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“A Little Hard To Swallow”: The ‘Pressing’ Need For More Tax Breaks For The Rich?

President Obama delivered a pretty interesting speech on the economy yesterday, but towards the end, he completely abandoned his prepared text, ignoring the teleprompter to reflect on something that clearly bothered him on a personal level.

“[J]ust last month, at least one top Republican in Congress said that tax cuts for those at the top are – and I’m quoting here – ‘even more pressing now’ than they were 30 years ago. More pressing. When nearly all the gains of the recovery have gone to the top 1 percent, when income inequality is at as high a rate as we’ve seen in decades, I find that a little hard to swallow that they really desperately need a tax cut right now, it’s ‘urgent.’

“Why? What are the facts? What is the empirical data that would justify that position? Kellogg Business School, you guys are all smart. You do all this analysis. You run the numbers. Has anybody here seen a credible argument that that is what our economy needs right now?”

Almost every word of this was ad libbed. Presented with the Republican argument that the wealthy really need yet another tax cut, the president seemed genuinely gobsmacked. To appreciate the degree to which Obama was amazed, watch the video – go here and forward to the 48:02 mark.

Of course, the president wasn’t making up any of the allegations themselves – a leading congressional Republican really did argue last month that tax breaks for the very wealthy are “even more pressing now” than a generation ago.

The congressman is none other than House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who recently suggested combating poverty is one of his top priorities.

Here’s the interview the far-right Wisconsinite did with the conservative Weekly Standard.

“I’m a classic growth conservative. I believe that the best way to help families, the best way to help the economy is to reduce rates across the board,” Ryan said when asked about Utah senator Mike Lee’s plan to increase the child tax credit and create two income tax brackets of 15 percent and 35 percent. “Growth occurs on the margin, which is a wonky way of saying, if you want faster economic growth, more upward mobility, and faster job creation, lower tax rates across the board is the key-it’s the secret sauce.

“Some conservatives have argued that reducing the top rate is less urgent now than it was during the Reagan administration, when the top rate was cut from 70 percent to 50 percent and then cut again from 50 percent to 28 percent. But Ryan says that cutting the top rate is “even more pressing now” than it was back then “because the American economy was so dominant in the global economy and capital was not nearly as mobile as it is today.”

As a substantive matter, this serves as a reminder of why it’s tough to take Paul Ryan seriously as an alleged wonk. As Matt Yglesias explained after the Ryan interview was published, “The idea that globalization, which tends to increase the overall size of the economy while also increasing inequality, makes tax cuts for the rich even more urgent strikes me as a little bit hard to defend intellectually.”

But as a political matter, let’s not lose sight of the larger context. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) has floated a tax cut plan that focuses primarily on the middle class. Paul Ryan is drawing a distinct between Lee’s approach and his own – Ryan wants the tax cuts focused on the rich.

In light of everything we’ve seen, in light of the enormous class gap, in light of the already low U.S. tax rates as compared to most of the world, Ryan’s ideas about tax breaks for the wealthy just won’t budge.

Is it any wonder the president is astonished?


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 3, 2014

October 4, 2014 Posted by | Economy, Paul Ryan, Tax Cuts | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Even Now, Romney Just Can’t Help Himself”: Romney’s Not Responsible For What Romney Said

Romney, who seems to spend a little too much time thinking about ways to condemn the president who defeated him, has run into trouble once more, this time in an interview with Mark Leibovich. The twice-defeated candidate is apparently still thinking about the “47 percent” video that helped drag down his candidacy.

“I was talking to one of my political advisers,” Romney continued, “and I said: ‘If I had to do this again, I’d insist that you literally had a camera on me at all times” – essentially employing his own tracker, as opposition researchers call them. “I want to be reminded that this is not off the cuff.” This, as he saw it, was what got him in trouble at that Boca Raton fund-raiser, when Romney told the crowd he was writing off the 47 percent of the electorate that supported Obama (a.k.a. “those people”; “victims” who take no “personal responsibility”). Romney told me that the statement came out wrong, because it was an attempt to placate a rambling supporter who was saying that Obama voters were essentially deadbeats.

“My mistake was that I was speaking in a way that reflected back to the man,” Romney said. “If I had been able to see the camera, I would have remembered that I was talking to the whole world, not just the man.” I had never heard Romney say that he was prompted into the “47 percent” line by a ranting supporter.

No, that’s a new one. It’s also patently false.

Since David Corn first helped shine a light on the infamous “47 percent” video, in which Romney told a group of wealthy donors that nearly half of Americans are lazy parasites, the Republican has struggled to come up with a coherent response. Initially, Romney actually endorsed the sentiments on the video and said they reflected his core beliefs.

He later changed his mind, saying his remarks were “completely wrong” and the result of misspeaking. Later still, Romney switched gears again and said the comments were taken out of context. Now he’s come up with an entirely new explanation: Romney’s not responsible for what Romney said; some guy in the audience deserves the blame.

Ironically, in the video itself, Romney says of struggling Americans, “I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility.” Funny, he doesn’t seem to be a big fan of personal responsibility, either.

The facts here are obvious and easily checked.

Romney now believes a rambling supporter caused the trouble, but David Corn checked the video itself and found that’s simply not what happened. The question was actually quite succinct.

To recap: Romney has gone from side-stepping the remark, to owning the thrust of this comment (though noting it was not well articulated), to saying he was wrong, to denying he said what he said (and contending his words were distorted), to claiming he was only mirroring the rambling remarks of a big-money backer. This last explanation is certainly not fair to the 1-percenter who merely expressed his very 1-percentish opinion. Does this mean that Romney was thrown off his game by a simple question – or that he was trying to suck up to a donor?

In the two years since Romney was caught on tape, he just cannot come up with a clear explanation of an easy-to-understand short series of sentences that were responsive to the question presented. But there is one possible explanation he hasn’t yet put forward: He said what he believed.

Of course he did. Romney was speaking in a relaxed setting, free to say whatever he pleased. He shared his contempt for nearly half the country, which went a long way towards explaining the Romney campaign’s policy platform. Indeed, it’s why the failed Republican candidate immediately responded to the video by saying he agreed with the sentiments it captured.

Lying about it now doesn’t help Romney’s case.


By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, September 30, 2014

October 1, 2014 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Mitt Romney | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“When Whites Just Don’t Get It”: After Ferguson, Race Deserves More Attention, Not Less

Many white Americans say they are fed up with the coverage of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. A plurality of whites in a recent Pew survey said that the issue of race is getting more attention than it deserves.

Bill O’Reilly of Fox News reflected that weariness, saying: “All you hear is grievance, grievance, grievance, money, money, money.”

Indeed, a 2011 study by scholars at Harvard and Tufts found that whites, on average, believed that anti-white racism was a bigger problem than anti-black racism.

Yes, you read that right!

So let me push back at what I see as smug white delusion. Here are a few reasons race relations deserve more attention, not less:

  • The net worth of the average black household in the United States is $6,314, compared with $110,500 for the average white household, according to 2011 census data. The gap has worsened in the last decade, and the United States now has a greater wealth gap by race than South Africa did during apartheid. (Whites in America on average own almost 18 times as much as blacks; in South Africa in 1970, the ratio was about 15 times.)
  • The black-white income gap is roughly 40 percent greater today than it was in 1967.
  • A black boy born today in the United States has a life expectancy five years shorter than that of a white boy.
  • Black students are significantly less likely to attend schools offering advanced math and science courses than white students. They are three times as likely to be suspended and expelled, setting them up for educational failure.
  • Because of the catastrophic experiment in mass incarceration, black men in their 20s without a high school diploma are more likely to be incarcerated today than employed, according to a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research. Nearly 70 percent of middle-aged black men who never graduated from high school have been imprisoned.

All these constitute not a black problem or a white problem, but an American problem. When so much talent is underemployed and overincarcerated, the entire country suffers.

Some straight people have gradually changed their attitudes toward gays after realizing that their friends — or children — were gay. Researchers have found that male judges are more sympathetic to women’s rights when they have daughters. Yet because of the de facto segregation of America, whites are unlikely to have many black friends: A study from the Public Religion Research Institute suggests that in a network of 100 friends, a white person, on average, has one black friend.

That’s unfortunate, because friends open our eyes. I was shaken after a well-known black woman told me about looking out her front window and seeing that police officers had her teenage son down on the ground after he had stepped out of their upscale house because they thought he was a prowler. “Thank God he didn’t run,” she said.

One black friend tells me that he freaked out when his white fiancée purchased an item in a store and promptly threw the receipt away. “What are you doing?” he protested to her. He is a highly successful and well-educated professional but would never dream of tossing a receipt for fear of being accused of shoplifting.

Some readers will protest that the stereotype is rooted in reality: Young black men are disproportionately likely to be criminals.

That’s true — and complicated. “There’s nothing more painful to me,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson once said, “than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery — then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved.”

All this should be part of the national conversation on race, as well, and prompt a drive to help young black men end up in jobs and stable families rather than in crime or jail. We have policies with a robust record of creating opportunity: home visitation programs like Nurse-Family Partnership; early education initiatives like Educare and Head Start; programs for troubled adolescents like Youth Villages; anti-gang and anti-crime initiatives like Becoming a Man; efforts to prevent teen pregnancies like the Carrera curriculum; job training like Career Academies; and job incentives like the earned-income tax credit.

The best escalator to opportunity may be education, but that escalator is broken for black boys growing up in neighborhoods with broken schools. We fail those boys before they fail us.

So a starting point is for those of us in white America to wipe away any self-satisfaction about racial progress. Yes, the progress is real, but so are the challenges. The gaps demand a wrenching, soul-searching excavation of our national soul, and the first step is to acknowledge that the central race challenge in America today is not the suffering of whites.


By: Nicholas D. Kristof, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, August 31, 2014

September 1, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Racism, White Privilege | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Our Country Is Rapidly Becoming Militarized”: America Is Nervous; We Must Lay Down Our Arms

There are far too many loose guns floating around the United States of America. What are we doing? This is not the world our forefathers conceived when they wrote the Second Amendment. Violence begets violence, and with no reasonable measures for arms control — our country is rapidly becoming militarized. The police are reacting to threats. Every angry or troubled soul could be carrying a concealed weapon and usually is. Yeah, yeah, yeah we have the right to bear arms ala the Second Amendment, but that was signed into law way before assault rifles were even a glimmer on the horizon. We are at an impasse in our country, society and culture, and must find a way to resolution.

Indeed guns are part of large sectors of our country often passed down through the generations – father to son. But it seems that our reality has changed. Too many novices are running wild and getting access to high powered weaponry. Last week, another young, white, mentally impaired woman was killed by the police right in San Jose, California. The weapon she was brandishing turned out to have been a power drill that had been painted to look like an assault weapon. Maybe, if the culture wasn’t running wild with illegal guns, the murder rate and gang activity so high in this locale — the police would have reacted differently. Yikes we sure don’t know and thank goodness don’t have to make those decisions every day.

Look the economy is still in the toilet for many Americans. Times are tough and income inequality still prevails. Funds have been cut from mental health services in many states, and unfortunately many are going untreated – proverbially falling through the cracks. Americans are nervous in this world of troubles. What’s going to happen to them? Is the US going back to war? And if so where – Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East, or even Russia? Will folks be able to afford gasoline if this happens? Why are hybrids so expensive? Is the next airplane going to fall from the sky and where? What does it take to stay safe and keep your family safe? Sadly, this is the environment that allows racism and prejudice to fester and get a toe hold to dig in. Certainly, we know that we have got tough choices coming down the road. Turning the police into soldiers is not the answer as evidenced in Ferguson, Missouri; nor is denying generational family traditions. But maybe there’s just an opening big enough to consider enacting the simplest of laws that control the supply chain of weapons in this country. You know, we lived through Prohibition, and now track liquor and its sale. Marijuana is leaning toward legalization around the country. Can’t we step back from the random acts of violence in our streets, towns and cities? This might be the time to take action on gun control safety, and really turn a search light on what’s become of our public safety officers. We have to do better than this.


By: Michelle Kraus, The Hufington Post Blog, August 18, 2014

August 19, 2014 Posted by | Gun Control, Guns, Militarization | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Suburbanization Of Poverty”: Tensions In Ferguson Have Been Simmering Below Surface For Decades

The police shooting of Michael Brown was the spark.

But the tinder fueling the anger and resentment that has exploded in Ferguson, Mo., has been building for decades.

The town has seen many middle-class homeowners who eagerly moved to St. Louis’ northern suburbs after World War II to buy brick ranch homes with nice yards leave, replaced by poorer newcomers. Good blue-collar jobs have grown scarce; the factories that once sprouted here have closed shop. Schools have struggled.

And local governments — slow to evolve – often now look little like the people they represent. For the black community, it creates a sense of lost opportunity in a place much like other aging suburbs in the Rust Belt and across the country.

“For a young black man, there’s not much employment, not a lot of opportunity,” said Todd Swanstrom, a professor of public policy at the University of Missouri, St. Louis. “It’s kind of a tinder box.”

The seething tensions prompted Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon to declare a curfew in Ferguson on Saturday, one week after a white police officer shot and killed Brown, an 18-year-old black man. The declaration followed another night of looting.

Critics say an initial heavy-handed response by police using tear gas and rubber bullets touched off the unrest, with mainly white officers facing off against mainly black crowds.

Since Brown’s death, race and police tactics have dominated the headlines blaring from this town 12 miles northwest of St. Louis’ Gateway Arch. But that’s only part of the story.

From jobs to schools to racial transition, Ferguson and its neighboring towns — where many protesters came from — have undergone sweeping changes in recent years. Some places have become pockets of poverty, comparable to the poorest spots in St. Louis.

Others, like Ferguson, remain more mixed, with middle-class subdivisions alongside run-down streets and big apartment complexes like the one where Brown lived. Either way, Swanstrom said, the area highlights the growing challenge of the “suburbanization” of poverty.

“This was a catalyst for something much deeper, the lack of economic opportunities and representation people have,” said Etefia Umana, an educator and board member of a community group called Better Family Life. “A lot of the issues are boiling up.”

It’s been boiling for decades.

St. Louis’ jumble of suburbs — there are 91 municipalities in a county of about 1 million people ringing the city — has long been sharply segregated. Until the late 1940s, restrictive covenants blocked blacks from buying homes in many of them.

Well into the 1970s, tight zoning restrictions and other rules, especially in places near the city’s mostly black north side, kept many largely white, said Colin Gordon, a University of Iowa professor who’s studied housing in St. Louis.

That began to change by the 1980s, when middle- and working-class white families began leaving north county — as the area around Ferguson is known — for newer, roomier housing further out in the exurbs. In their place came a flood of black families from St. Louis in search of better housing and schools.

“When black flight out of the city began, this was the logical frontier,” Gordon said. “It became what the city had been, a zone of racial transition.”

In Ferguson, the change happened fast. In a generation — from 1990 to today — the population changed from three-fourths white to two-thirds black. Even as the area’s demographics shifted, good blue-collar jobs sustained many of these towns, said Lara Granich, a community organizer.

“Everyone in our parish was a brick layer or a letter carrier or something. I didn’t know anyone who had gone to college, but they all made a decent living,” said Granich, who grew up in nearby Glasgow Village, another neighborhood on the decline. “The people who live there now tend to work at McDonald’s.”

The recession hurt, too. This part of the St. Louis region took the brunt of the foreclosure crisis, with subprime loans turning bad, and investors scooping up cheap houses to rent. Auto plants that had sustained a black middle-class shut down.

Since 2000, the median household income in Ferguson has fallen by 30 percent when adjusted for inflation, to about $36,000. In the Census tract where Brown lived, median income is less than $27,000. Just half of the adults work.

Fr. Steven Lawler, rector of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Ferguson, really saw the change in 2008, when visits to his food pantry spiked. They haven’t gone down since.

“I know there are places where an economic recovery’s happening,” he said. “But in the places where people are most stressed, there hasn’t been a recovery.”

Still, as Lawler and others note, Ferguson has some things going for it. Its pleasant, old downtown has seen a revival in recent years, with a busy Saturday farmers market and a new craft brewery. It still has middle-class neighborhoods of historic homes. The headquarters of a Fortune 500 company — Emerson Electric Co. — sits on a serene campus just up the hill from the gas station looters burned a week ago Sunday night.

Gail Babcock, program director at Ferguson Youth Initiative, was quick to note her town still has a strong sense of community — and every morning last week volunteers have poured in to clean up from protests and looting. The challenge is in connecting its poorer residents – especially younger ones – to it.

“It’s very hard for them to find jobs,” said Babcock, who runs a community service program for youth convicted of minor criminal offenses. “That sets up a situation where they tend to get in trouble, and they probably wouldn’t under other circumstances.”

Then there are the schools, one reason why many families moved to these suburbs in the first place. Two north county districts – including the one where Brown graduated from high school in May — have lost their state accreditation in recent years. The district Ferguson shares with a neighboring town remain accredited but scores low on state tests.

That was a big reason why John Weaver took the morning off work Friday, drove his plumbing truck to Florissant, and asked the visiting Gov. Nixon what he planned to do about the problems that have plagued these neighborhoods for years.

Nixon acknowledged there’s “a lot of work to do.” Weaver was not impressed.

“All these politicians say they’ll fight for our education. I feel cheated,” he said in an interview later. “And if I feel cheated, how should these kids feel?”

These issues are all tied together for Shermale Humphrey, a 21-year-old who joined the protests last week. She plans to enlist in the Air Force, but right now works at a McDonald’s near where Brown was shot. She’s something of a veteran activist – helping to organize strikes by fast-food workers in St. Louis — and sees race and local politics and economics here as closely intertwined.

“It’s a shortage of everything,” she said. “It’s a shortage of jobs. Of African Americans on the police force and in government. Of people not being able to get a good education.”

Adding to the frustration, many protesters say, is that the people still running many of these downs don’t much look like the people who live there now. Just three of Ferguson’s 53 police officers are black. Six of seven City Council members are white. So are six of the seven school board members, who run a district with a student body that’s 78 percent black.

Many of these towns are still run “like little fiefdoms,” said Umana, who moved to Ferguson eight years ago, by remnants of their old white middle class that may not share the concerns of newcomers.

“The numbers flip-flopped, but the power structure remained the same,” he said.

It has been hard to build black political leadership in these fast-changing suburbs, said Mike Jones, a black veteran of St. Louis’ political scene. Indeed, it’s been harder than in St. Louis, which has long been racially mixed.

But a more diverse set of voices at Ferguson City Hall, Jones said, might have avoided the heavy-handed police response that only inflamed protests.

“The question is how — in a city that’s 67 percent African-American — do you have absolutely no African American political representation?” Jones asked. “That’s what leads you to a police force that could become involved in this sort of incident.”

It’s an issue more communities will have to face, Jones predicts, as traditionally “urban” issues of poverty and racial change migrate to suburbs often less-equipped to deal with them. And not just in St. Louis.

A study last month by the Brookings Institution found the number of poor people living in high-poverty suburban neighborhoods nationwide more than doubled in the last decade, growing much faster than in big cities.

Chris Krehmeyer, who runs St. Louis-based community development nonprofit Beyond Housing, says he knows colleagues around the country dealing with a lot of the same issues as he is in north St. Louis County, tackling housing and jobs and schools all at once. The key, he said, is to build trust with residents before the community blows up.

Ferguson is a bellwether, he said. “This story could happen in lots of different places, all over this country.”


By: Tim Logan and Molly Hennessy-Fiske, The Los Angeles Times; The National Memo, August 18, 2014

August 19, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Poverty | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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