Who Pays the Bill for Wall Street’s Mess?

Robert L. Borosage
President, Institute for America’s Future

Yesterday, House Republicans rolled out their budget plan in the Washington version of a Hollywood movie opening. There was a star turn for Budget Chair Paul Ryan at a conservative think tank. Gaseous rhetoric — “liberties endangered, time to choose” — fouled the air. There were dueling videos, and furious salvos of partisan messaging. And a backup document — the “Path to Prosperity” — festooned with tables for wonks to wallow in.

Today, with fewer trumpets and less fanfare, the Congressional Progressive Caucus releases its budget plan — A Budget for All.

Each of the two documents is designed to define a message. Their contrasts help clarify the real choices the country faces. Federal deficits exploded after Wall Street’s excesses blew up the economy. The questions now are who gets the bill and when does the payment start? Ryan’s Republican budget and the CPC’s offer starkly different answers that would take the country in starkly different directions.

The Bathtub Fantasy

“My goal is to cut government… to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” Grover Norquist.

Ryan’s Republican budget, like a speedo bathing suit on a corpulent geezer, is revealing, but not flattering. Even by Washington standards, this is a remarkably dishonest document. It claims to be serious, but offers targets that are simply preposterous. It calls for leveling with the American people, but cravenly ducks laying out who will pay for top end tax cuts. It calls itself a “blueprint for American renewal” while systematically trampling the American dream.

Republicans have lined up like lemmings to sign Grover Norquist’s infamous pledge never to raise taxes on anyone at any time. But turns out they even treat the quips of the conservative gadfly as gospel. As the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities pointed out, the Ryan budget, by its own numbers, assiduously pursues Grover’s bathtub fantasy.

The Congressional Budget Office reports that under the Ryan budget, by 2050 most of the federal government would simply cease to exist. Ryan’s budget would shrink all federal expenditures outside of interest payments, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and children’s health to 3.75 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

To translate that arcane measure, CBO notes that “spending for defense alone has not been lower than 3 percent of GDP in any year [since World War II]. ” Ryan and Republicans call for increasing defense spending — so the rest of the government would have to be cut to bathtub size. Ryan argues that the “challenges this nation faces are among the largest in its history,” but the budget target he offers is, well, goofy.

Tribunes of the 1%

With this budget, Republicans choose to be the tribunes of the 1%. They send the bill not to the banks that blew up the economy or the wealthy that enjoyed the party, but to the elderly, the middle class and the poor. Consider:

• Cut Taxes on The Rich. At a time of extreme inequality — with the top 1 percent capturing a staggering 93 percent of all income gains in 2010 — Republicans would dramatically lower taxes on the wealthiest Americans and, by definition, raise them on working families.

[Ryan isn't candid enough to admit to that, of course. He extends the top end Bush tax cuts, cuts top income tax rates to 25 percent, sustains lower rates on wealth (capital gains, dividends, millionaires' estates) while claiming the reforms will raise as much money by eliminating loopholes and tax breaks that he refuses to specify. But the only way to raise enough money to do that is to go after the biggest deductions -- limit the mortgage deduction for middle class homeowners and/or cut the tax benefits for employers provided health care. The first would add to housing woes; the second would lead more employers to stop providing health care. Both reforms that would directly hit working families.]

• Cut Health Care for Millions. With health care costs soaring and employers cutting back on health insurance benefits, the Republican budget would add millions to the rolls of the uninsured by eliminating the Obama health care reforms, with no program in its place.

• End Medicare as We Know It. With boomers headed into retirement and soaring Medicare and Medicaid costs driving projected deficits, we have to get health care costs under control. But instead of taking on the drug and insurance companies and the hospital complexes that drive up costs, the Republican budget would end Medicare as we know it, requiring seniors to pay more. When today’s 55-year-olds retire, they would discover that Medicare has been turned into a voucher or “premium support” program that will not keep up with health care costs, forcing them to pay thousands more out of their own pockets. The Republican budget would also cut Medicaid support drastically for the most vulnerable — the impoverished, the disabled, and the terminally ill.

• Cut Access to College. With college tuition soaring and more and more people being priced out of the education they have earned and need, the Republican budget would solve the problem by cutting back on student loan and grant programs. They would ration college admission by income rather than by merit.

• The Poor Pay for Deficit Reduction. And with poverty rising, the Republican budget would require that the poorest and most vulnerable Americans bear much of the burden of reducing the deficits that exploded when Wall Street blew up the economy. (Although, again, Republicans don’t admit which domestic programs would take the hit. But, by reducing spending on domestic discretionary programs by one third in 10 years, they insure devastating cuts in everything from Head Start to education to disease control.)

• Let America Decline. With our basic infrastructure — from roads to schools to sewage systems — in dangerous decline, the construction industry flat on its back, and interest rates near record lows, Republicans call for spending less, not more, on rebuilding America, costing jobs, and rendering our economy less competitive and putting more lives at risk.

• Make the World a Tax Haven. With global corporations growing ever more adept at using transfer pricing and overseas tax havens to avoid taxes here at home, Republicans would make the entire world outside the U.S. a corporate tax haven, ending any taxation on profits reported abroad, encouraging companies to move jobs and book profits abroad.

• Pad the Pentagon. With the U.S. spending almost as much on its military as the rest of the world combined, Republicans demand that we raise, not pare, Pentagon spending.

The Austerity Trap

Ryan’s Republican Budget has one other fundamental message — that America must turn its attention immediately to the “crushing burden of debt.” Ryan would cut spending by over $500 billion in the first two years compared to the president’s budget, while claiming to lower taxes by about $131 billion. That takes nearly a 2 percent of GDP boost out of an economy growing at about the same rate. Ryan brags that the Republican budget reduces deficits faster and lower than the president’s budget. (Although given that he won’t reveal how he pays for over $4 trillion in tax cuts and what programs would take the spending cuts, that is far from proven.)

Lost in the race for austerity is the reality that we desperately need jobs and growth. Although the economy has started to generate jobs, 25 million Americans are still in need of full time work. We have fewer jobs than we had a decade ago, and millions more people. This debate should be focused on jobs, not cuts.

Ryan and Republicans duck this by arguing that austerity will increase confidence, and “job creators” will get to work. But we have seen how austerity works in Europe, now teetering on the edge of recession. It not only costs jobs; it makes deficit reduction harder. Ryan’s budget assumes a rate of growth that his spending cuts and layoffs are likely to undermine.

The Budget for All

In stark contrast, today the Congressional Progressive Caucus releases its FY2013 “Budget for All.” (Not yet posted on web as this is written.) This will be offered as an alternative to the Ryan budget on the floor of the Congress and in the halls of public opinion. It, too, is a message document — designed to show that common sense priorities do add up.

The CPC budget reduces deficits faster than Ryan does over the first 10 years. But the CPC begins sensibly, by boosting the economy with jobs measures in the early years. It calls for direct hiring programs — a Student Jobs Corps and a School Improvement Corps among others. It would rebuild America with an infrastructure bank and bigger investment in roads, bridges and trains. It sustains investment in research and development, clean energy and manufacturing. And it repeals the austerity inflicted by the debt ceiling agreement.

The CPC assumption is that putting people back to work is the priority. And its budget shows this is not incompatible with deficit reduction.

As the economy recovers, the CPC would send the bill for deficit reduction to those who contributed to or benefited from the mess. It focuses on the “true drivers of our deficit — unsustainable tax policies, the wars overseas, and the causes and effects of the recent recession” — rather than going after programs for the poor and the elderly.

Hold Wall Street Responsible. The CPC would hold the banks accountable, imposing a “financial crisis responsibility fee” on the banks, raising $90 billion over 10 years and putting a brake on computer driven, nano-second financial speculation by imposing a financial transactions tax raising nearly $850 billion over 10 years.

Tax the Rich. Instead of lowering taxes on the rich, the CPC would raise them — repealing the top end Bush tax cuts, taxing income from wealth at the same rate as income from work, raising tax rates on millionaires. The CPC would even impose a small temporary surcharge on individual fortunes over $10 million.

The CPC embraces Obama’s minimum tax on overseas profits, curbs deductions for CEO stock options, and ends fossil fuel preferences. Perhaps its most controversial clause is its most sensible — putting a price on carbon emissions, while aggressively refunding costs to working and poor families.

Reform Health Care. On soaring health care costs, the CPC would seek to limit costs, not send them to the most vulnerable. It would embrace the reforms built into the health care bill, add a public option to compete with private insurers, and require bulk purchase negotiations with drug companies for lower prices on drugs.

Pare the Pentagon. The Pentagon budget would be modestly pared over 10 years. Where Ryan ducks on Social Security, the CPC would act, lifting the income cap on Social Security taxes to secure the program.

The Choice

In his budget, Ryan suggests, “Americans, not Washington, deserve to choose the path their nation takes.” These two budgets make that choice clear. The CPC would invest in jobs, preserve Social Security and Medicare, and call on the banks and the wealthy to pay a hefty share for getting us out of the hole we are in. Ryan’s Republican budget would impose austerity, lavish benefits on the rich, end Medicare as we know it and send the bill for the mess to working families, the poor and the elderly. The CPC would invest in rebuilding the country and reviving the American Dream. Ryan would invest in policing the world and protecting the tax havens of multinationals, and turn the Dream into a fantasy. The Ryan budget stands with the 1%. The CPC with the rest of us. You get to choose.

Posted in Class Warfare, Declining America, Politics | Comments Off

Conservative Bullying Has Made America Into a Broken, Dysfunctional Family: But There Are Ways to Regain Our Well-Being

An abusive, out-of-control, rageaholic GOP broke our country by shattering our trust in democracy and in ourselves.

by Sara Robinson
March 20, 2012

A marriage counselor friend once told me that he almost always knows by the end of the very first session whether he’s being hired to guide a damaged couple back to health, or to help them work toward a divorce — even when the couple doesn’t know the answer to this question themselves.

It’s easy to see, he explained. The relationship’s future success or failure all hinges on one simple thing: How much goodwill and trust they have left. Even if they’ve hurt each other badly, the couples who make it are the ones that still retain a few shreds of faith in each other’s basic good intentions. She didn’t mean to hurt me. He’s not always a bastard. Deep down, she still loves me. Deep down, he really wants things to be better.

These couples are still seeing same future together, and still cling to the tattered memories of why they first fell in love. Just a few frayed threads of trust are all that’s needed — if they’ve got that, the odds are high that with time and work, they can re-weave the fabric of the marriage into something that’s once again strong and good.

On the other hand, the tell-tale sign of a zombie marriage — one that’s already dead, even if the parties involved haven’t yet confronted that fact — is that one or both partners have already given up and checked out. The trust is broken, the dream shattered, the damage just too much to ever repair. Things have been said and done that can’t ever be unsaid or undone. There’s so much bad history that there’s no way a mere human heart can ever forgive it all. It’s so far gone that pain and rage are all that remain — and the longer they stay together, the more brutal it’s likely to get.

If, as George Lakoff says, we tend to think of the nation as a family, then my friend’s approach for identifying salvageable marriages may apply just as well to salvaging our democracy. Because, like all marriages, all democratic governments are founded — first and foremost, above all else — on an essential bedrock of trust and shared vision. We need to trust that our fellow citizens are decent people with good intentions. If we don’t have even that much basic confidence in each other, there’s no way that we can work together to build a society that works. In fact, there’s not really even a reason to try.

Seen this way, “America” is the family name for the 310 million of us bonded together in a covenant that’s very much like the commitment that forms a family. We have come together to build our common wealth, create opportunities for each other that will secure our shared future, raise our children, care for our elderly, protect our assets, look after each other in sickness and in health, and wisely tend our national house and manage our gathered resources so we can hand the increase proudly off to the next generation.

And, like a family, this is a commitment that is entirely grounded in mutual trust — a bone-deep knowledge that we will keep faith and be there for each other; that we will look out for each others’ rights, property, and kids; that we will generously give the family our best whenever possible; and that we also rely on it to be there for us when we need help. For better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness or health, we promise to be there for each other. The true strength and wealth of the country begins with the strength of that commitment.

We cannot do this kind of mutual self-governance well — indeed, we cannot do it at all — unless we fundamentally trust each other’s good intentions and devotion to our shared enterprise. We may disagree on the means, but we share the same vision about what the ends should be. And just like in a marriage, when that trust is damaged, our future viability as a nation becomes a wide-open question.

This is a scary thought, because right now, America is riven by two very different visions of the future, held by two partners who obviously have radically different visions about where we should be going.

On one hand, you’ve got most of the country — center-right, center, center-left, and progressive — which sees us as a family in trouble, but which also believes that if we return to our bedrock agreements, focus on solving our shared problems and fall back on our basic goodwill and common sense, we should be able to sort things out. This is the two-thirds of America that poll after poll shows is ready to move forward on issues like economic transformation, inequality, corruption and corporate overreach, climate change and energy policy, and remaking our infrastructure. There’s a sense that, even though the challenges are big, we can solve them if we can come together, treat each other decently, reaffirm our commitment to the future, and force the democratic process to work again.

On the other hand, there’s another group that has entirely checked out on us, and turned ugly and abusive. The conservative minority is acting like Lakoff’s canonical Strict Father scorned: When the family rejects his leadership and his attempts at authoritarian contol, he sinks into a punitive, bullying rage, lashing out at the rest of us for what he’s come to believe is irredeemable broken faith because we won’t let him be the boss. By his behavior, he is telling us in no uncertain terms that he wants a scorched-earth divorce — the kind that leaves the rest of us broke, ruined, miserable, and utterly at his mercy. He has gone so far as to hire batteries of lawyers and lobbyists to accomplish this, and is taking a bully’s evident glee in his success.

What Democracy Abuse Looks Like

Here are a few broad-brush examples of how this screw-you attitude toward the idea of a balanced, strong, cooperative American family is playing out right now:

Most conservatives now openly reject the very idea of democracy. Whether it’s corporatists seeking to own every branch of government and privatize every public institution, security and intelligence types cracking down on our civil liberties, or Christian nationalists out to turn the country into a theocracy, conservatives are increasingly united by the conviction that Americans cannot be trusted to govern ourselves.

According to Dave Johnson, if you really want to understand just how hostile conservatives are to the very idea of democracy, and how debased their discourse has become on the subject, just take some of their favorite sayings and substitute the word “government” with either “democracy” or “we, the people.”

So: “government is the problem, not the solution” becomes “democracy is the problem” — or, perhaps worse: “we, the people are the problem.” Likewise: “smaller government” becomes “smaller democracy” and a smaller role for we, the people. The idea that “government destroys liberty” is clearly code for “democracy destroys liberty.” And so on. (It’s a great game you can play at home — fun for the whole family!)

Along these same lines — and despite the conspicuous way the Tea Party fetishizes the Constitution — it’s increasingly evident that the future they have in mind very explicitly does not include the Bill of Rights, a people’s Congress, the ability to petition our government, or the right to appeal to the courts for redress. I don’t have to enumerate the violations on this front, but I do encourage progressives to start seeing these assaults on our rights as clear evidence that our opponents fundamentally do not trust democracy, and are very deliberately out to destroy the constitutional rules that ours runs on.

They also don’t trust diversity in any form. They’re actively hostile to the idea of E pluribus unum — out of the many, one. Anybody who’s not white, straight, Christian, conservative, and male is inherently not-American. And the only acceptable function of government is to keep those Others — both here, and abroad — firmly in their place. The nightly news is full of fresh assaults on the rights of those who don’t fit their narrow definition of Real Americans.

They have embraced bullying as a political strategy and an acceptable cultural norm, which has in turn coarsened our civil discourse to the point of democratic breakdown. Rush Limbaugh and his throng of hate-talking imitators have given their listeners wide-open social permission to say ugly things in public that would most assuredly get them fired if they said them at work (check your company handbook, which no doubt has firm guidance on this point), and would probably precipitate an immediate divorce if they said them at home. The tone alone says it all: this is not the way you talk to people you intend to have any kind of future with.

Conservative lawyers and courts are actively carving out a First Amendment right to bully racial and religious minorities, immigrants, gays, and women who won’t stay in their place. Almost every family (including mine, unfortunately) and every workplace has a FOX-trained bully who makes it almost impossible to have simply collegial conversations. Democracy is literally not possible where such bullies exist, because the give-and-take and nuanced discussions that lead to good decision-making simply can’t happen. Instead, all the power goes to the person who’s willing and able to throw the biggest tantrum. That’s not democracy, in any sense of the word.

Our founders understood this all too well, which is why so many of our basic rules of government were explicitly designed to keep bullies in check.

They are systematically destroying Americans’ ability to trust almost every civil institution on the American landscape. The list goes on and on, but here’s a starter collection:

They are strategically undermining our schools by deliberately destroying community trust in them. Like a controlling father, they want the kids at home where they can keep a constant eye on them.

They are attempting to privatize Social Security, prisons, the military, and our infrastructure — all to prove their argument that we are no longer competent to do anything for ourselves through our government. Like an abusive spouse, they want us to feel too demoralized about ourselves to do anything effective to improve our lives, let alone find the courage and resolve to free ourselves from the abuse.

They are bastardizing science and bowdlerizing history — the two fields of academia most essential to developing foresight and understanding the implications of our future choices. And, in the process, they are keeping us from solving problems that threaten the continued existence of the entire human family.

They have demonized and harassed the mainstream media to the point where they can no longer be truly neutral about anything, for fear of exhibiting “liberal bias.”

They repealed the Fairness Doctrine, and took over local radio.

They are infringing on our religious freedoms in the name of extending their own.

They are defunding government (“democracy”) at all levels because they don’t believe that We, the People, can spend the money right. (Again: this is the logic of an abusively controlling spouse.)

They have destroyed our economy to benefit the top .10 percent, which effectively robs the rest of us of much of our cultural, economic and political power as well. And they have done this by telling us that “there is no such thing as society” — a claim that justifies bleeding off the vast and very real mountain of public wealth that this fictitious American society has carefully amassed over the course of its entire history.

All of these efforts, and many more, are rooted in one core fact: America’s conservatives ultimately do not trust other Americans to run their own lives as individuals — let alone govern ourselves as a group. And I’d argue that this mistrust runs so deep that no healing is possible for them. They have reached the point where they very clearly no longer want to be in this family together with us.

The seething, simmering rage and pain are running so deep now that the only thing that will satisfy them is total destruction of everything that puts the “us” in US. In their minds, breaking America as we’ve known it for the past 80 years is the only way they’ll ever be able to adequately punish us, and the only hope they have of someday seizing enough control of the shambles to finally salve their fury and fear.

To Stop A Bully: How to Restore Trust

This kind of dogged will to destroy is inherently pathological, whether it’s happening within a marriage or a nation. There’s no way it can ever be construed as healthy. My friend the marriage counselor would have looked at this situation — one spouse overwhelmed by irrational, abusive, controlling rage and constantly imputing unspeakable motives to the other — and written the marriage off.

But we can’t do that. We are still, for better or for worse, the biggest, richest family on the planet. On one hand, there’s no way for them to leave, because there’s nowhere for them to go, and no legal divorce is possible. On the other, letting them destroy the great house of America, built through generations and centuries to its present stature, is simply not an option.

So what do we do? If these people really don’t want to be in the marriage — if they are, in fact, trying to destroy it by any means possible — how on earth can we continue to function as a family?

We may have to do what families have always done with members who have lost their way, but cannot be abandoned. We need to close ranks around them, building alliances and strategies that will enable us to protect ourselves and each other from their depredations. We cannot change them, but it helps to realize that the faithful and decent members of this family still vastly outnumber those who wish us harm. If we work together closely, we can leverage our numbers and our sanity to arrange things in ways that will minimize the damage our rageaholic members can do.

The most important and critical thing we need to do is to restore trust; trust in each other, and in the idea of ourselves as a good and worthy family. We deserve so much better; and we are capable of so much more than our abusers tell us is possible.

We can refuse to buy into divide-and-conquer strategies, realizing that in this situation, the only distinction that matters at all is the one between those who are rooting for this country to succeed, and those who are out to destroy it. You are either on the side of democracy and the great American family, or you are not.

We can resolve to trust and respect each others’ perceptions and interpretations of events, even when they don’t entirely agree with our own. We can decide that we’re going to stay sane in the face of the craziness — and stand with anybody, regardless of their politics, who is also acting in good faith to stand against the bullies.

We can work to create a consensus vision of the next America we want to become, and form trusting relationships with others to make that happen.

We can refuse to reward bullying behavior with success. (Or, for that matter, with any more attention than it takes to get the bullies out of the room.)

We can stand up before each other and the world and say: “Those people do not speak for us, and their squalid, angry vision is not our vision. We are a better nation than that.”

And we can, simply, continue to come together and govern. Because the specter of citizens civilly and peacefully exercising power is, above everything else, the one thing they fear the most, the biggest threat to the radical anti-democracy agenda.

Posted in Class Warfare, Declining America, Politics | Comments Off

Armed With Naïvete

Bill McKibben
Author of a dozen books, including ‘The End of Nature’ and ‘Deep Economy’

Time to Stop Being Cynical About Corporate Money in Politics and Start Being Angry

My resolution for 2012 is to be naïve — dangerously naïve.

I’m aware that the usual recipe for political effectiveness is just the opposite: to be cynical, calculating, an insider. But if you think, as I do, that we need deep change in this country, then cynicism is a sucker’s bet. Try as hard as you can, you’re never going to be as cynical as the corporations and the harem of politicians they pay for. It’s like trying to outchant a Buddhist monastery.

Here’s my case in point, one of a thousand stories people working for social change could tell: All last fall, most of the environmental movement, including 350.org, the group I helped found, waged a fight against the planned Keystone XL pipeline that would bring some of the dirtiest energy on the planet from Canada through the U.S. to the Gulf Coast. We waged our struggle against building it out in the open, presenting scientific argument, holding demonstrations, and attending hearings. We sent 1,253 people to jail in the largest civil disobedience action in a generation. Meanwhile, more than half a million Americans offered public comments against the pipeline, the most on any energy project in the nation’s history.

And what do you know? We won a small victory in November, when President Obama agreed that, before he could give the project a thumbs-up or -down, it needed another year of careful review. (The previous version of that review, as overseen by the State Department, had been little short of a crony capitalist farce.) Given that James Hansen, the government’s premier climate scientist, had said that tapping Canada’s tar sands for that pipeline would, in the end, essentially mean “game over for the climate,” that seemed an eminently reasonable course to follow, even if it was also eminently political.

A few weeks later, however, Congress decided it wanted to take up the question. In the process, the issue went from out in the open to behind closed doors in money-filled rooms. Within days, and after only a couple of hours of hearings that barely mentioned the key scientific questions or the dangers involved, the House of Representatives voted 234-194 to force a quicker review of the pipeline. Later, the House attached its demand to the must-pass payroll tax cut.

That was an obvious pre-election year attempt to put the president on the spot. Environmentalists are at least hopeful that the White House will now reject the permit. After all, its communications director said that the rider, by hurrying the decision, “virtually guarantees that the pipeline will not be approved.”

As important as the vote total in the House, however, was another number: within minutes of the vote, Oil Change International had calculated that the 234 Congressional representatives who voted aye had received $42 million in campaign contributions from the fossil-fuel industry; the 193 nays, $8 million.

Buying Congress

I know that cynics — call them realists, if you prefer — will be completely unsurprised by that. Which is precisely the problem.

We’ve reached the point where we’re unfazed by things that should shake us to the core. So, just for a moment, be naïve and consider what really happened in that vote: the people’s representatives who happen to have taken the bulk of the money from those energy companies promptly voted on behalf of their interests.

They weren’t weighing science or the national interest; they weren’t balancing present benefits against future costs. Instead of doing the work of legislators, that is, they were acting like employees. Forget the idea that they’re public servants; the truth is that, in every way that matters, they work for Exxon and its kin. They should, by rights, wear logos on their lapels like NASCAR drivers.

If you find this too harsh, think about how obligated you feel when someone gives you something. Did you get a Christmas present last month from someone you hadn’t remembered to buy one for? Are you going to send them an extra-special one next year?

And that’s for a pair of socks. Speaker of the House John Boehner, who insisted that the Keystone approval decision be speeded up, has gotten $1,111,080 from the fossil-fuel industry during his tenure. His Senate counterpart Mitch McConnell, who shepherded the bill through his chamber, has raked in $1,277,208 in the course of his tenure in Washington.

If someone had helped your career to the tune of a million dollars, wouldn’t you feel in their debt? I would. I get somewhat less than that from my employer, Middlebury College, and yet I bleed Panther blue. Don’t ask me to compare my school with, say, Dartmouth unless you want a biased answer, because that’s what you’ll get. Which is fine — I am an employee.

But you’d be a fool to let me referee the homecoming football game. In fact, in any other walk of life we wouldn’t think twice before concluding that paying off the referees is wrong. If the Patriots make the Super Bowl, everyone in America would be outraged to see owner Robert Kraft trot out to midfield before the game and hand a $1,000 bill to each of the linesmen and field judges.

If he did it secretly, the newspaper reporter who uncovered the scandal would win a Pulitzer. But a political reporter who bothered to point out Boehner’s and McConnell’s payoffs would be upbraided by her editor for simpleminded journalism. That’s how the game is played and we’ve all bought into it, even if only to sputter in hopeless outrage.

Far from showing any shame, the big players boast about it: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, front outfit for a consortium of corporations, has bragged on its website about outspending everyone in Washington, which is easy to do when Chevron, Goldman Sachs, and News Corp are writing you seven-figure checks. This really matters. The Chamber of Commerce spent more money on the 2010 elections than the Republican and Democratic National Committees combined, and 94% of those dollars went to climate-change deniers. That helps explain why the House voted last year to say that global warming isn’t real.

It also explains why “our” representatives vote, year in and year out, for billions of dollars worth of subsidies for fossil-fuel companies. If there was ever an industry that didn’t need subsidies, it would be this one: they make more money each year than any enterprise in the history of money. Not only that, but we’ve known how to burn coal for 300 years and oil for 200.

Those subsidies are simply payoffs. Companies give small gifts to legislators, and in return get large ones back, and we’re the ones who are actually paying.

Whose Money? Whose Washington?

I don’t want to be hopelessly naïve. I want to be hopefully naïve. It would be relatively easy to change this: you could provide public financing for campaigns instead of letting corporations pay. It’s the equivalent of having the National Football League hire referees instead of asking the teams to provide them.

Public financing of campaigns would cost a little money, but endlessly less than paying for the presents these guys give their masters. And it would let you watch what was happening in Washington without feeling as disgusted. Even legislators, once they got the hang of it, might enjoy neither raising money nor having to pretend it doesn’t affect them.

To make this happen, however, we may have to change the Constitution, as we’ve done 27 times before. This time, we’d need to specify that corporations aren’t people, that money isn’t speech, and that it doesn’t abridge the First Amendment to tell people they can’t spend whatever they want getting elected. Winning a change like that would require hard political organizing, since big banks and big oil companies and big drug-makers will surely rally to protect their privilege.

Still, there’s a chance. The Occupy movement opened the door to this sort of change by reminding us all that the system is rigged, that its outcomes are unfair, that there’s reason to think people from across the political spectrum are tired of what we’ve got, and that getting angry and acting on that anger in the political arena is what being a citizen is all about.

It’s fertile ground for action. After all, Congress’s approval rating is now at 9%, which is another way of saying that everyone who’s not a lobbyist hates them and what they’re doing. The big boys are, of course, counting on us simmering down; they’re counting on us being cynical, on figuring there’s no hope or benefit in fighting city hall. But if we’re naïve enough to demand a country more like the one we were promised in high school civics class, then we have a shot.

A good time to take an initial stand comes later this month, when rallies outside every federal courthouse will mark the second anniversary of the Citizens United decision. That’s the one where the Supreme Court ruled that corporations had the right to spend whatever they wanted on campaigns.

To me, that decision was, in essence, corporate America saying, “We’re not going to bother pretending any more. This country belongs to us.”

We need to say, loud and clear: “Sorry. Time to give it back.”

Bill McKibben is Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, founder of the global climate campaign 350.org, a TomDispatch regular, and the author, most recently, of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. To catch Timothy MacBain’s first Tomcast audio interview of the new year in which McKibben discusses how the rest of us can compete with a system in which money talks, click here, or download it to your iPod here.

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The Decline of Public Good

Robert Reich
Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley; Author, ‘Aftershock’

Meryl Streep’s eery reincarnation of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady brings to mind Thatcher’s most famous quip, “there is no such thing as ‘society.’” None of the dwindling herd of Republican candidates has quoted her yet but they might as well considering their unremitting bashing of everything public.

What defines a society is a set of mutual benefits and duties embodied most visibly in public institutions — public schools, public libraries, public transportation, public hospitals, public parks, public museums, public recreation, public universities, and so on.

Public institutions are supported by all taxpayers, and are available to all. If the tax system is progressive, those who better off (and who, presumably, have benefitted from many of these same public institutions) help pay for everyone else.

“Privatize” means pay-for-it-yourself. The practical consequence of this in an economy whose wealth and income are now more concentrated than any time in 90 years is to make high-quality public goods available to fewer and fewer.

Much of what’s called “public” is increasingly a private good paid for by users — ever-higher tolls on public highways and public bridges, higher tuitions at so-called public universities, higher admission fees at public parks and public museums.

Much of the rest of what’s considered “public” has become so shoddy that those who can afford to find private alternatives. As public schools deteriorate, the upper-middle class and wealthy send their kids to private ones. As public pools and playgrounds decay, they buy memberships in private tennis and swimming clubs. As public hospitals decline, they pay premium rates for private care.

Gated communities and office parks now come with their own manicured lawns and walkways, security guards, and backup power systems.

Why the decline of public institutions? The financial squeeze on government at all levels since 2008 explains only part of it. The slide really started more than three decades ago with so-called “tax revolts” by a middle class whose earnings had stopped advancing even though the economy continued to grow. Most families still wanted good public services and institutions but could no longer afford the tab.

From that time onward, almost all the gains from growth have gone to the top. But as the upper middle class and the rich began shifting to private institutions, they withdrew political support for public ones. In consequence, their marginal tax rates dropped — setting off a vicious cycle of diminishing revenues and deteriorating quality, spurring more flight from public institutions. Tax revenues from corporations also dropped as big companies went global — keeping their profits overseas and their tax bills to a minimum.

But that’s not the whole story. America no longer values public goods as we did before.

The great expansion of public institutions in America began in the early years of 20th century when progressive reformers championed the idea that we all benefit from public goods. Excellent schools, roads, parks, playgrounds, and transit systems would knit the new industrial society together, create better citizens, and generate widespread prosperity. Education, for example, was less a personal investment than a public good — improving the entire community and ultimately the nation.

In subsequent decades — through the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War — this logic was expanded upon. Strong public institutions were seen as bulwarks against, in turn, mass poverty, fascism, and then communism. The public good was palpable: We were very much a society bound together by mutual needs and common threats. (It was no coincidence that the greatest extensions of higher education after World War II were the GI Bill and the National Defense Education Act, and the largest public works project in history called the National Defense Interstate Highway Act.)

But in a post-Cold War America distended by global capital, distorted by concentrated income and wealth, undermined by unlimited campaign donations, and rocked by a wave of new immigrants easily cast by demagogues as “them,” the notion of the public good has faded. Not even Democrats any longer use the phrase “the public good.” Public goods are now, at best, “public investments.” Public institutions have morphed into “public-private partnerships;” or, for Republicans, simply “vouchers.”

Mitt Romney’s speaks derisively of what he terms the Democrats’ “entitlement” society in contrast to his “opportunity” society. At least he still envisions a society. But he hasn’t explained how ordinary Americans will be able to take advantage of good opportunities without good public schools, affordable higher education, good roads, and adequate health care.

His “entitlements” are mostly a mirage anyway. Medicare is the only entitlement growing faster than the GDP but that’s because the costs of health care are growing faster than the economy, and any attempt to turn Medicare into a voucher — without either raising the voucher in tandem with those costs or somehow taming them — will just reduce the elderly’s access to health care. Social Security, for its part, hasn’t contributed to the budget deficit; it’s had surpluses for years.

Other safety nets are in tatters. Unemployment insurance reaches just 40 percent of the jobless these days (largely because eligibility requires having had a steady full-time job for a number of years rather than, as with most people, a string of jobs or part-time work).

What could Mitt be talking about? Outside of defense, domestic discretionary spending is down sharply as a percent of the economy. Add in declines in state and local spending, and total public spending on education, infrastructure, and basic research has dropped from 12 percent of GDP in the 1970s to less than 3 percent by 2011.

Only in one respect is Romney right. America has created a whopping entitlement for the biggest Wall Street banks and their top executives — who, unlike most of the rest of us, are no longer allowed to fail. They can also borrow from the Fed at almost no cost, then lend the money out at 3 to 6 percent.

All told, Wall Street’s entitlement is the biggest offered by the federal government, even though it doesn’t show up in the budget. And it’s not even a public good. It’s just private gain.

We’re losing public goods available to all, supported by the tax payments of all and especially the better off. In its place we have private goods available to the very rich, supported by the rest of us.

Even Lady Thatcher would have been appalled.

Robert Reich is the author of Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future, now in bookstores. This post originally appeared at RobertReich.org.

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American Space Exploration Leadership — Why and How

Buzz Aldrin
Apollo 11 Moonwalker

As we flip the calendar to 2012, we get the first blast of space news, and the resurgent relevance of human space exploration. China just announced plans to lead humanity in to the moon and beyond, the tail of their comet a strong defense mindset. The Chinese challenge comes at a time of a dangerous convergence, the international debt crisis and a contentious, highly consequential presidential election. In short, 2012 is an inflection year — the year we will and must decide whether the U.S. has the will and ability to lead the world in human space exploration. For me, I am betting we do — and here is how I suggest we begin.

In 1969, Neil Armstrong and I walked on the moon. Shortly thereafter, I participated in work on the “next generation of space transportation systems.” Without getting too technical, my strong tendency was to support a two-stage reusable launch system, with crew only in the second stage, allowing a first stage to return to Earth unmanned. This seemed both efficient and safer than the alternatives. I found myself on the minority side of the discussion, and relented. Over the past forty years, I have had multiple of occasions to regret that decision. We are now at another turning point — and this time, we must resolve to do it right.

In short, to make a real difference — from an exploration, science, national security and international leadership perspective — our Nation needs to commit to seeking a permanent presence on Mars. This idea has already been widely supported by leaders in both political parties — and seems central to the vision many Americans have for the country. While the goal uniquely protects U.S. leadership in space exploration, provides insurance for our national security, uniquely presses the envelope of science, and is certain to trigger a fusillade of economic opportunities here on Earth, there are big questions that loom — and now compel answers. Specifically, two questions leap off the page: When and how. If China’s ambitions help create new urgency, the how becomes central.

Space architectures capable of supporting a permanent human presence on Mars are extraordinarily complex, with many different interdependent systems. It is too much information for one short article. But for now, I want to focus on just one element: crew transportation systems.

From the outside looking in, we have two competing programs to provide Crew transportation to space — the NASA’s MPCV and a variety of possible private Commercial Crew Transport Systems. We only need one. As we crystallize the country’s level of commitment — what we can afford and how we make the move to action from theoretical agreement to go forward, there are big reasons to make the commercial sector an engine of action. The U.S. government would then become a purchaser of crew transportation from the U.S. commercial sector, the same way we are currently purchasing launches today from Russia. The MPCV should evolve to become a dedicated exploration system. Initially, it may work in concert with commercial crew systems.

But NASA is critical to success and always will be. Chris Kraft has pointed out that we already have a fairly robust set of launch vehicles being provided by the commercial sector. So, in this area, we do not need the government competing to develop another launch vehicle. One could — on another day — even discuss whether we need a 130 metric ton launch vehicle, but assuming we do, the U.S. launch industry is capable of building a vehicle capable of such lift reasonably soon. After all, only four years were needed for the U.S. space launch industry to develop EELV. Likewise, Falcon 9 was developed in a little more than seven years.

No, NASA’s role is more important that simple lift to orbit. NASA needs to focus on the things that are really important, and that we do not know how to do. The agency is a pioneering force, and that is where its competitive advantage lies. While the list is long of what we do not yet know how to do in the private sector, two things stand out as critical path technologies.

Interestingly, both needs are defined by one scientific fact: The vast majority of mass required to get to Mars is contained in propellants. Think about it. The physics of the effort dovetail with common sense. You need propellants to accelerate toward Mars, then to decelerate at Mars, again to re-accelerate from Mars to Earth, and finally to decelerate back at Earth. Accordingly, the mass of these required propellants, in short, drives our need for innovative launch vehicles.

Where do we go from that realization? First, developing in-space crew habitation systems capable of transporting people safely to and from Mars will be needed. Common sense says these vehicles need to be dedicated, single-purpose vehicles. Known requirements for reusable in-space habitation and transportation are quite different from the more basic requirements of delivering people from Earth to orbit.

Notably, the Apollo program provided clear testimony for this factual reality. Von Braun’s original concept of using a single, multipurpose spacecraft required two Saturn V launches for a single lunar mission. But the NASA’s revised plans properly allocated the functionality of the missions across separate vehicles (e.g. the Command Module, and the Lunar Module). The resulting efficiencies allowed these seminal Apollo missions to be completed in a single launch.

What do we really need right now to migrate from America’s commitment to human exploration and eventual permanent presence on Mars — with all the Earth side advantages in exploration, national security, science and economic activity — from vision to reality? The vision that comes first to mind is this: In addition to commercially provided Earth-to-orbit crew transportation, I envision two NASA developed, complementary interplanetary transportation systems, one to get people and a small amount of cargo to a second system, a “cycling mother ship,” that offers longer range and long-term habitability.

Explore this idea one level deeper with me. This two module exploration system would intercept a larger habitation system which would cycle between Earth and Mars, providing a means for getting crew and cargo to Mars on regular 26 month intervals. Regular, long-term cargo transportation would also support a permanent presence on the Red Planet or its highly attractive inner moon, Phobos.

One of the major problems with long-term deep space human flight is the requirement for radiation shielding. Shielding requires mass, and yet there are well-understood ways for accommodating the need for such mass. For instance, water contained in the outside wall of an inflatable habitat makes for excellent shielding. By keeping all of this mass on a single spaceship which cycles between Earth and Mars, requiring minimal thrust and no high-energy lift and descent from Earth, we strikingly reduce Earth-to-orbit launch costs.

Now, consider one other part of the “how” problem, what we call aero-capture. Put simply, aero-capture is a technique for using the atmosphere to decelerate to orbit, rather than burning precious fuel, be it Mars or a return to Earth. This is the extraterrestrial equivalent of free money. By using the atmosphere to decelerate, we again reduce the amount of propellant required to get to and from outer orbits. Like hunting and finding synergies in other areas of economic and national security, these systems offer hope, opportunity and a challenge that can be embraced by both the private and public sectors. While not simple, they offer real ways for converting our collective ambition — which in increasingly urgent — into a multi-generational reality, and commitment to long term U.S. leadership in human space exploration.

In a nutshell, the advantages — not least for the U.S. economy and permanent leadership in space — are almost incalculable if we begin from this first step. On the other hand, if we wander aimlessly, pick our way from one short-term goal to another, lose vision, ambition or commitment, we will find ourselves spending the next fifty years the way we have spent the last — without significant outward movement. We can no longer afford that kind of approach, or an attitude of leisurely investment in the future. Needed now is vision and commitment — with common sense. There, I have said it. I have spoken up as I did not when last the opportunity presented itself. Now, together, we should reaffirm the value of NASA, private sector engagement in space transportation, and America’s leadership in manned space exploration. The sooner we make these commitments, the sooner we all benefit from their extraordinary returns.

Follow Buzz Aldrin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/therealbuzz

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Will Fossil Fuel Companies Face Liability for Climate Change?

by Christine Shearer

It is one thing to do your own research, but it is another to deliberately deceive people, contributing to widespread harm primarily to retain profits.

January 2, 2012 | In a recent article in National Journal, Americans for Prosperity (AFP) President Tim Phillips said there is no question that AFP and others like it have been instrumental in the rise of Republican candidates who question or deny climate science: “We’ve made great headway. What it means for candidates on the Republican side is, if you … buy into green energy or you play footsie on this issue, you do so at your political peril.”

AFP is a section 501(c)(4) organization, meaning it does not have to disclose its donors, but has been tied to significant funding from the Koch Family Foundations – founded by the billionaire Koch brothers of Koch Industries – as well as smaller donations from companies like ExxonMobil. Koch Industries and ExxonMobil are among the largest funders of studies questioning climate change science, often drawn upon by conservative politicians to legitimize their view that regulation of greenhouse gases (GHGs) is not needed because the science is still under debate.

These organizations and their supporters say they are just funding their own independent studies of climate change science. Yet these studies almost all go against observable scientific data to question global warming – so much so that one study funded in part by the Kochs that confirmed a rise in average world land temperature was regarded as an anomaly. Which raises the question: if these studies are largely designed not to shed light on climate change, but to create doubt and confusion to delay greenhouse gas regulations, why is it legal, and do those deliberately spreading misinformation face liability?

The first question, as far as I can tell, apparently boils down to: it’s legal because we have yet to make the deliberate manipulation of science illegal.

Yet while people and companies enjoy the First Amendment right to free speech, legal scholars have argued that right does not extend to influencing people under false pretenses. According to former tobacco industry lawyer Stephen Susman, when it comes to fossil fuel companies and supporters funding their own research on climate change, if “they knew the information they were spreading was false and being used to deliberately influence public opinion—that would override their First Amendment rights.”

This question may soon be playing out in the courts.

History of the science

Research on climate change goes back over a century. Spencer Weart’s The Discovery of Global Warming lays out the long trajectory: from realizing GHGs trap heat and help warm the planet, to identifying them, to tracking GHG emissions into the atmosphere and oceans from the burning of fossil fuels, to measuring the effects.

The research was developed enough that a 1965 report to the Johnson administration,Restoring the Quality of Our Environment, discussed the increase in global carbon dioxide emissions and the possible dire effects. In a 1969 memo, President Nixon’s Democratic adviser, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, wrote that it was “pretty clearly agreed” that carbon dioxide levels were rising fast and would increase the average temperature near the earth’s surface, and that such dangers justified government action.

Attempts to water down the implications of the science soon followed. Science historian Naomi Oreskes and others found that, in 1983, a committee of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences chaired by physicist William Nierenberg reframed the growing consensus around anthropogenic warming as a “nonproblem” that would have limited effects humans could adapt to, as with past changes in human history. Nierenberg was cofounder of the conservative George C. Marshall Institute, and – as documented in Oreskes and Eric Conways’s Merchants of Doubt (2010) – part of a group of government scientific advisers that went from Cold War warriors supporting nuclear weapons to staunch corporate defenders questioning the science on tobacco smoke, acid rain, the hole in the ozone layer, and eventually climate change science, among other issues.

Yet the science marched on. In 1988, NASA scientist James Hansen testified to the U.S. Congress that he believed with 99 percent confidence that substantial global warming was under way, and would rise significantly unless greenhouse gas emissions were reduced. That same year, the United Nations and the World Meteorological Organization created the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of about 2,500 international climate scientists who evaluate the research on climate change (which often end up being conservative estimates of likely effects, arguably because of the need for agreement among government representatives).

In 1990, IPCC scientists completed their first assessment report for policymakers, stating they were certain human activities were increasing greenhouse gas emissions and warming, with the second report, in 1995, concluding there was a discernible human influence on climate.

The stage seemed set for an international treaty to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

History of the nonscience

That’s when fossil fuel companies and their supporters sprang in to fund their own research. In 1988 the coal industry founded the Western Fuels Association (WFA), headed by Fred Palmer, who later became vice president of Peabody Energy, the largest private coal company in the world. As outlined in Ross Gelbspan’s The Heat Is On (1998), the WFA actively sought to refute the growing consensus on climate change, stating in its report that “when [the climate change] controversy first erupted at the peak of summer in 1988, Western Fuels Association decided it was important to take a stand.… [S]cientists were found who are skeptical about the potential for climate change.”

A 1998 memo leaked from the National Environmental Trust to the New York Times detailed that a dozen people working for big oil companies, trade associations, and conservative think tanks had been meeting at the American Petroleum Institute’s Washington headquarters to propose a $5 million campaign to convince people that global warming science was riddled with controversy and uncertainty.

Industries like oil and large manufacturers created the lobbying group Global Climate Coalition (GCC) in 1989, with the stated purpose of “cast[ing] doubt on the theory of global warming.” A Freedom of Information Act request unearthed 2001 U.S. State Department documents to the GCC suggesting former President George W. Bush’s decision to pull out of UN international negotiations on climate change had been shaped in part by GCC and Exxon.

The George W. Bush Administration not only resisted GHG regulations, but actively edited government reports to question the science of climate change, one time drawing upon research funded in part by ExxonMobil. As documented by Greenpeace and others, ExxonMobil and Koch Industries went on to become major donors of such research, finding a platform in conservative think tanks and media.

The result? The U.S. perception of scientific consensus about climate change went down in line with the growth of corporate-funded research, particularly among Republicans, even as the science became more clear and the effects more apparent. While the awareness of a consensus is inching back up (although there is still much more confusion than there arguably should be over whether humans are a factor), the U.S. has yet to regulate greenhouse gases, even as the International Energy Agency warns that we may be five years away from being deadlocked into runaway warming.

Social scientists have noted internal barriers to action on climate change – that even people who acknowledge the science may not necessarily alter how they live to match that knowledge. In other words, accepting the consensus on climate change science might not have been enough for swift, immediate action.

Yet the evidence also seems clear that comprehensive understanding of the issue for the nation was muddled, and deliberately so: in 2009, an internal Global Climate Coalition document was leaked to the New York Times – a primer written in 1995 for coalition members admitting that the “scientific basis for the greenhouse effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide on climate is well established and cannot be denied.”

Yet we are now at the stage where denying climate change, or at least the human factor, is apparently a prerequisite for being the Republican nominee for President, as Phillips has bragged. This stance would be completely unacceptable if not for the studies funded by fossil fuel industries and supporters. And it has been disastrous for creating U.S. policies to address climate change.


In 2008, the small Inupiat nation and city of Kivalina, Alaska, filed a lawsuit against ExxonMobil and 23 other fossil fuel companies for federal public nuisance – the damage of their homeland, which will be uninhabitable within a few decades, as sea ice no longer sufficiently buffers the barrier reef island against erosion from fall storms. Their claim argues that Kivalina has an identifiable, discrete harm, traceable to greenhouse gas emissions, of which the defendant companies are among the world’s largest contributors. They seek damages: their relocation costs.

Kivalina also charged a smaller subset of companies with secondary claims of conspiracy and concert of action for creating a false debate about climate change science. In other words, these companies knew they were contributing to harm, but rather than change their practices, they instead funded a false debate about climate change science.

The lawsuit was dismissed one year later as a “political question” – the district court ruled that climate change was a matter for the executive and legislative branches, not the judicial branch, which is how three prior global warming public nuisance cases had been ruled. The judge also denied Kivalina’s legal standing to bring the suit. The secondary claims involving the misinformation campaigns of defendant companies went unaddressed.

Kivalina appealed the decision, with oral arguments heard in November of this year. If the claim is allowed to move forward, it could reach the discovery phase, which may unearth more documents similar to that leaked to the New York Times, suggesting deliberate intent to deceive.

Defendant companies argue that climate change is not a matter for the courts – the problem is too big, and we are all responsible. Yet we have not all embarked on multi-million dollar campaigns to fund our own research and prevent change. It is these secondary claims that could be the crux of establishing whether fossil fuel companies will eventually bear liability for harm from greenhouse gas emissions. As prior cases involving lead, asbestos, and tobacco lawsuits show, people seem to think it is one thing to do your own research, but it is another to deliberately deceive people, contributing to widespread harm primarily to retain profits.

Christine Shearer is a researcher for CoalSwarm, part of SourceWatch, and a postdoctoral scholar at the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at UC Santa Barbara. She is managing editor of Conducive, and author of the book, “Kivalina: A Climate Change Story” (Haymarket Books, 2011).

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Will Public Outrage Finally Force the President and the States to Prosecute Outlaw Bankers?

Richard (RJ) Eskow
Consultant, writer and Senior Fellow, Campaign for America’s Future

The president has adopted the language of the 99%, and it’s paying off for him. He’s surged from a position slightly behind Mitt Romney in last month’s CNN polling to a 52%-45% lead against the Republican this week. While other factors were involved, his new rhetoric about income inequality and forcing everybody to “play by the same rules” resonated especially well with voters who have seen their government enforce one rule of conduct for Wall Street and another for the rest of us.

Unfortunately, his Administration hasn’t backed up that rhetoric with action. It has steadfastly refused to investigate and prosecute the bank crimes who brought this economy to its knees. So have the chief law enforcement officials for most states. Instead they’re trying to cut sweetheart deals that would let crooked bankers go with a slap on the wrist.

People are getting fed up. Grassroots outrage against the lack of prosecutions is giving rise to organized citizen action who are protesting these injustices under a “fair settlement” banner. Will this public backlash become strong enough to finally force national and state governments to enforce the law and protect the economy?

The Excuse Makers

If excuses were investigations there’d be justice for everyone. But only a handful of state Attorneys General, led by New York’s Eric Schneiderman, have been willing to stand up to big bankers and their friends in high places. The president himself has been serving as Excuse Maker-in-Chief, as when he told 60 Minutes that “Some of the most damaging behavior on Wall Street, in some cases, some of the least ethical behavior on Wall Street, wasn’t illegal.”

That’s right, of course, in a literal “what the meaning of ‘is’ is” sense… Some of the damaging behavior wasn’t illegal. And some car accidents aren’t caused by drunk drivers. But many, if not most of them, are. If a country road was littered with whisky bottles and corpses, and the county sheriff hadn’t booked anyone for a DUI in three years, people would be asking why he’s not doing his job.

That’s what many people are asking about this president and his Justice Department.

You can’t set your foot down around this place without stepping in excuses. Another Administration official told a bank-friendly reporter at the Wall Street Journal that it’s too difficult to win convictions for crimes that are as as complicated as banking fraud. “Our job is too hard,” the Justice Department seems to be saying.

But it wasn’t too hard in the 1980s, when a fairly bank-friendly president named Ronald Reagan was running the Federal government. More than 1,000 bankers were convicted in the Savings & Loan scandal for crimes that were very similar to the ones that led to the 2008 financial crisis. A man named Bill Black led the investigations that resulted in those convictions, and the Obama Justice Department hasn’t even asked for his advice.

It isn’t hard for juries to understand lying, either, and stock fraud is usually a case of somebody lying to someone else. There seem to be some pretty clear-cut cases of it lying around waiting to be prosecuted, very possibly including some at my old employer AIG.

And it isn’t hard to understand widespread and organized rings designed to forge court documents, commit perjury, and evade state taxes. And yet that’s exactly what big banks did in order to commit massive foreclosure fraud on US homeowners.

The Doers

People who are familiar with Wall Street fraud have come to believe that the Obama Justice Department just doesn’t want to investigate and prosecute bankers.It’s gone to great lengths to avoid prosecuting them. In fact, that’s become so clear to Steve Linnick, Inspector General of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, that he’s stopped referring potential criminal cases to the Justice Department at all. Instead he’s started sending them to Mr. Schneiderman, who has broad power to bring prosecute financial wrongdoing under a 1927 New York law called the Martin Act.

There is one Attorney General for each of the fifty states. Each of them has the ability to prosecute the crimes committed by banks in their own jurisdictions. They can also cooperate with Mr. Schneiderman, whose authority under the Martin Act extends across state lines. That power gives state AGs another tool for protecting their state’s residents from fraud and bringing criminal bankers to justice.

And yet, only a handful of brave Attorneys General are willing to enforce the law against bankers. In one way or another, Schneiderman’s battle is also being waged by Martha Coakley in Massachusetts, Kamala Harris of California, Beau Biden of Delaware, Jack Conway of Kentucky, and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada.

That leaves forty-two other states whose AGs are refusing to enforce the law. And the Obama Administration isn’t content to just let bad bankers go free to commit more crimes. It’s also pressuring the AGs to accept a cushy deal with the banks that would leave crimes unpunished, homeowners unsafe, and bank fraud victims uncompensated.

The People

It’s been a long time coming, but the backlash is here. Occupy Wall Street lit the fire with its “one demand” — an end to the insanity and a realization that bankers and other oligarchs rule the economy like a medieval fiefdom. And now the demand for economic justice is reaching into state governments and the Department of Justice.

A loose coalition of groups is demanding that more Attorneys General prosecute of bank crimes aggressively, offering support for those who are already moving, and calling on the states to reject the cushy deal that the Federal government and some of the AGs are trying to cut with the banks.

Independent citizen groups and progressive organizations are forming alliances at the state level with unions like the AFL-CIO and SEIU, as well as groups such as Clergy and Laity for Economic Justice. Californians for a Fair Settlement, Pennsylvanians for a Fair Settlement, Nevadans for a Fair Settlement and other state teams have begun putting pressure on each state’s Attorney General to reject the Administration-backed deal and immediately begin aggressive investigations and prosecutions.

Like David Dayen, I’m hesitant to embrace the “fair settlement” framing completely until some of those investigations are further along. Based on the overwhelming evidence we’ve seen so far, a truly fair resolution will probably involve handcuffs, orange jumpsuits, and perp walks along with a financial deal. Financial restitution will need to include, at a minimum:
substantial principal reductions for underwater homeowners, along with lower interest rates;
a breakup or restructuring of the “MERS” shell game so that it no longer enables deceit, tax evasion, and the conversion of home mortgages from a two-party contract to a commodity bankers can trade and sell without regard to property rights;
the right to rent a home that has become distressed; and,
a loan modification facility that is not administered by the banks themselves.
“Fair Settlement” is a good enough umbrella under which to place these demands, as long as it’s clear that prosecutions and real restitution are vital elements of fairness. The question now is, how strong will this movement become? Will the public back these groups in demanding justice and rejecting any more cushy bank deals? If they don’t, the country will have serious problems in the years to come.
The president is enjoying the fruits of his rhetoric this week, and it’s excellent rhetoric. But he’ll need to match his words to his deeds if he wants the rewards to continue, and that means directing his Justice Department to drop the cushy bank agreement and start prosecuting Wall Street wrongdoers. And voters are likely to be unforgiving of state politicians who won the office of Attorney General by promising to uphold the law and then turn a blind eye to “wrong” acts by the “right” people.

It’s bad enough to watch powerful people break the law with impunity, shatter the economy, get rescued with taxpayer dollars, and then get to scoff at the law as they walk away unpunished. Here’s what’s even worse: If they’re not brought to justice, they’ll do it again.

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Why the Republican Crackup is Bad For America

Robert Reich
Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley; Author, ‘Aftershock’

Two weeks before the Iowa caucuses, the Republican crackup threatens the future of the Grand Old Party more profoundly than at any time since the GOP’s eclipse in 1932. That’s bad for America.

The crackup isn’t just Romney the smooth versus Gingrich the bomb-thrower.

Not just House Republicans who just scotched the deal to continue payroll tax relief and extended unemployment insurance benefits beyond the end of the year, versus Senate Republicans who voted overwhelmingly for it.

Not just Speaker John Boehner, who keeps making agreements he can’t keep, versus Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who keeps making trouble he can’t control.

And not just venerable Republican senators like Indiana’s Richard Lugar, a giant of foreign policy for more than three decades, versus primary challenger state treasurer Richard Mourdock, who apparently misplaced and then rediscovered $320 million in state tax revenues.

Some describe the underlying conflict as Tea Partiers versus the Republican establishment. But this just begs the question of who the Tea Partiers really are and where they came from.

The underlying conflict lies deep into the nature and structure of the Republican Party. And its roots are very old.

As Michael Lind has noted, today’s Tea Party is less an ideological movement than the latest incarnation of an angry white minority — predominantly Southern, and mainly rural — that has repeatedly attacked American democracy in order to get its way.

It’s no mere coincidence that the states responsible for putting the most Tea Party representatives in the House are all former members of the Confederacy. Of the Tea Party caucus, twelve hail from Texas, seven from Florida, five from Louisiana, and five from Georgia, and three each from South Carolina, Tennessee, and border-state Missouri.

Others are from border states with significant Southern populations and Southern ties. The four Californians in the caucus are from the inland part of the state or Orange County, whose political culture has was shaped by Oklahomans and Southerners who migrated there during the Great Depression.

This isn’t to say all Tea Partiers are white, Southern or rural Republicans — only that these characteristics define the epicenter of Tea Party Land.

And the views separating these Republicans from Republicans elsewhere mirror the split between self-described Tea Partiers and other Republicans.

In a poll of Republicans conducted for CNN last September, nearly six in ten who identified themselves with the Tea Party say global warming isn’t a proven fact; most other Republicans say it is.

Six in ten Tea Partiers say evolution is wrong; other Republicans are split on the issue. Tea Party Republicans are twice as likely as other Republicans to say abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, and half as likely to support gay marriage.

Tea Partiers are more vehement advocates of states’ rights than other Republicans. Six in ten Tea Partiers want to abolish the Department of Education; only one in five other Republicans do. And Tea Party Republicans worry more about the federal deficit than jobs, while other Republicans say reducing unemployment is more important than reducing the deficit.

In other words, the radical right wing of today’s GOP isn’t that much different from the social conservatives who began asserting themselves in the Party during the 1990s, and, before them, the “Willie Horton” conservatives of the 1980s, and, before them, Richard Nixon’s “silent majority.”

Through most of these years, though, the GOP managed to contain these white, mainly rural and mostly Southern, radicals. After all, many of them were still Democrats. The conservative mantle of the GOP remained in the West and Midwest — with the libertarian legacies of Ohio Senator Robert A. Taft and Barry Goldwater, neither of whom was a barn-burner — while the epicenter of the Party remained in New York and the East.

But after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as the South began its long shift toward the Republican Party and New York and the East became ever more solidly Democratic, it was only a matter of time. The GOP’s dominant coalition of big business, Wall Street, and Midwest and Western libertarians was losing its grip.

The watershed event was Newt Gingrich’s takeover of the House, in 1995. Suddenly, it seemed, the GOP had a personality transplant. The gentlemanly conservatism of House Minority Leader Bob Michel was replaced by the bomb-throwing antics of Gingrich, Dick Armey, and Tom DeLay.

Almost overnight Washington was transformed from a place where legislators tried to find common ground to a war zone. Compromise was replaced by brinkmanship, bargaining by obstructionism, normal legislative maneuvering by threats to close down government — which occurred at the end of 1995.

Before then, when I’d testified on the Hill as Secretary of Labor, I had come in for tough questioning from Republican senators and representatives — which was their job. After January 1995, I was verbally assaulted. “Mr. Secretary, are you a socialist?” I recall one of them asking.

But the first concrete sign that white, Southern radicals might take over the Republican Party came in the vote to impeach Bill Clinton, when two-thirds of senators from the South voted for impeachment. (A majority of the Senate, you may recall, voted to acquit.)

America has had a long history of white Southern radicals who will stop at nothing to get their way — seceding from the Union in 1861, refusing to obey Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s, shutting the government in 1995, and risking the full faith and credit of the United States in 2010.

Newt Gingrich’s recent assertion that public officials aren’t bound to follow the decisions of federal courts derives from the same tradition.

This stop-at-nothing radicalism is dangerous for the GOP because most Americans recoil from it. Gingrich himself became an object of ridicule in the late 1990s, and many Republicans today worry that if he heads the ticket the Party will suffer large losses.

It’s also dangerous for America. We need two political parties solidly grounded in the realities of governing. Our democracy can’t work any other way.

Robert Reich is the author of Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future, now in bookstores. This post originally appeared at RobertReich.org.

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8 Stories Buried By the Corporate Media That You Need to Know About

AlterNet / By Rania Khalek -

Not all news stories are treated equally.

December 15, 2011 |

As 2011 comes to a close, we will see lists of the year’s most memorable events and most important people, as is the pattern every year. But not all stories are created equal. When the corporate media bury significant developments in the back pages of the paper or the second to last paragraph of an article, it’s easy for stories to go unnoticed.

As usual, this year was packed with critical, newsworthy and insufficiently covered stories that should have, but didn’t, make the front page. Below are eight explosive must-read stories of 2011 that you may have missed.

1) Our Planet Saw the Largest Increase in Carbon Emissions Since the Industrial Revolution

Global emissions of carbon dioxide increased 5.9 percent in 2010, the largest increase on record, according to Global Carbon Project, an international group of scientists tracking the numbers. This increase, reports the New York Times, is “almost certainly the largest absolute jump in any year since the Industrial Revolution, and the largest percentage increase since 2003.”

Another study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, traces an estimated three-quarters of the planet’s warming since 1950 to human activities. On top of that, the World Meteorological Organization warned that 10 of the hottest years ever recorded have occurred in the last 15 years, with temperatures this year registering as the 10th highest on record.

It’s obvious that the world is getting warmer at an accelerating rate and it’s our fault. What are world leaders going to do about it? Wait another eight years to cut emissions.

These statistics were released before last week’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa, which ended with an agreement to kick the can down the road – they will negotiate a new climate treaty by 2015, which would postpone emission cuts until 2020.

To avoid the most devastating effects of climate change, we must limit the earth’s warming to 2°C. For that to happen, emission volumes cannot exceed 450 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide. Since emissions have already reached 390 ppm, higher than any other time in recorded history, the International Energy Agency warns that action cannot be delayed past 2017. Based on the Durbin agreement, emissions won’t be cut until 2020.

Unless something drastic pushes our leaders to change the destructive path we’re on, 2011 may go down in the history books as the year that humans irreversibly screwed themselves and the planet.

2) Widespread Trafficking Of Iraqi Women And Girls Thanks To The Iraq War

Since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, over 100,000 Iraqis have been killed and another 4.4 million displaced, leaving many women and girls widowed or orphaned.

As a result of the conflict more than 50,000 Iraqi women find themselves trapped in sexual servitude in Syria and Jordan, giving rise to a lucrative and growing sex industry that feeds off the chaos from the Iraq war.

Women and girls inside Iraq fare no better, often working in brothels run by female pimps. In an interview with the Inter Press Service, Rania, a former trafficker who now works as an undercover researcher for a women’s support group in Iraq, detailed a visit to “a house in Baghdad’s Al-Jihad district, where girls as young as 16 were held to cater exclusively to the U.S. military. The brothel’s owner told Rania that an Iraqi interpreter employed by the Americans served as the go-between, transporting girls to and from the U.S. airport base.”

Although human trafficking is illegal in Iraq, the country lacks a robust criminal justice system to enforce the law. Sadly, the victims of trafficking and prostitution are often the ones who are punished.

3) More Iraq Veterans Committed Suicide Last Year Than Active-Duty Troops Died In Combat

In 2010, 468 active duty and reserve troops committed suicide while 462 died in combat, marking the second year in a row that more US soldiers killed themselves than died at war, according to Congressional Quarterly’s John Donnelly.

Over the past decade, over 2,000 soldiers have taken their own lives, yet they receive little attention in our corporate media. In August the New York Times ran a story with the celebratory headline, “Iraq War Marks First Month With No U.S. Military Deaths.” That same month, the Department of Defense reported19 possible suicides among active-duty soldiers. In July, that number reached a record high of 32. America’s decade-long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan leave troops with deep emotional scars that can be just as dangerous as a combat wound. Perhaps it’s time we gave them the attention they deserve.

4) Drone Strikes Kill Innocent Civilians, Not Just ‘Militants’

After Jon Brennan, President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, claimed in June that no civilians had been killed in US drone attacks in nearly a year, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported that at least 45 civilians were killed in 10 US attacks during that period.

Overall, drone strikes in Pakistan have killed 780 civilians, including 175 children. The bureau documents 309 CIA drone strikes carried out since 2004 that have killed as many as 2,997 people. Over 85 percent were launched by the Obama administration, an average of one strike every four days. Yet the casualties of the US drone war rarely receive mention in the corporate media, except when described as “Islamic militants” or “suspected terrorists.” This is challenged not only by the bureau’s data, but also by gruesome photographs of drone victims taken by local journalists.

The Guardian described the images captured by Noor Behram, a journalist from the North Waziristan region of Pakistan, whose work appeared in an exhibition at London’s Beaconsfield gallery in August:

The photographs make for difficult viewing and leave no doubt about the destructive power of the Hellfire missiles unleashed: a boy with the top of his head missing, a severed hand, flattened houses, the parents of children killed in a strike. The chassis is all that remains of a car in one photo, another shows the funeral of a seven-year-old child. There are pictures, too, of the cheap rubber flip-flops worn by children and adults, which often survive: signs that life once existed there. A 10-year-old boy’s body, prepared for burial, shows lipstick on him and flowers in his hair – a mother’s last loving touch.

Spencer Ackerman recently featured a number of Behram’s disturbing photographs at Wired, which can be seen here.

5) Record Number Of US Kids Face Hunger and Homelessness

A report released by National Center on Family Homelessness finds that one in 45 US children (1.6 million) are homeless, the majority under the age of seven. The Christian Science Monitor reports, “The number of homeless children in 2010 exceeded even the total in 2006, when thousands of families displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita produced a historic spike in homelessness.”

It doesn’t stop there. According to recent figures released by the USDA, 17.2 million American households (14.5 percent) are “food insecure,” one of the highest recorded rates since surveys were first conducted in 1995. As a result, 16.2 million American children – one in five– face the threat of hunger. According to emergency room doctors in cities around the country, this is leading to a dramatic spike in malnourishment in babies.

Over the summer, the Boston Globe reported on shocking levels of infant malnourishment in Massachusetts. Doctors at the Boston Medical Center (BMC) reported seeing “more hungry and dangerously thin young children in the emergency room than at any time in more than a decade of surveying families.” Pediatricians in other large cities, including Baltimore, Little Rock, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia, have also seen a rise in infant and child malnourishment since 2008.

BMC doctors also warn that “rising chronic hunger threatens to leave scores of infants and toddlers with lasting learning and developmental problems.”

The Globe likened child malnourishment and hunger among Boston’s poor to levels seen in the “developing world.”

6) Prisoners Are People Too

This summer, more than 6,000 California prison inmates went on a month-long hunger strike in solidarity with those held in solitary confinement at the Secure Housing Unit in California’s Pelican Bay State Prison. Pelican Bay is notorious for holding nearly half of its 1,111 prisoners in solitary confinement for longer than 10 years. The strike was suspended in July when inmates entered negotiations with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). They expected change, but prisoners who organized and participated in the strike were instead retaliated against by prison guards.

By September 26, the strike was back on, with 12,000 inmates throughout California and out-of-state facilities participating. But those numbers quickly dwindled as the CDCR disciplined those involved by limiting access to visiting family members and isolating participants from other prisoners. A string of prisoner suicides committed by inmates who participated in the hunger strikes followed. Colorlines’ Julianne Hing reported:

In recent months Alex Machado and Johnny Owens Vick, who were both housed in Pelican Bay’s notorious solitary confinement Security Housing Unit, and Hozel Alanzo Blanchard, who was incarcerated at Calipatria State Prison’s Administrative Segregation Unit, all committed suicide. Prisoner advocates say all three participated in a statewide hunger strike this summer to protest, among other things, prison discipline policies intended to identify prison gang members which punish innocent, unaffiliated inmates with decades of confinement to segregated units.

7) US Deports 46,000 Parents, Kids Left Behind In Foster Care

Under the Obama administration, deportations of immigrants have skyrocketed, with a record 397,000 people removed in 2011 alone and families torn apart as a result. According to an investigation carried out by Colorlines, the United States deported over 46,000 parents whose children were U.S. citizens between January and June of this year. With their parents detained or deported, at least 5,100 children have been placed in foster care, and many may never see their parents again. Our draconian immigration system is creating orphans. Investigative reporter Seth Freed Wessler writes:

These children, many of whom should never have been separated from their parents in the first place, face often insurmountable obstacles to reunifying with their mothers and fathers. Though child welfare departments are required by federal law to reunify children with any parents who are able to provide for the basic safety of their children, detention makes this all but impossible. Then, once parents are deported, families are often separated for long periods. Ultimately, child welfare departments and juvenile courts too often move to terminate the parental rights of deportees and put children up for adoption, rather than attempt to unify the family as they would in other circumstances.

8) FBI Teaches Agents That Muslims Are Violent Radicals

In September, Spencer Ackerman reported some disturbing findings about the FBI’s counterterrorism training materials. He revealed, among other things, that the FBI’s Training Division depicts all Muslims as potential terrorists. Ackerman writes:

The FBI is teaching its counterterrorism agents that “mainstream” American Muslims are likely to be terrorist sympathizers; that the Prophet Mohammed was a “cult leader”; and that the Islamic practice of giving charity is no more than a ‘funding mechanism for combat.

At the Bureau’s training ground in Quantico, Virginia, agents are shown a chart contending that the more “devout” a Muslim, the more likely he is to be “violent.” Those destructive tendencies cannot be reversed, an FBI instructional presentation adds: “Any war against non-believers is justified” under Muslim law; a “moderating process cannot happen if the Koran continues to be regarded as the unalterable word of Allah.”

Ackerman also came upon an alarming description of Sunni Muslims, which is included in the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces mandatory online orientation material:

Sunni Muslims have been prolific in spawning numerous and varied fundamentalist extremist terrorist organizations. Sunni core doctrine and end state have remained the same and they continue to strive for Sunni Islamic domination of the world to prove a key Quranic assertion that no system of government or religion on earth can match the Quran’s purity and effectiveness for paving the road to God.

The FBI immediately apologized for the derogatory training materials, promising to comprehensively review all training materials. But it turns out that the FBI’s counterterrorism culture is soaked in Islamophobia, as demonstrated by the inclusion of books by Islamophobic authors Robert Spencer and Daniel Pipes in the FBI Quantico library.

This comes on top of a troubling pattern in counterterrorism law enforcement training — the use of Islamophobic ”terrorism consultants” to school agents on the Islamic faith. According to the Washington Monthly, this “growing profession” of consultants rakes in taxpayer cash to educate our cops about evils of Islam. One example is Walid Shoebat, who reportedly told an audience at a counterterrorism conference last year that the way to solve the threat of Islamic extremism is to “kill them…including the children.” Shoebat’s extreme denunciations of Islam helped fuel the paranoia of right-wing terrorist Anders Breivik, who massacred some 90 people in Norway earlier this year. According to the American Prospect, Shoebat is cited in Breivik’s manifesto 15 times.

Rania Khalek is an associate writer for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @RaniaKhalek.

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Eric Holder Is Correct: Let the Federal Gov. Stop the Racism of Individual States

Rev. Al Sharpton
President, National Action Network

When African Americans and other disenfranchised groups were still vying for an opportunity to have their voices heard and participate in the social and political process of the nation they helped construct, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was enacted to legally push forward this ability. When folks like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were entrenched in the struggle for civil rights, they achieved a victory with passage of the Voting Rights Act. And when states failed to comply with equal voting opportunities for all by creating literacy tests and other subliminal discriminatory practices, the federal Voting Rights Act superseded individual state’s attempts at bigotry and marginalization. Now, more than 40 years after the success of this historic legislation, many Republicans would like to slowly and covertly repeal the practice by establishing voter ID requirements in an effort to restrict individuals participating in the process. My message to them: don’t think you’re fooling anyone; we see your attempts at stealing the 2012 election and you will not get away with it.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder delivered a poignant message this week when he addressed an audience on this very issue at the Lyndon Johnson presidential library in Austin, Texas. Holder said he was calling on political parties to “resist the temptation to suppress certain votes in the hope of attaining electoral success” and stated that voting itself must be viewed “not only as a legal issue but as a moral imperative”. As someone who has been extremely concerned and vocal about this subject, I commend AG Holder and the administration for stepping in and tackling this pressing issue head on. We must support the AG in his efforts for not only are the most vulnerable among us at risk, but so too is our entire political structure as we know it.

The biggest (and most laughable) excuse proponents of voter ID laws like to use is the notion that they are somehow preventing ‘voter fraud’. When only some 38 cases of ‘voter fraud’ have actually been found to exist, the idea that this is somehow an inherent and urgent dilemma should be insulting to anyone with a semblance of intelligence. When other, more problematic issues like voter restriction have been proven to discriminate and hinder fair voting, the real focus should instead be on how we can allow for more citizens to cast their ballots – not less. If an elderly 80-year-old has been voting for decades with proof of a utility bill or other documentation, how can we ask him/her to go through a lengthy process of obtaining a copy of their birth certificate, going to the DMV, etc? Who will assist this person in wrangling through the bureaucracy?

The draconian ID requirements don’t only target the elderly. Many states are now prohibiting college students from voting in the state where they attend school. Next fall, when many of these students are entrenched in their studies, they will tragically find out that they are not eligible to vote. And how many of them will be able to leave school to travel out-of-state just to vote? Think we all know the answer to that. And of course, it should come as no surprise that Black and Latino citizens will suffer the greatest with these new ID laws. It’s estimated that millions and millions of minority voters will be excluded from the process as many either don’t have the money, time or means to obtain new identification.

President Obama rode into office with massive support from both young people and minorities. When record numbers of Blacks, Latinos and the youth voted in the 2008 election, it’s blatantly clear why the right-wing is attempting to create these new ID requirements. Instead of trying to find ways to cheat the elections, perhaps they should understand why their antiquated policies are so disliked by the majority. They are attempting to change the rules because they realize they are doomed for failure — the nation is not on your side. And we, the people, will not allow you to block anyone’s right to vote; we’ve fought too hard and too long for justice

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