Saturday, September 25, 2021
The national news media is reporting another mass shooting. This time it was in a supermarket in Tennessee, where a shooter killed one person and injured at least 14 others. He then killed himself.
If you only got your news about mass shootings from the national news media, you might think this is a rare occurrence. That is far from the truth. The Gun Violence Archive reports that there have been 518 mass shootings in the U.S. this year. With slightly more than three months to go in the year, it looks like the mass shootings will easily top the record number from last year (610).
There have been 32,612 deaths from gun violence in the U.S. this year. That also could easily top the 43,500 gun deaths from last year.
This does not have to happen. Constitutional laws could be passed that would substantially reduce the number of mass shootings and gun deaths -- and the public supports that.
BUT CONGRESS CONTINUES TO DO NOTHING!
Beyond cutting taxes for himself and his rich buddies, Trump's administration can be boiled down to one thing -- an effort to send the United States back to the Fifties, when white men held all the power and other groups had few if any rights. It was an effort to appease white supremacists and evangelicals (many of which are also on the white supremacy bandwagon). In short, they are trying to wage a culture war. They are losing it, in spite of the massive coverage they get in the media.
Here is just part of an excellent article on this subject by Leonard Steinhorn in The Washington Post:
Despite being a one-term twice-impeached president who lost reelection and never won the popular vote, Trump looms as an outsize political and cultural figure in our historical imagination. Some have even described us as living in “the Trump era.”
Yet, this focus on Trump may miss the real story of our times. Media preoccupation does not signify historical consequence, and despite the breathless attention we lavish on him now, it’s wholly possible that future historians may view Trump less as a major force in our nation’s narrative and more as a sidebar whose disruption, nativism and anti-democratic impulses distracted us from the real changes underway in our country, ones driven by the very younger Americans who are in the forefront of rejecting Trump and Trumpism.
We’ve been down this path before, most notably in the 1980s when Ronald Reagan dominated U.S. politics and both journalists and scholars characterized those years as a time of conservative ascendancy. But were they?
Beginning in the 1960s, the United States seemed to move dramatically leftward on cultural issues, a change largely driven by young Americans holding different values than their Greatest Generation parents. Sixties youth were moving America from the monochromatic, religious and traditional society of the 1950s to one that would increasingly resemble the more diverse, multicultural and secular culture of today. . . .
This transformation, however, seemed to hit a wall with Reagan’s election in 1980. The press focused on the rise of religious conservatives as a major force in American politics. Reporters viewed their activation as evidence of a conservative resurgence that was repudiating the very cultural changes young Americans had fueled during the previous two decades and demanding the restoration of “traditional values” and Christianity in the public square. . . .
Rather than the restoration of traditional values, the opposite happened. Although Reagan tried to turn back the clock on civil rights, women’s rights, environmental policy and religion, it didn’t work. In every respect attitudes, values, norms, practices and expectations in these areas instead grew far more liberal than what Reagan advocated — and have become increasingly liberal since.
Rather than return to traditional gender roles and domesticity, for example, women, empowered by the feminist movement, began seizing opportunities in sports, education and business. Female-owned companies nearly tripled in the Reagan years, and by the end of the 1980s, the number of young women playing interscholastic sports increased more than sixfold from 20 years before, from less than 300,000 to nearly 2 million. Women received only 39 percent of MA degrees in 1970, but by the early 1990s it had increased to 53 percent — now it’s over 60 percent.
Attitudes and institutions followed a similar path. Despite the hostility of religious conservatives and the Reagan administration — and their callous disregard for the AIDS epidemic — support for LGBTQ Americans steadily rose throughout the 1980s; this gradual liberalization eventually produced legal and cultural acceptance of marriage equality. Colleges and universities, recognizing their responsibility to tell the nation’s story through a lens far more inclusive than ever before, diversified their curriculum and added more female and minority voices and stories to their courses and canon. The media — both entertainment and news — increasingly did the same. . . .
The age of Reagan, therefore, was actually anything but.
Something similar is happening today. Young Americans, this time millennials and Gen Z, are confronting ongoing racial, cultural, social, environmental and economic challenges that their elders have been unable to solve. And instead of rejecting liberalism, they have doubled down. Widespread disdain for Trump may have been an accelerant for their deep-rooted liberalism, but young people were moving in that direction long before he became president.
Again, if one looks beyond political rhetoric and Washington politics, the picture of this era in America is far more complex. At work, millennials and Gen Z insist that companies show — and not just express — a commitment to diversity, inclusion, equal opportunity, work-life balance and the environment. Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ equality are not just movements to them — they are unshakable values.
They demand a commitment to gender equality that will translate to equity in their personal relationships, jobs, parenting and institutions. Among Gen Z, many say that gender should no longer define people as it used to. They are also the most religiously unaffiliated generation in our history — more secular, less Christian, less likely to attend religious services, what one research organization called America’s “first truly ‘post-Christian‘ generation.” Even younger evangelicals are moving in a more liberal direction, far more protective of the environment and accepting of LGBTQ rights than their elders.
This does not mean that a path to a more liberal America is inevitable or will be friction-free. Trump’s damage to our democratic institutions could be massive especially if he and his supporters in Republican-run states continue to interfere with elections and voting rights. And his impact on the courts and fights over manufactured issues such as critical race theory and transgender athletes may delay changes, or make them more difficult to enact.
Yet, the “age of Reagan” taught us that those who shout the loudest about a world that’s passing them by may not be the ones wielding the most influence when it comes to the social and cultural metamorphosis that will reshape our lives and country in the years and decades ahead.
Friday, September 24, 2021
The Labor Department released its weekly unemployment statistics on Thursday. It showed that another 351,000 workers filed for unemployment benefits in the week ending on September 18th. That's 16,000 more than the previous week, and marks the second week in a row that the number has climbed.
Here is the official Labor Department statement:
In the week ending September 18, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 351,000, an increase of 16,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 3,000 from 332,000 to 335,000. The 4-week moving average was 335,750, a decrease of 750 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 750 from 335,750 to 336,500.
The House has passed a funding bill to keep the government running past September 30th. Included in the bill is a suspension of the debt limit (which needs to be raised pretty soon to keep the government from defaulting on its debts). The bill now goes to the Senate. But in the Senate, Ted Cruz has already said he would filibuster raising the debt limit -- and he has told a huge lie to justify that filibuster.
Steve Been explains at MSNBC.com:
Sen. Ted Cruz indicated last week that he intends to push the nation closer to a deliberate, self-imposed crisis, and as NBC News reportedyesterday, the Texas Republican isn't backing away from his threat to crash the economy on purpose.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, promised to filibuster it, saying there is 'no universe' in which he would consent to allowing a simple majority vote on extending the debt limit.
The GOP senator added that extending the debt limit would make it "easier for [Senate Majority Leader] Chuck Schumer and the Democrats to add trillions more in debt."
That doesn't make any sense.
There are plenty of members of Congress who are badly confused about the substantive details of governing. As a rule, Cruz isn't one of them. I've long argued that the Texas Republican's principle political problem is not that he's dumb, but rather, that he assumes everyone else is dumb.
His comments on the debt ceiling capture the problem nicely. As Cruz surely knows, raising the debt ceiling allows the United States to pay its bills, not to clear the way for new spending. The process is about paying for the stuff Congress already bought in the past, not giving lawmakers approval to buy new stuff in the future.
The GOP senator, in other words, is preparing to block important legislation — a bill that would prevent the United States from defaulting on its obligations for the first time in our history — based on a rather obvious lie.
If Cruz follows through on his gambit and his effort succeeds, the results would be catastrophic. As The Washington Post's Catherine Rampell explained in her new column:
The government would have trouble paying Social Security checks, military salaries and all the creditors who'd previously lent money to Uncle Sam. A default would also violate the Constitution, which says 'the validity of the public debt of the United States ... shall not be questioned.' Finally, it would trigger chaos throughout the global financial system. Financial markets currently treat U.S. debt as virtually risk-free, with all other assets benchmarked against it. If we demonstrate that our debt is not really risk-free — that we're instead cavalier about repaying our creditors — panic would tear through other markets as well.
Again, Cruz knows this. So do McConnell and many other congressional Republicans. They've decided to play with matches anyway, even if it's their own country's economy that burns.
Thursday, September 23, 2021
The charts above are from the latest Politico / Morning Consult Poll -- done between September 18th and 20th of a national sample of 1,998 registered voters, with a 2 point margin of error.
It shows that voters like the Democratic tax plan to pay for their infrastructure bill.
To pay for their "soft" infrastructure plan, Democrats have proposed raising the tax on corporations from 21% to 28%, and raising the tax on the rich back to where it was before the Trump tax cuts. They also want to fully fund the IRS, so it has to ability to more effectively go after tax cheaters. Those are all good things. But they left the growing wealth of billionaires untaxed. During the pandemic, while most Americans suffered, billionaires increased their wealth by trillions of dollars. Shouldn't that wealth be taxed? Why won't congressional Democrats do it?
Following is the opinion of former Labor Secretary Robert Reich on the matter:
I have to get this off my chest. Last week, the House Ways and Means Committee released its proposed tax increases to fund President Biden’s $3.5 trillion social policy plan.
Here’s the big thing that hit me: Democrats didn’t go after the huge accumulations of wealth at the top – representing the largest share of the economy in more than a century.
You might have thought they’d be eager to tax America’s 660 billionaires whose fortunes have increased $1.8 trillion since the start of the pandemic – an amount that could fund half of Biden’s plan and still leave the billionaires as rich as they were before the pandemic began.
I mean, Elon Musk’s $138 billion in pandemic gains could cover the cost of tuition for 5.5 million community college students and feed 29 million low-income public-school kids, while still leaving Musk $4 billion richer than he was before Covid.
But House Democrats on Ways and Means decided to raise revenue the traditional way, taxing annual income rather than immense wealth. They aim to raise the highest income tax rate and apply a 3 percent surtax to incomes over $5 million.
Yet the dirty little secret – which House Democrats certainly know -- is the ultra-rich don’t live off their paychecks.
Jeff Bezos’s salary from Amazon was $81,840 last year, yet he rakes in some $149,353 every minute from the soaring value of his Amazon stocks – which is how he affords five mansions, including one in Washington D.C. with 25 bathrooms.
House Democrats won’t even close the gaping “stepped-up basis at death” loophole, which allows the heirs of the ultra-rich to value their stocks, bonds, mansions, and other assets at current market prices -- avoiding capital gains taxes on the entire increase in value from when they were initially purchased.
This loophole allows family dynasties to transfer ever larger amounts of wealth to future generations without it ever being taxed. Talk about an American aristocracy. We’re on the cusp of the largest inter-generational transfer of wealth in American history, as rich boomers pass it on to their millennial heirs. Closing this loophole may be our one big opportunity to stop this new aristocracy in its literal tracks.
Biden wanted to close this loophole, but House Democrats balked.
You might also have assumed they’d target America’s biggest corporations, awash in cash but paying a pittance in taxes. But remarkably, House Democrats have decided to set corporate tax rates below the level they were at when Barack Obama was in the White House. Hell, Democrats even kept a scaled-back version of private equity’s “carried interest.” And listen to this: they retained special tax breaks for oil and gas companies.
What’s going on here? It’s not that House Democrats lack the legislative power. They’re in one of those rare trifectas when they hold a majority of the House plus a bare majority of the Senate and the presidency.
It’s not the economics. Americans have been subject to decades of Republican “trickle-down” nonsense and know full well nothing trickles down. Billionaires hardly need to have their fortunes grow $100,000 a minute to be innovative. And as I’ve stressed, there’s more money at the top, relative to anywhere else, than at any time in the last century.
Besides, Democrats need the revenue to finance their ambitious plan to invest in childcare, education, paid family leave, health care, and the climate.
So what’s holding them back?
Put simply, Democrats are reluctant to tax the record-breaking wealth of the rich and big corporations because of … the wealth of the rich and big corporations.
Many Democrats rely on that wealth to bankroll their campaigns. They also dread becoming targets of well-financed ad campaigns accusing them of voting for “job killing” taxes. (For the record, there’s no evidence that tax increases have “killed” jobs, especially when those tax increases have been targeted at higher incomes.)
Republicans have been in the pockets of moneyed interests at least since they championed Reagan’s tax cuts, regulatory rollbacks, and dismantling of labor protections. But the timidity of House Democrats shows just how loudly big money speaks these days even in the party of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
That’s partly because there’s so much less money on the other side. Through the first half of 2021, business groups and corporations spent nearly $1.5 billion on lobbying, compared to roughly $22 million spent by labor unions, and $81 million by public interest groups, according to OpenSecrets.org. Plus, the anti-taxers are well-organized. Thousands of industry groups, platoons of trade associations, every large corporation in America, along with small business associations — all are marching in step against corporate tax increases. There’s no similar pressure on the other side. How many pro-corporate-tax organizations can you name?
Progressive House Democrats will still have their say (AOC and other progressives will demand something more from the super-rich) and Senate Democrats haven’t yet weighed in (I’m sure Elizabeth Warren will continue to push her wealth tax).
But so far, the House Ways and Means Committee is where it all begins.
Let me step back a bit. The looming debate over taxes is really a debate over the allocation of wealth and power in America. As that allocation becomes ever more grotesquely imbalanced, this debate over wealth and power will loom ever larger over American politics.
Behind it will be this simple but important question: Which party stands up for average working people?
Democrats, take note.
Wednesday, September 22, 2021
The chart above is from the Economic Policy Institute. It shows that poverty increased in the United States in 2020. The poverty rate rose by 0.9 points to 11.4% for the entire population. It was even worse for children -- rising by 1.7 points to 16.1%. How can the richest nation on the planet justify over 16% of its children living in poverty?
The poverty rate was also different for different groups, even though it rose in 2020 for all groups. Poverty among Whites rose by 0.9 points to 8.2%. Poverty among Hispanics rose by 1.3 points to 17.0%. And poverty among Blacks rose by 0.6 points to 19.3%. We still have a lot to do to make the economy fair to everyone.
The charts above are from the newest Monmouth University Poll -- done between September 9th and 13th of a national sample of 802 adults, and has a 3.5 point margin of error.
It shows that the public strongly favors keeping the Roe vs. Wade decision intact. About 62% says it should be left as it is, while only 31% say the Supreme Court should revisit it.
The public also disagrees with the new Texas law banning abortions. About 54% disagree with the Supreme Court allowing the Texas law to go into effect. And 70% disagrees with allowing private citizens to enforce the law.