Poverty & Wealth

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.

(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:

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. 

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, 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.

Obama: Giving Away Social Security

(AP/Rex Features)

Here is Mitt Romney’s proposal to cut Social Security benefits, from the Romney campaign website: http://www.mittromney.com/issues/social-security

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.

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)

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 becoming morally and intellectually bankrupt. Three decades later, that ugly process is almost complete.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

Diane Ravitch on the "Effort to Destroy Public Ed"

(Flickr/Kevin Lock)

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 of the Koret Task Force at Stanford's Hoover Institution, which focuses on school choice and "accountability." But in 2009, Ravitch left both positions and wrote a book announcing her move to the other side of the debate.

They Work Hard for the Money

(AP/Mel Evans

As work becomes increasingly a matter of machines building or moving other machines, workers either lose their jobs or—if they are fortunate enough to keep their jobs—become vastly more productive. Productivity surged in the U.S. during the early years of the current downturn when companies laid off workers by the millions and replaced them with machines. Revenues per employee at the S&P 500, the Wall Street Journal reported, rose from $378,000 in 2007 to $420,000 in 2010.

And yet, the wages and benefits of employed Americans experienced no corresponding increase as workers’ productivity rose. Indeed, over the past quarter-century, as economists Ian Dew-Becker and Robert Gordon have reported, all productivity gains have gone to the wealthiest ten percent of Americans. In the quarter-century following World War II, by contrast, productivity and median household income both rose by 102 percent—but that quarter-century was the only period in American history when unions were strong.

Reaping What Elections Sow

(Flickr/ BKM_BR)

In 2010, Tea Party mania influenced elections at every level—congressional races and governorships, most famously. But the biggest impact was on state legislatures, where 21 house or senate chambers flipped from Democratic to Republican control. In states like Texas, Republican majorities turned into supermajorities; in the Texas House, Democrats were no longer needed to make up a quorum. All the legislative energy was on the side of Tea Party Republicans. They made sweeping, historic changes—to labor laws, to health care, to reproductive rights, and, most of all, to state budgets and public school funding.

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