Poverty & Wealth

George McGovern: America's Critic and Champion

The former presidential candidate challenged the country he loved while firmly embracing its people.

(AP Photo/Cliff Owen, Pool, File)
AP Photo George McGovern of South Dakota pays a visit with his wife to the floor of the International Amphitheatre in Chicago, August 25, 1968, where he will attempt to capture the Democratic presidential nomination in the National Convention starting on Monday. G eorge McGovern, the former Senator from South Dakota and 1972 Democratic candidate for president who died Sunday at the age of 90, was perhaps the greatest exponent of an alternative American patriotism of the end of the 20 th century. In this respect, McGovern’s predecessors were men and women like Jane Addams, W.E.B. Dubois, and William James. Historian Jonathan Hansen has described this critical patriotism well as the “claim that critical engagement with one’s country constitutes the highest form of love.” The critical patriot rejects the conventional patriot’s belief that loyalty to the state and, especially, to its military aims should be reflexive and unconditional. Critical patriotism fears that the patriotism of flag...

Making Prisoners Count

For legislative districts, inmates are considered part of communities where they’ll likely never live as free citizens.

(Flickr/AJstream)
(Flickr/AJstream) With a prison population in the millions, the current method of counting inmates skews how representative democracy operates. A dd these two facts together: (1) To the United States Census Bureau, where prisoners have their “usual residence” is the prison in which they’re incarcerated and (2) The findings of the decennial census are used to draw political boundaries. The sum of those parts does strange things to the notion of how Americans elect people to represent us in state and local governments. “Our system for making political decisions in this country,” says Peter Wagner of the Prison Policy Initiative, “is being distorted by the miscounting of two million people.” In an era obsessed with political data— Microtargeting! Swing-state polling! Data.gov! —and in a country where we incarcerate people at a higher rate than anywhere else in the world, thinking through the political counting of prisoners calls for the same enthusiasm, because the way we do it now...

The Grit and Grace of George McGovern

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo, File) In this August 9, 1972 file photo, with the pictures of former Democratic Presidents Kennedy and Johnson behind him, Senator George McGovern, introduces Sargent Shriver as his vice-presidential pick to the Democratic National Committee in Washington. A family spokesman says, McGovern, the Democrat who lost to President Richard Nixon in 1972 in a historic landslide, has died at the age of 90. According to a spokesman, McGovern died Sunday, October 21, 2012 at a hospice in Sioux Falls, surrounded by family and friends. T hroughout his sixty years in public life, a great deal was written about George McGovern. One of my favorite descriptions of him is by Pete Hamill. Back in the 1972 presidential campaign, he wrote: “George McGovern comes at you like one of those big Irish heavyweights in the 1930s—a little slow, but with the chin shut hard against the chest, the jaw breaching out, coming on, daring you to do your best. ... He might be beaten, but you will know he was...

Bums on the Bus

Courtesy Faith in Public Life
Yesterday, the Nuns On the Bus—the summer’s most devout media darlings, who gained notoriety for their two-week, nine-state bus tour to protest Congressman Paul Ryan’s proposed budget plan—got a rude surprise in Marietta, Ohio. In the midst of a five-day bus tour of the state to protest proposed cuts to social services, the sisters were greeted by a group of Romney-Ryan supporters toting signs with slogans proclaiming, “Bums on the Bus: You Are Not Catholic,” and “Romney/Ryan, Yes; Fake Nuns, No,” ostensibly taking issue with the nuns’ focus on affordable healthcare and income inequality instead of pro-life issues. Sister Monica McGloin (who is pro-life), a Dominican Sister of Hope from Cincinnati participating in the bus tour, had this to say on-site in response to the protestors: Pro-life for us means that we do concern ourselves with living wage, just wage, access to healthcare, education, food, housing, care for our seniors, Medicare and other kinds of healthcare programs that are...

(Fiscal) Cliffs Notes

(Flickr/Matthew Wilkinson)
The most bizarre thing about the deficit and the campaign is the fact that the risk of a fiscal cliff—which everyone agrees will crash the economy—is being used to justify a slightly smaller fiscal cliff. There are several players here, so the arguments are worth sorting out. Herewith, some Cliffs Notes: What is the fiscal cliff? It comes in three parts. On January 1, the Bush tax cuts expire. This means that in the first pay period of the new year, more taxes are taken out of everyone’s withholding. Second, the temporary two-point cuts in payroll taxes expire too, so everyone’s Social Security and Medicare taxes go up as well. Third, the dreaded “sequester” of automatic budget cuts, the toxic fruit of the Republican blockade of a normal budget deal back in 2011, kick in. Oh, and extended unemployment benefits expire, too. What would all this fiscal tightening do to the recovery? It would create a new recession, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), Fed Chairman Ben...

True the Vote's True Agenda

(AP Photo/Matt Houston)
This is the second and final part of our series on True the Vote. Check out our earlier piece on just how effective the group will—or won't—be on election day. I n 2010, before most reporters had heard of True the Vote, the group put out a video introducing itself. As epic battle music plays, far-right activist David Horowitz comes on screen. “The voting system is under attack now,” he says. “Movements that are focused on voter fraud, on the integrity of elections are crucial. This is a war.” Horowitz goes on to claim: “A Democratic party consultant once told me that Republicans have to win by at least 3 percent to win any elections.” Catherine Engelbrecht, the group’s founder, recounts that True the Vote poll watchers went out and “saw corruption everywhere.” "The left has been focused on this now for decades,” says Horowitz, as photographs of black voters lining up to cast ballots flash by. “Obama’s very connected to ACORN, which is a voter-fraud machine. ACORN is the radical army...

A Farewell to Arms, and the United States

Hector Barajas is opening up his home to serve as a safe house for deported veterans like himself, stranded in Mexico, far from the country they served.

Hector Barajas
Hector Barajas Deported veterans at Hector Barajas's safe house, which is opening in an event in Mexico today. H ector Barajas, a former paratrooper in the U.S. Army, lives in a two-bedroom apartment in Rosarito Beach, a seaside Mexican village 15 miles south of the border. Barajas, 36, has lived near Rosarito since 2009, usually with another deported veteran living in his second bedroom or on his couch. He is a leading advocate against the deportation of veterans, which has become a more prevalent concern for members of our armed forces in recent years, and his home has become the cause’s unofficial headquarters. Barajas’ current houseguest, Fabian Rebolledo, received a Purple Heart for his service in Kosovo. When Rebolledo, 37, was deported to Tijuana earlier this year, he called Barajas almost immediately. Today, Barajas will designate his apartment a safe house for deported military veterans. The announcement and press conference will bring no obvious, direct changes: the...

Obama: Giving Away Social Security

(AP/Rex Features)
Here is Mitt Romney’s proposal to cut Social Security benefits, from the Romney campaign website : First, for future generations of seniors, Mitt believes that the retirement age should be slowly increased to account for increases in longevity. Second, for future generations of seniors, Mitt believes that benefits should continue to grow but that the growth rate should be lower for those with higher incomes. In other words, cuts in benefits. In the first debate, I was waiting for President Obama to go to town on this. Instead, Obama had this to say: LEHRER: "Mr. President. Do you see a major difference between the two of you on Social Security?" OBAMA: "You know, I suspect that, on Social Security, we’ve got a somewhat similar position. Social Security is structurally sound. It’s going to have to be tweaked the way it was by Ronald Reagan and Speaker — Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill." He’s got a similar position to Mitt Romney’s? On Social Security? Does this man just want to hand the...

Barry Commoner and the Dream of a Liberal Third Party

Obituaries of the environmental populist have dismissed his 1980 presidential run as a quirky personal misadventure. It was more than that.

(Flickr/CHEJ)
(AP/SJV) Dr. Barry Commoner listens to Secretary of the Interior Walter J. Hickel address a meeting of the American Society of Newspaper Editors in May 1970. Barry Commoner died on September 30 at the age of 95. The New York Times called him “a founder of modern ecology and one of its most provocative thinkers and mobilizers in making environmentalism a people’s cause.” Among many accomplishments, his pioneering work on the effects of radiation was a major factor in building public support for the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union in the middle of the Cold War. Time magazine put him on its cover in 1970, the first year of Earth Day. He also ran for president in 1980 on the ticket of the now-defunct Citizens Party, an episode few on the left remember and the obituaries dismissed as a quirky personal misadventure. It was more than that. The Citizens Party was an effort to respond to the early signals that the Democratic Party was on the way to...

Full Employment Is the Best Social Program

The optimistic debate about what could happen in the United States after the unemployment rate goes down

AP Photo
The unemployment rate’s drop to 7.8 percent, reported last week, marked the first time since 2009 that the rate was below 8 percent. It’s fitting that this occurred shortly after someone who predicted the rate couldn’t get below 8 percent changed his mind. Until a year ago, president of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Narayana Kocherlakota had argued that there may be a new normal unemployment rate of 8.7 percent, and that adjusting the rate at which banks borrow money would do little to help. Now he argues that the Fed should commit to keeping rates low until unemployment is declines—a position in line with those hawkish about our unemployment crisis. Kocherlakota’s arguments were popular among the right, with conservatives like David Brooks name-checking him in his national column. But they also found support from a surprising ally: former President Bill Clinton. Clinton went on David Letterman's show and NPR in 2010, quoting Kocherlakota to argue that we were “coming out of a...

Obama's Other War

What’s weighing President Obama down? In a brilliant essay, Garance Franke-Ruta of The Atlantic (and a Prospect alumna) argues that the emotional toll of his job—particularly, of presiding over two wars and having to reckon with their casualties—has emotionally “shut down” the president. “Running a drone war that kills innocent civilians, ordering the death of militants, overseeing a policy that’s led to an increase in American casualties in Afghanistan, and delivering funereal remarks at a ceremony honoring the returning remains of a slain American diplomat,” she writes, have taken a toll on the “easy swagger and rambunctiously playful enthusiasm” that he displayed in his 2008 campaign. I think my friend Garance is on to something serious here, but I want to broaden the diagnosis. Every night, we know, Obama reads ten of the multitude of letters that Americans send him to let him know what their lives are like, to ask him for some kind of help. At a time when the American middle...

Crying Fraud, Then Creating It

(AP Photo/The The Hutchinson News, Travis Morisse, File)
For once, the Republicans were right. They have been obsessively claiming that voter-suppression measures are necessary because of widespread “ballot fraud.” However extensive investigations by the mainstream media have shown that ballot-fraud is a convenient myth . Even the Bush administration, in an extensive five-year search, turned up no evidence of the kind of voting fraud—fake IDs, voting in the name of dead people, folks being bribed to vote—that the Republicans routinely allege. Republicans, evoking the tactics of the pre-civil rights segregationist South, simply want to make it more difficult for people who might support Democrats to exercise their right to vote. Some five million people, mostly minorities and the poor, are at risk of being denied their right to vote in 19 states controlled by Republican governors and legislatures, according to a report from the Brennan Center. Happily, the courts have struck down the most extreme of these measures, in Texas, Ohio, Wisconsin...

Are Women Better Off than We Were Four Years Ago?

(Flickr/Lekere)
Last week I confessed that I don’t like presidential election season. I don’t like the trivialized reportage, the horse-race-ification of serious subjects, and the narrowed vision that settles in on policy folks during these months. I especially don’t like the question “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” This suggests two things to which I object: first, that the president is in charge of how well-off I am, when all of us know that American politics and global economics are far more complex. Second, that “better off” or “worse off” can be reduced to my current income and immediate financial prospects, even if those were dependent on the president. So I’m going to hijack that question for my own purposes and ask: Are women better off than we were four years ago—not just financially, and not just in ways affected by President Barack Obama’s administration, but overall? Episode one: Show me the money. Despite the fact that I dislike the reduction of life to finances,...

Pennsyvlania Voter ID: Now Requested But Not Required

(AP/ John C. Whitehead)
Thanks to a decision today by Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson, Pennsylvania's controversial voter-ID law will not be in effect in November. Though voters will be asked for one of the several allowable government-issued photo IDs at the polls, those who do not have such identification will still be able to cast the usual ballot. But the future of the law is still murky, and the legal battles will likely extend far beyond election day. The controversy over the state's voter-ID law over the last few months has been contentious. While those promoting the law initially argued it was needed to prevent voter fraud, there's been no evidence of voter fraud in the state, and the state did not cite any examples of voter fraud in legal proceedings. But there was partisan advantage. According to several studies, voter-ID requirements disproportionately impact poor and nonwhite voters, who are more likely to lack the required identification. These are, coincidentally, the voters most likely...

Diane Ravitch on the "Effort to Destroy Public Ed"

(Flickr/Kevin Lock)
Diane Ravitch receiving a National Education Association award in 2010. Click here to read part 1 of the Prospect 's interview with the former assistant secretary of education. When Diane Ravitch changed her mind about education reform, she became one of the leading critics of a movement that dominates American policy. For the most part, both Democrats and Republicans now push to make school systems resemble economic markets. They want fewer teacher protections, more testing, and more charter schools for parents to choose from. President Barack Obama's Department of Education, headed by education reformer Arne Duncan, shares many policy goals with those of George W. Bush's administration. Ravitch herself was once part of the movement, promoting student assessments and helping to create voluntary academic standards. After serving as assistant secretary of education under George H.W. Bush, she held positions at the pro-school-reform movement Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and was a member...

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