Saturday, April 6, 2013

Destroying the Economy and the Democrats

Saturday, April 6, 2013 by The American Prospect
Amid disappointing jobs numbers, the president's budget proposal gives away his party's crown jewels: their defense of Social Security and Medicare.
by Robert Kuttner

Job creation slowed to just 88,000 in March, signaling a sluggish economy (which is what it has been for 5 years now). And President Obama, with unerring timing, picked this moment to put out an authorized leak that he is willing to put Social Security and Medicare on the block as part of a grand budget bargain that will only slow the economy further.

The deterioration in economic performance was all too predictable, given the combined lead weights of the March 1 $85 billion of budget cuts in the sequester and the January deal to raise payroll taxes by about $120 billion. (The tax hike on working people was almost double the much-hyped tax increase on the top one percent, which totaled a little over $60 billion.)

Taken together, these twin deflationary deals cut the deficit by around $270 billion dollars this year. That’s close to two percent of GDP. And according to the Congressional Budget Office, this combined contractionary pressure will cut the 2013 year’s growth rate in half. So the slowdown in job creation is just what you’d expect.

The grand bargain that, for the moment, is mercifully eluding President Obama and the Republicans, would apply the same sort of medicine for nine more years, and with the same results—a prolonged slowdown growth and jobs. Obama and the Republicans are talking of a decade of cuts in the 3 to 4 trillion-dollar range.

What could possibly go wrong with this bold, new strategy? ... Just about everything.

Has everyone lost their minds? No, but the entire elite has been influenced by the economic myths of the Robert Rubin-Pete Peterson-Fix the Debt propagandists.

You can understand Republicans wanting to crush government and hoping to slow the recovery in a way that harms the Democrat in the 2014 midterm elections. But what is the president thinking?

Listen to a “senior economic official,” as quoted in today’s New York Times’s authoritative story revealing that the administration will offer to cut Social Security (by the backdoor method of reducing the cost of living adjustment via the “chained” Consumer Price Index) and Medicare if the Republicans will reciprocate with tax increases. “[T]he things like C.P.I. that Republican leaders have pushed hard for will only be accepted if Congressional Republicans are willing to do more on revenues.”

According to the Times story, the president has decided to pick up where he left off with Speaker John Boehner and put the final deal on the table, opening with big cuts in the two most popular programs that voters count on Democrats to defend. Reporter Jackie Calmes tells us, “In a significant shift in fiscal strategy, Mr. Obama on Wednesday will send a budget plan to Capitol Hill that departs from the usual presidential wish list that Republicans typically declare dead on arrival. Instead it will embody the final compromise offer that he made to Speaker John A. Boehner late last year.”

What could possibly go wrong with this bold, new strategy? (Actually the same strategy that has failed Obama since January 2009). Just about everything.

  1. First, even if works, the ten-year grand bargain that results will condemn the economy to a decade of low level depression.
  2. Second, the Republicans have a well-established history of taking the White House final offer as the starting point. As any smart negotiator knows, you don’t offer your final position in the opening bid.
  3. Last, the strategy gives away the Democrats’ crown jewels—their defense of Social Security and Medicare, which should not be part of a budget deal in the first place. Now voters can conclude that they can’t trust either party.

Is their any silver lining? Maybe House Speaker Boehner, once again, will save the president from himself by failing to deliver enough Republicans for a tax increase. Maybe outraged rank and file Democrats in the House and Senate will get energized and refuse to support Obama’s proposed deal. And maybe the slowing of the economy, after this year’s down-payment on a grand budget bargain, will get Obama’s attention.

How much evidence do we need that neither austerity nor appeasement is smart strategy?

Crashing the Two-Party System

The Way Forward is a Single-Issue Social Security Defense Party

The history of third parties in America is pretty dismal. The system is rigged against them, for one thing. But equally problematic is the lack of focus that leads to infighting and splits whenever a third party is created.

A great answer to this would be to create a third party that has a laser-like focus on a single issue, where there is little or no room for debate over what the party stands for.

As it happens, there is such an issue, and it has the potential to decimate the two major parties by pulling support from both their bases.

I’m talking about Social Security and its more recent offspring, Medicare, both under threat by the Democratic/Republican duopoly in Washington.

Social Security is without a doubt the most popular program ever created in Washington. Virtually every American pays into it and expects to rely on it in old age, or if he or she becomes disabled. There are currently 54 million people who are receiving Social Security benefits ( 39 million are 65 or older, and 8 million are disabled). And there are some 74 million Baby Boomers — people born between the years of 1946 and 1964, representing one-in-four of all Americans — who will be receiving it over the next several decades. Add to that number the many younger people who are ardent advocates of the program, not just because they expect to also depend upon it, but because they know it is providing already for their parents and grandparents, and you have a bloc of voters and potential voters the likes of which this nation has never seen.

The key to getting them all together is establishing a political party whose raison d’être is preserving, improving and expanding Social Security benefits.

Medicare is also an important part of this concept. Everyone who receives Social Security in retirement is also eligible for Medicare, as are those 65 and older who choose to wait a bit to earn higher Social Security benefits. Again, the number currently depending on Medicare is 50 million, but this will rise dramatically as the Baby Boom generation reaches 65. The Medicare program is under even graver threat than Social Security at the moment as Democrats and Republicans in Washington, both beholden to huge medical industry and insurance industry campaign donors who want to undermine the program, do the bidding of their paymasters.

It’s time for progressives, advocacy organizations of the elderly and the disabled, labor activists and everyone who is worried about halting and reversing the decline of American society and democratic governance to rally around defending these two critical programs created, respectively, in the 1930s and 1960s.

The Social Security Defense Movement envisioned here would organize a single-issue party with the following simple platform:

  • Defend Social Security benefits and ensure that they are adequate to provide for a decent retirement for all Americans!
  • No increase in the Social Security payroll taxes for current payers!
  • Eliminate the cap on income subject to Social Security payroll taxes! This would mean that all income would be subject to the tax and the wealthy would finally pay their share!
  • Add a tax on so-called unearned income from investment! This would mean that people who live on profits from investments, interest income, etc., would pay into the Social Security fund, too. (Note: income in retirement could be exempted, so people drawing on their tax-deferred IRA or 402(k) money would not have to pay a Social Security tax on it.)
  • Tax all short-term stock and bond trades at 0.25%, with the revenue generated to be designated for bolstering the Social Security and Medicare funds!
  • Eliminate Medicare Parts B, C and D! Roll doctor and drug coverage into Part A making it a single, simple program covering all medical costs, and just throw out Part C, which simply provides a huge profitable business to the private insurance industry to cherry pick healthier elderly people, luring them into subsidized private plans and leaving government-run Medicare to pay for the sicker, more costly beneficiaries.
  • Lower the age of eligibility for Medicare, gradually if necessary, but quickly, so that all Americans will be covered by one government insurance program, fully funded by taxes, and bar private insurance companies from providing health insurance, with the government negotiating reimbursement rates for hospitals, drug companies, doctors and medical device companies. (Explanation: Right now, the 10% of Medicare beneficiaries who are the oldest use 90% of Medicare’s funds. Younger Medicare users in their 60s use are much less costly. As people are younger, their health care costs are even less, so it is actually a bargain to bring them into Medicare. They would be paying in much more than they would be costing. This explains why Canada’s universal Medicare program is such a bargain. Canadians pay 11% of GDP for in total for Medicare that covers everyone, while Americans pay 18% of GDP for health care and many millions are simply left out and get none.)
  • Eliminate the Veterans Administration and make all veterans eligible for Medicare immediately.
  • Eliminate the two-tiered health care system created by Medicaid, and enroll all Medicaid eligible people in Medicare, lifting that financial burden entirely from the states.

The pure focus of a Social Security Defense Party on the issues of Social Security and Medicare might at first appear narrow and parochial, but as one considers the implications, it becomes clear that can be the core of a whole new progressive movement.

Just a couple of examples:

Protecting, guaranteeing and improving Social Security provides long-term security to workers who then no longer have to stay in exploitive jobs simply to save for their old age. The same goes for lowering the Medicare eligibility age to 0. Nothing makes it more difficult for workers to adopt a militant stand in organizing a labor union or going on strike against intransigent management than the fear of losing a family’s health benefits. This is the whole reason that American companies have, seemingly against their own interests in reducing labor costs, consistently opposed a state-run health care system such as the one in Canada. Employers are happy to have the leverage they get by being able to withhold health benefits from strikers or union activists.
Making sure everyone has access to quality health care insures that the quality of that care stays high. Just check out the health care quality in countries like Sweden, Finland, Germany, Canada or France, where everyone has access to the same doctors and hospitals. The quality, and the outcomes, are higher than in the US, where the poor get shoddy, late and often criminally inadequate healthcare in crumbling facilities, while the wealthy get state-of-the-art care at absurdly high prices, with much of the money being wasted on marketing and amenities having nothing to do with actual care and treatment.

Besides getting millions of Americans to refocus on their common interests, such a single-issue party and movement would also inevitably lead to a mass collective rejection of the military industrial complex, with its $1.3-trillion annual expenditure on wars and war preparation. Any attempt to provide adequate funding for retirees, the disabled and for health care for all would inevitably have to confront, head-on, this massive waste of tax dollars and to see it for what it is: a vast transfer of national wealth to giant corporations and the people who own and run them, and away from human needs.

Easing the economic pressure on the elderly by strengthening Social Security and improving Medicare would also tend to make the elderly more politically progressive. People who are not scrimping in order to have enough money to pay the rent, buy enough to eat, and pay their health bills can afford to be more generous and altruistic about supporting funding for local schools, for example, whereas today, the elderly in many communities often become opponents of needed school funding because they see the local school taxes as making it impossible to pay for their prescriptions.

The best thing about a Social Security Defense Party is that it would draw heavily on the base of both the Democratic and the Republican Parties. Regardless of their political views on issues like prayer in schools, abortion, flag-burning, stem cell research, animal rights, climate change, gun ownership or the death penalty, polls show that the vast majority of Americans, left and right, support Social Security and Medicare. Most of them know that they are being betrayed on those two critical issues by their party leaders and elected representatives, Democratic and Republican. Independents, too, support both programs overwhelmingly. A party that speaks resolutely about defending and improving both programs, and that runs candidates who do the same, could potentially vacuum up supporters from both major parties, leaving them empty husks.

And that’s what they should be.

Obama Allegedly to Cut back Social Security and Medicare in New Budget

 The Great Capitulator capitulates once again and...

Accepts GOP Austerity Cat Food War on the Unwealthy

It's back to the Simpson-Bowles cat food for the elderly and poor budget as far as the White House is concerned, according to The New York Times (NYT) on Friday:

President Obama next week will take the political risk of formally proposing cuts to Social Security and Medicare in his annual budget in an effort to demonstrate his willingness to compromise with Republicans and revive prospects for a long-term deficit-reduction deal, administration officials say.

Once again, a Democratic president is conceding to the GOP "frame" of austerity being vital to the future of America, when it was the Republicans who ran up the deficit – after Clinton left Bush a balanced budget – with a profligate tax cut for the super rich, two wars, and things like a multi-billion gift to the pharmaceutical industry by prohibiting government negotiations on drug prices in Medicare Part D.

This amidst a historical moment when income redistribution and asset ownership disparities have reached record levels in the US. But Obama appears to have an aversion to discussing or rectifying a morally unacceptable imbalance in wealth in America.

In return, Obama will get some crumbs of revenue enhancement, but take at a look at some of his leaked proposed reductions:

Deficits would be reduced another $930 billion through 2023 as a result of spending cuts and other cost-saving changes to domestic programs, and $200 billion more due to reduced interest payments on the federal debt.

Mr. Obama’s proposed spending reductions include about $400 billion from health programs and $200 billion from other areas, including farm subsidies, federal employee retirement programs, the Postal Service and the unemployment compensation system.

Cutting domestic programs such as pensions and unemployment?

In its defense, the White House claims that it is proposing increased infrastructure investment (too little) and more taxes on the wealthy (not a whole lot more).

Meanwhile the elderly on a pittance of Social Security will have imposed on them the dreaded chained CPI, says the NYT:
Besides the tax increases that most Republicans continue to oppose, Mr. Obama’s budget will propose a new inflation formula that would have the effect of reducing cost-of-living payments for Social Security benefits, though with financial protections for low-income and very old beneficiaries, administration officials said. The idea, known as chained C.P.I., has infuriated some Democrats and advocacy groups to Mr. Obama’s left, and they have already mobilized in opposition.

Obama either continues to believe in the now inexcusably naïve notion of "bi-partisanship" or he is, as some will argue, at heart a fiscal corporate neo-liberal Wall Street true believer:
Together with the $2.5 trillion in deficit reductions that Mr. Obama and Congressional Republicans have agreed to since 2010, that would bring the total deficit reduction to more than $4.3 trillion over 10 years by the administration’s computations — just over the goal that both parties have set for stabilizing the growth of the national debt.

The NYT, which clearly received the leak about the Obama budget from White House sources, is reflecting an Oval Office viewpoint that the president is compromising in order to win over "moderate" Republican votes. Say what? Earth to planet Obama: have you learned nothing from continually starting negotiations with the Republicans letting them advance to 10 yards of their goal – and them allowing them to walk over into the end zone for a victory twist and shake?

If you want to know the low threshold of weakness Obama is negotiating from, read the viewpoint of his aides, as reported in the NYT:
Neither the president nor senior aides privately hold much hope that Republican leaders — Mr. Boehner and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate Republican leader — will compromise. So Mr. Obama’s strategy of reaching out to other Senate Republicans reflects a calculation that enough of them might cut a budget deal with the Democratic Senate majority. If that happens, the reasoning goes, a Senate-passed compromise would put pressure on the House to go along.

Uh, so the White House can't get even a basically Republican budget passed – with some crumbs of federal spending. They have to, as they see it, concede grovel and pray.

Bill Clinton said a long time back: "We [Democrats] have got to be strong. When we look weak in a time where people feel insecure, we lose. When people feel uncertain, they'd rather have somebody who's strong and wrong than somebody's who's weak and right."

Doesn't Obama run the danger, in his budget and many of his legislative proposals of appearing both weak and wrong?

Or is it that he actually believes in what he is proposing?

BuzzFlash at Truthout is not clairvoyant, so we can't say.

But history will judge him – and the seniors, unemployed, and poor who watch helplessly -- as President Obama thrusts a stake through the heart of the New Deal, while perpetuating a system of systemic oligarchy.

Many Low-Wage Workers Will Get Left Out of Obamacare

(not to mention the unemployed who can't afford the mandate)

Saturday, 06 April 2013
By Richard Kirsch, Next New Deal | Op-Ed

Reformers should start building a coalition to push for expanding the bill and making it more affordable.

The whining from some fast food chains that they won’t be able to afford paying for their employee’s health coverage under Obamacare have gotten a lot of press. But what is more troubling is the recent news that some big chains are concluding that the costs won’t be nearly as high as they had projected. The reason: their employees won’t be able to afford the health insurance and will instead pay a fine and remain uninsured. This fight is just the first battle in the coming war over Obamacare that will center around those who get left out. Big flaws in the bill will mean that many low-wage workers will be forced to choose between paying huge chunks of their income on premiums or on a penalty that leaves them with no coverage at all. Reformers should take note and get ready for the coming struggle.

Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Wendy’s lowered its estimate of the cost of Obamacare for each of its restaurants by 80 percent, from $25,000 a store to $5,000. The hamburger chain figured that many of its full-time employees, who will be offered health insurance through the company, will turn down the coverage because, as the Journal reported, “they can get insurance through Medicaid or a family member, or because they prefer to pay the penalty for not having coverage.” That penalty starts at $95 a year, although it will go up to $695 by 2016.

Wendy’s isn’t alone. Several other fast food chains have come up with similar estimates. One example is Popeyes, which figures that since only 5 percent of its employees have signed up for the high deductible plan now offered at a price of only $2.50 a week, few workers will choose to pay an estimated $25 a week for the improved coverage it will offer under Obamacare. While the new coverage required under the law will be far superior to the plan Popeyes now offers, with a good list of benefits, it will still include a steep deductible, particularly for a low-wage worker.

The debate over fast food chains and their workers is revealing one of the biggest flaws in the Affordable Care Act. Many low-wage workers will be put in a very difficult position: pay a big chunk of their limited wages for health insurance that is costly to use, or pay a fine for the privilege of remaining uninsured. This is an example of how the debate around Obamacare is about to take a huge turn. Instead of partisan opponents fearmongering about the theoretical impact of the law, the new struggle will be around the actual experience of those Americans whom the law was written to protect: people who are uninsured because they can not afford coverage or are locked out of the system because they have a pre-existing health condition.

Come January 2014, millions of people will get affordable health coverage for the first time. These will mostly be working people who do not get insurance on the job now but will become newly eligible for Medicaid or income-based tax-credits to buy insurance in the new health insurance marketplaces (“exchanges”). This will also include those who will no longer be turned down because of a pre-existing condition. The expansion of Medicaid – in states that give that the green light – and the income-based subsidies will create a huge new constituency for Obamacare that will oppose any attempts to roll back the law.

But due to problems written into the Affordable Care Act, the news won’t all be good for many people who can’t get affordable coverage now. There are some for whom the coverage in the marketplaces will still be too costly because the subsidies are too stingy. For example, a single person who earns just $33,500 will be required to pay $258 a month in premiums, which is more than 9 percent of his or her gross income, for coverage. That’s a big chunk out of a moderate income and is more than twice as much as that person would pay under Massachusetts’s current, successful law. In fact, people who earn more than two times the federal poverty level would be required to pay premiums from 6.3 percent to 9.5 percent of their incomes. If those costs are out of their financial reach, the bleak alternative is to pay a fine for remaining uninsured. It’s true that the coverage will include good benefits, free preventive services, and a cap on out-of-pocket costs. But unless it is already paying high medical bills, it won’t help a working family pay a high premium. The millions who face this dilemma will not be happy to have to make the choice between premiums that will put a big squeeze on an already tight budget or paying a fine they can’t afford for no benefits at all.

Which brings us to the second big group of people who will face this dilemma: low-wage workers who work more than 30 hours a week for a business that has 50 or more full-time employees. These employers can require employees to pay up to 9.5 percent of their incomes as premiums. The premiums are likely to be less for individuals; Popeyes estimates $1,200 a year, which would be similar to what has been found workable in Massachusetts. However, unlike in Massachusetts, the minimum coverage will have very high out-of-pocket costs, so workers will face high premiums for coverage that they can’t afford to use (although preventive care will be free). Furthermore, employers could decide to put more of the costs on to their workers, forcing them to choose between the premium and fines.

The news is much worse for family coverage. The IRS ruled earlier this year that the 9.5 percent rule will apply to the cost of individual coverage, even if family coverage costs much more than this. Here is how the New York Times editorial board explained the impact, in an editorial titled, A Cruel Blow to American Families:
A Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that in 2012, employees’ annual share of insurance premiums averaged $951 for individual coverage and $4,316 for family coverage. Under the I.R.S. rule, such costs would be considered affordable for an employee with a household income of $35,000 a year — making the employee’s spouse and children ineligible for a public subsidy on a health exchange, even though that family would have to spend 12 percent of its income for the employer’s family plan.

The Times goes on to report that between 2 million and 3.9 million spouses and children could lose access to affordable coverage because of the ruling. Those are millions of people for whom the law will be an empty promise.

The major purpose of the Affordable Care Act was to make decent health coverage affordable to Americans, and the law’s success will depend on how well it does just that. Next year, many millions of now uninsured people will gain access, but there will be millions of others for whom the promise remains out of reach. In the toxic political atmosphere surrounding Obamacare, the people left out will take center stage.

Republicans will seize on this situation to argue that the law is not working and use these people’s frustrations to portray the law as an expensive failure. The task for the champions of the ACA will be to unite those who are benefiting under Obamacare with those who will only benefit if the law is made more affordable. And since making coverage more affordable will take the government and, ideally, employers paying for more of the premiums, enacting the fixes will require a big political lift, particularly in the current Congress. Meeting this challenge will require organizing the winners and the losers to push for strengthening the law together.

All of this will become an issue in the 2014 and 2016 elections. In this way, Obamacare will join Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid as perennial issues of public debate, with competing visions of the role of government in assuring the security and well-being of our citizens. It’s a fight that never ends.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Monsanto the Devil's Legacy

Wednesday, April 3, 2013 by Common Dreams
Food & Water Watch highlights toxic 'corporatization and industrialization of our food supply'
- Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

Chemical disasters, Agent Orange, and the first genetically modified plant cell are among just some of the dark milestones belonging to the history of the biotech giant Monsanto the devil  highlighted in a new report released Wednesday by consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch.

The in-depth historical analysis Monsanto the devil: A Corporate Profile presents a corporation "steeped in heavy industrial chemical production," who only recently began marketing itself through an "environmentally friendly, feed-the-world image"—an image that is contradictory to a century of toxic chemical production and a food supply saturated with un-labeled GE crops, herbicides, and artificial growth hormones.

Monsanto the devil, as FWW shows, now holds vast "undue influence over lawmakers, regulators, and our food supply," and has caused great devastation to farmers around the world through its global seed monopoly.

“Despite its various marketing incarnations over the years, Monsanto the devil is a chemical company that got its start selling saccharin to Coca-Cola, then Agent Orange to the U.S. military, and, in recent years, seeds genetically engineered to contain and withstand massive amounts of Monsanto the devil herbicides and pesticides,” said Ronnie Cummins, executive director of Organic Consumers Association in response to the report. “Monsanto the devil has become synonymous with the corporatization and industrialization of our food supply.”

“Even though you won’t find the Monsanto the devil brand on a food or beverage container at your local grocery store, the company holds vast power over our food supply,” said Rebecca Spector, West Coast Director for the Center for Food Safety. “This power is largely responsible for something else we cannot find on our grocery store shelves — labels on genetically engineered food. Not only has Monsanto the devil’s and other agribusinesses’ efforts prevented the labeling of GMO foods, but they spend millions to block grassroots efforts like California’s Prop 37 in order to keep consumers in the dark.”

The report arrives after President Obama signed last week what has been dubbed the "Monsanto the devil Protection Act"—legislation critics say amounts to "corporate welfare" for biotechnology corporations like Monsanto the devil that puts both farmers and the environment in jeopardy.

The law will essentially "bar US federal courts from being able to halt the sale or planting of genetically modified (GMO) crops even if they failed to be approved by the government's own weak approval process and no matter what the health or environmental consequences might be," Greenpeace wrote last week.

"At the end of March, the American public saw first hand the unjustifiable power that Monsanto the devil holds over our elected officials when an unprecedented budget rider, dubbed the ‘Monsanto the devil Protection Act,’ was tacked onto the spending bill to fund the federal government,” Dave Murphy, founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now! stated following the release of Food & Water Watches new report. “This is an outrageous interference with our courts and separation of powers and we cannot sit back and allow our elected officials to continue to take orders from Monsanto the devil at the expense of family farmers and consumers.”

From Saccharin to GE Seed, Report Profiles Monsanto the devil’s History Peddling Chemicals for Food, Agriculture, War

Washington, D.C.—From its beginnings as a small chemical company in 1901, Monsanto the devil has grown into the largest biotechnology seed company in the world with net sales of $11.8 billion, 404 facilities in 66 countries across six continents and products grown on over 282 million acres worldwide. Today, the consumer advocacy nonprofit Food & Water Watch released its report, Monsanto the devil: A Corporate Profile.

“There is a growing movement of people around the country who want to take on Monsanto the devil’s undue influence over lawmakers, regulators and the food supply,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch and author of the book Foodopoly. “People need to know about Monsanto the devil’s history as a heavy industrial chemical manufacturer; a reality at odds with the environmentally friendly, feed-the-world image that the company spends millions trying to convey.”

“At the end of March, the American public saw first hand the unjustifiable power that Monsanto the devil holds over our elected officials when an unprecedented rider, dubbed the ‘Monsanto the devil Protection Act,’ was tacked onto the spending bill to fund the federal government,” said Dave Murphy, founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now! “This is an outrageous interference with our courts and separation of powers and we cannot sit back and allow our elected officials to continue to take orders from Monsanto the devil at the expense of family farmers and consumers.”

The report offers a timeline of milestones in the company’s history including chemical disasters, mergers and acquisitions, and the first genetically modified plant cell.

Monsanto the devil: A Corporate Profile can be downloaded here:

Eleven North Carolina Republicans Sponsor Resolution Saying Their State Can Ignore The Constitution

By Ian Millhiser on Apr 3, 2013 THINK Progress

The Constitution “does not grant the federal government and does not grant the federal courts the power to determine what is or is not constitutional” according to a resolution sponsored by North Carolina House Majority Leader Edgar Starnes (R) and ten of his fellow Republicans — a statement that puts them at odds with over 200 years of constitutional law. In light of this novel reading of the Constitution, Starnes and his allies also claim that North Carolina is free to ignore the Constitution’s ban on government endorsement of religion:
SECTION 1. The North Carolina General Assembly asserts that the Constitution of the United States of America does not prohibit states or their subsidiaries from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.

SECTION 2. The North Carolina General Assembly does not recognize federal court rulings which prohibit and otherwise regulate the State of North Carolina, its public schools, or any political subdivisions of the State from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.

This resolution is nothing less than an effort to repudiate the result of the Civil War. As the resolution correctly notes, the First Amendment merely provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” and, indeed, the Bill of Rights was originally understood to only place limits on the federal government. For the earliest years of the Republic, the Bill of Rights were not really “rights” at all, but were instead guidelines on which powers belonged to central authorities and which ones remained exclusively in the hands of state lawmakers.

In 1868, however the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified for the express purpose of changing this balance of power. While the early Constitution envisioned “rights” as little more than a battle between central and local government, the Fourteenth Amendment ushered in a more modern understanding. Under this amendment, “[n]o State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States,” nor may any state “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” The Fourteenth Amendment completely transformed the nature of the American Republic, from one where liberties were generally protected — if at all — by tensions between competing governments to one which recognized that there are certain liberties that cannot be abridged by any government.

There is some academic debate about whether the architects of the Fourteenth Amendment intended the freedoms protected by the Bill of Rights to be applied to the states because these liberties are part of the “privileges or immunities” of U.S. citizens, or because they are liberties that cannot be denied under the Constitution’s “due process” guarantees.

Regardless of the correct answer to this academic question, however, one of the most important judicial projects of the Twentieth Century was a series of Supreme Court decisions applying most of the Bill of Rights’ limits to state governments. This project completed the work the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment began nearly 150 year ago — reconstructing America as a nation that recognizes certain civil rights which no lawmaker is allowed to trample. The right to be free from government endorsements of religious is one of these civil rights.

So when Starnes and his colleagues lash out against this one freedom, they are not simply lashing out against some court decisions that they disagree with. They are rejecting the most transformative moment in American constitutional history and denying that their side lost the Civil War.

Activists on Both Sides of Atlantic Denounce US/EU FTA as Corporate Power Grab

Wednesday, April 3, 2013 by Common Dreams
President Obama's plan for a trade liberalization may be blocked
- Jon Queally, staff writer

Obama's proposal for a "Free Trade" agreement (FTA) between the US and European Union is being championed by large corporations, but public interest groups and environmentalists on both sides of the Atlantic are vowing to fight the deal.

President Barack Obama announced plans for a trans-Atlantic trade agreement in his State of the Union speech on Feb 12. But European farmers, consumer protection groups and Internet activists may block an agreement.

Long-opposed to the nefarious role that so-called "FTAs" play in the erosion of state sovereignty, critics object to the way such arrangements undermine labor and environmental protections, creating a "global race to the bottom" in the name of "liberalizing" trade and economic growth.

This newest deal comes at a time of ascendent corporate power and at the height of austerity-style economics and would be the largest between developed nations since NAFTA in the mid-90s.

As the Huffington Post reports:
Traditionally, this proposed political empowerment for corporations has been defended as a way to protect companies from arbitrary governments or weakened court systems in developing countries. But the expansion of the practice to first-world relations exposes that rationale as disingenuous. Rule of law in the U.S. and EU is considered strong; the court systems are among the most sophisticated and expert in the world. Most cases brought against the United States under NAFTA have been dismissed or abandoned before an international court issued a ruling.
But companies have grown increasingly ambitious in recent years, with major outfits including Exxon Mobil and Dow Chemical challenging Canadian rules that apply to offshore oil drilling, hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") and the use of pesticides. In December, drug giant Eli Lilly brought a NAFTA case against the Canadian government after it invalidated a patent for one of the company's medications.

Speaking out against the deal are US-based groups like Sierra Club and Public Citizen. And in Europe, coalitions of farmers and trade unionists are already up in arms about the impact that corporate-controlled trade agreements would have on them.

As Der Spiegel in Germany recently reported, there is specific opposition to US agricultural products—including industrially-processed meat and genetically-modified crops.
"Transparency, freedom of choice and the principle of foresight cannot be sacrificed to the free movement of goods in Europe," says Christoph Then, managing director of Testbiotech, a non-profit association opposed to genetic engineering.

The American farm lobby has long fought against European trade barriers for genetically modified potatoes and hormone-treated beef. Now the free trade treaty will provide them with considerable leverage for cracking the European front. [...]

For example, American farmers use the hormone rBST, developed by the agricultural corporation Monsanto. The drug is intended to increase milk production by up to 20 percent and meat yield by up to 30 percent. But it is also suspected of causing cancer in human beings. In addition, high-performance cows require additional antibiotic treatment, because their mammary glands are more likely to become infected.

The concern for US environmentalists like Sierra Club are centered around the power that corporations stand to gain by the emasculation of the regulatory authority of governments.

The provisions of the agreement, the environmental group's trade specialist Ilana Solomon said to HuffPost, "elevate corporations to the level of nation states and allow them to sue governments over nearly any law or policy which reduces their future profits."

And Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Trade Watch, was quoted:
The dirty little secret about [the negotiation] is that it is not mainly about trade, but rather would target for elimination the strongest consumer, health, safety, privacy, environmental and other public interest policies on either side of the Atlantic.

The starkest evidence ... is the plan for it to include the infamous investor-state system that empowers individual corporations and investors to skirt domestic courts and laws and drag signatory governments to foreign tribunals.

Efforts to Deliver "Kill Shot" to Paid Sick Leave Tied to ALEC

Wednesday, April 3, 2013 by
by Brendan Fischer and Mary Bottari

In a victory for working families, New York is poised to become the largest U.S. city to require businesses offer paid sick days to workers. Community activists and labor leaders struck a deal with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn to allow a vote on a paid sick leave ordinance that would cover almost 1 million people. But workers in more than 700 other large American cities must choose between spreading their illness and getting paid.

Advocates have helped pass paid sick days laws in cities like San Francisco, Washington DC, Seattle and Portland, but big business has been pushing back. Corporate-backed bills have passed at the state level in Wisconsin, Louisiana, and Mississippi that would preempt (or as one GOP operative put it, "deliver the kill shot" to) local laws requiring paid sick days. Similar bills are on the legislative docket in Florida, Arizona, Indiana, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Washington. This paid sick days preemption effort can be traced back to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Paid Sick Days Help Keep America Healthy

Workers who do not have access to paid sick days are one-and-a-half times more likely to go to work sick with a contagious illness, putting their co-workers and customers at risk, and costing an estimated $160 billion each year in lost productivity. Children are more likely to go to school sick when their parents can't get off work to care for them, causing illness to spread. Delaying treatment for illness can cause conditions to worsen, leading to more emergency room visits and increased costs for public health insurance programs.

An estimated 40 million workers, or forty percent of the workforce, cannot take sick days without losing wages or possibly their jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) only provides for unpaid leave, and only applies to employers with more than 50 employees. Approximately forty percent of workers do not qualify for the FMLA, and those who do often don't take sick days for financial reasons.

Seventy-nine percent of food industry workers -- who are especially likely to spread illness if they go to work sick -- don't get paid sick days, according to a Food Chain Workers Alliance study. A recent Centers for Disease Control study found that more than half of all norovirus outbreaks can be traced back to sick food service workers.

In response to this public health and economic issue, cities and counties have proposed ordinances that require employers allow workers to call-in sick without losing their jobs or wages. And corporate interests are pushing back. In New York City, business lobbyists managed to get City Council Speaker and mayoral hopeful Christine Quinn to block the legislation for three years, before a long-term campaign by worker's advocates put her in the hot seat and made it politically untenable to continue blocking the bill.

Big business has also lobbied the statehouses, in many cases successfully, to disregard "local control" and nullify and permanently preempt paid sick leave ordinances passed at the local level. And the legislation appears to have spread thanks to a bill promoted and passed by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and shared at an ALEC meeting in 2011.

Walker's Anti-Paid Sick Day Law in Wisconsin Brought to ALEC

In May of 2011, Governor Walker pushed Senate Bill 23 to override a Milwaukee ordinance providing for paid sick days. It appeared to be the first paid sick days preemption bill passed in the country.

Milwaukee's ordinance specified that paid sick days could be used if a worker is ill or needs to care for a sick child, and passed via referendum with over 70 percent of the popular vote in 2008. The 2011 state law not only steamrolled local democratic will by overriding a law passed overwhelmingly in a popular vote, but also repealed the rights of working people to get medical treatment they need, care for their children, and help safeguard the health of their families, coworkers and customers.

A few months later, at ALEC's August 2011 Annual Meeting in New Orleans, the bill was brought to the Labor and Business Regulation Subcommittee of the ALEC Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force.
Meeting attendees were given complete copies of Wisconsin's 2011 Senate Bill 23 (now Wisconsin Act 16) as a model for state override. ALEC's Labor and Business Regulation Subcommittee at the time was co-chaired by YUM! Brands, Inc., which owns Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.
Legislators attending the Labor and Business Regulation Subcommittee meeting were also handed a target list and map of state and local paid sick leave policies prepared by ALEC member the National Restaurant Association.

In Wisconsin, the state chapter of the National Restaurant Association lobbied for Senate Bill 23 to repeal Milwaukee's sick days ordinance, as did the local branch of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, an ALEC member.

And a similar pattern of opposition has emerged across the country: as cities like Seattle, Portland, and Philadelphia have taken up paid sick days, the state and local chapters of ALEC members the National Restaurant Association and U.S. Chamber of Commerce have lined up against it. Other consistent paid sick leave opponents include the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), an ALEC member that presents itself as "the voice of small business" but lobbies primarily for big corporate interests, as the Center for Media and Democracy has described at Restaurant giant Darden (parent company of Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Capital Grille and others) has also emerged as a major paid sick leave foe. Darden is an ALEC member and has had a representative on ALEC's corporate board.

Opponents of paid sick days also regularly cite a "study" from a corporate front group called the Employment Policies Institute purporting to show that employers in Connecticut cut jobs and benefits after a mandatory paid sick leave law took effect. The front group is one of many formed by super-lobbyist Rick Berman -- who has also formed groups like the Center for Consumer Freedom, a front for the fast food, alcohol and tobacco industries -- and has received $2.8 million between 2009 and 2011 from the Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation, which is also a major ALEC funder.

These same big business interests have backed proposed state laws to thwart local sick leave ordinances that reflect the Milwaukee legislation. Sick leave preemption bills have spread across the country since the August 2011 ALEC meeting where Wisconsin's bill was shared. In 2012, a sick days preemption bill was introduced in Tennessee and became law in Louisiana, and in 2013, similar bills have been introduced in Florida, Washington, Mississippi, Michigan, Arizona, Indiana, and Oklahoma.

ALEC Politician Works to "Deliver the Kill Shot" in Florida

Orange County is following in Milwaukee's footsteps, with advocates gathering more than 50,000 signatures last year to place a sick-time measure on the ballot. The referendum was kept off the November 2012 ballot because of a delaying campaign coordinated by Orange County commissioners working with big business, including ALEC member Darden Restaurants, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Disney and others. In February, a court found the County had violated "the plain meaning of its charter" by refusing to put paid sick days in front of voters.

Text messages released through open records requests indicate the delaying tactics were part of a strategy to kill the initiative entirely.

In early September, Orange County GOP Chair Lew Oliver texted Commissioner Ted Edwards saying he wants "at least one good faith straight face test reason to at least delay it long enough to keep it off the ballot in November. After that, the Legislature can deliver the kill shot."

The "kill shot" would come from Florida legislators duplicating the anti-democratic tactics of Wisconsin's governor.

House Majority Leader Steve Precourt (R), an ALEC member, recently introduced a sweeping paid sick days preemption bill that tracks Wisconsin's Senate Bill 23 and would thwart the Orange County effort. The bill would effectively keep Orange County residents from voting on the county's first citizen-led ballot initiative.

Precourt's proposal actually goes further than Wisconsin's bill by incorporating ALEC model legislation that would preempt local living wage requirements as well. (ALEC's slate of bills promoting a race to the bottom in wages and working conditions for America's workforce was recently detailed in a report by the National Employment Law Project.)

Precourt attended the 2011 ALEC meeting where legislators were handed complete copies of Wisconsin's 2011 Senate Bill 23. He reported receiving $487.38 from the corporate-funded "scholarship fund" to attend the 2011 ALEC meeting. According to documents released from the ALEC State Chair for Florida, Rep. Jimmy Patronis, Florida lawmakers' attendance at ALEC's 2011 annual conference in New Orleans was "one of the strongest delegations in years."

Also at that 2011 ALEC meeting, Precourt and sixteen other Florida legislators attended a "State Night" dinner at Antoine's Restaurant, where lawmakers sat down with corporate lobbyists for meals that averaged around $120. But Florida legislators were not asked to pay a dime for their expensive night out: their tab was picked up by the corporate-funded ALEC "scholarship fund."

ALEC Legislator Has Ethics Concerns

Under current Florida law those ALEC "scholarships" are banned. In 2006, Florida enacted some of the strictest ethics laws in the country, and legislators are now prohibited from accepting most gifts from lobbyists or their employers. But, legislators can still use ALEC "scholarship" funds collected prior to the law taking effect. "The organization has significant funds that were collected prior to the effective date of the law and which, when collected, even those from lobbyists and principals were entirely lawful," reads a House legal opinion sanctioning the use of already-raised scholarship funds. Despite these "scholarships" being grandfathered-in, the appearance of impropriety remains the same.

And ethical concerns about Precourt don't end there. In 2008, he formed a consulting firm whose founding documents indicate it intends to provide "engineering and lobbying services" -- with lobbying being a questionable activity for a sitting legislator. In 2011, the Orlando Sentinel reported that Rep. Precourt was gunning for an appointment to direct Central Florida's toll-road agency, despite a significant conflict of interest: his engineering firm, Dyer, Riddle Mills and Precourt (DRMP), had received $10.5 million in contracts in recent years and stood to make millions more from new contracts. Precourt had worked at the firm for twenty years, and though he said he resigned as a principal a few years after becoming an elected official, he retained a financial relationship with the company.

DRMP also has a financial relationship with some of the major opponents of Orange County's proposed Earned Sick Time ordinance. It has major contracts with Disney, for example, which lobbied against the sick days initiative in Orange County.

Precourt's bill passed out of committee and is up for a final vote in the House on April 4.

Proposed State, Federal Bills to Require Paid Sick Days

Legislation has also been proposed on the federal and state levels to require paid sick days.

In Congress, the Healthy Families Act has been introduced several times since 2004, and would allow workers to earn up to seven days of paid sick leave (or one hour for every 30 hours worked) for use when an individual is ill or needs to care for a sick family member. States like Maryland, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Washington State are also considering bills to guarantee state-wide paid sick days.

But the campaign against paid sick days is growing increasingly intense and coordinated, particularly as local governments take matters into their own hands. Keep an eye out for an ALEC legislator introducing a killshot preemption bill in your state legislature.

The Koch Bros., ALEC and the Power of the State

"We Don't Have the Power to Coerce Anybody"...That's Why They Need Government

Were there an awards show for unintentional howlers, Charles Koch’s statement in a Forbes interview last December (“Inside the Koch Empire: How the Brothers Plan to Reshape America,” December 5, 2012) would surely be a nominee. “Most power is power to coerce somebody,” he said. “We don’t have the power to coerce anybody.”

No, but the government sure does. Maybe that’s why the Koch Brothers put so much money into lobbying groups and think tanks like the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Heritage Foundation whose main purpose is to influence government policy.

“Oh,” but you say. “They’re not looking to make money through increased government coercion. Far from it! They’re just lobbying government to get out of the economy so they can take their chances competing on their merits in an unfettered market economy.”

Well … not quite.

Kevin Carson is a senior fellow of the Center for a Stateless Society ( and holds the Center’s Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory.

The legislative agenda pursued by groups like ALEC, Heritage, the American Enterprise Institute and the Heartland Institute isn’t exactly libertarian. At least not if, by “libertarian,” you mean anything more principled than “whatever big business wants from government to make it profitable.”

As an example, consider so-called “Ag-Gag” bills – written by ALEC — that prohibit undercover journalists from exposing animal abuse within corporate agribusiness. This past year such bills were introduced in nine states and signed into law in three.

The Koch Brothers are also enthusiastic advocates (to say the least) of the Keystone XL pipeline, standing to make billions from the project if it’s completed. Needless to say, Keystone’s route depends heavily on the use of eminent domain to steal land from family farmers, and Keystone’s government backers have run roughshod over Indian lands (including sacred burial grounds) guaranteed by treaty. Last I heard, eminent domain is only possible through coercion — you know, that thing David Koch said he lacks the ability to do.

The Keystone project is also heavily dependent on regulatory state preemption of ordinary common law standards of civil liability for the air and groundwater pollution and health damage fracking causes to surrounding communities. And the Koch brothers are also prominent cheerleaders for “tort reform” — i.e., making it more difficult to hold corporations liable for their wrongdoing and make them pay for the harm they’ve caused.

So the actual pattern we see is the Koch brothers and their pet think tanks actively encouraging a near-totalitarian level of state intervention to suppress all the mechanisms of civil society — investigative journalism by a free and independent press, a vigorous system of civil liability, etc. — that would help keep business honest and hold it accountable. Hardly surprising, when you consider Koch Industries got its start building oil refineries for Joseph Stalin. Say, now — he had the power to coerce, didn’t he?

While we’re at it, ALEC has actively lobbied for the draconian drug laws and for detention of “illegal aliens” [sic] that are so profitable to its sponsors like CCOA, Wackenhut and other private prison corporations. That doesn’t sound too libertarian, does it?

And how about David Addington’s new No. 3 role at Heritage? Addington was Dick Cheney’s go-to guy for writing legal memos on stuff like indefinite detention, torture, and warrantless surveillance. You can see why a guy like that would be a perfect fit for a think tank that’s all about “limited government” and “restoring the Constitution.” All sarcasm aside, I think you can see that people like this have a very, um, skewed idea of what “freedom” means.

The role of people like Charles and David Koch, and of think tanks like ALEC, AEI and Heritage, in the larger free market libertarian movement is a lot like that of the Pharisees in the Judaism of Jesus’s time. “Whited sepulchres” and “generation of vipers” are some of the terms he used, I think.

The Pharisees, Jesus said, would cavil and split hairs for years on the finer points of the law, while utterly disregarding its spirit; they would tithe their very herbs, while putting their money into their day’s equivalent of tax-free nonprofit foundations to avoid taking care of their aged parents.

The corporate Pharisees of our day strain at a gnat using “free market” rhetoric to attack welfare for the poor, but swallow a camel when it comes to welfare for corporations. They claim to favor “economic freedom” and “free trade,” while putting the entire world under the totalitarian lockdown of draconian “intellectual property” law to guarantee their enormous monopoly rents. They complain that “taxation is theft,” while their mining and agribusiness corporations act in collusion with governments to kick the peoples of world off their land.

It’s time to scourge the money-changers from the temple.

Monday, April 1, 2013

1 in 5 Boys Now Diagnosed With ADHD

We Are Overdrugging Our Kids!
The numbers of those diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder has increased remarkably over the past decade. 

April 1, 2013 |

The number of children and teenagers diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has increased remarkably over the past decade, according to new data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rise in numbers, reported on by the New York Times , has led some to say that the increase is due to parent pressure on doctors and a loose definition of the disorder.

The data reveals that an estimated 6.4 million children aged 4 to 17 have received the diagnosis, which is a 16 percent increase from 2007. The 6.4 million children diagnosed is also a 53 percent rise over the last decade. Two-thirds of those diagnosed take stimulant medication for the disorder like Ritalin and Adderall, which could lead to anxiety, addiction and potentially psychosis. Nearly one in five high school boys and 11 percent of all school-age children have ADHD, the new data states.

William Graf, a pediatric neurologist from Yale University, told the New York Times  that the rise in those with the disorder was “astronomical...Mild symptoms are being diagnosed so readily, which goes well beyond the disorder and beyond the zone of ambiguity to pure enhancement of children who are otherwise healthy.”

There are some doctors and advocates for patients who welcome the rise in numbers, and say that it is a result of the disorder being recognized better. But others who are critics of how children receive the diagnosis say that “the new rates suggest that millions of children may be taking medication merely to calm behavior or to do better in school,” according to the New York Times. The resort to medication for those who do not need it is particularly dangerous, as the drugs are rife with risks.

“There’s a tremendous push where if the kid’s behavior is thought to be quote-unquote abnormal — if they’re not sitting quietly at their desk — that’s pathological, instead of just childhood,” said one Harvard professor of medicine.

Some of the pressure on doctors from parents who are worried about their children’s behavior may be a result of effective advertising from prescription drug companies. The Times notes that “several doctors mentioned that advertising from the pharmaceutical industry that played off parents’ fears — showing children struggling in school or left without friends — encouraged parents and doctors to call even minor symptoms A.D.H.D. and try stimulant treatment.” The drug companies are reaping the boom in diagnoses, with their profits increasing by $5 billion since 2007. And taxpayers are bearing the cost of these drugs and doctors’ visits for those covered by Medicaid.

“There’s no way that one in five high-school boys has A.D.H.D,” James Swanson, an expert on ADHD, told the New York Times. “If we start treating children who do not have the disorder with stimulants, a certain percentage are going to have problems that are predictable — some of them are going to end up with abuse and dependence. And with all those pills around, how much of that actually goes to friends? Some studies have said it’s about 30 percent.”

But while alarms from Swanson and others are ringing, the numbers of those with ADHD are likely to continue to increase.

The American Psychiatric Association is poised to change the definition of the disorder to allow more people to be diagnosed with it. New criteria set to be released next month could lead to higher diagnosis rates because of the requirement that symptoms appear before age 7 rather than 12. Additionally, the new American Psychiatric Association language will state that symptoms that “impact” daily activities--rather than “impair”--are a sign of the disorder.

How Conservative Economic Policies Are Destroying the US

We've been in the clutches of conservative economic orthodoxy since 1980, and this is the result.
April 1, 2013 | These were compiled by Dave Johnson at Campaign for America's Future:

In each of the charts below look for the year 1981, when Reagan took office.

Conservative policies transformed the United States from the largest creditor nation to the largest debtor nation in just a few years, and it has only gotten worse since then:


Working people’s share of the benefits from increased productivity took a sudden turn down:

This resulted in intense concentration of wealth at the top:

And forced working people to spend down savings to get by:

Which forced working people to go into debt: (total household debt as percentage of GDP )

None of which has helped  economic growth much: (12-quarter rolling average nominal GDP growth.)

There are, of course, many reasons for all this. But there is no doubt that we've been in the clutches of conservative economic orthodoxy since 1980 and this is the result. Whether it's the cause or whether it's because it has no capacity to react to external events properly doesn't matter. It has failed. And is still failing.

The "Sacred" Bond

How to Reduce Unemployment

Lessons From Germany

Many of the pundits are once again celebrating the pick-up of the U.S. economy. Unfortunately this upturn, like prior ones, seems to exist more in their heads than in the data. The big bright spot being highlighted is the 200,000 monthly rate of job creation since October. This only sounds like good news for those who don’t remember that we created 240,000 jobs a month in the same five months last year.

While the economy is not about to slip into recession, there is little reason to think we will see a marked upturn from last year’s 1.7 percent growth rate. In fact, with the end of the payroll tax cut pulling money out of people’s pockets and the sequester leading to layoffs and further cutbacks, we are at least as likely to see the economy slowing as picking up steam.

This is bad news for tens of millions of people who are unemployed, underemployed, or have dropped out of the workforce altogether.
There is little prospect that the economy will grow enough to substantially improve their employment prospects any time soon. Nor is there much hope for any policy shift that will provide a boost to the rate of growth. This is why it is a good time to look to Germany.

The unemployment rate in Germany is 5.4 percent, more than two full percentage points below its pre-recession level. By contrast, even with the recent decline to 7.7 percent, the U3 unemployment rate in the United States is still more than three full percentage points above its pre-recession level.

The difference in labor market performance is even more striking if we look at the employment-to-population ratio (EPOP), which measures the percent of the population that is employed. Before the recession the EPOP for people between age 16 and 64 was roughly 5 percentage points higher in the United States than in Germany. In 2012 the EPOP for this age group in Germany was more than 5 percentage points higher than in the United States, making a total shift in Germany’s favor of more than 10 percentage points.

If you think this difference is explained by a booming German economy then you haven’t looked at the data. Growth since the beginning of the downturn has been almost identical in the two countries. From 2007 to 2012 Germany’s economy grew a bit more than 3.0 percent. The U.S. economy grew a hair less than 3.0 percent. The difference can’t come close to explaining the gap in labor market outcomes.

It is true that the United States has a more rapidly growing working-age population than Germany and therefore needs more growth to keep its unemployment rate stable. However this gap would still only explain a small portion of the difference in labor market outcomes.

The secret to Germany’s better outcomes is that the country has an explicit policy of pushing employers toward shortening work hours rather than laying off workers. A key part of this picture is the short work program, which is an alternative to unemployment insurance. With traditional unemployment insurance, when a worker gets laid off the government pays roughly half of the workers’ wages.

Under work sharing, if firms cut back a worker’s hours by 20 percent, the government makes up roughly half of the lost wages (10 percent of the total wage in this case). That leaves the worker putting in 20 percent fewer hours and getting 10 percent less pay. This is likely a much better alternative to being unemployed.

In addition to its formal short-work program, Germany also has a system of hour banks where workers put in extra hours during good times. During a downturn they can draw on these hours to maintain their pay even if they are putting in fewer hours. There are also many agreements between unions and management to reduce work hours to address a drop in demand. These can be more easily negotiated in a country like Germany, where the unionization rate is more than twice that of the United States.

This institutional structure makes it much easier for Germany to deal with a reduction in labor demand by cutting work hours rather than laying people off. Of course even before the downturn Germany had a much shorter average work year than in the United States. Under the law workers are guaranteed more than four weeks of paid vacation every year in addition to 10 statutory holidays, paid family leave, and paid sick days.

As a result, the average work year in Germany is almost 20 percent less than in the United States. As a matter of simple arithmetic, if everyone in the United States worked 20 percent fewer hours we would need 25 percent more workers to provide the same amount of labor. While the picture is more complicated in the real world, there is no escaping the logic that more workers and more hours per worker are alternative ways to meet a growing demand for labor. There are good reasons for preferring the more worker route to the longer hour route.

It is worth noting that the Congress and the Obama Administration did try to encourage work sharing when they passed a provision of the bill extending the payroll tax cut that has the federal government picking up the cost of state short work programs. Twenty-five states have short work programs as part of their unemployment insurance systems, including several large ones such as California and New York.

Unfortunately, the take-up rate continues to be very low. Apparently governors and legislators would rather make cutbacks in areas like education or raise taxes than try to encourage businesses to switch from layoffs to short-work so that they can take advantage of free money from the federal government. A little prodding from the public may go a long way in this area.

Plutocracy in America

Runaway Exploitation

Plutocracy literally means rule by the rich. “Rule” can have various shades of meaning: those who exercise the authority of public office are wealthy; their wealth explains why they hold that office; they exercise that authority in the interests of the rich; they have the primary influence over who holds those offices and the actions they take. These aspects of “plutocracy” are not exclusive. Government of the rich and for the rich need not be run directly by the rich. Also, in some exceptional circumstances rich individuals who hold powerful positions may govern in the interests of the many, e.g. Franklin Roosevelt.

The United States today qualifies as a plutocracy – on a number of grounds. Let’s look at some striking bits of evidence. Gross income redistribution upwards in the hierarchy has been a feature of American society for the past decades. The familiar statistics tell us that nearly 80% of the national wealth generated since 1973 has gone to the upper 2%, 65% to the upper 1 per cent. Estimates as to the rise in real income for salaried workers over the past 40 years range from 20% to 28 %. In that period, real GDP has risen by 110% – it has more than doubled. To put it somewhat differently, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the top earning 1 percent of households gained about 8X more than those in the 60 percentile after federal taxes and income transfers over a period between 1979 and 2007; 10X those in lower percentiles. In short, the overwhelming fraction of all the wealth created over two generations has gone to those at the very top of the income pyramid. That pattern has been markedly accelerated since the financial crisis hit in 2008. Between 2000 and 1012, the real net worth of 90% of Americans has declined by 25%. Theoretically, there is the possibility that this change is due to structural economic features operating nationally and internationally. That argument won’t wash, though, for three reasons. First, there is no reason to think that such a process has accelerated over the past five years during which disparities have widened at a faster rate. Second, other countries (many even more enmeshed in the world economy) have seen nothing like the drastic phenomenon occurring in the United States. Third, the readiness of the country’s political class to ignore what has been happening, and the absence of remedial action that could have been taken, in themselves are clear indicators of who shapes thinking and determines public policy. In addition, several significant governmental actions have been taken that directly favor the moneyed interests.

The latter include the dismantling of the apparatus to regulate financial activities specifically and big business generally. Runaway exploitation of the system by predatory banks was made possible by the Clinton “reforms” of the 1990s and the lax application of those rules that still prevailed. Attorney General Eric Holder just a few weeks ago went so far as to admit that the Department of Justice’s decisions on when to bring criminal charges against the biggest financial institutions will depend not on the question of legal violations alone but would include the hypothetical effects on economic stability of their prosecution. Earlier, Holder had extended blanket immunity to Bank of America and other mortgage lenders for their apparent criminality in forging, robo-signing, foreclosure documents on millions of home owners. In brief, equal protection and application of the law has been suspended. That is plutocracy.

Moreover, the extreme of a regulatory culture that, in effect, turns public officials into tame accessories to financial abuse emerged in stark relief at the Levin Committee hearings on J P Morgan Chase’s ‘London Whale” scandal. Morgan officials stated baldly that they chose not to inform the Controller of the Currency about discrepancies in trading accounts, without the slightest regard that they might be breaking the law, in the conviction that it was Morgan’s privilege not to do so. Senior regulators explained that they did not see it as their job to monitor compliance or to check whether claims made by their Morgan counterparts were correct. They also accepted abusive treatment, e.g. being called “stupid” to their face by senior Morgan executives. That’s plutocracy at work. The Senate Finance Committee hearing drew only 3 senators – yet another sign of plutocracy at work. When mega-banks make illicit profits by money laundering for drug cartels and get off with a slap on the wrist, as has HSBC and others, that too is plutocracy.

When the system of law that is meant to order the workings of society without reference to ascriptive persons is made malleable in the hands of officials to serve the preferred interests of some, it ceases to be a neutral instrument for the common good. In today’s society, it is becoming the instrument of a plutocracy.

There are myriad other examples of complicity between legislators or regulators, on the one hand, and special business interests on the other. EPA judgments that are reversed under the combined pressure of the commercial interests affected and beholden politicians is one. The government’s decision not to seek the power to bargain with pharmaceutical companies over the price of drugs paid for with public funds is another. Tolerance for the concealment of offshore profits in the tens of billions is a third. Relaxed interpretations of the tax laws by the IRS to the advantage of high income persons can be added to the list. So, too, can the give-away to sole source contractors of the tens of billions squandered in Iraq and Afghanistan. The number of such direct assists to big business and the wealthy is endless. The point is that government, at all levels, serves particular selfish interests no matter who holds high positions. While there is some difference between Republicans and Democrats on this score, it has narrowed on most major items to the point that the fundamental properties of the biased system are so entrenched as to be impervious to electoral outcomes. The most revealing experience that we have of that harsh reality is the Obama administration’s strategic decision to allow Wall Street to determine how and by whom the financial crisis would be handled.

Systemic biases are the most crucial factor is creating and maintaining plutocratic orientations of government. They are confirmed, and reinforced, by the identities and identifications of the persons who actually hold high elected office. Our leaders are nearly all rich by any reasonable standard. Most are very rich. Those who weren’t have aspired to become so and have succeeded. The Clintons are the striking case in point. That aspiration is evinced in how they conduct themselves in office. Congress, for its part, is composed of two rich men/women’s clubs. In many cases, personal wealth helped win them their offices. In many others, they knit ties with lobbies that provided the necessary funds. Whether they are “bought off” in some sense or other, they surely are often coopted. The most insidious aspect of cooptation is to see the world from the vantage point of the advantaged and special economic interests.

The devolution of the Democratic Party from being the representative of ordinary people to being just “another bunch of guys” is a telling commentary on how American politics has degenerated into a plutocracy. The party’s rolling over to accommodate the interests of the wealthy has been a theme of the past four years. From the Obama White House to the halls of Congress, party leaders (and most followers) have conceded the dominance of conservative ideas about macro-economic strategy (the austerity dogma), about retaining largely untouched the for-profit health care “non-system,” about bailing out the big financial players as the expense of everyone else and the economy’s stability, about degrading Social Security and Medicare. The last item is the most egregious – and revealing – of our plutocratic ways and means. For it entails a combination of intellectual deceit, blatant massaging of the numbers, and disregard for the human consequences in a time of growing distress for tens of millions. In other words, there is no way to conceal or spin the trade-offs made, who was being hurt and who would continue to enjoy the advantages of skewed fiscal policies.

There is another, absolutely crucial dimension to the consolidation of America’s plutocracy. It is controlling the means to shape how the populace understands public matters and, thereby, to channel thought and behavior in the desired direction. Our plutocratic guides, prophets and trainers have been enormously successful in accomplishing this. One object of their efforts has been to render the media into either conscious allies or to denature them as critics or skeptics. Their success is readily visible. Who has challenged the plutocracy serving falsehood that Social Security and Medicare are the main cause of our deficits whose imminent bankruptcy puts in jeopardy the American economy? Who even bothers to inform the public that those two programs’ trust funds draw on a separate revenue source from the rest of the budget? Answer: no one in or near the mainstream media. Who has performed the most elementary service in pointing out that of all the jobs created since 2009, small as the number has been, 60% at least have been either part-time or temporary? Answer: again, no one. Who has bothered to highlight the logical flaws in the market fundamentalist view of the world that has so deformed perceptions of what works and doesn’t work in macro-economic management? Yes, Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz and a handful of others – although even Krugman’s colleagues writing on business and economics at the NYT seem not to have the time to read him or else lack the wit to comprehend what he is saying.

A second objective in a similar vein has been to dominate the think tank/foundation world. Today, nearly every major Washington think tank depends on corporate money. Businessmen sit on the boards and shape research programs. Peter G. Peterson, the hedge fund billionaire, took the more direct route of acquiring the International Institute of Economics, renaming it after himself. He then set about using it as in instrument to carry on the campaign against Social Security which has become his life’s work. Then there is Robert Rubin. Rubin is the distilled essence of financial malpractice, and the embodiment of the government-Wall Street nexus that brought the country to wrack and ruin. Author of Clinton’s deregulation program while Secretary of the Treasury: later super lobbyist and Chairman of CITI bank in the years before it was pulled from the brink of bankruptcy by Ben Bernanke, Paulson and Tim Geithner; and adviser to Barack Obama who stocked the new administration with Rubin protégés. He since has ensconced himself as Chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations and Director of the highly prestigious, lavishly funded Hamilton Project at Brookings. By happenstance, both organizations late last year featured presentations by Jaime Dimon. The one billed as a forum for a leading global CEO to share priorities and insights before a high-level audience of CFR members. That is plutocracy in action.

The third objective has been to weaken public education. We have witnessed the assault on our public elementary school system in the name of effectiveness, efficiency and innovation. Charter schools are the watchword. Teachers are the heart of the problem. So privatization, highly profitable privitization, is sold as the solution to save America’s youth in the face of ample evidence to the contrary. Cast aside is the historical truth that our public school system is the one institution, above all others, that made American democracy. It also is a bastion of enlightened social thinking. It thereby qualifies as a target. The same for the country’s proud network of public universities. From state to state, they are starved for funding and made sacrificial lambs on the altar of the austerity cult. They, too, are stigmatized as “behind the times,” as no longer doing the job of supplying the business world with the obedient, practical skilled workers it wants. Business schools, long a dependency of the corporate world, as held up as the model for private-public partnership in higher education. Distance learning, often managed by for-profit ‘expert” consultants or “entrepreneurs”, is advertised as the wave a bright future – a future with fewer liberal-leaning professors with fuzzy ideas about the good society. Distance learning is the higher education companion to the charter school fad. Lots of promises, little delivery but well conceived to advance a plutocracy friendly agenda.

Here, too, boards of regents are led by business men or women. The abortive coup at the University of Virginia was instigated by the Rector who is a real estate developer in Virginia Beach. The Chairman of the Board of Regents at the University of Texas system where tensions are at a combustible level is a real estate developer. The Chairman at the University of California is CEO of two private equity firms – and the husband of Senator Diane Feinstein. His pet project was to have the moneys of the California teacher’s pension fund placed in the custody of private financial houses. Two former directors of the fund currently are under criminal investigation for taking very large kick-backs from other private equity firms to whom they directed monies – and which later employed them as ‘placers.’ That’s plutocracy at work.

The ultimate achievement of a plutocracy is to legitimize itself by fixing in the minds of society the idea that money is the measure of all things. It represents achievement, it is the sine qua non for giving people the material things they want. It is the gauge of an individual’s worth. It is the mark of status in a status anxious culture. That way of seeing the world describes the outlook of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. It is Obama who, at the height of the financial meltdown, lauded Jaime Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein as “savvy and successful businessmen.” It is Obama who eagerly became Dimon’s golfing buddy – an Obama who twice in his career took jobs with corporate law firms. It was Bill Clinton who has been flying the world in corporate jets for the past twelve years. It is the two of them who promoted Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles to press for the crippling of Social Security. That’s plutocracy pervading the leadership ranks in both parties of what used to be the American republic.

Perhaps the most extraordinary achievement of the plutocracy’s financial wing has been to win acceptance from the country’s entire political class that its largely speculative activities are normal. Indeed, they are credited with being the economy’s principal engine of growth. It follows that their well-being is crucial to the well-being of the national economy and, therefore, they should be given privileged treatment.


The American version of plutocracy is noteworthy for its crassness. Subtlety, discretion and restraint are foreign to it. It has a buccaneering quality. That style has roots in the country’s history and culture. Much of the behavior is impulsive grasping. Individuals are greedy for vivid displays that they are top dog, of what they can get away with, as well as the riches themselves. There is little interest in building anything that might endure – no ‘new order,’ no new party, no new institutions. Not even physical monuments to themselves. Why bother when the existing set-up works so well to your advantage, to that of your like-minded and like-interested associates – when you can turn ideas, policies and money in your direction with ease. And while the public is blind to how they are being deluded and abused. After all, the more things appear to stay the same, the more they can change in a country whose civic ideology imbues everyone with the firm belief that its principles and institutions embody a unique virtue. To challenge any of that would be to run the risk of raising consciousness – which is the last thing that the plutocrats want.

There are exceptions. The most stunning is Wall Street’s biggest players’ audacity in coopting a part of the NYC Police Department in setting up a semi-autonomous unit to monitor the financial district. Funded by Goldman Sachs et al, managed by private ban employees in key administrative positions, and with an explicit mandate to prevent, as well as to deal with any activity that threatens them, it operates with the latest high tech equipment out of a dedicated facility provided by its sponsors. The facility for years was kept “under the counter” so as not to tempt inquisitive parties to expose it. This is the unit that coordinated the squelching of the Occupy movement’s Manhattan demonstrations. It represents the appropriation of a public agency to serve and to serve under private interests. The post-9/11 hyper-anxiety provided political and ideological cover for a deal devised by Mayor Mike Bloomberg (himself a Wall Street billionaire who has gone down the line to defend it against all charges of financial abuse) in collusion with his former associates. Is this simply Bloomberg registering NYC’s fiscal dependency on financial sector jobs? Well, this is the same Bloomberg who killed a widely supported initiative to set a minimum decent wage of $10 an hour with health insurance ($11.50 without) on development projects that receive more than $1 million in taxpayer subsidies. He stigmatized the measure as “a throwback to the era when government viewed the private sector as a cash cow to be milked…. The last time we really had a big managed economy was the USSR and that didn’t work out so well.” That’s as plutocratic as it gets – and in liberal New York.

Furthermore, the moving forces of the plutocracy are not very organized. There is no conspiracy as such. It is the convergence of outlook among disparate persons in different parts of the system that has accomplished the revolution in American public life, public discourse, and public philosophy. Nobody had to indoctrinate Barack Obama in 2008-2009 or intimidate him or bribe him. He came to the plutocrats on his own volition with his mind-set and values already in conformity with the plutocracy’s view of itself and of America. This is the man who, for the first two years of his presidency, repeatedly misstated the coverage of the Social Security Act of 1935 – ignorant and not bothering to find out or willfully ignorant so as to create a convenient comparison with his fatally flawed health care pseudo-plan. This was the man, after all, who cited Ronald Reagan as model for what sort of presidency American needed. He has been living proof of how effectively Americans had been brought into line with the plutocratic vision.

This is not to say that the plutocrats’ success was inevitable – or that they were diabolically clever in manipulating everything and everyone to their advantage. There has been a strong element of good fortune in their victory. Their most notable piece of luck has been the ineptitude and shortsightedness of their potential opposition – liberal Democrats, intellectuals, and their like. The plutocrats pursued their goals in a disorganized, diffused way. However, the absence of an opponent on the contested terrain assured success.

As to cleverness, the American plutocracy is actually a stupid plutocracy. First, it is overreaching. Far better to leave a few goodies on the table for the 99% and even a few crumbs for the 47% than to risk generating resentment and retaliation. Since the financial meltdown, financial and business interests have been unable to resist picking the pockets of the weak. Fishing out the small change in the wake of grand larceny is rubbing salt into wounds. Why fight a small rise in the minimum wage? Why ruthlessly exploit all those temps and part-timers who have so little in the way of economic power anyway? Why squeeze every last buck from the small depositors and credit card holders whom you already systematically fleece? In the broad perspective, that sort of behavior is stupid.

To explain it, we must look to the status compulsions of America’s audacious corporate freebooters. These peculiar traits grow more intense the higher one goes in the hierarchy of riches. One is the impulse to show to everybody your superiority by displaying what you can get away with. “Sharp dealing” always has been prized by segments of American society. It’s the striving, insecure man who has to prove to the world – and to himself – that he can act with impunity. He is little different from the hoodlum showing off to his pals and to his moll. These people at heart are hustlers – they crave the thrill of pulling off a scam, not constructing something. Hence, Lloyd Blankfein not showing up for White House meetings yet having Obama thank him for letting the president know, albeit after the meeting already had begun, that Blankfein can’t make it. Hence, Jaime Dimon indignantly protesting his verbal mistreatment by the press, by the White House, by whomever. Then there is Jack Welch, the titan of American industry who struts sitting down, who holds the Guinness record for the most manufacturing jobs outsourced by one company – and yet impudently calls Barack Obama “anti-business” after the president appoints his hand-picked successor, Jeffrey Immelt, to head the White House’s Job Council. Or Bank of America’s faking compliance with the sweetheart deal it got from Obama on the felonious foreclosure scam. The ultimate episode of egregious lawlessness is the MF Holdings affair – whereby under its chief, former Senator and Governor Jon Corzine, this hedge fund took the illegal action of looting a few billion from custodial accounts to cover losses incurred in its proprietary trading. JP Morgan, which held MF Global funds in several accounts and also processed the firm’s securities trades, resisted transferring the funds to MF’s customers until forced to by legal action. Punitive action: none. Why? The Justice Department and regulatory bodies came up with the lame excuse that the MF group’s decision-making was so opaque that they could not determine whose finger clicked the mouse. To pull capers like these and get off scot free, without chastisement, is the ultimate ego trip.

Willie Sutton, the notorious bank robber of the 1940s, explained his targeting banks this way: “that’s where the money is.” Today’s financial swindlers go after the high risk gambles because that’s where the biggest kicks are. That is more important than the biggest bucks – although they add to the thrill. For the ever status striving, identity insecure financial baron is a compulsive gambler. He needs his fixes. Of winning, of celebrity, of respect. Of deference. All are transitory, though. For American culture provides few insignia of rank. No ‘Sirs,’ no seats in the House of Lords, no rites of passage that separate the heralded elite from all the rest. Oblivion shadows the most famous and acclaimed. Thus, the grasping for whatever badges of regard are within reach – however ludicrous they might be. When IR Magazine awarded JPMorgan the prize for “best crisis management” of 2012 for its handling of the London Whale trading debacle, at a black-tie awards ceremony in Manhattan, Morgan executives were there to express their appreciation, rather than bow out gracefully. The only Wall Street personage who has played the celebrity game without being marginalized in the public mind is Robert Rubin. Through nimbleness and political connection he has semi-institutionalized his celebrity status. Yes, there is Paul Volcker – but that is another world all together. His stature is built on an unmatched record of service to the commonweal and unchallenged integrity. The Blankfeins and Dimons and Welchs not only lack the critical attributes – they also lack the sense of what it means to serve the public from which they habitually distance themselves.

The plutocrats’ compulsive denigration of the poor, the ill and the dispossessed is perhaps the most telling evidence of status obsession linked to insecurity that is at the core of their social personality. They find it necessary to stigmatize the latter as at best failures, at worst as moral degenerates – drug addicts, lazy, parasites, in part to highlight their superiority and in part to blur the human consequences of their rapacity. Behavior of this kind is the antithesis of what could be the cultivated image of the statesman of commerce – even though they pay a price in public esteem. They also pay in price in terms of the other aspect of their own self-image.

Second, Americans have a craving to believe in their own virtue – as well as to have others recognize it. The perverse pride in beating the system cannot in and of itself compensate for the feeling that you’re a bad guy. Blankfein again: “I have been doing the Lord’s work.” No one laughs in public – so I’m right about that. Dimon swaggering through the Council On Foreign Relations or Brookings with the huddled masses in his audience – and on the dais – beaming their adulation as they bask in his fame and thirst for his wisdom on the great affairs of the world. Perhaps, his views on whether the BRICS can rig the LIBOR rate with the connivance of the Bank of England and the Federal Reserve – or ignore regulatory reporting rules when they threaten to reveal a madcap scheme that loses $6 billion?


Plutocracy in the current American style is having pernicious effects that go beyond the dominant influence of the rich on the nation’s economy and government. It is setting precedents and modeling the unaccountability and irresponsibility that is pervading executive power throughout the society. Two successive presidential administrations and two decades of rogue behavior by corporate elites have set norms now evident in institutions as diverse as universities and think tanks, the military and professional associations. The cumulative result is a widespread degrading of standards in the uses and abuses of power.

Plutocracy also raises social tensions in society. Logically, the main line of tension should be between the plutocrats and the rest – or, at least, between them and all those with modest means. But that is not the case in the United States. While it is true that there were bitter words about the Wall Street moguls and their bailouts during the first year or so after the financial collapse, it never became the main line of political division. Today, outrage has abated and politics is all about austerity and debts rather than the distribution of wealth and the power that goes along with it.The deep-seated sense of anxiety and grievance that pervades the populace manifests in outbreaks of hostile competition among groups who are in fact themselves all victims of the plutocrats’ success in grabbing for themselves most of the country’s wealth – thereby leaving the rest of us to fight for the leftovers. So, it is private sector employees pitted against government employees because the latter have (some) health insurance, some pension and some security relative to the former who have been shorn of all three. It’s parents worried about their kids’ education against teachers. Both against cash strapped local authorities. Municipalities vs states. It’s the small businessman against unions and health insurance requirements. It’s doctors against patients against administrators. It’s university administrators against faculty and against students, faculty against students in competing for a much reduced appropriations. It’s all of those against boards of regents and state governors.

It’s everyone frustrated by the ever sharpening contrast between hopes and aspirations and darkening realities of what they might expect for themselves and their children. Meanwhile, the folks at the top wait confidently and expectantly above the fray they have engineered – ever ready to swoop down to strip the remains of combat by way of privatized public assets, no-bid contracts, tax and regulatory havens, commercially owned toll roads, student loan monopolies, rapacious buying up of foreclosed properties with federal incentives, and myriad tax breaks.

President Obama used his State of the Union Address to send the message loud and clear. “Let me put colleges and universities on notice” he warned, “If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down.” He thereby set forth a line of reasoning that put him on the same wavelength as Rick Perry. For the reality is the exact opposite. It is because funding has gone down by 2/3 over the past few decades that colleges and universities are obliged to raise tuition – despite flat-lining faculty and staff salaries. This is the essence of intellectual conditioning to the plutocracy’s self-serving dogma and the suborning of public authorities by the plutocracy. Beyond capture, it is assimilation.

Does this sort of perverse pride go before the fall? No sign of that happening yet. Plutocracy in America is more likely to be our destiny. The growing dynastic factor operating within the financial plutocracy militates in that direction. Wealth itself has always been transferred from one generation to another, of course; reduced inheritance taxes along with lower rates at upper income brackets generally accentuate that tendency. With socio-economic mobility in American society slipping, it gains further momentum. Something approaching a caste identity is forming among the financial elites – as personified by Jaime Dimon who is the third generation of Wall Street stockbrokers/financial managers in his family – his father an Executive Director at American Express where the young Dimon joined forces with Sandy Weill. As a revealing coda to this generational tale, Dimon, last year, hired his 81 year old father to work for JP Morgan Chase. His father’s first-year salary was $447,000; slated to rise to $1.6 million – now that he has some work experience under his belt, presumably. A sense of limits is not part of the financial plutocracy’s persona.


All that has been recounted here is on the public record. Facts are facts; the inferred attitudes of the plutocracy are confirmed by an abundance of data – including the players’ own statements. The consequences analyzed are also a matter of public record. The tepid reaction should be no surprise; that is exactly what is to be expected in a plutocracy.

So what is to be done? Rectify the sins of commission by rescinding them and those of omission by restoring responsible, enlightened policies. A model? How about 1974? Inglorious year, but….Richard Nixon was well to the ‘Left’ of Barack Obama civil liberties included; corporate power, especially that of big finance, was kept in check by effective regulation; and the integrity of American institutions was a paramount concern of most elected officials and the political elite in general.

The Word awaits…but

The script is small

The preacher is blind

The audience is deaf

And the echoes ricochet off bare walls soundlessly