Poverty & Wealth

Toppling the Money Empire

Grassroots movements can lead the way in taking big money out of politics.

Election Day 2012 looks like it is going to be Groundhog Day 2012. Another election dominated by money. Another series of promises made on the campaign trail, broken as soon as donors and lobbyists come calling when legislatures convene. For the public and most lawmakers, the problem is clear. Our present system has long rewarded politicians who rely on deep-pocketed supporters to provide massive amounts of cash to pay for increasingly costly campaigns. A string of recent Supreme Court decisions has exacerbated the problem, allowing corporations nearly free rein to attack candidates who present a threat to their bottom line, pushing officeholders to seek even more money. This adds to the pervasive sentiment that our elected officials’ primary function is to raise money. Large numbers of voters have disengaged from a system in which they don’t seem to matter. With no end in sight and increasing frustration driven by a stagnant economy, American democracy is in peril. The good news is...

Stephen Lerner's 2011

“We must expand from one-day marches and demonstrations to weeks of creative direct action and activities,” wrote Stephen Lerner in New Labor Forum , a quarterly left-labor journal, several weeks before Occupy Wall Street took shape. One way to do that, he continued, “is to build these kinds of longer and more involved protests around students and community groups that have the energy and willingness to take time off from their day-to-day lives to engage in more intense activity (which includes the risk of getting arrested.)” Lerner wasn’t volunteering activists to do anything that he hadn’t already done. As the primary architect of the Service Employees International Union’s Justice for Janitors campaign, which remains the most successful (and against-the-odds) private-sector organizing campaign of the past quarter-century, Lerner had planned and participated in dozens, if not hundreds, of disruptive demonstrations over the years to dramatize the janitors’ cause. At the same time, he...

No Room at the Inn

After being evicted from Zuccotti Park, Occupy Wall Street protesters look to Trinity Church in lower Manhattan for help.

S ince the November 15 eviction from Zuccotti Park, occupiers have been eyeing Duarte Park, an unused lot owned by Trinity Church in Manhattan's financial district. The wealthy and progressive church has been providing Occupy with indoor meeting space, but repeatedly rebuffed appeals to allow a Duarte occupation, even after those appeals escalated to a hunger strike. After unsuccessful attempts by clergy to mediate the dispute, some occupiers climbed the fence surrounding Duarte Park earlier this month. Police arrested about fifty of them. To the South, Iowan occupiers held a sit-in at an Obama field office, then moved to state Democratic Party headquarters. They demanded that Obama reject the Keystone XL pipeline and oppose indefinite detention of Americans. With days until the Iowa Caucus, Occupy Iowa Caucus called on Iowans to attend both parties’ caucuses and support “uncommitted” delegates rather than any declared candidate. Out west, Los Angeles Chief...

Loveable Extremist

CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA —Adoring crowds packed rooms to capacity across Iowa the last two days to hear the leader of their revolution. Dr. Ron Paul, as he his loving referred to by his supporters, went on an eight-stop jaunt through eastern Iowa to rile up his supporters two weeks before they vote in the caucuses. He is poised to win the 2012 Iowa caucuses: He leads in the latest polls, has a developed campaign infrastructure, and can count on true believers to show up to vote on January 3. Now seems like a good time to remind people that Paul is, in most ways, the most extreme of the Republican candidates. Many liberals have developed a soft spot in their hearts for the libertarian over the course of the campaign. On civil liberties and foreign policy, Paul provides the lone bright spot during debates, rebuking the other candidates for supporting the Patriot Act and advocating bombing every country that glances askew at the United States to the high heavens. His Iowa events have featured...

Time for Plan B on Plan B?

New research proves progressives were right to be upset by restrictions on emergency contraceptives.

"Modest" restrictions on reproductive freedom don't ever work the way their centrist supporters intend. They always end up hurting women least capable of shouldering the burden. Two new studies underscore this point. First, Amanda Marcotte points out research in the Journal of the American Medical Association showing that the Plan B restrictions supported by the Obama administration—against the advice of its medical professionals—will have effects more far-reaching than keeping the emergency contraceptive out of the hands of 11- and 12-year-olds . The JAMA study shows that this decision not only requires 15- and 16-year-old young women to get a prescription to obtain Plan B; it makes it harder for adult women to obtain Plan B as well. In theory, putting Plan B behind the counter allows access, but also incentivizes consultation with a pharmacist about proper use. But in practice, not making Plan B available over the counter because of regulations put in place without understanding the...

Governing on Empty

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci) House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio walks of the floor of the House chamber on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011, in Washington. The House rejected legislation to extend a payroll tax cut and jobless benefits for two months, drawing a swift rebuke from President Barack Obama that Republicans were threatening higher taxes on 160 million workers on Jan. 1. T he Senate, having struck its compromise, has gone home. The House, controlled by delusional Republicans, has gone home. Payroll taxes are slated to rise, and unemployment insurance is set to expire before they return in January. The compromise wasn’t just between the two parties in the Senate, apparently. According to Wednesday’s Washington Post , House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor met with Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell on Friday and told him they’d get the votes to pass the two-month extension deal he’d worked out with Harry Reid. Boehner and Cantor now say they made no promises, but...

Double Standards Galore

I happened to be flying on American Airlines the morning after the company declared bankruptcy. Exactly nothing bad happened to my flight. Nobody passed the hat to buy aviation fuel. The flight attendants offered the same dismal snacks. It was business as usual. American will get to stiff its creditors, its employees, its pensioners, and sail happily onward, not even required to replace its managers. Chapter 11 filings are standard operating procedure when necessary in corporate America. In its full-page ads promising no disruption of service, American managed to avoid even the word "bankruptcy." Meanwhile, millions of underwater homeowners are denied the protections of bankruptcy laws. Like American Airlines, they would love to get out from under crushing debts and begin again. But the law is much tougher on them. If only homeowners were airlines. Welcome to the age of the double standard. After more than a decade of business lobbying, in 2005 bankruptcy laws were revised to tilt...

Capitalism by Any Other Name

Republicans are fighting to rebrand capitalism as economic opportunity but their agenda remains the same.

I've been thinking about the term "capitalism" since Frank Luntz, the renowned pollster, told Republicans to quit saying it. The Occupy Wall Street movement has turned "capitalism" into a dirty word, he said. If Republicans want to win in 2012, they'd better stop worrying and learn to love "economic freedom" instead. It's a stunning turning of the tide. No matter the kind of conservative—Southern, evangelical, libertarian, Tea Party, or old-school Rockefeller patrician—conservatives have never hidden their allegiance to the moneyed class and power elite. I have never in my lifetime seen a conservative counsel against expressing one of the major tenets of conservative ideology. You might as well advise the GOP to stop trying to repeal the New Deal and start defending labor rights. I've been thinking about this rhetorical shift while riding the bus in New Haven every day. The passengers are typically at the bottom of the 99 percent. Some are destitute; some are unemployable. Most are...

Class Struggle

As levels of student debt continue to rise, regulators have an opportunity to reform higher education.

AP Photo/Steven Senne
O n November 28, hundreds of students from Brauch College linked arms and protested outside a City College of New York board meeting in which members authorized, by a 15-to-1 vote, a $300 annual tuition increase until at least 2015. The protest was so disruptive that, according to The New York Times, Brauch canceled classes after 3 p.m. and stopped regular foot traffic going in and out of the building where the meeting was taking place. Three people were arrested. Occupy CUNY, the group of students that staged the protest, announced on its Facebook page that it aimed to make public education “accessible” and “fair.” The City University of New York’s (CUNY) tuition is already more than $5,000 per year and with the new rates, will be more than $6,000 for the 2015—2016 school year. The students’ demonstration lined up with the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has focused on one of the facets of economic injustice increasingly affecting the “99 percent”—student debt. It’s no wonder. The...

Bottom Up

In 1938, Congress passed, and FDR signed into law, the Fair Labor Standards Act, which established the first federal minimum wage and overtime protections. And that, to the extent that most Americans think about the minimum wage, was that. To be sure, Congress occasionally raises the minimum wage (though they’ve got a long way to go to make it a living wage), but the national law, covering all workers, has long since been established, right? Not quite. In fact, the 1938 law only passed when Roosevelt and congressional liberals agreed to exclude some categories of workers—categories that included many millions of people—from its coverage in order to win the votes of the Southern Democrats they needed to pass it. So agricultural workers (by which Southern Democrats meant, African American sharecroppers) were excluded from its terms. They’ve since been included, but many migrant and immigrant workers are frequently and illegally short-changed. Retail workers only came under the act’s...

Legislative Legerdemain

AP Photo/Yves Logghe
So you think congressional Republicans are the only right-wingers who like to append their pet (and sometimes, wedge) issues—like the Keystone pipeline—to must-pass legislation like the payroll tax-cut extension? Guess again—it looks to be a trans-Atlantic syndrome. Turns out that David Cameron, Britain’s Tory prime minister, went to Brussels for the EU summit last week with exactly the same strategy. As the heads of government of the other 26 member states debated German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s proposal to regulate national budgets more tightly (itself a wildly irrelevant idea to the crisis of Greek, Italian and Spanish solvency, but that’s another story, which I wrote about in today’s Post ), Cameron cleared his throat and proposed a series of measures designed to protect the City—the London-based banks that dominate the British economy and helped bring about the crash of 2008. Cameron was operating under the theory that the Germans and the French so desperately needed unanimous...

Occupy This!

ICYMI: The thoughtful Ruth Rosen outlines how the Occupy movement has changed the national consciousness and conversation here , giving us important new language for the yawning wealth divide. Meanwhile, Berkeley labor economist Sylvia Allegreto picks up the new terminology to point out that six Waltons = the bottom 30 percent . Ouch.

The New Populists

I n the month before the destruction of the encampment in Zuccotti Park, I got in the habit of biking across the Brooklyn Bridge each night to talk with the Wall Street Occupiers and wander among the tents. There was always work to behold—bigger tents going up, new volunteers welcomed, the kitchen doling out free food, the media groups live-streaming, dishes being done, cops being teased—and always conversation to be had and heard. The protesters liked to work, but they loved to talk, and mostly what they talked about was how to organize to destroy the power of money in America. They were pissed off about it—pissed off at the corporations, the banks, the financiers, the corrupt legislators, the corrupt presidents, the corrupt everything. “It doesn’t matter which party is in power,” Jeff Smith, a 41-year-old former media consultant, told me. “The banks and the corporations own them both.” And President Barack Obama? “He is worse than a corporate whore like Bill Clinton,” Smith said. “...

From K Street to Main Street

T his week featured a vision of two different paths Occupy Wall Street could take after being evicted from public parks across the country. In Washington, D.C., activists from labor, Occupy, and elsewhere held a “99% in DC” event that began with a day of visits to congressional offices to demand jobs legislation. Occupiers then followed up by shutting down intersections on K Street, which is known for the number of lobbying organizations headquartered there. Tuesday also marked a major escalation of the movement to stop foreclosures. In more than 20 cities, OWS protesters disrupted foreclosure auctions, moved families into abandoned buildings, and mobilized to support people refusing to leave their homes. The actions brought activists into neighborhoods that have seen few protests. Many of the actions were designed as housewarming or block parties, with songs, music, and holiday gifts for kids. Meanwhile, two of the largest remaining encampments are under threat, as police temporarily...

Britain Hesitates

David Cameron's veto of an EU integration plan reveals England's deep skepticism about the union.

AP Photo/Yves Logghe
European leaders went one better this time. Not content with failing to resolve the debt crisis tearing through the eurozone and threatening a global recession, they have now managed to create a new source of instability: the rift between Britain and the rest of the European Union, whose consequences may prove to be momentous indeed. It was a long time coming. The tension between the eurozone “ins” and the ten non-Eurozone “outs” has been building throughout the debt crisis, which has forced the states belonging to the common currency to take extraordinary—and yet woefully insufficient—measures to keep the euro from spectacularly collapsing. In the Brussels summit that ended yesterday, France and Germany, drivers of the push toward an ever closer union, were unable to persuade British Prime Minister David Cameron to back their plan for greater fiscal integration. The deal-breaker was a demand by Cameron for special treatment for Britain’s lucrative financial-services industry. Though...

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