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From Wisconsin To Wall Street, An Economic Reckoning

The comparisons were inevitable. As Occupy Wall Street gathers momentum and new allies, progressives have quickly connected it with the other headline-grabbing uprising this year: The mass protests in Wisconsin against Gov. Scott Walker’s attack on labor unions. A statement from leaders of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees union, which endorsed Occupy Wall Street this week, was typical: “Just as a message was sent to politicians in Wisconsin, a clear message is now being sent to Wall Street: Priority number one should be rebuilding Main Street, not fueling the power of corporate CEOs and their marionette politicians.”

The essential theme connecting events in Madison and New York City is unmistakable. Both represent an economic reckoning at a time of grim unemployment rates and stagnant wages for middle-class Americans. “Both the defense of unions [in Wisconsin] and Occupy Wall Street, which is broader in its definition of the problem, are responding to two or three decades of increasing economic inequality and, until fairly recently, the inability of progressives to address those things,” says Georgetown University historian Michael Kazin, author of American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation.

But the Wisconsin-Occupy Wall Street comparison is a more complicated  one in its specifics. The two don’t fit neatly side by side and, in  some ways, bear no resemblance at all. Here is a look at how two of the  biggest populist protests of the year stack up:

The Organizers

As I reported from Madison in March, labor unions and community activist groups were, from the very beginning, the driving force in the Wisconsin protests. On November 3, 2010, the day after Republicans reclaimed the state Legislature and the governor’s mansion, union leaders began plotting how to respond to the looming assault on organized labor. And when Gov. Scott Walker unveiled his anti-union budget repair bill, and later threatened to sic the National Guard on those protesting his bill, unions marshaled their resources and called every member in their ranks. From their command center in Madison’s only unionized hotel, labor turned out more than a 100,000 supporters in a span of weeks.

Occupy Wall Street is not union-made. It was the anti-capitalist Adbusters magazine that put out the initial call for protesters to flood downtown Manhattan on September 17. Since then the protests have grown almost entirely without institutional support, an organic groundswell without leaders or executive boards or much structure at all. In recent days, unions have endorsed Occupy Wall Street, marched with them, and provided food, drinks, clothing, and more. But the protests remain a loosely organized, essentially leaderless effort.

Goals of the Movement

“Kill the bill! Kill the bill!” Wading among the crowd in Madison in February, you couldn’t go more than 10 minutes without that chant breaking out. It captured exactly what the protesters wanted: the death of Scott Walker’s anti-union bill. (They didn’t get it.) Later, those demands broadened to include fewer cuts to funding for education and social services by Walker and Wisconsin Republicans, but for much of the protests, it was perfectly clear what the angry cheeseheads wanted.

Occupy Wall Street so far has had no clear set of demands—and intentionally so, it seems. A post at demanded that supporters stop listing demands for fear of making protesters “look like extremist nut jobs.” The post went on, “You don’t speak for everyone in this.” The vague intentions have raised eyebrows, but they also have had the effect of welcoming a diverse group of supporters without alienating them. “The protesters have been eloquent in rejecting the idea that they produce ‘one demand’ and also in articulating in broad terms what they want,” says Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen.

Spreading the Word

Like the protesters in Iran’s “Green Revolution” and Egypt’s Tahrir Square uprising, Wisconsin and Occupy Wall Street have made savvy use of social media for everything from rallying supporters and organizing marches to asking for food. Take Twitter: Both uprisings have built lively, if contentious, forums for debate with the hash tags #wiunion and #occupywallstreet. So many tweets poured in during Wednesday’s Occupy Wall Street march that it was impossible to keep up.

Other forms of online organizing have been pivotal. There are more than 230 Facebook pages promoting Occupy events from Tacoma, Washington, to Marfa, Texas, to Milwaukee, just as Facebook helped energize protesters in Wisconsin. And for those who couldn’t make it in person, livestreaming has brought supporters from around the country and the world closer to the action on the ground.

Laying Down the Law

Scott Walker’s bill exempted police officers from the most draconian crackdowns on workers’ rights. That put cops in a tight spot, because it was the job of the police to contain and, when necessary, crack down on the crowds of public workers who occupied the state Capitol rotunda and protested in the surrounding streets. But throughout the months-long protests, police arrested very few, allowed the occupiers to remain inside the Capitol for weeks, and generally treated angry demonstrators as best as could be hoped. Off-duty cops from around the state even joined the protesters in Madison.

Actions by law enforcement in Manhattan against Occupy Wall Street have at some turns been a very different story, with police crackdowns stealing the spotlight. This video of an NYPD deputy inspector using pepper spray on a handful of female protesters sparked outrage, added a streak of sensationalism to the story, and was picked up by mainstream news outlets. The arrest of more than 700 people who marched on the Brooklyn Bridge last weekend similarly made national headlines, leading to heaps of criticism and a class-action lawsuit against the NYPD.

Pizza for Protesters

Supporters called in pizza orders from around the world for the hearty crew of Capitol occupiers in Wisconsin. The same is happening for those camped out in Zuccotti Park, blocks from Wall Street. Pizza: It’s the nosh of choice for American uprisings in 2011.

By: Andy Kroll, Mother Jones, October 6, 2011

October 7, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Democracy, Equal Rights, Freedom, Government, Ideologues, Liberty, Media, Middle Class, Politics, Populism, Revolution, Unemployment | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ten Reasons Why Immigration Reform Is Important To Our Fiscal Health

All eyes in Washington these days are on the new congressional super committee. The 12 members from both parties in both chambers of Congress have been assigned the task of developing a plan to reduce the federal deficit by $1.5 trillion over the next decade or risk setting off deficit-cutting triggers that will force sharp cuts to both defense and domestic spending.

There are many ways the members of this committee can reach the $1.5 trillion target between now and their Thanksgiving week deadline. We at the Center for American Progress understand that comprehensive immigration reform is not among the deficit reduction options on the table but want to urge the super committee to consider it. Comprehensive immigration reform is one key to boosting economic growth and thus helping to solve our nation’s fiscal problems.

Here are the top 10 reasons why immigration reform, or the lack thereof, affects our economy.

Additions to the U.S. economy

1. $1.5 trillion—The amount of money that would be added to America’s cumulative gross domestic product—the largest measure of economic growth—over 10 years with a comprehensive immigration reform plan that includes legalization for all undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States.

2. 3.4 percent—The potential GDP growth rate over the past two years if comprehensive immigration reform had gone into effect two years ago, in mid-2009. (see Figure 1)

figure 1

3. 309,000—The number of jobs that would have been gained if comprehensive immigration reform had gone into effect two years ago, in mid-2009. A GDP growth rate of 0.2 percent above the actual growth rate translates into, based on the relationship between economic growth and unemployment, a decrease in unemployment by 0.1 percent, or 154,400 jobs, per year.

4. $4.5 billion to $5.4 billion—The amount of additional net tax revenue that would accrue to the federal government over three years if all undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States were legalized.

Revenue generated by immigrants

5. $4.2 trillion—The amount of revenue generated by Fortune 500 companies founded by immigrants and their children, representing 40 percent of all Fortune 500 companies.

6. $67 billion—The amount of money that immigrant business owners generated in the 2000 census, 12 percent of all business income. In addition, engineering and technology companies with at least one key immigrant founder generated $52 billion between 1995 and 2005 and created roughly 450,000 jobs.

Taxes generated by immigrants

7. $11.2 billion—The amount of tax revenue that states alone collected from undocumented immigrants in 2010.

Negative consequences of mass deportation

8. $2.6 trillion—The amount of money that would evaporate from cumulative U.S. GDP over 10 years if all undocumented immigrants in the country were deported.

9. 618,000—The number of jobs that would have been lost had a program of mass deportation gone into effect two years ago, in mid-2009. A mass deportation program would have caused GDP to decrease by 0.5 percent per year, which, based on the relationship between economic growth and unemployment, translates to an increase in unemployment by 0.2 percent, or 309,000 jobs, per year.

10. $285 billion—The amount of money it would cost to deport all undocumented immigrants in the United States over five years.

The upshot

Most Americans and their elected representatives in Congress would be pleasantly surprised to learn about the substantial benefits of comprehensive immigration reform to our nation’s broad-based economic growth and prosperity, and thus our ability to reduce our federal budget deficit over the next 10 years. Given how difficult a challenge the super committee faces, we cannot afford to ignore any viable options for strengthening our economy. We hope the super committee takes these top 10 economic reasons into account as they move forward with their deliberations.

By: Angela M. Kelley and Philip E. Wolgin, Center For American Progress, September 29, 2011

September 30, 2011 Posted by | Businesses, Class Warfare, Conservatives, Democrats, Economic Recovery, GOP, Government, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, Republicans, Teaparty, Unemployment | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Obama’s Tax Plan Is Common Sense, Not Class warfare

“Class warfare!” scream the Republicans, in a voice usually reserved for phrases such as “Run for your lives!”

Spare us the histrionics. The GOP and its upper-crust patrons have been waging an undeclared but devastating war against middle-class, working-class and poor Americans for decades. Now they scream bloody murder at the notion that long-suffering victims might finally hit back.

President Obama’s proposal to boost taxes for the wealthy by $1.5 trillion over the next decade is a good first step toward reforming a system in which billionaire hedge-fund executives are taxed at a lower rate than are their chauffeurs and private chefs.

Republicans whine that, since they oppose raising taxes on the rich — and control the House of Representatives, which can block such legislation — Obama’s proposal should be seen as political, not substantive. This is just a campaign initiative, they say, not a “serious” plan to address the nation’s financial and economic woes.

But that’s pure solipsism: Whatever does not fit the GOP’s worldview is, by definition, illegitimate. By this standard, Obama could propose only measures that are in the Republican Party’s platform — which obviously would defeat the purpose of being elected president as a progressive Democrat in the first place.

Outside of the Republican echo chamber, polls consistently show the American people consider unemployment to be the nation’s most urgent problem, not deficits and debt. Obama was on target with the American Jobs Act he proposed this month; the only question was what took him so long.

Americans do have long-term concerns about debt, however, and by large margins they see an obvious solution: a balanced combination of spending cuts and tax increases. In other words, they want precisely the kind of approach that House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) rejected during the debt-ceiling fight — and that he vows to reject again.

Why did Republicans begin squawking about class warfare even before Obama had a chance to announce his proposals? Because by calling on the rich to pay “their fair share” of taxes, the president has hit upon a clear and simple way to illustrate how unequal and unfair our society has become.

Since the beginning of the Reagan years, the share of total income captured by the top 1 percent of earners has doubled while the share taken by the bottom 80 percent has fallen. The rich are getting richer at the expense not only of the poor but of the middle class as well.

Studies demonstrating this trend tend to be dry and, let’s face it, sleep-inducing. But the perverse disparity in tax rates between the super-rich and the rest of us is enough to grab anyone’s attention.

The very wealthy earn much of their income through dividends and capital gains, which are taxed at 15 percent. This low rate would apply specifically to a wildly successful hedge-fund manager who made, say, $50 million last year. By contrast, an insurance company executive who made $500,000 — just 1 percent of what the hedge-fund manager took home — would pay a top marginal income tax rate of 35 percent. Even a teacher who made just $50,000 — 0.1 percent of the hedge-fund haul — would pay a top marginal rate of 25 percent.

Obama proposes tax legislation that would erase this disparity. He also vows that, unless Congress enacts comprehensive — and fair — tax reform, he will allow the Bush tax cuts for households earning more than $250,000 a year to expire at the end of 2012.

The overall plan that Obama announced Monday would cut deficits by about $4 trillion over the next 10 years — without gutting programs that bolster the middle class and aid the poor. New tax revenue and money saved from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan make up most of the total.

Obama’s proposed savings in Medicare and Medicaid are modest and tailored so that their impact is progressive. The president correctly decided that ensuring Social Security’s long-term solvency should proceed on a separate track. All this should be heartening to those who really want to preserve these vital programs.

The headline from Obama’s plan, though, is the call for wealthy Americans to pay taxes like everybody else. If Republicans believe the current system is fine, Obama said, “they should be called out. They should have to defend that unfairness. . . . They ought to have to answer for it.”

We’ve already heard their answer.

And we’ve heard Obama’s retort: “This is not class warfare. It’s math.”


By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 19, 2011

September 22, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Corporations, Democracy, Economy, Elections, GOP, Government, Ideology, Income Gap, Jobs, Medicare, Middle Class, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Taxes, Unemployment, Wealthy | , , , , | Leave a comment

Quality Vs Quantity: Yes, We Need Jobs. But What Kind?

On Thursday, President Obama will deliver a major speech on America’s employment crisis. But too often, what is lost in the call for job creation is a clear idea of what jobs we want to create.

I recently led a research team to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, where Gov. Rick Perry, a contender for the Republican presidential nomination, has advertised his track record of creating jobs. From January 2000 to January 2010, employment in the Valley grew by a remarkable 42 percent, compared with our nation’s anemic 1 percent job growth.

But the median wage for adults in the Valley between 2005 and 2008 was a stunningly low $8.14 an hour (in 2008 dollars). One in four employed adults earned less than $6.19 an hour. The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas reported that the per capita income in the two metropolitan statistical areas spanning the Valley ranked lowest and second lowest in the nation.

These workers aren’t alone. Last year, one in five American adults worked in jobs that paid poverty-level wages. Worker displacement contributes to the problem. People who are laid off from previously stable employment, if they are lucky enough to find work, take a median wage hit of over 20 percent, which can persist for decades.

To understand the impact of low wages, in the Valley and elsewhere, we interviewed a wide range of people, including two directors of public health clinics, three priests, a school principal and four focus groups of residents. Everyone described a life of constantly trying to scrape by. One month they might pay for the phone, another, for utilities. Everyone knew how long each company would carry unpaid bills before cutting service. People spoke not only of their fear of an unexpected crisis — an illness, a broken car — but also of the challenge of paying for basic needs like school supplies. Many used the phrase “one paycheck away from homelessness.”

Because their parents cannot afford child care, children move among relatives and neighbors. They watch too much TV. They don’t finish their homework. Older children grow up too fast from parenting their younger siblings. As one person observed, “All you think about is which bill is more important.”

Economic stress strains marriages. Parents cannot afford quinceañeras for their daughters. In church youth groups, teenagers ask why they should stay in school if all they can get are low wages.

Many children are latchkey kids. Accidents are frequent; we heard of an elementary school student who badly burned himself in a science experiment, with his older brother watching. Their father couldn’t take time off from work to visit his son in the hospital. Children come to school sick. Parents miss teacher conferences because they can’t afford time off. Type 2 diabetes is a scourge in the Valley. Since Type 2 diabetics can be asymptomatic for years, many don’t buy medicine; as time passes, they become severely ill, often losing sight or a limb.

The director at one clinic, with nearly 70,000 visits a year, estimated that half of its patients had anxiety or depression. Often people can’t get to the clinic because they cannot afford to lose work time or because gas costs too much. When they go, they take their families, because they have no child care.

And yet the Valley is not hopeless. Teachers stay late to help with homework. They make home visits to meet parents. Health clinic employees work overtime. The community organization Valley Interfaith has pushed for training opportunities and living-wage jobs. There is no “culture of poverty,” but the low-wage economy has corrosive and tragic consequences.

Must we choose between job quality and quantity? We have solid evidence that when employees are paid better and given more opportunities within a company, the gains outweigh the costs. For example, after a living wage ordinance took effect for employees at the San Francisco International Airport, in 1999, turnover fell and productivity rose.

Contrary to the antigovernment rhetoric, there is much that the public sector can do to improve the quality of jobs.

A recent analysis by the Economic Policy Institute reported that 20 percent of federal contract employees earned less than the poverty level for a family of four, as opposed to 8 percent of traditional federal workers. Many low-wage jobs in the private sector (notably, the health care industry) are financed by taxpayers. The government can set an example by setting and enforcing wage standards for contractors.

When states and localities use their zoning powers to approve commercial projects, or offer tax incentives to attract new employers, they can require that workers be paid living wages; research shows this will not hurt job growth.

Labor standards have to be upgraded and enforced, particularly for those employers, typically in low-wage industries, who engage in “wage theft,” by failing to pay required overtime wages or misclassifying workers as independent contractors so that they do not receive the benefits to which they are entitled.

Americans have long believed that there should be a floor below which job quality does not fall. Today, polls show widespread support for upgrading employment standards, including raising the minimum wage — which is lower, in inflation-adjusted terms, than it was in 1968. It’s time for the federal government to take the lead in creating not just more jobs, but more good jobs. The job-growth mirage of the Rio Grande Valley cannot be our model.

By:  Paul Osterman, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, September 5, 2011

September 6, 2011 Posted by | Businesses, Class Warfare, Conservatives, Corporations, Economic Recovery, Economy, Education, Government, Jobs, President Obama, States, Teachers, Unemployment | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Public Perceptions And The Limited Value Of Recent History

CNN’s Candy Crowley made a noteworthy comment on the air last night, and we’ve heard similar remarks from other media figures quite a bit lately. The subject was President Obama’s prospects for a second term.

“He has to buck history, number one, a president with that kind of high unemployment rate has never been re-elected at 9 percent.”

At first blush, the observation is plainly false. Franklin Delano Roosevelt won a second term when unemployment was at 17%.

In fairness, though, Crowley probably just misspoke, and meant to refer to the post-Depression era. But even if we give her the benefit of the doubt here, the observation is largely pointless.

As a factual matter, it’s true that every president since FDR who’s won re-election has seen an unemployment rate below 7.2%. Will the unemployment rate fall below 7.2% by Election Day 2012? No one, anywhere, believes this is even remotely realistic.

But the context matters, and the media routinely pretends it doesn’t exist. No president since FDR has won with a high unemployment rate because no president since FDR has had to govern at a time of a global economic crisis like the Great Depression or the Great Recession. The U.S. has seen plenty of downturns over the last eight decades, but financial collapses are fairly rare, produce far more severe conditions, and take much longer to recover from.

Of course the unemployment rate won’t be below 7.2%. Under the circumstances and given the calamity Obama inherited, that’s impossible.

The more relevant question is what Americans are willing to tolerate and consider in context. In 1934, during FDR’s first midterms, the unemployment rate was about 22%. The public was thrilled — not because a 22% unemployment rate is good news, but because it had come down considerably from 1932. By 1936, when FDR was seeking re-eleciotn, the unemployment rate was about 17%. How can an incumbent president win re-election with a 17% unemployment rate? Because things were getting better, not worse.

That’s obviously the challenge for President Obama. The numerical thresholds are largely irrelevant — comparing the current economic circumstances to what other modern presidents have dealt with is silly. The more relevant metric is directional — are things better or getting worse by the time voters head to the polls, and if worse, who gets the blame.

What’s more, let’s also not lose sight of sample sizes. CNN’s Crowley made it seem as if no American president has ever won a second term with this high an unemployment rate. But even if we limit the analysis to the post-FDR era, as Dana Houle explained a couple of months ago, “Since FDR only Eisenhower, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Clinton and the two Bush’s have been elected president and then sought reelection. It’s hard to draw big conclusions from a sample of seven.”

If the media is preoccupied with this metric, it will shape the public’s perceptions and help drive the campaign. Here’s hoping news outlets come to realize how incomplete this picture is.

By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, September 4, 2011

September 4, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Debt Crisis, Deficits, Democracy, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Jobs, Journalists, Media, Middle Class, Politics, President Obama, Press, Public, Public Opinion, Pundits, Republicans, Right Wing, Unemployment, Voters | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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