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Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%

Nobel Prize winner Joe Stiglitz in Vanity Fair:

America’s inequality distorts our society in every conceivable way. There is, for one thing, a well-documented lifestyle effect—people outside the top 1 percent increasingly live beyond their means. Trickle-down economics may be a chimera, but trickle-down behaviorism is very real. Inequality massively distorts our foreign policy. The top 1 percent rarely serve in the military—the reality is that the “all-volunteer” army does not pay enough to attract their sons and daughters, and patriotism goes only so far. Plus, the wealthiest class feels no pinch from higher taxes when the nation goes to war: borrowed money will pay for all that. Foreign policy, by definition, is about the balancing of national interests and national resources. With the top 1 percent in charge, and paying no price, the notion of balance and restraint goes out the window. There is no limit to the adventures we can undertake; corporations and contractors stand only to gain. The rules of economic globalization are likewise designed to benefit the rich: they encourage competition among countries for business, which drives down taxes on corporations, weakens health and environmental protections, and undermines what used to be viewed as the “core” labor rights, which include the right to collective bargaining. Imagine what the world might look like if the rules were designed instead to encourage competition among countries forworkers. Governments would compete in providing economic security, low taxes on ordinary wage earners, good education, and a clean environment—things workers care about. But the top 1 percent don’t need to care.

Or, more accurately, they think they don’t. Of all the costs imposed on our society by the top 1 percent, perhaps the greatest is this: the erosion of our sense of identity, in which fair play, equality of opportunity, and a sense of community are so important. America has long prided itself on being a fair society, where everyone has an equal chance of getting ahead, but the statistics suggest otherwise: the chances of a poor citizen, or even a middle-class citizen, making it to the top in America are smaller than in many countries of Europe. The cards are stacked against them. It is this sense of an unjust system without opportunity that has given rise to the conflagrations in the Middle East: rising food prices and growing and persistent youth unemployment simply served as kindling. With youth unemployment in America at around 20 percent (and in some locations, and among some socio-demographic groups, at twice that); with one out of six Americans desiring a full-time job not able to get one; with one out of seven Americans on food stamps (and about the same number suffering from “food insecurity”)—given all this, there is ample evidence that something has blocked the vaunted “trickling down” from the top 1 percent to everyone else. All of this is having the predictable effect of creating alienation—voter turnout among those in their 20s in the last election stood at 21 percent, comparable to the unemployment rate.

In recent weeks we have watched people taking to the streets by the millions to protest political, economic, and social conditions in the oppressive societies they inhabit. Governments have been toppled in Egypt and Tunisia. Protests have erupted in Libya, Yemen, and Bahrain. The ruling families elsewhere in the region look on nervously from their air-conditioned penthouses—will they be next? They are right to worry. These are societies where a minuscule fraction of the population—less than 1 percent—controls the lion’s share of the wealth; where wealth is a main determinant of power; where entrenched corruption of one sort or another is a way of life; and where the wealthiest often stand actively in the way of policies that would improve life for people in general.

As we gaze out at the popular fervor in the streets, one question to ask ourselves is this: When will it come to America? In important ways, our own country has become like one of these distant, troubled places.

Alexis de Tocqueville once described what he saw as a chief part of the peculiar genius of American society—something he called “self-interest properly understood.” The last two words were the key. Everyone possesses self-interest in a narrow sense: I want what’s good for me right now! Self-interest “properly understood” is different. It means appreciating that paying attention to everyone else’s self-interest—in other words, the common welfare—is in fact a precondition for one’s own ultimate well-being. Tocqueville was not suggesting that there was anything noble or idealistic about this outlook—in fact, he was suggesting the opposite. It was a mark of American pragmatism. Those canny Americans understood a basic fact: looking out for the other guy isn’t just good for the soul—it’s good for business.

The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live. Throughout history, this is something that the top 1 percent eventually do learn. Too late.

Sounds like a bit of an implied threat there, Joe! Of course, predicting something is often confused with a recommendation…

Covering up

This is certainly interesting!


“Only” 8.8%!

Why Cuomo’s going after the unions

I’m guessing the $87K from David Koch might have something to do with it.

April Fool

Pretty funny!

A small victory

I’ve been saying this for years: Why on earth do we keep handing all the profits from government-funded drugs back to the pharmaceutical companies? Why don’t we simply contract with different companies to provide them, and rotate them every five years or so?

If this particular drug controversy didn’t have such a clear narrative, odds are, nothing would have happened to give affordable access back to pregnant women:

The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday took the unusual step of announcing that it would allow pharmacies to continue to produce less expensive versions of a drug long used to reduce the risk that women will give birth prematurely.

The move was aimed at defusing a controversy that erupted after the agency approved the drug Makena to prevent preterm births. Makena’s owner, KV Pharmaceutical of St. Louis, is charging $1,500 a dose for the drug. The same compound had been available for years for about $10 to $20 a dose.

The FDA’s statement came a day after The Washington Post reported the intense criticism that has arisen over Makena. After word of Makena’s price began to spread, Internet sites for pregnant women became filled with angry commentary. Some created Facebook pages lambasting KV. The price also drew harsh criticism from several members of Congress, as well as many doctors and medical groups, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

On Wednesday, the FDA challenged KV’s warning to specialty pharmacies that had been producing the cheaper versions of the drug that the agency would no longer permit that.

“This is not correct,” FDA spokeswoman Beth Martino said in an e-mailed statement that was later posted on the agency’s Web site.

Although the agency usually does not recommend patients use compounded versions of FDA-approved drugs, “in order to support access to this important drug, at this time and under this unique situation, FDA does not intend to take enforcement action against pharmacies that compound” the agent, the statement said.

Why he killed him

The man who killed someone in my old town, the one that was publicized as stoning someone to death because he was gay? The victim wasn’t gay, and the murderer was a schizophrenic who’d been institutionalized several times.


Dear California’s rich people: Taxes — or pitchforks?

Think the budget negotiations are dead? Get ready for something that could contribute to a Plan B: Tax the rich.

We just got our hands on a new poll due out Friday that shows blow-the-roof-off support for something that has only been mumbled about in the most progressive corners of the Dome: Increasing taxes one percent on Californians making more than $500,000. It would raise $2.5 billion towards the state’s $26.6 billion deficit.

We explored this issue weeks ago, but few would talk it up then. But now, they might.

How high is the support? Try a whopping 78 percent. Even 60 percent of Republicans and 79 percent of independent and other voters backed it, too.

“Those are the highest numbers I’ve ever seen. On a tax scale — that’s pretty much a perfect score,” said Lenny Goldberg, executive director of the California Tax Reform Association.

The poll, conducted by Democratic pollster Ben Tulchin and sponsored by the California Federation of Teachers, is opening eyes as part of a potential Plan B for solving the budget deficit with its bi-partisan support.

The survey found that 53 percent of the 800 likely California voters surveyed strongly support the tax. Overall support cut across racial, age and geographic boundaries.

“There is a populist anger out there that cuts across all lines,” Tulchin told us. Many voters felt it was unfair that the wealthiest Americans got their Bush-era tax cuts extended last year.

“The see that these (state) service cuts would affect middle-class and lower-class people and they want rich people to pay their fair share,” Tulchin said.

Do as I say, not as I do

It’s sort of the same mind filter through which New Gingrich attacked Bill Clinton for being an immoral adulterer, and Sen. Larry Craig worked to preserve the sanctity of marriage. Are we seeing a pattern yet?

WASHINGTON — Democrats pounced on the man Republicans chose today to be their spokesman for fiscal restraint: a freshman Arkansas congressman who once filed bankruptcy over unpaid credit card bills.

Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Ark.) was the lead signer of a letter endorsed by a pack of GOP freshmen demanding Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pass a budget-cutting spending measure to fund the government for the rest of this fiscal year.”Mr. Reid, your record on spending in the Senate is one of failure,” wrote the 30 lawmakers, who alsovowed to rally on the Capitol steps until the Senate passed a budget. “You have failed to pass a budget, failed to restrain spending, and failed to put our country on sound fiscal footing,” they said.

But Crawford seemed an odd choice to expound on sound fiscal footing.”Really?” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Jesse Ferguson.

“Of all the people for House Republican freshmen to pick as their front man for a stunt about fiscal responsibility, they picked Representative Rick Crawford who couldn’t even pay his own credit card bills and went bankrupt because of it,” Ferguson said in a statement.

According to press accounts during Crawford’s campaign, he declared bankruptcy in 1994 over $12,611.67 in debt – mostly for credit cards.


Good for you!

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