Nel's New Day

August 28, 2013

Where Is the ‘Dream’?

Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I have a dream” speech at the March on Washington. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act passed the year after King’s speech and followed that with the Voting Rights Act. The United States, however, has failed to address the March’s goals for economic opportunity and equality, ten demands in civil rights legislation, public school desegregation, voting rights, job training, and an increased minimum wage.

  • Congressional comprehensive and effective civil rights legislation without compromise or filibuster-to guarantee all Americans access to all public accommodations, decent housing, adequate and integrated education, and the right to vote.
  • Withholding of federal funds from all programs in which discrimination exists.
  • Desegregation of all school districts in 1963.
  • Enforcement of the fourteenth Amendment, reducing Congressional representation of states where citizens are disfranchised.
  • A new Executive Order banning discrimination in all housing supported by federal funds.
  • Authority for the Attorney General to institute injunctive suits when any constitutional right is violated.
  • A massive federal program to train and place all unemployed workers–Negro and white–on meaningful and dignified jobs at decent wages.
  • A national minimum wage act that· will give all Americans a decent standard of living.
  • A broadened Fair Labor Standards Act to include all areas of employment which are presently excluded.
  • A federal Fair Employment Practices Act barring discrimination by federal, state, and municipal governments, and by employers, contractors, employment agencies, and trade unions.

During the 15 years after the 1963 March on Washington, conditions for blacks in the United States vastly improved, and legislation benefitted other groups—women, poor whites, other communities of color, people with disabilities, and senior citizens. Poverty rates dropped along with improvement in education, employment, and democratic participation. Congress and the president worked together to solve national problems.

Yet in two cases during the 1970s, the Supreme Court limited mandatory school-desegregation plans and declared that education is not a fundamental right. After that SCOTUS put limits on the ability of school districts to voluntarily create integration plans. Other decisions have put barriers in the way of people to take violations of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to court.

Ronald Reagan’s election as president in 1980 saw the growth of the Heritage Foundation, created after Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) lost the 1964 election to Lyndon B. Johnson, and Reagan moved Goldwater’s supporters into federal agencies and onto federal benches. The Federalist Society grew, creating a network of conservative lawyers who provided legal arguments to defeat social justice. Conservative media outlets like Fox News began to use their falsehoods to influence less knowledgeable people.

Fox contributor Laura Ingraham displayed a prime example of conservative media when she culminated her hateful responses to the anniversary of the March on Washington with a clip of the speech given 50 years ago by civil rights pioneer Rep. John Lewis (R-GA) and interrupted the speech with the sound of a gunshot and then long silence.  Following a commercial break, conservative columnist Pat Buchanan claimed that Lewis, Rev. Al Sharpton and other speakers at Saturday’s event were “part of a great racket.” He said, “What will these folks do, quite frankly, if they had to get up and admit we’ve got more opportunities than any large group of black folks anywhere on Earth today and our community is not making the most of it?”

Fifty years later, partisan divides gridlock the federal government, the GOP is setting back efforts to help the poor, unemployment and the need for jobs are elevated, and union-busting has caused loss of income for everyone except the U.S. elite.

Fifty years later people still carry signs asking for “Voting Rights,” “Jobs for All,” and “Decent Housing.” People still protest the vigilante killing of an unarmed black teenager in the South and his killer’s acquittal. People still denounce racial profiling in the country’s largest city.

Voting: Seven Southern states passed or implemented voter suppression laws in the two months since the Supreme Court gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act. This decision followed a general election in which blacks waited twice as long to vote, on average, as whites. One in 13 blacks (2.2 million people) cannot vote because of felon disenfranchisement laws—four times higher than the rest of the population.

Jobs: Although the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission began functioning two years after the March, employers still prefer white workers, according to Algernon Austin, director of the Economic Policy Institute’s Program on Race, Ethnicity and the Economy. The unemployment rate for blacks (12.6 percent) is almost twice as that for whites (6.6 percent), about the same ratio as in 1963. The average household income for blacks ($32,068) is far below that of white families ($54,620) and declined by 15 percent from 2000 to 2010.

Job Training: The $38.6 billion in 2013 dollars budgeted in 1978 shrank to $8 billion in 2013 dollars by 2007. Congress consistently fails to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, the nation’s largest job-training program, for the past 15 years. Legislation also excludes important methods to improve services such as developing skilled workers through education and training.

School Desegregation:  Because of housing patterns, schools are segregated at the same rates as the late 1960s, according to Andrew Rotherham, co-founder of the education think tank Bellwether Education Partners. Three-fourths of all black students attend schools that are majority nonwhite.

Minimum Wage:  The value of the current minimum wage is below that in 1964, yet conservatives ridicule fast-food workers who have joined to fight for decent wages. At the time of the 1963 March, the minimum wage of $1.25 was equivalent to $9.25 today–$2 higher than the current minimum of $7.25. March organizers demanded $2 per hour, in today’s dollars more than $14.80, but by the time the minimum was raised to that level 11 years after the March, inflation had eaten up any advantage. ALEC, the corporate-controlled organization that hands out bills to GOP legislators, opposes any increase in minimum wages, calls for a full repeal of minimum wages, and works to prevent local efforts to enact living wage requirements. Meanwhile, fast-food and other low-wage workers are striking against low pay in Chicago, New York City, Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Kansas City, Seattle, Los Angeles, Raleigh, Atlanta, Houston, and Oakland.

Justice: While conservatives fight to load the bench with judges opposed to equal rights, the number of judicial vacancies has grown to emergency levels. There are not enough judges to hear cases on the country’s dockets.

Racism: Although all restaurants must now serve blacks, a group of 25 blacks were told to leave the Wild Wing Café in South Carolina after peacefully waiting for two hours to be seated. One white patron felt “threatened. This is just one of millions of racist acts in the U.S.

At last weekend’s rally at the Lincoln Memorial, the main themes were the same as 50 years ago—voter suppression, “stand your ground” laws, stop-and-frisk, and the question of jobs and union-busting. Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of the slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers, talked about the “stand your ground” laws. She said, “We can think of ‘standing your ground’ in the negative. But I ask you today to flip that coin. Stand your ground in terms of fighting for justice and equality!”  One poster showed a picture of Rosa Parks who stood her ground by refusing to give up her seat on a bus.

Before he was killed in on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr., had these comments about the Republican party. The GOP hasn’t changed since that time.

The 1964 Republican National Convention: “The Republican Party geared its appeal and program to racism, reaction, and extremism.”

Sen. Barry Goldwater (GOP 1964 presidential candidate):  “While not himself a racist, Mr. Goldwater articulated a philosophy which gave aid and comfort to the racist. His candidacy and philosophy would serve as an umbrella under which extremists of all stripes would stand.”

Ronald Reagan: “When a Hollywood performer, lacking distinction even as an actor can become a leading war hawk candidate for the Presidency, only the irrationalities induced by a war psychosis can explain such a melancholy turn of events.”

The March on Washington was about jobs and freedom, and Congress is avoiding any discussion about both. The country needs to fight back against those who refuse to recognize the importance of economic equality and who define freedom as “freedom to oppress others.”

December 25, 2012

Fixing the Economy

The social decline facing the United States made possible by the loss of revenue during the two terms of George W. Bush has steadily moved the country lower and lower among the countries of the world. Both political parties want the American dream for everyone, giving all people the opportunity to escape poverty. According to James Gustave Speth in his new book, American the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy (Yale University Press, 2012), a fair and equitable society in the U.S. is possible.

Speth uses the definition of “the American dream” from James Truslow Adams  in his 1933 book The Epic of America: “It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of a social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

Equality is vital for economic growth, according to the Center for American Progress. As Robert Reich explains in his 2010 book Aftershock: “Unless America’s middle class receives a fair share, it cannot consume nearly what the nation is capable of producing. . . . The inevitable result is slower economic growth and an economy increasingly susceptible to great booms and terrible busts.

Because today’s high productivity and economic growth stem largely from scientific and technological knowledge, most of which is inherited from the past, the greater portion of income and wealth “comes to us through no effort of our own,” as Gar Alperovitz and Lew Daly point out in their book Unjust Desserts.  Herbert Simon observed, “[If] we are very generous with ourselves, I suppose we might claim we ‘earned’ as much as one fifth of [our income].” The major question comes from how to share the wealth that no one living today has created.

In the 20th century, both political parties were concerned with eradicating poverty, creating universal health care, providing high-quality and affordable education for all, guaranteeing meaningful and living-wage employment opportunities, and devising a just and fair tax system. Yet conservatives increasingly increased opportunities for the wealthiest in the nation while eliminating the possibility for the bottom 99 percent through the destruction of unions, lessening of minimum wages, and allowing the costs of health care and education to astronomically increase.

Harvard’s Howard Gardner argues that “no single person should be allowed annually to take home more than 100 times as much money as the average worker in a society earns in a year. If the average worker makes $40,000, the top compensated individual may keep $4 million a year. Any income in excess of that amount must be contributed to a charity or returned to the government, either as a general gift, or targeted to a specific line item (ranging from the Department of Veterans Affairs to the National Endowment for the Arts).” He further proposed that no individual would be permitted to pass more than $200 million to his or her heirs, and that any excess must be contributed to charity. “To those who would scream ‘foul’ to such limits on personal wealth,” he concludes, “I would remind them that just 50 years ago, this proposal would have seemed reasonable, even generous.”

Another good idea is a reverse income tax, as recommended in Aftershock. Using the negative income tax idea examined in the 1960s and today’s earned income tax credit, he urges that “full-time workers earning $20,000 or less (this and all subsequent outlays are in 2009 dollars) would receive a wage supplement of $15,000. This supplement would decline incrementally up the income scale, to $10,000 for full-time workers earning $30,000; to $5,000 for full-time workers earning $40,000; and then to zero for full-time workers earning $50,000. The tax rate for full-time workers with incomes between $50,000 and $90,000–whether the source of those incomes is wages, salaries, or capital gains–would be cut to 10 percent of earnings. The taxes for people with incomes of between $90,000 and $160,000 would be 20 percent, whatever the income source.”

Reich also promotes higher taxes for the wealthy. He said, “I propose that people in the top 1 percent, with incomes of more than $410,000, pay a marginal tax of 55 percent; those in the top 2 percent, earning over $260,000, pay a marginal tax of 50 percent; and those earning over $160,000, roughly the top 5 percent, pay 40 percent. These taxes, when added to the modest amounts contributed by taxpayers who earn between $50,000 and $160,000 under my plan, would raise $600 billion more than our current tax system per year.”

Another major step forward should be to implement the important proposal put forward by Bruce Ackerman and Anne Alstott in The Stakeholder Society: “As a citizen of the United States, each American is entitled to a stake in his country: a one-time grant of eighty thousand dollars as he reaches early adulthood. This stake will be financed by an annual 2 percent tax levied on all the nation’s wealth. The tie between wealth-holding and stakeholding expresses a fundamental social responsibility. Every American has an obligation to contribute to a fair starting point for all. Stakeholders are free [to] use their money for any purpose they choose: to start a business or pay for more education, to buy a house or raise a family or save for the future. But they must take responsibility for their choices. Their triumphs and blunders are their own.”

The federal government should spend more on social and jobs programs, environmental protection, and neglected needs abroad while our annual federal budgetary deficits should be brought down to sustainable levels. High growth rates will not provide sufficient revenue to the government. There are many ways to raise new revenues–closing down tax breaks for the rich, shifting taxes from things we want to encourage to things we want to discourage, taxing luxury items, closing corporate tax loopholes, strengthening the estate tax, and moving toward a more progressive tax structure.

A 2009 report by John Cavanagh and his colleagues at the Institute for Policy Studies proposed the following plan that would raise an additional $3 trillion in federal revenues over a five-year period without slowing the economy. That’s over double what President Obama currently proposes.

1. Repeal tax breaks for households with annual incomes over $250,000: $43 billion per year.

2. Tax financial transactions: $100 billion per year.

3. Eliminate the tax preference for capital gains and dividends: $80 billion per year.

4. Levy a progressive estate tax on large fortunes: $40–60 billion per year.

5. Establish a new higher tax rate on extremely high incomes: $60–70 billion.

6. End overseas tax havens: $100 billion per year.

7. Eliminate subsidies for excessive executive compensation: $18 billion per year.

Making sure that the bottom 99 percent of the population has a living wage makes the economy grow. They are the ones who spend the money that they get, not the top 1 percent.

 

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