In case you don’t remember, or never knew who they were in the first place, this highly-respected Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative team wrote a series (turned into a book) almost 20 years ago, called “America: What Went Wrong?” Now they write:
Over the last year we’ve received some remarkable e-mails and letters about something we wrote nearly 20 years ago.
“Your story,” wrote a man from Springfield, IL, “is still going on, but unfortunately few people are aware of the causes, only the dire consequences.”
Our story was a newspaper series and then a bestselling book, America: What Went Wrong? that caused a sensation in the early 1990s by explaining to millions of middle-class Americans why they were losing ground, and why it wasn’t their fault. A:WWW pinned the blame squarely on an alliance between Washington and Wall Street that was implementing policies that were destroying good-paying jobs and eroding hard-earned benefits.
America: What Went Wrong? was controversial. We took plenty of heat from some economists and others who claimed that the agony millions were experiencing had nothing to do with policy, but was just one of those rough patches America had to go through as our economy reinvented itself.
But to thousands of Americans who wrote to us, America: What Went Wrong? explained what had happened to them — and why things might get even worse. And in the last year we’ve been hearing again from many distressed Americans, with comments like these:
“(You) outlined the problems and predicted this . . . No one listened and now we are paying.”
”If everyone had read your book, today’s economy would not be a shock.”
“It is ironic how we face many of the same issues nearly two decades later.”
“Maybe it is time to write a sequel to your great book.”
Some of those who wrote had read America: What Went Wrong? when it was first published; others have recently discovered it. But the message was the same: tell the nation what has created the crisis that is hurting so many people today.
Your messages arrived as we were thinking of doing just that.
We’ve been frustrated by the superficial nature of news accounts describing the current economic meltdown. Most stories focus on immediate causes such as the housing bubble. While that has certainly been a major factor, it overlooks the underlying cause: a series of public and private policies over the last 40 years that are dismantling the American middle class. The current recession is just the latest stage in this progression.
I not only read and admired that original series, I even got to interview Don Barlett, who’s actually one of the nicest people in journalism. The series was such a national phenomena, I used to throw it in editors’ faces every time they said “readers aren’t interested in long-form, comprehensive coverage.” All I know is, until it came out in book form years later, the Inquirer had a full-time employee who did nothing but answer reprint requests. (This was before everyone had the intertubes.)
American University’s Investigative Reporting Workshop is sponsoring this year-long series, which is being co-published with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Barlett and Steele’s former employer.
Here’s the first part in Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele’s “What Went Wrong: The Betrayal of the Middle Class,” called “America’s 2-class Tax System.” Read it, send it to everyone you know:
Eric Cantor, who has represented a section of Richmond, Va., in Congress since 2001 and now is the House majority leader, appears to want to craft a permanent U.S. tax system that caters exclusively to those at the top. So does Michele Bachmann, the Republican representative from Minnesota, a onetime tax lawyer who hopes to make a run for the White House. Likewise, Tim Pawlenty, the former two-term Republican governor of Minnesota, who also sees himself sitting in the Oval Office. Needless to say, none state their proposals like that. But that’s the way their numbers and provisions add up.
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David Swanson talks about John Nichols’ new book on the history of socialism in America,go read the rest:
On Friday on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, congress members spoke in defense of Medicare, Social Security, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other programs that by almost anyone’s definition are socialist, programs that were denounced as socialist by opponents of their passage in decades past, programs that would not have been created without the efforts of socialists and the Socialist Party.
The debate screeched to a halt, however, because an opponent of the Congressional Progressive Caucus’s “People’s Budget” then under discussion suggested that its supporters might be socialists. Congressman Keith Ellison, co-chair of that caucus, protested the vicious accusation and demanded that the words of his accuser be transcribed for the record (and possible legal action?). The Republican congress member guilty of the horrible slander announced that he was retracting it. Rep. Raul Grijalva, the other co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, thanked him sincerely for the retraction. Although polls show socialism to be far more popular than Congress, neither Ellison nor Grijalva insisted on being cleared of the label “congress member.”
“Socialism,” remarked Frank Zeidler, former socialist mayor of Milwaukee, “believes that people working together for a common good can produce a greater benefit, both for society and for the individual, than can a society in which everyone is shrewdly seeking their own self-interest.” Missing from Washington, D.C., is not just a single individual who would hurl the term “capitalist” with the strength to have a retraction demanded. Missing also is any sense of working for a cooperative society based on the above truth — a truth apparent to any child who has neither read Ayn Rand nor viewed cable news, but a truth that sounds insane in our nation’s capital.
I’m going to make a wild guess that most of you don’t fall into this category:
WASHINGTON – As millions of procrastinators scramble to meet Monday’s tax filing deadline, ponder this: The super rich pay a lot less taxes than they did a couple of decades ago, and nearly half of U.S. households pay no income taxes at all.
The Internal Revenue Service tracks the tax returns with the 400 highest adjusted gross incomes each year. The average income on those returns in 2007, the latest year for IRS data, was nearly $345 million. Their average federal income tax rate was 17 percent, down from 26 percent in 1992.
Over the same period, the average federal income tax rate for all taxpayers declined to 9.3 percent from 9.9 percent.
The top income tax rate is 35 percent, so how can people who make so much pay so little in taxes? The nation’s tax laws are packed with breaks for people at every income level. There are breaks for having children, paying a mortgage, going to college, and even for paying other taxes. Plus, the top rate on capital gains is only 15 percent.
There are so many breaks that 45 percent of U.S. households will pay no federal income tax for 2010, according to estimates by the Tax Policy Center, a Washington think tank.
“It’s the fact that we are using the tax code both to collect revenue, which is its primary purpose, and to deliver these spending benefits that we run into the situation where so many people are paying no taxes,” said Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the center, which generated the estimate of people who pay no income taxes.