The Common Good

Quick Read - Economic Justice

Why Fixing the Economy is Easier Than We Think

In an interview with Rolling StonePaul Krugman talks about his new book, and why fixing the economy is easier than we think:

Four years after the start of the Great Recession, nobody would mistake U.S. economy for a thrumming engine of growth, prosperity, and human flourishing. Sure, we're officially out of "recession." But the recovery is painfully slow and uneven, and 24 million Americans are still unemployed or underemployed. There's a lot of pain out there, and a lot of potential going to waste.

Read the interview here

 

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Pentagon Gains as Billions Cut from Poverty Programs

From Politico:

American soldiers learned the hard way not to walk down enemy trails in Vietnam — and certainly not twice. But here come the House Republicans, marching into the sunlight by shifting billions from poverty programs to the Pentagon, all within hours of adopting an entirely new round of tax cuts for those earning more than $1 million a year.

Read more about this story here

 

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Cornell West and Tavis Smiley on America's New Working Poor

From Salon yesterday:

Last Friday, the U.S. Government announced that 7.2 percent of Americans in the labor force earn so little that they are living in poverty. Reuters noted that the percentage of the working poor is the highest in at least two decades. The rate was 7 percent in 2009, 5 percent in 1999, and 5.5 percent in 1987.

Read the full story here

 

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When a City Can't Afford an Election

If the GOP presidential primaries have been any indication, voter turnout for November's election could be fairly dismal. Between the uber-polarization of the parties and nationwide trend toward the middle at a voter level, unfortunately many may opt to stay at home.

The lack of enthusiasm is especially evident in the youngest voting bloc, age 18-24. According to the latest from Public Religion Research and Georgetown University's Berkley Center, young adults are not exactly excited about their prospects of either political persuasion. Further, while one in six of them are registered to vote, only 46 percent plan to cast theirs in November.

But apart from the state of public discourse and apathy concerns of the weary voter, another issue is creeping up that could pose a problem for potential turnout—money. 

According to The Atlantic Cities, some cities simply don't have the money—and have to cut elsewhere—to host an election. 

"… municipalities are scrambling to pay the costs associated with manning polling places. Some have said they'll put off road repairs while transit crews work on Election Day. Others may borrow workers from other departments to help count votes. In practice, this will likely mean fewer voting precincts, shorter hours and longer lines."

In a culture that is not known for its patience or attention span, how will this trend affect the public's motivation, or lack thereof, to hit the polls in November?

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Plowshares into Swords

Under a mandate from the budget resolution passed by the House in March, committees are required to cut discretionary programs to avoid the automatic cuts in military spending to take effect in January.  The funds cut are to be moved from the nondefense to the defense categories in the budget. Yesterday, the House Agriculture Committee produced its share by cutting $33 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps).

Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, the ranking Democrat on the Committee had this response: “You can’t have a serious conversation about getting the budget under control when you take large items like defense off the table, which is really why we are here. Taking a meat-ax to nutrition programs that feed millions of working families in this country in order to avoid defense cuts is not a serious way to achieve deficit reduction.” 

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that a cut this large would result in 2 million people losing benefits and the remaining 44 million having theirs reduced.  So here’s the equation, more hungry people = more weapons for war.  It’s clear and direct.

Duane Shank is Senior Policy Advisor at Sojourners. You can follow him on Twitter @DShankDC.

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Ryan Budget is a Present-Day 'Hunger Games'

Melissa Boteach of Half-in-Ten—the campaign to cut poverty in half in 10 years—is using the Katniss defense against the Ryan budget cuts.

The world that Suzanne Collins paints in the The Hunger Games is one in which only the strong survive. Those that can’t keep up are cut out, kind of like the Ryan budget.

One of the radical things about the ethical agenda that Jesus promoted was the place he offered to the sick, the weak and the weary. He flipped common understanding of who was “deserving” and who was “undeserving” upside down.

The Catholic Bishops have now come out with their concerns about the Ryan budget and how it abandons the poor and the hungry. Take a look at Melissa’s chart, what do you think?

Half-in-ten

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Emancipation Day

Today is a holiday in the District of Columbia, although primarily observed only by the D.C. government, and likely unknown to the rest of the country. But it’s a commemoration worth noting.

One-hundred and fifty years ago, April 16, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the District of Columbia Emancipation Act, freeing more than 3,000 slaves within its borders. It predated the more famous Emancipation Proclamation, which came nearly 10 months later on January 1, 1863.

Yet, while legal slavery is long gone, economic disparities are vast and growing. The income gap is one of the widest in the country, with a white per capita income more than triple that of African-Americans. The poverty rate is 20 percent, 30 percent for children,

Politically, all Washingtonians, regardless of race, remain disenfranchised – we have no elected voting representative in Congress, while Congress retains veto power over our budget. That leads to it using us to enact their pet ideas – repealing a variety of legislation duly passed by our City Council and Mayor.

For D.C. residents, today is a day to remember and celebrate the end of slavery, while renewing the struggle for economic justice and full representation as citizens of the United States.

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Lobbyists Spend A Lot of Money to Make Your Taxes Confusing

I finished up my taxes last night. I didn’t think much of the hour I spent on the phone with my dad making sure I filed correctly. Taxes are always complicated, right?

Well, maybe that’s because the folks at Intuit (the publishers of TurboTax) want them to be.

Matt Stoller over at Republic Report pointed out that the ReadyReturn program in California sends tax payers a form showing how much they owe in taxes. Then they just sign it and send it back. It costs less for the state to process and it saves tax payers a lot of time.

During the 2008 campaign, President Barack Obama promised to implement something similar on the federal level. What happened?

Stoller also notes that since 2008, Intuit has spent a good $9 million on lobbying. And according to one of their investor reports, keeping taxes complicated is a top priority:

Our consumer tax business also faces significant competition from the public sector, where we face the risk of federal and state taxing authorities developing software or other systems to facilitate tax return preparation and electronic filing at no charge to taxpayers. These or similar programs may be introduced or expanded in the future, which may cause us to lose customers and revenue. For example, during tax season 2010, the federal government introduced a prepaid debit card program to facilitate the refund process. Our consumer and professional tax businesses provide this service as well.  

If that doesn’t make you mad, take a look at why you are probably paying $500 more a year for your cell phone then you should be.

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Catholic Leaders Say Rep. Paul Ryan Distorting Church Teaching

In response to Rep. Paul Ryan’s recent comments justifying the Republican budget plan on Catholic grounds, 60 prominent Catholic leaders today released a statement saying his claims “profoundly distort” Catholic teaching.

“Simply put, this budget is morally indefensible and betrays Catholic principles of solidarity, just taxation and a commitment to the common good,” the statement reads. “A budget that turns its back on the hungry, the elderly and the sick while giving more tax breaks to the wealthiest few can’t be justified in Christian terms.”

John Gehring, Catholic Outreach Coordinator at Faith in Public Life, believes Ryan’s beliefs are skewed.

“This budget turns centuries of Catholic social teaching on its head,” Gehring said in a news release. “These Catholic leaders and many Catholics in the pews are tired of faith being misused to bless an immoral agenda.”

Read the full statement and signatories HERE.

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Where Do Our Tax Dollars Go?

If you’re finishing your income tax return this week, here’s some food for thought. 

The National Priorities Project provides three helpful graphs of the president’s proposed 2013 budget (see budget dashboard). The discretionary budget, the program spending on which Congress votes; the mandatory budget, programs such as Social Security and Medicare that are outside the budget process; and the total budget, combining the first two. The first graph shows, for instance, that 57 percent of the proposed discretionary budget is for the military.

When you’ve finished your return and know what your tax payment is, here is a calculator that produces a “receipt” showing how it will be spent. For an explanation, see here.

For me, tax time is that once-a-year personal realization that my priorities are not the same as the government’s. And that the political struggle to change the government’s priorities is important.

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Obama on Republican Budget: 'Social Darwinism'

In a lunchtime speech today before hundreds of reporters and editors attending  the annual meeting of the Associated Press, President Obama launched an attack on the House Republican budget passed last week. 

“Disguised as a deficit reduction plan, it’s really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country. It’s nothing but thinly veiled social Darwinism,” Mr. Obama said. “By gutting the very things we need to grow an economy that’s built to last — education and training, research and development — it’s a prescription for decline.”

The House budget would do the reverse of what the country needs.  It cuts taxes on the wealthiest, increases military spending, and drastically reduces domestic programs, especially those serving the neediest.  As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said, “It would likely produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history and likely increase poverty and inequality more than any other budget in recent times (and possibly in the nation's history)."

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