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Thursday, November 29, 2012

U.S. Continues Outsourcing Slavery Since the Civil War


America Didn’t “End” Slavery After the Civil War -- We Simply Exported It

One of the most enduring myths we love here in America is that we ended our involvement with slavery.

One of the most enduring myths we love here in America is that we ended our involvement with slavery after the Civil War.  While our Founders – people like Thomas Jefferson, who wrote “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence but owned slaves himself – were tarnished, morally imperfect hypocrites, in our modern era, we tell ourselves, we’ve risen above that.  We are pure!  We’re no longer tainted by slavery!

If only it were true.

The recent fires that killed 112 workers in Bangladeshi sweat shops making garments for Wal-Mart and other American retailers show how we, today, are frankly more hypocritical and dishonest about slavery than was Jefferson himself.

As are those Libertarians who argue that the Bangladeshis were “willing workers,” when poverty is so severe in that country that working, chained into a firetrap factory, is essential to survival itself.  To call the working conditions of much of the developing world anything less than slavery is to ignore the power relationships that keep workers behind fences, locked 24/7 in often-violent dormitories, and the companies that string nets outside windows to reduce worker suicides.

It’s to rationalize the role we play in this modern-day version of slavery, the same way 18th Century US slavery advocates (and some modern-day Southern Republicans) argued that slaves at least had free housing, food, and medical care as compensation for their labors.

As I point out in my book “What Would Jefferson Do?,” although Jefferson inherited land and slaves as a teenager when his father died, and more, including his wife’s half-sister Sally Hemmings, when his wife’s father died, Jefferson knew slavery up-front and personal, and worked much of his life to end it.

In April of 1770, Jefferson was practicing law and defended a slave who was requesting his freedom (Howell v. Netherland). In his arguments on behalf of the slave, Jefferson said that “under the law of nature, all men are born free, and every one comes into the world with the right to his own person, which includes the liberty of moving and using it at his own will.”

The year before, 1769, as a legislator in Virginia, he had written a bill to abolish the importation of slaves into that state. It was unsuccessful, and even brought down the wrath of many of his peers on him and his relative, Richard Bland, who Jefferson had asked to introduce the proposed legislation.

In his 1774 booklet, “A Summary View of the Rights of British America,” Jefferson attacked King George III for forcing slavery upon the colonies, a charge that was repeated in his first draft of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, but deleted from the final draft in order to keep the representatives of South Carolina and Georgia willing to sign the document.

That same year, Jefferson tried to write into the constitution of the State of Virginia a provision that would totally eliminate slavery, starting in 1800, and in 1778 he presented an even more radical bill that would have abolished slavery altogether in Virginia that year. While these attempts failed, he was successful in passing a Virginia law that year preventing any more slaves from being imported into the state.

In 1783, he again unsuccessfully attempted to amend Virginia’s constitution, proposing language that said: “The general assembly shall not... permit the introduction of any more slaves to reside in this State, or the continuance of slavery beyond the generation which shall be living on the thirty-first day of December, 1800; all persons born after that day being hereby declared free.”
The next year, he proposed at a national level a law banning slavery in the “Northwest Territories” – the Midwest and western states – and stating that any state admitted to the union would have to declare any person of any race born in that state after 1800 to be a free person. His proposal lost by a single vote, although parts of his proposed legislation were lifted and inserted into the Northwest Ordinance, which became law when Jefferson was in Paris in 1787.
Despite his best efforts, and those of his more firebrand contemporaries like John Quincy Adams, slavery was still alive and well as Jefferson was passing into old age.

In 1820, for example, Missouri and Maine were being admitted as states to the Union, and a fierce debate had erupted over whether Missouri should be allowed to join the nation if it continued to allow slavery (Maine was free of slavery). In the ultimate compromise, which was passed by Congress, Missouri was admitted to the union as a slave state.

Congressman John Holmes of Massachusetts wrote to an elderly Thomas Jefferson to inform him of the compromise, and on April 22, 1820, just six years before his death, writing with a quill pen, his hands cramped by arthritis, Jefferson candidly expressed his despair in his response to his old friend and colleague. In it, he foresaw the day, after his canoe or “bark” had crossed the River Styx to his death, when the nation would be torn apart across a “geographical line” over the issue of human beings being considered “that kind of property.”

“I thank you, dear Sir,” Jefferson wrote, “for the copy you have been so kind as to send me … on the Missouri question. … I had for a long time ceased to read newspapers, or pay any attention to public affairs, confident they were in good hands, and content to be a passenger in our bark to the shore from which I am not distant.

“But this momentous question, like a fire-bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union.

 “It is hushed, indeed, for the moment. But this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. A geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.

“I can say, with conscious truth, that there is not a man on earth who would sacrifice more than I would to relieve us from this heavy reproach, in any practicable way. …

“But as it is, we have the wolf by the ears, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go.”

After pondering the legal issues involved, Jefferson – who, as president, had signed into law an 1808 Act banning the slave trade with Africa – finally poured out his anguish in this private letter to Holmes, again foreseeing the unthinkable possibility of a civil war over slavery, which gave the lie to freedom in America and was thus a “treason against the hopes of a world” that looked to America as the beacon of liberty.

“I regret that I am now to die,” Jefferson wrote, “in the belief that the useless sacrifice of themselves by the generation of 1776, to acquire self-government and happiness to their country, is to be thrown away by the unwise and unworthy passions of their sons, and that my only consolation is to be, that I live not to weep over it. If they would but dispassionately weigh the blessings they will throw away, against an abstract principle more likely to be effected by union than by scission, they would pause before they would perpetrate this act of suicide on themselves, and of treason against the hopes of the world.”

The Founders and Framers, who thought they could take the wolf of slavery by the ears and dance with it to a just conclusion in their lifetimes, were wrong. But it wasn’t for want of trying, and, as Jefferson predicted, the 620,000 Americans who died in the Civil War paid the ultimate price of their failure.

Which brings us to today.  It’s easy for us, in this day and age, to look back 200 years ago and condemn Jefferson. He used the cheap labor resource of his slaves to maintain his lifestyle, and the consequence of the failure of his efforts to abolish slavery was a bloody Civil War followed by a hundred years of legal apartheid.

Although he rationalized his slaveholding by keeping them in a style that exceeded that of most poor whites of the day (both were grim by today’s standards), it was, nonetheless, a rationalization of slavery. Jefferson’s lifestyle was made possible by slave labor, and there is no other way to say it. Recognizing that fact, many Americans are righteously indignant and quick to judge him harshly.

Yet how many of us would willingly free our slaves?

I’m looking into a camera and teleprompter filled with parts made in countries that use slave and prisoner labor.  You’re watching me or reading this on a TV or computer filled with parts made in those same countries. Our rationalization is that no companies in America make many of those components any longer, but it’s just a rationalization, and no less hypocritical than Jefferson’s.

I’m sitting here wearing clothes made by modern-day slaves, and probably so are you.  I’m lit by studio lights assembled in countries where workers who try to organize are imprisoned, as are many of the lights in your home.

We rationalize all the products of distant slaves we use – after all, we don’t have to look into their faces like Jefferson did – but it’s still just a rationalization.
The stark reality is that we in America didn’t “end” slavery. We simply exported it.

And it’s so much more comfortable for us to criticize Jefferson and his peers for agonizing over – but still using – slave labor 200 years ago, when we don’t have to look into the faces of today’s slaves who are toiling and dying at this very moment to sustain our lifestyles.

Thom Hartmann is an author and nationally syndicated daily talk show host. His newest book is The Thom Hartmann Reader.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

12 Ways a Fiscal "Grand Bargain" Could Screw the Poor

Mother Jones 

| Tue Nov. 27, 2012 3:08 AM PST

As the fiscal cliff looms, there's a consensus that, one way or another, the rich are going to have to pay up. But that doesn't mean the poor are home free. Any "grand bargain" budget deal will be just that—a deal, which means that even though Democrats want to shield social programs from cuts, they will inevitably end up as bargaining chips on the table.

Obama's starting point for negotiations is the deficit plan that came out of the 2011 debt-ceiling showdown. It already contains heavy cuts in discretionary spending, which is spending on stuff that is not entitlements, including military and domestic programs. And 25 percent of that domestic spending goes to programs that help low-income people, according to Richard Kogan, a federal budget expert and senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). Obama and the Democrats have been pretty set against cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, and long-term unemployment benefits. However, Rep. Paul "62-percent-of-my-proposed-budget-cuts-come-from-poor-people-programs" Ryan will likely be leading the charge on the other side of the aisle. He won't be able to chop up the safety net to his liking, but he and his fellow Republicans will do what they can.

Kogan says that even though a final budget deal is likely not to eliminate tax benefits for the poor, it will almost certainly include deeper cuts to lots of social programs. Here are 12 possible targets (program costs are from 2012 unless otherwise noted):

Medicaid ($258 billion): Though Obama has largely targeted providers for potential Medicaid cuts, Republicans want beneficiaries to fork over more. In which case, says Kogan, patients might be forced to make copayments, or program costs may be shifted to the states, which could decide to scale back coverage.

Food Stamps ($78 billion in 2011): The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program serves about 45 million people. It is not part of discretionary spending, but Ellen Nissenbaum, senior vice president for government affairs at CBPP, told The Nation it faces a real prospect of being cut in negotiations.
Supplemental Security Income ($47 billion): Social Security itself is mostly off the table, but Supplemental Security Income for the blind, elderly, and disabled, is likely to take a hit, according to Nissenbaum.

Unemployment benefits extension in 2013 ($40 billion): If long-term unemployment benefits are allowed to expire at the end of the year, some 2 million jobless will be affected. Kogan says "there will be some extension, because that's just brutal. It's just a question of how much."

Pell Grants ($36 billion): These need-based grants help some 10 million low-income students afford college.

Section 8 Housing Assistance ($19 billion): Section 8 vouchers allow more than 2 million super low-income families to afford decent housing in the private market.

Job Training ($18 billion in 2009): Loads of federal job training programs help millions of seniors, Native Americans, farm workers, veterans, young people, and displaced or laid-off workers with career development.

Head Start ($7.9 billion):  The program, which helps kids from disadvantaged homes be better prepared to start school, had about a million enrollees in 2010. Research has shown that Head Start generates real long-term benefits for participants.

Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program ($3.47 billion): In 2011, about 23 million poor folks got help paying the winter heating bills through LIHEAP.

Community Health Centers ($3.1 billion): In 2011, more than 20 million patients, 72 percent of whom were below the poverty line, got healthcare through federally-supported community health centers.

Title 1 Education Grants ($322 million): Under the No Child Left Behind Act, school districts serving a big percentage of low-income kids get financial assistance to help them meet state academic standards.

Women, Infants, and Children ($7.2 million in 2011): The Department of Agriculture's WIC program helps low-income moms and babies get access to supplemental nutrition and health care referrals. WIC has about 9 million participants, most of whom are kids.

This article has been revised.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Scientists Probe Human Nature—and Discover We are Good, After All

Science News

Scientists Probe Human Nature—and Discover We are Good, After All

Recent studies find our first impulses are selfless

When it really comes down to it—when the chips are down and the lights are off—are we naturally good? That is, are we predisposed to act cooperatively, to help others even when it costs us? Or are we, in our hearts, selfish creatures?
This fundamental question about human nature has long provided fodder for discussion. Augustine’s doctrine of original sin proclaimed that all people were born broken and selfish, saved only through the power of divine intervention. Hobbes, too, argued that humans were savagely self-centered; however, he held that salvation came not through the divine, but through the social contract of civil law. On the other hand, philosophers such as Rousseau argued that people were born good, instinctively concerned with the welfare of others. More recently, these questions about human nature—selfishness and cooperation, defection and collaboration—have been brought to the public eye by game shows such as Survivor and the UK’s Golden Balls, which test the balance between selfishness and cooperation by pitting the strength of interpersonal bonds against the desire for large sums of money.

But even the most compelling televised collisions between selfishness and cooperation provide nothing but anecdotal evidence. And even the most eloquent philosophical arguments mean noting without empirical data.
A new set of studies provides compelling data allowing us to analyze human nature not through a philosopher’s kaleidoscope or a TV producer’s camera, but through the clear lens of science. These studies were carried out by a diverse group of researchers from Harvard and Yale—a developmental psychologist with a background in evolutionary game theory, a moral philosopher-turned-psychologist, and a biologist-cum-mathematician—interested in the same essential question: whether our automatic impulse—our first instinct—is to act selfishly or cooperatively.

This focus on first instincts stems from the dual process framework of decision-making, which explains decisions (and behavior) in terms of two mechanisms: intuition and reflection. Intuition is often automatic and effortless, leading to actions that occur without insight into the reasons behind them. Reflection, on the other hand, is all about conscious thought—identifying possible behaviors, weighing the costs and benefits of likely outcomes, and rationally deciding on a course of action. With this dual process framework in mind, we can boil the complexities of basic human nature down to a simple question: which behavior—selfishness or cooperation—is intuitive, and which is the product of rational reflection? In other words, do we cooperate when we overcome our intuitive selfishness with rational self-control, or do we act selfishly when we override our intuitive cooperative impulses with rational self-interest?

To answer this question, the researchers first took advantage of a reliable difference between intuition and reflection: intuitive processes operate quickly, whereas reflective processes operate relatively slowly. Whichever behavioral tendency—selfishness or cooperation—predominates when people act quickly is likely to be the intuitive response; it is the response most likely to be aligned with basic human nature.

The experimenters first examined potential links between processing speed, selfishness, and cooperation by using 2 experimental paradigms (the “prisoner’s dilemma” and a “public goods game”), 5 studies, and a tot al of 834 participants gathered from both undergraduate campuses and a nationwide sample. Each paradigm consisted of group-based financial decision-making tasks and required participants to choose between acting selfishly—opting to maximize individual benefits at the cost of the group—or cooperatively—opting to maximize group benefits at the cost of the individual. The results were striking: in every single study, faster—that is, more intuitive—decisions were associated with higher levels of cooperation, whereas slower—that is, more reflective—decisions were associated with higher levels of selfishness. These results suggest that our first impulse is to cooperate—that Augustine and Hobbes were wrong, and that we are fundamentally “good” creatures after all.

The researchers followed up these correlational studies with a set of experiments in which they directly manipulated both this apparent influence on the tendency to cooperate—processing speed—and the cognitive mechanism thought to be associated with this influence—intuitive, as opposed to reflective, decision-making. In the first of these studies, researchers gathered 891 participants (211 undergraduates and 680 participants from a nationwide sample) and had them play a public goods game with one key twist: these participants were forced to make their decisions either quickly (within 10 seconds) or slowly (after at least 10 seconds had passed). In the second, researchers had 343 participants from a nationwide sample play a public goods game after they had been primed to use either intuitive or reflective reasoning. Both studies showed the same pattern—whether people were forced to use intuition (by acting under time constraints) or simply encouraged to do so (through priming), they gave significantly more money to the common good than did participants who relied on reflection to make their choices. This again suggests that our intuitive impulse is to cooperate with others.

Taken together, these studies—7 total experiments, using a whopping 2,068 participants—suggest that we are not intuitively selfish creatures. But does this mean that we our naturally cooperative? Or could it be that cooperation is our first instinct simply because it is rewarded? After all, we live in a world where it pays to play well with others: cooperating helps us make friends, gain social capital, and find social success in a wide range of domains. As one way of addressing this possibility, the experimenters carried out yet another study. In this study, they asked 341 participants from a nationwide sample about their daily interactions—specifically, whether or not these interactions were mainly cooperative; they found that the relationship between processing speed (that is, intuition) and cooperation only existed for those who reported having primarily cooperative interactions in daily life. This suggests that cooperation is the intuitive response only for those who routinely engage in interactions where this behavior is rewarded—that human “goodness” may result from the acquisition of a regularly rewarded trait.

Throughout the ages, people have wondered about the basic state of human nature—whether we are good or bad, cooperative or selfish. This question—one that is central to who we are—has been tackled by theologians and philosophers, presented to the public eye by television programs, and dominated the sleepless nights of both guilt-stricken villains and bewildered victims; now, it has also been addressed by scientific research. Although no single set of studies can provide a definitive answer—no matter how many experiments were conducted or participants were involved—this research suggests that our intuitive responses, or first instincts, tend to lead to cooperation rather than selfishness.

Although this evidence does not definitely solve the puzzle of human nature, it does give us evidence we may use to solve this puzzle for ourselves—and our solutions will likely vary according to how we define “human nature.” If human nature is something we must be born with, then we may be neither good nor bad, cooperative nor selfish. But if human nature is simply the way we tend to act based on our intuitive and automatic impulses, then it seems that we are an overwhelmingly cooperative species, willing to give for the good of the group even when it comes at our own personal expense.

Are you a scientist who specializes in neuroscience, cognitive science, or psychology? And have you read a recent peer-reviewed paper that you would like to write about? Please send suggestions to Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist at the Boston Globe. He can be reached at garethideas AT gmail.com or Twitter @garethideas.


Adrian F. Ward is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. His doctoral research is focused on the relationships between technology, cognition, social relationships, and self-esteem, and he also studies moral decision-making and the self.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A warning to mainstream economists.

Hey Professor Gregory Mankiw!

After the crash of 1929, most of the natural wealth of the planet was still intact: the salmon runs came in on time; cod fish swarmed in the Atlantic; old growth forests stood tall all over the world . . . and oil flowed out of the ground as if from an infinite source. Though the financial markets reeled, jobs were scarce and people suffered mightily for many years, we were able to fall back on our planet’s natural wealth, pull ourselves out of the slump, and get the economy – and our lives – moving again.

Today most of the fish, the forests and the oil is gone. For the better part of a century we’ve been violating one of the core principles of basic economics: we’ve been selling off our planet’s natural capital and calling it income. The global economy grew 50-fold over the past 100 years, with not even a hint of slowing down. Now we’re finally seeing clearly . . . for 100 years the global economy was an elaborate Ponzi scheme in which living generations ripped off whatever they could from generations yet unborn.

Now the externalities are starting to swamp us . . . dead seas, melting ice caps, polluting aquifers, bleached soils, expanding deserts, lost cultures, fractured communities, emptier lives . . . we’ve painted ourselves into a corner, and all the derivatives, credit swaps and financial pyrotechnics of neoclassical economics won’t save us this time around. These escalating externalities are the X-factor that will trigger a global crash bigger, longer and more traumatic than anything we’ve ever seen before.

To avert catastrophe, we need a new language of the liquidity of fresh water, the leverage of rising seas, the stimulus of intact forests, the stability of global temperatures… hey, ask your professors to explain why the BP oil spill made the GDP go up and how they measure economic progress. With capitalism’s negligence of ecology, which currently borders on a totalizing death warrant, only an economic paradigm shift can help us revitalize the crucial lifeline that runs through economics and ecology (eco=oikos=home). Only a total paradigm shift in the theoretical foundations of economic science can save us now.

5 Ways Most Americans Are Blind to How Their Country Is Stacked for the Wealthy


We've got to abandon our winner-take-all philosophy, to provide job opportunities for people who want to contribute to society.

Mitt Romney said he wasn't concerned about the very poor, because they have a safety net. This is typical of the widespread ignorance about inequality in our country. Struggling Americans want jobs, not handouts, and for the most part they've paid for their "safety net." The real problem is at the other end of the wealth gap.

How many people know that out of 150 countries, we have the fourth-highest wealth disparity? Only Zimbabwe, Namibia and Switzerland are worse.

It's not just economic inequality that's plaguing our country, it's lack of opportunity. It's a dismissal of poor people as lazy, or as threats to society. More than any other issue over the next four years, we need to address the growing divide in our nation, to tone down our winner-take-all philosophy, to provide job opportunities for people who want to contribute to society.

Here are some of the common misconceptions.

1. Americans believe that the poorest 40 percent own about 10% of the wealth.

Most people greatly underestimate the level of inequality in our country, guessing that the poorest 40 percent own about 10% of the wealth, when in reality they own much less than 1% of the wealth. Out of every dollar, they own a third of a penny.

Factor in race and it gets worse. Much of minority wealth exists in home values. But housing crashed, while the financial wealth owned almost entirely (93% of it) by the richest quintile of Americans has rebounded to lofty pre-recession levels.

As a result, for every dollar of non-home wealth owned by white families, people of color have only 1 cent. Median wealth for a single white woman is over $40,000. For black and Hispanic women it is a little over $100.

2. Entitlements are the problem.

No, they're not. The evidence is overwhelming. Social Security is a popular and well-run program. As summarized by Bernie Sanders, "Social Security, which is funded by the payroll tax, has not contributed one nickel to the deficit, and according to its trustees, can pay 100 percent of all benefits owed to every eligible American for the next 21 years." Dean Baker calls it "perhaps the greatest success story of any program in US history."

Medicare, which is largely without the profit motive and the competing sources of billing, is efficiently run, for all eligible Americans. According to the Council for Affordable Health Insurance, medical administrative costs as a percentage of claims are about three times higher for private insurance than for Medicare. And it's just as popular as Social Security.

3. Welfare benefits are a drag on the economy.

Critics bemoan the amounts of aid being lavished on lower-income Americans, making dubious claims about thousands of dollars going to every poor family. But despite an ever-growing need for jobs and basic living necessities, federal spending on poverty programs is a small part of the budget, and it's been that way for almost 50 years, increasing from 0.8 percent of GDP in 1962 to 1.2 percent of GDP in 2007.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) has dropped significantly over the past 15 years, leaving benefit levels far below the poverty line for most families. Ninety percent of the available benefits go to the elderly, the disabled or working households. For each family, current federal budgets pay about $400 per month for food, housing, and traditional "welfare" programs. Food stamp recipients get $4.30 a day.

4. The American Dream is still alive, if you just work hard enough.

The Horatio Alger tale has been a popular one for conservatives, but the OECD, the Economic Policy Institute and the National Journal all came to the same conclusion: the future earnings of a child in the U.S. is closely correlated to the earnings of his or her parents. This lack of mobility is more prevalent in the U.S. than in almost all other OECD countries.

Only 4 percent of those raised in the bottom quintile make it to the top quintile as adults. Only about 20 percent even make it to the top half.

A big part of the problem is the severe degree of poverty for our nation's children. According to UNICEF, among industrialized countries only Romania has a higher child poverty rate than the United States. Just in the last 10 years the number of impoverished American children increased by 30 percent.

And it's much worse for minorities. While 12 percent of white children live in poverty, 35 percent of Hispanic children and 39% of black children start their lives in conditions that make simple survival more important than the American Dream. Eighty percent of black children who started in or near the top half of U.S. income levels experienced downward mobility later in life.

5. Prison puts away the bad guys.

Despite a falling violent crime rate in the U.S., there are now, as noted by Adam Gopnik, "more people under 'correctional supervision' in America -- more than six million -- than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height."

Almost half of the inmates in federal prisons were jailed for drug offenses. Between 1980 and 2003, the number of drug offenders in prison or jail increased by 1100% from 41,100 in 1980 to 493,800 in 2003. African Americans constituted 53.5 percent of all persons who entered prison because of a drug conviction. In the nation's largest cities, drug arrests for African Americans rose at three times the rate for whites from 1980 to 2003.

In Washington, DC, it is estimated that three out of four young black men will serve time in prison. In New York, with 50,000 marijuana arrests per year, 90% are black or Latino. In Seattle, the 8% black population accounts for 60 percent of the arrests. Over the last 10 years Colorado police have arrested Latinos at 1.5 times the rate of whites, and blacks at over three times the rate of whites. Newly passed marijuana laws reflect the beginnings of a backlash.

Perversely, this is all happening as studies by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration find that both black and Hispanic adolescents use drugs less than the general population. And a study by the National Institute of Health shows that the prevalence of marijuana use in colleges and universities was highest for white students.

The greatest misconception: The rich are being soaked.

Redistribution has not spread the wealth, it has concentrated the wealth. Conservative estimates say the richest 1% have doubled their share of America's income in 30 years. It's worse. From 1980 to 2006, the richest 1% actually tripled their share of after-tax income.

The real problem is tax avoidance: lost revenue from tax expenditures (deferrals and deductions), corporate tax avoidance, and tax haven losses could pay off the entire deficit. But the very rich refuse to pay. They have their own safety net in the House of Representatives.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fiscal Cliff Scare Talk Follows Shock Doctrine Script


The “Fiscal Cliff” is not a cliff and the language itself is intended to scare people.

Photo Credit: Borja Andreu/Shutterstock.com
Anyone who has read The Shock Doctrine understands exactly what this “Fiscal Cliff” scare is.

If you have already read The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein you have probably been rolling your eyes at all this “Fiscal Cliff” scare talk. “Here they go again” you’re thinking… If you haven’t read the book, you should. You really, really should.

The Phony “Fiscal Cliff” Scare
 At the end of the year the Bush tax cuts expire. When this happens tax rates will rise modestly to where they were when Clinton was President. Also at the end of the year budget “sequestration” occurs. This means that the various cuts Congress approved to end the debt ceiling “crisis” will begin to phase in. (Remember, the debt-ceiling “crisis” was when Republicans refused to allow the country to honor its debts, holding the economy hostage, unless they got deep budget cuts in the things We the People do for each other.)

That’s it. That’s the “crisis.” All of the people who had been hysterical about the budget deficit “crisis” are now hysterical that taxes will go up and spending will go down. Go figure. Maybe — just maybe — I shouldn’t even say it — these “serious people” weren’t … serious … when they said they were worried about the deficit. You see, the hysteria now is because tax rates at the top will go up (cutting the deficit), and because a big part of those budget cuts (cutting the deficit) is military spending. Unfortunately the sequestration also cuts important things that help a lot of people and our economy. But these cuts do not take place all at once (a “cliff”), they will be phased in over time, and the Congress can act at any time to halt any of these cuts.

The “Fiscal Cliff” is not a cliff and the language itself is intended to scare people.

The name itself is designed to create panic, evoking disaster imagery of people and the economy falling off a cliff. It is the latest manufactured “crisis” and we are all supposed to be terrified and demand immediate and extreme solutions.

Again, the very people screaming loudest about deficits are the people who passed tax cut after tax cut, and military spending increase after military spending increase, and started war after war. Then these same “serious people” terrify the public, telling them that budget deficits will lead to the destruction of the country — and soon. After a decade of screaming “9/11,” “9/11,” noun verb “9/11,” they screamed “deficit, deficit, deficit.” Now they scream, “fiscal cliff, fiscal cliff, fiscal cliff.”

Then after the public is suitably stirred up and terrified they offer “solutions” they say are necessary to cut the scary deficit (that they caused, for this purpose).

And the fixing all has to happen right now, in the “lame duck” Congress,before those new legislators We, the People elected can take office.

The “Grand Bargain”
 The “serious people” are pushing for a “grand bargain” that they say will “solve” the “deficit problem” “once and for all.”

Of course, nothing in any “grand bargain” can bind the Congress, and any part of this “grand bargain” can and will be undone by Congress at the earliest opportunity.

The outline of this “bargain” involves “tax reform” and “getting a handle on entitlements.” Tax “reform” does not involve raising tax rates on the wealthy, it “reforms” taxes by getting rid of various deductions andlowering tax rates. “Getting a handle on entitlements” means cutting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps and the rest of the things that We, the People do for each other — the things we are entitledto as citizens in a democracy.

(Note — Social Security by law can not and does not contribute to the deficit — they just threw it in because it is “in crisis.” The Social Security “crisis” is that under certain economic projections its funding might run a bit short many years down the road. Compare this possible future shortfall to the huge, vast, bloated, enormous military budget which, unlike Social Security, has no separate funding mechanism and runs 100% short every year. But that is not a “crisis.”)
So a fix for a budget problem caused by cutting taxes, massively increasing military spending and crashing the economy will be “solved” by … not fixing those things. Once again the income and wealth of the country will be shifted away from We, the People and upward to the same 1% who have been benefiting from everything in our economy since the election of Ronald Reagan and the disaster-capitalism formula: cut taxes, raise military spending, then use the resulting deficits to scare people into accepting extreme “solutions.” Rinse and repeat.

The Shock Doctrine
 The Shock Doctrine is a book by Naomi Klein that describes a “disaster capitalism” strategy used by wealthy and powerful people to take advantage of crises — even causing crises — to herd people into accepting “solutions” to those crises that really just enrich the 1% at the expense of the rest of us.

In times of crisis (real or perceived) the public is in a state of shock, distracted and ready to grasp at straws to get out of the panic. This is the perfect time for “serious people” to come in and offer pre-planned “solutions.” These solutions usually involve privatizing public institutions and wealth, cutting public services, cutting taxes on the rich, seizing property, lowering wages and pensions … well, just look at Europe’s “austerity” and you get the picture.

This shock-doctrine disaster capitalism model has become standard practice. We see this happening over and over again: crises occur or are manufactured, the media whips people into a panic, and then the “solution” is introduced. The solution involves a “reform” that transfers wealth or institutions into a few private hands.
The Real Problem And Real Solution
 We have a jobs problem, not a deficit problem. The best way to deal with the deficit is to put Americans back to work. The real job creators are working people with money in their wallets. We can’t cut our way to growth. These are not just slogans, these are solutions to real problems.

We need to invest in our economy, restoring and modernizing our infrastructure, retrofitting our homes and buildings to be more energy efficient, upgrading our public schools and universities, and fighting to create the manufacturing ecosystems for the new industries of the future,. All of these investments create jobs while they are underway, and pay off by improving our economy for the long term.

Inoculate yourself by reading The Shock Doctrine. Inoculate your friends by telling them about the book, and how this game works, over and over again.
“Nothing is more important in the face of a war than cutting taxes.” — Republican Majority Leader Tom Delay, 2003
Dave Johnson is a fellow at Campaign for America's Future and a senior fellow at Renew California.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

7 Exciting, Inspiring – and Overlooked – Lessons From the “99 Percent” Election

Campaign for America's Future Blog

7 Exciting, Inspiring – and Overlooked – Lessons From the “99 Percent” Election


So, let’s get this straight: A Republican President is re-elected in 2004 with 284 electoral votes, and the pundits tell us he has the “political capital” to push an extreme right-wing mandate. A Democratic President gets re-elected in 2012 with 303 electoral votes, and they’re telling us he needs to “unite a divided country.”


This election was a clear and unequivocal victory for the populist positions the President took on the campaign trail.  Don’t believe the hype:  This was a great night for progressives, populists, and agents of change.  Our political system may be dominated by Big Money, but this was a victory for the 99 Percent.

We’ve been through our Dark Night of the Soul. Now it’s time for inspiration — and for determination to build on these victories in the weeks, months, and years to come.  Here are seven lessons from this election that have been under-reported, or overlooked completely, in all the media frenzy, including Occupy Wall Street’s victory, the “Harold and Kumar” factor,  Harry Reid’s big mandate, and the fact that “Socialism” sells.

1. Occupy Wall Street won big.

The Occupy movement may have disappeared from the national media eye, but this election was a big win for Occupy’s vision and language. After that movement caught the national imagination, the President adopted its populist rhetoric. That may have hurt the tender feelings of America’s CEOs, especially those on Wall Street, but it help cement his decisive victory.

The nature of that victory was underscored by the victories won by staunch progressives like Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown, even as far-right candidates like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock went down in defeat.

The President’s populist theme didn’t end with his victory. He spoke last night of a “generous America,” a “compassionate America,” a “tolerant America.”

That deeply victory moving speech mentioned deficit reduction – once – but emphasized the following themes:  Our “common bond” as a nation. The “weakening” effect of “inequality.” The “destructive power of a warming planet.” “The best schools and teachers.” Ending our two wars. Investment in “technology and discovery and innovation,” with “good jobs” to follow.

The President deserved his victory. But as this election came to a close, it was the dreamers in Zuccotti Park who Occupied the Night.

2. This was a bigger victory than it looks.

John Nichols did an excellent piece in The Nation comparing last night’s victory to that of previous Presidents. Read it and remember: This was the first post-Citizens United election. Billionaires and corporations poured hundreds of millions of dollars into races across the country, as well as the Presidential campaign -

- and they still lost.

When you compare last night’s Democratic victory to previous election results, add a “billionaire factor” to get a more apples-to-apples comparison.

(I should be a better person than this, but I take no small amount of satisfaction in knowing that Sheldon Adelson and the Koch Brothers wasted lots and lots and lots of money this year.)

3. Social issues can help Democrats now.

Voters in Colorado and Washington voted to legalize recreational pot-smoking, while a medical-marijuana initiative won in Massachusetts.  This may be the first time in history that getting high actually increased voter turnout.  At this rate politicians may soon find themselves courting that all-important “Harold and Kumar” demographic.

For years liberals have watched in frustration as conservatives coasted to victory on social issues, despite the harm that their economic policies caused conservative voters. That’s the phenomenon Thomas Franks discussed in What’s the Matter With Kansas? Anti-gay marriage initiatives were used to increase conservative turnout and wound John Kerry in 2004, for example.

A few short years ago it was considered unthinkable for politicians to support civil unions for gay Americans.  But this year’s ballot initiatives on marriage equality and marijuana may have hurt Republicans, as all Americans  - among them young people of all political views, including young evangelicals – are becoming markedly more liberal on social issues, as marriage equality initiatives won in Maine and Maryland.

In a victory for free choice, Florida’s attempt to ban the use of public funds for abortion failed.  At this rate some conservative will soon write book about Democratic victories in the Deep South called What’s the Matter With Mississippi? (Hey, a guy can dream, can’t he?)

4. Harry Reid! Good ol’ Harry Reid! He’s got a mandate.

Romney lost, but another Mormon won big last night. This election was a great victory for Reid and his Senatorial majority. He strengthened that majority, despite being forced to defend more seats than the Republicans, and he did it with candidates who tended to be strongly progressive.

Warren won in Massachusetts, as did Sherrod Brown in Ohio both. Tim Kaine pulled out a win in Virginia, in part by decisively rejecting the “centrist” agenda of the austerity-minded Simpson Bowles proposal. Meanwhile a candidate who did embrace the “centrist” agenda, Bob Kerrey, was defeated in Nebraska.
As Majority Leader, Harry Reid now has a clear mandate to  fight for populist causes and resist the radical-right agenda of Congressional Republicans. Reid has made it clear that he opposes any cuts to Social Security benefits. With Senators like Tim Kaine, Elizabeth Warren, and Sherrod Brown by his side, he has the moral and political capital to defend them.

Reid also has a mandate to reform the Senate’s procedural rules, which minority Republicans have repeatedly abused in order to thwart the will of the American majority. Newly-elected Maine Senator Angus King, who is a relatively conservative Independent, campaigned on a platform of filibuster reform. Harry Reid alsohas the political capital to reform the Senate.

Good ol’ Harry Reid. He’s not loud or pushy, but he last night he got it done.

5. “Socialism” sells

In today’s political rhetoric, the word “socialism” is used to describe policies that were universally accepted by politicians across the political spectrum. Here’s one example: The Republican Party platform of 1956 boasted that millions had been added to Social Security’s rolls, and to the membership of America’s unions, during Dwight D. Eisenhower’s first term.  Eisenhower built the Federal highway system.  President Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency and proposed a universal guaranteed income for all Americans.

From Roosevelt to Reagan, the ideas now labeled as “socialist” were universal American values.

Those values won again last night.  President Obama’s victory in Ohio would not have been possible if he hadn’t taken the most “socialistic” action of his Presidency by taking over the auto companies in order to rescue them. He saved millions of jobs – and turned a profit for the country, too.

And while Florida hasn’t been called as of this writing, it’s in play because the President strengthened Medicare,while his opponents tried to destroy it with their voucher proposal, and because Republicans attacked Social Security with a privatization scheme.

6. Unions and progressives matter.

Unions turned out for the President, providing invaluable help in key states like Ohio. Progressive organizations and individuals contributed their time, money, energy, and ideas. That helps explain progressive victories around the country, as well as the President’s national win.

Progressives also contributed heavily to races like that of Alan Grayson, who scored an historic comeback win in a Republican-leaning district, and nearly helped unseat Michele Bachmann.

The power and contribution of these movements should be remembered in the weeks and months to come.

7. The “new America” needs bold action.

There’s a lot of talk about the “new America” that contributed to this victory: women (who are a rising political force, even if they’re hardly new!), the growing Hispanic population, and young people.

These constituencies need the same things the country as a whole needs: Hispanics are struggling with low wages and high unemployment, so they need action for jobs and economic growth. Health issues are critical to women, which means we need more and deeper reform of our health sector. Young people need more investment in education, job creation, and a equitable society with opportunity for all.

Welcome to the “New America.” In most ways it’s just like the old one, especially in what matters most: We’re still all in this together.

What Propelled Obama to Victory and Sent the Plutocrats and Racists to a Brutal Defeat

Election 2012  

What Propelled Obama to Victory and Sent the Plutocrats and Racists to a Brutal Defeat

We hear that every election is the most important election of our lives -- it's a cliché. This year, it may well prove to be true.

On Tuesday night Barack Obama – who had led Mitt Romney in most Electoral College projections every single day of this race – won the election that he was supposed to. But that win represented so much more than a victory for a moderate Democrat. We hear that every election is the most important election of our lives -- it's a cliché. This year, it may well prove to be true.

The diverse, creative, younger coalition that propelled the first black president – a guy whose middle name is Hussein – to the presidency, beat back what may well have been the last stand of Ronald Reagan's coalition of plutocrats, white working-class men and religious conservatives. The Republican party, with its deep-pocketed donors and extensive network of supportive media and think-tanks remains viable for the immediate future – thanks in part to some dramatic gerrymandering in 2010 – but the demographic head winds it faces will soon be too powerful to overcome. The GOP's most reliable supporters remain white, married couples who identify themselves as Christians, a group that continues its sharp decline in numbers.

Women, especially unmarried women, delivered a sharp blow to those “limited government” conservative men who feel entitled to regulate their reproductive choices and are intent on making them miserable – with waiting periods and vaginal probes and the forced consumption of anti-abortion propaganda – if they make a choice that conflicts with the beliefs of the religious right.

A fifth hard-right justice won't be seated on the Supreme Court for the next four years -- a lost opportunity for the Chamber of Commerce and a potential victory for Roe v Wade, the Voting Rights Act and a slew of other key precedents.
Although it's unlikely that the war is over, the politics of playing on white racial anxiety lost a major battle on Tuesday night as well. The Romney campaign, as my colleague Adele Stan wrote, “pushed the boundaries of 'acceptable racism' to extremes.” The dog-whistles from the conservative media went far beyond, yet it wasn't enough to win it for Romney.

Tens of millions of Americans who were priced out of the insurance market won big on Tuesday. Rather than seeing a concerted effort to strangle “Obamacare” in its cradle, the administration's signature achievement will be fully implemented, and hopefully then built upon and improved in the same way Social Security and Medicare were. Millions of poor people will get tax-funded, single-payer healthcare through an expanded Medicaid program and tens of millions more will come to realize that there are no death panels, but there are subsidies for small businesses to provide insurance for their workers, and more subsidies for middle-class families that have been getting squeezed to death by the growing burden of their heal-care costs. Watch the popularity of Obama's health-care reforms rise over the next four years. That will also be a victory over the right's almost religious belief that “the market” can cure all our ills.
Voters and election protection activists scored a very hard-fought win over those who believe that some Americans have a greater right to vote than others. Efforts to suppress the vote among typically Democratic-leaning groups was flagrant and widespread. But Americans waited in the cold on those 6-hour lines, they got the right ID and jumped through whatever hoops they had to. And the lawyers blocked or blunted many of the worst restrictions on our right to vote. Small-d democracy won on Tuesday. Karl Rove, with his plan to use the concocted specter of voter fraud to gain a structural advantage lost.

A unified America was a winner as well. It's likely that most voters didn't grasp just how reactionary the Romney-Ryan agenda really was. They would have turned vast swaths of our already threadbare social safety-net over to the states to administer, making deep cuts in the process. As a result, people living in “blue” and “red” states would have effectively become citizens of different countries. The poor and working class in those red states would have been eligible for far fewer public benefits. The disparities that now exist in funding education, job training and the like would have become far more pronounced. We would have no longer been citizens of the United States who happen to live in Alabama or Vermont; we would become Alabamians and Vermonters, citizens of states with markedly different philosophies of government.

Gays and lesbians emerged victorious on Tuesday. Not only did the first president to come out in support of marriage equality win – one whose administration has worked tirelessly, often below the radar, to advance LGBT rights – but Wisconsin's Tammy Baldwin will also be seated as the first openly gay senator in the history of the United States. As of this writing, marriage equality passed by a popular vote for the first and second times in history – in Maryland and Maine. A third ballot initiative recognizing marriage equality is ahead in Washington State; a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage is trailing in Minnesota.

After the running the most opaque and mendacious campaign in memory, “post-truth politics” lost on Tuesday. Never again will a candidate think he or she can promise to reveal his or her plans after the election and hope it will fly with the public.

Fat-cat, right-wing donors spent billions for nothing. As Paul Blumenthal notes, Casino Magnate Sheldon Adelson went 0-5 in campaigns in which he invested over $50 million. As much as $6 billion was spent in an election that returned the same Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader, and the same man in the Oval Office.

Reality-based analysis, personified by nerdy number-cruncher Nate Silver, landed a devastating blow to a legion of lazy pundits who make their living relaying what their guts are telling them. Who's got “the MoJo” -- who's winning the soccer mom vote or the waitress vote or white working class men – is now an irrelevance, trivia.

The Tea Party lost again. Two years after they pushed Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell to victory in Republican primaries, only to see them beaten by mainstream candidates, history repeated itself. Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock went down in flames, giving the Democrats four senate seats that they should not have.

Now, for progressive America, the fight turns. We can savor a victory over those who would take us back to an earlier time, but only briefly. Now we have to organize, and turn our energy to pressuring the Democrats to fight for our ideals. We now have a progressive coalition in the United States that can win against steep odds. That coalition is ultimately the big winner of the 2012 election.

Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet. He's the author of The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy. Drop him an email or follow him on Twitter.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Republicans: The Single Greatest Threat to America


Sandy Goodman


Republicans: The Single Greatest Threat to America

The single greatest threat to the United States is not joblessness, foreclosures, another recession or skyrocketing debt or health care costs. Nor is it terrorism, China or declining influence abroad. No, the single greatest threat to our country is today's Republican Party.

That's because the GOP is relentlessly pursuing a policy of the American public be damned, so that next year Republicans can regain the national political dominance they held from 2001 to 2006. Their sole, selfish aim is to complete the transformation of the U.S. to a government of, by and for the rich and the far-right.

Veteran reporter Robert Parry, a retired correspondent for the Associated Press and Newsweek, accurately summed up that policy this way:

Modern Republicans have a simple approach to politics when they are not in the White House: Make America as ungovernable as possible by using any means available... Control as much as possible what the population gets to see and hear; create chaos for your opponent's government, economically and politically; blame it for the mess; and establish in the minds of the voters that their only way out is to submit, that the pain will stop once your side is back in power...

Republicans and the Right... are well positioned to roll the U.S. economy off the cliff and blame the catastrophe on Obama. Indeed, that may be their best hope for winning Election 2012.
George W. Bush's presidency, with Congressional Republicans in lockstep behind him, made an excellent start on the destructive transformation of this country: two unpaid-for wars (one based on lies); failure to prevent the worst terrorist attack on the homeland or punish its instigators; waste of tens of thousands of U.S. and foreign lives, and worldwide diplomatic failure.

At home, approval of torture, warrantless wiretapping and ineptness and indifference in the face of Hurricane Katrina created a permanent stain. Economically, Republican tax cuts created few jobs and increased the national debt by 75 percent. What the Washington Post dubbed "executive grandeur" made income inequality the worst since the 1930s Depression. Finally, the GOP's failed stewardship of the economy resulted in a crisis that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke testified was even worse than the Depression.

When national revulsion against Republican misrule drove Democrats into power in 2008, the GOP resorted to today's strategy. It became evident even before the new Democratic president took office when the Republican Party's de facto leader, Rush Limbaugh, declared: "I hope Obama fails." And since the inauguration, Republicans have done everything in their power to assure that failure, although it's meant misery for millions of Americans.

"I wish we had been able to obstruct more," says Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell who succeeded brilliantly in keeping his members in line in opposing every important measure that's good for this country including presidential initiatives for health care, financial regulation, economic stimulus and a dozen executive appointments and even more judicial ones needed to keep government functioning.

Given the frightening record of business and financial deception and fraud that led to the economic crisis, who in their right mind could possibly oppose increased regulation of business and enhanced protection for consumers? The answer: almost all Republicans. Elizabeth Warren is too committed to consumer protection to win the votes of Senate Republicans acting for their paymasters at the chambers of commerce.

President Obama's new law extending health insurance to 30 million more people is too good for working Americans. Beaten in their attempt to vote it down, Republicans are now suing to kill it. Remember the GOP plan? It proposed health insurance for one-tenth as many people. Is it any wonder that people in all other industrial countries, where health care is a right, laugh at us.

American business hates government -- except when it needs government help. Which is just about all the time. And it's just fine with Republicans whenever business goes to the government for help. In fact, GOPers are almost always corporate-friendly, as opposed to people-friendly. And they have a right-wing Supreme Court majority that helps them buy legislation by equating money with speech and corporations with human beings.

But heaven forbid the average citizen should try to get a government benefit, or a job or more unemployment insurance or aid in taking back a home seized (often illegally) by the bank, or getting health care for a gravely ill child with a pre-existing condition. Republicans are happy to vote overwhelmingly against him, ignoring the Constitutional command that government "promote the general welfare."

Ronald Reagan, a president with rich friends and poor instincts, did this country an unforgiveable disservice by encouraging Americans to hate and distrust their government. Remember when he declared: "Government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem," and joked that: "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help." Contrast that with Reagan's almost religious reverence for "the magic of the marketplace."

But my own life experience, like that of millions of Americans, tells me that in important ways the government is more reliable than the marketplace. I spent a good part of my career working for one of the largest, most triumphant examples of American capitalism: General Electric. When I retired late in 1997, GE shares were selling for $68.56; when GE CEO Jack Welch, the greatest corporate genius of them all, quit 11 months later, those shares had dropped to $39.66. In 2009, under his successor genius, they fell as low as $6.66. And they closed the other day at $18.49 -- only about a quarter of what they were when I retired. Needless to say, those shares formed a large part of my now badly-depleted retirement assets. Fortunately for me, GE was one of a declining number of companies that still provided an additional defined benefit pension plan for employes like me -- something the company is now proposing to drop for new union hires.

In contrast to my GE stock disaster, Social Security hasn't missed a monthly payment to me for more than 13 years, or to my wife in nine (imagine the value of our Social Security stock portfolios if Republicans had succeeded in their privatization scheme). Medicare enabled me to have spinal surgery, a hip replacement, cataract operations in both eyes and radiation that cured my prostate cancer; and my wife to have a hip and knee replaced, without breaking us financially.

Maybe that's why I call Reagan a liar and a fool for his denunciations of those benefits from our government to me and millions of others. And you should, too. But Republicans regard him almost as a saint. And those same Republicans just voted almost unanimously in Congress to kill Medicare and replace it with Rep. Ryan's pathetic plan to replace single payer with cut-rate vouchers for money-hungry private insurers. And they're now holding a critically important increase in the debt ceiling hostage to measures that would weaken the recovery.

The Republican Bush administration destroyed our standing abroad and our economy at home, and killed and maimed thousands of our young men and women for no good reason. Since 2009, Democrats have done their best to clean up the Republican mess -- something that unfortunately takes time. Republicans have fought those national cleanup efforts -- and the vast majority of the American people -- every day. And they say they're proud of their obstruction. As for solutions, they offer none, except for tax cuts like those that created record-low jobs under Bush, and spending cuts that would cripple the government.

These policies failed before and would inevitably fail again, and might well drive us into a real Depression. That's why the Republican Party is the single greatest threat to the United States of America. It cannot be allowed to win in 2012.