An Insider’s View: The Dark Rigidity of Fundamentalist Rural America

In deep-red white America, the white Christian God is king.


Author:Forsetti’s Justice / AlterNet

Emphasis Mine

(N.B.: at the end of the day, belief in a White Christian God is the problem…)

As the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump is being sorted out, a common theme keeps cropping up from all sides: “Democrats failed to understand white, working-class, fly-over America.”

Trump supporters are saying this. Progressive pundits are saying this. Talking heads across all forms of the media are saying this. Even some Democratic leaders are saying this. It doesn’t matter how many people say it, it is complete bullshit. It is an intellectual/linguistic sleight of hand meant to throw attention away from the real problem. The real problem isn’t east coast elites who don’t understand or care about rural America. The real problem is rural America doesn’t understand the causes of their own situations and fears and they have shown no interest in finding out. They don’t want to know why they feel the way they do or why they are struggling because they don’t want to admit it is in large part because of choices they’ve made and horrible things they’ve allowed themselves to believe.

I grew up in rural, Christian, white America. You’d be hard-pressed to find an area in the country that has a higher percentage of Christians or whites. I spent most of the first 24 years of my life deeply embedded in this culture. I religiously (pun intended) attended their Christian services. I worked off and on, on their rural farms. I dated their calico skirted daughters. I camped, hunted, and fished with their sons. I listened to their political rants at the local diner and truck stop. I winced at their racist/bigoted jokes and epithets that were said more out of ignorance than animosity. I have also watched the town I grew up in go from a robust economy with well-kept homes and infrastructure turn into a struggling economy with shuttered businesses, dilapidated homes, and a broken down infrastructure over the past 30 years. The problem isn’t that I don’t understand these people. The problem is they don’t understand themselves, the reasons for their anger/frustrations, and don’t seem to care to know why.

In deep-red white America, the white Christian God is king, figuratively and literally. Religious fundamentalism is what has shaped most of their belief systems. Systems built on a fundamentalist framework are not conducive to introspection, questioning, learning, change. When you have a belief system that is built on fundamentalism, it isn’t open to outside criticism, especially by anyone not a member of your tribe and in a position of power. The problem isn’t “coastal elites don’t understand rural Americans.” The problem is rural America doesn’t understand itself and will NEVER listen to anyone outside their bubble. It doesn’t matter how “understanding” you are, how well you listen, what language you use…if you are viewed as an outsider, your views are automatically discounted. I’ve had hundreds of discussions with rural white Americans and whenever I present them any information that contradicts their entrenched beliefs, no matter how sound, how unquestionable, how obvious, they WILL NOT even entertain the possibility it might be true. Their refusal is a result of the nature of their fundamentalist belief system and the fact I’m the enemy because I’m an educated liberal.

At some point during the discussion, “That’s your education talking,” will be said, derogatorily, as a general dismissal of everything I said. They truly believe this is a legitimate response because to them education is not to be trusted. Education is the enemy of fundamentalism because fundamentalism, by its very nature, is not built on facts. The fundamentalists I grew up around aren’t anti-education. They want their kids to know how to read and write. They are anti-quality, in-depth, broad, specialized education. Learning is only valued up to the certain point. Once it reaches the level where what you learn contradicts doctrine and fundamentalist arguments, it becomes dangerous. I watched a lot of my fellow students who were smart, stop their education the day they graduated high school. For most of the young ladies, getting married and having kids was more important than continuing their learning. For many of the young men, getting a college education was seen as unnecessary and a waste of time. For the few who did go to college, what they learned was still filtered through their fundamentalist belief system. If something they were taught didn’t support a preconception, it would be ignored and forgotten the second it was no longer needed to pass an exam.

Knowing this about their belief system and their view of outside information that doesn’t support it, telling me that the problem is coastal elites not understanding them completely misses the point.

Another problem with rural, Christian, white Americans is they are racists. I’m not talking about white hood-wearing, cross-burning, lynching racists (though some are). I’m talking about people who deep down in their heart of hearts truly believe they are superior because they are white. Their white God made them in his image and everyone else is a less-than-perfect version, flawed and cursed.

The religion in which I was raised taught this. Even though they’ve backtracked on some of their more racist declarations, many still believe the original claims. Non-whites are the color they are because of their sins, or at least the sins of their ancestors. Blacks don’t have dark skin because of where they lived and evolution; they have dark skin because they are cursed. God cursed them for a reason. If God cursed them, treating them as equals would be going against God’s will. It is really easy to justify treating people differently if they are cursed by God and will never be as good as you no matter what they do because of some predetermined status.

Once you have this view, it is easy to lower the outside group’s standing and acceptable level of treatment. Again, there are varying levels of racism at play in rural, Christian, white America. I know people who are ardent racists. I know a lot more whose racism is much more subtle but nonetheless racist. It wouldn’t take sodium pentothal to get most of these people to admit they believe they are fundamentally better and superior to minorities. They are white supremacists who dress up in white dress shirts, ties, and gingham dresses. They carry a Bible and tell you, “everyone’s a child of God” but forget to mention that some of God’s children are more favored than others and skin tone is the criterion by which we know who is and who isn’t at the top of God’s list of most favored children.

For us “coastal elites” who understand evolution, genetics, science…nothing we say to those in fly-over country is going to be listened to because not only are we fighting against an anti-education belief system, we are arguing against God. You aren’t winning a battle of beliefs with these people if you are on one side of the argument and God is on the other. No degree of understanding this is going to suddenly make them less racist, more open to reason and facts. Telling “urban elites” they need to understand rural Americans isn’t going to lead to a damn thing because it misses the causes of the problem.

Because rural, Christian, white Americans will not listen to educated arguments, supported by facts that go against their fundamentalist belief systems from “outsiders,” any change must come from within. Internal change in these systems does happen, but it happens infrequently and it always lags far behind reality. This is why they fear change so much. They aren’t used to it. Of course, it really doesn’t matter whether they like it or not, it, like the evolution and climate change even though they don’t believe it, it is going to happen whether they believe in it or not.

Another major problem with closed-off, fundamentalist belief systems is they are very susceptible to propaganda. All belief systems are to some extent, but fundamentalist systems even more so because there are no checks and balances. If bad information gets in, it doesn’t get out and because there are no internal mechanisms to guard against it, it usually ends up very damaging to the whole. A closed-off belief system is like your spinal fluid—it is great as long as nothing infectious gets into it. If bacteria gets into your spinal fluid, it causes unbelievable damage because there are no white blood cells in it whose job is to fend off invaders and protect the system. This is why things like meningitis are so horrible. Without the protective services of white blood cells in the spinal column, meningitis spreads like wildfire once it’s in and does significant damage in a very short period of time. Once inside the closed-off spinal system, bacteria are free to destroy whatever they want.

The very same is true with closed-off belief systems. Without built-in protective functions like critical analysis, self-reflection, openness to counter-evidence, willingness to re-evaluate any and all beliefs, etc., bad information in a closed-off system ends up doing massive damage in short period of time. What has happened to too many fundamentalist belief systems is damaging information has been allowed in from people who have been granted “expert status.” If someone is allowed into a closed-off system and their information is deemed acceptable, anything they say will readily be accepted and become gospel.

Rural, Christian, white Americans have let in anti-intellectual, anti-science, bigoted, racists into their system as experts like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, any of the blonde Stepford Wives on Fox, every evangelical preacher on television because they tell them what they want to hear and because they sell themselves as being “one of them.” The truth is none of these people give a rat’s ass about rural, Christian, white Americans except how can they exploit them for attention and money. None of them have anything in common with the people who have let them into their belief systems with the exception they are white and they “speak the same language” of white superiority, God’s will must be obeyed, and how, even though they are the Chosen Ones, they are the ones being screwed by all the people and groups they believe they are superior to.

Gays being allowed to marry are a threat. Blacks protesting the killing of their unarmed friends and family are a threat. Hispanics doing the cheap labor on their farms are somehow viewed a threat. The black president is a threat. Two billion Muslims are a threat. The Chinese are a threat. Women wanting to be autonomous are a threat. The college educated are a threat. Godless scientists are a threat. Everyone who isn’t just like them has been sold to them as a threat and they’ve bought it hook, line, and grifting sinker. Since there are no self-regulating mechanisms in their belief systems, these threats only grow over time. Since facts and reality don’t matter, nothing you say to them will alter their beliefs. “President Obama was born in Kenya, is a secret member of the Muslim Brotherhood who hates white Americans and is going to take away their guns.” I feel ridiculous even writing this, it is so absurd, but it is gospel across large swaths of rural America. Are rural, Christian, white Americans scared? You’re damn right they are. Are their fears rational and justified? Hell no. The problem isn’t understanding their fears. The problem is how to assuage fears based on lies in closed-off fundamentalist belief systems that don’t have the necessary tools for properly evaluating the fears.

I don’t have a good answer to this question. When a child has an irrational fear, you can deal with it because they trust you and are open to possibilities. When someone doesn’t trust you and isn’t open to anything not already accepted as true in their belief system, there really isn’t much, if anything you can do. This is why I think the whole, “Democrats have to understand and find common ground with rural America,” is misguided and a complete waste of time. When a 3,000-year-old book that was written by uneducated, pre-scientific people, subject to translation innumerable times, edited with political and economic pressures from popes and kings, is given higher intellectual authority than facts arrived at from a rigorous, self-critical, constantly re-evaluating system that can and does correct mistakes, no amount of understanding, no amount of respect, no amount of evidence is going to change their minds, assuage their fears.

Do you know what does change the beliefs of fundamentalists, sometimes? When something becomes personal. Many a fundamentalist has changed his mind about the LGBT community once his loved ones started coming out of the closet. Many have not. But those who did, did so because their personal experience came in direct conflict with what they believe. My own father is a good example of this. For years I had long, sometimes heated discussions with him about gay rights. Being the good religious fundamentalist he is, he could not even entertain the possibility he was wrong. The Church said it was wrong, so therefore it was wrong. No questions asked. No analysis needed. This changed when one of his adored stepchildren came out of the closet. He didn’t do a complete 180. He has a view that tries to accept gay rights while at the same time viewing being gay as a mortal sin because his need to have his belief system be right outweighs everything else.

This isn’t uncommon. Deeply held beliefs are usually only altered, replaced under catastrophic circumstances that are personal. This belief system alteration works both ways. I know die-hard, open-minded progressives who became ardent fundamentalists due to a traumatic event in their lives.

A really good example of this is the comedian Dennis Miller. I’ve seen Miller in concert four different times during the 1990s. His humor was complex, riddled with references, and leaned pretty left on almost all issues. Then 9/11 happened. For whatever reasons, the trauma of 9/11 caused a seismic shift in Miller’s belief system. Now he is a mainstay on conservative talk radio. His humor was replaced with anger and frustration. 9/11 changed his belief system because it was a catastrophic event that was personal to him.

The catastrophe of the Great Depression along with the progressive remedies by FDR helped create a generation of Democrats from previously die-hard Republicans. People who had, up until that point, deeply believed the government couldn’t help the economy only the free market could change their minds when the brutal reality of the Great Depression affected them directly, personally.

I thought the financial crisis in 2008 would have a similar, though lesser, impact on many Republicans. It didn’t. The systems that were put in place after the Great Recession to deal with economic crises, the quick, smart response by Congress and the administration helped make what could have been a catastrophic event into merely a really bad one. People suffered, but they didn’t suffer enough to where they were open to questioning their deeply held beliefs. Because this questioning didn’t take place, the Great Recession didn’t lead to any meaningful political shift away from poorly regulated markets, supply side economics, or how to respond to a financial crisis. This is why, even though rural Christian white Americans were hit hard by the Great Recession, they not only didn’t blame the political party they’ve aligned themselves with for years, they rewarded them two years later by voting them into a record number of state legislatures and taking over the U.S. House.

Of course, it didn’t help matters there were scapegoats available they could direct their fears, anger, and white supremacy towards. A significant number of rural Americans believe President Obama was in charge when the financial crisis started. An even higher number believe the mortgage crisis was the result of the government forcing banks to give loans to unqualified minorities. It doesn’t matter how untrue both of these are, they are gospel in rural America. Why reevaluate your beliefs and voting patterns when scapegoats are available?

How do you make climate change personal to someone who believes only God can alter the weather? How do you make racial equality personal to someone who believes whites are naturally superior to non-whites? How do you make gender equality personal to someone who believes women are supposed to be subservient to men by God’s command? How do you get someone to view minorities as not threatening personal to people who don’t live around and never interact with them? How do you make personal the fact massive tax cuts and cutting back government hurts their economic situation when they’ve voted for these for decades? I don’t think you can without some catastrophic events. And maybe not even then. The Civil War was pretty damn catastrophic yet a large swath of the South believed and still believes they were right, had the moral high ground. They were/are also mostly Christian fundamentalists who believe they are superior because of the color of their skin and the religion they profess to follow. There is a pattern here for anyone willing to connect the dots.

“Rural, white America needs to be better understood,” is not one of the dots. “Rural, white America needs to be better understood,” is a dodge, meant to avoid the real problems because talking about the real problems is viewed as “too upsetting,” “too mean,” “too arrogant,” “too elite,” “too snobbish.” Pointing out Aunt Bee’s views of Mexicans, blacks, gays…is bigoted isn’t the thing one does in polite society. Too bad more people don’t think the same about the views Aunt Bee has. It’s the classic, “You’re a racist for calling me a racist,” ploy. Or, as it is more commonly known, “I know you are but what am I?”

I do think rational arguments are needed, even if they go mostly ignored and ridiculed. I believe in treating people with the respect they’ve earned but the key point here is “earned.” I’ll gladly sit down with Aunt Bee and have a nice, polite conversation about her beliefs about “the gays,” “the blacks,” “illegals,”…and do so without calling her a bigot or a racist. But, this doesn’t mean she isn’t a bigot and a racist and if I’m asked to describe her beliefs these are the only words that honestly fit. No one with cancer wants to be told they have cancer, but just because no one uses the word, “cancer,” it doesn’t mean they don’t have it. Just because the media, pundits on all sides, some Democratic leaders don’t want to call the actions of many rural, Christian, white Americans, “racist/bigoted” doesn’t make them not so.

Avoiding the obvious only prolongs getting the necessary treatment. America has always had a race problem. It was built on racism and bigotry. This didn’t miraculously go away in 1964 with the passage of the Civil Rights Act. It didn’t go away with the election of Barack Obama. If anything, these events pulled back the curtain exposing the dark, racist underbelly of America that white America likes to pretend doesn’t exist because we are the reason it exists. From the white nationalists to the white, suburban soccer moms who voted for Donald Trump, to the far left progressives who didn’t vote at all, racism exists and has once again been legitimized and normalized by white America.

The honest truths that rural, Christian, white Americans don’t want to accept and until they do nothing is going to change, are:

-Their economic situation is largely the result of voting for supply-side economic policies that have been the largest redistribution of wealth from the bottom/middle to the top in U.S. history.

Immigrants haven’t taken their jobs. If all immigrants, legal or otherwise, were removed from the U.S., our economy would come to a screeching halt and prices on food would soar.

Immigrants are not responsible for companies moving their plants overseas. Almost exclusively white business owners are the ones responsible because they care more about their share holders who are also mostly white than they do American workers.

No one is coming for their guns. All that has been proposed during the entire Obama administration is having better background checks.

Gay people getting married is not a threat to their freedom to believe in whatever white God you want to. No one is going to make their church marry gays, make gays your pastor, accept gays for membership.

Women having access to birth control doesn’t affect their life either, especially women who they complain about being teenage, single mothers.

-Blacks are not “lazy moochers living off their hard earned tax dollars” anymore than many of your fellow rural neighbors. People in need are people in need. People who can’t find jobs because of their circumstances, a changing economy, outsourcing overseas, etc. belong to all races.

They get a tremendous amount of help from the government they complain does nothing for them. From the roads and utility grids they use to the farm subsidies, crop insurance, commodities protections…they benefit greatly from government assistance. The Farm Bill is one of the largest financial expenditures by the U.S. government. Without government assistance, their lives would be considerably worse.

-They get the largest share of Food Stamps, Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security.

-They complain about globalization but line up like everyone else to get the latest Apple product. They have no problem buying foreign-made guns, scopes, and hunting equipment. They don’t think twice about driving trucks whose engine was made in Canada, tires made in Japan, radio made in Korea, computer parts made in Malaysia.

-They use illicit drugs as much as any other group. But, when other people do it is a “moral failing” and they should be severely punished, legally. When they do it, it is a “health crisis” that needs sympathy and attention.

-When jobs dry up for whatever reasons, they refuse to relocate but lecture the poor in places like Flint for staying in towns that are failing.

-They are quick to judge minorities for being “welfare moochers” but don’t think twice about cashing their welfare check every month.

-They complain about coastal liberals, but the taxes from California and New York are what covers their farm subsidies, helps maintain their highways, and keeps their hospitals in their sparsely populated areas open for business.

-They complain about “the little man being run out of business” then turn around and shop at big box stores.

-They make sure outsiders are not welcome, deny businesses permits to build, then complain about businesses, plants opening up in less rural areas.

Government has not done enough to help them in many cases but their local and state governments are almost completely Republican and so too are their representatives and senators. Instead of holding them accountable, they vote them in over and over and over again.

All the economic policies and ideas that could help rural America belong to the Democratic Party: raising the minimum wage, strengthening unions, infrastructure spending, reusable energy growth, slowing down the damage done by climate change, healthcare reform…all of these and more would really help a lot of rural Americans.

What I understand is that rural, Christian, white Americans are entrenched in fundamentalist belief systems; don’t trust people outside their tribe; have been force-fed a diet of misinformation and lies for decades; are unwilling to understand their own situations; and truly believe whites are superior to all races. No amount of understanding is going to change these things or what they believe. No amount of niceties will get them to be introspective. No economic policy put forth by someone outside their tribe is going to be listened to no matter how beneficial it would be for them. I understand rural, Christian, white America all too well. I understand their fears are based on myths and lies. I understand they feel left behind by a world they don’t understand and don’t really care to. They are willing to vote against their own interest if they can be convinced it will make sure minorities are harmed more. Their Christian beliefs and morals are truly only extended to fellow white Christians. They are the problem with progress and always will be, because their belief systems are constructed against it.

The problem isn’t a lack of understanding by coastal elites. The problem is a lack of understanding of why rural, Christian, white America believes, votes, behaves the ways it does by rural, Christian, white America.


As Bernie Sanders Is Showing, This Country Is Much More Progressive Than You Think

It’s true. Even as we descend into an election year defined by right-wing extremism, the numbers simply don’t lie.

Source: AlterNet

Author: Eliza A. Webb

Emphasis Mine

With the races for the presidential nominations heating up, and Iowa and New Hampshire just a stone’s throw away, it is time for Americans to come to terms with the undeniable truth: We are a country of equality-loving, regulation-supporting, bleeding-blue liberals.

Despite the political division in Washington, the far-right rancor being spewed by G.O.P. candidates, and the contention in the Democratic race over Wall Street, campaign finance reform, universal health care, and how to handle ISIS, poll after poll shows that the people of this country strongly support progressive, liberal and democratic socialist ideas.

We just don’t like the linguistic packaging.

On wealth inequality, polls find that “a strong majority” of U.S. citizens believe the current situation is an urgent problem (including one-half of Republicans and two-thirds of independents), and think the current income and wealth distribution is unfair.

Despite Republican fear-mongering about big governmentAmericans “favor taxing the wealthy to expand aid to the poor,” and want Congress to rectify this inequality by levying “heavy taxes on [the] rich” and increasing rates on people making over $1 million a year.

Americans also support steep progressive reform on Wall Street, with 50% to 58% of likely voters in favor of breaking up the big financial institutions.

Concerning the infusion of money in politics, Americans want campaign finance reform “with near unanimity,” and half would personally vote for a law establishing the government funding of federal campaigns. The support for reform is strong across party lines, with a prodigious 80% of Republicans, 84% of independents, and 90% of Democrats believing money plays too large a role in the political process. Other polls show three in four Americans think there is too much money in politics and disagree with the concept of unregulated campaign finance.

Americans also support a substantial raise for low-wage workers, with 63% in favor of a $15 minimum wage by 2020, and 75% in favor of $12.50 by the same yearOther polls show that a majority of swing-state Republican voters support an increase, and 69% of working people favor an increase to $15. Concerning workers’ rights, a majority also want to improve scheduling for chain-store and fast-food restaurant employees.

On the power of money and big business in general, 75% of Americans think large corporations have too much influence in the country. With top CEOs making 373 times what their workers do, Americans think the government should take action to narrow the gap: one-third of Republicans want to cap the income of corporate executives, and 59% of Americans support government restriction of CEO pay.

Likewise, there is very strong support for universal health care. Just over 50% of Americans support a single-payer system, and 65% of voters think every American should have access to quality healthcare. Most Americans would be willing to pay higher taxes so everyone could have care, and put more faith in the government’s ability to hold down health-care costs than the private sector’s. 58% of Americans support a Medicare-for-all system, and a majority of Americans think the government should ensure coverage. A majority of voters in Republican states support Medicaid expansion as well, as do 56% of Virginians, including 55% of Republicans. A majority of Americans also support Social Security, with 65% of Americans in favor of its expansion.

On paid family and sick leave, four in five Americans support legislation requiring employers to offer paid parental leave (and even more support paid sick leave). Other polls have similar findings: 70% support paid sick leave, 67% support paid maternal leave, and 55% support paid paternity leave.

On ISIS, Americans oppose military action, with 65% of Americans against sending special forces to the Middle East, and 76% against sending conventional ground troops.Other polls show that a majority of Americans support the regulation of CO2 as a pollutant, with over half of all parties — Democrats (80%), Republicans (54%), Independents (60%) — in agreement.

U.S. citizens also want better trade policies, with almost two-thirds favoring some form of trade restriction.

And on police reform, 86% of Americans think police should be required to use body cameras, and 87% are in favor of independent, outside investigations when police kill unarmed civilians.

Americans are hemorrhaging democratic socialism!

We are a people who idolize Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Jesus Christ, Mother Teresa — individuals who represent solidarity, kinship and empathy. We respect and agree with the teachings that call us to revolution; to fight for all our fellow human beings; to deeply, truly transform the injustice and corruption long imbedded in human society; to eliminate such a tragic non-necessity as poverty with the institution of fair pay, health care, equal education, decent working conditions and financial reform.

We are a people who lionize the 1776 revolution, who look up to and admire those who stood strong against inequality.

We support Robin Hood-like taxes for the rich and the de-infestation of money from politics. We want a hike in pay for working-class people and health care for all humans sick and injured. We are in favor of destroying the vise-like grip corporations and their owners wield over our economy, regulations on the ghastly melting fumes we are spraying on the protector-bubble surrounding our planet, and heavy oversight of the people bestowed with murderous power and the grave duty of protecting others.

This slew of ideas have come to be known as liberal, as progressive, as democratic socialist, when, in reality, they are simply what we teach our children: don’t be greedy, treat others as you want to be treated, and speak up when you see injustice.

Who cares what they’re called?

As poll after poll shows, we like them.

Americans concur: a compassionate, fair land where babies grow up in equality and human beings are treated with respect and dignity is the country for us.

To make our values fit our reality, all we have to do is vote.Because, after all, as studies show, when people vote, liberals win.


Sanders’ Address on Democratic Socialism: Amazing and Blacked-Out

Our government belongs to all of us, and not just the one percent.

Source: RSN

Author: Scot Galindez

Emphasis Mine

At Georgetown University on Thursday afternoon, Bernie Sanders outlined his vision of what democratic socialism is. Earlier that morning, Hillary Clinton gave an address on fighting ISIS. MSNBC showed all of Hillary’s speech but ignored Bernie. There has been some media coverage of the speech, but nobody cut live to Sanders like they did for Clinton.

I did see more coverage of the lead carnival barker, Donald Trump, saying he would implement a registry for Muslims, while one of the most important, substantive speeches of the election cycle was almost ignored.

The media blackout of Sanders is not going away anytime soon. Bernie supporters must go around the media and use the social media to help the campaign get their message out. Share stories widely, support independent media, help Bernie 2016 TV get off the ground. If we don’t do these things, we will surely be watching Hillary Clinton win the nomination.

Luckily for those of us feeling the bern, Georgetown University streamed the speech on Ustream. I watched the stream on Bernie 2016 TV with nearly 3,000 others using Twitter and other platforms to discuss the speech as it took place. People were very excited as Bernie laid out his vision.

Bernie opened by invoking the vision of FDR:

In his inaugural remarks in January 1937, in the midst of the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt looked out at the nation and this is what he saw.

He saw tens of millions of its citizens denied the basic necessities of life.

He saw millions of families trying to live on incomes so meager that the pall of family disaster hung over them day by day.

He saw millions denied education, recreation, and the opportunity to better their lot and the lot of their children.

He saw millions lacking the means to buy the products they needed and by their poverty and lack of disposable income denying employment to many other millions.

He saw one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.

And he acted. Against the ferocious opposition of the ruling class of his day, people he called economic royalists, Roosevelt implemented a series of programs that put millions of people back to work, took them out of poverty and restored their faith in government. He redefined the relationship of the federal government to the people of our country. He combated cynicism, fear and despair. He reinvigorated democracy. He transformed the country.

And that is what we have to do today.

A tall order for sure, but the time has come for another transformation. FDR’s “economic royalists” are today’s Wall Street ruling class that needs to be challenged before they consolidate more power. The Billionaire class owns the media and increasingly owns the government. Establishment politics will do nothing to curb their greed. It’s time to fight back.

Bernie went on to say:

And, by the way, almost everything he proposed was called “socialist.”

Social Security, which transformed life for the elderly in this country was “socialist.” The concept of the “minimum wage” was seen as a radical intrusion into the marketplace and was described as “socialist.” Unemployment insurance, abolishing child labor, the 40-hour work week, collective bargaining, strong banking regulations, deposit insurance, and job programs that put millions of people to work were all described, in one way or another, as “socialist.” Yet, these programs have become the fabric of our nation and the foundation of the middle class.

Thirty years later, in the 1960s, President Johnson passed Medicare and Medicaid to provide health care to millions of senior citizens and families with children, persons with disabilities and some of the most vulnerable people in this county. Once again these vitally important programs were derided by the right wing as socialist programs that were a threat to our American way of life.

That was then. Now is now.

Prior to World War II and McCarthyism, socialism was not a dirty word. Many American icons were self-described socialists. Albert Einstein, Helen Keller, Margaret Sanger, John Dewey, W.E.B. Du Bois, A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, James Farmer, and of course Martin Luther King, whom Sanders quotes further down in the speech.

In 1952, a young King wrote in a letter to Coretta Scott: “I am much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic.” In a 1966 speech to his staff, King declared: “Something is wrong … with capitalism. Call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all of God’s children.”

Next time your conservative friends slam socialism as unpatriotic, remind them that the author of the pledge of allegiance, Francis Bellamy, was a socialist, a Christian socialist known for his fiery sermons on economic justice.

Back to Bernie:

Today, in 2015, despite the Wall Street crash of 2008, which drove this country into the worst economic downturn since the Depression, the American people are clearly better off economically than we were in 1937.

But, here is a very hard truth that we must acknowledge and address. Despite a huge increase in technology and productivity, despite major growth in the U.S. and global economy, tens of millions of American families continue to lack the basic necessities of life, while millions more struggle every day to provide a minimal standard of living for their families. The reality is that for the last 40 years the great middle class of this country has been in decline and faith in our political system is now extremely low.

The rich get much richer. Almost everyone else gets poorer. Super PACs funded by billionaires buy elections. Ordinary people don’t vote. We have an economic and political crisis in this country and the same old, same old establishment politics and economics will not effectively address it.

If we are serious about transforming our country, if we are serious about rebuilding the middle class, if we are serious about reinvigorating our democracy, we need to develop a political movement which, once again, is prepared to take on and defeat a ruling class whose greed is destroying our nation. The billionaire class cannot have it all. Our government belongs to all of us, and not just the one percent.

Now that sums it all up. Are we ready to follow Bernie’s lead and take our country back? It’s time to get off the sidelines. Bernie needs all of us to have his back. He is fighting the bankers, today’s robber barons. They are not going to just roll over, they are fighting back and they will get dirty. We need to be prepared to take them on and defeat them.

I’m not one to say that this is our last chance; progress can help us move forward in the future. But we have not had a better chance to take on the ruling class, and it may be a long time before we have a vehicle like we have now. Let’s not blow it.

We need to create a culture which, as Pope Francis reminds us, cannot just be based on the worship of money. We must not accept a nation in which billionaires compete as to the size of their super-yachts, while children in America go hungry and veterans sleep out on the streets.

Today, in America, we are the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, but few Americans know that because so much of the new income and wealth goes to the people on top. In fact, over the last 30 years, there has been a massive transfer of wealth – trillions of wealth – going from the middle class to the top one-tenth of 1 percent – a handful of people who have seen a doubling of the percentage of the wealth they own over that period.

Unbelievably, and grotesquely, the top one-tenth of 1 percent owns nearly as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent.

Today, in America, millions of our people are working two or three jobs just to survive. In fact, Americans work longer hours than do the people of any industrialized country. Despite the incredibly hard work and long hours of the American middle class, 58 percent of all new income generated today is going to the top one percent.

Today, in America, as the middle class continues to disappear, median family income, is $4,100 less than it was in 1999. The median male worker made over $700 less than he did 42 years ago, after adjusting for inflation. Last year, the median female worker earned more than $1,000 less than she did in 2007.

Today, in America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, more than half of older workers have no retirement savings – zero – while millions of elderly and people with disabilities are trying to survive on $12,000 or $13,000 a year. From Vermont to California, older workers are scared to death. “How will I retire with dignity?” they ask.

Today, in America, nearly 47 million Americans are living in poverty and over 20 percent of our children, including 36 percent of African American children, are living in poverty — the highest rate of childhood poverty of nearly any major country on earth.

Today, in America, 29 million Americans have no health insurance and even more are underinsured with outrageously high co-payments and deductibles. Further, with the United States paying the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs, 1 out of 5 patients cannot afford to fill the prescriptions their doctors write.

Today, in America, youth unemployment and underemployment is over 35 percent. Meanwhile, we have more people in jail than any other country and countless lives are being destroyed as we spend $80 billion a year locking up fellow Americans.

The bottom line is that today in America we not only have massive wealth and income inequality, but a power structure which protects that inequality. A handful of super-wealthy campaign contributors have enormous influence over the political process, while their lobbyists determine much of what goes on in Congress.

Amen. Now this is leadership. No empty soaring rhetoric. Bernie Sanders is speaking truth to power. The comparisons to FDR are coming into focus for me. This guy is ready to transform our country in the same way Roosevelt did with the New Deal. Leaders like this come about once in a generation.

We can’t afford to wait for another leader emerge who is ready to take on the ruling class. We need to rise up now! As Bernie regularly says, “Think big, it’s not time to play it safe.” Incremental change won’t work; we need to take bold action.

In 1944, in his State of the Union speech, President Roosevelt outlined what he called a second Bill of Rights. This is one of the most important speeches ever made by a president but, unfortunately, it has not gotten the attention that it deserves.

In that remarkable speech this is what Roosevelt stated, and I quote: “We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. Necessitous men are not free men.” End of quote. In other words, real freedom must include economic security. That was Roosevelt’s vision 70 years ago. It is my vision today. It is a vision that we have not yet achieved. It is time that we did.

In that speech, Roosevelt described the economic rights that he believed every American was entitled to: The right to a decent job at decent pay, the right to adequate food, clothing, and time off from work, the right for every business, large and small, to function in an atmosphere free from unfair competition and domination by monopolies. The right of all Americans to have a decent home and decent health care.

What Roosevelt was stating in 1944, what Martin Luther King Jr. stated in similar terms 20 years later, and what I believe today is that true freedom does not occur without economic security.

People are not truly free when they are unable to feed their family. People are not truly free when they are unable to retire with dignity. People are not truly free when they are unemployed or underpaid or when they are exhausted by working long hours. People are not truly free when they have no health care.

Free the people!!! I have been poor so I understand where FDR, Dr. King, and Bernie are coming from. I know what it’s like to suffer because I couldn’t afford health care. I know what it’s like to not be sure if I could find a warm place to sleep or a warm shower. I was in America, but I was not free. I was prisoner to just finding what I needed to survive. I was not happy. Life was a chore. All around me I saw great wealth. I often wondered, what did I do wrong to deserve to be punished?

I fought back. I became an activist. I worked with Mitch Snyder, Phil Berrigan, William Thomas and others who helped me get back on my feet. Then I met Marc Ash after the stolen election and decided the most effective thing I could do was help build an independent media organization.

While I am doing better, I have not forgotten what it is like to struggle, not from paycheck to paycheck but from day to day, hour to hour. We must stand up for those still struggling hour to hour. They need us to transform America into a country that puts human need above corporate greed.

So let me define for you, simply and straightforwardly, what democratic socialism means to me. It builds on what Franklin Delano Roosevelt said when he fought for guaranteed economic rights for all Americans. And it builds on what Martin Luther King Jr. said in 1968 when he stated that; “This country has socialism for the rich, and rugged individualism for the poor.” It builds on the success of many other countries around the world that have done a far better job than we have in protecting the needs of their working families, the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor.

Democratic socialism means that we must create an economy that works for all, not just the very wealthy.

Democratic socialism means that we must reform a political system in America today which is not only grossly unfair but, in many respects, corrupt.

It is a system, for example, which during the 1990s allowed Wall Street to spend $5 billion in lobbying and campaign contributions to get deregulated. Then, ten years later, after the greed, recklessness, and illegal behavior of Wall Street led to their collapse, it is a system which provided trillions in government aid to bail them out. Wall Street used their wealth and power to get Congress to do their bidding for deregulation and then, when their greed caused their collapse, they used their wealth and power to get Congress to bail them out. Quite a system!

And, then, to add insult to injury, we were told that not only were the banks too big to fail, the bankers were too big to jail. Kids who get caught possessing marijuana get police records. Wall Street CEOs who help destroy the economy get raises in their salaries. This is what Martin Luther King, Jr. meant by socialism for the rich and rugged individualism for everyone else.

In my view, it’s time we had democratic socialism for working families, not just Wall Street, billionaires and large corporations. It means that we should not be providing welfare for corporations, huge tax breaks for the very rich, or trade policies which boost corporate profits as workers lose their jobs. It means that we create a government that works for works for all of us, not just powerful special interests. It means that economic rights must be an essential part of what America stands for.

It means that health care should be a right of all people, not a privilege. This is not a radical idea. It exists in every other major country on earth. Not just Denmark, Sweden or Finland. It exists in Canada, France, Germany and Taiwan. That is why I believe in a Medicare-for-all single payer health care system. Yes. The Affordable Care Act, which I helped write and voted for, is a step forward for this country. But we must build on it and go further.

Medicare for all would not only guarantee health care for all people, not only save middle class families and our entire nation significant sums of money, it would radically improve the lives of all Americans and bring about significant improvements in our economy.

People who get sick will not have to worry about paying a deductible or making a co-payment. They could go to the doctor when they should, and not end up in the emergency room. Business owners will not have to spend enormous amounts of time worrying about how they are going to provide health care for their employees. Workers will not have to be trapped in jobs they do not like simply because their employers are offering them decent health insurance plans. Instead, they will be able to pursue the jobs and work they love, which could be an enormous boon for the economy. And by the way, moving to a Medicare for all program will end the disgrace of Americans paying, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.

Democratic socialism means that, in the year 2015, a college degree is equivalent to what a high school degree was 50 years ago – and that public education must allow every person in this country, who has the ability, the qualifications and the desire, the right to go to a public colleges or university tuition free. This is also not a radical idea. It exists today in many countries around the world. In fact, it used to exist in the United States.

Democratic socialism means that our government does everything it can to create a full employment economy. It makes far more sense to put millions of people back to work rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, than to have a real unemployment rate of almost 10%. It is far smarter to invest in jobs and educational opportunities for unemployed young people, than to lock them up and spend $80 billion a year through mass incarceration.

Democratic socialism means that if someone works forty hours a week, that person should not be living in poverty: that we must raise the minimum wage to a living wage – $15 an hour over the next few years. It means that we join the rest of the world and pass the very strong Paid Family and Medical Leave legislation now in Congress. How can it possibly be that the United States, today, is virtually the only nation on earth, large or small, which does not guarantee that a working class woman can stay home for a reasonable period of time with her new-born baby? How absurd is that?

Democratic socialism means that we have government policy which does not allow the greed and profiteering of the fossil fuel industry to destroy our environment and our planet, and that we have a moral responsibility to combat climate change and leave this planet healthy and inhabitable for our kids and grandchildren.

Democratic socialism means, that in a democratic, civilized society the wealthiest people and the largest corporations must pay their fair share of taxes. Yes. Innovation, entrepreneurship and business success should be rewarded. But greed for the sake of greed is not something that public policy should support. It is not acceptable that in a rigged economy in the last two years the wealthiest 15 Americans saw their wealth increase by $170 billion, more wealth than is owned by the bottom 130 million Americans. Let us not forget what Pope Francis has so elegantly stated; “We have created new idols. The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal.”

It is not acceptable that major corporations stash their profits in the Cayman Islands and other offshore tax havens to avoid paying $100 billion in taxes each and every year. It is not acceptable that hedge fund managers pay a lower effective tax rate than nurses or truck drivers. It is not acceptable that billionaire families are able to leave virtually all of their wealth to their families without paying a reasonable estate tax. It is not acceptable that Wall Street speculators are able to gamble trillions of dollars in the derivatives market without paying a nickel in taxes on those transactions.

I couldn’t interrupt Bernie on that roll. Democratic socialism in other words is economic and social justice. It’s my belief system. It is what William Thomas dedicated his life to when he vigiled in front of the White House for years for nuclear disarmament. Thomas, as we called him, saw that greed was destroying our country. Mitch Snyder fasted many times to draw attention to the plight of the homeless and build the largest homeless shelter in the United States within a few blocks of the Capital. He understood that he had to fight the greed of the ruling class that was neglecting those in need. Phil Berrigan was a Christian who understood that the war machine was taking resources that could be used to help the poor. They were my mentors. I know that they would be backing Bernie if they were alive today. Well, maybe not Thomas, it would have been hard to get him to trust a politician.

But Bernie is not a traditional politician, he is a public servant who wants to build a just society. If you feel burned by Obama, Bernie is no Obama. Obama ran and governed as an establishment centrist. Those terms are far from any words I would use to describe Bernie Sanders. Have faith, we can trust Bernie.

Democratic socialism, to me, does not just mean that we must create a nation of economic and social justice. It also means that we must create a vibrant democracy based on the principle of one person one vote. It is extremely sad that the United States, one of the oldest democracies on earth, has one of the lowest voter turnouts of any major country, and that millions of young and working class people have given up on our political system entirely. Every American should be embarrassed that in our last national election 63% of the American people, and 80% of young people, did not vote. Clearly, despite the efforts of many Republican governors to suppress the vote, we must make it easier for people to participate in the political process, not harder. It is not too much to demand that everyone 18 years of age is registered to vote – end of discussion.

Further, it is unacceptable that we have a corrupt campaign finance system which allows millionaires, billionaires and large corporations to contribute as much as they want to Super Pacs to elect candidates who will represent their special interests. We must overturn Citizens United and move to public funding of elections.

If we don’t get the money out of politics, and don’t bring people back into the process, we might as well elect a king or queen and stop having elections. They are a waste of our time and money.

If we continue to sit on the sidelines, we might as well just let the oligarchy take full control. Heck, we might even get lucky and royalty will throw us some big crumbs. I’m just kidding, trying to motivate those who think the system is beyond hope. I believe, as Bernie says, that if we stand together there is nothing we can’t accomplish.

So the next time you hear me attacked as a socialist, remember this:I don’t believe government should own the means of production, but I do believe that the middle class and the working families who produce the wealth of America deserve a fair deal.

I believe in private companies that thrive and invest and grow in America instead of shipping jobs and profits overseas.

I believe that most Americans can pay lower taxes – if hedge fund managers who make billions manipulating the marketplace finally pay the taxes they should.

I don’t believe in special treatment for the top 1%, but I do believe in equal treatment for African-Americans who are right to proclaim the moral principle that Black Lives Matter.

I despise appeals to nativism and prejudice, and I do believe in immigration reform that gives Hispanics and others a pathway to citizenship and a better life.

I don’t believe in some foreign “ism,” but I believe deeply in American idealism.

I’m not running for president because it’s my turn, but because it’s the turn of all of us to live in a nation of hope and opportunity not for some, not for the few, but for all.

Now that is change we can believe in. One reason we can believe it is he tells us that he can’t do it alone. Democratic socialism is not something we should fear. What we should fear is unchecked crony capitalism. If we let the billionaire class consolidate their power, America will become an oligarchy and Democracy will no longer exist. We need socialism to save America.

Author’s note: Next week I will look at the rest of the speech, which focused on ISIS and foreign policy. The transcript I used for this article was from his remarks as prepared for delivery. –SMG

Scott Galindez attended Syracuse University, where he first became politically active. The writings of El Salvador’s slain archbishop Oscar Romero and the on-campus South Africa divestment movement converted him from a Reagan supporter to an activist for Peace and Justice. Over the years he has been influenced by the likes of Philip Berrigan, William Thomas, Mitch Snyder, Don White, Lisa Fithian, and Paul Wellstone. Scott met Marc Ash while organizing counterinaugural events after George W. Bush’s first stolen election. Scott will be spending a year covering the presidential election from Iowa.


10 Brutal Ways the American Safety Net Is Being Shredded

Source: alterNet

Author: Alex Henderson

Emphasis Mine

On the 80th anniversary of the Social Security Act of 1935, which established the social security system in the United States, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal is on life support as the American middle class continues to be squeezed and millions of Americans struggle with poverty.

1. Income Inequality Is Going from Bad to Worse

FDR firmly believed that capitalism cannot function well without a strong middle class, and even auto magnate Henry Ford agreed with him: Ford famously said that American workers needed to be paid a decent wage in order to be able to afford his products. And during the post-FDR America of the 1950s and 1960s, having a robust middle class was great for a variety of businesses. But in 2015—with the gains of the New Deal having been imperiled by everything from union busting to the outsourcing of millions of American jobs—income inequality in the U.S. is a huge problem. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development recently released a report on income inequality among OECD members and found that the U.S. was among the worst offenders. The U.S., Mexico and Turkey had some of highest income inequality of OECD countries, while Denmark, the Czech Republic, Finland, Iceland and Belgium fared much better. OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría commented that “high inequality is bad for growth,” and he’s absolutely right.

2. Republicans Yearn for Social Security Privatization

Although President Dwight D. Eisenhower was a Republican, he supported elements of the New Deal and saw the need for a strong social safety net: in fact, Eisenhower expanded social security, and in 1954, he bluntly asserted that any oligarchs who would “attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance and eliminate labor law and farm programs” were “stupid.” But in the 21st century, Republicans have been going after social security with a vengeance. The privatization of social security was proposed by President George W. Bush in 2004, and far-right Republicans, the Tea Party and wingnut lobbying groups like the Club for Growth have been doubling down on the idea of privatizing social security. GOP presidential hopeful Jeb Bush called for social security privatization at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire in June, and he also favors raising the social security retirement age to 69 or 70, which would be especially bad for blue-collar workers who have spent decades in physically demanding jobs.

3. The 1% Continue to Dodge Taxes

FDR had no problem asking the ultra-wealthy to pay their fair share of taxes: the U.S.’ top marginal tax rate rose to 94% in the early 1940s, when the country entered World War II. Taxes for the ultra-rich didn’t go down much under Republican Eisenhower, who lowered the top tax rate to 91% in the 1950s—and after that rate decreased to 28% under President Reagan, it rose to 39.6% under President Clinton and decreased to 35% under President George W. Bush. Looking at the last 80 years of tax history, one sees a clear pattern: the American middle class does much better when the 1% pay their fair share of taxes. And even though the Tea Party tries to paint Barack Obama as a soak-the-rich president, their assertion is laughable because Obama extended the Bush tax cuts and hasn’t been nearly as forceful as FDR or Eisenhower when it comes to taxing the 1%.

4. The Minimum Wage Is Much Too Low

One of the important elements of the New Deal was FDR’s strong belief in a national minimum wage. FDR began to push for a federal minimum wage after taking office in January 1933, saying, “By living wages, I mean more than a bare subsistence level. I mean the wages of a decent living.” And Congress enacted one in 1938, when the U.S.’ first federal minimum wage was set at 25 cents per hour. But in recent years, the federal minimum wage (which was raised to $7.25 an hour in 2009) has not kept up with inflation. Economist Robert Reich has proposed raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, which he sees as a crucial part of economic recovery. And in some cities, including Los Angeles and Seattle, city councils have raised their local minimum wages to that amount. But at the federal level, an increase to even $10.10 an hour (President Obama’s proposal) is a steep uphill climb when both houses of Congress are dominated by far-right Republicans who hate the poor with a passion.

The U.S. desperately needed a New Deal 3.0 after the crash of September 2008 and a program of aggressive reforms. Instead, most of the welfare that followed the Panic of 2008 has been corporate welfare rather than programs to help America’s embattled poor and middle class. Overall, the U.S. has been moving away from the New Deal when it should be reinvigorating it. Below are 10 ways in which the New Deal (and by extension, LBJ’s Great Society) continues to be under attack in the United States.

5. Infrastructure Continues to Deteriorate

The New Deal was great for the U.S.’ infrastructure thanks to programs that built or strengthened everything from roads to water and electric systems to municipal power plants. But in recent years, the American infrastructure has been seriously decaying—and a major wake-up call came on May 12, when an Amtrak train derailed in Philadelphia and eight passengers were killed. But the nation’s railways are only one of the ways in which the U.S.’ infrastructure has deteriorated. According to Ray LaHood (former secretary of transportation for the Obama Administration), 70,000 bridges in the U.S. are now structurally deficient. That is in addition to all the roads that are in desperate need of repair. And when it comes to high-speed rail travel, the U.S. lags way behind Europe (where one can get from London to Brussels in just under two hours or from Madrid to Barcelona in less than three hours).

6. Union Representation Has Reached Historic Lows 

One of the most important pieces of New Deal-era legislation was the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, a.k.a. the Wagner Act, which did a lot to advance labor unions in the U.S.: by the mid-1950s, around 35% of America’s labor force was unionized. But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a mere 11.1% of salaried U.S. workers (factoring in both the public and private sectors) were union members in 2014. Among private-sector workers, the number was a paltry 6.6%. And the decline of unions has been encouraged bad working conditions: according to the Economic Policy Institute, executives at large companies earned, on average, 296 times as much as their average workers in 2013 compared to only 20 times as much in 1965. But as much as labor unions have declined in the U.S., Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (a GOP presidential hopeful for 2016) and his fellow Republicans would like to see them decline even more. Walker recently set a disturbing precedent in that state when he supported anti-union legislation that prohibits private-sector unions from requiring members to pay union dues; Walker has, in essence, made Wisconsin a northern “right to work” state. And it’s safe to say that Walker, based on his actions in Wisconsin, would be among the most anti-union presidents in U.S. history.

7. “Too Big to Fail” Is Bigger Than Ever

Unlike many of today’s extreme-right Republicans and neoliberal corporatist Democrats, FDR was not afraid of offending the banking sector. FDR said of the banksters of the 1930s, “They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred.” One of the New Deal achievements that banksters detested was the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which mandated a strict separation of commercial and investment banking and was designed to prevent another major Wall Street calamity like the crash of 1929. Glass-Steagall served the U.S. well for many years: although there were some tough recessions in the mid-1970s, early 1980s and early 1990s, none of them cut as deep as the Great Depression. But the repeal of Glass-Steagall in 1999 was a major blow to the New Deal and paved the way for the crash of September 2008, clearly the most devastating financial event in the U.S. since 1929. Unfortunately, there was no real banking reform after the 2008 calamity, and as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders points out, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo are now “80% larger” than they were in 2007. Critics of the banking sector propose bringing back Glass-Steagall, including Reich (who warns that another major Wall Street crash “is not unlikely”) and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. And Sanders has proposed New Deal-like legislation that would break up the U.S.’ largest banks.

8. Medicare, An Expansion of the New Deal, Is a Major GOP Target

Medicare, which established a single-payer health care system for Americans 65 and older, was not part of the New Deal per se: Medicare came into being in 1965 as part of Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society (which was very much an extension of the New Deal). And the program proved to be so popular that even Republican President Richard Nixon (who was considered an arch-conservative in his day) expanded Medicare in both 1969 and 1972. But these days, far-right GOP wingnuts in the House of Representatives—especially Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee—have repeatedly called for drastic Medicare cuts and for replacing traditional Medicare with a privatized voucher program. In June, a variety of pro-Medicare groups (including the Alliance for Retired Americans and the Medicare Rights Center) sent a joint letter to the House criticizing representatives who wanted to cut $700 million from the Medicare program.

9. Home Ownership Is Becoming Increasingly Difficult for Many Americans, and the Rent Is Too Damn High

Before the New Deal, five-year or 10-year mortgages were the norm in the U.S., and were unaffordable for most Americans. But FDR saw home ownership as a crucial part of building a strong middle class: between the Federal Housing Administration, the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation and the introduction of 30-year fixed-rate mortgages—all of which came about under FDR—home ownership in the U.S. gradually increased. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, home ownership in the U.S. went from 45% in 1920 and 47% in 1930 to 55% in 1950, 61% in 1960 and 62% in 1970. But the Crash of 2008 has been terrible for American homeowners, resulting in countless foreclosures, and banksters have been allowed to acquire and rent out many foreclosed homes. The private equity firm Blackstone Group had, as of late 2013, bought almost 40,000 homes in the U.S. in order to rent them. To make matters worse, all those post-2008 foreclosures have caused rents to skyrocket all over the country. And the more one pays in rent, the harder it is to save for a down payment on a home. To quote Jimmy McMillan, the rent is too damn high.

10. Wingnut Attacks on Food Stamps Never End

The American food stamps program started on a pilot basis under FDR’s secretary of agriculture, Henry A. Wallace, in 1939 but became permanent when LBJ signed the Food Stamp Act of 1964 into law as part of his Great Society. In recent years, the U.S.’ economic decline has been so painful that, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the number of Americans poor enough to quality for food stamps was 46.2 million in 2014 compared to only 17 million in 2000. Food stamps, as envisioned under the New Deal and the Great Society, are designed to be a stepping stone for the poor—and the benefits (which presently average $127.91 per month per person, according to USDA figures) are hardly lavish. But that has not prevented Republicans in Congress from repeatedly proposing dramatic food stamp cuts during the Great Recession. And in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker has been trying to punish and shame food stamp recipients by subjecting them to drug-testing.

Alex Henderson’s work has appeared in the L.A. Weekly, Billboard, Spin, Creem, the Pasadena Weekly and many other publications. Follow him on Twitter @alexvhenderson.



The Simple Truth: President Obama is Too Intelligent for Republicans to Understand

source: Forward Progressives

author:Allen Clifton

Emphasis Mine

A few years back I worked with a guy who was probably a genius. In fact, he often struggled in life interacting with people because his brain simply performed at a higher level than the average person. I remember asking him what his biggest belief was in making life decisions and he always, without fail, told me “think of the bigger picture.” And while I’ve always tried to be a big picture thinker, knowing him when I did helped me understand it a little better.
He always told me the biggest issue he faced when dealing with people was that he’d see things in a bigger scope that most people simply couldn’t follow. While many people tend to not see beyond a particular moment, day, week or even month, he operated with a sense of “is what I’m doing now the best course of action to set me up for success not just now, but later on.” He used to tell me people would come to him for advice every once in a while and often walk away angry because what they wanted to hear wasn’t usually what they needed to hear. He was actually one of the first people who made me aware of the fairly obvious (though I was young and had never really thought about it) human characteristic of adoring people who tell them what they want to hear, or what they understand, while condemning those who don’t. Most people really just want to be assured of what they hope will happen rather than take a good long look at what’s best for themselves in the long run. And while he wasn’t right about everything, he was fairly brilliant when it came to a lot of things. I will say as a young person at the time, this person – who I haven’t spoken to in years – made a profound impact on how I viewed life going forward. Which brings me to President Obama.
While I’m not calling him a genius, I do think he’s extremely intelligent. I also believe that his tendency to use “big picture” thinking while drafting policy is something most Republican voters simply can’t understand. Take “Obamacare” for instance. It’s not a “fix health care today” law. In fact, the law itself is made to grow and evolve over time. But, as it is now, it’s a long-term outlook on our health care. While many Republicans want to look at the “now” aspect of the Affordable Care Act, they seem unable to grasp the reality that as more Americans get health insurance, giving them access to preventable care, this lowers expenses down the road for everyone. If people can prevent very costly heart attacks, strokes or other debilitating health issues now, that’s an overall savings for practically everyone from consumers to health insurers to doctors who now have more patients. Quite literally, improving the overall health of Americans will improve the health of this country. It even makes sense for our economy. If workers are healthier, because they have access to quality health care, that means there will be fewer people calling in sick to work, showing up sick to work (putting other employees at risk) or relying on government programs because their health conditions (that were preventable) render them unable to work at all. But to see all of that requires “big picture” thinking and Republicans seem unable to understand anything beyond the spoon-fed bumper sticker talking points they’re given by the GOP and the conservative media.
Minimum wage is similar issue. Republicans constantly paint it as a “job killer” (it’s not) while also rallying against the millions of people who are on government assistance. A good portion of the Americans who are on government assistance have jobs. If we made sure that no American working full-time had to rely on government programs just to survive, instantly we would save our country hundreds of billions of dollars over the years. Not only that, but when Americans have more money, they have more to spend. And what’s the biggest driver of economic growth? Consumer spending. More consumer spending means higher profits and higher demand, which means – more jobs. But once again, when it comes to Republicans and explaining job creation, anything outside of “tax cuts create jobs” is often too complex for many of them to understand. The same goes for war. When it comes to ISIS, Republicans just want to send in troops and “crush the terrorists.” They’ve hammered President Obama relentlessly about how he’s handled the entire situation. To many of them, they want to go in guns blazing because that’s what sounds good. But as we’ve learned by our previous war in Iraq, going into these situations haphazardly without a plan leads to absolute chaos. Remember, the existence of the ISIS we see today is a direct result of Bush’s Iraq War. When it comes right down to it, I really do believe a huge part about why so many of the non-racist Republicans are against President Obama is because many of them are simply unable to grasp his “big picture” thinking that drives a lot of his policies. That requires intelligence and far too many conservative would rather just be told what to think by Fox News. They want their policies to be so simplified and catchy that they fit on bumper stickers. It’s like I’ve often said, Democrats are trying to use science, math, reality, history and education to reason with people who deny science, don’t trust math, create their own reality, distort history and often devalue quality education.  That’s a big reason why we’re not getting anywhere in this country.



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Why No One Can End Reagan’s “Dead Wrong” Voodoo Economics

Source: AlterNet from Salon

Author: Paul Rosenberg

Emphasis Mine

Venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, a highly visible champion of Seattle’s $15/hour minimum wage, wrote a piece in the Atlantic last month pushing on another front in the war against toxic income inequality. “Stock Buybacks Are Killing the American Economy,” he warned, and getting rid of them would be a tremendous boon to the economy.

This latest front rebukes those who say that raising the minimum wage does little to address what ails the American middle class. First, it underscores the obvious: that battling against decades of bad economic policy must necessarily be a multi-pronged affair, with no single action able to solve everything at once. But second, it starkly highlights how much of the problem can be traced to a single source—the profoundly misguided notion that giving even more money to rich people would produce prosperity for all. Instead, the exact opposite has happened. That’s why the attack on stock buybacks is an even more profound attack on economics as usual, even if it, too, only represents one facet of what has to be a multi-faceted approach. Corporate profits have doubled since the post-World War II boom years, from an average of 6 percent of GDP to more than 12 percent today, Hanauer pointed out, and yet “job growth remains anemic, wages are flat, and our nation can no longer seem to afford even its most basic needs.” Stock buybacks—which (as explained here) were virtually forbidden from 1934 through 1982—are a key reason why our economy is so cash-starved when it comes to wealth-producing investments:

Over the past decade, the companies that make up the S&P 500 have spent an astounding 54 percent of profits on stock buybacks. Last year alone, U.S. corporations spent about $700 billion, or roughly 4 percent of GDP, to prop up their share prices by repurchasing their own stock….

It is mathematically impossible to make the public- and private-sector investments necessary to sustain America’s global economic competitiveness while flushing away 4 percent of GDP year after year.

Hence, Hanauer argued, it’s time to end stock buybacks—they are crippling our ability to grow our economy robustly. Along the way, Hanauer also sharply criticized what he called “the 40-year obsession with ‘shareholder value maximization’” [SVM] as the narrow-minded definition of corporate purpose, which has been used to justify, rationalize and obfuscate the buyback explosion, and other ills of corporate misgovernance that have become commonplace in the post-1980 era.

Hanauer has plenty of company raising this argument and his critique of SVM, from UMass economist William Lazonick writing in the Harvard Business Review (“Profits Without Prosperity”) to a book by Cornell Law School’s Lynn Stout (“The Shareholder Value Myth: How Putting Shareholders First Harms Investors, Corporations, and the Public,” author’s overview here),  to the white paper Hanauer himself cited, titled “The World’s Dumbest Idea,” by GMO asset allocation manager James Montier, to a 2014 report from the Aspen Institute, cited by Steve Denning of Forbes, noting it “showed that thought leaders were coming to the same conclusion [questioning SVM]. In a cross-section of business leaders, including both executives and academics, a majority, particularly corporate executives, agreed that the primary purpose of the corporation is not to maximize shareholder value, but rather ‘to serve customers’ interests.’”

With all this criticism out there—from corporate governance obersevers and participants in alike—and the strength of the supporting data, it seemed a bit strange to see a March 2 Wonkblog post by Max Ehrenfreund jarringly titled “The fringe economic theory that might get traction in the 2016 campaign,” particularly since the post itself treated both Stout and Hanauer quite seriously.  “In what universe is this argument ‘fringe’?” Lawyers Guns and Money blogger Robert Farely tweeted, retweeted by UC Berkeley economist Brad DeLong. The title was even stranger in light of a September 2013 Wonkblog post by Steven Pearlstein, straigthforwardedly titled “How the cult of shareholder value wrecked American business.”

But it’s certainly true that you can’t reliably tell fringe from mainstream in economics anymore, especially if you’re trying to track ideas through shifting reference frames. Defaulting on the debt in order to be “fiscally conservative,” anyone?  That fringe-of-the-fringe-of-the-fringe idea very nearly became reality and still might, do so again later this year.

More fundamental, it seemed to me, was the underlying ongoing battle over how economic arguments and analysis are framed, and why that matters—a battle much broader and longer than the 2016 campaign. So I contacted Hanauer, and asked about how he had framed his his article—which in turn was a critique of how Obama had framed his comments on income inequality in his State of the Union speech. At the beginning of his article, Hanauer wrote that Obama “missed the opportunity to draw an important connection between rising income inequality and stagnant economic growth.”  So I asked him what that connection was, why is it so important, and what could be done about it.  In his view, Obama saw extreme inequality as wrong in moral terms, which resonates well with his base, but failed to grasp that it was wrong economically as well, which could resonate much more broadly.

“The problem I highlighted was that President Obama didn’t offer an alternative theory of growth,” Hanaauer said. “He could have, but he didn’t. He’s given six state of the unions, talked a little bit about inequality, he’s made some moral arguments about how it’s bad, he has not once offered an alternative explanation for how an economy like ours grows. And and so if you’re not willing to litigate the methods of growth, then you’re ceding that to the other side.”

It’s not just Obama, in Hanauer’s view. “This is what progressives have done for generations, is that we ceded to the other side that the rich are job creators; we ceded to the other side that less regulation equals more growth; we ceded to the other side that if wages go up, then employment goal go down. And then we wonder and complain about the policies that flow naturally and logically from that set of baseline assumptions. That’s the problem,” he said—a failure to contest the basic framework of economic thought. Hanauer has challenged that framework, with what he calls “middle-out economics”, which was the subject of the summer 2013 issue of Democracy.

He made the same point again, about the failure to contest fundamentals, with a slightly different emphasis and explanation. “The problem with our politics is President Obama and the people who surround him, don’t represent an alternative to trickle down economics, they are trickle-down-lite,” Hanauer told me. “They’re sort of kinder-and-gentler trickle-down economics. They can talk a little bit about the importance of the middle class, but, in my opinion, they haven’t quite seen clearly that they’ve gotten cause-and-effect reversed. They still think that a thriving middle class is an effect of growth, a consequence of growth, and the truth is in a technological, modern economy, a thriving middle class is the cause of growth…. The middle class creates rich people, not the other way around.”  This used to be well-understood by everyone. During America’s long post-World War II boom, the incomes of all levels growing approximately equally—though slightly slower at the very top. “That’s how you sustain virtuous cycle of increasing returns which capitalism can be. Capitalism can be constructed in a way so that everyone does better all the time. It’s a beautiful thing,” Hanauer said. “But if the power dynamics change in really extreme ways, as they have in the last 30 years, and all of the value of enterprise is sucked out by a few owners and the senior managers, then you basically killed the goose that layed the golden egg.” That’s what stock buybacks are all about.

In the article he talked about the doubling of corporate profits from 6 percent of GDP traditionally to 12 percent of GDP today. But now he added another wrinkle: this happened “at the exact same time as labor as a percent of GDP has fallen 6 percent, 53 to 46 or something like that. So, it’s $1 trillion. That extra trillion dollars isn’t profit because it has to be, or should be, or needs to be. It’s profit because powerful people like me prefer it to be. That trillion dollars can go to wages, it could go to discounts to consumers, it could be used to finance the construction of whatever you think of.” Instead, most of it’s going into stock buybacks, “$700 billion a year, 54 percent of profits, 4 percent of GDP,” Hanauer repeated.”It’s just sort of a nefarious and non-transparent way for very rich people to make themselves richer, at the expense of everybody else.”

But stock buybacks make perfect sense in the framework of trickle-down economics, so Hanauer took a moment to describe that logic:

Neoclassical economics and the trickle down policy framework that we have derived from it argues that there is a trade-off between fairness and growth. The general idea of trickle down economics is that the richer the rich get and the less constrained they are, less burdened in regulations, the more jobs they create, the better off everyone will be. It’s the concentrated accumulation of capital which is the principal driver of market capitalism.. So, rising economic inequality isn’t a bug, it’s a feature of the trickle down economics. It’s how you know things are getting better, right? Because the richer the rich get, the more jobs they create. This is a general principle of the thing.

There’s only one problem: It’s “dead wrong,” Hanauer said flatly. And it’s based on the wrong sort of mathematics—like using addition to try to multiply and divide. “The economy isn’t this linear equilibrium system, it’s a complex, nonlinear, nonequilibrium systems, and is best understood not mechanistic terms, but eco-systemically.” Nonlinear, nonequilibrium mathematics is a good deal more difficult and complex than the math used by neoclassical economists. But the qualitative picture it paints is not that hard to grasp, as Hanauer explained it:

Once you see it eco-systemically, what you can see quite clearly is that arguing, for instance, that if wages go up employment will go down would be like arguing that if plants grow animals will shrink, right? Literally, that’s silly.

On the contrary, businesses essentially eat the wages of workers, right? They subsist on the wages of workers, and so obviously, to a reasonable degree, the more wages rise, the more businesses—again, pressing the metaphor—have to eat. And that’s why the fundamental law of capitalism is that if workers have more money businesses have more customers, and need more workers.

With that in mind, the folly of trickle-down economics comes sharply into focus, as Hanauer highlighted next:

What’s very clear, is that when you concentrate income in fewer and fewer hands, you’re essentially killing that feedback loop. You create a vicious cycle. The typical worker to maintain their share of income over the last 30 years, as you well know, the median wage wouldn’t be $50,000 it would be something like $75,000. If that was true,, think about how many more cars who be purchased every year in this country. There are 3 percent of Americans who own exactly the car that they want, but the other 97 percent would like a new one!

In short, Hanauer summed up, in a technological capitalist economy, growth “isn’t a consequence of concentrating capital in the hands of a few people, and hoping it will trickle down,” rather it’s “a consequence of the feedback loop between increasing amounts of innovation and entrepreneurship and demand.” And that, in turn made Hanauer’s criticism of Obama’s missed opportunity crystal clear:

When you see it that way, when you explain where growth comes from, in a realistic way, then you can see that inequality isn’t just unfair, it’s actually terrible for the economy and for business. And that’s the opportunity that Pres. Obama missed. Because he is surrounded by trickle-down thinkers who still sort of secretly believe that if we just made rich people richer, that would be fine.And this explains for instance, why it took the Obama administration six years to even notice that they had the ability, for instance, to increase the overtime threshold. Inquiring minds want to know, why it took them six years. And, by the way, that somebody else had to point it out.

This also explains Obama’s timidity regarding in the minimum wage, Hanauer said:

This explains why President Obama, in his last State of the Union, thought a $9 minimum wage would be a big step in the right direction, and that’s because, again if you’re captured by this trickle down view, the only reason you increase wages for poor people is because you feel sorry for them, as a matter of social justice. But once you realize that trickle down economics isn’t true and that middle out economics is true, raising wages for low-wage workers is the quickest and fastest way to drive business activity. That’s why we [in Seattle] ended up at $15.

The problem with Obama’s thinking is not so much Obama himself, but the whole entourage of policy people surrounding him. “Trust me, these guys all got PhD’s in economics in the same places, they all learn the same crappy neoclassical ideas, they are captured by them, and they can’t get out of their own way,” Hanauer said. “And I think that’s the big problem. They don’t know how to make this argument because they are so wedded to these old stale ideas. Even if they say they’re not. But they are!”

There are rays of hope, however. The Wonkblog “fringe theory” story also cited a recent “Report of the Commission on Inclusive Prosperity,” sponsored by Center for American Progress [CAP] and co-chaired by former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, long a poster boy for that sort of thinking who has apparently begun to change his tune. The very notion of “inclusive prosperity” indicates a more hopeful policy direction, and the report itself recognizes the need for actions on multiple fronts, including stock buybacks. Overall, Hanuer said he’d give the report “a B or a B+, because it’s pointed in the right direction…. I don’t think there’s a policy in it I would change, I just think there’s a way to more forcefully articulate for people how you grow a modern economy, that is much less a moral argument, and much more a practical, growth-based argument.”

Although not involved with the report, Hanauer is part of the conversation informing it. “I”m deeply involved in CAP,” he said. “There’s a middle-out economic center at CAP, and the inclusion argument is something we’ve been driving.” But he keeps coming back to talking about growth the way you’d expect a venture capitalist might.  “Growth, in technological capitalist economies, is a consequence of the feedback loop between increasing amounts of innovation and increasing amounts of demand. And the mechanism that drives that feedback loop is inclusion. Inclusive economic policies are the thing that create growth. The more people who are included as innovators and entreprenuers, and the more people who are included as robust consumers, the better the thing goes.”

The task ahead is a daunting one, Hanauer admits. “There’s a huge amount of economic nonsense that needs to be cleared away,” he said. For example, “You have a Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, who can get up until the crowd and say, ‘You know, if you raise the price of employment, guess what happens, you get less of it.’ And most people in this country nod in agreement, right? Idiotic! It’s just not true. And until political leaders are willing to face him down and face that idea down, and point out the obvious, which is that it’s the opposite is true, essentially, that when the workers earn more money businesses have more customers, you’re in this trap, you’re just in this trap.”

One could cite this as a classic example of hegemony—the expression of a dominant ideology in drag as common sense, facilitated by a vast array of different institutional forces. The great irony is that while the concept of hegemony, and hegemonic warfare to challenge the existing hegemonic order, was developed by a famous leftist, the Italian Marxist Antonoio Gramsci, the practice of hegemonic warfare in America over the past half century or more has been almost exclusively seen on the right.

Centrist or center-left think tanks, for example, are largely focused on analysing problems and proposing “politically viable” solutions, primarily by integrating findings generated by academics. But rightwing think tanks use a completely different model. Their purpose is not to try to solve existing problems, but to continually shift the framework of acceptable solutions ever farther to the right. They aim to change the very definition of what counts as “politically viable”, whether it actually solves anything or not. Advocacy, messaging, media outreach and political collaboration are the core activities of think tanks using this model, problem-solving plays virtually no role at all.  If something doesn’t work, simply suggest something else, even farther to the right than what’s already failed. Failure can actually be more valuable than success—it can accelerate the process of moving the conversation ever farther to the right.

This model was most clearly articulated on the state level, starting at the Mackinac Center in Michegan, where the model of the “Overton Window” was developed as a way to think very specifically about shifting the framework of acceptable ideas continually farther to the right. But the same sort of calibrated, ideologically premeditated thinking can be found throughout the rightwing foundation and think-tank world, while it remains extremely rare on the center-left.  A big-picture view of how this has unfolded in the realm of economics can be found in Kim Phillips-Fein’s bookInvisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan.”

This history has also undoubtedly played an important role in shaping how most Americans—academics, politicians, journalists, everyday people—think and talk about economics without even realizing it, the subject of implicit cognition dissected by cognitive linguist Anat Shenker-Osorio in her book, “Don’t Buy It: The Trouble With Talking Nonsense About the Economy” (my review here). Shenker-Osorio found that conservatives share a much more coherent, broadly shared—if questionable—view of what the economy is and what it’s for than progressives do, reflected in part by the sorts of metaphors used when talking economics. As I wrote in my review, “Conservative models tell us that the economy is autonomous (most typically, a self-regulating body) and morally demanding – a view encapsulated in an episode of ‘South Park’ [‘Margaritaville’],” in which the market is portrayed as an angry god, an example cited prominently in the book.  These shared implicit models in turn profoundly influence what may seem like “common sense,” while no single progressive model has nearly as much salience.

All this history and social science helps explain why the complete failure of trickle-down economics over the past 35 years—culminating with the financial crisis and the Great Recessiondid not result in any sort of systemic rethinking from the left, but rather unleashed an profound resurgence of even more ancient, previously discredited ideas from the right, most notably the cult of austerity, which is still strangling  governments and economies around the world.

Still, the power of a single good real-world example remains extremely potent, which may explain why Hanauer loves to talk about what’s happening in Seattle, where he lives:

Washington state has the highest wage of any state in the nation. If Speaker Boehner was right, we would be sliding into the ocean. And yet, Seattle is the fastest-growing big city in the country. Washington state has the highest small business rate of small business job growth in the country. And this is because workers here earn enough money so that they can afford to shop at stores. It’s positive feedback loop.

In fact, Hanauer points out, part of their strength has been doing the most for those who are otherwise helped the least—tipped workers:

In Washington State, tipped workers, who make up a big proportion of the low-wage workforce, earn $9.47 plus tips. So that’s I think it’s like 440 percent more than the federal tipped minimum of $2.13 plus tips. That’s not 4% more, that’s not 40% more, it’s 440% more. So, if the trickle-down economic idea was true, that these sort of his extravagant wages would destroy businesses, restaurants and so on…. And yet, there is no more faster growing city in the country than Seattle, and there isn’t a restaurant industry is going crazier than Seattle. It’s not. It’s booming. You can’t get a table. And here’s why, because, when restaurant workers earn enough so that even they can afford to eat in restaurants, it turns out that’s good for the restaurant business, despite what the Restaurant Association may tell you.

Hanauer is extremely good at what he does, which is communicate ideas, a vision. But the history Phillips-Fein unearths in “Invisible Hands” strongly indicates that communication alone is not enough, any more than ideas in ivory tower isolation are. Institutions must be built to sustain, enhance and shape future communications. As I put to Hanauer, “It seems to me that that’s what happened on the other side, they have this theory of trickle-down economics, which is not really good for most people; it’s bad for them. And yet they built a political machine that engages them, swallows them up, even. So what I’m asking is what we do to build the political machine that works on behalf of what works.”

Rather than answering directly, Hanauer doubled down on his message. “You have to be able to define, in concrete terms, what your alternative theory of growth is. I submit to you – and I know this sounds self-aggrandizing – but no one on our side, can explain to you as succinctly and clearly where growth actually comes from than me and my gang. When I say growth in technological capitalist economies is a consequence of the feedback loop between increasing amounts of innovation and demand, that’s a theory of growth. So, you find me a Democratic leader whose said anything like that, find one, you’ll find lots of complaints, you’ll find lots of great attacks. So, our theory of the case is that until we can get people to recognize how these technological economies actually grow, and unite people around an alternative to the trickle-down economics idea, until you do that, you cannot build the machine. Once you do that, then the machine part’s easy.”

Of course Hanauer’s right to say that complaints far outnumber alternative solutions. That’s a balance that needs to shift dramatically, and Hanauer is leading the charge. But despite his acumen and his eloquence, there is no magical one-size-fits-all way of communicating ideas and insights, no matter how true or beneficial they may be. The right has long realized this, and organized itself accordingly. And the landscape of unconscious assumptions, models and metaphors strongly favors them as well. Hanauer may well have the message we need, and he’s brilliantly highlighted what’s been lacking in even Obama’s most progressive moments more clearly than anyone else. But the medium in which that message can spread to everyone—that’s a whole other can of worms that’s still crying out to be explored. Now that Hanauer has articulated that message so clearly, the time is ripe for others to step forward and take on that work as well.


Paul H. Rosenberg is senior editor at Random Lengths News, a biweekly serving the Los Angeles harbor area. He runs the site Merge Left, a community of progressive thinkers free to submit their own content.



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Robert Reich: The Real Reason Democrats Lost Big on Election Day

The Democratic Party has less than two years to change course. They better start now.

Source: Robert Reich’s blog, via AlterNet

Author: Robert Reich

Emphasis Mine

The President blames himself for the Democrat’s big losses Election Day. “We have not been successful in going out there and letting people know what it is that we’re trying to do and why this is the right direction,” he said Sunday.

In other words, he didn’t sufficiently tout the administration’s accomplishments.

I respectfully disagree.

If you want a single reason for why Democrats lost big on Election Day 2014 it’s this: Median household income continues to  drop. This is the first “recovery” in memory when this has happened. Jobs are coming back but wages aren’t. Every month the job numbers grow but the wage numbers go nowhere. Most new jobs are in part-time or low-paying positions. They pay  less than the jobs lost in the Great Recession.

This wageless recovery has been made all the worse because pay is less predictable than ever. Most Americans don’t know what they’ll be earning next year or even next month.  Two-thirds are now living paycheck to paycheck.

So why is this called a “recovery” at all? Because, technically, the economy is growing. But almost all the gains from that growth are going to a small minority at the top. In fact,  100 percent of the gains have gone to the best-off 10 percent. Ninety-five percent have gone to the top 1 percent. The stock market has boomed. Corporate profits are through the roof. CEO pay, in the stratosphere.

Yet most Americans feel like they’re still in a recession. And they’re convinced the game is rigged against them.

Fifty years ago, just  29 percent of voters believed government is “run by a few big interests looking out for themselves.” Now,  79 percent think so.

According to Pew, the percentage of Americans who believe most people who want to get ahead can do so through hard work has plummeted  14 points since 2000.

What the President and other Democrats failed to communicate wasn’t their accomplishments. It was their understanding that the economy is failing most Americans and big money is overrunning our democracy. And they failed to convey their commitment to an economy and a democracy that serve the vast majority rather than a minority at the top.

Some Democrats even ran on not being Barack Obama. That’s no way to win. Americans want someone fighting for them, not running away from the President.

The midterm elections should have been about jobs and wages, and how to reform a system where nearly all the gains go to the top. It was an opportunity for Democrats to shine. Instead, they hid.

Consider that in four “red” states — South Dakota, Arkansas, Alaska, and Nebraska — the same voters who sent Republicans to the Senate voted by wide margins to  raise their state’s minimum wage. Democratic candidates in these states barely mentioned the minimum wage. So what now?

Republicans, soon to be in charge of Congress, will push their same old supply-side, trickle-down, austerity economics. They’ll want policies that further enrich those who are already rich. That lower taxes on big corporations and deliver trade agreements written in secret by big corporations. That further water down Wall Street regulations so the big banks can become even bigger – too big to fail, or jail, or curtail.

They’ll exploit the public’s prevailing cynicism by delivering just what the cynics expect. And the Democrats? They have a choice.

They can refill their campaign coffers for 2016 by trying to raise even more money from big corporations, Wall Street, and wealthy individuals. And hold their tongues about the economic slide of the majority, and the drowning of our democracy.

Or they can come out swinging. Not just for a higher minimum wage but also for better schools, paid family and medical leave, and child care for working families.

For resurrecting the Glass-Steagall Act and limiting the size of Wall Street banks.

For saving Social Security by lifting the cap on income subject to payroll taxes.

For rebuilding the nation’s roads, bridges, and ports.

For increasing taxes on corporations with high ratios of CEO pay to the pay of average workers.

And for getting big money out of politics, and thereby saving our democracy.

It’s the choice of the century.

Democrats have less than two years to make it.

Robert B. Reich has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He also served on President Obama’s transition advisory board. His latest book is “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future.” His homepage is


If Wallmart paid a living wage, how much would prices go up?

Walmart employees consume billions in food stamps each year, but raising their wages to a point where they wouldn’t need them anymore would only increase prices by about 1.4 percent

Source: Think Progress, via Portside

Author: Bryce Covert

Walmart prices would go up by mere pennies if it were to pay all of its workers enough to live above the poverty line, according to an analysis by Marketplace and Slate.

In a video, they explain that Walmart employees consume billions in food stamps each year, but raising their wages to a point where they wouldn’t need them anymore would only increase prices by about 1.4 percent:

A single mother working at Walmart is eligible for food stamps if she makes less than $20,449 a year. Industry analysts put the average wage for cashiers at $8.81, or for someone who works typical retail hours of 30 a week, 50 weeks a year, $13,215 a year. Raising that single mom’s wages to $13.63 an hour, however, would push her to a point where she no longer qualifies for food stamps. Doing that for all of its employees would cost the company $4.8 billion a year. Yet if it passed the entire cost on to consumers, it would raise prices by 1.4 percent, making a $0.68 box of macaroni and cheese cost just a penny more.

The video also notes that doing this would save the country millions in spending on food stamps. It notes that in Ohio, for example, as many as 15 percent of Walmart employees use food stamps, meaning that all workers consume about $300 million each year. That sum would no longer have to be spent if its workers simply made more. Including food stamps, Walmart workers at single store consumer around $1 million in public benefits each year.

Researchers have come to similar conclusions. Ken Jacobs, chair of the Labor Center at the University of California, Berkeley, estimated that raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would add $200 million to the company’s labor costs. If it passed the entire cost on to consumers, it would increase the price of a $16 item by a penny.

It’s also worth noting that the company could very well decide not to pass the cost on to its shoppers. Jacobs estimates that while some of it might be passed through in higher prices, it’s probably not going to be 100 percent. That’s at least in part because a higher wage means more money for its workers to spend in its own stores, which would increase its sales. The company even told Bloomberg it was considering supporting a minimum wage hike because it would give its customers additional income, although it warned it hasn’t made any decisions on its support. A $10.10 minimum wage would mean $31 billion more in earnings for nearly 17 million people across the country.< /p>

It could also raise wages for its workers with the $7.6 billion it currently spends on buying back shares of its own stock and ensure they all make over $25,000 a year, a level demanded by workers who have repeatedly gone on strike. It gets little value out of the stock buybacks.

Emphasis Mine


All of the Arguments Against Raising the Minimum Wage Have Fallen Apart


Source: Nation of change

Author: Joshua Holland

“Conservatives should be on the front line of the battle to raise the minimum wage. Work is supposed to make one independent, but with the inflation-adjusted federal minimum down by a third from its peak, low-wage workers depend on billions of dollars in public assistance just to make ends meet. Just this week, Rachel West and Michael Reich released a study conducted for the Center for American Progress that found raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would save taxpayers $4.6 billion in spending on food stamps.

And even if you break your back working in today’s low-wage economy, it’s exceedingly difficult to raise yourself up by the bootstraps; it’s all but impossible to put yourself through school or save enough money to start a business if you’re making anything close to $7.25 an hour.

But those predisposed to defending the interests of corporate America – including retailers and fast-food restaurants – oppose any increase. That’s tough given that 73 percent of Americans – including 53 percent of registered Republicans – favor hiking the minimum to $10.10 per hour, according to a Pew poll conducted in January.

So those opposed to giving low-income workers a raise offer a number of claims suggesting it would be a supposedly bad idea. Unfortunately for their cause, all of their arguments fall apart under close scrutiny. Here are the ones deployed most frequently.

“It’s a monstrous job-killer”

Big business conservatives crowed when a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected that a hike to $10.10 might cost the economy 500,000 jobs – never mind that it would have raised the incomes of around 17 million Americans. But a number of economists disputed the CBO finding. One of them, John Schmitt from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, studied years of research on the question, and found that the “weight of that evidence points to little or no employment response to modest increases in the minimum wage.”

We also have real-world experience with higher minimums. In 1998, the citizens of Washington State voted to raise theirs and then link future increases to the rate of inflation. Today, at $9.32, the Evergreen State has the highest minimum wage in the country – not far from the $10.10 per hour proposed by Barack Obama. At the time it was passed, opponents promised it would kill jobs and ultimately hurt the workers it was designed to help.

But it didn’t turn out that way. This week, Bloomberg’s Victoria Stilwell, Peter Robison and William Selway reported: “In the 15 years that followed… job growth continued at an average 0.8 percent annual pace, 0.3 percentage point above the national rate. Payrolls at Washington’s restaurants and bars, portrayed as particularly vulnerable to higher wage costs, expanded by 21 percent. Poverty has trailed the U.S. level for at least seven years.”

“It will hurt mom-and-pop businesses”

Another argument is that it would disproportionately hurt small businesses – giving the Wal-Marts of the world an unfair advantage over mom and pop. But a poll of 500 small business owners from across the country released on Thursday undermines that talking point. The survey, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research for Small Business Majority, found that small business owners support a hike to $10.10 per hour by a 57-43 margin. Eighty-two percent of those surveyed say they already pay their employees more than the minimum and 52 percent agreed that if the wage floor is raised, “people will have a higher percentage of their income to spend on goods and services” and small businesses “will be able to grow and hire new workers.”

“Major costs will be passed along to consumers”

Opponents also claim that higher wages would mean significantly higher prices and that those cost increases would effectively eat up whatever extra earnings low-wage workers ended up taking home. But a 2011 study conducted by Ken Jacobs and Dave Graham-Squire at the UC-Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education and Stephanie Luce at CUNY’s Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies estimated that raising the minimum wage to $12 per hour – two bucks more than what’s currently on the table – would increase the cost of an average shopping trip to Wal-Mart by just 46 cents – or around $12 per year. And another paper published last September by economists Jeannette Wicks Lim and Robert Pollin estimated that a hike to $10.50 an hour would likely result in the price of a Big Mac increasing by only a dime, from $4.50 to $4.60, on average.

If the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation since its inception in 1968 (??)it would now stand at $10.74 per hour. With the share of our nation’s output going to workers’ wages at an all-time low — and inequality on the rise — it’s easy to understand why the idea of raising it to $10.10 is so popular. And despite opponents’ dire warnings, there’s really no good reason that we shouldn’t do so.”

Emphasis Mine


Separate, and NOT Equal: Incomes in Post New Deal America

Having waited several months to get “unequal democracy” by Larry M. Bartels from the library, I was able to handle the differed gratification when the book finally arrived: it is a treasure.  To most who read this blog, the basics are hardly news, but the supporting facts are deep. 

  o Income inequality has been increasing in the USA dramatically since the mid 70’s

  o It is the product of polices of a system dominated by the interests of the wealthy.

  o Elected officals often ignore the interest of the poor and working poor.

  o The differences have been more dramatic under GOP presidents.

  o  Bush/GOP ‘tax cuts’ of 2001 and 2003, together with the erosion of the minimum wage, have widened the have/havenot gap.

  o Few Americans are aware of how vast the disparity is.

Mr. Bartels, of Princeton University, also offers an explanation of why voters often appear to vote against their interests: deception and disingenuousness, not values: “Do abortions and gay marriages matter when the cupboard is bare and the sheriff is auctioning off the furniture in the front yard?”

Some of this situation has changed since the Great Uprising of  November, 2008, because the majority were motivated, regeristered, and mobilized to vote, but the inequality is still there.

Stay tuned…

Published by Princeton University Press, 2007