Majority of public assistance goes to working families, report finds

"20111110-OC-AMW-0050 - Flickr - USDAgov" by U.S. Department of Agriculture - 20111110-OC-AMW-0050. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

U.S. Government Food Stamps, 1941. Image via the United States Department of Agriculture (public domain).

State and federal public assistance programs pay $153 billion to low-wage workers who can’t make ends meet

The majority of American families on public assistance or Medicaid are headed by at least one full-time worker, according to a report released Monday by the University of California at Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education.

Researchers who analyzed annual state and federal spending on public assistance programs — including food stamps, Medicaid, Temporary Aid to Needy Families and the earned income tax credit — found that more than 56 percent of that spending goes to working families.

In other words, employers, such fast-food restaurants, are paying their employees so little that they must rely on government assistance to make ends meet. In total, these employees seek an estimated $153 billion in public assistance each year, according to the report.

“When companies pay too little for workers to provide for their families, workers rely on public assistance programs to meet their basic needs,” Ken Jacobs, chair of the Center for Labor Research and Education and co-author of the report, said in a release. “This creates significant cost to the states.”

Read more at Al Jazeera America

Hospitals Are Robbing Us Blind

Forget Obamacare. The real villains in the American health care system are greedy hospitals and the politicians who protect them.

Hospitals that don’t face competition from other nearby hospitals have huge power in their local markets.

Hospitals that don’t face competition from other nearby hospitals have huge power in their local markets.

By Reihan Salam

Five years ago this week, Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, and we’ve been debating it ever since. Like many Americans, I oppose Obamacare, and I think we ought to repeal it and replace it. Over the past few months, however, I’ve come to the conclusion that the fight over Obamacare is a distraction from a much deeper problem, which is that America’s hospitals are robbing us blind.

I realize that this is an impolitic thing to say. What kind of lousy ingrate doesn’t love hospitals? Go to any big American city, including cities like Cleveland and Pittsburgh that have been devastated by deindustrialization and joblessness, and you’ll find a mammoth hospital complex in the center of town, buzzing with activity. Forget about big cities—there is a hospital in every congressional district in America, and local hospitals are often among the largest employers in the district. One of the reasons President Clinton’s 1993 health reform effort failed is that he never won over the hospital lobby. President Obama learned from the Clinton debacle; hospitals were among his most important allies. Republicans get in on the act too. Right now, for example, a number of GOP lawmakers are pushing a Medicare “reform” that guarantees higher payments to doctors and hospitals today in exchange for the promise of spending reductions a decade or two from now. Good luck with that.

You can hardly blame them though. The health sector employs more than a tenth of all U.S. workers, most of whom are working- and middle-class people who serve as human shields for those who profit most from America’s obscenely high medical prices and an epidemic of overtreatment. If you aim for the crooks responsible for bleeding us dry, you risk hitting the nurses, technicians, and orderlies they employ. This is why politicians are so quick to bash insurers while catering to the powerful hospital systems, which dictate terms to insurers and have mastered the art of gaming Medicare and Medicaid to their advantage. Whether you’re for Obamacare or against it, you can’t afford to ignore the fact that America’s hospitals have become predatory monopolies. We have to break them before they break us.

Read more at Salon.com

The Trolls Who Came In From The Cold

A laptop computer and a newspaper show reports about the arrival of former CIA contractor Edward Snowden to Russia, at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport, in June 2013.

A laptop computer and a newspaper show reports about the arrival of former CIA contractor Edward Snowden to Russia, at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, in June 2013.

By Viktor Rezunkov

ST. PETERSBURG — Last May, Tatiana N decided she wanted a higher salary than the average journalist can expect.

After responding to an advertisement in the popular HeadHunter job-search website, she became a Kremlin-paid Internet troll. Tatiana — who, like others interviewed for this story, asked that her last name not be used — worked out of a 2,500-square-meter warehouse in the suburbs of St. Petersburg.

The job paid 40,000 rubles a month, significantly more than the 25,000-30,000 most journalists make. But it came, she said, “with pain.”

Tatiana joined a round-the-clock operation in which an army of trolls disseminated pro-Kremlin and anti-Western talking points on blogs and in the comments sections of news websites in Russia and abroad.

The operation, Internet Research, is financed through a holding company headed by President Vladimir Putin’s “personal chef,” Evgeny Prigozhin.

“So you write, write, write, from the point of view of anyone,” Tatiana, ​22, says.

“You could be [posing as] a housewife who bakes dumplings and suddenly decides: ‘I have an opinion about what Putin said! And this action by Vladimir Vladimirovich saves Russia.”

The roughly 400 employees work 12-hour shifts and are split into various departments. Some focus on writing up themes and assignments, others concentrate on commenting, and others work on graphics for social media.

The daily assignments — shown in a document first published on March 11 by independent St. Petersburg newspaper My Region — are usually drawn directly from pro-Kremlin media and go into sometimes excruciating detail about the message the bloggers and commenters are supposed to relay.

One assignment instructed trolls how to frame the February 27 assassination of opposition figure Boris Nemtsov: Either it was orchestrated by Ukrainian oligarchs to frame Russia and harm Moscow’s relations with the West, or it was carried out by Nemtsov’s supporters as a “provocation” ahead of opposition protests.

Lena N, another former employee, says she stopped working at Internet Research after refusing to blog the company line about Nemtsov’s killing.

“It was necessary to bring people to believe that the killing of Boris Nemtsov was a provocation before the march and a murder carried out by his own [supporters],” she says.

Read more at Radio Free Europe

Even at $10/barrel, oil can’t match solar on cost

Originally posted on World News Forum:

Standard Oil Refinery No. 1 in Cleveland, Ohio Standard Oil Refinery No. 1 in Cleveland, Ohio, 1889

One of the biggest banks in the Middle East and the oil-rich Gulf countries says that fossil fuels can no longer compete with solar technologies on price, and says the vast bulk of the $US48 trillion needed to meet global power demand over the next two decades will come from renewables.

The report from the National Bank of Abu Dhabi says that while oil and gas has underpinned almost all energy investments until now, future investment will be almost entirely in renewable energy sources.

The report is important because the Gulf region, the Middle East and North Africa will need to add another 170GW of electricity in the next decade, and the major financiers recognise that the cheapest and most effective way to go is through solar and wind. It also highlights how even the biggest financial institutions in the Gulf…

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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

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