It's the season to show concern for the less fortunate among us. We should also be concerned about the widening gap between the most fortunate and everyone else.
Although it's still possible to win the lottery (your chance of winning $636 million in the recent Mega Millions sweepstakes was one in 259 million), the biggest lottery of all is what family we're born into. Our life chances are now determined to an unprecedented degree by the wealth of our parents.
That's not always been the case. The faith that anyone could move from rags to riches -- with enough guts and gumption, hard work and nose to the grindstone -- was once at the core of the American Dream.
And equal opportunity was the heart of the American creed. Although imperfectly achieved, that ideal eventually propelled us to overcome legalized segregation by race, and to guarantee civil rights. It fueled efforts to improve all our schools and widen access to higher education. It pushed the nation to help the unemployed, raise the minimum wage, and provide pathways to good jobs. Much of this was financed by taxes on the most fortunate.
But for more than three decades we've been going backwards. It's far more difficult today for a child from a poor family to become a middle-class or wealthy adult. Or even for a middle-class child to become wealthy.
The major reason is widening inequality. The longer the ladder, the harder the climb. America is now more unequal that it's been for eighty or more years, with the most unequal distribution of income and wealth of all developed nations. Equal opportunity has become a pipe dream.
Rather than respond with policies to reverse the trend and get us back on the road to equal opportunity and widely-shared prosperity, we've spent much of the last three decades doing the opposite.
Taxes have been cut on the rich, public schools have deteriorated, higher education has become unaffordable for many, safety nets have been shredded, and the minimum wage has been allowed to drop 30 percent below where it was in 1968, adjusted for inflation.
Congress has just passed a tiny bipartisan budget agreement, and the Federal Reserve has decided to wean the economy off artificially low interest rates. Both decisions reflect Washington's (and Wall Street's) assumption that the economy is almost back on track.
But it's not at all back on the track it was on more than three decades ago.
It's certainly not on track for the record 4 million Americans now unemployed for more than six months, or for the unprecedented 20 million American children in poverty (we now have the highest rate of child poverty of all developed nations other than Romania), or for the third of all working Americans whose jobs are now part-time or temporary, or for the majority of Americans whose real wages continue to drop.
How can the economy be back on track when 95 percent of the economic gains since the recovery began in 2009 have gone to the richest 1 percent?
The underlying issue is a moral one: What do we owe one another as members of the same society?
Conservatives answer that question by saying it's a matter of personal choice -- of charitable works, philanthropy, and individual acts of kindness joined in "a thousand points of light."
But that leaves out what we could and should seek to accomplish together as a society. It neglects the organization of our economy, and its social consequences. It minimizes the potential role of democracy in determining the rules of the game, as well as the corruption of democracy by big money. It overlooks our strivings for social justice.
In short, it ducks the meaning of a decent society.
Last month Pope Francis wondered aloud whether "trickle-down theories, which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness," Rush Limbaugh accused the pope of being a Marxist for merely raising the issue.
But the question of how to bring about greater justice and inclusiveness is as American as apple pie. It has animated our efforts for more than a century -- during the Progressive Era, the New Deal, the Great Society, and beyond -- to make capitalism work for the betterment of all rather merely than the enrichment of a few.
The supply-side, trickle-down, market-fundamentalist views that took root in America in the early 1980s got us fundamentally off track.
To get back to the kind of shared prosperity and upward mobility we once considered normal will require another era of fundamental reform, of both our economy and our democracy.
ROBERT B. REICH, Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written thirteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock" and "The Work of Nations." His film, "Inequality for All," will be out in September. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause. Watch the trailer for his new film, Inequality for All:
"Last month Pope Francis asked whether “trickle-down theories, which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness…”.
Rush Limbaugh accused the Pope of being a Marxist for merely raising the issue. But the question of how to bring about greater justice and inclusiveness is as American as apple pie. It animated our efforts for more than a century –- during the Progressive Era, the New Deal, the war on poverty, the struggle for civil rights, and beyond — to make capitalism work for the betterment of all rather merely than the enrichment of a few.
The trickle-down market fundamentalism that took root in America in the early 1980s got us fundamentally off track. It is time to recommit ourselves to the shared prosperity and upward mobility that were once the heart of the American dream.
I wish you and yours a Merry Christmas."
--Robert Reich, American political economist, professor, author, and political commentator
So instead of somehow shaming the President--her President and ours--she ends up doing that very thing to herself. Worse, she ends up shaming the very people who elected her. In fact, she ends up shaming the state, all Missourians.
And naturally, it went out nationally. Here it is from ABC News:
From the looks of it, some of us will be getting some terrific gifts this holiday season, if even just in the way of holiday movies.
They aren't about beautiful, functioning, happy families, without doubt, but it looks like a whole lotta' great acting and cinematography going on.
First there's Meryl Streep's new movie:
She just doesn't look like the quiet, soft-spoken, beautiful, intelligent,sophisticated Meryl we know but it surely does look like some great acting, as usual, from her. And check out that cast--besides Ms. Streep, there's Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor (who I couldn't even recognize), Sam Shepard, Chris Cooper, Juliette Lewis, Dermot Mulroney and more. It's loaded with talent.
Then there's the very Bruce Dern-looking, new Bruce Dern movie, "Nebraska."
I read an interview of Mr. Dern and he said he didn't like being typecast as the crazy, old coot in movies yet he chose this role and movie and pursued it doggedly.
Sorry, Mr. Dern, your sure come across very much the crazy old coot, for sure, as this seems to show.
And as for the state of Nebraska, it's as I said a week or so ago on, when I first saw the trailer for this film, it's surely not going to do anything good for their tourism, that much seems true.
I think it's interesting that both these films, so full of promise, are apparently about extremely dysfunctional families.
I wonder what that says about us?
So there you go, folks. Some possible great movie viewing for us this Christmas.
"My God, what do we want? What does any human being want? Take away an accident of pigmentation of a thin layer of our outer skin and there is no difference between me and anyone else. All we want is for that trivial difference to make no difference."
--Shirley Chisholm, November 30, 1924 – January 1, 2005, First Black Congresswoman
Ice cream isn’t the only thing worth screaming about — although it’s right up there at the top of our list. Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, has taken his frustration with the corruption of money in politics and channeled it into an ingenious campaign for a constitutional amendment that would overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.
Since he left his job as CEO of the Vermont-based ice cream company in 1996, Cohen has taken his marketing know-how into progressive politics and in 2012 beganStamp Stampede — the manufacture and sale (at cost) of rubber stamps to be used on paper currency — all perfectly legal — to spread the word to rid government and politics of outside corporate and anonymous cash. There’s a wide assortment of stamps — “Not to Be Used for Bribing Politicians” reads one message, “The System Isn’t Broken, It’s Fixed” is another.
“Every stamped bill will be seen by an average of 875 people,” Cohen claims “and will help grow the movement to #GetMoneyOut of politics. Stamp 5 bills a day for a year and that’s a million eyeballs.”
So this can be where it starts, where we start.
Christmas gift? Stocking stuffer?
Seriously, we have to get the money, the big money, from the wealthy and corporations, out of our election system and government, once and for all. We all know this. We all recognize it, whatever political party we're in--or not in, as the case may be. It's the only way we'll get our government back for the people.
Last week, Rep. Tom Petri (R-WI) introduced a bill called the Citizens Involvement in Campaigns, or CIVIC Act, with the hope of spurring more small-dollar donations to political campaigns by reviving a pair of tax incentives. Petri’s bill would offer small donors two options. They could receive a tax credit of up to $200 (or up to $400 on a joint tax return) for donations made to a campaign or national political party. Or that same donor could claim a tax deduction of up to $600 (up to $1,200 for a joint return) for political donations. The intent is obvious: entice many more small donations to candidates.
When he unveiled his bill, Petri lamented both the cost of running for federal office and the growing clout of very wealthy donors in the political process. “Campaigns are becoming more and more expensive with no signs of slowing down,” he said. “And most would agree that the ideal way to finance a campaign is through a broad base of donors. Unfortunately, most Americans aren’t in the position to donate hundreds or thousands of dollars — but they want to get involved. We should be encouraging political participation.”
So it's great that someone from the Republican Party is seeing where this is taking and has taken us and is putting forth some action but unfortunately, instead of proposing getting the money OUT of our election system and so, our government, he proposed getting STILL MORE money in the system, this time from small donors.
What we need to do is get the money out, once and for all, at long last. We have to end having our politicians--at both the state and federal levels--from being bought.
It's doable. We can do this.
But we have to demand it. It has to come from us. We have to fight for it.
Until we end campaign contributions, our elections and so, our government will continue to be bought and sold for the wealthy and corporations first, and the people and nation second, if even then.
Apparently, according to a report on KCPT, Southwest had told public officials for some time that they were against this whole idea. It's only just now they decided to go public.
Then, today, I saw this little YouTube video from our own one-and-the-same KCPT and their Kansas City Week in Review show. It's loaded with not just cautions but good to great reasons Kansas City shouldn't--and even likely won't--tear down our current airport, only to build a new, extremely expensive new one:
God, I loved that.
Seems as though common sense and fiscal responsibility is going to prevail after all.
It was announced yesterday that Tim Geithner, President Obama's first Treasury secretary, will become president of Warburg Pincus, a private-equity firm. Before joining the Obama administration, Geithner had been president of the New York Fed, and before that worked for Bob Rubin in the Clinton Treasury Department. (Rubin, co-chairman of Goldman Sachs before becoming Treasury secretary, advised Clinton to repeal Glass-Steagall and nixed the regulation of derivatives. After leaving the administration Rubin became chairman of Citigroup's executive committee, and was there when Wall Street nearly melted down in 2008; he is now a counselor at investment bank Centerview Partners LLC.) Geithner's move to Wall Street follows Peter Orszag, Obama's first director of the Office of Management and the Budget, also a Rubin protégée, who is now vice chairman of Citigroup's corporate and investment banking group.
I don't begrudge those public servants who, after leaving office, take high-paying jobs in the private sector. But when someone who has been in charge of bailing out Wall Street and then shepherding through Congress regulations designed to prevent another near collapse, one can't help but worry. The public is already so cynical about both government and Wall Street that even the mere possibility that Geithner knew where he'd be heading afterward, and therefore pulled his punches, can only deepen the cynicism.
Wall Street's political power is a direct result of both the money it pours into political campaigns and the revolving door between it and Washington. So far, Wall Street's biggest banks have fought back tighter regulation (eviscerating much of the Dodd-Frank Act). Private equity has proven even more potent: It has preserved the "carried interest" loophole that allows the pay of private-equity executives to be taxed at low capital-gains rates even though these executives don't risk their own capital. (They buy and sell companies with funds from investors and with debt, typically charging an annual management fee of 2 percent of the funds and keeping 20 percent of the profits as a "carried interest.") During his time at Treasury, Geithner argued for “eliminating the carried interest loophole that allows some to pay capital gains tax rates on what is essentially compensation for services," as he told the Senate budget committee in 2012. One wonders whether he will stand ready to say the same thing again. --Robert Reich, American political economist, professor, author, and political commentator Links:
TORONTO — HERE’S the puzzle of America today: the plutocrats have never been richer, and their economic power continues to grow, but the populists, the wilder the better, are taking over. The rise of the political extremes is most evident, of course, in the domination of the Republican Party by the Tea Party and in the astonishing ability of this small group to shut down the American government. But the centrists are losing out in more genteel political battles on the left, too — that is the story of Bill de Blasio’s dark-horse surge to the mayoralty in New York, and of the Democratic president’s inability to push through his choice to run the Federal Reserve, Lawrence H. Summers.
All of these are triumphs of populists over plutocrats: Mr. de Blasio is winning because he is offering New Yorkers a chance to reject the plutocratic politics of Michael R. Bloomberg. The left wing of the Democratic Party opposed the appointment of Mr. Summers as part of a wider backlash against the so-called Rubin Democrats (as in Robert E. Rubin, who preceded Mr. Summers as Treasury secretary during the Clinton administration) and their sympathy for Wall Street. Even the Tea Party, which in its initial phase was to some extent the creation of plutocrats like Charles and David Koch, has slipped the leash of its very conservative backers and alienated more centrist corporate bosses and organizations.
As proof, here is but one additional example of how we've won lately:
A group of wealthy donors wanted to give millions to two right-wing California political campaigns last year, but didn’t want anyone to know their identities. They came up with a scheme that any money-launderer would be proud of, funneling the cash through a convoluted series of independent spending groups that were allowed to collect unlimited dollars. By the time the donations had been used to buy advertising, the original money trail had been erased.
Or so they thought. California has one of the best laws in the country requiring disclosure of political donations, and officials at the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission suspected that the bulk contributions were obscuring the true donor groups. A yearlong investigation revealed the nature of the scheme, and the groups were accused of violating state law.
A few days ago, as part of a civil settlement, the state imposed $16 million in penalties and fines on the groups, a record in a campaign finance case. Though it’s not clear how much of those penalties will ever be collected, or even who many of the original donors were, the effort demonstrates the importance of state disclosure laws and aggressive enforcement, particularly since Congress has refused to pay attention to abuses on a national level.
The California commission, in fact, has done the political world a favor by exposing the secretive network of conservative groups that have aggressively taken advantage of the unlimited donations allowed by the Supreme Court, as well as the ability to hide donors that is permitted by the Federal Election Commission and lower courts. The network centers on groups with close ties to the Koch brothers, whose huge donations have played such a large role in electing Tea Party candidates around the country.
The commission suspected something fishy was going on when an Arizona group called Americans for Responsible Leadership donated $11 million to a California effort to pass a ballot measure limiting the political power of unions. Some of the money was also spent in opposition to another measure to raise state taxes. The group had no history of political activity in California, and the commission sued last October to find the hidden money source. Just before the November election, the group announced that it had received the money from the Center to Protect Patient Rights, which in turn had gotten it from Americans for Job Security.
The “patient rights” group actually has nothing to do with patient rights, and was described by the commission as “the key nonprofit in the Koch Brothers’ dark money network.” The job security group spent more than $15 million attempting to defeat President Obama last year, much of which came from the patient rights group. The patient rights group itself made a $4 million contribution to the California campaign, funneled through another intermediary. The Koch brothers deny contributing to the effort, and the full list of donors to the groups has not been made public, largely because Congressional Republicans have refused to pass the Disclose Act, which would require disclosure of the names of all donors giving more than $10,000 to independent groups. That makes state enforcement all the more important. Currently only 13 states have laws as strong as California’s; the success of this investigation should encourage others to take a stronger stance against secret money.
The overall amount spent by various interests on federal lobbying declined yet again in the third quarter of the year, a new analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics shows -- a continuation of the trend that's been going on for several years.
Organizations filing federal lobbying disclosure forms reported spending $760.3 million between July 1 and Sept. 30, the lowest amount in a single quarter going back to at least 2010. Additionally, the reports listed 10,048 active registered lobbyists, the lowest number in at least as long, and far below the 10,878 active registered lobbyists in the third quarter of 2012.
(Pharmaceutical companies, in this report, still gave an increase in lobbying payouts, not surprising, given our current controversey with "Obamacare.")
So there are successes for us out there, for "we the people", for the working man and woman of America, thank goodness.
But the fact is, the facts are, we haven't "won" nearly enough, first, and second, we aren't winning quickly enough. As we know, the wealthy and corporations keep piling on more and more wealth while the rest of America, that same middle- and lower-class---most of us, most of America---are losing.
So once again, I go back to the other fact that we need to fight to end campaign contributions so we can take back America, so we can get back our representatives and government for the people.
Do what you can to help the fight. Write your State and Federal representatives in both the respective Houses of Representatives and Senates and tell them to support the elimination of campaign contributions.
As I keep saying, we need to get the big, ugly, corrupting influence of the money from the wealthy and corporations out of our government, once and for all.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- If it had been a foul ball or broken bat that struck John Coomer in the eye as he watched a Kansas City Royals game, the courts likely wouldn't force the team to pay for his surgeries and suffering.
But because it was a hot dog thrown by the team mascot - behind the back, no less - he just may have a case.
The Missouri Supreme Court is weighing whether the ''baseball rule'' - a legal standard that protects teams from being sued over fan injuries caused by events on the field, court or rink - should also apply to injuries caused by mascots or the other personnel that teams employ to engage fans. Because the case could set a legal precedent, it could change how teams in other cities and sports approach interacting with fans at their games.
Coomer, of Overland Park, Kan., says he was injured at a September 2009 Royals game when the team's lion mascot, Sluggerrr, threw a 4-ounce, foil-wrapped wiener into the stands that struck his eye. He had to have two surgeries - one to repair a detached retina and the other to remove a cataract that developed and implant an artificial lens. Coomer's vision is worse now than before he was hurt and he has paid roughly $4,800 in medical costs, said his attorney, Robert Tormohlen.
But the fact is, Sluggerr didn't "throw" the hot dog, folks. At the time this happened, Sluggerr was shooting these things from a cannon, of sorts. Unfortunately for Mr. Coomer--and Sluggerr and the team, frankly--it hit him in eye.
The thing is, I know John Coomer. John Coomer is a friend of mine. And I happen to know he originally merely asked the team to pay for his surgery and medical bills.
Mr. Glass and the team said no, solidly.
It was only then that Mr. C. then had to file suit, merely to cover the costs of said medical bills.
I'd have thought--and most people would, I think--that the team and virtually any other company would merely pay the bills, likely out of their insurance coverage, do the right thing, mark it up to good PR and call it a day.
Not the skin flint that David Glass is, apparently, sadly.
So now, not only has it gone to court but it's now going to the Missouri State Supreme Court.
It just doesn't seem as though a few thousand dollars, to cover some medical bills for a fan who was injured at the stadium, by the team mascot, would much to ask or expect, given the millions upon millions the team makes each and every year, from all the other fans.
It's bad enough they don't win enough baseball, enough years, down through time.
They also have to first injure and then punish their own fans in the stands.
Ewing Kauffman must surely be--once again--spinning in his grave.
So many people espouse this idea that a) our government is far too big and that b) we spend too much and so c) need to cut spending needs to read all of the following by Senator Bernie Sanders, (Ind., VT):
As a member of the U.S. Senate Budget Committee, I am more than aware that a $17 trillion dollar national debt and a $700 billion deficit are serious problems that must be addressed.
But I am also aware that real unemployment is close to 14 percent, that tens of millions of Americans are working for horrendously low wages, that more Americans are now living in poverty than ever before and that wealth and income inequality in the United States is now greater than in any other major country -- with the gap between the very rich and everyone else growing wider and wider.
Further, when we talk about the national budget, it is vitally important that we remember how we got into this fiscal crisis in the first place and who was responsible for it. Let us never forget that when Bill Clinton left office in January of 2001, the U.S. had a budget surplus of $236 billion with projected budget surpluses as far as the eye could see. During that time, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office projected a 10-year budget surplus of $5.6 trillion, enough to erase the entire national debt by the end of 2011.
US Defense spending vs. the rest of the budget
What happened? How did we, in a few short years, go from a large budget surplus into horrendous debt? The answer is not that complicated. Under President Bush we went to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq -- and didn't pay for them. We just put them on the credit card. The cost of those wars is estimated to be between $4 trillion to $6 trillion. Further, Bush and Congress passed an expensive prescription drug program that was unpaid for. They also reduced revenue by giving huge tax breaks to the wealthy and large corporations. On top of all that, the Wall Street collapse and ensuing recession significantly reduced tax receipts and increased spending for unemployment compensation and food stamps, further exacerbating the deficit situation.
Interestingly, the so-called congressional "deficit hawks" -- Congressman Paul Ryan, Senator Jeff Sessions and other conservative Republicans -- all voted for those measures that increased the deficit. These are the same folks who now want to dismantle virtually every social program designed to protect working families, the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor. In other words, it's okay to spend trillions on a war we should never have waged and large defense budgets, and provide huge tax breaks for billionaires and multi-national corporations. It's just not okay when, in very difficult economic times, we try to protect the most vulnerable people in our country.
US Defense spending vs. the rest of the world:
Where do we go from here? How do we now draft a federal budget which creates jobs, makes our country more productive, protects working families and lowers the deficit?
For a start, we have to understand that, from both a moral and economic perspective, we cannot impose more austerity on the people of our country who are already suffering. The time is now for the wealthy and multi-national corporations who are doing phenomenally well to help us rebuild America and lower our deficit.
At a time when the richest 1 percent own 38 percent of the financial wealth of America, while the bottom 60 percent own a mere 2.3 percent -- we cannot balance the budget on the backs of people who have virtually nothing. When 95 percent of all new income during 2009 through 2012 went to the top 1 percent, while tens of millions of working Americans saw a decline in their income, we cannot cut programs that these workers depend upon.
Instead of talking about cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, we must end the absurdity of one out of four corporations in America not paying a nickel in federal income taxes. At a time when multi-national corporations and the wealthy are avoiding more than $100 billion a year in taxes by stashing money in tax havens like the Cayman Islands and Bermuda, we need to make them pay taxes just like middle-class Americans. The truth of the matter is that according to the most recent information available profitable corporations are only paying 13 percent of their income in federal taxes which is near a 40-year low.
While in January 2013, we successfully ended Bush's tax breaks for the richest 1 percent, the truth is that they continue to exist for the top 2 percent, those households earning between $250,000 and $450,000 a year. That must end.
At a time when we now spend almost as much as the rest of the world combined on defense, we can afford to make judicious cuts in our military without compromising our military capabilities.
Frankly, it is time that Congress started listening to the ordinary people. Recently, the Republican Party learned a hard lesson when the American people stated loudly and clearly that it was wrong to shut down the government and not pay our bills because some extreme right-wing members of Congress do not like the Affordable Care Act. Well, there's another lesson that my Republican colleagues are going to have to absorb. Poll after poll make it very clear that the American people overwhelmingly do not want to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. In fact, according to a recent National Journal poll, 81 percent of the American people do not want to cut Medicare at all; 76 percent of the American people do not want to cut Social Security at all; and 60 percent of the American people do not want to cut Medicaid at all. Meanwhile, other polls have made it very clear that at a time of growing income and wealth inequality, Americans believe that the wealthiest among us and large corporations must pay their fair share in taxes.
It is time to develop a federal budget which is moral and which makes good economic sense. It is time to develop a budget which invests in our future by creating jobs rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure improvement and expanding educational opportunities. It is time for those who have so much to help us with deficit reduction. It is time that we listen to what the American people want, and not just respond to the billionaire class and major campaign contributors.
In short, ladies and gentlemen, if we're going to cut anything, anything from our national budget, it should be our defense spending and budget, first. Not only does it make eminent sense, it can easily, easily be argued it would actually make us stronger both internally and externally, not weaker.