Poverty & Wealth

Lonely at the Top

The debate among the Republican candidates over Mitt Romney’s time at Bain Capital has raised again questions about whether Romney’s tenure in the “1 percent” will damage his campaign. The Obama team certainly welcomes this debate. After all, they have been attacking Romney along precisely these lines: The day after Mr. Romney squeezed out a razor-thin victory in the Iowa caucuses, Mr. Obama’s political brain-trust trained most of its fire on him, painting him as both a Wall Street 1 percent type and an unprincipled flip-flopper. Some new survey data that Lynn Vavreck and I have gathered in collaboration with YouGov suggests that Romney is vulnerable to this line of questioning. In a survey conducted nationwide from January 7-10—right about the time that the Republican attacks on Romney’s “vulture capitalism” were crescendoing as the New Hampshire primary approached—we asked respondents: How well do you think each the following describes Barack Obama/Mitt Romney: very well, somewhat...

Hungary Games

The country is seeking help from the IMF even as its internal policies scare off investors.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. AP Photo/Tamas Kovacs
T amas Fellegi, Hungary’s chief negotiator with the International Monetary Fund, has a tough task this week. Fellegi, a minister without portfolio in Viktor Orban’s right-wing government, is in Washington for preliminary talks with the IMF, in the hopes of setting the foundations for a new package of financial support that will prevent the country’s descent into the Hades of default. This new package, which Orban had previously stated would not be needed, was made necessary in part because of the dramatic deterioration in the economic outlook of the whole of Europe as a result of the eurozone debt crisis and the inept way it has been handled. But the Hungarian government shares responsibility for its predicament: Through its policies in the last year and a half, it has made investors particularly jittery. Critics, whose ranks are rapidly swelling and which include the U.S. administration, argue that the problem is not just one of economic policy. In their view, Orban’s reforms,...

If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em

In The New York Times this weekend, John Schwartz asked the real question we've all had: If I can't beat 'em, how do I join 'em? We’ve all been hearing about the 1 Percent—you know, the nation’s fat cats. ... Camping out in Zuccotti Park apparently didn’t beat them. They appear to be rather entrenched. ... Now I’m left with just this question: How do I get in on some of that sweet 1 Percent action? He interviews experts for advice and comes to some interesting conclusions, among them: He gamely told me that in order to make it in the world of truly enormous wealth, “money has to be the single most important thing in your life.” The very wealthy, he said, “live in a culture of affluence: your friends, your neighbors, your colleagues, your associates are all vastly rich.” I pondered this for a moment, then wondered aloud: “Does this mean I have to upgrade my friends?” He answered somberly, “I think you have to upgrade your friends.” What about my parents? I asked. “It would be very...

Outsiders Everywhere

"Why do you stay in the U.S., then?" I asked the German-born historian whose last professional job in Germany ended two years ago. Since then, she has been doing piecemeal work and relying on a much thinner social safety net in the U.S. than she would have in her country of origin. There, she'd have her family, health care, lower housing costs, and other social and economic guarantees. She had just told me how much Germany had come to life since her youth: instead of "don't walk on the grass" signs, there's a lively public culture; instead of beige houses, there's an explosion of color; instead of the grim and clenched authoritarian culture for which Germany was once famous, there's playfulness. So why stay in the U.S.? I wasn't challenging her; I was genuinely curious. It takes a certain kind of person to leave your culture behind and be unfamiliar with everything forever after. No matter how long she's been here, she can never be part of certain shared cultural conversations, which...

Mitt the Unassailed

AP Photo/Elise Amendola
Manchester, New Hampshire —Well, that was unremarkable. The last presidential debate until another begins ten hours from now saw none of Mitt Romney’s challengers actually challenge him. His toughest challenge probably came from George Stephanopoulos, who asked him if his assertions on Bain Capital’s job creation were really on the level—neither Newt, Ron, Jon nor the two Ricks, confronted Romney with anything as potentially threatening to his lead. Part of the problem, as my colleague Jamelle Bouie has pointed out, is that a number of these guys don’t really seem to be running for president. Ron Paul, who took off two-and-a-half days between the Iowa caucuses and his arrival in New Hampshire yesterday afternoon, is simply running to spread the libertarian word, and take shots at his inconstantly conservative rivals (focusing tonight on Rick Santorum—not Romney). Paul had a good night pitching to libertarians and anti-warriors. Santorum had a good night, too, but it’s not likely that...

What Can Replace Social Security?

AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Manchester, New Hampshire— Last night, some of Ron Paul’s younger supporters—and Ron Paul supporters are disproportionately young—held a pub crawl through the bars of downtown Manchester. During the first two hours (after which time I crawled away), about 50 largely male Paulists, behaving far too decorously for serious pub crawlers, drank and munched and yacked. Paul himself had arrived in the state just that afternoon—electing, for some mysterious reason, to spend Wednesday, Thursday and Friday morning back in Texas. At a welcome rally at Nashua’s small-plane airport, he spoke in his usual generalities about libertarian values, interspersing occasional anecdotes about unnamed congressional colleagues who had voted to fund one damned project after another. He was hailed, of course, as a conquering hero—Paul’s supporters are the only true zealots among the Republicans this year. One such zealot who turned up at the pub crawl was Nick, who’d driven all the way from Boston. Like many if...

Occupying Grand Central Station

OWS rings in the new year with a fight against NDAA.

Sargeant Shamar Thomas protests against NDAA Tuesday at Grand Central Station.
Five hundred people returned to Zuccotti Park on New Year's Eve, with drums, chants of "Whose Year? Our Year!", and a tent, which they say they gave to police in exchange for entrance to the park. An hour before midnight, police and occupiers attempting to remove metal barricades around Zuccotti had a violent confrontation and, by 1:30 a.m., police had cleared activists from the park. Tuesday, occupiers mobilized against the National Defense Authorization Action signed by President Obama on New Year's Eve. After a lunchtime march to the offices of New York senators, occupiers gathered in the Grand Central train station, where multiple people were arrested while leading "People's Mic" recitations of an anti-NDAA script. The indefinite detention provisions of the NDAA have become a lightning rod for Occupy actions, including Philadelphia—where activists presented "Fascist of the Year" awards to actors portraying their Senators—and Iowa, where they occupied the hotel headquartering the...

Glacial Progress on Jobs

The December jobs numbers are good news—sort of—for the economy and the Obama re-election campaign. The economy added 200,000 new jobs, and the duration of unemployment is down slightly. Wages and hours worked are up, too. We can anticipate continuing progress between now and November. But the bad news is that though the trend is in the right direction, the progress is glacial. As Heidi Sherholz of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) reports , the deficit of jobs needed to keep up with the normal growth of working age population is still upwards of ten million. Even at December’s modestly improved rate of net job-creation, it will take until 2019 for the US to recover its pre-recession rate of unemployment. Moreover, as EPI points out, if we factor in workers who have dropped out of the labor force by looking at the ratio of employment to population (which is still down almost five percentage points since the beginning of 2007), the adjusted unemployment rate would be 9.5 percent. The...

The Clean-Election State

While officials in other states struggled to balance their budgets in 2011, Governor Dannel Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly closed a deficit of historic proportions one month early, agreeing on a mix of tax hikes and union concessions. That topped a list of unmatched legislative accomplishments: Connecticut passed in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, a transgender-rights bill, a major genetic research initiative, a bipartisan job-growth package, and the nation’s first paid sick-leave mandate. In a year of reactionary politics and partisan gridlock nationwide, what made Connecticut so different? One-party control over both the governor’s office and the legislature for the first time in 21 years played a role. But the secret behind the Democrats’ success was sweeping campaign-finance reform enacted six years earlier. Reeling from the embarrassment of a corruption scandal that landed a governor in federal prison, Connecticut legislators grabbed the national spotlight in...

Tocqueville for Toffs

O n any given day in Washington, D.C., the city’s hotels teem with civic activity. Trade associations, lobbies, corporations seeking government contracts, lawyers looking to influence agency rules—all form a beehive of action. At last count, there were 12,200 registered lobbyists in Washington, according to opensecrets.org, and that doesn’t include the many thousands of corporate attorneys who are technically not lobbyists. Of the top-spending trade associations or issue organizations, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce leads the list with a budget of more than $46 million. Only one quasi-liberal group, the AARP, is even in the top 20. This is the vision of Alexis de Tocqueville made flesh, with one notable difference: Nearly everyone in this associational paradise speaks for the top 1 percent or 2 percent of the income distribution. Tocqueville, in Democracy in America , famously identified “the art of association” as an essential complement to American constitutional democracy. The...

Earning Their Hatred

Thank God for elections and election years. An election gives our president, who must face the voters in November, permission to think and act like a partisan. It’s long overdue. President Obama has boldly made key recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The Republican strategy has been to destroy these agencies by failing to confirm appointees. In the case of the new CFPB, that meant nobody in charge to make key decisions to make the new bureau operational. In the case of the NLRB, it meant the lack of a quorum would paralyze the agency altogether. In naming Richard Cordray to head the CFPB, the president has called the Republicans’ bluff. This was the agency that Elizabeth Warren invented and dearly hoped to lead. Republicans made clear they would block her appointment. When Obama passed her over in favor of the less-well-known Cordray, former Ohio Attorney General and also a strong consumer advocate,...

While You Were Out

Yes, more has been happening in the world than the Iowa caucuses. (Am I the only one bored out of my mind by horse-race coverage? Do we really have ten months to go? ) Some other recent news includes: Spain's same-sex-marriage law makes politicians proud : Newly departed Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero says that the ruling he’s most proud of from his nearly eight years in office is the passage of full marriage rights for his gay and lesbian countrymen. The Mexican state of Quintana Roo joined Mexico City, where more than 1,000 same-sex couples have married, and will marry same-sex couples. Thanks, capitalism! Cancun and other resort areas on the Mexican Caribbean will have a new attraction for gay and lesbian couples from the United States, Canada and Europe, allowing them to legalize their unions thanks to a quirk in the local civil code. ... “This market niche ... is very attractive for European, Canadian and American (homosexual) couples,” said the spokesperson...

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...

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