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This Lies Behind Our Economic Boom and Political Bust

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Last year the wealthiest nation in the history of the world generated $8.7 trillion in new wealth, more than the next 10 countries combined. That works out to over $65,000 per household. How much of that worker generated new wealth did you receive in your pay raise last year? If your family income was $60,000 last year, and if you were rewarded with just 5% of the new wealth that you helped create, plus a cost of living adjustment to keep up with inflation, your family income today should be over $63,500? Is that true for most of you? Probably not, because that second bar graph on right suggests personal household income is not growing much.

Some people looking at this will say:
“Yea, rich people will get richer, but low unemployment and new manufacturing jobs will add a lot of wealth where there was none before. Right”?
That hasn’t been the case overall for the past 40 years. The great wealth creation last year isn’t a one-off event. It happens nearly every year. And every year since the mid-1970s workers do not receive any (or very little) share in the rising hourly GDP (New Wealth).

Prior to 1974, we all receive productivity raises nearly every year on top of any cost of living adjustments (a COLA, as it was called). Since then we stopped receiving productivity raises and lost public sector health coverage, pension plans, and other benefits. We have received cost of living raises since then, but productivity raises have been minimal. Therefore, while our wages keep up with inflation, they aren’t keeping up with new personal wealth. Put another way, our collective wages are a smaller and smaller percentage of our National GDP.

If wages continued keeping up with hourly GDP since 1974, the median household income today (fam of 4) would be over $115,000/year instead of nearly half that. The national GDP is nearly three times greater today than it was in 1974, yet inflation-adjusted have barely risen. These are uncontested facts. Chronic wage suppression (and I do believe this is deliberate) accounts for most of our economic ills today.

Imagine how much easier it would be to raise money for our schools and local services if everyone in town had twice the income they make now. How much money would we save on government aid to the working poor (daycare, housing, medical care, etc.) if everyone had twice the income and didn’t need financial subsidies? Imagine how the economy would be buzzing if everyone had lots more discretionary income to buy things, thus boosting the demand for production. The only downside is that the wealth of the richest 1% wouldn’t be growing quite as fast. The decline of the middle-class, the lack of good paying jobs, the increase in public assistance, the rise in taxes and decline of other government services are all symptoms of income inequality. The cycle of wealth accumulation followed by catastrophic wars and social collapse is a very old story with a many-centuries-old history.

Are you still with me, because this next part is important.

There has not been a big partisan difference on the issues of a fair distribution of wages or wealth. Both political parties remained silent on the subject for decades, until the 2014 election. Both parties talked about job growth, but not wage growth. Both talked about growing the economy but not about our shrinking pensions and benefits packages and stagnant wages. They talked about bolstering the middle-class but didn’t mention our growing poverty class for almost three decades.

Republican legislators (not most rank and file members) have been far more pro-corporate in pursuing the interests of the wealthy elite over time. Republican party elites also shamelessly pandered to value voters and the far-right fringe to win elections but never delivered on their promises. Main Street Republicans were used and abuse to the elite of their party could pursue the corporate donor interests.

On the other side of the aisle, Democratic Party leadership (not every legislator) also pandered to big corporations, to the rich and to their more liberal base while being complicit in their silence on income inequality and many other matters important to their voters. No one in government was addressing the shrinking middle-class or their shrinking wages relative to the size of the ever-growing US economy. No one was listening to any of us!

Hence, we had a political revolt in both parties during the 2014 elections. Rank and file members of both parties weren’t listening to each other either as powerful special interest, foreign and domestic, made sure we didn’t get together to compare notes. Donald Trump rose up among conservatives to shake things up in the GOP. Bernie Sanders rose up among liberals to shake up the Democratic establishment.

So here we are today, like opposing armies glaring at each other across the battlefield in a war we never wanted. Both sides have been ignored by our leaders. Both sides have been told the other side is the cause of our decline. Both sides have been given false reasons for our growing dissatisfaction. And yet the real reasons for this sluggish Main Street economy, which is slowly squeezing us into poverty, are reasons that we all share in common.

It is the failure of our politics to address the unfair distribution of wages and wealth. It is hundreds of policies that favor the profitability of big businesses over the best interests of our people. It is the corruption of special interests representing the ultra-wealthy and buying elections. We would all do far better if we could just lower our guard, put our less consequential differences aside for now and join in common cause to take charge of our economic well-being.

South Africa – A Canary in a Cage?

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

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Having come of age in the 1970’s, South Africa holds a special place in my heart.  Although I’d not been there before recently, the forced social separation by apartheid laws to reinforced White domination was a global disgrace, and I felt it. I signed petitions to get my college to divest from companies doing business there. Nelson Mandela’s political imprisonment was an international affront to justice that bothered me.

The spontaneous street protests in Soweto by Black high school student in the 1980’s was inspiring while the fact so many were shot dead shocked everyone.

And so  I celebrated along with the rest of the world when Apartheid was finally dismantled, Mandela was freed and the first free elections were held. It was a triumph of the human spirit over oppression and it sent a message of love and freedom to the world.

When my wife and I recently  booked a trip to South Africa, we were excited by the prospect of viewing great African animals in their natural habitat, but equally interested to see how this iconic country had fared during their 27 years of freedom.

The safari portions of our trip were spectacular, far exceeding our expectations. The landscapes, the plant life and geography were beautiful and so dramatic. All the people we met were friendly and welcoming. I felt I had come home to our mother continent where humanity itself was born.

Yet it was sad to learn how difficult the transition to self-rule has been for the people in this developing nation. We learned a lot about South African culture and it’s politics, much of which is just now seeping out to Western news outlets.

I can’t begin to do this topic justice from just a 12 day tour, but I can highlight some of my impressions.

Our tour guide on the trip was a brilliant, very engaging “colored” man (his term) who self-identifies as being from the Khoi-San tribe.

This is actually a joining of the names of two tribes indigenous to South Africa. The Khoi-San are genetically and linguistically among the oldest groups of humans on earth. It was they who Dutch settlers first encountered in 1656. Of course oppression and hardship followed the Khoi (or Khoe pronounced coy) and the San tribes throughout the colonial period under the Dutch, and then the English in the 1800’s.

After three-hundred years of colonial rule our tour guide, like most colored people in South Africa, is bi-racial with some Dutch and English ancestry. Colored people were oppressed in colonial times and still are today, although less overtly.

During apartheid, the designation of “colored” also applied to people from India who were brought there as slaves, and to any other group held in low esteem. If a black African wanted to appeal his designation as a colored person, a pencil was pushed through the person’s hair and they were told to shake their head. If the pencil fell out they lost their appeal.

The hope of inter-racial harmony and social unity that animated the successful struggle against apartheid in the in the 1970’s and 80’s has since given way to economic and political oppression by other factions. South Africa has among the greatest wealth inequality in the world.  In our guide’s telling, it is the black African immigrants from the North who mostly hold the reins of power, Among these are certain dominate tribes, such as the Zulu for one example. There is a social hierarchy among these black African tribes while middle-class white South Africans are not in power and colored South Africans are at or near the bottom.

The degree to which society is stratified along tribal traditions is evident in the parliament where everyone insists on speaking in their own dialect or language despite the fact that virtually everyone speaks English. This means everything said in parliament has to go through interpreters and is fraught with misunderstandings.

Not surprisingly, it is global corporations who appear to be pulling all the strings in South Africa. As we road in our bus for hours from one site to another we saw miles and miles of eucalyptus trees planted in perfectly straight rows awaiting lumber harvesting. We saw miles and miles of other single crop plantings as far as the eye could see. It was corporate industrial farming on a grand scale harvesting crops destined for international consumption. I couldn’t help but wonder what native species of animals and plants were displaced by all this cultivated land. I wondered if beautiful giraffes or lions had once roamed here. Does loss of habitat contribute more here to species decline than poaching?

 

The only small farming we saw was tiny gardens between certain shacks in huge, crowded shanty towns that dotted the lands outside the major towns and cities. On one side of the roadway you might see a square mile or more of closely packed shacks made of corrugated tin or wood planks with electric wires extending down to them like ribbons from a maypole. Sanitation is provided by long rows of outhouses along the periphery of these villages.

On the other side of the road you might see large gated communities of small, brightly colored masonry houses with modest flower gardens and a little driveway. There is razor wire on top of all the walls surrounding these communities. These four or five room homes were described to us as middle class enclaves. Only in the township of Soweto did we see a community where rich, middle class and poor housing existed in proximity.

Poverty is rampant everywhere, even in the wealth city areas. The unemployment rate in South Africa is currently approaching 50 percent. Crime has become an essential activity for survival among some South Africans. We learned that the country has an affordable and extensive railway system which is now plagued by long delays because robbers steal the electric lines to sell the copper.

Evidence of corporate industrial farming and its impact was just as evident in Swaziland, which is an independent nation within the northern mountain region of South Africa.

Here lives the only remaining sovereign king on earth. He disbanded the constitution when he took power and is the sole law of the land. A Western educated man with 13 wives, his most recent wife is just 19 years old. He is also one of the top richest men on earth living in a land of great poverty and very inadequate health care. Many people here still rely on medicine men when they are ill.

As we road through a rural landscape we passed hectors after hectors of sugar cane planted in neat, endless rows. Our tour guide told us all this sugar cane belonged to Coca Cola. Asked if the land was owned by the company we learned that all the land is leased to Coca Cola by the government, which is the Swazi king. Still, every child goes to school and has a school uniform. Parents who can afford it buy their child’s books and uniforms while poor parents apply for them from the government.

Back in South Africa the same is not always true. While every child is required to go to school and wear a uniform, in some rural farm areas there is a gap between sixth grade and eight grade. Parents who can afford it send their children to private 7th grade classes. Education stops at the 6th grade for those who can’t afford a private school. In this way there is a steady supply of laborers to work the fields.

Water resources have recently become a huge issue in Capetown, a city of twelve million people who are expected to run out of water sometime in April. Water conservation signs are everywhere, starting at the airport. In our hotel a four minute hourglass egg timer was glued to the shower stall to help guests take shorter showers. (Currently the recommended shower time is two minutes, not four).

Almost all of Capetown’s water comes from ground water reservoirs. So the environmental cause of this water shortage is a lack of rain due to five years of drought. But there are political causes behind the crisis as well. Endless squabbles and debates in the national government have resulted in years of delay in constructing a desalination plants.

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I couldn’t get a clear answer as to whether there were sufficient aquifers under the city to dig municipal wells, but an hour’s drive south brought us to the wine district what water is abundant.

Here there were reservoirs filled with water as well as ground wells to irrigate the vineyards. There were lush fields of grapes in this fertile valley waiting to be picked and turned into that famous South African wine. Some of these vineyards are over 300 years old.

As my wife and I traveled around and observed all the contrasts and disparities, we got the sense we were not seeing South Africa backsliding towards it’s past, but rather a glimpse into our own future here in the United States. A future dominated by corporate servitude and stateless billionaires. South Africa, the cradle of humanity, is a place of awesome beauty and friendly, descent hard working folks. But the politics right now is frightening. The resources and economy of this developing country is increasingly falling under the control of private international companies and powerful foreign states, especially China. It is not unlike what we see happening here in the United States.

These are among my impressions, my cultural snap shots that a camera can’t capture. Since we returned home South Africa has been on our minds and in our hearts every day. A beautiful land. A beautiful people with high ideals and aspirations trying to find their way in a world full of economic wolves.

The Promise Makers of Wall Street

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Not long ago a dollar was backed by the promise that it could be exchanged for gold or silver. To back up that promise the US gold reserve was established at Fort Knox in Tennessee, for example.  The confidence of our people, and of the rest of the world, in our currency was far less certain than it is today.  The gold standard was perhaps a necessary step towards establishing the good faith of the US Government.

Look at a dollar bill and you will see that it is a Federal Reserve Note. Before the creation of the Federal Reserve Bank, many banks issued their own currency, or “bank notes”.  The worthiness of those bank notes wasn’t consistent. The Federal Reserve Bank standardized and stabilized our national currency. It’s important to remember that the word “note” is another word for an I.O.U.  A bank note is a promise that a coin or a paper document  can be exchanged for a stated amount of tangible value.

The important point for this discussion is that all currency is a form of debt. A U.S. Dollar is a government backed loan. Our trust in its worthiness has become an intrinsic faith in our government’s ability to guarantee its face value. (Which is why the Congressional Freedom Coalition’s talk of not raising the national debt ceiling is so dangerous.)

I recently saw “Junk” on Broadway. It is a play partially based on the story of Wall Street financier Michael Milken.  It is a cautionary tale of money and corruption. Milken’s new approach to finance made him a billion dollars over just four years in the 1980’s. He was like a god on Wall Street and all the normal rules didn’t seem to apply to him, until he got caught breaking the laws he ignored.

More than that, Junk is the story of the paradigm shift Milken pioneered in how modern bankers and business leaders have come to understand wealth and power.  It is a view of wealth that can be summed up by the slogan, “debt is an asset”.  Specifically, any financial instrument that reliably conveys the promise of value to another person or entity can be used as a form of currency. Government regulated Federal Reserve Notes are no longer central to the exchange of wealth.  Nor is any physical collateral or real estate necessary. It seems almost any promise of payment for money owed is sufficient to make financial transactions on Wall Street. These creative financial instruments often have cleaver name and deceptive structures. They are increasingly complex and difficult to understand or regulate. But they all have one thing in common, they are all based on debt. They all create wealth on a promise.

In  Milken’s case, he began with generating cash by selling very  high risk, but high yield bonds and then using those bonds as collateral to finance corporate takeovers. These “junk bonds” (as they are still called) were used like currency to finance “leveraged buyouts” of other businesses. Whole divisions within companies purchased in these buyouts often had to be chopped up and sold off to pay back these high interest bonds.

The charges brought against Milken were ordinary financial crimes, such as insider trading. But his creative financing lead to a whole new banking culture that upended how business was conducted around the world. It has lead to an economic environment where new methods for wealth extraction competes against more conventional methods of wealth creation on a global scale.

The growing methods and culture of wealth extraction transfers wealth but doesn’t create new wealth. It doesn’t grow or manufacture anything. It only creates more opportunities for the wealthy to grow richer while disadvantaging mid-sized businesses and manufacturers. It is one of the drivers leading us into the next gilded age, but it hard to see just where it is taking us. It is harder still to know what we can do make our economy work for everyone again.

 

Illegal Immigrant Wages and Impact in New Jersey

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

I decided I can only respond to certain critics of my blog by breaking down their comments into smaller, more manageable chunks . And then I can only answer their questions that have actual, verifiable answers. Here is a small portion of one of my most recent critics comments from a blog post of mine entitled “America at the Crossroad of Crisis.” His comment reads in part:

“The idea that migrants and even those who are here illegally are not taking away the jobs of “Americans” is superficial bull at best. When labor unions price the services of union members to a point that few can afford such labor then will that not create job opportunities for those willing to work for far less? What is the hourly wage for a carpenter in your state or general locality? What is the rate for an electrician or a plumber?”

First, a clarifying anecdote 

A few years back I hired a middle aged factory worker named Tony to mow my lawn. I mowed my lawn for many years but suffer allergic reactions every time. I finally got smart.

Tony has a part-time lawn service to supplement his factory salary. He hires kids to help him in the summer. He told me that he paid the last young man $12.00/hr to weed-wack and leaf blow. Several weeks into the summer his helper quit to take a part-time job flipping burgers for $7.25 per hours. The kid said landscaping work was too much work.

If you read my blog or articles you know that I am very concerned about the fact the US wages have been suppressed by big business for nearly 40 years.

The US median household income for a family of four is currently about $52,000 per year. Cost of living varies state by state and New Jersey have among the highest. It is also among the wealthiest states. The median income for a family of four in New Jersey is $71,637 per year.

Carpenters

The annual average wage for all carpenters (union or otherwise) is $37,000 per year in New Jersey. Annual carpenter wages range from a low of $28,000 to a high of $66,000 per year.

This means that even union carpenters in New Jersey straddle the US median family income, and all carpenters make below the state median income. Nearly half of all the New Jersey carpenters with a family are not financially independent. Either their spouse must work , or they must moonlight to make ends meet. On their own fulltime wages, many single income carpenters in New Jersey qualify for some form of taxpayer subsidy such as daycare assistance or housing assistance.

Electricians

The annual average wage for all electricians (union or otherwise) in New Jersey is $45,000 per year. Annual electricians wages range from a low of $16,000 to a high of $111,000 per year.

Most electricians are better off in New Jersey than are carpenters or plumbers. Even so, the average electrician in New Jersey makes less than the US median income and far less than the New Jersey median income. On their own fulltime wages alone, some single income electricians in New Jersey still qualify for some form of taxpayer subsidy such as daycare assistance or housing assistance.

Plumbers

The annual average wage for all plumbers (union or otherwise) in New Jersey is $26,000 per year. Annual plumber wages range from a low of $22,000 to a high of $102,000 per year.

Notice how close to the average plumber wages the low end of plumber wages are? That means most plumbers are making close to the lower end of the range in New Jersey. Plumbers do worse economically than carpenters or electricians. Most make far less than the US median wage and only about a third of the New Jersey median salary. On their fulltime wages alone, most single income plumbers in New Jersey qualify for some form of taxpayer subsidy such as daycare assistance or housing assistance.

Immigrant Annual Wages

It isn’t easy to find solid data on the annual incomes of undocumented immigrants, but there are many independent studies and scholarly works that found undocumented immigrants are not taking away our jobs or costing us taxpayer money (references upon request). Even the very conservative US Chamber of Commerce agrees.

It is estimated that undocumented farm workers in the US make between $10,000 and $12,000 per year. The authors of that analysis also noted that, unlike most workers, wages for an undocumented worker almost never rise over time. This fact agrees with my own experiences. I have many acquaintances who are undocumented aliens. They live in the shadows, don’t complain and don’t get raises. It is almost certain that undocumented aliens makes less than $23,000 per year, and probably much less.

Another study in Chicago found that the average wage of undocumented aliens in that city was $7.00 per hour, which is $1.00 below that states minimum wage.  I haven’t found a similar study for New Jersey’s undocumented aliens yet, but suspect their average wage is at or near the minimum wage as well. Note that minimum wage in New Jersey is the federal minimum wage rate of $7.25 per hours. A person working 40 hours per week for 52 weeks would make just over $15,000 per year.

New Jersey has the fifth largest number of undocumented aliens in the county. Many work at minimum wage and many also work below minimum wage. Almost all work more than 40 hours per week, so their annual family incomes are not directly comparable to the annual family incomes of others who work more traditional hours. Also, the number of employable adults in immigrant household are often more than in traditional families. For these reasons, the household incomes of undocumented aliens is a skewed measure. What immigrants lack in wage rates they make up for in the number of hours the spend work.

Given the huge wage rate disparity between undocumented immigrants wages and the wages of even the lowest paid, non-union plumbers, none of whom work for minimum wage, it seem unlikely that foreign born workers are taking away many US jobs. It is my experience, living next to a town that is 75% Latino, that most undocumented immigrants have jobs that no one else born here wants for wages that most Americans would never accept. As a result of their discounted labor we enjoy discounted farm produce, discounted nursing home care, discounted restaurant meals, etc.

Immigrants in New Jersey

Immigrants and their children are growing shares of New Jersey’s population and electorate.

(Source: https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/new-americans-new-jersey)

· The foreign-born share of New Jersey’s population rose from 12.5% in 1990, to 17.5% in 2000, to 21.6% in 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. New Jersey was home to 1.9 million immigrants in 2013, which is more than the population of the entire state of Nebraska.

· 53% of immigrants (or over 1 million people) in New Jersey were naturalized U.S. citizens in2013 —meaning that they are eligible to vote.

Immigrants Economic Impact on New Jersey

  • Unauthorized immigrants comprised 5.8% of the state’s population (or 525,000 people) in2012, according to a report by the Pew Hispanic Center
  • The 2014 purchasing power of New Jersey’s Latinos totaled $46 billion—an increase of 415% since 1990. Asian buying power totaled $46.3 billion—an increase of 727% since 1990, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia.
  • Immigration boosts housing values in communities. From 2000 to 2010, according to the Americas Society/Council of the Americas, the value added by immigration to the price of the average home was $3,730 in Bergen County; $6,121 in Middlesex County; $1,875 in Essex County; $2,050 in Monmouth County; $2,096 in Hudson County, $2,509 in Union County, and $1,896 in Camden County.
  • New Jersey’s 67,755 Asian-owned businesses had sales and receipts of $29.9 billion and employed 115,024 people in 2007, the last year for which data is available. The state’s 68,374 Latino-owned businesses had sales and receipts of $10.2 billion and employed 48,059 people in 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Business Owners.
  • From 2006 to 2010, there were 101,251 new immigrant business owners in New Jersey, and they had total net business income of $6.2 billion, which makes up 22.4% of all net business income in the state, according to Robert Fairlie of the University of California, Santa Cruz.
  • In 2010, 28% of all business owners in New Jersey were foreign-born, according to the Fiscal Policy Institute. In 2013,35.3% of business owners in the New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island metropolitan area were foreign-born, according to the Fiscal Policy Institute and Americas Society/Council of the Americas. Furthermore, 49% of “Main Street” business owners—owners of businesses in the retail, accommodation and food services, and neighborhood services sectors—in the New York-Northern New Jersey metro area were foreign-born in 2013.

The other point here is this, it is much easy to make credible sounding claims on the internet disparaging other demographic groups of people than it is to research and debunk such claims. The person to whom I am responding will never accept the information I provided here for them to consider, but others who read this might be less inclined to believe everything anyone says about “illegal” immigrants in the future. (I hope)

Let’s Elect.. The Democratic Party Platform!

I decided it would be a good thing to draft a condensed version of the Democratic Party Platform. I reasoned that a concise version of the document would benefit people who don’t have time to sit down and read it all, and it might help us keep Democrats accountable to what they say the stand for in the Platform. I didn’t realize what a daunting task it would be, or how little time I had to finish the job.

What I learned while doing this is that this is a pretty good document. If achieved, it would significantly improve the lives of most Americans. It doesn’t address Democratic Party reform issues or primary voting reforms, but it does lay out a decent course of actions that most of us can rally behind. More importantly, it gives activist citizens a template by which we can judge the performance of Democratic office holders, including Hillary Clinton if she doesn’t loose.

So while I am still upset with the DNC, the establishment Democrats and Hillary for fixing the primary against all others, including Bernie Sanders specifically, I think I can in good conscious vote for the Democratic Party Platform with a self-made promise to hold Hillary and every other Democrat to task in carrying out the Party Platform.

So without further delay, here is the incomplete, condensed version of the Democratic Party Platform:

2016 Democratic Platform (condensed version)

Democrats believe cooperation is better than conflict, unity is better than division, empowerment is better than resentment, and bridges are better than walls.  We are stronger together.

Today’s extreme level of income and wealth inequality makes our economy weaker, our communities poorer, and our politics poisonous.  We need an economy that works for everyone. We can have more economic fairness, so the rewards are shared broadly, not just with those at the top. An economy that:

  • prioritizes long-term investment over short-term profit-seeking,
  • rewards the common interest over self-interest
  • promotes innovation and entrepreneurship
  • guarantees equal pay for women.. particularly women of color
  • protects every American’s right to retire with dignity
  • [create] jobs and security that come from [transitioning to] clean energy
  • incentivize companies to share profits with their employees on top of wages and pay increases

Race still plays a significant role in determining who gets ahead in America and who gets left behind. We must face that reality and we must fix it.

A  good education is a basic right of all Americans. We will end the school-to-prison pipeline and build a cradle-to-college pipeline instead.

Greed, recklessness, and illegal behavior on Wall Street must be brought to an end. Wall Street must never again be allowed to threaten families and businesses on Main Street.

Democrats protect citizens’ right to vote, while stopping corporations’ outsized influence in elections. We will:

  • end the broken campaign finance system
  • overturn the disastrous Citizens United
  • restore the the Voting Rights Act
  • return control of our elections to the American people

Climate change poses a real and urgent threat to our economy, our national security, and our children’s health and futures.

The United States can mobilize common action on a truly global scale, to take on the challenges that transcend borders, from international terrorism to climate change to health pandemics.  We are stronger and safer when America brings the world together and leads with principle and purpose [and] strengthen our alliances. We believe in the power of development and diplomacy. Our military should be the best-trained, best-equipped fighting force in the world.

We must honor and support our veterans.

We respect differences of perspective and belief, and pledge to work together to move this country forward [and] strive to reach higher ground. We are proud of our heritage as a nation of immigrants.

We believe in protecting civil liberties and guaranteeing civil rights and voting rights, women’s rights and workers’ rights, LGBT rights, and rights for people with disabilities.

support workers through higher wages, workplace protections, policies to balance work and family, and other investments will help rebuild the middle class

Raising Workers’ to a living wage…  at least $15 an hour  [and]…  and index it [to inflation]. [Establish] one fair wage for all workers by ending the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers and people with disabilities.

Support a model to leverage federal dollars to support employers who provide their workers with a living wage, good benefits, and the opportunity to form a union without reprisal.

Have the right to form or join a union – give all Americans the ability to join a union regardless of where they work, and create new ways for workers to have power in the economy and to:

  • make it easier for workers, public and private, to exercise their right to organize and join unions
  • direct the National Labor Relations Board to certify a union if a simple majority of eligible workers sign valid authorization cards
  • bring companies to the negotiating table
  • support binding arbitration to help workers who have voted to join a union reach a first contract.

[We will oppose] “right to work” laws are wrong for workers [and] vigorously oppose laws [or] efforts that:

  • eliminate dues check-off procedures
  • roll-back prevailing wage standards
  • abolish fair share requirements
  • restrict the use of voluntary membership payments for political purposes
  • attack seniority
  • restrict due process protections
  • require annual recertification efforts
  • legislation and lawsuits that would strike down laws protecting the rights of teachers and other public employees

We will support efforts to limit the use of forced arbitration clauses in employment and service contracts, which unfairly strip consumers, workers, students, retirees, and investors of their right to their day in court.

Make sure that the United States enacts national paid family and medical .. that provide[s] at least 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a new child or address a personal or family member’s serious health issue.  [Establish a] workers the right to earn at least seven days of paid sick leave [and] encourage employers to provide paid vacation.

We must help family caregivers.. to ensure family caregivers have the support, respite care, and training they need to support their loved ones. We will [do this by]:

  • creating a strong stable paid caregiving workforce by raising wages
  • improving access to training
  • giving workers the opportunity to come together to make their voices heard
  • address[ing] conditions that make it hard for workers with unpredictable or inflexible schedules to meet caregiving responsibilities.

We will take steps to:

  • expand and strengthen the home care workforce
  • increase investments to make quality childcare more affordable
  • boost wages for childcare workers, and
  • support the millions of people paying for, coordinating, or providing care for aging relatives or those with disabilities

We will preserve and increase the supply of affordable rental housing and:

  • substantially increase funding for the National Housing Trust Fund to construct, preserve, and rehabilitate millions of affordable housing rental units
  • provide more federal resources to the people struggling most with unaffordable housing: low-income families, people with disabilities, veterans, and the elderly

We will address the lingering effects of the foreclosure crisis through [expanding] programs like the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program. We will expand programs to

  • prevent  displacement of existing residents, especially in communities of color
  • create affordable and workforce housing
  • preserve neighborhood-serving nonprofit organizations and small businesses
  • reinvigorate housing production programs
  • repair public housing
  • increase funding for the housing choice voucher program and other rental assistance programs
  • [provide] robust funding to end homelessness through targeted investments to provide the necessary outreach, social services, and housing options for all populations experiencing homelessness.
  • engage in a stronger, more coordinated, and better funded partnership among federal, state, and local governments to end chronic homelessness
  • build on and expand initiatives to end veteran and family homelessness
  • support more first-time homebuyers preserve the 30-year fixed rate mortgage
  • modernizing credit scoring
  • clarify lending rules
  • expand access to housing counseling
  • defend and strengthening the Fair Housing Act
  • ensure that regulators have the clear direction, resources, and authority to enforce those rules effectively.
  • prevent predatory lending by defending the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

Social Security

  • fight every effort to cut, privatize, or weaken Social Security, including attempts to raise the retirement age, diminish benefits by cutting cost-of-living adjustments, or reducing earned benefits. expand Social Security.
  • cost-of- living adjustments may not reflect the spending patterns of seniors. We are committed to exploring alternatives that could better serve seniors.
  • make sure Social Security’s guaranteed benefits continue by taxing some of the income of people above $250,000.

Retirement

  • defend the right of workers to collect their defined benefit pensions and make sure workers get priority and protection when pension plans are in distress.
  • enact legislation to make sure that the earned pension benefits of Americans will not be cut
  • pay for it by closing tax loopholes that benefit millionaires and billionaires
  • fight attempt to roll back the Conflict of Interest Rule which requires that retirement advisors put the best interests of their clients above their own financial gain
  • support the Older Americans Act.

US Postal Service

  • eliminating the unsustainable mandate to “pre-fund” retiree health costs.
  • restore service to appropriate levels, including overnight delivery of first-class mail and periodicals within the same metropolitan area,
  • maintaining six-day and door-to-door delivery
  • expanding postal services [to include] basic financial services such as paycheck cashing
  • vote-by-mail to increase voter participation

Create Good-Paying Jobs

Build a full-employment economy, where everyone has a job that pays enough to raise a family and live in dignity:

  • rebuild our crumbling infrastructure.. expanding our roads, bridges, public transit, airports, and passenger and freight rail lines
  • build 21st century energy and water systems.. modernizing drinking and wastewater systems
  • modernize our schools
  • support the expansion of high-speed broadband networks
  • protect communities from the impact of climate change
  • address the backlog of deferred maintenance in our four key public land management agencies
  • create an independent, national infrastructure bank
  • support the interest tax exemption on municipal bonds..make permanent [a] version of Build America Bonds
  • revitalize hard-hit manufacturing communities
  • claw back tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas
  • defend the Export-Import Bank
  • investing in industrial energy efficiency

Science, Research, Education, and Technology

  • educate our people and train our workforce; support entrepreneurship
  • invest in research and development, innovation hubs, as well as in getting ideas to market
  • [provide opportunities for all students] opportunity to learn computer science by the time they graduate from high school.
  • High-speed internet connectivity is not a luxury; it is a necessity
  • connect every household in America to high-speed broadband
  • increase internet adoption
  • hook up anchor institutions so they can offer free WiFi to the public.
  • take action to widely deploy 5G technology
  • support a free and open internet at home and abroad
  • oppose any effort to roll back the historic net neutrality
  • protect the intellectual property rights of artists, creators, and inventors at home and abroad
  • increase access to global markets for American intellectual property and other digital trade by opposing quotas, discriminatory measures, and data localization requirements
  • strengthen support for NASA and work in partnership with the international scientific community to launch new missions to space

Small Businesses

  • cut the red tape that holds back small businesses and entrepreneurs
  • open up access to credit
  • provide tax relief and tax simplification
  • expand access to new markets
  • make Wall Street work for the job-creating, productive economy—including by making loans more affordable for small- and medium-sized businesses

Jobs for America’s Young

  • make investments to spur the creation of millions of jobs for our young people
  • provide direct federal funding for a range of local programs that will put young people to work and create new career opportunities

Fight for Economic Fairness and Against Inequality

Reining in Wall Street and Fixing our Financial System

  • prohibit Wall Street from picking and choosing which credit agency will rate its products
  • [prohibit Wall Street] from imposing excessive fees on consumers
  • hold both individuals and corporations accountable when they break the law
  • stronger criminal laws and civil penalties for Wall Street criminals who prey on the public trust
  • extend the statute of limitations for prosecuting major financial fraud
  • providing the Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission more resources to prosecute wrongdoing
  • vigorously implement, enforce, and build on President Obama’s landmark Dodd-Frank financial reform law
  • stop efforts to hamstring our regulators through budget cuts
  • oppose any efforts to change the CFPB’s structure from a single director to a partisan[or] to remove the Bureau’s independent funding and subject it to the appropriations process
  • [enact] a financial transactions tax on Wall Street to curb excessive speculation and high-frequency trading
  • use and expand existing authorities [and]empower regulators to downsize or break apart financial institutions when necessary
  • new authorities to go after risky shadow-banking
  • support.. an updated and modernized version of Glass-Steagall
  • nominate and appoint regulators and officials who are not beholden to the industries they regulate
  • crack down on the revolving door between the private sector—particularly Wall Street—and the federal government.
  • ban golden parachutes for those taking government jobs
  • limit conflicts of interest by requiring bank and corporate regulators to recuse themselves from official work on particular matters that would directly benefit their former employers
  • bar financial service regulators from lobbying their former colleagues for at least two years
  • [make] the Federal Reserve more representative of America as a whole
  • enhance its independence by ensuring that executives of financial institutions are not allowed to serve on the boards of regional Federal Reserve banks or to select members of those boards

Stop Corporate Concentration

  • stop corporate concentration in any industry where it is unfairly limiting competition
  • make competition policy and antitrust stronger and more responsive to our economy today
  • enhance antitrust enforcement [at] the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
  • encourage other agencies to police anti-competitive practices in their areas of jurisdiction

Making the Wealthy Pay Their Fair Share of Taxes

  • claw back tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas
  • eliminate tax breaks for big oil and gas companies
  • crack down on inversions and other methods companies use to dodge their tax responsibilities
  • make sure that our tax code rewards businesses that make investments and provide good-paying jobs here in the United States
  • end deferrals so that American corporations pay United States taxes immediately on foreign profits and can no longer escape paying their fair share of U.S. taxes by stashing profits abroad.
  • establish a multimillionaire surtax to ensure millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share
  • close egregious loopholes
  • restore fair taxation on multimillion dollar estates
  • tax relief to middle-class families
  • crack down on tax evasion and promote transparency to fight corruption and terrorism
  • tax relief to hard working, middle-class families

Promoting Trade That is Fair and Benefits American Workers

  • develop trade policies that support jobs in America
  • review agreements negotiated years ago to update them to reflect [Democratic Party] principles.
  • Any future trade agreements must make sure our trading partners cannot undercut American workers by taking shortcuts on labor policy or the environment.
  • [trade agreements] must not undermine democratic decision-making through special privileges
  • [trade agreements] must not undermine democratic decision-making private courts for corporations
  • trade negotiations must be transparent and inclusive
  • use all our trade enforcement tools to hold China and other trading partners accountable
  • These are the standards Democrats believe must be applied to all trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

Bring Americans Together and Remove Barriers to Opportunities

Ending Systemic Racism

  • dismantle the structures that define lasting racial, economic, political, and social inequity
  • promote racial justice through fair, just, and equitable governing of all public-serving institutions and in the formation of public policy
  • remove the Confederate battle flag from public
  • make it clear that black lives matter and that there is no place for racism in our country.

Closing the Racial Wealth Gap

  • close this racial wealth gap
  • eliminat[e] systemic barriers to wealth accumulation for different racial groups
  • improv[e] opportunities for people from all racial and ethnic backgrounds to build wealth.
  • remove barriers to achieving sustainable homeownership
  • provide for greater diversity in federal and state contracting practices
  • incentivize and expand access to retirement investment programs
  • increase opportunities for quality jobs and education
  • challenge the deeply rooted structures that perpetuate and exacerbate current disparities and ultimately stagnate the nation’s economic growth and security

Reforming our Criminal Justice System

Democrats are committed to reforming our criminal justice system and ending mass incarceration. Something is profoundly wrong when almost a quarter of the world’s prison population is in the United States, even though our country has less than five percent of the world’s population. We will reform mandatory minimum sentences and close private prisons and detention centers. Research and evidence, rather than slogans and sound bites, must guide [reforms].
(PS: Notice that the person whose name is plastered everywhere is not mentioned here.  What a relief, right?)

America at the Crossroads of Crisis

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

His very name has become a dog whistle for expressing White outrage against growing minority influence in America. Trump! Trump! Trump!
His mantra, “Make America Great Again,” resonates with so many White people because they hear, “Make America White Again.”

As a country founded by immigrants and supported through slavery and exploitative labor practices for much of its formative years, the growth of a powerful, comfortable middle class in the last half of the last Century seemed like a coming of age. The rise of the middle class after World War II was vindication that our founding principles were virtuous and the diversity of our pluralistic society was our strength. We were now a world power and an exceptional example of a place where merit, innovation and hard work paid off. We were proof that immigrants can do well here. Of course the payoff was always more difficult for minority groups to achieve, especially African-Americans and South American migrants.

But now there has been some fundamental shifts in the fabric of America. The political and economic power of the middle class has been on a long, slow decline for decades. At the same time the population of minority groups and the flow of immigrants from our Southern borders have grown. Minority groups, taken together, make up nearly half of our citizens. Globalization of business has increased competition for good jobs and higher wages while domestic pressure has increased to give minority groups greater equality of opportunity. A bloody clash of cultures has arisen on the world stage adding anxiety for those of us who worry that America is losing its cultural identity. (A growing worry in Europe as well). And all the while, the American majority, made up of mostly White Protestants of Western European distraction, is being stretched and fractured by growing wealth inequality. The wages and ownership interests of most White Americans is declining while wealthy White elites are growing ever richer.

It is understandable that the timing of middle class economic decline and the growth of minority interests would seem like a causal  correlation. It is also understandable how powerful interests might exploit this apparent cause-and-effect for their own benefit, but the truth is far more nuanced, and cloaked in deceit. In an ironic juxtaposition, the New York Times published two excellent articles on the same day that highlight both our sad cultural polarization and the sinister impact of inequality on our public institutions.

In his July 13, 2016, article titled, “For Whites Sensing Decline, Donald Trump Unleashes Words of Resistance,” Nicholas Confessore writes:

“In countless collisions of color and creed, Donald J. Trump’s name evokes an easily understood message of racial hostility. Defying modern conventions of political civility and language, Mr. Trump has breached the boundaries that have long constrained Americans’ public discussion of race.”

What follows is an excellent expose on the cultural landscape in America. Then in an article titled, “How Private Equity Found Power and Profit in State Capitols,” the journalist detail how private equity firms are manipulating state and federal governments to pass legislation even more favorable to their financial interests.

The slow but steady economic decline of the middle class has taken most of us decades to recognize. That it was a planned assassination of the middle class perpetrated by corporate capitalists in the 1970’s has yet to sink in. And efforts by the elite perpetrators to distract us from their deeds by blaming the poor and pitting us, one against the other, rages on.

It may be indirectly true that minorities are somehow responsible for the economic decline that White Americans are experiencing, but certainly not in the direct ways as portrayed in the press or on the internet. It isn’t really true, for example, that undocumented immigrants are taking away jobs from White Americans.  It is true that immigration has created a growing pool of cheap, non-union labor that puts downward pressure on wages. It is also true that the pool of cheap labor has grown exponentially through the corporate globalization of commerce. But the bigger truth is that wealthy corporate capitalists have put us all in an economic vise. Almost all of us find ourselves in that proverbially overcrowded lifeboat that is about to capsize.

We seem to be at a crossroad. We can choose the Trump path to social dissolution and toss as many “others” overboard as we can, or ignore that we in the lifeboat because of the wealthy corporate capitalists (until we sink) or we can link arms to forge a new path that restores democracy and a civil economy for everyone. The only real option is to come together and face down the true source of America’s decline, the corporate global capitalists who are hoarding the fruits of our labors.

A Silent Rage Approaching

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

The rich are not like you and me. I can safely say that knowing they’ll never read this.

The massive leak of documents from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca shows the extent to which the global elite shield their wealth from us. They have no interest in sharing the cost of governing.  We pay for the military, the courts, the police, the roads, the schools and all of our social and physical infrastructure. The wealthy mooch off of us by not paying their taxes.  The system is rigged to benefit those who least need the benefits. Some of the tax dodges are written into the law by politicians deep within the pockets of the rich. But as the Panama Papers reveal, most of the unreported wealth is hidden illegal. All of it is underhanded and immoral.

The sheer number of documents leaked is enormous. It covers 40 years of financial transactions and 2.6 terabytes of data. If media coverage of this scandal were proportional to the size of the document cashe, there would be no other news on television for weeks. Here below is a graphic depiction of the scale of the leak compared with other huge scandalous leaks.

PanamPapers Size

Source: http://www.niemanlab.org/2016/04/heres-how-over-400-journalists-at-dozens-of-news-orgs-reported-out-the-massive-panama-papers-story/

As it stands, the owners and share holders of our corporate media are likely involved somewhere in this scandal. If not them directly, then surely their customers who buy advertizing are caught in this vast net of stinking fish. The hard working, front line journalists responsible for turning this data mountain into intelligible information have little control over how their work will be broadcast. For now, at least in the United States, coverage of the scandal is trumped by presidential politics.

If our society were healthy, if so many of us had not already given up on government’s lack of responsiveness to public demands, this would be a watershed moment. It would be a tipping point for righteous indignation and hot pursuit of substantial reforms.

The wealthy will tell you their fair share is in the paltry proportion they do pay in taxes, but the proof of the lie is the growing number of children living in poverty whose benefits are cut by the budget knife. The proof of the lie is in our crumbling bridges and crowed roads that we can’t fix without killing off other essential services. No matter how big some people say government is, it’s too small and corrupted to make these powerful people pay all their taxes.

It is all too depressing. All the more so if you believe, as I do, that a failure to mobilize for real change now puts the world on the path to real revolution, bloodshed and destruction. It is a well documented historical pattern, just as inevitable yet avoidable as global warming. It has happened countless times before, except this is different. This time tearing down our institutions in a murderous fit of rage would likely condemn the Earth to mass extinctions.

As much as we rail against the “system” we need it for the higher level of coordination and cooperation it will take to solve the global catastrophe we face. We can’t solve these challenges without reforming our current power structures and the eliminating the barriers created by greedy capitalists. Only the collective power of our vast social institutions can bring about the kind of changes we must make to survive. Radical reform is our best option for survival.  How do we get a critical mass of people to understand this before it is too late?

Bernie vs. Hillary – The Clearest Distinction in a Generations

Part I, The Progressive Era

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

The distinction between Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton couldn’t be sharper. If this doesn’t seem obvious, it is because Beltway media coverage of the candidates obscures more than reveals. Financial considerations of the for-profit news media creates short time horizons and shallow perspectives. The historical context of current events is often lost. To clearly see how different our choices are between these two Democratic Party candidates we need a little more information.

The two biggest areas of contrast between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are centered around two words that are very much in the public debate. These words are, “progressive” and “electability.” This essay is broken into two parts, each dedicated to these significant differences.

The Progressive Era

The term “progressive” as it relates to politics is not as vague a term as current usage suggests. The “Progressive Movement” was an historical development leading to a particular political philosophy. Born out of the Gilded Age, it held that the irresponsible actions of the rich were a corrupting influence on public and private life in America. It’s most influential period was between 1900 and 1920, although its influence continued throughout the 20th century. Progressivism was both a political and a social movement. It held that advances in science, technology, economics, and social organization could improve the conditions in which most citizens live, and that government had a role to play in promoting these advances.

Progressivism was a rejection of Social Darwinism (arguably a forerunner of Aya Rand’s Objectivism). It was a reform movement with goals considered radical in their time. Progressives sought to curb the power of big business and US corporations. It brought about laws to regulate fair commerce and break up monopolies. It fought to eliminate bribery and corruption in politics and to bring about political reforms. It fought against the extreme social injustice and inequality of that time, including opposition to child labor, widespread illiteracy, and horrible working and living conditions. It sought to improve lifestyles and living condition of all Americans and to establish health and safety standards both in the workplace and the communities where people lived. The progressive movement was also for the conservation and protection of our natural resources.

Among the activists in the movement were people such as Thomas Nast, Upton Sinclair, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Eugene Debs, Jane Addams, who founded Hull House and pioneered the field of social work, Booker T Washington, W. E. B. DuBose and many more. They and the muckrakers of the day found a sympathetic ear in Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican President. This is an important point as Progressivism was a sweeping and transformational movement supported by candidates in both political parties. The Progressive Movement ushered in the modern, middle-class oriented society we enjoy today.

Rise of Conservative Movement

Fast-forwarding for the sake of brevity skips a lot of important history, but it is fair to say that a strain of Progressive Movement philosophy has been baked into our political DNA. It remains most prominent in the Democratic party while largely disappearing from the establishment wing of the GOP. It’s disappearance is roughly correlated with the rise of our current income inequality and the growing power of the super rich. But a progressive element within the GOP is still not entirely absent even in conservative voters as evidenced by the continuing popularity of Medicare and Social Security among Tea Party Republicans.

On the Democratic side, the progressive vein of the party suffered though a crushing political loss with the landslide victory of Richard Nixon over George McGovern in 1972, followed a decade later by the rise of the conservative movement capped by the landslide election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.

President Reagan’s election marked the beginning of a successful and synergistic partnership between the Republican Party and private corporate wealth. This partnership began a decade earlier with the conscious decision to create ideologically conservative public media platforms and apply modern business marketing techniques to promote conservative causes, including a successful anti-union marketing campaign that turned workers against unions. The power of organized labor was also challenged by newly organized industry advocacy groups. These industry trade groups gave rise to the powerful corporate lobbies we have today. Among the early successes of industry trade groups was a law that created political action committees, or PAC’s where corporations were able to provide substantial campaign contributions to political candidates of their choosing, and their candidates were all conservative and mostly Republican. The influx of money, the marketing prowess and the organizing clout of this marriage between the GOP and big business overwhelmed the Democratic Party. The effectiveness of massively coordinated conservative messaging cannot be overstated. It began the shift of America’s political center to the right. The power of this massively coordinated messaging, rather than the strength of conservative ideas, continues to power this rightward movement of our electoral center today.

DLC Transforms The Democratic Party

To many Democrats it was clear that the Party had to change strategy. Progressive causes were no longer winning elections. The diagnosis, unfortunately, was that the progressive agenda was the problem rather than copious amounts of corporate money, more effective marketing techniques, and the rise of conservative funded media outlets with their focus group tested propaganda.

A Democratic political operative name Al From believed that economic populism was no longer politically viable. He founded an organization named the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) to move the Democratic Party away from progressive and socialist influences. The DLC sought more conservative alternatives that could appeal to the rightward shifting center of the American electorate. This required a willingness to compromise progressive values and embrace some conservative ideas. It was a strategy that triangulated politicians and the political party base on both the right and the left to win broad appeal for more “centrist” proposals. It also meant shifting Democratic Party allegiance towards big business interests and away from the poor and working classes. (The impact that this shifting focus had on the Democratic electorate will be explored more in Part 2).

More and more Democrats joined the DLS and adopted its ideas, which became known as the Third Way. It’s adherents became known as New Democrats. Their willingness to compromise and pass corporate friendly legislation, in combination with corporate lobbying, brought in the donation needed to fund successful campaigns. The crowning success  of the New Democrats was the popular election of their candidate, President Bill Clinton. From then till now Democratic Party has hitched a ride on the shifting center of the American electorate. The DLC’s New Democrats became the establishment wing of the party.

Under Bill Clinton the New Democrats schemed and compromised their way with Republicans to pass a mixed bag of legislation, from a progressive stand point. Clinton got passed a the Family and Medical Leave Act, welfare reform legislation, legislation to deregulate banks and insurance companies so they can compete with investment banks, to list a few accomplishments. The DLC’s  had to push ever further to the right to follow the shifting electoral center, but it was winning elections again.  To better compete with GOP success, the Democratic party began adopting Republican style marketing strategies and ever closer ties to big corporate donors. Still, the electorate slide to the right continued. The Party was locked into a strategy that kept Democratic candidate competitive but left no room to challenge the conservative movement or corporate media more broadly. There was always the danger that directly confronting the right wing conservatives would dry up the corporate donation that Democratic candidates came to rely on.

It’s work on transforming the Democratic Party done, the DLC dissolved in early 2011, and on July 5 of that year, DLC founder Al From announced on the organization’s website its historical records had been purchased by the Clinton Foundation. The DLC had become the Democratic Party establishment.

Democratic Establishment Today

Today, New Democrats are simply called Democrats. They still claim the title of  progressives, but it is a more relative term today.  Those most closely associated with the former DLC, however, hold important policy positions that are considerably more conservative than before the DLC was founded. For example, former DLC activist oppose single-payer universal healthcare. They are more hawkish. They supported the Iraq War and are in favor of stronger military interventions in areas of active conflict. They are in favor of charter schools and “No Child Left Behind”. They are more aligned with Wall Street and market-based solutions to economic problems. They support free-trade agreements including NAFTA, and now the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP). They continue to fear that economic populism is not politically viable and while they have come late to addressing income and wealth inequality, their are less aggressive in their approach

This is the current state of the Democratic Party establishment, of which Hillary Clinton is the heir apparent. If she doesn’t see that she is an establishment Democrat, it is because a true progressive alternative has not presented itself in a long time. Today’s Democratic Party is progressive in name only. Hillary Clinton revealed more than she realized when she recently said some call her a centrist and she is proud to wear that label. Capturing the electoral center remains at the heart of her campaign strategy.

What she and other establishment Democrats haven’t realized is that they have chased the electoral political center far to the right of actual political sensibilities of most ordinary citizens.  For decades Democratic and independent voters have given up on the electoral process. They are not among the likely voters the Party targets to win elections. And the Party has stopped listening to the families they represent. They haven’t notice just how rigged the economy has become. They have stopped talking about the poor and the term “working class” has disappeared from the Party’s vocabulary. They compete instead, with Republicans on the issues of the GOP’s own choosing while conservative operatives successfully frame every debate to benefit wealthy donors. Establishment Democrats have not stopped to notice just how painful the nearly 40 year decline in wages has been for the middle-class .

The Contrast

Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, has never stopped listening to the people or noticing what is happening to poor and middle class Americans. He retained his progressive values as an independent representative from Vermont. His record on this is clear. He continues to  to promote progressive values and even retains the “socialist” tag that became associated with progressive philosophy in the 1960’s. When Hillary Clinton challenged him in the recent debate by asking what made him the gatekeeper of who is a progressive, Bernie couldn’t reduce his answer to a pithy sound byte. The question is breathtaking for those familiar with the transformation of the Democratic Party over the decades. There are very few champions of true progressives left in politics today. How could anyone answer her in question in a short few words? It requires too much context because so much of the history of the Party has been lost. But once the context is understood, the stark contrast between Clinton and Sanders is between:

1. A candidate who will continue to ride the electoral center wave to the right in exchange for small but more certain gains that improve our lives, or

2. A candidate who awakens the vast number of disaffected voters to challenge right-wing ideology directly, sweep conservatives from office and make way for bold ideas that will greatly benefit most people.

Un-Taxing the Rich is the Root Cause of the Public Pension Crisis

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

What follows is a letter I wrote to New Jersey’s principal newspaper, which is constantly trying to convince us that the huge pension deficits created by bad public policy decisions (or perhaps by intentional public union busting strategies) can’t be fixed without dismantling the whole system and starting over. All options to do this create great sacrifices by hard working servants of the people who were promised pensions in exchange for lower lifetime wages than the private sector would be paid for comparable work.

What makes this relevant beyond New Jersey’s boarders is that public employee pension systems are under similar financial assaults in nearly every state. It is a pattern so powerful that it has to be part of a bigger plan.

Dear editor:

“Taxing the rich won’t solve pension problems” claims the Star-Ledger in its editorial. Their point is that the “millionaire’s tax” vetoed by Gov. Christie wouldn’t plug the current pension gap.

This is true, but the larger point is that the “un-taxing” of the rich and the wealthiest companies in New Jersey is the real reason we have a crisis. Stack up all the tax money not collected due to corporate tax breaks and tax cuts given away since the Whitman administration until now and it would tower over the cash it would have taken to pay pension obligations from the beginning.

Money is fungible. Whenever tax revenue is deleted from the budget, someone’s ox has to be gored. For decades that ox belonged to State employees. Their pensions is part their wage package and the reason their overall compensation is roughly parallel with the private sector. Not funding it was a deliberate choice.

Another fact hidden in plain view is that revenue deleted from the budget doesn’t have a line item to remind us of what’s missing. We end up blindly subsidizing profitable corporations instead of properly compensating ordinary folks who work for us.

It’s disingenuous for politicians (or the Star-Ledger) to speak of pension reform without also discussing the massive tax breaks that created this crisis. If tax cuts for businesses and people who don’t need it were rescinded, there would be plenty of revenue to fund the pensions.

BLOG NOTE: If this is happening in your state, of if you are from New Jersey and want to do something about the pension mess, feel free to use this as a template for your own letter to the editor or to your representatives in government.

Should Living Wage Minimums be Based on Individuals or Families?

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

FDR

 
“No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country… By living wages, I mean more than a bare subsistence level — I mean the wages of a decent living.” (1933, Statement on National Industrial Recovery Act – Franklin Delano Roosevelt)
 

Question:  In looking at the Living Wage calculator, I see that $10.83 for a single adult in Morris County, New Jersey  where I live. This seems fair to me for a single person, but when you add one child to that scenario the rate jumps to $22.12 per hour. This raises a serious question.  Does the Living Wage Movement suggest that wages should be adjusted according to need? [ http://livingwage.mit.edu/ ]

Answer:  That’s a great question. I am not a spokesman for, or advocate of, the living wage movement as an organization. I do believe that living wages should be the minimum wage in this country.  Minimum living wages should be what we pay summer college help or student interns, not full-time employees. It might also be appropriate for part-time seasonal help. It shouldn’t be what we pay permanently hired employees.

To answer your question, I researched what a living wage is in the 130 cities that have living wage laws. It turns out that their wage base is for a single employee, not including any dependents. A living wage in Manchester CT equals $15.54/hour (the highest) while it is $8.50 in Orlando FL (the lowest).  It would appear that the Living Wage Movement is looking to index a minimum living wage minimum to local economies based on one adult with no dependents.

That said, the minimum wage in 1986 was $10.86/hour  as opposed to its current level of $7.25/hour.  If it had been indexed to inflation in 1986 the current minimum wage today would be $23.59/hour today. That clearly was intended to provide for a worker with a family. The current median family size is 2.54 persons per household. That inflation adjusted wage equals about $47,000 per year while the current median family wage is a little over $51,000 per year (and still declining, I might add).

Here’s the thing, we have only been talking about wage adjustments to keep pace with inflation. We have not been talking about raising wages to reward workers for our growing productivity. We have not been talking about sharing the wealth that workers help create so everyone keeps pace with America’s growing economy. Cost of living adjustment are important, but they shouldn’t be confused with a productivity, or merit raise.

America is $1.7 trillion richer today than it was in 1976. Our economy has doubled, yet the share of all that new wealth created by American workers in this same period of time is insignificant.

In the 1960’s my father was an appliance repairman at Sears. His salary was enough that my mother could stay home to raise my sister and me. Her role as mother to the next generation of citizens was valued. Today, a typical family of four making about $51,000  does so because both parents work. And they are only able to make ends meet because of easy access to credit to shift their financial burdens onto their future earnings.

When I speak about a living wage I am thinking about getting back to a point where one breadwinner can hold one full-time job and still raise a small family without needing government assistance to do it. That’s what we had, and that should be our goal as a country.