"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Unemployment’

World Of Work 2013 Report: U.S. Inequality Now Literally Off The Chart And Rising

In Uncategorized on June 9, 2013 at 7:30 pm

This new chart from the ILO's latest World of Work report doesn't have enough room to visually portray the full extent of inequality in the United States.

Oldspeak: “This new chart from the ILO’s latest World of Work report doesn’t have enough room to visually portray the full extent of inequality in the United States.”

Among the world’s major nations, documents the UN agency dedicated to labor matters, only one currently has a level of inequality both high and rising” -Salvatore Babones

The controllers seem to have done quite well for themselves in this alleged “recovery”. The People have fared significantly worse with less to come as the full effects of U.S. austerity measures are felt. The stealth depression will continue and it’s getting worse.. The People in Cyprus, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and The U.K. have made their displeasure with the current state of affairs know loudly, repeatedly and en masse, where inequality is far less severe than in the U.S. Yet there’s a far smaller and more disjointed protest movement here in the “Greatest Nation On Earth”. Why? Why in a nation founded by protestors and civil disobeyers, are there so few to be found today? Was COINTELPRO, that effective? Perhaps it never really stopped?

By Salvatore Babones @ Inequality.org:

It is well known that the level of income inequality stretches much higher in the United States than in the other developed countries of Europe and North America. Now a report from the International Labour Organization shows that U.S. inequality has literally gone off the chart.

Income inequality in the United States is soaring so high, in fact, that the authors of the ILO’s new 2013 World of Work report couldn’t even place the United States on the same graph with the other 25 developed countries their new study examines.

Income inequality reflects the sum total of all the differences between the incomes enjoyed by different households in a country. Differences between rich and poor households, rich and middle-income households, middle-income and poor households all enter into total income inequality.

Researchers usually measure income inequality using a statistic called the Gini coefficient. The Gini coefficient runs from a minimum of 0 (perfect equality in incomes across all households) to 100 (one rich household gets all the income for an entire country).

The ILO report places the US Gini coefficient at 47.7, or almost half way toward the extreme where one rich household gets everything and everyone else gets nothing.

By comparison, the levels of inequality in the other 25 developed countries studied all fall in a band between 20 and 35.

The share of U.S. adults living in middle-income households dropped from 61 to 51 percent between 1970 and 2010.

Even worse, in America inequality is not only high but rising. The Unites States is one of only three developed countries where income inequality rose during the recession of 2008-2009, then continued rising through the lackluster recovery of 2010-2011.

The other two: Denmark and France. Both these countries had much lower levels of inequality to start with. By 2011, Denmark’s inequality had risen into the high 20s and France’s inequality into the low 30s.

In the United States inequality sat at 46.3 before the recession, moved to 47.0 in 2010, and rose further to 47.7 in 2011.

Rising inequality has hit the American middle class particularly hard. But America’s middle class decline began well before the recession hit in 2008. Every year fewer and fewer Americans qualify as middle class, and those who do have lower and lower incomes.

The share of U.S. adults living in middle-income households, the new ILO report notes,  dropped from 61 to 51 percent between 1970 and 2010, and the median incomes of these  households fell 5 percent.

Where has the middle class held its own in recent decades? Well, in Denmark and France, among other countries. The country with the largest middle class according to the ILO’s calculations is Norway, where about 70 percent of the population rate as middle class.

In Norway, about 70 percent of the nation rates as middle class. In the United States, only 52 percent.

In the United States today only about 52 percent of the population can claim middle class status.

The World of Work report concludes that the middle class in the United States and around the world is suffering from “long-term unemployment, weakening job quality, and workers dropping out of the labour market altogether.” Things have been bad for a long time, but the recession has made them far worse.

The ILO, founded in 1946, now operates a specialist agency of the United Nations. The world’s employers and workers are equally represented on its governing board, alongside the representatives of 28 governments, including the United States government.

Different international organizations use different data sources for comparing inequality levels across countries. The ILO World of Work report uses raw data from the Census Bureau for the United States and from Eurostat for European countries.

All these sources agree that income inequality has widened more in the United States than in other developed countries. The ILO report finds a much larger difference than other organizations, such as the OECD. One reason for the difference: As a UN organization, the ILO is committed to using data from official sources like the U.S. Bureau of the Census and published, peer-reviewed scientific journal articles.

Other organizations like the OECD and private think tanks make their own estimates of national inequality levels using data that may not be publicly available and methodologies that may not be transparent or audited.

Rising inequality is not inevitable. The rich are not winning everywhere.

According to the official data compiled by the ILO and documented in the World of Work report, only South Africa and about a dozen Latin American countries have higher levels of inequality than the United States.

In nearly all of these countries inequality appears to be either stable or falling. Out of a total of 57 countries studied by the ILO, 31 developing and 26 developed, only one — the United States — has a level of income inequality both high and rising.

This simple fact — that only one nation has inequality both “high and rising” — shows that high and rising inequality is not inevitable. The rich are not winning everywhere, just as the rich have not always won in the United States.

We can have sensible policies that reduce inequality and bolster the middle class. The ILO suggests that we prioritize employment growth over budget cuts, increase public investment to make up for a lack of private investment, and raise taxes on unearned income from financial transactions.

The folks at the ILO are smart enough to understand that the reasons our governments don’t give us good, pro-people policies are not technical or economic, but political and ideological.

“Against mounting evidence,” the ILO concludes, “a fundamental belief persists in some quarters that less regulation and limited government will boost business confidence, improve access to international financial markets, and increase investment, although these results have not been evident.”

The empirical evidence says that we can reduce inequality and bolster the middle class by putting people back to work. But that will take government action. And government action is the one thing we don’t seem to have.

 

Salvatore Babones is a senior lecturer in sociology and social policy at the University of Sydney and an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

 

Occupy The Trans-Pacific Partnership: Civil Disobedience Actions Blockade Entrance To Site Of TPP Negotiations In Virginia

In Uncategorized on September 14, 2012 at 4:09 pm

http://truth-out.org/images/091312-6b.jpgOldspeak: “This is the “trade agreements” that Obama bragged about in his nomination speech. It is  not good for anyone but corporations. “The TPP is called a ‘trade agreement,’ but in actuality it is a long-dreamed-of template for implementing a binding system of global corporate governance as bold as anything the world’s wealthiest elite has attempted before. It is outrageous that civil disobedience like this is necessary to have the public’s voice included in these discussions. The stakes are just too high for the world’s environment and for farmers, workers and all of our intellectual property rights far into the future for these decisions to be made behind closed doors.”  -Laurel Sutherlin The Transnational Corporate Network is working in secret to consolidate its control over governments worldwide and by extension the people. The people are resisting. We need more people to become aware, and join the resistance.  The fate of our world depends on it.

Related Story:

Trans-Pacific Partnership: Obama To Sign Secret Treaty That Will Offshore U.S. Jobs To Slave-Wage Countries; Decimate Corporate Regulations

By It’s Our Economy:

Two people were detained this morning after a tense stand-off with police while blockading international trade negotiators from entering the Lansdowne Resort, site of the secretive Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations taking place this week. Other activists greeted the arriving international negotiators with a 75-foot high banner suspended by weather balloons shaped like giant buttocks that read “Free Trade My Ass: Flush the TPP.”

A rapidly growing movement is organizing to oppose the unprecedented lack of transparency surrounding the Obama Administration’s handling of the TPP discussions. While 600 corporate lobbyists have been allowed access to and input on the draft texts from the beginning of negotiations three years ago, the public and even members of US Congress have not been allowed to see what is being proposed on their behalf.

“People need to know that the Trans Pacific Partnership is being negotiated in secret to hide the content. The TPP will redefine the terms of trade in ways that give corporations power over nations, makes them unaccountable and threatens the health of people and the future of the planet,” said Baltimore native Dr. Margaret Flowers, co-director of ItsOurEconomy.us, as she dangled by a climbing harness 20 feet above the pavement and dozens of agitated police officers and sheriff’s deputies. Flowers is a medical doctor and said she was moved to take action in particular because she is concerned about the likelihood that the TPP would increase drug prices by expanding corporate patent rights.

Police responded aggressively at first to the blockade, threatening to taze the metal poles suspending Flowers and to pepper spray the mother of three into compliance. Confused trade negotiators abandoned cars and attempted to walk towards the hotel complex. Stymied by how to safely remove her and open the roadway, police representatives eventually sought to negotiate Flowers exit. Flowers only agreed to be removed if her colleague, Dick Ochs, who had been handcuffed and detained for blocking the road was also released. Eventually the police agreed to release Flowers and Ochs if she lowered herself on her own accord.


Dick Ochs Blocks the Road


Dick is taken into custody


The Lieutenant, Tarak Kauff and Kevin Zeese negotiate the exit.

Margaret refuses to come down unless Dick is released


No arrest for Margaret, Dick Ochs released

“The TPP is called a ‘trade agreement,’ but in actuality it is a long-dreamed-of template for implementing a binding system of global corporate governance as bold as anything the world’s wealthiest elite has attempted before. It is outrageous that civil disobedience like this is necessary to have the public’s voice included in these discussions. The stakes are just too high for the world’s environment and for farmers, workers and all of our intellectual property rights far into the future for these decisions to be made behind closed doors.” said Laurel Sutherlin of Rainforest Action Network, one of the organizations supporting this week’s demonstrations.


Phil Ateto, Ellen Barfield, Lisa Simeone and Dick Ochs hold sign along the road

Today’s actions follow a colorful rally on Sunday at the same location that was endorsed by dozens of regional and national environmental, labor and social justice organizations. Members of this diverse coalition, upset by the TPP’s complete lack of transparency, have orchestrated a series of demonstrations throughout the week of negotiations.


Arthur Stamoulins of Citizen’s Trade Watch (which was not part of this action) is interviewed by Eddie Becker

In 2008, candidate Obama promised that as president he would renegotiate NAFTA with Canada and Mexico with new terms favorable to the United States. Now his administration is negotiating one of the largest corporate trade agreements in history, that would outsource jobs, lower wages and undermine environmental, consumer and labor laws.

In a report on the TPP, Kevin Zeese, co-director of Its Our Economy wrote: “the Trans-Pacific Partnership would do even more harm to U.S. employment than NAFTA. The TPP is being negotiated in secret by the United States, Australia, Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam. It contains an unusual provision, a docking agreement, which allows other countries to join. This October, Canada and Mexico are expected join the TPP. Later, Japan and China will likely join but it will almost certainly not stop there. The TPPcould set the standard for worldwide trade – a major reshuffling of our social contract with almost no public participation.”

Bill Moyer of the Backbone Campaign

 

 

 

 

Photos by Ellen Davidson.  More photos here.

Click here for more on the TPP.

Top Economists Agree: The U.S. Is In A Depression

In Uncategorized on May 8, 2012 at 2:07 pm

Oldspeak:”You know it’s grim when the prevailing debate among economists and historians is whether the world economy faces the “Great” depression of the 1930s or the “Long” depression of the 1870s.” I like to call it a “Stealth Great Depression” The bread lines have been replaced with EBT cards, and the banks are too bigger to fail, but many of the other conditions that existed in the 1930’s and 1870’s exist today. Tent cities, high unemployment, high poverty, high homelessness, wage stagnation, high debt, mass bankruptcy etc, etc, etc… A profound difference between today’s depression and those of the past is the propaganda. It’s so exquisitely and insidiously crafted that people actually believe it over what it happening all around them in the real world. Meanwhile “Institutions (banks) that know how and why to prevent things from falling apart and which nonetheless sit back and do nothing. A global collapse is being engineered. We need a radically new way forward to avert catastrophe but all we’re being offered by our political classes is tried and false ways of the past that are clearly leading to catastrophe. A ‘sustainable future’ is being monetized. More and more people awakening to the reality that those old ways are no longer acceptable. Our civilization needs a new operating system. Or a crash is not a matter of if, but when. Greed will be our downfall.

By Washington’s Blog:

Paul Krugman released a new book yesterday called “End This Depression Now“. In the introduction, Krugman writes:

The best way to think about this continued slump, I’d argue, is to accept that we’re in a depression …. It’s nonetheless essentially the same kind of situation that John Maynard Keynes described in the 1930s: “a chronic condition of subnormal activity for a considerable period without any marked tendency either towards recovery or towards complete collapse.”

Robert Shiller said yesterday that the world is in a state of “late Great Depression”.

Many other top economists also say that were in a Depression.

We are stuck in a depression because the government has done all of the wrong things, and has failed to address the core problems.

For example:

  • The government is doing everything else wrong. See this and this

This isn’t an issue of left versus right … it’s corruption and bad policies which help the top .1% but are causing a depression for the vast majority of the American people.

Oligarchy In The U.S.A.- How The Wealth Defense Industry Protects The Ultra-Rich: The .0001%

In Uncategorized on March 2, 2012 at 5:51 pm

Oldspeak:A small fraction of wealthy Americans constitute a powerful donor class that provides the vast majority of candidates’ funds. Long before ordinary citizens get to vote, they say, their choices are reduced to politicians deemed acceptable by the richest Americans via a “wealth primary,” in which candidates straying from a narrow economic agenda are shut out of campaign funding.“For all their influence at the polls, guys like Joe the Plumber aren’t typically campaign contributors,” explains Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. “You’re more likely to see John the Bond Trader bankrolling these campaigns.” And she’s right: Of the roughly 1.4 million individual contributions of $200 or more during the 2008 elections, three-fourths of the money came from a mere one-fifth of the donors, who in turn comprised one-tenth of 1 percent of American adults.”-Jeffery A. Winters Today in America, being ‘merely-rich’ is not enough to live ‘comfortably’ and be represented by government. Apparently living comfortably involves avoiding taxation by paying untold sums and devoting whole industries of lawyers, accountants, and wealth management agents to defrauding the government. A government by virtue of their extreme wealth and inherent political power resources, 400 men run. Democracy’s gone, Oligarchical Capitalism reigns.

By Jeffery A. Winters @ In These Times:

In 2005, Citigroup offered its high net-worth clients in the United States a concise statement of the threats they and their money faced.

The report told them they were the leaders of a “plutonomy,” an economy driven by the spending of its ultra-rich citizens. “At the heart of plutonomy is income inequality,” which is made possible by “capitalist-friendly governments and tax regimes.”

The danger, according to Citigroup’s analysts, is that “personal taxation rates could rise – dividends, capital gains, and inheritance taxes would hurt the plutonomy.”

But the ultra-rich already knew that. In fact, even as America’s income distribution has skewed to favor the upper classes, the very richest have successfully managed to reduce their overall tax burden. Look no further than Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney, who in 2010 paid 13.9 percent of his $21.6 million income in taxes that year, the same tax rate as an individual who earned a mere $8,500 to $34,500.

How is that possible? How can a country make so much progress toward equality on other fronts – race, gender, sexual orientation and disability – but run the opposite way in its policy on taxing the rich?

In 2004, the American Political Science Association (APSA) tried to answer that very question. The explanation they came up with viewed the problem as a classic case of democratic participation: While the poor have overwhelming numbers, the wealthy have higher rates of political participation, more advanced skills and greater access to resources and information. In short, APSA said, the wealthy use their social capital to offset their minority status at the ballot box.

But this explanation has one major flaw. Regardless of the Occupy movement’s rhetoric, most of the growth in the wealth gap has actually gone to a tiny sliver of the 1% – one-tenth of it, or even one-one-hundredth.

Even more shockingly, that 1 percent of the 1% has shifted its tax burden not to the middle class or poor, but to rich households in the 85th to 99th percentile range. In 2007, the effective income tax rate for the richest 400 Americans was below 17 percent, while the “mass affluent” 1% paid nearly 24 percent. Disparities in Social Security taxes were even greater, with the merely rich paying 12.4 percent of their income, while the super-rich paid only one-one-thousandth of a percent.

It’s one thing for the poor to lose the democratic participation game, but APSA has no explanation for why the majority of the upper class – which has no shortage of government-influencing social capital – should fall so far behind the very top earners. (Of course, relative to middle- and lower-class earners, they’ve done just fine.)

For a better explanation, we need to look more closely at the relationship between wealth and political power. I propose an updated theory of “oligarchy,” the same lens developed by Plato and Aristotle when they studied the same problem in their own times.

Who are the oligarchs?

How much wealth does it take to make someone an oligarch in the United States?

Not just any rich person is an oligarch. Oligarchs are those rich enough to buy the professional firepower of the WDI to defend their wealth. Pulitzer Prize-winning economics reporter David Cay Johnston says that “this can sometimes be an outlay of $10 million to avoid $30 million in taxes, and other times spending only $1 million to save the same amount.”

For some perspective, look at the income chart above, which breaks down the extent of material inequality in the United States. Pay special attention to the last column, the Material Power Index (MPI), which defines each income level as a multiple of the average income among the bottom 90 percent of American taxpayers.

Even at more than 30 times the average income of the bottom 90 percent of Americans, an average annual income of $1 million for those in the top one-half of one percent is still too modest to make them oligarchs. These citizens are certainly rich. But they don’t have enough material power to hire anything beyond the cheapest foot soldiers of the WDI.

Starting with the next threshold, however — the top one-tenth of 1 percent of incomes — the MPI suddenly quadruples from 32 to 124, and then leaps another six-fold to 819 for those with incomes in the top one-one-hundredth of one percent. In 2007, about 150,000 Americans had average annual incomes of $4 million and above. This is the threshold at which oligarchs begin to dominate the landscape.

A quick review

First, let’s review what we think we know about power in America.

We begin with a theory of “democratic pluralism,” which posits that democracy is basically a tug-of-war with different interest groups trying to pull government policy toward an outcome. In this framework, the rich are just one group among many competing “special interests.”

Of course, it’s hard not to notice that some groups can tug better than others. So in the 1950s, social scientists, like C. Wright Mills, author of The Power Elite, developed another theory of “elites” – those who wield more pull thanks to factors like education, social networks and ethnicity. In this view, wealth is just one of many factors that might help someone become the leader of a major business or gain a government position, thereby joining the elite.

But neither theory explains how the super-rich are turning public policy to their benefit even at the expense of the moderately rich. The mass affluent vastly outnumber the super-rich, and the super-rich aren’t necessarily better-educated, more skilled or more able to participate in politics; nor do the super-rich dominate the top posts of American government – our representatives tend to be among the slightly lower rungs of the upper class who are losing the tax battle.

Also, neither theory takes into account the unique power that comes with enormous wealth – the kind found in that one-tenth of the 1%. Whether or not the super-rich hold any official position in business or government, they remain powerful.

Only when we separate wealth from all other kinds of power can we begin to understand why our tax system looks the way it does – and, by extension, how the top one-tenth of 1% of the income distribution has distorted American democracy.

Enormous wealth is the heart of oligarchy.

So what’s an oligarchy?

Across all political spectrums, oligarchs are people (never corporations or other organizations) who command massive concentrations of material resources (that is, wealth) that can be deployed to defend or enhance their own property and interests, even if they don’t own those resources personally. Without this massive concentration of wealth, there are no oligarchs.

In any society, of course, an extremely unequal wealth distribution provokes conflict. Oligarchy is the politics of the defense of this wealth, propagated by the richest members of society.

Wealth defense can take many forms. In ancient Greece and Rome, the wealthiest citizens cooperated to run institutionalized states that defended their property rights. In Suharto’s Indonesia, a single oligarch led a despotic regime that mostly used state power to support other oligarchs. In medieval Europe, the rich built castles and raised private armies to defend themselves against each other and deter peasants tempted by their masters’ vaults. In all of these cases oligarchs are directly engaged in rule. They literally embody the law and play an active role in coercion as part of their wealth defense strategy.

Contemporary America (along with other capitalist states) instead houses a kind of “civil oligarchy.” The big difference is that property rights are now guaranteed by the impersonal laws of an armed state. Even oligarchs, who can be disarmed for the first time in history and no longer need to rule directly, must submit to the rule of law for this modern “civil” arrangement to work. When oligarchs do enter government, it is more for vanity than to rule as or for oligarchs. Good examples are New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former presidential candidate Ross Perot and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

Another feature of American oligarchy is that it allows oligarchs to hire skilled professionals, middle- and upper-class worker bees, to labor year-round as salaried, full-time political advocates and defenders of the oligarchy. Unlike those backing ordinary politicians, the oligarchs’ professional forces require no ideological invigoration to keep going. In other words, they function as a very well-paid mercenary army.

Whatever views and interests may divide the very rich, they are united in being materially focused and materially empowered. The social and political tensions associated with extreme wealth bond oligarchs together even if they never meet, and sets in motion the complex dynamics of wealth defense. Oligarchs do overlap with each other in certain social circles that theorists of the elite worked hard to map. But such networks are not vital to their power and effectiveness. Oligarchic theory requires no conspiracies or backroom deals. It is the minions oligarchs hire who provide structure and continuity to America’s civil oligarchy.

The U.S. Wealth Defense Industry

The threats to wealth that oligarchs face, and want to overcome, create the enormous profit-making opportunities that motivate the wealth defense industry, or WDI. In American oligarchy, it consists of two components.

The first is the mercenary army of professionals – lawyers, accountants, wealth management agencies – who use highly specialized knowledge to navigate 72,000 pages of tax code and generate a range of tax “products” and advice, enabling oligarchs to collectively save scores of billions of dollars, every year, that would otherwise have to be surrendered to the state. While most of us are what I call “TurboTaxpayers,” buying cheap tax software to navigate our returns and make routine deductions, oligarchs purchase complex “tax opinion letters” from professional firms. These letters are drafted to justify enormous nonpayments of taxes if the IRS ever questions how certain transactions produce losses, or how other accounting gymnastics make it appear that no gains or compensation occurred. The letters can cost up to $3 million each, but can save an oligarch tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in a given year.

Written by some of the most high-powered attorneys and firms in the industry, tax letters serve to intimidate the legal department of the IRS even before a prosecution is contemplated.

The Senate is aware of these letters – noting in a 2003 report on the “tax shelter industry” that “respected professional firms are spending substantial resources … to design, market, and implement hundreds of complex tax shelters, some of which are illegal and improperly deny the U.S. Treasury of billions of dollars in tax revenues” – but getting specific information about them is extremely difficult, since the IRS rarely prosecutes oligarchs. When it does, most cases are sealed, and oligarchs who work with tax attorneys can invoke attorney-client privilege. But in 2003, there was a breach of this fortress of secrecy when the Senate published detailed reports about illegal tax shelters created by the accounting firm KPMG.

According to the Senate, the KPMG tax shelters created “phony paper losses for taxpayers, using a series of complex, orchestrated transactions involving shell corporations, structured finance, purported multi-million dollar loans, and deliberately obscure investments” for 350 clients between 1997 and 2001. The fake losses totaled about $8.4 billion, or $24 million per client; applied against their incomes, these losses reduced the taxes of each oligarch by an average of $8.3 million, or $2.9 billion for the group.

One of the reasons this case was exposed is that it was all rather down-market, using cheap cookie-cutter tax opinion letters priced at a mere $350,000 each.

Not only did all the firms and banks conspiring on behalf of these 350 oligarchs – and the oligarchs themselves – know that the investments “had no reasonable potential for profit,” but KPMG calculated that even if it was fined for failing to disclose the shelters, it would still earn far more in fees than it would pay in fines. The firm was fined $456 million. Even more incredibly, more than a dozen KPMG clients sued the firm for the taxes and penalties incurred after being discovered – the suits claim that KPMG bungled its job of creating shelters for tax evasion with zero legal risks for oligarchs. It’s tantamount to suing your hit man for a sloppy murder.

The second component of the WDI is the nitty-gritty legwork that keeps the tax system sufficiently porous, complex and uncertain enough to be manipulated. Some oligarchs do this work themselves, speed dialing public officials to directly complain about laws and regulations, but most do not. Instead, WDI professionals, motivated to earn a share of annual oligarchic gains, constitute a highly coherent and aggressive network for political pressure. These lobbyists fight to insert favorable material into the tax code, cut sections that cause problems, and block threats on the horizon.

Apologists for havens

Discussions about money in politics often begin with campaign finance reform. Advocates argue that a small fraction of wealthy Americans constitute a powerful donor class that provides the vast majority of candidates’ funds. Long before ordinary citizens get to vote, they say, their choices are reduced to politicians deemed acceptable by the richest Americans via a “wealth primary,” in which candidates straying from a narrow economic agenda are shut out of campaign funding.

“For all their influence at the polls, guys like Joe the Plumber aren’t typically campaign contributors,” explains Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. “You’re more likely to see John the Bond Trader bankrolling these campaigns.” And she’s right: Of the roughly 1.4 million individual contributions of $200 or more during the 2008 elections, three-fourths of the money came from a mere one-fifth of the donors, who in turn comprised one-tenth of 1 percent of American adults.

But while this fraction does coincide with our approximation of the size of the American oligarchy, campaign donations are not oligarchs’ primary or even most effective strategy for political influence. Academics Michael Graetz and Ian Shapiro explain this in their 2005 book, Death by a Thousand Cuts: The Fight over Taxing Inherited Wealth.

“Campaign contributions, soft money, spending limits for political candidates and the like have become controversial issues,” they admit, “but they mattered little in the estate tax fight.” The battle was between smaller oligarchs and the biggest players at the top. Believing it unlikely that the elimination of the estate tax could be extended indefinitely, a significant number of wealthy Americans with a net worth between $5 and $15 million wanted the threshold moved up to exempt their estate tax. In exchange, they supported a higher estate tax rate on everyone above the threshold. Big oligarchs took the opposite position. They wanted no estate tax at all. But if Congress was going to bring it back, the ultra-rich supported a lower exemption in exchange for a lower overall rate.

The big oligarchs won again – but not because of campaign finance. “Money mattered more fundamentally in shifting the tectonic plates underlying American tax debates,” Graetz and Shapiro suggest. And this is precisely where oligarchs deploy their resources in the WDI.

Oligarchs’ “three decades of investments in activist, conservative think tanks” has blazed an ideological path that drones in the WDI follow. Activists at institutions like the Heritage Foundation supply “ideological ammunition to the lobbyists and interest groups … who work relentlessly … to keep up the tax-cutting pressure on the Hill.”

This pressure was hard at work in President Obama’s feeble attempt to curtail offshore tax havens in 2009. In the middle of massive public bailouts to the financial system and large bonuses on Wall Street, the president proposed stronger measures to fight against who he called “tax cheats,” the individuals using offshore tax havens to deny the government nearly $70 billion a year – a level equal to about seven cents on every dollar of taxes paid honestly.

But Obama’s proposals were less aggressive than his rhetoric. The president urged Congress to support efforts to sanction nations that maintained secrecy on bank accounts and corporate entities, and sought to hire 800 additional IRS agents “to detect and pursue American tax evaders abroad”; these measures were projected to save a mere $8.7 billion over 10 years – about one percent of the losses from offshore accounts. Despite the timidity, the proposals received only a lukewarm response from Democrats and outright hostility from Republicans, who argued that they would cripple American corporations’ ability to compete globally.

Dan Mitchell, a senior fellow (i.e. mercenary) at the Cato Institute (a think tank financed by American oligarchs), defended tax havens as “outposts of freedom.” If Americans are concerned that “individuals are moving their money to countries with better tax law, that should be a lesson to us that we should fix our tax law.”

In other words: Let’s decrease taxes on the super-rich.

The WDI, arising naturally from the opportunities and risks created by enormous wealth, has spawned its own pile of these opinion-makers, free to spread their ideas through a compliant corporate media while oligarchs themselves are free to look on.

Oligarchy, or Democracy?

To argue that the United States is a thriving oligarchy does not imply that our democracy is a sham: There are many policies about which oligarchs have no shared interests. Their influence in these areas is either small or mutually canceling.

Though it may strike at the heart of elitism, greater democratic participation is not an antidote to oligarchic power. It is merely a potential threat. Only when participation challenges material inequality – when extreme wealth is redistributed – do oligarchy and democracy finally clash.

The answer to the question of inequality, then, is troubling. Wars and revolutions have destroyed oligarchies by forcibly dispersing their wealth, but a democracy never has.

Democracy and the rule of law can, however, tame oligarchs.

A campaign to tame oligarchs is a struggle unlikely to fire the spirits of those outraged by the profound injustices between rich and poor. However, to those enduring the economic and political burdens of living among wild oligarchs, it is an achievement that can improve the absolute welfare of average citizens, even if the relative gap between them and oligarchs widens rather than narrows.

A graduate student in one of my seminars – resisting my terminology – once declared that the “U.S. has rich people, not oligarchs.” More than anything else, that statement claims that somehow American democracy has managed to do something no other political system in history ever has: strip the holders of extreme wealth of their inherent power resources and the political interests linked to protecting those fortunes.

Of course, this hasn’t happened.

But it is endlessly fascinating that we’re now in a moment when Americans are once again asking fundamental questions about how the oligarchic power of wealth distorts and outflanks the democratic power of participation.

Jeffrey A. Winters is an associate professor of political science at Northwestern University. For a more extensive explanation of his theory of oligarchy, read Oligarchy (Cambridge University Press, 2011).

 

Why Major Newspapers & Corporations Run Fake Job Ads To Avoid Hiring American Workers

In Uncategorized on February 3, 2012 at 2:36 pm

Oldspeak: Behold! The fruits of globalization! “Instead of being about talent, H-1B visa is about importing cheap labor. There’s an insidious way that the high-tech industry denies jobs to US citizens. It’s called the H-1B visa, which allows America’s technological firms – and other specialized employers – to bring in foreign employees, frequently at a lower wage package than might be paid to an individual with the same qualifications who is an American citizen. There are many arguments against the program, primarily the allegation that there is generally no actual shortage of US citizens with high-tech skills for the work done by H-1B visa holders. After the H-1B workers are sent back to their native nations, there are reports that they are rehired by US companies abroad to start offshore high-tech offices that move more US jobs overseas. In short, the H-1B visa could be seen as an outsourcing training program at the expense of highly skilled US professionals.” I wonder if Obama’s “Jobs Czar” GM CEO Jeffery Immelt is aware of this stealth job outsourcing sector of the economy. As CEO of a an American multinational corporation that employs 82% of its workforce outside the U.S., I would surmise, probably so. “Ignorance is Strength” “Profit Is Paramount”

Related Video

Immigration Attorneys Teach Corporations How To  Avoid Hiring Qualified Americans.

By Smoke & Mirrors:

Every Sunday, major newspapers, websites and corporations run fake job ads. Why? The goal is to prove that no qualified Americans are available, so that green cards can be secured for H1B workers (“highly-skilled” foreign workers from “high tech” to architects to nurses and Kindergarten teachers).

The claim is H-1B is a remedy for “labor shortages” and as a means of hiring “the best and the brightest” from around the world. The reality is it’s all about cheap labor.

The fundamental reason for the H1B Visa program, created in 1990, is to substitute cheap, imported, supposedly “skilled” (equivalent to American high school degree)  labor for more expensive American labor. The employer, who reaps a ton of tax advantages, doesn’t have to pay medical benefits, overtime, social security, etc., can also force the departing US worker to train their foreign replacement.  The problem is not lack of enforcement or fraud. Instead, the problem is gaping loopholes in the law.

Congress has allowed the expansion of importation under all VISA programs. 125,000 work authorized visas per month. This includes green cards, L-1, H1-b, H2-b etc  and the state hands out about 320K J-1 student work visas yearly.

Body Shops:

According to Civil Defense Attorney James Otto, who poses the question: “Whether the U.S. should allow the replacement of U.S. workers with foreigners imported under the several visa programs and should Government hire foreigners in stead of U.S workers?”, there are eight main body shops which bring in foreign workers to take American jobs. One body shop, Infosys, faces a lawsuit by former employee Jack Palmer over charges that it abused US visa programs. Per the Economic Times of India “The Infosys charges illustrate the growing conflict between the desires of multinational corporations to source cheaply (even if “cheap” has been mismeasured by not not being adjusted for risk) and what actions need to take place at a country level to make sure these very same multinationals have decent market for their goods.”

On December 7, 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, through the U.S. Embassy in India, announced that the State Department has authorized the U.S embassy to allow the admission of a limitless number of foreign workers into the U.S. to take jobs that millions of unemployed Americans could and would do.

The practical implications of the State Department’s conduct is that every U.S employer can now hire as many foreign workers as they desire to replace all American workers.

So even jobs that require face to face work are not safe from “outsourcing” because of “importing”.

Of course, this is no more the fault of the imported foreign nationals than it is the fault of the workers employed in sweatshops overseas.  The corporations treat them horrendously.  While displacing American workers, the goal is to reduce the salary level to a point where they can get qualified professional American workers at the same cheap price. Just one more government policy that result in We the People suffering in order that corporate profits soar.

Hi-Tech US Corporations Deny Skilled American Workers Jobs Through Abuse of Visa Loophole

By Mark Karlin @ BuzzFlash:

A short time ago, BuzzFlash at Truthout ran a commentary on how US global corporations don’t give a hoot about increasing jobs in America.

In it, we included a section about how Silicon Valley high-tech companies, particularly Apple, use overseas contractors to manufacture their latest technological consumer products. It has been documented that some of these contractors create such harsh conditions and pay such low wages that workers have been driven to suicide, as The New York Times and other publications have detailed.

 

In a two-part Times expose, an Apple executive claimed: “We [Apple] don’t have an obligation to solve America’s problems.” That was in response to Apple shipping so many potential US jobs overseas to these slave-wage sweatshops; e.g., “90 percent of the parts of an iPhone are made outside the U.S.”

But there’s another insidious way that the high-tech industry denies jobs to US citizens. It’s called the H-1B visa, which allows America’s technological firms – and other specialized employers – to bring in foreign employees, frequently at a lower wage package than might be paid to an individual with the same qualifications who is an American citizen. There are many arguments against the program, primarily the allegation that there is generally no actual shortage of US citizens with high-tech skills for the work done by H-1B visa holders.

President Obama appeared blindsided by a question on a Google Plus interactive town hall the other day from a woman whose husband had been laid off by Texas Instruments:

Jennifer Wedel was the second to question Obama, and the four-minute exchange was among the most memorable of the 50-minute online event.

“My question to you is to why does the government continue to issue and extend H-1B visas when there are tons of Americans just like my husband with no job?” she asked.

Obama offered that industry leaders have told him that there aren’t enough of certain kinds of high-tech engineers in America to meet their needs. Jennifer Wedel interrupted him to explain that that answer didn’t match what her husband is seeing out in the real world.

“Jennifer, can I ask what kind of engineer your husband is?”

“He’s a semiconductor engineer,” she told the president, who seemed genuinely surprised.

“If you send me your husband’s resume, I’d be interested in finding out exactly what’s happening right there,” he told her. “The word we’re getting is somebody in that high-tech field, that kind of engineer, should be able to find something right away. And the H-1B should be reserved only for those companies who say they cannot find somebody in that particular field.”

Of course, the high-tech companies are telling the White House and Congress that they can’t find US citizens for the H-1B jobs, but many critics argue that many high-tech companies hire H-1B workers without even offering the positions to Americans. On top of that, after the H-1B workers are sent back to their native nations, there are reports that they are rehired by US companies abroad to start offshore high-tech offices that move more US jobs overseas. In short, the H-1B visa could be seen as an outsourcing training program at the expense of highly skilled US professionals.

It was nice of the president of the United States to offer his personal job placement services to Jennifer Wedel’s husband, but it’s a bit disturbing that the White House appears to have fallen for the Silicon Valley canard.

When it comes to the H-1B visa, it’s the same old story: follow the profits.

Report: Poverty In America Likely To Get Worse; 46 Million ‘Living’ Below Poverty Line

In Uncategorized on January 16, 2012 at 12:26 pm

Oldspeak:” ‘Poverty in America is remarkably widespread, the number of people living in poverty is increasing and is expected to increase further, despite the recoveryMillions of Americans will be forced into poverty in the coming years even as the US hauls itself out of the longest and deepest recession since the second world war’ Dr King would be appalled.

By Chris McGreal @ U.K. Guardian:

Millions of Americans will be forced into poverty in the coming years even as the US hauls itself out of the longest and deepest recession since the second world war.

A study from Indiana University, released on Wednesday, says the number of Americans living below the poverty line surged by 27% since the beginning of what it calls the “Great Recession” in 2006, driving 10 million more people into poverty.

The report warns that the numbers will continue to rise, because although the recession is technically over, its continued impact on cuts to welfare budgets and the quality of new, often poorly paid, jobs can be expected to force many more people in to poverty. It is also difficult for those already under water to get back up again.

“Poverty in America is remarkably widespread,” concludes the study, At Risk: America’s Poor During and After the Great Recession. “The number of people living in poverty is increasing and is expected to increase further, despite the recovery.”

The white paper, drafted by the university’s school of public and environmental affairs, which is among the best ranked schools of its kind in the US, says that six years ago, 36.5 million Americans fell below the poverty line. By 2010, the number of people living in poverty rose to 46.2 million and continued to grow over the past year.

“The Great Recession has left behind the largest number of long-term unemployed people since records were first kept in 1948. More than 4 million Americans report that they have been unemployed for more than 12 months,” said the report.

John Graham, dean of the school and one of the authors of the report, said that the numbers of “new poor” will continue to rise.

“One of the big surprises is that poverty in the United States is likely to continue to increase even as the economic recovery unfolds,” said Graham. “The unique feature of the great recession is not just the high rate of unemployment, but the long duration of unemployment that millions of Americans have experienced. [For] a lot of these long-term unemployed, the job that they had won’t exist when they go back in to the labour market.”

Graham said that many of those who once held well-paid jobs will be forced to settle for lower paying work, trapping some in a permanent cycle of poverty.

“As a consequence they will be poor or near poor for a substantial period of time,” he said.

The latest census data shows that nearly one in two of the US’s 300 million citizens are now officially classified as having a low income or living in poverty. One in five families earns less than $15,000 (£9,600) a year.

The Indiana University study says that the numbers of people falling into poverty is also likely to grow because of severe cuts to state and federal welfare budgets.

“The states by their constitutions all have to have a balanced budget each year. A lot of states are already in the process of cutting back their safety net programmes at the same time that poverty is increasing,” said Graham. “Their needs are going up but the programmes are receiving less support. It’s going to continue because the revenues of state governments are not increasing as rapidly as is needed and the federal government will be under a lot of pressure because of its large deficit to decrease funding given to the states.”

The report warns that the situation is likely to become even worse if the long-term unemployed lose their jobless benefits. Congress extended them for two months at the end of the year, but it is unlikely they will be continued indefinitely.

Among the most severely affected states are Florida, Nevada and Arizona, which have been particularly badly hit by the housing foreclosure crisis, and Michigan and Ohio, which have seen the collapse of traditional manufacturing.

Minorities are among the hardest hit. More than one in four African Americans and Hispanics is officially recorded as living in poverty. About one in 10 white Americans fall below the poverty line.

“We can expect to find that the most vulnerable parts of our society are the ones who will recover most slowly from a deep recession like this. More have gone in to poverty and they’ll be slower coming out of it,” said Graham. “If you look at the educational levels and skill levels of African Americans and Hispanics, they are more vulnerable as the job market tightens. They don’t have either the extra edge in education or skills that white Americans do.”

The report says that the situation would have been much worse had it not been for the Obama administration’s 2009 federal stimulus package, which increased child health insurance for poorer families, and cut taxes for low income workers.

Still, the study says that although unemployment is officially falling, that may not be the whole story. Some workers give up looking for jobs and are no longer counted in the unemployment rate.

“Although the official rate of unemployment is declining, much of this apparent progress is attributable to the fact that many adults are giving up on the search for a job,” it said.

The report argues that a better measure of how well an economy is creating employment is the “jobs-to-people ratio”. It says that in a healthy economy the range is between 0.60 and 0.70. The US fell within that range until it fell to 0.582 at the end of 2009. It had risen only to 0.585 in November 2011.

“These data suggest that the reported progress in reducing the rate of unemployment may not be as encouraging as we think since increasing numbers of the unemployed may simply be giving up on the search for a job,” the report said.

Christmas Co-Opted: Today Show And Wal-Mart Cloak Poverty, Homelessness, Unemployment In Meaningless Commercial Consumerism

In Uncategorized on December 24, 2011 at 7:21 pm

Oldspeak: ” ‘Offering hope to a family in crisis‘ Yes because what a broke, homeless, unemployed  and health care-less family needs most are laptops, a kindle and big screen TV at Wal-Mart and to meet Matt Lauer and Ann Curry on a segment of “The Today Show” sponsored by Wal-Mart, in what amounted to commercial for Wal-Mart.  Not food, or shelter or heath care or anything like that…  O_o This is how corporations show they care! By graciously giving desperately poor, homeless and unemployed people opportunities to consume shit they don’t need, and meet people who don’t really care about them or helping to alleviate their conditions. The poor, homeless and unemployed are reduced to consumable content, to be presented in a ‘positive’ light, to fleetingly acknowledge the devastating national epidemics of poverty, homelessness, inequality, and lack of access to heath insurance. ‘America’s problem seems to be that it can only be cruel 364 days a year. Christmas is that time of year when the United States of Scrooge takes a vacation from heartless profiteering and the nasty joy Americans get, that “I’m-not-one-of-those-losers” frisson.’ -Greg Palast “Ignorance is Strength”

By Greg Palast @ Dissident Voice:

I don’t usually watch Today or any American TV because my reports appear on the British Broadcasting Corporation, a network run by highly-educated America-haters.

But there I was, last Friday, in this hotel room in Atlanta, a city pretending there’s no Depression, chewing my complimentary morning donut, and Today is telling us about the “new face of American poverty.”

“More than 49 million Americans now live below the poverty line and a number of them like the family you’re about to meet propelled into bankruptcy by a one-two punch of job loss and a catastrophic health crisis.”

Wow! US television finally grabs the Big Issue.

This white suburban family called the Kleins have lost their home to eviction. They’re completely broke, because one of their kids got a tumor in her face. They have no insurance so the $100,000-plus medical bills wiped them out.

They live with neighbors and they hoped to at least get their kids a couple pair of underwear as a Christmas gift.

But if you think America doesn’t give a crap about the cancerous growth of poverty, just keep watching: The Today reporter takes the white family to WalMart where the bubbly journalist gushes, “The wonderful people of WalMart opened up their stores and their aisles and their hearts. The store is your oyster, Michelle!”

Then some WalMartian PR person tells the bankrupt mom to address the issue of long-term unemployment, “Let’s go shopping!”

And you thought America was cold-hearted, just because the Republicans tried to block unemployment insurance this Christmas for three million families.

On their free shopping spree, the Kleins got laptops and a Kindle, and a big-ass TV and all the good things that WalMart can provide.

And if you think WalMart has shown how selfless and caring Americans are, just wait until you find out what the Today show is giving America’s desperate poor: Simply the best-est gift ever …

“We saved the best for last!” The reporter tells the Kleins that NBC is flying them to New York, “to be on the Today show, to be on our set with Matt Lauer and Ann Curry!”

Matt and Ann! Both of them! Well, I bet they wouldn’t do that in North Korea or Sweden! Only in America!

Mr. Klein is so happy he’s meeting Ann that he doesn’t seem care anymore that he lost his job at Ford Motor. He just has his family. In some other family’s house, of course. But that’s a detail.

And if you thought this was just some cheap publicity stunt by WalMart, dig this, Mr. Cynical: WalMart is going to pay for all the Klein’s medical bills for a full year! And to pay for it, WalMart’s 1.4 million employees will not have all their medical bills covered for the year. Now, that’s generosity!

(This heartwarming segment of the Today show about the Klein kids, by the way, is sponsored by — no points for guessing: WalMart.)

But then I thought: wait a minute. What about ObamaCare? Once the plan is in place, no American can be denied insurance, even someone with a tumor in their face.

Americans love to hate ObamaCare. But isn’t that more valuable to the Kleins than a TV screen with no house to put it in?

Now, many of my friends will be surprised to hear me say this, as I’ve been quite skeptical about the accomplishments of the Pope of Hope. But let’s admit that Barack Obama tried to save the Kleins from medical-bill devastation, that he is trying to get them some unemployment insurance, trying (if on sketchy terms) to save the auto industry, all in the face of resistance of America’s hatred of Socialist Government.

Maybe we don’t need Santa Claus. Maybe we need Anti-Claus: A skinny ‘Muslim’ from Kenya squirming down your chimney!

America’s problem seems to be that it can only be cruel 364 days a year. Christmas is that time of year when the United States of Scrooge takes a vacation from heartless profiteering and the nasty joy Americans get, that “I’m-not-one-of-those-losers” frisson.

Listen to Rick and Newt and Mitt and Michele and Ron and what you get is the Great American F***’em! They lost their jobs? F***’em! Their kid has a tumor and they don’t have health insurance? F***’em!

Unless, of course, it’s Christmas and you have to look at the tumor on TV. Then, it’s like, Someone buy them a big-screen television so we don’t feel bad.

Santa’s erstaz elf, Bill O’Reilly, keeps talking about the “War on Christmas.” Because one day a year he has to dress up in Good Will to All Men drag. He can deck his halls with bags of bullshit make-believe kindness.

The rest of the year, he’s jerking off while talking dirty to his horrified female producers and raking in millions from the yahoos who haven’t lost their jobs yet.

So that’s it: for me, no more chestnuts roasting on an open fire. My chestnuts have gone down with my Lehman bonds, anyway. I’m declaring war on Christmas.

Don’t like that, O’Reilly? Then eat my shorts — with cranberry sauce.

Surgery for kids with cancer, a house to live in that’s not a relatives’ basement, and a job making something other than “financial products”… These are rights, not gifts. They don’t come down the chimney, they come from a community that can set aside its bred-in-the-bone meanness for more than one day a year.

 

***** 

And to all a good night.

Merry, um, Festivus, from the Palast Investigative Team.

Greg Palast studied healthcare economics at the Center for Hospital Administration Studies at the University of Chicago. His investigative reports can be seen on BBC Television’s NewsnightRead other articles by Greg, or visit Greg’s website.

New Census Data Shows 1 in 2 People In America Are Now Poor Or Low Income

In Uncategorized on December 15, 2011 at 9:35 am

 

Oldspeak:” It’s midnight in America. ‘Austerity Measures’ and ‘Structural Adjustment Programs‘  imposed across much of the 2nd and 3rd world have come home to roost in the 1st world. They’re beginning to bear bitter fruit. ”The reality is that prospects for the poor and the near poor are dismal.  Safety net programs such as food stamps and tax credits kept poverty from rising even higher in 2010, but for many low-income families with work-related and medical expenses, they are considered too `rich’ to qualify’. If Congress and the states make further cuts, we can expect the number of poor and low-income families to rise for the next several years”-Sheldon Danziger This is going to much get worse. Look at Greece, and you’ll see the future of the U.S. People won’t be able to ignore reality for much longer. The banksters who’ve hi-jacked our republic won’t stop until there’s no one left to reduce to debt peonage. The question is how long are Americans gonna sit idly by and let it happen? “Freedom Is Slavery”

By The Associated Press:

Squeezed by rising living costs, a record number of Americans – nearly 1 in 2 – have fallen into poverty or are scraping by on earnings that classify them as low income.

The latest census data depict a middle class that’s shrinking as unemployment stays high and the government’s safety net frays. The new numbers follow years of stagnating wages for the middle class that have hurt millions of workers and families.

“Safety net programs such as food stamps and tax credits kept poverty from rising even higher in 2010, but for many low-income families with work-related and medical expenses, they are considered too `rich’ to qualify,” said Sheldon Danziger, a University of Michigan public policy professor who specializes in poverty.

“The reality is that prospects for the poor and the near poor are dismal,” he said. “If Congress and the states make further cuts, we can expect the number of poor and low-income families to rise for the next several years.”

Congressional Republicans and Democrats are sparring over legislation that would renew a Social Security payroll tax cut, part of a year-end political showdown over economic priorities that could also trim unemployment benefits, freeze federal pay and reduce entitlement spending.

Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, questioned whether some people classified as poor or low-income actually suffer material hardship. He said that while safety-net programs have helped many Americans, they have gone too far, citing poor people who live in decent-size homes, drive cars and own wide-screen TVs.

“There’s no doubt the recession has thrown a lot of people out of work and incomes have fallen,” Rector said. “As we come out of recession, it will be important that these programs promote self-sufficiency rather than dependence and encourage people to look for work.”

Mayors in 29 cities say more than 1 in 4 people needing emergency food assistance did not receive it. Many middle-class Americans are dropping below the low-income threshold – roughly $45,000 for a family of four – because of pay cuts, a forced reduction of work hours or a spouse losing a job. Housing and child-care costs are consuming up to half of a family’s income.

States in the South and West had the highest shares of low-income families, including Arizona, New Mexico and South Carolina, which have scaled back or eliminated aid programs for the needy. By raw numbers, such families were most numerous in California and Texas, each with more than 1 million.

The struggling Americans include Zenobia Bechtol, 18, in Austin, Texas, who earns minimum wage as a part-time pizza delivery driver. Bechtol and her 7-month-old baby were recently evicted from their bedbug-infested apartment after her boyfriend, an electrician, lost his job in the sluggish economy.

After an 18-month job search, Bechtol’s boyfriend now works as a waiter and the family of three is temporarily living with her mother.

“We’re paying my mom $200 a month for rent, and after diapers and formula and gas for work, we barely have enough money to spend,” said Bechtol, a high school graduate who wants to go to college. “If it weren’t for food stamps and other government money for families who need help, we wouldn’t have been able to survive.”

About 97.3 million Americans fall into a low-income category, commonly defined as those earning between 100 and 199 percent of the poverty level, based on a new supplemental measure by the Census Bureau that is designed to provide a fuller picture of poverty. Together with the 49.1 million who fall below the poverty line and are counted as poor, they number 146.4 million, or 48 percent of the U.S. population. That’s up by 4 million from 2009, the earliest numbers for the newly developed poverty measure.

The new measure of poverty takes into account medical, commuting and other living costs. Doing that helped push the number of people below 200 percent of the poverty level up from 104 million, or 1 in 3 Americans, that was officially reported in September.

Broken down by age, children were most likely to be poor or low-income – about 57 percent – followed by seniors over 65. By race and ethnicity, Hispanics topped the list at 73 percent, followed by blacks, Asians and non-Hispanic whites.

Even by traditional measures, many working families are hurting.

Following the recession that began in late 2007, the share of working families who are low income has risen for three straight years to 31.2 percent, or 10.2 million. That proportion is the highest in at least a decade, up from 27 percent in 2002, according to a new analysis by the Working Poor Families Project and the Population Reference Bureau, a nonprofit research group based in Washington.

Among low-income families, about one-third were considered poor while the remainder – 6.9 million – earned income just above the poverty line. Many states phase out eligibility for food stamps, Medicaid, tax credit and other government aid programs for low-income Americans as they approach 200 percent of the poverty level.

The majority of low-income families – 62 percent – spent more than one-third of their earnings on housing, surpassing a common guideline for what is considered affordable. By some census surveys, child-care costs consume close to another one-fifth.

Paychecks for low-income families are shrinking. The inflation-adjusted average earnings for the bottom 20 percent of families have fallen from $16,788 in 1979 to just under $15,000, and earnings for the next 20 percent have remained flat at $37,000. In contrast, higher-income brackets had significant wage growth since 1979, with earnings for the top 5 percent of families climbing 64 percent to more than $313,000.

A survey of 29 cities conducted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors being released Thursday points to a gloomy outlook for those on the lower end of the income scale.

Many mayors cited the challenges of meeting increased demands for food assistance, expressing particular concern about possible cuts to federal programs such as food stamps and WIC, which assists low-income pregnant women and mothers. Unemployment led the list of causes of hunger in cities, followed by poverty, low wages and high housing costs.

Across the 29 cities, about 27 percent of people needing emergency food aid did not receive it. Kansas City, Mo., Nashville, Tenn., Sacramento, Calif., and Trenton, N.J., were among the cities that pointed to increases in the cost of food and declining food donations, while Mayor Michael McGinn in Seattle cited an unexpected spike in food requests from immigrants and refugees, particularly from Somalia, Burma and Bhutan.

Among those requesting emergency food assistance, 51 percent were in families, 26 percent were employed, 19 percent were elderly and 11 percent were homeless.

“People who never thought they would need food are in need of help,” said Mayor Sly James of Kansas City, Mo., who co-chairs a mayors’ task force on hunger and homelessness

Half Of U.S. Households Receive Government Aid, While One-Third of Americans Are One Paycheck Away From Homelessness

In Uncategorized on October 7, 2011 at 6:50 pm

Oldspeak:”O_o At what point does extreme inequality become not ok? As more and more resources are gobbled up by the war machine, the corporate oligarchs & the national security/surveillance state, there’s less and less being invested in America and it’s people. There are people in very powerful positions in this society who are programmed it seems to extract and hoard as many resources as possible, by as many means as possible until there is nothing left to extract. Millions of homes, jobs & savings lost, doesn’t matter, keep extracting. Banks are putting the extraction process in overdrive now with their recent announcements of charging 5 dollar fees to use their debit cards, yet another exorbitant fee to use your hard-earned money. Enough is never enough. This is basically our national ethos. With the money worship, celebrity idolatry  & virulent consumerism/monetization. We must always always want more. Equilibrium has no place in this society, must get bigger, must get stronger, must get faster, must get smarter, must get sexier, must get followers… The problem with that worldview is we live in a finite world. There are a finite amount of resources. And everyday there are fewer and fewer to go around. An infinite consumption ethos is the surest pathway to destruction.

By Washington’s Blog:

The Wall Street Journal notes:

Nearly half, 48.5%, of the population lived in a household that received some type of government benefit in the first quarter of 2010, according to Census data.

And yet – as NakedCapitalism notes – One Third of Americans One Paycheck Away From Homelessness.

What Does It Mean?

We are in very tough times.

As I noted last year:

Food Stamps Replace Soup Kitchens 

1 out of every 7 Americans now rely on food stamps.

While we don’t see soup kitchens, it may only be because so many Americans are receiving food stamps.

Indeed, despite the dramatic photographs we’ve all seen of the 1930s, the 43 million Americans relying on food stamps to get by may actually be much greater than the number who relied on soup kitchens during the Great Depression.

In addition, according to Chaz Valenza (a small business owner in New Jersey who earned his MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business) millions of Americans are heading to foodbanks for the first time in their lives.

Obama’s “American Jobs Act”: Why Less Is More Of The Same

In Uncategorized on September 15, 2011 at 11:51 am

President Barack Obama holds a copy of the American Jobs Act while announcing he is sending the $447 billion jobs package, his plan to create job growth, to Congress. (Photo: Philip Scott Andrews/The New York Times)

Oldspeak: “Look beyond the rhetorical wizardry.  What we got from Obama was a 2009 “Stimulus Light” proposal. This so-called “American Jobs Act” is 60% tax cuts (which don’t create jobs), half the size of the 2009 stimulus (that already wasn’t big enough to create jobs and had the NET EFFECT OF CUTTING JOBS), is too light on shovel-ready jobs (Construction and infrastructure jobs are long term. What is needed today is IMMEDIATE job creation.) Is too heavily weighted in favor of subsidies to the states (Local government laid off hundreds of thousands of workers since June 2009 despite the $263 billion in subsidies received) and does not go far enough in taxing the rich. Why is this man touring the country passionately selling a proposal that won’t work for the vast majority of the American people, and is basically another massive giveaway to the rich? Nevermind the fact that it doesn’t compel the banking cartels to lend the trillions they’re hoarding to small business owners which would create the conditions for job creation. Nor does it compel large multinational corporations to stop hoarding the trillions in tax savings they have stashed offshore to create jobs in the U.S. Obama has already bestowed the Corporatocracy with 1 TRILLION in tax cuts the past 2 years, why is he trying to give them more? Look no further than his list of campaign contributors. While the fact that legions of ordinary americans have contributed to him has been played up in corporate media, his biggest and most influential donors are wall street banks, hedge fund managers, media conglomerates, dirty energy conglomerates, big business interests, all denziens of the Corporatocracy. And what have the American people received in return? Toothless financial reform, expanded support for dirty energy policy, Business friendly health care reform, media and communications consolidation, weaker regulation, utterly ignored poor and working poor. Oh and 6 wars. Quid pro quo par excellence. More change I can’t believe in.”

By Jack Rasmus @ Truthout

On Thursday, September 8, President Obama proposed a $474 billion “Jobs Act.” What we got from Obama was a 2009 “Stimulus Light” proposal, with all the problems of the prior 2009 stimulus package in the form of inadequate magnitude of spending, wrong composition and targets and bad timing.

First, on the matter of the magnitude of spending in the proposal, some think it was bold. But put it in context; $447 billion just won’t achieve the job creation it claims. It’s once again too little for an economy the size of the US, for an economy in as deep an economic hole as it is and in an economy facing growing downward momentum at home in the context of a global economy also rapidly slipping.

In February 2009, President Obama proposed $787 billion in economic stimulus. Unemployment was about 25 million. More than two years later, after the $787 billion has been spent, unemployment (measured by the Labor Department’s U-6 rate) is still around 25 million. Why, therefore, should Obama’s latest proposals to create jobs, consisting about half the size of the 2009 stimulus, expect to create jobs when the larger stimulus did not?

Even more important than Obama’s Jobs Act’s insufficient magnitude, the composition is also seriously deficient – just as was the 2009 stimulus. Like the stimulus in 2009, it is once again overloaded in tax cuts. In fact, a greater percentage (60 percent) of the total Jobs Act is composed of tax cuts than was the 2009 stimulus (38 percent). Then and now, tax cuts simply cannot and will not create jobs, given the kind of “epic” recession in which the US economy now finds itself entrapped.

The 38 percent tax cut mix in 2009 amounted to about $300 billion in total tax reduction. That $300 billion followed a $90 billion tax cut less than nine months before in spring 2008. Another $50 billion in tax cuts was further added later in 2009-2010 in various bills and administrative actions. That’s a total of $440 billion in tax cuts. There’s more. Add to that $440 billion another $270 billion in Bush tax cut extensions in late 2010 for 2011, plus another $100 billion in this year’s payroll tax cut. Now, add the Job Act’s tax-heavy $270 additional billion. Now, we’re well over $1 trillion in tax cuts in just the past two years. And what’s been the result in jobs? Still 25 million unemployed today as in June 2009.

If someone needs still further evidence that tax cuts don’t create jobs in today’s environment, just step back a decade. In 2001-2004 George W. Bush passed another $3 trillion in tax cuts, overwhelmingly biased again toward the rich and their corporations in the form of capital gains, dividends, inheritance, business depreciation, and other corporate largesse. Over 80 percent of the $3 trillion went to the wealthiest 20 percent households and most of that to the wealthiest 5 percent and 1 percent. And what kind of job creation resulted? We had the longest jobless recession in US history up to that point. It took 46 months just to recover to the level of jobs we had before the first Bush recession in 2001.

Furthermore, most of the jobs that were created under Bush were in the finance and housing sectors of the economy at the time, which were both undergoing a boom due to speculative excesses before an eventual bust. The jobs mostly created in finance and housing had little to do with Bush’s tax cuts of 2001-2004, however. Instead, millions of jobs were being lost in manufacturing while the tax cuts were taking effect last decade.

In 2004, Bush also pushed through a bill to allow multinational corporations to repatriate their then $700 billion hoard of cash they were keeping offshore in their subsidiaries in order to avoid paying the US 35 percent corporate tax rate. The multinationals blackmailed Congress to let them pay only 5.25 percent instead of 35 percent. In exchange, they said they’d bring back the money (saving 29.75 percent for themselves) and use it to create jobs. Did they? No. They money brought back was used to buy back their stock, payout more dividends and to use for mergers and acquisitions that, in fact, resulted in fewer jobs. Now the same “game” is being proposed in Congress, except this time their offshore cash hoard is $1.2 trillion.

The historical record of the past decade is clear: tax cuts simply don’t create jobs, especially tax cuts for the rich and corporations. So, why has Obama given them $1 trillion in tax cuts the past two years and now proposes more?

But Obama’s once again tax-heavy proposal is not the only problem with his “Jobs Act.” The Jobs Act shares another deficiency with the president’s prior 2009 stimulus. It’s too heavily weighted in favor of subsidies to the states as well. The 2009 stimulus provided $264 billion in subsidies to the states. It was supposed to create jobs. It didn’t. Local government laid off hundreds of thousands of workers since June 2009 despite the $263 billion. What guarantees are there that this won’t be repeated when they’re given the added subsidies? Will they get the subsidy only if they first prove they’ve added the jobs? Don’t count on it.

Another problem with the “composition” of the Jobs Act announcement by the president is it once again repeats the promise of the 2009 stimulus that infrastructure spending will quickly create jobs. In 2009, about $100 billion was allocated to infrastructure-related spending that was supposed to create four million jobs. That didn’t happen. There were 6.4 million construction workers employed in June 2009. There are 5.5 million today. Nearly a million fewer construction jobs was the result. There just weren’t as many “shovel-ready” jobs as was claimed. Construction and infrastructure jobs are long term. What is needed today is immediate job creation. Infrastructure programs just won’t cut it, especially when they are of the minimal magnitude in Obama’s recent proposal.

Obama promised his proposals would focus on small business by subsidizing their hiring of workers for each job they create. But for small businesses to create jobs, it needs more than a partial hiring subsidy. It needs funds in addition to cover all the other costs of production. For that, small businesses need bank loans. And for two years now, they just can’t get the loans from the big banks. Bank lending to small businesses declined for 15 consecutive months after June 2009, and it’s not much better today. Obama and the Federal Reserve bailed out the big banks to the tune of $9 trillion in recent years, in the expectation they would start lending. They didn’t. They still aren’t. Like the big corporations hoarding their $2 trillion and not creating jobs, the big banks are hoarding their cash reserves as well and not lending to small businesses that might create jobs if they could get the loans. Obama would have done better to propose the federal government bypass the banks and directly loan to small businesses at 0.25 percent. After all, that’s the interest rate at which the Fed today “loans” to the big banks. No, I take that back. Actually it’s only 0.1 percent and then the Fed pays the banks 3 percent to temporarily park the free money with the Fed in the interim. What a deal: the Fed pays the big banks to take its free money.

In summary, what we got from Obama’s “Jobs Act” was more of the same in terms of poor composition (i.e. excessively tax cut heavy), poor timing (long-term infrastructure projects) and too little magnitude of spending in any event.

There’s no reason to believe that the Obama jobs package that repeats the problems of poor composition and bad timing of the 2009 stimulus – which didn’t create, although it may have saved some jobs – is going to do any better when it’s also half the size of the stimulus.

Of course, the proposed Jobs Act won’t pass anyway because the Teapublicans will oppose it. At best, they might try to cherry-pick out the business tax cuts proposed by Obama and then add even more tax cuts to the “Jobs Act” – a proposal which anyway should be appropriately renamed “The Business Tax Cut Expansion Act of 2011.”

Just a day before the president’s address, the Teapublican candidates gathered to hold their latest debate. They stumbled all over each other to see who could promise corporate America even greater tax cuts. Rick Perry even promised to end all corporate taxes. Rick Santorum promised to lower capital gains and dividends taxes to zero. Others proposed no income taxes whatsoever for earners of $200,000 income a year. Grovel for those campaign contributions, fellas. These same candidates, after proposing cutting hundreds of billions a year in tax cuts for the rich and corporations, will turn around and cry about the budget deficits and demand equivalent cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to make up for their ever generous handouts to the wealthy.

But this kind of mercenary, Robin-Hood-in-reverse policy of “No taxes whatsoever” for the rich and their corporations is expected from the radical right. Yet, it seems Obama is being drawn into their tax-cut-for-the-rich frenzy with his proposal for yet another $270 billion in cuts. He just agreed, less than nine months ago, to give them $270 billion by extending the Bush tax cuts last December. Now, he proposes hundreds of billions of dollars more. This past year witnessed the president’s adopting their central agenda demand to cut deficits. Could he now be tailing the Teapublicans once again down the “Cut more taxes for Corporate America” road as well?

A real jobs program today would be proposals and programs to recreate, in 21st century form, a Works Progress Administration – paid for not by giving the rich and their corporations still more tax cuts, but by taxing their $2 trillion cash hoard, their $1 trillion in excess free Fed money bank reserves, their $1.2 trillion held in offshore subsidiaries and by taxing the more than $6 trillion they’ve all stashed away in their tax havens around the globe from the Cayman islands to the Seychelles to Vanuatu and, of course, Switzerland.

Politics in America today, sadly, is not about what will ensure true economic recovery and give the 25 million Americans a job. It’s about how to extend tax cuts for corporate America and its shareholder beneficiaries; it’s about how to ensure the Great American Tax Shift of recent decades is never rescinded and instead further extended; and it’s about how to make everyone else in American pay for their bailouts so that the corporations and wealthiest themselves do not have to.

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