This site may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in an effort to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. we believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

FAIR USE NOTICE FAIR USE NOTICE: This page may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. This website distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for scientific, research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107.

Read more at: http://www.etupdates.com/fair-use-notice/#.UpzWQRL3l5M | ET. Updates
FAIR USE NOTICE FAIR USE NOTICE: This page may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. This website distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for scientific, research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107.

Read more at: http://www.etupdates.com/fair-use-notice/#.UpzWQRL3l5M | ET. Updates

All Blogs licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Hello, 911, I'd Like to Report a Crime: The Corporate/Wall Street Theft of the American Economy

Hello, 911, I'd Like to Report a Crime: The Corporate/Wall Street Theft of the American Economy


911: Hello, 911. What's your emergency?

Me: Yes, I'd like to report a crime.

911: Okay sir, what kind of crime?

Me: Kidnapping and extortion.

911: Who was kidnapped?

Me: Well, it's not a 'who,' more like a what.

911: Ah sir, that would be a theft, not a kidnapping. What's been stolen.

Me: It wasn't stolen, per se, more like held for ransom.

911: (Sigh) Okay, what's being held for ransom sir, and by whom?

Me: Well I don't know the exact amount but it's gotta be close to a quarter trillion dollars.

911: Someone is holding a quarter trillion dollars hostage, you say.

Me: Exactly! And they're demanding money for it's return.

911: Sir, is this a joke? Because if it is, you should know that jerking emergency services around is a crime.

Me: I'm NOT joking. They're holding a hundreds of billions of dollars hostage and are demanding tens of billions of dollars to return it.

911: Just who is this "they" you keep referring to?

Me: American companies; Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and other US-based companies. Would you please send the police and arrest these guys. They're a den of extortionists. Here, wait a second, I have evidence. Let me email this over to right now and you'll see what I'm talking about. Hold on a second, I'm sending:

"Some of the nation's largest corporations have amassed vast profits outside the country and are pressing Congress and the Obama administration for a tax break to bring the money home.

Apple has $12 billion waiting offshore, Google has $17 billion and Microsoft, $29 billion. Under the proposal, known as a repatriation holiday, the federal income tax owed on such profits returned to the United States would fall to 5.25 percent for one year, from 35 percent." (Full Story)

Me: Got it?

911: Yes sir. I see, but this is just a newspaper article, not evidence of a crime. All this is is a tax issue. These companies and the others you are accusing of a crime are simply taking advantage of tax loopholes which, sir, is completely legal.

Me: Oh, great. Then I'll open an offshore account and start doing it too.

911: I wouldn't if I were you sir. I hear the IRS is criminally charging individuals who try this kind of thing. All they the IRS is offering individuals with money hidden offshore is to not put them in jail if they declare it now and pay back taxes.

Me: But corporations are, under the law, treated as individuals. Why isn't the IRS charging corporations?

911: Don't know sir and this is not the place for this kind of debate. Unless you have an actual crime to report I am going to have to cut you off.

Me: So, let me get this straight; Bush Jr. slashed their tax rates to historically low levels, gave them more tax breaks for sending US jobs off to who-knows-where, and in return these same companies squirreled hundreds of billions in those tax savings outside the reach of US taxes -- all of which gutted the US economy and treasury and through the nation into a near-depression. Now these very same companies have the gall to send us a ransom note offering to return some of that money to the US in return for a tax rate usually reserved for low-income earners and high schoolers working summer jobs. And you're telling me that none of this is a crime?!

911: We've been through this sir. No. It's not a crime. Now I have go sir. We have real crimes being committed by those unemployed folks you just referred to. Now goodbye!!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

9 Countries That Do It Better: Why Does Europe Take Better Care of Its People Than America?


The world's wealthy democracies have somewhat different priorities, leading to some very different outcomes for their citizens.

An abiding belief in American exceptionalism is more or less ubiquitous across the political spectrum. But in many ways, what makes America different from other advanced democracies are relatively modest differences in priorities. While all wealthy democracies share the same basic model --they derive the bulk of their economic activity from the private sector while offering some form of social safety net for those who fall through the cracks -- even slight differences in priorities can have a huge impact on the lives of their people.

Here are 9 countries that do a better job providing for their citizens than we do.

Taking Care of the Ill: France

If you have access to the best health care in the United States, then you have some of the best care in the world. But that comes with an extremely steep price, and not everyone has that kind of access.

In 2008, the U.S. spent 16 percent of its economic output on health-care and covered 85 percent of its citizens. It was the only OECD country other than Mexico and Turkey to cover less than 90 percent of its people. We have the 37th longest average life expectancy, and a recent study found that American “life expectancy has been stagnant for much of the country and is actually decreasing over much of the Southern portion of the United States.”

France, which has a health-care system ranked number one in the world by the WHO, spent 11.2 percent of its economy to cover everyone.

There are a number of drivers of health-care costs, but one statistic stands out: in the European (and European-style) economies, upwards of 70 percent of the total health-care bill is picked up by the government, meaning that people are insured in large pools with lots of bargaining clout to hold down providers' costs. In the U.S., less than half of our health care is in the public sector, resulting in a patchwork system of private insurers with much higher administrative costs. When you plug what France pays per person for health care into our own government's fiscal projections, you get balanced budgets by around 2014, which then turn into surpluses after 2040.

Collective Bargaining: France

At around 12 percent (in 2008), the United States doesn't have the lowest unionization rate among the wealthy countries. That distinction goes to France, where under 8 percent of the workforce belongs to a union.

But union membership isn't important, collective bargaining is; and around 90 percent of non-managerial French workers – union members or not -- are covered under collective bargaining agreements.

Honorable mention goes to the Scandinavian countries – with 53 percent of its workforce in a union, Norway comes in dead last among them; 68 percent of Swedes belong to a union, topping the list.

Inequality: Denmark

A large body of research shows that higher union density correlates with less inequality. The U.S. is the most unequal society among the wealthy countries – in the OECD, only three middle-income countries (Turkey, Mexico and Chile) have a more lopsided distribution of wealth.

Denmark leads the way, with the flattest distribution among the high-income countries in the OECD.

Poverty: Denmark

Inequality is a measure of how much income those at the top of the pile take in compared to what those at the bottom grab. So, in countries with equal wealth, more inequality means more poverty – the piece of the economic pie shared by those at the bottom end of the scale will be smaller by definition.

Not surprisingly, Denmark, at 5.4 percent, has the lowest poverty rate among the European-style countries.

The OECD uses a different standard of poverty than does the U.S. government. It counts anyone making less than half of the median income as living in poverty. By that standard, we are plagued with a poverty rate of over 17 percent, higher than all the OECD countries other than Mexico, Israel and Chile. (The average among OECD countries in general is 11.1 percent.)

Child Poverty: Denmark

One of the most tragic comparisons for America, among the richest countries in the world, is that more than one in five children live in poverty, as measured by the OECD (PDF). The OECD average is under 13 percent, and Denmark again comes in last, with childhood poverty at around 4 percent. (Following it are Finland, Norway, Austria and Sweden.)

Gender Gap: Italy

Because women are disproportionately represented in lower paying jobs, and people at the bottom of the wage ladder get the most benefits of union membership, high unionization rates are also correlated with lower gender pay-gaps – it's one of several factors, but it's a key one.

Italy has the second highest union rate outside of Scandinavia, and also boasts the smallest gender gap. A female worker in the middle of the pack makes just 1.3 percent less than her male counterpart in Italy. Compare that with American women, who earn more than 20 percent less than American men. (The OECD average is 16 percent, and we're not the worst – that distinction goes to Japan among the European-style economies.)

Taking Care of the Young

At 6.7 deaths per 1,000 live births, the U.S. had the highest infant mortality rate among the high-income nations in 2006. Iceland, with 1.4 deaths/ 1,000 live births, had the lowest.

Among high-income countries, only Canada spent a lower share of its economic output on family benefits, services and tax breaks than the U.S., which devoted about 1.25 percent of GDP. France, which has battled low fertility rates for years, spends almost 4 percent.

The U.S. is the only advanced country that doesn't offer paid maternity and/or paternity leave.

Sweden offers the longest paid leave – 16 months – at about 80 percent of one's income. Denmark allows the parents to divide a year off, with full pay.

Early childhood care and preschool programs confer long-lasting benefits on children who participate in them. About a third of American kids aged 3-5 were enrolled in such programs in 2008, compared with about two-thirds of kids in Denmark.

Taking Care of the Old: Luxembourg

Conservatives paint more progressive countries as being mired with chronically high unemployment. But there's a bit of sleight-of-hand at work: looking only at workers in their prime years, the U.S. has a low employment rate relative to most European countries. Ten of them -- as well as Australia, Canada and Japan – had higher employment rates for people in their prime working years.

But we work our elderly a lot harder than they do in other countries. Among those aged 55-64, over 60 percent of Americans work, compared with just 35.3 percent in Belgium.

The Social Security system in the U.S. replaces 42 percent of the median salary – only the UK is stingier among the wealthy countries (but it pays a bigger share of the wages of lower-income workers). Iceland replaces 109 percent of the earnings of someone in the middle of the economic pack; Luxembourg and the Netherlands replace about 90 percent. The OECD average is 60 percent.

Among the wealthy countries, only Norway and Iceland have a higher retirement age (67) than we do in the U.S. (66). People in Luxembourg can retire with full benefits at 57, and the Italians join them just three months later.

Taxing Corporations Versus Individuals: Luxembourg

The U.S. government collects less in taxes than the other rich countries, on average, but that doesn't tell us who pays what.

It's worth noting that the U.S. is tied for the OECD country that collects the lowest share of the economy in corporate taxes, at 1.8 percent of GDP (in 2008), or about half the group's average.

That means that more of the burden falls on individuals and households. Americans fork over more in personal income taxes than the OECD average as a result – we pay 9.9 percent while the OECD as a whole pays 9 percent.

Denmark leads the world in corporate taxes, and the Slovak Republic has the lowest personal income taxes, but the most “balanced” system (an admittedly arbitrary standard) is arguably Luxembourg's, where corporations were taxed at 5.1 percent and individuals and families at 7.7 percent in 2008.

Aren't They Taxed to Death in General?

What about the “economy-killing” taxes under which those crazy European socialists suffer? Well, in 2007 we paid 7.5 percent of our economic output less in taxes than the average of OECD countries, but citizens of the other wealthy countries got a lot more for their tax dollars than we did – free or very low-cost health care, college educations, better unemployment benefits, job training and the list goes on.

In the United States, we paid the equivalent of 8.2 percent of our economy more in social spending out of our own pockets than the people in other rich countries did that year. So the savings we enjoyed on our tax bills were more than offset by what we paid for those things our counterparts bought with their taxes. When private and public spending on our social welfare are added together, Americans pay just a little bit more than the other citizens of the world's leading economic powers.

But What About the Debt?

Perhaps these countries just ran up piles of debt in the course of taking better care of their people?

That's not the case; among the world's wealthy democracies only six – Japan, Greece, Ireland, Iceland, Belgium and Italy – had a higher ratio of debt to GDP than the United States last year.

Denmark's debt level was less than half of our own.

Much has also been made of the Europeans' supposedly slower growth and lower average incomes. It is true that over the last decade, gross domestic product grew by about 1 percentage point more annually in the United States than in the core countries of the EU-15. But when we talk about “growth,” we mean a growing population as well as increasing productivity: more people making stuff means more total stuff.

The differences in population growth between the United States and the EU are stark. Since 1980, the population of the United States has increased by more than a third, compared with 7 percent in the EU (as a whole). Adding people, however, doesn’t necessarily make countries more affluent. A better standard is the growth of GDP per person. As Paul Krugman pointed out, “Since 1980, per capita real G.D.P.—which is what matters for living standards—has risen at about the same rate in America and in the E.U. 15: 1.95 percent a year here; 1.83 percent there.” That’s essentially a rounding error.

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board got terribly excited a few years back when a study by a right-wing think tank in Sweden “found that if Europe were part of the U.S., only tiny Luxembourg could rival the richest of the 50 American states in gross domestic product per capita.” A “rising tide still lifts all boats,” the Journal reminded us, “and U.S. GDP per capita was a whopping 32% higher than the EU average in 2000, and the gap hasn’t closed since.”

As far as the raw data go, that’s true. (But several individual European states have GDP per capita that are either higher than, or comparable to, that enjoyed in the United States.) The thing is, those data tell only part of the story about a country’s economic health. We do have different priorities, and European workers expect six to eight weeks of vacation, paid sick days, and fewer hours of overtime—Europeans simply don’t work themselves to the bone as we do. American men and women worked an average of 41 hours per week in 2005, while European men averaged 38 hours and European women only 30. As the OECD noted, “As for holiday and paid leave entitlements, the striking differences between Europe and the United States (including sickness and maternity) obviously explain some of the transatlantic gap in annual working hours.”

When you factor in the difference in time spent on the job, the income gap essentially disappears. Now, is this simply a matter of Americans’ having a superior work ethic, unblunted by the perfidy of the nanny state? Well, no. Overworked Americans are miserable. According to research cited by Boston College’s Sloan Work and Family Research Network, four in 10 workers who work a lot of extra hours say they “feel very angry toward their employers,” versus 1 percent who work only a few extra hours. Just 3 percent of two-income couples who work long hours said they were content with the effort, and nine out of 10 U.S. workers said either, “My job requires that I work very hard,” or “I never seem to have enough time to get everything done on my job.”

So, again, what we see is merely a difference in priorities.

Note: Unless linked above, all data are from the OECD's downloadable Excel files found here. A correction was made to this article after publication.

The Unsustainable American Fulfillment Paradox (aka "Dream")

Kick It Over

Fulfillment Paradox

by Ian Bullock


On a Tuesday morning in June, a Vancouver man named Salim and his beloved decided to get married. They tracked down a minister and a few hours later in Choklit Park, realized they needed a witness. I was crossing the street when I saw three people waving me over. “Sorry, I’ve got a meeting,” I said, when they asked me to help. “It will take five minutes,” the minister assured me. “We’ll say the vows, you’ll sign the registrar and then you’ll be off.” So in Choklit Park – overlooking Yaletown’s office towers and million-dollar condos – Salim and his bride made their solemn oaths. I joined these strangers in a bubble of unexpected, collective happiness.

What can this bubble tell us about happiness and economics? Quite a lot.

For hundreds of years we have believed that increased material wealth makes us happier, and we have shaped our world accordingly. We have built big box stores along highways that can only be reached by car. We have built larger and larger vehicles that isolate us from others and emit dangerous levels of carbon. We work 40 hours a week – or more – to maintain this lifestyle. Why do we believe that making a lot of money makes us happy? “We didn’t evolve with iPods and fancy cars,” explains Christopher Barrington-Leigh, an economist at the University of British Columbia. “How could we possibly have a preset level of satisfaction that relates material things to how happy we are?”

While the world has certainly grown richer in the last 50 years, most happiness economists agree that happiness and life satisfaction levels have remained constant. The United States, for example, has failed to see higher happiness levels since the end of the Second World War, despite a quadrupling of their gdp. The New York Times recently reported that while incomes in China grew by 250 percent between 1994 and 2007, life satisfaction levels shrank drastically. The Easterlin Paradox, a theory developed in 1974, explains this phenomena: Money makes us happier until average incomes are achieved. After that, money’s affect on happiness is greatly reduced.

So if Hummers and iPods won’t make us happier, what will? Instead of concentrating on the accumulation of wealth, we should be concentrating on the quality of our human relationships. Social scientists and economists have shown that groups with strong social networks usually have lower crime rates, better child welfare and public health, and less political corruption ... all of which translate into greater happiness and life satisfaction. Societies that are democratic, supportive of gender equality and more accepting of marginalized groups such as immigrants and homosexuals tend to be happier societies as well.

Back in Choklit Park, the minister handed me the marriage papers to sign. I was going to be late for my meeting, but something more important was going on. Salim and his new wife were trusting me to sign the document that could chart the course of their lives for many years to come. Married people generally report greater life satisfaction than unmarried people: One study suggests that this marriage could produce the same happiness as a quadrupling of Salim’s annual income. (Although if Salim’s proposal was as whimsical as he said it was, the effect of his marriage could be similar to that of winning the lottery: a sudden spike in happiness that quickly diminishes.)

In the distance the downtown sector shimmered with economic productivity, but in Choklit Park we had enacted a microcosm of pro-social, financially neutral, happiness-inducing activity that would slip below the radar of mainstream economics. As Senator Bobby Kennedy famously said to a group of Kansas students: “[gdp] measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.” Will happinomics actually free us from the big box stores and the never-ending mutations of the iPod? Probably not. But people are paying attention. The government of Bhutan has been following a policy of Gross National Happiness since 1972, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy recently announced that happiness levels would be taken into account when measuring the country’s economic performance. In the coming years, we can expect to find these ideas beginning to influence our government policies. In the meantime, we can open ourselves to our communities and reap the dividends of a rich social life.

Ian Bullock is a Vancouver freelance writer who is at work on his first novel.

American Economics: The Delusion Revolution

Kick It Over

The Delusion Revolution

by Robert Jensen

The Delusion Revolution
Mike Mills, Let's Be Human Beings, 2003, Photo: Todd Cole

Imagine you are riding comfortably on a sleek train. You look out the window and see that the tracks end abruptly not too far ahead ... The train will derail if it continues. You suggest the train stop immediately and the passengers go forward on foot. This will require a major shift in everyone’s way of traveling, of course, but you see it as the only realistic option. To continue barreling forward is to court catastrophic consequences. But when you propose this course of action, others – who have grown comfortable riding on the train – say, “We like the train, and arguing that we should get off is not realistic.”

In the contemporary United States, we are trapped in a similar delusion. We are told that it is “realistic” to yield to the absurd idea that the systems we live in are the only systems possible or acceptable based on the fact that some people like them and wish them to continue. But what if our current level of first world consumption is exhausting the ecological basis for life? Too bad. The only “realistic” options are those that view this lifestyle as nonnegotiable. What if real democracy is not possible in a nation-state with 300 million people? Too bad. The only “realistic” options are those that view this way of organizing a polity as immutable. What if the hierarchies our lives are based on are producing extreme material deprivation for the oppressed and dull misery among the privileged? Too bad. The only “realistic” options are those that view hierarchy as inevitable.

Let me offer a different view of reality:

(1) We live in a system that, taken as a whole, is unsustainable – not only over the long haul but in the short term.

(2) Unsustainable systems cannot be sustained.

How’s that for a profound theoretical insight? Unsustainable systems can’t be sustained. It’s hard to argue with that. The important question is whether or not we live in a system that is truly unsustainable. There’s no way to definitively prove such a sweeping statement, but look around at what we’ve built and ask yourself whether you really believe this world can go forward indefinitely … or even for more than a few decades. Take a minute to ponder the end of cheap fossil energy, the lack of viable large-scale replacements for that energy and the ecological consequences of burning what remains of it. Consider the indicators of the health of the planet: groundwater contamination, topsoil loss, levels of toxicity. Factor in the widening inequality in the world, the intensity of the violence and the desperation that so many feel at every level of society.

Based on what you know about these trends, do you think this is a sustainable system? If you were to let go of your attachment to this world, is there any way to imagine this as a sustainable system? Considering all the ways you understand the world, is there anything in your field of perception that tells you we’re on the right track?

To be radically realistic in the face of all this is to recognize the failure of basic systems and to abandon the notion that all we need to do is recalibrate the institutions that structure our lives. The old future – the way we thought things would work out – truly is gone. The nation-state and capitalism are at the core of this unsustainable system, giving rise to the high-energy/mass-consumption configuration of privileged societies that has left us saddled with what James Howard Kunstler calls “a living arrangement with no future.” The future we have been dreaming of is not based on reality. Most of the world’s population – who don’t live with our privilege – has no choice but to face this reality. It’s time for us to come to terms with it.

Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity and All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice.

Ecological Economics 101: Sustaining Sustainability

Kick It Over

Deep in recession and with scary ecological scenarios looming, now may be the ripest moment we’ll ever have to power-shift global capitalism onto a new sustainable path. We invite economics students around the world – especially PhD students – to join the fight to revamp Econ 101 curriculums and challenge the endemic myopia of their tenured neoclassical profs. Read some of the introductory articles, check out the latest dispatches on our blog, then download the Kick it Over Manifesto (and other posters) and keep pinning them up in the corridors of your department. Get a small group together and start jamming! Put your university at the forefront of the monumental mindshift now underway in the "science" of economics.

15 June 2011, 10:12 AM

Sustaining Sustainability

by JP Hayes

Two paradigms

Sustainability is a profoundly ambiguous term. Depending on the context in which it is used, it is a word that can mean an almost incalculable variety of things, running the gamut of interpretation. At best the idea of sustainability should suggest that we live on a planet composed of finite resources, where there are thermodynamic constraints on the growth of any material or energetic system. Proponents of sustainability should acknowledge that in the past 150 years we have seen the most exaggerated expansion of human economic systems that the world has ever seen, resulting in a mass of challenges that threaten not only humanity, but the entire living envelope of the planet itself. That this expansion is synonymous with the sixth greatest mass extinction event – the first with a biotic (human induced) cause – should be of immense concern to the modern human moment. Yet despite this knowledge, the brand of sustainability that is most often promoted in industry and in the media remains tethered to development and growth. Such “sustainable” values are the very same ones that promote an accelerated rate of consumption in fossil fuels, food, energy, water use, and polluting emissions, only now cloaked in the neutralizing guise of a recyclable, or 'green' package.

In the worldview of industrialized societies, the planet has been reduced to a resource bin whose primary existence is to provide materials that can be converted into commodities. As such, we construct a world informed by a particular brand of fragmented knowledge that tends to normalize ecologically disastrous behavior. Economics, stemming from this worldview, acts as if its laws exist in a vacuum, seeing environmental degradation as being easily repaired through market incentives, material substitution, and new technology. This is why an ecological approach to the economy is so tremendously important. Ecological economics (although not without its flaws) recognizes its interdependent and co-evolutionary relationship to natural ecosystems, knowing that the economy is merely a sub-system of a much greater and more complex web of significance. A true sustainability will involve a re-imagining of the economic system away from a growth-obsessed model that demands excessive throughput of material and energy, towards a more steady-state, egalitarian economy that recognizes itself as a subset of the planet that supports it.

JP Hayes
JP Hayes is a graduate student currently researching social psychology and the ontology of climate change. He is an advocate of Earth jurisprudence and the music of Max Richter.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Justice for the Jobless

In These Times

Justice for the Jobless

Unemployed Americans are fighting for a federal jobs program.

By Yana Kunichoff

(Photo Courtesy of Tamara L Smith, Jobs with Justice)

It is mid-May and the first warm day Chicago has seen in weeks, but six people have gathered in a sparsely decorated room in a union office building in the city’s Near West Side. The group—an older male worker forced into retirement, a long-term unemployed female factory worker, two men who get by on part-time jobs and an unpaid intern fresh out of college—forms a demographic cross-section of the country’s job crisis.

There’s also a professional organizer—Susan Hurley, executive director of Chicago Jobs with Justice—but at this weekly meeting of the Unemployed Action Center, everyone is an organizer. The Center aims to bring together the unemployed and under-employed to fight for a federal jobs program, and to empower people while they do so.

The unemployment crisis has largely disappeared from the headlines in recent months, replaced with stories about the deficit, dubious GOP presidential candidates and, occasionally, articles focusing on job creation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), April 2011 saw the biggest private-sector job growth in five years.

But for the jobless organizers at the Center and millions of other Americans, the unemployment numbers tell the real story. The BLS reports that the national unemployment rate “edged up” to 9 percent in April—13.7 million unemployed people. But that rate doesn’t include Americans who have given up looking for work or were stuck with part-time jobs—another 11.1 million people.

Aside from Hurley, all of the Center’s organizers are volunteers. Along with providing the unemployed with access to computers, résumé-writing workshops and job interview practice sessions at its office, the Center’s organizers also hold demonstrations at the State of Illinois Building in the Loop after the monthly federal jobs report is released and regularly canvass state unemployment offices.

In one hour of canvassing in May, Hurley says the Center’s petition demanding that President Barack Obama and members of Congress “hold Wall Street accountable, tax corporations and wealthy individuals their fair share…and create a jobs program to rebuild our public infrastructure” received more than 100 signatures.

The center has also targeted banks—its May 6 action in downtown Chicago ended in a protest outside Chase’s office tower. Reports that financial institutions such as Bank of America paid no federal income tax in 2010, while an “unemployed person on average paid about $1,500 in taxes,” only further highlight the extent to which a movement for the unemployed is essential, Hurley says. But the movement for a federal jobs program has been slow, says Hurley, and some state governments that have drained unemployment insurance funds have reduced the number of weeks an unemployed person may get benefits in order to avoid raising taxes on businesses. “You can’t improve the economy while still inflicting pain on working people,” Hurley says.

Chicago Jobs with Justice is not the only organization to respond to the jobs crisis by organizing those directly affected by it. Unemployed people are building similar movements in Pennsylvania, Virginia, California, Rhode Island and other states, according to Hurley and Bill Fletcher Jr., a longtime labor activist and co-author of Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice. And UCubed, a project launched by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in early 2010, also aims to organize the jobless to create a “union of the unemployed” and demand a real economic recovery—exclusively through the Internet.

Although Jobs with Justice is funded by unions, the Center has not partnered with any particular union to push for a federal jobs program. Instead, it has been working with other grassroots groups to protest the foreclosure crisis and its causes. “People are not returning to jobs as good as they had before,” Hurley says. Understanding the connection between unemployment, personal bankruptcies and foreclosures is essential to fighting the domino effect (first unemployment, then foreclosure, then bankruptcy) and making sure each of these problems is not viewed in isolation. To that end, Hurley and the five volunteer organizers are planning a partnership with the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign to fight bank foreclosures and evictions in the city through canvassing and public pressure campaigns.

Hurley believes organizing across movements is key. “If we can solve smaller issues,” she says, like how to keep one family in their home or one unemployed person out of bankruptcy, “it demonstrates the power that we can have collectively on bigger issues.” Including, perhaps, the campaign’s ultimate goal: a federal jobs program, which millions of Americans are still ready to join.

Yana Kunichoff is an assistant editor for Truthout, where she writes frequently about immigration and social movements. Her work has also appeared in the Chicago Reporter and Gapers Block.

Buy American. Buy American jobs.


Efforts by those who never want to hear someBuy American. Buy American jobs.one say, “Bye-bye American manufacturing,” converged coincidentally to make June Buy American month.

First, at the forceful urging of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the Smithsonian on June 8 opened an all-American-made gift shop in the National Museum of American History. Three days later, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio introduced legislation requiring federal agencies to buy only 100 percent American-made flags.

Then, at the Netroots Nation 2011 conference in Minneapolis, Minn. this week, the AFL-CIO will serve American union-made beer, including Schell’s, brewed in Minnesota by members of my union, the United Steelworkers (USW). The Alliance for American Manufacturing will host at Netroots an American-made fashion show at which it will serve USW-member made Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain bars. And the BlueGreen Alliance is distributing to Netroots attendees mercury-free, USW-made, energy-efficient, non-curly cue Oshram Sylvania halogen light bulbs.

All these events occurring before mid-June are significant in an era of stubborn 9.1 percent unemployment, a time when 14 million unemployed Americans are searching for jobs. It’s significant because buying American-made products is buying American jobs. And buying American union-made products is buying good, middle class American jobs.

Eight million American manufacturing workers have lost their jobs over the past 30 years as multi-national corporations off-shored factories. But America still manufactures and the prices of American-manufactured goods, including those made by union workers, are competitive with foreign-made products.

Choosing an American-made product, or North American-made to include my home country of Canada where hundreds of thousands of USW members live and work, means supporting North American workers and the North American work ethic. It means buying products manufactured by willing adults in reasonable conditions, not by children laboring Dickensian hours in dangerous factories. It means reasonable assurance that the manufacturer abided by environmental laws prohibiting the poisoning of the air, ground and water by toxic substances like mercury and lead.

The Smithsonian experience provides the perfect example of how buying American-made products purchases American jobs.

Late last year, Sen. Sanders went to the history museum shop to buy Christmas gifts and discovered the presidential busts there were made in China. He was incensed that an American taxpayer-supported history museum was selling American history memorabilia not made in America. He complained.

While the Smithsonian reviewed the situation, CBS news determined exactly how policies like the museum’s injure the American economy. CBS reporters found a Connecticut woman who had to lay off three workers when the museum stopped selling her hand-crafted, American-made jewelry and replaced them with foreign-made substitutes. Before the change, Merrie Buchsbaum’s “Americana Collection” was among the museum shop’s best sellers. Apparently tourists did not find the prices for her America-made souvenirs to be excessive.

When the museum cut her off, Buchsbaum’s sales declined 20 percent, forcing her to furlough her entire staff. Three jobs is the difference between buying American and buying foreign for just one small supplier of one small gift shop.

The Smithsonian changed its policy, converting the gift shop to an all-American operation with 300 American-made souvenirs. Now it’s called the American History Price of Freedom gift shop.

That price of freedom, the Smithsonian said, is higher in some cases when the souvenir is American-made. For example, the custom, hand-crafted American-made mugs it now sells cost $20 instead of the average $12 price for a foreign-made mug in other museum shops. But U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia, who is preparing legislation tying the sale of American-made souvenirs to future federal funding for the museums, believes Americans will pay a buck or two more “to have their lapel American flag pin say ‘Made in the U.S.A.’”

American products don’t always cost more, however, even when they’re union-made. ABC news investigative reporters discovered that when they removed foreign-made goods from a Dallas family’s home earlier this year and replaced them with American-made products.

In addition, included in the price of North American-made products is the cost of protecting the environment and treating workers with dignity. It’s the price of morality. The United States and Canada, for example, forbid child labor and institutionalized the 40-hour work week. Both countries enforce environmental protection laws forbidding the devastating pollution countenanced by China and some third-world nations.

For example, the New York Times this week revealed that millions of Chinese children suffer from brain and nerve-damaging lead poisoning from unregulated, polluting factories, many of which produce batteries or smelt metal. The Times reported that the Chinese government in some cases conspired with the polluting companies to cover up the problem, denied testing to nearby sick residents and withheld tests results.

The lead poisoning raises the question of what China is doing about even-more-dangerous mercury, which is used by Chinese companies to make those twisty, energy-efficient light bulbs.

In America, Steelworkers are fabricating energy-efficient Sylvania halogen bulbs that look exactly like traditional light bulbs and contain absolutely no mercury. That’s American innovation, American compliance with moral environmental rules and American union labor creating a superior product.

Who knew, though? All anyone hears anymore is that American manufacturing is dead. American doesn’t make anything anymore. That is just not true. Here are some USW-made, terrific North American products:

Jacobson hats
Cutco Cutlery
Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts
Wendell August Forge pewter gifts
Breyers Ice Cream
Cascades paper towels and tissue
Viva and Bounty paper towels
Depend undergarments and Poise pads
Charmin and Angel Soft bath tissue
Puffs facial tissue
Georgia-Pacific Dixie Cups and plates
Cenveo envelopes
Leader Paper Products envelopes and business cards
All-Clad metal cookware
Regal Ware cookware
Speed Queen washers and dryers
Alberto Culver hair care products
Carrier home heating systems
Enderes forged hand tools
Channellock tools
Ideal Roofing steel shingles
Blanco Canada kitchen sinks
Nestle Purina cat litter
Distinctive Design furniture
Barrymore furniture
Star Bedding, Sealy, Spring Air, Springwall, King Koil and Simmons mattresses
Anchor Hocking glass tableware
General Storage containers
World Kitchen Pyrex glassware
A.O. Smith residential water tanks
Gentek Building Products including windows, doors and vinyl siding
American Standard bathroom fixtures
Reynolds Wrap aluminum foil
Fabri-Kal plastic ware
Speakman shower heads
3M O-cell-O sponges
Crown Metal Packaging for food and beverages
Federal White Cement
Shade-O-Matic and Eclipse venetian blinds, shutters and window covers
Valspar pigment for Valspar paints
Lavelle Industries rubber and plastic plumbing components
Harley-Davidson motorcycle parts and accessories
PFERD Milwaukee Brush metal brushes
Alto-Shaam, Inc. ovens and warmers
Shur-Line paint rollers
Goodyear, Bridgestone/Firestone, BFGoodrich, Titan and Yokohama tires.

The tires require caution. Many of those companies have foreign factories that export tires to North America. So the buyer must look for these codes to get American made tires: BE and BF for BFGoodrich, YE, 4D and E3 for Bridgestone/Firestone, UP and UT for Cooper, MD, MJ, MC, and MK for Goodyear and CC for Yokohama. These letters follow the letters DOT on each tire’s code.

In the case of the other products listed, some also operate foreign factories, so it’s always good to look for the Made in America label.

Buy American. Buy American jobs.

Leo W. Gerard is the international president of the United Steelworkers union. He is a member of the AFL-CIO Executive Committee and chairs the labor federation’s Public Policy Committee. President Barack Obama recently appointed him to the President’s Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Negotiations. He serves as co-chairman of the BlueGreen Alliance and on the boards of the Apollo Alliance, Campaign for America’s Future and the Economic Policy Institute. He is a member of the IMF and ICEM global labor federations and was instrumental in creating Workers Uniting, the first global union. In 2008, he signed a merger agreement with the UK-based manufacturing union Unite, creating the first trans-Atlantic union -- Workers Uniting. The USW, the largest manufacturing union in North America, has won important trade cases to protect members’ jobs, including the 2009 case that imposed tariffs on Chinese tires.

American Made Products Directory

Please try to support American Workers by buying products from the directory below. Click on a letter below to go to that category (example to find
American Made Jeans click C for Clothes or J for Jeans. If you know of a good American Made Product not on the list use the
Submit Product Form
for consideration of listing here.

This site is dedicated to help you find American Made Products. Let's keep our jobs home, lets pressure retailers to sell more products Made in the USA, lets ask companies to quit outsourcing support jobs overseas, and lets watch over our school systems to ensure we are turning out the next great generation.

This site is not about Red States, or Blue States, it is about one big Red White and Blue Nation. Back when our brave men and women went off to fight the war to end all wars, I doubt they ever envisioned we would loose the battle in our stores, when they fought so hard to win on the battle

We Americans find ourselves in another great battle, the battle for our industrial, technological, and support jobs. The enemy is different and comes in all forms. In forms like cheap Chinese goods. China is not the only struggle we have. And to be honest do you blame China for pouring goods into the US. We have a huge appetite for cheap goods, we enhance our lives because of cheap goods we may not be able to buy other wise. But we are not really getting ahead. Yes you can buy a DVD player for about $50.00 bucks, but what are we losing? We are losing a lot, and if you will take the time to explore our site I think you will be convinced if you are not already.

At this site we are not protectionist in the sense we wish to have politicians place restrictions on foreign goods, that would be foolish. Our goal is to convince Americans to spend a little more for our own goods. That little price difference keeps another American working.

Ayn Rand's Poison: GOP Faces Backlash for Their Obsessive Worship of a Psycho

It's dangerous for a political party to think of the public as "parasites," and people with tons of cash as "producers" who should govern.

Photo Credit: Creative Commons
Some say that maybe it is a bad idea to base a political party's ideology on a belief that altruism, democracy and Christianity are "evil." Others say that maybe it is a bad idea to base a country's policies on fictional novels rather than science and history. Still others say is it a bad idea for national leaders to think of most of the public as "parasites" while saying people with tons of cash are "producers" who should govern. I am talking about the Republican Party's embrace of Ayn Rand and her cruel philosophy.

Disciples of Ayn Rand's philosophy of selfishness now dominate the thinking of the leadership of the conservative movement and the Republican Party. There is no way around it. Republican budget leader Rep. Paul Ryan says Rand is his guide. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) says Rand's Atlas Shrugged is his "foundation book." Senator Rand Paul is named after her. Clarence Thomas requires his law clerks to watch The Fountainhead. Fox News promotes Rand. Conservative blogs promote Rand. Glenn Beck has been promoting Rand for years. So has Rush. This isn't recent, Alan Greenspan lived with the Rand cult and promoted and implemented her ideas.

A Philosophy Based On Admiring A Psychopath

Rand believed that a lot of things most of us use as our moral base are "evil." But Rand's writings are the origins of modern Republican philosophy. In Alan Greenspan And Things Forgotten I wrote about the origins of this philosophy:

Rand's work is very popular among conservatives now. It forms a core justification for their "on your own" philosophy praising the wealthy and discarding the rest. So it is useful to explore the formation and core of this philosophy. Early in her writings Rand became fascinated with a serial killer named William Hickman.Rand wrote that the serial killer was an "ideal man," a superior form of human because he didn't let society impose their morals on him. He didn't worry about what others thought and just did as he pleased.

"Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should," Rand wrote. Hickman had "no regard whatsoever for all that society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. He has the true, innate psychology of a Superman. He can never realize and feel 'other people.'" She considered these to be good qualities! And so does her cult.

This is the foundation of the modern "tea party" conservative thinking. So when you look at the modern capitalism that has grown up around Rand's philosophy and the big corporations that are chewing up the planet to enrich a very few at the expense of the rest of us, and think it seems sort of psychopathic, maybe that's because it literally is.

See also: Ayn Rand, Hugely Popular Author and Inspiration to Right-Wing Leaders, Was a Big Admirer of Serial Killer.

More And More Concern

More and more, people are becoming aware of the influence of Ayn Rand on current Republican thinking. Amy Sullivan writing at Time's Swampland, Paul Ryan’s Ayn Rand Problem and Ayn Rand: The GOP’s Godless Philosopher; Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast, Ayn Rand: The GOP’s Favorite Bonkers Demagogue; Garance Franke-Ruta at The Atlantic,The Echoes of Ayn Rand in Paul Ryan's Budget Plan.

Religious Leaders Sound Alarm

Religious leaders and writers are increasingly sounding the alarm about the Republican embrace of Ayn Rand and what it really means. Examples: Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic, Must Christian Voters Choose Between Ayn Rand and Jesus?; Jim Newell at Gawker: Catholics Take on the Republican Cult of Ayn Rand; Sarah Posner at Religious Dispatches writes,The Problem with Ayn Rand Isn’t Atheism; Stephen Prothero at Tuscon Citizen: You can't reconcile Ayn Rand and Jesus, Joes Parko in an op-ed at the Crossville, Tennessee Chronicle writes We the People: Ayn Rand and the Tea Party Christians and Michael Sean Winters in the National Catholic Reporter, with Pushback from the Religious Left, (please click through to read it all),

This past weekend, Ralph Reed of Christian Coalition and Jack Abramoff fame, hosted a conference of conservative religious leaders here in Washington. They hope to energize conservative Christian voters to turn out at the polls en masse next year, although one wonders whether some GOP leaders will look up from their copies of "Atlas Shrugged" long enough to recognize the deep intellectual schizophrenia within the conservative political ranks today.

The progressive religious group Faith in Public Life organized an event at a nearby hotel to push back against the religious right's agenda. Among others, Father Clete Kiley of the Archdiocese of Chicago addressed the group. Here is the text of his speech as prepared for delivery:

Today we are gathered here to sound an alarm. The proposed federal budget developed by Chairman Paul Ryan, and being pushed by folks at the Faith and Freedom Coalition across the street, reflects a profound crisis for American working families and American values.

There was a time in this country when we all believed in something called the common good. And we believed that if we all put in our fair share, we would be a just country, a strong country, a nation at peace with itself.

There was a time in this country when we all believed it was right to take care of our elderly; to secure their retirement; to provide them with health care; to give them a dignity and quality of life.

In this video Ayn Rand attacks altruism as evil and explains her philosophy of objectivism:

From The Sideshow this week,

The spiritual leader of the modern Republican Party is Ayn Rand, who said: "I am against God. I don't approve of religion. It is a sign of a psychological weakness ... I regard it as evil. ... I am the creator of a new code of morality; a morality not based on faith." If I had a lot of money, I'd commission a poster with Ayn Rand's face on it and her name and those words in very big letters and put it on every billboard I could buy space on. And after it had been up long enough for a few "faith-based" people to feel they had to disavow her, I'd slowly, one by one, change the poster for one with the words of a different author: "For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows."

Paul Ryan Confronted

Watch as Rep. Paul Ryan refuses to accept a Bible from James Salt of Catholics United. The Bible was specially marked with passages about helping the poor. This occurred at the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference last week in DC.

"Why did you choose to model your budget on the extreme ideology of Ayn Rand rather than the faith of economic justice in the Bible?"

So Republicans have a lot of explaining to do. And not just to their Christian"base."

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Why the Republican War on Workers' Rights Undermines the American Economy

June 15, 2011 at 17:52:10

Why the Republican War on Workers' Rights Undermines the American Economy

By Robert Reich (about the author)

The battle has resumed in Wisconsin. The state supreme court has allowed Governor Scott Walker to strip bargaining rights from state workers.

Meanwhile, governors and legislators in New Hampshire and Missouri are attacking private unions, seeking to make the states so-called "open shop" where workers can get all the benefits of being union members without paying union dues. Needless to say this ploy undermines the capacity of unions to do much of anything. Other Republican governors and legislatures are following suit.

Republicans in Congress are taking aim at the National Labor Relations Board, which issued a relatively minor proposed rule change allowing workers to vote on whether to unionize soon after a union has been proposed, rather than allowing employers to delay the vote for years. Many employers have used the delaying tactics to retaliate against workers who try to organize, and intimidate others into rejecting a union.

This war on workers' rights is an assault on the middle class, and it is undermining the American economy.

The American economy can't get out of neutral until American workers have more money in their pockets to buy what they produce. And unions are the best way to give them the bargaining power to get better pay.

For three decades after World War II -- I call it the "Great Prosperity" -- wages rose in tandem with productivity. Americans shared the gains of growth, and had enough money to buy what they produced.

That's largely due to the role of labor unions. In 1955, over a third of American workers in the private sector were unionized. Today, fewer than 7 percent are.

With the decline of unions came the stagnation of American wages. More and more of the total income and wealth of America has gone to the very top. Middle-class purchasing power depended on mothers going into paid work, everyone working longer hours, and, finally, the middle class going deep into debt, using their homes as collateral.

But now all these coping mechanisms are exhausted -- and we're living with the consequence.

Some say the Great Prosperity was an anomaly. America's major competitors lay in ruins. We had the world to ourselves. According to this view, there's no going back.

But this view is wrong. If you want to see the same basic bargain we had then, take a look at Germany now.

Germany is growing much faster than the United States. Its unemployment rate is now only 6.1 percent (we're now at 9.1 percent).

What's Germany's secret? In sharp contrast to the decades of stagnant wages in America, real average hourly pay has risen almost 30 percent there since 1985. Germany has been investing substantially in education and infrastructure.

How did German workers do it? A big part of the story is German labor unions are still powerful enough to insist that German workers get their fair share of the economy's gains.

That's why pay at the top in Germany hasn't risen any faster than pay in the middle. As David Leonhardt reported in the New York Times recently, the top 1 percent of German households earns about 11 percent of all income -- a percent that hasn't changed in four decades.

Contrast this with the United States, where the top 1 percent went from getting 9 percent of total income in the late 1970s to more than 20 percent today.

he only way back toward sustained growth and prosperity in the United States is to remake the basic bargain linking pay to productivity. This would give the American middle class the purchasing power they need to keep the economy going.

Part of the answer is, as in Germany, stronger labor unions -- unions strong enough to demand a fair share of the gains from productivity growth.

The current Republican assault on workers' rights continues a thirty-year war on American workers' wages. That long-term war has finally taken its toll on the American economy.

It's time to fight back.


Robert Reich is Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He has written twelve books, including (more...)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Junk Jobs: Roughly Half of New American Jobs at McDonald's: You Can't Even Get Them!

Junk Citizens: Welfare Cheats, Freeloaders, Frauds Everywhere! (A Rebuttal)

Junk Citizens: Welfare Cheats, Freeloaders, Frauds Everywhere! (A Rebuttal)

A phrase I hear a lot: "I know loads of people who are committing welfare fraud". This phrase is usually followed with a flurry of moral judgments and bad logic. Generally, these loads of welfare frauds are driving Escalades, buying PlayStations, having oodles of children, drinking, smoking, doing drugs, drinking too much soda, eating too much McDonald's, having breakfast out every morning on the taxpayer's dime- in short, being lazy, no good spendthrifts, living a lifestyle of luxury while you, the taxpayer, suffer an austere, self-disciplined, and generally morally superior existence.

The myth of millions of dirty rotten welfare cheats fleecing the public seems, like so many of our nation's ills, to have risen to prominence along with the rise to prominence of Ronald Reagan. In 1976, Reagan made a speech in which he claimed a "welfare queen" from Chicago's South Side had been arrested for welfare fraud:

"She has eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve Social Security cards and is collecting Veteran's benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She's got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income is over $150,000."

This woman did not exist. While popular media such as Reader's Digest had been printing sensationalized stories about welfare fraud since the early 1960s, it was Reagan who gendered and racialized the stereotype- and so it persists today, with the alleged frauds almost invariably black mothers (in Europe, substitute any other racial minority).

Like Ronald Reagan, the people who spout this sort of nonsense are no more than mouthy establishment puppets offering incorrect opinions on a subject about which they, obviously, know very little. Such ignorance is a basis of Junk Citizenship, and when confronted with a Junk Citizen, informed, compassionate citizens should be prepared to do factual (verbal) battle with their toxic views.

Ergo, how to respond to someone who claims they personally "know loads of people who are committing welfare fraud" in 5 easy steps:

1. Stay calm. Granted, I just called such people "Junk Citizens" and "mouthy establishment puppets". In truth, I do get a bit frustrated with hearing the same old nonsense all of the time, and I do wish people would do their research before trying to join the discourse. But sometimes, people are poorly informed for good reasons (i.e. overwork, lack of resources), yet are still reasonable and intelligent human beings who might be open to an alternative point of view. So stay calm, be patient, don't call them ignorant puppets or junk citizens (it's disrespectful and alienating), and just try to make a few factual counterpoints. Of course, if the dialogue goes absolutely nowhere, you might privately mutter "puppet!" to yourself or denounce Junk Citizenship on your blog that no one reads.

2. The first appeal I like to make to those who know "loads" of welfare cheats is the appeal to compassion and humanity. It goes something like this: The government provides different kinds of welfare to poor people, middle-class people, the super rich, and corporations. So these loads of people you personally know who are committing welfare fraud- are they middle class or poor people (since, despite what the Supreme Court says, corporations are not people, and most of us are not and do not know any of the super rich)? There may be some hemming and hawing at this point and you might have to make the case for middle-class welfare (tax cuts and benefits such as those for home ownership, etc.). But pretty quickly it will emerge that these "loads" of welfare frauds are to be found among the poor.

You might then point out that the largest welfare program (for individuals) in the U.S. is Social Security- a guaranteed minimum income program for the elderly. And that another large client base for welfare programs is children (public education, health insurance programs for poor children, WIC, etc.). Is it poor children and low-income older people who are defrauding the system while living a drug and booze-addled lazy luxury lifestyle? No? (Now you're, most likely, back to the stereotype- it's the mothers of poor children, particularly the black ones).

Now for the appeal to compassion and humanity: Grant them their stereotype: There are going to be *some* welfare cheats out there, even among the poor. Some poor black moms (and white dads and white moms and black dads) might be gaming the system. Any bureaucratized system is open to some level of abuse. Available evidence indicates that the problem of "welfare fraud" is, however, vastly overstated. And it's not like poor people are living anything remotely resembling a luxury lifestyle- really, would you want to have to get by on the meager benefits offered to the poor by the U.S. government (and incidentally, cash benefits have a 5-year lifetime maximum)? Would you like to trade places with any of these masses of fraudsters? Are you seriously begrudging a poor person a trip to McDonald's or a soda?

And even granting the stereotype- if one tries hard enough, they can probably find some poor and lazy parent out there "freeloading", collecting benefits when they could and should be working (some low-income, no-benefit crap job that makes survival, perversely, more difficult)- are we really willing to punish the majority of honest, hard-working poor who desperately need help to survive in an economy and society that threw them overboard thirty years ago?

I, for one, am not. I would much rather support (and pay for) benefits that try to equalize the playing field for the masses of poor (who have suffered enough), even if that means there is some no-good, Escalade-driving, PlayStation-buying, drinking, smoking, drug-taking, soda-swilling, McDonald's-scarfing welfare fraud laughing all the way to the bank on my dime. Even if there are 10 of them. 100 of them. 1,000 of them. 10,000 of them.

3. The appeal to compassion and humanity usually fails. So then I try the appeal for evidence. It goes something like this: Can you please make a list for me of all of the people *you know personally* who are committing welfare fraud, how long they have been doing it, and in what ways? This request inevitably brings people up short. Pressed for examples, they *will* struggle to provide more than one, and to provide much in the way of details at that. You might get something like this: "There's this woman I know with three kids and no job, living in project housing, and I see her every day eating a foot-long with chips and soda AND a cookie in the Subway at Wal-Mart. Why is she spending government money (my money!) treating herself to Subway every day while I go to work every day, with a (virtuous) ham sandwich packed in my lunch bag?"

4. After you've caught someone up short on evidence, you can provide alternative evidence. Like this: You can start by raising some questions about the example they've provided: Do you really see her *every* day? How do you know she's spending money on that lunch? Maybe there is an employee who feels sorry for her, or is her friend, and slips her the food for free (in which case that hard-working employee would actually be the marauding fraud)? Or maybe she provides under-the-table childcare to one of the employees, who buys her lunch in exchange? (Poor people often have networks of informal exchange that enable them to meet needs and scrape by). After you've demonstrated that one has to be a bit more nuanced when judging other people, go for the statistical evidence:

Unfortunately, the government does not systematically collect evidence on welfare fraud, which leaves the practice open to a lot of conjecture and hyperbole (conveniently). But there have been a few studies that quote actual evidence. For example, a 2004 study from the Department of Justice looked at Social Security fraud- that is, fraudulent claims for old age, survivor's, and disability insurance. In 2003, the SSA made payments to approximately 44.6 million claimants through these programs. Between October 2002 and March 2003, the SSA received 51,311 fraud allegations (nearly half of them tip-offs from private citizens, the rest from law enforcement, SSA employees, and other public agencies). Given that October-March is a six-month period, you might want to double all of these numbers. (But still- 100,000 allegations out of 44.6 million cases? Not exactly "loads of people"). Of those 51,311 allegations, the SSA actually opened 9,170 potential fraud cases (so most allegations are bunk), and of those 9,170 cases, only 2,677 led to arrests and indictments, and then only 1,008 of those led to criminal convictions. 1,008 out of 44.6 million (let's double it and say they got another 1,008 for the next six months)- 2,016 fraudsters out of 44.6 million claimants- not exactly an epidemic, is it?

Other evidence indicates that those convicted of welfare fraud aren't always exactly unsympathetic- this study (from Canada, alas) includes the case of a young pregnant woman who was convicted for receiving a student loan and welfare assistance at the same time (previously legal but now illegal under Canada's welfare 'reform').

And even if you troll through Wikipedia or LexisNexis, you will find precious few sensational cases of welfare fraud among the poor (much welfare fraud is actually committed by vendors).

5. Finally, you can give them an alternative definition for welfare fraud. Like this: The real 'welfare queens' are corporations! Even if individual poor people have managed to defraud the welfare system, the cost of their fraud is *absolutely nothing* compared to the welfare fraud of corporations. Corporate welfare runs into untold billions of dollars- tax incentives and breaks, bailouts, etc. The Savings and Loan fraud cleanup cost taxpayers $125 billion. The bank bailout cost us $700 billion dollars- and what a fraud that was. The banks are back to record profits and luxury bonuses, while the latest figures show that 15.6 million Americans remain unemployed, another 9 million are involuntarily working only part time, and yet another 2.5 million have given up hope of finding employment ever again.

Corporate welfare runs into the billions of dollars annually (and costs more than many of the welfare programs for the poor combined). Corporations often receive subsidies and tax breaks (often no taxes for x number of years) to bring their business to American communities in exchange for the promise of decent jobs. These same corporations all too often pull up sticks and move to another town (or country) when the tax breaks run out, or when another community offers a better deal.

The welfare and bailouts given to corporations make these entities the real 'welfare queens' /cheats/frauds/freeloaders of American society. To demonize the poor on welfare is to play foolishly into the hands of a status quo that does not have any of our interests in mind.

It is perfectly reasonable for middle- and working-class Americans to be angry. We have seen our standard of living decline, our wages stagnate, our dependence on credit to survive intensify, and our jobs disappear, while the costs of education, healthcare, food, and housing have gone through the roof. We are all only a tenuous thread above the very poor we demonize, and may all too soon find ourselves in need of a welfare "handout".

But to misdirect this justified anger at the bogeyman of a cheating, lazy, drug-addled poor person shows not only serious deficits of compassion and reason, but allows the real 'welfare queens' to continue truly wasting our money while ransacking our economy, our society, and our lives.