The big inequality news this week has been the publication of Thomas Piketty’s monumental book about the subject, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. I weighed in with my review in The Washington Monthly here; you can also read a trio of responses at The American Prospect, as well as Dean Baker’s Huffington Post critique. Paul Krugman offers a discussion of some of the book’s technical points here.
This book is making a huge splash, for excellent reasons. Let’s start with its technical apparatus. Piketty, a French economist, has assembled a formidable database on wealth and income from various nations that in some cases goes as far back as the eighteenth century. This has enabled him to conduct a far more rigorous and systematic analysis of the history of inequality than previous generations of researchers.
What’s also exciting about the book is its ambition and moral seriousness. Give the man props for his sheer chutzpah, if nothing else. Piketty has written a 700-page book that offers a grand theory of the dynamics of inequality and capital accumulation and traces it through history. In doing so, he picks up a project much of the rest of the economics profession abandoned long ago. Not since Simon Kuznets and his "Kuznets curve," a 1950s era model that held that inequality first increased, then decreased as economies grew, has a mainstream economist undertaken such a thorough investigation of inequality.
Certainly, Piketty is more responsible than any living economist for returning the question of distribution back where it belongs: at the center of economic analysis. It is the research of Piketty and his colleagues, such as Emmanuel Saez, who first demonstrated the depth and scope of the economic inequality problem. They also identified the crucial fact that spiraling inequality is mostly being driven by the richest one percent of the income distribution. According to Piketty’s most recent data, in the US, the top ten percent earned about half of all income, and the top one percent earned over one-fifth. Income inequality in this country has reached the highest level in at least 100 years.
It’s well worth noting that during the same decade, while inequality continued to soar, the best-selling economics book of the era, authored by an acclaimed, award-winning young economist, proudly devoted itself to topics no more momentous than cheating Sumo wrestlers. Well, that’s the American economics profession for you.
That Capital tackles a subject that could hardly be more urgent is part of what makes it so welcome. And that Piketty’s unusually lucid writing makes the book so accessible to the general reader—no ugly academic jargon! no impenetrable math!—is especially admirable.
What’s most impressive of all, however, is Piketty’s powerful analysis. The argument of the book, in a nutshell, is this: you know that period of declining inequality we experienced throughout much of the twentieth century, that some of us assumed would last forever? Well, it turns out that period was actually a major exception to history, rather than the norm.
It was an exception because the Great Depression and two world wars disrupted the natural order of things, created the necessity to raise taxes, destroyed (in Europe) a lot of physical capital, gave rise to the creation of equalizing labor market and social democratic political institutions, and in the delightful phrase coined by John Maynard Keynes, “euthanized the rentier class.” This led to an extended period when the rate of economic growth exceeded the rate of return on capital. But that period is no more, and we are fast returning to levels of inequality not seen since the 19th century. Since high levels of growth are unlikely to come back, we are doomed to an inegalitarian spiral—unless we do something about it.
The “something” we must do, according to Piketty, is enact a global tax on wealth, an idea he admits is “utopian.” He’s also called for a steep increase in top marginal income tax rates, which I discuss here.
Some liberals of my acquaintance who have read this book are not loving it. They think it’s too deterministic, that Piketty’s vision is too dark. But unless you believe that growth will return to its previous levels—something that even conventional economists like Larry Summers have been casting doubt on of late—Piketty’s argument is hard to refute.
tt’s also true that there are important dimensions of economic inequality that this book doesn’t touch on. If you want to understand the political economy of inequality—how our political system has enabled the rise of the 1 percent—I highly recommend Winner-Take-All Politics, the book by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson. And if you want to understand the effect inequality is having on our bodies and our souls, then Göran Therborn’s The Killing Fields of Inequality is the book for you. Where Piketty excels is in tracing the history of economic inequality and analyzing its causes.
In his review, Dean Baker makes the excellent point that wealth or income taxes aren’t the only way to bring the hammer down on the one percent. He mentions policy fixes such as weakening drug patent laws, reregulating the cable and telecommunications monopolies, and instituting a financial transactions tax, all of which would also help rein in rent-seeking elites. Those reforms would certainly help, and would be far more politically realistic than Piketty’s global wealth tax. But none of them have its potential transformative power.
According to Piketty, unless fairly dramatic political actions are taken to curb inequality, we face a grim, inegalitarian future. He makes that clear. The policy interventions he that he argues are necessary—a global tax on wealth, top marginal tax rates in excess of 80 percent—have been dismissed out of hand by some. “Too impractical!” But as Adolph Reed and others have been arguing lately, it’s long past time for the American left to start embracing utopianism. If we don’t, we may well be consigning ourselves to a dystopian fate.
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On the ever-popular AMC series The Walking Dead the flesh-eating zombies are generally called “walkers” by the show’s characters. In Wisconsin, however, a Walker is—or ought to be—only slightly less terrifying to state and national Democrats. That’s because Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s governor, the man who built a well-deserved national reputation as the politician who eviscerated organized labor in his state, is running for reelection in 2014—and, if we wins, could emerge as the GOP’s favored candidate to replace the beleaguered Chris Christie, New Jersey’s governor. Indeed, according to the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, Walker ought to be considered the frontrunner, ahead of Rand Paul and Christie.
A new poll in Wisconsin, by the Republican-leaning Rasmussen firm, says that the race between Walker and Mary Burke, the Democratic candidate, is now tied at 45 percent each. Reports The Capital Times in Madison:
The poll will no doubt be used by both sides to inspire their forces. For Democrats, it is evidence that Burke has a shot in November and makes the case that her campaign is worth the investment of time from volunteers and money from donors. For Republicans, results could serve as a wake-up call. Walker's rabid supporters and Rolodex of big donors can't take the election for granted and must work hard to protect the conservative policies he has pushed through in the past three years.
Walker, of course, hasn’t said he’s running for president, and he didn’t make an appearance this month at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), where Christie, Rand Paul, Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, and several other would-be 2016 standard-bearers auditioned. However, Walker will put in an appearance in Las Vegas later this month at the annual Republican Jewish Coalition bash, alongside Christie, John Kasich and Jeb Bush. One of the RJC’s biggest backers is Sheldon Adelson, a deep-pocketed, far-right donor who could singlehandedly finance a candidate in the GOP primary, as he did with Newt Gingrich’s failed effort in 2012.
In polls, and among Republican pundits—such as Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, the anti-tax evangelist—Walker often gets favorable mention. However, like Christie, Walker has had to deal with a burgeoning scandal at home. And like Christie, who twice won big as a conservative Republican running in a deep-blue state, one of Walker’s main claims to fame is that he accomplished his union-busting, small-government agenda in a state that is traditionally Democratic. But Walker may be facing an uphill climb in 2014: though he survived an expensive fight-to-the-death over a recall vote in June 2012 following his assault on collective bargaining, that victory ought not be seen as a sign of Walker’s strength. That’s because many voters who cast ballots for Walker in the 2012 vote did so not because they supported Walker but, according to polling, because they didn’t support the idea of a recall in principle, and in fact many of those who ended up backing Walker in the recall voted for President Obama later that year. As Walker himself wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed:
And here is where the results get intriguing: Exit polls showed that roughly one in six voters who cast their ballots for me in the June 2012 recall also planned to vote for Mr. Obama a few months later. These Obama-Walker voters constituted about 9% of the electorate.
So, in a straight-up contest in 2014, Walker is likely to face a more clear-cut test of his popularity. And for national Democrats, knocking Walker off his gubernatorial perch could help eliminate a very credible candidate for the GOP in 2016, one who is popular with the Republican establishment but who also has strong support among the Tea Party wing. Unlike Christie, who signed up New Jersey for Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, Walker loudly rejected it, to the applause of Tea Partiers.
National Journal, which says that Walker is “being hyped as a leading Republican presidential contender,” draws a historical parallel with another GOP hopeful eight years ago:
A Walker defeat wouldn't be the first time a presidential contender lost an election right before their big opportunity. Republican Sen. George Allen of Virginia spent 2005 and part of 2006 getting eyed as presidential material—before his "macaca" moment and a Democratic wave turfed him out of elected office.
If Christie is knocked out, if Walker loses his reelection bid, and if Jeb Bush decides not to run, the chances increase that the Republicans in 2016 will opt for one of the far-right, freshman senators who’ve signaled that they’re running—Paul, Rubio or Cruz. If so, they’ll be repeating on a national scale what they did in US Senate races in Nevada, Connecticut, and elsewhere, namely, running an ideological zealot who can’t appeal to independent, centrist and moderate voters, exactly Hillary Clinton’s base.
Read Next: Bob and Babara Dreyfuss analyze Bobby Jindal's 2016 prospects.
Last week I noted that an important original eight-part CNN series was starting (last Sunday) on the death penalty in the USA, with ace documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney and some guy named Redford as producers and Susan Sarandon (let’s not forget the great Dead Man Walking) as narrator. There’s a full web site up and details here. I observed that it will “call into question various beliefs surrounding America’s justice system and the death penalty.” That sounded like a good thing, and echoes my two books on the subject, including this recent ebook, Dead Reckoning.
Coming this Sunday in Part II of series: how Joyce Ride, mother of famed astronaut Sally Ride, helped free a woman on death row in California. I’ve previewed it and it’s terrific. If you can’t wait, there’s a full article about it here. Excerpt:
It wasn’t until the early 1990s that Joyce Ride came to the rescue.
She was visiting women inmates as a member of Friends Outside, one of many nonprofits across the nation that help inmates and their families cope with incarceration and transitioning to and from prison life. By supporting prisoner visits by friends and family members, Friends Outside says, it reduces stress among prisoners, preventing despair and unhealthy behavior.
Ride had already raised two daughters as a California housewife. One had grown up to become a Presbyterian minister. The other, the late Sally Ride, had become NASA’s first woman astronaut.
A nun who volunteered by visiting women in jail inspired Ride to learn more about why so many women who are victims of domestic abuse end up in prison. After her husband died, Ride began dedicating many of her days to visiting incarcerated women. “It interested me,” she said.
Ride’s younger daughter, the minister, understood. But it confused her astronaut daughter. “Sally couldn’t figure out why I was visiting prisons,” Ride said. Compared to her work at NASA, she said, “it was a whole other world.”
Read Next: Hannah Rappleye and Lisa Riordan Seville: The Town That Turned Poverty Into a Prison Sentence.
There is a 23-year-old Los Angeles Dodgers rookie of great promise named Erisbel Arruebarrena, walking around spring training wearing number 11, and this bothers the holy hell out of me. There is only one number 11 for the Dodgers, and that is Manny Mota. The 76-year-old Dodger legend, who is not a Dodgers coach for the first time in more than three decades, is also present at spring training still wearing his own number 11. He has responded to Arruebarrena being given his number with nothing but class. Maybe I am just less classy. Maybe I am biased because I had the privilege to meet Mr. Mota and found him to be as principled and proud as I dreamed the Dominican trailblazer to be. Maybe I just do not like the casual disrespect for a man who has given so much to both this organization and the city of Los Angeles. Maybe I should explain.
More than any other sport, by a country mile, numbers in the world of baseball have a near-sacred quality. I am not only talking about statistics, although there is certainly no sport that fetishizes their numerals quite like baseball. Few know or care about the exact number of yards the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, Emmett Smith, ran for in his career, yet books have been written about Babe Ruth’s 714 home runs, Henry Aaron’s journey to 755 and then, with appalled overtones, Barry Bonds’s muscled-up quest for 762.
There is certainly a case to be made that the reason why everyone from the sports media to the US Congress is so much more fanatical about performance-enhancing drugs in baseball than any other sport, is the belief that PEDs lead to inflated statistics which harm the integrity of these treasured, talismanic statistics.
The other numbers, which hold a hallowed weight in baseball, is the number on the uniform. The two most famous hoops players of their generation, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, both switched up their uniform numbers in the middle of their careers. In football, players sell their numbers to teammates. Baseball is different. It is why Jackie Robinson’s number 42 is retired in every ballpark. It is why there has been a push to retire the great Roberto Clemente’s number 21 for every team as well. It is why part of the thrill of Derek Jeter’s career has been seeing him grow into his number 2, someday to be retired amongst Yankee immortals number 3 Babe Ruth and number 4 Lou Gehrig.
That is why I find it to be so personally disturbing to see Erisbel Arruebarrena wearing that number 11. Mota, as I mentioned, was a coach for the Dodgers for thirty-four consecutive seasons, the longest in team history and the second longest in the history of the sport. He retired as the all-time leading pinch hitter in the Major Leagues. His pinch-hitting also led him to become a pop-culture legend when, in the movie Airplane, Robert Hays thought the words, “Pinch-hitting for Pedro Borbon… Manny Mota… Mota… Mota.” (Borbon and Mota never actually played together, which kind of makes it even funnier.)
The bigger issue however, is the casual disrespect to what Manny Mota represents. This is not only disrespect to someone who has given his professional life to the Dodgers organization—in a sport that is supposed to revere its history—but also disrespect to one of the first significant players to come to the Major League Baseball from the Dominican Republic. Today, it is difficult to imagine Major League Baseball without the talent infusion from the DR. Every team now has a baseball academy on the island. One-quarter of all minor league players were born there. At the start of the 2013 season, eighty-nine Dominican-born players were on major league rosters, the highest of any country outside the United States. All of this talent comes, remarkably, from a country with a population less than that of New York City.
I have written before, and surely will write again, about the problems that exist in MLB’s exploitative relationship with the young dreamers in the DR, living in poverty and striving for that Major League contract. But Manny Mota is someone who has used his stature to try and combat poverty in the DR, through his organization, the Manny Mota International Foundation. He is more than just an all-time Dodger. He is a humane bridge to a country that Major League Baseball has too often treated with contempt. It is difficult to not see the bestowing of Mota’s number 11 to Arruebarrena as symbolic of the blasé disrespect with which MLB treats the DR as a whole. But once, again, this is just me talking. When Erisbel Arruebarrena was introduced to the media, Mota came by, all class, and said, “You know what? That’s my number. Wear it with pride.” Only one person should wear that number, and he never had to be told to wear it with pride. The pride was always there. Dodgers, do the right thing and make sure that the number 11 lives only with Manny Mota-Mota-Mota.
Read Next: In the NFL, a victory for ending mental health stigmas.
On the first Tuesday in March, thousands of students, parents and teachers rallied at the New York state capitol in Albany to protest what the media quickly dubbed New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “war” on charter schools and minority students. Eva Moskowitz, the founder of the Success Academy charter network and one of the mayor’s fiercest critics, closed all twenty-two of her schools so that students and staff could participate in what she called “the largest civic field trip in history.”
But it wasn’t merely a field trip; the rally was a political event, in protest of de Blasio’s decision not to approve plans for three Success Academies to co-locate with traditional public schools, and more broadly his proposal to charge rent to charters occupying city school buildings. (The mayor approved forty-five other co-location proposals, five of them put forward by Success Academy.) Moskowitz has been the most vocal opponent of the new mayor’s education policies, though few have been enacted. As the debate intensifies, staff and students at Success Academy are being increasingly drawn into the political battle—or pushed into it, according to several employees who spoke to The Nation on condition of anonymity.
“I don’t want to say it’s hostile, or abusive, but definitely I feel that coercive measures are taken,” said a staff member who works in the school’s administration. “The rally really demonstrated this lack of boundaries.”
The teachers and staffers who spoke to The Nation said that although they were never told they would lose their jobs if they did not attend the rally, they didn’t think they had much choice and were afraid to ask for an exception. “An option was not presented. The schools assigned everyone with a job, so you were either going to be an instructional coach or a bus captain,” one teacher explained. “They weren’t really asking us if that’s what we wanted to do. They were telling us that that’s what we were going to do instead of teaching for the day.” Many charter schools like Success are nonunionized, and celebrate the fact that they can fire teachers more easily than schools with teachers’ unions can; many charter teachers have described a culture of fear resulting from job insecurity.
Because all of the schools in the Success network were closed, parents who did not want their children to attend would have had to keep them home or find alternate childcare, with a week’s notice. The schools sent home fliers and put stickers on the jackets and backpacks of students asking families to accompany their children to Albany. “[De Blasio’s] threats to overturn approved school co-locations and to assess rent to public charter schools are placing our schools, and your scholars, at risk,” reads a letter sent to parents. Although civics lesson plans were prepared for the bus ride, one teacher said that some students watched movies instead, including The Lottery, a documentary about a Success Academy in Harlem.
“It feels a little exploitative,” another teacher said about taking students to Albany. “They’re five. They’ll hold whatever sign you hand them and believe whatever you tell them.” The teacher acknowledged that parents had the choice to keep their children home from the rally but added, “I did wonder what parents would do if they couldn’t come on the march—how they would arrange for child care.”
Success Academy declined to answer several specific questions about the staff members’ claims, but offered the following statement:
Last week, 11,000 charter school families and educators voluntarily showed up to a rally in Albany despite frigid temperatures and a long bus ride. They did so because their children’s right to a high quality public education is under attack, and they wanted State lawmakers to know how much their schools mean to them. It was an inspiring and emotional event filled with people who care deeply about the power of public education to change lives.
City councilman and education committee chair Daniel Dromm said he will hold an oversight hearing about whether Moskowitz violated any state education regulations. “It’s shocking to me that a CEO thinks they can close a whole set of schools and then bus those children up to Albany for totally political rally. I have deep questions about the appropriateness of that,” Dromm told The Nation. “She’s using children as pawns in a political war, and that’s very problematic.” Dromm also said he has concerns about the source of funding for Success’s political activity; the organization receives public funding and is a c(3) nonprofit, which may devote only a limited portion of their activities to lobbying. According to Dromm the hearing, tentatively slated for April, will also focus on other aspects of charter school finances, including compensation for executives like Moskowitz, who made $475,244 in 2012.
While students are the face of Moskowitz’s campaign, the financial muscle comes from Wall Street. The trip to Albany was paid for by Families for Excellent Schools, a nonprofit chaired by a venture capitalist named Paul Applebaum. Although the group’s mission is to “grow a movement of families and schools that drives grassroots demand for legislative and electoral change,” four of the five founding board members, including Applebaum, work in the financial sector. Families for Excellent Schools is also behind a multimillion dollar ad campaign and a website, charterswork.org, which is currently promoting the hashtag #SaveThe194, referring to the 194 students who attend a Success Academy in Harlem whose application for co-location was one of the three denied by the de Blasio administration. (Read Jarrett Murphy’s blog post herefor more background on the co-location decisions.)
Co-location is a controversial practice in which a charter school moves into a building already occupied by a traditional public school. De Blasio has promised to break from Bloomberg’s education policies on co-location as well as on the practice of allowing charters to operate on public property without paying rent. The free rent charters enjoyed under Bloomberg allowed them to use their money—from taxpayers, as well as federal grants and donors—for classroom resources, glossy public relations campaigns, and aggressive expansion. During his campaign de Blasio said he would charge rent to charters, which would put $92 million per year into city coffers, according to the Independent Budget Office. Charter advocates say paying rent would disadvantage their students and could put many schools out of business, although a majority of public schools across the country pay to use public facilities.
Moskowitz emphasized this sense of existential crisis in communications with families and faculty ahead of the trip to Albany. “We will close our schools for one day to keep the mayor from closing them forever,” reads one letter to parents, urging them to attend the rally, where governor Andrew Cuomo promised protestors that “we will save charter schools.” Multiple employees who spoke to The Nation characterized this rhetoric as alarmist and misleading. “Our parents have been led to believe that we are the answer for their children,” one said. “We’re definitely capitalizing on that whole notion.”
Another said that she didn’t believe all parents were fully aware of what they are participating in. “I don’t mean that in a condescending way. I mean that the info presented is not necessarily accurate and it’s entirely one sided. This is being framed as a second or third civil rights movement, and I think that’s a racially charged power play—considering our demographics—to manipulate people.”
Teachers at Success are told they have a dual mission: to teach the children in their class as well as advocate for children everywhere to have access to high-quality education. The rally in Albany wasn’t the first time Moskowitz has closed schools for a political event; she did so in October for a pro-charter demonstration on the Brooklyn Bridge in anticipation of de Blasio’s election. Asked why they worked at Success if they disagreed with the school’s advocacy activities, the staff members told The Nation the two rallies marked a real turning point in how much pressure they felt to engage politically and in public, rather than simply as teachers in the classroom. “Since the Brooklyn Bridge rally I find myself in fundamental opposition to what they’re doing,” said one teacher, who has been looking for work elsewhere. “Frankly, I need the health insurance and I need to pay rent.”
“It’s never been as political as it been now. If this continues going this way it will be very hard for me to stay,” said another, who has worked at Success for several years and spoke admiringly of the network for providing her with “unparalleled” resources in the classroom, and of her students and colleagues. The atmosphere is particularly difficult for teachers who believe their students are getting a good education at Success and want that to continue, but are simultaneously uncomfortable with the administration’s political tactics. “We’re a very, very young organization, and the only way that this could work is if young people in their first jobs are fearful to ever speak up and say anything. If they say ‘jump’ we ask ‘how high.’” She continued, “It makes me really sad. I’m a public school teacher. I should not be fearful of my job.”
The political battle isn’t likely to fade any time soon. The state Senate is reportedly considering a budget that would pre-emptively bar the city from charging rent or rescinding co-location permits, and the rally in Albany seems to have been successful in setting Governor Cuomo more firmly against de Blasio’s education platform. Success Academy and a group of parents have filed separate lawsuits over the co-location reversals, while public advocate Letitia James is suing de Blasio over the forty-five co-locations he did approve. Some charter schools are distancing themselves from Moskowitz’s aggressive tactics; thirty boycotted the trip to Albany because it was scheduled to coincide with another rally at the capitol in support of de Blasio’s proposal to expand access to prekindergarten. Meanwhile, de Blasio has only just begun trying to implement the education policies that New York City voters implicitly yet resoundingly endorsed when he won in a landslide last fall.
Read Next: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio reacts to the city’s new, and lower, crime statistics.
Washington’s approach to the war on poverty endured a dramatic episode this week when Representative Paul Ryan made inflammatory remarks about the “culture” of America’s inner cities. The 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee and House Budget Committee chairman told a conservative radio program that “we have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.”
Representative Barbara Lee hit back quickly in a widely noted statement: “My colleague Congressman Ryan’s comments about ‘inner-city’ poverty are a thinly veiled racial attack and cannot be tolerated,” Lee said. “Let’s be clear, when Mr. Ryan says ‘inner city,’ when he says, ‘culture,’ these are simply code words for what he really means: ‘black.’”
On Thursday, Lee revealed to a small group of reporters that she has spoken with Ryan about his remarks—and that the two plan to meet to discuss them soon. “I’ve talked to him. We’re going to get together about it. It was a good conversation,” Lee told the reporters, in the office of House minority whip Steny Hoyer. The two convened the briefing to push their anti-poverty message and their effort to get long-term unemployment insurance and a minimum wage increase passed through the House.
Lee said she hopes the controversy can spark a broader conversation about poverty in Congress. “At least the debate is beginning,” she said, noting that Ryan recently conducted a “poverty tour” through several states. “It’s a good debate, that should have happened twenty-five years ago.”
Hoyer agreed that Ryan’s remarks might end up serving a purpose. “Frankly, I think Ryan raising it is a positive. Because it puts it out there as an area of concern,” Hoyer said.
Conciliatory as the two might have sounded, they repeatedly and at length took issue with Ryan’s framing.
“I think part of the issue with a lot of members is, they just don’t get it,” said Lee. “They don’t understand when they make comments such as this that—race is a factor in America, regardless of what you think. And I think Paul Ryan does not quite understand that.”
Hoyer echoed those comments, and said that Ryan’s racial framing served to turn people off from really addressing the issue of poverty. “The majority of poverty is not in inner cities, and the majority of poverty is not minorities,” he said. “Some people don’t understand that, [and] they simplify. And as a result, it undermines the concern of some people because they think it’s not them.”
House Democrats are pushing discharge petitions on the minimum wage and extending long-term unemployment benefits. (The meeting occurred just before the Senate reportedly reached a deal to pass an unemployment benefit extension out of that chamber.)
The discharge petitions allow for a vote on each respective measure once there are 218 signees—the operating theory is that there may be enough votes to pass both bills, but House Speaker John Boehner won’t allow the votes to occur.
The prospect of either petition reaching 218 is slim, but Democrats feel it allows them to put Republican members who claim they’d support either of the measures on the spot, so they can no longer say they support say, a minimum wage increase, but just haven’t had the chance to vote on it.
The petitions are no doubt a last-ditch effort, but House Democrats are feeling desperate. Hoyer openly admitted that the body in which he serves has made poverty matters worse in the past three years. “There’s no doubt we’ve exacerbated it. By our negligence or by our refusal to act, we’ve made poverty worse,” he said. “We’ve made the status of families in America worse, and we’ve hurt our economy.”
Read Next: Eric Holder pushes for reduced drug sentences.
Last October, under pressure from a growing student campaign, Harvard President Drew Faust released a letter explaining why the university would not divest from fossil fuel companies. Her reasoning was questioned by both Harvard student Chloe Maxmin and former President of Reed College James Powell, among many others. Recently, Divest Harvard co-founder and StudentNation writer Alli Welton caught up to Faust and engaged her in a conversation, captured here on video, about her decision not to divest. By not divesting, Harvard is effectively using its “name to sanction the morally reprehensible acts of the fossil fuel industry,” Welton tells Faust. See how the president responds.
For more on the Divest Harvard movement, click here
Update: On March 10, President Faust sent a letter to Divest Harvard taking issue with the way the group was characterizing and contextualizing the conversation.
Read Next: UNC students advocate for garment workers’ rights.
In a recent post, Joshua told of our move from Upstate California to San Francisco. As newcomers to this metropolis, we needed jobs, and perhaps more importantly, we needed to fit in. Joshua decided to follow his muse, and join the poetry scene in North Beach (he will share his experiences in a future post). As for me, I decided to stay in the food business. I moved across the Bay to Berkeley to become a restaurateur, as I know how to spell that word and, moreover, I have a French accent.
Check out the menu I designed for my future restaurant!
We use no-cigar produce whenever possible.
Glutton-free and native-gear items available upon request.
LOX TALK AND BERYL bagel special
L’EMOTE eggs, theater style
BUILD-YOUR-OWN SCRAMBLE you choose the letters, we do the rest
I-GREC club sandwich
AUNT EM tuna melt with a dash
KALAMATA JANE olives
OLD MAN’S almonds
GENRES mixed greens
YOU CAN’T BEET this
SOUPE DU JOUR soup of the day
SOUPE DE JAVU soup of the day before
PEPPERONI kind of spray on individual’s face
RENT MONEY flatbread
OXYMORON jumbo shrimp
KITCHEN BASTER chicken breast
KEATS meat or fish, depending
BLEW PLAIT special
POOR LAWS cabbage
EPISCOPAL soft drink
OH, LOCAL! hard drink
MACHO strong coffee
HENRI Rhine wine
TSARINA cheese plate
In addition to this remarkable menu, I’d offer GUACK-A-MOLE, an avocado video game to keep the children entertained while the adults solve a puzzle or two while waiting for their food. At Chez Henri the “writing in the air” gesture, which in other restaurants means “the bill, please,” would mean “may I have a pencil?” To ask for the bill, customers would operate an air calculator, which makes a lot more sense, no?
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• The current puzzle
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Attorney General Eric Holder backed a proposal that would reduce prison sentences for nonviolent drug traffickers by about a year.
A US Sentencing Commission plan would reduce federal guidelines for sentencing drug dealers from sixty-two months to fifty-one months. Holder announced his support for that plan before the commission Thursday.
The plan would affect nearly 70 percent of drug trafficking offenders and trim the federal prisoner population by 6,550 inmates within five years, according to a Department of Justice analysis. Nearly half of the 216,000 federal inmates currently serving time in US prisons are incarcerated for drug-related offenses.
“As it stands—and as this Commission has recognized—certain types of cases result in too many Americans going to prison for too long, and at times for no truly good public safety reason,” Holder said. “Although the United States comprises just five percent of the world’s population, we incarcerate almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners.”
Holder focused on the financial benefits of reducing prison sentences, noting that state and federal governments spent about $80 billion a year on incarceration in 2010. He also cited a study suggesting that seventeen states diverting funds away from prisons to evidence-based diversion programs will save $4.6 billion over ten years.
Holder acknowledged that the proposal is “measured in scope.” Even if the seven-member commission approves the plan in April, as is expected, the United States will likely maintain the world’s largest prison population by a significant margin.
The announcement comes as Holder and members of Congress push a proposal to end mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenders and to grant clemency for crack offenders serving disproportionate sentences.
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“Chile has but one great enemy, and its name is inequality. Only together can we take it on.”
With those words, Michelle Bachelet returned to the presidency of Chile this week. The Socialist leader has vowed to put inequality at the top of her agenda. In doing so, she is hardly alone among Latin American leaders.
Latin America has long been one of the most unequal areas of the globe. But during the past decade, the region has witnessed a remarkable turnaround. Economic populism has swept the continent, leading to the election of left-of-center political parties that have implemented anti-equality agendas. Their efforts have borne fruit. During a decade when economic inequality grew by leaps and bounds in the rest of the world, it declined significantly in Latin America.
Last year, the World Bank reported that the region’s Gini coefficient, a statistic that measures inequality, decreased from 58 in 1996 to 52 in 2011. During the 2000s, Gini coefficients declined in thirteen of seventeen individual Latin American countries as well. In that same decade, rate of extreme poverty (people surviving on less than $2.50 a day) was cut by 25 percent to 13 percent. Those at the bottom 40 percent of the income scale also made impressive gains—their average income rose by 5 percent, as opposed to 3 percent on average for the population as a whole.
What’s the secret of Latin America’s success? Partial credit is due to the healthy economic growth the region saw over the past decade—about 4 percent on average—spurred by a strong worldwide demand for the region’s commodities. But of course, just because growth occurs, there’s no guarantee it will be equitably shared. For example, in the US between 1975 and 2009, GDP per capita growth was 1.9 percent, but growth in median household incomes was only 0.5 percent. Moreover, there is mounting evidence that equality itself helps drive growth, and inequality puts the brakes on it.
More than growth, what’s really made the crucial difference have been politics and policy. This UN study of the regions’ economy, as well as this paper, which takes a close look at Argentina, Brazil and Mexico, point to some of the policies that have been particularly effective in fighting inequality. The findings include the following:
- Redistribution government transfers have been very important. Welfare cash transfer programs such as Bolsa Familia in Brazil, Opportunidades in Mexico, and similar programs in Argentina and Bolivia have lifted millions of people out of poverty.
- The expansion of educational opportunity has also been key. Some of the transfer programs, such as Bolsa Familia, pay a stipend to families who allow their children to stay in school. This has resulted in rising levels of educational attainment and skilled labor. Highly skilled labor has become more abundant relative to low skilled labor, reducing.the premium for high skilled workers and creating more equality.
- Labor market institutions have also played an important role, particularly in Argentina, Bolivia, and Brazil. Minimum wage hikes and stronger unions have increased the earnings of low-earning workers.
It’s well worth emphasizing that the anti-equality agenda these countries have adopted marks a sharp break with the neoliberal “Washington Consensus” of the 1980s and ’90s: austerity, privatization, deregulation and the like. In 2003, Argentina’s Kirchner and Brazil’s Lula even signed a document, the Buenos Aires Consensus, which explicitly rejects the policies of the Washington Consensus. In previous decades, neoliberal policies had been adopted throughout Latin America, but they brought recession and suffering rather than prosperity. The 1980s was a “lost decade” and the 1990s weren’t much better. Widespread popular discontent with the fruits of neoliberalism led to the elections of economically populist governments throughout Latin America beginning in the early 2000s.
Perhaps the most successful of these is the government led by Bolivia’s Evo Morales. Morales, ironically, has been among the Latin American leaders who has strayed furthest from the Washington Consensus. His government has nationalized major industries (the state now controls 34 percent of the economy) and closed its borders to some imports. Between 2002 and 2010, the Bolivia’s poverty rate was cut by a third, and in 2009, UNESCO declared the country illiteracy-free. Economic growth was over 5 percent last year and has averaged above 4.5 percent during Morales’ presidency.
Though great progress in the fight against inequality in Latin America has been made, serious challenges remain. Latin America is still, along with Africa, the most unequal region in the world. Many people living there suffer from desperate poverty, including some 80 million people living in extreme poverty. An economy that goes sour could open the door to right-wing challengers bent on reversing historic gains, as may be happening in Venezuela.
For now, though, Latin America’s egalitarian renaissance appears to be going strong. Countries like the US, where inequality continues to spiral, could do worse than to take a close look at the egalitarian policies that have worked for Latin America, and adopt them as their own.
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