Poverty & Wealth

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...

Texans Fight Back Against Cuts

(Flickr/WeNews)
It's hard to overstate just how dire the situation is around women's health care in Texas. The state has the third highest rate of cervical cancer in the country and one in four women are uninsured. After cutting family-planning funding by around two-thirds last legislative session, conservative lawmakers are now standing by their decision to cut off Planned Parenthood from the state's Women's Health Program, a move that ended $35 million in federal funding. (Here's a timeline of the fight .) Governor Rick Perry, who bragged about the decision at the recent CPAC conference, has said he'll find the money to keep the program—while still barring Planned Parenthood. No one seems to know exactly where he'll find the money, given that the state has already underfunded Medicaid by $4 billion last session. In the meantime, Planned Parenthood, which serves 40 percent of the 130,000 who rely on the Women's Health Program, has already had to shut down more than a dozen clinics . Non-Planned...

Wall Street Agonistes

(Flickr/Matthew Knott)
So the op-ed of the day is "Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs" in The New York Times , by an executive named Greg Smith, explaining that he's leaving the firm after 12 years because its culture—which previously "revolved around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients"—has devolved into a single-minded focus on (gasp!) making money . Who would have imagined? After all, we're talking about the firm Matt Taibbi memorably called "a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money." This comes on the heels of yesterday's blog post of the day, called "Why I Left Google," by James Whittaker, saying much the same thing, that all that "Don't Be Evil" stuff has left Google, which since Eric Schmidt departed as CEO in favor of co-founder Larry Page has become nothing more than a firm that wants to (gasp again!) make money. The first (and perhaps correct) response to this is to...

Are You Eating Fish Caught By Slaves?

(Flickr/sarahalaskaphotographs)
According to sociologist Kevin Bales, who founded and directs the new abolition group Free the Slaves , an estimated 27 million people are enslaved around the world today—more than were ever enslaved at any single time in history. The United Nation's International Labour Organization estimates are a more modest 12.3 million —which is still a shocking number of people forced to labor against their will, unable to walk away, for no compensation. Much of the reporting on this phenomenon has been on women forced to work in the sex trades. But the U.S. State Department reports that many more people are enslaved in far more ordinary endeavors: mining coltrane, growing cotton, domestic servitude, and fishing in the south Pacific. Ben Skinner , whom I'm honored to call my colleague at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, is the foremost reporter on the particulars of this horror. His book A Crime So Monstrous: Face to Face With Modern Slavery , offered an in-depth look at both...

Occupy's Return From Hibernation

The movement will next take on foreclosures.

(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
As winter fades, the Occupy Wall Street movement is heating up again. But don’t expect the same focus on physical encampments and rowdy protests. While the blood of the 99 percent is still boiling at the injustice of growing inequality, in organizing meetings and workgroups, cooler heads are prevailing. This is Occupy 2.0—the mainstreaming of momentum. From my conversations with Occupy organizers and supporters, my sense is that the main thrust of organizing energy and attention will go toward Occupy Our Homes — a coalition of Occupy activists joining with existing grassroots groups to support families that are facing foreclosure or have been evicted by big banks. Prioritizing Occupy Our Homes is great choice for two reasons. First, the foreclosure crisis is immense and growing. Despite the recent mortgage settlement with state attorneys general that will grant 750,000 foreclosed-upon families a whopping $2,000 each (!), 4.2 million families have already been foreclosed upon during...

Where Was the Outrage Over Texas's Sonogram Law?

(AP Photo/Richmond Times Dispatch/Bob Brown)
Pro-choice advocates around the country cheered Wednesday, as Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell withdrew support for a pre-abortion sonogram bill . The bill had risen to national attention, even earning a spot on The Daily Show. Critics focused on a particularly disturbing detail of the measure—most women having abortions have them early in the pregnancy, too early for the usual "jelly on the belly" ultrasound. So the bill mandated transvaginal sonograms, in which a probe would be stuck inside a woman's vagina and she would be offered a chance to see the fetus before she could terminate the pregnancy. "During the entire wand-forcibly-inserted-in-your-most-private-area experience, you still have complete and total control over which way your head is turned," The Daily Show's Jon Stewart told his guests. The focus from national media, social media, and bloggers all likely helped to force McDonnell into changing his position. At the same time many protested the Virginia effort, Texas this...

Bare Minimum Wage

Big business lobbyists work to prevent any rise in workers' paychecks.

(Flickr/wbeem)
The federal minimum for an hourly wage was $3.35 in 1982 and now it’s $7.25, up 120 percent. Inflation, meanwhile, has climbed during that period by 135 percent. Eight states, including New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey, are considering legislation to boost the base wage. Advocates say that such state measures are fair and make good economic sense: Putting more money in the hands of workers means more demand—good news for small businesses struggling to overcome poor sales . Then there’s politics. More than two-thirds of Americans favor raising the hourly wage to at least $10. You’d think it would be a win-win for state officials, but it’s not. While truly small businesses like restaurants and retail shops have said in the past that raising the wage will have little or no effect on labor costs , large corporations that pay minimum wage, like fast-food chains, have enormous incentive to propagandize against any increase. One of the most active in the propaganda industry has been the...

The New Freedom Riders

A multiracial group of young people are fighting to end the NYPD's stop-and-frisk program.

(Flickr/Tim Drivas)
Two things struck William Rivera about the 30 protesters who, after an hour of chanting and speechifying to cameras, cops, and the curious, were now marching deeper into the Bronx on an overcast January afternoon. The first was that somebody was finally speaking out against the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy, a tactic in which officers pat down and question people on the street without a warrant. The second was that a lot of those somebodies were white. “Hell, yeah, I’m surprised that white people come out here fighting for us,” says Rivera, 24. Police, he says, stop him three or four times a week, and he now automatically assumes the “shirt up” position whenever officers cross his path. “I know it’s not normal or right that I accept that, but it’s how we have to live,” Rivera says of his South Bronx neighborhood, where talking back to cops, he adds, is not an option. “Maybe if the government or the police see their own people helping out, maybe they’ll pull back...

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