The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OEDC, has released its latest data on poverty and inequality. It’s a little wonky (we found it via Wonkblog), but if you’re not the type to spend your day clicking through 315 different charts, you can start with one: the Gini coeeficient, a commonly used measure of income inequality. The blue line represents all OEDC countries, the red represents whatever country you’ve chosen below. As you’ll see, the U.S. has one of the highest rates of inequality, topped only by Chile, Mexico and Turkey in this select group of developed market economies. These numbers are echoed in the top 10 percent vs bottom 10 percent section. Oh, and if you want to better understand the Tax & Transfers section, refer to the Wonkblog post. MORE
It’s a distressing milestone that you likely read about: On Friday, the average daily level of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere passed 400 parts per million — about 50 ppm over what scientists said was the “safe upper limit.” The gas, of course, is a byproduct of our fossil fuel economy, and is the key driver of climate change.
The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased dramatically since 1958, when the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii — the gold standard for measuring the gas — first began tracking levels. That year, the daily average was 316 ppm — since then, the level has increased by 26.5 percent.
With all the fanfare around the new movie version of The Great Gatsby, directed by Baz Luhrmann with a screenplay by Luhrmann and Craig Pearce, it’s a great time to go back to the book and be reminded of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s elegant, graceful writing; so fragile and yes, unique, that it may never really be brought successfully to the screen.
A good time, too, to be reminded of how the book’s depiction of conspicuous consumption during the Jazz Age of the 1920s — and the stark contrast between rich and poor — so parallel life in New York today, where, as The New York Times reported last year, “The poverty rate reached its highest point in more than a decade, and the income gap in Manhattan, already wider than almost anywhere else in the country, rivaled disparities in sub-Saharan Africa.”
Daisy Buchanan, the object of Gatsby’s desire, and her husband Tom would feel at home in the 1% world of overindulgence and profligacy. As Fitzgerald famously described them:
“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”
The hype around the new movie also reminded me of an unusual invitation that led to my own brush with the legend of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda. It was in the fall of 1975, an odd, homely and poignant coda to their years of celebrity and luminescence, years that slipped too quickly into the wreckage of alcoholism and mental illness. MORE
We’re proud to collaborate with The Nation in sharing insightful journalism related to income inequality in America. The following is an excerpt from Nation contributor Greg Kaufmann’s “This Week in Poverty” column.
This is a tough moment in the fight against poverty.
Sequester is the latest chapter in a time-honored tradition of kicking the poor when they are down. A do-nothing Congress certainly isn’t going to do something about poverty without pressure from the grassroots. And it seems that the only way most of the mainstream media will pay attention to the more than 1 out of 3 Americans living below twice the poverty line — on less than $36,000 for a family of three — is if their lives make good fodder for tabloid television or play out in a courtroom drama.
That said, there are still plenty of people and groups fighting for real change, and plenty of ways you can get involved or stay engaged. I reached out to a handful of folks who dedicate their lives to fighting poverty in different ways. Here is what they asked people to do: MORE
This piece first appeared at TomDispatch. Read Tom Engelhardt’s introduction.
What do words mean in a post-9/11 world? Apart from the now clichéd Orwellian twists that turn brutal torture into mere enhanced interrogation, the devil is in the details. Robert MacLean is a former air marshal fired for an act of whistleblowing. He has continued to fight over seven long years for what once would have passed as simple justice: getting his job back. His is an all-too-twenty-first-century story of the extraordinary lengths to which the U.S. government is willing to go to thwart whistleblowers.
First, the government retroactively classified a previously unclassified text message to justify firing MacLean. Then it invoked arcane civil service procedures, including an “interlocutory appeal” to thwart him and, in the process, enjoyed the approval of various courts and bureaucratic boards apparently willing to stamp as “legal” anything the government could make up in its own interest.
And yet here’s the miracle at the heart of this tale: MacLean refused to quit, when ordinary mortals would have thrown in the towel. Now, with a recent semi-victory, he may not only have given himself a shot at getting his old job back, but also create a precedent for future federal whistleblowers. In the post-9/11 world, people like Robert MacLean show us how deep the Washington rabbit hole really goes. MORE
About the same time that man’s post showed up on the web, we saw the startling survey from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind polling organization, the one finding that nearly three in ten registered voters agree with the statement: “In the next few years, an armed revolution might be necessary in order to protect our liberties.” Three out of ten! That includes 44 percent of Republicans, 27 percent of independents and 18 percent of Democrats.
That poll also noted that a quarter of Americans think that facts about the Newtown shootings “are being hidden,” and an additional 11 percent “are unsure.” As Sahil Kapur wrote at Talking Points Memo:
“The eye-opening findings serve as a reminder that Americans’ deeply held beliefs about gun rights have a tendency to cross over into outright conspiracy theories about a nefarious government seeking to trample their constitutional rights — paranoia that pro-gun groups like the National Rifle Association have at times helped stoke.”
Paranoia and just plain meanness. On May 8, Christina Wilkie reported in The Huffington Post that Connecticut Carry, a pro-gun lobbying group, had issued a press release detailing the arrest record and financial difficulties of Neil Heslin, father of one of the children murdered at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School. Connecticut Carry accused him of “profiting off of the tragedy.” Their release read, in part, “Mr. Heslin has found the employment he has needed for so long lobbying against the rights of the citizens of Connecticut and the rest of the country,” and the group implied that Heslin had received payment from Mike Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which adamantly denies anything of the sort. Similar smears have been attempted against other Newtown parents.
This hate in our country — egged on by fervid ideologues and profiteering fearmongers — is palpable, stirred by years of irresponsible invective against public officials and agencies. Gun sales are going through the roof. In a sense, so much anger and so much disillusionment are understandable in a country where the gap between rich and poor is so vast that an environment is created in which brooding resentment is easily hatched. Sure, there is corruption in government and business — crony capitalism is the offspring of it — and when the public sees plutocrats who regard politicians as the hired help, and Washington as the feeding trough, it’s natural to fear that we are becoming vassals; subjects rather than citizens.
But a violent uprising, with all the bloodshed and chaos that would follow? Armed revolt is when people are so desperate they kill and are killed. Who would wash the blood from the streets, restore order after the chaos and bury the dead? Have we lost our minds?
There is an alternative to force, blood, and suffering. It’s called democracy. Yes, there is plenty of injustice, greed and sheer wickedness. But don’t mourn the fact — organize. Stop wringing your hands and berating real and imaginary foes. Join up with others, stand up to the exploiters, throw the rascals out. If Congress and the White House are crooked and out of touch, come Election Day, you make sure they lose. And on all the other days, when you can, you work for change and demand a say.
It’s not easy, but slow, hard and demanding – it takes long and patient activism to make democracy work. But with committed people organized and united toward common goals of social justice and accountability, victories are possible. Drop your weapons and celebrate that we live in a country where peaceful change is still possible. Make democracy work.
There are many ways corporations and financial interests can exercise influence in Washington. Some donate money to political campaigns while others hire lobbyists to be their megaphones to legislator ears. But information flows the other way, too. And since the financial crisis, details about the laws and regulations being hashed out behind closed doors is more valuable than ever.
A story from the Washington Post this week looks at the growing popularity of “political intelligence” firms that sell analysis of federal actions, and the likely policy ramifications of those actions, to interested parties. Oftentimes, the clients are investors in a company that will be affected by a policy decision or a proposed regulation. Some firms even coordinate meetings and conference calls with congressional staff members in which they share what they know about relevant legislation.
The Post illustrates this with an example: Capitol Street, a political intelligence firm specializing in health policy, recently set up a private conference call between a member of Sen. Orrin Hatch’s staff (R-Utah) and investors in Humana, a major healthcare company. The staffer told the investors that the odds were improving that Congress would make a decision related to Medicare that would help insurance companies. That same morning, the level of speculative trading on Humana’s stock was nearly 10 times more than it had been on any day in the previous two weeks. Lawmakers and federal regulators have noted that this sort of politically informed investing can look suspicious, and investigators recently issued subpoenas in connection with a different spike in trading after a D.C.-based investment-research firm correctly predicted a change in policy. MORE
If you’re a regular visitor to BillMoyers.com, you’re already familiar with Washington’s revolving door – legislators and their staff members becoming lobbyists, and vice versa: lobbyists landing jobs on Capitol Hill. But you may not be aware of one of the newer and more questionable perks – those lobbyists receiving six-figure bonuses from their corporate bosses when they fly the coop for lower paying government jobs. To learn more, investigative reporter Lee Fang of The Nation spent days combing through congressional staff disclosure forms in the basement of the Cannon House Office Building and lived to tell the tale. We spoke with him about what he found.
“The real power is often derived at the staff level because they are the ones writing the laws and doing the work,” Fang said. “I think these bonuses provide an incentive for them to be more likely to be friendly, or to at least pick up the phone, when they’re contacted by their former associates.”
“A lot of people study conflicts of interest in Congress — why Congress constantly passes bills that are laden with giveaways and bailouts and special favors for big industry,” he said. “I think there’s a little bit too much of a focus on campaign contributions. There are many ways to curry favor in Congress.” MORE
Who employs more low-wage workers than Walmart and McDonald’s combined? You do.A new study from Demos estimates that American taxpayers fund nearly 2 million low-wage jobs that pay workers less than $24,000 a year ($12 an hour or less). These private-sector jobs are generated by federal contracts, grants, loans and other programs (see chart).
Workers making $12-or-less an hour say that they are scraping by. Often on public assistance, they find it difficult to afford basic necessities like rent, food, health care and utilities. Because of sequestration, pressure on government agencies to spend less money may add even more to their ranks. MORE
Many of the reforms contained in Dodd-Frank — passed nearly three years ago, now — have yet to be written as clear-cut regulations through the complicated federal rule-making process. One of these rules would require corporations to disclose the pay gap between workers and CEOs. Although executive compensation disclosure has been an SEC requirement since the early 1990s, median worker pay has not — and not surprisingly, corporate lobbyists have been working hard to make sure that reform doesn’t see the light of day.When (and if) a rule is written, shareholders will have hard data about the dramatic inequalities that exist within corporate America. In the meantime, Bloomberg News posted a chart of the top 250 S&P 500 companies with the highest estimated pay gaps for 2012. Since average worker pay is not usually available — thus the need for the new rule — Bloomberg used an “estimate of industry-specific rank-and-file employee compensation calculated from government data” to come up with the typical worker to chief executive pay ratios. MORE