Archive for category National Politics

Facts About The Low-Wage Economy

The high cost of low wages

According to the National Employment Law Project (PDF), low-wage jobs made up 22 percent of job losses from Bush’s Great Recession, but accounted for 44 percent of employment growth after the recession. Today, lower-wage industries employ 1.85 million more workers than at the start of the recession.

On FDL today, Peter Van Buren points out some facts about the low-wage economy:

  • One in four U.S. employees are low-wage workers. That is 20 percent higher than in the United Kingdom, and the highest percentage among industrialized nations.
  • The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009.
  • In 1968 the federal minimum was $1.60 per hour, approximately $10.70 in 2013 dollars
  • 88 percent of minimum-wage workers are adults, with more than a third over age 40.
  • The percentage of low-wage workers with at least some college education spiked 71 percent since 1979, to 43.2 percent today.
  • The way you functionally subsidize companies paying low-wages to workers– ponying up the difference between what McDonald’s and others pay and what those workers need to live via taxpayer-paid SNAP (food stamps) and other benefits– is a hidden cost in plain sight.
  • If the nation’s largest private employer Wal-Mart increased wages to $12 per hour it would cost the company only about one percent, so that made-in-China $10 item would run you all of $10.01.
  • A Paychex/IHS survey, which looks at employment in small businesses, found that the state with the highest percentage of annual job growth was Washington, which also has the highest statewide minimum wage.
  • Nationwide, even a small hike to $10.10 an hour would put some $24 billion a year into workers’ hands to spend and lift 4.6 million Americans out of poverty. Consumer spending drives 70 percent of our economy.
  • Two-thirds of all minimum wage workers are not employed by small businesses. Better yet, one survey shows three out of five small business owners favor raising the minimum wage; their profits depend on a strong local economy, which requires more money in local consumers’ hands.

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‘We’re moving toward a winner-take-all economy’

Dead End One Way

Reportedly 18% of workers in the U.S. now can’t afford to retire.

Lynn Stuart Parramore on AlterNet interviews journalist Jessica Bruder, who gives a bleak picture of the many older Americans who are forced to work past retirement age, and concludes:

The social contract is falling apart. With the death of pensions and the increase of short-term, temporary jobs bearing no benefits, we’re moving toward a winner-take-all economy with no safety net to help people weather hard times.

Lance Roberts looked at employment statistics and found:

With 24% of “baby boomers” postponing retirement, due to an inability to retire, it is not surprising that the employment level of individuals OVER the age of 65, as a percent of the working age population 16 and over, has risen sharply in recent years.

More info:
Can’t find a job? Blame grandma

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Congress Must Authorize New Iraq/Syria War

FA-18 Hornet
An FA-18 takes off from the US Navy aircraft carrier USS George HW Bush in the Gulf last Friday

CENTCOM confirms airstrikes against ISIS forces near the Mosul Dam. These attacks were offensive actions that went beyond the stated reasons for U.S. military action, namely to protect refugees and the city of Erbil.

Congress must get involved as soon as possible. Our Constitution does not allow the President to conduct offensive military operations on his own, without congressional authorization.

I get it. Democrats don’t want to vote for a new war in Iraq before the November elections, and the Tea-GOP/neocons are extremely reluctant to approve anything President Obama does or might do, even if they agree with it in principle.

Well, too bad. Congress (and only Congress) has the responsibility to either authorize another war or rein in this President. Mission creep is already underway – soon there will be about 1,000 U.S. soldiers on the ground in Iraq. The Pentagon has disclosed that a failed hostage rescue attempt last month resulted in a firefight with ISIS on the ground in Syria.

Any decision to wage war on ISIS has to take into account the fact that Syria is their base of operations. Are we going to commit our armed forces to fight, effectively, on behalf of the Assad regime in Damascus?

More info:
Iraq crisis: US strikes aid Kurdish bid to retake dam

UPDATES:
Bill Roggio, editor of The Long War Journal:
US launches 6 more airstrikes against Islamic State

The US has now “conducted a total of 90 airstrikes across Iraq. Of those 90 strikes, 57 have been in support of Iraqi forces near the Mosul Dam.”

…When President Obama “authorized the U.S. Armed Forces to conduct targeted air strikes to support operations by Iraqi forces to recapture the Mosul Dam” on Aug. 14, he permitted the United States military to serve as Iraq’s air arm as Iraqi and Kurdish forces went on the offensive in northern Iraq.

The Obama administration should be very explicit about its goals and objectives in Iraq if it wants to retain the support of the American public for an extended period of time. If the goal is to conduct limited airstrikes in the north to help the Iraqi government and the Kurds regain some lost ground with the hopes of containing the Islamic State, then it should say so. If the goal is to further the defeat of the Islamic State by striking in other theaters and possibly putting advisers, forward air controllers, and special operations forces on the ground, then the administration should communicate that as well.

DSWright on FDL: Secretary Hagel Claims ISIS Is ‘Threat To Every Interest We Have’, ‘Beyond Anything We’ve Seen’

[T]he Pentagon now appears to be on board with launching attacks in Syria if they target ISIS with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey saying ISIS would be a threat as long as they had safe zones in Syria and that “This is an organization that has an apocalyptic, end-of- days strategic vision and which will eventually have to be defeated.” General Dempsey went on to call the Syrian-Iraq border “essentially non-existent.”

So, to recap, the Obama Administration now wants to fight with the Assad government against ISIS. Degrading Assad’s capability to kill his own people no longer a priority because he is also using that capability to kill ISIS forces. There’s still a red line somewhere it’s just not very straight.

ISIS Labeled ‘Imminent Threat’ As US Strikes Set To Expand Into Syria

In the aftermath of the killing of James Foley the Obama Administration has ratcheted up the rhetoric against ISIS now calling the group an imminent threat to US national security and global interests. Part of that label apparently entails attacking ISIS wherever they are including outside of current “limited” US operations in Iraq with plans to expand the US military campaign against ISIS into Syria.

Of course, in the real world there is no way ISIS constitutes an imminent threat to U.S. national security.

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Equal Justice Under the Law – NOT

Ferguson, MO

At the Bundy Ranch standoff, so-called right-wing militia members aimed assault weapons at law enforcement officers. No arrests were made, and Cliven Bundy remains a free man. Last night in Ferguson, Missouri, an overwhelming police force including SWAT teams rampaged through residential streets firing stun grenades, tear gas, and rubber bullets. They attacked peaceful, unarmed protesters and arrested reporters. The city never imposed a curfew, which means citizens were supposed to be allowed to assemble and exercise their First Amendment rights.

Something is wrong. The media are blaming so-called “homeland security” and the militarization of even small-town police departments, which can buy a surplus MRAP from the Army for only $5,000 even if they don’t need one. Worse than that, there seems to be a trend of police use of deadly force against unarmed suspects – many of whom are being shot multiple times or shot in the back.

More info:
Ferguson Seeks Answers After Police Shooting Of Michael Brown
Does the Second Amendment Only Apply to White People?
Alderman, 2 reporters arrested as Ferguson erupts for 4th night
Did Police Use Excessive Force Against Ferguson Protesters?
Ferguson’s Police Got Free Military Gear Straight From The Pentagon

30 Comments

Iraq War III

ISIS flag

Here we go again. Iraq War updates via HuffPo.

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11 Banks Still ‘Too Big To Fail’

TBTF

Via HuffPo:

Eleven of the nation’s largest banks have failed to convince federal regulators they could safely be wound down if they neared failure, government authorities said Tuesday, reinforcing the idea that they are too big to fail.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said October blueprints submitted by banks, including JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, detailing how they think they’d be resolved in bankruptcy if they neared collapse were “not credible.” The Federal Reserve, another bank regulator, said the so-called living wills need significant improvement by July 2015 or the government may force them to shrink.

…The phenomenon known as too big to fail is based on the notion that government officials will always rescue a failing financial company when it believes the failure would cause financial chaos. Since investors in the company believe they’d be bailed out, they accept a lower return for funding the company’s operations. That in turn enables the too big to fail company to enjoy a taxpayer-provided subsidy unavailable to its smaller rivals.

Tuesday’s announcement by federal regulators that the 11 banks’ living wills were inadequate strikes at the heart of the argument that the banks are no longer too big to fail.

TBTF means bailouts and bonuses for billionaires and corporate execs, and nothing for the ever-shrinking American middle class.

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President Obama: ‘We Tortured Some Folks’… And We Still Do

Last Friday, President Obama informed a White House press conference that the U.S. government has engaged in torture as a matter of policy. Not that he plans to do anything about that. In fact, he hasn’t even banned every torture technique in use by the CIA and the military.

“We tortured some folks,” he said. “We did some things that were contrary to our values. I understand why it happened. I think it’s important when we look back to recall how afraid people were after the twin towers fell, and the Pentagon had been hit, and a plane in Pennsylvania had fallen, and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent, and there was enormous pressure on our law-enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this.”

The fallacy here, whether or not it’s intentional, lies in the fact that torture (in addition to being a crime under federal law) is not an intelligence interrogation technique. The experts will all tell you that torture is good for one thing only: extracting false confessions. The Bush administration employed torture to get some detainees to say what they wanted to hear, namely that Saddam Hussein’s regime was tied in with al-Qaeda. For example the torture of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a Libyan national captured in Afghanistan in November 2001, provided false information regarding chemical weapons training between Iraq and al-Qaeda that was used by the Bush Administration in their efforts to justify the illegal invasion of Iraq. Al-Libi recanted in January 2004. This sort of thing is what they now call “faulty intelligence” instead of lies.

President Obama is getting credit simply for using the dreaded “T” word that the media usually avoid by talking about American “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Of course reporters are not afraid say “torture” to describe what China does to prisoners, for example, even if it’s the exact same thing the CIA did.

On FDL, Jeff Kaye picks up on something important. Here’s what else the president said, referring to the still-secret Senate Select Committee torture report (emphasis added):

And it’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. And a lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.

But having said all that, we did some things that were wrong. And that’s what that report reflects. And that’s the reason why, after I took office, one of the first things I did was to ban some of the extraordinary interrogation techniques that are the subject of that report.

Kaye notes:

Only “some of the extraordinary interrogation techniques”? Not all? Was this merely a slip of the tongue by the President? No one in the press corp seemed to notice, and no one took him up on the issue… though it is very much worth noting that Jeremy Scahill reported in July 2011 on the CIA’s continuing use of black sites and torture in an important article in The Nation. Others had surmised as much even earlier.

Apparently President Obama, whether he meant to or not, has confirmed for the record that torture is still practiced by the U.S. government.

More info:
Obama Admits He Banned Only “Some” of the CIA’s Torture Techniques

UPDATES:

Fox Gives Liz Cheney A Platform To Attack Obama For Mentioning Torture
White House To Make Torture Report ‘Impossible To Understand’

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‘Mowing the Grass’ in Gaza

Mowing the grass

Several announcements by Israel’s Ministry of Defense spokespersons during the first stage of their latest attack on Gaza stated that they were “mowing the grass.” This is their term for the periodic ritual slaughter of the Palestinians, which is politically popular in Israel and America but nowhere else.

“Mowing the grass” isn’t a winning strategy. It’s what you do to maintain the status quo, which is permanent war. It’s the Israeli government’s admission that they don’t want peace, because that would entail unacceptable compromises – for example, lifting the blockade of Gaza. It’s also a clue to the mindset of Israeli decision makers, who seem to regard Palestinian civilians as nothing more than blades of grass to be cut down.

The notion that repeated attacks on Gaza are nothing more than “mowing the grass” raises serious moral and strategic questions. Cutting down civilians, like the children playing on that Gaza beach, is not like cutting blades of grass. To compare the two is dehumanizing. And to embrace a policy that entails the killing of hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians with each application violates the conscience, if not the basic rule of law. Use of force should always be a last resort, not a premeditated policy of first choice.

Efaim Inbar and Eitan Shamir of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA) are the leading spokespersons for “mowing the grass.” They wrote in an op-ed for the Jerusalem Post:

Western thinking is solution-oriented.

This explains part of the lack of understanding in the West for what Israel is doing.

Against an implacable, well-entrenched, non-state enemy like the Hamas, Israel simply needs to “mow the grass” once in a while to degrade the enemy’s capabilities.

As anybody with a lawn can tell you, when you mow the grass the roots grow stronger. Hence the long-term stupidity of the Israeli plan. The use of force against civilians won’t ever bring them peace, but they keep on anyway because they have no imagination. Israel is perpetrating enormous war crimes, deliberately as a tactic of collective punishment of Palestinians. Why do we keep supplying weapons and ammo to Israel with our tax dollars?

More info:
Israel mows the lawn
‘Mowing The Grass’ In Gaza: A War In The Mideast Every Four Years?
Israeli code word for genocide: “Mowing the lawn”

UPDATES:
Israel Hits Gaza With Heaviest Bombardment In 3 Weeks
Heartbreak: Reporting on Gaza’s child victims
Gaza: This Is No Life
Why Don’t Palestinians Just Leave Gaza? They Can’t.
Gaza Death Toll Soars As Israel Presses Offensive
Strike On Gaza Market Kills At Least 15
Israel Kills 15 During Assault On UN School As Military Intensifies Attack On Refugee Camp
UN rights chief slams Israel’s ‘defiance’ of international law
FDL: Haunting the Conscience of the World

This is a turning point, Israel has crossed all the red lines and the world will hold them accountable for it. This long night for the people of Gaza will end, the light of justice will finally shine on them, and there will be no more darkness.

Gaza death toll surpasses that of Cast Lead as count hits 1,437

56 Comments

From 2003-2013, Ordinary Americans Lost a Third of Their Wealth

Via Alternet:

According to new research (PDF) supported by the Russell Sage Foundation, middle class Americans are getting poorer (OK, we knew that, but now the numbers are in – and they are startling).

For the study, researchers gathered information on families in the middle of the wealth distribution continuum. What they found is that in 2003, the inflation-adjusted net worth for the typical household was $87,992. Fast-forward 10 years: that figure is down to a mere $56,335.

Ordinary Americans got 36 percent poorer in just a decade.

…The upshot is that regular people have endured one of the worst periods in recent memory. It will not surprise you to learn that during the same decade of 2003-2013, the rich were partying down. In the 95th percentile of wealth distribution, people got 14 percent richer.

That oughta brighten your day.

More info:
What Recovery? You Probably Became Poorer In the Last 10 Years
Americans In Debt: 35 Percent Have Unpaid Bills Reported To Collection Agencies

8 Comments

Paul Ryan Poverty Plan: Punish Poor Americans for Being Poor

Blame the victims

Via Media Matters

Failed 2012 Vice Presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is back again with a so-called “poverty plan” that blames the victims. In reality, poverty is the result of systemic inequality of opportunity – not a lack of individual initiative.

Rep. Paul Ryan’s poverty proposal, which would in part punish impoverished Americans for not getting themselves out of poverty on a specific timeline, is based on the conservative myth pushed by right-wing media that blames poverty on individuals’ “spirit” and personal life choices.

…The “discussion draft” submitted by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) to the House Budget Committee on potential solutions to poverty in America includes the proposal that low-income Americans would have to sign “contracts” in order to remain eligible for social safety net benefits, such as food stamps, or SNAP. The contract would include: benchmarks, such as finding a job, enrolling in employment training, or even meeting “new acquaintances outside circle of poverty”; a “timeline” in which individuals are contractually-obligated to meet those benchmarks; bonuses for meeting benchmarks early; and “sanctions for breaking the terms of the contract”

…Annie Lowrey of New York magazine explained that Ryan’s proposal is based on the assumption “that the poor somehow want to be poor.”

Ryan’s poverty-shaming plan is nothing more than a vehicle for right-wing propaganda.

Here’s a better alternative than the Tea-GOP is offering: a $15 per hour minimum wage.


More Info:

The Worst Part Of Paul Ryan’s Poverty Plan Is Based On A Media Myth
Seattle raises minimum wage to $15 an hour
Fast food workers vow civil disobedience

24 Comments

Right Wing Propaganda Destroys Your Moral Compass

It’s always there, the lack of empathy on the part of right-wing extremists. We all remember the GOP presidential debate audience that cheered for letting people die without health insurance. More recently, we’ve seen an eruption of fear and hatred on the right directed at children fleeing the violence in some Central American countries.

Today we have the story of a California man who came home and discovered two burglars in his house.

“The lady, she couldn’t run as fast as the man, so I shot her in the back twice,” Greer explained. “She’s dead, but he got away.”

“She says, ‘Don’t shoot me, I’m pregnant! I’m going to have a baby!’ And I shot her anyway,” Greer said.

John Amato attempted to explain the “vile behavior” of wingers as an effort to emulate their heroes, the rich:

The thing about right-wing populism is that it’s manifestly self-defeating: those who stand to primarily benefit from this ideology are the wealthy, which is why they so willingly underwrite it. It might, in fact, more accurately be called “sucker populism.”

The 1 Percent want to keep us afraid, desperate, and divided by ignorance and prejudice. Otherwise, Americans might decide to blame Wall Street for crashing our economy. We might demand an end to pointless wars, or want to get rid of tax laws that are unfair to the middle class. We might realize that government health insurance is the best kind. Who knows, we might even want other good things from government such as infrastructure improvements, Internet access, cheap renewable energy programs…

More info:
California 80-year-old satisfied after gunning down fleeing pregnant home intruder
Hey, gun nuts: Shooting someone who is running away in the back is not self-defense
Fox hosts outraged that Texas 911 operators are ‘forced’ to help dying non-English speakers
Tea Party town hall erupts as Texas state Rep urges ‘compassion’ for migrant kids

3 Comments

Iraq Update – Depends On Who You Believe

ISIS truck column

The Iraqi Army is either locked in a stalemate in the battle for Tikrit and surrounding areas about 100 miles northwest of Baghdad, or (according to a claim by ISIS) has completely lost the city and Camp Speicher, a nearby military post and helicopter base.

Here’s the story according to The Long War Journal:

The Iraqi military made its first effort to retake Tikrit in late June, when it airlifted commandos into Tikrit University in an effort to gain a toehold north of the city. An advance on the city from the south was defeated. Then, on July 16, the Iraqi military launched Operation Decisive Sword. A large column of military and militia units entered southern Tikrit and thought they liberated the city, but as they celebrated they were ambushed with suicide bombers, IEDs, and conventional attacks. The Iraqi forces then withdrew from the city.

After the Iraqi military withdrew from southern Tikrit on July 16, the Islamic State immediately began its assault on Camp Speicher, as the base was the last remaining holdout of Iraqi forces near the city (Iraqi forces were withdrawn from Tikrit University sometime before the second offensive was launched).

The loss of Camp Speicher, and perhaps more importantly, the loss of the helicopters and its pilots if the Islamic State’s claims are true, is a serious blow to both the morale and the operational capabilities of the Iraqi military. The Iraqi military, which has failed to retake major cities and towns from the Islamic State and its allies, now may find it more difficult to support and defend the Bayji oil refinery just to the north, which has been largely resupplied by helicopters.

The Daily Beast cast doubt on the ISIS claim of victory in Tikrit:

On Friday, multiple news reports claimed that ISIS had won a major victory, seizing control of a vital army base outside of Tikrit and killing or capturing the hundreds of soldiers stationed there. If true, ISIS’s capture of Camp Speicher would signal a crucial turning point in the battle for the city and a humiliating setback for the Iraqi Army.

But the reports are false according to multiple Iraqi sources, who say Speicher was attacked on Friday but that ISIS never entered the base. According to an Iraqi Army soldier, who said he is currently stationed at the base: “Ten suicide bombers tried to blow themselves up at the gate so 15 more ISIS fighters in support could enter the base but we killed all of them. Only one Iraqi soldier was killed.”

Even if neither side is in control of Tikrit, the Iraqi government remains in deep serious trouble. A week ago The Long War Journal estimated that half of Iraq’s 15 army divisions have become ineffective or have completely disappeared.

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