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“It’s Now The Canadian Dream”: It’s Time To Bring The American Dream Home From Exile

It was in 1931 that the historian James Truslow Adams coined the phrase “the American dream.”

The American dream is not just a yearning for affluence, Adams said, but also for the chance to overcome barriers and social class, to become the best that we can be. Adams acknowledged that the United States didn’t fully live up to that ideal, but he argued that America came closer than anywhere else.

Adams was right at the time, and for decades. When my father, an eastern European refugee, reached France after World War II, he was determined to continue to the United States because it was less class bound, more meritocratic and offered more opportunity.

Yet today the American dream has derailed, partly because of growing inequality. Or maybe the American dream has just swapped citizenship, for now it is more likely to be found in Canada or Europe — and a central issue in this year’s political campaigns should be how to repatriate it.

A report last month in The Times by David Leonhardt and Kevin Quealy noted that the American middle class is no longer the richest in the world, with Canada apparently pulling ahead in median after-tax income. Other countries in Europe are poised to overtake us as well.

In fact, the discrepancy is arguably even greater. Canadians receive essentially free health care, while Americans pay for part of their health care costs with after-tax dollars. Meanwhile, the American worker toils, on average, 4.6 percent more hours than a Canadian worker, 21 percent more hours than a French worker and an astonishing 28 percent more hours than a German worker, according to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Canadians and Europeans also live longer, on average, than Americans do. Their children are less likely to die than ours. American women are twice as likely to die as a result of pregnancy or childbirth as Canadian women. And, while our universities are still the best in the world, children in other industrialized countries, on average, get a better education than ours. Most sobering of all: A recent O.E.C.D. report found that for people aged 16 to 24, Americans ranked last among rich countries in numeracy and technological proficiency.

Economic mobility is tricky to measure, but several studies show that a child born in the bottom 20 percent economically is less likely to rise to the top in America than in Europe. A Danish child is twice as likely to rise as an American child.

When our futures are determined to a significant extent at birth, we’ve reverted to the feudalism that our ancestors fled.

“Equality of opportunity — the ‘American dream’ — has always been a cherished American ideal,” Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel-winning economist at Columbia University, noted in a recent speech. “But data now show that this is a myth: America has become the advanced country not only with the highest level of inequality, but one of those with the least equality of opportunity.”

Consider that the American economy has, over all, grown more quickly than France’s. But so much of the growth has gone to the top 1 percent that the bottom 99 percent of French people have done better than the bottom 99 percent of Americans.

Three data points:

• The top 1 percent in America now own assets worth more than those held by the entire bottom 90 percent.

• The six Walmart heirs are worth as much as the bottom 41 percent of American households put together.

• The top six hedge fund managers and traders averaged more than $2 billion each in earnings last year, partly because of the egregious “carried interest” tax break. President Obama has been unable to get financing for universal prekindergarten; this year’s proposed federal budget for pre-K for all, so important to our nation’s future, would be a bit more than a single month’s earnings for those six tycoons.

Inequality has become a hot topic, propelling Bill de Blasio to become mayor of New York City, turning Senator Elizabeth Warren into a star, and elevating the economist Thomas Piketty into such a demigod that my teenage daughter asked me the other day for his 696-page tome. All this growing awareness is a hopeful sign, because there are policy steps that we could take that would create opportunity and dampen inequality.

We could stop subsidizing private jets and too-big-to-fail banks, and direct those funds to early education programs that help break the cycle of poverty. We can invest less in prisons and more in schools.

We can impose a financial transactions tax and use the proceeds to broaden jobs programs like the earned-income tax credit and career academies. And, as Alan S. Blinder of Princeton University has outlined, we can give companies tax credits for creating new jobs.

It’s time to bring the American dream home from exile.

By: Nicholas Kristof, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, May 14, 2014

May 16, 2014 Posted by | Economic Inequality | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“No Break In The War On Voting”: Republican Hostility To Voting Rights Is The Problem

In case you were wondering if Rand Paul’s three-day revolt against the War on Voting his party is waging was either stimulating or might reflect a moment of glasnost on the subject, MSNBC’s Zachary Roth has some cold, cold water for you:

Paul’s walk-back is the inevitable result of some much larger trends. It’s not just that polls show voter ID remains popular—though that’s undoubtedly affecting the picture. More important is the GOP’s strategy for winning elections. For all the talk about the need to court Hispanics, the reality is that the easiest short-term path to victory for Republicans is to double-down on their advantage white voters, and work to make the electorate as white as possible. That means restrictions on voting—which hit blacks and Hispanics hardest—are likely to be a page in the party’s playbook for a while.

It’s no coincidence that some of the most important presidential swing states—Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, and North Carolina—have been the sites of the fiercest voting rights battles. Republicans know that without most of those states, they could be shut out of the White House for decades.

Nor is it a surprise that the list of Paul’s potential rivals for the nomination includes Republicans, like Rick Perry, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich, who have led the way in blocking access to the ballot. Not a single GOPer in the 2016 conversation has opposed voter ID—including Paul.

The Republican National Lawyers Association—the closest thing there is to an official GOP position on voting issues—is certainly showing no signs of retreating. Not only does the group defend voter ID as zealously as ever—it even opposes a recent recommendation from a bipartisan presidential commission to expand early voting.

The GOP’s approach to the Voting Rights Act is even more revealing about the direction it’s heading. In 2006, the overwhelming majority of Republican lawmakers joined with Democrats to reauthorize the landmark civil rights law. But Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican, has so far failed to get party leaders to sign on to legislation to fix the law after it was weakened by the Supreme Court last year—even though it contains a special carve-out for voter ID, designed to win GOP support.

I would add that despite all the talk (abating lately) of Republicans needing to change positions, strategy and tactics to look less hostile to minority voters, you almost never hear Republicans admitting that hostility to voting rights is part of their problem. That may have been Rand Paul’s most important heresy: even bringing the subject up. Bet that won’t happen again.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, May 15, 2014

May 16, 2014 Posted by | Republicans, Voter Suppression, Voting Rights | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No Matter Your Politics”: The Gross Hypocrisy Of Conservative Media’s Attack On ‘Hashtag Bring Back Our Girls’

With apparently little more to talk about this week—and stuck for an actual solution to bringing home the girls kidnapped in Nigeria by a terrorist group—the conservative media has decided to go with a campaign to denigrate those who posted photographs on Twitter, holding up signs reading “#BringBackOurGirls”.

The heart of the narrative being pushed is that those participating in the twitterverse effort are, somehow, formulating our national security policy through their participation.


When 2nd Amendment advocates mounted social media campaigns and legally rallied in front of government buildings holding their weapons high in the air, were they dictating domestic policy or seeking to influence domestic policy?

When the Tea Party began its protest of American tax policies by huge numbers of sympathizers taking to Twitter to express their feelings with the hashtag, “Don’t Tread On Me”, were these folks dictating domestic policy or seeking to influence domestic policy?

I think the answer if crystal clear to any thinking human being.

In both these instances, these were Americans exercising their critical right to express themselves in any legitimate and legal avenue available to them and to use that right of free expression to bring their feelings to the attention of the federal government in the hopes that they could have some influence over their government’s actions and policies.

I may not agree with all the thoughts the 2nd Amendment and Tea Party advocates and supporters have expressed through the same social media sites being utilized by those trying to impact on how we react to the heinous act of violence in Nigeria, but not for one second would I have considered making fun of these people for doing what is one of the most important things an American can do—express themselves to their government.

If you don’t believe this, I challenge anyone to find so much as one column, one television appearance or one radio interview where I belittled 2nd amendment or Tea Party advocates, members and sympathizers for taking to social media, rallies or any other legal means of protest and influence to make their feelings known. I may criticize their ideas but it simply would not occur to me to denigrate these people for speaking out and taking advantage of what our freedoms permit.

Indeed, the only time you will find that I criticized the actual gathering of such a group was when an armed group of  2nd Amendment supporters in Texas posted themselves outside a restaurant where a group of gun control advocates were meeting inside, unnecessarily intimidating and scaring the hell out of these folks.

Can anyone tell me how the situation of people tweeting their support, or participating in a rally, to influence their government on the subject of these horrendous kidnappings is any different than the examples I have given above?

You may not agree with their position, although it is difficult to imagine why anyone would be against asking our government and the governments of the world to try and do something to help the kidnapped girls and their families; you may think that such a mass expression is waste of time on the part of those who are participating because you believe it won’t help bring the girls home; you may not like those who are participating because it involves a few celebrities that you enjoy picking on because their political beliefs may be different than your own; but how can you possibly argue that this effort is, in any way whatsoever, different from 2nd Amendment protesters or folks participating in a Tea Party rally and posting their support for their point of view via social media?

I truly do not understand how those who have made a living this week from making fun of Americans who choose to express themselves in a good cause can turn around and play their theme music recounting how wonderful America is when they clearly do not understand what it is that makes this nation wonderful. I truly do not understand how these people can participate in social media or make appearances at rallies designed to bring home their particular point of view but then make fun of others for doing precisely the same thing simply because they don’t like these people or don’t believe their expressions will have an effect.

No matter what your politics, how is this anything but spectacular hypocrisy?

And to imagine that the fact that Hillary Clinton or the First Lady chose to participate in the Twitter event somehow turns this into a foreign policy initiative of the U.S. government is so foolish as to offend the very listeners and viewers who take the conservative media so very seriously. Sorry, guys, but you’re audience is way smarter than that.


By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, May 15, 2014

May 16, 2014 Posted by | Conservative Media, NIgeria | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Christie-Brand Leadership”: Always Blame Everyone Else

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) was among the many special guests to appear at the dedication ceremony this morning for the Sept. 11 museum, and according to the Associated Press, the original program called for Christie’s remarks at the event to be followed by Idina Menzel’s performance of “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

“A last-minute change prevented what could have been an uncomfortable moment,” the AP reported.

Perhaps, though at this point, it would have been the least of the governor’s troubles.

For example, Christie was a featured guest yesterday at an event on fiscal responsibility, despite the fact that since he became governor, New Jersey’s debt has been downgraded a record six times and the state is currently facing a serious shortfall. As the New York Times reported, “The event’s timing was awkward for both Mr. Christie and his hosts at the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, which invited him on the program for his experience ‘balancing difficult fiscal choices.’”

Dana Milbank discovered that the governor is taking responsibility in his preferred way – by finding someone else to take the blame.

CBS News’s Bob Schieffer … laid out the bad news: $807 million budget shortfall; downgrades by credit-rating agencies; worry that the state can’t pay its pension obligations; and slow job growth. “Not so long ago, people were talking about the New Jersey miracle,” the genial newsman said. “Now suddenly the news is not so good about New Jersey.”

Christie did what any strong leader would do when presented with such facts: He blamed the economists. “They overestimated our revenue,” he said.

This is marginally better than Christie’s original line – the governor initially tried to blame President Obama – but the fact remains that David Rosen, the chief budget officer for the last 30 years for New Jersey’s Office of Legislative Services, specifically warned state officials that the governor’s projections simply weren’t reliable. Instead of listening to Rosen, Christie mocked and bullied him.

Asked about the state struggling to pay for its pension, the governor went on to blame New Jersey’s four previous governors.

Christie added that his bridge scandal – which, coincidentally, he also blamed on everyone else – would be little more than a “footnote” in his political legacy. “My future is going to be based upon the record” of his fiscal management, the governor concluded.

After six debt downgrades and a massive budget shortfall, Christie probably ought to hope he’s mistaken.

As for the still-lingering bridge scandal, Bill Stepien, Christie’s former campaign manager, is more than a little upset about the widely-panned Mastro report – generally seen as taxpayer-financed propaganda intended to clear the governor. Yesterday, Stepien’s lawyer insisted that Christie’s lawyers retract the “false and misleading statements” they published about Stepien or they’ll sue.

And speaking of Stepien, the editorial board of the Star-Ledger, New Jersey’s largest newspaper, added today:

According to Tuesday’s testimony from Michael Drewniak, the governor’s pugilistic press secretary, Christie wondered aloud during a Dec. 5 meeting whether Stepien was deceiving him by hiding what he knew of the lane closures.

“I always wondered if Stepien knew more about this,” the governor said, according to Drewniak.

That revelation is potentially damaging to the governor. For one, he claimed unequivocally during a Dec. 13 press conference that no one in his inner circle knew about the lane closures. Drewniak’s testimony indicates that the governor had his suspicions, but decided to keep them secret. It is also revealing, and a bit revolting, to note that Drewniak watched the governor make this misleading statement without making a peep.

So how can the governor explain this one away? Another convenient memory lapse. Asked about it on his 101.5 FM radio show Tuesday night, the governor said he has “very little recollection of that conversation.”

The “footnote” rhetoric is clearly an example of wishful thinking, not a reliable prediction.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 15, 2014

May 16, 2014 Posted by | Bridgegate, Chris Christie | , , , | Leave a comment


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