This first appeared in Tom Dispatch.
Sometimes a single story has a way of standing in for everything you need to know. In the case of the up-arming, up-armoring and militarization of police forces across the country, there is such a story. Not the police, mind you, but the campus cops at Ohio State University now possess an MRAP; that is, a $500,000, 18-ton, mine-resistant, ambush-protected armored vehicle of a sort used in the war in Afghanistan and, as Hunter Stuart of the Huffington Post reported, built to withstand “ballistic arms fire, mine fields, IEDs and nuclear, biological and chemical environments.” Sounds like just the thing for bouts of binge drinking and post-football-game shenanigans.
That MRAP came, like so much other equipment police departments are stocking up on — from tactical military vests, assault rifles and grenade launchers to actual tanks and helicopters – as a freebie via a Pentagon-organized surplus military equipment program. As it happens, police departments across the country are getting MRAPs like OSU’s, including the Dakota County Sheriff’s Office in Minnesota. It’s received one of 18 such decommissioned military vehicles already being distributed around that state. So has Warren County which, like a number of counties in New York state, some quite rural, is now deploying Afghan War-grade vehicles. (Nationwide, rural counties have received a disproportionate percentage of the billions of dollars’ worth of surplus military equipment that has gone to the police in these years.)
When questioned on the utility of its new MRAP, Warren County Sheriff Bud York suggested, according to the Post-Star, the local newspaper, that “in an era of terrorist attacks on US soil and mass killings in schools, police agencies need to be ready for whatever comes their way… The vehicle will also serve as a deterrent to drug dealers or others who might be contemplating a show of force.” So, breathe a sigh of relief, Warren County is ready for the next Al Qaeda-style show of force and, for those fretting about how to deal with such things, there are now 165 18-ton “deterrents” in the hands of local law enforcement around the country, with hundreds of requests still pending.
You can imagine just how useful an MRAP is likely to be if the next Adam Lanza busts into a school in Warren County, assault rifle in hand, or takes over a building at Ohio State University. But keep in mind that we all love bargains and that Warren County’s vehicle cost the department less than $10. (Yes, you read that right!) A cornucopia of such Pentagon “bargains” has, in the post-9/11 years, played its part in transforming the way the police imagine their jobs and in militarizing the very idea of policing in this country.
Just thinking about that MRAP at OSU makes me feel like I grew up in Neolithic America. After all, when I went to college in the early 1960s, campus cops were mooks in suits. Gun-less, they were there to enforce such crucial matters as “parietal hours.” (If you’re too young to know what they were, look it up.) At their worst, they faced what in those still civilianized (and sexist) days were called “panty raids,” but today would undoubtedly be seen as potential manifestations of a terrorist mentality. Now, if there is a sit-in or sit-down on campus, as infamously at the University of California, Davis, during the Occupy movement, expect that the demonstrators will be treated like enemies of the state and pepper-sprayed or perhaps immobilized with a stun gun. And if there’s a bona fide student riot in town, the cops will now roll out an armored vehicle (as they did recently in Seattle).
By the way, don’t think it’s just the weaponry that’s militarizing the police. It’s a mentality as well that, like those weapons, is migrating home from our distant wars. It’s a sense that the US, too, is a “battlefield” and that, for instance, those highly militarized SWAT teams spreading to just about any community you want to mention are made up of “operators” (a “term of art” from the special operations community) ready to deal with threats to American life.
Embedding itself chillingly in our civilian world, that battlefield is proving mobile indeed. As Chase Madar wrote for TomDispatch the last time around, it leads now to the repeated handcuffing of six- and seven-year-olds in our schools as mini-criminals for offenses that once would have been dealt with by a teacher or principal, not a cop, and at school, not in jail or court. Today, Madar returns to explain just how this particular nightmare is spreading into every crevice of American life. Tom
The Over-Policing of America
Police Overkill Has Entered the DNA of Social Policy
By Chase Madar
If all you’ve got is a hammer, then everything starts to look like a nail. And if police and prosecutors are your only tool, sooner or later everything and everyone will be treated as criminal. This is increasingly the American way of life, a path that involves “solving” social problems (and even some non-problems) by throwing cops at them, with generally disastrous results. Wall-to-wall criminal law encroaches ever more on everyday life as police power is applied in ways that would have been unthinkable just a generation ago.
By now, the militarization of the police has advanced to the point where “the war on crime” and “the war on drugs” are no longer metaphors but bland understatements. There is the proliferation of heavily-armed SWAT teams, even in small towns; the use of shock-and-awe tactics to bust small-time bookies; the no-knock raids to recover trace amounts of drugs that often result in the killing of family dogs, if not family members; and in communities where drug treatment programs once were key, the waging of a drug version of counterinsurgency war. (All of this is ably reported on journalist Radley Balko’s blog and in his book, The Rise of the Warrior Cop.) But American over-policing involves far more than the widely reported up-armoring of your local precinct. It’s also the way police power has entered the DNA of social policy, turning just about every sphere of American life into a police matter.
The School-to-Prison Pipeline
It starts in our schools, where discipline is increasingly outsourced to police personnel. What not long ago would have been seen as normal childhood misbehavior – doodling on a desk, farting in class, a kindergartener’s tantrum – can leave a kid in handcuffs, removed from school or even booked at the local precinct. Such “criminals” can be as young as seven-year-old Wilson Reyes, a New Yorker who was handcuffed and interrogated under suspicion of stealing five dollars from a classmate. (Turned out he didn’t do it.)
Though it’s a national phenomenon, Mississippi currently leads the way in turning school behavior into a police issue. The Hospitality State has imposed felony charges on schoolchildren for “crimes” like throwing peanuts on a bus. Wearing the wrong color belt to school got one child handcuffed to a railing for several hours. All of this goes under the rubric of “zero-tolerance” discipline, which turns out to be just another form of violence legally imported into schools.
Despite a long-term drop in youth crime, the carceral style of education remains in style. Metal detectors — a horrible way for any child to start the day — are installed in ever more schools, even those with sterling disciplinary records, despite the demonstrable fact that such scanners provide no guarantee against shootings and stabbings.
Every school shooting, whether in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, or Littleton, Colorado, only leads to more police in schools and more arms as well. It’s the one thing the National Rifle Association and Democratic senators can agree on. There are plenty of successful ways to run an orderly school without criminalizing the classroom, but politicians and much of the media don’t seem to want to know about them. The “school-to-prison pipeline,” a jargon term coined by activists, is entering the vernacular.
Go to Jail, Do Not Pass Go
Even as simple a matter as getting yourself from point A to point B can quickly become a law enforcement matter as travel and public space are ever more aggressively policed. Waiting for a bus? Such loitering just got three Rochester youths arrested. Driving without a seat belt can easily escalate into an arrest, even if the driver is a state judge. (Notably, all four of these men were black.) If the police think you might be carrying drugs, warrantless body cavity searches at the nearest hospital may be in the offing — you will be sent the bill later.
Air travel entails increasingly intimate pat-downs and arbitrary rules that many experts see as nothing more than “security theater.” As for staying at home, it carries its own risks as Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates found out when a Cambridge police officer mistook him for a burglar and hauled him away — a case that is hardly unique.
Overcriminalization at Work
Office and retail work might seem like an unpromising growth area for police and prosecutors, but criminal law has found its way into the white-collar workplace, too. Just ask Georgia Thompson, a Wisconsin state employee targeted by a federal prosecutor for the “crime” of incorrectly processing a travel agency’s bid for state business. She spent four months in a federal prison before being sprung by a federal court. Or Judy Wilkinson, hauled away in handcuffs by an undercover cop for serving mimosas without a license to the customers in her bridal shop. Or George Norris, sentenced to 17 months in prison for selling orchids without the proper paperwork to an undercover federal agent.
Increasingly, basic economic transactions are being policed under the purview of criminal law. In Arkansas, for instance, Human Rights Watch reports that a new law funnels delinquent (or allegedly delinquent) rental tenants directly to the criminal courts, where failure to pay up can result in quick arrest and incarceration, even though debtor’s prison as an institution was supposed to have ended in the 19th century.
And the mood is spreading. Take the asset bubble collapse of 2008 and the rising cries of progressives for the criminal prosecution of Wall Street perpetrators, as if a fundamentally sound financial system had been abused by a small number of criminals who were running free after the debacle. Instead of pushing a debate about how to restructure our predatory financial system, liberals in their focus on individual prosecution are aping the punitive zeal of the authoritarians. A few high-profile prosecutions for insider trading (which had nothing to do with the last crash) have, of course, not changed Wall Street one bit.
The past decade has also seen immigration policy ingested by criminal law. According to another Human Rights Watch report — their US division is increasingly busy — federal criminal prosecutions of immigrants for illegal entry have surged from 3,000 in 2002 to 48,000 last year. This novel application of police and prosecutors has broken up families and fueled the expansion of for-profit detention centers, even as it has failed to show any stronger deterrent effect on immigration than the civil law system that preceded it. Thanks to Arizona’s SB 1070 bill, police in that state are now licensed to stop and check the papers of anyone suspected of being undocumented — that is, who looks Latino.
Meanwhile, significant parts of the US-Mexico border are now militarized (as increasingly is the Canadian border), including what seem to resemble free-fire zones. And if anyone were to leave bottled water for migrants illegally crossing the desert and in danger of death from dehydration, that good Samaritan should expect to face criminal charges, too. Intensified policing with aggressive targets for arrests and deportations are guaranteed to be a part of any future bipartisan deal on immigration reform.
As for the Internet, for a time it was terra nova and so relatively free of a steroidal law enforcement presence. Not anymore. The late Aaron Swartz, a young Internet genius and activist affiliated with Harvard University, was caught downloading masses of scholarly articles (all publicly subsidized) from an open network on the MIT campus. Swartz was federally prosecuted under the capacious Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for violating a “terms and services agreement” — a transgression that anyone who has ever disabled a cookie on his or her laptop has also, technically, committed. Swartz committed suicide earlier this year while facing a possible 50-year sentence and up to a million dollars in fines.
Since the summer, thanks to whistleblowing contractor Edward Snowden, we have learned a great deal about the way the NSA stops and frisks our (and apparently everyone else’s) digital communications, both email and telephonic. The security benefits of such indiscriminate policing are far from clear, despite the government’s emphatic but inconsistent assurances otherwise. What comes into sharper focus with every volley of new revelations is the emerging digital infrastructure of what can only be called a police state.
Sex is another zone of police overkill in our post-Puritan land. Getting put on a sex offender registry is alarmingly easy — as has been done to children as young as 11 for “playing doctor” with a relative, again according to Human Rights Watch. But getting taken off the registry later is extraordinarily difficult. Across the nation, sex offender registries have expanded massively, especially in California, where one in every 380 adults is now a registered sex offender, creating a new pariah class with severe obstacles to employment, housing or any kind of community life. The proper penalty for, say, an 18-year-old who has sex with a 14-year-old can be debated, but should that 18-year-old’s life really be ruined forever?
Equality Before the Cops?
It will surprise no one that Americans are not all treated equally by the police. Law enforcement picks on kids more than adults, the queer more than straight, Muslims more than Methodists – Muslims a lot more than Methodists — antiwar activists more than the apolitical. Above all, our punitive state targets the poor more than the wealthy and blacks and Latinos more than white people.
A case in point: after the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School, a police presence, including surveillance cameras and metal detectors, was ratcheted up at schools around the country, particularly in urban areas with largely working-class black and Latino student bodies. It was all to “protect” the kids, of course. At Columbine itself, however, no metal detector was installed and no heavy police presence intruded. The reason was simple. At that school in the Colorado suburb of Littleton, the mostly well-heeled white families did not want their kids treated like potential felons and they had the status and political power to get their way. But communities without such clout are less able to push back against the encroachments of police power.
Even Our Prisons Are Over-Policed
The over-criminalization of American life empties out into our vast, overcrowded prison system, which is itself over-policed. The ultimate form of punitive control (and torture) is long-term solitary confinement, in which 80,000 to 100,000 prisoners are encased at any given moment. Is this really necessary? Solitary is no longer reserved for the worst or the worst or most dangerous prisoners but can be inflicted on ones who wear Rastafari dreadlocks, have a copy of Sun Tzu’s Art of War in their cell or are in any way suspected, no matter how tenuous the grounds, of gang affiliations.
Not every developed nation does things this way. Some 30 years ago, Great Britain shifted from isolating prisoners to, whenever possible, giving them greater responsibility and autonomy — with less violent results. But don’t even bring the subject up here. It will fall on deaf ears.
Extreme policing is exacerbated by extreme sentencing. For instance, more than 3,000 Americans have been sentenced to life terms without chance of parole for nonviolent offenses. These are mostly but not exclusively drug offenses, including life for a pound of cocaine that a boyfriend stashed in the attic; selling LSD at a Grateful Dead concert; and shoplifting three belts from a department store.
Our incarceration rate is the highest in the world — triple that of the now-defunct East Germany. The incarceration rate for African-American men is about five times higher than that of the Soviet Union at the peak of the gulag.
The Destruction of Families
Prison may seem the logical finale for this litany of over-criminalization, but the story doesn’t actually end with those inmates. As prisons warehouse ever more Americans, often hundreds of miles from their local communities, family bonds weaken and disintegrate. In addition, once a parent goes into the criminal justice system, his or her family tends to end up on the radar screens of state agencies. “Being under surveillance by law enforcement makes a family much more vulnerable to Child Protective Services,” says Professor Dorothy Roberts of the University of Pennsylvania Law school. An incarcerated parent, especially an incarcerated mother, means a much stronger likelihood that children will be sent into foster care, where, according to one recent study, they will be twice as likely as war veterans to suffer from PTSD.
In New York State, the Administration for Child Services and the juvenile justice system recently merged, effectively putting thousands of children in a heavily policed, penalty-based environment until they age out. “Being in foster care makes you much more vulnerable to being picked up by the juvenile justice system,” says Roberts. “If you’re in a group home and you get in a fight, that could easily become a police matter.” In every respect, the creeping over-criminalization of everyday life exerts a corrosive effect on American families.
Do We Live in a Police State?
The term “police state” was once brushed off by mainstream intellectuals as the hyperbole of paranoids. Not so much anymore. Even in the tweediest precincts of the legal system, the over-criminalization of American life is remarked upon with greater frequency and intensity. “You’re probably a (federal) criminal” is the accusatory title of a widely read essay co-authored by Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th Circuit of the US Court of Appeals. A Republican appointee, Kozinski surveys the morass of criminal laws that make virtually every American an easy target for law enforcement. Veteran defense lawyer Harvey Silverglate has written an entire book about how an average American professional could easily commit three felonies in a single day without knowing it.
The daily overkill of police power in the US goes a long way toward explaining why more Americans aren’t outraged by the “excesses” of the war on terror, which, as one law professor has argued, are just our everyday domestic penal habits exported to more exotic venues. It is no less true that the growth of domestic police power is, in this positive feedback loop, the partial result of our distant foreign wars seeping back into the homeland (the “imperial boomerang” that Hannah Arendt warned against).
Many who have long railed against our country’s everyday police overkill have reacted to the revelations of NSA surveillance with detectable exasperation: of course we are over-policed! Some have even responded with peevish resentment: Why so much sympathy for this Snowden kid when the daily grind of our justice system destroys so many lives without comment or scandal? After all, in New York, the police department’s “stop and frisk” tactic, which targets African-American and Latino working-class youth for routinized street searches, was until recently uncontroversial among the political and opinion-making class. If “the gloves came off” after September 11, 2001, many Americans were surprised to learn they had ever been on to begin with.
A hammer is necessary to any toolkit. But you don’t use a hammer to turn a screw, chop a tomato or brush your teeth. And yet the hammer remains our instrument of choice, both in the conduct of our foreign policy and in our domestic order. The result is not peace, justice or prosperity but rather a state that harasses and imprisons its own people while shouting ever less intelligibly about freedom.
This article originally appeared at Jacobin.
Even though it had been expected, I was jolted when I got the phone call with the news that after many long decades the defiant fire of resistance had gone out and Nelson Mandela had died. He was the only truly great public figure I’d ever covered, an authentic revolutionary who refused to cower in the face of the most malignant of evils.
I knew that the tributes would be pouring in immediately from around the world, and I also knew that most of them would try to do to Mandela what has been done to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: turn him into a lovable, platitudinous cardboard character whose commitment to peace and willingness to embrace enemies could make everybody feel good. This practice is a deliberate misreading of history guaranteed to miss the point of the man.
The primary significance of Mandela and King was not their willingness to lock arms or hold hands with their enemies. It was their unshakable resolve to do whatever was necessary to bring those enemies to their knees. Their goal was nothing short of freeing their people from the murderous yoke of racial oppression. They were not the sweet, empty, inoffensive personalities of ad agencies or greeting cards or public service messages. Mandela and King were firebrands, liberators, truth-tellers – above all they were warriors. That they weren’t haters doesn’t for a moment minimize the fierceness of their militancy. MORE
This post first appeared in The Nation.
In 2004, Ohio had the longest lines in the country on Election Day, with some voters — particularly in large urban areas — waiting as long as seven hours to vote. A DNC survey estimated that 174,000 Ohioans — 3 percent of the state’s electorate – left without voting. George W. Bush won the state by just 118,000 votes.
In response to the long lines, Ohio adopted 35 days of early voting in 2008, including on nights and weekends, to make voting more convenient. But following the large Democratic turnout in 2008, Ohio Republicans drastically curtailed early voting in 2012 from 35 to 11 days, with no voting on the Sunday before the election, when African-American churches historically rally their congregants to go to the polls. Voting rights activists subsequently gathered enough signatures to block the new voting restrictions and force a referendum on Election Day. In reaction, Ohio Republicans repealed their own bill in the state legislature, but kept a ban on early voting three days before Election Day (when 98,000 Ohioans voted in 2008), adding an exception for active duty members of the military, who tend to lean Republican.
The cost of tuition in this country has increased at an almost unbelievable pace over the past generation – twice as fast than as the costs of health care. According to an analysis by Bloomberg News, over the past 35 years, the cost of a college education in the US has increased 12-fold.
But all of those additional dollars pouring in aren’t improving students’ instruction. Spending on teaching has remained relatively flat, according to The Delta Cost Project.
The leading driver of higher tuition costs are cuts to state budgets for higher education. Long before revenues crashed in the Great Recession, politicians were funding tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy by slashing education budgets. And American students and their families have had to make up the difference out-of-pocket.
The trend has been especially pronounced since the crash. Between 2007 and 2012, 48 states reduced education funding, 15 of them by 30 percent or more, according to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. As CNN reported last year, “states have cut the amount of money they are giving to colleges by a total of $15.2 billion since 2007, or 17.4%.”And average costs at public schools rose by more than 12 percent during that same period. MORE
This post first appeared in OtherWords.
The fast food industry is notorious for handing out lean paychecks to their burger flippers and fat ones to their CEOs. What’s less well-known is that taxpayers are actually subsidizing fast food incomes at both the bottom — and top — of the industry.
Take, for example, Yum Brands, which operates the Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut chains. Wages for the corporation’s nearly 380,000 US workers are so low that many of them have to turn to taxpayer-funded anti-poverty programs just to get by. The National Employment Law Project estimates that Yum Brands’ workers draw nearly $650 million in Medicaid and other public assistance annually.
Meanwhile, at the top end of the company’s pay ladder, CEO David Novak pocketed $94 million over the years 2011 and 2012 in stock options gains, bonuses and other so-called “performance pay.” That was a nice windfall for him, but a big burden for the rest of us taxpayers. MORE
This post first appeared in Mother Jones.
Unless it’s immediately proceeded by the word “no,” the phrase “good news” rarely appears these days in stories about climate change. But in a year in which we found out that our oceans may rise this century by as much as three feet and that atmospheric carbon dioxide is higher than it has been in nearly a million years, there were still some bright spots. And in preparation for Thanksgiving, we’ve compiled a list of four environmental developments for which you can give thanks. You can see even more on Twitter by searching the hashtag #ClimateThanks.
1. The US and the World Bank will avoid financing coal-fired power plants abroad.
Burning coal is among the dirtiest ways to produce energy and quickest ways to accelerate climate change. So this July, when the World Bank announced that it would limit funding for new coal-burning plants to “rare circumstances” where countries have “no feasible alternatives,” green advocates were thrilled. At the same time, the global development giant also reversed its opposition to hydroelectric power, which many environmental activists had pushed as an alternative to cheap energy from coal. Last month, based on an announcement President Obama made in June, the United States Treasury Department also ceased financing any new coal projects abroad except in cases where coal was the only viable option for bringing power to poor regions. The US and World Bank decisions only affect coal projects that use public financing; around the world, many are built with private money. But a Treasury official told The New York Times that the Obama administration felt “that if public financing points the way, it will then facilitate private investment.”
Thanksgiving, a time to argue over whose sweet potato recipe is the best and … politics! Here, our Facebook audience offers some words of wisdom for dealing with those inevitable political debates that can make us envy the fate of that turkey. Read some of our favorites from the 1,300 plus we received so far.“Treat each others’ ideas with respect. My late father-in-law and I disagreed on a number of issues but we argued the point and asked questions. I left each of many dinner time conversations with him with a new admiration and love for him. As my mother used to say, you can disagree without being disagreeable.” — Kaye Thompson Peters
“It suddenly becomes clear, sometimes right in the middle of dinner, that my dog desperately needs to go out for a walk.” — Karen Cody Howser
“I cut them off…period. I cannot accept anyone in my life who espouses hate and bigotry. Ain’t nobody got time for that!” — Harper Greer MORE
This post first appeared on AlterNet.
Nobody in Washington talks much about the poor in America these days, even though they are more and more with us in the economic aftermath of the Great Recession. Perhaps that is why The Washington Post welcomed Paul Ryan’s recent declaration that he wants to fight poverty “with kinder, gentler policies to encourage work and upward mobility.”
The Wisconsin Republican confided to a Post reporter that he has been “quietly visiting inner-city neighborhoods” — too quietly to gain any favorable publicity, until now — and consulting with all the usual suspects in the capital’s right-wing think tanks. He wants everyone to understand that he is seeking to figure out the problems faced by poor folks and how he can help.
As a 2016 presidential hopeful, Ryan evidently intends to rebrand himself as a “compassionate conservative” — the same propaganda meme deployed by former President George W. Bush and Karl Rove during the prelude to the 2000 campaign for president — at a moment when the Republican Party badly needs appealing new images and ideas. The Bush gang dropped that gimmick well before they entered the White House, and it was never glimpsed again. But whenever a Republican spouts kinder, gentler, compassionate-conservative babble, the vaunted cynicism of the capital press corps gets washed away in a warm bath of credulity.
Deloitte’s heavy presence and early recruiting at the Maxwell School is ironic. After all, my school began not as a recruitment center for for-profit corporations like Deloitte but as a “school of American citizenship,” as its founder George Holmes Maxwell described it, with a primary goal of training Americans to work in government.
Deloitte does have government links. It rakes in billions of dollars from government contracts across the world. Its 2012 investor report shows $3.2 billion from work directly with the public sector. MORE
This post was first published at ProPublica.
James Garland was president of Miami University — a public university in Ohio — for a decade, retiring in 2006 after spearheading a number of changes aimed at raising the school’s profile and pulling in more out-of-state students, who pay higher tuition and are typically wealthier.
Garland oversaw extensive construction plans, facility upgrades, and a major change in the tuition model that raised in-state tuition to match the higher prices paid by out-of-state students. (That plan eventually fell by the wayside, but the same concept is still floated at some public universities — including, most recently, by a planning group at the University of Virginia.)
Recently, Miami University was spotlighted in a Washington Monthly article documenting its heavy use of merit aid to attract out-of-state students. We’ve also reported on how public schools are using merit aid to boost their bottom lines.
We asked Garland about his time as president, his ambivalence about some of the decisions made during his tenure, and where he sees public higher education headed. MORE
The media have been buzzing with stories — many of them wildly exaggerated — of people facing higher premiums as a result of Obamacare. But there’s a story about rates you may not have heard: According to Jonathan Gruber, a leading health care wonk at MIT, all private insurance premiums in the 25 red states that are refusing to expand their Medicaid programs will be 15 percent higher as a direct result of that decision.
But those numbers don’t capture the human cost. The reality is that conservatives are complaining about insurance policies being cancelled and the ACA’s error-plagued exchanges at the same time as they actively work to keep millions of poor Americans from gaining coverage under the law’s Medicaid expansion.
The victims of Obamacare’s implementation problems being hit the hardest, by far, are those whose incomes fall between the federal poverty line and the eligibility cutoffs in those 25 states rejecting Medicaid expansion. Not only will they be left uncovered, they won’t even be eligible for the generous subsidies that people earning slightly more than they do can use to buy insurance. It’s brutally unfair. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that 4.8 million poor adults may fall into that coverage gap — about twice the number of people expected to pay more for their insurance when their substandard policies are cancelled. MORE
This post first appeared on Robert Reich’s blog.
Wal-Mart just reported shrinking sales for a third straight quarter. What’s going on? Explained William S. Simon, the CEO of Wal-Mart, referring to the company’s customers, “their income is going down while food costs are not. Gas and energy prices, while they’re abating, I think they’re still eating up a big piece of the customer’s budget.”
Wal-Mart’s CEO gets it. Most of Walmart’s customers are still in the Great Recession, grappling with stagnant or declining pay. So, naturally, Wal-Mart’s sales are dropping. MORE
This post originally appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review.
The New York Times, covering the hiring of former Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner by private equity giant Warburg Pincus, writes: “Mr. Geithner initially seemed unlikely to join Wall Street.”
Seemed unlikely to whom? Oh, yes, I recall this from January as Geithner announced he’d be leaving the Obama administration:
A regulator of Wall Street but not a creature of it, he will probably be the least likely former Treasury secretary to land there.
That mystifying sentence came from the Times as well, which also let Geithner spin his dismal record on housing. How naive can you get?
That story was part of a dispiriting series of parting kisses from the press to five of the principle figures in the Obama administration’s Wall Street-friendly response to the financial crisis: SEC enforcement chief Robert Khuzami, Justice Department criminal division head Lanny Breuer, SEC chief Mary Schapiro, National Economic Council chair Larry Summers and Geithner.
Here’s where they’ve ended up:
— Khuzami took a $5 million a year job at corporate law firm Kirkland & Ellis after a six-month wait. Kirkland & Ellis represents such Wall Street firms as Morgan Stanley, UBS, American Express and Bank of America, the latter of which got a wrist slap from Khuzami and the SEC for lying to investors — one so light that a federal judge raised a stink over it.
— Breuer, two months after leaving the Department of Justice, went through the revolving door to his old firm Covington & Burling and makes $4 million a year as the firm’s vice chair. Covington represents a who’s who of the Wall Street firms Breuer failed to prosecute. Do me a favor and watch this satirical video from Frontline:
One of the biggest political stories today centers on whether Elizabeth Warren — who has shown absolutely no interest in running for the Democratic nomination in 2016 — will challenge Hillary Clinton, who has made it clear that she has no interest in declaring her intentions anytime soon.
Meanwhile, coming off a win in which 38 percent of New Jersey residents bothered to vote, Chris Christie is being anointed the frontrunner on the GOP side. NBC conducted a poll this week which found that he was leading a pack of… one for the nomination – they didn’t include any other candidates. But 32 percent of Republican voters said they’d back him! And only 31 percent said they’d prefer another candidate. NBC also found that were he to win the nomination, Hillary would beat him soundly.
These stories are the product of political journalists being bored writing about the rocky Obamacare rollout and Republican obstruction in Congress. They’re about writers trawling for clicks. Three years out, they’re not analyses that should be taken seriously.
After all, in November of 2009, the consensus view was that Sarah Palin was the woman to beat for the 2012 Republican nod. According to a Washington Post poll, she led Mike Huckabee by a healthy margin, with Mitt Romney coming in third. A Gallup poll from that same month found that most GOP voters – 65 percent — would “seriously consider” supporting then-Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, edging out Palin, Newt Gingrich, Huckabee and, finally, Mitt Romney, who came in last. MORE
Ever since Veterans Day, I have been re-reading and pondering President Obama’s remarks at the customary official celebration of the occasion in Arlington Cemetery. Something about the familiar words reminded me uncomfortably of remarks by past presidents that have now become virtually standard every year. Obama sounded the opening theme:
“Today we gather once more to honor patriots who have rendered the highest service any American can offer this nation — those who fought for our freedom and stood sentry for our security. In the life of our nation, across every generation, there are those who… put on the uniform and …put their lives on the line. They do this so that the rest of us might live in a country and a world that is safer, freer and more just.”
Then, after invoking the magic place names — Lexington Green, Gettysburg, the beaches of Europe and the islands of the Pacific, with a nod to Korea — he got to recent history. “From the jungles of Vietnam to Desert Storm to the mountains of the Balkans, they have answered America’s call. And since America was attacked on that clear September morning, millions more have assumed that mantle, defining one of the greatest generations of military service this country has ever produced.”It was the old refrain: Veterans of all our wars have been “heroes,” and all the wars have been in defense of our liberty. My first reaction could be summed up in an eight-letter barnyard epithet, but I believe that the subject deserves a more nuanced and developed afterthought. I’ll begin with the part I played in the war of 1939-45. MORE