Bill Moyers: Money and power in America

Hope: it’s in short supply in America this year. I was reminded of that recently when I spoke at a kick-off event for the school year hosted by the Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. The Institute’s namesake is, of course, Bob Dole, the war hero turned Republican congressman, senator, minority and then majority leader, and finally presidential nominee in 1996. On a beautiful summer evening, on the front lawn of the Institute, my host, a KU senior named Cody, and I discussed — what else is there to talk about this year? — The Donald, Hillary, and Bernie. Then we plunged into the perilous topic of the media and its curious future and the life of a journalist (me) covering the gravity-defying spectacle commonly known as election 2016. More than 100 students showed up — nothing to do, I’m sure, with the free burgers and soda — and when it came time for the Q-and-A portion of the event, I couldn’t help but be struck by the acuity and thoughtfulness of their questions.

Afterward, I met a smaller group of them at a nearby basement bar. During my five years as an undergraduate, I can’t recall having a conversation as substantive as that evening’s. Kansas’s state government, led by its governor, Sam Brownback, has plunged into a radical experiment in “conservative” governing, and it was on their minds. We talked about a variety of depressing topics, including the devastating effects of the legislature’s repeated budget cuts to higher education and another grim signature legislative issue: the open carry of guns on campus. “No gun” signs were ubiquitous there, but everyone wondered: For how long? The students spoke eloquently and knowledgeably. More than that, they spoke with passion and in detail about how such problems might be dealt with and even fixed, and they did so with the Dole Institute’s bipartisan ethos in mind. Some of it may have been the youthful idealism of the undergraduate but, believe me, it was refreshing.

I say all this because, as a journalist in this crazy year of our lord 2016, on a good day the temptation is to tilt toward cynicism. It’s our job to rake the muck and expose the trolls, to cast light on the wrongdoing and the failings in our society, but it’s up to others to set them right. Today, at this site, Bill Moyers writes about the greatest failing, the true disaster, of our time: the scourge of growing inequality, economic and political. He describes it as “a despicable blot on American politics,” as the very wealthy convert their financial might into political power to guard that wealth while exacerbating inequality further. The statistics Moyers deploys are chilling. Consume enough of them and you’re liable to feel a bit gloomy. But like those undergraduates, Moyers (very distinctly a post-graduate of our difficult political world) holds onto the hope, as today’s piece suggests, that Americans can still fix our world, make it a better place. 

Those students I met gave me hope and Moyers does the same — hope for a more equitable future brought on by the hard work of Americans, whether as journalists, legislators, or activists, as lawyers, doctors, engineers, or teachers. These are strange, often grim, times, and such bursts of hope are what keep us going. Andy Kroll

We, the Plutocrats vs. We, the People
Saving the soul of democracy
By Bill Moyers

Sixty-six years ago this summer, on my 16th birthday, I went to work for the daily newspaper in the small East Texas town of Marshall where I grew up. It was a good place to be a cub reporter — small enough to navigate but big enough to keep me busy and learning something every day.  I soon had a stroke of luck.  Some of the paper’s old hands were on vacation or out sick and I was assigned to help cover what came to be known across the country as “the housewives’ rebellion.”

Fifteen women in my hometown decided not to pay the social security withholding tax for their domestic workers.  Those housewives were white, their housekeepers black. Almost half of all employed black women in the country then were in domestic service.  Because they tended to earn lower wages, accumulate less savings, and be stuck in those jobs all their lives, social security was their only insurance against poverty in old age. Yet their plight did not move their employers.

The housewives argued that social security was unconstitutional and imposing it was taxation without representation. They even equated it with slavery.  They also claimed that “requiring us to collect [the tax] is no different from requiring us to collect the garbage.”  So they hired a high-powered lawyer — a notorious former congressman from Texas who had once chaired the House Un-American Activities Committee — and took their case to court. They lost, and eventually wound up holding their noses and paying the tax, but not before their rebellion had become national news.

The stories I helped report for the local paper were picked up and carried across the country by the Associated Press. One day, the managing editor called me over and pointed to the AP Teletype machine beside his desk. Moving across the wire was a notice citing our paper and its reporters for our coverage of the housewives’ rebellion.

I was hooked, and in one way or another I’ve continued to engage the issues of money and power, equality and democracy over a lifetime spent at the intersection between politics and journalism. It took me awhile to put the housewives’ rebellion into perspective.  Race played a role, of course.  Marshall was a segregated, antebellum town of 20,000, half of whom were white, the other half black.  White ruled, but more than race was at work. Those 15 housewives were respectable townsfolk, good neighbors, regulars at church (some of them at my church).  Their children were my friends; many of them were active in community affairs; and their husbands were pillars of the town’s business and professional class. 

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Some see anti-women backlash in ouster of Brazil’s president

The New York Times reports: At one heated moment in the impeachment trial of Dilma Rousseff, a powerful senator pushing for her ouster decided that some of his outspoken female colleagues in the chamber needed scolding.

“Calm down, girls,” the senator, Cássio Cunha Lima, part of a political dynasty from northeastern Brazil, told Senators Vanessa Grazziotin and Gleisi Hoffmann, both supporters of Ms. Rousseff, Brazil’s first female president. His remark drew sharp rebukes from the two women.

“Men believe they are the owners of this space, as if we’re just here by chance,” said Ms. Grazziotin, 55, a prominent leftist senator from Amazonas State.

For senators like Ms. Grazziotin, the episode reflected the emboldening of conservative voices after the impeachment of Ms. Rousseff, who argued that she had been the target of misogynistic attacks by opponents. Female politicians across Brazil are debating what her downfall means in a political realm dominated by men.

Despite the inroads made by Ms. Rousseff and others, Brazil ranks remarkably low in the representation of women in politics. Of the 513 members of the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Brazilian Congress, 51 are women, placing the country 155th in the world in the percentage of women elected to the lower house of a national legislature, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union. It trails places like Saudi Arabia and Turkmenistan. [Continue reading…]

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Honor crimes in Pakistan: The price of forgiveness

 

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Clinton finds her voice – but the sexism that greets women’s speech endures

By Kae Reynolds, University of Huddersfield

After a campaign lasting more than a year and taking in all 50 states, Hillary Rodham Clinton has delivered a speech that will go down in history. As the first woman to secure a major party’s nomination for president of the United States, her address to the Democratic National Convention was a milestone for women’s leadership in the US and beyond. As she put it: “When any barrier falls in America, for anyone, it clears the way for everyone. When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit.”

Clinton came to the stage under monumental pressure, charged with delivering a historic piece of rhetoric. This was a moment in world history – and it was always destined to be mercilessly dissected.

But as ever, Clinton’s popularity (or lack thereof) and the reception of her speech have been coloured by criticism of her speaking style. As the conservative website the Daily Wire headlined its reaction piece: “Hillary Accepts Nomination, Immediately Bores Americans Into A Coma Before Startling Them Awake With Her Cackle.”

Ever since she entered the national arena in 1992, media commentators have ripped Clinton’s vocal delivery apart. It has been described as loud, shrill, grating and harassing. No aspect of her oratory is beyond derision – her laugh is branded “the Clinton cackle”, and her speech derided as shouting, screaming and shrieking – inartfully substituting volume for expression.

Many may claim that Clinton isn’t one of history’s greatest orators, but there’s something more insidious going on here.

The criticism that greets her is a classic example of what is called “gender congruence bias”. This theory explains that people expect women to act in certain ways – and that if a woman’s behaviour isn’t congruent with expectations of femininity, people won’t like or accept her. The double bind that female politicians face is augmented by the deep sense that leadership is a male domain and politics in general is a domain of power – power that we are not culturally comfortable to have women wield.

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Qandeel Baloch demanded to be seen and heard

Qandeel-Baloch

Qandeel Baloch, the Pakistani social media celebrity, was murdered by her own brother on Saturday. Imaan Sheikh writes: I noticed Qandeel Baloch for the first time in 2013 on an episode of Pakistan Idol, where she came to audition, and threw a baby fit when she didn’t qualify. The whole thing was over-the-top, and seemed staged to build hype. Some were annoyed, others entertained. Either way, it was one of the most memorable auditions in the programme’s history.

Then, last year, I saw a lot of people sharing parody videos featuring a girl with heavily kohled eyes and a spoilt, slow, bad gal accent. I looked into who was being mocked and found a familiar face. Qandeel Baloch was taking Facebook by storm with phone-shot dramatic videos talking about her daily life. Singing, being brazen and conceited, occasionally proposing to Pakistani cricketers.

Most people cringe-shared Qandeel’s videos. But rest assured, everyone watched them.

Earlier in her career, she had slut-shamed another artist on live TV, which was why I side-eyed her for a long time. But the fact of the matter was: I’d never seen another woman be so bold on the Pakistani internet, without a man running her page or managing her. She was being sexy and sassy of her own volition, cell phone recording the whole thing, and uploading it for millions to see.

In a part of the world where girls are taught to be neither heard nor seen, here she was, demanding she be both.

Many described her videos as “shameless”. She was called an “attention whore”. And even the people who loved her didn’t love her all the time.

But in a country where womanhood has long been defined by varying versions and degrees of enforced shame, her lack of it looked like a revolution.

In a world where family matters are supposed to be whispered about behind closed doors, Qandeel talked openly about how she was forcibly married at 17, and was tortured by her husband who even threatened to burn her face with acid. She escaped with her baby son, whose custody she lost, and took refuge at a welfare centre.

Even her horrifying domestic violence case was called “drama” and laughed at by hundreds of Pakistanis, some of whom I expected to know better.

She was already called a blemish on Pakistan’s sparkling image, a national shame, a shame for the Muslim ummat, but after the recent release of a music video she starred in, the entitled and the self-righteous made it a mission to bring her down. [Continue reading…]

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Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II: ‘America, now is the time to weep’

 

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While economists have begun to realise the failure of market orthodoxy, politicians remain in its thrall

Tony Karon writes: The policymaking elites of the industrialised West are panicking – and with good reason. The seismic shock of Britons voting to leave the European Union has sharpened awareness of the possibility that in November Donald Trump could ride a wave of xenophobia all the way to the White House. Voters in the advanced capitalist democracies appear more willing than ever to register a potentially catastrophic protest against a post-Cold War global economic order that has deified markets just as the fallen communist ideology deified the state.

A quarter century of market-driven globalisation and neo­liberal orthodoxy has systematically deregulated finance, and led to tax cuts and trade deals that favour wealthy elites and leave most of the others to fend for themselves. Its response to economic crises is to adjust interest rates, bailing out capital markets (and the fortunes of the elites) while forcing endless austerity on the most economically vulnerable. The prevailing economic consensus among western governments has steadily increased inequality and diminished hopes, but such are the rules of capitalist democracies that the economically marginalised still get to vote.

“The real story of this election is that after several decades, American democracy is finally responding to the rise of inequality and the economic stagnation experienced by most of the population,” observed Francis Fukuyama recently. Fukuyama is the political scientist best known for declaring in 1989 that the collapse of the Soviet bloc heralded “the end of history”, with free-market capitalism now the undisputed ideological wisdom for the rest of time.

But the neoliberal order he proclaimed as eternal looks increasingly vulnerable, thanks to the very logic of the market economics he championed. “The gap between the fortunes of elites and those of the rest of the public has been growing for two generations, but only now is it coming to dominate national politics,” Fukuyama wrote in Foreign Affairs last month. “Now that the elites have been shocked out of their smug complacency, the time has come for them to devise more workable solutions to the problems they can no longer deny or ignore.” [Continue reading…]

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Thatcherism devastated communities throughout industrial England that have never recovered

Mike Carter writes: On 2 May this year, I set off to walk from Liverpool to London, a journey of 340 miles that would take me a month. I was walking in the footsteps of the People’s March for Jobs, a column of 300-odd unemployed men and women who, on the same day in 1981, exactly 35 years previously, had set off from the steps of St George’s Hall to walk to Trafalgar Square.

In the two years after Margaret Thatcher had been elected, unemployment had gone from 1 to 3 million, as her policies laid waste to Britain’s manufacturing base. In 1981, we saw Rupert Murdoch buy the Times and Sunday Times. We witnessed inner-city riots, unprecedented in their scale and violence, in Liverpool and London. The formation of the SDP split the left. The Tories lost their first assault on the coal miners, capitulating over the closure of 23 pits.

My father, Pete Carter, was one of those who organised the original walk. My journey was an attempt to work out what had happened to Britain in the intervening years. What I saw and heard gave me an alarming sense of how the immense social changes wrought by Thatcherism are still having a profound effect on communities all over England. It also meant that when I awoke last Friday to the result of the EU referendum, I wasn’t remotely surprised.

Some of those charity shops had closed down. What does it say about a town when even the charity shops are struggling?
I left Liverpool the week of the Hillsborough inquest verdict, flowers and scarves still adorning lampposts. The inquest had finally vindicated the families of the 96 killed at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final, exposing the lies and cover-ups of the police, the media and the political class, who had spent over a quarter of a century traducing not only those fans, mostly working class, but also the city and its people. In fact, that demonising had found expression in 1981, too, when Geoffrey Howe suggested to Thatcher privately that, after the Toxteth riots, Liverpool should be subject to a “managed decline”.

I walked through Widnes and Warrington, past huge out-of-town shopping centres and through the wastelands of industrial decay. In Salford, down streets where all the pubs were boarded up and local shops, if you could find them, had brick walls for windows and prison-like metal doors, I found an Airbnb. My host was selling her terraced house. I sat in her living room as the estate agent brought around potential buyers. They were all buy-to-let investors from the south of England, building property portfolios in the poverty, as if this was one giant fire sale. [Continue reading…]

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The case for Hillary Clinton, by a Bernie voter

Sally Kohn writes: During the early moments of the Democratic primary, my 7-year-old daughter Willa declared that she wanted Hillary Clinton to win “because she’s a girl.”

“That’s not enough of a reason,” I almost said, but then caught myself. For 270 years, maleness and whiteness was an implicit prerequisite for president. Wanting to vote for a woman candidate isn’t sexist; it’s an act of undoing sexism. It’s a way to symbolically support the equality of women everywhere while substantively putting into office a candidate who personally understands the needs of half of the population who have heretofore not been represented in the White House. That’s not to say that voting for a woman is an implicitly feminist act (see Sarah Palin and Carly Fiorina), nor is it to suggest that not voting for a woman is an inherently, entirely sexist decision. But our democracy has always been inextricably entwined with race and gender. We only notice it when the candidate isn’t a white man.

Women make up more than 50 percent of the American population but just 20 percent of Congress — which, incidentally, is the highest percentage of women in Congress in history. Since the United States Senate was established in 1789, there have been just 46 women senators — 20 of whom are currently serving. There has been just one African American woman senator in the entire 227 years of the institution.

India elected a woman head of state. Liberia elected a woman head of state. So did Britain and Israel and Germany and South Korea and Indonesia. Our supposedly inclusive, equitable democracy has never managed to do what Bangladesh and Chile have done. Now, we finally have a chance.

On Tuesday evening, when it became clear that Clinton would be the Democratic presidential nominee, I looked at my daughter and my eyes filled with tears. She will grow up in a world that is still imperfect, still bending toward justice, but with markedly more opportunity and fairness than my grandmother ever knew. And my little girl, who once looked at the faces of the 44 presidents so far and asked why none are women, may now know not only that the world can change but that there can be a place for a girl like her at the top of it. [Continue reading…]

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How the kleptocrats’ $12 trillion heist helps keep most of the world impoverished

David Cay Johnston writes: For the first time we have a reliable estimate of how much money thieving dictators and others have looted from 150 mostly poor nations and hidden offshore: $12.1 trillion.

That huge figure equals a nickel on each dollar of global wealth and yet it excludes the wealthiest regions of the planet: America, Canada, Europe, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.

That so much money is missing from these poorer nations explains why vast numbers of people live in abject poverty even in countries where economic activity per capita is above the world average. In Equatorial Guinea, for example, the national economy’s output per person comes to 60 cents for each dollar Americans enjoy, measured using what economists call purchasing power equivalents, yet living standards remain abysmal.

The $12.1 trillion estimate — which amounts to two-thirds of America’s annual GDP being taken out of the economies of much poorer nations — is for flight wealth built up since 1970.

Add to that flight wealth from the world’s rich regions, much of it due to tax evasion and criminal activities like drug dealing, and the global figure for hidden offshore wealth totals as much as $36 trillion.

In 2014 the net worth of planet Earth was about $240 trillion, which means about 15 percent of global wealth is in hiding, significantly reducing the capital available to spur world economic growth. [Continue reading…]

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It’s amazing what America could do with the money the rich hide overseas

Max Ehrenfreund writes: The documents known as the “Panama Papers” have created a global scandal around the ways the world’s rich conceal their wealth from the authorities. The prime minister of Iceland offered his resignation after the papers reportedly revealed that he and his wife had a fortune on paper hidden away in the British Virgin Islands. British Prime Minister David Cameron is taking criticism as well, and he acknowledged that he profited from a secret family trust.

The Washington Post has not reviewed the Panama Papers or verified their authenticity, but what seems certain is that wealthy people all over the world — and in the United States — pay much less in taxes by moving their income and assets to foreign countries.

In the United States, the Treasury would collect about $124 billion a year in additional taxes — $36 billion from individual taxpayers and $88 billion from multinational corporations — if it weren’t for such schemes, according to estimates by Gabriel Zucman, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley.

That’s a lot of money — and we’re all paying for it, Zucman said.

When the wealthy pay less in taxes, the rest of the population bears the burden. Either the government spends less money, providing fewer public services, or ordinary citizens pay more to make up the cost. [Continue reading…]

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How global tax evasion keeps poor countries poor

Max Bearak writes: Releases of secret documents, like the whopping 11.5 million Panama Papers, are designed to result in a cascade of scandals. Since Sunday’s revelations, Iceland’s prime minister has stepped down, and Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, admitted on Thursday that he had profited from his father’s offshore account. Leaders in Russia, China and other parts of the world have come forward to either claim the leak is a conspiracy, censor online speculation, or simply deny any illicit dealings or tax impropriety.

As journalists take a fine comb through the 2.6 terabytes of data obtained from the servers of Mossack Fonseca, the world’s fourth biggest “offshore law” firm, they are sure to uncover more and more of the web of dealings that tie politicians, businesspeople, celebrities and their kin to that tax haven and others.

But what’s so scandalous about the Panama Papers isn’t just that there’s a nexus of rich people, some elected, who make profits by evading taxes. It’s that so much of the money moved through tax havens would otherwise be taxed by some of the world’s poorest, most revenue-hungry governments.

That tax evasion disproportionately affects the poor shouldn’t come as a surprise, and it certainly isn’t a secret. Angel Gurría, the secretary general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD, an economic organization consisting of the world’s richest nations, once estimated that developing countries lose three times as much to tax evasion as they receive in foreign aid. The Tax Justice Network, pointing out that data on tax evasion is murky at best, says the real figure may be closer to 10 times. [Continue reading…]

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