Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Sharing the pain to reduce the deficit

Richard Eskow at Campaign for America's Future has a good analysis of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders "Shared Sacrifice" plan for addressing the federal debt and deficit. As Eskow points out:
The question is whether we reduce the deficit only through spending cuts, or also by raising taxes on the rich. This should be an easy issue for Democrats to stand on ... and run on. A recent New York Times/CBS News poll showed that 72% of of those surveyed agreed that federal taxes should be raised for households making more than $250,000 - including 55% of Republicans. Yet even with the GOP leadership far to the right of the country on this issue, Democrats haven’t taken an unequivocal position.

Who's speaking for this Republican majority (and most everybody else) in Washington? Only Sen. Bernie Sanders, Socialist from Vermont. Sanders has unequivocally said that he won't support a deal to raise the debt ceiling unless it includes higher taxes on on the rich. Where are the Democrats? Nancy Pelosi's been marginalized from the discussions, even though a deal won't be possible without the support of Democrats in Congress. The White House and Harry Reid have refused to take a firm stand.
Sanders has gained lots of positive attention from progressives for his speech on the Senate floor Monday, in which he called for each dollar of cuts in social programs to be matched by a dollar of tax increases on the wealthy and corporations in order to achieve deficit reduction, as well as "significant cuts to unnecessary and wasteful Pentagon spending."

As has been noted in this space, the federal deficit and debt are something of a long-term problem for the United States, but their impact has been greatly exaggerated by Republicans looking for an excuse to  help the wealthy at the expense of ordinary people. CAF has a useful Web page that examines this issue in light of the current controversy. A link on that page leads to a commentary by Dave Johnson that illustrates the dangers of crashing the economy if Democrats cave in to Republican demands in order to raise the debt limit.

Most progressives understand that the deficit is not a serious immediate economic concern in a country that is on the verge of a double-dip recession. Cutting government spending at this point is likely to make the problem worse. But the Republicans are not likely to concede any of this. What Senator Sanders has offered is a practical and principled compromise. If Republicans truly believe that reducing the deficit and debt is the most serious problem facing the country, they need to be willing for the wealthy and the powerful to share the sacrifice necessary to make that possible.

If you would like to add your support to this position, Senator Sanders has started a petition to President Obama to urge him to follow this approach. CAF has a page that allows you to contact your senators and congressperson about this issue. Maybe this time the Republicans have gone too far. Maybe ordinary people will be willing and able to take their country back.

Update: If even a Fox News commentator thinks that US corporations should pay more taxes, maybe there is real hope for this solution. (Hat tip to US Uncut for that link.)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Sexual harassment is not the same as private misconduct

In a blog post at, Amanda Marcotte dismisses "Weinergate" as destructive gossip. Dana Goldstein begs to differ, expressing anger that Rep. Weiner, an advocate for progressive issues such as universal healthcare, "would risk his important role in the public debate by giving strangers access to such embarrassing photographs He must have—should have!—known there was a chance the pictures could leak, putting his career at risk."

Echidne of the Snakes gets right down to the real issue, which is sexual harassment. (If you follow the link, you'll have to scroll down a bit to find the relevant section):
The case of Gennette Cordova is the one I have most evidence about. She did not invite Weiner's underpants picture and she was not pleased to receive it.

What happened to her next is disgusting. First, the press invaded her campus:

Media outlets from all over the world are calling and sending emails to staff at Whatcom Community College after a lewd photo was sent to a student from the Twitter account of a New York congressman.
Students at the college are being careful about talking to strangers on the campus, said KIRO 7 Eyewitness News North Sound reporter Lee Stoll.
WCC student Kelsey Rowlson said the campus has had a lot more visitors than usual this week.
"(The) 'Today' show was here today and then 'Good Morning America' called yesterday, … New York Times," said Rowlson, laughing.

This is a private individual, mind you. And here are the consequences, as she wrote about them some time ago:

The last 36 hours have been the most confusing, anxiety-ridden hours of my life. I've watched in sheer disbelief as my name, age, location, links to any social networking site I've ever used, my old phone numbers and pictures have been passed along from stranger to stranger.
My friends have received phone calls from people claiming to be old friends of mine, attempting to obtain my contact information. My siblings have received tweets that are similar in nature. I began taking steps, though not quickly enough, to remove as much personal information from the Internet as possible.
Not because I "was exposed as Weiner's mistress" or because I "was responsible for the hack," as Gawker has suggested. I removed my information because I, believe it or not, do not enjoy being harassed or being the reason that my loved ones are targets of harassment.
I have seen myself labeled as the "Femme Fatale of Weinergate," "Anthony Weiner's 21-year-old coed mistress" and "the self-proclaimed girlfriend of Anthony Weiner."

It's like being pecked to death by vultures. Those labels she mentions appear to come mostly from the right-wing blogs. A summary can be found here, though I should warn that the quotes are sexist and racist and just plain nasty. Vultures. Did I already say that?
My only disagreement with Echidne is that vultures actually play a useful role in the circle of life. If vultures could read, they would probably be offended at being compared to the perpetrators of this media circus.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

We're not broke

Hat tip to Mike Hall at the AFL-CIO NOW BLOG for posting a link to this eye-opening position paper from the Economic Policy Institute. According to the paper's author, EPI President Larry Mishel
To fully understand the growth trends in income and wealth in recent decades, one must recognize that the growth has been very unequal: households at the top of the scale have seen much faster growth in their incomes and wealth accumulation than have those in the middle or bottom of the distribution. For instance, the top 10% of the income distribution has claimed almost two-thirds of the gains in income since 1979, with the top 1% alone claiming 38.7% of those overall gains. Moreover, the wealth of the median (or ‘typical’) household was lower in 2009 than in 1983, in spite of the 40.3% growth in the average household’s wealth.4 When the median is substantially lower than the average, it indicates very lopsided growth, which has been the case for the past 30 years: there was no growth in wealth for the bottom 80% of households, while those in the top fifth enjoyed a 50% increase.

So if the private sector has grown for the past 30 years (albeit very lopsidedly), and the projections for the next 30 years indicate comparable total income growth for the economy, then what is the story for the public sector?

It is true that all levels of government are facing budget difficulties as a result of falling revenues during the recession. Higher unemployment and depressed economic activity have certainly depressed tax revenues, and past tax cuts at all levels of government have seriously eroded revenues as well. But some policymakers and pundits want to have it both
ways: choke off the revenue stream to governments while slashing budget expenditures. For instance, the current domestic spending cuts proposed by the House of Representatives for this year were smaller than the revenues lost from extending the upper-income Bush tax cuts and the inheritance tax cut legislated last December
In other words, the extremely rich have benefited much more than everybody else from the nation's increase in productivity over the past 30 years. The extremely rich have also enjoyed huge tax cuts. If the rich paid a bit more in taxes, we could afford government programs that help poor and middle-class people. Choosing not to raise taxes on the rich is just that--a choice.

The full EPI report is easy to read and fairly brief. You can see it (and download it) here.