Saturday, November 5, 2011

Chris Hedges’ Speech in Front of Goldman Sachs Leads to Arrest

Extreme Poverty Is Now At Record Levels – 19 Statistics About The Poor That Will Absolutely Astound You

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According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a higher percentage of Americans is living in extreme poverty than they have ever measured before. In 2010, we were told that the economy was recovering, but the truth is that the number of the "very poor" soared to heights never seen previously. Back in 1993 and back in 2009, the rate of extreme poverty was just over 6 percent, and that represented the worst numbers on record. But in 2010, the rate of extreme poverty hit a whopping 6.7 percent. That means that one out of every 15 Americans is now considered to be "very poor". For many people, this is all very confusing because their guts are telling them that things are getting worse and yet the mainstream media keeps telling them that everything is just fine. Hopefully this article will help people realize that the plight of the poorest of the poor continues to deteriorate all across the United States. In addition, hopefully this article will inspire many of you to lend a hand to those that are truly in need.

Tonight, there are more than 20 million Americans that are living in extreme poverty. This number increases a little bit more every single day. The following statistics that were mentioned in an article in The Daily Mail should be very sobering for all of us....

About 20.5 million Americans, or 6.7 percent of the U.S. population, make up the poorest poor, defined as those at 50 per cent or less of the official poverty level.

Those living in deep poverty represent nearly half of the 46.2 million people scraping by below the poverty line. In 2010, the poorest poor meant an income of $5,570 or less for an individual and $11,157 for a family of four.

That 6.7 percent share is the highest in the 35 years that the Census Bureau has maintained such records, surpassing previous highs in 2009 and 1993 of just over 6 percent.

Sadly, the wealthy and the poor are being increasingly segregated all over the nation. In some areas of the U.S. you would never even know that the economy was having trouble, and other areas resemble third world hellholes. In most U.S. cities today, there are the "good neighborhoods" and there are the "bad neighborhoods".

According to a recent Bloomberg article, the "very poor" are increasingly being pushed into these "bad neighborhoods"....

At least 2.2 million more Americans, a 33 percent jump since 2000, live in neighborhoods where the poverty rate is 40 percent or higher, according to a study released today by the Washington-based Brookings Institution.

Of course they don't have much of a choice. They can't afford to live where most of the rest of us do.

Today, there are many Americans that openly look down on the poor, but that should never be the case. We should love the poor and want to see them lifted up to a better place. The truth is that with a few bad breaks any of us could end up in the ranks of the poor. Compassion is a virtue that all of us should seek to develop.

Not only that, but the less poor people and the less unemployed people we have, the better it is for our economy. When as many people as possible in a nation are working and doing something economically productive, that maximizes the level of true wealth that a nation is creating.

But today we are losing out on a massive amount of wealth. We have tens of millions of people that are sitting at home on their couches. Instead of creating something of economic value, the rest of us have to support them financially. That is not what any of us should want.

It is absolutely imperative that we get as many Americans back to work as possible. The more people that are doing something economically productive, the more wealth there will be for all of us.

That is why it is so alarming that the ranks of the "very poor" are increasing so dramatically. When the number of poor people goes up, the entire society suffers.

So just how bad are things right now?

The following are 19 statistics about the poor that will absolutely astound you....

#1 According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the percentage of "very poor" rose in 300 out of the 360 largest metropolitan areas during 2010.

#2 Last year, 2.6 million more Americans descended into poverty. That was the largest increase that we have seen since the U.S. government began keeping statistics on this back in 1959.

#3 It isn't just the ranks of the "very poor" that are rising. The number of those just considered to be "poor" is rapidly increasing as well. Back in the year 2000, 11.3% of all Americans were living in poverty. Today, 15.1% of all Americans are living in poverty.

#4 The poverty rate for children living in the United States increased to 22% in 2010.

#5 There are 314 counties in the United States where at least 30% of the children are facing food insecurity.

#6 In Washington D.C., the "child food insecurity rate" is 32.3%.

#7 More than 20 million U.S. children rely on school meal programs to keep from going hungry.

#8 One out of every six elderly Americans now lives below the federal poverty line.

#9 Today, there are over 45 million Americans on food stamps.

#10 According to the Wall Street Journal, nearly 15 percent of all Americans are now on food stamps.

#11 In 2010, 42 percent of all single mothers in the United States were on food stamps.

#12 The number of Americans on food stamps has increased 74% since 2007.

#13 We are told that the economy is recovering, but the number of Americans on food stamps has grown by another 8 percent over the past year.

#14 Right now, one out of every four American children is on food stamps.

#15 It is being projected that approximately 50 percent of all U.S. children will be on food stamps at some point in their lives before they reach the age of 18.

#16 More than 50 million Americans are now on Medicaid. Back in 1965, only one out of every 50 Americans was on Medicaid. Today, approximately one out of every 6 Americans is on Medicaid.

#17 One out of every six Americans is now enrolled in at least one government anti-poverty program.

#18 The number of Americans that are going to food pantries and soup kitchens has increased by 46% since 2006.

#19 It is estimated that up to half a million children may currently be homeless in the United States.

Sadly, we don't hear much about this on the nightly news, do we?

This is because the mainstream media is very tightly controlled.

I came across a beautiful illustration of this recently. If you do not believe that the news in America is scripted, just watch this video starting at the 1:15 mark. Conan O'Brien does a beautiful job of demonstrating how news anchors all over the United States are often repeating the exact same words.

So don't rely on the mainstream media to tell you everything.

In this day and age, it is absolutely imperative that we all think for ourselves.

It is also absolutely imperative that we have compassion on our brothers and sisters.

Winter is coming up, and if you see someone that does not have a coat, don't be afraid to offer to give them one.

All over the United States (and all around the world), there are orphans that are desperately hurting. As you celebrate the good things that you have during this time of the year, don't forget to remember them.

We should not expect that "the government" will take care of everyone that is hurting.

The reality is that millions of people fall through the "safety net".

Being generous and being compassionate are qualities that all of us should have.

Yes, times are going to get harder and an economic collapse is coming.

That just means that we should be more generous and more compassionate than we have ever been before.

US/Britain prepare for war against Iran

US/Britain prepare for war against Iran

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Articles in the British-based Guardian and Telegraph newspapers on Wednesday have lifted the lid on military preparations by the US and Britain for an attack on Iran that go well beyond routine contingency planning.

The leaks pointing to a dangerous new military adventure take place amid a debate within the Israeli inner cabinet and media over whether to unilaterally launch air strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities.

Officials and ministers in all three countries have denied the reports, but have repeated the longstanding threat that “all options remain on the table”. However, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is due to release a new assessment of Iran’s nuclear programs, described to the Guardian by an unnamed Western official as “a game-changer”, that could well provide the pretext for war. Iran has consistently denied it has any plans to build nuclear weapons.

The Guardian reported: “The [British] Ministry of Defence believes the US may decide to fast-forward plans for targeted missile strikes at some key Iranian facilities. British officials say that if Washington presses ahead it will seek, and receive, UK military help for any mission, despite some deep reservations within the coalition government.” In anticipation, “British military planners are examining where best to deploy Royal Navy ships and submarines equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles over the coming months.”

An article in the Telegraph confirmed that Ministry of Defence (MoD) had signalled the need to act quickly based on claims that Iran was shifting key uranium enrichment technology to a facility near Qom buried deep underground. MoD planners told the newspaper there was a “shortening window of opportunity” as a result. “You have got to get there early enough—once they dig into the ground, it gets much more difficult,” one source declared.

Unnamed British sources told the Guardian that US President Obama did not want “to embark on a new and provocative military venture before next November’s presidential election. But they warned the calculations could change because of mounting anxiety over intelligence gathered by Western agencies.” One Whitehall official commented: “President Obama has a big decision to make in the coming months because he won’t want anything just before the election.”

Israel could prompt Obama to plunge into a new war by launching its own strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities, or threatening to do so. Last Friday, prominent Israeli journalist Nahum Barnea, writing in Yediot Aharonot, reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barack were pressing the inner cabinet and security chiefs to agree to attack Iran. The claim provoked a furious response from inner cabinet member Benny Begin, who denounced the media debate as “utterly irresponsible” as it “severely impeded the government’s ability to make decisions” on the issue.

The Israeli government has already made advanced preparations for an attack on Iran. The Ha’aretz newspaper reported on Tuesday that the Israeli foreign ministry had begun a diplomatic campaign in mid-September stressing to allies that there was not much time left to end the Iranian nuclear program through diplomatic pressure and sanctions. On the military front, Israeli warplanes last week conducted a long-range exercise—of the type required to reach Iran—using a NATO airbase on the Italian island of Sardinia. On Wednesday, Israel test-fired a long-range ballistic missile that also has the potential to strike Iran.

Those who claim that Israel and its American and European backers would not risk an attack on Iran and potentially calamitous consequences ignore the fact that their intelligence agencies have already been engaged in activities that are tantamount to acts of war. It is widely acknowledged that Israel, with the likely assistance of the US, was behind the cyber war operation using the Stuxnet computer virus to sabotage Iran’s enrichment facilities, as well as the assassination of several Iranian nuclear scientists over the past year.

More fundamentally, the preparations for war against Iran are no more being driven by concerns over its nuclear program than the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were motivated by “terrorism” or “weapons of mass destruction”, or the NATO bombing of Libya was to protect the Libyan people. The US has recklessly plunged into one war after another over the past decade in a desperate bid to offset its economic decline by securing its hegemony over the energy-rich regions of the Middle East and Central Asia.

The neo-colonial invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have both turned into disasters, which, as American commentators have repeatedly noted, have only enhanced the standing of Iran in the region by removing two hostile regimes. Having failed to secure a status of forces agreement with Baghdad, the US position will be further weakened when it removes its remaining troops from Iraq by the end of the year. The prospects are no better in Afghanistan as the US and its allies prepare to wind back combat forces by 2014.

Far from acting as a restraint, the worsening global economic crisis is impelling US imperialism to use its military might to shore up its economic and strategic interests at the expense of its main European and Asian rivals. That is the twisted logic behind targeting Tehran, which is regarded in Washington as a major obstacle to US ambitions in the Middle East and the main reason for its failures in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, as in the case of Libya, a US-led war on Tehran would seriously undermine the substantial economic interests of China and Russia in Iran, as well as their efforts to forge closer strategic ties.

The Obama administration is also being driven by the deepening economic crisis and rising class tensions at home that have been exposed by the eruption of the anti-Wall Street protest movement. Despite the widespread popular opposition to militarism and war that has developed over the past decade, the American financial aristocracy is quite willing to take another irresponsible gamble to shore up its interests in the Middle East and as a means of diverting attention from the social devastation produced by its austerity agenda.

The latest reports in the British press constitute the sharpest warning to the American and international working class. As global capitalism lurches from one economic and political crisis to the next, rivalry between the major powers for markets, resources and strategic advantage is plunging humanity towards a catastrophic conflict that would devastate the planet. The only social force capable of ending the danger of world war is the international working class through a unified struggle to abolish the profit system.

Big profits, zero taxes for large U.S. companies

Big profits, zero taxes for large U.S. companies

Tax rate for 280 profitable firms ranges from 41% to negative 58%: study

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The official federal corporate income tax rate in the U.S. is 35%, but plenty of the nation’s largest publicly traded companies are paying no taxes — even getting money back from the government in some cases — in years when they reap big profits, according to a new report.

Thirty of the 280 Fortune 500 companies studied paid zero in federal income taxes or enjoyed tax rebates in 2008, 2009 and 2010, according to the study by the left-leaning Citizens for Tax Justice, a Washington-based nonprofit research and advocacy group, and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research group.

Where to invest in real estate

Investors can find opportunities in apartment and shopping-mall REITs, according to Marty Cohen of real-estate fund manager Cohen & Steers, who advises caution around single-family housing and retirement properties. Jonathan Burton reports.

And 78 of the 280 companies paid nothing in federal income taxes or enjoyed a tax rebate in at least one of those years. Those 78 companies, including General Electric Co. /quotes/zigman/227468/quotes/nls/ge GE -1.68% and Pepco Holdings Inc. /quotes/zigman/286124/quotes/nls/pom POM -1.41% , earned a total of $156 billion in pretax U.S. profits in the years they paid no income tax, yet received so many tax breaks that they reported negative taxes — a total of negative $22 billion, the study said.

A tax rate as low as -58%

The study comes at a time when taxes are a hot topic in the U.S. As Occupy Wall Street protesters decry the income disparity between the 1% and the 99%, a super committee of Washington lawmakers is trying to come up with ways to slash the nation’s massive deficit. And as billionaire investor Warren Buffett calls for higher taxes on the rich, some Republican presidential candidates are calling for a flat tax and a lower corporate tax rate. Read more: Perry flat tax vs. Cain 9-9-9

“Right now there’s an important debate going on about whether everyone pays their fair share,” said Matthew Gardner, executive director of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

The question U.S. policymakers should answer is “Are the biggest and most profitable companies doing business in the U.S. paying federal taxes on their U.S. income?” he said. “Is the 35% corporate income tax rate working as well as it should? This study demonstrates unequivocally it is not.”

For the three-year period, the average effective tax rate for all 280 companies was about 19%, but rates varied widely by company, from a low of negative 58% for Pepco Holdings to a high of 41% for Coventry Health Care Inc. /quotes/zigman/214133/quotes/nls/cvh CVH -0.06% , the study said. GE’s effective tax rate for that period was negative 45.%. Read the full report here

For the 30 companies that paid no taxes or got rebates, their effective tax rate averaged negative 7% in that period. At the other end of the spectrum, 71 companies paid an average effective rate of 32%. Another 67 companies paid an average effective tax rate of zero, the study said.

To come to their findings, the study’s authors focused on companies’ 10-K filings — public financial statements filed with the Securities & Exchange Commission that include current federal income taxes. The report focuses solely on companies that reported a profit in each of the years 2008, 2009, 2010.

Some of the companies disagree with the findings. “The report is inaccurate and distorted,” said Kenny Juarez, director of financial communications for General Electric. “GE paid billions of dollars in taxes in the United States over the last decade, and we expect our overall tax rate will be approximately 30% in 2011.”

Pepco Holdings said in an emailed statement: “PHI pays all its required taxes [and] takes seriously its responsibility to adhere to legal tax requirements and its fiduciary responsibility to its customers and shareholders to minimize costs where possible.”

Big tax subsidies

The study also looked at tax subsidies — the difference between what a company would have paid if it paid a 35% rate on its profits and what it did pay. In the three years studied, the 280 companies earned a total of almost $1.4 trillion in pretax profits in the U.S. At a 35% rate, the tax bill would have been $473 billion, but as a group the companies paid about half that.

For all 280 companies, tax subsidies totaled almost $223 billion for the three-year period, and 25 companies got more than half of that total.

30 Of America's Most Profitable Companies Paid 'Less Than Zero' In Income Taxes In Last 3 Years

Thirty Of America's Most Profitable Companies Paid 'Less Than Zero' In Income Taxes In Last 3 Years: Report

Corporate Tax Subsidies

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Many major corporations have managed to pay taxes at just over half of the corporate income tax rate, according to a new report.

Nearly 300 of the nation's most profitable companies paid an average tax rate of 18.5 percent from 2008 to 2010, less than half of the 35 percent corporate tax rate, according to a study by the Citizens for Tax Justice released Thursday. Of the 280 companies, 78 studied paid a tax rate of zero or less during at least one year of the three year period.

And thirty companies, the report says, had a negative income tax rate from 2008 to 2010, even though they took home a combined $160 billion in pre-tax profits.

The financial services industry netted the largest share -- at 16.8 percent -- of the $222.7 billion in total tax subsidies that the companies received, the study found. Wells Fargo took home the most tax subsidies of them all, raking in nearly $18 billion in tax breaks over the last three years.

Officials at some major corporations lashed out at the study's findings following its release. In a statement, GE called the report "inaccurate and and distorted," according to the Washington Post. Verizon spokesman Robert Varettoni, told WaPo that "findings in this and other recent reports have been more politically motivated than truthful."

Even without lowering the corporate tax rate, large companies are still able to take advantage of a variety of loopholes available to them to avoid paying taxes. One, called the "active financing exception" allows corporations to sidestep paying taxes on overseas profits if the company derived those profits by "actively financing" a deal, according to the NYT.

Corporations also commonly take advantage of a rule called "accelerated depreciation," which allows them to write off investments faster than they wear out, according to WaPo. The companies then subtract the falling value of the investments from their taxable income.

The findings come as politicians wrangle over the best way to cut the nation's budget deficit. Republicans recently proposed lowering the corporate tax rate to 25 percent and paying for it by eliminating business tax breaks. A study by the Joint Committee on Taxation, requested by congressional Democrats, found that eliminating the business tax breaks alone wouldn't bring in enough revenue to make up for the lowered rate.

Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry said last month that if elected president he would cut the corporate tax rate to 20 percent. Perry told The New York Times that he didn't care that his tax plan could possibly increase income inequality. Another Republican presidential candidate, Herman Cain, vowed to slash the corporate tax rate as part of his 9-9-9 plan, which if enacted would cap sales tax, corporate income tax and personal income tax at 9 percent each.

Companies such as Apple and Google are lobbying Congress to pass an additional tax loophole known as a repatriation tax holiday that would allow corporations to avoid taxes on more than $1 trillion in offshore profits, Bloomberg reports. In exchange, the companies argue, companies would invest those dollars in the U.S.

U.S. corporations with foreign profits that amounted to 10 percent or more of their worldwide profits paid tax rates to foreign countries that were nearly one-third higher than the tax rates they paid to the U.S., the tax justice study found.

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, reversed its position on the repatriation tax holiday last month, saying that it wouldn't help to spur U.S. job growth or investment. The Treasury Department found that a similar tax holiday passed in 2004, did little to boost employment growth.

In fact, several companies that benefited from the 2004 law cut jobs in its wake. Dow Chemical, Verizon and Bank of America are just some of the 10 companies that slashed jobs after benefiting from a repatriation tax holiday, according to the Institute for Policy Studies.


How the Rich Created the Social Security "Crisis"

How the rich created the Social Security “crisis”

The Bush tax cuts coupled with a decades-long smear campaign are the real threat to the successful program

Now and then, George W. Bush told the unvarnished truth—most often in jest. Consider the GOP presidential nominee’s Oct. 20, 2000, speech at a high-society $800-a-plate fundraiser at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria. Resplendent in a black tailcoat, waistcoat and white bow tie, Bush greeted the swells with evident satisfaction.

“This is an impressive crowd,” he said. “The haves and the have-mores. Some people call you the elites; I call you my base.”

Any questions?

Eight months later, President Bush delivered sweeping tax cuts to that patrician base. Given current hysteria over what a recent Washington Post article called “the runaway national debt,” it requires an act of historical memory to recall that the Bush administration rationalized reducing taxes on inherited wealth because paying down the debt too soon might roil financial markets.

Military Blew $1 Trillion on Weapons Since 9/11

Report: Military Blew $1 Trillion on Weapons Since 9/11

A new study suggests that defense hawks are crying crocodile tears over planned cuts to Pentagon spending.
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A new study suggests that defense hawks are crying crocodile tears over planned cuts to Pentagon spending.

Oakland General Strike Builds Solidarity With Labor

Oakland General Strike Builds Solidarity With Labor

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Thousands march and rally in front of the State Building in Oakland during the general strike called by Occupy protesters. (Photo by R.M. Arrieta)

One week after Occupy Oakland voted to strike, longshoremen, SEIU and nurses union join the fray

OAKLAND—The General Strike called for by the General Assembly of Occupy Oakland brought out thousands of people to Frank Ogawa/Oscar Grant plaza yesterday—and together they shut down Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Citibank locations, snarled traffic, closed other businesses downtown, and re-routed buses.

The mostly peaceful action of city workers, teachers, students and unionists chanted and danced through the streets of Oakland. The crowd at times roared, “We are the 99%,” as they marched on specific bank targets as well as the State Building, where teachers were demanding greater funding for education. Oakland has just closed down five elementary schools. The state budget for California schools has been cut by $20 million over the past three years.

Last week, the violent military-style police raid involving 18 different agencies who razed the encampment and later threw tear gas into the crowd (leaving young Iraq marine veteran Scott Olsen in a coma) galvanized the Occupy Oakland movement and received national and international attention. Olsen remains hospitalized, but his condition is improving.

Operations at the Port of Oakland stopped as protesters blockaded the area. Earlier in the day, some Longshoremen did not go to work in the morning shifts. Oakland is normally the fifth busiest port in the United States.

Retired longshoreman Jack Hayman said in a press conference that members of the longshoremen's union had stopped work on their own in the morning. “The trucks with containers are backed up for at least a mile. None of the cranes are moving… and the rank and file of the Longshoreman’s Union did this on their own," Hayman said. "The leaders of the union wanted them to work today, but they by and large are not working the port.”

At 6 p.m., the Port of Oakland announced that “all maritime activities” had been shut down because of the sea of thousands of protestors descending on the port. Port Spokesperson Marilyn Sandifur said in a statement in the early evening that “Maritime area operations will resume when it is safe and secure to do so," which they did later at night.

Occupy Oakland asked workers on its website to “go on strike, call a vacation day or simply walk off the job.” Judging by the estimated 7,000 to10,000 people who took part in the actions throughout the day and evening, many did.

About 360 teachers at Oakland Unified School District observed the General Strike, Fifteen Headstart centers were closed because of the staff participation in the event, according to a city bulletin– and about 40 Port of Oakland workers did not show up for work at the hall that hires for daily jobs.

Many stores around City Hall were closed.

Long lines wound through the encampment in front of City Hall where Alameda Labor Council—an umbrella group for labor unions—set up food kitchen and grilled hotdogs and hamburgers and served potato salad.

There were endorsements by SEIU Local 1021 as well as the Oakland Educational Association. Harry Baker, member of the executive board of SEIU Local 1021, estimated there a few hundred members of his union participated yesterday. He said SEIU’s involvement in fighting for a more equitable economy began several years ago.

He told In These Times, “Our union at our convention in Puerto Rico nearly two years ago put 20 million dollars into what we called 'The Fight for a Fair Economy.' Mostly that organizing effort went into cities in the Midwest, in the East and Southern California. SEIU has been behind the fight against the banks for years.”

Baker, who has been a SEIU member for 35 years said, “I am totally fed up with how the banks have ruined our economy. As a result, public services are being strangled. They don’t know when to give up, the 1 percent. They’re going after more and more and more.”

Oakland was the site of the last great general strike in 1946, when 130,000 workers refused to work, in solidarity with 400 female retail clerks.

While this General Strike didn't attract the huge number of workers activists had hoped to attract (that may have had to do with the fact it was called for just one week ago), it did wonders for solidarity-building.

Dwight McElroy, president of chapter 1021 of SEIU, told Mitch Jeserich of radio station KPFA, “There’s a process that would have to take place in order to call a strike. We don’t want to get caught up in the semantics of it, we want to get caught up in the energy of it. The bottom line is that those individuals who were batoned and tear-gassed …they were out there for us because we are definitely the 99 percent whom they refer to.”

He added, “Our city and our coworkers are taking furlough days, they are losing their homes. We have individuals having to choose between their mortgage and having their cars repaired. We need to stand in solidarity. America has caused a marriage between the occupy and labor movement — it’s something that should have come some time ago, but it’s never too late.”

Hundreds of teachers and nurses turned out. Sharon Blaschka, a nurse practitioner and member of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United union, said, “I believe in the OWS movement. It’s been a long time coming. It should have happened a long time ago. The 1 percent count on the fact that we don’t have enough time to get out there and do something major because we have to support our families. I had patients today, but I rescheduled all of them and when I called them to tell them why — they were excited about it.”

Blaschka added, “The Oakland Unified School District is closing five elementary schools, but yeah, we can drop a billion dollars on Libya. Why can’t we drop a billion dollars into our education system? Like they say, if you’re not outraged, your not paying attention.”

Ranks of the "Poorest Poor" Reach New High, and Poverty Spreads to the Suburbs

Ranks of poorest poor hit new high as poverty deepens, spreads from cities to suburbs

Poorest poor in US hits new record: 1 in 15 people

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The ranks of America's poorest poor have climbed to a record high _ 1 in 15 people _ spread widely across metropolitan areas as the housing bust pushed many inner-city poor into suburbs and other outlying places and shriveled jobs and income.

New census data paint a stark portrait of the nation's haves and have-nots at a time when unemployment remains persistently high. It comes a week before the government releases first-ever economic data that will show more Hispanics, elderly and working-age poor have fallen into poverty.

In all, the numbers underscore the breadth and scope by which the downturn has reached further into mainstream America.

"There now really is no unaffected group, except maybe the very top income earners," said Robert Moffitt, a professor of economics at Johns Hopkins University. "Recessions are supposed to be temporary, and when it's over, everything returns to where it was before. But the worry now is that the downturn _ which will end eventually _ will have long-lasting effects on families who lose jobs, become worse off and can't recover."

Traditional inner-city black ghettos are thinning out and changing, drawing in impoverished Hispanics who have low-wage jobs or are unemployed. Neighborhoods with poverty rates of at least 40 percent are stretching over broader areas, increasing in suburbs at twice the rate of cities.

Once-booming Sun Belt metro areas are now seeing some of the biggest jumps in concentrated poverty.

Signs of a growing divide between rich and poor can be seen in places such as the upscale Miami suburb of Miami Shores, where nannies gather with their charges at a playground nestled between the township's sprawling golf course and soccer fields. The locale is a far cry from where many of them live.

One is Mariana Gripaldi, 36, an Argentinian who came to the U.S. about 10 years ago to escape her own country's economic crisis. She and her husband rent a two-bedroom apartment near Biscayne Bay in a middle-class neighborhood at the north end of Miami Beach, far from the chic hotels and stores.

But Gripaldi said in the past two years, the neighborhood has seen an increase in crime.

"The police come sometimes once or twice a night," she said in Spanish. "We are looking for a new place, but it's so expensive. My husband went to look at a place, and it was $1,500 for a two-bedroom, one bath. I don't like the changes, but I don't know if we can move."

About 20.5 million Americans, or 6.7 percent of the U.S. population, make up the poorest poor, defined as those at 50 percent or less of the official poverty level. Those living in deep poverty represent nearly half of the 46.2 million people scraping by below the poverty line. In 2010, the poorest poor meant an income of $5,570 or less for an individual and $11,157 for a family of four.

That 6.7 percent share is the highest in the 35 years that the Census Bureau has maintained such records, surpassing previous highs in 2009 and 1993 of just over 6 percent.

Broken down by states, 40 states and the District of Columbia had increases in the poorest poor since 2007, and none saw decreases. The District of Columbia ranked highest at 10.7 percent, followed by Mississippi and New Mexico. Nevada had the biggest jump, rising from 4.6 percent to 7 percent.

Concentrated poverty also spread wider.

After declining during the 1990s economic boom, the proportion of poor people in large metropolitan areas who lived in high-poverty neighborhoods jumped from 11.2 percent in 2000 to 15.1 percent last year, according to a Brookings Institution analysis released Thursday. Such geographically concentrated poverty in the U.S. is now at the highest since 1990, following a decade of high unemployment and rising energy costs.

Extreme poverty today continues to be prevalent in the industrial Midwest, including Detroit, Grand Rapids, Mich., and Akron, Ohio, due to a renewed decline in manufacturing. But the biggest growth in high-poverty areas is occurring in newer Sun Belt metro areas such as Las Vegas, Riverside, Calif., and Cape Coral, Fla., after the plummeting housing market wiped out home values and dried up construction jobs.

As a whole, the number of poor in the suburbs who lived in high-poverty neighborhoods rose by 41 percent since 2000, more than double the growth of such city neighborhoods.

Elizabeth Kneebone, a senior research associate at Brookings, described a demographic shift in people living in high-poverty neighborhoods, which have less access to good schools, hospitals and government services. As concentrated poverty spreads to new areas, including suburbs, the residents are now more likely to be white, native-born and high school or college graduates _ not the conventional image of high-school dropouts or single mothers in inner-city ghettos.

The more recent broader migration of the U.S. population, including working- and middle-class blacks, to the South and to suburbs helps explain some of the shifts in poverty.

A study by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found that the population of 133 historically black ghettos had dropped 36 percent since 1970, as the U.S. black population growth slowed and many blacks moved to new areas. The newest residents in these ghettos are now more likely to be Hispanic, who have more than tripled their share in the neighborhoods, to 21 percent.

Just over 7 percent of all African-Americans nationwide now live in traditional ghettos, down from 33 percent in 1970.

"As extreme-poverty neighborhoods emerge in more places, that is shifting the general makeup of those populations," said Kneebone, the lead author of the Brookings analysis.

New 2010 poverty data to be released next week by the Census Bureau will show additional demographic changes.

The new supplemental poverty measure for the first time will take into account non-cash aid such as tax credits and food stamps, but also additional everyday costs such as commuting and medical care. Official poverty figures released in September only take into account income before tax deductions.

Based on newly released estimates for 2009, the new measure will show a significant jump in overall poverty. Poverty for Americans 65 and older is on track to nearly double after factoring in rising out-of-pocket medical expenses, from 9 percent to over 15 percent. Poverty increases are also anticipated for the working-age population because of commuting and child-care costs, while child poverty will dip partly due to the positive effect of food stamps.

For the first time, the share of Hispanics living in poverty is expected to surpass that of African-Americans based on the new measure, reflecting in part the lower participation of immigrants and non-English speakers in government aid programs such as housing and food stamps. The 2009 census estimates show 27.6 percent of all Hispanics living in poverty, compared with 23.4 percent for blacks.

Alba Alvarez, 52, a nanny who chatted recently in Miami, said she is lucky because her employer rents an apartment to her and her husband at a low rate in a comfortable neighborhood on the bay. But her adult children, who followed her to the U.S. from Honduras, are having a tougher time.

They initially found work in a regional wholesale fruit and vegetable market that supplies many local supermarkets. But her youngest son recently lost his job, and since he has no legal status, he cannot get any help from the government.

"As a mother, I feel so horrible. There's this sense of powerlessness. I wanted things to be better for them in this country," Alvarez said. "I (recently) suggested my youngest go back to Honduras. It's easier for me to help him there than here, where rent and everything is so expensive."

"We've Had Our Eyes Opened ... " Veterans Joining the 99% Movement

"We've Had Our Eyes Opened ... " Veterans Joining the 99% Movement

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11-11-11 is not a variant of Herman Cain’s much-touted 9-9-9 tax plan, but rather the date of this year’s Veterans Day. This is especially relevant, as the U.S. has now entered its second decade of war in Afghanistan, the longest war in the nation’s history. U.S. veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are appearing more and more on the front lines—the front lines of the Occupy Wall Street protests, that is.

Video from the Occupy Oakland march on Tuesday, Oct. 25, looks and sounds like a war zone. The sound of gunfire is nearly constant in the video. Tear-gas projectiles were being fired into the crowd when the cry of “Medic!” rang out. Civilians raced toward a fallen protester lying on his back on the pavement, mere steps from a throng of black-clad police in full riot gear, pointing guns as the civilians attempted to administer first aid.

The fallen protester was Scott Olsen, a 24-year-old former U.S. Marine who had served two tours of duty in Iraq. The publicly available video shows Olsen standing calmly alongside a Navy veteran holding an upraised Veterans for Peace flag. Olsen was wearing a desert camouflage jacket and sun hat, and his Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) T-shirt. He was hit in the head by a police projectile, most likely a tear-gas canister, suffering a fractured skull. As the small group of people gathered around him to help, a police officer lobbed a flashbang grenade directly into the huddle, and it exploded.

Four or five people lifted Olsen and raced with him away from the police line. At the hospital, he was put into an induced coma to relieve brain swelling. He is now conscious but unable to speak. He communicates using a notepad.

I interviewed one of Olsen’s friends, Aaron Hinde, also an Iraq War veteran. He was at Occupy San Francisco when he started getting a series of frenzied tweets about a vet down in Oakland. Hinde raced to the hospital to see his friend. He later told me a little about him: “Scott came to San Francisco about three months ago from Wisconsin, where he actually participated in the holding of the State Capitol over there. Scott’s probably one of the warmest, kindest guys I know. He’s just one of those people who always has a smile on his face and never has anything negative to say. ... And he believed in the Occupy movement, because it’s very obvious what’s happening in this country, especially to us veterans. We’ve had our eyes opened by serving and going to war overseas. So, there’s a small contingency of us out here, and we’re all very motivated and dedicated.”

As I was covering one of the Occupy Wall Street rallies in Times Square on Oct. 15, I saw Sgt. Shamar Thomas become deeply upset. Police on horseback had moved in on protesters, only to be stopped by a horse that went down on its knees. Other officers had picked up metal barricades, squeezing the frightened crowd against steam pipes. Sgt. Thomas was wearing his desert camouflage, his chest covered with medals from his combat tour in Iraq. He shouted at the police, denouncing their violent treatment of the protesters. Thomas later wrote of the incident: “There is an obvious problem in the country and PEACEFUL PEOPLE should be allowed to PROTEST without Brutality. I was involved in a RIOT in Rutbah, Iraq 2004 and we did NOT treat the Iraqi citizens like they are treating the unarmed civilians in our OWN Country.”
A group calling itself Veterans of the 99 Percent has formed and, with the New York City Chapter of IVAW, set Wednesday as the day to march to Liberty Plaza to formally join and support the movement. Their announcement read: “ ‘Veterans of the 99 Percent’ hope to draw attention to the ways veterans have been impacted by the economic and social issues raised by Occupy Wall Street. They hope to help make veterans’ and service members’ participation in this movement more visible and deliberate.”

When I stopped by Occupy Louisville in Kentucky last weekend, the first two people I met there were veterans. One of them, Gary James Johnson, told me: “I served in Iraq for about a year and a half. I joined the military because I thought it was my obligation to help protect this country. ... And right here, right now, this is another way I can help.”

Pundits predict the cold weather will crush the Occupy movement. Ask any veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq about surviving outdoors in extreme weather. And consider the sign at Liberty Plaza, held by yet another veteran: “2nd time I’ve fought for my country. 1st time I’ve known my enemy.”

The State Department Is Using Our Money to Pimp for Monsanto

Why Is the State Department Using Our Money to Pimp for Monsanto?

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People in India are up in arms about eggplant. Not just any eggplant -- the fight, which is also raging in the Philippines, is over Monsanto's Bt eggplant. Even as increasing scientific evidence concludes that biotechnology and its arsenal of genetically modified crops may be doing more harm than good, companies like Monsanto are still pushing them hard and they are getting help from the U.S.

The State Department is using taxpayer money to help push the agenda of Monsanto and its friends all across the world. Here's a recent example: Assistant Secretary of State Jose W. Fernandez, addressing an event of high-level government officials from around the world, agribusiness CEOs, leaders from international organizations, and anti-hunger groups said, "Without agricultural biotechnology, our world would look vastly different. One of our challenges is how to grow more crops on the same land. This is where biotechnology plays a role."

Many scientists would disagree with these statements, which are more controversial than Fernandez let on. The Union of Concerned Scientists found that biotech crops did not lead to reliable yield increases compared to conventional, non-GMO crops and that biotech crops actually required more pesticides than conventional crops. These conclusions are reiterated by the scientists who authored the "International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science, and Technology for Development" (IAASTD) report, a 2008 study written by 400 scientists from around the world concluding that agroecology was the best way to feed the world. And a recent 30-year study by the Rodale Institute found that organic methods provided excellent drought protection, whereas drought-tolerant GMOs are mostly still an idea of the future.

So why is Fernandez making speeches that sound like Monsanto talking points? His background prior to working at the State Department was as a lawyer specializing in international finance and mergers and acquisitions, particularly in Latin America. Now he heads up the State Department's Bureau of Economic, Energy, and Business Affairs (EEB), which works "to promote economic security and prosperity at home and abroad." And part of such prosperity, according to EEB, includes promoting GMOs around the world.

Within EEB lies the Office of Agriculture, Biotechnology, and Textile Trade Affairs (ABT), which has worked to promote biotechnology for nearly a decade, at least. The word "biotechnology" was added to the office's name in 2003. ABT seeks to address "barriers and opening markets for American farm products, contributing to the development of effective food aid policies, promoting rural development and increasing agricultural productivity through biotechnology."

Among other things, ABT is responsible for doling out half a million dollars per year in Biotechnology Outreach Funds. This amounts to pennies compared to the overall federal budget, but it goes a long way, as grants are often around $20,000 apiece, especially considering the cumulative impact of their use in promoting biotechnology around the world each year since 2003. Biotech Outreach Fund requests for 2010 included:

  • A request from the U.S. embassy in Ecuador for $22,900 to fly five Ecuadorian journalists to the United States "to participate in a one-week biotech tour" to influence public opinion of biotechnology.
  • A request from the U.S. embassies in Brazil and Mozambique for $64,590 to hold a trilateral three-day seminar on biotechnology in Maputo, Mozambique.
  • A request from the U.S. embassy in Ethiopia for $5,500 to bring biotechnology experts from South Africa, Egypt, Kenya, and possibly the U.S. to a workshop on biotechnology held by the Ethiopian government.

The requests above were revealed in secret cables leaked by WikiLeaks. While the cables did not divulge which requests were accepted, they do tell the story of State Department employees whose jobs consist of promoting biotechnology around the world. Between 2005 and 2006, then senior adviser for agricultural biotechnology Madelyn E. Spirnak traveled to Guatemala, Egypt, Slovenia, Taiwan, Turkey, South Africa, Ghana, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Poland to promote biotechnology.

In South Africa, Spirnak spent a week meeting with "government officials, researchers, private sector representatives and officials from the New Economic Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) to discuss agricultural biotechnology and biosafety issues." The private sector representatives referred to include Monsanto and Cargill. According to a leaked State Department memo, Spirnak learned that the government of South Africa was planning to hire several new people to work on GMOs. The memo reads: "Note: we informed both Pioneer [DuPont] and Monsanto the following day about the two new positions and they immediately saw the benefits from encouraging qualified applicants to apply."

The State Department promotion of biotechnology comes from the top. Both Hillary Clinton and Condoleeza Rice before her sent out annual memos to all U.S. embassies outlining State Department policy on biotechnology. In December 2009, Clinton wrote, "Our biotech outreach objectives for 2010 are to increase access to, and markets for, biotech as a means to help address the underlying causes of the food crisis, and to promote agricultural technology's role in mitigating climate change and increasing biofuel production."

ABT's work dovetails with that of another State Department agency, the U.S. Agency for International Development. USAID's work on biotechnology has focused on two main goals: developing GMOs for introduction in the Global South and pushing nations in Asia and Africa to write biosafety laws. Biosafety laws, a common theme in leaked State Department memos discussing biotechnology, basically mean "laws that keep Monsanto's intellectual property rights on genetically engineered crops safe."

USAID's work funding the development of GMOs began in 1990, when it funded the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project (now known as ABSP I), a project based at Michigan State University's Institute for International Agriculture that ran until 2003 but was continued in a successor project (predictably called ABSP II) that continues today.

Like its predecessor, ABSP II is funded by USAID. However, unlike ABSP I, it is led by Cornell University. ABSP II, which is ongoing, includes among its partners a number of U.S. universities, research organizations in partner countries, NGOs, foundations, and several corporations -- including Monsanto. ABSP II projects include the development and commercialization of GM crops like a disease-resistant potato in India, Bangladesh and Indonesia; Roundup-Ready Bt cotton in Uganda (similar to the GM cotton already grown in the United States); and perhaps the most controversial, Bt eggplant, intended for India, Bangladesh and the Philippines.

Using Monsanto's technology, Bt eggplant includes a gene from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis in its DNA. Like the bacteria, the eggplant will produce a toxin that kills insects that prey on it. Bt is a commonly used organic insecticide. When the bacteria is applied by organic farmers, it lasts for a short time in the environment, killing the insects but ultimately having little impact on the agroecosystem, and giving the insects no real opportunity to evolve resistance to the toxin. When the gene is engineered into a crop, the crop produces the Bt toxin in every cell during the entire duration of its life. As of 2011, there are now reports of insects evolving resistance to Bt in genetically engineered crops in the United States.

MAHYCO (Maharashta Hybrid Seed Company), which is 26 percent owned by Monsanto, applied to grow Bt eggplant commercially in India, but the application was denied after massive public outcry. India is the center of origin for eggplant, the country where the crop was first domesticated, and home to incredible biodiversity in eggplant. Adoption of Bt eggplant threatened both the loss of biodiversity as farmers traded their traditional seeds for new GM ones, as well as the genetic contamination of traditional seeds and perhaps even wild eggplant relatives.

Now, Bt eggplant is facing opposition in the Philippines, where anti-GMO activists have destroyed Bt eggplant in protest. The Filipino NGO SEARICE (Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment), which works on the conservation of traditional varieties and on expanding farmers' rights, also opposes the introduction of Bt eggplant. (And, back in India, the government of India has now gone on the offensive, filing a biopiracy suit against Monsanto over the Bt eggplant.)

Given the two decades of State Department support for GMOs -- and its bullying behavior toward countries that don't wish to grow them or eat them -- the question isn't why a senior state department official is making a major speech extolling biotechnology, but rather, why the State Department isn't listening to experts, including U.S. citizens, who provide evidence countering the usefulness and safety of biotechnology and supporting alternative methods of agricultural development. For a government department that frequently calls for "science-based" policy, ignoring the totality of evidence on biotechnology is not very science-based.

America Occupies Wall Street Because Wall Street Occupies America

America Occupies Wall Street Because Wall Street Occupies America

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Journalist Bill Moyers was the keynote speaker at the 40th anniversary celebration of Ralph Nader's Public Citizen. In his speech, Moyers discusses the Occupy Wall Street movement and chronicles the history of America's middle class.

am honored to share this occasion with you. No one beyond your collegial inner circle appreciates more than I do what you have stood for over these 40 years, or is more aware of the battles you have fought, the victories you have won, and the passion for democracy that still courses through your veins. The great progressive of a century ago, Robert LaFollette of Wisconsin - a Republican, by the way - believed that "Democracy is a life; and involves constant struggle." Democracy has been your life for four decades now, and would have been even more imperiled today if you had not stayed the course.

I began my public journalism the same year you began your public advocacy, in 1971. Our paths often paralleled and sometimes crossed. Over these 40 years journalism for me has been a continuing course in adult education, and I came early on to consider the work you do as part of the curriculum - an open seminar on how government works - and for whom. Your muckraking investigations - into money and politics, corporate behavior, lobbying, regulatory oversight, public health and safety, openness in government, and consumer protection, among others - are models of accuracy and integrity. They drive home to journalists that while it is important to cover the news, it is more important to uncover the news. As one of my mentors said, "News is what people want to keep hidden; everything else is publicity." And when a student asked the journalist and historian Richard Reeves for his definition of " real news", he answered: "The news you and I need to keep our freedoms." You keep reminding us how crucial that news is to democracy. And when the watchdogs of the press have fallen silent, your vigilant growls have told us something's up.

So I'm here as both citizen and journalist to thank you for all you have done, to salute you for keeping the faith, and to implore you to fight on during the crisis of hope that now grips our country. The great American experience in creating a different future together - this "voluntary union for the common good" - has been flummoxed by a growing sense of political impotence - what the historian Lawrence Goodwyn has described as a mass resignation of people who believe "the dogma of democracy" on a superficial public level but who no longer believe it privately. There has been, he says, a decline in what people think they have a political right to aspire to - a decline of individual self-respect on the part of millions of Americans.

You can understand why. We hold elections, knowing they are unlikely to produce the policies favored by the majority of Americans. We speak, we write, we advocate - and those in power turn deaf ears and blind eyes to our deepest aspirations. We petition, plead, and even pray - yet the earth that is our commons, which should be passed on in good condition to coming generations, continues to be despoiled. We invoke the strain in our national DNA that attests to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" as the produce of political equality - yet private wealth multiplies as public goods are beggared. And the property qualifications for federal office that the framers of the Constitution expressly feared as an unseemly "veneration for wealth" are now openly in force; the common denominator of public office, even for our judges, is a common deference to cash.

So if belief in the "the dogma of democracy" seems only skin deep, there are reasons for it. During the prairie revolt that swept the Great Plains a century after the Constitution was ratified, the populist orator Mary Elizabeth Lease exclaimed: "Wall Street owns the country...Our laws are the output of a system which clothes rascals in robes and honesty in rags. The [political] parties lie to us and the political speakers mislead us...Money rules."

That was 1890. Those agrarian populists boiled over with anger that corporations, banks, and government were ganging up to deprive every day people of their livelihood.

She should see us now.

John Boehner calls on the bankers, holds out his cup, and offers them total obeisance from the House majority if only they fill it.

That's now the norm, and they get away with it. GOP once again means Guardians of Privilege.

Barack Obama criticizes bankers as "fat cats", then invites them to dine at a pricey New York restaurant where the tasting menu runs to $195 a person.

That's now the norm, and they get away with it. The President has raised more money from banks, hedge funds, and private equity managers than any Republican candidate, including Mitt Romney. Inch by inch he has conceded ground to them while espousing populist rhetoric that his very actions betray.

Let's name this for what it is: Democratic deviancy defined further downward. Our politicians are little more than money launderers in the trafficking of power and policy - fewer than six degrees of separation from the spirit and tactics of Tony Soprano.

Why New York's Zuccotti Park is filled with people is no mystery. Reporters keep scratching their heads and asking: "Why are you here?" But it's clear they are occupying Wall Street because Wall Street has occupied the country. And that's why in public places across the country workaday Americans are standing up in solidarity. Did you see the sign a woman was carrying at a fraternal march in Iowa the other day? It read: "I can't afford to buy a politician so I bought this sign."

We know what all this money buys. Americans have learned the hard way that when rich organizations and wealthy individuals shower Washington with millions in campaign contributions, they get what they want. They know that if you don't contribute to their campaigns or spend generously on lobbying,

...you pick up a disproportionate share of America's tax bill. You pay higher prices for a broad range of products from peanuts to prescriptions. You pay taxes that others in a similar situation have been excused from paying. You're compelled to abide by laws while others are granted immunity from them. You must pay debts that you incur while others do not. You're barred from writing off on your tax returns some of the money spent on necessities while others deduct the cost of their entertainment. You must run your business by one set of rules, while the government creates another set for your competitors... In contrast the fortunate few who contribute to the right politicians and hire the right lobbyists enjoy all the benefits of their special status. Make a bad business deal; the government bails them out. If they want to hire workers at below market wages, the government provides the means to do so. If they want more time to pay their debts, the government gives them an extension. If they want immunity from certain laws, the government gives it. If they want to ignore rules their competition must comply with, the government gives it approval. If they want to kill legislation that is intended for the public, it gets killed.

I didn't crib that litany from Public Citizen's muckraking investigations over the years, although I could have. Nor did I lift it from Das Kapital by Karl Marx or Mao Tse-tung's Little Red Book. No, I was literally quoting Time Magazine, long a tribune of America's establishment media. From the bosom of mainstream media comes the bald, spare, and damning conclusion: We now have "government for the few at the expense of the many."

But let me call another witness from the pro-business and capitalist- friendly press. In the middle of the last decade - four years before the Great Collapse of 2008 - the editors of The Economist warned:

A growing body of evidence suggests that the meritocratic ideal is in trouble in America. Income inequality is growing to levels not seen since the (first) Gilded Age. But social mobility is not increasing at anything like the same pace....Everywhere you look in modern America - in the Hollywood Hills or the canyons of Wall Street, in the Nashville recording studios or the clapboard houses of Cambridge, Massachusetts - you see elites mastering the art of perpetuating themselves. America is increasingly looking like imperial Britain, with dynastic ties proliferating, social circles interlocking, mechanisms of social exclusion strengthening, and a gap widening between the people who make decisions and shape the culture and the vast majority of working stiffs.

Hear the editors of The Economist: "The United States is on its way to becoming a European-style class-based society."

Can you imagine what would happen if I had said that on PBS? Mitch McConnell and John Boehner would put Elmo and Big Bird under house arrest. Come to think of it, I did say it on PBS back when Karl Rove was president, and there was indeed hell to pay. You would have thought Che Guevara had run his motorcycle across the White House lawn. But I wasn't quoting from a radical or even liberal manifesto. I was quoting - to repeat - one of the business world's most respected journals. It is the editors of the The Economist who are warning us that " The United States is on its way to becoming a European-style class-based society."

And that was well before our financiers, drunk with greed and high on the illusions and conceits of laissez faire ("leave us alone") fundamentalism, and humored by rented politicians who do their bidding, brought America to the edge of the abyss and our middle class to its knees.

How could it be? How could this happen in the country whose framers spoke of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" in the same breath as political equality? Democracy wasn't meant to produce a class-ridden society. When that son of French aristocracy Alexander de Tocqueville traveled through the bustling young America of the 1830s, nothing struck him with greater force than "the equality of conditions." Tocqueville knew first-hand the vast divisions between the wealth and poverty of Europe, where kings and feudal lords took what they wanted and left peasants the crumbs. But Americans, he wrote, "seemed to be remarkably equal economically." "Some were richer, some were poorer, but within a comparative narrow band. Moreover, individuals had opportunities to better their economic circumstances over the course of a lifetime, and just about everyone [except of course slaves and Indians] seemed to be striving for that goal." Tocqueville looked closely, and said: "I easily perceive the enormous influence that this primary fact exercises on the workings of the society."

And so it does. Evidence abounds that large inequalities undermine community life, reduces trust among citizens, and increases violence. In one major study from data collected over 30 years (by the epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett in their book: The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger ) the most consistent predictor of mental illness, infant mortality, educational achievements, teenage births, homicides, and incarceration, is economic inequality. And as Nobel Laureate Kenneth Arrow has written, "Vast inequalities of income weakens a society's sense of mutual concern...The sense that we are all members of the social order is vital to the meaning of civilization."

The historian Gordon Wood won the Pulitzer Prize for his book on The Radicalism of the American Revolution: If you haven't read it, now's the time. Wood says that our nation discovered its greatness "by creating a prosperous free society belonging to obscure people with their workaday concerns and their pecuniary pursuits of happiness." This democracy, he said, changed the lives "of hitherto neglected and despised masses of common laboring people."

Those words moved me when I read them. They moved me because Henry and Ruby Moyers were "common laboring people." My father dropped out of the fourth grade and never returned to school because his family needed him to pick cotton to help make ends meet. Mother managed to finish the eighth grade before she followed him into the fields. They were tenant farmers when the Great Depression knocked them down and almost out. The year I was born my father was making $2 a day working on the highway to Oklahoma City. He never took home more than $100 a week in his working life, and made that only when he joined the union in the last job he held. I was one of the poorest white kids in town, but in many respects I was the equal of my friend who was the daughter of the richest man in town. I went to good public schools, had use of a good public library, played sand-lot baseball in a good public park, and traveled far on good public roads with good public facilities to a good public university. Because these public goods were there for us, I never thought of myself as poor. When I began to piece the story together years later, I came to realize that people like the Moyers had been included in the American deal: "We, the People" included us.

It's heartbreaking to see what has become of that bargain. These days it's every man for himself; may be the richest and most ruthless predators win!

How did this happen?

You know the story, because it begins the very same year that you began your public advocacy and I began my public journalism. 1971 was a seminal year.

On March 29 of that year, Ralph Nader bought ads in 13 publications and sent out letters asking people if they would invest their talents, skills, and yes, their lives, in working for the public interest. The seed sprouted swiftly that spring: By the end of May over 60,000 Americans responded, and Public Citizen was born.

But something else was also happening. Five months later, on August 23, 1971, a corporate lawyer named Lewis Powell - a board member of the death-dealing tobacco giant Philip Morris and a future Justice of the United States Supreme Court - sent a confidential memorandum to his friends at the U. S. Chamber of Commerce. We look back on it now as a call to arms for class war waged from the top down.

Let's recall the context: Big Business was being forced to clean up its act. It was bad enough to corporate interests that Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal had sustained its momentum through Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson. Suddenly this young lawyer named Ralph Nader arrived on the scene, arousing consumers with articles, speeches, and above all, an expose of the automobile industry, Unsafe at Any Speed. Young activists flocked to work with him on health, environmental, and economic concerns. Congress was moved to act. Even Republicans signed on. In l970 President Richard Nixon put his signature on the National Environmental Policy Act and named a White House Council to promote environmental quality. A few months later millions of Americans turned out for Earth Day. Nixon then agreed to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. Congress acted swiftly to pass tough new amendments to the Clean Air Act and the EPA announced the first air pollution standards. There were new regulations directed at lead paint and pesticides. Corporations were no longer getting away with murder.

And Lewis Powell was shocked - shocked! - at what he called "an attack on the American free enterprise system." Not just from a few "extremists of the left," he said, but also from "perfectly respectable elements of society," including the media, politicians, and leading intellectuals. Fight back, and fight back hard, he urged his compatriots. Build a movement. Set speakers loose across the country. Take on prominent institutions of public opinion - especially the universities, the media, and the courts. Keep television programs under "constant surveillance." And above all, recognize that political power must be "assiduously (sic) cultivated; and that when necessary, it must be used aggressively and with determination" and "without embarrassment."

Powell imagined the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as a council of war. Since business executives had "little stomach for hard-nose contest with their critics" and "little skill in effective intellectual and philosophical debate," they should create new think tanks, legal foundations, and front groups of every stripe. It would take years, but these groups could, he said, be aligned into a united front (that) would only come about through "careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and united organizations."

You have to admit it was a brilliant strategy. Although Powell may not have seen it at the time, he was pointing America toward plutocracy, where political power is derived from the wealthy and controlled by the wealthy to protect their wealth. As the only countervailing power to private greed and power, democracy could no longer be tolerated.

While Nader's recruitment of citizens to champion democracy was open for all to see - depended, in fact, on public participation - Powell's memo was for certain eyes only, those with the means and will to answer his call to arms. The public wouldn't learn of the memo until after Nixon appointed Powell to the Supreme Court and the enterprising reporter Jack Anderson obtained a copy, writing that it may have been the reason for Powell's appointment.

By then his document had circulated widely in corporate suites. Within two years the board of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce formed a task force of 40 business executives - from U.S. Steel, GE, GM, Phillips Petroleum, 3M, Amway, and ABC and CBS (two media companies, we should note). Their assignment was to coordinate the crusade, put Powell's recommendations into effect, and push the corporate agenda. Powell had set in motion a revolt of the rich. As the historian Kim Phillips-Fein subsequently wrote, "Many who read the memo cited it afterward as inspiration for their political choices."

Those choices came soon. The National Association of Manufacturers announced it was moving its main offices from New York to Washington. In 1971, only 175 firms had registered lobbyists in the capital; by 1982, nearly twenty-five hundred did. Corporate PACs increased from under 300 in 1976 to over twelve hundred by the middle of the l980s. From Powell's impetus came the Business Roundtable, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, the Manhattan Institute, Citizens for a Sound Economy (precursor to what we now know as Americans for Prosperity) and other organizations united in pushing back against political equality and shared prosperity. [Thanks to Charlie Cray for a succinct analysis of the Powell memo and to Jim Hoggan for calling attention to it more recently.] They triggered an economic transformation that would in time touch every aspect of our lives.

Powell's memo was delivered to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at its headquarters across from the White House on land that was formerly the home of Daniel Webster. That couldn't have been more appropriate. History was coming full circle at 1615 H Street. Webster is remembered largely as the most eloquent orator in America during his years as Senator from Massachusetts and Secretary of State under three presidents in the years leading up to the Civil War. He was also the leading spokesman for banking and industry nabobs who funded his extravagant tastes in wine, boats, and mistresses. Some of them came to his relief when he couldn't cover his debts wholly from bribes or the sale of diplomatic posts for personal gain. Webster apparently regarded the merchants and bankers of Boston's State Street Corporation - one of the country's first financial holding companies - very much as George W. Bush regarded the high rollers he called "my base." The great orator even sent a famous letter to financiers requesting retainers from them that he might better serve them. The historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wondered how the American people could follow Webster "through hell or high water when he would not lead unless someone made up a purse for him."

No wonder the U.S. Chamber of Commerce feels right as home with the landmark designation of its headquarters. 1615 H Street now masterminds the laundering of multi-millions of dollars raised from captains of industry and private wealth to finance - secretly - the political mercenaries who fight the class war in their behalf.

Even as the Chamber was doubling its membership and tripling its budget in response to Lewis Powell's manifesto, the coalition got another powerful jolt of adrenalin from the wealthy right-winger who had served as Nixon's secretary of the treasury, William Simon. His polemic entitled A Time for Truth argued that "funds generated by business" must "rush by multimillions" into conservative causes to uproot the institutions and "the heretical strategy" [his term] of the New Deal. He called on "men of action in the capitalist world" to mount "a veritable crusade" against progressive America. Business Week magazine somberly explained that "...it will be a bitter pill for many Americans to swallow the idea of doing with less so that big business can have move."

I'm not making this up.

And so it came to pass; came to pass despite your heroic efforts and those of other kindred citizens; came to pass because those "men of action in the capitalist world" were not content with their wealth just to buy more homes, more cars, more planes, more vacations and more gizmos than anyone else. They were determined to buy more democracy than anyone else. And they succeeded beyond their own expectations. After their 40-year "veritable crusade" against our institutions, laws and regulations - against the ideas, norms and beliefs that helped to create America's iconic middle class - the Gilded Age is back with a vengeance.

You know these things, of course, because you've been up against that "veritable crusade" all these years. But if you want to see the story pulled together in one compelling narrative, read this - perhaps the best book on politics of the last two years : Winner Take All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class . Two accomplished political scientists wrote it: Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson - the Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson of political science, who wanted to know how America had turned into a society starkly divided into winners and losers.

Mystified by what happened to the notion of "shared prosperity" that marked the years after World War II;

puzzled that over the last generation more and more wealth has gone to the rich and superrich, while middle-class and working people are left barely hanging on;

vexed that hedge-fund managers pulling down billions can pay a lower tax rate than their pedicurists, manicurists, cleaning ladies and chauffeurs;

curious as to why politicians keep slashing taxes on the very rich even as they grow richer, and how corporations keep being handed huge tax breaks and subsidies even as they fire hundreds of thousands of workers;

troubled that the heart of the American Dream - upward mobility - seems to have stopped beating;

astounded that the United States now leads in the competition for the gold medal for inequality;

and dumbfounded that all this could happen in a democracy whose politicians are supposed to serve the greatest good for the greatest number, and must regularly face the judgment of citizens at the polls if they haven't done so;

Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson wanted to find out "how our economy stopped working to provide prosperity and security for the broad middle class." They wanted to know: "Who dunnit?"

They found the culprit: "It's the politics, stupid!" Tracing the clues back to that "unseen revolution" of the 1970s - the revolt triggered by Lewis Powell, fired up by William Simon, and fueled by rich corporations and wealthy individuals - they found that 'Step by step and debate by debate America's public officials have rewritten the rules of American politics and the American economy in ways that have benefitted the few at the expense of the many."

There you have it: they bought off the gatekeepers, got inside, and gamed the system. And when the fix was in, they let loose the animal spirits, turning our economy into a feast for predators. And they won - as the rich and powerful got richer and more powerful - they not only bought the government, they "saddled Americans with greater debt, tore new holes in the safety net, and imposed broad financial risks on workers, investors, and taxpayers." Until - write Hacker and Pierson - "The United States is looking more and more like the capitalist oligarchies of Brazil, Mexico, and Russia where most of the wealth is concentrated at the top while the bottom grows larger and larger with everyone in between just barely getting by."

The revolt of the plutocrats has now been ratified by the Supreme Court in its notorious Citizens United decision last year. Rarely have so few imposed such damage on so many. When five pro-corporate conservative justices gave "artificial entities" the same rights of "free speech" as living, breathing human beings, they told our corporate sovereigns "the sky's the limit" when it comes to their pouring money into political campaigns. The Roberts Court embodies the legacy of pro-corporate bias in justices determined to prevent democracy from acting as a brake on excessive greed and power in the private sector. Wealth acquired under capitalism is in and of itself no enemy of democracy, but wealth armed with political power - power to shake off opportunities for others to rise - is a proven danger. Thomas Jefferson had hoped that "we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and [to] bid defiance to the laws of our country." James Madison feared that the "spirit of speculation" would lead to "a government operating by corrupt influence, substituting the motive of private interest in place of public duty."

Jefferson and Madison didn't live to see reactionary justices fulfill their worst fears. In 1886 a conservative court conferred the divine gift of life on the Southern Pacific Railroad. Never mind that the Fourteenth Amendment declaring that no person should be deprived of "life, liberty or property without due process of law" was enacted to protect the rights of freed slaves. The Court decided to give the same rights of "personhood" to corporations that possessed neither a body to be kicked nor a soul to be damned. For over half a century the Court acted to protect the privileged. It gutted the Sherman Antitrust Act by finding a loophole for a sugar trust. It killed a New York state law limiting working hours. Likewise a ban against child labor. It wiped out a law that set minimum wages for women. And so on: one decision after another aimed at laws promoting the general welfare." The Roberts Court has picked up the mantle: Moneyed interests first, the public interest second, if at all.

The ink was hardly dry on the Citizens United decision when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce organized a covertly funded front and rained drones packed with cash into the 2010 campaigns. According to the Sunlight Foundation, corporate front groups spent $126 million in the fall of 2010 while hiding the identities of the donors. Another corporate cover group - the American Action Network - spent over $26 million of undisclosed corporate money in just six Senate races and 26 House elections. And Karl Rove's groups - American Crossroads/Crossroads GPS - seized on Citizens United to raise and spend at least $38 million that NBC News said came from "a small circle of extremely wealthy Wall Street hedge fund and private equity moguls"- all determined to water down financial reforms designed to prevent another collapse of the financial system. Jim Hightower has said it well: Today's proponents of corporate plutocracy "have simply elevated money itself above votes, establishing cold, hard cash as the real coin of political power."

No wonder so many Americans have felt that sense of political impotence that the historian Lawrence Goodwyn described as "the mass resignation" of people who believe in the "dogma of democracy" on a superficial public level but whose hearts no longer burn with the conviction that they are part of the deal. Against such odds, discouragement comes easily.

But if the generations before us had given up, slaves would still be waiting on these tables, on Election Day women would still be turned away from the voting booths, and workers would still be committing a crime if they organized.

So once again: Take heart from the past and don't ever count the people out. During the last quarter of the 19th century, the industrial revolution created extraordinary wealth at the top and excruciating misery at the bottom. Embattled citizens rose up. Into their hearts, wrote the progressive Kansas journalist William Allen White, "had come a sense that their civilization needed recasting, that their government had fallen into the hands of self-seekers, that a new relation should be established between the haves and have-nots." Not content to wring their hands and cry "Woe is us" everyday citizens researched the issues, organized to educate their neighbors, held rallies, made speeches, petitioned and canvassed, marched and marched again. They ploughed the fields and planted the seeds - sometimes in bloody soil - that twentieth century leaders used to restore "the general welfare" as a pillar of American democracy. They laid down the now-endangered markers of a civilized society: legally ordained minimum wages, child labor laws, workmen's safety and compensation laws, pure foods and safe drugs, Social Security, Medicare, and rules that promote competitive markets over monopolies and cartels. Remember: Democracy doesn't begin at the top; it begins at the bottom, when flesh-and-blood human beings fight to rekindle the patriot's dream.

The Patriot's Dream? Arlo Guthrie, remember? He wrote could be the unofficial anthem of Zuccotti Park. Listen up:

Living now here but for fortune
Placed by fate's mysterious schemes
Who'd believe that we're the ones asked
To try to rekindle the patriot's dreams

Arise sweet destiny, time runs short
All of your patience has heard their retort
Hear us now for alone we can't seem
To try to rekindle the patriot's dreams

Can you hear the words being whispered
All along the American stream
Tyrants freed the just are imprisoned
Try to rekindle the patriot's dreams

Ah but perhaps too much is being asked of too few
You and your children with nothing to do
Hear us now for alone we can't seem
To try to rekindle the patriot's dreams

Who, in these cynical times, when democracy is on the ropes and the blows of great wealth pound and pound and pound again against America's body politic - who would dream such a radical thing?