Archive for category National Politics
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
Recently the CBS so-called “news” show “60 Minutes” has presented stories about a nonexistent epidemic of Social Security disability fraud, a nonexistent conspiracy regarding the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, and offered a one-sided infomercial for the National Security Agency’s widespread warrantless surveillance of Americans.
Last night on “60 Minutes,” Leslie Stahl offered us a straight-up hit job on clean energy, touting an imaginary “Cleantech Crash.”
“60 Minutes” is apparently unaware that the DOE Loan Guarantee Program has a whopping 97 percent success rate, while the companies CBS focuses on such as Solyndra and Abound Solar were just three percent of the portfolio.
Stahl claimed that domestic natural gas production was a form of clean energy, but never mentioned the adverse environmental and health effects of gas well fracking, and she never mentioned climate change at all.
This is the kind of fact-free “journalism” that we’ve come to expect from the Faux News Channel. In reality, renewable energy has become our the largest source of new electric capacity, led by wind power.
What’s The Matter With 60 Minutes?: Cleantech Edition
13 Major Clean Energy Breakthroughs Of 2013
60 Minutes Report Denounced For Disability Misinformation
NSA Report Means More Trouble For 60 Minutes
60 Minutes Benghazi Witness Even Less Credible Than Previously Imagined
A baby born in the new year can expect to live in a world that suffers the effects of catastrophic climate change, according to an article in The Guardian based on a new scientific study published in the journal Nature.
Professor Steven Sherwood at the University of New South Wales in Australia, who led the new research, said that unless emissions of greenhouse gases are cut, the planet would heat up by a minimum of 4C by 2100. The study found that as the planet heats, fewer sunlight-reflecting clouds form, causing temperatures to rise further in an upward spiral.
“4C would likely be catastrophic rather than simply dangerous,” Sherwood told the Guardian. “For example, it would make life difficult, if not impossible, in much of the tropics, and would guarantee the eventual melting of the Greenland ice sheet and some of the Antarctic ice sheet,” with sea levels rising by many meters as a result.
…”Climate skeptics like to criticize climate models for getting things wrong, and we are the first to admit they are not perfect,” said Sherwood. “But what we are finding is that the mistakes are being made by the models which predict less warming, not those that predict more.”
For the sake of argument, it’s customary to say that climate models only predict what is likely to happen unless we do something fast. I am starting to doubt that there is anything that can be done now to prevent catastrophic climate change, or even slow it down. This is because certain tipping points, for example rapid melting of the Greenland ice sheet, may have already been reached. Once a trigger is pulled, it cannot be un-pulled. The bullet is on its way.
Tomorrow, 1.3 million Americans will be immediately cut off from long-term unemployment insurance payments. According to the White House Council on Economic Advisers, an additional 3.6 million people will lose their benefits by the end of 2014. The expiration of benefits represents a critical blow to a program that lifted 1.7 million out of poverty in 2012.
Why? Republicans in Congress. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) expressed the GOP position when he said that long-term unemployment benefits encourage unemployment. Of course, when there are three applicants for every job, the opposite is true.
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.
Via Think Progress:
A federal judge has ruled that the “wholesale collection of the phone record metadata” of all U.S. citizens — a program exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden — likely violates the 4th Amendment and is unconstitutional.
In his opinion, Judge Richard Leon found that the 1979 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Smith v. Maryland no longer applies:
“[T]he almost-Orwellian technology that enables the Government to store and analyze the phone metadata of every telephone user in the United States is unlike anything that could have been conceived in 1979. In Smith, the Supreme Court was actually considering whether local police could collect one person’s phone records for calls made after the pen register was installed and for the limited purpose of a small-scale investigation of harassing phone calls. The notion that the Government could collect similar data on hundreds of millions of people and retain that data for a five-year period, updating it with new data in perpetuity, was at best, in 1979, the stuff of science fiction.”
The decision was stayed by Judge Leon pending appeal and, therefore, has no immediate effect.
Edward Snowden released the following statement via Glenn Greenwald: “I acted on my belief that the N.S.A.’s mass surveillance programs would not withstand a constitutional challenge, and that the American public deserved a chance to see these issues determined by open courts. Today, a secret program authorized by a secret court was, when exposed to the light of day, found to violate Americans’ rights. It is the first of many.”
Federal Court Rules Bulk Collection Of Phone Records By NSA Likely Violates Constitution: Founding Fathers ‘Would Be Aghast’
This Is The Most Important Paragraph In The Court Decision Against The NSA
’60 Minutes’ Trashed For NSA Piece (Did anybody else see that? It was a new low for CBS).
Are Republicans really going to refuse to pay for the spending deal they’ve agreed to — by not raising the debt limit next year?
Answer: Rep. Ryan is threatening to do just that.
David J. Lynch on Bloomberg:
The widening gap between rich and poor is eroding faith in the American dream.
By almost two to one — 64 percent to 33 percent — Americans say the U.S. no longer offers everyone an equal chance to get ahead, according to a Bloomberg National Poll.
…The lack of faith is especially pronounced among those making less than $50,000 a year: By a 73 percent to 24 percent margin, they say the economy is unfair. Even 60 percent of those whose annual income is $100,000 or more bemoan the absence of a fair deal…
In the Bloomberg poll, 68 percent of Americans say the income gap is growing, while 18 percent say it is unchanged and 10 percent say it’s shrinking.
After 30 years of trickle-down economics, very few Americans can be fooled anymore. Democrats like President Obama have been forced to acknowledge the problem of extreme inequality, but what are they prepared to do about it?
The budget deal announced yesterday is the opposite of what we need. The Democratic Party sold out its own base to help Republicans maintain power.
UPDATE: Robert Reich: Raw Deal
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.
h/t DSWright on FDL
Remember that massive NSA complex being built in Utah? It requires 1.7 million gallons of water a day to keep the servers housing all your stolen data cool. Cut off the water and watch the surveillance state buckle, or at least that’s the thought.
The OffNow Coalition proposes “The 4th Amendment Protection Act,” state-level legislation that would cut off support for NSA’s unconstitutional warrantless surveillance of Americans.
“Contracts to engage in illegal activity are not valid contracts. They aren’t upheld in court. Anyone making a blanket claim that NSA is acting legally is just plain nuts. So the Utah legislature can do something about the water in Bluffdale”
Maxwell Strachan, HuffPo:
Congress effectively pulled money out of the hands of 47 million struggling Americans last month when it allowed massive cuts to the country’s food stamp program to go through without a hitch.
This was a callous decision. If you’re struggling to remember why, look no further than this chart from a new report by the Brookings Institution-affiliated Hamilton Project:
William Galston, Wall Street Journal:
The food-stamp program’s costs have soared since 2000, and especially since 2007. Here’s why.
First, there are many more poor people than there were at the end of the Clinton administration. Since 2000, the number of individuals in poverty has risen to 46.5 million from 31.6 million—to 15% of the total population from 11.3%. During the same period, the number of households with annual incomes under $25,000 rose to 30.2 million (24.7% of total households) from 21.9 million (21.2%).
Critics complain that beneficiaries and costs have continued to rise, even though the Great Recession officially ended in 2009. They’re right, but the number of poor people and low-income households has continued to rise as well.
According to the Census Bureau, there are 2.9 million more poor individuals today than in 2009, and three million more households with incomes under $25,000. The economic recovery, such as it is, has not yet reached low-income Americans.