Poverty & Wealth

The Return of the Balanced Budget Amendment

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
S enate minority leader Mitch McConnell says Senate Republicans will unanimously support a balanced-budget amendment, to be unveiled Wednesday as the core of the GOP’s fiscal agenda. There’s no chance of passage so why are Republicans pushing it now? “Just because something may not pass doesn’t mean that the American people don’t expect us to stand up and be counted for the things that we believe in,” says McConnnell. The more honest explanation is that a fight over a balanced-budget amendment could get the GOP back on the same page—reuniting Republican government-haters with the Party’s fiscal conservatives. And it could change the subject away from social issues—women’s reproductive rights, immigration, gay marriage—that have split the Party and cost it many votes. It also gives the Party something to be for , in contrast to the upcoming fights in which its members will be voting against compromises to avoid the next fiscal cliff, continue funding the government, and raising the...

Jobs and Growth, Not Deficit Reduction

Flickr/Andreas Klinke Johannsen
C an we just keep things in perspective? On Tuesday, the President asked Republicans to join him in finding more spending cuts and revenues before the next fiscal cliff whacks the economy at the end of the month. Yet that same day, the Congressional Budget Office projected that the federal budget deficit will drop to 5.3 percent of the nation’s total output by the end of this year. This is roughly half what the deficit was relative to the size of the economy in 2009. It’s about the same share of the economy as it was when Bill Clinton became president in 1992. The deficit wasn’t a problem then, and it’s not an immediate problem now. Yes, the deficit becomes larger later in the decade. But that’s mainly due to the last-ditch fiscal cliff deal in December. By extending the Bush tax cuts for all but the top 2 percent of Americans and repealing the alternative minimum tax, that deal increased budget deficits by about $3 trillion above what the budget office projected last August. The real...

Guns—Not the Mentally Ill—Kill People

Flickr/JenXer
Flickr/JenXer A fter a year of violent tragedies that culminated with the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, America is finally having a conversation about gun control. For the many who want to decrease access to firearms in the wake of several mass shootings, new laws being proposed around the country to limit and regulate guns and ammunition represent a momentous first step. But running through the gun-control debate is a more delicate conversation: how to handle mental-health treatment in America. Among both Democrats and Republicans, in both the pro-gun and anti-gun lobbies, there’s a widespread belief that mental-health treatment and monitoring is key to decreasing gun violence. Shining more light on the needs and struggles of the mentally ill would normally be a positive change; mental-health programs and services have been cut year after year in the name of austerity. But in the context of gun violence, those with mental illness have become easy scapegoats...

New Term, New Truthers, Same Obama

(Flickr/The White House)
If I had to pick my favorite political ad of the last few years, a strong contender would be the one from 2010 Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell, in which she looked into the camera and said sweetly, "I'm not a witch. I'm nothing you've heard. I'm you." The combination of a hilarious lack of subtlety with a kind of sad earnestness made it unforgettable. And it's the message that almost every politician tries to offer at one point or another (the "I'm you" part, not the part about not being a witch). They all want us to think they're us, or at least enough like us for us to trust them. So when the White House released a photo over the weekend of President Obama shooting skeet, the smoke of freedom issuing forth from the barrel of his gun, you could almost hear him saying, "I'm not an effete socialist gun-hater. I'm you." If "you" happen to be one of the minority of Americans who own guns, that is. Even at this late date, Obama and his aides can't resist the urge, when...

The First Progressive Revolution

Flickr/Mike Chaput
Exactly a century ago, on February 3, 1913, the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, authorizing a federal income tax. Congress turned it into a graduated tax, based on “capacity to pay.” It was among the signal victories of the progressive movement—the first constitutional amendment in 40 years (the first 10 had been included in the Bill of Rights, the 11th and 12th in 1789 and 1804, and three others in consequence of the Civil War), reflecting a great political transformation in America. The 1880s and 1890s had been the Gilded Age, the time of robber barons, when a small number controlled almost all the nation’s wealth as well as our democracy, when poverty had risen to record levels, and when it looked as though the country was destined to become a moneyed aristocracy. But almost without warning, progressives reversed the tide. Teddy Roosevelt became president in 1901, pledging to break up the giant trusts and end the reign of the “malefactors of great wealth.”...

The Geography of Abortion Access

Mapping the national decline in abortion providers

Flickr/womenscampaignforum
As a collective unit, Americans are pretty keen on the civics-class idea that life in the 6,106,012 square miles of God’s green earth that is the USA is more or less equitable for the 313,847,465 people who have hunkered down to live on the craggy coasts, fruited plains, and purple mountains filled with majesty. We’ve got proportional representation in Congress, a legal system that presumes innocence before guilt, and the ability to walk into any 7-Eleven to get a Slurpee and slice of pizza that will cost you $4 and a year of your life, which has to say something about the level playing field we’ve got going, right? But as we mark the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade , the truth is that access to abortion isn’t anywhere close to equitable for women around the country. In fact, things are worse in certain parts of the U.S. than they were in the 1970s and 1980s. In nearly every state, the total number of abortion providers has dropped since 1978—even in traditionally liberal havens like...

Our Customers Don't Want a Pregnant Waitress

Fox Searchlight
Having a family shouldn’t cost you your job. It does, again and again—especially if you’re female. Which is one of the reasons women’s pay still isn’t equal. I’ll be writing about this in the months to come, but for today, here’s one way having a family can cost you your job: women still get fired for being pregnant. Although it’s been illegal since the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act , women are still refused a job or let go if they’re pregnant. You’d be shocked, EEOC and employment law folks tell me, at how often employers say so point-blank: Come back after you have the baby . The guys don’t want to look at a pregnant waitress . Housekeeping is hard work; your pregnancy is a potential liability. Our customers are uncomfortable with a pregnant driver . All that’s illegal. It’s wonderful that we can talk about Sheryl Sandberg going home every day at 5:30 to be with her kids. And it’s wonderful that we can have the advanced conversation about women needing to stand up for themselves...

The Worst State for Women?

North Dakota joins the list of states reversing decades of gains in gender equality.

Flickr/ ggolan
AP Photo/ James MacPherson I n the past couple of years, so many states have passed laws restricting women’s rights it seems they’re competing for the dubious honor of being the worst place for women to live. Texas rejected federal family-planning funds and is busily whittling away subsidized contraception access for poor women. Virginia passed a series of regulations on abortion clinics aimed at putting them out of business. The governor of Mississippi has been bragging about ending legal abortion in his state. In this new year, though, another state has risen to the top of the competitive field: North Dakota. Anti-abortion activists and legislators in North Dakota have been quite busy. Inspired by a Mississippi law , the North Dakota Legislature is considering a measure that could close the state’s only clinic—the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo—by requiring that it employ only doctors who have privileges allowing them to admit patients to a local hospital. Because the clinic is...

Equality of Flying Time

Poking holes in the arguments that appear on The Wall Street Journal’s editorial pages bears a close resemblance, I admit, to shooting fish in a barrel, but an op-ed in Thursday’s Journal makes points so idiotic I cannot restrain myself. Its thesis, as woozily argued by Donald Boudreaux, a George Mason University economics professor, and Mark Perry, a University of Michigan econ prof, is that the decline and stagnation of the American middle class is a myth. Careful analyses of American income distribution by economists like UC Berkeley’s Emmanuel Saez—who has found that 93 percent of U.S. economic growth since the trough of the recession has gone to the wealthiest 1 percent of our compatriots—are not even considered in the Boudreaux-Perry manifesto. Rather, they note that Americans’ life expectancy has increased in recent decades (though they fail to grapple with the recent report from the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine, which found that Americans’ lives are...

Remember Your Salary Doubling? Oh Wait...

Flickr/Rich Johnson
Brace yourself. In coming weeks you’ll hear there’s no serious alternative to cutting Social Security and Medicare, raising taxes on the middle class, and decimating what’s left of the federal government’s discretionary spending on everything from education and job training to highways and basic research. “We” must make these sacrifices, it will be said, in order to deal with our mushrooming budget deficit and cumulative debt. But most of the people who are making this argument are very wealthy or are sponsored by the very wealthy: Wall Street moguls like Pete Peterson and his “Fix the Debt” brigade, the Business Roundtable, well-appointed think tanks and policy centers along the Potomac, members of the Simpson-Bowles commission. These regressive sentiments are packaged in a mythology that Americans have been living beyond our means: We’ve been unwilling to pay for what we want government to do for us, and we are now reaching the day of reckoning. The truth is most Americans have not...

Equality, Brought to You by U.S. Airways?

Flickr/Robertsharp
Poking holes in the arguments that appear on The Wall Street Journal’s editorial pages bears a close resemblance, I admit, to shooting fish in a barrel, but an op-ed in Thursday’s Journal makes points so idiotic I cannot restrain myself. Its thesis, as woozily argued by Donald Boudreaux, a George Mason University economics professor, and Mark Perry, a University of Michigan economics professor, is that the decline and stagnation of the American middle class is a myth. Careful analyses of American income distribution by economists like U.C. Berkeley’s Emmanuel Saez—who has found that 93 percent of U.S. economic growth since the trough of the recession has gone to the wealthiest 1 percent of our compatriots – are not even considered in the Boudreaux-Perry manifesto. Rather, they note that Americans’ life expectancy has increased in recent decades (though they fail to grapple with the recent report from the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine, which found that...

Elected by 32 Donors, for 32 Donors

Flickr/ Tax Credits
When was the last time you contributed $1,000 to a political candidate or cause? If you’re like most people, the answer is “Never—if I have that kind of money it’s in the college savings account.” Well, candidates for the U.S. Senate this election got nearly 64 percent of the money they raised from individuals in contributions of at least $1,000—from just four one-hundredths of one percent of the population. Billion-Dollar Democracy , the latest Demos and U.S. PIRG Education Fund analysis of the role of money in the 2012 elections, reveals what most Americans already know: political power in America is concentrated in the hands of an elite fraction of the populace—threatening the very concept of government of, by, and for the people. Running for federal office means spending your days and nights courting a very narrow set of very rich donors who have the power to fuel your campaign or turn off the lights. Add the post- Citizens United Super PACs to the equation and big money dominance...

Who Has Abortions and Why it Matters

Guttmacher Institute
The Guttmacher Institute has a useful set of charts detailing the state of abortion in 2013, apropos of Roe ’s 40th anniversary. The short story is that abortion is far more widespread than Americans tend to think; by age 45, almost half of American women will have an unintended pregnancy, and nearly one in three will have an abortion. Sixty percent of women who have abortions already have one child, 44 percent are married or have a partner, and 69 percent are economically disadvantaged. Conservative rhetoric notwithstanding, the vast majority of abortions occur in the first trimester, and 73 percent of women who have abortions are “religiously affiliated.” Unintended pregnancies and unplanned births are highest among African Americans and Latinos, and accordingly, those groups have the highest abortion rates—40 percent for blacks, 29 percent for Latinos. The most interesting facts—and the ones which should complicate the conservative message on reproductive rights—are on the economic...

The Austerity Lobby Loses One

Flickr/Michael Pollack
Flickr/Michael Pollack A conference sponsored by Fix the Debt in Washington, D.C. takes place in January 2012. T he fiscal deal that raised taxes on the top one percent was a victory only for what it did not do. It did not cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, or other public spending. Unfortunately, it merely put off the next round of jousting over fiscal issues to a time when Republicans will have more leverage. In what we might call Cliff One (tax increases for the rich), the status quo played to President Obama’s advantage. If Congress failed to act, taxes would go up on everyone. So the Republicans caved. But in the coming battles over Cliff Two (the debt ceiling) and Cliff Three (the $120 billion in automatic cuts known as the Sequester) the status quo favors the Republicans. If Congress fails to act affirmatively, the United States defaults on its debt, and highly deflationary spending cuts kick in automatically. President Obama might dispatch Cliff Two by invoking the...

For Unions, It Was a Very Bad Year

AP Photo/Detroit News, Dale G. Young
AP Photo/Detroit News, Dale G. Young Pro-union demonstrators crowd the Capitol Rotunda in Lansing, Michigan to protest "right to work" legislation being considered by the Republican-controlled legislature. A merican labor can begin the new year with thanks that 2012 is over. Not that the unions didn’t win some big victories in 2012. Their political programs in key swing states played a major role in President Obama’s re-election, both by turning out minority voters in record numbers in Ohio, Nevada, and Florida and by winning Obama a higher share of white, working-class voters in the industrial Midwest than he won in other regions. Their efforts also helped liberal Democrats hold key Senate seats in Ohio (Sherrod Brown) and Wisconsin (Tammy Baldwin), and pick up Massachusetts (Elizabeth Warren). In California, the nation’s mega-state, unions beat back a ballot measure designed to cripple their political programs by a decisive 12.5-percent margin, turning out so many voters that they...

Pages