Archive for category Democracy
Thomas Perkins is an 82-year-old venture capitalist worth an estimated $8 billion. He doesn’t like democracy. Unfortunately for us, people like him hold the balance of power in today’s America.
Asked for an idea that could “change the world” by FORTUNE’s Adam Lashinsky, Perkins told an audience at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on Thursday that Americans shouldn’t be able to vote unless they pay taxes and that the wealthy should have more votes.
Perkins has houses in Belvedere, Marin County, California, and spends about two months a year at Plumpton Place, his Elizabethan mansion in East Sussex, England, which once belonged to the Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page. In 2010 he purchased the penthouse atop the Millennium Tower on Mission Street in San Francisco’s financial district.
You may remember this guy from his WSJ letter to the editor that compared what he called the “progressive war on the American one percent” to the Nazi death camps under Adolf Hitler.
When I say that capitalism is antithetical to democracy, or that the 1 Percent are trying to parlay their plutonomy into a plutocracy, this is an example of what I mean.
While a major media news blackout provides cover, Congress is debating whether to give the president the authority to fast-track a massive free trade agreement, the secretly-negotiated Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Members of Congress haven’t even been able to read it even though corporate lobbyists have.
President Obama is at odds with Democrats in both houses of Congress concerning reauthorizing a procedure called the “trade promotion authority” (TPA), that would grant the White House power to submit free trade deals to Congress for an up-or-down vote without amendments. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is strongly against it.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has now publicly opposed giving President Obama fast track authority.
“We need transparency. We need a seat at the table to understand what they believe they are doing, so we can make it better. And if we don’t make it better, then we will not accept a path that is a job loser.”
TPP is part of the plan for global corporatocracy run by and for the 1 Percent. Unelected lobbyists and trade representatives are at the table, while representatives from the public at large and businesses other than huge monopolies, are conspicuously absent. From what little we know of the agreement, it would violate the U.S. Constitution, weaken environmental protections, and lead to more job losses, erosion of wages, and worsening inequality. TPP also threatens freedom of speech on the Internet because it would extend restrictive intellectual property laws and rewrite international rules on enforcement.
In a letter released Tuesday through the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank, 75 economists, including seven Nobel Laureates, argue that the government should hike the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour by 2016 and then peg future increases to inflation. A proposal from Senate Democrats, backed by President Obama, to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour is currently stalled in Congress.
…During the initial phase-in period of a $10.10 minimum wage, the U.S. economy would grow by $22 billion, according to a December analysis from EPI. The economic growth would result in the creation of 85,000 new jobs, the analysis concluded.
If Republicans refuse to raise the federal minimum wage, let’s call it what it is: economic sabotage.
According to new polling by the Center for American Progress:
Nearly two in three Americans (64 percent) agree that “Most people who live in poverty are poor because their jobs don’t pay enough, they lack good health care and education, and things cost too much for them to save and get ahead.” By contrast, only 25 percent of Americans agree with a competing idea that “Most people who live in poverty are poor because they make bad decisions or act irresponsibly in their own lives.” Even white conservatives and libertarians prefer the structural explanation for poverty over the personal by a significant margin, 63 to 29 percent.
These results are not a surprise if you belong to the reality-based community. Economic conditions in this country are the worst since the Great Depression. Six years after the start of Bush’s Great Recession, there has been hardly any recovery at all for most Americans. According to research by Emmanuel Saez, an economics professor at the University of California at Berkeley, between 2009 and 2011 the top 1 Percent became 11.2 percent richer while the bottom 99 Percent got 0.4 percent poorer.
Long-term unemployment benefits expired for 1.3 million Americans on December 28. They were just a fraction of the 4.1 million people whom the Labor Department counted as unemployed for more than 26 weeks. Beyond the official long-term unemployed, more than 760,000 others are counted by the Labor Department as “discouraged,” meaning they have stopped looking for work (some economists think that the number may be higher).
It remains to be seen whether our broken political system can do much to fix our broken economy. Congress hasn’t even been able to agree on an extension of Emergency Unemployment Compensation, something that used to be routine.
One reason for the big drop in unemployment in December was that many, many people dropped out of the labor force — 347,000, to be exact. They stopped looking for work, which made them no longer “unemployed” in the eyes of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Right-wing media have spent the last few years baselessly dismissing the decades-long push to alleviate poverty as not worth the fight, despite evidence showing that government efforts to reduce poverty have been successful.
UPDATE: Robert Reich: Today’s Jobs Report and the Scourge of Inequality
The 113th Congress is not producing legislation. It’s on track to be the least productive in history. They took 239 days off this year. Among their few accomplishments are the economic setbacks caused by public sector job cuts, the threat of defaulting on the National Debt, the sequester, and the government shutdown last October.
Amazingly despite these terrible poll numbers well over 90 percent of the current members of Congress are expected to be re-elected in 2014. There is something wrong with the design of an election system when the connection between job performance and election outcome can be so weak.
Writing Friday in the New York Times, columnist Paul Krugman asks all of us to give President Obama’s big inequality speech a serious hearing. Speaking at the Center for American Progress Wednesday, our President pointed to a combination of growing income inequality and a lack of upward mobility as “the defining challenge of our time.”
Our political class has spent years obsessed with a fake problem — worrying about debt and deficits that never posed any threat to the nation’s future — while showing no interest in unemployment and stagnating wages. Mr. Obama, I’m sorry to say, bought into that diversion. Now, however, he’s moving on.
…The wrong turn we’ve taken in economic policy — our obsession with debt and “entitlements,” when we should have been focused on jobs and opportunity — was, of course, driven in part by the power of wealthy vested interests. But it wasn’t just raw power. The fiscal scolds also benefited from a sort of ideological monopoly: for several years you just weren’t considered serious in Washington unless you worshipped at the altar of Simpson and Bowles.
Now, however, we have the president of the United States breaking ranks, finally sounding like the progressive many of his supporters thought they were backing in 2008. This is going to change the discourse — and, eventually, I believe, actual policy.
So don’t believe the cynics. This was an important speech by a president who can still make a very big difference.
Many of us, including myself, tend to discount our President’s remarks about inequality because his administration has consistently favored Wall Street over Main Street. His support for raising the minimum wage comes too late– unless the Democrats re-take the House next year, he will likely be the first President since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938 not to sign a minimum wage law.
Economist Arindrajit Dube:
[T]he evidence suggests that around half of the increase in inequality in the bottom half of the wage distribution since 1979 was a result of falling real minimum wages. And unlike inequality that stems from factors like technological change, this growth in inequality was clearly avoidable. All we had to do to prevent it was index the minimum wage to the cost of living.
The question is, should we take President Obama’s inequality rhetoric seriously, as Krugman suggests?
A letter signed by at least 18 right-wing Republicans urges House Speaker John Boehner to bring up a “clean” continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government at the low sequester level when money expires on Jan. 15. This could subvert a budget agreement being negotiated by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) to mitigate some of the painful sequester cuts. Without an agreement, the result will be another GOP government shutdown.
The sequester orders 2014 spending at $967 billion — hardline conservatives don’t want to spend a penny more than that. Ryan and Murray are close to a deal that raises spending to about $1 trillion. Democrats roundly oppose sequester spending levels and many Republicans, especially defense hawks, want to ease the cuts because they believe they’re unsustainable and damaging to national security. House Republican leaders support the Ryan-Murray framework but are often at the mercy of their right flank.
Progressives are not happy with the emerging Ryan-Murray budget deal either. It would cut off emergency unemployment insurance and it won’t close any tax loopholes. The deal may also cut some $20 billion from federal employee pensions.
House Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) released his own budget proposal (PDF) Thursday.
The DNC has a nifty website full of actual facts in case the right-wingers at your family Thanksgiving get-together start repeating stuff they heard on Faux News Channel.
Matt Damon gives Howard Zinn’s take on civil disobedience
Rocky Anderson talks about the Trans Pacific Partnership:
Update: More information:
First from The Commonwealth Fund:
In 2013, more than one-third (37%) of U.S. adults went without recommended care, did not see a doctor when they were sick, or failed to fill prescriptions because of costs, compared with as few as 4 percent to 6 percent in the United Kingdom and Sweden.
And the second from JDI conservative Andrew Sullivan:
When a private sector system means you have ten times as many people failing to get basic treatment as in Britain’s uber-socialized NHS, you realize just how great the market failure is. I’m all for markets, but the facts seem to me to reveal that in healthcare, they are toxic to most people’s actual, you know, health. In what other area does socialism work so much better than capitalism? Isn’t that a first order question conservatives should address?.
The US healthcare system is a grotequely expensive disaster; plagued with inefficiencies, disconnected from the needs and wants of patients, distorted by massively misaligned priorities and goals, it consumes vast amounts of our national wealth without delivering corresponding benefits. More and more, it seems to me that healthcare and defense are exemplars of American dysfunction. Delivering sub-par outcomes in exchange for exorbitant amounts of money, driven by fear and a deep-seated mindset of scarcity, both healthcare and defense are expressions of American’s sense of vulnerability. We overspend on defense to keep us safe against military and other threats and we overspend on healthcare in a frantic desire for wellness. In both cases, our actions undermine our goals.
From Ken Burns’ documentary “The Civil War” (1990). Today marks the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s 269-word Gettysburg Address.
Ken Burns: Learn Lincoln’s words by heart