mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Charity Is Not A Substitute For Justice”: Paul Ryan Still Doesn’t Understand The Scale Of The Poverty Problem

Earlier today, House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) continued his study of poverty with a hearing entitled, “A Progress Report on the War on Poverty: Lessons from the Frontlines.” Featuring witnesses from several poverty-fighting non-profits, Rep. Ryan styled the hearing as a “listening exercise” to hear about the strategies these charities and non-profits use to help alleviate poverty on the local level.

While it is admirable that Rep. Ryan gave a platform for community leaders to share their stories, he seems to have no sense of the scale of the problem before him. Indeed, Rep. Ryan’s veneration for the work of private charity is quite the contrast with his opinion of the federal government’s anti-poverty programs, which he has disparaged as “duplicative,” “complex,” and “ineffective.” However, for as much good work as it does, private philanthropy has well-known biases, as charitable donations tend to flow disproportionately to more glamorous causes, and often dry up during business cycle downturns—just when they’re needed most. In short, while individual charities and non-profits do incredible work to help our communities, they lack the ability to create widespread change; only the federal government has the resources to help alleviate poverty at the scale that is required.

While all of the witnesses who appeared at the hearing—including, ironically, both witnesses called by the Republican majority—represent organizations that receive federal funding, only one of the witnesses, Marian Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund, used her time to point out the importance of government programs. She cited a 2013 Columbia University study that found that government programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC); Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps); the Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program (WIC); and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) reduce poverty by approximately 40 percent. Kathleen Short of the U.S. Census Bureau has also performed research on this topic, finding that government programs such as WIC, SNAP, and EITC, among others, all had a significant impact on reducing the poverty rate. In addition, Feeding America estimates that private charities make up just 4 percent of all food assistance resources in the U.S., with federal programs such as SNAP comprising the other 96 percent.

But it seems that Rep. Ryan doesn’t understand the unique role only the government can play in helping lift citizens out of poverty, as his recent FY15 budget proposal cuts billions from poverty-fighting programs, as Matthew Yglesias over at Vox recently pointed out. We also analyzed the proposed Ryan budget and projected that, if enacted, Rep. Ryan’s huge cuts would have a negative impact on economic growth and cost the labor force millions of jobs.

If Paul Ryan truly wanted to help the poor, he would not just rely on local leaders and private charities to reduce poverty in our country; instead, he would propose a budget that supports social safety nets and poverty-fighting programs.  He would support increasing the minimum wage, which would give 27.8 million Americans a raise and help the parents of one in five children.  And he would vote to extend Emergency Unemployment Insurance, which would help unemployed Americans in our weak labor market and even generate jobs.

Marian Wright Edelman got things right during the hearing when she said that “all of our charity is not a substitute for justice and a fair allocation of public resources.” Unfortunately, the House majority seems to think that publicly-funded programs must be ineffective just because they are publicly-funded—despite all evidence to the contrary.

 

By: John Smith and Alyssa Davis, Economic Policy Institute, April 30, 2014

 

May 3, 2014 Posted by | Paul Ryan, Poor and Low Income, Poverty | , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Cruelty Of Unleashed Capitalism”: Rich Catholic Republicans Threaten Pope Francis, Because He Frightens Them

If anyone wonders whether Pope Francis has irritated wealthy conservatives with his courage and idealism, the latest outburst from Kenneth Langone left little doubt. Sounding both aggressive and whiny, the billionaire investor warned that he and his overprivileged friends might withhold their millions from church and charity unless the pontiff stops preaching against the excesses and cruelty of unleashed capitalism.

According to Langone, such criticism from the Holy See could ultimately hurt the sensitive feelings of the rich so badly that they become “incapable of feeling compassion for the poor.” He also said rich donors are already losing their enthusiasm for the restoration of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan – a very specific threat that he mentioned directly to Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York.

Langone is not only a leading fundraiser for church projects but a generous donor to hospitals, universities, and cancer charities (often for programs and buildings named after him, in the style of today’s self-promoting philanthropists). Among the super-rich, he has many friends and associates who may share his excitable temperament.

While his ultimatum seems senseless – would a person of true faith stiff the church and the poor? – it may well be sincere. And Langone spends freely to promote his political and economic views, in the company of the Koch brothers and other Republican plutocrats.

Still, a Pope brave enough to face down the Mafia over his financial reform of the murky Vatican Bank shouldn’t be much fazed by the likes of Langone.

Yet Langone has reason to worry that the Holy Father is in fact asking hard questions about people like him. Indeed, he could serve as a living symbol of the gross and growing economic inequality that disfigures the American system and threatens democracy.

As a leader of the New York Stock Exchange, he was largely responsible for the scandalous overpayment of his friend Richard Grasso, the exchange president who received nearly $190 million in deferred compensation when he stepped down. Although New York’s highest court eventually upheld Grasso’s pay package, it was a perfect example of the unaccountable, self-serving greed of Wall Street’s elite.

Anything but repentant following the revelation and repudiation of the Grasso deal by NYSE executives, Langone told Forbes magazine in 2004: “They got the wrong f—ing guy. I’m nuts, I’m rich, and boy, do I love a fight. I’m going to make them sh-t in their pants. When I get through with these f—ing captains of industry, they’re going to wish they were in a Cuisinart—at high speed.”

He embarked on a furious vendetta against Eliot Spitzer, who had fought to recapture Grasso’s millions as New York attorney general. And when Spitzer was forced to resign as governor in the wake of a prostitution scandal, Langone’s public gloating seemed to indicate that he had played a personal role in exposing his enemy’s indiscretions. He particularly hated Spitzer for attempting to punish and curtail the worst misconduct in the financial industry.

While Langone passionately defended the outlandish grasping of the super-rich like his friend Grasso, however, he has displayed far less indulgence toward workers, especially those struggling to support their families on poverty wages. Until just last year, he was a director of Yum! Brands, the global fast-food conglomerate that includes Taco Bell and Kentucky Fried Chicken among its holdings – and that spends millions annually to hold down the minimum wage and prevent unionization of its ill-paid employees and farmworkers.

What all this adds up to is hundreds of millions of dollars in questionable compensation for financial cronies, but not a dime more for low-income workers. It is exactly the kind of skewed outcome that the Pope means when he speaks about today’s capitalists, “the powerful feeding upon the powerless,” and the need for renewed state regulation to bring their burgeoning tyranny under control. He is talking about Langone, the Kochs, and an entire gang of right-wing financiers.

“How I would love a church that is poor and for the poor,” Francis said not long after his election to the papacy. That could be what he gets – and that might not be so bad, for the poor and for all of us, Catholic or not, who love justice.

 

By: Joe Conason, Featured Post, The National Memo, January 3, 2014

January 5, 2014 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Supporting The Politicians”: Wal-Mart Exploits Employee Charity To Help Ted Cruz And John Boehner

Wal-Mart and other top U.S. corporations “reap worker political donations through charities,” according to a Bloomberg report published Monday.

Reporter Renee Dudley wrote that major companies, “forbidden to give money directly to political action committees, are taking advantage of controversial federal rules allowing them to ask employees to do it for them in exchange for matching charitable donations.” Dudley notes that the Federal Election Commission ruled in the 1980s that tying employees’ charitable donations to matching political contributions was legal, and that precedent has remained in place despite repeated disagreement within the agency, including a split vote in 2009. She reports the practice “has become commonplace,” and that those who contribute are mostly in management.

Wal-Mart, the world’s largest private employer, draws particular attention in the Bloomberg story, which says the retailer’s program is distinguished by offering a two-to-one rather than one-to-one match, and by requiring that the charitable donations go to the company’s Associates in Critical Need Trust. Wal-Mart’s employee-to-employee charitable activities drew unkind scrutiny in November, when the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on a worker-to-worker food drive at a local store.

Bloomberg cites a 2004 memo from Wal-Mart’s then-general counsel pledging, “We’re going to be relentless in encouraging participation until 100% of our management associates are on board.” Center for Responsive Politics data for Wal-Mart’s “PAC for Responsible Government,” cited by Dudley, show a roughly even split in donations between Republicans and Democrats, with recipients including House Speaker John Boehner, Tea Party favorite Senator Ted Cruz and hometown conservative Democratic Senator Mark Pryor. (A June report from the union-backed Making Change at Walmart campaign, factoring in donations from the Walton family which owns half the company, found that 69 percent of combined total Wal-Mart and Walton donations from 2000 to 2012 went to Republican candidates or committees.)

Wal-Mart did not immediately respond to Salon’s inquiry regarding Bloomberg story. Wal-Mart Vice President David Tovar told Bloomberg’s Dudley that the program was “a great way for people who contribute to the PAC to also do good for fellow associates,” and offered “an opportunity to support the company and the things we’re advocating for on behalf of the shareholders, our associates, our customers” at the state and federal levels.

As I’ve reported, Wal-Mart also maintains the Walmart Foundation, whose grantees have included non-profits in key cities where the company seeks to expand. The legally-distinct Walton Family Foundation is a major funder of anti-union education reform efforts.

Bloomberg’s story comes weeks after a day of civil disobedience actions mounted by the non-union workers’ group OUR Walmart, which is closely tied to the United Food & Commercial Workers union. In an e-mailed statement, OUR Walmart activist Barbara Gertz called the Bloomberg story “further proof that Walmart is determined to spend millions to support politicians who vote to cut food stamps and who oppose increasing the minimum wage, instead of focusing on creating good jobs in our communities.” While OUR Walmart and allies have recently emphasized Wal-Mart employees’ widespread use of public assistance programs (including Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky calling those at the top of the company “welfare kings”), in October Wal-Mart’s U.S. CEO declared the company “cautious but modestly optimistic” that food stamp cuts would be good for business — a statement Congressman John Conyers told Salon “borders on the ludicrous.”

Gertz, a Denver Wal-Mart employee, said it was “upsetting to hear that Walmart not only exploited the associates in critical need fund to push a political agenda that hurts ordinary Americans, but it also may have done so in violation of federal laws.”

 

By: Josh Eidelson, Salon, December 23, 2013

December 24, 2013 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Corporations | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Lifestyle Investments For The Rich And Famous”: When Charity Begins At Home, Particularly The Homes Of The Wealthy

It’s charity time, and not just because the holiday season reminds us to be charitable. As the tax year draws to a close, the charitable tax deduction beckons.

America’s wealthy are its largest beneficiaries. According to the Congressional Budget Office, $33 billion of last year’s $39 billion in total charitable deductions went to the richest 20 percent of Americans, of whom the richest 1 percent reaped the lion’s share.

The generosity of the super-rich is sometimes proffered as evidence they’re contributing as much to the nation’s well-being as they did decades ago when they paid a much larger share of their earnings in taxes. Think again.

Undoubtedly, super-rich family foundations, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are doing a lot of good. Wealthy philanthropic giving is on the rise, paralleling the rise in super-rich giving that characterized the late nineteenth century, when magnates (some called them “robber barons”) like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller established philanthropic institutions that survive today.

But a large portion of the charitable deductions now claimed by America’s wealthy are for donations to culture palaces – operas, art museums, symphonies, and theaters – where they spend their leisure time hobnobbing with other wealthy benefactors.

Another portion is for contributions to the elite prep schools and universities they once attended or want their children to attend. (Such institutions typically give preference in admissions, a kind of affirmative action, to applicants and “legacies” whose parents have been notably generous.)

Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and the rest of the Ivy League are worthy institutions, to be sure, but they’re not known for educating large numbers of poor young people. (The University of California at Berkeley, where I teach, has more poor students eligible for Pell Grants than the entire Ivy League put together.) And they’re less likely to graduate aspiring social workers and legal defense attorneys than aspiring investment bankers and corporate lawyers.

I’m all in favor of supporting fancy museums and elite schools, but face it: These aren’t really charities as most people understand the term. They’re often investments in the life-styles the wealthy already enjoy and want their children to have as well. Increasingly, being rich in America means not having to come across anyone who’s not.

They’re also investments in prestige – especially if they result in the family name engraved on a new wing of an art museum, symphony hall, or ivied dorm.

It’s their business how they donate their money, of course. But not entirely. As with all tax deductions, the government has to match the charitable deduction with additional tax revenues or spending cuts; otherwise, the budget deficit widens.

In economic terms, a tax deduction is exactly the same as government spending. Which means the government will, in effect, hand out $40 billion this year for “charity” that’s going largely to wealthy people who use much of it to enhance their lifestyles.

To put this in perspective, $40 billion is more than the federal government will spend this year on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (what’s left of welfare), school lunches for poor kids, and Head Start, put together.

Which raises the question of what the adjective “charitable” should mean. I can see why a taxpayer’s contribution to, say, the Salvation Army should be eligible for a charitable tax deduction. But why, exactly, should a contribution to the Guggenheim Museum or to Harvard Business School?

A while ago, New York’s Lincoln Center held a fund-raising gala supported by the charitable contributions of hedge fund industry leaders, some of whom take home $1 billion a year. I may be missing something but this doesn’t strike me as charity, either. Poor New Yorkers rarely attend concerts at Lincoln Center.

What portion of charitable giving actually goes to the poor? The Washington Post’s Dylan Matthews looked into this, and the best he could come up with was a 2005 analysis by Google and Indiana University’s Center for Philanthropy showing that even under the most generous assumptions only about a third of “charitable” donations were targeted to helping the poor.

At a time in our nation’s history when the number of poor Americans continues to rise, when government doesn’t have the money to do what’s needed, and when America’s very rich are richer than ever, this doesn’t seem right.

If Congress ever gets around to revising the tax code, it might consider limiting the charitable deduction to real charities.

 

By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, December 12, 2013

December 14, 2013 Posted by | Wealthy | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Deal With Rich People”: America Has A Long Standing Bad Deal With The Wealthy

Americans aren’t so sure about rich people.

For every revered Steve Jobs, there’s a reviled Bernie Madoff; for every folksy Warren Buffett, there’s a tone-deaf Mitt Romney. The pursuit of happiness is patriotic, but the pursuit of riches can come off as greedy. This ambivalence toward the wealthy is embedded in American democracy, and no one knows how to yank it out.

Even Alexis de Tocqueville agreed — a good thing, too, because discussing democracy in America without quoting “Democracy in America” is forbidden. “Men are there seen on a greater equality in point of fortune . . . than in any other country in the world, or in any age of which history has preserved the remembrance,” Tocqueville wrote of his travels in the United States. But then, the dagger: “I do not mean that there is any lack of wealthy individuals in the United States. I know of no country, indeed, where the love of money has taken stronger hold.”

So Americans dislike inequality but crave wealth — and this paradox propels our mixed feelings about the rich. Oppressors or job creators? Ambitious go-getters or rapacious 1 percenters?

Robert F. Dalzell, a historian at Williams College, believes he has an answer. America has a long-standing deal with the rich, he explains, one that allows the country to “forge an accommodation between wealth and democracy.” It’s simple: Yes, rich people, you can exploit workers and natural resources and lord your wealth over everyone if you like, and we’ll resent you for it. But if, along the way, you give a chunk of your fortune to charity, all will be forgiven, old sport. History won’t judge you as a capitalist; it will hail you as a philanthropist.

This uneasy bargain is the premise of Dalzell’s “The Good Rich and What They Cost Us,” which chronicles the deal from before the revolution through the recent financial crisis. Of course, just because the deal has lasted this long doesn’t mean that it will endure. Or that it is a particularly good one. Or that the rich aren’t constantly trying to rewrite the terms.

Early on, the wealthy waited until their deaths to strike the deal. Dalzell writes of Robert Keayne, a prominent 17th-century Boston merchant who sought to cleanse his price-gouging reputation by devoting his posthumous riches to college scholarships, improvements in his city’s water supply and defense, and construction of a town hall where important men like him could discuss weighty things. His will became a unilateral contract with town leaders; if anyone tried to sue his estate for past misdeeds, Keayne stipulated, all his giving would “utterly cease and become void.” Boston took the deal.

John D. Rockefeller saw no reason to wait. His Standard Oil empire — whose ruthless business tactics Ida Tarbell exposed and whose interlocking parts the Supreme Court split up — became the basis for the greatest philanthropic enterprise the world had ever seen. From major financial commitments to Spellman College and the University of Chicago, to support for medical research that developed the yellow-fever vaccine, to the financing of the Cloisters museum in Upper Manhattan and the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg, to list just a few initiatives, Rockefeller and his descendants set the model for modern, large-scale philanthropy. And they did so in a way that preserved the family’s influence and wealth over multiple generations.

“There was something Medici-like about the whole effort,” Dalzell writes, “for within the soul of that great Renaissance family there lay an urge to combine what many might have thought uncombinable — vast wealth and dedicated public service.”

But he also sees a more prosaic motivation: Billionaires want to polish their reputations for posterity. Wealth does not dull their sensitivity to what we think of them; it heightens it. Dalzell thinks it is no coincidence, for example, that the Giving Pledge — a public commitment by the world’s richest individuals, led by Buffett and Bill Gates, to donate most of their fortunes — coincided with the Great Recession’s backlash against the wealthy.

So, the rich just want to be loved. Is that so wrong? If more than 100 of the planet’s wealthiest families and individuals are promising to give away unfathomable amounts of money, why quibble?

Well, there’s at least one reason: The deal gets worse as the price paid for the rich’s charity — the inequality between the affluent and the rest — keeps rising. From 1979 to 2007, the real, after-tax income of the top 1 percent of the U.S. population grew by 275 percent, compared with 18 percent for the bottom fifth, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Social mobility has become more stunted in the United States than in Europe. And Americans see themselves falling further behind: A Washington Post-ABC News poll last year found that 57 percent of registered voters believed that the gap between the rich and rest was larger than it had been historically; only 5 percent thought it was smaller.

The deal will get even worse if efforts to push laws and policies that benefit wealthier Americans succeed. In “Rich People’s Movements,” Isaac William Martin, a sociologist at the University of California at San Diego, says today’s tea party is just the latest manifestation of another American tradition: the mobilization of wealthy and middle-class citizens in an effort to cut their taxes and contributions to the state.

Before the tea party, Martin tells us, there were tax clubs — groups of bankers throughout the South that agitated for tax cuts and helped bring about the Revenue Act of 1926, which “cut the tax rates on the richest Americans more deeply than any other tax law in history.” Before we had Grover Norquist and Americans for Tax Reform, we had J.A. Arnold and the American Taxpayers’ League, and Vivien Kellems and the Liberty Belles, a 1950s women’s movement that campaigned to repeal the income tax. And before Arthur Laffer and supply-side economics, there was Andrew Mellon, the banker, philanthropist and Treasury secretary whose 1924 book, “Taxation: The People’s Business,” argued that cutting income tax rates would create more revenue through greater economic growth.

Rich people’s movements respond to perceived threats, such as the New Deal, President Franklin Roosevelt’s effort to cap incomes during World War II (because “all excess income should go to win the war,” FDR explained) or, now, the policies of the Obama administration. But these movements sell their efforts not as benefiting the rich alone — that would be too transparent, too tacky. Instead, they claim to protect freedom, promote growth, safeguard the Constitution or fend off an ever-more-intrusive government. Martin calls this “strategic policy crafting,” and it brings more allies to the fight.

In fact, it is not just the wealthy, but often the middle class or the slightly-richer-than-average who have campaigned for lower taxes on affluent Americans. “People need not be dupes in order to protest on behalf of others who are richer than they are,” Martin argues. “The activists and supporters of rich people’s movements were defending their own real interests, as they saw them. A tax increase on the richest 1 percent may be perceived by many upper-middle-income property owners as the first step in a broader assault on property rights.” In other words, there’s nothing the matter with Kansas.

Shortly before the Republican National Convention gathered last year to nominate a man who could have become one of the richest presidents in U.S. history, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey on American attitudes toward the wealthy. The chronic ambivalence was there: Forty-three percent of respondents said rich people are more likely than the average American to be intelligent, and 42 percent believed that the rich worked harder than everyone else. The good rich! But 55 percent said wealthy people were more likely to be greedy, and 34 percent thought they were less likely to be honest. The bad rich.

Can “giving pledges” and foundation grants sustain America’s deal with the wealthy in a time of increasing inequality and falling social mobility? In his conclusion, Dalzell worries that the belief in the generosity of the good rich leads us to “tolerate, even celebrate, the violation of some of our most cherished ideals” of fairness and egalitarianism.

Perhaps the dilemma of extreme wealth and disparities in a democracy is that noblesse oblige becomes necessary. These two books show that the wealthy give much with one hand but seek to contribute far less with the other. That makes the giving they choose to do all the more critical but all the less accountable.

And that doesn’t sound like such a good deal.

 

By: Carlos Lozada, Outlook Editor, The Washington Post, November 27, 2013

December 1, 2013 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Income Gap | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: