In the USA...United Surveillance AmericaAre Americans dumb? No, it’s the inequality, stupid
By Sadhbh Walshe, The Guardian
Wednesday, October 9, 2013 13:40 EDT
Are Americans dumb? This is a question that has been debated by philosophers, begrudging foreigners and late night TV talk show hosts for decades. Anyone who has ever watched the Tonight Show’s “Jaywalking” segment in which host Jay Leno stops random passersby and asks them rudimentary questions like “What is Julius Caesar famous for?” (Answer: “Um, is it the salad?”) might already have made their minds up on this issue. But for those of you who prefer to reserve judgement until definitive proof is on hand, then I’m afraid I have some depressing news. America does indeed have a problem in the smarts department and it appears to be getting worse, not better.
On Tuesday, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released the results of a two-year study in which thousands of adults in 23 countries were tested for their skills in literacy, basic math and technology. The US fared badly in all three fields, ranking somewhere in the middle for literacy but way down at the bottom for technology and math.
This shouldn’t be all that surprising as there is a well documented pattern of American school kids failing to keep up with their tiger cub counterparts in other countries. But these results are the first concrete proof that this skill gap is extending well beyond school and into adulthood. The question is, do the study’s results imply, as the New York Post so delicately put it, that “US adults are dumber than your average human“? Hardly, but it does suggest that many Americans may not be putting the smarts they have to good use, or, more likely, that they are not getting the opportunity to do so. Put another way: it’s inequality, stupid.
Just a quick scan of the countries that fared really well in all three categories (Norway, Sweden, Japan, Finland and the Netherlands) compared to the countries that fared really badly (America and Britain) gives a pretty good indication that the inequality that is rampant in the (allegedly) dumber nations might have something to do with their pitifully low scores. A closer look at the results is also revealing. The incomes of Americans who scored the highest on literacy tests are on average 60% higher than the incomes of Americans with the lowest literacy scores, who were also twice as likely to be unemployed. So broadly speaking, the better off the American, the better they did on the tests.
Now this is just a wild guess, but could this possibly have something to do with the fact that the kind of schools a poor American kid will have access to are likely to be significantly inferior to the kinds of schools wealthier kids get to attend? Or that because of this, a poor kid’s chances of getting into a good university, even if she could manage to pay for it, are also severely compromised? And let me go one step further and suggest that the apparent acceleration of America’s dumbing down might be directly connected with the country’s rising poverty rates.
Before I go on, I should say that even I can see some holes in the above theory. You only have to look at certain members of congress (read Republicans who forced the government to shutdown last week), for instance, many of whom attended some of the finest universities (and make bucket loads of money), to see that even an Ivy League education may be of little use to a person who is simply prone to stupidity. I should add also that many people believe that it’s the large immigrant population (of which I’m a member) who are responsible for bringing down the nation’s IQ, which further complicates the dumb American narrative. Indeed one could argue all day about the reasons Americans are falling behind, (Woody Allen blames fast food), but we should at least be able to agree on the remedies.
Here’s the thing, most economists agree that in this technology driven age, a highly skilled workforce is key to any real economic recovery. It doesn’t bode well for the future then that so many American students, particularly low-income and minority students, are graduating high school without basic reading or math skills. Nor does it inspire confidence that students who leave school without basic skills are not acquiring them as adults. So America’s alleged dumbness has a lot to do with inadequate schooling for (poor) children and teenagers and a dearth of continuing education opportunities for low-income adults. By contrast, the OECD study found that in (more equal) countries that fared better in the tests, like Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands, more than 60% of the adult population have engaged in continuing education programs or on the job training.
The smart thing to do then surely would be to pour resources into early and continuing education opportunities so that American adults will be equipped with the necessary skills to compete in the global economy. This is where the dumb argument really gets a boost, however, because the opposite is happening. Those same congressional geniuses I alluded to earlier are also responsible for forcing through the cuts known as sequestration, which among other things cut 5% from the federal education budget. Because federal education funding is doled out according to the number of low-income students in a given school, it is poor children, the ones who most need the help, who are being disproportionately impacted by the cuts. Furthermore since 2010, almost $65m, over one-tenth of the entire budget, has been cut from adult education grants.
So are Americans dumb? The answer appears to be yes, some are. The dumb ones are not the poor minorities or low skilled adults who fared badly on the OECD tests, however, but a certain privileged and selfish elite, who have suffered from no want of opportunities themselves, yet seem to think that denying millions of struggling Americans an equal (or indeed any) opportunity to get ahead is a sensible way forward. The results are in now and clearly it isn’t. The question is will enough Americans be smart enough to do something about it?
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
****************Protesting Right Wing Truckers Are Hauling a Load of Constitutional Ignorance
Wednesday, October 9th, 2013, 8:24 pm
Conservatives love trumpeting America’s exceptionalism, and there are some aspects of America that are remarkable, but the intelligence level of a segment of the population is certainly not exceptional. In fact, any immigrant that passed the test to become a citizen has a better grasp on the practical aspects of citizenship, and the rights and duties to each other as members of American society than most Americans. More than anything, a naturalized citizen understands how the government operates according to the United States Constitution, and regardless their claim to strictly adhere to its tenets, conservatives have no comprehension of the nation’s founding document. This weekend a group of vigilante truck drivers will set upon Washington to demonstrate that when it comes to Constitutional ignorance, they have few peers outside the Republican Party.
The truckers calling themselves “Truckers for the Constitution” plan to shut down I-495 until law enforcement arrests Democratic legislators who “violated their oath of office” and “disregard the Constitution.” (Editor’s Note: The truckers have since walked back this threat.)The rally’s coordinators say truckers are sick and tired of EPA fuel efficiency standards, the Affordable Care Act, state and local laws regarding idling their trucks, and “insurance companies purportedly requiring technological updates.” The vigilante truckers plan to drive three abreast on the “Beltway” that circles Washington to obstruct traffic except for drivers who have “T2SDA” written on their vehicle. T2SDA is an acronym for the tractor-trailer drivers’ name for their event, “Truckers to Shut Down America.” According to Earl Conlon, a Georgia trucker, “everybody that doesn’t have a supporter sticker on their window, good luck: Nobody in, nobody out” and likely they will incur a response from law enforcement for trapping motorists on a federal highway.
Conlon warned law enforcement in advance that if they do not allow the truckers to obstruct traffic, they will “lock the brakes up, and stop right there, we’re going to be a three lane roadblock.” A country singer affiliated with the truck drivers claimed they will present their demands to congressional representatives and if they agree to the truckers’ demands they will cancel the road block. It is unclear why the truckers believe blocking a major thoroughfare will eliminate EPA regulations, insurance industry requirements, and the health law, or what they have to do with the Constitution or Democrats violating their oath of office, but they “want these people arrested, and we’re coming in with the grand jury to do it. We are going to ask the law enforcement to uphold their constitutional oath and make these arrests. If they refuse to do it, by the power of the people of the United States and the people’s grand jury, [if] they don’t want to do it, we will. … We the people will find a way.” It is the second time in less than a month that extremist conservatives cited vigilante grand juries as a means of clearing Democrats out of government and throwing them in prison.
About three weeks ago another conservative vigilante warned of the impending consequences from the “people’s grand juries” and announced plans to march on the White House sometime close to Thanksgiving and demand that President Obama surrender to religious teabaggers. Larry Klayman believes a million extremists will surround the White House and chant “Mr. President, put the Quran down, get up off your knees, and come out with your hands up” because “Republicans, the judicial system, and government officials lack the will or courage to remove the mullah-in-chief from office.” The tractor-trailer drivers claim they are not demanding the President’s impeachment and only want to arrest legislators such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senator Barbara Boxer because they disregard the Constitution and violate their oath of office according to indictments handed down by “the people’s grand juries.”
A “people’s grand jury” is a non-actionable, non-governmental vigilante organization assuming responsibility to indict an individual or groups of individuals of committing actionable crimes similar to an official grand jury. People’s grand juries are favored by conspiracy theorists like those seated to challenge President Obama’s birth certificate, and are loosely based on the Fifth Amendment premise that “no person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury.” A band of jurors convened without court approval has no standing or authority to indict or issue arrest warrants for public officials, and law enforcement certainly will not recognize or execute a fake indictment, but that is of no consequence to constitutionally ignorant vigilantes.
It is unclear why conservatives became so obsessed with enforcing their version of the Constitution through vigilantism, but it likely has everything to do with an African American President. One also wonders if the “constitutional genius” truck drivers comprehend that the laws and agencies they so despise were passed and executed according to the real U.S. Constitution, because their not-so-veiled threats imply they have legitimate legal standing to take the law into their own hands.
Like the extremist who intends on marching on the White House, the vigilante truckers’ organizer leveled a veiled threat of violence if they are held to the laws of the road or prohibition on kidnapping U.S. Representatives to Congress. The man organizing the million person assault on the White House to arrest President Obama said, “I do not advocate violence, but it is time we show Obama that we mean business,” and the vigilante truckers’ spokesperson parroted Klayman only with stronger language. He said, “What we want to do is go in nice and peaceful and keep it as peaceful as possible… but if they decide to get ugly with us we’re going to do what we have to do. If all I get is one or two congressmen walked out of there in handcuffs, that will be a shot across the bow. I hope they are all civil enough and brave enough to step out onto the congressional steps.”
It is highly probable that if a vigilante gang parks in front of the Capital building waiting for congressional representatives to step out on the “congressional steps,” they will be accompanied by federal law enforcement officials who will not take kindly to vigilante truckers attempting to kidnap U.S. Representatives based on phony indictments from an equally phony people’s grand jury. However, at the rate extremist conservatives and so-called constitutional adherents are threatening Democratic representatives and President Obama with arrest, it is entirely possible they will come to Washington heavily armed and looking for trouble. It is, after all, what constitutionally ignorant vigilantes are prone to do and when they do start trouble, they can be certain a real grand jury will hand down real indictments for insurrection against the government of the United States.
*****************Michele Bachmann Comes Even More Unhinged and Blames Obama Thug Dictatorship for Shutdown
By: Jason Easley
Wednesday, October 9th, 2013, 5:52 pm
During a conference call with a tea party group, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Under Federal Investigation) claimed that Republicans shut down the government to stop Obama’s thug dicatorship.
Clip #1 via Right Wing Watch where Bachmann talks about Obama thuggery and dictatorship:
Bachmann said, “I think here we could be on the cusp of seeing some civil disobedience. I’m not saying I want civil disobedience, but people aren’t going to take the thuggery of this president much longer, and that’s part of what we’re trying to do as the people’s voice in the House of Representatives. Give voice to the fact that we see thuggery going on in the White House. We’re not going to take it, we’ve drawn a line in the sand, and we’re telling the president you need to recognize this isn’t just about Article II, the President of the United States. This is also about Article I, the Congress of the United States, and you’ve gotta recognize, you are a co-equal branch of government. You are not a dicatator.”
Clip # 2 also via Right Wing Watch features Bachmann talking about the government shutdown:
Bachmann said, “This fight that we’re in right now is so much bigger than Obamacare. It’s bigger than the out of control debt. What this is about is whether or not we will hold to our constitutional republic, because Barack Obama has decided that he is going to arrogate power to himself, and that we don’t count with our voice in the House. It doesn’t matter that Republicans control. It doesn’t matter that conservatives dominate. Everything has to be his way. That’s why his policy is no negotiations. Well, that is not going to happen. We are going to insist that we are the two branches in the House and the Senate and the Congress, and the president, and we have a voice too. Because let me say this, otherwise, thart means people will only take one vote, and that’s for president, and then congress will be rendered meaningless, and we’ll go on and we’ll talk about more things, but I want the Tea Party to know they made a profound difference and what they’re fighting for is to see if we’re actually going to be a constitutional republic or if we’re going to be totally devolved into a dictatorship under somebody like Barack Obama.”
In the mind of Michele Bachmann, the government shutdown is really all about House Republicans taking a stand against President Obama’s thug dicatatorship. Bachmann’s use of the verb arrogate was an attempt to question Obama’s legitimacy. This is no big surprise, because in the same conference call, Bachmann called for a House impeachment hearing against Obama.
This is all extremely ironic because Rep. Bachmann is under federal investigation by the Department of Justice for possiblly breaking at least 11 laws during the 2012 elections. The real criminal is Michele Bachmann, yet she continues to pretend that President Obama is a thug dicatator who is violating the constitution.
Apparently, the stress of the criminal investigation has pushed Bachmann to a whole new level of crazy. The bad news for America is that lots of tea partiers feel the exact same way that she does. This is why the Democrats can’t negotiate with the House Republicans on the government shutdown and the debt ceiling. People like Bachmann don’t want a negotiation, they want the destruction of President Obama.
Democrats can’t negotiate with crazy, and tea partiers like Michele Bachmann are completely off the ideological deep end.
**************Ted Cruz is Desperately Unskewing Polls to Claim Republicans Are Winning the Shutdown
By: Sarah Jones
Wednesday, October 9th, 2013, 6:36 pm
Wondering why I was banking on Republicans keeping the government shutdown and being likely to default last week? It’s the level of epistemic closure crazy, also known as a delusional break with reality.
To wit: Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), the “educated” version of Sarah Palin and very new addition to the Senate, is in charge of the GOP and he doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing. He drinks the Kook-Aid and then force feeds it to the rest of his party, who take it from him since it’s delivered through Koch straws. On Wednesday, Cruz was pulling a Romney, unskewing polls for fellow Republicans, claiming that the shutdown bolstered their position.
I kid you not.
Senior Congressional Correspondent David M. Druckner at the Washington Examiner reported that on Wednesday, Cruz “Wednesday argued to his Republican colleagues that the campaign he led to defund Obamacare has bolstered the GOP’s political position in dealing with the government shutdown.”
To accomplish this act of faith, Cruz relied upon a poll that he paid for.
The survey’s findings mirrored other national polls: More voters blame the Republicans for the government shutdown than blame President Obama or the Democrats. But Cruz argued, based on the poll, that Republicans are in a much better position than they were during the 1995 shutdown because this impasse is defined by a disagreement over funding for the Affordable Care Act as opposed to a general disagreement over government spending.
Drucker got his hands on the Cruz poll and revealed the numbers:
By a margin of 46 percent to 39 percent, voters blamed Republicans for the shutdown over “Obama and Democrats.” Another 19 percent blamed both sides equally.
- By a margin of 42 percent to 36 percent, independent voters blamed Republicans for the shutdown over Obama and the Democrats.
- In November 1995, 51 percent of voters blamed Republicans for the shutdown; only 28 percent blamed then-President Clinton
If Republicans are using the Clinton numbers to ease their fears of being found out by Mommy USA, they are making a grave error. During the Clinton presidency, there was no Fox News. There were no conservative media outlets driving home an often inaccurate, partisan narrative that justifies anything Republicans are doing. There are more misinformed Republicans now, yes.
But Republicans are losing Independents. According to PPP, Democrats now lead Republicans with Independents, 42%-33%. Even in Ted’s own poll, they are losing Independents 42-36. It’s hard to say what Cruz tells himself that allows him to believe he can run for President, but whatever it is, is contagious and lethal to the national ambitions of the GOP.
Republicans don’t believe regular polls, so they probably shouldn’t be allowed to commission them — it only feeds their delusions. They certainly shouldn’t be allowed to commission them from Republican pollsters, and that is what Wilson Perkins Allen is. I’m not suggesting that they aren’t a valid pollster, but rather if I were in charge of the GOP, the first order of business would be to take the hard medicine of reality with no chaser.
The only way they are going to become a viable national party again is if they can face things outside of the Fox bubble. I’d go into enemy territory and see how my party was faring among Dems and Indies. The “Democratic pollster” of PPP was the most accurate during 2012. Wouldn’t you use the most accurate pollster you could if it were your party on the line? Hiding under the covers helps nothing but the GOP ego, which obviously doesn’t need any bolstering.
Also, earth to Ted Cruz: Not everyone hates ObamaCare, so defunding the country over ObamaCare is not the winner you think it is. Publicly snickering at people without insurance isn’t helpful either.
Cruz just admitted again that Republicans shut down the government over ObamaCare, a completely unrelated to the budget law. This means that Republicans are refusing to do their Constitutional duty. Or, “gaining position” according to Ted Cruz.
Remember when Republicans used to be the party of “ideas’? Now they’re a brainwashed cult.
****************The only thing crazier than the shutdown is Fox News’ coverage of it
By Ana Marie Cox, The Guardian
Wednesday, October 9, 2013 13:45 EDT
Government shutdown theater has given us some surreal moments. Heard of the “trillion-dollar coin“? Obama actually mentioned it on Monday. It’s a half-serious solution that some wonks have floated to solve the debt ceiling crisis, if “floated” is the right word for a coin that figures into most people’s imagination as a giant, sweepstakes-style money cartoon.
Then there’s Senator Ted Cruz reading children’s books on the US Senate floor, a move that will undoubtedly give future historians and/or alien visitors curious ideas about the possible role of star-bellied sneetches (Cruz is a fan of Dr Seuss books) in our legislative process. Constant references to hostage-taking and suicide bombers will provide those same analysts with an exaggerated (though not by much) picture of gun violence in the early 21st century.
But you haven’t witnessed the truly crazy until you turn on Fox News or browse the right-wing websites.
Here’s a piece of absurdism you can appreciate right now: the image of a janus-faced conservative media talking head, with one mouth defiantly denouncing the impact of the government shutdown, and the other wailing at the costs of keeping government going. Sean Hannity, no great advocate of consistency anyway, has sputtered these two thoughts within minutes of each other. “The government is not totally shut down! Seventeen percent is it!” he told listeners Monday, before confiding that he believes the GOP will prevail, since “the public will side with the group that’s willing to talk”.
Laura Ingraham told her listeners that she was “beginning to enjoy” the shutdown; she also tweeted out her apparently earnest concern that the closure of a parking lot on federal land meant that “ppl risk their lives pulling off the GW Pkwy”.
Fox News has been a funhouse of these distorted twin thoughts, not surprisingly, with guest after guest mocking the seriousness of the shutdown; in a particularly Orwellian stroke, someone at the network even did a search-and-replace on AP stories run on the site, replacing “shutdown” with “slimdown”. At the same time, they’ve given breathless coverage to a highly-selective pool of “slimdown” victims: first, the second world war veterans who faced some inconvenience at the war’s memorial, and, more recently privately-funded parks and – incorrectly – the nation’s missing-child “Amber Alert” system.
Let’s unpack this rhetoric, since it’s wholly representative of the coverage that conservative media has given the shutdown. With one side of your head, you need to remember that government is bad, and that the less of it there is, the better. Supporting that thought is the belief that a government “slimdown” won’t disrupt any of the government’s more important functions.
With the other side of your head, you need to dredge up righteous indignation at the loss of some government functions. It almost doesn’t matter which ones, though it’s helpful if they are services that strike a sympathetic chord without being, you know, necessary. The right-wing Washington Examiner has some examples to get you started, including “Lake Mead, NV property owners” and “tourists”.
Now, try to stand up. Do you feel a little dizzy? Seeing double? You better sit back down.
How is it that so many conservatives seem able to not just stand, but stand for hours and hours and hours holding both these thoughts in their heads? It would be easy to dismiss them as cynics, that perhaps they don’t believe either proposition. But as the remarks about “being willing to compromise” caught on a hot mic between Republican Senators Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell show, at least some of their convictions are sincere – maybe especially this part, “I know we don’t want to be here, but we’re gonna win this, I think.”
Conservatives’ problem is not so much that these are two ideas with no basis in fact, but that both ideas have some basis in fact.
That government is unpopular is the easy part. There’s a long and even somewhat honorable history to that tenet of conservative philosophy. In fact, that’s pretty much argument that the leaders of the shutdown strategy made over the summer to skeptical lawmakers and not-so-skeptical Tea Party activists.
There is one important difference between the small-government philosophy as espoused by, say, the Anti-Federalist Papers and the arguments made by the Tea Party Patriots and Heritage Action: the anti-federalists argued from logic, these modern-day PACs used a misleading poll. They asked voters in conservative districts if, “in order to get … Obama to agree to at least have a ‘time out’” before implementing the Affordable Care Act, “would you approve or disapprove of a temporary slowdown in non-essential federal government operations, which still left all essential government services running?”
Well, if you put it that way … And, of course, they did put it that way, and found that voters supported a totally painless shutdown by a 2-to-1 margin.
And this gets us to the half-truth behind the outrage at “slimdown targets”: however much you dislike the faceless bureaucracy of “the government”, there are very few people who truly want to live without the services it provides. The traditional basis for party divisions has been in deciding what services it provides, and to whom. It makes us hypocrites; it makes us human. Most of us don’t really try to argue two different philosophies at the same time, we cave to realism and sentiment. We agree to feed the children of poor families and pay for safety regulations to be enforced. We haggle over the small things because sometimes the big ideas are too large to be contained in a single debate, and it’s foolish to even try.
F Scott Fitzgerald once called “hold[ing] two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain[ing] the ability to function” the “test of a first-rate intelligence”, but when it comes to the GOP, the jury’s out on the “functioning” part.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
10/09/2013 12:23 PMRobert Reich on Shutdown: 'You Can't Negotiate with Extortionists'
An Interview by Gregor Peter Schmitz and Thomas Schulz
In a SPIEGEL interview, political economist and icon of the American left Robert Reich urges President Obama to stand his ground on the country's budget crisis. He also calls for drastic tax increases for the rich to fight growing inequality.
SPIEGEL: The world is mesmerized by the spectacle of the government shutdown in Washington. To you, however, this must seem like déjà vu.
Reich: When I was secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton, we lived through the last shutdown of the US government, in 1995. I had to tell 15,000 people that they had to go home, and I didn't know when they would be paid. It was terrible, and we didn't know how long it would last.
SPIEGEL: Since then, the political culture in the US has become even more radicalized.
Reich: The members of the Tea Party are much more radical and extreme. Some of them really have contempt for the entire process of government. They're followers of people who say that we ought to shrink government down to the size that it can drown in a bathtub. They hate government viscerally. They're not in Washington to govern; they're in Washington to tear it down.
SPIEGEL: The shutdown is hurting the entire country, and there is no telling how this will effect financial markets and still-shaky economic growth. Will President Obama ultimately have to aim for a compromise?
Reich: This bill passed both houses of Congress, was enacted by the president, signed into law by the president, certified as constitutional by the Supreme Court. But instead of going through a normal legislative process of amending a piece of legislation to delay it or change it or even repeal it, the Republicans simply say: "We are going to hold the entire government of the United States ransom unless we get our way." You can't negotiate with extortionists.
SPIEGEL: Clinton won re-election after the last shutdown because the American public largely blamed the Republicans. Could Obama eventually end up the big winner in all of this, as well?
Reich: It's much more difficult. Today, you have many more Republican members of Congress in safe districts, so they're not worried about the voters being angry with them. And many of them are bankrolled by some of the richest Americans, often billionaires. They have the resources to support the demand to shrink the government. America has become the most unequal society among advanced countries, and rich people are now free to spend as much money on political campaigns as they wish.
SPIEGEL: That is the main theme of your documentary "Inequality for All," which is already being touted as an Oscar contender. In it, you paint a grim picture of the US as a country torn apart, and you warn about dramatic consequences for the economy. Are things really that bad?
Reich: The economic divide has rarely been as pronounced. The typical male worker in the US was making $48,078 (€35,400) a year in 1978; now this average annual salary is down to $39,000. At the same, the net worth of the 400 richest Americans is higher than that of 150 million Americans combined.
SPIEGEL: The idea of getting rich used to be a basic element of the "American Dream." Whoever succeeded in becoming a millionaire was admired rather than reviled.
Reich: We used to be so proud that our country offered far more economic opportunities than the feudal system in Great Britain, with its royal family, princesses and dukes. But today, social mobility in the UK is higher than in the US. Our social rift is as big as it was in the 1920s.
SPIEGEL: This didn't happen overnight; it has been decades in the making. Why was the protest against it muted for so long?
Reich: Most Americans stopped looking at what was happening through a variety of coping mechanisms -- starting with women entering paid work and then everyone working longer hours and using their homes for raising equity and generating more money through debt. The typical household basically staved off the day of reckoning. But all those coping mechanisms are now gone, and we have an economy where the median household has got to face the reality that wages are actually declining in real terms adjusted for inflation. The second reason has to do with the direct consequences of wealth in politics. The super-rich not only poured their money into politics directly but poured money into think tanks and public relations campaigns.
SPIEGEL: To say what?
Reich: To tell the public big lies, for example, that if you lower taxes on the wealthy and allow them to become even wealthier, the gains will trickle down to everybody else.
SPIEGEL: But didn't President Kennedy say "A rising tide lifts all boats"?
Reich: Well, that sounds very nice; but it never actually happened. And people are beginning to catch on to the fact that it was a big lie. The super-rich also insisted that income from investments should be taxed less than wages. That is why Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary. And there were related lies, like the message that you have to reduce taxes on corporations and the super-rich for them to create jobs.
SPIEGEL: But the top earners are also responsible for the largest share of tax receipts. And when wealthy people spend more, the whole economy benefits.
Reich: Only that they do not. A super-rich person featured in my movie puts it this way: "Even the richest person sleeps on only one or two pillows." The reality is that the major job creators in any economy are the people who buy, the vast middle class and the poor; if you reduce their share of the economy and yet productivity gains continue, they simply are not going to be able to buy enough to keep the economy going at or near full employment unless you have a huge net export market, which we do not have.
SPIEGEL: Your suggestion is to dramatically increase taxes. But would that not curb demand as well? In Germany, that is one of the strong arguments against government plans to raise taxes on wealthy citizens after the election.
Reich: It is a myth that higher taxes lead to less demand and slower growth. In the first three decades after World War II, US top tax rates on the wealthy were never below 70 percent. Under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, it rose to 91 percent. And the economy grew faster in those years than it has grown after President Reagan radically lowered taxes on the wealthy, partly because we heavily invested in infrastructure and education back then, which is essential to economic growth.
SPIEGEL: These days, the top tax rates are drastically lower, average earners have sinking incomes and the middle class has more and more burdens. Why hasn't a group of fed-up Americans taken to the streets to express their outrage?
Reich: There was one. It was called the Occupy movement.
SPIEGEL: But it petered out quickly, while the Tea Party is still a political factor. Has the American left lost its fighting spirit?
Reich: The Tea Party movement was bankrolled by some very wealthy people. And that bankrolling enabled it to do what the Occupy movement could never do, and that is develop a political strategy and organization. But there is some fatalism, true. One of the goals of the right in America is to make the American public so cynical about government that they give up caring.
SPIEGEL: That strategy appears to be working.
Reich: It works to a point. Social change occurs when the gap between the ideals that people hold and the reality that they see every day gets too large. So even though people may be cynical about government, there will soon be an upsurge of demand for change.
SPIEGEL: Are you trying to accelerate that process with your movie?
Reich: Look. I am a person of short stature; I was bullied constantly when I was growing up. Therefore, I have always wanted to stand up for the little guy. I am not so self-important to believe that I can solve this huge problem alone. The question is if my movie can help catalyze something that's just below the surface. If you look at the mayoral campaign of Bill de Blasio in New York, you'll see social inequality is front and center ...
SPIEGEL: The Democratic candidate has pledged to raise taxes on the rich to finance better schools for everybody else.
Reich: And that in New York, the financial capital of the world! And de Blasio is likely to win! Also, if you look at the strikes of Wal-Mart and fast-food workers around the country, there are a lot of indications that people are fed up with where things are and want fundamental change.
SPIEGEL: Still, that's far from meaning that these sentiments will also lead to political outcomes. Directly after the financial crisis erupted, there was an enormous amount of rage at the complex of Wall Street, corporations and Congress. Obama had a unique opportunity to tackle that complex …
Reich: … and he squandered it. Obama should have put far more conditions on the banks that received the bailouts. He should have told them: "You've got to agree to some severe regulations like resurrecting the Glass-Steagall Act" -- which separated investment from commercial banking -- "and you've got to refrain from providing big bonuses for your executives."
SPIEGEL: Why wasn't Obama able to get his way?
Reich: His administration has been too close to Wall Street. Too many Obama administration officials have worked on Wall Street; too many are leaving to go to Wall Street. And Wall Street is simply not attuned to the needs of average working Americans.
SPIEGEL: Wall Street is no longer the dominant industry in the US. Silicon Valley and brands like Google, Apple and Facebook have become the backbone of the American economy.
Reich: I am not so sure if that is a great development. Look more closely where the jobs are created and the profits flow. You would think that a hugely profitable company like Apple employs hundreds of thousands of people in the US. Actually, it's not even 50,000. You would also think that software giant Microsoft would pay taxes on its profits in the US. But Microsoft just bought Nokia. Why? Well, Microsoft has a huge amount of money offshore. It doesn't want to bring it home because it doesn't want to pay taxes. So buying another company is a better way to spend that money. But that doesn't help American middle class families, and it aggravates inequality here.
SPIEGEL: But isn't a certain degree of inequality also the price a country has to pay for innovation? Doesn't the incentive of great wealth foster risk-taking and creativity?
Reich: A little inequality fosters innovation, true. But there are limits. Does somebody need an annual income of $20 million to be innovative? Somebody's going to be very innovative at $10 million a year. And I am sure Mark Zuckerberg did not create Facebook to become a multi-billionaire.
SPIEGEL: Compared with how things are today, the years when Bill Clinton was president seem downright heavenly. The economy was growing; the budget was balanced. But you resigned after one term as secretary of labor. Do you regret doing so?
Reich: I was frustrated. Even though the economy did really well in these years, we didn't fundamentally change the trend toward wider income inequality.
SPIEGEL: There is a lot of chatter about a potential 2016 presidential campaign by Hillary Clinton. Could she be the kind of progressive president that her husband and Obama were not?
Reich: Perhaps. I worked very closely with her over the years.
SPIEGEL: More than that! You even dated her.
Reich: We once went out to see a movie when we both went to law school at Yale. It was one date which I did not even remember until a reporter called me about it a few years ago. But, honestly, I have enormous respect for her. However, she is wise enough to understand that a president can only lead to some extent.
SPIEGEL: Why is that?
Reich: One of the biggest problems in this country is that we are losing the intermediary organizations, such as strong labor unions. They were the backbone of our economic and democratic system, and now just 11 percent of our workforce is still unionized. Instead, we have national parties that are nothing more than fundraising devices -- and officeholders who are constantly out there trying to sell themselves, literally.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Reich, thank you for this interview.
****************214 House Republicans Refuse to Come to the White House to Talk to President Obama
By: Sarah Jones
Wednesday, October 9th, 2013, 3:22 pm
Zeke Miller, a political reporter for TIME magazine, tweeted, “Obama invites 232 House GOPers to the White House, 18 will show up. pic.twitter.com/TxPAX7F08X”. This means that 214 House Republicans are refusing (or, even worse, were ordered not to go) to go to the White House to talk to President Obama.
Obama invites 232 House GOPers to the White House, 18 will show up. pic.twitter.com/TxPAX7F08X
— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) October 9, 2013
Adam Jentleson, Communications Director for Senator Harry Reid was unimpressed.
Let me get this straight: Boehner says he wants to talk, WH offers to talk with every member of his caucus & Boehner bars them from going?
— Adam Jentleson (@AJentleson) October 9, 2013
Yes, instead of all House Republicans meeting with the President, it’s only going to be leadership and very select committee chairs. Huh.
Let’s see. The “rebels” who think they’re winning this fight have a plan to keep pushing us over the cliff until Obama gives in to them, because they believe that Independents aren’t sure who to blame. This is, of course, inaccurate. Independents are blaming the GOP by a large margin. But, reality – meh.
Byron York at the Washington Examiner reported:
Now the rebels plan to push President Obama and Democrats hard on their refusal to negotiate the basic issues of funding the government and raising its debt limit. They believe that as days go by, Obama’s my-way-or-the-highway approach won’t play well with the public, particularly independents who are undecided about who to blame for the shutdown.
Obama and Reid aren’t really the targets. The GOP rebels want to focus on red-state Democrats, particularly those up for re-election in 2014, and make the shutdown a question of support for veterans.”
Yes, folks it’s the old blame the other guy for the results of your actions and gleefully smug it up as you use veterans as political props. Oh, values. RAH RAH TROOPS we love ya’ on election day and after that not so much.
And of course, this is just another way to pretend they won 2012 because they have a plan to refund the programs they like and let the others suffer, just as they did under the sequester that was also supposed to force a compromise but did no such thing.
They envision a situation in which, for as long as the shutdown goes on, they are able to fund popular government programs while leaving some key Democrat-friendly outposts shuttered. For example, while they want to fund the Pentagon, are the Republican rebels OK with the fact that most of the Environmental Protection Agency is shut down? They are. Are they worried about furloughs at the National Labor Relations Board? Not particularly.
This is called hijacking democracy. Americans aren’t missing the point. A new Gallup poll (yes, the Republican pollster) found that Republican favorability sank to a record low over this mess. RECORD LOW is just like winning only NOT. Even the Koch brothers know better than to touch this turd in public.
This plan is a fail because it’s too transparent. Only the most obtuse will fall for it, which means that only their base will fall for it, which means that they are out of luck since less and less people identify as Republicans, let alone Tea Partiers, these days. Getting elected requires some independents. Of course, they can pull the old stalker routine and try to wear down the public by waiting them out and hoping they forget just how awful it was to be in a relationship with Republicans.
“Let’s talk” apparently means the opposite of “let’s talk”, but then, you probably already knew that because a Republican said it. Speaker Boehner, to be precise, and these days, his untenable position has given him little choice (sans spine) but to try to justify economic terrorism. The only way to do that is to say the opposite of what Republicans are doing and hope the press bites.
When only 18 Republicans are going to show up at the White House tomorrow out of the 232 that were invited, it’s kinda hard to make the case that you want to “talk”. But then, this is the Republican party and reality need not apply.
And since when can Speaker John Boehner negotiate anything? He clearly doesn’t represent the will of the House. He can’t even get the votes for things he proposes. It’s pointless to talk to him, which must be why he’s going.
When the President said he wouldn’t negotiate while Republicans held the country up, he wasn’t refusing to negotiate. He was refusing to be held up at gun point. Meanwhile, Republicans have made default their goal, and they are only willing to not harm the country if they get concessions. This means that Republicans stand against the country, demanding concessions in order to not destroy the country.
***************The Unusual Suspect: The Surprising Koch Fueled Return of Edwin Meese
By: Michael A Maynard
Wednesday, October 9th, 2013, 4:32 pm
Why was Edwin Meese hired by the Koch Brothers to be a Tea Party strategist?
The New York Times on Saturday reported that the Republican Party has been developing the strategy behind the week-long government shutdown for over two years, shortly after President Barack Obama’s reelection in 2012. That this strategy was poorly conceived and executed, is not surprising. That the probable negative impact of a government shutdown upon the public and the economy was not a concern, is not surprising. That the financiers and impetus behind the Republican’s Tea Party, the Koch Brothers, were involved in the creation of this strategy, is also not surprising. But the man they chose to lead the development of the strategy, former Reagan Administration Attorney General Edwin Meese, is very surprising.http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/06/us/a-federal-budget-crisis-months-in-the-planning.html?pagewanted=1&hp&_r=1&
Until recently, the Koch Brothers have been very secretive about their actions, such as their leadership in the formation of the American Legislation Exchange Council (ALEC). Their choice of the scandal-ridden and incompetent Ed Meese as strategist, on the surface, seems perplexing. The notoriety from his past illegalities, views and actions, is what makes him a curious choice. Meese’s past includes:
The National Guard Crackdown: In 1969 students at the University of California at Berkeley were protesting the proposed conversion of “People’s Park” into student dorms. Governor Ronald Reagan called in the National Guard to break up the two week protest. One student was killed and hundreds injured in the crackdown. Meese was Governor Reagan’s chief-of-staff and the chief strategist behind the crackdown.
The Iran-Contra Affair: During his tenure as President Reagan’s Attorney General, Meese was involved in the Iran-Contra affair. Meese’s involvement in the sale of HAWK missiles to Iran, as part of the money-laundering scheme to provide aid to the Nicauraguan rebels as an end-run around Congressional opposition. Meese was investigated by an Independent Counselor, Lawrence Walsh, whose report stated that Meese’s involvement raised “serious legal questions”.
“Meese was conducting the November 21-24 investigation as “counselor” and “friend” to the President, not as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer. Independent Counsel concluded that he was not so much searching for the truth about the November 1985 HAWK shipment, as he was building a case of deniability for his client-in-fact, President Reagan. By this time, Meese knew that the 1985 HAWK transaction, in which the National Security Council staff and the Central Intelligence Agency were directly involved without a presidential covert-action Finding authorizing their involvement, raised serious legal questions.”
Chapter 31, Independent Counsel’s Report to the Iran-Contra Select Committe.http://www.fas.org/irp/offdocs/walsh/chap_31.htm
The Iraq-Jordan Pipeline Scandal: Meese played a central role in the negotiations of the proposed Iraq to Jordan natural gas pipeline.
“The Bechtel Group offered to sell oil at reduced rates to Israel for 10 years – a reduction worth $650 million to $700 million – in exchange for an Israeli pledge not to attack a proposed oil pipeline from Iraq to Jordan, an aide to Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said today.
The assertion follows the disclosure of a memo written to Attorney General Edwin Meese 3d in 1985 that Israel would receive $650 to $700 million in proceeds from the pipeline and that some of those proceeds would ”go directly” to the Labor Party in Israel, headed by Mr. Peres.”
Meese was part of the team, including Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres and National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane, that negotiated this illegal deal, even though Meese was never indicted for his involvement.http://www.nytimes.com/1988/01/31/world/pipeline-deal-intrique-in-high-places.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm
The Westech Scandal – It was his involvement in the Westech scandal that finally forced Meese to resign as Attorney General in 1988. Westech, a defense contractor was awarded $250M in no-bid Department of Defense contracts as a minority owned business, even though, the company’s major stockholder was not a minority. Meese, a former lobbyist for the company, was cited for complicity by another independent counsel.
It is also likely that Meese’s involvement with the right-wing think-tank Freedom Works’ efforts to defund Obamacare hat led to the Koch Brothers’ choosing him to be the strategist. He was primary signatory to the Freedom Works’ “Blueprint to Defunding Obamacare”:
“Obamacare’s funding mechanisms are as complicated as the law itself, but they can be stopped through the appropriation process, which includes the upcoming continuing resolution.
1 Federally Backed Exchanges: An appropriations rider must eliminate the refundable tax credits for premiums and the cost sharing subsidies that are essentially used to support insurance purchased in the Obamacare exchanges, which starts January 1, 2014.
2 Medicaid Expansion; An appropriations rider must eliminate the enhance match funding for the Medicaid expansion, which takes effect January 1, 2014.
3 Permanent Appropriations: Obamacare contains items called “permanent appropriations” which guarantee funding for the Community Health Center Fund (CHCF) and Prevention and Public Health Fund (PPHF). An appropriations rider turns off funds for these so-called permanent appropriations, which are already in effect.
4 Implementation: An appropriations rider must block the implementation of Obamacare, covering salaries, rulemaking, enforcement, etc.
5 Life and Religious Liberty: Obamacare is an unprecedented attack on life and religious liberty. An appropriations rider must repeal the HHS mandate that attacks the religious values and principles of countless Americans.
6 Miscellaneous Programs: An appropriations rider must block all funding for newly authorized discretionary programs contained in Obamacare and return reauthorized programs back to their pre-Obamacare levels.
Edwin Meese III
Former Attorney General
President Ronald Reagan
(Note: Meese was the primary signatory. The usual right-wing suspects also signed this letter.)http://www.freedomworks.org/blog/ryanriebe/joint-letter-on-sequester-savings
On November 15, 1985, Meese delivered a speech calling for a “jurisprudence of original intent” and criticizing the Supreme Court for straying from the original intention of the U.S. Constitution. In the speech before the District of Columbia chapter of the Federalist Society’s Lawyer’s Division, Meese said:
“Our approach to constitutional interpretation begins with the document itself. The plain fact is, it exists. It is something that has been written down. Walter Berns of the American Enterprise Institute has noted that the central object of American constitutionalism was “the effort” of the Founders “to express fundamental governmental arrangements in a legal document-to ‘get it in writing’.” Indeed, judicial review has been grounded in the fact that the Constitution is a written, as opposed to an unwritten, document. In Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803), John Marshall rested his rationale for judicial review on the fact that we have a written constitution with meaning that is binding upon judges. “t is apparent,” he wrote, “that the framers of the Constitution contemplated that instrument as a rule for the government of courts, as well as of the legislature. Why otherwise does it direct the judges to take an oath to support it?” The presumption of a written document is that it conveys meaning. As Thomas Grew of the Stanford Law School has said, it makes “relatively definite and explicit what otherwise would be relatively indefinite and tacit.”
What this means is that the Constitution is to be taken literally and not subject to change by legal interpretation or the differences in society since the Constitution was written. The words of the Constitution are what the authors of the document said they meant, despite that it has been 226 years since it was written. Current Justices Alito, Scalia and Thomas, and Chief Justice Roberts are believers in original intent. This is the main reason why there are so many 5-4 decisions by the current court.
It is not just the Affordable Care Act at stake, it is also other federal government programs and agencies not specifically enumerated in the Constitution: Medicare/Medicaid, Social Security, the Department of Education or the Koch Brothers’ other biggest bugaboo, the Environmental Protection Agency. What is really at sake is democracy. That a former United States Attorney General would attempt to undermine a law at the request as his rich benefactors is reprehensible, but in Ed Meese’s sorry case, is not surprising.
Correction 6:41 PM: Updated to correct the date of President Barack Obama’s reelection.
The GOP Is Losing Their Shutdown War as Independents Favor Democrats by 9 in 2014
By: Sarah Jones
Wednesday, October 9th, 2013, 1:56 pm
The government shutdown has caused Independents to flee the Republican Party. According to PPP, Democrats now lead Republicans with Independents, 42%-33%.
In July, Republicans led against generic Dem by 12% among Independents. Now, post-GOP shutdown of the government and mid-debt ceiling hijacking, they are losing by 9%, according to a new Public Policy Polling poll. This leaves Republicans with a 5% deficit against a generic Democrat. This is very bad news for Republicans.
President Obama is holding steady in public opinion post shutdown, with an approval rating of 45/52, “almost identical to his 45/51 numbers before the shutdown in our last national poll.” Among registered voters, 53% blame Congress, while only 43% blame Obama.
But Republicans aren’t faring nearly so well. If the House election were today, 46% would choose Democrats over 41% for Republicans. Republicans trail Democrats by 5% overall, in no small part due to the defection of Independents, who would go 42% for Democrats right now and 33% for Republicans. That’s a 9 point loss.
The reason for the shift is that Independents blame Republicans more than Democrats for the shutdown by 51% to 37%. In July, Independents were 39% for Republicans and 27% for Democrats.
Independents have shifted 21 points on the generic ballot from July when Republicans had a 39/27 advantage with them.
Registered voters approve of Congressional Democrats at 39/56 (almost identical to their numbers of 39/57 before the shutdown), 10 points higher than Republicans, at 29/65. One of the things that Republicans are counting on for 2014 is that the tradition of Independents voting against the president’s party in his second term midterm election holds. (This has happened in 5 of 6 second term midterm elections since World War II.)
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll taken before the government shutdown revealed that Independents favored Republicans over Democrats by 18 points, 43%-25%. The fact that this Republican advantage has morphed into a double digit deficit reflects the damage that the government shutdown has done to Republicans already.
The piecemeal funding strategy that Ted Cruz put in place for House Republicans is doing nothing to stop the hemorrhaging of support away from the GOP. Voters agree with the Democratic position that the government shutdown is unnecessary. President Obama has built a reputation of reasonableness with voters, so it is bordering on insane that Republicans who have obstructed this president from day one would adopt a strategy where they portray themselves as the reasonable ones.
Republicans have managed to unify most of the country around the concept that they are unfit to hold the House majority. Independents have turned their backs on the Republican message, and the longer House Republicans continue this fight, the greater the risk to the future of their majority.
October 9, 2013
Business Groups See Loss of Sway Over House G.O.P.
By ERIC LIPTON, NICHOLAS CONFESSORE and NELSON D. SCHWARTZ
WASHINGTON — As the government shutdown grinds toward a potential debt default, some of the country’s most influential business executives have come to a conclusion all but unthinkable a few years ago: Their voices are carrying little weight with the House majority that their millions of dollars in campaign contributions helped build and sustain.
Their frustration has grown so intense in recent days that several trade association officials warned in interviews on Wednesday that they were considering helping wage primary campaigns against Republican lawmakers who had worked to engineer the political standoff in Washington.
Such an effort would thrust Washington’s traditionally cautious and pragmatic business lobby into open warfare with the Tea Party faction, which has grown in influence since the 2010 election and won a series of skirmishes with the Republican establishment in the last two years.
“We are looking at ways to counter the rise of an ideological brand of conservatism that, for lack of a better word, is more anti-establishment than it has been in the past,” said David French, the top lobbyist at the National Retail Federation. “We have come to the conclusion that sitting on the sidelines is not good enough.”
Some warned that a default could spur a shift in the relationship between the corporate world and the Republican Party. Long intertwined by mutual self-interest on deregulation and lower taxes, the business lobby and Republicans are diverging not only over the fiscal crisis, but on other major issues like immigration reform, which was favored by business groups and party leaders but stymied in the House by many of the same lawmakers now leading the debt fight.
Joe Echevarria, the chief executive of Deloitte, the accounting and consulting firm, said, “I’m a Republican by definition and by registration, but the party seems to have split into two factions.”
While both parties have extreme elements, he suggested, only in the G.O.P. did the extreme element exercise real power. “The extreme right has 90 seats in the House,” Mr. Echevarria said. “Occupy Wall Street has no seats.”
Moreover, business leaders and trade groups said, the tools that have served them in the past — campaign contributions, large memberships across the country, a multibillion-dollar lobbying apparatus — do not seem to be working.
“There clearly are people in the Republican Party at the moment for whom the business community and the interests of the business community — the jobs and members they represent — don’t seem to be their top priority,” said Dan Danner, the head of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, which spearheaded opposition to President Obama’s health care law among small businesses. “They don’t really care what the N.F.I.B. thinks, and don’t care what the Chamber thinks, and probably don’t care what the Business Roundtable thinks.”
The lawmakers seem to agree. Representative Randy Neugebauer, Republican of Texas and a Tea Party caucus member, said in an interview on Wednesday that if American corporations wanted to send their money elsewhere, that was their choice.
“We have got to quit worrying about the next election, and start worrying about the country,” said Mr. Neugebauer, who sits on the House Financial Services Committee and is a recipient of significant donations from Wall Street.
Few of the most conservative House lawmakers draw substantial support from business political action committees, and business lobbyists acknowledged that the mere suggestion they were considering backing primary challenges next year could enhance grass-roots support for the very lawmakers they want to defeat. But the dysfunction in Washington has now turned so extreme, they said, that they had few other options.
“What we want is a conservative business person, but someone who in many respects will be more realistic, in our opinion,” said Bruce Josten, the top lobbyist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the single biggest lobbying organization in Washington.
In the two previous battles over the debt limit, many chief executives were reluctant to take sides, banding together in groups like Fix the Debt, which spent millions of dollars on a campaign urging Democrats and Republicans to work toward a “grand bargain” on the budget. But with shutdown a reality, and the clock ticking toward default, some of those same executives now place the blame squarely on conservative Republicans in the House.
“It’s clearly this faction within the