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Republished from Wonky News Nerd

This is what a real progressive agenda for America looks like. In a U.S. Senate floor speech and related op-ed piece, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Tuesday presented a 12-point economic agenda designed to “reverse a 40-year decline of the American middle class and the growing gap between the very rich and everyone else in the United States.”

Sanders’ sweeping plan focuses on investing in both the country and its people by making a big commitment to education, infrastructure, health care and new technology. Sanders also called for reforms to the banking system, labor laws, the tax code and trade policies in ways that he thinks will favor working Americans and reverse what he sees as an overall deterioration of the country and its economy .

“We once led the world in terms of the percentage of our people who graduated college, but we are now in 12th place,” Sanders said. “Our infrastructure, once the envy of the world, is collapsing. Real unemployment today is not 5.8 percent, it is 11.5 percent if we include those who have given up looking for work or who are working part time when they want to work full time. Youth unemployment is 18.6 percent and African-American youth unemployment is 32.6 percent.”

The 12 points, as summarized by Sanders' office, are:

• Invest in our crumbling infrastructure with a major program to create jobs by rebuilding roads, bridges, water systems, waste water plants, airports, railroads and schools.
• Transform energy systems away from fossil fuels to create jobs while beginning to reverse global warming and make the planet habitable for future generations.
• Develop new economic models to support workers in the United States instead of giving tax breaks to corporations which ship jobs to low-wage countries overseas.
• Make it easier for workers to join unions and bargain for higher wages and benefits.
• Raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour so no one who works 40 hours a week will live in poverty.
• Provide equal pay for women workers who now make 78 percent of what male counterparts make.
• Reform trade policies that have shuttered more than 60,000 factories and cost more than 4.9 million decent-paying manufacturing jobs.
• Make college affordable and provide affordable child care to restore America’s competitive edge compared to other nations.
• Break up big banks. The six largest banks now have assets equivalent to 61 percent of our gross domestic product, over $9.8 trillion. They underwrite more than half the mortgages in the country and issue more than two-thirds of all credit cards.
• Join the rest of the industrialized world with a Medicare-for-all health care system that provides better care at less cost.
• Expand Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and nutrition programs.
• Reform the tax code based on wage earners’ ability to pay and eliminate loopholes that let profitable corporations stash profits overseas and pay no U.S. federal income taxes.
Watch the speech below:
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Republished from Wonky News Nerd.

As if the rising cost of tuition and expanding levels of student debt have not been hard enough on America’s college students, here’s an obstacle that a lot of people don’t even think about: It’s becoming harder to for students to find childcare on campus.

According to an analysis from the Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR), campus-based child care has been declining even as the number of college students with dependent children has been growing. “The proportion of community colleges with child care on campus declined from a high of 53 percent in 2003-2004, to 46 percent in 2013,” IWPR found. In public four-year institutions, “the proportion of campuses with child care decreased from 54 [percent] to 51 percent from 2002 to 2013.”

That level of decline might not sound dramatic. But, considering how fast the number of students with dependent children has been increasing, it’s pretty clear that the trend ought to be moving in the opposite direction. IWPR finds that, in 2011, “26 percent of all post-secondary students in the United States, or 4.8 million students, were parents of dependent children.” That’s a 50 percent increase since 1995.

If you are a student with a young child, the loss of an affordable, campus-based child care option could mean the difference between graduating and moving into the middle class, or dropping out and sliding into (or staying in) poverty.  And, as IWPR points out, affordable child care can be an oxymoron for people struggling with low wages and the cost of paying for their own educations:

Child care can be prohibitively expensive for many families, especially those with low-incomes. Low income families with children under 15 spend, on average, 40 percent of their average monthly income on child care, whereas their higher-income counterparts spend between 7 and 13 percent on child care. In all 50 states, the average annual cost of center-based infant care (for children less than one year old), which ranges from $4,863 in Mississippi to $16,430 in Massachusetts, exceeds the average fees and tuition of a 4-year public university in 31 states and the District of Columbia.
As the new Republican-controlled Congress convenes next year, it’s almost a sure bet that issues like relief from student debt and lowering the price of tuition won’t be a priority. But, could the Party of Family Values™ find some way to – at the very least – help college students care for their kids? It’s a long shot. But it’s an issue worth taking up.

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When the courts do not let the people resolve new social issues like this one, they perpetuate the idea that the heroes in these change events are judges and lawyers. Better in this instance, we think, to allow change through the customary political processes, in which the people, gay and straight alike, become the heroes of their own stories by meeting each other not as adversaries in a court system but as
fellow citizens seeking to resolve a new social issue in a fair-minded way.

Source: http://www.ca6.uscourts.gov/...

If the standard is set that the majority gets to vote on the rights of minority groups, what's next?

How long until someone tries to amend a state constitution to ban Muslims from opening mosques, or atheists from raising children? There are places where such things might actually pass. Under the logic used by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, that would be just peachy. Never mind that we'd completely stop being America at that point.

According to the Washington Post (along with numerous other sources), this decision "makes it almost certain the Supreme Court must take up the issue of whether gay couples have a constitutional right to marry."

Senior Judge Margaret Craig Daughtrey said in a sharply worded dissent that Sutton’s opinion “would make an engrossing TED Talk or, possibly, an introductory lecture in Political Philosophy.” But she said federal judges are required to protect the constitutional rights of the minority.

“If we in the judiciary do not have the authority, and indeed the responsibility, to right fundamental wrongs left excused by a majority of the electorate, our whole intricate, constitutional system of checks and balances, as well as the oaths to which we swore, prove to be nothing but shams,” wrote Daughtrey, who was chosen for the bench by President Bill Clinton.

We'll probably find out next year whether the U.S. Supreme court sides with the logic of Judge Daughtrey, or the paranoid, "watch out, God is gonna get us" style of bigotry and fear that leads voters to limit the rights of people they are afraid of.

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Republished from Wonky News Nerd

One of the great canards perpetuated by people on the political right is that those of us interested in reducing income and wealth inequality seek to punish success. The left, it is argued, consists largely of grasping, envious, anti-capitalist crazies who want everyone brought down to the same, impoverished standard of living -- because Marx ... or something.

However, in a new report UK-based charity Oxfam International argues global inequality is becoming so severe that it threatens economic growth and could make it impossible to eliminate extreme poverty around the world. If Oxfam is right, one hardly has to be a Leninist revolutionary or a Maoist cultural warrior to see that as a big problem. According to Oxfam:

The consequences are corrosive for everyone. Extreme inequality corrupts politics, hinders economic growth and stifles social mobility. It fuels crime and even violent conflict. It squanders talent, thwarts potential and undermines the foundations of society.

Crucially, the rapid rise of extreme economic inequality is standing in the way of eliminating global poverty. Today, hundreds of millions of people are living without access to clean drinking water and without enough food to feed their families; many are working themselves into the ground just to get by. We can only improve life for the majority if we tackle the extreme concentration of wealth and power in the hands of elites.

Among the report'€™s most startling findings:
  • Since the financial crisis in 2008, the worldwide number of billionaires has more than doubled. There are 1,645 of them today.
  • Seven out of 10 people live in countries where the gap between rich and poor is greater than it was 30 years ago.
  • The richest 85 people on the planet own as much as the poorest half of the world’s population and are rapidly getting richer. From March 2013 to March 2014, those 85 people added $668 million in wealth every day.
  • Countries with extreme economic inequality experience nearly four times the number of homicides as countries with more equality.
  • The aggregate wealth of today'€™s billionaires has increased by 124 percent in the last four years and is now approximately $5.4 trillion. This is twice the size of France'€™s GDP in 2012.

To combat inequality, Oxfam suggests a number of measures, including "€œnational wealth taxes"€ and possibly a global wealth tax on the richest individuals. Other ideas include doing more to economically empower women, raising wages, working to provide €œfree, high-quality healthcare and education for all citizens€ by 2020 and implementing "a universal and permanent [social] safety net."

The report, called "€œEven it Up: Time to End Extreme Inequality," coincides with the launch of a new public information campaign with the same name. In a blog post, Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said: "We want this to be a wake-up up call for all We want this to be a wake-up up call for all of us: governments, companies and citizens need to act now to change the status quo."€

The video embedded below provides additional information:


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Coincidence? Maybe. But Wall Street tends to hate uncertainty.

So this might be about "pricing in" the cost of an extended government shutdown and spending retrenchment, each of which would slow down the economy in 2015.

I know there's a lot more going on now that could be freaking people out -- like Ebola, ISIS, and those creepy clowns in California. But I don't think any of it has as much potential to strip aggregate demand out of the domestic economy as a fresh outbreak of craziness in Washington might have. Those folks inside the beltway have more potential to inflict short-term damage on us than ISIS can even dream about.

So, there's another reason to vote. Won't somebody please think of the IRA and 401(k) balances?

Sign at the 2011 Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington DC that reads
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Pope Francis
He's a rock star.
Originally posted at Wonky News Nerd.

A national survey of American Catholics finds, among other things, that most are in favor of contraception and really, really like the current pope.

Among the U.S. Catholics surveyed by Saint Leo University Polling Institute:

  • Sixty-eight percent favor allowing divorced or remarried Catholics to receive the sacrament of Communion, even if their previous marriages have not been annulled. Only 18 percent do not.
  • Sixty-six percent of Catholics say the Church should drop its opposition to contraception while only 21 percent do not.
  • A smaller majority of U.S. Catholics (50 to 33 percent) supports dropping opposition to pre-marital sex and cohabitation.
  • A narrow plurality (42 to 40 percent) says the Church should recognize same-sex marriages.
  • Pope Francis has approval numbers that Washington politicians can only dream about. Among the U.S. Catholics polled, 85 percent gave him a favorable rating.

In a statement, Michael Anthony Novak, assistant professor of theology and religion at Saint Leo University, said: "Catholics take marriage, the family, and the sacraments seriously. But these results seem to verify that there is a frustration with the Church's pastoral policies regarding divorce and remarriage."

The poll results were released Oct. 9, as Catholic bishops from around the world meet in Rome for a special synod, or conference, on family and marriage.

According to David Willey of BBC News, the synod, which began Oct. 5, is “a two-week brainstorming session” on how the bishops can “better present their teachings on marriage, family life, and sexuality to their flock.”

The conference agenda was drawn up after an unprecedented opinion survey of the faithful, ordered by Pope Francis last year, to find out why Rome's teachings are increasingly being rejected or ignored.

A ban on artificial contraception decreed by Pope Paul VI in his Humanae Vitae encyclical in 1968 has been routinely disregarded by Catholic couples for years.

And while the Church continues to insist on the indissolubility of Christian marriage, which it considers a sacramental union of a man and a woman, not merely a civil matter; many countries, even strongly Roman Catholic ones, have legalized abortion, divorce and same-sex marriages.

The Philippines, which has Asia's largest Roman Catholic population, has recently passed a birth control law allowing the government to distribute free contraceptives, which could be the prelude to legalizing divorce too.

The video below, issued by the Vatican, explains the basics of the current synod, from the church's point of view:


 

Discuss
The guy who needed these things explained to him will be voting next month:
First, stories published on crazy right-wing blogs aren't terribly convincing.

Beyond that, there are a few things we need to get out of the way here:

- Obama isn't Muslim.

-There is nothing wrong with opening a mosque in Oklahoma.

-Because a crazy guy attends a mosque, that's no reason to assume that everyone who worships there is crazy.

-The vast majority of Muslims are not crazy jihadists.

-No, the Obama administration is not working to advance the cause of radical Islamists. The drone program, the air campaign in Iraq and Syria, along with the recent activities of our Navy Seals should have been a clue.

-Obama also isn't a Nazi, or a communist.

Discuss
The following is an editorial that originally appeared at Wonky News Nerd

We understand the reluctance to simply walk away from the Pentagon’s plan to buy a fleet of Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning Joint Strike Fighters. But the time has come to either cancel or significantly downsize the program.

On an emotional level, that’s a hard recommendation to make. The plane, which is being developed to replace several fighter, strike, and ground attack aircraft now on use, is a sleek, technologically advanced thing of beauty. And, if we could ever get it to work the way it should, it would be an amazingly capable and lethal weapon of war.  In short, the F-35 is – or at least has the potential to be – very cool.

Add that the usual Washington considerations – like bureaucratic inertia, jobs in key Congressional districts and lawmakers’ innate desire to keep key defense contractors well fed –it would be hard for the Pentagon and Congress to completely give up on the F-35.

However, after years of big cost overruns and delays, along with scary technical glitches and performance problems, it’s still not clear when, if ever, the F-35 will be deployable. A beautiful fighter plane loses a lot of its allure if it can’t be used in combat. Like a vintage Italian sports car with a bad transmission and an oil leak, the F-35 is cooler in theory than it is in reality. That’s especially true when one considers the cost.

Building, housing and maintaining the F-35 s now estimated at almost $1.5 trillion over the life of the program. And there is reason to think that’s a low-ball estimate.

According to a report issued in September by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), “the F-35 program has experienced cost, schedule, and performance problems that have put it 7 years behind schedule and significantly over its original budget. “ Despite all that, the report added, the Department of Defense (DOD) still does not know how much the plane will cost to buy and maintain, or whether it will be able to pay for it. According to the report:

One key decision is for DOD to determine what it can realistically afford with respect to the F-35 program, but until it identifies affordability constraints tied to the military services’ budgets, it will continue to develop and field the most costly weapon system program in history without knowing whether the Air Force, Navy, or Marine Corps can pay for it. Furthermore, while DOD has begun testing and fielding the F-35 at sites around the country, the program faces several risks … and uncertainties related to technical data rights, which could adversely affect DOD’s sustainment strategy. If these risks remain unaddressed, sustainment costs could potentially increase well beyond current estimated levels, and operational readiness could suffer.
OK, the F-35 program is a huge, expensive mess and everyone knows it. But we really need this plane, right? Not necessarily.

As Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS) points out in an Oct. 1 column, our military has more affordable options that could keep the country safe while saving billions of dollars. According to TCS, those include purchasing more F-15E Strike Eagle jets and modernizing the military’s proven fleets F-22 Raptor, F-15 Eagle and F-16 Falcon aircraft.

Given these options, Alexander writes, “I hope Congress keeps a microscope on this massive weapon system. A trillion and a half dollars is too much to squander like this.” We agree.

Unless and until the U.S. military finds a way to make the F-35 a better and more affordable option, TSC’s recommendations make a lot of sense. Continuing to throw huge amounts money at a weapons program that has failed to deliver a usable airplane simply doesn’t.

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CENTRAL CITY, CO - NOVEMBER 2:  Mica Rickman, 1, reaches out to his mother, Carly Fridlich as she votes at the Gilpin County Community Center on November 2, 2010 outside of Central City, Colorado. Coloradians are going to the polls to decide a Governor's
Will Obama’s lackluster approval rating drag the Democratic Party down to defeat in November? I don’t think so. If the Democrats do badly this fall, it won’t be because Obama made it impossible for them to win. It’ll be because too few people voted.

President Obama’s Republican opponents and the media like to make sure everyone knows that Obama’s approval ratings are not great.  Of course, they usually fail to point out that Obama’s predicament is not exactly unusual for a president this far into his second term.  The other thing they miss is that Obama’s average approval rating of just under 42 percent – as measured by the RealClearPolitics (RCP) poll of polls – makes the president among the more popular officials in Washington right now.

The RCP average approval rating for Congress is just 14 percent.  And a Harris poll released Tuesday puts the approval of Congress much lower than that – just 7 percent, down from 8 percent a month earlier.  Furthermore, Harris found, “only 18 percent of Americans give a positive rating for the overall job their member of the House of Representatives is doing, down from 22 percent in June.”

It would be nice for progressives to assume that these numbers are a rebuke of Republican leadership of the House and the unrelenting GOP obstructionism in the Senate. But, realistically, it’s probably more accurate to read this as a sign of Americans’ disgust with Washington in general. People clearly are sick of the games, the posturing and the lack of progress they see coming from inside the beltway. They have felt that way for quite a while.

Given the public’s attitude about its federal government, it’s not surprising that Obama’s popularity would suffer along with that of everyone else in Washington. But, the fact that the president remains several times more popular than Congress – and more than twice as popular as the average House member – is actually, in its own sad way, kind of remarkable.

If the Democrats do poorly in the mid-term elections in November, the Obama haters will be quick to blame it on the president’s “deep unpopularity,”  the collapse of his 2008 and 2012 coalitions, a surge of conservative sentiment in the country, or some combination of the three. But, because of Obama’s relative popularity (relative being the operative word here), I expect the real Obama effect to be anywhere from negligible to marginally positive.

The real threat we face has nothing to do with Obama. Our enemy is apathy.

With Americans moving to the left on key issues and minority populations growing, this election will come down to the mundane, but vital issue of who actually shows up at the polls.

A low-turnout election amplifies the voices of the minority of hard-right, ideologically driven voters who always, always, always vote. They vote in the rain. They vote in the snow.  They will crawl across broken glass if they have to. That’s because their politics is largely controlled by their fears and fear is a great motivator.

The rule of thumb here is this: If everybody votes, we win. If most people stay home, we lose. Certainly, Obama has a role to play here in rallying the troops and getting out the vote. But, for the most part, this election will be won or lost depending what we do.

So, dagnabbit... get out the vote.

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My apologies if this has been posted here already. But my "day job" is with a community college, so, this really resonated with me. Plus, it's really, really funny.



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As member of AFSCME myself, I was really happy to hear these words from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the de facto leader of the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. I thought I'd quickly share them with the folks here.

I believe in government and in public service. I’m tired of hearing the relentless criticism directed at government employees. I’m tired of hearing from those who want to slash your pensions. Pensions aren’t charity or some giveaway. Pensions are salaried payments that you agreed to put aside for your retirement. You earn that pension like you earn your paycheck – by working hard every single day. And you have a right to what you have earned.
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According to a new Harris Poll, most Americans would probably not vote for a Muslim presidential candidate. Pluralities say the same about transgender, gay, atheist or agnostic candidates. And, for some reason, Millennials have a real problem with Mormons.  

More below the fold.

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