offer universal 401(K)s to everyone, with the government <a href="http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/economy/news/2005/01/10/1282/a-progressive-framework-for-social-security-reform/">subsidizing the savings of low-wage workers</a>with two dollars for every dollar taken out of their paychecks.</p><p>Black points to the <a href="http://assets.newamerica.net/the_aspire_act">ASPIRE Act</a>, which would give every baby born in the US a savings account with $500. That number would be doubled for poorer kids, and the government would then match whatever a low-income family socked away dollar-for-dollar. The fund would then be restricted to paying for college, a first home, a business, or retirement. They’ve had <a href="http://assets.newamerica.net/the_united_kingdoms_child_trust_fund">a similar scheme in the UK for years</a>, and it’s considered a huge success.</p><p>“There’s been some compelling research showing that just having a savings account in a child’s own name, regardless of how much money is in it, can increase the likelihood that the child will attend college by about six times,” says Black.</p><p>Whether we focus on the wealth-gap between rich and poor or whites and blacks, we have to acknowledge that, as Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in The Atlantic, “Plunder in the past made plunder in the present efficient,” and that these huge disparities in net worth make it impossible to achieve an even playing field on which Americans are limited only by their innate skills and appetite for hard work. Without that, the historic inequities that plague our economy will only persist.</p> Fri, 06 Jun 2014 09:14:00 -0700 Joshua Holland, BillMoyers.com 1000150 at http://admin.alternet.org reparations If the GOP's Obamacare Hissy Fit Seems Bad—You Won't Believe the Plot to Overthrow FDR http://admin.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/if-gops-obamacare-hissy-fit-seems-bad-you-wont-believe-plot-overthrow-fdr <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The right&#039;s freak out over the social safety net is nothing new.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/fdr.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><article id="post-71091"><article id="post-71091"><div><p>Every baby step toward guaranteeing American working people a minimum of economic security with new social insurance programs has been greeted with howls of horror and outrage — and predictions that the end of the Republic is near. Every new addition to the safety net has been met with a concerted campaign by conservatives and the business establishment to undermine it. Eighty years after it was signed into law, the Social Security Act, arguably Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s signature piece of legislation, still is under attack from the right.</p><p>Last week, <a href="http://billmoyers.com/episode/fighting-for-the-four-freedoms/">historian Harvey J. Kaye told Bill Moyers</a> how FDR created a progressive generation that helped change American society in dramatic ways. Investigative journalist Sally Denton details a darker reality of that period in her 2011 book, <a href="http://www.sallydenton.com/the-plots-against-the-presiden/">FDR, a Nation in Crisis, and the Rise of the American Right</a>. It was a time, she writes, in which radicals of various stripes questioned the viability of American democracy and a group of bankers went so far as to plot to overthrow the president.</p><p>On Saturday, the 69th anniversary of Roosevelt’s death, BillMoyers.com spoke with Denton about this poorly remembered history. Below is a lightly edited transcript of our discussion.</p><p><strong>Joshua Holland: Today, we think of FDR as a heroic figure. He remains one of the most popular presidents in the public’s imagination. How did business interests react to his presidency at the time – and to the significant changes he was bringing about with the New Deal?</strong></p><p>Sally Denton: My book focuses on the year 1933, his first year in office, and there was great alarm throughout the country. It was the height of the Great Depression, and there was a sense that he was moving the country in a dangerous direction, especially among the moneyed interests. They saw him as a traitor to his class. There was concern that he had taken the dollar off the gold standard and there were elements on Wall Street and in major American corporations that were very worried about where he was heading.</p><p>There are parallels to today, when we see the same kind of hue and cry, and fear that America is turning socialist. But remember that Franklin Roosevelt was an über capitalist, so in retrospect, it all seems a little bit disingenuous, if not silly.</p><p><strong>Holland: There are some startling similarities in the rhetoric that was used back then. John Taber was a Republican representative from New York, and he said of Social Security, “Never in the history of the world has any measure been brought here so insidiously designed as to prevent business recovery, to enslave workers.” Daniel Reed, another Republican from New York warned, “The lash of the dictator will be felt, and 25 million free American citizens will for the first time submit themselves to a fingerprint test.” A Republican Congressional committee put out a statement claiming that Social Security would “impose a crushing burden on industry and labor,” and “establish a bureaucracy in the field of insurance” that “would destroy private pensions.”</strong></p><p><strong>It’s the kind of rhetoric that one might hear today about the Affordable Care Act — another rather modest social insurance program that’s supposedly depriving us of liberty.</strong></p><p>Denton: That’s true. I write a great deal about the various organizations that got their start around that time in response to the New Deal, many of which later morphed into modern conservative institutions.</p><p>But I also explore the populism of Huey Long, who was approaching FDR from the left, and who thought he was not doing enough to redistribute the wealth. And then there was the right-wing populism of Father Coughlin. They led two very popular populist movements of the time, both of which were focused on this deep dissatisfaction with the role that government was playing — the role that Franklin Roosevelt wanted government to play — and they were equally vitriolic and angry from opposite sides. I found that fascinating.</p><p>I called that section of the book, “a rainbow of colored shirts.” There were silver shirts and black shirts and brown shirts. Some were Christian fundamentalists, some were extremely anti-Semitic, some were very anti-interventionist/isolationist. There was an anti-European impulse that ran very deep. There was a great collection of these kind of nascent organizations that were really just coming together to respond to what seemed to the right wing a very dangerous new administration.</p><p><strong>Holland: In the period before World War II, fascism and communism were — not mainstream, but they were considered to be legitimate ideologies to a far greater degree than after the war.</strong></p><p>Denton: That’s right. And Huey Long on the left and Father Coughlin on the right kind of symbolized that. Father Coughlin was rabidly anti-communist, and so even though they had some of the same complaints about the concentration of power in government, Coughlin thought that Huey Long had communist tendencies, which he saw as the most dangerous thing in the world. And Huey Long thought that Coughlin had fascist tendencies, which was really the extreme form of corporate capitalism with unfettered regulation.</p><p>There was a great intellectual pursuit on all sides about what the best form of government intervention was at this point. In 1933, there were thousands and thousands of unemployed and impoverished and hungry people roaming the streets of America. There was a great fear that there actually could be a revolution — that there could be violence.</p><p>In fact, there had been violence the year before, when <a href="http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/snprelief4.htm">the Bonus Army was dispersed by federal troops</a>. So all of this was very real. It wasn’t like today’s armchair conversations about various forms of government. Everything was in play. Hitler was in play, Mussolini was in play. It was all happening.</p><p><strong>Holland: What was the Bankers Putsch?</strong></p><p>Denton: The Bankers Putsch was an ill-fated plot, sometimes called the Business Plot or the Wall Street Putsch. There was a famous, heroic marine general named Smedley Butler, who was kind of the soldier’s soldier, the veteran’s veteran. He had great influence with the veterans, and this was at a moment when there were a half million veterans who were trying to get their bonuses from World War I. The bonuses weren’t supposed to be released until 1945, but because so many of the veterans were starving, there was a great movement afoot in 1932 to get those bonuses released early.</p><p>And Smedley Butler claimed that he was approached by a couple of veterans who had connections to Wall Street financiers who were planning a nonviolent coup, a takeover of the Roosevelt Administration. They claimed to have $3 million that they were willing to spend toward this end, and they said that they had some armaments ready. And their theory was that Roosevelt was in over his head — again, we see a lot of the same rhetoric that we hear with Obama. And they thought FDR would welcome somebody coming in and taking charge because he didn’t know what to do. That was the theory, that they would go in and, because these men who were supplying the money were of Roosevelt’s class, Roosevelt would agree to their demands and become kind of a ceremonial figurehead. He would let these stronger, more military types control the White House.</p><p>Butler blew the whistle on it, so it never got very far at all. There were congressional investigations and there was an FBI investigation, and the media reported various aspects of it. But both the plot and the investigation were stopped before they got very far. So it’s unclear how much of it was a form of insanity on the part of the plotters and how much they really had any legitimate financial and military support. But it’s a fascinating story of that year.</p><p><strong>Holland: Smedley Butler wrote a book called, War is a Racket, which is a damning criticism of what would later be called the “military industrial complex.” It’s strange that they would’ve seen him as a potential ally. He was also a Roosevelt supporter, no?</strong></p><p>Denton: Well, he was a Republican and had run for Congress as a Republican. But he was not a huge FDR fan. Although I think he became one down the road.</p><p>But, yes, he’s the one who said that the marines were just racketeers for the capitalists. And he probably aligned himself more with Roosevelt after Roosevelt made clear that he thought that the US military should not be acting as enforcers for United Fruit throughout the world.</p><p>I think the impetus for selecting him was that there was no other military figure whom this half million-strong potential army of veterans would follow, and there must’ve been an assumption that Butler was malleable enough to stand up for the veterans above all else. And it backfired. He became the whistleblower and told the government what was going on.</p><p><strong>Holland: There was also an assassination attempt against FDR in 1933.</strong></p><p>Denton: Yes. Five people were wounded and the mayor of Chicago was killed in an attempted assassination of FDR. An Italian immigrant named Guiseppe Zangara was responsible. Roosevelt was coming into Miami, and he had not yet taken office. In fact, that was one of the reasons that the inauguration was changed from March to January, because there was this long interregnum between when Roosevelt was elected in November of 1932 and when he took office in March of 1933. And at the time, the country’s falling apart and nobody’s in charge — Herbert Hoover’s thrown his hands up and is appalled that he’s lost the election, and the country’s really teetering.</p><p>Roosevelt was cruising around the Caribbean with some of the people that had become part of his brain trust and his advisers, and they came into Miami. There was a motorcade taking them downtown, and when they got to this ballpark where FDR started to speak, this Italian laborer opened fire. Anton Cermak, who was the mayor of Chicago, had just reached out his hand to shake hands with Roosevelt and he got hit. And Roosevelt insisted that the Secret Service put Cermak in the back of the car with him and they sped off, and he lived for a short time and then died of infection. There were four other spectators who were also hit in the fire.</p><p>Zangara was quickly subdued and taken to the jail in Miami and interrogated, and he said he wanted to kill all capitalists. That was his motivation. So he was coming from the opposite side of the bankers. He was found guilty and executed in Florida’s electric chair.</p><p><strong>Holland: It’s interesting how these stories have become somewhat lost in our popular history.</strong></p><p>Denton: The coup attempt was dismissed and marginalized — and even ridiculed. Zangara was railing against capitalists, and saw Roosevelt as — he just assumed that he was also a raging capitalist fascist, and he was a very anti-Mussolini, anti-fascist labor activist.</p><p>And both of these events, the Wall Street Putsch and the assassination attempt, have been so marginalized in the Roosevelt history that I became fascinated by how deep this impulse against Franklin Delano Roosevelt ran, and how far people were willing to go to see him destroyed.</p></div></article><div><div> </div></div></article><p> </p> Fri, 18 Apr 2014 09:05:00 -0700 Joshua Holland, Moyers and Company 983144 at http://admin.alternet.org The Right Wing Books News & Politics The Right Wing fdr new deal obamacare social security social safety net bill moyers Sally Denton Can We Safeguard Our Democracy After McCutcheon? http://admin.alternet.org/civil-liberties/can-we-safeguard-our-democracy-after-mccutcheon <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">We might just find a silver lining to the dark clouds that McCutcheon and Citizens United represent.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/gavel_america.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>The Supreme Court’s evisceration of our campaign finance rules is a powerful argument for the cleansing properties of sunlight. We should respond to McCutcheon by pushing for the full and timely disclosure of every penny donated to advance a political agenda.</p><p>If America’s wealthiest can offer unlimited dollars to shape our politics, the least we can do is force them to own their activism. It’s time to get rid of the loopholes for sham “social welfare” organizations and trade groups. It’s time to wipe out the dark money, and force those wealthy few to publicly stand behind their positions.</p><p>That’s not only a good and timely idea – it may also be the only viable tool we have left to protect our democracy, at least for the foreseeable future.</p><p>When the Supreme Court handed down its decision in McCutcheon, Sam Steiner, a fellow at Yale Law School, <a href="http://www.newrepublic.com/article/117236/john-roberts-has-no-idea-how-money-works-politics">wrote</a> that the court’s conservatives have “no idea how money works in politics.” It’s a common criticism. As Justice Stephen Breyer<a href="http://billmoyers.com/2014/04/02/a-blistering-dissent-in-mccutcheon-conservatives-substituted-opinion-for-fact/">noted in his dissent</a> in McCutcheon, the conservative bloc’s decision in the case rested “upon its own, not a record-based, view of the facts.”</p><p>But it’s more likely that the justices know exactly how money works in politics.<a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2007/oct/22/news/OE-SUNSTEIN22">Several</a> <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/06/opinion/06gewirtz.html?ex=1278302400&amp;en=0e5fac7774080327&amp;ei=5090&amp;partner=rssuserland&amp;emc=rss">studies</a> have shown that the court’s conservatives are far more likely to engage in “judicial activism” than their liberal counterparts. In Citizens United,they went so far as to order the litigants to re-argue their case on First Amendment grounds, prompting former Justice John Paul Stevens to <a href="http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/08-205.ZX.html">write</a>, “Five Justices were unhappy with the limited nature of the case before us, so they changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law.”</p><p>There’s no reason to believe that a majority that <a href="http://www.thenation.com/article/169996/one-nation-and-corporations">almost always rules in favor of the US Chamber of Commerce</a> doesn’t know what eviscerating our campaign finance rules means. Rather, they’ve been working to create the world they want to see. Ari Berman <a href="http://billmoyers.com/2014/04/03/an-activist-courts-ideology-more-money-less-voting/">wrote</a> that the Roberts court has consistently “made it far easier to buy an election and far harder to vote in one.” (Ironically, just eight months after gutting the Voting Rights Act in <a href="http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/shelby-county-v-holder/">Shelby County v. Holder,</a> John Roberts wrote in McCutcheon that “there is no right more basic in our democracy than the right to participate in electing our political leaders.”)</p><p>But even as the 5-4 majority trampled longstanding campaign finance rules designed to check the influence of the wealthiest Americans, they left open one avenue to restrain our slide toward plutocracy: In both Citizens United andMcCutcheon, they suggested that disclosure requirements would be enough to prevent the corruption of our electoral process.</p><p>Conservatives have long championed that position as an alternative to limits on political spending. For two decades, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) preached that disclosure was the Holy Grail of campaign finance reform — the perfect way to balance the rights of the wealthiest to engage in politics with the public’s interest in not having the voices of ordinary citizens drowned out by megaphones wielded by billionaires.</p><p>As <a href="http://www.kentucky.com/2010/08/01/1372068/mcconnells-hypocrisy-on-campaign.html">an editorial in the Lexington Herald-Leader</a> pointed out, in the late 1980s, McConnell co-sponsored legislation — with his current nemesis Harry Reid (D-NV) — that “would have required disclosure of independent groups or individuals who intended to spend more than $25,000 promoting or attacking a candidate.” In 1996, he “supported public disclosure of all election-related spending, including spending by independent groups and contributions to political parties.” A year later, he would write, “public disclosure of campaign contributions and spending should be expedited so voters can judge for themselves what is appropriate.” As recently as 2007, McConnell threw his weight behind an amendment that “would require organizations filing complaints before the Senate Ethics Committee to disclose their donors so the public could have more transparency.”</p><p>But a few years – and a couple of key campaign finance cases – later, and McConnell now argues that disclosure rules are “<a href="http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/opinion/editorials/story/2012-07-05/Disclose-Act-Mitch-McConnell/56046300/1">un-American</a>.” In a relatively short span, they became a Democratic “plot” to rig elections.</p><p>The DISCLOSE Act, which would require greater transparency – and bar foreign companies and firms that received bailout funds from funding campaigns — has been blocked twice by Senate Republicans in the past four years, and Mitch McConnell led the opposition. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/18/disclose-act_n_1683573.html">Dan Froomkin reported for </a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/18/disclose-act_n_1683573.html">The Huffington Post</a>that 14 of the GOP senators who filibustered the bill in 2012 had expressed support for a similar measure in 2000, and many would have voted for it “were it not for enormous pressure applied” by Mitch McConnell.</p><p>The Herald Leader called out McConnell’s “hypocrisy” on the issue, and it is obviously that. But it’s also just a savvy politician reacting rationally to a changing electoral landscape. Our system of public campaign financing is in tatters, the floodgates of private money are wide open and <a href="http://sunlightfoundation.com/blog/2013/10/02/top1000donors/">the big donors lean heavily toward his party</a>.</p><p>Conservatives know how powerful disclosure rules can be. Donors don’t want to be linked to groups pushing unpopular causes. They fear becoming entangled with divisive social issues – they want to support politicians who will cut their taxes, roll back regulations and oppose minimum wage hikes, but often those same politicians hold views on things like women’s rights or equality for gays and lesbians that fall embarrassingly outside today’s mainstream.</p><p>The prospect of having their names and brands attached to their political activism scares a lot of deep-pocketed donors. <a href="http://www.forbes.com/sites/danielfisher/2012/12/05/inside-the-koch-empire-how-the-brothers-plan-to-reshape-america/">In a rare interview with </a><a href="http://www.forbes.com/sites/danielfisher/2012/12/05/inside-the-koch-empire-how-the-brothers-plan-to-reshape-america/">Forbes</a>, Charles Koch defended the lengths to which he and his brother David go to hide the names of their fellow funders and obscure their own political activities through a network of murky front groups as a necessary evil. “We get death threats, threats to blow up our facilities, kill our people,” he said. “So long as we’re in a society like that, where the president attacks us and we get threats from people in Congress, and this is pushed out and becomes part of the culture… then why force people to disclose?”</p><p>The hyperbole is consistent with billionaire Tom Perkins calling modestly populist rhetoric a precursor to a “progressive Krystallnacht.” But strip away the melodrama, and what Koch is really saying is that he and his brother and other wealthy donors are entitled to use their fortunes to shape our political discourse without facing any criticism from their fellow citizens. And that’s a “right” you won’t find in any constitution.</p><p>As our colleague John Light <a href="http://billmoyers.com/2014/02/14/why-the-first-issue-is-money-in-politics/">points out</a>, the influence of money in politics controls all other issues – the interests of large-dollar donors usually trump the popular will. A constitutional amendment explicitly authorizing Congress to regulate political spending is a great idea, but an exceptionally tough lift. And with the court’s current makeup, even the few remaining hard limits on political spending are in danger.</p><p>Disclosure is the only avenue they’ve left open to us, and if we seize it with enough energy — if we use it as leverage to get some real transparency in our elections — then we might just find a silver lining to the dark clouds that McCutcheon and Citizens United represent.</p> Sat, 05 Apr 2014 11:04:00 -0700 Joshua Holland, BillMoyers.com 978737 at http://admin.alternet.org Civil Liberties Civil Liberties Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace The Right Wing supreme court campaign finance McCutcheon transparency Conservative Myths About the Minimum Wage, Debunked http://admin.alternet.org/economy/conservative-myths-about-minimum-wage-debunked <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Contrary to conservative myths, raising the minimum wage would boost the economy, benefit all workers, and won&#039;t hurt consumers. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_136752938.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Conservatives should be on the front line of the battle to raise the minimum wage. Work is supposed to make one independent, but with the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rep-joe-sestak/making-the-case-for-raisi_b_4804116.html" target="_blank">inflation-adjusted federal minimum down by a third</a> from its peak, <a href="http://billmoyers.com/2013/10/24/audio-mcdonalds-tells-full-time-employee-to-apply-for-welfare-benefits/" target="_blank">low-wage workers depend on billions of dollars in public assistance</a> just to make ends meet. Just this week, Rachel West and Michael Reich <a href="http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/economy/report/2014/03/05/85158/the-effects-of-minimum-wages-on-snap-enrollments-and-expenditures/" target="_blank">released a study conducted for the Center for American Progress</a> that found raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would save taxpayers $4.6 billion in spending on food stamps.</p><p>And even if you break your back working in today’s low-wage economy, it’s exceedingly difficult to raise yourself up by the bootstraps; it’s all but impossible to put yourself through school or save enough money to start a business if you’re making anything close to $7.25 an hour.</p><p>But those predisposed to defending the interests of corporate America – including retailers and fast-food restaurants – oppose any increase. That’s tough given that 73 percent of Americans – including 53 percent of registered Republicans – favor hiking the minimum to $10.10 per hour, according to <a href="http://www.people-press.org/2014/01/23/most-see-inequality-growing-but-partisans-differ-over-solutions/" target="_blank">a Pew poll conducted in January</a>.</p><p>So those opposed to giving low-income workers a raise offer a number of claims suggesting it would be a supposedly bad idea. Unfortunately for their cause, all of their arguments fall apart under close scrutiny. Here are the ones deployed most frequently.</p><p><strong>“It’s a monstrous job-killer”</strong></p><p>Big business conservatives crowed when <a href="http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/44995-MinimumWage.pdf" target="_blank">a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office </a>(CBO) projected that a hike to $10.10 might cost the economy 500,000 jobs – never mind that it would have raised the incomes of around 17 million Americans. But a number of <a href="http://www.thenation.com/blog/178429/cbo-report-will-minimum-wage-hike-really-cost-jobs" target="_blank">economists disputed the CBO finding.</a> One of them, John Schmitt from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, studied years of research on the question, and <a href="http://www.cepr.net/documents/publications/min-wage-2013-02.pdf" target="_blank">found</a> that the “weight of that evidence points to little or no employment response to modest increases in the minimum wage.”</p><p>We also have real-world experience with higher minimums. In 1998, the citizens of Washington State voted to raise theirs and then link future increases to the rate of inflation. Today, at $9.32, the Evergreen State has the highest minimum wage in the country – not far from the $10.10 per hour proposed by Barack Obama. At the time it was passed, opponents promised it would kill jobs and ultimately hurt the workers it was designed to help.</p><p>But it didn’t turn out that way. This week, <em>Bloomberg</em>’s Victoria Stilwell, Peter Robison and William Selway <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-03-05/washington-shows-highest-minimum-wage-state-beats-u-s-with-jobs.html" target="_blank">reported</a>: “In the 15 years that followed… job growth continued at an average 0.8 percent annual pace, 0.3 percentage point above the national rate. Payrolls at Washington’s restaurants and bars, portrayed as particularly vulnerable to higher wage costs, expanded by 21 percent. Poverty has trailed the U.S. level for at least seven years.”</p><p><strong>“It will hurt mom-and-pop businesses”</strong></p><p>Another argument is that it would disproportionately hurt small businesses – giving the Wal-Marts of the world an unfair advantage over mom and pop. But <a href="http://www.smallbusinessmajority.org/small-business-research/downloads/030614-National-Minimum-Wage-Poll.pdf" target="_blank">a poll of 500 small business owners</a> from across the country released on Thursday undermines that talking point. The survey, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research for Small Business Majority, found that small business owners support a hike to $10.10 per hour by a 57-43 margin. Eighty-two percent of those surveyed say they already pay their employees more than the minimum and 52 percent agreed that if the wage floor is raised, “people will have a higher percentage of their income to spend on goods and services” and small businesses “will be able to grow and hire new workers.”</p><p><strong>“Major costs will be passed along to consumers”</strong></p><p>Opponents also claim that higher wages would mean significantly higher prices and that those cost increases would effectively eat up whatever extra earnings low-wage workers ended up taking home. But <a href="http://www.alternet.org/story/150685/if_walmart_paid_its_1.4_million_u.s._workers_a_living_wage,_it_would_result_in_almost_no_pain_for_the_average_customer" target="_blank">a 2011 study</a> conducted by Ken Jacobs and Dave Graham-Squire at the UC-Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education and Stephanie Luce at CUNY’s Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies estimated that raising the minimum wage to $12 per hour – two bucks more than what’s currently on the table – would increase the cost of an average shopping trip to Wal-Mart by just 46 cents – or around $12 per year. And <a href="http://www.peri.umass.edu/fileadmin/pdf/research_brief/PERI_fast_food_wages.pdf" target="_blank">another paper published last September by economists Jeannette Wicks Lim and Robert Pollin</a> estimated that a hike to $10.50 an hour would likely result in the price of a Big Mac increasing by only a dime, from $4.50 to $4.60, on average.</p><p>If the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation since its inception in 1968, <a href="http://www.raisetheminimumwage.com/facts/" target="_blank">it would now stand at $10.74 per hour</a>. With the share of our nation’s output going to workers’ <a href="http://www.chron.com/technology/businessinsider/article/WHY-THE-ECONOMY-SUCKS-Because-American-Companies-4695519.php" target="_blank">wages at an all-time low</a> — and inequality on the rise — it’s easy to understand why the idea of raising it to $10.10 is so popular. And despite opponents’ dire warnings, there’s really no good reason that we shouldn’t do so.</p><p>If you agree, you can <a href="http://afl.salsalabs.com/o/4023/c/33/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=7913&amp;track=NAT_140304_MinWage_House_TW" target="_blank">here to let your representative know that</a>you support a raise for the working poor.</p> Tue, 11 Mar 2014 06:40:00 -0700 Joshua Holland, Moyers &amp; Company 969228 at http://admin.alternet.org Economy Economy america barack obama bloomberg Center for American Progress Center for Economic and Policy Research Company Founded Congressional Budget Office Dave Graham-Squire economics Employment compensation Human resource management inflation Jeannette Wicks Lim John Schmitt Ken Jacobs Labor economics labor Labour law macroeconomics management Michael Reich minimum wage Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies Murphy Institute Person Career Peter Robison Rachel West Robert Pollin socialism Stephanie Luce UC-Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education UC-Berkeley Center USD united states Victoria Stilwell wal-mart washington William Selway cent food Representative How Fear Beat the UAW in Tennessee http://admin.alternet.org/labor/how-fear-beat-uaw-tennessee <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Union-busters mounted a coordinated campaign, even telling Tennesseans that the union wanted to take their guns.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/lies.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>On Friday, a three-day election process ended when Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga, Tenn., voted against joining the United Auto Workers (UAW) 712 to 626.</p><p>Coming into the vote, both sides knew what was at stake — the union drive was a direct threat to the low-wage economy on which the South’s manufacturing base has been built.</p><p>Deep-pocketed union-busters mounted a coordinated campaign against organized labor. They even told Tennesseans that the <a href="http://labornotes.org/2014/02/volkswagen-workers-vote-union-works-council-scheme">union wanted to take their guns</a>. And Stephen Greenhouse <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/15/business/volkswagen-workers-reject-forming-a-union.html?_r=0">reported</a> for The New York Times that “Grover Norquist, the anti-tax crusader, helped underwrite a new group, the Center for Worker Freedom, that put up 13 billboards in Chattanooga, warning that the city might become the next Detroit if the workers voted for the union.”</p><p>What’s more, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam <a href="http://billmoyers.com/2014/02/13/why-right-wing-lawmakers-are-desperate-to-stop-a-union-vote-in-tennessee/">said</a> that a ‘yes’ vote would result in the company losing its tax incentives. A powerful state lawmaker called the union drive “un-American,” and Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) said that he’d been secretly assured that a ‘no’ vote would win the plant the production of a new SUV — a claim the company flatly denied.</p><p>Fear campaigns work best in an economy where working people have every reason to be afraid, so the threats were especially potent in a state with an unemployment rate that remains stubbornly high at around eight percent. Tennessee has <a href="http://billmoyers.com/2014/02/16/how-fear-beat-the-uaw-in-tennessee/Ranked%2520from%2520Highest%2520to%2520Lowest%2520Using%25203-Year-Average%2520Medians">the fifth lowest median household income</a> in the US.</p><p>American unions are accustomed to having adversarial relationships with employers, but in this case the European company publicly maintained strict neutrality on the vote, allowing organizers and anti-union groups to come into the plant and give presentations to its workforce.</p><p>Volkswagen is a progressive employer that offers decent wages and benefits. And its Chattanooga facility hasn’t had workplace safety issues like those that have plagued <a href="http://www.autonews.com/article/20130624/OEM01/130629947/nissan-tightens-safety-watch-after-u.s.-factory-fatalities">Nissan’s Tennessee plant</a>. The company wants to create the first workers council in the US. The councils give workers a voice in a plant’s operations, and based on its experience in other factories around the world, Volkswagen believed it would give the firm a competitive advantage through streamlined manufacturing processes, lower turnover and ultimately, higher productivity. Under US labor law, a workers’ council can only be created with a union workforce.</p><p>In a statement, the UAW said, “We’re outraged by politicians and outside special interest groups interfering with the basic legal right of workers to form a union.” It  could ask the National Labor Relations Board to overturn the vote <a href="http://definitions.uslegal.com/l/laboratory-conditions/">as a result of all the outside interference</a> — and there was some indication that it would after the ballots were tallied — but that would be a long shot.</p><p>This was a major blow for an already ailing American labor movement. Art Wheaton, an automotive industry expert at Cornell University’s Worker Institute, told the <a href="http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-vw-union-vote-20140216,0,7567575.story#ixzz2tV2HbB4p">Los Angeles Times</a> that the loss “significantly diminishes” the UAW’s chances at 10 other foreign-owned auto factories in the South. According to the Times, “since 2011, similar unionization efforts were launched at Nissan plants in Tennessee and Mississippi, Mercedes-Benz in Alabama and BMW in South Carolina.”</p><p>At the same time, the battle is not over. VW still wants a workers council, and history has shown that it’s not uncommon for workers to go through multiple votes before finally joining a labor union.</p> Mon, 17 Feb 2014 10:07:00 -0800 Joshua Holland, BillMoyers.com 959674 at http://admin.alternet.org Labor Labor News & Politics uaw union tennessee Why the Wealthy Tend to Think They're Better Than Everybody Else http://admin.alternet.org/why-wealthy-tend-think-theyre-better-everybody-else <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Many arrive at essentialist explanations of their affluence — that it’s due to their better genes, that they have a temperament that’s built for success, that they’re just the kind of people.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2014-01-22_at_10.01.48_am.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>A growing body of academic research suggests that the wealthy see the world differently than the rest of us.</p><p>These studies are more than a matter of passing interest. Last week, the Center for Responsive Politics released <a href="http://billmoyers.com/2014/01/10/washington%E2%80%99s-millionaire-boyz-club/" style="color: rgb(25, 130, 209); text-decoration: none; " target="_blank">a report</a> that for the first time ever, a majority of those representing us in Congress are millionaires. And studies by political scientists <a href="http://www.princeton.edu/~bartels/economic.pdf" style="color: rgb(25, 130, 209); text-decoration: none; " target="_blank">Larry Bartels </a>at Princeton and <a href="http://prq.sagepub.com/content/early/2012/10/04/1065912912459567.abstract?papetoc" style="color: rgb(25, 130, 209); text-decoration: none; " target="_blank">Trinity University’s Thomas Hayes</a> have demonstrated that lawmakers vote to advance the interests of the wealthiest Americans. So in an effective plutocracy, the worldviews of ‘high-status’ individuals translate directly into public policies that affect us all.</p><p>Building on earlier research that found that those at the top tend to see themselves as being inherently more deserving than average working people, UC Berkeley psychology professor Dacher Keltner and Michael Kraus, a colleague at the University of Illinois, looked at how those views might influence the way they view our criminal justice system in a <a href="http://www.krauslab.com/SES.essentialism.JPSP.pdf" style="color: rgb(25, 130, 209); text-decoration: none; ">study</a> published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.</p><p><em>Moyers &amp; Company</em> spoke with Keltner about the scholars’ findings last week. Below is a transcript of our discussion that’s been edited for length and clarity.</p><p><strong>Joshua Holland: When I hear the word ‘essentialism,’ I think of debunked ideas that certain ethnic groups have innate talents or innate shortcomings. The idea that, say, Hispanics are inherently lazy, or Asians are genetically predisposed to be good at math. What is ‘class essentialism’?</strong></p><p><strong>Dacher Keltner</strong>: The concept of essentialism that you describe has long been with us. It really has no scientific grounding whatsoever, but the belief persists.</p><p>Michael Kraus and I got interested in thinking about the social class essentialism that appeared in some of our findings, and it reduces to a simple belief that people who are wealthy or poor are really different biological types. They have different genes; they are categorically almost different kinds of people.</p><p><strong>Holland: So it’s the idea that those who have attained a high degree of social status are simply better people, is that fair to say?</strong></p><p><strong>Keltner</strong>: Yes. I mean, we didn’t necessarily anticipate that in our work, but we keep finding this notion that people from the upper strata of society, as they contemplate their own success and think about why others have less, they arrive at essentialist explanations of their affluence — that it’s due to their better genes, that they have a temperament that’s built for success, that they’re just the kind of people — independent of the neighborhood or society they’re born into — who rise to the top.</p><p><strong>Holland: How did you come to this conclusion?</strong></p><p><strong>Keltner</strong>: We’ve been looking at this in different ways. We asked people from different class backgrounds — people in the upper strata making $150–200,000 a year and then those from the lower strata – to explain why some people are doing well and why wealth is expanding for certain individuals. And in that early study, we found this tendency for upper-class individuals to attribute success to superior traits and special talents — and genius, if you will — and for people from lower economic backgrounds to attribute it to cultural or historical or contextual factors, such as having a good chance to get a solid education.</p><p>More recently, we examined it much more directly. We asked people from different class backgrounds to think about the rich and the poor. And then we asked them, “To what extend do you think that these categories, rich and poor, are about people who have different genes, or different temperaments, or different biological makeups?” And again we found this similar pattern, which is that upper class individuals think of class as being based in biology and genes, and you don’t see that belief in people who are less wealthy.</p><p><strong>Holland: It makes me think of the late, great Molly Ivins. She used to say that George W. Bush was “born on third base and thought he hit a triple.”</strong></p><p><strong>Keltner</strong>: That very notion motivated some of this work. When you are born into a life of great opportunity and privilege in American society, where your schools are good and your neighborhood has great parks and there’s good food around, and quality afterschool programs, and all the things that wealthy individuals have preferential access to, you would hope that would factor into their theories of why they succeed — and we’re finding that it’s not so salient in how they view their lives.</p><p><strong>Holland: You and Michael Kraus conducted a series of experiments, and in some instances, you manipulated the perceived social status of individuals to make sure that you weren’t confusing correlation and causation. Can you tell us a little bit about that?</strong></p><p><strong>Keltner</strong>: A lot of the findings that I’ve just described linking your class background to how you explain success in life and whether you attribute it to essentialist/genetic factors or more historical/contextual factors, are correlational. They’re based on a person’s family income or where they place themselves on a ten-rung ladder in terms of society’s classes, and then that self-assessment correlates with these outcomes.</p><p>That opens up all kinds of alternative explanations for our results. So we really wanted to turn to causal experimental evidence, and Michael developed this powerful technique in which you engage people in a social comparison, where you ask them to compare their station in US society to people who are doing really well, like the Bill Gates and Oprah Winfreys. And people end up, in that comparison process, ranking themselves lower. They feel like, “Well, I’m not doing as well as I thought.”</p><p>In another group, we get people to enter into more of an upper-class mindset, where they compare themselves to the people who aren’t doing as well — to the homeless family they might encounter on the street or the people who’ve lost jobs — and that thought process lifts up people’s sense of social class and they feel that they’re higher up the ladder than they would otherwise report. And what we find is, once in that mindset of belonging to a higher class, individuals were more likely to endorse more essentialist views of class categories.</p><p><strong>Holland: I’m always struck by how different scholars working with different methodologies find complementary results. Your colleague, Paul Piff, found that the wealthy tend to be more likely to have a sense of entitlement than average people. He also found that they were more likely to exhibit narcissistic traits. These all seem to be perfectly complementary.</strong></p><p><strong>Keltner</strong>: Yeah, Paul Piff’s findings and Michael Kraus’s earlier findings — and studies by Hazel Markus, and Nicole Stephens at Stanford — are all consistent. We take great heart when different scientific approaches converge on a notion or an idea, and this is all converging on this idea that there’s something about wealth and privilege that makes people perhaps a little too self-focused. And they lose sight of the great breaks they get in life, thinking, as you said, that if you’re born on third it’s because you hit a triple.</p><p>And also, importantly, we find that when you are born and live in the lower socioeconomic strata, you tend to be a little bit more sophisticated in how you perceive the contextual factors that influence life. You’re more attuned to your context and your neighborhood and the people around you.</p><p><strong>Holland: This brings us to what I, at least, find to be the most interesting result of this study. You looked at how class essentialism correlates with people’s views of our criminal justice system.</strong></p><p><strong>Keltner</strong>: It was one of our deep motivations for doing this work. In psychological approaches to punishment, you can think about many different kinds of punishment or motives for punishment. And one way to parse that is to think about punishment being retributive — that is kind of an ‘eye for an eye’ form of justice, where the punishment matches the severity of the crime and is really about giving people their just desserts — versus a restorative form of punishment, where the idea is to have a punishment that allows people to regain their dignity and, for people who’ve perpetrated crimes, to improve and to get back in touch with their conscience and their standing in society.</p><p>What we’ve learned in this study is that if you think that there are just bad people out there, because of their genes, because of their temperament, because of their biological makeup, you won’t have much hope in restorative justice or restorative punishment. You won’t think there’s really any opportunity for them to change.</p><p>And what we’ve found is that because they have this belief that the people who aren’t doing well aren’t doing well because of their genes, upper-class individuals — or people put into this upper-class mindset — are more likely to endorse harsher, more retributive forms of punishment. That’s true when thinking about crimes and also kids cheating in schools — all manner of transgressions. I think that’s really worrisome.</p><p>And I’m not only worried about our punitive tendencies. I’d also extend this analysis to other policy areas. For example, the idea of devoting resources to those in need, people who are struggling, is a foundational element of a strong state. And our data would suggest that the well-to-do, who are more likely to be in office, won’t have that intuition about directing resources to those in need. I think there are many applications of this work.</p> Wed, 22 Jan 2014 06:58:00 -0800 Joshua Holland, BillMoyers.com 950043 at http://admin.alternet.org success Land of the Free? America Has 25 Percent of the World’s Prisoners http://admin.alternet.org/land-free-america-has-25-percent-worlds-prisoners <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">America criminalizes acts that other countries view as civil violations. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/ad593cdbeadf7249f86905fd8b6ac516d7fdb98c.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>The United States has about five percent of the world’s population and houses around 25 percent of its prisoners. In large part, that’s the result of the “war on drugs” and long mandatory minimum sentences, but it also reflects America’s tendency to criminalize acts that other countries view as civil violations.</p><p>In 2010, <a href="http://blog.heritage.org/2010/07/27/the-economist-on-overcriminalization/" target="_blank">The Economist</a> highlighted a case in which four Americans were arrested for importing lobster tails in plastic bags rather than in cardboard boxes. That violated a Honduran law which that country no longer enforces, but because it’s still on the books there its enforced here. “The lobstermen had no idea they were breaking the law. Yet three of them got eight years apiece.” When the article was published 10 years later, two of them were still behind bars.</p><p>A UN <a href="http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/18session/A-HRC-18-33-Add4_en.pdf" target="_blank">report</a> noted that Alabama officials had arrested dozens of people who were too poor to repair septic systems that violated state health laws. In one case, authorities took steps to arrest a 27-year-old single mother living in a mobile home with her autistic child for the same “crime.” Replacing the system would have cost more than her $12,000 annual income, according to the report.</p><p>As The Economist put it:</p><blockquote><p>America imprisons people for technical violations of immigration laws, environmental standards and arcane business rules. So many federal rules carry criminal penalties that experts struggle to count them. Many are incomprehensible. Few are ever repealed, though the Supreme Court… pared back a law against depriving the public of “the intangible right of honest services”, which prosecutors loved because they could use it against almost anyone. Still, they have plenty of other weapons. By counting each e-mail sent by a white-collar wrongdoer as a separate case of wire fraud, prosecutors can threaten him with a gargantuan sentence unless he confesses, or informs on his boss. The potential for injustice is obvious.</p></blockquote><p>About 10 percent of America’s prisoners are housed in the federal corrections system.  Last week, the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General released its <a href="http://www.justice.gov/oig/challenges/2013.htm" target="_blank">annual review of DOJ operations</a>. And couched in typically cautious bureaucratic language, the report details a growing crisis within the federal prison system that threatens to undermine the DOJ’s other vital functions, including the enforcement of civil rights legislation, counter-terrorism and crime-fighting.</p><p>According to the report:</p><blockquote><p>The Department of Justice (Department) is facing two interrelated crises in the federal prison system. The first is the continually increasing cost of incarceration, which, due to the current budget environment, is already having an impact on the Department’s other law enforcement priorities. The second is the safety and security of the federal prison system, which has been overcrowded for years and, absent significant action, will face even greater overcrowding in the years ahead.</p></blockquote><p>The report notes that Washington’s push for austerity is aggravating the problem. The federal prison population has grown by almost 40 percent since 2001, but the budget for the Bureau of Prisons — after rising by about a third between 2001 and 2011 — has fallen by nearly 12 percent since then. And costs for services like pre-trial detentions have more than doubled over the past 12 years. According to the White House budget, the cost of incarcerating federal prisoners is expected to continue to grow, and the Inspector General notes that there’s “no evidence that the cost curve will be broken anytime soon.”</p><p>Some of that cost growth is the result of an aging prison population. According to the report, in just the past three years, the number of inmates over the age of 65 has grown by almost a third, while the population under 30 fell by 12 percent. “Elderly inmates are roughly two to three times more expensive to incarcerate than their younger counterparts,” according to the review.</p><p>Several factors have contributed to the growing numbers held in federal facilities. Primary among them is a longstanding trend of prosecuting more cases that had previously been handled by state and local courts in the federal system.</p><blockquote><p>By one estimate, the number of federal criminal offenses grew by 30 percent between 1980 and 2004; indeed, there are now well over 4,000 offenses carrying criminal penalties in the United States Code.  In addition, an estimated 10,000 to 100,000 federal regulations can be enforced criminally.</p></blockquote><p>Previous Inspector General reviews had found that programs which might have eased the overcrowded system – like a compassionate release program for sick and infirm inmates, and another that allows foreign nationals to serve out their sentences in their home countries – have been underutilized and/or badly mismanaged.</p><p>A growing prison population and a shrinking budget for housing it is also creating serious security problems. The report notes that while the ratio of inmates to correctional officers in the five largest state correctional systems was 6-to-1 in 2005, the federal system has 10 inmates for every officer.</p><p>Earlier this year, Attorney General Eric Holder released the DOJ’s “Smart on Crime” initiative, which, among other reforms, directs prosecutors to avoid filing charges carrying long mandatory sentences against drug offenders unless they are violent, connected to cartels or gangs, or have significant criminal histories. But the IG’s report suggests that the impact of these changes may be limited because many of these offenders would have already qualified for a “safety valve” that Congress created in the 1990s which allows for their early release.</p><p>The problems detailed in the Inspector General’s report merely scratch the surface, as around nine out of 10 prisoners are held in state and local facilities. According to <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/12/science/mandatory-prison-sentences-face-growing-skepticism.html?pagewanted=all&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">a 2012 report in The New York Times</a>, state spending on prisons is now growing faster than any other budget item other than Medicaid. California now spends more on its prisons than its education system – a stark reversal from thirty years ago, when it spent three times as much educating its citizens than locking them up.</p><p>Further reading: Liliana Segura’s <a href="http://www.thenation.com/prison-profiteers" target="_blank">report on the growth of the private prison industry in </a><a href="http://www.thenation.com/prison-profiteers" target="_blank">The Nation</a>,and the Center for Constitutional Rights’ fact sheet, “<a href="http://ccrjustice.org/solitary-factsheet" target="_blank">Torture: The Use of Solitary Confinement in US Prisons</a>.”</p> Tue, 17 Dec 2013 06:29:00 -0800 Joshua Holland, BillMoyers.com 937600 at http://admin.alternet.org News & Politics prison Revealed: How Corporations Spy on Activists http://admin.alternet.org/revealed-how-corporations-spy-activists <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">A new report discusses some of the techniques. They can be devious.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2013-11-26_at_9.54.38_am.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>In 2010, a group of hackers known as LulzSec gave us a peek into the shadowy world of corporate espionage. The group released 175,000 emails it obtained from a private security firm called HBGary Federal.</p><p>The hack revealed, among other things, that Bank of America (BofA) had grown concerned about a promise that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange made in 2009 to release a trove of sensitive documents that Assange claimed could “take down” the bank. BofA went into crisis-control mode, setting up a “war room” to handle the fallout from the expected release (which, as it turned out, never came).</p><p>It also approached the Justice Department, which referred the mega-bank to a K-Street lobbying firm, which introduced BofA executives to a group of private security firms called Team Themis.</p><p>Peter Ludlow, a professor at Northwestern University, <a href="http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/14/the-real-war-on-reality/" target="_blank">wrote in The New York Times</a> that the group offered, among other services, a “common aspect of intelligence work: deception. That is, it is involved not just with the concealment of reality, but with the manufacture of it.”</p><blockquote><p>Team Themis (a group that included HBGary and the private intelligence and security firms Palantir Technologies, Berico Technologies and Endgame Systems) was effectively brought in to find a way to undermine the credibility of WikiLeaks and the journalist Glenn Greenwald… because of Greenwald’s support for WikiLeaks.</p></blockquote><p>Team Themis considered falsifying documents and feeding them to Greenwald in order to discredit his reporting. They also pitched the Chamber of Commerce with a plan to infiltrate Chamber Watch, a progressive group that opposes the CoC’s anti-regulatory agenda. They suggested creating “two fake insider personas, using one as leverage to discredit the other while confirming the legitimacy of the second.”</p><p>When the story broke, Bank of America and the Chamber of Commerce rushed to distance themselves from the plans and HBGary claimed that they had never gotten past the planning stage. But the leaked emails briefly shined a light on the murky, largely unregulated world of corporate spying – an industry that watchdogs say has grown exponentially since the 9/11 attacks.</p><hr /><div data-toggle-group="story-13543947"><p>Last week, the nonpartisan, nonprofit Corporate Policy Center issued a report titled, “<a href="http://www.corporatepolicy.org/spookybusiness.pdf" target="_blank">Spooky Business: Corporate Espionage Against Nonprofit Organizations</a>,” which detailed a number of revelations of corporate espionage operations against non-profit activist groups. Moyers &amp; Companyspoke to the report’s author, Corporate Policy Center Director Gary Ruskin, last week.</p><p>Joshua Holland: Over the past few years, a few cases of corporate espionage against various activist groups have come to light, but your report is the first to attempt to document this phenomenon in detail. Do we know how widespread this practice is?</p><p>Gary Ruskin: We really do not. Our report, “Spooky Business,” is really an effort to say something that we really know very little about. It’s kind of like documenting the tip of the iceberg, but we don’t know how deep the iceberg goes. So it’s going to require a lot more journalistic work, as well as some investigations by the Department of Justice and other law enforcement officials.</p><p>Holland: Let’s look at an example of the kinds of stories that have come to light and then we can discuss the ramifications. What is S2i, the company formerly known BBI?</p><p>Ruskin: Those two companies are basically private investigation firms and they were very active in surveilling and conducting espionage against a wide variety of nonprofit organizations.</p><p>Holland: What kind of specific activities did you find these private ‘spooks,’ if you will, doing to disrupt activist groups — or is disrupt even the right word?</p><p>Ruskin: I think “disrupt,” “surveil” and “conduct espionage” are all quite correct. They conducted a wide variety of espionage activities. One thing that they did to Greenpeace was they conducted more than 120 efforts at “dumpster diving,” where they would go onto Greenpeace’s property and essentially trespass and obtain the group’s thrown-out memos and the like.</p><p>BBI also had on its retainer an active duty police officer in Washington, D.C., who could help them get onto Greenpeace’s property. They did a wide variety of physical surveillance and intrusion and infiltration activities. And it appears that they did wiretapping, as well as hiring an NSA contractor who specialized in computer intrusion and electronic surveillance and that was all used against Greenpeace. Theft of a wide variety of Greenpeace memos — it’s a very long and complicated list of espionage activities.</p><p>Holland: And have you found instances where they actually infiltrated these groups, where they posed as activists themselves to get on the inside?</p><p>Ruskin: We found that that was the most common form of espionage, where a company would hire an intelligence person, who would then either pose as a volunteer or as a journalist and then vacuum up a lot of information.</p><p>Holland: And you mention in the report that a lot of these companies had employed former NSA, CIA and other types of former intelligence officers.</p><p>After 9/11, we saw a huge expansion of our intelligence budgets and I think most people may not realize that a large share of that expansion wasn’t done through government agencies directly, but through outside security contractors.</p><p>According to<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/18/opinion/put-the-spies-back-under-one-roof.html?ref=opinion" target="_blank"> journalist Tim Shorrock</a>, around 70 percent of our national security spending now goes to private firms. So I guess the question is: to what degree did building all of this private intelligence capacity help create the situation that you describe in the report?</p><p>Ruskin: Well, I think you hit it right on the head there. We essentially have this private national security state and they have a tremendous amount of private national security capability. And this is for-profit and they want more contracts, so they’ll take contracts from companies that want to conduct espionage against nonprofits and this is a problem.</p><p>And another part of the problem is that there haven’t been much in the way of investigations — and certainly not prosecutions in the United States over this sort of thing – so the people who conduct this kind of espionage think that they can do it with impunity. And, so far, they’re right.</p><p>Holland: Michael Hayden, the former director of both the NSA and the CIA, oversaw that privatization effort in the early 2000s and late ’90s. He told Shorrock — and I’ll quote, because I think it’s so interesting. He said, “The largest concentration of cyber power on the planet is the intersection of the Baltimore Parkway and Maryland Route 32.” That’s where the NSA and its top contractors are located. Hayden coined the term ‘Digital Blackwater’ to describe this stuff.</p><p>Gary, I may be asking you to speculate here: after 9/11, we saw the line between activism and terrorism starting to blur. We started hearing terms like “ecoterrorism,” for example. I wonder to what degree you think that mindset has bled into the private sector, with intelligence agencies seeing activism as somehow criminal or illegitimate and something to be targeted?</p><p>Ruskin: Well, I think it’s pretty clear that we’re seeing that sort of thing more and more. It’s clear that that was part of the treatment of Occupy Wall Street across the country, where there were these interesting FBI-corporate “partnerships.” We wrote about one in the report called “<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/InfraGard" target="_blank">InfraGard</a>.”</p><p>And it’s not just happening in the United States. There was a really interesting piece in a Vancouver newspaper last week showing government espionage of environmental activists and groups in Canada on behalf of oil companies.</p><p>Holland: There’s a revolving door here, with personnel moving between private intelligence companies and the government, right? And revolving doors make regulation really challenging. Is there any sort of regulation of this kind of corporate spying?</p><p>Ruskin: When we’re talking about private corporate spying on nonprofits, there’s been very little. And that’s part of the problem: in general, there’s been very little attention paid to moonlighting CIA operatives, or retired operatives. We don’t know what they actually do and whether it’s ethical and whether it should continue. And so that’s something that Congress really could and should do — hold hearings to shine some light on what is really happening so that we can figure out how it’s got to change.</p><p>Holland: You mention the Pinkertons in the report. That was a private police force used by corporations to, among other things, brutalize, and sometimes even murder labor organizers a hundred years ago.</p><p>So I wonder if this is a new thing or an old thing that now has new technologies and uses more sophisticated tactics than beating people over the head with baseball bats?</p><p>Ruskin: In some ways it’s definitely a very old thing. But what’s different now is the technology is far more intrusive. And we have this giant national security state that is, in effect, for hire by companies to do their espionage. And the third thing is that there’s been no pushback from law enforcement. In the UK and in France, there has been pushback on this sort of thing, but not here in the United States. So that’s got to change.</p><p>Holland: And have you seen a chilling effect from this, or is that a potential danger here, Are activists being scared off?</p><p>Ruskin: You know, democracy really depends on an active citizenry and on active citizen groups and to the extent that that is impaired because of espionage, well, then our entire democracy is the poorer for it. And that’s why we really think that the Justice Department and Congress need to do their job.</p><p>Holland: Let me play Devil’s advocate for a moment. How would you respond to the other side of the argument, which is that companies have a right — and let’s face it, in some instances a need — to anticipate and try to head off illegal actions against them, as opposed to legal First Amendment-protected activism?</p><p>Ruskin: Well, there’s no question that they’re perfectly within their rights to collect information by legal means, but when they break the law that’s very different. We uncovered in our report some conduct that certainly appears to be illegal and we supposedly live under the rule of law in our society. So let’s make sure that that continues.</p><p>You can download “Spooky Business: Corporate Espionage Against Nonprofit Organizations” <a href="http://www.corporatepolicy.org/spookybusiness.pdf" target="_blank">here</a>.</p></div><p> </p> Tue, 26 Nov 2013 06:39:00 -0800 Joshua Holland, BillMoyers.com 929267 at http://admin.alternet.org News & Politics anti-gay christian How Corporate Spooks Spy on Nonprofit Activist Groups http://admin.alternet.org/civil-liberties/how-corporate-spooks-spy-nonprofit-activist-groups <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Shining light on the murky world of private espionage.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2013-11-25_at_6.30.31_pm.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>In 2010, a group of hackers known as LulzSec gave us a peek into the shadowy world of corporate espionage. The group released 175,000 emails it obtained from a private security firm called HBGary Federal.</p><p>The hack revealed, among other things, that Bank of America (BofA) had grown concerned about a promise that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange made in 2009 to release a trove of sensitive documents that Assange claimed could “take down” the bank. BofA went into crisis-control mode, setting up a “war room” to handle the fallout from the expected release (which, as it turned out, never came).</p><p>It also approached the Justice Department, which referred the mega-bank to a K-Street lobbying firm, which introduced BofA executives to a group of private security firms called Team Themis.</p><p>Peter Ludlow, a professor at Northwestern University, <a href="http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/14/the-real-war-on-reality/" target="_blank">wrote in <em>The New York Times</em></a> that the group offered, among other services, a “common aspect of intelligence work: deception. That is, it is involved not just with the concealment of reality, but with the manufacture of it.”</p><blockquote><p>Team Themis (a group that included HBGary and the private intelligence and security firms Palantir Technologies, Berico Technologies and Endgame Systems) was effectively brought in to find a way to undermine the credibility of WikiLeaks and the journalist Glenn Greenwald… because of Greenwald’s support for WikiLeaks.</p></blockquote><p>Team Themis considered falsifying documents and feeding them to Greenwald in order to discredit his reporting. They also pitched the Chamber of Commerce with a plan to infiltrate Chamber Watch, a progressive group that opposes the CoC’s anti-regulatory agenda. They suggested creating “two fake insider personas, using one as leverage to discredit the other while confirming the legitimacy of the second.”</p><p>When the story broke, Bank of America and the Chamber of Commerce rushed to distance themselves from the plans and HBGary claimed that they had never gotten past the planning stage. But the leaked emails briefly shined a light on the murky, largely unregulated world of corporate spying – an industry that watchdogs say has grown exponentially since the 9/11 attacks.</p><p>Last week, the nonpartisan, nonprofit Corporate Policy Center issued a report titled, “<a href="http://www.corporatepolicy.org/spookybusiness.pdf" target="_blank">Spooky Business: Corporate Espionage Against Nonprofit Organizations</a>,” which detailed a number of revelations of corporate espionage operations against non-profit activist groups. <em>Moyers &amp; Company</em>spoke to the report’s author, Corporate Policy Center Director Gary Ruskin, last week. </p><p><strong>Joshua Holland: Over the past few years, a few cases of corporate espionage against various activist groups have come to light, but your report is the first to attempt to document this phenomenon in detail. Do we know how widespread this practice is?</strong></p><p><strong>Gary Ruskin</strong>: We really do not. Our report, “Spooky Business,” is really an effort to say something that we really know very little about. It’s kind of like documenting the tip of the iceberg, but we don’t know how deep the iceberg goes. So it’s going to require a lot more journalistic work, as well as some investigations by the Department of Justice and other law enforcement officials.</p><p><strong>Holland: Let’s look at an example of the kinds of stories that have come to light and then we can discuss the ramifications. What is S2i, the company formerly known BBI?</strong></p><p><strong>Ruskin</strong>: Those two companies are basically private investigation firms and they were very active in surveilling and conducting espionage against a wide variety of nonprofit organizations.</p><p><strong>Holland: What kind of specific activities did you find these private ‘spooks,’ if you will, doing to disrupt activist groups — or is disrupt even the right word?</strong></p><p><strong>Ruskin</strong>: I think “disrupt,” “surveil” and “conduct espionage” are all quite correct. They conducted a wide variety of espionage activities. One thing that they did to Greenpeace was they conducted more than 120 efforts at “dumpster diving,” where they would go onto Greenpeace’s property and essentially trespass and obtain the group’s thrown-out memos and the like.</p><p>BBI also had on its retainer an active duty police officer in Washington, D.C., who could help them get onto Greenpeace’s property. They did a wide variety of physical surveillance and intrusion and infiltration activities. And it appears that they did wiretapping, as well as hiring an NSA contractor who specialized in computer intrusion and electronic surveillance and that was all used against Greenpeace. Theft of a wide variety of Greenpeace memos — it’s a very long and complicated list of espionage activities.</p><p><strong>Holland: And have you found instances where they actually infiltrated these groups, where they posed as activists themselves to get on the inside?</strong></p><p><strong>Ruskin</strong>: We found that that was the most common form of espionage, where a company would hire an intelligence person, who would then either pose as a volunteer or as a journalist and then vacuum up a lot of information.</p><p><strong>Holland: And you mention in the report that a lot of these companies had employed former NSA, CIA and other types of former intelligence officers.</strong></p><p><strong>After 9/11, we saw a huge expansion of our intelligence budgets and I think most people may not realize that a large share of that expansion wasn’t done through government agencies directly, but through outside security contractors.</strong></p><p><strong>According to<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/18/opinion/put-the-spies-back-under-one-roof.html?ref=opinion" target="_blank"> journalist Tim Shorrock</a>, around 70 percent of our national security spending now goes to private firms. So I guess the question is: to what degree did building all of this private intelligence capacity help create the situation that you describe in the report?</strong></p><p><strong>Ruskin</strong>: Well, I think you hit it right on the head there. We essentially have this private national security state and they have a tremendous amount of private national security capability. And this is for-profit and they want more contracts, so they’ll take contracts from companies that want to conduct espionage against nonprofits and this is a problem.</p><p>And another part of the problem is that there haven’t been much in the way of investigations — and certainly not prosecutions in the United States over this sort of thing – so the people who conduct this kind of espionage think that they can do it with impunity. And, so far, they’re right.</p><p><strong>Holland: Michael Hayden, the former director of both the NSA and the CIA, oversaw that privatization effort in the early 2000s and late ’90s. He told Shorrock — and I’ll quote, because I think it’s so interesting. He said, “The largest concentration of cyber power on the planet is the intersection of the Baltimore Parkway and Maryland Route 32.” That’s where the NSA and its top contractors are located. Hayden coined the term ‘Digital Blackwater’ to describe this stuff.</strong></p><p><strong>Gary, I may be asking you to speculate here: after 9/11, we saw the line between activism and terrorism starting to blur. We started hearing terms like “ecoterrorism,” for example. I wonder to what degree you think that mindset has bled into the private sector, with intelligence agencies seeing activism as somehow criminal or illegitimate and something to be targeted?</strong></p><p><strong>Ruskin</strong>: Well, I think it’s pretty clear that we’re seeing that sort of thing more and more. It’s clear that that was part of the treatment of Occupy Wall Street across the country, where there were these interesting FBI-corporate “partnerships.” We wrote about one in the report called “<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/InfraGard" target="_blank">InfraGard</a>.”</p><p>And it’s not just happening in the United States. There was a really interesting piece in a Vancouver newspaper last week showing government espionage of environmental activists and groups in Canada on behalf of oil companies.</p><p><strong>Holland: There’s a revolving door here, with personnel moving between private intelligence companies and the government, right? And revolving doors make regulation really challenging. Is there any sort of regulation of this kind of corporate spying?</strong></p><p><strong>Ruskin</strong>: When we’re talking about private corporate spying on nonprofits, there’s been very little. And that’s part of the problem: in general, there’s been very little attention paid to moonlighting CIA operatives, or retired operatives. We don’t know what they actually do and whether it’s ethical and whether it should continue. And so that’s something that Congress really could and should do — hold hearings to shine some light on what is really happening so that we can figure out how it’s got to change.</p><p><strong>Holland: You mention the Pinkertons in the report. That was a private police force used by corporations to, among other things, brutalize, and sometimes even murder labor organizers a hundred years ago.</strong></p><p><strong>So I wonder if this is a new thing or an old thing that now has new technologies and uses more sophisticated tactics than beating people over the head with baseball bats?</strong></p><p><strong>Ruskin</strong>: In some ways it’s definitely a very old thing. But what’s different now is the technology is far more intrusive. And we have this giant national security state that is, in effect, for hire by companies to do their espionage. And the third thing is that there’s been no pushback from law enforcement. In the UK and in France, there has been pushback on this sort of thing, but not here in the United States. So that’s got to change.</p><p><strong>Holland: And have you seen a chilling effect from this, or is that a potential danger here, Are activists being scared off?</strong></p><p><strong>Ruskin</strong>: You know, democracy really depends on an active citizenry and on active citizen groups and to the extent that that is impaired because of espionage, well, then our entire democracy is the poorer for it. And that’s why we really think that the Justice Department and Congress need to do their job.</p><p><strong>Holland: Let me play Devil’s advocate for a moment. How would you respond to the other side of the argument, which is that companies have a right — and let’s face it, in some instances a need — to anticipate and try to head off illegal actions against them, as opposed to legal First Amendment-protected activism?</strong></p><p><strong>Ruskin</strong>: Well, there’s no question that they’re perfectly within their rights to collect information by legal means, but when they break the law that’s very different. We uncovered in our report some conduct that certainly appears to be illegal and we supposedly live under the rule of law in our society. So let’s make sure that that continues.</p><p>You can download “<em>Spooky Business: Corporate Espionage Against Nonprofit Organizations</em>” <a href="http://www.corporatepolicy.org/spookybusiness.pdf" target="_blank">here</a>.</p> Mon, 25 Nov 2013 15:05:00 -0800 Joshua Holland, BillMoyers.com 929076 at http://admin.alternet.org Civil Liberties Activism Civil Liberties Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace spying Walmart Asks its Low-Wage Workers to Donate Food to its Low-Wage Workers http://admin.alternet.org/labor/walmart-asks-its-low-wage-workers-donate-food-its-low-wage-workers <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Workers are so bad off that they can&#039;t afford Thanksgiving dinner.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/walmart.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>If you want to know why the campaign for a living wage has escalated so dramatically in the past few years, look no further than <a href="http://www.cleveland.com/business/index.ssf/2013/11/is_walmarts_request_of_associa.html" target="_blank">this story in</a><em><a href="http://www.cleveland.com/business/index.ssf/2013/11/is_walmarts_request_of_associa.html" target="_blank">The Cleveland Plain Dealer</a>…</em></p><blockquote><p>CLEVELAND, Ohio — The storage containers are attractively displayed at the Wal-Mart on Atlantic Boulevard in Canton. The bins are lined up in alternating colors of purple and orange. Some sit on tables covered with golden yellow tablecloths. Others peer out from under the tables.</p><p>This isn’t a merchandise display. It’s a food drive – not for the community, but for needy workers.</p><p>“Please Donate Food Items Here, so Associates in Need Can Enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner,” read signs affixed to the tablecloths.</p><p>The food drive tables are tucked away in an employees-only area. They are another element in the backdrop of the public debate about salaries for cashiers, stock clerks and other low-wage positions at Wal-Mart, as workers in Cincinnati and Dayton are scheduled to go on strike Monday.</p><p>Is the food drive proof the retailer pays so little that many employees can’t afford Thanksgiving dinner?</p><p>Norma Mills of Canton, who lives near the store, saw the photo circulating showing the food drive bins and felt both “outrage” and “anger.”</p><p>“Then I went through the emotion of compassion for the employees, working for the largest food chain in America, making low wages and who can’t afford to provide their families with a good Thanksgiving holiday,” said Mills, an organizer with Stand Up for Ohio, which is active in foreclosure issues in Canton. “That Wal-Mart would have the audacity to ask low-wage workers to donate food to other low-wage workers — to me, it is a moral outrage.”I</p><p>Kory Lundberg, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said the food drive is proof that employees care about each other.</p></blockquote><p>It’s proof that the lower end of our labor market is hopelessly broken, with full-time workers unable to make ends meet.</p><p>Wal-Mart’s profits, like those of other low-wage employers, are already subsidized with public assistance that allows their workers to get by. <a href="http://money.msn.com/now/post.aspx?post=96788602-ad1c-46a7-b7f5-23416977b75e" target="_blank">Studies</a>have found that a single Wal-Mart store in Wisconsin costs taxpayers between $900,000 and $1.7 million per year in public benefits.</p><p>As I <a href="http://billmoyers.com/2013/10/24/audio-mcdonalds-tells-full-time-employee-to-apply-for-welfare-benefits/" target="_blank">wrote recently</a> of McDonald’s workers’ reliance on the safety net, “This isn’t how a ‘free market’ is supposed to work. These workers are selling their labor for less than the cost of production — less than what it takes to provide basics like food, shelter and health care. Low-wage employers are in turn keeping the cost of their products artificially low by socializing a chunk of their labor expenses.”</p> Mon, 18 Nov 2013 12:58:00 -0800 Joshua Holland, BillMoyers.com 925698 at http://admin.alternet.org Labor Economy Labor america cleveland cincinnati Company Labor Issues dealer Dow Jones Industrial Average Economy of Canada Economy of the United States labor living wage Lundberg Mart store Norma Mills ohio Person Career Person Location Quotation thanksgiving USD wal-mart walmart wisconsin food chain food drive bins food drive tables food drive food spokesman Rip-Off: How Private-Sector Health Costs Are Killing the American Dream http://admin.alternet.org/economy/rip-how-private-sector-health-costs-are-killing-american-dream <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> If we paid the same amount for health care per person as other wealthy countries do, we’d have a balanced budget now and surpluses projected for the future.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/health_care_costs.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><em>Part one of this series, “<a href="http://www.smirkingchimp.com/thread/joshua-holland/52410/the-great-american-ripoff-the-high-cost-of-low-taxes" target="_blank">The High Cost of Low Taxes</a>,” noted that while Americans enjoy a tax burden lower than that of other wealthy countries, we also pay four times as much as they do, on average, for out-of-pocket “social costs” in the private sector – on health care, retirement security, disability and unemployment insurance, and the rest of the safety net. When you add up what we pay in taxes and what we pay out of pocket, the US spends about the same amount on social costs overall as some of the most generous, heavily taxed social democracies, but we get a far less secure safety net in return.</em></p><p>The federal government doesn’t have a deficit problem. Its fiscal issues are entirely related to the bloated cost of American health care. If we paid the same amount for health care per person as people do in other wealthy countries with longer average life expectancies, <a href="http://www.cepr.net/calculators/hc/hc-calculator-old.html">we’d have a balanced budget now and surpluses projected for the future</a>.</p><p>But those are just numbers on a spreadsheet. Fran and Randy Malott understand those costs more viscerally. The Whittier, Calif., couple aren’t living the American dream right now. They haven’t for a while. They were slammed when Wall Street’s house of cards came tumbling down, and now they’re feeling the squeeze of the Great American Rip-off.</p><p>Fran lost her job as a customer service representative in 2009, at the height of the Great Recession. “A lot of companies are getting rid of customer service these days,” explains Randy. He lost his job managing a temp agency a year or so later. The Malotts are two of what <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/18/opinion/18krugman.html?ref=paulkrugman">Paul Krugman called</a> “the forgotten millions” – the long-term unemployed who <a href="http://www.alternet.org/story/150358/8_unemployed_for_every_job_opening%3A_what_are_they_supposed_to_do_once_their_benefits_run_out">face unique barriers to reentering the workforce</a>, including discrimination by potential employers just because they’ve been out of work for an extended period. “And our age doesn’t help either,” says Randy. He’s 59 and she’s 60. “There was unemployment for a while,” Randy says, “and now we’re getting by on savings.”</p><p>He tells <em>Moyers &amp; Company</em>, “we live pretty frugally,” but the $1,600 a month they’re forking over for health insurance represents about half their total spending. The Malotts are a healthy couple, yet they’re watching their life savings drain away, in large part due to their health insurance company. The $140,000 the Malotts had socked away for retirement is now down to around $45,000. “We’ve got quite a ways to go before Social Security and Medicare kick in,” says Randy.</p><p>The Malotts are in a tough spot, like a lot of people who find themselves in similar circumstances. Studies have shown that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/05/study-longterm-unemployme_n_779743.html">long-term unemployment causes stress and illness</a>. In the rest of the world’s highly developed countries, the Malotts’ health care would be covered by their government – the risk of long-term unemployment would be spread across an entire society – which means they’d have one less serious stressor, and around $45,000 more in the bank than they do today.</p><p style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Times, serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 18px;"><strong>When Competition Drives Up Costs</strong></p><p>The US system is a stark testament to the fact that, at least when it comes to health care, more competition doesn’t lead to lower prices or better outcomes.</p><p>Three facts are indisputable. First, the $8,500 we spent per person on health care in 2011 was around $5,000 more than the average among developed countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) — and almost $3,000 more than the average in Switzerland, which was the next highest spender.</p><p>Second, multiple studies have found that we have significantly poorer health outcomes than most developed countries (see <a href="http://www.who.int/healthinfo/paper30.pdf" target="_blank">here</a>, and <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/visual-data/best-and-worst/most-efficient-health-care-countries" target="_blank">here</a>) – by some measures, we rank dead last. And it’s not just because we have higher rates of poverty and inequality — <a href="http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=13497&amp;page=R1" target="_blank">a study conducted by the National Research Council and the Institute for Medicine</a> accounted for those factors and found that, as Grace Rubenstein <a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/01/new-health-rankings-of-17-nations-us-is-dead-last/267045/" target="_blank">summarized</a> for The Atlantic, “even white, well-off Americans live sicker and die sooner than similarly situated people elsewhere.” (<a href="http://www.alternet.org/story/56303/are_you_one_of_the_shrinking_americans" target="_blank">American men are also becoming shorter relative to men in other highly developed countries</a> – the average height of a population is a proxy for the quality of prenatal health care and nutrition.)</p><p>Finally, we rely much more heavily on the private sector to finance our health care than any other wealthy country. Every developed state finances health care through a mix of private and public spending, but the balance between private and public health care in the US looks different from the rest of the wealthy world. Across the OECD countries, governments pick up 72 percent of the tab for health care, but our government finances just under 48 percent – only the Chilean government covers a smaller share (<a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/888932526274">XL</a>). (In the eight social democracies with the highest tax burdens in the OECD — Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Italy, France, Austria and Finland — 79 percent of health costs are financed through the public sector.)</p><p>There are several reasons why our outsized reliance on the private sector ends up costing us so dearly. The first is a simple matter of scale. In 2009, at the height of the debate over Obamacare, economist Josh Bivens <a href="http://www.epi.org/publication/seeing_the_big_picture_on_health_reform_and_cost_containment/">wrote</a> that “health care is an area where the more costs are loaded up on the federal government, the more efficiently care tends to be delivered overall.” This is a big reason why costs in America’s public health care programs, with their purchasing clout, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/13/opinion/13krugman.html?_r=0" target="_blank">have grown more slowly than they have in the private sector</a>.</p><p>When a single-payer system covers a vast pool of people, it has more bargaining power to negotiate with providers. It needs significantly <a href="http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/11/21/why-does-us-health-care-cost-so-much-part-ii-indefensible-administrative-costs/?_r=0" target="_blank">less administrative overhead</a> to figure out who will pay which bill (a question which is regularly litigated). A<a href="http://www.pnhp.org/publications/nejmadmin.pdf"> 2003 study</a> published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that three out of every 10 health care dollars spent in the US goes to administrative costs rather than care.</p><p>And in health care, competition often drives costs up rather than down. According to Adam Linker, a policy analyst with the Health Access coalition, Medicare costs are highest where there are the most treatment facilities competing for patients. He<a href="http://www.smirkingchimp.com/node/52472#_blank">writes</a>:</p><blockquote><p>More competition drives up the cost of care because when several hospitals are competing for patients and doctors they feel more pressure to build more beds, provide more amenities, and purchase the latest expensive gadgets. Instead of focusing on patient preference and improving care, hospitals are in an arms race to gain market share. That makes health care more expensive for everyone.</p></blockquote><p>A 2011 <a href="http://www.rwjf.org/content/dam/farm/reports/issue_briefs/2011/rwjf71331" target="_blank">study</a> by the Robert Woods Foundation found that new medical technologies are the number one driver of US health care costs. When it comes to purchasing the latest gadgets, our providers are close to the top of the heap: In 2009, <a href="http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/docserver/download/8111101ec030.pdf?expires=1382993258&amp;id=id&amp;accname=guest&amp;checksum=D49F05DB82AFED304D8D9F568FF4B20D" target="_blank">only Japan had more MRI machines and CT scanners per million people than the U.S</a>. And we use them, too, getting twice as many MRIs and CT scans per person as the OECD average.</p><p style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Times, serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 18px;"><strong>Health Care as a Commodity</strong></p><p>All of these differences in how we pay for health care may pale next to a more fundamental one: We view health care as a commodity and allow providers to set prices as high as the market will bear. The problem with that is that health care is a market in which we often don’t have enough information to shop and choose, and because most of us have a good chunk of our costs picked up by a third party – an insurance company – the market often ends up bearing ludicrously high costs.</p><p>It may sound obvious, but the biggest reason we spend so much on health care is not only because insurance companies take out profits and overhead — it’s that health care costs us more than citizens of other wealthy countries. <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/03/15/why-an-mri-costs-1080-in-america-and-280-in-france/" target="_blank">Everything from pharmaceuticals to surgical procedures to tests costs us more than citizens of other rich countries</a> (the linked study found only a single exception: cataract surgeries cost more in Switzerland). Even a basic checkup is more expensive here than in other highly developed states.</p><p>A big reason for that is that government cost controls – both soft and hard – are common in the rest of the world. Pharmaceuticals provide a good example. We paid $947 per person for prescription drugs in 2009, on average, which was almost double the $487 per person in the OECD as a whole, but we don’t take twice as many pills. We just let big pharma charge whatever it can get away with.</p><p>Some other countries only approve drugs at a price that’s in line with what those medications cost in other countries. Many countries evaluate new drugs not only on safety and efficacy, but also on whether they provide better value than existing medications. The U.K. has a board that sets the amount that its National Health Service will pay for a drug and limits how much profit drug companies can make from the British public.</p><p>As Jonathan Wolff, a professor at the University College London <a href="http://www.ucl.ac.uk/european-institute/analysis-publications/analysis/healthcare/Jo_Wolff.pdf" target="_blank">described it</a>:</p><blockquote><p>Each year pharmaceutical companies have to open their books to the [National Health Service] accountants and if the profits they make are above a certain level then there is a ‘clawback’. Furthermore, the agreements have to be renewed every few years and each time price cuts are negotiated as part of the contract. Hence although it appears that drug companies can charge what they want, in practice there are both price controls and profit controls, enforced by the government.</p></blockquote><p>US big pharma, like other providers, argues that it needs to charge high prices to pay for innovative new research. But a <a href="http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/ftpdocs/76xx/doc7615/10-02-drugr-d.pdf" target="_blank">2006 study by the Congressional Budget Office</a> found that the pharmaceutical industry already benefited greatly from government-sponsored research: Much of the $25 billion the federal government spent on basic scientific research accrued to an industry that itself spent $39 billion on research and development. And, as economist <a href="http://www.cepr.net/documents/publications/intellectual_property_2004_09.pdf" target="_blank">Dean Baker has argued</a>, there are other, more efficient ways to finance drug research, but they would also require more, not less, involvement by the government.</p><p style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Georgia, Times, serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 18px;"><strong>Shackled by Private Health Care</strong></p><p>Our sky-high health care costs place a huge burden on American families. <a href="http://www.cnbc.com/id/100840148" target="_blank">Medical bills are the leading cause of bankruptcies in this country</a>, ahead of credit card debt and unwieldy mortgages. Rising costs for health benefits are a big reason for flat wages: What employers pay in total compensation, including health benefits,<a href="http://www.epi.org/publication/bp195/" target="_blank">has grown a lot faster than wages in recent years</a>.</p><p>Conservatives believe that more government involvement in health care will lead to less freedom and personal liberty, but when it comes to health care, the opposite is true. Why? First, because private insurers aren’t in the business of liberty. They set rules on what they’ll cover and give you lists of doctors you can see without paying extra out-of-network costs. Until new regulations were enacted under the Affordable Care Act, they shopped for the cheapest customers, denying coverage for people with preexisting conditions and using fine print to deny payments to those they did cover.</p><p>But on a more fundamental level, millions of Americans are trapped by high private health care costs – stuck in <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/terrance-heath/welcome-to-the-age-of-the_b_100868.html" target="_blank">dead-end relationships</a> or <a href="http://www.insightonbusiness.com/3575/stuck-in-job-lock/" target="_blank">jobs that they hate</a>because leaving would mean shouldering the entire burden themselves. It’s not only a rip-off, but a big part of the high costs we end up paying to keep taxes low.</p><p><em>Next in the series: How our low tax burden makes the financing of our social welfare system less fair for average working people.</em></p> Sat, 02 Nov 2013 12:11:00 -0700 Joshua Holland, Moyers &amp; Company 918600 at http://admin.alternet.org Economy Economy Personal Health private sector health care american dream health insurance Inside the Tea Party Brain: Can Science Explain Their Seemingly Irrational Rage? http://admin.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/inside-tea-party-brain-can-science-explain-their-seemingly-irrational-rage <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Research suggests we may be a nation divided by different cognitive styles.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/teaparty_3.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>A growing body of research suggests that we are a nation divided not only by partisanship or how we view various issues, but also by dramatically different cognitive styles. Sociologists and psychologists are getting a better understanding about the ways that deep seated emotional responses effect our ideological viewpoints.</p><p>Last week, Moyers &amp; Company caught up with Mother Jones science writer Chris Mooney, host of the <a href="https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/inquiring-minds/id711675943" target="_blank">Inquiring Minds</a> podcast and author of <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/The-Republican-Brain-Science-Science/dp/1118094514" target="_blank">The Republican Brain: the Science of Why They Deny Science – and Reality</a></em>, to talk about what this research may tell <a href="http://billmoyers.com/2013/10/30/morning-reads-geek-calls-for-revolution-and-a-zombie-dog-in-ms/" target="_blank" title="Morning Reads: Geek Calls for Revolution and a “Zombie-Dog” in MS (AutoLink by Repost.Us)">us</a> about the attitudes of those involved in the tea party movement. Below is a lightly-edited transcript of our discussion.</p><p><strong>Joshua Holland: Chris, let’s talk about morality. I’m personally offended by the tea partiers’ resistance to giving uninsured people health care. I find it a bit shocking that a political movement could be so filled with animosity toward the idea. But according to NYU social psychologist Jonathan Haidt — and other scholars — conservatives have a different moral compass entirely. Can you tell us a little bit about that?</strong></p><p>Chris Mooney: Absolutely. There are many people doing research in the psychology of politics. Jonathan Haidt is a pioneer in the psychology of morality and how that feeds into politics, and it really helps with something like this where you have strong emotional passions that are irreconcilable on the left and the right.</p><p>So what you’re describing is his moral foundation of “harm,” which liberals tend to feel more strongly about. These are emotions relating to empathy and compassion – measured by the question of how much someone is suffering and how much that suffering is a moral issue to you. How much is caring for the weak and vulnerable a moral issue to you?</p><p>It’s not that conservatives don’t feel that emotion, but they don’t necessarily feel it as strongly. They feel other things more strongly. So to Haidt, this explains the <a href="http://billmoyers.com/2013/10/13/the-rights-obamacare-rhetoric-is-completely-unhinged-from-reality/" target="_blank" title="The Right’s Obamacare Rhetoric Is Completely Detached from Reality (AutoLink by Repost.Us)">health care</a> debate because liberals feel, most of all, this harm-care-compassion thing. Conservatives feel it a little bit less strongly, even as they have this other morality. Haidt compares it to karma — it’s really interesting — where basically, you’re supposed to get what you deserve. And what really bothers them is somebody not getting what they deserve. So the <a href="http://billmoyers.com/2013/10/21/the-healthcare-gov-debacle-spare-some-blame-for-bush-and-clinton/" target="_blank" title="Healthcare.gov Debacle: Spare Some Blame for Bush and Clinton (AutoLink by Repost.Us)">government</a> getting involved and interfering with people getting what they deserve is really bad. That, I think, is the clash.</p><p><strong>Holland: Jared Piazza — a scholar at the University of Pennsylvania — did a study which found that political and religious conservatives tend to avoid what he called ‘consequentialist thinking.’ So basically, they tend to see something as right or a wrong, in black and white, and if a policy that they believe to be right — say, not having the government get involved in health care — causes real world harm, they’re more likely to dismiss that. That seems consistent with what Haidt is saying, right?</strong></p><p>Mooney: Sure. Part of his whole theory is that you feel these views before you think these views, and then you rationalize your beliefs.</p><p>Now, he would say that both sides do it. But it’s actually an open debate whether one side does it more. But certainly, if conservatives have reached a position for moral reasons, are they then more likely to discount evidence suggesting some problem with their position? Absolutely. They’re also more likely to take whatever evidence there is out there and twist it so that it supports their view. And, the more intelligent ones will be better at doing that. [laughs] That’s what all the research shows.</p><p><strong>Holland: Right. And it all seems fairly consistent to me. I’ve interviewed George Lakoff at UC Berkeley. He talks about how people don’t judge a political issue on its merits, but tend to filter the world through a moral lens. He talks about a “moral cascade,” where we connect policies with deep-seated values. All of this research seems to be very consistent with what other people are doing.</strong></p><p>Mooney: That’s right. And you wouldn’t want to believe it if it were just one paper in just one journal by just one researcher. That’s what, as a science writer, we’re skeptical of. We look for multiple people working in multiple fields all converging and then we say, ‘okay, there’s knowledge here,’ something reliable is being discovered. With the psychology of politics – the psychology of ideology — it is actually surprising how rapidly all of this knowledge has come together. I don’t think we’re completely there yet, but I think that you can’t miss the fact that there are huge commonalities between Lakoff, Haidt and a lot of other people that we haven’t mentioned who are doing research in this same field.</p><p><strong>Holland: Let’s dig a bit deeper into Haidt’s moral foundation theory. In your <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/10/inquiring-minds-jonathan-haidt-tea-party" target="_blank">Mother Jones interview with Haidt</a> you have a graph comparing how liberals, conservatives, and then also libertarians score on what Haidt calls the “seven moral foundations.”</strong></p><div id="attachment_47444"> </div><p><strong>And when you look at the graph, the biggest disparities between liberals and conservatives — and, again, libertarians — are “purity” and “authority.” That’s where you see the biggest gaps between the groups. What is purity in Haidt’s reckoning?</strong></p><p>Mooney: Purity is basically whether you feel moral emotions when someone does something you view as disgusting or indecent. A lot of this is going to involve your judgments about what’s sexually proper, but it could be other things that are disgusting. Basically, this is a way of measuring the emotion of disgust, and what this shows — this is the most striking disparity of all of them — is that liberals and libertarians really don’t sense disgust very much. And they’re together on that completely. There’s an amazing number of things that liberals and libertarians are together on. But conservatives feel it much more than either of them. And so this can explain a great deal in politics — it’s most regularly invoked to explain gay rights and how people respond to that, which I think is very appropriate. But I think it also gets into a lot of bioethical issues.</p><p><strong>Holland: And we’ve discussed authority before. That’s really central to understanding the conservative mindset. There’s been a lot of research on the so-called authoritarian personality type, and I want to connect this with the idea of political polarization.</strong></p><p><strong>One of the things that we understand about authoritarians is that they have a stronger sense of the importance of loyalty to one’s own in-group. How does that factor into this equation, do you think?</strong></p><p>Mooney: Again, this is an area where liberals and libertarians differ from conservatives markedly. Liberals and libertarians aren’t particularly tribal in the sense of having loyalty to their group, and they aren’t particularly authoritarian in the sense of thinking you have to follow a strong leader. And basically, authoritarianism is also associated with sort of black and white, ‘you’re with me or you’re against me’ thinking. But it’s also about deference to authority, whether that’s the police officer or your father or God. You must obey authority and if you don’t, that’s a moral wrong.</p><p><strong>Holland: Jonathan Weiler at the University of North Carolina did a study which found that you can predict a person’s ideological leanings by how they answered just a few questions about child rearing. And one of the questions was whether someone values obedience or creativity more in a child. It’s really — it’s telling stuff.</strong></p><p>Mooney: Yeah, this is another way of measuring authoritarianism, because the theory is — and it seems pretty sound to me — that if you’re an authoritarian, one of the places it’s going to come out is in how you view child rearing. That is a situation in which the parent has to exert some level of authority, but parents interpret that differently. And if someone interprets parenting as sort of a strict father model — you need to obey the rules — then that’s an authoritarian style of parenting. So he’s just saying, ‘let’s ask about parenting and we’ll figure out who our authoritarians are,’ and what’s good about that as a scientific method is that you’re not actually asking anything that seems politically tinged. You could be confounding your variables if people get the sense that you’re asking them something political, but that’s not the case here — you’re just asking about parenting. That’s what’s nice about it.</p><p><strong>Holland: Now, <a href="http://www.alternet.org/story/156057/george_lakoff%3A_how_right-wingers_scam_people_into_buying_their_toxic_philosophy" target="_blank">George Lakoff says</a> that our brains have both liberal and conservative moral circuits — if you will — neural pathways. And when one set gets activated again and again it grows stronger and the other set becomes weaker. How does Fox and the right wing blogs and the whole conservative media bubble play into this pattern of polarization, if we accept Lakoff’s argument?</strong></p><p>Mooney: Right, and I don’t think Lakoff would be necessarily inconsistent with others here. You’re reinforcing a circuit in the brain, so to speak, and the more it’s used the more powerful it becomes and the more it becomes habitual to <a href="http://billmoyers.com/2013/08/30/morning-reads-08302013/" target="_blank" title="Morning Reads… (AutoLink by Repost.Us)">use</a> it. I think it’s a very different thing, but if you just think about how if you’re a musician, and you practice the guitar every day, then basically you wire your brain to have a certain aptitude, and every time you pick up the instrument, you’re going to be just as good. But if you then don’t practice for a year, you pick it up, and boy, some things are still going to be there, but some things are going to be lost. If you reinforce these political/emotional circuits, it’s a similar effect. The more you use it, the more it becomes part of you.</p><p>So what this is getting at is that the brain is plastic to a certain extent, but at the same time, a lot of the research suggests that there’s something very deep about political differences. So you’re probably predisposed to feel a certain way, but then if you reinforce the circuit you can strengthen that, or if your life experiences take you in a different direction, it can weaken those views.</p><p><strong>Holland: You spoke earlier about how we all have a tendency to marshal evidence that confirms our previously held worldview and reject evidence that contradicts it — this is known as motivated reasoning. Is that something that both liberals and conservatives do to a similar degree, or do we see differences in this area?</strong></p><p>Mooney: There’s no doubt that both do it. All the studies show that. And this is a debated issue right know — whether there’s asymmetry or not. I can point you to a number of papers that seem to suggest some sort of asymmetry. But there are researchers who are not convinced, and there are some papers that don’t show asymmetry. So it’s a big debate and it depends largely upon what kind of evidence you buy.</p><p>I would expect you to have asymmetry. I would at least expect that on those issues where conservatives have a stronger moral sense, say about an in-group thing, I would expect their emotionally motivated response to be stronger just because they’re feeling this more strongly. So I would certainly expect more response in one of those areas where just generally it’s something they feel more strongly about. That doesn’t seem like a hard thing to assume.</p><p>But an interesting question is this: if you get something that liberals feel really strongly about, something about equality or something about harm, are they equally biased? And I think that we still need more research on this, but I’m suspecting that we’re going to see real differences. And I think that there’s some evidence which points that way already.</p><p><strong>Holland: One of the things that I think does point that way is the tendency of people with authoritarian personalities to be really sensitive to cognitive dissonance. That would seem to lead to a more fervent desire to ignore contradictory evidence that causes kind of a psychic pain, if you will.</strong></p><p>Mooney: Right. There was the recent study — and this can show you both why I suspect you’re right, but also why these researchers are unsure — there was a recent study that actually showed that conservatives were less willing to entertain cognitive dissonance than liberals were. It was by some political psychologists at NYU, and what they did was they asked people, ‘would you be willing to write an essay talking about how the <a href="http://billmoyers.com/2013/08/30/morning-reads-08302013/" target="_blank" title="Morning Reads… (AutoLink by Repost.Us)">president</a> you dislike did a good job?’ So in other words, would liberals write an essay on the good things about George W. <a href="http://billmoyers.com/2013/09/17/hundreds-of-wall-street-execs-went-to-prison-during-the-last-fraud-fueled-bank-crisis/" target="_blank" title="Hundreds of Wall Street Execs Went to Prison During the Last Fraud-Fueled Bank Crisis (AutoLink by Repost.Us)">Bush</a> and would conservatives write an essay on good things about Barack Obama—and the liberals were more willing to write that essay. It required them to entertain cognitive dissonance for a time.</p><p>But what’s difficult when you break it down is this: what if liberals just don’t hate George W. Bush as much as conservatives hate Barack Obama? I mean, what if the emotions are not as raw anymore? After all, a lot of time has passed. What if this isn’t the perfect apples to apples comparison? And that’s why these kinds of studies are hard to conduct.</p> Thu, 31 Oct 2013 16:08:00 -0700 Joshua Holland, Moyers &amp; Company 917917 at http://admin.alternet.org The Right Wing The Right Wing tea party conservatives republicans Happy 100th Birthday Income Taxes! Or How the Rich Have Gamed the System to Pay a Smaller Share http://admin.alternet.org/economy/happy-100th-birthday-income-taxes-or-how-rich-have-gamed-system-pay-smaller-share <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Loopholes have been with us since day one.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/tax.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p> </p><p>Today marks the 100th anniversary of the federal income tax. That is, the income tax that we have today – the first US tax raised on earned incomes was a temporary one imposed to help pay for the War of 1812. Another helped pay for the Civil War, but was allowed to expire in 1872.</p><article id="post-44068"><p>One of the most simplistic statements one can utter is, “taxes are too damn high.” The US has a complex tax system — there are many, many different taxes — so a more salient question than whether taxes are “too high” or “too low” is: who pays what?</p><p>The reality is that, overall, the US has <a href="http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/docserver/download/191500021e1t004.pdf?expires=1380733573&amp;id=id&amp;accname=freeContent&amp;checksum=94D7DEBCC40E0BEC93CC1124CFD2AB01">one of the lowest tax burdens in the industrial world</a>. If someone’s tax burden is too great to bear, that probably means that someone else isn’t paying a fair share of the cost of maintaining the public services that a modern nation-state requires.</p><p>For example, one can certainly say that state and local taxes are too high for poorer residents of Washington State. According to <a href="http://www.itep.org/pdf/Poverty2013Report.pdf">a recent study</a>, those in the bottom 20 percent of the economic pile fork over almost 17 percent of their incomes to Olympia, while the middle 20 percent pay about 10 percent and those at the top – the wealthiest one percent of Washington households – pay less than three percent.</p><p>Contrast that with highly profitable corporations that pay nothing at all — their taxes surely can’t be considered “too high.” (Moyers &amp; Company <a href="http://billmoyers.com/2013/05/24/its-not-just-one-bad-apple/">highlighted some of the worst offenders back in May</a>.)</p><p>So the real game, if you can play it, is shifting the tax burden onto someone else.</p><p>When it comes to individual income taxes, you may have seen some charts like these from <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/02/income-inequality-in-america-chart-graph">Mother Jones</a>, which show that while the incomes of those at the top have spiraled upwards, the share of taxes they pay has dropped precipitously…</p><p> </p><p><a href="http://cdn.billmoyers.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Income-better.png"><img alt="" data-lazy-loaded="true" src="http://cdn.billmoyers.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Income-better.png" title="Income better" /></a></p><p><a href="http://cdn.billmoyers.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/falling_tax_rates.png"><img alt="" data-lazy-loaded="true" src="http://cdn.billmoyers.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/falling_tax_rates.png" title="falling_tax_rates" /></a></p><p>But it’s also true that the income tax burden has shifted from corporations to individuals. At the beginning of World War II, individuals and families paid 38 percent of federal income taxes, and corporations picked up the other 62 percent. That’s changed significantly — last year, individuals and families paid 82 percent of federal income taxes, and corporations kicked in just 18 percent.</p><p>Since the mid-1960s, the top tax rates for both individuals and corporations have fallen significantly, but individual rates have fallen much further. Of course, the tax rate on the books isn’t important — it’s what one pays that counts (corporate lobbies often complain that the US has the highest corporate tax rates in the world, which is true, but our companies pay a much smaller effective tax rate — and it dropped <a href="http://billmoyers.com/2013/05/24/its-not-just-one-bad-apple/">by 58 percent between 1960 and 2012</a>).</p><p>How is it that American corporations are paying a smaller share of federal income taxes when the rates paid by individuals dropped much further?  It’s simple: ordinary American families don’t have teams of lobbyists to win them loopholes or armies of tax accountants and attorneys to exploit them.</p><p>As Bruce Bartlett <a href="http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/01/happy-centennial-federal-income-tax/?_r=0">wrote this week in The New York Times</a>, this reality has been of concern since the income tax was first established:</p><blockquote><p>Even before the income tax was enacted, the issue of loopholes came up. <a href="http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F70917FA3C5B13738DDDAA0994DC405B838DF1D3">An article discussing them</a> appeared in The New York Times as early as April 13, 1913. By 1915, <a href="http://www.taxhistory.org/www/website.nsf/Web/THM1901?OpenDocument">one congressman complained</a>: “I write a law. You drill a hole in it. I plug the hole. You drill a hole in my plug.”</p></blockquote><p>Of course, there’s a lot more than federal income taxes to consider when thinking about who pays what. Payroll taxes – which <a href="http://billmoyers.com/content/david-stockman-on-the-folly-of-anti-tax-crusades/">burden working people far more than the wealthy</a> – have increased from around 10 percent of federal revenues in the 1940s to over 30 percent today (<a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/budget/fy2014/assets/hist02z2.xls">XL</a>).</p><div id="attachment_44072"><a href="http://cdn.billmoyers.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Chart-3.gif"><img alt="" data-lazy-loaded="true" src="http://cdn.billmoyers.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Chart-3.gif" title="Chart 3" /></a><p>Courtesy of the Tax Policy Center</p></div><p> </p></article><div><div> </div></div><p> </p> Thu, 03 Oct 2013 07:31:00 -0700 Joshua Holland, Moyers and Company 904895 at http://admin.alternet.org Economy Economy News & Politics income taxes corporate income tax regressive taxes Are We Being Ruled by Self-Centered Jerks? What New Studies Reveal About the Ultra Wealthy http://admin.alternet.org/economy/are-we-being-ruled-self-centered-jerks-what-new-studies-reveal-about-ultra-wealthy <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">And why increasing economic disparities will make it worse.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/richjerk.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Two studies released last week confirmed what most of us already knew: the ultra-wealthy tend to be narcissistic and have a greater sense of entitlement than the rest of us, and Congress only pays attention to their interests. Both studies are consistent with earlier research.</p><p>In the first <a href="http://psp.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/08/19/0146167213501699.full#aff-1">study</a>, published in the current <em>Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin</em>, Paul Piff of UC Berkeley conducted five experiments which demonstrated that “higher social class is associated with increased entitlement and narcissism.” Given the opportunity, Piff also found that they were more likely to check themselves out in a mirror than were those of lesser means.</p><p>Piff looked at how participants scored on a standard scale of “psychological entitlement,” and found that those of a high social class — based on income levels, education and occupational prestige — were more likely to say “I honestly feel I’m just more deserving than others,” while people further down the social ladder were likelier to respond, “I do not necessarily deserve special treatment.”</p><p>In an earlier <a href="http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/02/21/1118373109.full.pdf+html" target="_blank">study</a>, published last year in the <em>Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</em>, Piff and four researchers from the University of Toronto conducted a series of experiments which found that “upper-class individuals behave more unethically than lower-class individuals.” This included being more likely to “display unethical decision-making,” steal, lie during a negotiation and cheat in order to win a contest.</p><p>In one telling experiment, the researchers observed a busy intersection, and found that drivers of luxury cars were more likely to cut off other drivers and less likely to stop for pedestrians crossing the street than those behind the wheels of more modest vehicles. “In our crosswalk study, none of the cars in the beater-car category drove through the crosswalk,” Piff told<em> <a href="http://wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/08/12/the-rich-drive-differently-a-study-suggests/?_r=0">The New York Times</a></em>. “But you see this huge boost in a driver’s likelihood to commit infractions in more expensive cars.” He added: “BMW drivers are the worst.”</p><p>Summing up previous research on the topic, Piff notes that upper-class individuals also “showed reduced sensitivity to others’ suffering” as compared with working- and middle-class people.</p><blockquote><p>Lower-class individuals are more likely to spend time taking care of others, and they are more embedded in social networks that depend on mutual aid. By contrast, upper-class individuals prioritize independence from others: They are less motivated than lower-class individuals to build social relationships and instead seek to differentiate themselves from others.</p></blockquote><p>These findings may appear to represent a bit of psychological trivia, but a <a href="http://prq.sagepub.com/content/early/2012/10/04/1065912912459567.abstract?papetoc" target="_blank">study</a> to be published in Political Science Quarterly by Thomas Hayes, a scholar at Trinity University, finds that U.S. senators respond almost exclusively to the interests of their wealthiest constituents – those more likely to be unethical and less sensitive to the suffering of others, according to Piff.</p><p>Hayes took data from the Annenberg Election Survey — a massive database of public opinion representing the views of 90,000 voters — and compared them with their senators’ voting records from 2001 through 2010. From 2007 through 2010, U.S. senators were somewhat responsive to the interests of the middle class, but hadn’t been for the first 6 years Hayes studied. The views of the poor didn’t factor into legislators’ voting tendencies at all.</p><p>As Eric Dolan <a href="http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/08/19/oligarchic-tendencies-study-finds-only-the-wealthy-get-represented-in-the-senate/" target="_blank">noted for <em>The Raw Story</em></a><em>,</em> “The neglect of lower income groups was a bipartisan affair. Democrats were not any more responsive to the poor than Republicans.” Hayes wrote that his analysis “suggests oligarchic tendencies in the American system, a finding echoed in other research.”</p><p>Hayes’ study is consistent with earlier research, including Princeton University scholar Larry Bartels’ 2005 <a href="http://www.princeton.edu/~bartels/economic.pdf" target="_blank">study</a> of “Economic Inequality and Political Representation.”</p><p>There are a few of ways of looking at these findings. They could be the result of genuinely held ideological beliefs which happen to justify inequality and privilege.</p><p>According to <em><a href="http://www.opensecrets.org/pfds/averages.php" target="_blank">OpenSecrets</a>,</em> the average net worth of senators in 2011 was $11.9 million, so it could be a matter of legislators advancing their own interests and those of the people with whom they socialize and associate.</p><p>But MIT economist Daron Acemoglu, who co-authored <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Why-Nations-Fail-Prosperity-ebook/dp/B0058Z4NR8">Why Nations Fail</a> </em>with Harvard’s James Robinson, says that this kind of political inequality is a product of widening economic disparities. “It’s a general pattern throughout history,” <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2012/03/23/451166/acemoglu-income-inequality-political-powe/">he told <em>Think Progress</em></a><em>.</em> “When economic inequality increases, the people who have become economically more powerful will often attempt to use that power in order to gain even more political power. And once they are able to monopolize political power, they will start using that for changing the rules in their favor. And that sort of political inequality is the real danger that’s facing the United States.”</p> Thu, 29 Aug 2013 11:37:00 -0700 Joshua Holland, BillMoyers.com 889370 at http://admin.alternet.org Economy Culture Economy BMW congress Daron Acemoglu Eric Dolan harvard James Robinson larry bartels mit National Academy of Sciences Paul Piff Person Career Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin Political Science Quarterly princeton university Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Punctuation Quotation the new york times Thomas Hayes Trinity University uc berkeley USD united states University of Toronto beater-car category driver economist scholar social networks $75 For Ice Cubes? The Absurd Things Rich People Are Blowing Their Cash on http://admin.alternet.org/economy/you-can-buy-ice-cubes-750-each-new-york-city <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">A small group of Americans is now sitting on more wealth than they could possibly know what to do with as growing numbers of ordinary families struggle.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/glace-luxury-ice.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>While most Americans struggle through this grinding downturn, a rarified few are doing quite well. Corporate profits hit <a href="http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs/beat-the-press/profit-share-hits-post-war-high-and-the-post-doesnt-notice">an all-time high last week,</a>and businesses are keeping more of their loot <a href="http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2013/05/daily-chart-14?fsrc=scn/tw/dc/&amp;?fsrc=scn/=tw/dc">away from the taxman than ever before</a> (while wages, as a share of our economy, <a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/profits-at-high-wages-at-low-2013-4#ixzz2QARthkkT">reached an all-time low</a>). The stock market is <a href="http://www.marketwatch.com/investing/index/SPX/charts?symb=SPX&amp;countrycode=US&amp;time=10&amp;startdate=1/4/1999&amp;enddate=8/14/2013&amp;freq=1&amp;compidx=none&amp;compind=none&amp;comptemptext=Enter+Symbol(s)&amp;comp=none&amp;uf=7168&amp;ma=1&amp;maval=50&amp;lf=1&amp;lf2=4&amp;lf3=0&amp;type=2&amp;size=2&amp;style=1013">booming</a>, and <a href="http://money.cnn.com/2013/02/26/investing/wall-street-bonus/index.html">Wall Street compensation</a> has more than bounced back from the crash.</p><p>A small group of Americans is now sitting on more wealth than they could possibly know what to do with.</p><p>Consider a product selling in a gourmet store in New York's tony SoHo district. “Gläce Luxury Ice is a meticulously designed and differentiated ice brand specifically designed for use in premium drinks and cocktails,” reads <a href="http://www.deandeluca.com/glace-luxury-ice.aspx">a pitch at the website of Dean and Deluca</a>. “Gläce Ice pieces are individually carved from a 300 lb block to ensure flawless quality and a zero-taste profile, never contaminating the essence of premium liquors.”</p><p>If you're so inclined, you can purchase a package of 10 of these fancy ice cubes. It'll run you $75 bucks, or $7.50 per cube (not including "Next Day Shipping to ensure freshness").</p><p>At the same time, New York's <a href="http://www.alternet.org/6-ways-7th-richest-man-america-has-screwed-poor">much-abused</a> homeless population is <a href="http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/2013/03/the_nyc_homeles.php">now at Great Depression levels</a>, and according to a 2011 study conducted by the city, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/22/nyregion/city-report-shows-a-growing-number-are-near-poverty.html?_r=2&amp;">almost half of New Yorkers</a> (46 percent) are living below or near the poverty line (defined as making less than 150% of the federal threshold).</p><p>As stark as the picture of inequality has become nation-wide, there are a handful of metropolitan areas that have become hyper-unequal. In these cities, the haves have driven up prices on all manner of goods to a degree that it's becoming all but impossible for ordinary families to live in them.</p><p>These hubs of feast or famine tell us a lot about the state of the global economy. Take a look at the <a href="http://www.coli.org/ReleaseHighlights.asp">10 metropolitan areas with the highest cost of living</a>. With the exception of Orange County, California, flush with tourism dollars and a refuge for the Hollywood elite, and New York, where Wall Street towers over technology and tourism, they all share one thing in common: they're anchored by industries that are heavily protected from international competition by the government.</p><p>This gives the lie to the ubiquitous euphemism of “free trade.” As economists like Dean Baker have been pointing out forever, we use free trade to put manufacturing and other low-end workers into global competition, while relentlessly seeking greater patent protections and intellectual property rights for other industries.</p><p>Three of the cities with the highest cost of living are in the Bay Area, where tech is king. A one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco now goes for $2,800, on average. One in five Bay Area residents live in poverty, but few of them live in San Francisco—<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/05/bay-area-poverty_n_1855189.html">prices push them to the suburbs</a>. Meanwhile, tech is creating enough wealth for billionaire-nerd Sean Parker to blow as much as <a href="http://www.salon.com/2013/07/01/why_real_journalists_hate_sean_parkers_wedding/">$7 million on his Lord of the Rings-themed wedding</a>, including $2.5 million to cover the environmental issues associated with it.</p><p>Stamford, Connecticut, is also on the list. It's not only a bedroom community for Wall Street movers and shakers, but home to some of the country's leading pharmaceutical companies, which have successfully lobbied to extend their patent rights around the world, <a href="http://www.nature.com/news/trade-deal-to-curb-generic-drug-use-1.11345">often at great human cost in poorer countries</a>.</p><p>An exception is the Washington, DC, area, which stands as living proof of the economic benefits of public spending. Two years ago, much earlier in the “recovery,” I <a href="http://www.alternet.org/story/152187/the_10_states_with_the_best_economies_in_america">wrote</a> that “the best local economy in the United States, by far, is the DC metropolitan area.”</p><blockquote><p>Average incomes in the region top $150,000, more than triple the national average. The reason for Washington's affluence (or parts of Washington's affluence – the Capitol also has abundant poverty) is clear: while the rest of the economy is facing a crisis in demand as a result of high unemployment and stagnant wages in the private sector, the Capitol, in classic Keynesian style, is making up for it with plenty of public spending, which has skyrocketed since 9/11 – defense and homeland security contractors, and other firms providing goods and services to the government are flush.</p></blockquote><p>(The only outlier on the high-priced cities list is Honolulu. There, flocks of tourists bolster the economy, there's an abundance of military spending and it serves as a global shipping hub between East and West. But goods also cost a fortune because most of them have to be shipped in from thousands of miles away, and there is limited land available for sale.)</p><p>Contrast these cities with Detroit, which was once a wealthy city based on solid manufacturing jobs that lifted all boats, but has been decimated by auto manufacturers offshoring their production overseas and then re-importing the goods to sell here at home. Or you could look at a hundred other cities and towns across America that are facing a similar dilemma from the same cause.</p><p>As a nation, <a href="http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/2013/08/yay-were-number-1-in-inequality.html">we lead the developed world in inequality</a>, but that really doesn't tell the whole story.</p> Sun, 18 Aug 2013 16:58:00 -0700 Joshua Holland, AlterNet 884255 at http://admin.alternet.org Economy Economy Hard Times USA Labor Occupy Wall Street inequality trade NYPD Threw Truth-Telling Cop in Psycho Ward for 6 Days, and Tried to Talk Victims Out of Reporting Crimes for Better Stats http://admin.alternet.org/civil-liberties/nypd-tapes-trickle-down-corruption <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">A shocking tale of a police department gone haywire and a cop who paid a steep price for blowing the whistle.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/9780230342279.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>In 2008, Steven Mauriello, commander of the 81st precinct in Brooklyn, New York, ordered his officers to be far more aggressive – to arrest anyone doing anything even slightly out of line.</p><p>“Everybody goes,” he said. “I don't care. Yoke 'em. Put 'em through the system. They got bandannas on? Arrest 'em. They're underage? Fuck it. You're on a foot post? Fuck it. Take the first guy you got and lock 'em all up. Bring 'em in.” A lieutenant later added, “they don't own the block. We own the block. They might live there, but we own the block. We own the streets here.”</p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in">Those orders represent a taste of over 1,000 hours of day-to-day life in the NYPD secretly recorded by Adrian Schoolcraft, an unassuming patrolman who became disgusted with the unrelenting pressure he faced to “make his numbers,” regardless of whether he actually witnessed any wrongdoing.</p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in">While a federal judge this week declared “stop-and-frisk”—one aspect of the NYPD's hyper-aggressive approach to policing—unconstitutional, it only scratches the surface of the institutional problems Schoolcraft chronicled. They flow largely from the NYPD's “corporate approach” to policing, a singular obsession with crime statistics that compels officers to harass New Yorkers for petty offenses while turning their backs on serious offenses that might inflate the numbers. (In some cases patrol bosses even ordered cops to arrest people for doing nothing, with the understanding that they'd be sprung later.) Cops who don't get with the program end up with targets on their backs.</p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in">Schoolcraft would pay a steep price for trying to blow the whistle on these issues. His story is detailed in <a href="http://www.amazon.com/The-NYPD-Tapes-Shocking-Cover-ups/dp/0230342272"><em>The NYPD Tapes: a Shocking Story of Cops, Cover-ups, and Courage</em></a>, by Village Voice reporter Graham Rayman.</p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in">Rayman appeared on the <a href="http://alternetradio.podbean.com/2013/08/11/august-10-2013-show/">AlterNet Radio Hour</a> this week. A lightly edited transcript of the discussion follows.</p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in"><strong>Joshua Holland: First, what is CompStat?</strong></p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in">Graham Rayman: CompStat is a statistics-driven crime strategy. Basically, statistics are kept looking for hotspots of crime and then resources, officers, are devoted to dealing with those problems. For example, if you have a rash of robberies in a given area in a precinct, you send cops out to focus on those robberies. It was started around 1994 under then-commissioner William Bratton and was credited with the sharp crime decline that took place in New York City over the past 20 years.</p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in">As time went on, though, it also became a vehicle for promotion among precinct commanders. If you showed good numbers, good CompStat numbers, then you were more likely to get promoted. The other element of CompStat is that precinct commanders were called into headquarters to explain issues in their precinct. Sometimes those meetings would get very intense. Careers either blossomed or failed in those meetings on a regular basis.</p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in"><strong>JH: Now, Bratton, I think, was always a big self-promoter. He took credit for using these statistics to bring down crime stats. The reality was that crime was certainly falling all over the country. There's been a whole number of theories for exactly why that is. But that's not the whole story.</strong></p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in"><strong>In the book you note that Bratton said he wanted to make the NYPD act like a for-profit corporation, with the profit being crime reduction. Can you give us a sense of how this impacted the department's culture?</strong></p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in">GR: Well, it change the culture a great deal. First of all, one of the most important things that it did was that it took away discretion. If it's all about the numbers, then you have to show good numbers. That means more summonses, more stop-and-frisks, and lower major crimes. The officers who used to, say, give warnings, or commanders who used to tolerate officers who used their judgment and their discretion more, became less valued in the model.</p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in"><strong>JH: This is also happening while the NYPD is adopting the so-called broken windows theory. That is, you have a zero-tolerance policy for small offenses. Tell us a little bit about what impact that has on communities and especially in poor neighborhoods, communities of color, etc.</strong></p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in">GR: Broken windows refers to the theory that if a window is broken in a house, other bad things are going to happen if you don't repair it. What it led to is this huge increase in stop-and-frisks in New York City. That caused a lot of tension in the community, because the department had quotas for stop-and-frisks. Young black and Hispanic men, mainly, were being stopped over and over again in these poorer neighborhoods, often for no reason, often just to get the quota. It's caused a lot of conflict between the police and the community.</p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in"><strong>JH: You make an important point—or you quote Adrian Schoolcraft making this point—that NYPD is effectively turning citizens who might just be hanging out on a street corner into criminals. They'll have records that will impact their employment prospects, their eligibility for social services and other things for years to come.</strong></p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in"><strong>One thing your book makes clear that I was only vaguely aware of is how awful it's become to serve in the NYPD for regular patrolmen. You have this unrelenting pressure from above to fulfill these quotas, quotas the department denies exist. That translates into basically harassing citizens whether you want to or not. Then there are all these mechanisms for making a patrolman's life hell if he doesn't meet his numbers. Tell us a little bit about that last bit.</strong></p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in">GR: Well, in the roll calls … Adrian Schoolcraft secretly recorded his commanders. In the roll calls, there's this constant drumbeat for numbers. "Get your numbers. Get your numbers. Get your numbers." If you refuse to do that, if you want to use your discretion, if you want to give a warning to someone who isn't wearing their seatbelt, for example, or someone who is drinking a beer on their stoop, you get in trouble for that.</p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in">There are all kinds of administrative tools they can use to cause you problems. In Adrian's case, they started giving him bad evaluations. When he started objecting, it just got worse and worse. They went so far as to give him assignments that were really dangerous. For example, they stuck him at night alone on foot in the most dangerous sector in the district, where basically he was in danger. I mean, he's alone, no partner, for his entire shift night after night after night.</p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in"><strong>JH: It's amazing how, if you don't have a "rabbi"—that is, someone who is senior on your side—you can just be hassled in myriad ways. They assign you to sectors the furthest from your home. They do all these things.</strong></p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in"><strong>We really haven't spoken about what may be the worst of it, which is how the pressure to fix the books causes NYPD to treat victims of crime. On the one hand, you have these cops with this pressure to take many more actions, but on the other, the department wants to see a constant reduction in reported crimes.</strong></p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in">GR: Well, as I said, as the numbers became more important, they became both the means and the end. Commanders seeking promotion had to show good numbers, so they evolved a whole bunch of ways to make crime numbers go down without necessarily actually driving crime down.</p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in">There's a really horrifying case that I write about in the book in which a serial rapist was allowed to continue his attacks. He did about seven of them in this one particular neighborhood, because his attacks, which should have been classified as robbery/attempted rapes or sexual assaults, were classified as misdemeanors—harassment and trespassing.</p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in">So the pattern wasn't observed until the guy was arrested and this one detective, Harold Hernandez, started questioning him and said, "You've done this before," and the guy said, "Yeah," and he showed them the locations. That led Hernandez, who was so disgusted by how the case was handled, to retire earlier than he would have, because it just rankled him so much.</p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in"><strong>JH: In the book, there are all of these shocking stories of people getting robbed and beaten and stuck up at gunpoint and not being able to make a complaint, or being talked out of filing a complaint, or having the complaints downgraded to these minor offenses, like lost property. You get robbed, and the cops end up filing a report that says you lost your property just so the numbers look better for the brass. It's really amazing.</strong></p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in"><strong>Now, before we talk about Schoolcraft, the NYPD says that any problems with the crime stats are just kind of anomalies—a few bad apples making mistakes here and there. Do we know how pervasive this statistics-rigging really is?</strong></p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in">GR: Well, the NYPD has never allowed a completely comprehensive examination by an outside agency or an oversight body of this issue. They've fought it. They even fought it in court 12 years ago when the state controller tried to do it, so the answer is, we don't know. The 81st precinct, where Adrian worked, is a very typical precinct, just a routine residential area. It was systematically going on there, so I think it's logical to conclude that it was happening elsewhere.</p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in">The police commissioner created a panel of former federal prosecutors that recently released a report that suggested it was much more widespread, but they were only able to look at four precincts. Again, it wasn't comprehensive.</p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in"><strong>JH: You also cited a study by a couple of professors. Tell us about the survey of retired officers.</strong></p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in">GR: Yeah, this is fascinating work. John Eterno is a professor at Molloy College, and Eli Silverman is a professor emeritus at John Jay College. They did a survey of retired police commanders from lieutenant all the way up to chief. They got hundreds of responses. The survey concluded that the pressure to show good numbers of course increased under CompStat, and the instances of downgrading of crimes also increased significantly under CompStat.</p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in"><strong>JH: Okay, so here's a cop named Adrian Schoolcraft. He's a patrolman. He's a reluctant cop—he wasn't considering joining the NYPD until his mother thought it would be a good idea.</strong></p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in"><strong>He's in this meat grinder. He has to do all of these crappy details that keep him off the streets, but he also has to make his numbers. At first, he's getting good evaluations, but he's obviously not happy. He starts recording his days on the job. These are the NYPD tapes. What was his motive for doing that, Graham?</strong></p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in">GR: Well, there were a couple of reasons. One is, they were starting to squeeze him and harass him, and he wanted to make a record of that to protect himself. The other reason is, some of the things that were going on in the precinct he really objected to, and he thought that if he … well, he knew that no one would listen to him if he didn't have any evidence. He started recording to build essentially a dossier of all the different things that he thought were unethical.</p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in">I mean, it wasn't just downgrading and quotas. It was also poor training. It was orders that led to civil rights violations. The precinct commanders were ordering people to be arrested and held in the precinct just to, as it says on the tapes, just to inconvenience them. There was forced overtime, officers obligated to work a lot more hours than they should have been working just because the precinct was short-staffed, which was a huge problem that continues today.</p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in"><strong>JH: Schoolcraft, at first, complained about this through the proper channels. How did the department respond?</strong></p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in">GR: He literally went through the chain of command step by step. He complained to his lieutenants and sergeants. Then he complained to the precinct commander. He wrote a letter to the police commissioner's office. He then wrote to Internal Affairs. He reached out to a former whistleblower named David Durk, who is a retired police officer. Durk advised him to go to an internal investigative body in the police department called the Quality Assurance Division, which audits the crime statistics. He spoke to them for two hours. None of it went anywhere.</p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in">Then, of course, he only went public after his commanders came to his apartment and forced him into a psychiatric ward for six days. It was only after that that he went public.</p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in">If they had just treated him with respect and at least listened somewhat to what he had to say, this story may never have become public.</p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in"><strong>JH: Let's dig into this a little bit more. It's Halloween. How did Adrian Schoolcraft come to be locked to a gurney in a mental institution?</strong></p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in">GR: Well, in early October of 2009, he went to this Quality Assurance Division that I mentioned and told them about the downgrading of the crime stats. In the meantime, Internal Affairs was leaving messages for him at the precinct, which is a serious breach of confidentiality. His commanders must have known that he was talking to the Internal Affairs investigators.</p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in">Three weeks later, on Halloween night, 2009, he went home early, about an hour early, saying he was sick, but the real reason was that he felt like he was being harassed by his lieutenant who had taken his memo book. Adrian had been keeping notes about the misconduct in his memo book, and the lieutenant had copied them and given a copy to the precinct commander.</p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in">That night, they came to his apartment and insisted that he return to the station house to face discipline for leaving work early. Just to put this in context, in a normal situation, this would have been just a routine matter that would have been handled the following day. They wouldn't have sent 12 police officers, some of them in tactical gear, and a deputy chief to his little one-bedroom apartment to deal with the fact that he had gone home from work a little bit early. It would have resulted in some kind of minor penalty, a letter in his file or losing five vacation days lost or something like that.</p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in">Instead, when he refused to go back to the station house, they classified him as an emotionally disturbed person, an EDP in department slang. That allowed them to forcibly drag him out of his apartment, throw him in an ambulance and take him to the Jamaica Hospital psychiatric ward, where he was admitted, largely based on inaccurate statements by the police about his behavior that night and held there for six days.</p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in">Adrian secretly recorded that night, and a transcript of the tape is reproduced in the book. It shows very clearly that he was calm and coherent through the whole encounter in his apartment, but that turned into a claim that he was crazy. He had this six-day period in the psychiatric ward when it was totally unnecessary.</p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in"><strong>JH: They handcuffed his hands too tight. He was in pain. This is just an amazing part of the book. The hospital just took the police department's accounts at face value, even though their own psychiatrists were evaluating him and saying "Wow, this guy doesn't really seem like he's nuts."</strong></p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in"><strong>His father, Larry, is an ex-cop. He's trying to get someone to look at this case. How did that go?</strong></p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in">GR: I'm sorry to laugh, but one of the really striking things about this story is that all of the oversight agencies, the federal prosecutors, the FBI, the attorney general's office, the local prosecutors, the mayor's office, the police commissioner's office, none of them responded to these complaints.</p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in">Larry —even predating the incident in his apartment on Halloween night—Larry had notified the mayor's office and the police commissioner's office that there were issues, serious issues, that there was a conflict developing between Adrian and his commanders, and that they needed to get involved. He was ignored.</p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in">After Halloween night, Larry was trying desperately to get someone to intervene, to get the FBI to come and get him out of the psychiatric ward. He was basically laughed at. I mean, they just ignored him. Subsequently, after Adrian got out of the psychiatric ward, they tried to interest all kinds of investigative agencies, and nobody would do anything.</p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in"><strong>JH: This stuff was really Kafkaesque. Schoolcraft gets released. He ends up in this limbo, because the department doesn't want to fire him. They don't want to reinstate him. Internal Affairs is racking up all these charges against him even as another unit, the Quality Insurance Division, is investigating his allegations against the department.</strong></p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in"><strong>Finally, having kind of exhausted all the agencies they could go to, they decided to go to the press. Tell us a little bit about the fallout. You wrote a series of pieces in the <em>Voice</em>. There was a series of pieces, I think, in the <em>New York Daily News</em>. What happened next as a result of all of this?</strong></p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in">GR: Well, after my articles came out, the police commissioner was obligated to do something, and so he transferred the deputy chief who had ordered Adrian into the psychiatric ward. He transferred him from Brooklyn to a post in Staten Island. He transferred the precinct commander. He transferred many of the top officials in the 81st precinct. He charged the precinct commander and several other cops with downgrading of crime. He also issued a couple of personnel orders about handling of crime complaints and other things.</p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in">Then, he created this panel that I mentioned earlier, which was supposed to only take a few months to issue their report, but it took over two years. In general, the response to Schoolcraft was kind of like the old North Carolina slowdown offense. It seemed like he wanted to do just enough to make it appear like he was doing something without actually dealing with the larger issues, which were department-wide, without allowing a comprehensive investigation into some of these issues.</p><p style="margin-bottom: 0in"><strong>JH: Raymond Kelly and Michael Bloomberg continue to defend the stop-and-frisk policy. In the meantime, the Schoolcrafts, Adrian and his father Larry, are fairly destitute. The NYPD blocked their application for public benefits. They're suing everyone involved, including Jamaica Hospital. The case is scheduled to be tried next month.</strong></p> Tue, 13 Aug 2013 09:07:00 -0700 Joshua Holland, AlterNet 882051 at http://admin.alternet.org Civil Liberties Books Civil Liberties Investigations schoolcraft nypd bloomberg rayman nypd tapes stop-and-frisk Meet the Young Journalist Who Ruined a Couple of NSA Spooks' Day http://admin.alternet.org/civil-liberties/nsas-very-bad-day <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">What started out as a routine recruiting session went terribly wrong when students put recruiters on the spot.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_118081303.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Last week, a couple of NSA language analysts had a very, very bad day at the University of Wisconsin.</p><p>It started out well enough. They headed to a recruiting session, hoping to entice a few bright young minds to join the agency. They showed the two dozen or so students who had assembled a brief slideshow touting the benefits of a career in snooping. It offered important work protecting the country. And it came with good benefits and a fun lifestyle!</p><p>Then came the question-and-answer period. Madiha Tahir, a journalist working toward her PhD, started asking questions about the latest revelations on NSA surveillance. Other students joined in and the session went downhill quickly.</p><p>An audio recording of the exchange made by Tahir went viral. By the end of the tape, one could almost picture the two agents drowning their sorrows in white Russians (the official cocktail of the NSA) at the Holiday Inn bar after the session.</p><p>Tahir joined us for the AlterNet Radio Hour this week. Below is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.</p><p><strong>Joshua Holland: So, Madiha, you saw that they were having an NSA recruiting session, and you decided to go down and check it out. Can you set the scene for us?</strong></p><p>Madiha Tahir: Sure. I received an email from the program a day before letting us know that this recruiting session was happening. I went there not actually to speak up but simply because I was curious to see how the NSA would sell itself at a time like this.</p><p>I went there, and it was two recruiters, a male and a female. I think at most there were probably 25-30 graduate students in the room, and additionally, there were five high school students who had been brought there by a high school teacher.</p><p><strong>JH: Was everybody there out of curiosity like you? Do you think there were people there who were seriously considering a career at the NSA?</strong></p><p>MT: When I went there, I thought maybe people were there actually to find out about careers with the NSA, and maybe there were. I have no way of knowing. I do know that once I started to ask questions, a couple of other students joined in. After the exchange, several students got up and left at the same time. I'm told that by the end of the session, there were maybe four people left not including the high school students.</p><p><strong>JH: Okay. This is Madiha Tahir asking some questions of a couple of NSA recruiters. Let's take a little listen here:</strong></p><blockquote><p><em>Madiha: Yeah, I just had a question. You said earlier that the two tasks that you do, one is sort of figuring out the … tracking down the sort of communications of your adversaries, and the other is protecting the communications of officials.</em></p><p><em>Recruiter1: Right.</em></p><p><em>Madiha: Do you consider Germany and the countries that the NSA has been spying on to be adversaries, or are you right now not speaking the truth? I'm just asking for clarification.</em></p><p><em>Recruiter1: I'm focusing on what our foreign policy requirements are, so, I mean, you can define adversary as enemy, and clearly Germany is not our enemy. But would we have foreign national interests from an intelligence perspective on what's going on across the globe? Yeah, we do. I mean, our requirements that come to us as an intelligence community organization -- from the policymakers, from the military, from whoever -- are global.</em></p><p><em>Madiha: By "adversary," do you actually mean anybody and everybody? There's nobody then, by your definition, that is not an adversary, is that correct?</em></p><p><em>Recruiter1: That is not correct.</em></p><p><em>Madiha: Who is not an adversary?</em></p><p><em>Recruiter1: Well, okay. I can answer your questions, but the reality is …</em></p><p><em>Madiha: I'm just trying to get the clarification, because you told us what the two nodes of your work are, but it's not clear to me what that encompasses, and you're being fairly unclear at the moment about what you consider to be an adversary. Apparently, it's somebody who's not just an enemy. It's something broader than that, and yet it doesn't seem to encompass everyone. What is the …</em></p><p><em>Recruiter2: For us, our business is apolitical.</em></p></blockquote><p><strong>JH: You can hear people snickering in the background when he says that. Did your jaw drop when they said that they're apolitical?</strong></p><p>MT: Yeah. I think that's maybe me laughing and saying, "Okay." It just boggles the mind that this is their defense: "Our business is apolitical." In other words, "I'm just doing my job."</p><p><strong>JH: That's never been used before.</strong></p><p>MT: Yeah. [laughs]</p><p><strong>JH: What a unique defense. Okay. Here's another chunk that's great:</strong></p><blockquote><p><em>Recruiter2: We don't really work on the Information Assurance side of the house. That's the guy who's setting up the … protecting our communication from …</em></p><p><em>Madiha: Yeah. I guess, I'm surprised that, for language analysts, you're incredibly imprecise with your language, and it just doesn't seem to be clear. “Adversary” is basically what any of your so-called customers – as you call them, which is also a strange term to use for a government agency – decide. If anybody wants -- any part of the government wants something about some country, suddenly they're now internally considered or termed an "adversary." I mean, that's what you seem to be saying.</em></p></blockquote><p><strong>JH: That was followed by a very long and very awkward pause.</strong></p><blockquote><p><em>Recruiter2: I'm saying you can think about it using that term.</em></p><p><em>Recruiter1: But the reality is, it's our government's interest in some aspect of what a foreign country is doing.</em></p><p><em>Madiha: Right, so it could be anyone.</em></p><p><em>Recruiter2: As long as they levy the requirement on us through the right vehicle that exists for this, and that it is defined in terms of being a foreign intelligence requirement, there's a national framework of foreign intelligence … what's it called? The …</em></p><p><em>Recruiter1: The NIPF.</em></p><p><em>Recruiter2: Huh?</em></p><p><em>Recruiter1: The NIPF?</em></p><p><em>Recruiter2: Yes. The National Prioritization of Intelligence Framework, or whatever, that determines these are the issues that we're interested in. These are how they're prioritized.</em></p></blockquote><p><strong>JH: Were you surprised that these two represented America's best and brightest, the hotshot intelligence agencies? Because you are just running circles around them.</strong></p><p>MT: I was surprised that they were so unprepared. I mean, after all of the responses that I've gotten I probably should have mentioned that these were not young recruiters. They told us that between the two of them they had 55 years of experience with the NSA. The woman works in their South Asia languages section and seemed to imply that she led that section, and the male recruiter works with Chinese language.</p><p><strong>JH: They had no idea that any of this stuff would be coming their way.</strong></p><p>MT: Yeah. These are experienced NSA people. They're not young, newly hired recruits or even low-level employees, and yet they were just absolutely not prepared. They basically tried to say that the agency is apolitical. Then later on they tried to say that they were effectively not there to represent the NSA. I mean, that's what she said to me. She said, "I'm not here to talk about that."</p><p><strong>JH: I enjoyed that part, too. Here's another student:</strong></p><blockquote><p><em>Student: I have a question about the lifestyle you seem to be selling. It sounds more like a colonial expedition. You know, "the globe is our playground" were the words that you used, the phrasing that you used. You seem to be saying that you can do your work, you can analyze said documents for your so-called customers, but then you can go and get drunk and dress up and have fun without thinking of the repercussions that the information you're analyzing has on the rest of the world.</em></p><p><em>I also want to know, what are the qualifications that one needs to become a whistleblower? Because that sounds like a much more interesting job.</em></p></blockquote><p><strong>JH: This is hilarious. Madiha, are they physically squirming at this point? Are they like shifting from foot to foot?</strong></p><p>MT: They're sort of just standing there a little bit slack and kind of staring off into the distance looking for… trying to figure out answers to these questions, and you can hear the pauses as they try to scramble for the responses.</p><p><strong>JH: Yes, you can. What did she mean when she was asking them about getting drunk? That was kind of enigmatic.</strong></p><p>MT: Yes. That's the other thing. You hear this student mention that. This was in reference to an earlier statement by the female recruiter during which she told us that NSA people, after they do what she called heavy work, they go down to the bar, dress up in costume, do karaoke and get drunk....</p><p>She was trying to sell this as an attractive kind of lifestyle. Her reasoning for telling us this was that people who socialize together work better together. The other was that you're not able to really tell your family about the kind of work that you do—what it is that you do at the office all day—so that's why you hang out with your colleagues, because they actually have a sense of your office life.</p><p><strong>JH: Okay, so then it's obvious that they're getting really awkward and he says, "Hey, this job isn't for everybody." Let's give that a quick listen:</strong></p><blockquote><p><em>Recruiter2: And this job isn't for everybody, you know, and that's part of the reason for coming out here is that academia is a great career for people …</em></p><p><em>Madiha: Is this job for liars? Is that what you're saying? Because clearly you're not able to give us forthright answers. I mean, given the way that the NSA has behaved, given the fact that we have been lied to as Americans, given the fact that fact sheets have been pulled down because they clearly had untruths in them, given the fact that [Director of National Intelligence James] Clapper and [NSA Director Keith] Alexander lied to Congress, is that a qualification for being in the NSA? Do you have to be a good liar?</em></p><p><em>Recruiter1: I don't consider myself to be a liar in any fashion, and the reality is, I mean, this was billed as, if you were potentially interested in an NSA career, come to our session. If you're not, if this is your personal belief and your understanding of what has been presented, then there's nothing that says you need to come and apply and work for us. We're not here … our role as NSA employees is not to represent NSA—the things that are in the press right now about NSA—to the public. That's not our role at all. That's not my area of expertise. I have not read everything…</em>.</p><p><em>Madiha: Right, but you're here recruiting, and so you're selling the organization. I'm less interested in what your specialized role is within the NSA. I don't care. The fact is you're here presenting a public face for the NSA, and you're trying to sell the organization to people that are as young as high schoolers and trying to tell us that this is an attractive option in a context in which we clearly know that the NSA has been telling us complete lies—so I'm wondering, is that a qualification?</em></p><p><em>Recruiter1: I don't believe the NSA is telling complete lies. I do believe that people can… you can read a lot of different things that are portrayed as fact, and that doesn't make them fact just because they're in newspapers and…</em></p><p><em>Madiha: Or intelligence reports?</em></p><p><em>Recruiter1: That's not really our… that's not our purpose here today, and I think if you're not interested in a… there are probably people here who are interested in a language career.</em></p><p><em>Madiha: The trouble is we can't opt out of NSA surveillance, and we don't get answers. It's not an option. You're posing it as a choice, like, "Oh, you know, people who are interested can just sit here, and those of us who are not interested can leave." If I could opt out of NSA surveillance and it was no longer my business, that would be fine, but it is my business, because all of us are being surveilled, so we're here.</em></p><p><em>Recruiter1: That's incorrect. That is not our business. That is not our business, and that is not what we do.</em></p><p><em>Madiha: That doesn't seem to be incorrect given the leaks, right? You are not able… the NSA has not been able to actually put out anything that is convincing contrary to that.</em></p></blockquote><p><strong>JH: That was just so much awesome. Madiha Tahir, I want to thank you so much for joining us.</strong></p><p>MT: Thank you for having me.</p> Tue, 09 Jul 2013 10:34:00 -0700 Joshua Holland, AlterNet 866379 at http://admin.alternet.org Civil Liberties Civil Liberties World nsa Snowden surveillance Tahir Shocker: Only 1% of So Called Terrorists Nabbed by the FBI Were Real http://admin.alternet.org/civil-liberties/fbis-terror-scam <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">A larger number of arrestees, poor and powerless, were caught in FBI &quot;Threat Factory&quot; stings.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_123868771.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>In the dozen years since the 9/11 attacks, we've watched as a classified new legal regime for government surveillance has been hashed out, local police forces have become heavily armed military-type units and a whole new layer of bureaucracy has hatched to provide us with an abundance of “homeland security.”</p><p>Proponents of this build-up argue that it's made us safer. They point to hundreds of foiled plots to make their case. But Trevor Aaronson, author of<i><a href="http://www.amazon.com/The-Terror-Factory-Manufactured-Terrorism/dp/1935439618">The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI's Manufactured War on Terrorism</a>, </i>dug into these supposedly dastardly plots and found that they are much less than meets the eye.</p><p>Aaronson recently appeared on the AlterNet Radio Hour. Below is a lightly edited transcript of the discussion.</p><p><b>Joshua Holland: Trevor, the raw statistical data say that Americans have a significantly better chance of being struck dead by lightning than of being killed in a terrorist attack here at home. It’s obviously different for people in some other countries.</b></p><p><b>I got that from the official terrorism statistics put out by the FBI and other related agencies. And they also track foiled attacks. These law enforcement agencies say that these foiled attacks prove that they are saving American lives. How would you respond to that?</b></p><p>Trevor Aaronson: I’d say that the majority of the foiled attacks that they cite are really only foiled attacks because the FBI made the attack possible, and most of the people who are caught in these so-called foiled attacks are caught through sting operations that use either an undercover FBI agent or informant posing as some sort of Al-Qaeda operative.</p><p>In all of these cases, the defendants, or the would-be terrorists, are people who at best have a vague idea that they want to commit some sort of violent act or some sort of act of terrorism but have no means on their own. They don’t have weapons. They don’t have connections with any international terrorist groups.</p><p>In many cases they’re mentally ill or they’re economically desperate. An undercover informant or agent posing as an Al-Qaeda operative gives them everything they need… gives them the transportation, gives them the money if they need it, and then gives them the bomb and even the idea for the terrorist attack. And then when that person pushes a button to detonate the bomb that they believe will explode—a bomb that was provided to them in whole by the FBI—agents rush in, arrest them and charge them with conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and then parade that person out to the public saying, "Look at us. We caught a terrorist. This is us keeping you safe."</p><p>If you look at the record of prosecutions in the decade after 911, there has yet to be a case of some Al-Qaeda operative providing the means for a wannabe terrorist to do an act of terrorism. It’s only the FBI that’s providing the means through these sting operations. What this has done is really inflate the threat of terrorism within the United States—particularly from Muslim terrorists—because in almost all of these cases sting operations target men on the fringes of Muslim communities who might be mentally ill, economically desperate or otherwise very easily manipulated by an informant who can make a lot of money in these sting operations.</p><p><strong>JH: The thing that I find eye-opening about this is—I’ve certainly known that many of these supposed plots were basically inventions of the FBI, but I didn’t know it was that consistent. You’re saying that this is the case with all of the suspects we’ve heard of in the post-911 era?</strong></p><p>TA: For the purposes of my book, I used the 10 years after 9/11 as the area that I was going to analyze data in, and what we know is that in the 10 years after 9/11, there were a little more than 500 defendants who were charged with federal crimes involving international terrorism. About 250 involved people who were charged with things like immigration violations or lying to the FBI and who are somehow linked to terrorism.</p><p>Their charges did not involve any sort of terrorist plot. Of the 500, you have about 150 who were caught in sting operations; these operations that were solely the creation of the FBI through an FBI informant or undercover agent providing the means and the opportunity, the bomb, the idea and so on.</p><p>Then if you’re really being generous, you can find only about five people of the 500 charged with international terrorism who were involved in some sort of plot that either had weapons of their creation or their acquisition or were connected to international terrorists in some way. These include Najibullah Zazi who came close to bombing the New York City subway system, Faisal Shahzad, who delivered a bomb to Times Square that fortunately didn’t go off, and then you have Jose Padilla—the dirty bomber—the underwear bomber and the shoe bomber, for example.</p><p>Being generous, those are the five that you can point to in the decade after 9/11 who seemed to pose a significant threat. Fortunately, none of them were successful. That’s a handful compared to the more than 150 who were caught in these sting operations, and in these sting operations the men never had access to weapons; it was only the FBI that provided it as part of the sting operation that they were controlling from beginning to end.</p><p><strong>JH: I’m no attorney, but this sounds like it gets close to entrapment. Have defense attorneys raised that?</strong></p><p>TA: Yeah, and this is an interesting area of this story. Obviously, a layman like you or me looking at this thinks this is definitely entrapment. Unfortunately, the legal definition of entrapment is very different, and what we know is that 11 defendants have formally argued entrapment in these cases and none have been successful.</p><p>A large reason for that is the government is able to argue against entrapment in two ways; one is to say the person was predisposed to commit the crime. That he had done something that suggested he was interested in committing a crime before the introduction of the government agent.</p><p>Traditionally speaking, if this was a bank robbery plot, the government would have to prove that the defendant was researching bank robberies or casing banks prior to the FBI informant getting involved. The FBI and the Department of Justice are able to do this very easily in these terrorism cases in part because they are able to introduce evidence that is really sketchy to prove that there was predisposition.</p><p>For example, often the government will cite the fact that someone watched a jihad video and they’ll put on the stand a government expert who will testify that, "Hey, you know, because he watched the jihad video and this is one of Al-Qaeda’s classics," that meant he was becoming a terrorist and the government line essentially, rather an absurd one, is that if you watch a Jihad video then, trance-like, you become a terrorist. It’s absurd on its face because I’ve watched those videos. You’ve watched those videos and I don’t think either of us are going to become terrorists.</p><p>At the same time, how the government is able to argue against entrapment is to really weight the jury in its favor and it does that by – in these sting operations, the government controls every aspect of the plot so they could have a guy who wants to commit violence and they say to him, "Okay, here’s a nine millimeter handgun. Go to the mall and shoot a couple people in the knee."</p><p>That would be awful but it wouldn’t be something that would necessarily shatter the security of the United States of America. Instead, in these sting operations, they give the defendants these bombs that are so enormous and so big that even a sophisticated criminal organization would have trouble obtaining them. Then they have them unleash those bombs at subway stations or downtown skyscrapers and it makes the jury think, You know what? I ride that subway system. I have a son who works at that skyscraper. What that does is effectively erode any empathy that the jury might have for the defendant and that empathy is necessary for a jury to say, You know what? That person was entrapped.</p><p>What we’ve seen is a very effective role by the government in battling against this entrapment defense and now that we have 11 cases where entrapment has been formally argued, none being successful. I’m among those who say if you’re a Muslim charged with terrorism in the United States there really is no such thing as entrapment today.</p><p><strong>JH: I’m a fan of that show <em>Breaking Bad</em>, and yet I have not started cooking meth in my backyard</strong>.</p><p>TA: If you ever got involved in a sting operation with meth, the fact that you’re a "Breaking Bad" fan might be used against you.</p><p><strong>JH: Now, you said that a lot of people caught up in this dragnet, if you will, are poor, have mental health problems, are disenfranchised and sound like they are marginal people. Can you give us a few examples, specific case studies in the book to illustrate this point?</strong></p><p>TA: Yes. One example which is really an absurd one is a man named Derek Shareef. Derek was this recent convert to Islam and he worked at a video game store in Rockford, Illinois. As it happens, his family has ostracized him as a result of his conversion and he was living in his car, which also happened to have just broken down.</p><p>Derek, who is earning close to minimum wage at this video game store, was really down on his luck. We don’t know exactly why the FBI targeted him but they sent an informant into the video game store.</p><p>This informant was a convicted drug dealer who then started working with the FBI and it happened to be the day before Ramadan and the informant strikes up a conversation with Derek and Derek explains the hard circumstances he’s found himself in.</p><p>The informant says, "You know what? I’ve got an extra bedroom at my place. I don’t use my car very often; you’re welcome to use it. Why don’t you stay with me while you get back on your feet?" Derek, being newly religious and devout, thinks this is the work of God since it’s the day before Ramadan and he goes and lives with this man, and over the course of weeks, this man’s slowly stoking Derek’s anger about his circumstances and about American foreign policy. Derek at some point says, "I want to do something about this. I want to kill a judge." The informant says, "Okay, which judge?"</p><p>Of course, Derek couldn’t name the name of any judges and so the informant then gets Derek involved in a more manageable plot. He suggests that they go attack a shopping mall on Christmas Eve. For whatever reason, as in a lot of these plots, Derek agrees that he wants to do that, but the problem for the FBI informant and the FBI agent in this case was that Derek didn’t have any money.</p><p>He didn’t have any money to buy guns. He didn’t have any money to buy any weapons that he would need for the plot, so the FBI agents and the undercover informant cook-up this idea where the FBI informant will introduce Derek to an arms dealer who can provide grenades and Derek, in turn, has these two ratty, old stereo speakers, which are the only thing he has of earthly value and the informant tells Derek, "I think if you bring your stereo speakers to an arms dealer, he’ll just say, OK, fair trade and here’s four grenades.''</p><p>I don’t know many arms dealers in this world, but I’m pretty sure that none of them is going to accept old stereo speakers for grenades, but of course, Derek didn’t know that. Derek shows up at the shopping mall dutifully carrying his stereo speakers, gives them to the undercover agent who’s posing as the arms dealer, and the arms dealer hands over the grenades. Agents rush in, arrest Derek and charge him with conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction, and he’s ultimately serving 17 years in prison.</p><p>Clearly that’s an example of a man on the fringes of our society, unlikely to ever commit significant violence on his own and yet through this sting operation he is empowered to get involved in a plot that, were it real, would have been really horrifying. And when it’s portrayed in the public and through the media, it does seem horrifying. Here is this man plotting with an Al-Qaeda operative, an undercover FBI informant, to blow up people in a shopping mall on one of the busiest shopping days of the year.</p><p>Of course, the truth is that that was nothing more than a fantasy by the FBI, controlled at every step by the FBI and no one was really in danger and there’s no evidence to suggest that Derek ever would have met a real Al-Qaeda operative who could have made him the terrorist that he apparently wanted to be.</p><p><strong>JH: Trevor, let’s talk a little about the incentives here. It seems to me—and this isn’t an original thought—that there’s a bureaucratic imperative to justify agency budgets. After 9/11, kind of in a panic, we basically doubled the size of our intelligence agencies, created a new Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI refocused its mission.</strong></p><p><strong>How much of this tendency to entrap these people comes from that imperative to justify bloated counter-terrorism budgets in your view?</strong></p><p>TA: Actually a lot. I’m not of the opinion that there are high-ranking people at the FBI who are saying, You know what? We want to stick it to Muslims in the United States. Although there’s evidence of xenophobia and a certain amount of Islamophobia within the FBI, I don’t think that’s the real reason behind this.</p><p>Instead, I think the reason we’re seeing these really aggressive sting operations is the result of something of a bureaucratic evil. That is every year Congress allocates the FBI’s budget, and they set the counter-terrorism budget at $3 billion, which is the largest part of the FBI’s budget, more than it receives for organized crime and financial fraud.</p><p>The FBI can’t exactly spend $3 billion and say, Hey; you know what? We spent your money and we didn’t find any terrorists. Even though the truth is that there’s a lot of money for counter-terrorism and just not a lot of terrorists going around today. What happens is that these sting operations are a very convenient mechanism for the FBI to say, Hey look at us. We’re keeping you safe.</p><p>From the highest levels of the FBI, there’s pressure to build counter-terrorism cases because they just received $3 billion from Congress and that pressure then flows down to the field offices, which then, in turn, put pressure on individual agents to build counter-terrorism cases and those individual agents then incentivize informants who can make hundreds of thousands of dollars per case.</p><p>They’re sent out in the communities looking for people interested in committing acts of terrorism. What they’re not finding are people who are actively building bombs or getting involved in significant terrorist plots.</p><p>Instead, they’re finding these outliers, these people on the fringes of communities who for the most part are loudmouths who might aspire to violence but have no means of their own. And then they’ll bring them into the plot knowing that if they get someone on the hook, they can make lots of money, and then when they get a prosecutable case, that case floats up and you have a situation where FBI director Robert Muller consistently testifies before Congress about counterterrorism and cites these cases involving sting operations and what he describes as, Oh, this would have been a terrible, terrible thing had it been allowed to occur … it was a bombing of synagogues in the Bronx, or whatever it might be and never fully describes how that plot to bomb synagogues in the Bronx was really only made possible through an FBI informant who provided everything that the guy needed.</p><p>My criticism of this is not only that this bureaucratic evil exists and this is what is happening, but on a greater level the question people should be asking is, Why, despite all of this money and 15,000 informants employed by the FBI today are they finding it so easy to catch these people who are mentally ill and economically desperate while they’re missing the really dangerous people?</p><p>Faisal Shahzad delivered his bomb to Times Square and no one knew about him until that day. If you take the case in Boston with Tamerlan Tsarnaev, this was someone that the FBI even looked at and decided he’s not a threat.</p><p>The FBI has proven itself very good at catching these people in sting operations who can be easily manipulated, but they’ve also proven themselves almost incompetent in finding the truly dangerous terrorists who do have these connections overseas.</p> Mon, 08 Jul 2013 08:47:00 -0700 Joshua Holland, AlterNet 865712 at http://admin.alternet.org Civil Liberties Books Civil Liberties aaronson the terror factory terrorism national security fbi 9/11 I Spent Eight Years As a Liberal Working for Fox News http://admin.alternet.org/books/liberal-fox-mole <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Joe Muto gives a behind-the-scenes account of life at the cable news station.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/14521710_130309200000_265x265_pad_0.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Joe Muto was just a young liberal guy who haphazardly fell into a career at Fox News. Eight years later, he departed in dramatic fashion after becoming, for a brief moment, Gawker.com's anonymous “Liberal Fox Mole.”</p><p>A couple of misdemeanor charges later, Muto wrote a book about his experiences working for Bill O'Reilly. <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/An-Atheist-FOXhole-Eight-Year-Right-Wing/dp/0525953957">An Atheist in the FOXhole: A Liberal's Eight-Year Odyssey Inside the Heart of the Right-Wing Media</a></em> is an entertaining insider's account of what it's like behind the scenes at a Republican advocacy organization that also happens to be the top-rated cable news station in the United States. We caught up with Muto by phone last week.</p><p><strong>Joshua Holland: Joe, you didn't end up at Fox as part of some ideological crusade. How did a liberal end up working in the heart of darkness?</strong></p><p>Joe Muto: That would have been an even more amazing story if I had started there and stayed there for eight years with the intent of doing this the whole time.</p><p>It was weird. I finished college and I was aimless as, I’m guessing, many exiting college seniors are. I just knew I wanted to be in New York. I wanted to do something in media and I sent out a flurry of resumes. My undistinguished GPA in an undistinguished major got me zero responses except for Fox News.</p><p>I was nervous about taking a job with them. I didn’t know if I would show up and they’d make me swear allegiance to a photo of Ronald Reagan in an occult ceremony or something like that. I had no idea what to expect but I actually had a buddy who had done an internship for them. He’s like, “Yes, it’s normal, whatever. Who cares?”</p><p>I thought, I’ll give it a few months and see what happens. If I can’t stand the place, I’ll bug out and get a job somewhere else, but it seems it’s a good way to start a career and to start in New York City—to get a foothold.</p><p><strong>JH: After eight years, you figured you’d be happier working at Gawker, which many of us would be … so you became the Fox mole.</strong></p><p><strong>I wouldn’t say you were like James Bond in covering up your tracks. How did Fox figure out it was you after about 10 minutes?</strong></p><p>JM: (Laughs) Ten minutes is being a little generous. It was about three minutes. It was not the stuff I was writing. The stuff I was writing, I was covering my tracks enough that it didn’t lead straight to me, but it was the video clips. Those stupid, inconsequential video clips. I had one clip of Newt Gingrich getting his hair done by his wife. I had another clip of Mitt Romney talking about his love for his dressage horses.</p><p>With those two clips, they were able to trace to me. They didn’t know—they didn’t have me completely there. They were like, We don’t know that you took these clips, but we can tell that you’re one of the only people in the company who looked at both of them.</p><p><strong>JH: You faced a couple of charges for this. John Cook over at Gawker says that prosecuting you was an outrageous abuse of power. Your view?</strong></p><p>JM: An outrageous abuse of power... I'm of a mixed mind about it. I had to plead to a couple of misdemeanor charges and I’m doing community service. They gave me 10 days of community service and 200 additional hours. The other people are all in there for drug charges, DUIs. One guy smashed a bottle in another guy’s face. I have a major inferiority complex because they were talking about all these amazing stuff they’ve done and I’m like, Yes, I leaked a video of Newt Gingrich getting trimmed by his wife.</p><p>In the end I just made stuff up and told people I was in a bar fight.</p><p>I do feel I maybe got a bit of a harsher penalty than would normally be warranted for someone like me who’s a first-time offender. At the same time, I did it. It’s not like I’m innocent. Maybe karmically, this is what I deserve.</p><p><strong>JH: You got a book deal out of it. There’s always that.</strong></p><p>JM: I did. Maybe I’m doing OK on balance. Not too shabby.</p><p><strong>JH: Let’s talk about what it’s like working at Fox News. First, I was surprised that everyone in the building isn’t a true believer. I figured that many really believe that they’re fair and balanced and an antidote to the so-called liberal media, but it seems that a lot of your co-workers knew they were in a propaganda business?</strong></p><p>JM: In my experience, nobody believed the spin—even the people who were conservative, like the producers who were totally conservative, hated the liberal media, all that stuff. Even they knew that our job was not to be, “fair and balanced.” They knew it. They knew why we were there.</p><p>We used to call it "stirring up the crazies." That’s what we said with our broadcasts, is that we wanted to stir up as much as outrage as possible because angry people watch more TV. We knew that was our job and we never pretended otherwise. No one ever bought into the official company line that we were really the only fair and balanced one because everyone else was so liberal. Nobody actually believed that.</p><p><strong>JH: What’s it like from the perspective of being a worker at a right-wing company like that? I remember one of the Gawker posts you wrote, which was hilarious ... it was about their low-rent newsroom and the bathrooms being in this constant state of disrepair. What is that like, on a daily basis?</strong></p><p>JM: Fox is known within the industry for being very stingy. They’re cheap. They don’t pay their employees that much. They pay their anchors pretty well. O’Reilly is making eight figures. Their lower-level employees get paid nothing. My starting salary was $12 an hour and I got a raise to $12.74 an hour after six months.</p><p>They’re cheap there. They don’t pay to upgrade the facilities. There’s bed bugs all over the newsroom. All the equipment is 10 years old which, when you’re in a high-tech, fast-paced field like cable news and your computer is crashing every five minutes, that‘s a problem, that's a huge problem. That’s one of the reasons actually why I was so confident that they wouldn’t be able to catch me with the video clips, because the online video clip system would crash on a weekly basis. It turns out they’re much better tracking me than they are at their day jobs.</p><p><strong>JH: It’s a right-wing company. You figure security is a competent part of the organization.</strong></p><p><strong>As a liberal, were any of your co-workers ever on to you? I assume you had to cover up your views. Did anybody suspect?</strong></p><p>JM: I kept my mouth shut about where my personal beliefs lay because everyone was paranoid there. There was a lot of paranoia in the newsrooms. People honestly believe, and I still half-believe it to this day, that the newsroom is bugged, that there were audio listening devices in the ceilings so that Ailes could figure out if there were any liberals in his newsroom, if anyone was talking bad about him in the newsroom, that kind of thing.</p><p>There was this sense of paranoia, especially amongst the scant number of liberals, but as my career went on, and I got more comfortable there, I let it slip, I guess, probably during the 2008 elections, I guess people have caught on to where my sympathies lay.</p><p>The other people on the O’Reilly staff didn’t really seem to have a problem with it. I don’t know if O’Reilly himself knew. I don’t know if he would have cared if he knew. He probably would have just rolled his eyes and said I was an idiot and then continued on his day, because he doesn’t really care about what his staffers think because our views never made it on the air. Only his did.</p><p><strong>JH: When I think of Fox, I think of the ubiquitous, perfectly coiffed women who make up a lot of the on-air talent. Do they grow them in some kind of high-tech hydroponic farm? Are they all ideologically in tune or do you sense that, for some of them, it’s just a gig?</strong></p><p>JM: I don’t know where they find these ladies. It’s like a MILF parade, constantly, in the hallways of the 17th floor. The women, I think, some of them are true believers. Some of them are just faking it. With the male hosts, it’s different. The male hosts, for whatever reason, are … that does seem to be where their beliefs are, but the female hosts, I think, are just good-looking women who had a choice of either going into acting or going into news, and they went for news. All the best-looking ones got snatched up by Ailes, who does believe that the better-looking people you have on your air, the more people are going to watch.</p><p><strong>JH: They're the ratings leader, so he may be onto something, I would say. Now, you talk about how Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly hate each other. What’s their beef about?</strong></p><p>JM: It’s the normal penis-measuring that goes on between two alpha males. Ratings has the most to do with it. O’Reilly is number one. Hannity is number two. What’s funny is that they’re each convinced that the other one is trying to sabotage their show. They’re always squabbling over who gets which guests, who gets them when, and I want this guest before you get him.</p><p>There’s a rule in place. Ailes had to come in and impose some rules. He was like, If one of you has Karl Rove on Monday, the other one can’t have him on Tuesday. You got to have the one-day gap. You got to wait for Wednesday.</p><p>There’s all these arcane rules about when you can have guest on. It’s a pathetic sight to see these two grown men fighting over who gets Bernie Goldberg, Karl Rove and … I was going to say Dick Morris. Not him anymore. One of my favorite fights was when they hired Sarah Palin, and there was just this free-for-all scrum between all the top anchors over who would get her first as a Fox News contributor. (O’Reilly actually won that one.)</p><p><strong>JH: Now, you have a bit of respect for O’Reilly. You say he’s a misunderstood media figure. He also sounds like an anal compulsive guy in a big way. In the book, you note that if anything is thrown off in his schedule in the slightest way, he can go into a fit of rage. You say that it was often easier to let him believe something that was wrong than to explain it. Tell us about O’Reilly and your views of him.</strong></p><p>JM: In the book, I make him sound like Rain Man in that you can’t throw off his schedule. He’ll get mad. He’ll go, "It’s chaos. It’s chaos right there. Hold on."</p><p>It is a pretty well-oiled machine and he gets all these people (I was one of them) scrambling to make his day easy. He does need everything handed to him in very easily digestible snippets. If you give him a piece of paper, you can’t just hand him a piece of paper. You have to put it in a manila folder and write on the outside what’s in the folder or else he gets … I actually forgot to put that in the book. That’s actually a funny detail. I’ll save that for the paperback. If you give him a piece of paper and it’s not in a labeled folder, he’ll never find it. He’ll say, "I never got that piece of paper. What happened?"</p><p>He’ll get really agitated about that. He does need a lot of hand-holding, but he is the head of a rather large operation, I guess. He does have a lot of stuff crossing his desk from time to time.</p><p><strong>JH: Folks, that was an exclusive about Bill O’Reilly and his manila folders.</strong></p><p><strong>What about the people around who seem like real journalists. The name Shep Smith comes to mind. Possibly Chris Wallace, although I think he’s a pretty ideological guy. How do you think they see their work at Fox News?</strong></p><p>JM: We deal with some serious journalists. A lot of them are working in the DC bureau. I think I put this in the book—they hold themselves at arms' length from the New York people. They’re chasing down leads through the halls of Congress and we’re digging into the garbage of murdered white ladies. That’s the way they see it and that’s fairly accurate, but there was a sense that they are embarrassed by us sometimes. But we’re the ones bringing in the money that makes what they do possible.</p><p>As far as specific people, I think Shep is really talented and does play it pretty down the middle. I like Chris Wallace, too. He is conservative, it seems to me at times, but he’s pretty fair, at least his on-air presentation. He’s not afraid to criticize the other side—he’ll criticize conservatives from time to time, if need be.</p><p><strong>JH: People on the right often say that MSNBC is doing the exact same thing as Fox. How do you see that? Do you see them as fundamentally different in the way they operate?</strong></p><p>JM: Yes. I think the difference is MSNBC does not pander down to its audience. Fox dumbs things down and over-explains things to the audience, whereas MSNBC treats its audience like they're smart, they know what’s going on, and they don’t need things spoon-fed to them. That’s one difference. Another difference—and this is a huge difference that never gets mentioned —is that MSNBC handed over three or four hours every morning to a former Republican congressman, Joe Scarborough. You would never see that on Fox. Fox would never have Anthony Weiner or someone hosting a three-hour block in the morning. That would just never happen.</p><p>That’s the big difference is that Fox is a lot more ideologically rigid than MSNBC. MSNBC is courting liberal viewers with their primetime shows, especially, but I don’t think the network, as a whole, is as devoted to one ideological point of view as Fox is.</p><p><strong>JH: Dennis Kucinich is the former representative that I’d like to see have a three-hour morning show on Fox. That would be entertaining.</strong></p><p>JM: He works for Fox now, doesn’t he? Didn’t they hire him to be a contributor?</p><p><strong>JH: You wrote that at Fox—and this is key to the whole thing—you wrote and I quote, “The message isn’t so much pushed as it is pulled gravitationally, with Roger Ailes as the sun at the center of the solar system; his vice-presidents were the forces of gravity that kept the planet-sized anchors and executive producers in a tight orbit.”</strong></p><p><strong>Tell us a bit more about this.</strong></p><p>JM: I apologize for that tortured metaphor, but....basically, that was me trying to demonstrate that there is a degree of autonomy. There’s no proverbial morning meeting where everyone gets together and decides, This is how we’re going to spin the news today. That doesn’t happen. But that’s not to say that there’s not a degree of control.</p><p>Everyone who’s in the position of authority knows what is expected of them. If they somehow forget themselves and go off the reservation too far, they get a little bit of leeway, depending on what show it is. But if they go too far off the reservation, they’re getting a phone call from the executive floor. Usually from one of the vice-presidents, but sometimes from Ailes himself. He’s the final arbiter of disputes.</p><p>Every show is required to, before they tape, submit a list of topics and a list of guests to a vice-president, who will then review it and sign off on it. If anything raises any red flags, you’re going to hear about it.</p><p>Even if it’s just, "I see you’re doing this topic and this guest. What angle are you going to take? You can take that angle. That’s fine." That kind of checkup is common.</p><p><strong>JH: You also write about how not only individual guests can be banned for life from all Fox shows, but also entire organizations. Tell us about that.</strong></p><p>JM: It made my job as a producer harder because sometimes we just get this edict from the second floor that, You can no longer book this person, or, You can no longer book anyone who writes for Politico.com, for example, which was annoying because Politico is a good organization, in that they make their reporters readily available to go on TV. That was our lazy fallback if we needed someone to comment on a story.</p><p>That was annoying when they banned them. The weird thing is, they never told us why. It was a mystery.</p><p><strong>JH: Sounds like the USSR where people just disappeared and nobody knew why.</strong></p><p>JM: The paranoia level was probably on par with that. There are certain other people like Bill Maher, the comedian, he's just banned for… he made one too many Sarah Palin jokes and he can’t come on the network. He used to come on O’Reilly's show, but he can’t come onto the network anymore.</p><p><strong>JH: You said that there’s no morning meetings where they get their spin right. What about the revelations in <em>Outfoxed</em>, the film by Robert Greenwald, that there was this daily memo keeping everyone up to speed on how the day’s news should be interpreted. Have you never seen those?</strong></p><p>JM: I did see those. Those were still going everyday when I started in 2004 and they stopped going out, I think, pretty shortly after <em>Outfoxed</em> came out. They were always there as guidance and some people maybe took them to heart, but most of us just ignored them. They were a smoking gun for that documentary. It looked bad and there’s a lot of out-of-context things you could pull and say, That looks pretty terrible.</p><p>But as far as guiding the overall coverage, it was really more of the system I described earlier. It was not those memos specifically that were really guiding people. </p> Mon, 24 Jun 2013 14:34:00 -0700 Joshua Holland, AlterNet 859809 at http://admin.alternet.org Books Books Media The Right Wing fox muto atheist in the foxhole How Giving Spying Power to Giant Corporations Is Dangerous to Your Future http://admin.alternet.org/civil-liberties/outsourced-spooks <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">After two decades of downsizing government, we shouldn&#039;t be surprised that corporate spooks are surveilling us. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_127585253.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Whether one views Edward Snowden as a hero or a villain, perhaps we could all agree that if the government is to keep secrets, a 29-year-old private contractor with a soft spot for Ron Paul shouldn't have access to a treasure trove of its most sensitive information.</p><p>Of course, that assumes that there still exists a bright line between government and the private sector. But that's become an antiquated notion after two decades of ideologically driven outsourcing of what were once considered core government functions. As a result of that effort, there are now a million potential Edward Snowdons – or, more precisely, 483,263 contractors with top-secret clearances, <a href="http://www.fas.org/sgp/othergov/intel/clear-2012.pdf">according to James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence</a>– any of whom could slip out with sensitive data on <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2013/06/yeah-it-was-thumb-drive">a thumb drive</a> if they have a personal or ideological axe to grind.</p><p>More troubling is the fact that we're being constantly monitored by private spy companies with virtually no oversight or accountability. According to journalist Tim Shorrock, around 70 percent of our national security spending now goes to private firms. Michael Hayden, “who oversaw the privatization effort as NSA director from 1999 to 2005,” told Shorrock that “the largest concentration of cyber power on the planet is the intersection of the Baltimore Parkway and Maryland Route 32,” where the NSA's top contractors are located. Hayden coined the term, “Digital Blackwater” to describe the privatization of American cyber security agencies.</p><p>“I think it's extraordinarily frightening because the oversight by Congress is so minimal to begin with,” says Robert McChesney, a professor of communications at the University of Illinois and author of <i><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Digital-Disconnect-Capitalism-Internet-Democracy/dp/1595588671">Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism Is Turning the Internet Against Democracy</a>. </i>“From what we know, the oversight of spying, intelligence and surveillance is really rock-bottom, with members of Congress often knowing little or nothing” about the details of these programs. “So, they're going off the books [with private firms] to avoid even the minimal oversight they do have.”</p><p><b>Reinventing Government</b></p><p>How did we get here? Ironically, while a lot of Americans are convinced that Democrats hold an unwavering fealty to “big government,” during the 1990s, a central tenet of Bill Clinton's agenda was shrinking down the size of the federal government. The administration's “Reinventing Government” initiative – which took place in two phases, known as REGO I and II – resulted in a whopping 17 percent reduction in the federal workforce.</p><p>Ed Kilgore, former vice president for policy at the Democratic Leadership Council and now a journalist with the <i>Washington Monthly</i>, said REGO, “reflected not just a serious determination by the Clinton administration to rethink how government works, but also a much broader trend on the center-left – at think tanks and magazines really for years – that suggested that the future of liberalism depended on sorting out ends and means.”</p><p>Liberals, the administration believed, had become too eager to identify progressivism with government programs. “So a lot of the neoliberal movement and the whole New Democrat thing was very explicitly focused on making the efficient achievement of progressive goals the definition of being a liberal rather than just defending programs and how they were administered.”</p><p>The initiative resulted in some decent innovations, like government data being made available in easily accessible form over the Internet. But 20 years later, Donald Kettl, dean of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, told the industry magazine <i>Government Executive</i> that the elimination of over 425,000 federal jobs had caused serious problems. “The reduction didn’t happen in a way that matched workforce needs because they used a strategy for downsizing to hit a target,” he said. “The effort got in the way of the ‘making government work better’ piece. Many with special skills left, and people who stayed might have been those we’d have wanted to leave.”</p><p>In 1994, when Bill Clinton announced the results of the first phase of REGO, <a href="http://clinton6.nara.gov/1994/10/1994-10-13-president-remarks-at-reinventing-government-event.html">he quipped</a>, “I kind of hate to sign this bill today. What will Jay Leno do, there will be no more $500 hammers, no more $600 toilet seats, no more $10 ashtrays.” But the reality is that one of the most problematic consequences of his reforms was a significant reduction in oversight of government contracts.</p><p>According to a 1999 study by the Project on Government Oversight (PoGo), the very agencies that had been “successful at reining in industry fraud” were those hit hardest by the cuts, including a 19 percent cut in staff at the Defense Contract Audit Agency, which had saved “almost $10 for each dollar invested,” and a 21 percent cut in the Department of Defense Inspector General's office.</p><p>Rather than eliminating the $500 hammer, PoGo found:</p><blockquote><p>Defense contractors are taking advantage of new opportunities to rip off the federal government under policy reforms instituted by Clinton/Gore's Reinventing Government campaign and an industry-chummy Congress. Spare parts prices have ballooned by up to fifteen times (or 1,532%) by contractors like Boeing and AlliedSignal taking advantage of lax accounting and oversight under federal policy changes.</p></blockquote><p>According to surveys conducted in the late 1990s, the haphazard nature of the downsizing also left many of those remaining in the federal government frustrated, overworked and demoralized.</p><p><b>Bush: Outsourcer-In-Chief</b></p><p>When Bush came to power, he wasn't interested in many of the reforms initiated during the Clinton years, but his administration continued advancing the rhetoric of “reform” by streamlining government procurement processes. Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University, told <i>Government Executive</i> that the Bush team embraced Ronald Reagan's formulation that “the problem with government is government,” and focused primarily on outsourcing more functions to the private sector.</p><p>Then came the attacks of September 11, 2001. In the aftermath, the 9/11 Commission determined that the National Security Agency (NSA) had collected data that might have averted the attacks, but hadn't had the available manpower to analyze them in time. The agency's staffing, like that of the rest of the federal government, had been reduced significantly in the prior decade.</p><p>And an agency that had been established during the Cold War to monitor the USSR, a centralized nation-state, now had to contend with a diffuse network of operators spread out around the world – a network that could take advantage of the proliferation of digital communications technologies.</p><p>The quantity of worldwide digital communications was exploding just as NSA was trying to adapt to a new enemy with a lighter staff. These factors, combined with the pressure of post-9/11 war rhetoric, sent the agency scrambling to figure out how to analyze the masses of data it was collecting. Although the exact figures are classified, the NSA's budget, the largest of any intelligence agency, is estimated to have doubled to $8 billion in the following years, according to the Project on Defense Alternatives (<a href="http://www.comw.org/pda/fulltext/Conetta%20paper%201%20June.pdf">PDF</a>). And it increasingly relied on private contractors like Edward Snowden's former employer, Booz Allen Hamilton, to sift through the massive amounts of digital information it was sucking up.</p><p>For Bush, outsourcing had an additional benefit: it allowed his administration to significantly increase the size of our national security apparatus without expanding a heavily unionized federal workforce. While Clinton and Gore had eliminated the jobs of tens of thousands of unionized federal workers, they'd also strengthened unions' hands by implementing new labor/management partnerships, but according to Elaine Kamarck, a former aide to Al Gore, one of the first things Bush did was dismantle the partnerships. And, as Richard Conley recalled in <i><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Americas-War-Terrorism-Dimensions-Government/dp/0739122339">America's 'War on Terrorism': New Dimensions in U.S. Government and National Security</a>, </i>Bush threatened to veto legislation creating the Department of Homeland Security unless it came with “flexible personnel rules that... ran counter to traditional civil service protections.” (Senate Democrats balked, but after the Republicans' strong showing in the 2002 mid-terms, Bush ultimately got his way.)</p><p>Booz is one of a thousand contractors who grew fat at this growing public trough. According to the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/10/us/booz-allen-grew-rich-on-government-contracts.html?pagewanted=all&amp;_r=2&amp;">New York Times</a>, “over the last decade, much of the company’s growth has come from selling expertise, technology and manpower to the National Security Agency and other federal intelligence agencies.” According to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/10/nsa-leak-contractors_n_3418876.html?1370919691">the Associated Press</a>, 98 percent of the company's revenues come from government contracts and half of its employees hold security clearances.</p><p>A rapidly spinning revolving door further undermines outside security contractors' accountability. Edward Snowden claims that he worked for Dell, the CIA and then the NSA via a contract with Booz. Former director of National Intelligence Michael Hayden is now a principal with the Chertoff Group, the intelligence firm led by former secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff. The current DNI, James Clapper, was formerly an executive with Booz Allen Hamilton. The AP reported that “the ties between government and contract workers are so pervasive in Washington that those on each side are known by nicknames: Contractors are called 'green badgers' for the color of their identification badges. Government workers, who sport blue, are known as 'blue badgers.'"</p><p><b>The Commercialized InterNet Is Ideal for Spying on Americans</b></p><p>According to Robert McChesney, security contractors represent just one part of the increasingly privatized security state. What he calls the “military-digital complex” (and James Bamford calls the “surveillance-industrial complex”) includes Internet giants that have become familiar names in American households. “The key part of the 'military-industrial complex',” says McChesney, “is that there were firms that greatly benefited – arms manufacturers and the like – that would provide a permanent lobby to keep military spending high, Eisenhower warned, even when there might not be a need.”</p><p>McChesney says the military-digital complex follows the same logic. Having privatized much of our national security apparatus, “there is this huge commercial interest that benefits from an extension of the status quo.”</p><p>He notes that firms like Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Verizon have massive market shares (13 of the 31 companies with market valuations of $100 billion or more are Internet related firms, compared with just three from the financial sector) and adds that these behemoths already collect massive amounts of data on us all, and have little incentive not to cooperate with security agencies. “What we have now are these huge digital companies that are central to the whole process of surveillance and national security,” he says. “They have very close relations with the government and are very much part of the system. It's one of the defining features of our times.”</p><p><b>We Don't Know What We Don't Know</b></p><p>I asked Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, if the use of private contractors gave the government the ability to circumvent legal constraints on its own in-house snooping. “It's a tough question,” he said, “because I don't know what we don't know.” With non-security contracts and grants, there's a degree of transparency in the process. “We get to see what the requests and solicitations are, we get to see the summary data of the contract, we can even [use the Freedom of Information Act] to get a copy of the contract. There can be a dialogue over the policy, the mission or the program.” But with “programs being run by the NSA or other agencies in the intelligence community, you don't know if there are the same checks and balances built into the system.”</p><p>For spies, whether they're working for a government agency or a private firm, that opacity is a feature, not a bug. While some casually wave away concerns about the civil liberties and privacy implications of all this, it's important to remember that the intelligence community is used to operating in the shadows and outside of the jurisdiction of traditional law enforcement.</p><p>As Peter Ludlow, a professor of philosophy at Northwestern University <a href="http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/14/the-real-war-on-reality/">recently wrote in the New York Times</a>, some of the work these private intelligence firms perform “involves another common aspect of intelligence work: deception. That is, it is involved not just with the concealment of reality, but with the manufacture of it.”</p><p>Ludlow recalled a recent example when such deception was brought to light by hackers.</p><blockquote><p>Important insight into the world these companies came from a 2010 hack by a group best known as LulzSec ... which targeted the private intelligence firm HBGary Federal. That hack yielded 75,000 e-mails. It revealed, for example, that Bank of America approached the Department of Justice over concerns about information that WikiLeaks had about it. The Department of Justice in turn referred Bank of America to the lobbying firm Hunton and Willliams, which in turn connected the bank with a group of information security firms collectively known as Team Themis.</p><p>Team Themis (a group that included HBGary and the private intelligence and security firms Palantir Technologies, Berico Technologies and Endgame Systems) was effectively brought in to find a way to undermine the credibility of WikiLeaks and the journalist Glenn Greenwald (who recently broke the story of Edward Snowden’s leak of the N.S.A.’s Prism program), because of Greenwald’s support for WikiLeaks.</p></blockquote><p>Embarrassed by the breach, HBGary insisted that the proposal had never been put into action, but it nevertheless provided some insight into the mindset of the private intelligence community. Team Themis considered falsifying documents and feeding them to Greenwald in order to discredit his reporting. They pitched the Chamber of Commerce with a plan to infiltrate Chamber Watch, a progressive group that opposes the CoC's anti-regulatory agenda. They suggested creating “two fake insider personas, using one as leverage to discredit the other while confirming the legitimacy of the second.” And the hack revealed that Team Themis was developing a system with the U.S. Airforce that would have allowed a single operator to control a number of fake online identities in order to influence the discourse in social media. According to Ludlow, that “contract was eventually awarded to another private intelligence firm.”</p><p><b>Can We Put the Genie Back Into the Bottle?</b></p><p>In thinking seriously about these issues, there are a few things one should probably acknowledge. First, data are being collected on us all the time, and there's probably nothing one can do to change that short of going “off the grid.” Second, the government has an interest in keeping some things secret – we can't reasonably expect it to perform the functions we expect it to without covert intelligence. Third, looking for patterns in “big data” can be an effective tool to combat crime, terrorism and other ills.</p><p>Finally, whether we like it or not, we need to face the fact that there are powerful incentives for everyone involved in national security to surveil us. There's virtually no political (or career) price to be paid for erring on the side of too much security, but the consequences of allowing another major terror attack are significant. As a nation, we allowed ourselves to be terrorized by terrorism, and in that sense we all bear some responsibility for the rise of the post-9/11 national security state.</p><p>If one accepts those premises (and clearly not everyone does), then the real issue here comes down to adequate oversight – making sure there are checks and balances to protect our privacy from snoops and assure that our civil liberties remain intact.</p><p>Whatever one thinks of Edward Snowden, his revelations -- and a lot of solid reporting since his leaks – have shown that claims made by President Obama and others that there's already sufficient oversight of these surveillance programs are totally untrue. Oversight by both the White House and Congress <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/06/07/obama-says-the-nsa-has-had-plenty-of-oversight-heres-why-hes-wrong/">is a complete joke</a>, and the FISA court is a rubber-stamp that has “rejected only 11 of the more than 33,900 surveillance applications by the government,” according to the <a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324904004578535670310514616.html"><i>Wall Street Journal</i></a>. Within the halls of hundreds of private security firms, we really have no clue what's going on.</p><p>So rather than take on an almost hopeless battle to get the government not to use the technologies available to it, those concerned about these issues would be wiser to focus on restoring some semblance of balance. That would mean real review at the FISA court, real oversight from Congress and, perhaps most importantly, re-nationalizing our intelligence apparatus (or at a minimum paying our spooks <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-01-25/why-singapore-has-the-cleanest-government-money-can-buy-view.html">enough to keep them working in the public sector</a>).</p><p>Because even if many Americans hold an instinctive distrust of government, the fact remains that it is at least somewhat accountable to we the people, whereas the myriad security companies that are getting fat from the “war on terror” are beholden only to their shareholders and the bottom line.</p> Wed, 19 Jun 2013 12:54:00 -0700 Joshua Holland, AlterNet 857640 at http://admin.alternet.org Civil Liberties Civil Liberties Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace World nsa Snowden surveillance fisa oversight privatization outsourcing Right-Wing Immigration Foes Get Burned by Reality http://admin.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/right-wing-immigration-foes-wrong-says-cbo <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The CBO says the Senate immigration bill would lower the deficit by $900 billion over the next 20 years.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/doh.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Right-wing opponents of immigration reform expected to get a potent weapon when they requested that the Congressional Budget Office score the reforms offered by the Senate “Gang of Eight.” But it turned out to be one of those 'be careful of what you wish for' moments, when CBO <a href="http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/s744.pdf">projected</a> that the Senate bill would cut the dreaded federal deficit by $197 billion over the next ten years, and $700 billion more in the decade after that.</p><p><a href="http://blog.heritage.org/2013/05/31/senator-asks-congressional-budget-office-to-project-long-term-cost-of-amnesty/">Cheered on by the Heritage Foundation</a> – which has been squishy on immigration reform in the past and is now trying to shore up its creds with the Tea Party set – Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, one of the staunchest opponents of immigration reform (who only incidentally happens to be a “<a href="http://wonkette.com/416347/vile-racist-scumbag-jeff-sessions-its-his-day-to-shine">vile racist</a>”) requested that the CBO analyze the impacts of the law beyond its usual 10-year window.</p><p>So they did. In addition to the positive impact on the budget, CBO says 8 million unauthorized immigrants would likely come out of the shadows (after paying $1,000 fine and jumping through some other hoops). By 2023, CBO estimates a small hit of 0.1 percent to native-born workers' wages, but says the reforms would boost native wages by 0.5 percent in 2033.</p><p>Overall, as Ezra Klein <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/06/18/cbo-immigration-reform-is-a-free-lunch/?wprss=rss_business">puts it</a>:</p><blockquote><p>The bill’s overall effect on the overall economy is unambiguously positive: CBO expects real GDP to increase by 3.3 percent by 2023 and by 5.4 percent in 2033. The reasoning here is a bit more complex: It’s not just that the bill would mean more workers, but that it would mean more productive workers. CBO says that the law would “lead to slightly higher productivity of both labor and capital because the increase in immigration — particularly of highly skilled immigrants — would tend to generate additional technological advancements, such as new inventions and improvements in production processes.”</p></blockquote><p>Sessions was no doubt expecting a very different forecast, because it's a matter of faith in his circles that immigrants are the worst parasites among Romney's mythical 47 percent. This isn't the first time that belief has blown up in nativists' faces either. In the early 1990s, it was anti-immigrant hard-liners who pushed for the creation of the “Jordan Commission” to do a comprehensive study of immigration to the United States. And it, too, found that first and second-generation immigrants pay more in taxes than they take in services and have a net positive impact on native wages (the National Research Council study's book-length findings can be read online <a href="http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=5779&amp;page=1">here</a>).</p><p>Now comes the least surprising news you will ever hear: having requested an analysis which produced results they didn't like, the right is crying foul, and accusing the bipartisan Gang of Eight of cooking the books. “Congress Is Trying to Fool You on Immigration,” reads <a href="http://blog.heritage.org/2013/06/19/morning-bell-congress-is-trying-to-fool-you-on-immigration/">a headline on Heritage's site this morning</a>. “The bill’s drafters relied on the same scoring gimmicks used by the Obamacare drafters to conceal its true cost from taxpayers and to manipulate the CBO score,” whined Sessions <a href="http://www.budget.senate.gov/republican/public/index.cfm/press-releases?ID=4721ee89-5503-4c00-a9a0-5fcfb92b631c">in a press release</a>.</p><p>The particulars? Well, Jeff Sessions originally asked that CBO's analysis go out to 2040 instead of 2033! Also, the federal budget watchdog didn't <em>even look</em> at the impact on state and local budgets. (In the dry prose common to CBO analyses, they note that the legislation “would have many other effects (both negative and positive) on the budgets of state, local, and tribal governments, but CBO does not estimate the overall effects of legislation on the budgets of those governments.”)</p><p>The first point is rather silly as the very long-term budget projections everyone waves around when debating things like Social Security are about as accurate as reading tea leaves (or, if you prefer, <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extispicy">animal guts</a>).</p><p>The second issue is entirely valid, even if attacking CBO for not analyzing the impact on Peoria's budget isn't. In 2006, the Texas State Comptroller – a Republican – did the first <a href="http://www.window.state.tx.us/specialrpt/undocumented/undocumented.pdf">comprehensive study of the fiscal impact of unauthorized immigration</a> on a state with a very high number of foreign-born. Unfortunately, it only looked at the undocumented. And while it found some significant strain being put on <em>local</em> budgets (much of it from law enforcement), state-wide, “undocumented immigrants produced $1.58 billion in state revenues, which exceeded the $1.16 billion in state services they received.”</p><p>Once again, we see those pesky facts at work with their damnable liberal bias.</p><p> </p><p> </p> Wed, 19 Jun 2013 07:33:00 -0700 Joshua Holland, AlterNet 857393 at http://admin.alternet.org News & Politics Civil Liberties Immigration News & Politics The Right Wing immigration sessions heritage budget cbo How America's Retirement Crisis Is Crushing the Hopes of a Generation of Young People http://admin.alternet.org/hard-times-usa/how-americas-retirement-crisis-crushing-hopes-generation-young-people <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">We shouldn&#039;t just worry about older workers; their kids are hurting too.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_79347355.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p> <style type="text/css"><!--/*--><![CDATA[/* ><!--*/ P { margin-bottom: 0.08in; }A.western:link { }A.ctl:link { /*--><!]]>*/ </style> The crucially important but largely missing context of today's debate over so-called “entitlement reform” (read: slashing Social Security benefits and shifting more healthcare costs onto seniors) is that we stand at the early stages of what's shaping up to be a massively painful retirement crisis.</p><p>And while there has been a longterm project among granny-bashing “entitlement reformers” to fuel a sort of intergenerational class warfare by accusing "greedy geezers" of hurting young people's prospects, the reality is that this growing retirement crisis is hurting not only older workers and retirees, but also the newest entrants into the workforce, a generation of young Americans whose prospects are far bleaker than those enjoyed by their parents.</p><p>If you're nearing retirement age – or have a parent or grandparent nearing retirement age – you're no doubt aware of how 40 years of stagnant middle-class wages and the disastrous shift from traditional pensions to 401(k)-type plans has made a dignified retirement all but impossible for all but the very well-to-do. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the share of private sector workers responsible for their own retirement savings increased nearly four-fold between 1980 and 2008 (<a href="http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/411831_disappearingbenefit.pdf">PDF</a>).</p><p>This trend has been an integral part of what Yale political scientist Jacob Hacker called the “<a href="http://www.commonwealthmagazine.org/Voices/Conversation/2007/Winter/Great-Risk-Shift-author-Jacob-Hacker-on-the-growing-financial-perils-for-modern-families.aspx">great risk-shift</a>,” in which the burden of paying for education, healthcare and retirement has been increasingly shifted from corporations and the government onto the backs of individuals and families. This graphic from the <a href="http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&amp;id=3368">Center for Budget and Policy Priorities</a> tells the tale:</p><p><img border="0" name="1-11-11socsec-f1" src="http://www.cbpp.org/images/cms/1-11-11socsec-f1.jpg" id="1-11-11socsec-f1" /><br clear="LEFT" /> </p><p>Wall Street, and its allies in Washington, swore that this transition to private accounts would harness the awesome power of the market to make us all wealthy in our golden years. In Forbes, Edward Seidle <a href="http://www.forbes.com/sites/edwardsiedle/2013/03/20/the-greatest-retirement-crisis-in-american-history/">writes</a>, “as a former mutual fund legal counsel, when I recall some of the outrageous sales materials the industry came up with to peddle funds to workers, particularly in the 1980s, it’s almost laughable—if the results weren’t so tragic.”</p><blockquote><p>There was the “Dial Your Own Return” cardboard wheel of fortune that showed investors which mutual funds they should select for any given level of return. Looking for 12%? Load up on our government plus or option income funds! It was that easy to get the level of income needed in retirement, investors were told.</p></blockquote><p>Like so many promises of the vaunted “new economy” popularized by Ronald Reagan and supported by both parties since, this was a scam with disastrous consequences. According to Teresa Ghilarducci, a professor of economics at the New School for Social Research, “seventy-five percent of Americans nearing retirement age in 2010 had <a href="http://www.economicpolicyresearch.org/guaranteeing-retirement-income/528-retirement-account-balances-by-income-even-the-highest-earners-dont-have-enough.html">less than $30,000</a> in their retirement accounts.” She adds: “The specter of downward mobility in retirement is a looming reality for both middle- and higher-income workers. Almost half of middle-class workers, 49 percent, will be poor or near poor in retirement, living on a food budget of about $5 a day.”</p><p>Today, two-thirds of retirees rely on Social Security for more than half of their retirement income, and for more than a third, those benefits <a href="http://money.msn.com/retirement-investment/more-rely-on-social-security-usnews.aspx">make up at least 90 percent of their income</a>. The <a href="http://ssa-custhelp.ssa.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/13/~/average-monthly-social-security-benefit-for-a-retired-worker">average benefit in 2012 was just $14,760</a>, and while talk of decreasing the cost-of-living adjustment has been all the rage in Washington, the reality, according to the Congressional Budget Office, is that the cost of living for seniors <a href="http://www.cbo.gov/publication/44090">has increased faster than Social Security benefits</a>, meaning that their real value has been falling even as people increasingly rely on them to get by.</p><p>How does this hurt younger workers? As it becomes more and more difficult to retire after busting one's ass in the American workforce for 40 years, an increasing number of older people have no choice but to remain in the workforce. Some work part-time; because of age discrimination, others take whatever jobs they can get, even if they're wildly overqualified. According to the <a href="http://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/ssb/v72n1/v72n1p59.html">Social Security Administration</a>, “the labor force participation rates of men and women aged 62–79 have notably increased since the mid-1990s.”</p><p>Consider two pictures that are worth a thousand words; they show the share of the younger and older populations in the workforce, beginning about a decade after the transition to worker-owned retirement accounts began in earnest. As you can see, regardless of the ups and downs of the business cycle, the trend has been more workers aged 55 and over in the workforce and fewer working people under the age of 25 (The decline in labor force participation for 20- to 24-year-olds also correlates with <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Educational_Attainment_in_the_United_States_2009.png">an increasing share of young people getting a bachelor's degree</a>, so this isn't a trend that can be attributed to a single cause.)</p><p>This shows the participation rate for workers over 55 (note that this can't be explained by more women entering the workforce; <a href="http://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2007/jan/wk2/art03.htm">that shift was already largely baked into the cake by the time these data begin</a>):</p><p></p><div alt="" class="media-image" height="245" width="461"><img alt="" class="media-image" height="245" width="461" typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/large/public/screen_shot_2013-05-21_at_11.46.40_am.png" /></div><p>And this shows the participation rate for those aged 20 to 24:</p><p></p><div alt="" class="media-image" height="240" width="460"><img alt="" class="media-image" height="240" width="460" typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/large/public/screen_shot_2013-05-21_at_11.47.09_am.png" /></div><p>Today, the unemployment rate stands at 7.5 percent, but almost 23 percent of 18- and 19 year-olds and more than 13 percent of 20- to 24-year-olds who want to work can't land a job. (The unemployment rate for those aged 55 and up is 5.5 percent.)</p><p>Again, this is the context that's largely missing from our endless debates about fiscal policy. It points to a rather obvious conclusion: we should be increasing Social Security benefits, decreasing the out-of-pocket healthcare costs seniors have to shoulder, and lowering the minimum age for retirement. In short, we should be focusing on policies that make it possible for older workers who have put in their time to kick back and let some younger workers find jobs. It wouldn't be a magic bullet for young people; it wouldn't deflate the student debt bubble or address our crushing level of income inequality, but it would be a darn good start.</p><p>Last month, the New America Foundation's Michael Lind, Joshua Freedman and Steven Hill offered a <a href="http://www.newamerica.net/publications/policy/expanded_social_security">proposal</a> that would go a long way toward achieving that goal. They envisioned an expanded Social Security program supplemented by a flat benefit that isn't tied to earnings or funded through payroll taxes, and argued that shifting a greater share of the costs of retirement onto Social Security would make tax-subsidized employer plans less crucial to Americans' retirement security. University of Texas economist James Galbraith has similarly argued for <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/14/AR2011011404962.html">lowering the age of eligibility for Social Security and Medicare</a>, at least until the employment picture improves.</p><p>But aren't these programs already costing too much? And aren't we already taxed to death, as the Tea Partiers claim? No: that's ideologically informed mythology. Prior to the Wall Street crash, we had <a href="http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/briefing-book/background/numbers/international.cfm">the fourth lowest tax burden</a> in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). And while the average “replacement rate” for public pensions – the share of a workers' income covered by retirement benefits – is 57 percent, we cover just 39 percent, on average, in the United States (<a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/888932372355">XLS</a>). Americans have some of the stingiest retirement benefits in the developed world.</p><p>As for the politics, it almost goes without saying that at a time when it requires 60 votes in the Senate to name a post office after a war hero -- and when the House has essentially given up on legislating in the public interest – policies that help real people suffering real pain in this economy are nonstarters.</p><p>But one can be certain it won't remain that way. Because we're just at the beginning of this crisis, and with each cohort of Americans reaching retirement age, fewer will have pensions and more will have experienced the great middle-class squeeze than the cohort before it. So it will get worse before it gets better, but eventually our elites will have no choice but to finally recognize the severity of the crisis their neoliberal clap-trap has created.</p> Wed, 22 May 2013 12:25:00 -0700 Joshua Holland, AlterNet 844223 at http://admin.alternet.org Hard Times USA Economy Hard Times USA Labor Occupy Wall Street social security medicare Pilots and Professors Barely Scraping By? 9 Surprising Jobs That Pay a Pittance http://admin.alternet.org/economy/pilots-and-professors-barely-scraping-9-surprising-jobs-pay-pittance <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">It&#039;s not only fry chefs who are struggling to make ends meet.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2013-04-25_at_2.18.39_pm.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>In the first two years of “recovery” from the Great Recession, the top one percent of households captured <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/12/top-one-percent-income-gains_n_2670455.html">121 percent of the economy's gains</a>, according to economist Emanuel Saez, leaving the rest of us poorer than we were when the reversal began. Wall Street pay has <a href="http://www.cnbc.com/id/100497512">more than bounced back</a>, with average pay higher today than it was before the crash.</p><p>The top 25 hedge fund managers continue to take in close to a billion dollars per year each, on average. As Les Leopold <a href="http://www.alternet.org/story/150570/hedge_fund_gamblers_earn_the_same_in_one_hour_as_a_middle-class_household_makes_in_over_47_years">noted</a>, it would take a middle-class family 47 years to bring in what they make in just one hour. What value do they add to our society? Well, when they're not wrecking the global economy, they're <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/05/carrington-hedge-fund-foreclosure-rental">pricing people out of the housing market</a> and <a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/fbi-and-sec-to-probe-high-speed-trading-2013-3">ripping off small investors</a>.</p><p>As for the rest of us, the reality is that a disproportionate share of the jobs being created in America since the crash are low-income McJobs. According to a study by the National Law Employment Project, low-income jobs represented 21 percent of the total lost in the crash, but 58 percent of those added during the recovery (<a href="http://nelp.3cdn.net/8ee4a46a37c86939c0_qjm6bkhe0.pdf">PDF</a>). In contrast, 60 percent of the jobs lost in the downturn paid a middle-class wage, but they've only made up 22 percent of those added during the recovery.</p><p>One of the problems one finds talking about the proliferation of crappy, low-wage jobs is that many people have a mental image of teenagers flipping burgers at a fast-food joint. But those minimum-wage service jobs aren't the only ones that pay a pittance. You might be surprised at some of the professions where people make around $25,000 per year. Many require relatively scarce skills; others provide real value for our society.</p><p><strong>1. Regional Airline Pilots</strong></p><p>Senior pilots working for major international carriers earn a pretty good living. But flying for regional carriers – which employ about 13 percent of all pilots – means not only having to worry about weather and navigation, but also how you'll pay your bills at the end of the month.</p><p>According to the <em>Houston Chronicle</em>, starting salaries for pilots at regional airlines start at as low as $16,500. The average starting salary is about $20,000, and with years of experience, these pilots can pull their way up to a maximum wage of around $60,000.</p><p>Not only are passengers' lives in their hands, but piloting a commercial jet requires hours of training, extensive licensing, and in most cases, a four-year college degree.</p><p><strong>2. Adjunct Professors</strong></p><p>This profession is similarly tiered; tenured professors at private universities make a handsome salary of around $135,000 per year, on average. But an increasing number of courses are being taught by part-time adjunct professors – they now teach 75 percent of all classes, according to <a href="http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/04/09/aaup-releases-faculty-salary-data">Inside Higher Education</a> – and many of them are barely scraping by. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, adjunct report being paid an average of $2,987 per 3-credit course. But at some community colleges, that figure is as low as $1,100; the average pay at rural two-year colleges is $1,808, or around $22,000 per year. As part-timers, they rarely receive benefits like health insurance.</p><p><strong>3. Home Health/Psychiatric Aides</strong></p><p>It's long been the case that occupations that have traditionally been seen as “women's work” tend not to pay well, and home health and psychiatric aides are no exception. But consider how difficult this job is – if you've ever cared for someone who is too elderly or handicapped to care for themselves, you know it's no picnic. This is also a profession that requires some trust – you don't want to leave grandpa with just anyone.</p><p>And yet, this fast-growing field pays an average of just $10.49 per hour, or $21,830 per year, according to BLS.</p><p><strong>4. Ambulance Drivers and Attendants</strong></p><p>They're first responders, with lives in their hands, and they make just $11.97 per hour, on average, according to BLS. One would think you wouldn't want the ambulance rushing you to the hospital to be driven by someone who has to work a second job to make ends meet, but that's often the case.</p><p><strong>5. Veterinary Animal Caretakers</strong></p><p>Sure, Fido is part of your family. His vet is pretty well paid, but the person who takes care of him when he disappears into the back of the vet's office? She's getting an average of $24,740 per year.</p><p><strong>6. Childcare Workers</strong></p><p>According to the shopworn cliché, our children are the future. And when we drop them off for childcare, we expect them to be well cared for, safe and un-molested. It's a lot to ask for an average of $10.25 an hour or $21,310 per year.</p><p><strong>7. Cosmetologists for Dead People</strong></p><p>This one pays a middle-class wage, although less than the median at $16.31 per hour, according to the Houston Chronicle. But it takes special skills, and one would think you'd need to pay folks a decent wage to deal with corpses all day. (The McJobs of the industry are funeral attendants, who make $24,250 per year, on average.)</p><p><strong>8. Gambling Dealers</strong></p><p>It seems like an exciting, high-paying job. And dealers at good casinos make good money in tips (or “tokes,” in gaming parlance) if they're at the right casino. But the best jobs are scarce, and those who don't see a lot in tips aren't getting rich. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, dealers make an average of $22,410 per year in salary.</p><p><strong>9. Models</strong></p><p>Top fashion models like Naomi Campbell rake in millions. But most models aren't international superstars. According to BLS, the average wage for a model is just $12.55 per hour, or $26,110 per year.</p> Wed, 24 Apr 2013 11:11:00 -0700 Joshua Holland, AlterNet 830003 at http://admin.alternet.org Economy Economy Education Hard Times USA Labor Occupy Wall Street low-wage jobs American Right-Wingers Are No Longer Conservative — They're Extremists http://admin.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/american-right-wingers-are-no-longer-conservative-theyre-extremists <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Their reactionary bent is manifesting itself in legislatures across the country.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/storyimages_1338224998_scottwalker.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>College students taking Poli-Sci 101 learn that conservatism is an ideology that reveres established tradition, emphasizes a deep respect for the rule of law and comes with a deep distrust of rapid social change – especially change driven by public policy. William F. Buckley Jr., famously described a conservative as, “someone who stands athwart history, yelling stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so.”</p><p>Traditional conservatism might provide a valuable check on overly ambitious policy-making. Traditional conservatism doesn't deny that government plays a role in our society, it isn't driven by animus towards “unworthy” citizens, and it isn't based on a fanciful alternative reality.</p><p>As American “movement conservatism” has shifted ever further to the right, it has become hard to discern this strain of ideology in our public discourse. The Tea Party right fancy themselves right-wing revolutionaries. They reject long-standing jurisprudence and venerable traditions. And they don't fear rapid social change, as long as it comports with their worldview – they embrace it. Many of those whom we call conservatives today are, ultimately, reactionaries.</p><p>I recently caught up with Ian Millhiser, a senior constitutional policy analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the editor of ThinkProgress Justice, to discuss how this reactionary bent is manifesting itself in legislatures across the country. Below is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.</p><p><b>Joshua Holland: Ian, I know this first question is subjective, but I’m going to ask you to speculate. Which do you think is more likely, that Sharia law will become the law of the land or that I will get a date with Scarlett Johansson?</b></p><p>Ian Millhiser: You’re much more likely to get a date with Scarlett Johansson.</p><p><strong>JH: That is great news. This is what I wanted to hear.</strong></p><p>IM: This is a conspiracy theory that’s been around for a while that somehow there are these courts out there that are threatening to replace American law, stop following American law, and instead follow Islamic law. So you’ve seen these bills pop up to forbid courts from doing that, like it’s ever going to happen.</p><p><b>JH: This has been done in a handful of states, like Kansas passed one of these anti-Sharia laws. I would also point out that there is no coherent body of law called “Sharia.” There are different strains of Sharia, and it is not really …</b></p><p>IM: Right.</p><p><b>JH: ...It’s best not translated as “law” at all. It’s kind of a way of life. A code by which to live.</b></p><p>IM: Yeah, and I should point out that this doesn’t come from nowhere. Where this comes from is in this country we’ve got contracts. We’ve got wills, and we’ve got all sorts of documents where basically people get to set their own rules. You know, I can write a contract, and we can both sign it, and we set the rules for how we work, how we interact with each other. So what’s happened is sometimes two people want to be governed by Islamic law. So they write a contract, and they agree between themselves to be governed by Islamic law. And sometimes a father wants to distribute his estate in a way that’s compliant with Islamic law, so he writes a will.</p><p>And then that will shows up in court, or that contract shows up in court. And so what you have is you have conservatives who are seeing private cases -- where contracts, wills, what have you – where people have chosen to be bound by this Islamic law, and the courts are just saying, “Okay, well, yeah, we’ll enforce that contract for you because that’s what we do.” And they’re saying that, that there’s a threat that this will lead to the court applying Islamic law to people who don’t want to be bound to it. And that’s not how the law works. That’s not how contracts work. That’s not how wills work. You know, I am not bound by a contract unless I sign it. I’m not bound by a will unless someone wants to give me money for free.</p><p><b>JH: It always strikes me that those who profess to have this undying love for the Constitution either don’t know or don’t care what’s in it. Can you tell us a little bit about these so-called Tenthers, and maybe give us a bit of the history of this movement over the past, I don’t know, 30 or so years?</b></p><p>IM: Sure. About four years ago, you started to hear these weird noises about how things violate the 10th Amendment. And not just, you know, the Affordable Care Act – that's when they made this argument over and over again – but it was also people claiming that Medicare violates the 10th Amendment. Social Security violates the 10th Amendment. And what I started to hear at these Tea Party rallies that were popping up is speakers got up and they were saying things that very closely resembled this discredited constitutional theory that existed about 100 years ago. At the time, it led to child-labor laws getting struck down, it allowed pretty much any law protecting unions getting struck down, that led to minimum wage getting struck down -- all of these essential worker protections getting struck down. And these people, who are not lawyers and who, you know, had no reason to know about this obscure part of our legal history, were suddenly speaking very eloquently about this discredited way of reading the 10th Amendment.</p><p>And the reason why is because there are conservative think tanks, there are conservative groups, that want to see this theory brought back. And while we were asleep at the switch, they were writing books and they were educating their partisans about how awesome it would be if we had this crazy theory of the 10th Amendment, and then I guess we wouldn’t have to be stuck with these terrible child-labor laws anymore.</p><p>And when there was a backlash against the bad economy and there was a conservative backlash against the Affordable Care Act, they pulled this trigger on all this groundwork they had laid, and they’re trying to reinvigorate this terrible theory of the Constitution from so long ago.</p><p><strong>JH: And that was basically during the so-called Lochner era of the Supreme Court. You know, these were things that we settled during the New Deal.</strong></p><p>IM: That's right. So there was sort of a two-fisted punch that you had in the very early part of the 20th century. You had Lochner, which said that, the Constitution protects liberty, and one of those liberties is the right to contract. So if you sign a contract saying that you’ll work for below the minimum wage in a poisoned work environment for 14 hours a day while someone is whipping you, great. You signed a contract. You’re bound by it.</p><p><strong>JH: Right.</strong></p><p>IM: And of course, that completely ignores the reality of the workplace. It ignores that people who are poor often have to take jobs that aren’t the best jobs, and we need government to step in and make sure that those workplaces are safe and they’re making an adequate wage.</p><p>And then the other prong of it was this 10th Amendment thing. And the 10th Amendment only applies to the federal government. So this is an attempt to just make sure that our national government can’t solve any of our national problems. And in their vision, that means no Medicare, no Social Security, no minimum wage, no child-labor laws. You know, most of the progress in the 20th century, out the door.</p><p><strong>JH: And conservatives or -- I don’t even want to call them conservatives, because if you just eschew the last century of jurisprudence, you’re not someone who’s kind of guarding the status quo -- reactionaries have really floated this idea that the states can just nullify any federal law that they don’t like, based on the 10th Amendment.</strong></p><p><strong>Um, wasn’t that something that we settled with the Civil War?</strong></p><p>IM: Yeah, this is another thing, and this is something that’s even more virulent than Tentherism. Not even all the Tenthers sign onto this, this theory, which is called Nullification. It’s the idea that a state can just pass a law saying, oh, the federal law doesn’t apply here, so …</p><p><strong>JH: And they have been doing this. I mean, legislatures that have been dominated by the kind of Tea Party Republicans have passed these laws in just the last year.</strong></p><p>IM: Yeah. In places like Wyoming and Alaska and a few other states, we’re seeing these bills pop up that say we won’t follow the Affordable Care Act, that say that gun laws -- if there are any new federal gun laws -- they just won’t apply here. There’s a Texas version of this bill that says that if you’re a federal law enforcement officer --if you’re an FBI agent – and you enforce the federal gun laws in the state of Texas, Texas will try to arrest you and throw you in jail and hit you with a felony charge because you were an FBI agent and you tried to enforce federal law.</p><p><strong>JH: It’s crazy. Let’s talk about North Carolina. They seem to be vying for the title of craziest legislature in the US. I think that title is currently shared by Florida and Arizona. I’m not sure.</strong></p><p>IM: Mm-hmm.</p><p><strong>JH: A couple of weeks ago, lawmakers proposed what they were calling the Defense of Religion. What would this do?</strong></p><p>IM: Well, the good news is that this seems to be dead. There was so much bad press -- and I’m glad to say I played some role in it -- that they’ve realized they couldn’t get away with it. But was a remarkable piece of legislation and was backed by some of the most powerful people in North Carolina, including the House Majority Leader.</p><p>What it said was -- it started off with the statement that the federal courts don’t actually have the power to enforce the Constitution. They don’t actually have the power to enforce it, and if federal courts say that North Carolina isn’t complying with the Constitution, North Carolina can just ignore that court order. And then it says that since we’re free to ignore court orders, we’re just going to ignore any court order that says there’s a separation of church and state. It’s not going to apply here. And of course, that’s just dirt. That’s ridiculous.</p><p><strong>JH: (Laughs).</strong></p><p>IM: That’s not what the Constitution says. And it’s actually rooted in a very radical theory of the Constitution that assumes that the Civil War didn’t happen. It’s, you know, it’s assuming that all the amendments that were enacted after the Civil War, as part of the condition of the rebel states being readmitted into the union, just didn’t happen. And all the realignment that happened because of that just doesn’t exist.</p><p><strong>JH: I mean, I don’t even understand what this argument is, because there was a case called <em>Everson vs. Board of Education</em>, and this incorporated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause to the states specifically.</strong></p><p>IM: Right. So, so what their argument is, if you read the First Amendment, the First Amendment says Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. So Congress refers to the federal government. And when, you know, the framers got together, and then when James Madison wrote the Bill of Rights, they really were thinking about just the federal government. You know, their concept was that this is a federal Constitution. It says what the federal government can and cannot do, and it just doesn’t have that much to say about the states. The states, if they wanted to declare, you know, Baptism or Buddhism or whatever, the official religion of North Carolina, they were free to do that.</p><p>And then the 14th Amendment happened. And the 14th Amendment recognized that our rights are not something that’s just a battle between federal power and state power. There are civil rights that we get because we are human beings. That was the insight of the 14th Amendment, that almost all the rights in the Bill of Rights, the rights that we enjoy in the United States, are not rights that we get because we want states to be more powerful than the feds. They are rights that we get because we are people. And one of those rights is the right to be free from government establishment of religion.</p><p>So when North Carolina says they are not bound by the First Amendment, what they’re saying is that this -- and this is the most revolutionary moment in American history – it changed our conception of what it means to be a person living under a government. No longer are we saying that there are these governments and they have different powers and they fight out amongst themselves and that’s how we figure out what our liberties are. Now, we live in a world where everyone has rights just because they are a human being, and that’s what North Carolina is rebelling against.</p><p><strong>JH: And they cited the 10th Amendment. They cited, as you mentioned, that they believe, at least, that the Supreme Court doesn’t have the final say on what is and is not constitutional.</strong></p><p><strong>Ian, I want to get your reaction to Oklahoma Republican Congressman Jim Bridenstine talking about healthcare:</strong></p><blockquote><p><strong>"Just because the Supreme Court rules on something doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s constitutional. What that means is that that’s what they decided on that particular day, given the makeup of the Court on that particular day. And the left in this country has done an extraordinary job of stacking the courts in their favor. I hear this all the time from Republicans. You know, they say that the Court is the, you know, the arbitrator. And after, you know, the arbitration is done, that’s the rules that we have to live under, and then we can go forth and make legislation given those rules. That’s not the case. A perfect example is Obamacare. Obamacare is not constitutional."</strong></p></blockquote><p><strong>So okay. It’s true that this was debatable like 200 years ago, right, before <em>Marbury vs. Madison</em>. How prevalent is this view on the right these days?</strong></p><p>IM: Well, I’ve seen that clip before, and it’s actually something I’m fairly ambivalent about because, on the one hand, we have a terrible Supreme Court that gets a lot of things wrong. And I don’t want to say that because there are five justices who think that it doesn’t corrupt our entire political system when some corporation is able to buy congressmen, that, therefore, we’re stuck with Citizens United -- I mean, the Supreme Court misinterprets the Constitution all the time.</p><p>But first of all, there has to be a final arbiter, because if there isn’t someone who gets to make decisions about what the Constitution does and doesn’t say, then you’re stuck with something like Nullification, where you have something like what happened in the 1830s when South Carolina claimed that they had the unilateral power to declare laws unconstitutional. It almost sparked a civil war, 30 years before our actual Civil War, because South Carolina said the law was one thing and the federal government said it was something else. You can’t have that. There has to be a final, final decision-maker.</p><p>The second point is that, you know, the Affordable Care Act is a terrible example, if you want to point to something and say, hey, the Supreme Court screwed up here, because the argument against the Affordable Care Act is nonsense.</p><p><strong>JH: Right.</strong></p><p>IM: You know, let’s set aside the tax argument, which I also agree with, that the Chief Justice relied on. The Constitution says that Congress can regulate commerce among the several states. It says that when there is commercial activity and it deals with more than one state, it crosses state borders or it’s a national marketplace, the federal government gets to regulate that however it wants, so long as it doesn’t violate our individual rights.</p><p><strong>JH: Now, I agree with you in one sense that, you know, obviously, I’m not of the opinion that the Supreme Court gets it right all the time, and I certainly think that we all have the right to criticize their rulings and to challenge their rulings legally. But when I’m listening to this guy, I hear him saying that he doesn’t respect a ruling from the Court – he doesn’t respect the Court as an arbiter.</strong></p><p>IM: Right, at a certain point you have to accept the fact that our government has to have legitimacy. I mean, there can come a moment where you kick the table over. You know, if, if they tried to reinstate Dred Scott, there might come a moment where you kick the table over, but do you really want to kick the table over because a bunch of people who are dying because they don’t have health insurance are suddenly going to get to live? Is that the sword you want to die on?</p><p><strong>JH: Well, Paul Ryan said that he was dedicated to destroying the healthcare system, so, you know, some of them do.</strong></p><p>IM: Yeah.</p><p><strong>JH: Ian, let’s move north, just a little bit, up to Virginia. They have an attorney general who is a genuine wingnut, Ken Cuccinelli. He is expected to be the Republican nominee for governor, actually. Your colleague, Josh Israel, wrote about Cuccinelli’s kind of quixotic fight against oral sex and anal sex, and this includes oral and anal sex among straight people, even among married people. Now this didn't end up going anywhere, but it's interesting that he tried.</strong></p><p><strong>And I just want to point out that, according to the CDC, 90% of Americans under the age of 45 report having had oral sex, so Cuccinelli would make 90% of us felons.</strong></p><p><strong>Can you tell us a little bit about this law and especially how Cuccinelli himself helped to undermine the state’s laws against adults having sex with minors?</strong></p><p>IM: Sure. So Virginia has a law -- they actually call it the Crimes Against Nature law – which, as you said, criminalizes oral and anal sex. So, you know, if you get a blow job, I guess that’s a felony, and you go to jail for, you know, potentially a number of years. That’s unconstitutional. It was declared unconstitutional in a case called <em>Lawrence v. Texas</em>. That was the case that also established that you can’t criminalize gay sex. And what Lawrence said is that between consenting adults -- consenting adults are allowed to consent to be adults with one another. Prostitution is still something that can be criminalized. Adults having sex with children is still something that can be criminalized. There are still lots of things that can still be illegal and, frankly, should be illegal.</p><p>And so after this Crimes Against Nature law passed, there was a bill to amend it and basically bring it into compliance with <em>Lawrence</em>, say consenting adults can consent with one another, but if it’s children, if it’s prostitution, the statute will still apply in those cases.</p><p>And Cuccinelli voted against that bill, and the reason he voted against the bill is he said – I’ll read you what he said. He said, “My view is that homosexual acts, not homosexuality, but homosexual acts are wrong. They’re intrinsically wrong. I think that is a natural law.”</p><p>And so he wanted to preserve this unconstitutional statute that says that you cannot have oral or anal sex, and now that’s turning around to bite him, because there’s a prosecution that his office wanted to bring, and it’s been struck down because he would not amend this law to bring it into compliance with the Constitution.</p><p><strong>JH: You know, I am really a strong believer in this idea that the really virulent homophobes are dealing with some repressed issues, because they just seem obsessed with gay sex. And I have, you know, no issues whatsoever with homosexuality, and I never think about gay sex. I just don’t think about it. I don’t spend any time thinking about it.</strong></p><p>IM: Yeah, it’s not something on the top of my list.</p><p><strong>JH: I mean, I think about straight sex because I’m straight, but um, yeah.</strong></p><p><strong>Anyway, I want to talk about one other issue. Last month, Colorado managed to pass some gun-safety laws. Great. This is where we’ve had some horrific gun massacres, of course – Aurora, Columbine.</strong></p><p>IM: Right.</p><p><strong>JH: So they passed these gun-safety laws and multiple local sheriffs said that they would not enforce the law. And they joined a bunch of other local law-enforcement agencies across the country saying the same thing, "We’re not going to enforce gun uh safety laws." And they always base this on the Constitution. They say that their own interpretation of the Second Amendment is all that matters.</strong></p><p><strong>This seems especially dangerous to me, and I think it requires a special kind of ignorance about our structure of government. I mean, Ian, isn’t the core principal here the separation of powers? And these people are not part of the judicial branch.</strong></p><p>IM: Right. So there, there are two types of sheriffs doing this. So there’s one group of sheriffs that has said that they will actively thwart the enforcement of federal law. So if the FBI agent shows up trying to enforce federal law, they will stand in that agent’s way and try to prevent them from enforcing federal law, and that’s unconstitutional. That’s a form of Nullification.</p><p>There are other sheriffs who are saying that they will not enforce the federal law themselves, but if the feds show up, they won’t stop them. And that second thing is wrong, because in many cases these are good laws. And in the case of Colorado, where it’s a Colorado state law, they probably have an obligation to enforce the state law, and I think it’s a mistake if you tell your sheriffs that they’re allowed to decide, on their own, which state laws they want to comply with.</p><p>But, you know, I think that there is a broader principal, you know, with respect to these sheriffs who are just saying, “You know, if the feds want to show up and enforce federal law, that’s cool. We just won’t help them.” I don’t agree with their decision. But I think that’s less troubling, and I think that part of the reason why I take that position that there’s a similar battle going on right now over marijuana laws, where in states like Washington and Colorado, where marijuana is legal, I don’t want to see state officials enforcing the federal marijuana laws. If the federal government wants to send DEA agents in there to enforce these laws, they have the right to do that. But, you know, at least as a constitutional matter, that is an area where the state and the federal governments are separate.</p><p><strong>JH: I’m not just speaking about gun-control laws.</strong></p><p>IM: Right.</p><p><strong>JH: There was a guy up in New Hampshire who said that he would actively prosecute people for seeking an abortion. Some of them are these so-called sovereign citizens, and it’s estimated that there are 100,000 sovereign citizens in the U.S.</strong></p><p><strong>Briefly, what is this nuttery?</strong></p><p>IM: There’s this weird – this is a sheriff-specific movement. I think they call themselves the Oath Keepers, where these sheriffs -- and if you go to the website, they have all this talk about how like the government’s going to confiscate our food and sheriffs needs to stop that from happening. So there are these bizarre conspiracy theories.</p><p>The sovereign citizens, who they are a subgroup of people who think that they personally are their own country, so they don’t have to follow American law, because they only have to follow their own law.</p><p>So there are all of these silly theories, you know, some of them that are infesting sheriffs, that have cropped up to say that people don’t have to follow the law, and that’s just not true. You know, we are a nation of law, and in this nation, you have to comply with it.</p> Wed, 17 Apr 2013 18:39:00 -0700 Joshua Holland, AlterNet 826539 at http://admin.alternet.org The Right Wing Civil Liberties Economy The Right Wing right-wingers supreme court rule of law How Right-Wingers in Congress Came to Represent a Whole Different Country http://admin.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/how-right-wingers-congress-came-represent-whole-different-country <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The House GOP has redistricted and propagandized itself into another country. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/bachmann.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>With an assist from some long-term demographic trends, House Republicans have redistricted, propagandized and <a href="http://www.nationaljournal.com/columns/against-the-grain/republicans-are-running-scared-from-each-other-20121205">policed</a>themselves into another country.</p><p>As a result, they have become unmoored from the political incentives that typically drive lawmakers' decision-making process. Public opinion no longer sways them, and that is creating a potentially insurmountable problem for the party establishment's efforts to broaden the GOP's appeal beyond angry old white people.</p><p>House Republicans may care about the GOP's national fortunes in the abstract, but too many are impervious to what the public at large wants because of the nature of the districts they represent. At the same time, a steady stream of spin from the conservative media provides insulation from the realities of American politics, and deep-pocketed outside groups punish Republicans for any deviation from right-wing orthodoxy.</p><p>This isn't just a serious problem for establishment Republicans. It has ground our government to a halt, as Congress is virtually incapable of action, even on issues where there is something approaching a consensus among the public at large -- like universal background checks for firearm purchases, for example. They're supported by 80-90 percent of voters, but face a steep uphill climb in the House.</p><p>How did this happen?</p><p><b>The Great Gerrymander of 2010</b></p><p>In 2012, Democratic House candidates got 1.4 million more votes than Republicans, but came away 33 seats short of the majority – only the second time since World War II that such a reversal has taken place. That was the fruit of a <a href="http://www.factcheck.org/2010/08/republican-state-leadership-committee/" style="color: rgb(17, 85, 204); " target="_blank">well-funded, multi-year plan by the Republican State Leadership Committee</a> to take over state houses before the 2010 Census, and control the redistricting process that followed.</p><p>And they gerrymandered with a vengeance. As Princeton University scholar Sam Wang <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/03/opinion/sunday/the-great-gerrymander-of-2012.html?pagewanted=all&amp;_r=1&amp;" style="color: rgb(17, 85, 204); " target="_blank">noted</a>, “although gerrymandering is usually thought of as a bipartisan offense... partisan redistricting is not symmetrical between the political parties.”</p><blockquote><p>By my seat-discrepancy criterion, 10 states are out of whack: [Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin] plus Virginia, Ohio, Florida, Illinois and Texas. Arizona was redistricted by an independent commission, Texas was a combination of Republican and federal court efforts, and Illinois was controlled by Democrats. Republicans designed the other seven maps. Both sides may do it, but one side does it more often.</p><p>Surprisingly absent from the guilty list is California, where 62 percent of the two-party vote went to Democrats [which] exactly matched the [proportion of the] newly elected delegation. </p></blockquote><p><b>Democrats Are “Inefficiently Distributed”</b></p><p>But, as a number of observers pointed out after the midterms, even this aggressive effort to redraw districts in their favor wasn't quite enough to lock in Republicans' control of the House. This is where the organic trend comes in. Political scientists Jowei Chen of the University of Michigan and Jonathan Rodden of Stamford explain (<a href="http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jowei/florida.pdf" style="color: rgb(17, 85, 204); " target="_blank">PDF</a>) that as a result of migration and urbanization, Democrats tend to be “highly clustered in dense central city areas, while Republicans are scattered more evenly through the suburban, exurban, and rural periphery.” This results in what the authors call “unintentional redistricting,” with “a skew in the distribution of partisanship across districts such that with 50 percent of the votes, Democrats can expect fewer than 50 percent of the seats.”</p><p><b>Hyper-Partisan Districts</b></p><p>Those two trends have resulted in a dwindling number of competitive districts. As <em>New York Times</em> numbers-guru Nate Silver <a href="http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/27/as-swing-districts-dwindle-can-a-divided-house-stand/" style="color: rgb(17, 85, 204); " target="_blank">pointed out</a>, the number of “landslide districts” – which he defined as those that went for one party by 20 or more percentage points than the electorate as a whole – has doubled since 1992, while the number of swing districts has fallen from 155 to just 64 over the same period.</p><p>When you look at the racial composition of districts, the trend becomes even more pronounced. According to the Census Bureau, 111 House Republicans represent districts that are at least 80 percent white.</p><p></p><div alt="" class="media-image" height="480" width="470"><img alt="" class="media-image" height="480" width="470" typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/large/public/screen_shot_2013-04-14_at_1.14.53_pm.png" /></div><p>This helps explain why immigration reform, desperately sought by the Republican establishment as part of its “rebranding” strategy, is going to face an uphill climb in the House, regardless of whether they achieve some bipartisan agreement in the Senate. As the National Journal's Scott Bland <a href="http://www.nationaljournal.com/politics/why-immigration-reform-could-die-in-the-house-20130129" target="_blank">put it</a>, “Not only have many of those members [in overwhelmingly white districts] opposed measures beyond improving border security in the past, but there are also no natural pressure groups for immigration reform in their districts. The Democratic Caucus, which is largely unified in support of some sort of immigration-reform proposal, has just 31 members from such very white districts.”</p><p><b>Center-Right Nonsense</b></p><p>It's worth noting that while decades of polling suggests that Americans tend to lean somewhat to the right on social issues – God, guns and until recently, gays – they tend to lean somewhat to the left on economic issues. Majorities favor higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations, huge numbers want to see the minimum wage hiked and nobody outside the Washington Beltway favors cutting Social Security or Medicare.</p><p>Yet the Republicans' rebranding effort is entirely premised on moderating on abortion and immigration and softening the hard-right's rhetoric to avoid another Todd "Legitimate Rape" Akin meltdown. Almost nothing has been said about rejecting the economic nostrum of financing tax cuts for the top by cutting social services, despite the majority's rejection of that formula.</p><p>At least part of that is the result of a conservative media project that has created a false sense of certainty among Republican base voters with constant repetition of the narrative that the United States is naturally a “center-right” country, and has been since its founding.</p><p>Andrew Kohut, former president of the Pew Research Center, <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-numbers-prove-it-the-republican-party-is-estranged-from-america/2013/03/22/3050734c-900a-11e2-9abd-e4c5c9dc5e90_story.html" style="color: rgb(17, 85, 204); " target="_blank">wrote recently</a> in the<i> Washington Post </i>that while the polarization of news consumption isn't a recent development, “what is new is a bloc of voters who rely more on conservative media than on the general news media to comprehend the world.”</p><blockquote><p>Pew found that 54 percent of staunch conservatives report that they regularly watch Fox News, compared with 44 percent who read a newspaper and 30 percent who watch network news regularly. Newspapers and/or television networks top all other news sources for other blocs of voters, both on the right and on the left. Neither CNN, NPR or the New York Times has an audience close to that size among other voting blocs.</p><p>Conservative Republicans make up as much as 50 percent of the audiences for Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’ Reilly. There is nothing like this on the left. MSNBC’s “Hardball” and “The Rachel Maddow Show” attract significantly fewer liberal Democrats.</p></blockquote><p style="font-family: arial, sans-serif; font-size:&#10; 13px; margin-bottom: 0in; ">This is the activist base of the party, the people House Republicans need to turn out to vote every two years in order to retain their jobs.</p><p><b>Deep-Pocketed Enforcers</b></p><p>The RNC's recent “autopsy report” laments that “outside groups now play an expanded role affecting federal races and, in some ways, overshadow state parties in primary and general elections.” That's the final piece of the puzzle of how the House Republicans came to represent a different country.</p><p>With many deep-red districts dominated by an activist conservative base that's been highly politicized by Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and a slew of right-wing blogs, Republicans in the House face a far greater threat from primary challenges from their right, and there are a plethora of well financed outside groups that stand poised to make those challenges possible. And they continue to proliferate in the age of <i>Citizens United</i>. Just this week, Tom Landry, a former Congressman from Louisiana, announced that he was forming a new super-PAC called Restore Our Republic that aims to, as <a href="http://www.politico.com/story/2013/04/jeff-landry-conservatives-pac-for-hard-right-republicans-89778.html#ixzz2QB5HY3Q7" style="color: rgb(17, 85, 204); " target="_blank">Politico put it</a>, “keep stirring up trouble on Capitol Hill from the outside” by supporting “hard-right conservatives in the House of Representatives.” It joins a crowded field. And a little bit of money in a primary goes a long way for challengers who can often tap the energy of the GOP's tea party base to <a href="http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/11/new-rove-group-could-backfire-on-g-o-p/" style="color: rgb(17, 85, 204); " target="_blank">overcome an incumbent's cash advantage</a>.</p><p>Most of us look at the intransigence of the House GOP and shake our heads in wonder. The party's favorability is at a 20-year low, and we tend to see them as irrational ideologues. But as Nate Silver noted when you put all of these factors together, “individual members of Congress are responding fairly rationally to their incentives.”</p><p><b>Both Sides Don't Do It</b></p><p>There has been an avalanche of lazy punditry of late that ignores all of these developments, blaming both sides for a “fiscal stand-off” that is well into its third year and Washington's inability to govern – this game of lurching from one manufactured crisis to the next while failing to advance legislation with broad bipartisan support. <em>Washington Post</em> editorial boss Fred Hiatt, the dean of lazy punditry, <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/fred-hiatt-fiscal-stalemate-needs-obamas-leadership/2013/03/24/a755841e-9307-11e2-ba5b-550c7abf6384_story.html" style="color: rgb(17, 85, 204); " target="_blank">wrote</a> that what the country needs is “a president who would make the case to the American people, repeatedly and clearly; who would provide cover for legislators of both parties to cast hard votes; who would lead the way.” Former <i>New York Times</i> executive editor Bill Keller also <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/fred-hiatt-fiscal-stalemate-needs-obamas-leadership/2013/03/24/a755841e-9307-11e2-ba5b-550c7abf6384_story.html" style="color: rgb(17, 85, 204); " target="_blank">chimed in</a>, blaming the failure of the sequester to bring about a “Grand Bargain” on Obama.</p><p>There exist many outrages for which both major parties deserve our opprobrium. Financial deregulation, trade agreements penned by corporate lobbyists that have helped hollow out the middle class, deficit hysteria and nonsense about the dangers of “entitlements,” the excesses of the so-called “war on terror” and the cruel futility of the war on drugs – all of these things can rightly be laid at the feet of both parties.</p><p>But contrary to the views of Fred Hiatt or Bill Keller or 1,000 other wounded “centrists” desperate to see liberals trade away what little economic security Americans still have for a few more dollars in tax revenues, nothing anyone says or does is going to change the rational, anti-democratic political calculus of the House Republicans.</p> Thu, 11 Apr 2013 11:19:00 -0700 Joshua Holland, AlterNet 823385 at http://admin.alternet.org The Right Wing The Right Wing gop budget immigration Outrageous: David Cay Johnston Explains How Big Corporations Withhold Your Taxes and Then Pocket Them http://admin.alternet.org/books/outrageous-david-cay-johnston-explains-how-big-corporations-withhold-your-taxes-and-then <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">And other tales of legal corporate robbery.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_129037418.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Nobody has done more to expose the infinite ways in which the American economy is rigged to benefit those at the top than Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston. His rigorously researched books – <i>Perfectly Legal, Free Lunch</i> and now his latest, <i>The Fine Print,</i> are not recommended for people with egalitarian views and high blood pressure – they're every bit as maddening to contemplate as they are informative.</p><p>Last week, AlterNet caught up with Johnston by phone. Below is a lightly edited transcript of our discussion.</p><p><b>Joshua Holland: David, for years you’ve reported how those who can afford the right accountants game this labyrinthian and opaque tax-code of ours. How surreal has it been for you to observe the amount of political conflict we've faced over the past few years over returning the top marginal rates to the same rate they were during the Clinton era -- taking them from 35 percent to 39 percent?</b></p><p>David Cay Johnston: I am actually heartened, Josh. I think that we’re starting to see the end of those Chicago School economic theories. (By the way, I went to the Chicago School 40 years ago, but I did not drink the Kool-Aid.) The reality is people are now, finally -- and I can claim some of the credit for this through my books and my reporting -- people are looking around and saying, "Wait a minute! Starting back in 1980, I was promised that I was going to have a better life. We’d all prosper. Yet all the gains are going to the top."</p><p>Let me give you a stunning number I reported the other day. From 1966 – when Lyndon Johnson was president -- to 2011, 45 years later, the bottom 90 percent of Americans’ average income, as reported on tax returns, went up by a stunning $59 -- almost no change at all. If you measure that $59 increase for the vast majority of Americans as one inch, then on the same scale, the incomes of those in the top 10 percent went up by 168 feet. The top one percent, 888 feet. The plutocrats -- the Mitt Romney crowd, the top one percent of the top one percent? Their incomes rose by almost five miles relative to that one inch.</p><p><b>JH: That is remarkable. We are talking about an economy that simply doesn’t work for 90% of working people in this country.</b></p><p>DCJ: My latest book, <i>The Fine Print</i>, looks at this in a different way. The first two books – <i>Perfectly Legal</i> is about taxes, <i>Free Lunch</i> is about all the subsidies we give to rich people. <i>The Fine Print</i> is about all these laws the mainstream media has either not reported on, or reported on in the most superficial and disconnected ways, that are designed to destroy market competition and replace it with monopolies, oligopolies, duopolies -- with rules that allow the biggest companies to raise prices and reduce services.</p><p>There are 6 million corporations in America, but 2,600 of them, a tiny number out of 6 million, own 80 percent of the business assets in America.</p><p><b>JH: One of the things that, I think, really will jump out to readers as they dig into <i>The Fine Print</i> is the way that you looked into all these little nickel-and-dime charges that corporations levy on us constantly, often thanks to deregulation. We tend to take them for granted, because when you look at your phone bill – and you talk a lot about telecoms in the book – 35 cents here and a 60-cent charge there, they don’t seem so pressing, but they really add up.</b><b>What’s going on with that?</b></p><p>DCJ: Let me give you a real killer number here. If you can get a law passed to collect a penny a day from everybody in America -- and I show how one industry did this, the pipeline industry got themselves exempted from the corporate income tax, but they still get to collect it in their monopoly rates – if you can get a penny a day from everybody in America, at the end of the year you’ll have over a billion dollars.</p><p>What this is about is very simple. If you can get the rules rewritten in your favor... that means you can raise prices, you can refuse service wherever it’s not profitable. You could refuse services as long as you don’t say, “I don’t want to serve you because you’re a lesbian,” or, “You belong to the wrong religion,” you can refuse service.</p><p>You know, Americans had be sold on this notion that we are number one in the world. But by some measures, our healthcare system is behind Cuba. We pay almost the highest prices in the world for our Internet. If you buy a triple-play package from one of the American cable or telephone companies – Internet, cable TV and telephone -- on average, you pay $160 a month with taxes. If you go to France, the same package is $40 to $70. There are some variations, but the range is $40 to $70. By the way, here you get one foreign country to call for free. There you get 70. Here you get American television. There you get worldwide television. Here you get an Internet that’s the equivalent of a two-lane Irish road, where you have to stop and wait every now and then, because the sheep are on the path. There you get an information superhighway.</p><p>We are now 29th in the world in the speed of our Internet. We are behind Bulgaria, of all places.</p><p>We are falling behind left and right. We have a Congress that just cut money for scientific research. We’ve got people who are idiots. I mean that word very clearly, “idiots,” like Sarah Palin going around saying, “Why are we paying for fruit fly research?” Anybody who understands science knows that massive advancements in human knowledge – knowledge that has saved lives -- has come from studying fruit flies. If you’re an idiot like Sarah Palin, if you’re Donald Trump, if you’re Senator Cruz from Texas, then you don’t get it.</p><p>We really have to get a society that’s based on science and knowledge, that has an economic system that’s based on competitive markets with protections for consumers. While the rest of the world’s going to run right by us, we’re falling behind!</p><p><b>JH: David, you detailed very, very well how we are constantly being ripped off. It’s a death of 1,000 cuts. Why is that? The story that we’ve gotten, for years and years and years, is that we have less regulation in order to spur competition. Ultimately, that competition was supposed to benefit consumers. What’s going wrong?</b></p><p>DCJ: I want more competition. Here’s what really goes on, however. We put up barriers to competition, and in fact, Wall Street has institutionalized this concept. Morningstar, they’re a big financial advice firm. They tell people that they should grade companies and decide whether to buy their stock, based on something called a “moat index.” Moat, like around a castle? A moat index asks, “What barriers has the government erected to keep anybody else from competing against that company?” Indeed, as I show in my book, you could get rich if you invest in those companies that have regulatory moats -- where under the name of deregulation, we have insulated them from the rigors of the market.</p><p>By the way, there is no such thing as deregulation. There is only new regulation. Everything is regulated. I tell my students -- I teach law and graduate business students one day a week at Syracuse University -- I tell them, “Here’s how thoroughly regulated your life is. This university has a rule regulating how many times you can ask somebody out on a date before it’s harassment. Baseball regulates how many stitches are on the baseball. Everything is regulated.”</p><p>Under the Chicago School theories, we get new rules that encourage lying, cheating, stealing and fraud. In fact, one of the leading professors from that school, Dean Daniel Fischel, has written the bestselling textbook on securities law in America. You know what that book tells law students? That there is no need for a fraud statute in the securities markets. By the way, his clients were Enron, Michael Milken and Charles Keating of the Keating Five -- three of the biggest fraudsters of our time. Yet, that’s the number-one selling textbook for law students on securities law. And it says there’s no need in the securities to have a fraud statute. Think about all the trouble we're in because of the frauds that went on in the dot-con era -- not “dot-com,” but dot-con era -- in the late ’90s.</p><p>Think about the selling of mortgages, not so much to the consumers, but to investors -- particularly public pension-funds -- by Wall Street, where they lied through their teeth, where they faked documents and faked records. Massive fraud and not a single prosecution of any significant person today. Whereas during the savings and loan crisis [of the 1980s], Bill Black got us 1,000 high-level felony convictions and 3,000 convictions overall.</p><p>As a parodist on the Internet pointed out, "Where did that get Bill Black? He’s a professor at an obscure college in the Midwest." Whereas the people who looked the other way, look how well they’re doing.</p><p><b>JH: (Laughs) Yes, they’re all in the White House, at this point.</b></p><p>DCJ: They literally are. Barack Obama has surrounded himself with people from Wall Street. Remember when Glenn Beck was telling everybody Obama's not comfortable around white people? I went and looked at the White House table of organization. (Laughs) I got to tell you, he was surrounded by white people from Wall Street.</p><p><b>JH: A lot of the things that you detail in the book come down to companies that are not profiting only by providing goods and services -- traditional transactions of a capitalist society -- they’re deriving rents. Can you explain what rent-seeking is and how it differs from productive capitalism?</b></p><p>DCJ: First of all, everybody is a rent-seeker. Rent-seeking means you try to get paid more than you deserve, more than you should be paid. We have lots of research on this. For example, I know you’ll be shocked to hear that people who are good-looking and taller tend to be better paid than people who are unattractive and shorter. A shocking thought, but it’s a reality in the world.</p><p>In the case of corporations, what they do is they get rules passed that prevent competitors from coming into the markets, so they can charge higher prices. As I said, all you need is a penny a day extra, from every person in America, and you have an extra billion dollars at the end of the year. This problem of rent-seeking is, then, compounded by our campaign finance system. What big business -- and that’s those 2,600 companies which own 80 percent of the business assets in America – what those 2,600 companies have figured out, and their leaders have figured out, because people running these firms are very smart people, is that it is easier to mine Congress and the state legislatures for gold than to go out and earn it in the marketplace. Sometimes all you need is to get one word put in to a regulation.</p><p>For the lobbyists, they take a very long-term view of this. They get a little change made this year and they say, “It’s no big thing!” A couple of years later, they get another one, and another one, and another one. After 40 years of doing this, you’ve had a very successful career. You’re very wealthy. You can retire. You’ve also managed to totally screw your fellow Americans.</p><p><b>JH: I want to talk about one of the practices you describe that I find to be... I don’t know, I’d say shocking, but I’m pretty hard to shock these days. You wrote about this in a Reuters column -- how in 16 states, big corporations collect state taxes from their employees and pocket them.</b></p><p>DCJ: It’s now up to 21 states. In 21 states, they’ve passed a law that says that taxes withheld from your paycheck, for the state, can be kept by the company. Now, every employer doesn’t get this windfall -- you have to have to get a deal from the government to do it -- 2,700 big companies, every big company you’ve ever heard of, General Electric, Procter and Gamble, Deutsche Bank, you name it, they’ve got these deals, where they get to keep the taxes. Billions of dollars are diverted this way. You know the best thing for the companies about this?</p><p><b>JH: What’s that?</b></p><p>DCJ: The workers don’t know, because once the taxes are withheld, the state government treats you as having paid your taxes. You paid your taxes. They just then give a credit to let the company keep the taxes. I’ve called journalists. I’ve called union people who negotiate union contracts. And they say, “What are you talking about?” I showed them the work I’ve done. They go, “Oh my God!” They have no idea that this is what’s happening, and the fact that it’s spread from the 16 states when I first wrote about this and it’s now grown to 21 – eventually, all of the 44 states with income taxes are going to allow this, if we don’t put a stop to it.</p><p>I really, seriously hope people read <i>The Fine Print</i>. I wrote this so you’d know about these things. If you don’t read it, you’re not going to know.  </p> Fri, 22 Mar 2013 13:47:00 -0700 Joshua Holland, AlterNet 813612 at http://admin.alternet.org Books Books Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace Economy Hard Times USA Labor Occupy Wall Street corporate monopolies regulation consumers taxes johnston Are Americans Too Stupid For Democracy? http://admin.alternet.org/belief/are-americans-too-stupid-democracy <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">How can we rationally pursue our self-interests when we don&#039;t know what&#039;s going on?</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_33786634_1.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>In 2011, Newsweek <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2011/03/20/how-dumb-are-we.html">asked 1,000 Americans to take the standard U.S. Citizenship test</a>, and 38 percent of them failed. One in three couldn't name the vice-president. A 2009 study in the European Journal of Communications looked at how informed citizens of the U.S., UK, Denmark and Finland were of the international news of the day, and the results weren't pretty (<a href="http://www.sagepub.com/mcquail6/Online%20readings/19a%20Curran%20et%20al.pdf">PDF</a>).</p><p>“Overall,” the scholars wrote, “the Scandinavians emerged as the best informed, averaging 62–67 percent correct responses, the British were relatively close behind with 59 percent, and the Americans lagging in the rear with 40 percent.” We didn't fare much better when it came to domestic stories.</p><p>Widespread ignorance of objective reality poses a genuine threat to democracy. The people of the United States have ignorance in abundance.</p><p>The way representative democracy is supposed to work is pretty simple: you protect the fundamental rights of the minority (so it doesn't become two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner), and then the majority of citizens, acting in their own rational self-interest, elect representatives who will pursue the greatest good for the greatest number of citizens.</p><p>That's the theory, but “rational” is a key word in that formulation. What happens when lots of citizens don't have a solid grasp of what's going on in the real world?</p><p>Consider some examples that are especially relevant to our current political scene.</p><p><b>People Don't Recognize Their Lack of Competence, Can't Judge the Competence of Politicians</b></p><p>Psychologists David Dunning of Cornell and Justin Kruger of NYU conducted a series of experiments showing that incompetent people vastly overrate their own abilities. "For people at the bottom who are really doing badly — those in the bottom 10th or 15th percentile — they think their work falls in the 60th or 55th percentile, so, above average," Dunning <a href="http://www.lifeslittlemysteries.com/2187-incompetent-people-ignorant.html">told</a> the website Life's Little Mysteries.</p><p>They do just as badly evaluating the competence of others, which poses a problem in a representative democracy. Or, as the Daily Mail <a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2108341/Is-reason-democracy-work-Study-humans-dumb-pick-right-person-lead-us.html">put it</a> in typical tabloid fashion, “<font color="#000000"><font face="ArialMT, sans-serif"><font size="2">the theory of democracy has an unfortunate flaw -- that most of the public are just too stupid to pick the right candidate.”</font></font></font></p><blockquote><p>Dr Mato Nagel, a sociologist in Germany, recently implemented Prof. Dunning and Prof. Kruger's theories by computer-simulating a democratic election.</p><p>In his mathematical model of the election, he assumed that voters' own leadership skills were distributed on a bell curve — some were really good leaders, some, really bad, but most were mediocre — and that each voter was incapable of recognizing the leadership skills of a political candidate as being better than his or her own.</p><p>When such an election was simulated, candidates whose leadership skills were only slightly better than average always won.</p></blockquote><p><b>Politicians Think Their Constituents Are Much Further to the Right Than Polls Suggest</b></p><p>It's not just citizens who are out of touch, according to research by David Broockman of the University of California and Christopher Skovron of the University of Michigan. They asked 2,000 state legislators – Republicans and Democrats – to estimate what percentage of their constituents favored same-sex marriage, efforts to combat global warming and universal healthcare. The two scholars found a huge gap between how conservative politicians thought their constituents were and what the polls actually showed. The divide was especially pronounced among Republicans, who overestimated their constituents' rightward tilt by an average of 20 percentage points.</p><p>"For perspective, 20 percentage points is roughly the difference in partisanship between California and Alabama," the scholars <a href="http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~broockma/broockman_skovron_asymmetric_misperceptions.pdf">wrote</a>. "Most politicians appear to believe they are representing constituents who are considerably different than their actual constituents."</p><p><b>The Wealthy Think the Wealthy Should Pay More Taxes, But They Don't Think They're Wealthy</b></p><p>In 2011, Catherine Rampell of the <em>New York Times</em> penned a series of posts showing how confused Americans are about the nation's income distribution and their place in it. “Americans all seem to think they’re 'middle class,'” she <a href="http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/04/27/everyone-is-middle-class-right/">wrote</a>, “even those in the top 5 percent of all earners. As a result they frequently misunderstand what political mantras like 'let’s tax the rich' really mean.”</p><p>She continued in <a href="http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/04/19/rich-people-still-dont-realize-theyre-rich/">a subsequent post</a>:</p><blockquote><p>The latest example is evident in a recent Gallup study, which found that 6 percent of Americans in households earning over $250,000 a year think their taxes are “too low.” Of that same group, 26 percent said their taxes were “about right,” and a whopping 67 percent said their taxes were “too high.”</p><p>And yet when this same group of high earners was asked whether “upper-income people” paid their fair share in taxes, 30 percent said “upper-income people” paid too little, 30 percent said it was a “fair share,” and 38 percent said it was too much.</p></blockquote><p>An income of $250,000 per year put them in the top <a href="http://taxpolicycenter.org/numbers/displayatab.cfm?DocID=2879">4 percent of American households</a> – "upper income" by any reasonable estimate.</p><p><b>Americans Like Sweden's Distribution of Wealth, and Think They Already Have It</b></p><p>In a 2011 study published in <i>Perspectives on Psychological Science </i><span style="font-style: normal">(<a href="http://www.people.hbs.edu/mnorton/norton%20ariely%20in%20press.pdf">PDF</a>)<i>, </i><span style="font-style: normal">Harvard economist Michael Norton and Dan Ariely, a psychologist at Duke, took a look at Americans' perceptions of how wealth is stratified in this country and what an “ideal” distribution of wealth might look like.</span></span></p><p>They found that “respondents vastly underestimated the actual level of wealth inequality in the United States, believing that the wealthiest quintile held about 59% of the wealth when the actual number is closer to 84%.”</p><p>Perhaps more tellingly, “respondents constructed ideal wealth distributions that were far more equitable than even their erroneously low estimates of the actual distribution, reporting a desire for the top quintile to own just 32% of the wealth.” In Sweden, those in the top one percent held 36 percent of the country's wealth when the study was conducted.</p><p><b>Government Spending Has Decreased Under Obama, But Nobody Knows It</b></p><p>A <a href="http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/01/18/fox-news-poll-83-percent-think-government-spending-is-out-control/">recent poll</a>conducted by Fox News found that 83 percent of Americans think federal spending is “out of control,” up 21 points since 2009.</p><p>But as economist Jared Bernstein <a href="http://jaredbernsteinblog.com/no-government-spending-really-isnt-going-up-right-now/">notes</a>, federal spending as a share of our economic output (which rose rapidly in 2007 and 2008 because of the crash) has decreased since Obama took office in 2009. Even in terms of dollars spent, rather than the share of our output, it's been essentially flat.</p><p></p><div alt="" class="media-image" height="289" width="480"><img alt="" class="media-image" height="289" width="480" typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://www.alternet.org/files/styles/large/public/spending_gdp.png" /></div><p>Writing at Forbes, Rick Ungar <a href="http://www.forbes.com/sites/rickungar/2012/05/24/who-is-the-smallest-government-spender-since-eisenhower-would-you-believe-its-barack-obama/">adds</a> that spending has grown more slowly under Obama than any other administration since... wait for it... Eisenhower. That includes the 2009 stimulus package. (And of course, during his first term, Reagan led the pack in terms of increased federal spending. The younger Bush's second term came in second.)</p><p></p><div alt="" class="media-image" height="252" width="377"><img alt="" class="media-image" height="252" width="377" typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://www.alternet.org/files/styles/large/public/sloest_spender.jpg" /></div><p><b>The Deficit Has Been Stabilized and Is Shrinking, But Only 6 Percent of Americans Know It</b></p><p>According to the Congressional Budget Office, federal deficits projected over the next 10 years <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2013/02/05/1546041/4-things-the-new-congressional-budget-office-projections-show-us-about-the-economy/">have fallen dramatically</a> – by $4.5 trillion – since late 2010. CBO says this year's deficit will work out to $845 billion, the first time it's been under a trillion dollars since 2008. But over that same period, Americans of all political stripes have become more concerned with the deficit, according to <a href="http://www.people-press.org/2013/01/24/deficit-reduction-rises-on-publics-agenda-for-obamas-second-term/">Pew</a>.</p><p>What's driving that disconnect? Simple ignorance. A <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-02-22/americans-back-spending-cut-delay-amid-budget-deal-push.html">recent poll</a> conducted by Bloomberg News found that “the size and trajectory of the U.S. deficit is poorly understood by most Americans, with 62 percent saying it’s getting bigger, 28 percent saying it’s staying about the same this year, and just 6 percent saying it’s shrinking.”</p><p><b>Foreign Aid Is Pocket Change</b></p><p>The age-old conundrum in terms of the public's view of fiscal priorities is that Americans want lower taxes, less government and lower deficits, but oppose cuts to any specific programs other than “defense.”</p><p>How does one square that circle? By noting how out of touch most people are with how their tax dollars are spent. A <a href="http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2011/04/01/cnn-poll-americans-flunk-budget-iq-test/">2011 poll conducted by CNN</a> found that Americans, on average, think we spend 10 percent of the federal budget on foreign aid, and one in five said we spend 30 percent or more helping others abroad. The actual figure: about one percent.</p><p>The average American also thinks we spend 5 percent of the budget on public broadcasting, when in fact it's just one tenth of one percent.</p><p>According to a <a href="http://www.gallup.com/poll/149543/Americans-Say-Federal-Gov-Wastes-Half-Every-Dollar.aspx">2011 Gallup poll</a>, “Americans on average say that the federal government wastes 51 cents of every tax dollar, the highest level ever recorded since the poll was first taken in 1979.”</p><p>Waste is a subjective term, but here's where your dollars go, according to the <a href="http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&amp;id=1258">Center for Budget and Policy Priorities</a>.</p><p></p><div alt="" class="media-image" height="480" width="270"><img alt="" class="media-image" height="480" width="270" typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://www.alternet.org/files/styles/large/public/whereourtaxdollarsgo-f1_rev9-6-12.jpg" /></div><p><b>So, Should We Just Give Up On Democracy?</b></p><p>Winston Churchill is thought to have said, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” (He did say it, but he was quoting a predecessor at the time.) The problem isn't the form of government, but the ignorance of our polity. And that's a problem that can be addressed.</p><p>The study cited above which found that people in the UK, Denmark and Finland are significantly better informed about the issues of the day noted that some of the differences can be attributed to various models of media funding. The three European countries all have more public television and radio, which the researchers found offered more hard news and analysis, and less puffery.</p><p>Education is another big difference. In those countries, spending on education is more or less uniform between schools and school districts. In the U.S., the amount spent on education varies wildly by school, district and state. And while it's in vogue to blame teachers and their unions for what ails our educational system, the reality is that poverty and inequality are the driving forces behind our kids' relatively low educational outcomes.</p><p>As Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford, <a href="http://www.alternet.org/education/teachers-make-handy-scapegoats-spiraling-inequality-really-what-ails-our-education-system">recently told AlterNet</a>, “students in American schools where fewer than 10 percent of the students live in poverty actually are number one in the world in reading. The place where we really see the negative effects are in the growing number of schools with concentrated poverty, where more than 75 percent of children are poor. The children in those schools score at levels that are near those of developing countries.”</p> Tue, 19 Mar 2013 12:29:00 -0700 Joshua Holland, AlterNet 811814 at http://admin.alternet.org Belief Belief Education public opinion deficit economy New Study Finds the Wealthy Are Different http://admin.alternet.org/economy/new-study-finds-wealthy-are-different-us <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">On average, high earners have a very different idea of what makes a just society.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_125559770.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>“The very rich,” wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald, “are different from you and me.”</p><p>It turns out he was right. According to a new study by the think-tank Demos (<a href="http://www.demos.org/sites/default/files/publications/Demos-Stacked-Deck.pdf"><u>PDF</u></a>), the affluent tend to hold a different vision of a just society than the public at large, and it is that vision which tops the political agenda in Washington and in state houses across the country.</p><p>The report, authored by David Callahan and J. Mijin Cha, found that “wealthy interests are keenly focused on concerns not shared by the rest of the American public, like keeping taxes low on capital gains, and often oppose policies that would foster upward mobility among low-income citizens, such as raising the minimum wage.”</p><blockquote><p>The policy preferences of the wealthy (average income over $1 million annually) vary widely from those of the general public... [A recent] survey found that the general public is more open than the wealthy to a variety of policies designed to reduce inequality and strengthen economic opportunity, including: raising the minimum wage, increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit, providing generous unemployment benefits, and directly creating jobs. For example, only 40 percent of the wealthy think the minimum wage should be high enough to prevent full-time workers from being in poverty while 78 percent of the general public holds this view. Affluent voters are also less supportive of labor unions and less likely to support laws that make it easier for workers to join unions—even as research shows that unions are crucial to enabling people to work their way into the middle class. </p></blockquote><p></p><div alt="" class="media-image" height="416" width="480"><img alt="" class="media-image" height="416" width="480" typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/large/public/screen_shot_2013-03-11_at_2.29.02_pm.png" /></div><p>One especially significant difference between the opinions of the wealthy and the population as a whole centers on deficit reduction. According to a study cited by Demos, “87 percent of affluent households believed budget deficits were a 'very important' problem, the highest percentage of all listed perceived problems.” Jobs and education, which rank at or near the top of most Americans' list of priorities, were “a distant second to budget deficits among the concerns of wealthy Americans.”</p><p>According to <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/politics/2012-exit-polls/table.html"><u>an exit poll</u></a> conducted after the 2012 election, 59 percent of the public rated the economy as the country's number one problem, while only 15 percent cited the federal budget deficit. But as the Demos report notes, “the affluent [not only] participate more in civic life; they also have greater influence over public policy.”</p><p>Peter G. Peterson epitomizes that finding. The Wall Street mogul and Nixon administration cabinet member has reportedly dedicated a billion dollars of his fortune to promoting the idea that “entitlements” are going to impoverish our grandchildren.</p><p>Meanwhile, <font color="#262626">Callahan and Cha note that the affluent, “are significantly less inclined than other groups of Americans to support an active role for government in addressing mass unemployment.” </font></p><p><font color="#262626">These are good examples of what the authors describe as “<font color="#262626">the interplay between declining upward mobility and growing political inequality.” <span style="font-style: normal">Perhaps the most troubling finding in the Demos report is that the wealthy are, on average, less likely to support policies that allow people to pull themselves up the economic ladder. “Even when the affluent do support policies for upward mobility,” write Callahan and Cha, “they often do not prioritize these policies over other goals, such as lower taxes.”</span></font></font></p><blockquote><p><font color="#262626"><font color="#262626">A case in point is higher education. While affluent Americans and business leaders broadly support access to higher education, along with the general public, spending in this area has been cut in some states where governors have prioritized cutting taxes—with strong support from wealthy voters and corporate interests.</font></font></p></blockquote><p><font color="#262626"><font color="#262626"><span style="font-style: normal">While most Americans believe that they live in a highly meritocratic society where one's fortunes are limited only by one's innate talents and work ethic, </span><a href="http://www.economicmobility.org/reports_and_research/?id=0001"><span style="font-style: normal"><u>several studies</u></span></a><span style="font-style: normal">released in recent years suggest that Americans enjoy significantly less upward mobility than do the citizens of a number of other industrialized nations. German workers have 1.5 times the upward movement of Americans, Canada’s economy is nearly 2.5 times as mobile, and Denmark is three times as mobile. Norway, Finland, Sweden, and France are all more upwardly mobile societies than the United States. Of the countries included in the studies, the United States ranked near the bottom; only in the United Kingdom was it tougher to shake off a low social status one had been born with.</span></font></font></p><p><font color="#262626"><font color="#262626"><font color="#262626">The United States is not the first country to experience what the authors call a “<font color="#262626">self-reinforcing phenomenon” of increasing inequality and declining mobility. </font></font></font></font></p><p><font color="#262626"><font color="#262626"><font color="#262626"><font color="#262626"><font color="#262626">Historically, prosperous societies tend to fall apart under the burden of widening inequality. But gaping disparities in wealth and income are rarely the cause of their unraveling, at least not directly. It's the nexus between economic and political inequality that ultimately tears at the social fabric of a nation.</font></font></font></font></font></p><p><font color="#262626"><font color="#262626"><font color="#262626"><font color="#262626"><font color="#262626">According to MIT economist Daron Acemoglu and Harvard scholar James Robinson, co-authors of <i>Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty</i><span style="font-style: normal">, gross economic and political disparities create a classic vicious cycle. Wealth becomes concentrated at the top, where it is leveraged into political power to advance the narrow interests of rarified elite. “When politics gets thus hijacked,” </span></font></font></font><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daron-acemoglu/us-inequality_b_1338118.html">write Acemoglu and Robinson</a>, “inequality of opportunity follows, for the hijackers will use their power to gain special treatment for their businesses and tilt the playing field in their favor and against their competitors.”</font></font></p><p>With the field so tilted, those at the top continue to grab a greater share of income, and more political clout, which leads to the vast majority of us losing not only an opportunity to climb the economic ladder, but also our collective voice. The “best bulwark” against this vicious cycle, according to the authors, is to make sure “that those whose rights and interests will be trampled on have a say and can prevent it.”</p><p>Today, we are surrounded by evidence that this fraying of the social contract is well underway in the United States, which is <a href="http://images.huffingtonpost.com/2012-03-12-Screenshot20120311at9.26.16PM.png">leading the developed world in economic inequality</a>. Larry Bartels, a political scientist at Princeton, examined lawmakers' responsiveness to the interests of various constituents by income, and concluded:</p><blockquote><p>In almost every instance, senators appear to be considerably more responsive to the opinions of affluent constituents than to the opinions of middle-class constituents, while the opinions of constituents in the bottom third of the income distribution have no apparent statistical effect on their senators' roll call votes (<a href="http://www.princeton.edu/~bartels/economic.pdf">PDF</a>).</p></blockquote><p>And in the wake of Citizens United, a <a href="http://sunlightfoundation.com/blog/2011/12/13/the-political-one-percent-of-the-one-percent/">Sunlight Foundation analysis</a> of spending during the 2010 midterms found that the most rarified elites – the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent of households, or about one out of every 10,000 Americans – accounted for almost a quarter of all political spending in the United States, including direct donations to candidates and financing outside PAC spending.</p><p>According to the report:</p><blockquote><p>The One Percent of the One Percent are not average Americans. Overwhelmingly, they are corporate executives, investors, lobbyists, and lawyers. A good number appear to be highly ideological. They give to multiple candidates and to parties and independent issue groups. They tend to cluster in a limited number of metropolitan zip codes, especially in New York, Washington, Chicago, and Los Angeles.</p><p>In the 2010 election cycle, the average One Percent of One Percenter spent $28,913, more than the median individual income of $26,364.</p></blockquote><p>That kind of lopsided influence means the cycle of rising inequality feeding into undemocratic political outcomes will continue until the national will is there to do something real to address the widening gap.</p><p>The Demos report offers a series of recommendations toward that end, including:</p><ul><li><p>Limiting the influence of money in politics. That includes a call for a constitutional amendment to undo the damage wrought by Citizens United and related decision deregulating campaign finance.</p></li><li><p>Protecting voting rights, and making it easier for people to register.</p></li><li><p>Making corporate America responsive to a larger group of shareholders, including a firm's workers.</p></li><li><p>Reducing economic inequality through a more progressive tax system, investments in education and human capital, and several wealth-building policies.</p></li></ul><p>Most of these proposals have long had a prominent place in progressive policy wishlists. Getting them enacted with a political class that embraces the interests of those at the top is the challenge. It's one that only a mass movement crying out for a more equitable and humane economy can overcome. </p> Mon, 11 Mar 2013 16:42:00 -0700 Joshua Holland, AlterNet 807725 at http://admin.alternet.org Economy Economy Election 2016 Hard Times USA Labor Occupy Wall Street The Right Wing inequality politics education demos