Poverty & Wealth

The Ties That Blind

A belief in American pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mythology lies at the heart of conservative attacks on the 99 percent.

Flickr/LianaAn
When the Canadian activist magazine AdBusters issued a call on its listserv to start the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in New York and other cities, a couple of like-minded protesters created a companion blog on Tumblr called “We are the 99 percent.” The purpose of both the protests and the blog was to point out that the bottom 99 percent have been subsidizing the very rich and their wealth-multiplying experiments for decades. But the blog did something the protests didn’t: It allowed folks who couldn’t camp out in Lower Manhattan and risk arrest to participate. Contributors upload pictures of themselves holding handwritten notes that tell their stories of disenfranchisement, insolvency, and unfair workplace practices. Each note varies, but overall, the blog depicts an economy in decline and the people pushed down to the bottom as a result. Not to be outdone, conservatives launched their own Tumblr with the same aesthetic. “We are the 53 percent” co-creator Erick Erickson, a CNN...

Obama's Wheel and Deal

The administration's recent trade agreement with Korea, Colombia, and Panama is expected to destroy more than 200,000 American jobs.

President Barack Obama stands after signing the Korean Free Trade Agreement in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Friday, Oct. 21, 2011. He is joined by, from left, Korean Ambassador Han Duk-soo, Commerce Secretary John Bryson, DOW Chemical Company CEO Andrew Liveris, Boeing CEO Jim McNerney, US Trade Representative Ron Kirk, Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., Xerox CEO Ursula Burns, Korean Alliance for Free Trade William Hwang and Correct Craft, Inc., CEO William Yeargin. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
(AP Photo/Susan Walsh) President Barack Obama stands after signing the Korean Free Trade Agreement in the Oval Office of the White House. A s he gears up for a difficult re-election campaign, President Obama risks losing key swing states that he won in 2008 because of a recent flip-flop on trade commitments. Back on the campaign trail, Obama had committed to a new approach to trade deals that would protect the environment, boost manufacturing, and protect food safety. That was then; this is now. On October 12, he shoved through three NAFTA-style trade deals with Colombia, Korea, and Panama that are officially projected to increase the U.S. trade deficit and cost tens of thousands of American jobs. These deals were negotiated and signed by George W. Bush in 2007, but had not been formally approved by Congress. While Wall Street and the Chamber of Commerce applauded the deals, Obama’s base and most congressional Democrats opposed them; the GOP provided almost all of the votes for...

A Scary Guide to the GOP Tax Plans

When did tax-reform plans become so sexy? It seems like every day now GOP candidates are flaunting a new, slimmer tax plan, complete with a catchy name and nonsensical (or nonexistent) ideas supporting them. After a while, they can all start to look the same, but they vary widely on the craziness spectrum. Homeland Security decided that colors are passé as a way to measure threat, so here is my patented Herman Cain “I am America” smile threat level system. The Baseline: There are some basic conservative calling cards that the GOP tax plans share. They would all eliminate the 15 percent capital gains tax (Mitt Romney would only eliminate the tax for families making less than $200,000 a year) and the estate tax, and all the candidates have vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank. If your only source of news for the past couple of weeks has been the GOP debates, you would think that these were the two most dangerous pieces of legislation ever to be passed in the United...

What Americans Make

Last Friday, the Social Security Administration released its figures on how much money Americans made in 2010 from wages, salaries, and tips (but not from capital gains, dividends, or rents). Turns out that the 150,398,796 Americans for whom employers issued W-2 forms made just over $6 trillion in net compensation. If you calculate the raw mean average, that comes out to $39,959.30 per worker. But 66 percent of wage earners actually made less than that (or that amount exactly)—which means, the high level of pay for upper-income workers produced a much higher mean average than the average American worker actually makes. The median wage—the dollar amount that 50 percent of wage earners made more than, and 50 percent made less than—was $26,363.55. Twenty-six thousand bucks is what the average American worker makes on the job. That’s right in line with the figures for median household income, which hover around $49,000 once you total the income for everyone at home who has a job. To be...

More on the Abortion Debates: What if Your Mother Had Aborted You?

Yesterday I posted "So what if I hadn't been born?" In reply, noted reproductive rights thinker Frances Kissling sent along her own very moving essay along these lines, published a few years ago in RH Reality Check: " What if your mother had aborted you? A daughter's perspective. " As she says, I feel a need to turn that question around and to ask instead: What if your mother's life would have been significantly happier and healthier if she had not had you? If you as a fetus had the capacity to make decisions, would you have given your life for your mother's life, health and happiness? My mother, Florence, the last of seven children in a harsh Polish immigrant family, left home at 17 and came to New York City. She got pregnant, chased the soldier who impregnated her and ended up with me. As you might imagine, she was an interesting and difficult person. Frankly, she never should have had children. She had her good qualities, but mothering wasn't one of them. And she had a miserable...

The GOP's Broken Record

For the eight years of the George W. Bush presidency, economic policy in the United States had as its lodestar the view that we needed to lower taxes. Liberals objected that Bush-era tax-policy proposals were regressive, tilting the majority of their benefits to high-income taxpayers who had the least need for additional funds. The retort at the time was that this was a misleading way to think about it: The lower taxes weren't simply designed to bolster individual incomes; they were supposed to bolster overall economic growth. Higher growth rates would result in higher incomes for people up and down the economic ladder. The results of this policy have been disappointing, to say the least. Even those who claim that the economic health of the middle class is being understated are producing charts that show ten years of flat incomes for the median American household . In response, Republican presidential candidates are uniformly proposing new rounds of regressive tax cuts. The right's...

Doomed to Fail

Once again, the Obama administration has announced a plan to shore up housing prices and underwater homeowners—and once again the plan is very likely to fail. This latest effort will try to use Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, now wards of the government, to help homeowners refinance mortgages at lower interest rates. The premise is that with interest rates at record lows, homeowners can save hundreds of dollars a month in their mortgage payments by refinancing. For example, by refinancing a 5.5 percent mortgage to a 4.5 percent mortgage, a homeowner with a $300,000 loan could save about $250 a month. In theory, as many as 1.6 million people could qualify for this kind of refinancing, putting more money in their pockets. So this new program would be a source of economic stimulus as well as housing relief. But the devil is in the details. Fannie and Freddie lost a ton of money in the subprime disaster. That’s why the government had to take them over. So the last thing they want to do is...

Occupy Wall Street's Race Problem

Young protesters at an Occupy Wall Street demonstration in New Jersey Oct. 6 with a debt=slavery sign.
The economic crisis has disproportionately affected people of color, in particular African Americans. Given the stark economic realities in communities of color, many people have wondered why the Occupy Wall Street movement hasn’t become a major site for mobilizing African Americans. For me, it's not about the diversity of the protests. It's about the rhetoric used by the white left that makes OWS unable to articulate, much less achieve, a transformative racial-justice agenda. One of the first photos I saw from the Occupy Wall Street protests was of a white person carrying a flag that read “Debt=Slavery.” White progressive media venues often compare corporate greed or exploitation to some form of modern-day slavery. But while carrying massive amounts of debt, whether in student loans, medical bills, or predatory balloon-payment mortgages is clearly a mark of a society that exploits poor and working-class people, it is not tantamount to chattel slavery. In...

Batman the Gentrifier

In real-life, the superhero's do-gooding would push all the poor people out of Gotham.

Rex Features via AP Images
For Batman fans, this past week was a big one. In addition to the release of Arkham City – the sequel to Arkham Asylum , the world’s greatest Batman simulator – DC released its animated adaptation of Batman: Year One , the Frank Miller-penned story that would define Batman for the next two decades, and form the basis for Christopher Nolan’s interpretation of the character. Here’s a trailer: I watched Year One with friends a few nights ago, and one thing that stood out was the sheer whiteness of Gotham City. From mobsters to orphaned children, most Gothamites were white. People of color were present, but they were a distinct minority in most parts of Frank Miller’s Gotham. Of course, this makes Gotham extremely unusual as a major industrial city in the early 1980s, which is when Year One takes place. By this point in American history, most cities had been hollowed out by successive waves of white flight, as middle and working-class whites left the cities for surrounding suburbs. In...

"The Romney Rule"

Priorities USA, the Democratic consulting firm backed by former Clinton staffer Paul Begala, is out with its first ad attacking former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. It’s a good one: Like the The Washington Post ’s Greg Sargent , I think that this will be a potent line of attack should Romney become the Republican nominee for president. As the wealthiest GOP candidate for president, Romney is uniquely ill-suited to press against higher taxes for the richest Americans, and for an overall low tax burden on the wealthy. Indeed, given the current popularity of higher taxes on the rich – and the growing popularity of Occupy Wall Street – an election fought on these grounds is bad territory for the Romney campaign. I should say that there is a practical policy danger in devoting so much attention to taxes for the rich. In the medium-term, middle-class taxes will have to go up. Unless we return to Clinton-era rates, there is no way – other than new taxes on consumption or carbon – to...

Blame and How to Give It

That Senate Republicans used the filibuster to kill a Democratic stimulus bill isn’t a surprise – at this point, Republicans have all but announced their plan to keep the economy from significantly improving, and as a result, slash the tires on President Obama’s bid for re-election. What comes as a surprise is the extent to which the press isn’t playing along. In the past, reporters would describe yesterday's event with “balanced” language that obscured Republican responsibility for the obstruction. For example, here’s how The New York Times described last week’s failed vote on the full American Jobs Act: In a major setback for President Obama, the Senate on Tuesday blocked consideration of his $447 billion jobs bill, forcing the White House and Congressional Democrats to scramble to salvage parts of the plan, the centerpiece of Mr. Obama’s push to revive a listless economy. The legislation, announced with fanfare by the president at a joint session of Congress last month, fell short...

Occupy the Rules Committee

For last two months, we’ve been engaged in something of a natural experiment to see if presidential speechifying—in this case, a consistent focus on jobs—is enough to move public opinion in a progressive direction and create avenues for legislative success. So far, that hasn’t been the case. Instead, Republicans have taken their usual position of staunch opposition, and moderate Democrats have given them cover by opposing the administration’s modest efforts to raise taxes and offset the costs of new stimulus. What has changed the direction of public opinion is Occupy Wall Street, so much so that majorities of Americans agree with the goals of the movement, and conservative figures like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor are driven to acknowledge America’s extreme inequality. Of course, even if Occupy Wall Street grows in size and influence, there’s still the question of institutional barriers. As long as a political incentive for the filibuster exists, for example, there’s a real limit...

The NYPD: A Movement's Best Friend

Occupy Wall Street's confrontations with police and politicians have only fueled the protest's growth.

NYPD clashes with Occupy Wall Street protesters have made the demonstration a national story. AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
Tensions at Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan mounted last week after New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that Occupy Wall Street activists would need to vacate the premises temporarily for cleaning. In response to the threat, occupiers cleaned the park themselves and said that, come morning, they would hold brooms, link arms, and peacefully refuse to leave. Bloomberg backed down, and once more, Occupy Wall Street confirmed that it could endure in the face of resistance from politicians and police. A better question is whether the movement could have endured without the attention and momentum it's gained from confrontation. “Seeing what happened at the Brooklyn Bridge ... that was a wake-up call," says Armando Serrano, referring to the arrest of 700 protesters on the bridge earlier this month. The number of arrests, and allegations that police lured protesters to the area where they took place, inspired a new wave of activists and catapaulted the movement to the forefront...

One out of Five Ain't Bad

AP Photo/Chris Carlson Texas Gov. Rick Perry didn't win the G.O.P. debate Tuesday but he managed to rattle frontrunner Mitt Romney. Rick Perry is still a bad debater. At last night's Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas, Nevada, he hemmed, hawed and stammered his way through policy statements and attack lines. But for the first time since entering the race, that wasn't a detriment to his overall performance. Perry didn't win the debate, but he didn't lose it either. More importantly, he achieved his main goal: throwing Mitt Romney off of his game. From the beginning, Perry went after Romney's credentials as a conservative. "I'm Texas Governor Rick Perry, a proven job-creator and a man who is about economic growth, an authentic conservative, not a conservative of convenience," he said, introducing himself to the crowd. Later, Perry joined Rick Santorum's attacks on Romney's former support for Massachusetts's health-care reform, and in the most explosive exchange of the evening,...

More Reagan than Reagan

The two leading stories on the nightly news for the past week have been the Occupy Wall Street protests and the Republican primary race, a contrast so vivid that the reports could be coming from two different planets. First, we see thousands of citizens so frustrated and angry with economic inequality in the U.S. that they have organized to protest in hundreds of cities around the country. Then we see a group of contenders for president agree that the only economic problem we have is that wealth and influence are not sufficiently concentrated at the top. For the GOP, the protests renew an old dilemma. When Ronald Reagan became president, Democrats charged that he would was guided by the theory of "trickle-down economics," in which benefits are bestowed upon the wealthy, and the blessings eventually trickle down to the rest of the country — i.e. , the 99 percent. Republicans replied indignantly that this phrase misrepresented Reagan's agenda; they preferred "...

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