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[…] The data show that there were fewer jobs last year for most Americans and those jobs that did exist paid less — wages were down to the lowest level in 11 years. Meanwhile, “the number of people making more than $1 million increased by 20 percent over 2009“:
The median paycheck — half made more, half less — fell again in 2010, down 1.2 percent to $26,364. That works out to $507 a week, the lowest level, after adjusting for inflation, since 1999.
The number of Americans with any work fell again last year, down by more than a half million from 2009 to less than 150.4 million. […]
The number of workers making $1 million or more rose to almost 94,000 from 78,000 in 2009. However, that was still below some earlier years, including 2007, when more than 110,000 workers made more than $1 million each.
At the very top, the number of workers making more than $50 million rose in 2010 to 81, up from 72 the year before. But average pay in this group declined $4.5 million to $79.6 million.
This is, of course, in line with lots of other data we have on income inequality. Median wages have been stagnant for years — with wagegrowth in the last decade worse than it was during the Great Depression — while executive compensation has gone up disproportionately. But the data are perhaps the most detailed look at 2010 and, as Johnston notes, “show why protests like Occupy Wall Street have so quickly gained momentum around the country.”
Paul Simon may have envisioned diamonds on the soles of our shoes, but, for $19,000, a company called Mr. Kennedy will actually sell you 24-carat gold shoelaces — then have security guards deliver them and lace them up for you, “anywhere in the world.” It takes Columbian workers 120 hours to handcraft each pair, using “ancient, artisan jewelry techniques.” “Shoelaces are so boring,” says creator Colin Hart. “My gut is that people who have a love of the ‘practical made special’ will buy them.”
Mother Jones: (PLEASE READ ORGINAL FOR ALL LINKS)
[…] MYTH #1 The Stimulus Failed:
For the first four years of his presidency, Franklin Roosevelt tackled the Great Depression with inflation, easy monetary policy, and government spending. But in 1937, FDR’s advisers persuaded him to reverse gears. After all, interest rates had been close to zero for years, commodity prices were climbing, and fear of inflation was on the rise.
What happened next is now called the “Mistake of 1937” (PDF). Federal spending was cut and monetary policy was tightened up, with disastrous results: GDP immediately began to plummet, and industrial production fell by a third. Within a year everyone had had enough. In 1938 the austerity program was abandoned, and the economy started to grow again.
The truth is that stimulus worked in 1933 and it worked in 2009. So why is our economy still in such bad shape? For one, partly due to political considerations and partly because it was rushed through Congress, the 2009 stimulus wasn’t as well designed as it could have been. It was also sold badly. If the bill passed, administration economists predicted, unemployment would peak at 8 percent and then start declining (PDF). But the recession was far worse than the White House originally thought. Unemployment peaked in the double digits, and that’s made the stimulus a fat target for Republican critics ever since.
But as awkward as it is to argue that things would have been worse without the stimulus—”Not as bad as it could have been!” isn’t a winning slogan—well, the truth is that things would have been a lot worse without the stimulus. Everyone from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (PDF) to private-sector forecasting firmshave concluded that it increased economic growth, reduced unemployment, and put millions of people back to work. It just wasn’t big enough, or long-lasting enough. Unfortunately, this has given conservatives an opening to demand tighter money and lower spending—exactly the same mistake we made in 1937.
MYTH #2 THE DEFICIT IS OUR BIGGEST PROBLEM […]
MYTH #3 LOWER TAXES ARE THE BEST WAY TO GROW THE ECONOMY
There’s no greater orthodoxy in the Republican Party than unconditional fealty to tax cuts. In a recent GOP debate, when the candidates were asked whether they’d walk away from a deficit deal that included just $1 in tax increases for every $10 in spending cuts, every single hand shot up.
Taxes have been the third rail of American politics ever since theCalifornia tax revolt of 1978. Even Democrats are nervous about touching them: President Obama has famously called for letting some of the Bush tax cuts expire, but he’s always careful to make it clear that he wouldn’t change rates for anyone earning less than $250,000 per year. In other words, he’d repeal less than a quarter of the Bush tax cuts.
This fear is easy to understand. No one likes paying higher taxes. But do lower taxes actually spur economic growth? Bruce Bartlett, an economist in the Reagan administration, has compared tax rates in various rich countries in 1979 to each country’s growth rate since then. His conclusion? There’s virtually no correlation.
Recent US history backs this up too. Bill Clinton raised tax rates in 1993, and Republicans insisted it would cripple the economy. Instead, the economy boomed. In 2001 and 2003, George W. Bush lowered taxes and Republicans insisted the economy would flourish. Instead, we got the weakest expansion of the past century. Republicans are simply wrong about taxes: Within reason, high tax rates don’t hinder growth, and low tax rates don’t stimulate it.
But don’t high taxes reduce the incentive for people to work? Actually, no: For ordinary wage earners, participation in the job force and total hours worked barely respond to taxes at all. (According to tax specialistsJoel Slemrod and Jon Bakija, this is “a rare example of a question on which there is a broad consensus among economists.”) The same is true for rich people. As a trio of prominent economists concluded last year after reviewing the literature, “there is no compelling evidence to date of real economic responses to tax rates” (PDF). Even capital gains rates have virtually no impact: During the past few decades, they’ve bounced up and down from 40 percent to their post-Depression low of 15 percent. The effect on business investment is nil.
MYTH #4 REGULATORY UNCERTAINTY
Are American businesses paralyzed by fear of a tidal wave of new regulations? When McClatchy reporter Kevin Hall went out and asked small-business owners about this, he got a clear answer. “Absolutely, positively not,” said one. “Government regulations are not choking our business,” said another. In its most recent quarterly survey (PDF) of small-business trends, the National Federation of Independent Business reports that sales—i.e., lack of demand—is the No. 1 concern, beating out taxes, regulations, inflation, and everything else.
In any case, regardless of what theWall Street Journal editorial page says, the Obama administration has hardly been a whirlwind of regulatory activity. Its health care reform will have very little effect on either small businesses (which are exempt) or large businesses (which mostly offer health plans already) and only a modest effect on medium-size businesses (PDF). Its financial reform bill affects only the financial sector. Its proposed new air-quality regulations will mostly affect old coal-fired electrical plants that would have shut down anyway (PDF).
Dumb and outdated regulations are no friends to the economy—and the Obama administration has undertaken a regulatory review that’s projected to save an estimated $10 billion during the next five years. But as welcome as that is, our economy’s biggest problem right now isn’t regulatory uncertainty. It’s economic uncertainty.
MYTH #5 OBAMA IS DEBASING THE DOLLAR
In one of the most infamous moments of his young candidacy, Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry decided to tee off on Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke last summer. “If this guy prints more money between now and the election,” he told an enthusiastic audience in Cedar Rapids, “I don’t know what y’all would do to him in Iowa, but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas.”
Bernanke’s sin? Pumping money into the banking system after the collapse of 2008. Although this is widely credited with helping prevent a second Great Depression, tea partiers and gold bugs are convinced that Bernanke’s actions have debased the dollar. There are two problems with that claim. First, it’s not true. Second, we’d be better off if it were.
First things first: Has the dollar lost value under Bernanke and Obama? No. The usual measure for the strength of the dollar is called “trade-weighted value.” In July 2008, just before the financial crisis erupted in earnest, the greenback’s value stood at 95.4. As I’m writing this in mid-September, it has gone up, then down, and is currently sitting at 96.1.Taking a longer view, the dollar lost value under Reagan and Bush I, gained value under Clinton, lost value under Bush II, and has mostly stayed steady under Obama. There’s just no basis to the claim that Obama and Bernanke have debased the currency.
And that’s unfortunate. As economist Dean Baker is fond of pointing out, if we want to get our national savings rate up and our long-term budget deficit down, there’s only one way to do it: by fixing our massive trade deficit. We have to import less and export more, and one way to make that happen is with a weaker dollar. A weaker dollar makes foreign goods more expensive, so we’ll buy less of them, and makes American goods cheaper, so others will buy more of them.
The truth is that we’d be better off if we ditched the loaded “strong/weak” terminology and just talked about an “export dollar” (weak) and an “import dollar” (strong). Sometimes one is good, and sometimes the other is. The Chinese, for example, have done well for decades with an export yuan. Likewise, an export dollar would be our friend right now.
MYTH #6 UNSHACKLE THE RICH
Think of this as the supermyth—the one underlying so many other fallacies. For decades, America’s economic policies have been based on the notion that catering to corporations and the wealthy is the way to stimulate the economy. Republicans routinely insist that we need to bail them out, lower their taxes, allow them to repatriate hundreds of billionsin overseas profits, and free them from annoying government meddling. If we don’t, the “job creators” will stay in a funk, and the economy will stay in a rut.
But here’s a pesky fact neither corporate America nor the GOP establishment is trumpeting: After-tax corporate profits are currently at an all-time high. The problem businesses face isn’t lack of cash but rather a lack of confidence that consumer demand will pick up in the future. So they’re not expanding or hiring at the rate they should be.
Rich people don’t create jobs when we hand them big windfalls. They create jobs when the economy is growing and they have customers for their businesses. And the key to solving that problem, at least during a deep economic slump like the one we’re in now, is to focus like a laser on more stimulus, easier money, higher inflation, and a weakercurrency. Unless we want to relive 1937 over and over and over again. As Bill Murray said, “Anything different is good.”
It’s a big moment in health policy wonk land right now: the Obama administration has just published the final Accountable Care Organization rule. You can read all 694 pages of it here.
Sound dull? Let’s rephrase: The Obama administration has just released a regulation that could decide whether the American health-care system moves past the broken, expensive fee-for-service model. The idea is to encourage groups of providers to band together into “accountable care organizations” and accept a flat fee for all care related to a particular patient or condition. If they could deliver high-quality care in a cost-effective way, they could keep the money they saved. The hope is to do nothing less than change the basic business model of American medicine from making money by getting patients to spend more money to making money by saving patients money.
This is not the administration’s first crack at encouraging ACOs. A proposed rule in April, which detailed the requirements to become an ACO, was greeted with howls of protest by the provider community. In hundreds of comment letters, hospital and doctor groups blasted the program as unattractive, with too much risk and not enough reward. The American Medical Group Association, which represents nearly 400 large provider organizations warned CMS that virtually none of its members would participate. The group called the rule “overly prescriptive, operationally burdensome, and the incentives are too difficult to achieve to make this voluntary program attractive.”
The New England Journal of Medicine captured their concerns in this graph, which looks intimidating at first glance, but lays out with unusual clarity the rewards ACOs could get for providing better care at a lower price, and why they thought the administration’s initial offer wouldn’t work. […]
There are two things that really irked health care systems here. First, look at right side of the graph: if an ACO ended up spending more money than the target set by Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services it would have to pay back some funds. Second, look at the section labeled “minimum savings” in the middle: any ACO would have to show savings above 2 percent before they could reap any of the financial rewards.
The rule published today eliminates both of those barriers to entry. It creates an ACO track with no “downside risk,” meaning that right part of the graph essentially becomes irrelevant (there is also an option that does include downside risk and greater rewards, for ACOs more confident they’ll succeed). The 2 percent gap gets cut, too: under the final rule, ACOs share in any savings from the very first penny.
CMS made a lot of other adjustments too that make the program easier to participate in, like lowering the quality reporting requirements and eliminating requirements that ACOs show significant use of electronic medical records. As one CMS official put it this morning, the agency wanted to “smooth the on-ramp” into the program.
What will providers think of the rule? I’m reaching out for comments as we speak. But CMS is sure hoping they like it. The agency went through more than 1,300 comments submitted on the draft regulation, many suggesting changes reflected in this morning’s rule. CMS estimates that its ACO program will have anywhere from 50 to 270 participants.
“This is a rule I think we can be proud of,” CMS administrator Don Berwick told reporters at a briefing this morning. “It’s responsive to many of the concerns we heard. It’s balanced and I think we’ve done the job of carefully listening to what could be strengthened.
Compare and contrast. Here, via Open Secrets, are the top recipients of campaign cash from the finance, insurance and real estate sector, according to FEC filings:
Top Recipients, 2011-2012
Romney, Mitt (R)
Obama, Barack (D)
Gillibrand, Kirsten (D-NY)
Corker, Bob (R-TN)
Boehner, John (R-OH)
And here is the lede from a Washington Post story that’s been getting a lot of play:
Despite frosty relations with the titans of Wall Street, President Obama has still managed to raise far more money this year from the financial and banking sector than Mitt Romney or any other Republican presidential candidate, according to new fundraising data.
What’s going on? Well, the WaPo included not only cash that Obama has raised on Wall Street for his campaign, but also for the Democratic National Committee, which, it notes, “will aid in his reelection effort.”
That’s not an entirely inappropriate analysis — Obama raised that cash, which is news-worthy if for no other reason than we have a lot of Wall Street execs taking to various opinion pages to whine about how mean Obama has been to them and promising to take their balls and go home if he’s not nicer. And of course Obama was the Darling of Wall Street in 2008. But there are a few problems with it.
First, this is simply an advantage of being an incumbent at this point in the cycle. Eventually the GOP will have a nominee and he (it won’t be Bachmann) will go to Wall Street and raise money for the RNC.
I note this mainly because we use contributions to the campaigns themselves inour report on Wall Street’s influence in Washington, merely noting in parentheses that the figures don’t include money raised for the two parties’ national committees. So, a clarification seemed to be in order.
1. Why Gadhafi’s Death Vindicates “Leading From Behind” (Tom Friedman)
2. Gadhafi’s Death Shows The U.S. Was Never Really “Leading From Behind” (Anne-Marie Slaughter)
3. There Is Still More To Do In Libya (Any Washington Post op-ed)
4. On To Damascus, Then Teheran (Weekly Standard)
5. Gadhafi’s Death Shows The Post-Iraq Syndrome Is Over (TNR)
6. Whither The Obama Doctrine? (David Ignatius)
7. Saving The Responsibility To Protect From Future Libya Wars (Democracy Arsenal)
8. Slideshow: Bye, Bye Moammar (Foreign Policy)
9. Gadhafi’s Death May Not Lead To Bump For Obama (Politico)
10. The Warplanes And Warships of Libya (WIRED’s Danger Room)
Update: Self-fulfilling prophesy.
On Tuesday, Roll Call ran a story noting that Lisa Simeone — a radio personality who hosts the shows World of Opera and Soundprint — has been taking part in and serving as an informal spokeswoman for anti-war protests in Washington, DC known as October 2011 (which are separate from the Occupy D.C. demonstrations). The Daily Callerand Fox News soon picked up on the story, attempting to stir a controversy.
These media sources implied or incorrectly stated that Simeone worked for National Public Radio (NPR), noting that NPR has prohibitions on “engag[ing] in public relations work, paid or unpaid.” The truth is that Simeone was not an NPR employee and rather served as a host on a show that was distributed by some NPR stations.
Yet NPR reacted sharply to pressure from conservative media outlets, sending out an e-mail to its staffers noting that it was “in conversations” with radio station WDAV, which produces one of Simeone’s shows, about “how to handle this. We of course take this issue very seriously.” And late last night, the station that hosts Soundprint caved to pressure from NPR and fired Simeone from her job hosting the show after NPR’s code of conduct was read to her.
In an interview with journalist David Swanson, Simeone noted that she wasn’t even an NPR employee and that her show did not cover politics. She also noted that a wide variety of NPR’s other employees appear as commentators on conservative media or take speaking fees for their work:
One reason you can expect unanimous Republican opposition to Senate Democrats’ latest jobs bill Friday is because it includes a tax — a 0.5 percent surtax on income above $1 million starting in January 2013.
That would raise enough money over the next 10 years to cover the $35 billion cost of hiring and retaining about 400,000 teachers and emergency responders next year — but for Republicans, it’s not worth it.
“This is the worst possible way to promote economic growth and job creation,” warned Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) — the Senate Minority Whip, and member of the joint deficit Super Committee.
Enter Vice President Joe Biden, who at a Capitol Hill rally on Wednesday provided a lesson on just how modest the tax is.
“You have a one-half of one-percent surtax on the 1,000,0001th dollar — in other words it doesn’t affect anybody who makes $999,000, it doesn’t affect anybody making $999,999 — and if you want to find the guy who make $1,000,0001, it only affects that $1. That’s the only thing the rate goes up on,” Biden explained.
This is a basic fact about marginal tax policy, but its one Republicans like to obscure.
“If you make $1.1 million, and god-willing this passes, you would pay next year, $500 more in taxes,” Biden said.
Biden claimed the average income of people who earn more than $1 million a year is $3 million. The jobs bill would cost a person making that much money $10,000 in 2013 — exactly one-third of one-percent of his total income.
“I say to the American people: watch your senator,” Biden said. “Watch him or her choose: Are you going to put 400,000 school teachers back in classrooms; are you going to put 18,000 cops back on the street, and 7,000 firefighters back into firehouses? OR are you going to save people with average income over $1 million a one-half of one-percent increase in tax on every dollar they make over a million.”
A lot of Republicans oppose this piece of Americans jobs bill because, they say, it’s temporary — a sugar high for the economy.
Before a supportive audience on Capitol Hill, Biden had an answer for that criticism as well.
“In housing the bottom fell out, foreclosures increased particularly in poor neighborhoods, abandoned homes … drug lords moved in, arson increases, budgets fall because property taxes fall, cops and firefighters get laid off, response times increase from five minutes to thirty, and innocent people die and people’s homes burn to the ground,” he said. “There’s nothing temporary about kindergarten being eliminated, that will have an effect on that child the rest of his life…. There’s nothing temporary about the life saved in a home invasion or a robbery because the squad car was able to get there in five minutes and not in thirty.”
Late update: Here’s video of Biden’s math lesson.
Citizens for Tax Justice analysis showing that Mitt Romney — whose net worth is as high as $250 million — paid only a 14 percent tax rate in 2010, Priorities USA Action has released a new ad calling for repeal of the “Romney rule.” “The Romney Rule is simple: Mitt Romney thinks that millionaires like him are entitled to pay a lower rate of taxes than teachers, cops and construction workers,” said Bill Burton, Senior Strategist for Priorities USA Action. Watch it:
Romney doesn’t support the Obama administration’s “Buffett rule,” which is aimed at ensuring that millionaires can’t pay lower taxes than middle-class workers. Instead, Romney derided it as “class warfare.” Romney has, so far, not released a full tax return, even though he is very fond of demanding that his opponents do so.
Tapper: It’s just over two months until the Republican Iowa caucus. There’s a lot of talk about the economy. I don’t know if you’re watching the debates, but I’m sure you’re reading about them in the paper. Herman Cain has his 9-9-9 plan. What are you hearing from the Republicans when it comes to the economy? What do you think of their proposals?
Obama: I’ve got to say, what I haven’t heard is anything new, across the board, whether it’s coming from Congress or from the Republican candidates so far.
Tapper: 9-9-9 is new. (crosstalk)
Obama: Well, essentially what it says is that we’re going to make sure that the wealthiest among us pay less and we replace any revenues with a sales tax that would be a huge burden on middle class families and working families. That’s not new. I remember a candidate who ran against me, Alan Keyes who was running against me in the Senate, had a similar kind of proposal. Those ideas have been have been floating around for a long time. The overall thrust seems to be if we roll back regulations, and we lower taxes on those who are doing best, oftentimes by imposing more taxes on middle class and working class families, that somehow the economy is going to get better.
One of the things I’m most surprised about is hearing both from Republican members of Congress and Republican candidates, the notion that we should return to the rules that existed on Wall Street before the financial crisis. They want to roll back all the Wall Street reforms we put into place as if they’ve got amnesia about how we got into this problem in the first place.
As I wrote about in my piece for A2Politico this week, the organizers of the recall effort against Republican state Representative Paul Scottz was dealt a devastating blow last week when Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Clinton Canady granted an injunction barring the use of petition signatures that have been gathered. This was the only recall effort in Michigan to secure enough valid signatures to put it on the November 2011 ballot.
This particular recall was high-profile because Scott’s anti-teacher’s union activities in the legislature sparked the Michigan Education Assocation to get involved with the recall, donating money and resources to the effort. All of the signatures gathered are now deemed invalid. Recall organizers are rightfully outraged. […]
Her piece is well-worth a read and I commend your attention to it. In the meantime, the recall organizers say they will appeal. However, given the Republican dominance of the Michigan Supreme Court, the outcome of such an appeal is unlikely to help them. Even it if does, and it should because it will set a precedent for future recall efforts, it will come too late for the November 2011 election.
Recalls in Michigan are already very difficult. This decision, if it stands and is upheld by the Supreme Court, will make them all but impossible. All a recall target needs to do is continue to file suits in court until they either exhaust their opponents (physically and/or financially) or until it becomes too late due to the timing. If this goes through, we may as well remove the ability to recall legislators from the state constitution entirely because they will no longer be available to our citizenry.
Occupy Wall Street has already started to shape the language of the 2012 elections. Major Democrats—including Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, and even the president—have expressed solidarity with the movement. Other members of Congress, like Raul Grijalva and Keith Ellison, have offered their support, too, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is promoting a petition to seek 100,000 supporters to declare their support for the protesters.
For evidence, protesters need look no further than the Tea Party, which has wielded a huge amount of influence by ushering in a wave of fresh faces on Capitol Hill. Some charismatic candidates, like Marco Rubio and Allen West, decided that the shoe fit after being labeled Tea Party darlings by the media and courted by the movement itself. (Shortly after West’s incendiary speech, in which he told the audience to “grab their muskets and bayonets,” went viral in 2009, he started to agree with reporters who hounded him about his Tea Party allegiances.) Others spotted an opportunity for national recognition. Michele Bachmann was known for her culture-war conservatism until she decided to launch the Senate’s Tea Party caucus and run for president as a fiscal conservative. The original mastermind of the caucus, freshman senator Rand Paul, seemed to coast to victory on that merit alone. Regardless of how these politicians got to Washington, the agenda of the GOP has been partly if not largely shaped by Tea Partiers in its congressional ranks.
Of course, embracing a protest movement can also be a dealbreaker—for voters and candidates. The more extreme side of the Tea Party, the faction that waves bigoted misspelled signs and heckles the president, has turned off voters. Recent polls show that only 20 percent of the public sympathizes with Tea Party politics, while 40 percent oppose them. Many of the far-right candidates of 2010—like Christine O’Donnell, Sharron Angle, and Joe Miller—handed easy wins to their more moderate opponents. The majority of the Occupy Wall Street protesters are more intent on quelling corporate greed and creating jobs than overthrowing capitalism, but there’s a risk of the average American watching a Fox News report, spotting an “Eat the Rich” poster, and thinking “Whoa, that’s not me.” Conservatives and even some moderates have ignored the movement’s populist message and focused on more incoherent fringe demonstrators.
And even though some leaders and organizations are on board with Occupy Wall Street, other politicians will be more hesitant. Given how easily the “Obama is a Communist” rumors spread, some candidates may squirm in their seats over the movement’s unabashed empathy with socialism. And joining the movement isn’t exactly a great way to raise campaign money. The Tea Party had a major leg up in this department—their definition of freedom aligned nicely with global corporations’—but that’s not true of Occupy Wall Street.As one Wall Street protester deftly pointed out, more than 90 percent of Congressional elections depend on who has the most funding, making it an uphill struggle for a politician who doesn’t have corporate dollars lining his pockets.
Still, if Occupy Wall Street can learn anything from the Tea Party, it’s that having anti-establishment undertones doesn’t preclude a movement from infiltrating the establishment. On the contrary, this is the best way to wield power and gain legitimacy. The core group of protesters cuddling up in sleeping bags on the ground Zuccotti Park reject the idea of elevating one or two leaders, but unofficial spokespeople have already appeared, and politicians will certainly follow suit. And Occupy Wall Streeters accept the premise of government help, making it easy for demonstrators to connect with lawmakers. They’re not calling for Washington to butt out of their lives, they’re imploring our leaders to intervene. This is a perfect opportunity to get Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Baldwin, Eric Griego, and other progressive 2012 candidates on board with their framing. Rather than being the Party of No, they’ll be expected to work hard to protect 99 percent of Americans.
If Occupy Wall Street succeeds in spreading its inclusive “99 Percenters” message to Washington, it has a real chance of appealing to voters and garnering political allies. But it’s not going to happen unless the movement proactively seizes this opportunity. A huge rally in the capital would help. Candidates speaking at local protests would be effective, too. Organizers need to have direct conversations with Congresspeople, and come up with solutions that easily translate to policy. The aim should shift from fat cats to the politicians who apologize for them. Occupy Wall Streeters may be angry with Washington, but they still need to join ’em before they can beat ’em.
Heather (digby)Parton, Al Jazeera:
I suppose it was inevitable that the burgeoning Occupy Wall Street movement would be compared with the Tea Party, but the level of misunderstanding and myth surrounding the latter’s “populist” bona fides is surprising to even the most cynical observer.
There may be surface similarities between the two uprisings, but they actually represent two opposing populist worldviews, whose only philosophical resemblance to one another is their belief that they speak for “the people” against the elites. While both movements are mainly concerned with economic issues, their beliefs about the causes and solutions they propose couldn’t be more different.
One of the central myths about the Tea Party is that it came about as a reaction against the Wall Street bailouts. It’s true that there were some scattered “Tea Parties” around the Ron Paul campaign in 2008, but virtually everyone agrees that the movement was really galvanised by a famous rant from CNBC anchor Rick Santelli from the trading floor of the Chicago commodities exchange.
Only one month into the Obama administration, Santelli called for a “new Tea Party” to be held on tax day, April 15, and it became an instant YouTube sensation and rallying cry for the right wing.
He was mad about bailouts alright, but not the Wall Street bailouts. What sparked his fury was the proposed plan to help average homeowners in trouble with their mortgages. Santelli raved: “Do we really want to subsidise the losers’ mortgages? This is America! How many of you people want to pay for your neighbour’s mortgage? President Obama, are you listening? How about we all stop paying our mortgages! It’s a moral hazard.” […]
It was never about corporate greed, but was about the usual right wing resentment at the government spending their tax money on people they don’t think have earned it. These are not billionaire bankers – they are the people on the lower rungs of the ladder. Unsurprisingly, this attitude turned out to be useful to corporate interests looking to allay any real populist impulses among the citizenry, and they soon moved in through various means to help the “movement” organise itself.
Contrary to various accounts surfacing lately ostensibly to warn the Occupy Wall Street supporters of the dangers of being similarly “co-opted” it was a very happy love match, not a marriage of convenience.
Occupy Wall Street, on the other hand, while being endlessly harrangued by wags and pundits about its alleged lack of goals and lists of grievances, is actually focused pretty clearly on the same thing as the populists of the Gilded Age – those whom Teddy Roosevelt called the “malefactors of great wealth”.
Their rallying cry is “we are the 99 per cent” which represents the huge number of those of us who have been treading water or losing ground over the past 30 years, while and the upper one per cent of the population swallows up more and more of the nation’s wealth. This shocking income inequality is finally reaching a critical mass that is animating the OWS movement.
Indifference of the rich
This movement wasn’t catalysed by a wealthy commentator issuing a cri de guerre on a stock market show on TV. There has been a growing anti-corporate populist critique on the left for nearly 20 years, first in the form of the anti-globalisation movement and more recently in the more mainstream response to a series of assaults on workers’ rights, notably in Wisconsin and Ohio.
The arrogant indifference of the very rich to the carnage they left behind in the wake of their spectacular meltdown in 2008, and the apparent impotence of democratic institutions to hold them to account, has finally mobilised the masses.
There is a sub-text that ties plutocratic venality and greed to the political process, but the latter is as much a symptom as a cause. Money has always been influential in politics (and probably always will be), but the corporate takeover of US politics that culminated in the Citizens United decisioncreated a money race that may have led to mutually assured destruction of both parties. All that money bought an economic downturn that continues to plague the lives of average Americans, and Occupy Wall Street is pointing a finger right at the source of the problem. It’s right there in the name.
Historian Michael Kazin, author of The Populist Persuasion: An American History, says: “Right-wing populists typically drum up resentment based on differences of religion and cultural style. Their progressive counterparts focus on economic grievances. But the common language is promiscuous – useful to anyone who asserts that virtue resides in ordinary people and has the skills and platform to bring their would-be superiors down to earth.”
There was a time when left populism was powerful and vibrant, driven by a workplace-centered labour movement that appealed across many of the usual political fault lines and resulted in the enactment of the New Deal, out of the ashes of the Great Depression.
The egalitarian ideas that underpinned that great achievement stood for many decades as the middle class, buoyed by its success, grew to be broad and deep. And that, perversely, led to the opening for the cultural and racial resentment that characterises right wing populism.
Once the left moved to broaden its economic gains to include traditionally marginalised members of society, the right reacted. Strongly. It not only blamed those minorities, but held “pointy-headed liberals” who championed their cause in deep disregard.
After the cultural revolution of the 1960s, this disregard morphed into outright contempt. And that right wing cultural populism has been dominant in the US for the past 40 years, providing cover for the rise of corporatism and the income inequality it buys for the wealthy.
It might be best represented in the person of ex-Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, who responded to the question of whether she was smart enough to be president by saying: “I believe that I am because I have common sense, and I have, I believe, the values that are reflective of so many other American values. And I believe that what Americans are seeking is not the elitism, the kind of spinelessness, that perhaps is made up for with some kind of elite Ivy League education …”
A clueless revolt?
One would think that the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street could at least find common ground in their mutual indictment of the political process, however differently they see the cause. But so far, the Tea Party groups are having none of it. The cultural trip wires that have animated rightwing cultural resentment for at least the past 40 years are still powerful motivators – after all, the Rick Santelli rant was based upon resentment of “losers” who needed help with their mortgages.
In recent days, many of them have issued statements denying any similarities with the Occupy Wall Street. Judson Phillips, spokesman for the Tea Party Nation, responded to the claim with this: “The clueless revolt continues and it is painfully obvious those who are showing up to ‘protest’ do not have a job. In most cases, it is painfully obvious why they don’t have a job. To paraphrase the Jimmy Buffett song Margaretville: ‘It’s your own damn fault’.”
Brian Hickey of the Independence Tea Party was somewhat less flippant but equally unequivocal in his rejection of Occupy Wall Street: “The idea that Wall Street is the root of all evil is an anathema to us.”
‘m not sure that the Occupy movement’s populism sees Wall Street as the root of all evil, but it does see its reckless destructiveness and craven hoarding of the nation’s wealth as the root of our current national distress. Tea party populism, on the other hand, sees an active government that seeks to redistribute some of Wall Street’s wealth (to the wrong people) as the problem.
It is very hard to imagine that these movements will find common cause. They may both believe that “virtue resides in ordinary people” and that they have the skills and platform to “bring their would-be superiors down to earth” but their definition of who is ordinary and who is superior is radically different.
The United States has always featured these two different sides of the populism coin and it’s tempting to see the two movements arising in virtually the same political moment as representative of a vast uprising of common people in common purpose.
But while it is vast, and masses of common people are rising up, they are two separate movements with very different worldviews.
If one is to take Tea Partiers at their word, they have thrown in with Wall Street and the Occupiers are their enemy. They are already organised around opposing them. The Occupy Wall Street movement does not see the world in such terms. If they are lucky, some of the formerly hostile salt-of-the-earth working folk who might have opposed them on cultural grounds in the past have been radicalised by Wall Street’s greed and will join the occupation.
But I wouldn’t count on too many of them. This is a political and cultural fault line that runs deep. But then again, in this polarised country, all it takes is a few to cross over and make a majority.
[Must read about Movements and Organization]
[…] Suddenly, there are thousands of people taking some action, inspired by each other and seemingly not organized by anybody, and the conversation shifts to how we can harness the energy that has been released in that moment. Embedded in these discussions is an implicit assumption that one can build a movement in much the same way that one builds organizations: methodically, over the long term, with lots of structure so that people can join and find a path to leadership. I think this assumption is fundamentally wrong.
Organizations and movements are certainly related. Organizing builds infrastructure for a movement, and sometimes trains a movement’s leaders. The simplified movement stories we read today—how Rosa Parks sat down one day ‘cause she was too tired to move to the back of the bus, for example—are pretty much fantasy. Rosa Parks was a devoted member of the NAACP for 20 years before that day. She had put in her time recruiting members, registering people to vote, supporting legal efforts and plotting change. Before Mrs. Parks refused to move, others had, too, just as there were desegregation sit-ins at Southern lunch counters before the Greensboro Five sat down at Woolworth’s. Some of those sit-ins even had some success, but they didn’t spark spontaneous mass action, and only a real history buff or someone who was involved will bother to dig up their memory. Sometimes it’s useful to think of this period as the “pre-movement” stage. This is all the stuff that Gandhi did in South Africa years before the Salt Marches in India; all the work to protect gay people before Stonewall; everything we’re doing right now on our way to a new immigration system.
There does turn out to be a time that a cause, identified with a particular tactic, activates people to an extent previously unseen. So many factors feed into that moment. Some elements are tangible and we can try to influence them, like media pick up of the action, or a simple tactical design that eases replication. But some of these elements are intangible. We can’t predict them and we can’t control for them. They are comprised of some magical combination of an angry-enough constituency, a large-enough break in the system of repression so that what is underground can rise up, and the presence of creative leadership. When these factors are present, we might have a movement moment. Thus, organizers have to be prepared for such a moment to hit at any time. I wish I knew how to call it years in advance, but I’ve never really met anyone who could. The best we can do is open our eyes when it’s right on top of us.
This is the moment when conflict can arise between a new movement and the established organizations that created the pre-movement infrastructure, because this is when the differences between enabling movements and building organizations becomes clear. Movements are decentralized; organizations are centralized. Movements are spontaneous; organizations have strategies and plans, not to mention members and funders. These first two characteristics make movements go fast, while organizations can be slooow. Movements and organizations both want change, but organizations have the added goal of building for the long term, of perpetuating themselves. That goal can make organizations reluctant to embrace movements, even on the issues they’ve worked on forever, and can in turn can feed contempt for established organizations among movements.
We need both kinds of activity. There are things that the NAACP can do because it’s 100 years old, and there are things it can’t do for that very same reason. There are things Occupy Wall Street can do because it is nimble and unknown, but there are things it can’t do for that same reason. A good relationship between social justice organizations and movements requires reorientation from both.
Organizations can speed up by shifting some of their priorities. They can drop the notion that we must get all those occupiers or marchers or queer public smoochers to join their groups. They can be willing to share their planning and tactical skills even for an effort that they do not control and for which they will not likely get credit. In a movement moment, the imperatives of organization building can be set aside, and we might even recognize that not every organization has to live forever to make a great contribution. Organizers are used to hunkering down for marathons, but movement moments require sprinting. As a collective body, we must prepare to run full out.
For their part, movements can slow down enough to make sure they don’t exclude important perspectives in the rush to action. They can do their homework so that they know who John Lewis is when he wants to speakto them. They can adopt enough structure to protect people within the movement who could be abused by people with more power. They can refrain from blaming the current situation on the organizers who “failed” to make change earlier. More than anything else, social justice organizations and movements have to support each other, because the opposition will do its best to divide them by punishing the new movement, by pressuring the established groups to withhold support, even by making some concessions to one or the other.
Lately I’ve been remembering a quote by Omowale Satterwhite, a former board member of the Applied Research Center, which publishes Colorlines.com. During one meeting, long before an Obama presidency, Omowale said that our organization had to be ready for anything. People might not care so much about race now, he said, but that could change at any moment. He had observed from the fight against South African apartheid that “you never know how close you are to freedom.” We can’t set the timer for a movement moment, but we can act correctly when the clock strikes now.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) appeared on Fox News this morning to respond to reports of Moammar Gadhafi’s demise. His first instinct wasn’t to thank American troops, but rather, to thank French troops.
In the mind of this rising Republican star, the American military that helped drive Gadhafi’s regime from power deserves no credit at all. Marco Rubio is comfortable crediting the French, but not American men and women in uniform.
Remember hearing about the “blame America first” crowd? Well, say hello to the “thank America last” crowd.
Rubio, by the way, isn’t the only member. In August, when Gadhafi’s government fell, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)issued a joint statement in which the Republicans commended the “British, French, and other allies, as well as our Arab partners, especially Qatar and the UAE.” McCain and Graham eventually said Americans can be “proud of the role our country” played, but nevertheless condemned the administration’s “failure” to act the way the GOP senators wanted.
Republicans hate the president so much, they just can’t bring themselves to credit him for the success of the mission, or even thank American servicemen and women for their service in completing the mission.
I realize Rubio is a reflexive partisan, but even for him, his comments on Fox News this morning were just cheap. When the fear of Obama getting some credit for success is stronger than the satisfaction that comes with Gadhafi’s demise, there’s a problem.
As for Rubio complaining about the way in which Obama’s policy came together, it’s worth noting that the president assembled an international coalition with surprising speed and won approval from the United Nations extremely quickly.
If Rubio and his ilk don’t want to applaud the president for getting the results they claim to have wanted, the least they can do is have the decency to acknowledge the efforts of U.S. troops. Is that really too much to ask from the right?
Update: McCain appeared on CNN this morning and said, “I think the [Obama] administration deserves credit, but I especially appreciate the leadership of the British and French in this in carrying out this success.” Shameless.
House Republicans are no longer content to use the investigative powers of Congress to go after President Obama’s healthcare overhaul by compelling Obama administration to cough up information and testify before their committees.
In recent weeks, the GOP has launched a dragnet for internal information from companies with ties to the White House about the healthcare law and its impact on business.
The move has Democrats crying foul and accusing Republicans of abusing their investigative authority to intimidate company executives who are cooperating with President Obama and serving on his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.
Earlier this month, Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent 23 letters to executives on the President’s Council seeking information about the impact of the Obama’s healthcare law. But the request appeared more like a witch hunt, Democrats argue, because Republicans asked for a voluminous amount of material, including all emails from all company employees even mentioning the healthcare law.
The letters request all documents “discussing, concerning, or relating in any way” to the healthcare law, including “all communications, including e-mail, sent to or received by” company employees, during a two-and-a-half year period,” Democrats on the panel wrote in a letter to Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), its chairman, sent Thursday.
Executives serving on the council include GE’s Jeffrey Immelt, AOL co-founder Steve Case, American Express’s Kenneth I. Chenault and Xerox’s Ursula Burns, to name just a few. Obama created the jobs council, made up of business, labor and academic leaders, earlier this year to give him advice on boosting the economy and creating jobs.
“Given that some of the targeted companies have hundreds of thousands of employees, the burden of compliance is potentially enormous,” wrote Reps. Henry Waxman (CA) and Diana DeGette (CO), two senior Democrats on the committee.
“Your decision raises an exceptionally serious issue: are the Committee’s powers being used to intimidate companies that cooperate with President Obama?” they asked.
The only rationale Republicans could have for singling out the companies, Democrats said, is that they were serving on the President’s Jobs Council. […]
“If someone is looking for political intimidation, they might note that the only oversight of the health care law that Mr. Waxman did was to aggressively and publicly demand documents and testimony from a handful of companies that were simply complying with the law in documenting the losses they would face because of [healthcare overhaul],” the aide noted.
Waxman and DeGette claim the GOP political intimidation is part of pattern and point to another recent “burdensome and intrusive” investigation launched by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) against Planned Parenthood.
The pair requested a meeting with Upton and Stearns next week to discuss the matter.
I can’t put it better than this longtime Dish reader:
Personally, I am praying that Obama’s messaging improves drastically. (It has failed on multiple occasions – not the least of which was during August/September of 2008.)
The truth is that this President has done a good job in what has been one of the most difficult periods of modern history. He saved the economy from ruin (until the Tea Party took over Congress) with a stimulus that was as large as possible given the political realities, presided over a stock market that fairly quickly recouped many of its losses, presided over almost consecutive monthly increases in private sector job growth (unfortunately balanced by monthly decreases in public sector jobs which I attribute to the GOP further starving government), enacted the only meaningful healthcare reform ever in our history, passed financial reform (no matter what the Left says, he did this), saved the auto industry (which Romney is on record opposing), fired the first salvo of the Arab Spring with his address in Cairo no less, drawn down our footprint in Iraq in a responsible way (and headed toward almost total withdrawal), stopped numerous terrorist attacks in this country, stopped torture as policy, repealed DADT, joined the international community in a measured and responsible way to bring down an odious tyrant in Qaddafi, and killed a whole generation of al Qaeda leaders. And taking out Osama bin Laden the way he did will go down as one of the bravest military actions in American history.
I know this President is not popular, and it is very unpopular to defend him in such a way. I don’t care. For this country to dump him for anyone on the other side would be a terrible thing. Progress is slow and painful, but we are doing it. Is that fashionable to say? No. Again, I don’t care.
Amen. And the way in which the ADD media simply jumps to the next cycle of spinmanship only furthers the amnesia. But the Obama administration also shares some of the blame.
Many of them have been too focused on governing to explain what the fuck they’re doing. There’s a technocratic arrogance to them at times that is too blind to winning and sustaining arguments and narratives. And this is kinda mind-blowing because the record is so remarkable in retrospect.
If you’d told me in January 2009 that the banks would pay us back the entire bailout and then some, that the auto companies would actually turn around with government help and be a major engine of recovery, that there would be continuous job growth since 2009, however insufficient, after the worst demand collapse since the 1930s, that bin Laden would be dead, Egypt transitioning to democracy, al Qaeda all but decimated as a global threat, and civil rights for gays expanding more rapidly than at any time in history … well I would be expecting a triumphant re-election campaign.
But we are where we are – and the economic pain is real and the president must take his lumps. The good news for those of us who still back Obama and hope for his re-election is that even with all this positive record essentially dismissed and little of it capitalized on politically, Obama is still neck and neck with any likely opponent. And he is his own best messager.
At some point, he needs to shuck off the restraint, and tell the actual story of the last three years – against the fantastic and self-serving lies and delusions we keep hearing in Republican debates and Beltway chatter. If he does it with panache, he won’t need a jumpsuit onto an aircraft carrier. And many of his missions may even be accomplished.
By a margin of 68 to 27, Americans support implementing a surtax on millionaires to pay for a new jobs bill.
When Eric Cantor or John Boehner say “The American people don’t support raising taxes,” keep in mind that they’re only referring to the 30-percenters in their base. The same people who think George Bush was a great president.
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
A half-century ago, much of the world was in a broad state of change: We were moving out of the post-World War II era, and into both the Cold War and the Space Age, with broadening civil rights movements and anti-nuclear protests in the U.S. In 1961, John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as the 35th president of the United States, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to fly in space, Freedom Riders took buses into the South to bravely challenge segregation, and East Germany began construction of the Berlin Wall. That year, Kennedy gave the okay to the disastrous Bay of Pigs Invasion into Cuba and committed the U.S. to “landing a man on the Moon” with NASA’s Apollo program. JFK also oversaw the early buildup of a U.S. military presence in Vietnam: by the end of 1961, some 2,000 troops were deployed there. Let me take you 50 years into the past now, for a look at the world as it was in 1961.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Every one desires to live long, but no one would be old.