Poverty & Wealth

The Brothers Koch: Family Drama and Disdain for Democracy

AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes N ot long ago, a pal of mine asked whether I’d heard the latest scoop about Charles and David Koch, the right-wing billionaires currently overseeing capitalism’s final solution to the democracy problem. Did I know—did I know!?—their grandmother had been none other than Ilse Koch, the human-lampshade-loving wife of Buchenwald’s commandant? Cazart, as Hunter S. Thompson used to say. Overseeing final solutions just runs in the family. My friend looked distinctly chagrined when I told her it wasn’t so. Like many liberal Americans, she hates the Kochs so much that no calumny strikes her as too far-fetched. But as it happened, I was midway through Daniel Schulman’s first-rate Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America’s Most Powerful and Private Dynasty , and I felt reasonably sure that Schulman wasn’t saving Ilse and her apocryphal lampshades for a Harry Potter gotcha toward the end. Considering that Charles and David are worth more than $80 billion...

After the Revolution, the Tea Party Struggles for Purpose

AP Photo/Patrick T. Fallon
AP Photo/John Bazemore William Temple holds up a tea kettle during the Atlanta Tea Party tax protest Wednesday, April 15, 2009 in Atlanta. M y favorite story from the last week in politics was a tiny item about the Republican committee in South Carolina's Charleston County voting to censure Sen. Lindsey Graham. This rebuke didn't come because of some grand betrayal or criminal malfeasance; Graham, the party activists felt, just wasn't being conservative enough. And there are things like this happening all over. There's the local group of New Hampshire conservatives running radio ads against Republican state senators, or the Virginia conservatives jeering House Majority Leader Eric Cantor at meetings and taking over their local Republican committee. These aren't the significant primary challenges of the kind we've seen in recent years. You get the sense that Tea Party folks are sitting around saying, "Well, Obamacare isn't getting repealed. The presidential election isn't for a couple...

Every Great American City Deserves a Shot—Including Detroit

AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
AP Photo/Carlos Osorio A major American city teeters on the brink of financial ruin. Garbage goes uncollected. Crime is rampant. Municipal officials are so desperate for cash to pay creditors that they have to beg the local teachers union for financial assistance. If this sounds like Detroit, think again. The city was New York. The year was 1975. Thanks to sensible assistance from federal and state government and a focus on economic growth rather than just reckless cuts, the Big Apple emerged from insolvency in the mid-1970s to become the most prosperous urban center in the modern world. As Motown navigates its current fiscal crisis, policymakers should remember the core lesson from New York's experience: The key to recovery is investment. There is no doubt that Detroit’s current situation is difficult. The fragile municipal tax base was decimated in the Great Recession, and the city now has thousands of abandoned properties, unacceptably slow emergency response rates, and painful...

Fast Food, Slow Movement

Flickr/The All-Nite Images
Not long ago, I was interviewing Hahrie Han, a political scientist at Wellesley who studies social movements, for an article in an upcoming print edition of the Prospect , and we started talking about the Occupy movement and some of the problems it faced. She pointed out that liberals are great at exploiting new technologies, but sometimes that can actually pose a problem for movement-building. One of the great benefits social media offer is their ability to organize quickly—have people activate their networks, and within hours you can get hundreds or even thousands of people out to an event or a protest. But that quick ramp-up can mean that your effort becomes very big while its demands are still in the process of formation, which may have had something to do with the trouble Occupy had sustaining itself. For all of social media's efficiency, "they don't have a lot of the side benefits that the kind of organization that used to be required to get lots of people to come to a public...

Meet the Doctor Who Went to Jail to Save North Carolina Lives

There is right, and there is wrong. And having to watch patients die because legislators refused the administration's Medicaid expansion—that's just wrong, says physician Charlie van der Horst.

@JennyWarburg
Next month in Raleigh, North Carolina, physician Charlie van der Horst is scheduled to appear before a Superior Court judge and jury to appeal his second-degree trespassing conviction stemming from his participation in the Moral Monday protests that filled the state legislature building last year. Van der Horst, an internationally recognized AIDS researcher and professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, joined 28 other activists who occupied the legislative building on May 6, 2013, disobeying a police order to disperse. They were among 945 people arrested last year during twelve demonstrations. North Carolina’s Republican legislative majority has cut education funding, curtailed abortion access, and created new barriers to voting. While all those measures have offended van der Horst, his deepest concern as a doctor has been the legislature’s refusal to expand Medicaid under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. In this three-minute excerpt from...

Stemming the Tide of Recidivism: Banning 'the Box'

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iStockPhoto L ast week, the City of Baltimore approved an ordinance removing “the box,” as it is known among those with a criminal record, from employment applications for companies with 10 or more employees. It joins more than 10 states and 60 cities and counties—including Hawaii; New York City; Berkeley, California; and Jacksonville, Florida—in an effort to provide a second chance to people returning to their community after serving their time in prison. Just 40 miles away in Washington, D.C., President Obama could follow their lead by banning the box for all executive-branch employment. Today, 70 million Americans have criminal records—nearly one third of the American adult population. Studies reveal that formerly incarcerated people with stable employment are far less likely to reoffend than those who are unemployed. But too often, they’re hindered by the employer practice of asking about prior convictions, which for many serves as an instant disqualification. As a result, former...

Et Tu, Jet Blue? The Airlines' War on the 99%

AP Photo/Rick Maiman, file
AP Photo/File This combination of Associated Press file photos show, on the left, a first class interior section of a United Airlines 747 plane at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco in 2011, and on the right, the coach interior section of a JetBlue E190 plane at Seatac International Airport in Seattle, in 2008. N ext month, JetBlue is adding a first-class section to its hitherto classless—but relatively classy—planes. By virtue of not having a first-class section, JetBlue has been able to provide something that most airlines have long since abolished: legroom for its passengers. But the egalitarian seating plan has long since disappeared from nearly every airline, and JetBlue is a decided latecomer to the prevailing model of airline seating, which we will term the Piketty-Saez Seating Plan, or PSSP. To be sure, airlines are in no way responsible for the polarization of income and wealth that defines our time. Increasingly, however, their seating plans reflect that...

Moral Monday Movement Gears Up for Round Two

2013 ©Jenny Warburg
©Jenny Warburg Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina conference of the NAACP, leads a Moral Monday protest in Raleigh, N.C., in 2013. This article has been corrected. O n Wednesday afternoon, the North Carolina legislature will open its 2014 session. It will be hard for the Republican majority to top last year’s performance, which shattered the final vestiges of the state’s 50-year reputation for moderate governance. With the help of newly elected GOP Gov. Pat McCrory, lawmakers in 2013 slashed both public education and unemployment benefits. They rejected an expansion of Medicaid, paid for almost entirely by the federal government, that would have covered at least 300,000 low-income North Carolinians. They cut corporate taxes and eliminated the earned-income credit for low-wage workers. And they rewrote the state’s election laws in a way that will make registration and voting harder, particularly for African-American, blue-collar, and younger voters. They might have...

Daily Meme: It Ain't Easy Being a Koch

AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
Pity the poor Koch brothers. All Charles and David want to do is make America safe for good, old-fashioned, Wild West capitalism. But somehow, they seem to be teeing everybody off—left and right. Plus, it's so doggone pricey to buy control of the federal government these days! The K-Bros dished out $400 million to defeat President Obama in 2012, all for naught. According to an Americans for Prosperity memo that fell into the hands of Politico , they learned a startling lesson from the effort: “If the presidential election told us anything, it’s that Americans place a great importance on taking care of those in need and avoiding harm to the weak." Who knew!?! So now, as they prepare to spend $125 million to buy Congress this year, the memo says the Kochs are softening their message so people don't get the wrong idea : "We consistently see that Americans in general are concerned that free-market policy—and its advocates—benefit the rich and powerful more than the most vulnerable of...

Koch Brothers Struggle Against Misconception That They Care About the Wealthy

Jared Rodriguez/Truthout
Politico's Kenneth Vogel got hold of some internal strategy documents from Americans for Prosperity, the pass-through for much of the political spending by cartoon villains Charles and David Koch, and while apart from the eye-popping spending being planned ($125 million this year) there isn't too much that's shocking, there is this poignant passage about how misunderstood free-market ideology is among the voters: "If the presidential election told us anything, it's that Americans place a great importance on taking care of those in need and avoiding harm to the weak," reads the AFP memo. Echoing Charles Koch's opposition to the minimum wage , it asserts that free market, low-regulation policies "create the greatest levels of prosperity and opportunity for all Americans, especially for society's poorest and most vulnerable." Yet, the memo says, "we consistently see that Americans in general are concerned that free-market policy — and its advocates — benefit the rich and powerful more...

Daily Meme: You Probably Should Check Your Privilege

Screen shot of Tal Fortgang via Fox News
Sometimes, in the wilds of the internet, all it takes to get people's blood boiling is a screed from one college freshman. Such is the saga of Tal Fortgang, a Princeton first-year who wrote an inflammatory essay in the campus conservative magazine about being told to "check his privilege."If you're not familiar with the phrase ( described by the New York Times as "conversational kryptonite"), it's often used to remind those who may not be aware of their elite status (including, but not limited to, white male Princeton students) of their personal social advantages. Fortgang wrote that "check your privilege" has become a kind of liberal policing mechanism. "The phrase, handed down by my moral superiors, descends recklessly, like an Obama-sanctioned drone, and aims laser-like at my pinkish-peach complexion, my maleness, and the nerve I displayed in offering an opinion rooted in a personal Weltanschauung." (Extra points here for his exceptional use of jargon.) In other words: This...

Seattle's $15 Minimum Wage Agreement: Collective Bargaining Reborn?

15 Now/Seattle
15 Now/Seattle Activists at an April demonstration demanding a $15-per-hour minimum wage in Seattle. W e have seen the future of collective bargaining, and it just may work. It should work brilliantly in Seattle if the city council doesn’t screw it up. Last Thursday—May Day, for the nostalgic among you—Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced that a business-labor task force he appointed had agreed on a plan to raise the minimum wage in the city to $15 per hour, over four years (with annual incremental increases) for businesses with more than 500 employees, and up to seven years for smaller businesses. By the end of the process, tipped employees would have an assured hourly income of $15, not counting whatever tips they received on top of that, and the wage would thereafter be indexed to the rise with the cost of living. Business, labor and the mayor having agreed, the plan now goes before the city council, whose members, like Mayor Murray, have backed the $15 hourly rate, but who may yet...

What Drives Credit Card Debt?

Americans cumulatively have $854 billion in revolving loan (mostly credit card) debt, according to the Federal Reserve. The amount has actually declined since the Great Recession, as credit card issuers tightened their lending standards, borrowers became more cautious, and strong and effective consumer protection laws went into effect, producing substantial savings for households. Still, $854 billion is no small matter, and its source is worth considering. Why do some people stagger under a mountain of credit card debt, paying high interest rates on their outstanding balances and never seeming to come out ahead, while others rarely if ever carry debt for long, despite pulling out their plastic on a regular basis? That’s the question I set out to answer in a new study , which compares two groups of low- and middle-income households with working age adults. The households are statistically indistinguishable in terms of income, racial and ethnic background, age, marital status and rate...

Who's Got the Political Will to Save the Middle Class?

Demonstrator blocks traffic at December fast-food workers' protest in Washington, DC. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak I t’s not easy being president during an epoch of downward mobility for the American people. The shrinking of the middle class--a phenomenon to which Americans are historically unaccustomed, most particularly during recoveries-- depresses the president’s popularity, drags down that of his party, and generally plays hell with incumbents’ election prospects. That the American people are downwardly mobile was underscored this weekend by a report from the National Employment Law Project demonstrating that while lower-wage jobs accounted for just 22 percent of the jobs lost during the recession, they account for 44 percent of the jobs created since the recession ended in 2010. Middle-wage jobs, by contrast, accounted for 37 percent of the jobs lost during the recession, but just 26 percent of the jobs created since. Median annual household income is still roughly $4,000 beneath its level before the recession started. Indeed, the most alarming polling for the...

The Politics of Pain

How do liberals and conservatives view suffering? Two leading experts discuss. 

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iStockPhoto I n the spring of 1992, as the contentious Democratic primary ground to a close, Bill Clinton was speaking at a rally in New York City when an AIDS activist accused him of ignoring the ongoing HIV epidemic. Uttering four words that epitomized his campaign style, Clinton told the activist, “I feel your pain.” Clinton’s remark was widely mocked by conservatives who believed that bleeding-heart liberal policy, under the pretext of compassion, was creating a culture of dependence. In his new book, Pain: A Political History , Keith Wailoo argues that over the past 60 years, sparring over what constitutes pain, who can judge pain, and how the government should mete out treatment has elevated our maladies into fraught political concerns. Pain resists measurement, raising questions about whether sufferers can be trusted to evaluate their own distress. Conservatives worry that chronic pain is a symbol of underlying social maladjustment, while liberals seek to put the means of...

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