Our ‘Winner Take All’ Economy Is Destroying Us

From Common Dreams:  http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/01/28-0

Soaring inequality in the US and why it matters

by Tim Koechlin

The United States is, by every reasonable measure, the most unequal of the world’s rich countries. And this is not new development. For more than three decades, the US has been suffering from a crisis of inequality. The Democrats have not taken this crisis seriously enough. The Republicans seem hell-bent on making it worse.

Evidence of extreme and rising economic inequality in the US is quite overwhelming. In 1979, the top 1% earned about 9% of all income; in 2013, they earned 24%. The incomes of the top 0.1% have grown even faster. More than half of all economic growth since 1976 has ended up in the pockets of the top 1%. Meanwhile, the incomes of the shrinking middle class have stagnated, and the incomes of those with a high school education or less have fallen substantially. The purchasing power of the minimum wage has fallen by about 15% since 1979. One in five kids lives in poverty.

How have we responded to all of this? By cutting taxes for the rich, busting unions and vilifying the poor! Over the past few decades, effective tax rates on US corporations and the richest 1% have fallen by about a third. Among the world’s rich countries, US tax rates on the rich are near the very bottom. Since 1970, the percentage of private sector workers in unions has fallen from 29% to 7%.

It has not always been this way. Between 1948 and 1975, the income of the median US household doubled. The incomes of the bottom 20% actually grew a little faster than the incomes of the top 20% over this period. Between 1928 and 1950, the distribution of income in the US actually became dramatically more equal.

Why should we be concerned about inequality? America is about opportunity, not guarantees — right? Actually, no! Among the world’s rich countries, the US is tied for last in class mobility; an American’s economic success is in fact highly correlated with his/her parents’ wealth and status. Richard Wilkinson captures this sad reality perfectly: “If you want the American Dream, you’ll have to go to Denmark.”

Economic inequality inevitably means political inequality. The right-wing Koch brothers, for example, spent more than $50 million aiming to defeat Obama and the Democrats in 2012. Right-wing casino magnate Sheldon Adelson spent over $100 million. Increasingly, legislation is literally being written by corporate lobbyists. The Koch brothers are entitled to their right wing views; they should not be entitled to the kind of outsized influence that $50 million will buy.

Continue reading at:  http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/01/28-0

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Why There’s No Outcry

From Robert Reich:  http://robertreich.org/post/74519195381

By Robert Reich
Saturday, January 25, 2014

People ask me all the time why we don’t have a revolution in America, or at least a major wave of reform similar to that of the Progressive Era or the New Deal or the Great Society.

Middle incomes are sinking, the ranks of the poor are swelling, almost all the economic gains are going to the top, and big money is corrupting our democracy. So why isn’t there more of a ruckus?

The answer is complex, but three reasons stand out.

First, the working class is paralyzed with fear it will lose the jobs and wages it already has.

In earlier decades, the working class fomented reform. The labor movement led the charge for a minimum wage, 40-hour workweek, unemployment insurance, and Social Security.

No longer. Working people don’t dare. The share of working-age Americans holding jobs is now lower than at any time in the last three decades and 76 percent of them are living paycheck to paycheck.

No one has any job security. The last thing they want to do is make a fuss and risk losing the little they have.

Besides, their major means of organizing and protecting themselves — labor unions — have been decimated. Four decades ago more than a third of private-sector workers were unionized. Now, fewer than 7 percent belong to a union.

Second, students don’t dare rock the boat.

In prior decades students were a major force for social change. They played an active role in the Civil Rights movement, the Free Speech movement, and against the Vietnam War.

Continue reading at:  http://robertreich.org/post/74519195381

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Obama’s Promise Zones will do little to address inequality

From The Guardian UK:  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/27/obamas-inequality-promise-zones-fall-short

The Promise Zones comes with no actual funding, only vows to help cities apply for grants. They are PR stunts, not solutions

theguardian.com, Monday 27 January 2014

On 8 January, the Obama administration announced the selection of five Promise Zones – high-poverty communities chosen to receive special federal attention. They are San Antonio, Texas; Choctaw Nation, Oklahoma; South-eastern Kentucky; Los Angeles, California and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I used to live in West Philly, one of the administration’s new promised lands, so I was curious about what my old neighbourhood stands to gain from its new status.

Not much, it turns out.

Comb through the White House announcement and beneath the flurry of bureaucrat chat (pdf) about “addressing multiple community revitalization challenges” and “increased access to proven tools” the stark fact emerges that the program does not allocate a single new dollar in aid:

Promise Zones will not receive direct funding, but will benefit from technical assistance, federal staff support, and more extensive preference points and access to other federal grant programs.

All the zones are promised is unspecified assistance to help communities “navigate federal programs [sic] and regulations… [to] make the most of funding that may already be available”. There’s no new funding, just more bureaucracy for communities trying to help themselves.

What’s more, Promise Zone catchments are allowed a maximum of 200,000 residents. That means at best their sphere of influence is one million citizens in a nation where 46.5 million people live below the poverty line. The government may as well say: “We want to help the poor, but not too much, and not too many.”

All of this reflects the archaic American ideology that poverty is a monster created by the poor. Part of the Promise Zone deal is that the five designees must continuously monitor and report on their progress towards the agreed-upon goals. Not only is this offensively paternalistic – as if left alone they might splurge on cigarettes and sweets – but it’s also an absurd waste of resources. Impoverished neighbourhoods should invest scarce resources in schools, housing and public health, not writing reports.

Continue reading at:  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/27/obamas-inequality-promise-zones-fall-short

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Councilmember Kshama Sawant Responds to Obama’s State of the Union Address

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State of the Union 2014 Address: President Obama’s Full Speech – New York Times

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Rest in Peace Pete Seeger, a True Progressive Hero

From The Progressive:  http://www.progressive.org/rest-in-peace-pete-seeger-a-true-progressive-hero

By Matthew Rothschild,
Jan. 28, 2014

Pete Seeger died yesterday at 94, but he’ll live on for generations to come.

Like the union organizer Joe Hill, whom Seeger helped to immortalize, Seeger and his songs will keep inspiring people around the world who are fighting injustice and striving to preserve the planet.

Along with Woody Guthrie, Seeger popularized a particular kind of folk music in America: progressive folk music.

It was music about working people and unions. It was music about racial justice. It was music about peace. It was music about taking care of the Earth. And it was music that was simple to learn and easy to sing.

I once heard an interview with Seeger who was saying that when he first heard Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” he marveled at its simplicity.

With the Weavers, Seeger became popular in 1950 and 1951 with “Goodnight Irene” and “On Top of Old Smokey” and “Farewell, It’s Been Good to Know You” and “Tzena, Tzena.”

But then Seeger and the other singers in the Weavers were blacklisted, and he was hauled before the House UnAmerican Activities Committees, where he refused to testify. He was convicted in 1955 for his refusal, but that conviction was later overturned.

Seeger played a big role in the culture of activism in this country. He was primarily responsible for popularizing “We Shall Overcome,” the anthem of the civil rights movement. And his anti-war song, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” was also very influential in the movement to end the war in Vietnam, as was “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” which he defiantly sang on the Smothers Brothers comedy show after first being censored in 1967.

From the 1970s to last week, he threw himself into the environmental movement, and stressed the importance of working locally as well as globally.

He was a progressive hero for seven decades.

I saw Pete Seeger in concert many times. The first one was at a small event honoring Ralph Nader in the early 1980s, and Seeger was gracious and light-hearted.

After that, I saw him several times in concert in Madison with my wife, Jean, and we were always amazed at his energy and spirit, even into old age, and his insistence in getting the whole crowd singing.

He came by The Progressive’s offices once, about 25 years ago, and regaled us with stories. Not all of them were happy. The pain of the blacklist still registered in his voice when he told about how hard it was for him to make a living in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Continue reading at:  http://www.progressive.org/rest-in-peace-pete-seeger-a-true-progressive-hero

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El Quinto Regimiento – Pete Seeger and the Almanac singers

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