Poverty & Wealth

The Sixties at 50

Half a century later, the battles of the 1960s--and the effects of one great wrong turn by liberals of that time--are still with us.

(AP Photo)
The following column accompanies a special report in the July-August issue, taking stock of America's progress in fighting poverty on the 50th anniversary of Michael Harrington's The Other America."Ever since the 1960s, many of us have measured progress by how far America has gone in fulfilling the ideals of that era: guaranteeing equal rights, preventing unjust wars, safeguarding the earth, ending poverty. In today’s harsh political climate, the hopes of the ’60s may seem unrealistic, even grandiose, but they remain central to liberal politics. For better or worse, we’re still embroiled in the struggles that exploded in that decade. What is the campaign for same-sex marriage or the recent controversy over women’s reproductive rights if not a continuation of both the civil-rights movement and the sexual revolution of the ’60s? And what is today’s social conservatism if not a backlash against the changes unleashed in that era? The 1960s are a reference point for another reason. The...

A Wisconsin Domino Effect?

(AP/Wisconsin State Journal, John Hart)
(AP/Wisconsin State Journal, John Hart) Supporters of a recall effort against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker continue to sing a union solidarity song outside the State Capitol Building after polling results begin show a victory for Walker in statewide recall elections Tuesday, June 5, 2012. Wisconsin residents have been casting votes in recall elections against Walker, his lieutenant governor and several state senators. While hardly surprising to anyone who read the polls, yesterday’s victory by Republican Governor Scott Walker was a body blow to Wisconsin unions and to American workers. Within Wisconsin, Walker’s victory ensures that his law repealing collective-bargaining rights for public employees will stay on the books, and if Republicans maintain their hold on the state senate—four of their senators faced recall elections, and as I write this at least three have survived—they will, at least in theory, be able to go forward on other parts of their Social Darwinist agenda...

Is it Austerity or Is It Theft?

In today’s New York Times , David Brooks has an extended meditation on debt that relies on one giant omission: Recently, life has become better and more secure. But the aversion to debt has diminished amid the progress. Credit card companies seduced people into borrowing more. Politicians found that they could buy votes with borrowed money. People became more comfortable with red ink. Today we are living in an era of indebtedness. Over the past several years, society has oscillated ever more wildly though three debt-fueled bubbles. First, there was the dot-com bubble. Then, in 2008, the mortgage-finance bubble. Now, we are living in the fiscal bubble. Missing from this narrative is a few big things. Over the last thirty years, incomes have for ordinary people have stagnated at the same time that housing, health care, and education costs have gone up. Contrary to Brooks, Americans didn’t suddenly become, en mass, a group of irresponsible spendthrifts; by and large, Americans went into...

No Slam Dunk in Wisconsin

We don’t know the outcome of Tuesday’s gubernatorial election in Wisconsin, of course, but we do know this: Even if labor somehow manages to oust Republican Governor Scott Walker, the result will be nothing like the resounding repudiation that Ohio voters delivered last year in repealing that state’s anti-collective bargaining law pushed by an equally controversial GOP governor, John Kasich. Why the difference? Kasich’s bill went beyond Walker’s in banning collective bargaining for cops and fire fighters, which proved a decidedly unpopular position, but that can hardly account for more than a fraction of the difference. Moreover, Wisconsin is generally regarded as a more liberal state than Ohio. Democrats have carried it in every presidential election for the past two decades, while Ohio went Republican as recently as 2004. Wisconsin has a storied progressive history; Ohio has nothing of the kind. Walker’s bill which, like Kasich’s, repealed collective bargaining rights for public...


Could Israel's new coalition get the ultra-Orthodox to go to work? Not by Netanyahu's methods.

(AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
In our last episode , dear viewers, we watched as Israel's main opposition party, Kadima, sold out its centrist voters and joined Benjamin Netanyahu's government—thereby providing the prime minister a reprieve of over a year before he must face the voters. This allows Bibi more time to raise regressive taxes, evade negotiations with the Palestinians, and deride diplomatic efforts to solve the Iranian nuclear issue. But perhaps there's a bright spot in this dark plot line. To paraphrase a question I've heard repeatedly over the last couple of weeks: Since the new coalition is broad enough to maintain its majority in parliament even if clerical parties walk out, can it finally end one of the strangest and best-known aberrations of Israeli life? Can it end the bizarre pork-barreling that allows most ultra-Orthodox men to spend their life in religious studies rather than working? After all, isn't the Israeli economy slowly sinking as the ultra-Orthodox community grows and the financial...

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

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

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...