Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Wankiest Generation

Fight the Rich, Not Their Wars

(As one awakens, things become clearer and clearer...-jef)

Obama’s Rightward Drift in Pursuit of ‘Business Confidence’

by Roger Bybee 
President Obama’s news conference last week was seen by liberals as heavily pressuring Republicans to agree to raise the debt ceiling without chain-sawing through the vital functions of government.

Some observers thought Obama forcefully cornered the Republicans at their most vulnerable in his remarks, as columnist EJ Dionne wrote:

President Obama put a question to congressional Republicans that should be asked over and over and over until they blink: Are they really willing to risk the nation’s credit and economic turmoil in order to preserve tax breaks for corporate jets, outlandishly low tax rates for hedge fund managers and loopholes for the oil companies?

Yes, Obama succeeded at exposing the Republicans at their most absurd. But first, you have to wonder why President Obama is negotiating with the Republicans at all.

Why not have the Republicans talk directly to their most valued constituencies—the CEOs, Wall Street bankers and hedge fund traders, and the investor class? Do you think for one second that these forces would allow Republicans to interrupt their current streak of good fortune—astronomical profits, a 23% increase in CEO pay, a huge array of tax loopholes to exploit, and a growing share of national income—by precipitating needless financial turmoil?

To the extent that Obama does not force Corporate America to step in and slap the Republicans into shape, he risks trading away vital safety-net programs.

For those concerned about the condition of workers, Obama at moments reflected his distance from both the plight and the perceptions of working families, especially the nearly 16 percent who are jobless or under-employed.

Obama has entirely dropped the populist, anti-globalization voice that carried him to victory in 2008. Instead, on June 29 he often sounded as if he had transformed himself into a moderate Republican who was petrified at the thought of being too identified with the cause of working people:
Right now, Congress can advance a set of trade agreements that would allow American businesses to sell more of their goods and services to countries in Asia and South America—agreements that would support tens of thousands of American jobs while helping those adversely affected by trade. That's pending before Congress right now….
I think these trade deals [with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama] will be important -- because right now South Korea, frankly, has a better deal when it comes to our trading relationship than we do.

Labor leaders like AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka and Machinists political director Matt McKinnon have thoroughly dissected the South Korea agreement, showing how it is a NAFTA-style agreement that will result in funneling products made under near-slavery conditions in North Korea and China into the US. The Economic Policy Institute has estimated that it will result in the loss of 159,000 more U.S. jobs.


Worse, in discussing the National Labor Relation Board’s decision to impose penalties on Boeing for relocating jobs from Washington State to South Carolina in order to punish the Machinists union, the president felt obligated to defend the right of corporations to relocate jobs: a general proposition, companies need to have the freedom to relocate. They have to follow the law, but that’s part of our system. 
True, Obama cheered the fact that Boeing intended to keep the jobs in the United States—even though it would means denying workers union representation and skill-appropriate wages in South Carolina. Further, his rationale—that corporations are entitled to near-total freedom to relocate-- easily extends to sending jobs to Mexico, China, and South Korea.

Obama’s thinking on this is far out of touch with the anxiety felt by 86 percent of Amercans polled in fall 2010, who expressed the belief that much of America’s economic troubles could be traced to the offshoring of jobs.


Even with U.S. corporations sitting on record savings of $2 trillion while generating massive profits each quarter, Obama repeated the corporate talking point that America’s budget deficit somehow impairs “business confidence” and deters job creation. How could business possibly feel any more confident, or more accurately, arrogant?

Well, President Obama still plans somehow to make things even better:
What we need to do is to restore business confidence and the confidence of the American people that we’re on track -- that we’re not going to get there right away, that this is a tough slog, but that we still are moving forward. 
Despite occasional forays into progressive terrain like proposing an infrastructure-building program, Obama’s news conference was more memorable for his adoption of the conservative framework on explaining sluggish job growth: We need less regulation, more free trade agreements, stronger business confidence in the government’s ability to reduce deficits.
As President Obama drifts rightward in accepting the Right’s framing of the economy, he may gain the confidence of a some business leaders who doubt the capacity of the current Republican field (e.g, Michele Bachmann?) to manage the country's economy.

But as for the confidence and enthusiasm of all the disaffected and alienated voters—who are still left out of the glorious recovery that has been reserved for Corporate America—and whom Obama succeeded in mobilizing in 2008, the president’s current concerns and rhetoric hardly seem inspiring as the 2012 elections loom larger.

Health experts unheard on health effects of Fukushima

Tuesday, July 5, 2011 by Extra!
Industry Views Prevail on Radiation Risks
by Steve Rendall and Patrick Morrison
U.S. media coverage of the nuclear disaster in Japan contains vanishingly little serious discussion of the human health risks posed by the radiation escaping from the Fukushima nuclear facility.

In place of a discussion informed by experts on these risks, journalism largely conveys vague, industry-friendly reassurances, frequently including no sources with expertise on the health effects of radiation on humans. U.S. media coverage of the nuclear disaster in Japan contains vanishingly little serious discussion of the human health risks posed by the radiation escaping from the Fukushima nuclear facility. (photo: SandoCap)

New York Times reporter William Broad reported (3/22/11) that “health experts” deemed a radiation plume that had reached the U.S. from Japan to be harmless:
Health experts said that the plume’s radiation had been diluted enormously in its journey of thousands of miles and that—at least for now, with concentrations so low—its presence will have no health consequences in the United States. In a similar way, faint radiation from the Chernobyl disaster spread around the globe and reached the West Coast in 10 days, its levels detectable but minuscule.

Who were Broad’s “health experts”? He didn’t name any, unless you count the Department of Energy, which is better known for promoting nuclear energy than for its medical expertise. Broad wrote that the DOE said that the radiation plumes, in his words, “posed no health hazard.”

There is scientific disagreement about the risks of ionizing radiation. Some scientists hold that there’s no evidence that low-level radiation is harmful (e.g., Health Physics Society, 7/10), or insist, for instance, that the accidental radiation release at Three Mile Island caused little or no harm to humans (NRC Backgrounder, 8/09). But the prevailing scientific view is that there’s no threshold below which radiation exposure is safe—in other words, that all radiation, including the ever-present background radiation, is a potential health risk—and that the risk decreases linearly, so that even decreasing a radiation dose by 99 percent still leaves 1 percent of the risk. According to this “linear, no-threshold” model of radiation risk, a given amount of human radiation exposure will produce the same number of cancers, no matter how many people it is distributed among.

In 2006, the National Academy of Sciences concluded, in the final paragraph of its 323-page report on the biological effect of ionizing radiation, that current scientific evidence “is consistent with the hypothesis that there is a linear, no-threshold dose-response relationship between exposure to ionizing radiation and the development of cancer in humans.”

An Extra! survey of New York Times and Washington Post coverage and commentary on the first eight days of the Fukushima story found that Broad’s reporting was typical. Out of 89 Fukushima articles appearing in the two papers during the period (3/12–19/11), no story mentioned the NAS’s conclusions specifically, nor generally described the notion that there was no safe level of radiation exposure.

Just 6 percent of total sources were presented as health experts—that is, medical or scientific experts with specialized knowledge of the effects of ionizing radiation on humans—and of these, only two-thirds were actually identified by name. These sources were used to comment on, for instance, comparisons between the Fukushima and Chernobyl accidents, the wisdom of taking iodine to ward off thyroid cancer, whether or not Japanese imports posed a threat to the U.S., and the levels of radiation exposure facing Japanese reactor workers and civilians.

With few exceptions, these sources did not play down radiation risks in Japan, but neither paper cited a single health expert warning that radiation from Japan might pose any real threat to the United States. For instance, regarding the radioactive plume passing over the U.S. from Japan, the Times (3/19/11) quoted a spokesperson from the California Department of Public Health saying that “all data from state and federal sources show that harmful levels of radiation won’t reach California.’’

In the case of the unnamed experts, identified, for instance, as “health experts,” “scientists” or “studies,” it wasn’t clear that the journalists had actually consulted with sources. For instance, the Times (3/17/11) reported, “Health and nuclear experts emphasize that radiation in the plume will be diluted as it travels and, at worst, would have extremely minor health consequences in the United States, even if hints of it are ultimately detectable.”

So dismissive was the coverage of health concerns that among articles that mentioned radiation and human health issues, just 30 percent (17 of 57) included one or more sources identified or presented as a health experts including unnamed sources—a rate that held constant in both papers.

Reassuring claims were often attributed to sources with no identified expertise in relevant scientific fields, as in a Times article (3/16/11) that reported that “experts say” Japanese officials had “taken precautions” concerning public health that would prevent Fukushima from “becoming another Chernobyl, even if additional radiation is released.”

Journalists may like to seek simple (and reassuring) answers from “science,” but science is rarely so straightforward. A 1990 Columbia University study found that local increases in cancers following the Three Mile Island accident couldn’t be conclusively attributed to radiation releases (American Journal of Epidemiology, 9/90). But a 1997 follow-up by the University of North Carolina, led by epidemiologist Steve Wing (see "Coverage of Radiation Risks 'Astonishingly Irresponsible,'" Extra!, 7/11), faulted the Columbia researchers, whose court-ordered study allowed insurance companies to influence scientific questions, for accepting unreasonably low assumptions about the magnitude of radiation releases in the disaster. Wing’s team concluded that the releases had contributed to cancer increases (Environmental Health Perspectives, 1/97). Corporate journalists, however, virtually always reflect the Columbia study’s findings (e.g., Associated Press, 3/16/11; Washington Post, 9/14/10).

Even within scientific circles that acknowledge the harmful effects of low-level radiation, there is a spectrum of views. The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation Chernobyl assessment (2008) predicted 6,000 additional cases of thyroid cancer, but little other low-level radiation damage to people. Using some of the same data, the Union of Concerned Scientists (4/22/11) predicted that Chernobyl would end up causing 50,000 excess cancers, and 25,000 additional deaths. A large array of scientific publications assessed in the book Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment (New York Academy of Sciences, 2009) suggested that Chernobyl has already contributed to hundreds of thousands of excess deaths.

While it might be beyond the abilities of daily journalists to determine who is right in these scientific disagreements, it’s not hard to convey that they exist, a fact that would be hard to glean from corporate media. But the short history of scientific literature about the effects of ionizing radiation on humans demonstrates that the scientists who have urged more caution have had their views vindicated over time.

For decades, distinguished scientists who insisted, contra industry claims, that there was no safe level of radiation exposure suffered professional marginalization for challenging the nuclear establishment. The late nuclear chemist and medical researcher John Gofman first argued against the notion there were safe levels of radiation in the 1960s as the director of the Biomedical Research Division at the DOE’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. Gofman’s clashes with the DOE over its notions of safe radiation levels resulted in his being stripped of research funding and his departure from Livermore in the early 1970s.
However, in recent years several major scientific organizations have adopted the views of Gofman and his colleagues. In addition to the NAS, Gofman’s no-threshold model has been adopted by the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (2000), the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (2001) and the United States Research Council (an arm of the NAS, 2004), among others.

In reporting on technical scientific issues such as radiation effects, journalists inexpert in the relevant fields of science are wrong to take sides. The best they can do is to inform readers on the range of opinions and the track records and relative independence of the researchers behind them. This is clearly not being done with regard to the Fukushima fallout—a failing that could have dangerous consequences.

The Tea Party and Goldman Sachs: A Love Story

Wednesday, July 6, 2011 by
by Robert Scheer

Face it. We live in two nations, sharply divided by an enormous economic chasm between the super-rich and everyone else. This should be an obvious fact of life for most Americans. Just read the story in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal headlined “Profits Thrive in Weak Recovery.” Or the recent New York Times story pointing out “that the median pay for top executives at 200 big companies last year was $10.8 million,” a 23 percent gain over the year before.

In the midst of a jobless recovery, those same corporations are sitting on more than $2 trillion in reserves, refusing to invest in this country, as increasing percentages of their profits are garnered in tax-sheltered operations abroad. And the bankers who caused the economic meltdown have turned against President Barack Obama, who saved them; instead they favor a tea-party-dominated Republican Party that seeks to limit any restraint on corporate greed while destroying the ability of state and federal governments to bring some measure of relief to ordinary folk.

The whole point of the tea party is to focus concern over our stagnant economy on something called “big government” while ignoring the big corporations that have bought the government as an accessory to their marketing strategies. Big government is big precisely because it now exists primarily to make the world safe for multinational capitalism, whether through a bloated defense budget, trade pacts like the North American Free Trade Agreement, or monetary policies that serve the interests of the largest companies.

It was their lobbyists who got Congress to end sensible regulations of financial shenanigans, and now, with the new tea party members of Congress as their most stalwart allies, they are yanking the teeth from the very mild regulations that Obama got through the last Congress. As The Associated Press reported: “Congressional Republicans are greeting the one-year anniversary of President Barack Obama’s financial overhaul law by trying to weaken it, nibble by nibble.”

It is nothing short of demagogic for the Republicans to be complaining about the debt when it was the radical deregulatory policies that they pursued which caused all that governmental red ink in the first place. What a hoax to pretend that teachers’ pensions or environmental protections are responsible for a debt that increased by 50 percent as a direct consequence of the banking collapse. Yet they want to gut even the tepid regulations that became law under the Obama administration, foaming at the mouth about sensible regulation as job killing when it is the uncontrolled greed of Wall Street that is at the root of our high unemployment.

Congressional Republicans are cutting funding for the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission as if those already underfunded agencies are centers of anti-business radicalism. The CFTC is run by former Goldman Sachs partner Gary Gensler, who, back when he was in the Clinton Treasury Department serving under another onetime Goldman leader, Robert Rubin, teamed up with Republicans in Congress to gut financial regulation. He is one of the Obama regulators who has managed to delay even the minor controls that the Dodd-Frank law requires for the still wildly out-of-control $600 trillion derivatives market.

What a joke that the tea party assertion that radicals have taken over the Obama government is embraced even by lobbyists for Goldman Sachs, whose former executives have populated the Obama administration as widely as they did the two previous administrations. All they are missing this time around is that they didn’t get to have one of their own named as treasury secretary, as was the case in both the Clinton and Bush cabinets.

This week, the Los Angeles Times reported on Goldman’s renewed lobbying efforts in Washington aimed at watering down what remains of the promise of Dodd-Frank. True to Washington tradition, Goldman has hired Michael Paese, a former top staffer for the “liberal” Rep. Barney Frank to head its Washington operation, which last year spent $4.6 million lobbying Congress to soften the bill, a task now made far easier with Goldman’s tea party allies in the new Republican-dominated House. As the Times noted, “Goldman has spent much of its money on hired guns from major Washington lobbying firms, including former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and former House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.).”

Between the faux populism of the tea party and the army of sellout ex-congressional staffers and politicians from both parties, the Washington fix is in. Short of hitting it big on a lottery ticket, the vast majority of Americans are sentenced to a future of lowered expectations, insurmountable personal debt and dismal job prospects.

They may not know it, however, thanks to the constant propaganda from a corporate culture dominated by images of a classless nation in which all consume the delights of the American dream, from the perfect smartphone to the perfect pill for bladder control, while merrily hacking away on the perfectly manicured golf course of one’s fantasies.

Improve Medicare and Expand It to All

Wednesday, July 6, 2011 by
by Jim Recht

In honor of its 46th birthday this month, here is a brief history of Medicare: of the bitter controversy surrounding its creation, its subsequent achievements, and its current position at the center of congressional budget debates. I believe that once they understand the deep differences between this institution and our country’s more recent attempts at healthcare reform, most reasonable individuals will conclude that a national insurance system like Medicare offers a solution to the healthcare crisis, and that it should be fully funded and extended to cover all Americans from birth.

During the contentious debate that preceded its adoption in 1965, Medicare was attacked by powerful special interests -- among them, the insurance industry and the American Medical Association -- who decried it as "socialized medicine" and warned that it would destroy our healthcare system and even threaten our basic freedoms. It seems difficult today to imagine how such fear-mongering could have been taken seriously. Over the past half-century, by affording hundreds of millions of Americans access to high-quality health care, Medicare has played a major role in increasing life expectancy and overall quality of life in this country. Funded via a progressive tax mechanism that asks incrementally more of our wealthiest neighbors, and boasting better service and far lower administrative costs than the "leanest" private insurance, Medicare has become along with Social Security one of the most popular government programs in history.

In his speech announcing the new plan, then-President Johnson reminded the country that "there is a tradition we share today. It calls upon us never to be indifferent toward despair. It directs us never to ignore or to spurn those who suffer untended...[it] is as old as the day it was first commanded: 'Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, to thy needy, in thy land.'"

The current administration's health reform legislation, and our own Massachusetts Health Reform that preceded and inspired it, are part of a very different story. That one begins in 2006 when, largely in response to Bush Administration pressure, then-Governor Mitt Romney signed into law legislation that dismantled our extensive healthcare safety net, partially replacing it with an “ownership culture" that has required hundreds of thousands of low- and middle-income residents to purchase insurance policies sold by private corporations through a state-run exchange.

5 years on now, despite our mainstream media's oddly strained attempts to suggest otherwise, we face overwhelming evidence that the Massachusetts Reform has failed. According to the comprehensive report released this month by Mass Care (, Massachusetts reform has certainly forced many more Massachusetts residents to purchase health insurance policies – a boon to insurance companies, whose revenues have increased dramatically. But the difference between having insurance and having adequate access to quality healthcare has grown more oppressive than ever. For most individuals and families except for the very poorest and the wealthiest, out-of-pocket payments and insurance premiums have continued to skyrocket. Wait times for primary care appointments have increased, while ever fewer primary care doctors accept new patients -- they simply cannot cope with the administrative costs and frustrations of a system dominated by private insurance companies, each with its own system of authorizations, denials and appeals. Finally, with state spending continuing to increase at alarming rates, it is now beyond question that the reform is financially unsustainable.

And now that the entire country has adopted legislation largely patterned on the Massachusetts reform, we brace ourselves for similar or worse developments on a national scale: increasingly unaffordable or unavailable medical services, runaway profits for insurance companies, and continued spikes in overall costs. Adding insult to injury, some politicians have proposed balancing these tremendous public losses by cutting Medicare benefits. Fortunately, Americans strongly oppose such measures; recognizing this, one prominent Tea Party leader has dismissed them as a "public policy nightmare.”

Rather than weakening Medicare, we ought to build on its strengths and correct its flaws:

  • By replacing the current physician fee schedule with a system of negotiated payments, we can eliminate the critical shortages of skilled primary care providers and encourage the type of integrated practice exemplified by the Mayo Clinic and others;
  • By instituting global budgets, we can avoid wasteful duplication of high-cost technology and fully fund the clinical services that we, as patients, want and need;
  • By legislating price negotiating authority and bulk purchasing power for pharmaceuticals and medical devices, we can immediately begin saving taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars annually.

This improved-and-expanded Medicare would simultaneously eliminate "mandates" and corporate profiteering. In consequence, the billions we already spend each year would be more than enough to provide excellent healthcare automatically to everyone who needs it. A sustainable system that actually reduces our anxiety over the healthcare of ourselves and our children: now who wouldn't appreciate a birthday gift like that?

The Corporate Confederates

Damaged Democracy

Given the stark desperation stalking so many communities around an America oozing from miseries embedded in the stagnant economy, it's almost an inane exercise to contemplate the state-of-democracy in this nation on July 4th -– Independence Day.

All of the flag waving, fireworks and fun of this national holiday can't mask the disturbing fact that democracy in America is under unprecedented onslaught from forces intent on engaging in economic exploitation comparable to the colonial crown domination that compelled Americans to rebel against England over two hundred years ago.

Examples of this onslaught abound with one of the most pronounced being federal and state level elected officials – overwhelming Republican – bludgeoning and eliminating benefits that have aided the middle class and the poor, in the name of budget balancing austerity, while simultaneously battling to protect the profits and assets of the wealthy.

A "long train of abuses" by the King of England is what triggered America's then leaders to adopt the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 in Philadelphia.

Today those usurping what the Declaration defined as "unalienable rights" are not a despotic king and his royal court but corporate titans and the conservative elected officials dutifully serving the interests of wealth.

In 2011 public sector employees have faced unprecedented assaults against rights like their right to collective bargaining by Republicans in Wisconsin, Ohio and other states (and by Democrats in Massachusetts). These assaults cripple the capacity of public employees to attain what the Declaration called the desired "pursuit of happiness."

A few days before July 4th 2011 New Jersey's bombastic Republican Governor Chris Christie vetoed a proposal to generate $600-million for the revenue-starved Garden State through imposing a measly 1.78 percent increase in the tax paid by millionaires…a tax that would expire in two-years.

Christie, who is often touted as a GOP presidential prospect, defended his tax break-bestowing veto as a case of stopping what he feared might be an exodus of 16,000 millionaires, all chaffing at that 1.78 percent (temporary) tax increase.

Days before his veto helping millionaires, Christie rammed through legislation raising pension and health care contributions by all public employees in New Jersey.

That increase in contributions by public employees amounts to a pay cut of nearly $4,000 per year per employee – a burden more onerous than the proposed tax increase on millionaires.

Christie's salary cut for public employees is "going to withdraw purchasing power from the New Jersey economy – an economy already dead last in creating jobs," observed Rutgers University School of Management and Labor Relations Professor Jeffery Keefe.

While shielding millionaires from his duplicitous demands for "shared-sacrifice," Gov. Christie exhibited his brand of imposing the "absolute Despotism" referenced in the Declaration of Independence.

Christie attacked the budget passed by theDemocrats legislature, cutting funds for programs helping sexually abused children, smashing after-school programs designed to keep children safe, slashing college scholarships for low-income students, snatching millions earmarked for nursing homes, reducing health care for the working poor and all but eliminating block grant assistance to that state's poorest cities – actions guaranteeing accelerated pain on those already burdened by economic malaise and misery.

Paralleling Christie's budget bullying actions, in the next-door state of Pennsylvania the Republican- controlled legislature approved a state budget a few days before July 4th which showers big breaks on those with big money while increasing the misery of most of the state's residents through deep cuts in funding for critical services like public education and health care.

"The budget provides tax breaks to business, but cuts funding to homeless shelters and Meals on Wheels," the Director of the non-partisan Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center Sharon Ward said in a prepared statement.

This newly enacted budget, Ward noted, "gives natural gas drillers a free pass once again" in the form of no taxation on the mega-millions that industry to making from Pennsylvania's natural gas rich Marcellus Shale formations.

A tax on Marcellus Shale gas extraction, a type of tax that is used by every other gas-producing state in the country, even energy-company-friendly Texas, could pump hundreds of millions into the Pennsylvania state treasury to off-set budget balancing cuts in desperately needed social services.

A calculator on revenue lost because of Pennsylvania's failure to enact a drilling tax, maintained by the Budget and Policy Center, eclipsed $195.5 million recently.

Pennsylvania's Republican Governor Tom Corbett, who opposes taxing the Marcellus Shale industry that contributed heavily to his election campaign, cut day care funding for low-income working parents.

Corbett's cruel cut creates yet another crisis for the working poor by decreasing the ability of those parents to continue working because they cannot afford to retain quality care for their children.

A definition of democracy is: the principle of equality of rights, opportunity and treatment.

The no new taxes/cut taxes stance pushed as holy writ by conservative Republican politicians on behalf of their wealthy benefactors is a larger contributor to the horrific government budget deficits at state and national levels than social programs or pensions for government workers – wo items conservatives are attacking, allegedly to reduce budget deficits.

Yet, as imminent economist and University of Pennsylvania Professor Bernard Anderson noted in analysis, jobs creation actually increased following a tax increase by President Clinton, while jobs creation decreased following the tax cuts enacted by President Bush.

"The point is that there is no statistical evidence to support the argument that increasing taxes on high income groups will stifle job creation," Anderson stated.

"The Bush tax cuts spurred investment in financial instruments and capital outflows to overseas facilities. The tax cuts contributed little to domestic job creation," Anderson continued. "They key issue now is not deficit reduction or new revenue; economic growth requires both."

Compassion is a quality of true democracy and certainly children are those that any just democratic society should protect. But cabals of conservatives shamelessy hammer this defenseless group of the needy to help the endlessly greedy.

The Capitol Hill conservatives shrilly castigating President Obama for proposing mild changes in the tax breaks given to oil companies, hedge-fund managers and corporate jet owners are silent on the fact that during the past two years over two million more American children slipped into poverty, bringing the total of desperately needy children to 16 million, which is the population of two New York Cities.

These newly impoverished are children whose parents lost jobs and homes during this crushing recession.

But many Americans are cold to this plight because of decades of conservative ideological indoctrination which falsely teaches that poverty is a consequence of laziness, and not economic of circumstances beyond the control of persons willing to work – like those parents of those newly impoverished children.

A CBS "60 Minutes" television program recently aired a segment examining newly impoverished children suffering from economic deprivations while living within miles of Disney World in Orlando, Florida – the shrine of kid-friendly fun in America.

Florida's Tea Party Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio ignored the pain of those impoverished children featured in the "60 Minutes" segment, but he lashed out at Obama's tax break reform proposals as rhetoric "more appropriate for some left-wing strongman than for the President of the United States."

Where is compassion in democracy when miseries from mass unemployment stalk the majority of citizens who supposedly 'rule' in American democracy?

The national unemployment rate in May 2011 registered eight percent among whites and ranged much higher for various non-white groups. The rate for blacks was the highest of any racial group, reaching double that of whites at 16.2%, according to federal figures. And these are the official figures. After a lot of politically motivated tinkering, they no longer include people who have despaired of finding a job, and who have stopped looking, who have given up and taken earlier-than-planned retirement, or who have grabbed the offer of a part-time job while wanting full-time work.

Neither the Democrat-controlled White House and Senate, nor the Republican-controlled House of Representatives have acted to address this long-term mass unemployment.

That bipartisan inaction on attacking structural-joblessness is a disgusting contrast to White House/Capitol Hill actions to bail out big banks and major corporations and to extend Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy -- revenue-reducing tax cuts that partly drive the escalating federal budget deficit.

Mass unemployment is a major factor fueling the home mortgage foreclosure crisis.

Interestingly, the two states with the highest foreclosure rates – Nevada and Arizona – have developed infamous reputations in the past year for having political leaders who push repressive and regressive proposals to cut education, crack down on immigrants, and cut taxes for the rich, all while curiously doing nothing effective to addressing their outsized foreclosure crisis.

Issuance of the Declaration of Independence led to the Revolutionary War, the winning of which led to the creation of the United States of America – a nation guided by its Constitution.

The Preamble of the U.S. Constitution declares that a purpose of this democracy is to "promote the general welfare…"

Christie, Corbett and like-minded confederates wearing the mantle of elected officials need to understand that this Preamble's purpose is not limited to promoting the general welfare of only the wealthy.

The 60-Year Unemployment Scandal

What We Don't Talk About When We Talk About Jobs
Like the country it governs, Washington is a city of extremes. In a car, you can zip in bare moments from northwest District of Columbia, its streets lined with million-dollar homes and palatial embassies, its inhabitants sporting one of the nation's lowest jobless rates, to Anacostia, a mostly forgotten neighborhood in southeastern D.C. with one of the highest unemployment rates anywhere in America. Or, if you happen to be jobless, upset about it, and living in that neighborhood, on a crisp morning in March you could have joined an angry band of protesters marching on the nearby 11th Street Bridge.

They weren't looking for trouble. They were looking for work.

Those protesters, most of them black, chanted and hoisted signs that read "D.C. JOBS FOR D.C. RESIDENTS" and "JOBS OR ELSE." The target of their outrage: contractors hired to replace the very bridge under their feet, a $300 million project that will be one of the largest in District history. The problem: few D.C. citizens, which means few African Americans, had so far been hired. "It's deplorable," insisted civil rights attorney Donald Temple, "that... you can find men from West Virginia to work in D.C. You can find men from Maryland to work in D.C. And you can find men from Virginia to work in D.C. But you can't find men and women in D.C. to work in D.C."

The 11th Street Bridge arches over the slow-flowing Anacostia River, connecting the poverty-stricken, largely black Anacostia neighborhood with the rest of the District. By foot the distance is small; in opportunity and wealth, it couldn't be larger. At one end of the bridge the economy is booming even amid a halting recovery and jobs crisis. At the other end, hard times, always present, are worse than ever.

Live in Washington long enough and you'll hear someone mention "east of the river." That's D.C.'s version of "the other side of the tracks," the place friends warn against visiting late at night or on your own. It's home to District Wards 7 and 8, neighborhoods with a long, rich history. Once known as Uniontown, Anacostia was one of the District's first suburbs; Frederick Douglass, nicknamed the "Sage of Anacostia," once lived there, as did the poet Ezra Pound and singer Marvin Gaye. Today the area's unemployment rate is officially nearly 20%. District-wide, it's 9.8%, a figure that drops as low as 3.6% in the whiter, more affluent northwestern suburbs.

D.C.'s divide is America's writ large. Nationwide, the unemployment rate for black workers at 16.2% is almost double the 9.1% rate for the rest of the population. And it's twice the 8% white jobless rate.

The size of those numbers can, in part, be chalked up to the current jobs crisis in which black workers are being decimated. According to Duke University public policy expert William Darity, that means blacks are "the last to be hired in a good economy, and when there's a downturn, they're the first to be released."

That may account for the soaring numbers of unemployed African Americans, but not the yawning chasm between the black and white employment rates, which is no artifact of the present moment. It's a problem that spans generations, goes remarkably unnoticed, and condemns millions of black Americans to a life of scraping by. That unerring, unchanging gap between white and black employment figures goes back at least 60 years. It should be a scandal, but whether on Capitol Hill or in the media it gets remarkably little attention. Ever.

The 60-Year Scandal
The unemployment lines run through history like a pair of train tracks. Since the 1940s, the jobless rate for blacks in America has held remarkably, if grimly, steady at twice the rate for whites. The question of why has vexed and divided economists, historians, and sociologists for nearly as long.

For years the sharpest minds in academia pointed to upheaval in the American economy as the culprit. In his 1996 book When Work Disappears, the sociologist William Julius Wilson depicted the forces of globalization, a slumping manufacturing sector, and suburban flight at work in Chicago as the drivers of growing joblessness and poverty in America's inner cities and among its black residents.

He pictured the process this way: as corporations outsourced jobs to China and India, American manufacturing began its slow fade, shedding jobs often held by black workers. What jobs remained were moved to sprawling offices and factories in outlying suburbs reachable only by freeway. Those jobs proved inaccessible to the mass of black workers who remained in the inner cities and relied on public transportation to get to work.

Time and research have, however, eaten away at the significance of Wilson's work. The hollowing-out of America's cities and the decline of domestic manufacturing no doubt played a part in black unemployment, but then chronic black joblessness existed long before the upheaval Wilson described. Even when employment in the manufacturing sector was at its height, black workers were still twice as likely to be out of work as their white counterparts.

Another commonly cited culprit for the tenaciousness of African-American unemployment has been education. Whites, so the argument goes, are generally better educated than blacks, and so more likely to land a job at a time when a college degree is ever more significant when it comes to jobs and higher earnings. In 2009, President Obama told reporters that education was the key to narrowing racial gaps in the US. "If we close the achievement gap, then a big chunk of economic inequality in this society is diminished," he said.

Educational levels have, in fact, steadily climbed over the past 60 years for African Americans. In 1940, less than 1% of black men and less 2% of black women earned college degrees; jump to 2000, and the figures are 10% for black men and 15% for black women. Moreover, increased education has helped to narrow wage inequality between employed whites and blacks. What it hasn't done is close the unemployment gap.

Algernon Austin, an economist for the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., crunched data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and found that blacks with the same level of education as whites have consistently lower employment levels. It doesn't matter whether you compare high-school dropouts or workers with graduate degrees, whites are still more likely to have a job than blacks. Degrees be damned.

Academics have thrown plenty of other explanations at the problem: declining wages, the embrace of crime as a way of life, increased competition with immigrants. None of them have stuck. How could they? In recent decades, the wage gap has narrowed, crime rates have plummeted, and there's scant evidence to suggest immigrants are stealing jobs that would otherwise be filled by African Americans.

Indeed, many top researchers in this field, including several I interviewed, are left scratching their heads when trying to explain why that staggering jobless gap between blacks and white won't budge. "I don't know if there's anybody out there who can tell you why that ratio stays at two to one," Darity says. "It's a statistical regularity that we don't have an explanation for."

Behind Bars, the Invisible Unemployed
So what keeps blacks from cutting into those employment figures? Among the theories, one that deserves special attention points to the high incarceration rate among blacks -- and especially black men.

In 2009, 7.2 million Americans -- or 3.1% of all adults -- were under the jurisdiction of the U.S. corrections system, including 1.6 million Americans incarcerated in a state or federal prison. Of that population, nearly 40% percent were black, even though blacks make up only 13% percent of the American population. Blacks were six times as likely to be in prison as whites, and three times as likely as Hispanics. For some perspective, consider what author of The New Jim Crow Michelle Alexander wrote last year: "There are more African Americans under correctional control today -- in prison or jail, on probation or parole -- than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began."

Incarceration amounts to a double whammy when it comes to African-American unemployment. Rarely mentioned in the usual drumbeat of media reports on jobs is the fact that the Labor Department doesn't include prison populations in its official unemployment statistics. This automatically shrinks the pool of blacks capable of working and in the process lowers the black jobless rate.

In the mid-1990s, academics Bruce Western and Becky Pettit discovered that the American prison population lowered the jobless rate for black men by five percentage points, and for young black men by eight percentage points. (Of course, this applies to whites, Asians, and Hispanics as well, but the figures are particularly striking given the overrepresentation of blacks in the prison population.)

Even that vast incarcerated population pales, however, in comparison to the number of ex-cons who have rejoined the world beyond the prison walls. In 2008, there were 12 million to 14 million ex-offenders in the U.S. old enough to work, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). So many ex-cons represent a serious drag on our economy, according to CEPR, sucking from it $57 billion to $65 billion in output.

Of course, such research tells us how much, not why -- as in, why are ex-cons so much more likely to be out of work? For an answer, it's necessary to turn to an eye-opening and, in some circles, controversial field of study that may offer the best explanation for the 60-year scandal of black unemployment.

Twice as Hard, Half as Far
In 2001, a pair of black men and a pair of white men went hunting for work in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Each was 23 years old, a local college student, bright and articulate. They looked alike and dressed alike, had identical educational backgrounds and remarkably similar past work experience. From June to December, they combed the Sunday classified pages in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and searched a state-run job site called "Jobnet," applying for the same entry-level jobs as waiters, delivery-truck drivers, cooks, and cashiers. There was one obvious difference in each pair: one man was a former criminal and the other was not.

If this sounds like an experiment, that's because it was. Watching the explosive growth of the criminal justice system, fueled largely by ill-conceived "tough on crime" policies, sociologist Devah Pager took a novel approach to how prison affected ever growing numbers of Americans after they'd done their time -- a process all but ignored by politicians and the judicial system.

So Pager sent those two young black men and two young white men out into the world to apply for perfectly real jobs. Then she recorded who got callbacks and who didn't. She soon discovered that a criminal history caused a massive drop-off in employer responses -- not entirely surprising. But when Pager started separating out black applicants from white ones, she stumbled across the real news in her study, a discovery that shook our understanding of racial inequality and jobs to the core.

Pager's white applicant without a criminal record had a 34% callback rate. That promptly sunk to 17% for her white applicant with a criminal record. The figures for black applicants were 14% and 5%. And yes, you read that right: in Pager's experiment, white job applicants with a criminal history got more callbacks than black applicants without one. "I expected to find an effect with a criminal record and some with race," Pager says. "I certainly was not expecting that result, and it was quite a surprise."

Pager ran a larger version of this experiment in New York City in 2004, sending teams of young, educated, and identically credentialed men out into the Big Apple's sprawling market for entry-level jobs -- once again, with one applicant posing as an ex-con, the other with a clean record. (As she did in Milwaukee, Pager had the teams alternate who posed as the ex-con.) The results? Again Pager's African-American applicants received fewer callbacks and job offers than the whites. The disparity was particularly striking for ex-criminals: a drop off of 9 percentage points for whites, but 15 percentage points for blacks. "Employers already reluctant to hire blacks," Pager wrote, "appear particularly wary of blacks with known criminal histories."

Other research has supported her findings. A 2001-2002 field experiment by academics from the University of Chicago and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example, uncovered a sizeable gap in employer callbacks for job applicants with white-sounding names (Emily and Greg) versus black-sounding names (Lakisha and Jamal). They also found that the benefits of a better resume were 30% greater for whites than blacks.

These findings proved a powerful antidote to the growing notion, mostly in conservative circles, that discrimination was an illusion and racism long eradicated. In The Content of Our Character (1991), Shelby Steele argued that racial discrimination no longer held black men or women back from the jobs they wanted; the problem was in their heads. Dinesh D'Souza, a first-generation immigrant of Indian descent, published The End of Racism in 1995, similarly claiming racial discrimination had little to do with the plight of black America.

Not so, insist Pager, Darity, Harvard's Bruce Western, and other academics using real data with an unavoidable message: racism is alive and well. It leads to endemic, deeply embedded patterns of discrimination whose harmful impact has barely changed in 60 years. And it cannot be ignored. As the old African-American adage puts it, "You've got to work twice as hard to get half as far as a black person in white America."

Is There a Solution for Black America?
Tracing black unemployment in America since World War II, there are two moments when, briefly, the gap between black and white joblessness narrowed ever so slightly -- in the 1940s and again in the late 1960s and early 1970s. For example in 1970, unemployment was at 5.8% for blacks and 3.3% for whites, a sizeable gap but significantly better than what followed in the Reagan era. Those are moments worth revisiting, if only to understand what began to go right.

According to University of Chicago professors William Sites and Virginia Parks, those periods were marked by a flurry of civil rights and anti-discrimination activity on the federal level. A series of actions ranging from the creation of the Fair Employment Practice Committee in 1941 to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which mandated the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, write Sites and Parks, had "dramatic impacts on employment discrimination."

But those gains of the 1970s were soon wiped out. The thinning of union membership and the dwindling power of organized labor didn't help either, after decades of pressure on employers to end discrimination against workers of color.

Today, in terrible times, with the possibility of social legislation off the table in Washington, the question remains: What, if anything, can be done to close the jobless gap between blacks and whites? When I asked Devah Pager, she called this the "million-dollar question." This form of discrimination, she pointed out, is especially difficult to deal with. As she noted in 2005, many employers who discriminate don't even realize they're doing so; they're just going with "gut feelings." "It's not that these employers have decided that they are not going to hire workers from a particular group," Pager told me.

What won't work is relying on discrimination watchdogs to crack down more often. The way federal anti-discrimination law works, it's up to the person who was discriminated against to raise an alarm. As Duke's William Darity points out, that's a near impossibility for a job applicant who must convincingly read the mind of a person he or she doesn't know. Worse than that, the applicant who wants to lodge charges of discrimination also has to prove that the discrimination was intentional, which, as Pager's experiments make clear, is no small feat. Under the circumstances, as Darity told me, perhaps no one should be surprised to discover that blacks "grossly underreport their exposure to discrimination and whites grossly overreport it."

Of course, fixing a problem first requires acknowledging it -- something the nation has yet to do, says the Economic Policy Institute's Algernon Austin. To put blacks back to work, lawmakers should invest federal money directly in job creation, especially for black workers. Other avenues for putting people back to work, like a payroll tax credit won't do the trick. "We've spent billions in trying to build jobs overseas" in war zones, Austin told me. "But if we invested that money here in our cities, we wouldn't have this racial gap."

But how likely is that at a moment when, in a Washington gripped by paralysis, any discussion of spending in Washington begins and ends at how much to cut? The painful reality of permanent crisis for black workers is here to stay. That's how it seems to blacks in D.C., especially those who live east of the river. In April, another group of protesters took to the 11th Street Bridge to demand more D.C. hires, and the following month, the group D.C. Jobs or Else took their complaints to City Hall. But progress is slow. "We're being pushed out economically," said William Alston El, a 63-year-old unemployed resident who grew up in D.C. "They say it's not racism, but the name of the game is they have the money. You can't live [in] a place if you can't pay the rent."

Making Short Work of the Economy

A Full Employment Plan Too Simple for the Wonks

Washington always does a superb job of focusing intently on problems that are of little importance. The current end-of-the-world debt/deficit negotiations are a great case in point. President Obama and the Republican congressional leadership are heatedly negotiating a deal on the deficit that has almost nothing to do with the country's real economic problem: mass unemployment.

The whole effort is a ridiculous charade that is intended to fix a problem that does not exist. There is no story of run-away spending or deficits, as everyone who has ever looked at the budget numbers knows. The deficit exploded beginning in 2008 because the economy collapsed: end of story. Anyone who says otherwise either has never looked at the budget or is not being honest.

The longer term deficit story is equally clear; the United States has a broken health care system. Since more than half of health care costs are paid through government programs like Medicare and Medicaid, this translates into a budget problem. If we paid the same amount per person for our health care as any other wealthy country, then we would be looking at surpluses in the long-term, not deficits.

If the economy were otherwise fine, the rest of us could just kick back and enjoy the theatrics. However, things are about as far from fine as they could possibly be right now, with close to 25 million unemployed, underemployed or having given up looking for work altogether.

While most of the routes back to full employment through increased demand appear blocked right now (largely because of the deficit fetishism), there is an alternative path. Instead of increasing demand, we can adopt a policy that promotes sharing of the work that it available. In other words, we have the same amount of work, but we have more people working.

The model here is Germany. It has used a "short work" policy to keep the unemployment rate down at very low cost to the government. Its unemployment rate today is 0.5 percentage points lower than it was at the start of the downturn even though the German economy actually has grown less than the U.S. economy over this period. 

There are many different packages that fit the short work scheme, but the basic story would be that rather than having a firm lay off 20 percent its workers, the government encourages the firm to cut their work time by 20 percent. It directly replaces 60 percent of the lost wages (12 percent of the total wages); it has the company replace 20 percent (4 percent of total wages); and leaves the worker taking home 4 percent less and working 20 percent fewer hours. 

The cost should be about the same as the unemployment insurance benefit that workers would have received if they were laid off, but the short work policy keeps them employed. This has two major benefits.

From the standpoint of employers, they have workers available whose hours can be quickly increased if demand picks up. This saves them the need to find and train new workers. 

From the standpoint of workers, this keeps them employed and tied to the workforce. They maintain their skills (Germany also offers training subsidies that can be used in many cases) and don't run the risk of becoming unemployable as a result of long-term unemployment.

This is especially important in the U.S. context where a large share of the unemployed have now been without work for long periods of time. If nothing is done to increase employment soon, many of these workers may never find jobs again. 

Interestingly, this program was started by a Social Democratic minister in the unity government in power in 2008. However, Merkel has embraced it, and the conservatives are as supportive of the policy as the Social Democrats.

This is not a new policy for the United States. Twenty states now have short work programs tied to their systems of unemployment insurance. However, it is not widely used. The problem is that they are poorly publicized and overly-bureaucratic.

Ideally Congress would change some of the conditions that make short-work less desirable than conventional unemployment insurance for more employers and employees. The most important change would be to turn it into an employer tax credit that was tied to reducing average hours by a specific amount, while keeping the number of employees constant. This would avoid the problem of having to specify months in advance how many hours each worker would work.

There is also no reason that the extended benefits that are available for the standard unemployment insurance program should not also be available for the short-work program. Certainly there is no public interest served by encouraging unemployment over shorter hours.
We must constantly remind the folks who make economic policy that the reason so many people are out of work is because the policy types didn't do their jobs. Every day they should feel the need the repair the damage caused by their incompetence. Short work is one route that can get us back toward full employment.

Rick Perry Doubled Texas’ Debt, Claimed it was a Balanced Budget Through Accounting Gimmicks

By Marie Diamond on Jul 6, 2011 ThinkProgress

"for sale" would have been more appropriate
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) and Republican lawmakers completely failed to keep their promise not to “kick the can” down the road when it came to solving the largest budget shortfall in the state’s history. That’s according to a new Associated Press report, which concludes that Perry and the GOP legislature largely balanced the state’s budget through flimsy accounting gimmicks that do nothing to secure Texas’ financial footing.

The self-professed fiscal conservatives resorted to tactics like delaying a $2.3 billion payment to schools by one day to technically push it into the next fiscal year and keep it off the books of this budget. They also “found” $800 million by ordering the state’s accountants to forecast a faster increase in land values to show more property tax income:
Gov. Rick Perry signed a budget that was balanced only through accounting maneuvers, rewriting school funding laws, ignoring a growing population and delaying payments on bills coming due in 2013.
It accomplishes, however, what the Republican majority wanted most: It did not raise taxes, took little from the Rainy Day Fund and shifted any future deficits onto the next Legislature.
The new budget also preposterously assumes there will be no growth in the number of school children in Texas, even though it is one of the fastest-growing states in the nation. Experts predict this trick alone will shortchange school districts by $2 billion.

Texas lawmakers had to close an enormous $27 billion budget deficit this year. Amazingly, only about a third of it was caused by the economic downturn. The state has had a chronic shortage of revenue after years of slashing property and business taxes and creating numerous tax breaks and exemptions. Conservative governors have slashed state services to the bone, so there was no more fat to cut from the budget.

As governor for over a decade, Perry’s “fiscal conservatism” has doubled the state’s debt from $13.7 billion in 2001 to $34.08 billion in 2009. He’s refused to raise taxes on the wealthy and brags about not dipping into the state’s substantial Rainy Day Fund. (However, Perry’s fellow Texas Republicans claim Perry has appropriated nearly all the money in the Rainy Day Fund, and have asked him to stop claiming that he preserved it.)

Democrats have fought back against the GOP claim that it was truly a balanced budget. “It’s all smoke and mirrors and misdirection,” said state Rep. Garnett Coleman (D).