Poverty & Wealth

Who Will Save the Middle Class?

Liberals must face the stark truth: Both parties have agreed to sacrifice the middle.

(Tim Bower)
I n the eyes of most of the world and in our own, to be an American is to be an optimist—entrepreneurial, positive-thinking, and future-oriented. It is not surprising, then, that our politics has not come to grips with the question of national decline. Yes, our governing elites have long debated America’s power in the world and whether it’s eroding. But about the future of Americans , as opposed to the future of the geopolitical hegemon, America, our most important politicians and pundits have much less to say. Despite the bitter public arguments over tax and budget policies, they share the implicit assumption that even harder times are ahead for the majority of Americans—if not 99 percent then at least 75 percent to 80 percent. But doom and gloom does not play well in American politics. So, whenever our policymakers cannot avoid the word “sacrifice,” it is gingerly presented as a temporary inconvenience, to someone other than the listener, necessary to rebalance the government’s...

A Plan to Privatize a State's Entire Male Prison System

(Flickr/Tim Pearce, Los Gatos)
It's been tough times for the prison privatization industry. The two biggest companies both have extra space thanks to a recent drop in the number of people sent to private prisons. The companies just can't seem to expand their share of the market. The poor guys really lost out when the Florida Senate killed a bill that would have privatized 27 prisons and displaced more than 3,500 workers. The lobbying was so aggressive, one senator with health problems actually had to get protection from her colleagues. Then there's the not-so-great press—a two-part series from NPR last year included particularly horrifying tales . All told, these poor private prison company execs have not had much to smile about. So imagine what joy they must have had when New Hampshire put out an RFP to privatize the state's entire prison system. That's right—the entire system. According to the New Hampshire Business Review , previous state debate on privatization didn't exactly win anyone's affection, and the...

Calling for a Kinder Capitalism

Is the change that Occupy Wall Street and other groups have been fighting for finally on its way?

(Flickr / Atomische • Tom Giebel)
In a 2009 poll conducted by the BBC, only one out of every four Americans thought that capitalism in its current form was working well . Then came Occupy Wall Street (OWS), a physical manifestation of the anger of millions of Americans at an economic system in which big banks are bailed out by taxpayers only to turn around and pay billions in bonuses while filing record home foreclosures. Between the second quarter of 2009 and the fourth quarter of 2010, our nation's total income rose by $528 billion, but of that economic growth, 88 percent went to corporate profits and just 1 percent—that's right, 1 percent— went to workers . A popular sense of injustice appeared to be America’s leading growth industry as we embarked on the 21st century. But just as pressure builds between tectonic plates and eventually leads to massive earthquakes, so too can the slow grind of protests eventually change the political landscape. In 2011, grassroots economic-justice organizations mobilized protests at...

Meet Tom Barrett

(Flickr/barret4wi)
Last night, Wisconsin Democrats chose Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett as their candidate to go up against Governor Scott Walker. Barrett's pretty well known to Wisconsinites, both as a U.S. congressman and as a previous gubernatorial candidate. But most of us weren't all that interested in Wisconsin until Walker passed his anti-union laws and the widespread protestss began last year. Since then, the race has developed a national following—and some say, has national implications . With only a few weeks until the recall, meet the man Democrats are hoping will beat Scott Walker: 1. Irony of ironies, he's hardly a union favorite. Even though the recall has largely been painted as a fight between pro-labor and anti-labor groups, Barrett was hardly the first pick for Wisconsin unions. Rather, former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk had the bulk of union support early on. From the state AFL-CIO, the the Wisconsin Education Association Council to AFSCME, almost all the major unions backed Falk...

Richard Lugar, the Tea Party's Sacrificial Lamb

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
When he was the young mayor of Indianapolis in the late Sixties and early Seventies, Richard Lugar was acclaimed by Richard Nixon as his favorite mayor. An orthodox Main Street Republican, stiff despite his years, Lugar was competent, conventional and Nixonian in a good way (studious, intellectually ambitious) without any of Big Dick’s phobias. He brought those attributes to the Senate, where in recent decades he took on the challenge of ridding the world of loose nukes. It was a task that required him to work alongside his Democratic colleagues, which was never a problem for Lugar in any case. Yesterday, the Republican Jacobins dispatched Dick Lugar to history’s dustbin. He was a creature of the Republican past—a contemporary of Bob Dole and Howard Baker and a generation of not-excessively partisan and certainly not all that ideological Republicans who used to dominate their party. Indiana Republicans, who’d sent him to the Senate for six successive terms, now found him wanting: He...

In Voter ID Case, Court Tells Texas to Quit Stalling

(Flickr/whiteafrican)
In what read like a pretty clear smack-down, the federal court hearing the Texas voter ID case yesterday ordered the state to get its act together and quit stalling—or lose all hope of implementing a voter ID law by the November elections. The situation is somewhat ironic. Texas is suing the the Department of Justice since it did not approve the latest effort the state's voter ID law, among the most stringent in the nation. The DOJ argues the law will disproportionately impact minority voters. The state is racing against the clock, hoping to implement the law in time for the November elections—with the rather obvious subtext that this law will benefit Republican candidates by suppressing turnout among poor and minority voters who are likely to vote Democratic. The DOJ tried to delay the court date, set for July 9, but the court refused. Since then, however, the order said, "Defendants have worked tirelessly in discovery so that this case may be tried the week of July 9, 2012." The...

Are Women the Richer Sex?

(Flickr / 401K)
Well, sure, women are the richer sex, if by "richer" you mean "making less money." If you take some tiny demographic slices—single, childless college-educated women in major urban areas— those women make more than men their age. But enough of me blathering. Here's some stats: National Women's Law Center I wrote about this subject on Equal Pay Day , before I came across Bryce Covert's fabulous Nation post " How to Close the Gender Wage Gap In Just Seven Easy* Steps ." ( Do read it for serious policy ideas written with verve.) One of her steps: raise the minimum wage. See? Easy!

Don't Adopt from Ethiopia

(Flickr / MNicoleM)
Miriam Jordan at The Wall Street Journal has published an investigative article about adoption from Ethiopia, which has for several years been riddled with allegations of fraud and unethical practices. This article tells the deceptively simple story of Melesech Roth, whose Ethiopian birthmother died of malaria, and whose birthfather (who lives in stone-age poverty) gave her up for adoption when someone came through his village, offering to take children to America who would later help support their families. The writing is so straightforward that you may not realize how extraordinary it is unless you've tried to write a similar piece. Persuading an adoptive family to talk with you on the record, and also finding the biological family and getting them to talk on the record, is a significant feat. The accompanying ten-minute video is even more powerful than the written story. You can see for yourself that Melesech, by any material measure, is far better off than her siblings, who are...

What the F@%& Is Up With Stephen King?

When I was a kid, I was plagued by nightmares. One scary TV show, and boom, I'd wake up paralyzed with terror after a night in which animal-headed people tried to kill me all night, or Nazis pursued me through the streets of New York. After awhile, my little brothers knew to protectively chase me away from the television if something even faintly Hitchcockian came on; while they'd watch, I'd hunker down in my bedroom with Anne of Green Gables or, later, Tolstoy. My basic aversion to, or caution about, horror movies and scary books lasted well into my adulthood, until I learned how to tune down the fear and sleep through the night. But horror is a taste that I've never fully developed. All of which is to say that I haven't ever been a Stephen King reader or viewer—until yesterday, when he jumped on the Warren Buffett bandwagon with his Daily Beast blast, "Tax Me, For F@%&’s Sake!" Here's the gist: At a rally in Florida (to support collective bargaining and to express the socialist...

The Opportunity Society

The Romney grandchildren, in no particular need of bootstraps.
Whenever the subject of inequality comes up, conservatives usually say the same thing: Barack Obama wants equality of outcome , while we want equality of opportunity . The first part is ridiculously disingenuous, of course—no one could honestly argue that Obama's major goals, like raising income taxes from 35 percent to 39.6 percent, would bring us to some kind of pure socialistic society where everyone has precisely the same income and no one is wealthier than anyone else. But the second part is, I think, offered sincerely. Conservatives not only seek a world where everyone has the same opportunities, most of them think that's pretty much what we have already, so major changes aren't necessary, except in the area of getting government off your back. After all, this is America, where any kid, no matter where he comes from, can achieve whatever he wants if he's willing to work hard. Right? Which brings me to the story of Tagg Romney. Today's New York Times has a story about the private...

This Should Be Good News for Texas Planned Parenthood (But Isn't)

(Flickr/WeNews)
A judge today ruled that the state of Texas cannot exclude Planned Parenthood from its Women's Health Program, which offers basic reproductive health care for poor women. It's seemingly good news for the organization; last session, conservative lawmakers barred Planned Parenthood from the federal program because of its ties to abortion. (For the record, in Texas the program only serves women who aren't pregnant and public dollars do not fund abortion services.) Because of the decision, the state has lost federal support for the program , a big loss since the feds paid 90 percent of the program costs. Since then, Governor Rick Perry has promised to find funding for the program—a challenge given the state's serious budget troubles—and officials have outlined a plan for a state-run version . But even if there's money, without Planned Parenthood clinics, there's simply a capacity shortage. So Planned Parenthood might actually get its way, and become part of the program, the state could...

What Kind of Girl Are You?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has just issued a groundbreaking ruling, one so profound that it will transform many lives in years to come. Before I tell you what it is, I’m going to ask you to dive into two thought experiments and read just a bit of employment history. First, the thought experiments. Imagine that, for years, you’ve been been doing an outstanding job at whatever it is you do: driving a forklift, or teaching biology, or engineering bridges, or putting out fires . Your job is a refuge: Here’s a place you can excel, no matter the tumult you’ve had inside. You enjoy your colleagues; you like the respect and satisfaction you get from doing things well. Meanwhile, in your private life, you have come to the realization that only one thing would make your life worth living is adjusting your body to the sex you feel yourself to be, inside, rather than the sex you were born with and that everyone else sees. You begin the long process of transitioning from...

The Madwoman in the Attic

Awhile back, I wasted an evening watching the 2011 film version of Jane Eyre , something that every former lit major should avoid. I loved the novel for its depiction of the vivid, rich inner life of a proud introvert who is passionately engaged in her life despite the fact that she knows it to be outwardly pathetic. The movie, unable to reproduce the character's inner liveliness, reduced the story to a melodramatic and utterly unlikely romance between a poor orphan and an arrogant nobleman. I had wasted marital chits on a movie that I hated as much as my wife knew she would. (Sports movies, here we come. Sigh.) Watching the movie sent me back to Jean Rhys’s astonishing Wide Sargasso Sea , which I remembered as an imagining of Bertha Rochester’s backstory, asking how, exactly, did the madwoman in the attic get there to begin with? I’ve lately been stripping my bookshelves, getting rid of novels I know I won’t read again, like Rhys’s earlier sharply drawn portraits of women I have no...

You Can Have It

I know what you're thinking. Here it is, National Poetry Month, and E.J. hasn't yet posted a single poem. Mea culpa. So here's a famous progressive poem by our current national poet laureate, Philip Levine , a poem that is still as heartbreaking as it ever was. You Can Have It My brother comes home from work and climbs the stairs to our room. I can hear the bed groan and his shoes drop one by one. You can have it, he says. The moonlight streams in the window and his unshaven face is whitened like the face of the moon. He will sleep long after noon and waken to find me gone. Thirty years will pass before I remember that moment when suddenly I knew each man has one brother who dies when he sleeps and sleeps when he rises to face this life, and that together they are only one man sharing a heart that always labours, hands yellowed and cracked, a mouth that gasps for breath and asks, Am I gonna make it? All night at the ice plant he had fed the chute its silvery blocks, and then I stacked...

Are We Equal Yet?

Ladies, we’ve had fun this year, haven’t we? Komen defunding Planned Parenthood sure made PP’s contributions zoom up, and Komen’s zoom down. The Republicans' jaw-dropping attack on contraception has given Obama an absurd lead among women. Katie Roiphe—yes, she who believes that date rape is nothing more than rough sex—has bravely decided that we’re so tired of being in charge, of our success, working gals all wanna be whipped. ( Sigh . Somebody tell dominatrixes, who are making a mint off the high-powered men who really are in charge and do long to be whipped, or so I’ve been told by insider sources). It’s The End of Men! Women are The Richer Sex ! Yeah, right. Sorry to be Eeyore yet again, but as feminist blogger, economist, and minor goddess Echidne of the Snakes puts it , “You get to be the richer sex by earning less, on average, than the other sex earns, you know. A well-known factoid.” Here’s the reality: Today is Equal Pay Day —the day that marks how many more days an average...

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