Saturday, March 19, 2011

Wealth, Income, and Power

by G. William Domhoff

September 2005 (updated January 2011)

This document presents details on the wealth and income distributions in the United States, and explains how we use these two distributions as power indicators.

Some of the information may come as a surprise to many people. In fact, I know it will be a surprise and then some, because of a recent study (Norton & Ariely, 2010) showing that most Americans (high income or low income, female or male, young or old, Republican or Democrat) have no idea just how concentrated the wealth distribution actually is. More on that a bit later.

Please click on the title link to continue to read.



By Matt Taibii

"Taibbi has combined deep sources, trailblazing reportage, and provocative analysis to create the most lucid, emotionally galvanizing, and scathingly funny account yet written of the ongoing political and financial crisis in America. This is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the labyrinthine inner workings of politics and finance in this country, and the profound consequences for us all."

This is one of my new favorite books. I highly suggest that everyone whether liberal or conservative, white or black, religious or agnostic reads this book.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Single Payer/Medicare for All

An interview with Margaret Flowers

Dr. Margaret Flowers is a congressional fellow of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP). I recently interviewed her for OpEdNews.

BRUNWASSWER: Republican lawmakers, fresh from their November victory, are pledging to move immediately in the new Congress to dismantle the health care law that President Obama gave so much attention to. What's your take on that?
FLOWERS: As you know, Physicians for a National Health Program does not support the new health law. Overall, we find that it does more harm than good by further privatizing our health care and failing to address the fundamental problems of rising costs and lack of access to care for tens of millions of people. That said, we find the Republican plans to dismantle the health law reprehensible, given that they are willing to remove what coverage was gained under the law and offer no effective alternative to our health-care crisis.
The Republican calls to repeal the law are mere political posturing and will not succeed. In fact, the health industries, which contributed more heavily to Republican campaigns in the last election cycle than to Democrats, do not want the full law repealed. Republicans will more likely succeed in defunding portions of the bill and relaxing regulation of the health insurance industry. This will only escalate our health care crisis.
The health law passed in 2010 has already begun to unravel as the Department of Health and Human Services has had to issue multiple waivers excusing businesses and insurance companies from complying with provisions in the law that they refused to meet. A large part of the increase in coverage under the law was based on an expansion of Medicaid. However, states are facing severe budget deficits which will prevent them from implementing the expansion. Republican efforts will likely accelerate the unraveling.
This is why PNHP and the many other organizations that advocate for Single Payer/Medicare for All continue to push forward in educating and building the grassroots voice for single payer. We recognize that our health-care problems have not yet been appropriately addressed or solved.
There are millions of us who share your concern about the current health-care crisis. How do you channel that public distress to meaningful and positive change?
Civil unrest in this nation is growing. Although information about this unrest is largely censored by the mainstream media, we see that non-union workers' and anti-poverty movements are growing, as are more organized actions, such as the prison protests in Georgia, nurses' strikes, and veteran-led antiwar civil resistance. This type of unrest is to be expected if we look at what happens historically in nations that experience such severe wealth inequalities as we have in the United States.
Some of the civil unrest is turning to violence. In the absence of constructive and nonviolent avenues for social change and as unemployment, lack of access to health care, homelessness, and poverty grow, the level of violence may increase. This is why we must educate, organize, and engage in actions that change the balance of power away from corporate interests to the needs of people.
There are three important principles that can guide effective action. First, our movements, whatever the issue, must be independent of political parties. The Republican and Democratic parties are both controlled by concentrated corporate power. There are some differences between those parties, but overall they serve corporate power and not the people. We must be willing to hold all legislators accountable to act on behalf of people even if that means that they lose a few elections until the shift occurs. And independence means we will have to make our own media because mainstream media is also controlled by corporate interests.
Second, we must be clear about what we ask for and pose solutions for all our problems. For health-care it is a national single payer health system. For unemployment and the environment, it is investment in green jobs and ending oil and coal dependence. For the economy, it is developing sustainable local economies and ending Wall Street bailouts. And so on. We must educate the public through local events and independent media about these solutions.
And third, we must be uncompromising in our demands. We are too often willing to accept partial or non-solutions to our problems because we are told that what we want is politically infeasible. When we look at health care, we are told that single payer is not politically feasible. We have heard this for decades. However, the legislation that passes which is supposed to be politically feasible fails from a practical standpoint. It simply doesn't work. The number of uninsured continues to grow and soaring health-care costs are destroying our families and businesses. At some point, we have to realize that we determine what is politically feasible because we hold the power of the vote. We must learn to use that power.
It is important to realize that work for peace and for social and economic justice is all related. The various movements need to join together to create a healthy, prosperous, and just country. For me, this means that we must organize large acts of non-violent resistance that focus on weakening corporate power and letting legislators know that business as usual cannot continue. This is why I joined the veterans in their action against war at the White House in December.
What can you tell us about specific efforts for single payer?
There is a lot happening at the state level when it comes to single payer. Currently, 20 states have single payer health bills in some phase of the legislative process. California passed a state single payer bill in 2006 and 2008. I just returned from a large health professional student-led march, rally, and lobby day at the state capitol in Sacramento. The California single payer coalition is continuing to move forward to pass single payer. California faces such a serious budget crisis that I was told the legislature will be basing their cuts on what will result in the least number of lives lost.
We are particularly enthusiastic about Vermont. They are poised to pass a single payer health bill this legislative session. The state hired Dr. William Hsaio from Harvard to design their health system. He has designed health systems for five countries, the most recent being the single payer system in Taiwan. The new governor of Vermont, Peter Shumlin, ran on a strong single payer platform. And Vermont has Senator Sanders, who has been a long-time proponent of single payer. Even with all of the stars seeming to be aligned, it is going to be a difficult process to get single payer passed in Vermont.
Legislation will also be introduced at the national level again in both the House and Senate this year. It is important to work at both the state and national levels because we cannot predict where we will be successful first. The ultimate goal is a national single payer health program so that all people will have access to care.
Tell us about the national deficit, the commission, and efforts to cut social insurances like Medicare and Medicaid.
The president appointed a commission to look at our national deficit last April, the National Commission for Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, composed of 18 people, 14 of whom were fiscal hawks. The commission received support and staff from the Pete Peterson Foundation, which has advocated for cuts to our social insurance programs for decades. It was interesting that the president created this commission despite opposition from within the Democratic Party. During the summer and fall, there was considerable effort by the Peterson Foundation and in the media to convince people that Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid were to blame for the deficit and that they would need to be changed by either raising the age of eligibility or otherwise placing more of the cost onto the individual.
Members of the single payer community testified before the commission and built a public education campaign called Hands Off Our Medicare to counter the misinformation coming from the deficit commission and the media. The commission was required to vote on recommendations to reduce the deficit by December 1. They missed the deadline and were not able to gain enough votes to pass a package of recommendations. However, many believe that their proposed actions will turn up in legislation being put together in the coming year.
It is commonly accepted that the rising cost of health care is a fundamental cause of our national deficit, besides the wars and financial catastrophe. Several members of the commission rightly said that we must deal with the cost of health care in order to effectively resolve the deficit. Unfortunately, while the commission has made the correct diagnosis, they are ordering the wrong treatment. The commission proposed some initial cuts to Medicare including the funds that help to pay for training doctors, and proposed more drastic measures if the initial steps are not effective.
Of course, the initial steps will not be effective because they miss the cause of Medicare's difficulties. Medicare and Medicaid are not the causes of our national deficit, they are the victims of a broken health system. As our overall health-care costs rise, so do the costs of Medicare and Medicaid. The most effective way to control costs would be to expand and improve Medicare and put everybody in the country on Medicare instead of using hundreds of different health insurances as we do now.
The administrative savings alone of a single payer national health program would be around $400 billion. There are other ways that Single Payer/Medicare for All controls health care costs, such as giving hospitals and other medical institutions a global budget and negotiating for the prices of pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and services.
We will need to watch carefully to make sure that Congress does not chip away at Medicare and Medicaid over the next few years. These social insurance programs have been effective in improving the health of the population they serve and in lifting people out of poverty. It is imperative that we preserve and protect them as we continue to push for improved Medicare for All.

Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform which since 2005 has existed for the sole purpose of raising public awareness of the critical need for election reform.

Gut Check in Madison: Is Labor Ready to Fight for its Life?

By Paul Street

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and his right Republican allies in the Wisconsin legislature might be a bunch of plutocratic, Koch-funded thugs but you’ve got to hand it to them – they’ve got guts. So what if the strategic departure of fourteen Democratic state senators from Wisconsin was followed by an historic popular and labor uprising in and around the Madison Capital Rotunda, bringing hundreds of thousands of union members and supporters from one day to the next to protest Walker’s move to “reverse half-a-century’s middle-class progress in the state by erasing collective bargaining rights for public employees” (the New York Times editors today [Friday, March 11]) in the disingenuous name of “budget repair”?  So what if it is obvious to any serious observer that Walker and the Wisconsin Republicans’ effort to undermine public unions – a longstanding goal of the Republican Party and many of its big business backers (e.g. Koch Industries) – has nothing to do with fixing a state budget crisis that Walker has trumped up and fed with tax breaks for the wealthy and corporate Few? And so what if numerous recent public opinion polls (USA Today, Wall Street Journal, New York Times) show that the preponderant majority of Americans support collective bargaining rights for public (and private sector) workers?  So what if most of the nation’s citizens reject Walker’s war (and that of other governors and legislators) on public sector workers – a war that amounts to the largest assault on organized labor’s economic and political power in recent American history?
“This is Our Moment”
Walker couldn’t care less.  He’s a fiercely dedicated right-capitalist ideologue carried away with the sense of his mission to inflict lasting and historic damage on organized labor and the Democrats. One of many hard-right Republicans elected with Tea Party support at the state level in November of 2010, Walker has made little effort to hide his militantly regressive, pro-business agenda in early 2011. He quickly hung a sign on the doorknob of his office that read “Wisconsin is open for business.”  He rejected $810 million in federal money that Wisconsin was getting to build a high-speed train line between Madison and Milwaukee.  He turned the state’s Department of Commerce into a “public-private hybrid” in which workers had to re-apply for their jobs.  He joined with other Republicans to grant $117 million in tax breaks to businesses and others – this even as he planned major cuts in social spending and an assault on the supposedly exorbitant pension and medical  benefit levels enjoyed by public workers in the state.1
Labor suspicions that the Tea Party backers the billionaire right wing Koch brothers were a major force behind the proposed Wisconsin legislation were validated when the liberal, New York-based blogger Ian Murphy placed a call to Walker in which Murphy posed as David Koch. Murphy (as Koch) and Walker spoke for 20 minutes — a conversation in which the governor described several potential ways to pressure Democrats to return to the Statehouse and revealed that he and his allies had considered secretly planting people in pro-union protest crowds to stir up trouble. Walker likened his stand to that taken by President Ronald Reagan when Reagan fired the nation's air-traffic controllers during a labor dispute in 1981. “That was the first crack in the Berlin Wall and led to the fall of the Soviets,” Walker claimed. Walker said he expected the anti-union movement to spread across the country and that he had spoken with the governors of Ohio and Nevada. The blogger pretending to be Koch agreed, telling Walker, "You're the first domino."  Walker responded affirmatively, saying "Yep, this is our moment.” When Walker said he was willing to negotiate with Democratic senators, Murphy told him to “bring a baseball bat.” Walker laughed and responded that he had “a slugger with my name on it.”  At the end of the call, the blogger posing as Koch said, "I'll tell you what Scott, once you crush these bastards, I'll fly you out to Cali and really show you a good time." Walker replied that “that would be outstanding," adding that the standoff is "all about getting our freedoms back" The prank caller said "Absolutely. And you know, we have a little bit of vested interest as well.”2
Revealing a personal relationship with at least one of the Koch brothers, Walker’s conversation with the prankster Ian Murphy was consistent with earlier comments from the brash new Tea Party governor. Six days into the protests, Walker told Fox News that he was “not fazed” and predicted that Wisconsin would trail-blaze “conservative” policy for other states by weakening unions, much like it did with so-called welfare reform (the abolition of poor families’ entitlement to public family cash assistance) and the advance of school privatization vouchers in the 1990s. As the Times reported six days in, “Mr. Walker, 43, the son of a Baptist preacher, is an Eagle Scout….His political heroes: Tommy Thompson, this state’s former governor, and Ronald Reagan....'He didn’t flinch,’ Mr. Walker said of Reagan. ‘Obviously, I take a lot of inspiration from that.’”3
And now the arch-authoritarian, super-plutocratic, Reagan-inspired union-buster in Madison has made his latest bold move. It was just a matter of time until he and his Republican allies broke out their labor-smashing collective bargaining measure from their larger “budget repair” bill as a separate piece of legislation, permitting them to assault union rights without the presence of the 14 Democratic state senators. So what if doing so exposes the fact that union-busting was the real goal in and of itself, independent of Walker’s claim that the killing of public sector workers’ bargaining rights was necessary to fix the budget? A messianic labor-smasher’s got to what a messianic labor smasher’s got to do: the historical mission inherited from Ronald Reagan and Tommy Thompson cannot be deterred!
On the evening of Thursday, March 10, 2011, the Wisconsin legislature passed a stand-alone bill that cut out bargaining rights for most government employees in the state. Hundreds of protestors crashed into the Capitol chanting “shame” and “General Strike.” More than two weeks ago, the Madison-based 97-union South Central Labor Federation (representing 45,000 public and private sector union members in southern and central Wisconsin)passed a resolution in support of exploring the possibility of launching a General Strike if and when “Walker signs his ‘budget repair bill.’” The federation appointed a coordinating committee is to contact European unions with experience conducting general strikes.4 A recent on-the-ground report from the left labor journalist Lee Sustar gives the following account from the Capitol last night from Mike Imbrogno, an executive board member of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 171 at the University of Wisconsin: “People keep asking, ‘When are we going on strike?’ There is the broad mix of workers here who have been out for the last three weeks: boilermakers, AFSCME members, teachers, firefighters, graduate employees of the UW Teaching Assistants' Association, lots of building trades people” – many more than ready for some serious direct action. 5
The Cautious Electoral Road v.Direct Action
Walker’s got guts. What about labor? The governor and his cronies have just rammed through legislation (possibly in illegal fashion) that promises to cripple public sector unions financially while destroying their bargaining power. As the left labor analyst Lee Sustar notes on, it’s “Do or Die” time for organized labor in Wisconsin, the upper Midwest, and, by extension, the rest of the nation. Once (during the mid-1950s) as high as 35 percent, American union density (the percentage of employed workers enrolled in unions) is down to 11.9 percent and half of the nation’s union members are in the public sector (private sector union density is 6 percent). The corporate and financial elites and its many tools in the political class (in a country where politics continues all too commonly to be little more than “the shadow vast on society by big business”) wants that number to fall by at least half in the next decade. Will union leadership step up to the plate and meet the challenge to defend both working people and its own relevance and position, in accord with majority progressive opinion?
There are reasons to wonder. In December of 2008, a group of militant trade unionists and workers struck a strong populist chord that reverberated across the nation when they staged a successful six-day workplace occupation to secure vacation and severance pay at Chicago’s Republic Door and Windows plant last December.  Despite “vast publicity and the stunning victory produced by the workers,”  U.S. labor leaders made no move to replicate the occupation tactic in other settings where it would have been well applied, choosing as usual a “cautious, Beltway-focused approach” that “sh[ies] away from visible local mobilizations” and “prefers to concentrate instead on high-level lobbying in Washington” (Roger Bybee). 6
In April of 2009, United Steelworkers of America president Leo Gerard gave a revealingly myopic response when New York Times reporter Steven Greenhouse asked him why American workers seemed less willing than their European counterparts to engage in workplace occupations and mass demonstrations.  By Greenhouse’s account, Gerard “said there were smarter things to do than demonstrating against layoffs — for instance, pushing Congress and the states to make sure the stimulus plan creates the maximum number of jobs” in the United States.7 “I actually believe that Americans believe in their political system more than workers do in other parts of the world,” Mr. Gerard told Greenhouse. “He said,” Greenhouse reported, “large labor demonstrations are often warranted in Canada and European countries to pressure parliamentary leaders. Demonstrations are less needed in the United States, he said, because often all that is needed is some expert lobbying in Washington to line up the support of a half-dozen senators.” 8 The labor bureaucrat Gerard’s self-serving explanation for U.S. labor quiescence was shamefully seconded by liberal Stanford historian David Kennedy.  Kennedy “saw another reason that today’s young workers and young people were protesting less than in decades past.” He told Greenhouse that “this generation [has]… found more effective ways to change the world. It’s signed up for political campaigns, and it’s not waiting for things to get so desperate that they feel forced to take to the streets.”9
Really? The impressive potency of American trade unionism’s “smarter” and “more effective” preference for “expert lobbying” over direct action was certainly seen with the corporate-managed democracy’s rapid dismissal of labor’s cherished EFCA. That already-“dead” bill – on which presidential candidate Barack Obama ran (along with his disingenuous promise to revise NAFTA) before union rallies (even as his chief economic advisor Austan Goolsbee assured conservative Canadian officials that Obama’s “NAFTA-bashing” was just harmless “campaign rhetoric” spit out for clueless proletarians) – would have been more effectively advanced with a wave of workplace occupations and marches.  That’s how workers won the National Labor Relations Act (once a powerful vehicle for union representation and collective bargaining) during the 1930s. As progressive labor journalist Roger Bybee noted, “the turmoil created by labor activism” during the Depression decade “forced [Franklin Delano] Roosevelt to argue the need for labor rights and the creation of a social safety to head off even more explosive confrontations between workers and authorities.”[10] I was reminded by Gerard and Kennedy’s arguments of the late radical historian Alan Dawley’s evocative notion that the U.S. “ballot box” is “the coffin of class consciousness.”11
“Do or Die in Wisconsin”
Nearly two year later, the situation in Madison and other state capitols has become “so desperate” that public sector unions have “fe[lt] forced to take to the streets” to fight hard right, Tea Party-approved governors and legislators elected r) governors elected in the wake of the great progressive de-mobilization/demoralization enforced by the corporate Democrats and the moribund “progressive movement.” It has been inspiring to witness their people-moving institutional capacity in defensive reaction again the maximalist anti-labor of the worst, most reactionary policymakers in the country. Unlike the Obama-obsessed Tea Partiers, the union and pro-labor crowds in and around the Capitol Rotunda have seemed uninterested in the question of who sits atop the national media-politics extravaganza.  They have been focused, laser-like on the real and relevant policy issues at hand and above all on basic labor, human, and civil rights and social justice within and beyond the workplace.  With tens of thousands of them circling the Capitol and thousands occupying the structure itself, they seem to have been channeling the wisdom of the late great radical American historian Howard Zinn in 2009: “There's hardly anything more important that people can learn than the fact that the really critical thing isn't who is sitting in the White House, but who is sitting in—in the streets, in the cafeterias, in the halls of government, in the factories. Who is protesting, who is occupying offices and demonstrating—those are the things that determine what happens. It is becoming clearer and clearer to many, after the first year of Obama’s presidency, that it is going to require independent action from below to achieve real change.”
Great but now the question looms: will“unions will push back with the kind of job actions that launched the biggest labor mobilization in decades” or will they --- to quote the radical labor journalist Lee Sustar --– “allow Walker to drive a legislative steamroller over half a century of public-sector unionism in Wisconsin”?  Will unions “stand up to the challenge of the greatest attack they've faced since President Ronald Reagan fired 11,000 striking members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization in 198”? Will they move with fire in their bellies in accord with growing rank and file sentiment for significant mass job actions and possibly even a general strike or will they follow the soft advice of six-figure-income liberal, coordinator- class elites like Leo Gerard and David Kennedy by licking their wounds and putting their faith in hopeful future policy corrections through America’s supposedly great political democracy, so pathetically subordinated as it is the combined and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire? Will they move history forward with pro-active gutsiness, showing their capacity to make history from the bottom up and not simply react to the extreme provocations of particularly noxious elites?  Reporting from Madison, Sustar notes a telling conflict there between the militant direction many working people want to take and the standard cautious and electoralist-parliamentarian approach favored by labor bureaucrats, who are trying to sound militant by pressing for a voter campaign to recall Scott Walker as they work to dampen the call for decisive, mass, and reasonably rapid direct action from the bottom up:
‘Asked if he supported the call for a general strike, Joe Conway, president of Madison Local 311 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, said, "I'm in total agreement. We should start walking out tomorrow and the next day, and see how long they can last."’
‘...Whether or not the anger of the union rank and file will push union officials into action is unclear. "Right now, what I am seeing from the labor leadership is a lack of response," said J. Eric Cobb, executive director of the Building Trades Council of South Central Wisconsin. Top union leaders have been in a reactive mode, rather than leading, he said.’
‘...In recent days, union leaders have shifted their focus further away from mobilizations, and toward the recall of eight Republicans in the state Senate, as well as the campaign for the Wisconsin state Supreme Court. A mass labor rally scheduled for March 12 was intended to give a boost to that effort.’
“…Labor has already shown it has the power to stop Walker's union-busting. But do union leaders have the will to use it? Following the Senate passage of the union-busting bill, the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) called on members to go to work as usual on Thursday.’
‘Certainly, the recall effort is a useful pressure tactic. But in practice, union leaders have counterposed the electoral strategy to further job actions that can put pressure on Walker and his business backers.’12
Not for the first time in American labor history, rank and file workers are faced with the need to pressure not only employers and the capitalist state but also the labor bosses, who are threatened at one and the same time by the actions and power of elites and the needs and militancy of the working class.  Let’s hope that labor “leadership” can embrace their existential identity of interests with rank and file militants in this case.  Walker and his class warrior comrades across the gubernatorial mansions and state legislative halls of this country seek nothing more than the complete crippling of organized labor. They’re showing a lot of guts in their mad, top-down campaign. Now it’s time for labor “leaders” to show the same from the bottom up, or get out of the way for those with the courage and chutzpah the situation requires. Sure Walker will call a state of emergency and call out the National Guard but let us not forget that (to quote a placard I saw in Madison three Saturdays ago) “union blood runs thicker than tea.”
Left author Paul Street’s latest book (co-authored with Anthony DiMaggio) is Crashing the Tea Party: Mass Media and the Campaign to Remake American Politics (Paradigm, April 2011 advance order at . Street will speak (alongside Glen Ford, Pam Chamberlain, and Lance Selfa) on “Understanding and Responding to the Tea Party Threat” at the Left Forum in New York City, Pace University, Room E308 on Saturday, March 19, 2011 at 10 AM – see )  Street can be reached at

1 Monica Davey, “For Wisconsin Governor, Battle Was Long Coming,” New York Times, February 19, 2011.
2 Ryan J. Foley,  “On Prank Call, Governor Discusses  Strategy,” Associated Press, February 22, 2011.
3 Ryan J. Foley, "Wisconsin Governor Says State Could Lead Nation in Weakening Unions as Protests Enter Day 6," Associated Press (February 20, 2011) at,0,3070407.story; Monica Davey, “For Wisconsin Governor, Battle Was Long Coming,” New York Times, February 19, 2011.

4 Steve Verburg, “Labor Group Calls for General Strike if Budget Bill is Approved,” Wisconsin State Journal, February 23, 2011 at

5 Lee Sustar, “Do or Die in Wisconsin,”, March 10, 2011.
6 Roger Bybee, “Is U.S. Labor Prepared to Fight?” Z Magazine (June 2009): 35-36.
7 Steven Greenhouse, “In America, Labor Has a Long Fuse,” New York Times, April 5, 2009.
8 Greenhouse, “Labor Has a Long Fuse.”
9 Greenhouse, “Labor Has a Long Fuse.”
10 Bybee, “Is U.S. Labor Prepared?”38
11 Alan Dawley, Class and Community: The Industrial Revolution in Lynn, Massachusetts (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976).