America’s Greatest Shame: Child Poverty Rises and Food Stamps Cut While Billionaires Boom

Source: Alternet

Author: Les Leopold

There are 16.4 million American children living in poverty. That’s nearly one quarter (22.6%) of all of our children. More alarming is that the percentage of poor children has climbed by 4.5 percent since the start of the Great Recession in 2007. And poor means poor. For a family of three with one child under 18, the poverty line is $18,400.

Meanwhile, the stock market is booming. Banks, hedge funds andprivate equity firms are making tens of billions of dollars again, while the luxury housing and goods markets are skyrocketing.

Most amazing of all is the fact that 95 percent of the so-called “recovery” has gone to the top 1 percent who have seen their incomes rise by 34%. For the 99 percent there’s been an undeclared wage freeze: the average wage has climbed by only 0.4 percent.

To add to the misery, Washington has decided that the best way to tackle childhood poverty is to have poor kids eat less. Both parties already have agreed to cut billions from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Food Stamps). Starting this November 1, payments are scheduled to drop from $668 a month to $632 for more than 47 million lower-income people — 1 in 7 Americans, most of them children. (Three incredible graphs that visualize the issues in this story are at the bottom of this article.)

And more cuts are coming. The Tea Party House passed a bill to cut food stamps by $4 billion a year, while the Senate calls for $400 million in cuts. How humane! And since it will be part of the omnibus Farm Bill, President Obama will sign it. (I wonder how our former community organizer will explain this to the poor children he once tried to help in Chicago.)

But that’s just the start. More austerity is coming in the form of cuts to Social Security as well as a host of other social programs. When times get tough, you’ve got to suck it up and take more from the poor.

Rewarding Billionaires Who Increase Poverty?

It gets even more revolting when we realize that the financial billionaires who are profiting so handsomely from the recovery are the very same who took down the economy in the first place. They were the ones who created and pedaled the toxic securities that puffed up and then burst the housing bubble. Those financial plutocrats caused 8 million workers to lose their jobs in a matter of months. Those bankers, hedge fund honchos and fund managers are directly responsible for the rise in child poverty rates. Washington bailed out those billionaires and is now asking the poor and the middle class to pay for the ensuing deficits with further cuts in social programs at every level of government.

Why do we put up with such injustices?

Washington Is in Wall Street’s Pocket

Before we entirely succumb to financial amnesia, let’s recall how we got here. Since the late 1970s, the financial sector has been on a crusade to remove any and all financial regulations. The goal was to undo all the controls put in place during the Great Depression that so effectively curtailed financial speculation and outright gambling. Once deregulated Wall Street engineered a Ponzi-like housing bubble that netted it astronomical sums. By the time it burst in 2007, 40% of all corporate profits flowed into the financial sector. Wall Street wages grew by leaps and bounds.

As the crash hit, all the largest Wall Street firms, not just Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, were in serious trouble. Had AIG gone under, so would nearly every major bank and investment house, along with thousands of hedge funds that depended on AIG to ensure its toxic bets. So Wall Street’s Washington cadre engineered a $13 trillion bailout consisting of cash, no interest loans and a program by which the Federal Reserve would buy up Wall Street’s toxic waste at par value. To produce a financial recovery, the Fed also drove down bond interest rates which in turn drove money into the stock market, sending it to new heights.

Here’s the best of all. After getting $480 billion in bailout cash, the top financiers in the country paid themselves more than $150 billion in bonus money for a job well done. Is this a great country or what?

What didn’t happen is this: Mortgages were not written down in mass to assist underwater home owners and those who suffered from predatory loans. No lasting jobs programs were created to put the unemployed back to work. No lasting penalties were paid by the individuals who took down the economy. And there was no serious effort at all to cap financial wages and bonuses in the name of justice.

All in all, you could not have designed a more perfect program to enrich the rich and do absolutely nothing for the 99 percent — and as a result, sink ever more children into poverty.

Waiting for the Recovery That Will Never Come

We are constantly told that the recovery is just around the corner. Liberals say we need more stimulus. Conservatives call for more austerity and cuts in regulations. But all agree that sooner or later more growth will benefit the 99 percent. Unfortunately, it’s not happening and it won’t happen. Here’s why.

First of all, they assume that trickledown actually works, that there is something mechanical within our heavily financialized economy that will bring renewed prosperity to the 99 percent. They look back at previous recessions and recoveries and continue to believe that slumps are followed by renewed growth and income gains for all.

But as financialization has spread throughout the economy, new mechanisms are in place that siphon off wealth into financial gains for the very few. Productive enterprises are turned into financial enterprises that are loaded up with debt and then carved and slaughtered so that wealth can be extracted for hedge funds and private equity firms. In our brave new financialized economy renewed growth turns into renewed incomes primarily for the investment class. The stock market will rise but jobs and incomes won’t. The traditional capitalist slump-recovery process died more than a decade ago. Adam Smith’s invisible hand no longer produces shared prosperity — instead it picks our pockets.

Waiting for the Political Pendulum to Swing

Second, we are told how America is essentially a moderate country — how there’s a kind of invisible political pendulum that swings from the extremes back to the sensible center. When the left or the Tea Party gets too wild, the center supposedly pulls them back and common sense economics prevails. But this consoling media meme obscures the fact that our politics are moving ever more rightward. Moderate Democrats and Republicans today are to the right of Eisenhower, Nixon and even Herbert Hoover. They have already agreed to cut the very entitlements that are needed to help alleviate poverty. In fact, they have agreed it’s quite OK for America to have 442 billionaires and also have 22.6% of its children living in poverty. The sensible center now sees its role as forging a “compromise” on how much to cut food stamps and other supports for the poor.

Obviously, both political parties lose little sleep worrying about economic injustices. Even most Democrats no longer have a serious game plan to eradicate poverty. That’s considered to be 1960s stuff that doesn’t make sense in a world where politicians have to make peace with at least some players in the billionaire class in order to survive. As for the poor, alas, they will always be with us.

America Leads the World

Not a day goes by without hearing about “American exceptionalism.” We are told by our leaders and pundits that we are the best, the greatest, the mightiest and the most democratic of all nations. It is our mission in life to uphold justice and freedom around the world. But as this chart shows, when it comes to child poverty, we are just about dead last.

Why is that? Because in wealthy nations, children live in poverty if and only if that nation allows it. Our nation, the richest in history, has more than enough wealth to go from the bottom of this list to the top, right next to Finland, if only we decided to act justly.

A Simple Proposal to end Child Poverty

America has 442 billionaires with an average net worth of $4.2 billion eachaccording to Forbes. That means collectively these 442 Americans have nearly $1.9 trillion in wealth.

During the current “recovery,” these 442 billions saw their wealth rise on average by over 12 percent per year. What would happened if those billionaires received only 6 percent a year and the other 6 percent were taxed away in order to pull all of our children out of poverty?

That would provide sufficient revenue so that each child now living in poverty would receive an extra $7,000 per year which would pull nearly all of their families above the poverty line. The 442 billionaires would not suffer. No one in their families would go hungry. No luxury goods or services would be out of reach. No cooks, maids, chauffeurs or pilots would have to be let go. The 442 billionaires would feel no pain at all — not even an itch. As a result of this painless tax, America would eradicate childhood poverty overnight.

Dream on?

Of course, our simple proposal sounds insane in a world where austerity reigns supreme and where billionaires are immune from such redistributive proposals. But I wonder who is sane and who isn’t. It seems utterly psychotic to live in a society that chooses to spread poverty to its young. It also seems psychotic to claim that cuts in food stamps are good for the poor while at the same time saying that it’s quite OK for billionaires to pile up unearned, tax-sheltered income. The fact that we’re putting up with all this should be driving us all insane.

Sooner or later, the millions of Americans who still have souls that ache for justice will take democracy into their own hands. I don’t know how it will happen or when, but one day we will eradicate needless poverty and reclaim our nation from those who are robbing it blind.

3 Incredible Charts

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Les Leopold is the executive director of the Labor Institute in New York, and author of How to Make a Million Dollars an Hour: Why Hedge Funds Get Away with Siphoning Off America’s Wealth (J. Wiley and Sons, 2013).

Emphasis Mine

See: http://www.alternet.org/hard-times-usa/americas-greatest-shame-child-poverty-rises-and-food-stamps-cut-while-billionaires?akid=11103.123424.W7X-8c&rd=1&src=newsletter918440&t=3

 

5 Reasons the Religious Right Should Stop Whining About Being Persecuted

For decades Christian conservatives have claimed persecution. Their powerful hold on Washington tells a different story.

From: AlterNet

By: Rob Boston

“I’ve been writing about the Religious Right for nearly 25 years now, and one thing that never ceases to amaze me is when the leaders or supporters of these organizations claim they are being persecuted. Really? In a country that has a strong Christian culture and where at least 75 percent of the population professes some form of Christianity, it would seem odd that Christians would be persecuted. Yet the claim is made, constantly.

A new study on the power of religious advocacy groups in Washington by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life show yet again how absurd that claim is. Pew researchers examined 212 religious groups on the right and the left that engage in advocacy work in the nation’s capital. Their findings are illuminating. Anyone who believes the old saw that conservative Christians don’t have a voice in D.C. should take a look.  With that thought in mind, here are five reasons why the Religious Right should stop complaining about persecution:

1. Of the 10 largest religious advocacy groups in Washington, seven take the Religious Right line on most issues. 

Five of the top-10 groups (Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, Home School Legal Defense Fund, Focus on the Family’s Citizenlink and the Traditional Values Coalition) are Religious Right organizations. The two other groups are the U.S. Catholic Conference of Catholic Bishops, which marches in lock step with the Religious Right on issues like abortion, same-sex marriage and taxpayer funding of religion, and the National Right to Life Committee, a more narrowly focused group that shares the Religious Right’s views on abortion. Marginalized movements don’t have this much representation in Washington.

2. These organizations raise a ton of money. 

The Pew report lists budget figures for each group examined. The numbers are staggering. In 2008, the Family Research Council, which, since the demise of the Christian Coalition has become the leading D.C.-based Religious Right group, took in more than $14 million. Concerned Women for America collected $12.5 million. Even the Traditional Values Coalition – a less prominent outfit run by gay-bashing minister Louis P. Sheldon and his daughter – raised $9.5 million. The figure for the Catholic bishops is even more impressive: $26.6 million. (Of course, not all of this money is spent on direct lobbying because these organizations advocate for their views in many ways.) Smaller Religious Right outfits didn’t make the top 10 but still raise considerable sums: the National Organization for Marriage brought in $8.5 million, and the American Life League raised $6.6 million. Remember anti-Equal Right Amendment crusader Phyllis Schlafly? Her Eagle Forum still exists. It raised $2.2 million in 2009.

If you add up the budgets of the seven conservative religious advocacy groups in the top 10, the figure tops $95 million. As infomercial pitchmen are fond of saying, “But wait, there’s more!” If you include budget figures for a few of the leading fundamentalist ministries (such as Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network and the empire created by the late Jerry Falwell), many of which are overtly political, and add in a handful of the top Religious Right legal groups, the numbers reach the stratosphere, exceeding $1 billion annually. No political movement that has control of that much cash can claim to be persecuted.

3. These organizations enjoy incredible access to legislators. 

Most advocacy groups woo lawmakers with money (through allied political action committees) or by implying that there are votes to be had among their respective constituencies. Some far-right religious groups can offer both. The Family Research Council, for example, runs several PACs, including a new super-PAC that, thanks to the Supreme Court, can raise unlimited funds to pour into races. Do politicians take notice? You bet. At last month’sValues Voter Summit” sponsored by the Family Research Council in Washington, both House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor took time out to address the crowd, and every major GOP presidential candidate was there as well.

Religious groups that can’t or don’t sponsor PACs trade on their generally good image. Most Americans think well of religion but not so well of politicians. Savvy political leaders know that granting broad access to clerics just makes good sense. Some of that goodwill may rub off. If conservative Christians were being persecuted or were considered pariahs, politicians would hardly be tripping over themselves to be seen with them, would they?

4. Religious groups get special breaks when it comes to lobbying. 

Non-profit groups, whether on the left or the right, must abide by federal regulations that curb the amount of lobbying tax-exempt entities can do. They must also file disclosure reports that are available to the public, so it’s possible to see how much they are spending on attempts to influence legislators. But the purely religious groups – the denominations and church offices – are exempt from this rule. Thus, the Catholic bishops can drop a quarter of a billion or more on Capitol Hill without accounting for a dime.

Other denominations follow suit. Pew reports that the Southern Baptist Convention’s D.C. public policy office had a budget of $3.2 million in 2008. How much of that was spent on lobbying? No one knows because they aren’t required to say. A secular group that refused to disclose this information would quickly find itself in hot water with the federal government. Far from being persecuted, religious groups actually receive preferential treatment in this area.

5. Some religious groups have played the bigotry card to their advantage.

Religious Right groups have mastered the art of intimidating their opponents. Thus, anyone who dares to criticize groups for their anti-gay views is labeled a bigot who doesn’t believe in religious freedom. Anyone who offers spirited opposition to a right-wing religious group’s policy planks is accused of trying to keep that group from speaking out. This skillful manipulation of the language of victimology comes not from a truly oppressed minority but from those who have so much power that they’ve learned to game the system as a way of shutting down the opposition.

To these groups, religious freedom has a curious definition: It’s the right to force you to live by their religion. They have been wildly successful in putting across the idea that to speak against their political agenda is the same as speaking against their religion. No truly persecuted movement is this savvy in the game of politics.

Right-wing religious groups may claim persecution, but the numbers tell a different story. If you doubt this, just spend a day shadowing their employees in Congress, where, increasingly, they are greeted with warm smiles and open arms.

A final note in the spirit of full disclosure: The organization I work for, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, is number 15 on Pew’s list – even though we don’t consider ourselves a religious group. (AU is non-sectarian; some of our members are people of faith, but others are non-believers.) Our advocacy takes many forms – working with legislators, litigating in the courts and educating the public, to name a few. Sometimes we win battles, and sometimes we don’t. When we lose, we regroup to fight another day. We don’t whine that we’re being persecuted.

Rob Boston is senior policy analyst at Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

 

Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.alternet.org/story/153207/5_reasons_the_religious_right_should_stop_whining_about_being_persecuted?page=entire

The New Progressive Movement

Those who think that the cold weather will end the protests should think again. A new generation of leaders is just getting started. The new progressive age has begun

From NY Times, via RSN

By:  Jeffrey D. Sachs

N.B.: Organisers take note: blueprint inclosed.

“Occupy Wall Street and its allied movements around the country are more than a walk in the park. They are most likely the start of a new era in America. Historians have noted that American politics moves in long swings. We are at the end of the 30-year Reagan era, a period that has culminated in soaring income for the top 1 percent and crushing unemployment or income stagnation for much of the rest. The overarching challenge of the coming years is to restore prosperity and power for the 99 percent.

Thirty years ago, a newly elected Ronald Reagan made a fateful judgment: “Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.Taxes for the rich were slashed, as were outlays on public services and investments as a share of national income. Only the military and a few big transfer programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and veterans’ benefits were exempted from the squeeze.

Reagan’s was a fateful misdiagnosis. He completely overlooked the real issue – the rise of global competition in the information age – and fought a bogeyman, the government. Decades on, America pays the price of that misdiagnosis, with a nation singularly unprepared to face the global economic, energy and environmental challenges of our time.

Washington still channels Reaganomics. The federal budget for nonsecurity discretionary outlays – categories like highways and rail, education, job training, research and development, the judiciary, NASA, environmental protection, energy, the IRS and more – was cut from more than 5 percent of gross domestic product at the end of the 1970s to around half of that today. With the budget caps enacted in the August agreement, domestic discretionary spending would decline to less than 2 percent of GDP by the end of the decade, according to the White House. Government would die by fiscal asphyxiation.

Both parties have joined in crippling the government in response to the demands of their wealthy campaign contributors, who above all else insist on keeping low tax rates on capital gains, top incomes, estates and corporate profits. Corporate taxes as a share of national income are at the lowest levels in recent history. Rich households take home the greatest share of income since the Great Depression. Twice before in American history, powerful corporate interests dominated Washington and brought America to a state of unacceptable inequality, instability and corruption. Both times a social and political movement arose to restore democracy and shared prosperity.

The first age of inequality was the Gilded Age at the end of the 19th century, an era quite like today, when both political parties served the interests of the corporate robber barons. The progressive movement arose after the financial crisis of 1893. In the following decades Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson came to power, and the movement pushed through a remarkable era of reform: trust busting, federal income taxation, fair labor standards, the direct election of senators and women’s suffrage.

The second gilded age was the Roaring Twenties. The pro-business administrations of Harding, Coolidge and Hoover once again opened up the floodgates of corruption and financial excess, this time culminating in the Great Depression. And once again the pendulum swung. FDR’s New Deal marked the start of several decades of reduced income inequality, strong trade unions, steep top tax rates and strict financial regulation. After 1981, Reagan began to dismantle each of these core features of the New Deal.

Following our recent financial calamity, a third progressive era is likely to be in the making. This one should aim for three things. The first is a revival of crucial public services, especially education, training, public investment and environmental protection. The second is the end of a climate of impunity that encouraged nearly every Wall Street firm to commit financial fraud. The third is to re-establish the supremacy of people votes over dollar votes in Washington.

None of this will be easy. Vested interests are deeply entrenched, even as Wall Street titans are jailed and their firms pay megafines for fraud. The progressive era took 20 years to correct abuses of the Gilded Age. The New Deal struggled for a decade to overcome the Great Depression, and the expansion of economic justice lasted through the 1960s. The new wave of reform is but a few months old.

The young people in Zuccotti Park and more than 1,000 cities have started America on a path to renewal. The movement, still in its first days, will have to expand in several strategic ways. Activists are needed among shareholders, consumers and students to hold corporations and politicians to account. Shareholders, for example, should pressure companies to get out of politics. Consumers should take their money and purchasing power away from companies that confuse business and political power. The whole range of other actions – shareholder and consumer activism, policy formulation, and running of candidates – will not happen in the park.

The new movement also needs to build a public policy platform. The American people have it absolutely right on the three main points of a new agenda. To put it simply: tax the rich, end the wars and restore honest and effective government for all.

Finally, the new progressive era will need a fresh and gutsy generation of candidates to seek election victories not through wealthy campaign financiers but through free social media. A new generation of politicians will prove that they can win on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and blog sites, rather than with corporate-financed TV ads. By lowering the cost of political campaigning, the free social media can liberate Washington from the current state of endemic corruption. And the candidates that turn down large campaign checks, political action committees, Super PACs and bundlers will be well positioned to call out their opponents who are on the corporate take.

Those who think that the cold weather will end the protests should think again. A new generation of leaders is just getting started. The new progressive age has begun.”
Jeffrey D. Sachs is the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and the author, most recently, of “The Price of Civilization: Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity.”


Emphasis Mine

see:http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/277-75/8379-the-new-progressive-movement