Archive for December 17th, 2011
Inconvenient Income Inequality By CHARLES M. BLOW
Is income inequality becoming the new global warming? In other words, is this another case where the facts of an existential threat lose traction among a weary American public as deniers attempt to reduce them to partisan opinions?
It’s beginning to seem so.
A Gallup poll released on Thursday found that, after rising rather steadily for the past two decades, the percentage of Americans who said that the country is divided into “haves” and “have-nots” took the largest drop since the question was asked.
This happened even as the percentage of Americans who grouped themselves under either label stayed relatively constant. Nearly 6 in 10 Americans still see themselves as the haves, while only about a third see themselves as the have-nots. The numbers have been in that range for a decade.
This is the new American delusion. The facts point to a very different reality.
An Associated Press report this week on census data found that “a record number of Americans — nearly 1 in 2 — have fallen into poverty or are scraping by on earnings that classify them as low income.” The report said that the data “depict a middle class that’s shrinking.”
An October report from the Congressional Budget Office found that, from 1979 to 2007, the average real after-tax household income for the 1 percent of the population with the highest incomes rose 275 percent. For the rest of the top 20 percent of earners, it rose 65 percent. But it rose just 18 percent for the bottom 20 percent.
And a report released in May by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that “the gap between rich and poor in O.E.C.D. countries has reached its highest level for over 30 years.” In the United States, the average income of the richest 10 percent of the population had risen to around 14 times that of the poorest 10 percent.
Our growing income inequality is a fact. So is the possibility that it could prove economically disastrous.
An April report from the International Monetary Fund found that growing income inequality has a negative effect on economic expansion. The report said that long periods of high growth, which were called “growth spells,” were “much more likely to end in countries with less equal income distributions. The effect is large.” It continued: “Inequality seemed to make a big difference almost no matter what other variables were in the model or exactly how we defined a ‘growth spell.’ ”
Our income inequality could jeopardize our recovery.
Yet another Gallup report issued Friday found that most Americans now say that the fact that some people in the U.S. are rich and others are poor does not represent a problem but is an acceptable part of our economic system.
If denial is a river, it runs through doomed societies.
© 2011, agentleman.
The NDAA Is A Horrible Bill, And Why Obama Is Going To Sign It
I wish I could feel good about the National Defense Authorization Act which is heading to the President’s desk. I can’t. On the other hand, there is a whole lot of hyperbole swirling around the internet, even from typically reasonable sources.
It does seem that the truth about this bill, while still a stab to basic civil liberties, and possibly unconstitutional, is that the version that the President is going to sign is better than the version he was going to veto. From Mother Jones magazine:
It (the revised bill) says that the president has to hold a foreign Al Qaeda suspect captured on US soil in military detention—except it leaves enough procedural loopholes that someone like convicted underwear bomber and Nigerian citizen Umar Abdulmutallab could actually go from capture to trial without ever being held by the military. It does not, contrary to what many media outlets have reported, authorize the president to indefinitely detain without trial an American citizen suspected of terrorism who is captured in the US. A last minute compromise amendment adopted in the Senate, whose language was retained in the final bill, leaves it up to the courts to decide if the president has that power, should a future president try to exercise it. But if a future president does try to assert the authority to detain an American citizen without charge or trial, it won’t be based on the authority in this bill.
So it’s simply not true, as the Guardian wrote yesterday, that the bill “allows the military to indefinitely detain without trial American terrorism suspects arrested on US soil who could then be shipped to Guantánamo Bay.” When the New York Times editorial page writes that the bill would “strip the F.B.I., federal prosecutors and federal courts of all or most of their power to arrest and prosecute terrorists and hand it off to the military,” or that the “legislation could also give future presidents the authority to throw American citizens into prison for life without charges or a trial,” they’re simply wrong.
I know that progressives don’t like politics. Really, who does? Politics are an ugly, messy, often deceitful game. It almost always means choosing one bad option over a worse option (no, I’m not saying ‘lesser of two evils,’ because the word ‘evil’ assumes nefarious intentions, and I believe that is usually not the case).
In some ways a benevolent dictatorship is the best form of government. A dictator doesn’t have to worry about reelection. (S)he doesn’t have to worry about the election of predecessors or of the election of others within the government. (S)he doesn’t have to worry about obstructionist Congresses or about dysfunctional Supreme Courts. But, our founding fathers, wise as they were, realized that few dictators are benevolent and even fewer stay benevolent, so they gave us an elected government. They also gave us checks and balances. As much as we like to believe that the President has superior power, he does not.
With an elected government comes elections. With elections comes the necessity to please the masses, and unfortunately, most of the masses, on both sides of the aisle, are, let’s just say, low-information. I’ll be lucky if most people read beyond this headline before forming an opinion.
The NDAA is not just a bill that theoretically grants authority. It is, first and foremost, the military budget. Out of the NDAA comes VA benefits, soldier pay and needed armor for the troops. So, let’s imagine for a moment that Obama vetoed the NDAA. Progressives would be thrilled, for a few days. Then, Congress would most likely override his veto. The bill would become law, even without the support of the White House. Then, campaign season would kick in. There would be commercials showing hypothetical soldiers losing their homes to foreclosures, but not because of the foreclosure crisis, because the President didn’t want them to pay their mortgage or even eat. He didn’t want to pay their salaries. There would be commercials of hypothetical soldiers with traumatic brain injuries, or worse, not because of the horrors of war, not because the Bush administration didn’t provide them with necessary equipment, but because President Obama didn’t want them to have the equipment…all so he could make a political statement to please his progressive base…us. Pretty freakin’ ugly, huh?
Why do we always get the short end of the stick, you ask? Why does he listen to his corporate masters over us? It’s because our electoral system sucks. In order for anyone to achieve national political office in this country, they need millions and millions of dollars. Imagine this. Mitt Romney has half a billion dollars as his net worth. If he bankrupted himself, he still would likely lose the Presidency for being outspent. It is estimated that the winner of the Presidency in 2012 will need to spend $1 billion or more. I don’t know about you, but I’m a victim of this economy. I’m in no position to significantly help a candidate raise $1 billion, no matter how great they are.
Citizen’s United was, in my opinion, the worst thing to come out of Washington, perhaps since Dred Scott. With Citizen’s United, the Supreme Court gift wrapped our democracy in the finest gold leaf and gleefully handed our government over to multinational corporations…corporations with no real allegiance to our country. Without equal time requirements in the media, third-party candidates would fade into obscurity for all but the best informed voters. A poorly financed second party candidate would lose the media war, and the hearts and minds of low-information voters.
One important distinction to be made between the NDAA and Citizen’s United, is that there will be a brand new NDAA in 2013 and again in 2014. A new Congress could give us a significantly different bill for 2014 (we’ll still have the same Congress for 2013′s bill). Even the current Congress can do something about 2012′s version. Dianne Feinstein has proposed a bill guaranteeing every Citizen the right to due process. You thought our Constitution already did that? It does, and a non-activist Supreme Court would surely agree.
How do we fix our system? How do we ensure that 2014′s NDAA gives us more civil liberties, not fewer? How do we get a President and a Congress who will listen to progressive causes? It’s time to get the fu&%ing corporations out of our democracy! The first step is to change election law and legislatively overturn Citizens United. As progressives, we are passionate about a lot of issues. We are passionate about the underdog. We are passionate about civil rights. We are passionate about fairness. We are passionate about the environment. But, for this election, we need to have laser focus on a single issue, Citizen’s United. It’s so much easier to have real power with lesser offices. Support candidates who are committed to amending the Constitution to allow for fairer elections. Somemembers of Congress are already trying to do something about it. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a Senate that allowed Sanders’ amendment to be debated? Wouldn’t it be nice if John Boehner didn’t lead the House?
Actually, getting corporations out of our democracy might not even involve Congress. There’s a pretty damn good chance that within the next two to three years, the SCOTUS will rehear Citizen’s United. The City of Los Angeles has voted to overturn it. It will likely next be heard by the California Supreme Court, who will probably side with Los Angeles. Then, it will eventually make its way, once again, to the US Supreme Court. We must get a more balanced Supreme Court. Use that laser focus when you enter the voting booth next November. Go to the voting booth next November. Yes, there’s a lot to be pissed off at Obama about…a whole lot, although frankly, he’s accomplished a hell of a lot more than we give him credit for. But he has a good track record in Supreme Court nominations, and in this political climate, that is a President’s true power. You can absolutely guarantee that a Romney or Gingrich Supreme Court nominee will make things a thousand times worse, if that’s possible. The only way to get back our democracy is with Obama’s help…like it or not.
© 2011, agentleman.
Been There, Thought That By Eugene Robinson
Can we please bury the notion that Newt Gingrich is some kind of deep thinker? His intellect may be as broad as the sea, but it’s about as deep as a birdbath.
I’m not saying the Republican presidential front-runner is unacquainted with ideas. Quite the contrary: Ideas rain through his brain like confetti, escaping at random as definitive pronouncements about this or that. But they are other people’s ideas, and Gingrich doesn’t bother to curate them into anything resembling a consistent philosophy. Given enough time, I’m convinced, he will take every position on every issue.
The week’s most vivid example of Gingrich’s intellectual promiscuity sent principled conservatives into apoplexy. Mitt Romney, his chief opponent for the GOP nomination, had called on Gingrich to return the $1.6 million in consulting fees he received from housing giant Freddie Mac. Gingrich replied that he would “be glad to listen” if Romney would first “give back all the money he’s earned from bankrupting companies and laying off employees” during his time as head of the investment firm Bain Capital.
If this were a column about Gingrich’s hypocrisy, the point would be that he has been scorchingly critical of Freddie Mac while at the same time accepting tons of the firm’s money. But this is about his shallowness—and the fact that in blasting Romney he adopted the ideas and rhetoric of Occupy Wall Street.
Republicans are supposed to believe that “bankrupting companies and laying off employees” is something to celebrate, not bemoan, because this is seen as the way capitalism works. Even in the heat of a campaign, no one who has thought deeply about economics and adopted the conservative viewpoint—which Gingrich wants us to believe he has done—could possibly commit such heresy.
Gingrich doesn’t just borrow ideas from the protesters he once advised to “get a job, right after you take a bath.” He’s as indiscriminate as a vacuum cleaner, except for a bias toward the highfalutin and trendy.
Take his solution for making the federal government so efficient that we could save $500 billion a year: a management system called Lean Six Sigma. There’s no way Gingrich could resist such a shiny bauble of jargon. Why, the name even includes a letter of the Greek alphabet—the sort of erudite touch that a distinguished professor of history, such as Gingrich, could not fail to appreciate.
I won’t argue with the corporate executives who say that Lean Six Sigma works wonders for their firms. But is a technique developed by Motorola to reduce the number of defects in its electronic gear really applicable to government? There’s no reason to think it would be, unless you somehow restructured government to introduce competition and a genuine, not simulated, profit motive. I guess Professor Gingrich will get back to us on that; at the moment, he’s too busy playing with his new piece of management-speak.
Another example is Gingrich’s bizarre claim last year that “Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior” was the key to understanding President Obama. Aside from being one of the stranger, least comprehensible utterances by a prominent American politician in recent memory—and that’s saying something—it was also completely unoriginal. Gingrich was citing and endorsing a hallucinatory piece in Forbes by Dinesh D’Souza. It was merely the idea du jour.
Gingrich finds it hard to watch an intellectual fad pass by without becoming infatuated. Do you remember Second Life, the digital realm? In 2007, he told us it was “an example of how we can rethink learning” and potentially “one of the great breakthroughs of the next 10 years.” I know Second Life still exists, but have you heard a lot about it recently? Has it changed your world?
Gingrich didn’t originate the idea of solving the health insurance problem through an individual mandate, but he supported it—before bitterly opposing it. Nor was he saying anything new last week when he made the offensive claim that Palestinians are an “invented people.” His xenophobic views about the alleged threat to the United States from Islam and Shariah law are in conflict with earlier statements praising immigration and the melting pot as great American strengths. But for Gingrich, the word “contradiction” has no meaning. His discourse knows no past and no future, just the glib opportunism of now.
Gingrich’s debating technique is dogmatic insistence, rather than persuasion. I guess he realizes that to convince someone of an idea, first he would have to understand it.
Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)washpost.com.
© 2011, agentleman.
By Matt Hinton
In the testimony, Paterno said he “knew inappropriate action was taken by Jerry Sandusky with a youngster” after a meeting with then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary, who allegedly saw Sandusky sexually abusing a boy in a locker room shower the previous night, but did not inform police and waited at least a day to inform his boss, athletic director Tim Curley, because he “didn’t want to interfere with their weekends.”
Sandusky, who played and coached under Paterno for more than 30 years prior to his retirement in 1999, remained a regular on Penn State’s campus until his arrest on a multitude of sexual abuse charges last month.
Paterno’s testimony was read as part of a preliminary hearing for Curley and another Penn State administrator, Gary Schultz, who are both charged with perjury and failure to report for their alleged inaction regarding Sandusky after meeting with McQueary in 2002. (Paterno wasn’t present at the hearing, which came less than a week after the soon-to-be 85-year-old was reportedly hospitalized with a fractured pelvis after falling in his home. He’s also been undergoing treatment for lung cancer.) A judge ruled at the end of the proceedings that the state has enough evidence to send the case against Curley and Shultz to trial.
McQueary — a State College native and former starting quarterback who remained on Paterno’s staff until Paterno was fired as a result of the scandal last month — took the stand Friday morning, testifying that he personally saw Sandusky with his arms wrapped around a boy’s waist in a shower, and believed (although he was not 100 percent certain) that the boy was being sodomized. He immediately called his father, and they decided he should go to Paterno the next day. In that meeting and the subsequent meeting with Curley and Schultz, McQueary said he was clear that he was describing an “extremely sexual” act (emphasis added):
He said he did not give Paterno explicit details of what he believed he’d seen, saying he wouldn’t have used terms like sodomy or anal intercourse out of respect for the longtime coach.
He said Paterno told him he’d “done the right thing” by reporting what he saw. The head coach appeared shocked and saddened and slumped back in his chair, McQueary said. Paterno told McQueary he would talk to others about what he’d reported.
Nine or 10 days later, McQueary said he met with Curley and Shultz and told them he’d seen Sandusky and a boy, both naked, in the shower after hearing skin on skin slapping sounds.
“I told them that I saw Jerry in the showers with a young boy and that what I had seen was extremely sexual and over the lines and it was wrong,” McQueary said. “I would have described that it was extremely sexual and I thought that some kind of intercourse was going on.”
That testimony is substantially the same as the one McQueary reportedly gave to the grand jury earlier this year. Friday, McQueary said he thought Curley and Schultz took his report seriously, and that he considered Schultz law enforcement because his position as vice president included oversight of campus police. “I thought I was talking to the head of the police, to be frank with you,” McQueary said. “In my mind it was like speaking to a (district attorney). It was someone who police reported to and would know what to do with it.”
What they did with it, according to the Pennsylvania attorney general, is essentially nothing: In its summary of the initial charges against Sandusky on Nov. 5, the AG’s office wrote that “there is no indication that anyone from the university ever attempted to learn the identity of the child who was sexually assaulted on their campus or made any follow-up effort to obtain more information,” and “there was no effective change in Sandusky’s status with the school and no limits on his access to the campus.”
In his testimony Friday afternoon, Curley disputed that conclusion, arguing that McQueary “did not indicate there was something of a sexual nature” between Sandusky and the boy during their meeting, and that he understood the incident as “horsing around.” At the time, he responded by telling Sandusky he was banned from coming into the building with children from his charity, The Second Mile, but otherwise did not restrict access. University president Graham Spanier signed off on the ban, according to the attorney general, “without any further inquiry.”
Curley didn’t report the incident to the police, he testified Friday, because “I didn’t think it was a crime at the time.” In Curley’s defense, attorney Caroline Roberto argued that McQueary failed to convey the seriousness of what he’d seen to Paterno, that the allegations subsequently came across as “not that serious” to Curley, and that it seemed to amount to a case of “he said, she said.”
Schultz did not testify Friday, but in a grand jury testimony read at the hearing, he said he was under the impression (from his meeting with McQueary) that Sandusky and the boy were wrestling and Sandusky grabbed the boy’s genitals in a “horsing around” type of way. This was consistent with Sandusky’s general demeanor, Schultz said, because “he would grab you on the arm, hit you on the back, grab you and put you in a headlock.”
Sandusky had been implicated as a possible sex offender as early as 1998, when university police were involved in an investigation following “allegations of sexually inappropriate behavior involving Sandusky and young boys in the football showers.” At least two detectives in that case reportedly heard Sandusky admit to showering with a boy on two different occasions, once to the boy’s mother and once in an interview with the state’s child welfare agency, but the case was closed after the county district attorney (now deceased) declined to prosecute. Schultz told the grand jury he was aware of the investigation that Penn State police had produced a 95-page report.
Sandusky retired from Paterno’s staff a year later at the age of 55, but maintained an office in the Lasch Football Building and had “unlimited access to all football facilities,” including the locker room. He also kept a parking pass, a university Internet account and a listing in the faculty directory.
In 2008, according to USA Today, Sandusky ended his involvement with the charitable program, The Second Mile, amid accusations by another adolescent male. As recently as 2009, he was still running an overnight football camp for children as young as 9 on Penn State’s campus. He was still working out on campus as recently as October — after university officials had been called to testify in the investigation that ultimately led to Sandusky’s arrest. Sandusky told the New York Times earlier this month that he still has his keys.
At that point, Sandusky faced more than 25 felony counts of deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault, unlawful contact with a minor, endangering the welfare of a child and indecent assault against at least eight victims over more than a decade. He was subsequently re-arrested last week on 12 additional counts involving two additional victims.
Paterno, Curley, Schultz and Spanier have all “resigned” or been fired from their jobs in the wake of the charges. McQueary has been put on administrative leave and reportedly told players on a conference call last month, “I wanted to let you guys know I’m not your coach anymore. I’m done.” Legally, prosecutors have determined that McQueary, Paterno and Spanier fulfilled their obligations under state law and are not expected to face charges. The Penn State Board of Trustees has appointed a special committee to investigate the university’s response, as has the U.S. Department of Education and the NCAA.
© 2011, agentleman.