Nel's New Day

August 11, 2018

DDT: Week 81 – On Vacation While Others Work

Filed under: Donald Trump — trp2011 @ 9:35 PM
Tags: , , , ,

Congress is scattered across the nation on vacation, and Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) is watching TV, playing golf, and having dinner with other wealthy people at his resort at Bedminster (NJ). Robert Mueller continues his investigation, and witnesses testify to damning information about Paul Manafort. For example, he offered the position of Army secretary to Federal Savings Bank CEO, Stephen Calk, in trying to get a personal loan from the bank. Long-time friend and colleague Rick Gates reported Manafort shifting money through his offshore accounts.

DDT has bragged about how much more money black people make in wages since he was inaugurated, but he didn’t celebrate Black Women’s Equal Pay Day on August 7, the day representing how long into 2018 a black woman must work to be paid the same wages white males were paid just last year. Black women workers get 66 cents for the dollar that white men make after controlling for education, years of experience, and geographic location.

If DDT had talked about wages for black women, he probably would have lied, just as he did when he bragged that the U.S. is overflowing with “prosperity” despite “exaggerated” claims of widespread poverty. After a U.N. report that 18 million people live in “extreme poverty” in the United States, made worse by DDT’s tax cuts for the wealthy, DDT ignored his own economic analysts in exchange for a report from the far-right Heritage Foundation. One DDT economic adviser recommended that DDT say nothing about poverty because the steady economic growth, “inherited” from President Obama, “will end prob[ably] in 1-2 years.”

People in Missouri understood the importance of fair wages when they struck down a “right-to-work” law earlier passed by the legislature. The 2-1 margin of success for workers came from both urban and rural counties.

Agreeing with Supreme Court justice nominee that the president is above the law and the constitution, AG Jeff Sessions plans to ignore a court ruling to preserve the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and completely repeal and rescind DACA on his own prerogative. Sessions called the repeal one of the “lawful directives of Congress”—although that legislative body has passed no law regarding DACA. The judge had said that the government has no justification to stop DACA.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) irritated both congressional GOP members and DDT during his visit to Russia. Once against Vladimir Putin’s takeover of Ukraine and Crimea, Paul is now a full-blown Russia supporter. During his recent trip, he took a letter to Putin, but opinions differ on its contents. Paul explained that the letter highlighted how the U.S. wants to work with Russia on “countering terrorism, enhancing legislative dialogue and resuming cultural exchanges.” White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said that DDT provided only “a letter of introduction” because Paul had requested it. Before Paul came home, he invited Russian lawmakers to visit the U.S. Capitol, but GOP congressional leaders squashed the idea. Spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said:

“Neither Congress nor the leader have invited any delegation from Russia to the Capitol. Senator Paul is the only one that I know who is discussing it.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) followed that up with “That’s not something we’ve discussed.” Both McConnell and Ryan earlier said that Putin would not be welcome at the Capitol if DDT invited him to Washington.

Russia and DDT are also upset about the State Department’s new sanctions on Russia after the Kremlin’s poisoning of a former Russian intelligence officer and his daughter living in England. U.S. company are prevented from exporting items such as gas turbine engines, electronics, and integrated circuits without legitimate purposes, similar to President Obama’s ban on any exports to Russia that might have military purposes. DDT objected, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cited a 1991 law that mandated the sanctions. Russia has 90 days to agree to stop all use of chemical weapons and permit inspections before Pompeo exerts further measures such as withdrawal of U.S. bank loans and support for international loans, landing rights for Russian airlines, and diplomatic relations. DDT already stalled for over a month regarding congressional deadlines for other sanctions.

Sanctions against Russia will decrease U.S. exports, adding to the stress caused by DDT’s tariffs. Grifter and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross claimed that “all this hysteria is a lot to do about nothing,” yet BMW told Ross that the tariffs could endanger 45,000 jobs in South Carolina. A ship with $20 million worth of soybeans has circled the waters off the coast of China since July 6 after it failed to beat the new tariff deadline by mere hours, placed in response to DDT’s tariffs. The ship’s $12,500 daily cost comes to over $450,000 by now, and the contents make up a small part of the $12.7 billion in soybeans sent from the U.S. to China last year. In Washington, 6,000 tons of copper are stuck at the port of Vancouver as the ship scheduled to pick it up left after China announced a 25-percent duty on the product. Estimates indicate almost one million jobs in the state could be at risk because of suppliers, port income, and wages.

The North Korea deal becomes more like fish that smells after three days. DDT never had any agreement with denuclearization, and Kim Jung-Un now insists that he will take no action until the U.S. ends the Korean War. Pompeo promises progress but won’t say what, and National Security Adviser John Bolton indicated no steps had been taken. The estimate of North Korean nuclear weapons is growing.

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) was secretly taped at a fundraiser for Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) giving his plan for impeaching DOJ Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein immediately after the 2018 general election. Most Republicans said that they weren’t going to impeach Rosenstein, but Nunes tells this story to woo donors and voters. DDT may not like some of Nunes’ comments on the tapes such as “sometimes we cringe on the president’s tweets.” Nunes also called releasing stolen emails, like WikiLeaks did with DNC emails, “criminal.” Rodgers won the Washington election to pick the top two candidates by only one percent, warning a serious challenge in the general election.

DDT’s lawyers are running a TV campaign in opposition to Mueller’s investigation by smearing it, claiming that DDT will be forced to lie if he goes into court, and declaring questions that are off limits—such as why he fired James Comey (check with DDT’s interview with Lester Holt) and whether he obstructed justice (check DDT’s tweets). Rudy Giuliani’s craziness continues with his invented DOJ “60-day rule” preventing Mueller from DDT’s investigation in the two months preceding the election and announcing that Mueller must finish by September. DDT is not a candidate in November 2018, and the “60-day-rule” failed to apply to Hillary Clinton when Comey announced an investigation ten days before her election. “Fair and unbalanced” Sean Hannity, as he calls himself on “fair and unbalanced Fox,” turned his three-hour radio show over to DDT’s lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Jay Sekulow on Friday.

Tomorrow represents the first anniversary of Unite the Right in Charlottesville (VA) with a march near the White House. This image represents what white supremacists are celebrating in front of the White House and what DDT refused to condemn.

DDT’s diversions of the week:

  • His calls to “suspend” protesting athletes without pay although he is not their employer.
  • Removal legal-resident status from those who use Medicaid and other social safety nets. (Fortunately for his in-laws, they just became U.S. citizens so they’re safe—unless he finds some dirt on them.)
  • A new space force, possibly to conduct space warfare. (Stephen Colbert asked if DDT plans to build a wall to keep “illegal aliens” from coming into the United States.)

The dozen Trumpiest members of Congress: Chris Collins (NY),  indicted for insider trading;  David Perdue (GA), cousin to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue; Orrin Hatch (UT), retiring; Tom Cotton (AR), hawk aiming for Oval Office; Rand Paul (KY), sycophant flip-flopper; Mitch McConnell (KY) majority leader owned by DDT; Matt Gaetz (FL) deep state conspiracist/Alex Jones supporter; Devin Nunes (CA), DDT’s leaker from the House Intelligence Committee; Ron DeSantis (FL), Fox defender; Kevin McCarthy (CA), DDT’s “my Kevin” who sorts candy to give DDT only “reds and pinks”; Mark Meadows (NC), conservative Freedom Caucus leader trying to impeach deputy AG Rod Rosenstein; and Paul Ryan (WI), determined to “normalize” DDT.

Inflation rose 2.9 percent in the last year while wages gained only 2.7 percent. U.S. “real wage” fell to $10.76 an hour last month, 2 cents down from a year ago. To many of us, 2 cents is very little, but over a year, it amounts to $41.60—important to people who make under $23,000 a year. Gas prices increased 23 percent this year, and housing, health care and automobile insurance have all gone up. Now we wait for price increases from DDT’s tariffs. 

Donald Trump Jr. manufactured this visual lie when he Photoshopped “50” over DDT’s actual 40 percent approval rating. In his desperation, he failed to cover up the 40 percent. By now, Jr. removed his “fake news” from Instagram, but the internet never forgets!

July 19, 2018

The News for July 19, 2018

Today is the 170th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention, when about 300 people–mostly women–gathered to address “the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of woman.” They persisted, and one of those who attended managed to vote for the first time when women gained the right to vote 72 years later. On this day 170 years later, the current administration is attempting to rapidly reverse the accomplishments of the 21st century.  Following is an overview of a few political highlights for today, July 19, 2018:

Once again, Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) has been forced to back down, this time from his anti-U.S. intention to turn U.S. government employees over to Vladimir Putin. As the Senate prepared to vote on a resolution opposing DDT’s honoring Putin’s request, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stated that DDT “disagrees” with the “proposal that was made in sincerity by President Putin.” He had suggested swapping the 12 Russians indicted last week for 11 current former U.S. officials. The resolution stopping many government officials from being turned over to Russia for questioning passed the Senate by 98-0. Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Richard Shelby (R-AL) were absent for the vote. Republicans did reject efforts to support the intelligence community’s assessment, Mueller’s probe, and implementation of congressional sanctions. None of these resolutions would have been binding on DDT.

Republicans plan to keep Russian meddling: the House refused to increase election security spending. The GOP prefers voter ID to stop non-existent voter fraud and repress non-GOP voting. The commission administering the election security grant program is missing half its four members. Without a quorum, it cannot approve testing of voting systems for required standards, and the patchwork of voting systems has differing degrees of reliability. It’s a policy to “Keep American Republican.”

Two years ago, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) stopped President Obama from making public the information about Russia’s hacking and election interference with accusations that it was a partisan move. No more. Despite the indifference of Republicans in Congress, DOJ’s Rod Rosenstein has a new policy to tell the U.S. companies, organizations, and others who are being attacked by foreign hacking and disinformation campaigns. He said, “The American people have a right to know if foreign governments are targeting them with propaganda.” A Microsoft executive told the audience at the Aspen Security Forum today that Russia has target at least three candidates this year.

In another interview at the Aspen Security Forum, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen explained that removal of thousands of children from their parents is “to protect children.” She added that the courts—that actually require her to reunite children—are preventing families from staying together. In another noble move on her part, “we give a pregnancy test at DHS to every girl over 10.” It is her agency that imprisons pregnant girls to keep them from having any abortions unless courts manage to allow them to see doctors. Her claim that DHS gives aid to members of radical extremist groups who want to be non-violent is negated by her administration rolling back funds for this rehabilitation. The outstanding part of her responses was the support for “both sides” being to blame for the Charlottesville violence: “It’s not that one side is right, one side is wrong.” The official DDT administration position is that white supremacists are not wrong.

DDT has found another way to get rid of people he considers undesirable. Applicants for asylum visas no longer have 30 days to take care of missing or inaccurate information on their applications. The new policy is to immediately deport them with no advance warning—just a final statutory denial. They will be treated like criminals, who are also deported on a fast-tracked basis. [If only we could automatically reject DDT’s nominees who provide forms with missing or incomplete information!] The new policy politely states that it is “not intended to penalize filers for innocent mistakes.” AG Jeff Sessions also disallows domestic and gang violence claims as bases for asylum; those seeking asylum must provide evidence that they fear persecution based on race, religion, nationality, social group, or political opinion. Fear of death doesn’t count.

On Fox’s Tucker Carlson show, DDT accused Montenegro of being responsible for starting World War III if it joins NATO because its people are “very aggressive.” Montenegro’s Prime Minister Dusko Markovic came into the limelight a year ago when DDT aggressively pushed him out of his path at the 2017 NATO meeting. [Full video here.] The country of 630,000 alienated Russia because it planned to join NATO: the Kremlin may have meddled in its elections, and pro-Russian militants planned a failed 2016 coup. NATO has an agreement that the other 28 members will support any one member attacked from outside. In its 69-year history, that agreement has been invoked only once—when 28 members went to the aid of the United States after the 9/11 attack. NATO members are still in Afghanistan after 17 years of the U.S. war there.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convinced DDT to drop out of the Iran deal, according to a video of Netanyahu’s speech to his Likud party.

Poverty is no longer a problem in the United States. At least, that’s what DDT’s administration claims. A few facts they missed:

  • About 40.6 million people—12.7 percent of the population—lived below the official poverty line in 2016.
  • The Supplemental Poverty Measure shows that 14.5 percent of people in the U.S. are impoverished.
  • Over 20 percent of children in the U.S. live in poverty.
  • The United States was second only to Israel of the richest countries with the percentage of people in poverty in 2014.

DDT maintains that income data doesn’t reflect poverty because poorer people underreport their income, and interviews about consumption make poverty in the U.S. disappear. In that way, DDT can declare “mission accomplished” on the War on Poverty and do away with the entire safety net. Refuting this claim is a study tracking economic adversity, including reports of difficulty in paying for food, utility bills, rent, or medical care that comes out about the same as official poverty rates. DDT’s method shows a decline in poverty as more households struggle with costs of food and shelter. The chart below shows the how DDT’s system skews the facts:

Reasons for the inaccuracy of DDT’s report:

  • Poor people finance their spending with debt—payday loans, second mortgages they can’t afford, etc.
  • The cost of living for DDT’s report is adjusted more slowly than the official Consumer Price Index, making household spending appear to be growing faster.

EPA Scott Pruitt and his corruption may be gone, but the United States still has Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. After several reports of his illegally using taxpayer money, his own department’s IG is investigating the man responsible for protecting public lands about his real estate deal with Halliburton Chair Davi Lesar. The foundation run by Zinke and his wife granted Lesar’s real-estate development the permission to put a parking lot on land donated to the foundation for a Veteran’s Peace Park in Whitefish (MT). Zinke is also under investigation for a violation of the Hatch Act after tweeting himself wearing socks with DDT’s face and “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan. Halliburton is one of the world’s largest fracking and offshore drilling companies; Zinke repeatedly opened up federal lands and coastal waters for fossil fuel drilling.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), known for his frequently obnoxious grilling of Hillary Clinton, John Brennan, Peter Strzok, and others regarding their possible connections with foreign countries, has been revealed as a beneficiary of foreign monies for his election from his superpacs, including Great America PAC, that may also fund Russia’s attack on the U.S. election. The PACs’ major donors have direct ties with Cambridge Analytic, now defunct, that helped elect DDT through data collection, hacking, and social media manipulation. As chair of the Oversight Committee, Gowdy refused members 52 times to request subpoenas for interviews in the Russia probe. He will not be running for re-election.

ALEC, the powerful organization that writes conservative legislation for lawmakers, has lost ExxonMobil after Ford, Google, Microsoft, Coca-Cola and many others left the group. The biggest oil and gas company in the world followed BP, Royal Dutch Shell, and ConocoPhillips in abandoning the Koch Brothers’ group after a disagreement about an ALEC resolution that would ask the feds to reconsider its findings that greenhouse gasses are harmful to human health. A major contributor to the secretive organization since 1981, Exxon has given millions to promote the conservative corporate agenda. Its departure comes in the midst of state investigations into its connection with hiding evidence about its climate impact from its shareholders as well as the public.

The classic for today comes during an interview at the Aspen Security Forum when NBC journalist Andrea Mitchell tells Director of National Intelligence Director Dan Coats the breaking news that Vladimir Putin is coming to Washington this fall. The video is not to be missed. The best part may also be that McConnell said that Put will not be coming to Congress. I’m sure that DDT wants to be alone with Putin anyway. The question is how long Coats will keep his job.

And that’s just one day for DDT’s administration.

August 20, 2015

Pentagon Loses Taxpayer Money, Wants More

More money for defense and less money for taxpayers—that’s what Republicans want. Hillary Clinton’s emails a horrible and deliberate defense disaster—that’s what Republicans want to prove. The Pentagon missing $8.5 trillion? No mention and probably no problem. This expenditure is more than China’s economic output last year. The Defense Department’s budget was $567 billion, but no one knows how much of that money is spent as intended. The Pentagon is the only federal agency that has failed to comply with a two-decade-old law requiring audits of all government departments.

An extensive investigation by Scot Paltrow reveals the way that the U.S. military failed to submit to an audit, flouted federal law, and concealed the loss of billions of dollars through waste and fraud. Employees for the U.S. Department of Defense were told to put input fake data, called “plugs,” to reconcile military books with those of the U.S. Treasury. Now the records are filled with missing, unidentified, and wrong numbers. The same thing happened at the operational level.

The Pentagon consistently ignores warnings about its accounting practices from oversight agencies. It fails “to keep track of its money—how much it has, how much it pays out, and how much is wasted or stolen,” according to Paltrow. “Widespread pay errors inflict financial hardship on soldiers and sap morale, [but] pay errors are only a small part of the sums that annually disappear into the vast bureaucracy that manages more than half of all annual government outlays approved by Congress.” Accounting errors lead to loss of soldiers’ wages from unfounded accusations that soldiers have been overpaid. Without their salary, soldiers are forced to get food from charity pantries.

The Pentagon continues to spend money of supplies it doesn’t need and stores other items that it doesn’t need because it doesn’t keep track of weapons, ammunition, etc. It has a backlog of more than $500 billion in unaudited contracts with outside vendors, but it doesn’t know how much of that money has been paid for real goods and services. The Navy can’t account for ships, submarines, and other physical assets even after the $1 billion it spent to upgrade record-keeping.

Most of the Pentagon’s incompatible accounting and business-management systems—maybe 2,200 or 5,000, depending on who’s counting—were built in the 1970s and use obsolete computer languages on old mainframes. Even if someone could search for data, much of it is corrupted and just plain wrong. The tens of billions of dollars used to upgrade technology failed, adding to the waste. In the meantime, military knowingly signs off on entries that it knows to be false. Corporate managers certifying false financial reports suffer criminal penalties; the Pentagon’s officials have none.

Every year, the Pentagon buys more of what it already has in excess, defined as a three-year supply. In 2008, for example, it had 15,000 parts in stock for the “vehicular control arm” of the Humvees, equal to a 14-year supply. From 2010 through 2012, it bought another 7,437 of them at considerably higher prices as demand dropped by almost half. Nobody knows if these have been stored in the right bins, which makes inventory impossible. Nothing has been done to track employee theft. The Pentagon ordered the Defense Department to have a labeling system, a directive that the DOD ignored.

Obsolete supplies aren’t monitored although the Army is trying to detonate some C4 plastic explosives made in 1979. Nothing has been done with runway flares from the 1940s and warheads for Sparrow missiles not fielded since the 1990s. Rocket-launch systems retired in the 1980s take up space. “Keeping all those useless bullets, explosives, missiles, rifles, rocket launchers and other munitions costs tens of millions of dollars a year,” Paltrow reported.

Despite all these issues, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said that a cut of $52 billion in 2014 was “too deep, too steep, and too abrupt.” His claim that “this is an irresponsible way to govern” sounds like the way that the Pentagon manages its finances. Hagel had no idea how much money the Pentagon had. In one office (Columbus, Ohio), duplicate entries across multiple ledgers led to mistakes for the Air Force in 2009, totally $1.59 trillion which included $538 billion for plugs—roughly eight times what the Air Force was allotted for that year.

Efforts to fix the problem have consistently failed. Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England established the Business Transformation Agency in 2006 to upgrade business operations and prepare the department for auditing. By 2009, the department had spent over $10 billion a year, but it didn’t stop business as usual. Defense Secretary Gates shut down the project in 2011.

How much of the $3 trillion spent on contracts for goods and services during the past ten years has been wasted in overpayments or never spent is not known. Bills are easily padded because detailed invoices are not required. The tremendous backlog to audit fulfillment of contracts came to 24,722 contracts worth $573.3 billion by the end of 2011. The Army’s backlog was 450,000 contracts in 2012. The Navy and Air Force don’t know what their backlogs are. To take care of the problem, the value at which a contract is automatically audited rose from $15 million to $250 million.

GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina is campaigning on making the U.S. Department of Education a “whole lot smaller.” As president, she would make the department “justify every single dollar every single year.” Nobody says that about the military. Fiorina also said that she doesn’t know what the Department of Education does. She could easily find the department’s reports and charts about its goals, the sources of its expenditures, and comparisons to previous year. It’s right here.

The Department of Education provides grants, including Pell grant funding; makes sure that states spend federal money as they should; keeps schools from gender discrimination per Title IX; and collects national education data. Without federal oversight, states won’t spend the Title I money as intended to effect education equality. The Department also checks on the for-profit college industry, i.e., fining Corinthian Colleges because it misrepresented job placement data.

Fiorina decried “complicated accreditation” for these for-profit colleges that she found to be “expensive.” These colleges, however, have higher student loan debt and poor completion rates because their accreditation rules are already too loose. HuffPo reported that accrediting boards frequently have executives from for-profit colleges, perhaps the reason that none of the five major companies had the accreditation revoked in the past ten years and fraudulent job placement data was ignored.

The budget for the Department of Education for this year is $68.8 billion, and the agency knows where its money goes because it’s the law. The Department of Defense’s budget is $567 billion—about 12 percent of the budget for the Department of Education—and the DOD has no idea where it goes because it flouts the law. Below is what $8.5 trillion dollars looks like in $100 bills. That’s what the Pentagon has been allotted during the past 20 years with no accountability.

trillions of dollars

Food stamp fraud may account for about $500 million (less than one cent per each dollar of the $82 billion), but the Pentagon has lost $8.5 trillion. That amount has cost each household approximately $70,000. In 2013, about 45.3 million people, including 14.7 million children, lived in poverty in the United States—14.5 percent of the population and the largest number in the 54 years that statistics have been kept. Almost one in five children live in poverty.

Lack of government support has driven tuition for higher education sky-high. The student debt is now at $1.2 trillion in the United States, and the costs will cripple the future for both young people and the economy. People will have to pay down this debt instead of buying houses and cars, shoring up the GDP.

Conservatives caused this inequality, but they are determined to deny help to any of these people. Yet they are willing to distribute over one-half trillion dollars every year to an agency that has no idea how the taxpayer money is spent. For conservatives, a steak or shellfish or shredded cheese is outrageously out-of-bounds for food stamp recipients, but 22,437 extra Humvee front ends are just fine. Billions of taxpayer dollars for failed business systems or excessive purchases of supplies or unfulfilled government contracts or unpaid soldiers or lack of audits that break the law are acceptable. Conservatives need to look at their priorities.

June 2, 2015

U.S.: The Nation of Incarceration

Filed under: Incarceration — trp2011 @ 8:58 PM
Tags: , , , , ,

A major reason of the growing poverty in the United States is the nation’s fixation on imprisonment. People in prison cost money and cannot contribute to the economy. The US spends $80 billion on the big business of corrections every year, and one research project shows that the increase in incarceration during the past 35 years increased poverty by 25 percent.  There are 2.2 people in the country’s jails and prisons and another 4.5 million on probation or parole. That’s one of every 35 adults. Bill Quigley has listed reasons for this travesty with background information here.

Imprisonment isn’t about crime: the crime rate has gone up and down with no relationship to the increase in incarceration.

Police discriminate: police have targeted poor people and people of color without cause for decades. In just New York City, police annually stop 500,000 people—80 percent of them Blacks and Latinos—with no indication of any crime. In Chicago, 72 percent of the stops are Black people in a city where they compose only 32 percent.

Police racially profile during traffic stops: Black drivers are 31 percent more likely to be pulled over than White drivers, and Hispanic drivers are 23 percent more likely to be pulled over than White drivers.

Police more likely ticket Black and Hispanic motorists than White drivers for the same offenses.

Police more likely search Blacks and Latinos than Whites after traffic stops.

Governments make money from traffic tickets, usually for poorer people: an example is Ferguson (MO) which gets 40 percent or more of city revenue from traffic tickets.

Poor people suffer more from traffic tickets: more well-off people simply pay the fines, but poor people who cannot afford them lose their driver’s licenses or go to jail. In California, over 4 million people lack these licenses because they have unpaid fines and fees for traffic tickets.

Black and disabled students are much more likely to be referred to the police than other kids: Blacks represent 16 percent of enrolled students but receive 27 percent of police referrals. Students with disabilities have the same problem: although they represent only 14 percent of school enrollment, they receive 26 percent of the police referrals.

Black people make up about 12 percent of the US population, but Black children represent 28 percent of juvenile arrests. 

Black people are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than Whites although both people of both races use marijuana at the same rate. In some states, Blacks are six times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than Whites. In the two decades between 1980 and 2000, the arrest rate for Blacks went from 6.5 to 29.1 per 1,000 people while the rate for Whites went from 3.4 to 4.6 per 1,000 persons.

The U.S. has much tougher drug laws and much longer sentences for drug offenses than most other countries: drug offenders receive an average sentence of 7 months in France, twelve months in England and 23 months in the US. Crimes in the U.S. would require community service in other countries or not be considered a crime at all.

The poor must remain in jail awaiting trial because they have no funds to pay bail: every day, jails hold 500,000 people who are presumed innocent but are too poor to get bail money.

Jails and prisons are used for job creation: over 3,000 local jails in the U.S. hold 500,000 people awaiting trial every day and another 200,000 convicted on minor charges. During one year, the jails process over 11.7 million people. The state and federal prisons hold about 1.5 million prisoners.

Most people in locals jails are not a threat to the population: almost 75 percent of people are in the jails for nonviolent offenses such as traffic, property, drug, or public order offenses.

Posting financial bonds for release pending trial employs about 15,000 bail bond agents for the industry that collects about $14 billion every year.

The rate of mental illness inside jails is four to six times higher than on the outside: people with severe mental illness are sent to jails although they provide almost no treatment.

Of the almost 70 percent of people in prison who meet the medical criteria for drug abuse or dependence, only 7 to 17 percent ever receive drug abuse treatment inside prison.

Presumed innocent people who are too poor, too mentally ill, or too chemically dependent are kept in jail until their trial dates. 

Poor people have to rely on public defenders, and the vast majority of people with misdemeanor charges never see a lawyer. Thirteen states don’t mandate that people have access to public defenders in misdemeanor courts. Public defenders may also have several hundred cases at one time.

Many poor people plead guilty: a review from the American Bar Association concludes that the U.S. public defender system lacks fundamental fairness and puts poor people at risk of wrongful conviction.

The police force many people, much later exonerated, to plead guilty. 

Most people in prison don’t have trials: over 95 percent of criminal cases are finished by plea bargains. The percentage of trials have shrunk because of higher sentences for those who lose trials and the power given to prosecutors.

Jail makes people worse off:  people who can’t get bail are four times more likely to receive a prison sentence than those with bail. Within the walls of jails and prisons are tens of thousands of rapes and over 4,000 murders each year.

Average prison sentences are much longer than they used to be, especially for people of color: the average time for property crimes has increased 24 percent and the time for drug crimes has gone up 36 percent since 1990.

A Black man without a high school diploma has a 70-percent chance of being imprisoned by his mid-thirties. The rate for White males without this diploma is 53 percent lower, a change since the 8-percent difference in 1980.  In New York City, Blacks are jailed at nearly 12 times the rate of Whites and Latinos more than five times the rate of Whites.

Almost 1 of 12 Black men ages 25 to 54 are in jail or prison, compared to 1 in 60 non-Black men: that is 600,000 Black men, an imprisonment rate of five times that of White men. One out of three young Black males is under the direct supervision of the criminal justice system, either incarcerated, on parole, or on probation.

Prison makes money for private businesses that lobby for greater incarceration: Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) owns and runs 67 for-profit jails in 20 states with over 90,000 beds. Along with GEO (formerly Wackenhut), these two private prison companies have donated more than $10 million to candidates and spent another $25 million lobbying them. They have doubled the number of prisoners they hold over the past ten years. Contracts with most private companies require that the prisons stay between 80 and 90 percent full.

Over 159,000 people are serving life sentences in the U.S., a 400-percent increase since 1984: nearly half are Black and 1 in 6 are Latino; almost 250,000 prisoners are over age 50.

Prisoners pay exorbitant costs for telephone calls to their families, sometimes as high as $12.95 for a 15-minute calls.

The  3.9 million people on probation also make money for private companies that contract with governments to supervise them and collect debts. 

As many as 100 million people have a criminal record in the United States, and over 94 million of those records are online: people who have been arrested and convicted face serious problems getting a job, a home, public assistance, and education. More than 60 percent of people formerly incarcerated are unemployed one year after being released. Within three years of release, about two-thirds of state prisons are rearrested. Employment losses for people with criminal records have been estimated at as much as $65 billion every year.

Employers unlikely to check on the criminal history of White male applicants will check Black applicants.

Families are hurt by the prison mill because 180,000 women are subject to lifetime bans from Temporary Assistance to Needy Families after felony drug convictions.

With the highest incarceration rate in the world, the United States is truly “exceptional.” More than half the world’s countries have incarceration rates of lower than 150 (per 100,000) while the U.S. has 764 imprisonments per 100,000 people. A nation with about 5 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. has 25 percent of its prisoners. The government annually pays an average of $31,286 per inmate—New York pays $60,000.

“Today, a criminal record serves as both a direct cause and consequence of poverty.”—Center for American Progress

September 1, 2014

GOP Doesn’t Understand Labor Day

Filed under: Elections — trp2011 @ 8:19 PM
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Today is Labor Day, a time to commemorate the successes of trade and labor organizations that created eight-hour work days and other working conditions that the U.S. accept as status quo. The day has been celebrated 132 years, first in New York City and then becoming a federal holiday 120 years ago. At one time, labor unions raised the standard of living in the United States and supported political democracy.

Two years ago, former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor tried to shift the celebration to the people who build businesses and “earned their own success”—maybe like the Koch brothers who actually inherited the foundation of their empire. Cantor’s speech repeated his aim “to keeping taxes low … and ensure a thriving economy for the future.” Cantor is gone, voted out by an unhappy constituency, but his legacy of austerity from low taxes on the wealthy still takes a big hit on the nation’s economy.

The House “take from the poor and give to the rich” guru Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) has a new brand of snake oil in his new book, The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea. During his recent interview on NPR, the heavily Koch brothers-supported “public radio,” he demonstrated his need to display a fake “attitude adjustment” toward wooing a broader audience for his presidential run. Trying to convince voters that he has mellowed, he has developed a plan that would combine 11 benefit programs and give the money to the states in an effort to “reintegrate people into our communities.”

In the past, Ryan has described people in the U.S. as either “makers,” taxpayers, or “takers,” people receiving government benefits. He never seemed to grasp the fact that some people fit into both categories at the same time. Now he describes his maker/taker categories as a “sort of a callous generalization … disparaging people where I really didn’t mean to do that.” Asked about whether the GOP thought about poverty the wrong way, he blamed the Democrats equally with the Republicans. Then he launched into explaining that after spending time with religious social services groups, he’s decided that “the federal government should not be dictating the front lines in the war on poverty.” Ryan’s position is that religion should be running government benefits.

His other prong of reducing poverty is “accountability.” That means hiring lots of people to follow poor people around to make sure that they live up to their “contracts.”

Ryan claims that he wants “a culture of inclusion” because “we have marginalized the poor in many ways.” Unfortunately for him, he marginalized them last March in his accusation that poverty comes from“the culture of the inner city.” Accused of racism, he claimed that he was only talking about the “work ethic … to try and reinvigorate and reintegrate people in work.” His “I don’t have a racist bone in my body” statement might have been more convincing if he hadn’t cited Charles Murray as an expert–the man who purports that blacks are, as a population, less genetically less intelligent whites and the problem of poverty exists because “a lot of poor people are born lazy.”

In keeping with Ryan’s and the GOP’s arrogant assumption that they understand the reasons for poverty—i.e., the “culture of the inner city,” Ryan ignored the following:

  • Stagnant and declining wages from bad policy decisions including the attack on unions and the failure of the minimum wage to keep up with inflation.
  • Lack of balance for workers in managing both work and parenting.
  • Disparities of wages for whites and minorities.
  • Weak retirement security, partly through the failed 401(k) system.

A major reason for poverty is the low minimum wage. One in four—25 percent—of workers earn less than $10 per hour. More than one-third of workers making less than $10.50 are at least 40 years old, more than half work full-time, and the average minimum-wage worker earns half of his or her family’s total income.

The percentage of low-wage workers with at least some college education is 43.2 percent, 71 percent higher than 35 years ago. An increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 would cost $35 billion, and the economy would grow by about $22 billion, creating roughly 85,000 new jobs. Raising the minimum wage in just Los Angeles would create more than 50,000 jobs. Washington, the state with the highest statewide minimum wage, also has the highest percentage of annual job growth. Doubling the minimum wage at McDonalds would take many employees off public benefits but cost people only between $.14 and $.68 for a Big Mac. Taxpayers would save $4.6 billion a year in just food stamps if Walmart increased its wages to $12 per hour. Shoppers would pay only one percent more–$10.01 for an item now costing $10.

Two-thirds of all minimum wage workers are not employed by small businesses, and three out of five small business owners favor raising the minimum wage. The demise of unions raised corporate profits but failed to create jobs.

One of Ryan’s solutions to getting out of poverty is marriage, but married parents with children are 56 percent more likely to live in poverty than married adults without children. Another is education. Seventy percent of adults living below the poverty line have a high school diploma, and almost half of them have some college or a bachelor’s degree.

Ryan also claimed on Face the Nation that last year’s government shutdown was “flawed from beginning to end … a suicide mission.” Bob Schieffer didn’t give Ryan a pass the way that the NPR’s Steve Inskeep did in the interview about poverty.

When Schieffer asked Ryan why he didn’t say that last October, the Congressman replied, “Because I want party unity.” If the GOP decides to shut down the government this month to get their own way, Ryan will need to decide whether he cares more about his “party unity” or his country. GOP leaders are threatening another shutdown without a “clean” (aka no Democrat requests) funding bill and a short-term (aka kick-the-can-down-the-road) reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank. Funding ends on September 30, 10 Congressional “working” days from now.

In neighboring Michigan, income tax records show that multi-millionaire and senate candidate, Terry Lynn Land, paid only 3 percent income tax last year as compared to her opponent, Rep. Gary Peters, who paid 18 or 19 percent during the past three years. She claimed she made $90,000 last year but donated $3 million to her campaign. Land is another candidate who wants to take from the poor and give to the rich.

Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) is upset with his Democratic opponent, Brad Ashford, for proposing a 10-percent cut in congressional salaries. Terry complained that Congress hasn’t had a COLA since 2008 and that he already gives 10 percent of his salary to charities. Back in March 2013, Terry joined fellow Republicans to unanimously vote against an increase of the federal minimum wage. He was also one of those criticized during the 2013 GOP government shutdown because he wouldn’t give up his $174,000 salary. His reason: “I’ve got a nice house and a kid in college, and I’ll tell you we cannot handle it.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has laid out the GOP agenda up front and center in his speech at Americans For Prosperity’s “Defending the American Dream Summit” in Dallas and denying the poor.

  •  “Number one, no amnesty.”
  • “[Repeal] every word of ObamaCare.”
  • “We ought to bomb [ISIS fighters] back to the stone age.”
  • “[Focus on] defending constitutional rights,” with a list of social issues including gun control, education, birth control and privacy

Jesse Benton, Sen. Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) former campaign manager, spent Labor Day looking for a new job. He quickly resigned after the scandal broke about his involvement in bribing an Iowa legislator to switch from Michele Bachmann to Ron Paul during their presidential campaigns. Benton said he loved both Kentucky and McConnell who “is a friend, a mentor and a great man this commonwealth desperately needs.” Benton’s love for McConnell is newfound because last year a recording surfaced in which Benton said he was “holding my nose” working for the Senate minority leader’s campaign to benefit Rand Paul in 2016.

 

August 17, 2014

Paul Ryan v. the Pope

The summer has brought struggles in Iraq, Israel/Gaza, and closer to home in Ferguson (MO) to the media, and Congress has gone into full-time fundraising. When they return, the budget will again hit the news media. As chair of the House Budget Committee, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) will be front and center of the discussion. While fundamentalist Christians use their religion as the main reason for their votes, Ryan, a Catholic, opposes the values that Pope Francis espouses when addressing the nation’s priorities in spending.

His favorite spin on removing the safety net for the poor in the past was that “the preferential option for the poor, which is one of the primary tenants of Catholic social teaching, means don’t keep people poor, don’t make people dependent on government so that they stay stuck at their station in life.” Two years ago, 60 theologians, priests, nuns, and social justice leaders protested the claim that his budget represented Catholic values.  They and many other Catholics feel that Ryan has betrayed his religious positions of helping vulnerable people, just taxation, and using the government for the common good. As Father Thomas J. Reese explained, “Our problem with Representative Ryan is that he claims his budget is based on Catholic social teaching. This is nonsense.”

Failing to persuade people that giving to the rich and abandoning the poor is a basic tenet of the Catholic church, Ryan decided to drop the religious approach in his more recent plan, “Expanding Opportunity in America.” He proposes “block grants,” although he doesn’t call them this, to states to replace the federal safety net. In addition, the program would be far more structured, forcing aid recipients to meet with case managers and sign contracts for short- and long-term goal. Paying for this new administrative bureaucracy will take benefits away from those who need them.

States wouldn’t do a better job of helping the poor. Politicians know that the federal government is vital in solving problems as indicated by the demand for federal aid to disasters such as super storms or tornadoes or chemical plant explosions. Congress created federal safety net programs because states were unable to solve these social problems. If Ryan succeeded in moving money to the states, the most conservative and anti-Washington ones would get more federal funding than the others. Of the 20 states with the highest levels of food stamp costs, 16 voted for Mitt Romney in the last presidential election.

In fact, states have a history of funneling federal monies for specific purposes into their general coffers. For example, Texas Gov. Rick Perry used $17.4 billion of the stimulus bill he hated so much to solve his deficit problems. Minnesota and Wisconsin were among states using the same tactic.

According to Pope Francis, “Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to be fully a part of society.” His proposal is to dismantle unjust economic and social systems, doing away with an unfettered capitalist market and any other system that uses people rather than serves them. He has prayed for “more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor.” Ryan doesn’t fit into this category.

As a PR move, Ryan toured schools, churches, and other groups to determine how they are trying to solve the problem of poverty. After this experience, he talked about stereotypic causes of poverty—drug abuse, teen parents, single mothers, absentee fathers, prison time, no higher education—in short, “a lack of productive habits.” Missing from his picture of poverty are college graduates unable to find work, longer-term unemployed without unemployment insurance, older people unable to get jobs because of their age, and people unable to support themselves and their children because of low minimum wages.

Ryan’s conclusion is still that people are poor because they made bad personal choices. He fails to understand that poverty in the United States today comes from a huge inequality in income. Ryan used social security benefits after his father died so that he could go to school; he should understand its importance.

As Bill Moyers pointed out, “Claiming you can solve poverty without money is like claiming you can solve drought without water.” Conservatives believe that the only way to have a strong national defense is to give vast amounts of money to defense contractors, but they think they can solve the problem of poverty by giving low-income people less funding. Low-income people spend most of the money on basic necessities like housing, food, fuel, health care and education; wealthy people take a large percentage of their money out of the country.

Ryan wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “The best anti-poverty program is economic growth.” Yet while the economy has grown 147 percent per capita since the 1970s, the average U.S. worker earns about exactly the same as 30 years ago when wages are adjusted for inflation. The 15-percent share of people in poverty is higher than in the early 1970s. Almost all the gains since that time went to the top: the richest 1 percent went from 9 percent of total income 40 years ago to over 20 percent now.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has joined Ryan in lying about poverty. He denies that raising the minimum wage or giving the poor more assistance would address poverty. Instead he wants “reforms that encourage and reward work.” That follows Ronald Reagan’s line that the best social program is a job, a theory that has contributed to the nation’s downfall. Jobs are important, both to economic well-being and self-esteem, but the number of working poor in the United States has steadily been growing. For almost 20 years, people on government assistance have been required to have jobs, meaning that more poor people have jobs. Approximately one-fourth of all American workers have jobs paying below what a full-time, full-year worker needs in order to live above the federally defined poverty line for a family of four.

A favorite mantra of conservatives is that poor people have no ambition. Yet many people work long hours at backbreaking jobs and still need a safety net. Poor people actually lack opportunity, beginning with good schools. The United States is one of three advanced countries that spend less on educating poor children and rich ones. Israel and Turkey are the only other two countries that have more teachers and less crowded classrooms in schools with more privileged students. The other countries have exactly the reverse.

Ryan’s budget would slash food stamp programs, leaving people hungry. It would cut scholarships, keeping poor youth out of higher education. It would only make life easier for the wealthy. It would reverse the Affordable Care Act, leaving people without any health care. It would eliminate low-income programs that work, including the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program that helps low-income pregnant women and children obtain fresh produce at farmers’ markets.

Ryan’s religion is the Republican party.

August 15, 2014

Ferguson: An Example of Segregated Schools

Filed under: Education — trp2011 @ 9:33 PM
Tags: , , ,

Much has been said about the political situation in Ferguson (MO), but a huge problem lies in the schools. GOP legislators have cut trillions of dollars from budgets through massive tax cuts for wealthy people and corporations while spending more trillions on George W. Bush’s manufactured wars. Transferring federal fiscal obligations to states left them unable to fund their responsibilities. Problems in badly underfunded schools were exacerbated by punitive measures for artificial evaluation. Ferguson is a prime example of the GOP approach toward educating young people in the nation.

A remembrance of Michael Brown, the slain teenager, highlights our country’s low regard for educating its youth. Despite great disadvantages, Brown earned his diploma nine days before he was killed. He was scheduled to being schooling at a vocational school specializing in air conditioning and heating just a short time after he was murdered.

Brown’s graduation photograph was taken almost four months before he graduated because Normandy High School owned only two graduation gowns for the entire class. Two students would wear the gowns at one time, sit before the camera for their graduation portraits, and then pass the gowns on to the next two students. Needing more credits, Brown didn’t graduate with his class and went to summer school to earn his diploma.

Brown’s school district was formed by combining Normandy and Wellston districts. The poverty rate for families at Normandy was 92 percent; at Wellston, it was 98 percent. Every student at Wellston was black. Wellston, one-tenth the size of the almost 5,000-student Normandy, had been unaccredited for seven years; Normandy was on provisional accreditation for 18 years.

The state education board voted to merge these two districts in 2010, the first time that it changed school districts in 35 years. White flight in the districts had crashed property values and destroyed tax revenues. Better-off residents in the districts sent their children to private schools. To support the school, residents kept voting to raise their own property taxes, resulting in the highest rates in the state, but district revenues kept decreasing.

In 2012, the state board rated Normandy as a failed district, removed its accreditation, and put it under direct state control. Although the purpose was to redesign the district, the state Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that students in a failed district could go to other districts. Hundreds of Normandy students transferred to other districts, some of them majority white.

In Francis Howell (a 90-percent white) district, parents rebelled at the thought of having black students in their schools. During a school board meeting there, one mother said, “I deserve to not have to worry about my children getting stabbed, or taking a drug, or getting robbed.” Another parent added, “We don’t want this here in Francis Howell.”

Their fears did not come to fruition, and Francis Howell found that the 400 students who transferred into their district worked well with the other students. Normandy, however, suffered more financial problems because it had to pay for transportation and tuition to the districts where students transferred. Those who stayed at Normandy held pep rallies and welcome-back-to-school gatherings; students tutored each other to improve the school’s academic ranking. They said that there was a sense of optimism despite the deprivation of resources.

Funding for transfer students cost the district more than educating students within the district because other districts spent far more on students than Normandy could afford. The state board of education took over the district’s finances and gave Normandy “accreditation as a state oversight district.” Nothing had changed for the district to obtain accreditation, but students were no longer able to transfer to other districts. The revised minutes from June read:

“The Missouri State Board of Education, pursuant to its statutory authority to waive its rules, including those regulating accreditation, has accredited the Normandy Schools Collaborative and thus its schools. Because of that accreditation, the Plaintiffs are not entitled to relief….”

Some members of the Missouri Board of Education had opposed the transfers with the argument that parents moved into the Normandy district last summer just to have their pick of high-performing school districts. No data supported this fear. After former Superintendent Stanton Lawrence was replaced by a white superintendent in the midst of this process, he wrote this description of this school reform of punitive disparity in “How Missouri Killed the Normandy School District.”

When students were told that they had to return to Normandy, Francis Howell, among other districts, was pleased and issued this statement:

“FHSD has consistently held the beliefs that transferring students from an unaccredited school district is not the solution to improving struggling schools, and that the funds spent on tuition and transportation for transfer students can be more effectively spent on educating the whole Normandy student population.”

Normandy no longer had any legal rights because it wasn’t a district. According to the state board of education, it was a special collaborative and “not in any district in this state.” The Normandy school district was now run by the president of the state board of education, Peter F. Herschend, of Branson (MO). With no background in education, he owns Herschend Family Entertainment which runs Silver Dollar City and other amusement parks. He is also one of the biggest contributors to the Republican Party in the state. The person in charge of Michael Brown’s school district, an urban, minority district so poor that students have only two graduation gowns to share, was a white Republican millionaire who lives over 200 miles away.

Late this afternoon, a St. Louis County Circuit Court ruled that students can again transfer from Normandy to other schools. The children of four families can enroll immediately, leaving the door open for another 500 students to return. The ruling invalidates decisions made by the Missouri Board of Education in June intended to get the Normandy Schools Collaborative out from under the school transfer law. Judge Michael Burton wrote:

“It is in the public interest for the plaintiffs to prevail. Every child in this community has a right to a decent education.”

No one knows what will happen now. There may be appeals, or students may be able to transfer to other schools. No matter what, this is the state of education in one state—and may be better than in other states.

Sixty years after the ruling in Brown v. Board of Education was intended to stop school segregation, schools are more segregated than ever—and segregated economically as well as racially. A new report from the Economic Policy Institute shows the isolation of black youth.

Court orders to integrate have mostly been lifted, many of them during George W. Bush’s terms, leaving schools to re-segregate. For example, Tuscaloosa (AL) had a thriving, demographically mixed high school until the integration mandate was lifted. White parents lobbied for districts to separate white and black students.

In a classic case of haves and have-nots, black neighborhoods have fewer primary care physicians and fewer grocery stores, and children growing up are more likely to be exposed to lead paint and to have asthma. Parents work less-flexible jobs with less time to foster learning by taking their children to zoos, libraries, and museums. Before kindergarten, minority kids are behind, and few of them ever catch up. Teachers in schools with the neediest students are usually the least qualified.

Young people in poor schools lack the resources that booster clubs and PTA funding in advantaged schools provide, and every year lack of funding requires parents to fund more and more things that taxes used to provide. Yet the poverty of many minorities demand greater resources than middle-class white students need in order to achieve success.

We are a country of elitist education, and Ferguson, Missouri, is an example of what happens because of this inequality.

[Note: The Daily KOS story drew many comments about whether people had to pay for graduation gowns. The gowns are a symbol of poverty that runs far deeper.]

June 16, 2014

Decline of the U.S.: Brandeis, Warren, Reich

Louis Brandeis’ book, Other People’s Money and How the Bankers Use It, was published 100 years ago, but it has a strong parallel to Elizabeth Warren’s latest book, A Fighting Chance, according to reviewer Jill Lepore. Brandeis contends “that the country was being run by plutocrats and, especially, by investment bankers, who, by combining, consolidating, and aggregating the functions of banks, trusts, and corporations, controlled both the nation’s credit and the majority of its resources—including the railroads—and yet had not the least accountability to the public or any sense that the functions they had adopted were essentially those of a public utility.” He wrote:

“The power and the growth of power of our financial oligarchs comes from wielding the savings and quick capital of others. The fetters which bind the people are forged from the people’s own gold.”

One hundred years ago, the Gilded Age plutocrats used savings in banks to build giant, monopolistic conglomerates controlled by the shareholders instead of the people who had deposited their money into bank accounts. Brandeis’ book originally appeared in Harper’s as essays. Its compilation of facts and figures shows the massive control that banks wielded:

J. P. Morgan and the First National and the National City Bank together held “341 directorships in 112 corporations having aggregate resources or capitalization of $22,245,000,000,” a sum that is “nearly three times the assessed value of all the real estate in the City of New York” and “more than the assessed value of all the property in the twenty-two states, north and south, lying west of the Mississippi River.”

When Brandeis republished Other People’s Money in 1933 at a cost of $.15, the book was designed to influence President Roosevelt’s administration. The result was a number of anti-trust reforms and financial-industry regulations that grew the middle class during the middle decades of the last century.

While Brandeis’ book deals with the banks’ use of savings, Warren’s A Fighting Chance shows how banks today use the massive debt of the middle class to make money and wield control. With the repeal of financial reforms starting in the 1980s and the loss of the wall between commercial and savings banks from investment banks came the fetters on people from excessively-high interest rates on credit cards and mortgages. People were lured into a sense of false security with “teaser” rates before they faced the shock of skyrocketing interest rates.

Warren first published about bankruptcy in a monograph with Teresa A. Sullivan and Jay Lawrence Westbrook, As We Forgive Our Debtors: Bankruptcy and Consumer Credit in America (1989). Studying 2,400 bankruptcy petitions filed in 1981, they discovered that many of them belonged to the middle class. Over half were homeowners, and many were women rearing children. In The Fragile Middle Class: Americans in Debt, published six years later, Warren reported on personal-bankruptcy filings a decade after her first study. She found that between 1979 and 1997, the number of these filings had increased by 400 percent.

Part of Brandeis’ work led to abolishing child labor and establishing maximum-hour and minimum-wage laws. These laws lost the power to help the middle class, starting with insufficient increase in minimum-wage during the late 1900s. Warren’s work concluded that women holding jobs and raising children become more economically vulnerable, not less. “For middle-class families, the most important part of the safety net for generations has been the stay-at-home mother,” Warren and her daughter, Amelia Warren Tyagi, wrote in The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke (2003). As wages grew stagnant for the middle class in the early 1980s, married women, like Warren’s mother decades earlier, were forced to get a job to help the financial crisis. Once the family grew dependent on the second income, there was no cushion for wages that continued to be stagnant.

stagnant wages

The only answer for struggling families was to spend savings. Once those were gone, they took on huge debts. The final step was filing for bankruptcy. Financial crisis for a two-income family is the loss of one of these jobs. Warren and Tyagi reported, “Having a child is now the single best predictor that a woman will end up in financial collapse.” Between 1981 and 2001, the number of women filing for bankruptcy rose more than six hundred per cent.

During the battle for Massachusetts senator in 2012, Scott Brown tried to paint Warren as an Ivy League elitist. A Fighting Chance shows a far different picture. The divorced Warren was a single mother when she worked to get her college degrees and a registered Republican until the mid-1990s. It was her study of bankruptcy that destroyed her faith in unfettered market systems and “crony capitalism.”

A parallel to Elizabeth Warren’s work is Robert Reich’s research that has been recently promoted in the documentary, Inequality for All based on his book Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future.

Income-Inequality-Graph-from-Robert-Reichs-New-Film

A recurring visual during the film is a suspension bridge superimposed over a graph of wealth concentration of wealth during the 20th century. The two high points are 1928 and 2008 when equality peaked in the United States. Immediately following both these peaks were crashes—the Great Depression and the Great Recession. At both these high points, the top 1 percent took home over 23 percent of the national income. Currently, 400 people in the United States have more wealth than the bottom half of people in the U.S. That’s 400 people with over $2 trillion who have the same wealth as over 150 million people in the United States.

share in income 1

The Golden Age from 1945 to about 1975 disappeared with the anti-union legislation and rapid increase in college tuition. Taxes were also high during this period of time, as much as a 70-percent marginal rate, but they shrank rapidly starting with 1980. At the same time, taxes on the middle class such as sales taxes and payroll taxes (including Social Security) rose.

During the time shown by the suspension bridge, other trends parallel the suspension bridge concept in reverse. Wages grew during the middle of the 20th century as did union memberships. By the 1980s, wages stayed stagnant and union membership shrank.

In his work, Reich goes farther than Warren to show how the rigged system destroys not only the people but the corporations. When workers lose an adequate share of the nation’s income, they can’t buy anything. Lower consumption equals lower corporate earnings. In a vicious cycle, resulting layoffs causes even lower corporate earnings and more layoffs. In short, it is the majority of people who are the job creators, not the wealthy.

share in total income

A common perception among conservatives is that people are poor because they won’t work. As more and more people struggle, that perception is gradually changing. The following chart shows that during the past two decades, more and more people understand that people who work hard cannot climb out of poverty. By 2012, less than one-fourth of the people blame “not working” instead of “not earning enough.”

chart poor people in us

Reading A Fighting Chance and watching Inequality for All (http://inequalityforall.com/) provide a great background for the problems we face and the ways that we can move forward.

June 15, 2014

Christians Control Republicans

Although the GOP incumbent candidate for Congress in Mississippi, Thad Cochran, didn’t know that the House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his primary election, most other people are aware of this historical first. Cantor’s loss also changes the religious demographics among GOP members of Congress. Cantor is the only Jewish member of Congress on the GOP side–in fact, the only non-Christian. With his disappearance, all GOP members of Congress (278 if the GOP opponent wins) will self-identify as Christians—no other Jews, no Muslims, no pagans, no other minority religions.

On the Democratic side (257) are 32 Jewish, three Buddhist, two Muslim, one Hindu, one affiliated, and 10 unspecified. That’s a total of 49, 19 percent of Democrats compared to 20.8 percent of people in the United States who do not classify themselves as Christians.

Christians running for legislative are becoming more and more conservative. For example, Scott Esk, a candidate running for the Oklahoma House, thinks that stoning LGBT people would be just fine.

“I think we would be totally in the right [to execute homosexuals by stoning]. That goes against some parts of Libertarianism, I realize, and I’m largely Libertarian, but ignoring as a nation things that are worthy of death is very remiss.”

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) is a little broader in his hatred. He used his time during a Congressional hearing to declare that all non-Christians are going to hell. He made his position clear to a Christian reverend about religious freedom in the United States. Gohmert interrupted the testimony of Rev. Barry Lynn, president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, to argue with him about the journey to Hell.

Gohmert: “Okay so, you don’t believe somebody would go to Hell if they do not believe Jesus is the way, the truth, the life?”

Lynn: I personally do not believe people go to Hell because they don’t believe a specific set of ideas in Christianity.”

Gohmert: “No no no, not a set of ideas. Either you believe as a Christian that Jesus is the way, the truth, or life or you don’t. And there’s nothing wrong in our country with that—there’s no crime, there’s no shame.”

Lynn: “Congressman, what I believe, is not necessarily what I think ought to justify the creation of public policy for everybody, for the 2000 different religions that exist in this country, or the 25 million non-believers.”

Three members of the subcommittee were “non-Christians,” but that wasn’t a problem for Gohmert because they didn’t belong to his political party.

Gohmert is one of the Christians who have a Jesus far separate from the one in the Bible. Rev. Howard Bess believes that the Jesus in the Bible is a man of peace, non-violence, love, and kindness.  Living in a time of economic disparity, Jesus advocated redistribution of property and possessions among the tribes of Israel, by law to have taken place every 50 years but never accomplished. Jesus told a man to sell everything and give the proceeds to the poor; he also ridiculed the man who built bigger and bigger barns to hold his wealth. As the 278 Christian Republicans in Congress argue for another war in Iraq and oppose helping the poor, they can only talk about going to Hell if you don’t believe in Jesus’ existence.

The Bible is always used to show the evils of being LGBT. For example, one minister gave this advice to parents of adult LGBT offspring: “Alienate them. Separate them. Isolate them. Refuse to have a meal with them. Turn them over to Satan.” When some found his advice objectionable, a blog protested the responses:

“You need to follow ALL of Christ’s teachings not just a few….  One thing the believer needs to realize is that most scriptures do not come with escape clauses. They do not say ‘do good to everyone except…’  or ‘be just and merciful to everyone except…’.  You really need to examine all scripture on how to act and not cherry pick the few that justify your anger, humiliation or shame.”

According to the Bible, Jesus never said anything about homosexuality. All the objections come from the Old Testament. To help the protester avoid cherry-picking scripture, I’ve provided a few issues that Christians like Louie Gohmert need to deal with:

No foods from cattle or pigs: The Old Testament forbids any foods that have fat or blood, and any food taken from an animal that does not both chew their cud and have split hooves. There goes that bacon cheeseburger at McDonalds. Keep in mind as you compare this and other sins to homosexuality that the New Testament has declared all sins equal. Then it tacks on the order to not judge anyone because it’s the same as condemning yourself.

No genetically modified foods and blended fabrics: Mixing or cross-breeding animals and plants are sins as is wearing clothes made of two kinds of fabrics. If you negate this sin by the New Testament ruling that the law no longer has power, then there go all the laws—including discriminating against LGBT people. 

No tearing your clothes and uncovering your head: The New Testament doesn’t let you out of following this law. In fact, it adds praying or prophesying with an uncovered head is a sin. Someone needs to tell Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) that. Jesus doesn’t like praying in public.

No making idols: Most people would say that they don’t do this, but the mandate is that “you shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.” Other no-nos are graven images, literally hieroglyphic paintings and drawings—any representative art, photographs, statues, sculptures, jewelry, etc. The Old Testament doesn’t let you off from that sin.

No fashion statements: These include styling hair, shaving beards, getting tattoos, and wearing jewelry and expensive clothing.

No mistreating foreigners: The scripture specifically orders you not to “vex” strangers. This law cannot be voided. According to Jesus, you have to be nice to everyone.

No marrying after a divorce: Remarrying after a divorce is adultery. Newt Gingrich missed this law.

I will give Pope Francis credit for trying to communicate Jesus’ message about wealth inequality. During last month’s meeting in the U.N., he said that a more equal form of economic progress can be achieved through “the legitimate redistribution of economic benefits by the state, as well as indispensable cooperation between the private sector and civil society.” Afterwards he was even more passionate about his beliefs:

“It’s madness. We discard a whole generation to maintain an economic system that no longer endures, a system that to survive has to make war, as the big empires have always done. But since we cannot wage the Third World War, we make regional wars. And what does that mean? That we make and sell arms. And with that the balance sheets of the idolatrous economies — the big world economies that sacrifice man at the feet of the idol of money—are obviously cleaned up.

“But we have placed money in the center, the god of money. We have fallen into the sin of idolatry, the idolatry of money. The economy moves by the desire to have more and paradoxically it feeds a disposable culture. By discarding children and the old, we discard the future of a people because the young will pull us strongly forward and the old will give us wisdom.”

Over 30 percent of congressional members are Catholic, many of them on the GOP side of the aisle. It’s time that they took the pope’s advice about alleviating poverty.

Update: The religious demographics of Democrats in Congress has been updated to include one Hindu and one unaffiliated. That raises the percentage of non-identified Christians to 19 percent of the Democrats.

February 26, 2014

What the Do-Nothing U.S. House Is Up To

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 9:26 PM
Tags: , , , , ,

Wouldn’t it be nice if Congress helped people—create jobs by improving the infrastructure, keep families together by not sending small children back to Mexico when they don’t know anyone and don’t speak the language, etc.  But in the U.S. House, Republicans have announced that they are through legislating until after the 114th Congress arrives in 2015.

Rep. Todd Young (R-IN) hasn’t quit yet. He’s introduced a bill with the optimistic name of “Save American Workers Act” designed to change the definition of “full-time” from 30 hours to 40 hours a week in the Affordable Care Act. Young thinks that corporations that have more than 50 employees are cutting their hours below 30 hours a week to avoid paying health insurance on them. Although there has been no large-scale shift in hours, Young maintains that companies shouldn’t have to pay health insurance for employees working 39 hours a week or less.

The Congressional Budget Office has weighed in on the bill’s effects. Making “full-term” 40 hours would kick about one million people off health insurance. Some of them might find Medicaid in the states that provide this or be able to pay less for insurance through the marketplace tax credits, but almost 500,000 wouldn’t fit into these categories. Another impact would be a $73-billion cost to the government over a ten-year period, adding this amount to the deficit.

Young’s bill had 208 co-sponsors in the House—at least before CBO came out with its numbers.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) has decided to again question Lois Lerner, former IRS official, who was already interrogated about the myth that the agency audits targeted Tea Party groups. Congress came up with nothing the last time. The FBI came up with nothing. Journalists came up with nothing. House GOP members have paid $14 million in their attempt to create a scandal that wasn’t. A letter from the IRS reports that 255 IRS workers spent 97,542 hours responding to congressional investigations. It also stated that the $14 million didn’t include work by the offices of Legislative Affairs, Public Affairs, Human Capital, and the Executive Secretariat.

This is the background of the investigation costing $14 million. After over 5,000 applications for 501(c)(4) status swamped the IRS within the two years after SCOTUS’s ruling in Citizens United, the agency was falsely accused of giving “heightened scrutiny … to non-profit applications from Tea Party-affiliated groups.” Before this decision, organizations had to report who gave money and how much. After Citizens United, 501(c)(4) organizations could keep all donors secret as long as the groups claimed to be at least a little bit for “social welfare.”

The Revenue Act of 1913, the law that covered this situation before Citizens United,” required that earnings be “devoted exclusively to charitable, educational, or recreational purposes.” In 1959, the IRS adopted a new regulation by adding that this “exclusively” devotion be also “primarily engaged.” Thus Citizens United went with “primarily” which morphed into “somewhat” or “a little bit.”

In June 2013, the Inspector General for Tax Administration sorted out 298 cases of the 5,000 political organizations, none of which was denied 501(c)(4) status. Of these, 96 were identified by “Tea Party,” “9/12,” or “Patriots.” Thus fewer than one-third of the identified cases appeared to be right-wing groups. All of these groups are violating IRS regulation because of the “devoted exclusively” part of the policy.

Today the House voted 243-176 to pass Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI)’s bill to block any new IRS regulations and make it illegal for the administration to follow the law. “Stop Targeting of Political Beliefs by the IRS Act of 2014” would keep the IRS from defining political activities for “social welfare” groups. Fourteen Democrats joined all 229 to vote for the measure.

Camp used the First Amendment in his bill, calling on free speech rights that have nothing to do with 501(c)(4) groups. No regulations prevent the people in these organizations from saying whatever they want with the usual restrictions. The tax-exempt status of organizations is a government subsidy; political campaigning in secret does not receive these subsidies. Up from $1 million in 2006, one-fourth of the $1 billion spent in 2012 came from these groups, some of it illegally provided by foreign donations.

Not satisfied with attempting to ignore existing law by controlling IRS regulations, Camp has released a monumental tax reform plan of almost 1,000 pages. His actions go against the wishes of party leaders who consider—correctly—that this overhaul will endanger the GOP in an election year. One of the most vivid parts of Camp’s plan is his slaughtering the sacred cows of deductions for home mortgage interest and carried-interest tax breaks for hedge fund managers. Deductions for state and local taxes also disappear in the plan. Credit unions would keep their tax exemptions. Banks would gain a tax, but only 0.035 percent.

On the side of the wealthy, the proposal lowers the corporate rate to 25 percent, whacking off 2 percent each year for five years. Taxation on most offshore income that corporations have stashed away would also be limited.

As Politico wrote, the proposal “includes something to offend seemingly everyone: manufacturers, the poor, Wall Street banks, governors and deficit hawks.”

I’m with Kevin Drum when he writes about the nuggets in the long document that make for fun reading.

 

  • It’s highly specific: One of the deductions to be dropped is “preventing makers of violent video games from qualifying for the R&D tax credit.”
  • The language doesn’t always sound like a Republican: The plan makes references to “Wall Street tycoons” and proposes to end tax breaks that allow university presidents to live tax free in mansions.
  • The cuts go across the board: On the one side, he cuts the Earned Income Tax Credit; on the other he wants to get rid of the NFL’s tax exemption on their annual $9 billion take.

 

The House also passed a bill yesterday allowing owners of cell phones to unlock them for personal use but not for resale. It looks as if the House has pretty much quit—at least for now.

They should look at Michigan to see a legislature that passes bills. The extreme GOP legislature has joined with the state’s right-wing governor, Rick Snyder, to pass the emergency manager law allowing the governor to replace any elected official with his own man, the so-called “right to work” law that passed after voters were locked out of the capitol, the “rape insurance” bill requiring women to purchase this insurance separately from other health insurance, and the fanatic anti-abortion legislation. The most recent bill, that gives every indication of passing is a daily $1,000 fine for picketing workers. Any labor organization leading or organizing a strike will be fined $10,000 a day.

Since the GOP took over, Michigan has joined the South in poverty. Its average income ranked 35th in the nation in 2012. Personal income between 2000 and 2010 increased 18.5 percent compared to 45.2 percent for the United States, a state growth that ranked 50th out of 50 states over a 30-year period.

This is what the United States could become if the Republicans take over as they did in Michigan.

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