Poverty & Wealth

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...

Spring Cleaning for Occupy

Many social-movement organizations have become mausoleums to their causes. OWS offers a template for renewal. 

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Last week, several dozen nonprofit organizations hosted events across the country to train more than 100,000 Americans in nonviolent direct action. Dubbed the 99% Spring, the training was spearheaded by several national nonprofit organizations. If you didn’t hear about it, you’re not alone. Other than a few anticipatory stories from the Associated Press and NPR, the week’s worth of meetings and actions flew below the national radar. Whether that’s a bad thing depends on what role you expect nonprofit social-movement organizations to play in our current political discourse. The so-called nonprofit industrial complex includes organizations that want to change policies and practices for a wide range of social, economic, and political issues—from reproductive justice to foreign policy. Within this broad category is a subset of what I’ll call “social-movement organizations”—institutions that exist not only to advance their own agendas but to support a wider grassroots movement . Examples...

What Does an Abortionist Look Like?

(AP Photo/Richmond Times-Dispatch, Joe Mahoney)
She’s a single, unemployed mother with three children who finds out that she’s pregnant—just after the father has been sent to prison. She says she is distraught at the idea of hurting her kids by adding another child to the family, giving each of them less money, time, and attention, dragging them further into poverty. But she lives in rural southeastern Idaho, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from the nearest clinic in Salt Lake City—and getting an abortion would require two round trips there, because of the mandatory waiting period. So she takes RU-486, ordered online, self-supervised. She freaks out at the fetus’s size, stashes it on her back porch, tells a friend, and gets reported to the police. And, is promptly arrested for inducing her own abortion. To put it mildly, Jennie Linn McCormack doesn’t sound like the world’s most responsible person—except that she apparently had the good sense to realize she was not going to be a good parent to another child. I haven’t interviewed her...

Can Occupy Our Homes Move Congress?

A conversation with Representative Keith Ellison.

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
With Occupy Our Homes—the growing movement to fight foreclosures and evictions—community organizations and Occupy activists have teamed up in cities throughout the country to defend at-risk homeowners, pressure banks to renegotiate mortgages, and keep families in their homes. This effort has resulted in some impressive local victories. At the same time, the scope of the foreclosure crisis calls out for federal remedies. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) has proposed one such remedy. In late February, Ellison released a statement with fellow Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona) calling on Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to write down mortgage principal amounts for homeowners at risk of foreclosure. The Prospect spoke with Ellison about debt forgiveness for struggling families and about how grassroots housing activism is affecting discussion in Congress. Could you elaborate on your proposal for principal reduction? Underwater mortgages are holding people in...

Read My Lips: Fairer Taxes

Six ways to restore balance to our broken system

(Flickr/TruthOut)
This piece is the fourth in a six-part series on taxation, and a joint project by The American Prospect and its publishing partner, Demos. The “Buffett Rule” proposed by President Obama and now being considered by the Senate would be an important symbolic step toward a fairer tax system. By instituting a minimum tax on very high earners, it would advance the principle of progressive taxation and reform the tax code in an overdue way. By itself, though, the Buffett Rule does not go nearly far enough. It should be a small piece of a much larger agenda for restoring fairness to America’s tax system. Some of this agenda is reflected in President Barack Obama’s 2013 budget proposal, but other important ideas are not yet being seriously considered. Here are six such ideas that should be part of the national debate. Create New Top Tax Brackets The Obama budget plan would let the Bush tax cuts lapse at the end of this year for households making over $250,000, and the highest tax bracket—for...

Taxing Wall Street Speculation

There's another, better way to go after the 1 percent than the Obama administration's proposed "Buffett rule."

(Flickr/401K)
This piece is the third in a six-part series on taxation, and a joint project by The American Prospect and its publishing partner, Demos. As the White House mounts a major campaign to sell the “Buffett Tax” this week, there is another, better tax on the 1 percent that Washington should be considering: A financial-transaction tax—better known as a financial speculation tax (FST). A financial-speculation tax has been discussed, from time to time intensely, ever since the financial crisis of 2008 riveted attention on the markets that drove the economy to the edge of a Great Depression-quality abyss. One motivation was to make the perpetrators pay, as the public focused on bonuses at levels befitting Croesus and callous disregard for the responsibility borne by the banks for the great recession. But the financial-transaction tax is also good policy. Under the concept, financial transactions—purchases and sales of equity shares and bonds and the execution of derivatives—are taxed based, at...

Write Down the 11 Million

Underwater homeowners aren’t backing down—they’re standing up and fighting back. And we need to stand with them.

(AP Photo / DAVID J. PHILLIP)
We’re entering the 99 percent spring, with escalating actions starting across the country next Tuesday targeting America’s biggest tax dodgers. On April 24, shareholder actions will begin at General Electric, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and dozens of other corporations. Americans are renewing the fight to fix our economy and to hold the big banks accountable for the misdeeds that have left millions out of work and out of homes. Last month in The Nation , I wrote about three issues that allow us to thread different strands of activity through a common analysis of how Wall Street, big banks, and corporations have profited by tanking and then reorganizing the economy: housing, student debt, and the devaluing of work. Of those three issues, the bravest activists—and the highest stakes—may be found in the housing crisis. Right now in America there are nearly 11 million homeowners who are threatened by foreclosure or are underwater— 11 million— who collectively hold nearly $800 billion in...

Making State and Local Taxes Fair Game

Fixing highly regressive tax systems is one of the essential steps in making our country's tax code more fair.

(Flickr / kenteegardin)
This piece is the second in a six-part series on taxation, and a joint project by The American Prospect and its publishing partner, Demos. “Tax fairness” is defined very differently by Americans from various walks of life. Despite this divide, there is a substantial shared vision: A majority of Americans believe that the government should be doing more to help people, and the vast majority believe that wealthier Americans should be the ones paying higher taxes to support those priorities. If that is the case, why do we have a state and local tax system that is the polar opposite of those beliefs, one where the better-off pay about half as much in taxes as the less-well-off? This inequity both contradicts our country’s shared beliefs on tax fairness and is the major cause behind the critical lack of state and local investment in social capital that I wrote about in my last piece . We need to correct this inequality immediately if we are going to maintain needed levels of investment in...

Washington, We Have a Revenue Problem

Why taxes have to go up—by a lot

(Flickr/401K)
This piece is the first in a six-part series on taxation and a joint project by The American Prospect and its publishing partner, Demos. The United States has a revenue problem. Taxes at all levels of government are too low to balance budgets and, more important, to ensure America’s future prosperity and cope with an aging population. While many political and policy leaders argue that future revenues should reflect “historic norms,” this is a flawed assumption on which to base long-term fiscal planning. Tax revenues have accounted for around 18 percent of GDP since World War II, and 18.3 percent over the past 30 years. The budget released by Paul Ryan and the House Budget Committee proposes average revenue levels at this same level—18.3 over the next decade. (Although an analysis by the Tax Policy Center found that the average would in fact be 15.4 percent.) The Simpson-Bowles plan, released in late 2010, proposed average revenues of 19.3 percent through 2020. Meanwhile, the Obama...

Part Two: Charles Murray, the Long View

Coming Apart caps three decades of faux concern for the poor.

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The following is the second in a two-part series on Charles Murray's Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 . For part one, please click here . In Coming Apart , Charles Murray begins by describing white America on the eve of the Kennedy assassination—a unified society where everyone watched the same three networks, few people had children out of wedlock or got divorced, neighbors didn’t need to lock their doors, and most folks felt themselves to be middle class. Murray wields the symbolic power of the rupture that ripped America on November 22, 1963, to suggest a parallel break in our economic lives. He contrasts a notional working-class neighborhood, “Fishtown,” with “Belmont,” home to the most affluent 5 percent. Since 1963, he reports, our coherent world has given way to cultural and economic fragmentation. America “is coming apart at the seams.” Murray baits his trap with descriptive material that reads like an American Prospect article, quoting Robert Reich’s “...

Charles Murray, the Long View

In 1984, the right's star public intellectual wrote the book that drove welfare reform. Coming Apart is an alibi for his own failed big idea.

(Courtesy of Crown Forum)
The following is the first in a two-part series on Charles Murray's Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. F or a generation, the main story of working-class America has been the collapse of a living-wage economy due to such forces as globalization, weakened trade unions, and reduced government labor regulation. This trend has been a social catastrophe and, increasingly, a severe embarrassment to free-market ideology. Enter Charles Murray with a lifeline of alibis. His Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010 has received worshipful treatment from conservative commentators, and for good reason. Faced with the awkward truth of widening inequality, the right usually adopts a strategy of strained denial. Murray offers an alternative. Instead of waltzing around the reality, he deplores the new schisms in America and then executes a deft pivot: Both the elite and the unwashed, he says, are getting what they deserve. The rich are getting richer because their...

Is There An Actual Crisis in U.S. Education?

(Flickr/-Marlith-)
Over at the American Journalism Review , The Washington Post 's Paul Farhi has a much-needed critique on how the "education in crisis" narrative cropped up in journalism across the country. Farhi, a veteran education reporter, notes how widespread the idea of school failure has become, pointing out that in January alone, there were at least 544 stories about "failing schools" (He doesn't even mention the report from the Council on Foreign Relations arguing education has gotten so bad it constitutes a national security risk ). While the stories tend to carry similar messages—in particular that self-proclaimed education reformers are helping to stop the downward spiral—these conclusions don't square with all the data. Elementary and middle school students have improved consistently in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study , and matriculation to higher education has never been higher. "All told," Farhi writes, "America's long-term achievements in education are nothing...

Drug Tests for Everyone!

Right this way Representative... (Flickr/Francis Storr)
Drug testing is in these days. Already, Arizona and Missouri test anyone receiving government aid who's suspected of drug use. (In other words, leave your Bob Marley shirt at home.) In Florida, meanwhile, the humiliating process is guaranteed—everyone getting aid must also pee in a cup. 23 states are considering such laws this year, according to USA Today. On Monday alone, a panel in Oklahoma approved one drug-testing measure , while Utah's governor signed a measure into law. If tax dollars are heading in your direction, the thinking goes, we have to make sure you're not some junkie. Many frame the issue as one of fiscal responsibility—if you can afford to do drugs, you should not receive aid. (The extra dose of humiliation recipients face is just a side benefit, I guess.) It's not just those receiving aid who are suspect. Florida beefed up its laws this year with a measure requiring random drug tests for those receiving a state paycheck. Governor Rick Scott just signed it into law a...

Georgia's War over Charter Schools Heads to the Ballot

(Flickr/knittymarie)
For months, the Georgia Legislature has served as a key battleground for the charter-schools debate. Now the fight goes to the voters, who will ultimately decide the fate of a constitutional amendment to allow "state-chartered" schools over the objection of local school boards. The measure, which creates a state charter-school commission to approve charters rejected by local school boards, became a major focal point of the legislative session. Wausau Daily Herald broke down the thousands of dollars that lobbyists spent on meals and gifts to woo state lawmakers to their side, which verge on the ridiculous. For instance, the American Federation for Children, advocating for the measure, "paid $75 for frames for photos of state lawmakers with former Braves pitcher John Smoltz." The House passed the measure in March, but it stalled in the Senate. It was only on Monday that four Democrats chose to support the measure , giving it more than the two-thirds it needed. Now advocates and...

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