The Widdershins

Posts Tagged ‘poverty

-Trump Chuckie

On March 4th, The Thing in the White House sent out a bunch of angry tweets blasting the previous President for wiretapping Isengard Trump Tower. “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” Then 30 mins later: “How long has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process? This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!” When asked to clarify this insanity, The Thing’s minions really could do nothing but heee and hawww. The Thing read it somewhere, they said. NY Times! Louise Mensch! BBC! Naturally once reporters dug deeper, they found that NO, none of those reports talked Trump Obamaabout wiretapping. Mensch broke the story on her right-wing blog HeatStreet on November 7th about the FISA warrant, but all she said was that a FISC court granted permission to “examine the activities of ‘U.S. persons’ in Donald Trump’s campaign with ties to Russia.” In question was a mysterious communication between two Russian banks and a server in Trump Tower. (David Corn of Mother Jones broke the story of the two banks and Trump Tower, but all media dismissed it as a bizarre conspiracy theory a couple of weeks earlier.) In the follow-up reports to Mensch’s story, BBC and the failing NY Times confirmed a FISA warrant, but nobody mentioned wiretaps… except Breitbart and then The Thing in its Tweets. Ahhhhh, the plot thickens. Where did Breitbart get the information about wiretaps at Trump Tower and did The Thing just leak top secret information in a series of Tweets? Sure seems that way. Will anybody hold him accountable? LOL.

There are fleeing moments when it feels like Lady Lindsey Graham and Hero John McCain might hold The Thing accountable for the numerous impeachable offenses it has committed. Earlier today Graham tweeted: “An attack on one political party should be considered an attack on all. We must push back on Russian election interference at home & abroad.” That sounds great! However it should also be noted that Graham had lunch with The Thing earlier in the day.

“Great lunch meeting with ‪@POTUS today. President Trump is strongly committed to rebuilding our military which is music to my ears. (1/3)

President Trump is in deal-making mode and I hope Congress is like-minded. (2/3)”

“How good was the meeting with ‪@POTUS?

I gave him my NEW cell phone number.”

Somebody responded: “1-800-DOOR-MAT?” And then “You, sir, are a profile in courage.”

And that, folks, is Lindsey Graham summarized in a handful of tweets. We have to get used to the notion that no, Graham and McCain won’t hold The Thing accountable for anything until they’ve gotten what they want from him: tax cuts for the rich, bigger military, gutting ACA, etc. etc. etc. Then maybe, possibly, once that’s all done, they’ll throw The Thing overboard.

Speaking of handing out cell numbers, can anybody afford a new cell phone after Republicans pass Trumpcare? Jason Chaffetz, the man who investigated Benghazi and Hillary Clinton’s e-mails to death, and who doesn’t think there is any reason to look into Trump’s connections to Russia, went on CNN to start selling Trumpcare to America.

Americans have choices. And they’ve got to make a choice. And so, maybe rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and they want to go spend hundreds of dollars on, maybe they should invest it in their own health care. They’ve got to make those decisions for themselves.

This is, of course, patently absurd. An iPhone unsubsidized by a phone company might cover one month’s premium for a single person. How many iPhones does Chaffetz think people buy? Of course, Chaffetz himself doesn’t have to buy his own phone. He gets one from work. His cell bill gets covered too. “How much does an iPhone cost” is the new “How much is a gallon of milk?” and Chaffetz doesn’t know  the cost of either.

Medicaire

Overall Trumpcare is going to gut poor people into oblivion. It gives tax breaks to the rich, provides insurance companies with tax deductions on CEO salaries, will raise costs of premium, reinstate caps, gut preexisting conditions. Millions of people will lose their insurance. Many of them were Trump voters. Sadly many of them were not. But they will suffer also.

Why do Republicans hate poor people? It’s a question that has been asked often and there are many answers. As it came up again in the current Trumpcare discussion, I was reminded of a scene in E.M. Forster’s great novel “Howards End.” In the 1910 novel ForsterForster explored 3 groups of people from 3 different classes: the extremely wealthy and conservative Wilcoxes, upper middle class but liberal Schlegels, and poor but aspiring for something bigger Basts. The Schlegel sisters, Margaret and Helen, try to help poor Leonard Bast, but their well-meaning interventions in his life, as well as not-well meaning interventions from the Wilcoxes, prove disastrous. He loses his job as a clerk in an insurance company after following bad advice from patriarch Henry Wilcox. When the impetuous Helen (played by Helena Bonham Carter in the magnificent film, with Emma Thompson as Margaret) tries to make her case for helping the poor to the condescending 1%-er Henry Wilcox (Anthony Hopkins in the film), the following exchange takes place. Written in 1910, “Howards End”is still relevant in 2017.

From Chapter 22

He [Henry Wilcox] raised his finger. “Now, a word of advice.”

“I require no more advice.” [said Helen]

“A word of advice. Don’t take up that sentimental attitude over the poor. See that she doesn’t, Margaret. The poor are poor, and one’s sorry for them, but there it is. As civilisation moves forward, the shoe is bound to pinch in places, and it’s absurd to pretend that any one is responsible personally. Neither you, nor I, nor my informant, nor the man who informed him, nor the directors of the Porphyrion, are to blame for this clerk’s loss of salary. It’s just the shoe pinching–no one can help it; and it might easily have been worse.”

Helen quivered with indignation.

“By all means subscribe to charities–subscribe to them largely– but don’t get carried away by absurd schemes of Social Reform. I see a good deal behind the scenes, and you can take it from me that there is no Social Question–except for a few journalists who try to get a living out of the phrase. There are just rich and poor, as there always have been and always will be. Point me out a time when men have been equal–”

“I didn’t say–”

“Point me out a time when desire for equality has made them happier. No, no. You can’t. There always have been rich and poor. I’m no fatalist. Heaven forbid! But our civilisation is moulded by great impersonal forces” (his voice grew complacent; it always did when he eliminated the personal), “and there always will be rich and poor. You can’t deny it” (and now it was a respectful voice)–“and you can’t deny that, in spite of all, the tendency of civilisation has on the whole been upward.”

“Owing to God, I suppose,” flashed Helen.

He stared at her.

“You grab the dollars. God does the rest.”

It was no good instructing the girl if she was going to talk about God in that neurotic modern way. Fraternal to the last, he left her for the quieter company of Mrs. Munt.

[…]

“Don’t ever discuss political economy with Henry,” advised her sister. “It’ll only end in a cry.”

“But he must be one of those men who have reconciled science with religion,” said Helen slowly. “I don’t like those men. They are scientific themselves, and talk of the survival of the fittest, and cut down the salaries of their clerks, and stunt the independence of all who may menace their comfort, but yet they believe that somehow good–it is always that sloppy ‘somehow’ will be the outcome, and that in some mystical way the Mr. Basts of the future will benefit because the Mr. Brits of today are in pain.”

Howards End

Also, in brief: Richard Steele, the British spy who wrote the infamous “pee pee” dossier, has resurfaced. While American Senators want to hear him testify about what he knows.

WikiLeaks is dumping top secret CIA documents.

And contrary to earlier denials that he’s never met the Russian Ambassador (a man nobody has ever met), a newly unearthed article in the Wall Street Journal from last April says that Trump met with the Russian Ambassador and greeted him warmly.

What’s on your mind Widdershins? This is an open thread.

Afternoon Widdershins.  I hope you survived St. Patty’s Day and are basking in the first glimpses of spring.

Quite fortuitously, a couple of new reports surfaced this week that nicely dovetail with Tuesday’s post.  My apologies for nerding out yet again so soon on an economics post, but these reports are important.  They will arm you with a silencing rejoinder for any wayward soul crossing your path spouting the typical Tea Party tripe associated with know-nothing, coffee klatch economics.

First, there is the report of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).  Thirty-four developed nations are a part of the OECD and once again, the United States leads in economic inequality while at the same time we are the fifth highest with 17.4% of our population falling into poverty.

Graph Share of Income for the 1 percent

A few data points as you are looking at the OECD graph.  Most importantly, NO investment income is included in these numbers.  That’s right — these numbers are exclusive of any capital gains.  The top 10% are closing in on 50% of the economic pie leaving the 90% of the rest of us to divvy-up the remaining 50%.  The pre-tax income going to the top 1% has more than doubled since 1980 when we replaced sound economic principles with political sloganeering.

There are two other data points I want you to consider.  Look at the meteoric rise since 1980s and then compare where we are today as opposed to the last Gilded Age of 1920.  The wealthy have surpassed their previous high watermark!  Simply put, it is a great time to be rich!

But not such a great time to be poor.  The poor have not bounced back at all since the economic ravages of 2008.  The number of Americans reporting they are unable to afford food for their families has risen by 50% since 2008.

This is what income inequality looks like in Sao Paulo...

This is what income inequality looks like in Sao Paulo…

You are probably thinking, I already know all this — old Prolix has harped on this issue for years now.  This is where the new information comes, but first, I need to clear up some definitional remnants — the words entitlements and redistribution.  I hate, hate, hate, and abhor those words.  They are words most likely spawned from the satanic synapses of Frank Luntz — chosen not for their accuracy, but for their visceral emotional impact.

Both entitlement and redistribution are pejorative words for the way one person sees another person’s expected largesse.  Whether it is a single mother receiving food stamps for her children or a hedge fund manager being taxed at the special and reduced rate of 15% for carried interest, they are both governmental entitlements and redistribution.

Whether it is an earned income tax credit for the working poor or an international corporation paying an effective tax rate of 12.6% (less than the working poor), both are instances of governmental redistribution.  Whether it is a senior citizen receiving social security and Medicare or a venture capitalist larding up an otherwise profitable company with monstrous management fees to just put the company in a debt death-spiral as a tax strategy, they are both government sanctioned acts changing the otherwise status quo.  Both are entitlements and redistribution.  To mix metaphors, all that matters is when the music stops someone else is dancing with a gored ox.

That little definitional interlude leads us to the second report.  This one was released by the International Monetary Fund.  As you might know, the IMF is anything but a “librul-leaning” organization.  It is heavily skewed toward business and economic development — growth is their stated and implicit goal.  That fact alone is why I was surprised their report didn’t get any play whatsoever in the press.

Out of a Himalayan mountain of data and research, the IMF report challenges the old saw and conventional economic wisdom that redistribution undermines growth.  The report proves just the opposite, if anything, right-sized redistribution enhances and supports faster and more durable growth.

Conversely, income inequality hurts, hampers, and hamstrings economic growth.  Simply put, as inequality increases, growth declines.  Here are two graphs demonstrating the point.

Inequality a drag on the economy

Of course this type of unconventional counter-intuitive thought is sure to ignite a maelstrom on the right.  Why would anyone in the One-percent crowd dare to engage in fact-based self-awareness when they have emotionally charged sophistry in which to drape themselves?

Speaking of the total lack of self-awareness in the moneyed class here’s a great illustration.  In his most recent prison interview, that bastion of free-wheeling capitalism Bernie Madoff said, “I’m not a great fan of redistribution of wealth.”  I guess Bernie prefers the old-fashioned private sector type of redistribution — plain old theft and fraud.

The IMF research contains recommendations such as needs testing Social Security by phasing out high wage earners, improving educational access — particularly college, improving access to health care, and reforming the tax code to make it more progressive thereby eliminating exemptions and deductions.  The research finds by appropriately modulating redistribution it results in a win/win situation — faster, long-term, durable growth while meeting the needs of the less fortunate.

The big takeaway is this:  Redistribution is a good thing for economies when right-sized and moderated.  Both too much redistribution and too little redistribution are bad for any economy.  Just like Goldilocks, if it is just right, everyone is better off since we all do better when we all do better.

This is an open thread.

It is mid-January, it isn’t freezing and the blizzards are at bay — such are the things of wonderful Tuesdays.  At least I hope it is for all the Widdershinners.

I love seatbelts, but they choke me sometimes...

I love seatbelts, but they choke me sometimes…

Remember Thamsandqa Jantjie?  He was the guy at Mandela’s funeral — the one who seemed to keep signing, “I love to put on seat belts, but they choke me sometimes.”  At $85, he was the low bidder for the funeral gig.  The Magic-8 ball is still out on whether or not Thamsandqa is schizophrenic, but his self-awareness is robustly intact.  Upon leaving the psychiatric hospital he promptly called a press conference and proclaimed, “I am a great fake.”

Last week I was reminded of Thamsandqa when I heard Marco Rubio  talking about poverty.  Rubio made sympathetic noises about poverty and then with inspired chutzpah glibly advocated policies harmful to the poor.

There is nothing new in Rubio’s plans.  For that matter, there is nothing new with any Conservative plan in the last fifty years since they all proclaim the War on Poverty was and is an abject failure.

Let’s dissect the flights of fantasy represented in those thoughts.  First and foremost, there has not been a 50-year War on Poverty.  There was a five-year full-on War on Poverty between 1964 and 1969, but then funding began to dwindle in order to service the Vietnam War.

Even with the cuts of Nixon and then Reagan, the two pillars of the War on Poverty, Social Security and Medicare, have been unparalleled successes.  Among other things, they have reduced the 44% of seniors living in poverty in 1964 to approximately 9% today.

Poverty Rates 1967-2012Another lie fertilized with the manure of talking heads is the measuring stick used by conservative “think tanks” to measure the effect of poverty programs.  These “think tanks” use the 1963/64 affordability of food index for a family of 3.  This index purposefully inflates the number of people living in poverty without factoring in such things as food stamps or the Earned Income Tax Credit.  Both these programs greatly reduce the level of poverty.  In 2012 alone, food stamps kept 41 million Americans out of poverty including 9 million children.

So when you see the Cato Institute or the Heritage Foundation throwing around a Reaganesque statistic showing government intervention had no effect upon the poverty rate — know this one thing — their statistics are completely meaningless and are the product of endgame political manipulation.  Political sloganeering is not policy.

While shrinking the size of government and reducing taxes are the primary, if not only, pillars of conservative thought today there is another inextricably intertwined issue in the poverty debate — morality.  Political judgments on poverty are little more than ideological and moral Rorschach tests.

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I just hung up with Fredster, who called to ask if I were feeling any effects from Hurricane Sandy.  As it happens, we have had grey skies, periodic rain squalls and the odd little blast of wind today.  The storm should go through the Bahamas leaving Florida on the left or clean side of the storm.  No big deal, as far as we’re concerned.  Then he pointed me toward the models, and ruh-roh, East Coasters, she’s a-heading your way.   Most likely, anyway – there is still some chance that the storm may bounce eastward off of Bermuda and become a fish storm, but as a veteran of any number of rain/wind events, I highly recommend keeping an eye on this and preparing accordingly.

The good part of late year storms for us around here is that we lose power during the relatively cooler temperatures of 75-85.  The same feature, however, when moved abruptly northward constitutes a condition known as an atmospheric bomb.   This occurs when a rapidly intensifying storm collides with another front, e.g. the “Perfect Storm” or the Hallowe’en Gale of 1991.  Unless you have some plan in progress to ride out said storm in a bar in Gloucester or snuggled up with George Clooney, grab some non-perishables, bottled water and fresh batteries.  Better to have it and not need it then to need it and not have it, and especially so should this become a pattern.

Speaking of other bombs, what do y’all think of Donald Trump’s latest and greatest idea?  I cannot imagine that the Prez would take time out of campaigning in this razor-thin contest to begin rooting furiously through his paperwork for his college application.  Further, I;d be stunned if he had a copy of it.  I know that I don’t, but then again, the Xerox machine was not around when I applied  in 1965.  I would be stunned if the University were to  find it without using a backhoe at this point in time, either.   This whole thing is sad, because of Paul Ryan’s latest plans come to fruition, charities will need more help than ever before.

Paul Ryan’s bombshells were numerous and directed at the poor.  Seems his magical answer to poverty is to stop funding it.  Check this out, from Huffington Post:

In his first policy speech since becoming the Republican vice presidential nominee, Paul Ryan said he and Mitt Romney will restore upward mobility and fight poverty in part by limiting the federal government’s commitment to safety net programs.

“Upward mobility is the central promise of life in America,” Ryan said. “But right now, America’s engines of upward mobility aren’t working the way they should. Mitt Romney and I are running because we believe that Americans are better off in a dynamic, free-enterprise-based economy that fosters economic growth, opportunity and upward mobility instead of a stagnant, government-directed economy that stifles job creation and fosters government dependency.”

Ryan noted that Americans born into poor families are more likely to stay poor as adults than Americans born into wealthy families.

A Romney administration, Ryan said, would help restore mobility by turning the open-ended commitments of federal anti-poverty programs into “block grants” — fixed chunks of money the federal government sends to states each year regardless of the amount of need. States, in turn, get more leeway to design their own programs.

“The federal government would continue to provide the resources, but we would remove the endless federal mandates and restrictions that hamper state efforts to make these programs more effective,” Ryan said. “If the question is what’s best for low-income Ohioans, shouldn’t we let Ohioans make that call?”

Ah, yes, block grants – that Republican Valhalla where available monies are divided into 50 equal parts and distributed to the states for administration as they see fit.  Sort of like the post 09/11 anti-terrorist funds that were block granted to the states, enabling Wyoming to have the same funding basis as New York.  Look how well that worked out, at least for the state of Wyoming.

Things are deteriorating rapidly enough for the working poor.  Check this out, from the Miami Herald:

Ashley Maddox boards a bus and heads to work at a South Beach restaurant, a chore that can take up to 1 ½ hours. Once she arrives, she writes up orders, serves food and clears tables. Some days she brings home just $20, other days more. When her shift ends, the single mom heads back home on the bus to her toddler son, who she leaves in the care of his grandma or aunt, or a friend.

Each week, Maddox’s schedule changes, making a more stable child-care arrangement challenging. Whether she has a cough, cold or fever, Maddox still gets on the bus and goes to work. “I don’t get any sick days or benefits and I need my job.”

Last week, when low-wage workers gathered to show support for a proposed new paid sick leave law in Miami-Dade County, Maddox was there with her son on her hip. At 27, Maddox has had a series of low-paying jobs serving food. She’s been struggling to stay well and hold onto her current job for about a year.

We see our presidential candidates courting the woman’s vote and hear them debate job growth, flexibility, fair pay and even paid sick leave. But for Maddox and other low-wage workers, these issues are not about work-life balance or fairness or politics: They are about survival. Every benefit or new right in the workplace makes a giant difference in whether they can eat dinner, afford electricity, clothe their children.

Here’s the deal:  America’s poor, including the working poor, need all the help that they can get.  Balancing the budget on their backs while massaging people like Mr. Trump are beyond disgusting.  (Is there a Democratic Trump-equivalent out there that might offer a large contribution in exchange for Mitt’s tax returns or Cayman balances?)  Insisting that women bear children that may then be eligible for a life of crushing poverty is even more disgusting.

There are 12 days until the election – may the plight of Ashley Maddox  and may the welfare of our planet  be in our thoughts as we drive to the polls.  In the meantime, this is an open thread.

The budget talks are underway in DC with a threat of government shutdown looming on the horizon if the GOP and their Tea Party tools don’t get their way. Their way, as they describe it, is defunding social programs and a host of other agencies put in place over the years as a way of “balancing the budget”. The simple fact that most of these programs have been put in place as a small measure of assistance to many living in the throes of poverty, illness or old age but have no place in the negotiations. Like a fire sale announcing “everything must go” these fools are on a course that offers another round of misery facing many Americans today. Tough luck to those who are dependent upon the government to ease their burden just a little bit when these “Know Nothings” are in charge. It just makes you wonder where those “Christian values” residing in a “Christian nation” have gone to rest.

America has shown that it can always do better. Government programs have lifted the poor out of their state of living by creating a strong middle class that is the real backbone of this nation. Immigrants who flocked to this country in the last 150 years did so in large part to ensure their families of a better chance in life. Each generation that followed benefited from the one before. It is what made this country the beacon of hope in an otherwise less enlightened world. What happened to crush this dream? Who extinguished the flame of hope that America was the land of opportunity? How did our sense of compassion toward the suffering of others begin to dissolve?

Years of corporate influence and acceptable lies has taken root in our nation’s psyche. It matters not who says what when we all know that what is being “sold” to us on a daily basis is nothing more than a boatload of sh*t. When we are “okay” with allowing the masters of our economic debacle to escape unscathed but are willing to place the burden of our woes on the least likely among us to fight back the “moral compass” that made us stand out as a nation has all but disappeared. Better to take out our frustrations on those who benefit the least rather than hold those accountable for taking the most is the solution those morons are willing to uphold. It is rather difficult to wrap one’s mind around this concept yet it is happening right now and right before our eyes and there seems to be little recourse left to us but to roll over and play dead. The “powers that be” have spoken. Take it or leave it.

Someone needs to educate me on exactly what good can come from cutting funding to education, Head Start, Planned Parenthood, the EPA, regulatory commissions, WIC, or any other of these social programs that are on the firing line. Does promoting even more poverty, lack of healthcare, abolishing watchdog commissions, and defunding children’s needs make us “stronger” as a nation”? Does cutting back on much needed fuel assistance guarantee a healthier population? Does putting our lives at risk by removing oversights from clean air, water, and food supplies promise a “stronger tomorrow”? What has happened to our collective commonsense if even I am able to recognize the folly of these cuts?

And where is our Commander in Chief in all of this? The Democratic president who was elected under the premise that he would fight back against the greedy guts and the radical rants of those now in charge who are setting the course of this nation on a backward thrust. I can barely hear the voice of Barack Obama standing up to these Know Nothings and fighting back against those who decimate the principles of a party who were instrumental in taking this nation to greater heights of compassion and equality. Should the Senate ultimately pass this bill I have no doubt he will sign on the dotted line without barely a murmur of dissent. It’s his way of governing. Why make waves? He is a national disgrace in his role as leader.

The GOP leadership and it’s Tea Party members are a nasty group of empty headed, illogical, mean spirited collective wending their hate through the halls of congress slashing and burning the wrong things in order to make a point. Willing to make cuts at the expense of the least among us they may have proven that they have gone much too far in their attempts. But this remains to be seen.

In the meantime many will be asked to bear the misery these cuts will surely require.  Shame on them and shame on us for allowing this egregiousness to be played out in our names. A national heartbreak that must be cured before the very heart and soul of the country is lost forever.

Remember the 80’s poster with the nattily attired gentleman leaning against the Rolls whilst hoisting a glass of bubbly? It was amusing at the time. The 80’s had horrific interest rates, so business could be stimulated by lowering interest and tax. Per Reagan, money would “trickle down” to Main Street. The upshot was, of course, that Wall Street prospered and Main Street lagged behind.

An unemployment rate of 5% is considered to be the norm. In 1980, it went close to 10%, but came down gradually (with occasional spikes) until it reached the baseline of 5-6% at the turn of the century. Professor J. Bradford DeLong of Cal-Berkeley did this graph, which represents a 40-year period of American history. I think that it is reasonable to infer that the draft stifled unemployment from the 60’s through the early 70’s as well.

Nostalgic, anyone? Professor DeLong will need a much larger graph to document today’s statistics. The government admits to a roughly 10% rate of unemployment, but that only accounts for those individuals who currently receive benefits. CNN further quantifies the unemployment rate in an article published 12/04. They state that unemployment for blacks is 15.6%, Hispanics 12.7%, whites 9.3% and Asians 7.3%. According to these figures, the gap between white and black unemployment is 6.3%, compared with 3.5% in August 2007. I saw Maxine Waters on TV a week or so ago, and she said that the actual unemployment rate in some of her districts is closer to 50%.

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