Thanks, austerity hawks!
The Census Bureau’s latest headline numbers on income, poverty and health insurance received wide coverage: The poverty rate fell in 2013 while real (inflation-adjusted) median household income was little changed and the share of Americans without health insurance coverage fell. Here’s a look behind the headlines, courtesy of my Center on Budget and Policy Priorities colleagues’ deep dive into the Census reports, and a few reminders about how better policy could produce better results.
A significant drop in poverty is always welcome, but last year’s decrease was only the second statistically significant one in 13 years (see chart). Moreover, at 14.5 percent the 2013 poverty rate was still a full two percentage points higher than in 2007, before the Great Recession, and 45.3 million Americans were poor last year. Similarly, real median household income (the dividing line between the richer half of households and the poorer half) was little changed from 2012 and 8 percent lower than it was in 2007.
Chart on poverty decline in 2013
As I argued previously here, our austere budget policies of recent years have dragged out the jobs slump that followed the recession. That’s an important reason why median incomes stayed flat last year and the poverty rate did not drop more.
We shouldn’t be surprised that in an economic recovery that has left workers behind, the Census data show income inequality remaining historically high. CBPP reports that the share of the nation’s income going to the bottom fifth of households (3.2 percent) is tied for the lowest level on record, while median income of the top fifth of households was more than 12 times higher than that of the bottom fifth for the first time on record, with data back to 1967.
In a Congressional hearing last year, Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown professor and former Pentagon official under President Obama, explained how the administration sees drone strikes thusly: “Right now we have the executive branch making a claim that it has the right to kill anyone, anywhere on Earth, at any time, for secret reasons based on secret evidence, in a secret process undertaken by unidentified officials. That frightens me.”
It frightens John Oliver too, who spent fifteen minutes last night laying out exactly why the US drone program is so disturbing. Among the highlights:
* Military-age males killed in strikes are allegedly considered guilty of being “militants” by the CIA until proven innocent.
* The US government doesn’t actually know the specific identities of many people it kills, or indeed how many people it has killed overall.
According to the Justice Department, for something to be an imminent threat justifying a strike “does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on US persons and interests will take place in the immediate future,” despite, as Oliver notes, that being “what the fucking word imminent means.”
“It is completely natural for us not to want to think about the consequences of our drone program,” Oliver concludes, after airing testimony from a 13-year-old drone strike survivor. “But when children from other countries are telling us we’ve made them fear the sky, it might be time to ask some hard questions.”
Did the feds think ignoring the laws could go on indefinitely, without anyone pushing back?
WASHINGTON — Devoted customers of Apple products these days worry about whether the new iPhone 6 will bend in their jean pockets. The National Security Agency and the nation’s law enforcement agencies have a different concern: that the smartphone is the first of a post-Snowden generation of equipment that will disrupt their investigative abilities.
The phone encrypts emails, photos and contacts based on a complex mathematical algorithm that uses a code created by, and unique to, the phone’s user — and that Apple says it will not possess.
The result, the company is essentially saying, is that if Apple is sent a court order demanding that the contents of an iPhone 6 be provided to intelligence agencies or law enforcement, it will turn over gibberish, along with a note saying that to decode the phone’s emails, contacts and photos, investigators will have to break the code or get the code from the phone’s owner.
Breaking the code, according to an Apple technical guide, could take “more than 5 1/2 years to try all combinations of a six-character alphanumeric passcode with lowercase letters and numbers.” (Computer security experts question that figure, because Apple does not fully realize how quickly the N.S.A. supercomputers can crack codes.)
Already the new phone has led to an eruption from the director of the F.B.I., James B. Comey. At a news conference on Thursday devoted largely to combating terror threats from the Islamic State, Mr. Comey said, “What concerns me about this is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to hold themselves beyond the law.”
“I go crazy with all these Democrats saying you have to go conservative to win, you have to go cautious to win. These damned consultants come in and say, ‘This is how you have to run,’ and it’s always the same: raise money, spend it on television, don’t say anything that will offend anyone. And the Democrats do it and then they end up in tight races, worried about whether they’ll make it,” says Sanders, who caucuses with Democrats but rarely takes advice from anyone in Washington.
“For the life of me, I can’t figure out why progressives listen to consultants. Building movements, making progress on progressive issues— you have to talk to people, educate people, organize people.”