This Billionaire Governor Taxed the Rich and Increased the Minimum Wage — Now, His State’s Economy Is One of the Best in the Country

State Governors Speak To The Media After Meeting With Obama At White House

When he took office in January of 2011, Minnesota governor Mark Dayton inherited a $6.2 billion budget deficit and a 7 percent unemployment rate from his predecessor, Tim Pawlenty, the soon-forgotten Republican candidate for the presidency who called himself Minnesota’s first true fiscally-conservative governor in modern history. Pawlenty prided himself on never raising state taxes — the most he ever did to generate new revenue was increase the tax on cigarettes by 75 cents a pack. Between 2003 and late 2010, when Pawlenty was at the head of Minnesota’s state government, he managed to add only 6,200 more jobs.

During his first four years in office, Gov. Dayton raised the state income tax from 7.85 to 9.85 percent on individuals earning over $150,000, and on couples earning over $250,000 when filing jointly — a tax increase of $2.1 billion. He’s also agreed to raise Minnesota’s minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2018, and passed a state law guaranteeing equal pay for women. Republicans like state representative Mark Uglem warned against Gov. Dayton’s tax increases, saying, “The job creators, the big corporations, the small corporations, they will leave. It’s all dollars and sense to them.” The conservative friend or family member you shared this article with would probably say the same if their governor tried something like this. But like Uglem, they would be proven wrong.

Between 2011 and 2015, Gov. Dayton added 172,000 new jobs to Minnesota’s economy — that’s 165,800 more jobs in Dayton’s first term than Pawlenty added in both of his terms combined. Even though Minnesota’s top income tax rate is the 4th-highest in the country, it has the 5th-lowest unemployment rate in the country at 3.6 percent. According to 2012-2013 U.S. census figures, Minnesotans had a median income that was $10,000 larger than the U.S. average, and their median income is still $8,000 more than the U.S. average today.

By late 2013, Minnesota’s private sector job growth exceeded pre-recession levels, and the state’s economy was the 5th fastest-growing in the United States. Forbes even ranked Minnesota the 9th-best state for business (Scott Walker’s “Open For Business” Wisconsin came in at a distant #32 on the same list). Despite the fearmongering over businesses fleeing from Dayton’s tax cuts, 6,230 more Minnesotans filed in the top income tax bracket in 2013, just one year after Dayton’s tax increases went through. As of January 2015, Minnesota has a $1 billion budget surplus, and Gov. Dayton has pledged to reinvest more than one third of that money into public schools. And according to Gallup, Minnesota’s economic confidence is higher than any other state.

Read more at The Huffington Post

ALEC Pushes to Force the US to Amend The Constitution

Originally posted on World News Forum:

ALEC is pushing state legislators to call for an amendment to the Constitution, which would require the federal budget to be balanced each year. (Image via Shutterstock) ALEC is pushing state legislators to call for an amendment to the Constitution, which would require the federal budget to be balanced each year. (Image via Shutterstock)

By Jessica Mason in Truthout

The United States could be on the verge of calling its first constitutional convention since 1787, and the American Legislative Exchange Council, or “ALEC,” has been working behind the scenes to make it happen, including through its new lobbying arm, the Jeffersonian Project.

ALEC is urging state legislators to pass state resolutions calling for a constitutional convention in order to pass a federal balanced budget amendment.

The campaign has attracted little media attention, but the pieces of legislation that could trigger a convention are moving forward much more quickly than many have anticipated. Although there are many unanswered legal questions about the constitutional convention strategy — and fears on both the right and left of an out-of-control “runaway…

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Have Republicans Forgotten Who We Are?

How immigration will save America and Social Security too.

Immigrant children, Ellis Island, New York.

Immigrant children, Ellis Island, New York.

The Christian Science Monitor​ recently published a very interesting and informative article about the current debate in the United States Senate over the future of Social Security disability benefits.

Reallocating one year’s funding for Social Security retirement to disability would ensure that both programs remain fully funded until 2033. Although this has been done many times before, the current congressional Republican majority is opposed, preferring instead to begin cutting benefits for disabled Americans by as much as 20% next year. Republicans complain that Democrats are refusing to address the serious, looming fiscal crisis of the program.

But while Social Security certainly has future funding problems, they are not as daunting as Republicans wish to portray them. The Republican leadership’s motivation is purely ideological. They desire to destroy the Social Security program. And they want to begin by reducing payments to disabled Americans next year. The average disability recipient receives about $1250 a month in benefits. I’d like to see even one Republican Senator live on that budget, or cut their own pay by 20% next year.

Over one million veterans returned home injured from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of them so severely injured that they may never work again. And many of these gravely injured soldiers returned home to waiting spouses and children. Republicans are now threatening to cut the disability benefits for those veterans and their families.

Interestingly, the prospectus for the future funding of Social Security programs is not as bleak as Republicans would like the American public to believe. And there is a very simple explanation for this that is directly related to the reason that Social Security is facing future deficits in the first place: population demographics.

More people are withdrawing benefits from the system than are paying into it. But American society is preparing to undergo a surprising demographic shift as an unexpected consequence of immigration. As increasing numbers of young immigrants join the American labor force in the coming decades–and as inevitable immigration reforms provide the necessary pathways to citizenship for young, undocumented immigrants–Social Security revenues will likely see a significant increase relative to program expenditures.

America has always been a nation of immigrants. It’s who we are. And immigration has always been a major source of strength for America and a boon to our economy. So why, in God’s name, are so many Americans opposed to it now? Perhaps it’s because they have forgotten, or maybe never understood at all, who we are as a people, and the vital role that immigration has always played in our nation’s history.

© 2015 by konigludwig

Why Is No One Talking About the GOP’s Plan to Send Millions of Disabled Americans Into Poverty?

House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Capitol Hill, February 10, 2015 (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Capitol Hill, February 10, 2015 (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

By William Greider

Despite their virtues, many conservative Republicans have an unfortunate habit of picking on the weak and disadvantaged, slandering the people least able to fight back. We saw a glimpse of this callousness in Mitt Romney’s disparagement of the “47 percent” who are “takers” living off the hard-working “makers.” The newly empowered GOP majority in Congress is going down the same road—targeting the millions of sick or injured Americans who receive Social Security disability payments.

This is a favorite old canard of self-righteous right-wingers. They label these unfortunate people as shiftless and suggest none too subtly that many are faking their injuries and illnesses. The GOP has been pushing this cold-hearted slander for at least thirty-five years, ever since the glorious reign of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s (who remembers Reagan’s imaginary “Welfare Queen” who drove to pick up her welfare check in a Cadillac?).

McConnell-Boehner Republicans are now reviving the Gipper’s big lie, claiming the Social Security system is in crisis because of swollen disability benefits. Allegedly to save the system, these so-called fiscal conservatives intend to cut benefits and throw out those supposedly able-bodied slackers. Once again, their facts are bogus. Never mind, their story line is concocted to arouse anti-government resentment among people who are themselves strapped for income.

Read more at The Nation

Fethullah Gulen: Turkey’s Eroding Democracy

 Hizmet supporters in Istanbul protesting the government’s harassment of journalists.   Credit Sedat Suna/European Pressphoto Agency

Hizmet supporters in Istanbul protesting the government’s harassment of journalists.
Credit Sedat Suna/European Pressphoto Agency

By Fethullah Gulen

SAYLORSBURG, Pa. — It is deeply disappointing to see what has become of Turkey in the last few years. Not long ago, it was the envy of Muslim-majority countries: a viable candidate for the European Union on its path to becoming a functioning democracy that upholds universal human rights, gender equality, the rule of law and the rights of Kurdish and non-Muslim citizens. This historic opportunity now appears to have been squandered as Turkey’s ruling party, known as the A.K.P., reverses that progress and clamps down on civil society, media, the judiciary and free enterprise.

Turkey’s current leaders seem to claim an absolute mandate by virtue of winning elections. But victory doesn’t grant them permission to ignore the Constitution or suppress dissent, especially when election victories are built on crony capitalism and media subservience. The A.K.P.’s leaders now depict every democratic criticism of them as an attack on the state. By viewing every critical voice as an enemy — or worse, a traitor — they are leading the country toward totalitarianism.

The latest victims of the clampdown are the staff, executives and editors of independent media organizations who were detained and are now facing charges made possible by recent changes to the laws and the court system. The director of one of the most popular TV channels, arrested in December, is still behind bars. Public officials investigating corruption charges have also been purged and jailed for simply doing their jobs. An independent judiciary, a functioning civil society and media are checks and balances against government transgressions. Such harassment sends the message that whoever stands in the way of the ruling party’s agenda will be targeted by slander, sanctions and even trumped-up charges.

Turkey’s rulers have not only alienated the West, they are also now losing credibility in the Middle East. Turkey’s ability to assert positive influence in the region depends not only on its economy but also on the health of its own democracy.

The core tenets of a functioning democracy — the rule of law, respect for individual freedoms — are also the most basic of Islamic values bestowed upon us by God. No political or religious leader has the authority to take them away. It is disheartening to see religious scholars provide theological justification for the ruling party’s oppression and corruption or simply stay silent. Those who use the language and symbols of religious observance but violate the core principles of their religion do not deserve such loyalty from religious scholars.

Speaking against oppression is a democratic right, a civic duty and for believers, a religious obligation. The Quran makes clear that people should not remain silent in the face of injustice: “O you who believe! Be upholders and standard-bearers of justice, bearing witness to the truth for God’s sake, even though it be against your own selves, or parents or kindred.”

For the past 50 years, I have been fortunate to take part in a civil society movement, sometimes referred to as Hizmet, whose participants and supporters include millions of Turkish citizens. These citizens have committed themselves to interfaith dialogue, community service, relief efforts and making life-changing education accessible. They have established more than 1,000 modern secular schools, tutoring centers, colleges, hospitals and relief organizations in over 150 countries. They are teachers, journalists, businessmen and ordinary citizens.

Read more in The New York Times/The Opinion Pages

Tyranny’s False Comfort: Why Rights Aren’t Wrong in Tough Times

 Displaced people from the Yezidi sect, fleeing violence from forces linked to the extremist group Islamic State (also known as ISIS) in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, walk towards the Syrian border in August 2014. © 2014 Reuters


Displaced people from the Yezidi sect, fleeing violence from forces linked to the extremist group Islamic State (also known as ISIS) in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, walk towards the Syrian border in August 2014. © 2014 Reuters

By Kenneth Roth, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch

The world has not seen this much tumult for a generation. The once-heralded Arab Spring has given way almost everywhere to conflict and repression. Islamist extremists commit mass atrocities and threaten civilians throughout the Middle East and parts of Asia and Africa. Cold War-type tensions have revived over Ukraine, with even a civilian jetliner shot out of the sky. Sometimes it can seem as if the world is unraveling.

Many governments have responded to the turmoil by downplaying or abandoning human rights. Governments directly affected by the ferment are often eager for an excuse to suppress popular pressure for democratic change. Other influential governments are frequently more comfortable falling back on familiar relationships with autocrats than contending with the uncertainty of popular rule. Some of these governments continue to raise human rights concerns, but many appear to have concluded that today’s serious security threats must take precedence over human rights. In this difficult moment, they seem to argue, human rights must be put on the back burner, a luxury for less trying times.

That subordination of human rights is not only wrong, but also shortsighted and counterproductive. Human rights violations played a major role in spawning or aggravating most of today’s crises. Protecting human rights and enabling people to have a say in how their governments address the crises will be key to their resolution. Particularly in periods of challenges and difficult choices, human rights are an essential compass for political action.

Read the entire Keynote Address of the Human Rights Watch World Report 2015

Keystone Vote Fails in Senate

Ranking member Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and committee chairman Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) listen during a session of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Capitol Hill January 8, 2015 in Washington, DC. The committee met for a markup of legislation to arrive the Keystone XL pipeline project. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Ranking member Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and committee chairman Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) listen during a session of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Capitol Hill January 8, 2015 in Washington, DC. The committee met for a markup of legislation to arrive the Keystone XL pipeline project. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

January 26, 2015 A key vote to advance legislation green-lighting the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline failed 53-39 in the Senate on Monday.

The vote aimed at cutting off debate on legislation to approve the controversial project fell short of 60 votes after Democrats, angry at Republicans for blocking debate on a slate of Democratic amendments last week, blocked the measure.

“Last Thursday night the majority decided that they would not allow for debate,” Democratic Sen. Ed Markey said on the floor ahead of the vote, echoing a complaint that a number of Democrats expressed on Monday after the Senate reconvened to debate the bill.

Senate Republicans have instigated a “gag-a-thon,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

Democratic Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware said he voted against ending debate because of the “failure of the majority to follow through on the open amendment process,” taking aim at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Read more at the National Journal

RNC Turns Deaf Ear To Questions About Trip Funded by Hate Group

Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus photo attribution: Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Last week, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) faxed and sent letters to every member of the Republican National Committee (RNC) regarding an upcoming trip to Jerusalem being organized by RNC Chair Reince Priebus.

The letters expressed concern about the organization paying for the trip, the American Family Association (AFA), which the SPLC has listed as an anti-LGBT hate group since 2010.

In particular, the letters asked RNC members not to lend their good offices to an organization with a long track record of making anti-LGBT, anti-Muslim and other hateful statements. An email to Priebus’ director of communications about this matter was not responded to.

In early December, Time reported that 60 members, or about a third, of the RNC had decided to travel to Israel. But you wouldn’t know that from the calls we made. We left dozens of voicemails and sent many, many emails, none of which were replied to.

In Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Oklahoma and Tennessee, communications directors were unaware of the trip and promised to speak with RNC members and get back to us. They did not. Other state communications directors, like those in Maryland and Louisiana, said they knew nothing of the trip and could not answer questions. In Idaho, a communications staffer told us she had no idea what we were talking about, but that she would have known about a trip if there was one.

Read more at the Southern Poverty Law Center

Well, well. It seems that the fascists have been planning a nice little putsch. Speak of strange bedfellows.

Second crude pipeline spill in Montana wreaks havoc on Yellowstone River

Originally posted on World News Forum:

 Second crude pipeline spill in Montana wreaks havoc on Yellowstone River
Second crude pipeline spill in Montana wreaks havoc on Yellowstone River

By Nate Schweber

Environmental damage from recent oil leak ranges from contaminated water supply to polluted farmland

GLENDIVE, Montana — When an oil pipeline burst in July 2011 and poured 63,000 gallons of crude into the Yellowstone River 200 miles upstream from Dena Hoff’s farm of wheat, beans and corn on the Great Plains in Glendive, she felt disgusted.

When it happened again Saturday, she felt terror. This pipeline breach was underneath the Yellowstone River, just a few feet from her sheep pasture. The new spill poured out some 50,000 gallons of crude oil. Leaders of this small riverside farming and ranching community in northeastern Montana warned residents not to drink their tap water, because benzene, a carcinogen, was found in the municipal water system. Oil slicked the river for dozens of miles, almost to the border with North…

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Majority of U.S. public school students are in poverty

konigludwig:

The advocacy of quality public education has long been a core progressive cause. For progressives, the relationship of education, of social and economic opportunity, to the sustained viability of a democracy have always seemed clear and obvious.

This newly released study by the Southern Education Foundation underscores the significance of these relationships. The growth of economic inequality in the United States now threatens the very foundations of our society by destroying and diminishing the prospects for the future success of our youngest citizens–and of our nation.

Originally posted on World News Forum:

Three-year-old Saria Amaya waits with her mother after receiving shoes and school supplies during a charity event in October to help more than 4,000 underprivileged children at the Fred Jordan Mission in the Skid Row area of Los Angeles. Children from low-income families now make up a majority of public school students in the nation, according to a new report. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

By Lyndsey Layton

For the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of public school students across the country are considered “low-income”, according to a new study by the Southern Education Foundation. While poor children are spread across the country, concentrations are highest in the South and in the West.

For the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students come from low-income families, according to a new analysis of 2013 federal data, a statistic that has profound implications…

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As Syria’s Revolution Sputters, a Chaotic Stalemate

 TORN BY WAR The view from a mosque in Homs, Syria, that has served as a rallying point for insurgents.  Credit Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

TORN BY WAR The view from a mosque in Homs, Syria, that has served as a rallying point for insurgents. Credit Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

By Anne Barnard in The New York Times

ANTAKYA, Turkey — It was a victory that President Bashar al-Assad’s opponents had dreamed of: Insurgents seized a key army base in northern Syria after more than a year of trying. But the mood in this Turkish border town, flooded with Syrians who have fled both government bombings and extremist insurgents, was more bitter than celebratory.

The assault this month was led by the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s arm in Syria, which claimed the spoils. By contrast, many of the first Syrians to rise up against Mr. Assad in 2011 — civilian demonstrators and army defectors alike — followed the battle from the sidelines here, unable to enter Syria under threat of death from the extremists of Nusra and its rival group, the Islamic State.

As Syria’s war heads toward its fourth year, the complex battleground is increasingly divided between the government and the extremists, leaving many Syrians feeling that the revolution on which they gambled their lives and livelihoods has failed.

Different insurgent groups battle one another, even as they fight against Mr. Assad’s forces and his allies, foreign Shiite militias. A chaotic stalemate reigns in a war that has killed more than 200,000 people and wounded one million.

In northern and eastern Syria, where Mr. Assad’s opponents won early victories and once dreamed of building self-government, the nationalist rebel groups calling themselves the Free Syrian Army are forced to operate under the extremists’ umbrellas, to go underground or to flee, according to Syrian insurgents, activists and two top commanders of the American-financed F.S.A. groups.

Read more at The New York Times