This is for those of you who consider yourself to be progressive but have given up on politics because it seems rotten to the core. You may prefer Obama to Romney but don’t think there’s a huge difference between the two, so you may not even vote.
Your cynicism is understandable. But cynicism is a self-fulfilling prophesy. If you succumb to it, the regressives who want to take this nation back to the 19th century win it all.
The Koch brothers, Karl Rove, the rabid Republican right, CEOs and Wall Street titans who want to entrench their privileges and tax advantages – all of them would like nothing better than for every progressive in America to throw in the towel.
Then America is entirely theirs.
The alternative to cynicism is to become more involved in politics. Help create a progressive force in this nation that grows into a movement that can’t be stopped.
We almost had it last year in the Occupy movement. We had the arguments and the energy. What we lacked was organization and discipline.
I’ve spent years in Washington and I know nothing good happens there unless good people outside Washington are organized and mobilized to put pressure on Washington to make it happen.
This isn’t new. In the election of 1936, a constituent approached FDR with a list of things she wanted him to do if reelected. “Ma’am,” he said, “I’d like to do all those things. But if I’m reelected, you must make me.”
We must make them.
I suggest a two-step plan.
Step one: Vote for Barack Obama for President and vote for every Democratic senator and representative in Congress. Get off your ass and make sure your friends and relatives do the same.
Step two: Starting Election Day, regardless of who’s elected, commit at least three hours every week to political organizing and mobilizing. Connect with other progressives in your city and state. Help find and recruit new progressive candidates to run against Republicans in swing states, and against conservative Democrats. Support the members of the progressive caucus in Congress. Raise money. Raise a ruckus.
Make it our goal to reverse Citizens United, even if it takes a constitutional amendment. And have public financing of elections (including requiring the media to provide free political advertising as part of their commitment to public service).
Also break up the biggest banks and resurrect the Glass-Steagall Act.
Put a 2 percent surtax on wealth in excess of $3 million. And a one-tenth of 1 percent transaction tax on every financial transaction. And restore top tax rates to what they were before Ronald Reagan became president.
Use half this revenue to pay down the national debt and half to make sure every American has a world-class education.
Put a tax on carbon, and use the revenues to reduce or replace payroll taxes.
Have a single-payer health-care system that delivers care at far less cost than our current balkonized and inefficient one.
And much else.
You say it can’t happen — the system is too rotten.
It won’t happen if you wallow in the comfort of your cynicism. But it will happen if you and others like you get fired up.
We’ve done it before.
I remember when progressives joined with African-Americans to get enacted the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. I remember when progressives stopped the Vietnam War. When women finally got freedom of choice over their own bodies. When the Environmental Protection Act became law.
Who would have imagined two decades ago that America would elect an African-American as President of the United States? Who would have supposed gays and lesbians would begin to achieve equal marriage rights?
Of course we can take America back.
Stop complaining and start organizing.
And by all means, vote.
Employer outlays for workers’ health insurance slowed from a 9 percent jump last year to less than half that — 4 percent — this year, according to a new survey from the Kaiser Foundation. Good news?
Our political class believes it is. The Obama administration attributes the drop to the new Affordable Care Act, which, among other things, gives states funding to review insurance rate increases.
Republicans agree it’s good news but blame Obamacare for the fact that employer health-care costs continue to rise faster than inflation. “The new mandates contained in the health care law are significantly increasing the cost of insurance” says Wyoming senator Mike Enzi, top Republican on the Senate health committee.
But both sides ignore one big reason for the drop: Employers are shifting healthcare costs to their workers. (The survey shows workers contributing an average of $4,316 toward the cost of family health plans this year, up from $4,129 last year. Many are receiving little or no employer-provided coverage at all.)
Score another win for American corporations — whose profits continue to be robust despite the anemic recovery — and another loss for American workers.
Those profits aren’t due to a surge in sales. Exports are down (Europeans, Japanese, and Chinese are all pulling in their belts) and American consumers don’t have the dough to buy more.
The profits are largely due to lower corporate costs, especially when it comes to their payrolls. Employer-provided health and pension contributions are shrinking, and the real median wage continues to drop.
High unemployment has given companies more bargaining leverage over their workers, who have to accept lower real pay and benefits or risk losing their jobs.
When it comes to health insurance, employees increasingly have to choose between health-insurance policies with sky-high premiums or with sky-high co-payments and deductibles. And since they can’t afford the former they’re opting for the big co-payments and deductibles – or no insurance at all.
The result is fewer visits to the doctor and less use of other medical services.
This is a new trend, and it comes despite the Affordable Care Act (which hasn’t been fully phased in). And it wouldn’t be worrisome if we were seeing too much of doctors before, and using up medical resources we didn’t need.
But it’s worrisome if it means less preventive care, or health problems going untreated until they become chronic illnesses or crises.
Healthcare costs do have to be better controlled. They now claim 18 percent of our entire economy. But the best way to control them isn’t by cutting back care. It’s by wringing inefficiencies out of the system.
Our healthcare system wastes 30 cents of every dollar spent on health care, according to new calculations by the well-respected Institute of Medicine. Much of it is wasted on repeated tests, and a huge portion wasted on paperwork – between doctors and hospitals and specialists and insurers, to justify expenditures by one group to be paid by another.
A single-payer system would be far more efficient.
So back to my original question. Is the dramatic slowdown in employer health-care costs good news? It all depends. If we and our families are in good health, or we’re high earners who can afford good health coverage without big co-payments and deductibles, or if we own lots of shares in companies showing higher profits because they’re trimming pay and benefits – or we’re in all three categories – it’s probably good.
But if we’re none of these, it might not be good news – especially if it means we’re getting less care than would otherwise keep ourselves and our families healthy.
At the least, if we’re concerned about the health and well-being of all Americans, we need to find out much more before we celebrate.
The rating agencies are at it again. Moody’s Investors Services says it’s likely to downgrade U.S. government bonds if Congress and the White House don’t reach a budget deal before we go over the so-called “fiscal cliff” on January 2, when $1.2 trillion in spending cuts and tax increases automatically go into effect.
Apparently the credit rating agencies can’t decide which is more dangerous to the U.S. economy – cutting the U.S. budget deficit too quickly, or not having a plan to cut it at all.
Last year’s worry was the latter. In the midst of partisan wrangling over raising the nation’s debt limit, Standard & Poor’s downgraded U.S. debt – warning that Republicans and Democrats didn’t have a credible plan to tame the deficit.
Now Moody’s is worried about the opposite: The spending cuts and tax increases in the Budget Control Act that will automatically kick in at the start of 2013 – unless Congress decides on a better and presumably more gradual approach — are so draconian they’ll push the economy into a recession.
The ratings agency schizophrenia is understandable. Everyone in Washington – and just about everywhere else – knows the budget deficit has to be dealt with. But anyone with half a brain (including Washington) also knows that when unemployment is high and economic growth still painfully slow, cutting the deficit too much now would make a bad situation even worse.
Remember, the real problem isn’t the deficit per se. It’s the deficit in proportion to the size of the economy. Cutting too much too soon will tip the economy into recession because it would reduce overall demand for goods and services when private demand falls way short of what’s needed. And if the economy goes into recession and begins to shrink, the ratio of deficit to the economy gets worse. That’s the austerity trap Europe has fallen into.
Even if the deficit continues to grow in proportion to the economy, we’re safe as long as those who lend money to the U.S. aren’t worried about being repaid and therefore don’t demand high interest rates in return for their loans.
By this measure, the American economy appears safer than ever. Despite all the harrumphing from the credit-rating agencies, the United States has never been able to borrow money more cheaply than it can right now. That’s because no matter how bad the deficit situation looks here, it’s worse in places like Spain and Italy. And no matter how deadlocked Congress becomes, the U.S. is still the most stable and reliable system in which to put your savings.
The fiscal cliff is a real worry. And it’s a worry precisely because the budget deficit isn’t — at least not now. When unemployment is high and growth is anemic, we need as much fiscal stimulus as we can manage.
As long as the rest of the world is willing to lend us their savings so cheaply, we’d be wise to use it to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and our schools and parks — and thereby put more Americans back to work – rather try to cut the deficit too much and too soon.
Robert Reich writes:
The most troubling economic trend facing America this Labor Day weekend is the increasing concentration of income, wealth, and political power at the very top – among a handful of extraordinarily wealthy people – and the steady decline of the great American middle class. Inequality in America is at record levels. The 400 richest Americans now have more wealth than the bottom 150 million of us put together.
Five members of the Supreme Court think corporations are people. Mitt Romney agrees. And now the minority leader of the Senate — the highest-ranking Republican official in America — takes this logic to its absurd conclusion: If corporations are people, they must be capable of feeling harassed and intimidated if their shareholders or consumers don’t approve of their political expenditures.
Hell, they might even throw a tantrum. Or cry. Corporations have feelings.
This isn’t just whacko. It also defies law and logic. What are corporations anyway, separate and apart from their shareholders and consumers? Legal fictions, pieces of paper.
And whom do corporations exist for if not the people who legally own them and those who purchase the products and services they sell?
JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, BP, Chevron, WalMart, and billionaires Charles and David Koch are launching a multi-million dollar TV ad buy Tuesday blasting President Obama over the national debt.
Actually, I don’t know who’s behind this ad because there’s no way to know. And that’s a big problem.
The front group for the ad is Crossroads GPS, the sister organization to the super PAC American Crossroads run by Republican political operative Karl Rove.
Because Crossroads GPS is a tax-exempt nonprofit group, it can spend unlimited money on politics — and it doesn’t have to reveal where it gets the dough.
By law, all it has to do is spent most of the money on policy “issues,” which is a fig leaf for partisan politics.
Here’s what counts as an issue ad, as opposed to a partisan one. The narrator in the ad Crossroads GPS is launching solemnly intones: “In 2008, Barack Obama said, ‘We can’t mortgage our children’s future on a mountain of debt.’ Now he’s adding $4 billion in debt every day, borrowing from China for his spending. Every second, growing our debt faster than our economy,” he continues. “Tell Obama, stop the spending.”
This is a baldface lie, by the way.
Obama isn’t adding to the debt every day. The debt is growing because of obligations entered into long ago, many under George W. Bush – including two giant tax cuts that went mostly to the very wealthy that were supposed to be temporary and which are still going, courtesy of Republican blackmail over raising the debt limit.
In realty, government spending as a portion of GDP keeps dropping.
As I said, I don’t know who’s financing this big lie but there’s good reason to think it’s some combination of Wall Street, big corporations, and the billionaire Koch brothers.
According to the reliable inside-Washington source “Politico,” the Koch brothers’ network alone will be spending $400 million over the next six months trying to defeat Obama, which is more than Senator John McCain spent on his entire 2008 campaign.
Big corporations and Wall Street are also secretly funneling big bucks into front groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that will use the money to air anti-Obama ads, while keeping secret the identities of these firms.
Looking at the all the anti-Obama super PACs and political fronts like Crossroads GPS, Politico estimates the anti-Obama forces (including the Romney campaign) will outspend Obama and pro-Obama groups by 2 to 1.
How can it be that big corporations and billionaires will be spending unlimited amounts on big lies like this one, without any accountability because no one will know where the money is coming from?
Blame a majority of the Supreme Court in its grotesque 2010 Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission decision — as well as the IRS for lax enforcement that lets political front groups like Crossroads GPS or the U.S. Chamber of Commerce pretend they’re not political.
But you might also blame something deeper, more sinister.
I’m not a conspiracy theorist (you can’t have served in Washington and seriously believe more than two people can hold on to a big story without it leaking), but I fear that at least since 2010 we’ve been witnessing a quiet, slow-motion coup d’etat whose purpose is to repeal every bit of progressive legislation since the New Deal and entrench the privileged positions of the wealthy and powerful — who haven’t been as wealthy or as powerful since the Gilded Age of the late 19th century.
Its techique is to inundate America with a few big lies, told over and over (the debt is Obama’s fault and it’s out of control; corporations and the very rich are the “job creators” that need tax cuts; government is the enemy, and its regulations are strangling the private sector; unions are bad; and so on), and tell them so often they’re taken as fact.
Then having convinced enough Americans that these lies are true, take over the White House, Congress, and remaining states that haven’t yet succumbed to the regressive right (witness Tuesday’s recall election in Wisconsin).
I desperately hope I’m wrong, but all there’s growing evidence I may be right.
What could Romney’s handlers be thinking when they hyped his connection with Donald Trump — fundraising with Trump, offering supporters the possibility of a meal with Trump, relishing Trump’s attention and endorsement?
Trump signifies everything Romney presumably doesn’t want people to associate…
President Obama’s electoral strategy can best be summed up as: “We’re on the right track, my economic policies are working, we still have a long way to go but stick with me and you’ll be fine.”
That’s not good enough. This recovery is too anemic, and the chance of an economic stall between now and Election Day far too high.
Even now, Mitt Romney’s empty “I’ll to it better” refrain is attracting as many voters as Obama’s “we’re on the right track.” Each man is gathering 46 percent of voter support, according to the latest New York Times/CBS poll. Only 33 percent of the public thinks the economy is improving while 40 percent say they’re still falling behind financially — an 11 point increase from 2008. Nearly two-thirds are concerned about paying for housing, and one in five with mortgages say they’re underwater.
If the economy stalls, Romney’s empty promise will look even better. And I’d put the odds of a stall at 50-50. That puts the odds of a Romney presidency far too high for comfort. Need I remind you that Romney enthusiastically supports Paul Ryan’s wildly regressive budget, and as president would be able to make at least one or possibly two Supreme Court appointments, and control the EPA and every other federal agency and department?
The Obama White House should face it: “We’re on the right track” isn’t sufficient. The President has to offer the nation a clear, bold strategy for boosting the economy. It should be the economic mandate for his second term.
It should consist of four points:
First, Obama should demand that the nation’s banks modify mortgages of homeowners still struggling in the wake of Wall Street’s housing bubble — threatening that if the banks fail to do so he’ll fight to resurrect the Glass-Steagall Act and break up Wall Street’s biggest banks (as the Dallas Fed recently recommended).
Second, he should condemn oil speculators for keeping gas prices high — demanding that the oil companies allow the Commodity Futures Trading Corporation to set limits on such speculation and instructing the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute oil price manipulation.
Third, he should stand ready to make further job-creating investments in the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, and renew his call for an infastructure bank. And while he understands the need to reduce the nation’s long-term budget deficit, he won’t allow austerity economics to take precedence over job creation. He’ll veto budget cuts until unemployment is down to 5 percent.
Finally, he should make clear the underlying problem is widening inequality. With so much of the nation’s disposable income and wealth going to the top, the vast middle class doesn’t have the purchasing power it needs to fire up the economy. That’s why the Buffett rule, setting a minimum tax rate for millionaires, is just a first step for ensuring that the gains from growth are widely shared.
The President can still say we’re on the right track. But he should also say he’s not content with the pace of the recovery and will do everything in his power to quicken it. And he should ask the American people for a mandate in his second term to make the economy work for everyone, not just those at the top.
Such a mandate can be put into effect only with a Congress that’s committed to better jobs and wages for all Americans. He should remind voters that congressional Republicans prevented him from doing all that was needed in the first term, and they must not be allowed to do so again.
The general election of 2012 starts today.
We need to do everything we can to make sure Barack Obama is reelected president. But we also need to mobilize for the long haul — beyond Election Day. We need to fuel a movement to take back our economy and our democracy.
Presidential elections can draw peoples’ attention to larger challenges facing our nation, but they can also be distracting. The media focus on the game — who’s up and who’s down, and which political strategies are winning or losing — rather than on the big issues. Campaigns are also geared to winning on Election Day, not to building long-term strategies and movements for fundamental change.
I’ve been involved in public life, off and on, for over forty years. I’ve served under three presidents. When not in office I’ve done my share of organizing and rabble-rousing, along with teaching, speaking, and writing about what I know and what I believe. I have never been as concerned as I am now about the future of our democracy, the corrupting effects of big money in our politics, the stridency and demagoguery of the regressive right, and the accumulation of wealth and power at the very top.
We are perilously close to losing an economy and a democracy that work for everyone, and replacing them with an economy and government that exist mainly for a few wealthy and powerful people.
That’s why I’ve written an ebook called “Beyond Outrage.” You have every reason to be outraged. Moral outrage is the prerequisite for social change. But you also need to move beyond outrage and take action. The regressive forces seeking to move our nation backwards must not be allowed to triumph.
The point of “Beyond Outrage” is to help you focus on what needs to be done and how you can do it, and to encourage you not to feel bound by what’s politically possible this year or next. You need to understand why the stakes are so high, and why your participation – now and in the future – is so important.
In my experience, nothing good happens in Washington unless good people outside Washington become mobilized, organized, and energized to make it happen. Nothing worth changing in America will actually change unless you and others like you are committed to achieving that change.
Watch him dismantle them one by one(video)
I’ll be answering questions on Reddit for the next few hours here.
Robert Reich on Reddit
Ah… six hours ago, but the dialog is interesting. Thanks.
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich said he could explain the problems with the economy in less than 2 minutes, 15 seconds—and he did it (with illustrations to boot).
Not only is the United States slouching toward a double dip, but so is Europe. New data out today show even Europe’s strongest core economies – Germany, France, and the Netherlands – slowing to a crawl.
We’re on the cusp of a global recession.
Policy makers be warned: Austerity is the wrong medicine.
Ordinarily, I would not lift this much text to re-blog. But Robert Reich, who wrote this, is a valued member of the Tumblr community where re-blogging is pretty widely accepted, and he also went to high school with a good friend so I hope he will cut me some slack. Besides, he is just saying incredibly smart things in his latest post. Here’s an excerpt.
What would a bold jobs bill look like? Here are the ten components I’d recommend (apologies to those of you who have read some of these before):
1. Exempt first $20K of income from payroll taxes for two years. Make up shortfall by raising ceiling on income subject to payroll taxes.
2. Recreate the WPA and Civilian Conservation Corps to put long-term unemployed directly to work.
3. Create an infrastructure bank authorized to borrow $300 billion a year to repair and upgrade the nation’s roads, bridges, ports, airports, school buildings, and water and sewer systems.
4. Amend bankruptcy laws to allow distressed homeowners to declare bankruptcy on their primary residence, so they can reorganize their mortgage loans.
5. Allow distressed homeowners to sell a portion of their mortgages to the FHA, which would take a proportionate share of any upside gains when the homes are sold.
6. Provide tax incentive to employers who create net new jobs ($2,500 deduction for every net new job created).
7. Make low-interest loans to cash-starved states and cities, so they don’t have to lay off teachers, fire fighters, police officers, and reduce other critical public services.
8. Provide partial unemployment benefits to people who have lost part-time jobs.
9. Enlarge and expand the Earned Income Tax Credit – a wage subsidy for low-wage work.
10. Impose a “severance fee” on any large business that lays off an American worker and outsources the job abroad.