Weekly Audit: We Welcome Our New Plutocratic Overlords

 

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Meet the new global elite. They’re pretty much the same as the old global elite, only richer and more smug.

Laura Flanders of GritTV interviews business reporter Chrystia Freeland about her cover story in the latest issue of the Atlantic Monthly on the new ruling class. She says that today’s ultra-rich are more likely to have earned their fortunes in Silicon Valley or on Wall Street than previous generations of plutocrats, who were more likely to have inherited money or established companies.

As a result, she argues, today’s global aristocracy believes itself to be the product of a meritocracy. The old sense of noblesse oblige among the ultra-rich is giving way to the attitude that if the ultra-rich could do it, everyone else should pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

Ironically, Freeland points out that many of the new elite got rich from government bailouts of their failed banks. It’s unclear why this counts as earning one’s fortune, or what kind of meritocracy reserves its most lavish rewards for its most spectacular failures.

Class warfare on public sector pensions

In The Nation, Eric Alterman assails the Republican-controlled Congress’s decision to scrap the popular and effective Build America Bonds program as an act of little-noticed class warfare:

These bonds, which make up roughly 20 percent of all new debt sold by states and local governments because of a federal subsidy equivalent to some 35 percent of interest costs, ended on December 31, as Republicans proved unwilling even to consider renewing them. The death of the program could prove devastating to states’ future borrowing.

Alterman notes that the states could face up to $130 billion shortfall next year. States can’t deficit spend like the federal government, which made the Build America Bonds program a lifeline to the states.

According to Alterman, Republicans want the states to run out of money so that they will be unable to pay the pensions of public sector workers. He notes that Reps. Devin Nunes (R-CA), Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Paul Ryan (R-WI) are also co-sponsoring a bill to force state and local governments to “recalculate” their pension obligations to public sector workers.

Divide and conquer

Kari Lydersen of Working In These Times explains how conservatives use misleading statistics to pit private sector workers against their brothers and sisters in the public sector. If the public believes that teachers, firefighters, meter readers and snowplow drivers are parasites, they’ll feel more comfortable yanking their pensions out from under them.

Hence the misleading statistic that public sector workers earn $11.90 more per hour than “comparable” private sector workers. However, when you take education and work experience into account, employees of state and local governments typically earn 11% to 12% less than private sector workers with comparable qualifications.

Public sector workers have better benefits plans, but only for as long as governments can afford to keep their contractual obligations.

Who’s screwing whom?

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich is calling for a sense of perspective on public sector wages and benefits. In AlterNet he argues that the people who are really making a killing in this economy are the ultra-rich, not school teachers and garbage collectors:

Public servants are convenient scapegoats. Republicans would rather deflect attention from corporate executive pay that continues to rise as corporate profits soar, even as corporations refuse to hire more workers. They don’t want stories about Wall Street bonuses, now higher than before taxpayers bailed out the Street. And they’d like to avoid a spotlight on the billions raked in by hedge-fund and private-equity managers whose income is treated as capital gains and subject to only a 15 percent tax, due to a loophole in the tax laws designed specifically for them.

Signs of hope?

The economic future looks pretty bleak these days. Yes, the unemployment rate dropped to 9.4% from 9.8% in December, but the economy added only 103,000, a far cry from the 300,000 jobs economists say the economy really needs to add to pull the country out its economic doldrums.

Andy Kroll points out in Mother Jones that it will take 20 years to replace the jobs lost in this recession, if current trends continue.

Worse yet, what looks like job growth could actually be chronic unemployment in disguise. The unemployment rate is calculated based on the number of people who are actively looking for work. Kroll worries that the apparent drop in the unemployment rate could simply reflect more people giving up their job searches.

For an counterweight to the doom and gloom, check out Tim Fernholtz’s new piece in The American Prospect. He argues that the new unemployment numbers are among several hopeful signs for economic recovery in 2011. However, he stresses that his self-proclaimed rosy forecast is contingent upon avoiding several huge pitfalls, including drastic cuts in public spending.

With the GOP in Congress seemingly determined to starve the states for cash, the future might not be so rosy after all.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

Bloodshed in Arizona turns spotlight on political landscape of anger and hate

From the Restore Fairness blog-

As Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona battles for her life after an assassination attempt, the nation is trying to grapple with the violent tragedy that took the lives of 6 and wounded 14 people on Saturday morning, casting a dark shadow on the start of this year. On the morning of January 8th, while U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was meeting with constituents at a ‘Congress on Your Corner’ event at a local shopping center in Tuscon, a gunman opened fire on the gathering. Within seconds, Congresswoman Giffords was shot in the head at point blank range, along with 19 others including Christina Green, a 9-year old girl, Phyllis Schneck, a grandmother from New Jersey and 76-year old Dorwan Stoddard, who lived a mile from the grocery store.

A suspect was apprehended at the scene after two men pinned him to the ground and waited for the police to arrive. The suspect, 22-year old Jared Lee Loughner, has been charged with five federal counts on Sunday, including the attempted assassination of a Member of Congress, and the killing and attempted killings of four other government employees including John M. Roll, the chief federal judge in Arizona, who was killed, Gabriel Zimmerman, a Congressional aide, who was also killed, and Pamela Simon and Ron Barber, Congressional aides who were wounded. Mr. Loughner could face the death penalty if convicted.

Investigators found evidence at Jared Loughner’s residence in Southern Arizona to show that he had planned the attack on Gabrielle Giffords, including an envelope on which the words “I planned ahead,” “My assassination” and “Giffords” were written. In addition to a website linked to his name which contains anti-government writings, Mr. Loughner’s motives for committing the crime remain unclear. In spite of indications that Mr. Loughner is mentally ill, the tragic incident has quickly focused attention on the degree to which a political climate increasingly characterized by hate, fear and vitriolic rhetoric might be complicit in leading to a tragedy of this nature.

In a New York Times editorial written after the Arizona shootings, Paul Krugman refers to an internal report brought out by the Department of Homeland Security in April 2009 that warned of the violence that could accompany the growth of extremist rhetoric that was apparent in the political landscape. The last few years have also seen a growth in the numbers of threats against government officials. In 2010, following the health-care overhaul, Capitol Security officials had said that threats of violence against Congress officials, including death threats, harassment and vandalism, had tripled from the previous year. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a strong and vocal supporter of heath-care reform had her district office door smashed with a bullet following the health-care vote. Judge John Roll, who was killed on Saturday, had received thousands of threatening messages and phone calls after he had allowed undocumented immigrants to proceed with a case in which a rancher had assaulted 16 Mexicans who had crossed through his land.

While it would be misguided to directly attribute the Loughner’s violent actions to the surge of inflammatory language characterizing politics and media, it is important to understand that there are real consequences to framing political discourse through violent rhetoric. The extent to which hateful and angry rhetoric has made its way into mainstream politics was evident in 2010, during the debate around Arizona’s harsh anti-immigrant law, SB1070, and during the 2010 mid-term elections, where campaign ads openly promoted hate and divisive sentiments. In March 2010, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin announced a target list of Congressional candidates to be defeated in the 2010 midterm election. Launched through her personal profile on Facebook, Palin’s “Don’t get Demoralized. Get Organized. Take Back the 20” campaign was symbolized by a map of the country which had crosshairs over the districts represented by candidates that she wanted defeated. Ms. Giffords, who was among the candidates marked on this map, had expressed her concern about it at the time-

We’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list. But the thing is the way that she has it depicted has the cross hairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they’ve got to realize there’s consequences to that.

At a press conference about the shootings on Saturday, Pima County Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik spoke about the “vitriol” that characterized political discourse. Saying that it was time for the country to do a little “soul-searching” he said-

The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And unfortunately, Arizona, I think, has become sort of the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.

There is never an explanation for senseless acts of violence such as this that take the lives of innocent people. While Saturday’s shooting can be seen as an isolated action of a mentally ill individual, it can also be seen as emblematic of a political landscape that is angry, divisive, intolerant and eliminationist. Can this tragic incident become the pivotal turning point towards a more humane and peaceful political discourse?

Photo courtesy of examiner.com

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Weekly Pulse: Egg Salad Surprise! Congress Votes to Clean Up Food Supply

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

It’s a Christmas-week miracle! The Senate, in a vote that astonished everyone, brought the Food Safety and Modernization Act back from the dead on Monday, as Siddhartha Mahanta reports in Mother Jones. The bill, which will enact tougher consumer protections against E. coli and other deadly contaminants in staples like eggs and peanut butter, died in the Senate last week when the omnibus spending bill it had been folded into kicked the bucket.

At Grist, Tom Philpott explains the initial demise, and the basis for the ultimate resurrection of the bill. The House passed the bill on Tuesday, having already passed it twice before.

President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law, which will usher in the first major overhaul of the country’s food safety system in more than 70 years. Food poisoning strikes 48 million Americans (1 in 6), lands 128,000 in the hospital, and kills 3,000 ever year, according to CDC figures released last week. Now that’s something to talk about with your relatives around the holiday dinner table.

Wisconsin clinic backs off 2nd trimester abortion care

A clinic in Wisconsin has reneged on its commitment to provide second trimester abortion care, as Judy Shackelford reports in The Progressive. Shackelford is outraged that the Madison Surgery Center walked back on its promise to patients. She knows first hand how important later term abortion access can be.

Shackelford found herself in need of a second trimester abortion when she developed a blood clot in her arm during her second, much-wanted pregnancy. She decided to terminate rather than risk leaving her 7-year-old son motherless. It was hard enough to find an abortion provider when she needed one, but if she needed the procedure today, she would have nowhere to turn.

Teen birth rate at record low

The birth rate for women ages 15-19 fell to 39.1 per 1000 between 2008 and 2009, the National Center for Health Statistics announced Tuesday. Many commentators, including Goddessjaz of feministing attribute the drop to the recession. The economy seems to be an important factor because birth rates dropped in all age groups, not just among teens.

Predictably, proponents of abstinence-only-until-hetero-marriage are trying to take credit for the falling birth rate. It’s not clear why they think ab-only is finally starting to work after years of unrelenting failure. Perhaps it was Bristol Palin’s electrifying performance on “Dancing With the Stars”?

Get the government out of my Medicare

We’ve become accustomed to the ironic spectacle of senior citizens on Medicare-funded scooters decrying the “government takeover of health care.” Medicare is wildly popular, even among those who decry “socialized medicine.” When the Affordable Care Act is finally implemented, it won’t feel like a government program, either. Paul Waldman of The American Prospect wonders if this “private sector” feel will undermine support for the program:

The Republican officials challenging the ACA in court have characterized its individual insurance mandate as an act of tyranny ranking somewhere between the Stalinist purges and Mao’s Cultural Revolution. But in the “government takeover” of health care (recently declared the 2010 “Lie of the Year” by the fact-checking site PolitiFact), Americans will continue to visit their private doctors to receive care paid for by their private insurance companies. The irony is that if the ACA actually were a “government takeover,” people would end up feeling much better about government’s involvement in health care. But since it maintains the private system, conservatives can continue to decry government health care safe in the knowledge that most people under 65 won’t know what they’re missing, or in another sense, what they’re getting.

If people don’t realize that they’re benefiting from government programs, they are less likely to support those programs. In an attempt to deflect Republican criticism, the Democrats assiduously scrubbed as much of the aura of government off of health reform as they could. This could prove to be a disastrously short-sighted strategy. If health reform works, the government won’t get the credit, but rest assured that if it fails, it will take the full measure of blame.

Funding for community health centers at risk

One of the lesser-known provisions of the Affordable Care Act was to expand the capacity of community health centers (CHCs) from 20 million to 40 million patients by 2015. This extra capacity will be key for absorbing the millions of previously uninsured Americans who are slated to get health insurance under the ACA.

CHCs have been praised by Democrats and Republicans as an affordable way to provide quality health care. However, state budget crises are threatening to derail the plan, as Dan Peterson reports for Change.org. States must contribute to the program in order to qualify for federal funding. However, state funding for CHCs has plummeted by 42% since 2007. So far this year, 23 states have cut funding for CHCs and eight have slashed their budgets by 20% or more.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Small Government: One Small Fly in the Ointment

Conservatives – especially their tea partying faction – are yelling, “Hell no! We won’t grow!” in their quest for government with a microscopic “G”. Their biggest quibble with St. Ronnie of Reagan’s government isn’t the solution, it’s the problem mantra was that he didn’t lay off the entire government (except for a staggeringly expensive, ass-kicking military…and it’s associated contractors and arms makers) and outsource everything to the states, or preferably, India by way of multinational conglomerates.

I suspect they’ll be getting a rude awakening soon. They’ll find it next to impossible to fight the strong running political tide, agree on what needs to be shed, or even agree on what small government means.

For example, arch-conservative Michele Bachmann wanted to prohibit earmarks only to find that, oops, her state wouldn’t get any money either. Suddenly her perception of pork changed in the face of angry voters who saw that Michele’s financial acumen was roughly equivalent to a high school home economics course in buying canned hams at rock bottom prices.

One man’s crumbling highway is another’s canned ham. Let those drivers give up the ham. They need to be put on the fiscally conservative South Beach Minnesota Diet. Same for those homeless people too by golly. It’ll be good for their no account goldbricking asses.

Conservatives never met a regulation they liked – unless it benefits them or is written by lobbyists. And one of the biggest government expenditures of all is creating and enforcing regulations. The baggers and Republi-Goobs are of a similar mind that only the private sector is smart enough to do anything – apparently ignoring that whole financial derivatives thing. But who’s counting.

So here’s an idea.

Regulations and regulators are a huge chunk of the budget, right? The Tax and Spend It All on Me Crowd frequently reminds us, usually in high-pitched squeaky voices, that the private sector is where smart, upstanding CEOs can do anything. They even have big paychecks to prove it.

Since the Supreme Activist Court (SACOTUS) took it upon themselves to give corporations Constitutional rights far and away more important than the rights of all individual citizens combined, it makes sense that corporations would be the very picture of responsible citizens in thanks. And smart as whips too.

So, corporations are just terrific, and honest, and thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. We know this because Cryin’ John Boehner and the boys tell us so. So, how about we just trust them to do the right thing? No need to regulate when the free market unfailingly leads companies to the path of righteousness and honor.

We’d cut thousands of regulators in a jiffy. Legislators would have absolutely nothing to do except rubber stamp appropriations bills for the War du Jour. And lobbyists? Well, they’d become pro bono advisers to a micro-government that runs as smooth as BP oil rushing out of a broken wellhead. Yeah, THAT’S the ticket!

Um, only one small fly in the ointment on that one. Forget I mentioned anything.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

 

 

Is it Time for Democrats to Fight Obama?

You want to hear something really depressing? If John McCain had won the presidency, there is almost no chance he could have gotten the Bush tax cuts extended for the rich. Think about it. How was a Republican president going to get an overwhelmingly Democratic Senate and House to pass those tax cuts that they hated under Bush?

No, only a Democratic president could get a Democratic Congress to agree to tax cuts for the rich. So, in this sense, progressives are worse off for having a Democratic president than a Republican one.

Then, at least we would have known who we were fighting. Remember, Bush could barely, barely get these same tax cuts passed when the Republicans controlled both the Senate and the House!

Funny how the rich and powerful win no matter who is in charge and what party they claim to be from. And think about how much the political spectrum has shifted to the right that Bush had to use reconciliation and then barely got the tax cut through a Republican Congress whereas now a Senate with basically 59 Democrats just passed the same tax cuts with ease. Washington has fallen off a right-wing cliff and the media hardly noticed.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said this about the estate tax provision:

"We had the president--George W. Bush--we couldn't get it done then and we're getting it done here."

Ouch. Their victory is so overwhelming that the Republicans are brazenly bragging about how they couldn't even get Bush to do what Obama has done for them.

Finally, you have to ask why Democrats who were willing to fight Bush are crumbling in front of Obama? He claims to be the leader of your party, but honestly who cares? If he is doing the exact opposite of what you claim to stand for, why does it matter what he calls himself?

Democrats would certainly have fought a surge in Afghanistan if Bush was in charge. They would be complaining about warrantless wiretapping if Bush continued that program instead of Obama. They would have hated the monopoly that drug companies got in the health care legislation (because they went nuts over it when Bush made the same deal). And they would have gone apoplectic over these huge tax cuts for the rich. But under Obama, the defense contractors, the rich and the powerful have gotten almost everything they wanted and nary a peep was heard from the Democrats in Congress.

Here is the new memo - fight him, he's not on your side.

When I asked Rep. Jim McDermott some of these questions last night, he seemed at a loss for what to do next. You can feel his frustration and confusion as to how we got here with a Democratic president. Here are some of his quotes:

"Well, I think a lot of us are, in the caucus, we're not quite sure why this is happening. It doesn't make political sense what he did, and it doesn't make economic sense."

"I think that we are in serious trouble because the president simply does not seem willing to go after some things that I think he's going to have to if he's going to get anything done for the people of this country. He simply has, in my view, given up the willingness to fight for economic justice in this country."

"I think it's going to take us a while to get over what's happened here, and I really think... it is very hard to think how you're going to deal with the next round here, because the president has now shown that he can be bullied, and I don't want my president to be bullied."

"And I think he... we would be all much better if we were able to say, you know, that we're not going to back down, and that there's no excuse for us giving up like this. I mean, that's the hard part for me, is that it's giving up without a fight."

"[W]hen you start giving in on the kinds of things he's giving in on, you really worry that there is no way back from that. And I'm, I mean, that's why I said it was... this was Gettysburg, because it really is... that was the turning point in the war. And it really is a question of how you continue to rally your troops if you keep giving in on things that people really care about."

Until you get to a point where you're not sure he has the same idea of what "people really care about." He might have a different idea, a Republican idea. Or at the very least, a Washington idea of what people care about - so-called centrist compromises that somehow always benefit the establishment.

To watch the interview click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2dida2x3Sw

 

 

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