Economic inequality

  • September 10, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The effort to amend the Constitution to counter the ever-growing corporate influence on lawmakers and elections is a noble one, but there is a more useful and far-reaching way to correct the matter – make corporations more democratic. That’s law Professor Kent Greenfield’s take in a new article for Democracy.

    It’s an extensive piece that helps explain why the Supreme Court’s 2010 opinion in Citizens United v. FEC is quickly producing a corrosive effect on elections from coast to coast, but also why seeking a constitutional amendment is a wobbly strategy.

    Not long after the high court in Citizens United invalidated some major campaign finance regulation and found that corporations have nearly unfettered rights to funnel their expenditures into elections, an effort was launched to amend the Constitution.

    John Bonifaz and Jeffrey Clements co-founded Free Speech For People a group devoted to a constitution amendment overturning Citizens United.

    A recent debate with Bonifaz helped spur Greenfield to write the Democracy piece. Greenfield, who teaches business and constitutional law at Boston College, says that too many progressives have decided that constitutional law solution is needed to trump the Citizens United. Instead, Greenfield argues that it is corporations and how we understand them that need to change.

    “While the constitutional effort is defensive and palliative, a campaign to redesign the corporation itself would be affirmative and transformative,” Greenfield writes. “To cure Citizens United, we don’t have to amend the Constitution – we need to rethink corporations.”

    The nation’s laws governing corporations are weak and shareholders, despite widespread belief, do not have much to do with running corporations. (He notes for instance that shareholders are “not ‘owners’ in any meaningful way. If you own a share of General Motors, you will still be tossed out of its headquarters as a trespasser if you try to enter without an appointment.”) In Citizens United the Supreme Court majority, Greenfield notes, saw corporations as “associations of citizens,” but in reality America’s corporations are largely representative of the wealthy few, the 1 percent.

  • September 4, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Late last week seemingly as quiet as possible, the attorney general announced no efforts to prosecute CIA officials accused of being involved in the torture of military prisoners. As The New York Times put it, Attorney General Eric Holder’s “announcement closes a contentious three-year investigation by the Justice Department and brings to an end years of dispute over whether line intelligence or military personnel or their superiors would be held accountable for the abuse of prisoners ….”

    Of course Holder’s action will stir more discussion, some of it shrill and way over-the-top, about the Obama administration’s record on national security and conducting a seemingly never-ending war against terrorism. For many liberals the Obama administration’s record in those areas appears just like his predecessor’s.

    Human Rights First issued a strong, clear-headed statement against Holder’s action.

    “Torture is illegal and out of step with American values,” Human Rights First’s Melina Milazzo said in an Aug. 30 press statement. “Attorney General Holder’s announcement is disappointing because it’s well documented that in the aftermath of 9/11 torture and abuse was widespread and systematic. These cases deserved to be taken more seriously from the outset. When you don’t take seriously the duty to investigate criminal acts at the beginning, resolution becomes even more difficult a decade later. It’s is shocking that the department’s review of hundreds of instances of torture and abuse will fail to hold even one person accountable.”

    Such disappointment is warranted, so is sharp, thoughtful criticism.

    But then predictably we are also subject to the overwrought. For example, see actor John Cusack’s lengthy and often insufferable discussion with law professor Jonathan Turley for Truthout. Their discussion drones on and includes claims of “Rubicon lines” being crossed and constitutional principles being trampled. Cusack says Obama has created an “imperial presidency.” Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, whole-heartedly concurs, adding “Oh, President Obama has created an imperial presidency that would have made Richard Nixon bush. It is unbelievable.”

  • August 3, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    As much as they claim to loathe government, right-wing policy makers adore government assistance to the nation’s superrich.

    The economic policies, including weakened regulation of the financial industry, pushed by a party that has become behold to the superrich ushered in the Great Recession and the gaping economic inequality that the nation seems to be slowly awakening. Yet likely not fast enough. The number in poverty is on track, The Associated Press reported in July, to reach “levels unseen in nearly half a century,” and wiping out gains to lessen poverty that were seen in the 1960s. These economic policies center on tax cuts for the wealthiest, dwindling social services, along with weak regulation of the financial industry.

    “The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year,” Columbia Business School Professor Joseph Stiglitz wrote last year. “In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent.”

    Stiglitz noted in the same article how woefully out touch the wealthiest are – they can take care of themselves just fine and are numb to the plight of a family of three that must somehow survive on an annual income of less than $38,000.

    So what can be done to reverse the situation? It appears rather hopeless, since the superrich are also the most powerful and have been able to keep alive the economic policies that have benefited them at a great cost to everyone else. During this year’s ACS National Convention Peter Edelman, a Georgetown University law school professor and longtime advocate for the nation’s most vulnerable said the shrinking middle class must become far more vocal in calling for an end to disastrous economic policies.

    In a recent op-ed for The New York Times, Edelman (pictured), also chair of the ACS Board, said we know “what we need to do – make the rich pay their fair share of running the country, raise the minimum wage, provide health care and a decent safety net, and the like”

  • July 25, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Right-wing activists and pundits are quick to bemoan discussion of the nation’s growing poverty, blasting discussion of economic inequality and poverty as an effort to stoke class warfare. It’s a refrain we’ve heard for decades.

    But studies, by the Census Bureau and others, show that not only is economic inequality real and festering, but poverty is growing, while the middle class shrinks.

    The Associated Press reported earlier this week that the “ranks of America’s poor are on track to climb to levels unseen in nearly half a century, erasing gains from the war on poverty in the 1960s amid a weak economy and a fraying government safety net.”

    The nation’s social safety net has been diminished by a Republican Party that has grown beholden to the superrich, and is devoted to the proposition as Tim Dickinson wrote for Rolling Stone that “the wealthy should grow wealthier still, whatever the consequences for the rest of us.”

    Of course moderate Democrats have also played a significant role in shredding the social safety net. The 1996 so-called welfare reform act took a major swipe at the social safety net.

    The AP surveying “more than a dozen economists, think tanks and academics,” found a “broad consensus that the “official poverty rate will rise from 15.1 percent in 2010, climbing as high as 15.7 percent. That level of poverty, the AP continued, will represent the highest level since 1965.

    In his new book So Rich, So Poor, Peter Edelman, a law professor at Georgetown University Law Center, laments the nation’s worn social safety net, writing that “the bottom has dropped out” of it. He said repairing the tattered social safety net is one of the most urgent challenges facing the country.

    Talking to the AP, Edelman (pictured), also chair of the ACS Board, said the challenges go beyond the weakened social safety net, noting the “deep problems in the economy.”

  • July 18, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    To help states more effectively provide support to individuals while they seek employment, the Obama administration is allowing state officials to seek waivers of some requirements of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.

    But The New York Times reports the administration’s move has stirred consternation among some conservative lawmakers. In a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), complained that Congress did not intend for states to be provided “waivers of TANF work requirements.”

    In a July 12 statement, HHS Acting Assistant Secretary George Sheldon says the Social Security Act provides the department the “authority to grant states waivers of certain TANF provisions for the purpose of testing new approaches to meeting the goals of the TANF statute. The Secretary is interested in using her authority to allow states to test alternative and innovative strategies, policies, and procedures that are designed to improve employment outcomes for needy families.”

    The Times, however, notes that conservative lobbying groups, which have fought to eliminate a social safety net, primarily by supporting economic policy that starves government of revenue by slashing taxes on the nation’s wealthiest, are decrying the administration’s move as detrimental to a program that has allegedly “lifted millions out of poverty.”

    Such a claim is as bizarre as it is laughable.

    The number of people now in poverty is larger than at any time since the Great Depression. As many economists have noted the nation’s middle class is shrinking, poverty is growing, and the only people who are faring better are the superrich.