Why is the government broken?
It depends on whom you ask. When attempting to diagnose the reasons that Congress has steadily grown more polarized since the 1970s — now at levels of dividedness that haven’t been seen since the early years of the 20th century — there is no consensus among political scientists or pundits.
Gerrymandering, the maneuver by which political boundaries are redrawn to favor one party over another in elections, is a popular culprit. The radicalization of the contemporary Republican Party is another common explanation.
But one factor that’s far less commonly discussed in popular conversation is rooted much more deeply in our society: skyrocketing income inequality.
The growing gulf between the rich and the poor has been shown by academics to correlate with political polarization in the past, but it’s been enormously difficult to establish causal links between the two phenomena.
But a new study by professors at the University of Oregon, Princeton University and Georgetown University has made a compelling breakthrough on this front. Examining data from state legislatures across the country, the researchers found there’s a strong causal link between increasing income inequality and widening rifts between state political parties.
The study is specific to state-level data, but the phenomenon it highlights is of tremendous importance for understanding the ripple effects of economic inequality. It also means that an economy designed to serve the 1% is poisoning the very institutions that are needed to reform it.
The study: Using newly available data on state legislatures and inequality, the study finds inequality on the state level has a number of effects on state politics.
The first map below shows the change in income inequality in the states between 1997 and 2012, as described in the study. The second map shows the level of polarization in each state over the same time period. The shift is subtle, but as a state takes on a deeper hue of green, it also grows more polarized:
What happens when a state grows more unequal? The researchers found that higher inequality increases the probability that Republicans are elected into office. State legislatures move to the right as Republicans secure more seats. Many of the seats they pick up were once held by moderate Democrats, who become something of an endangered species in this climate.
While there are more Republican legislators, the study did not find strong evidence that new members shift the party’s ideology to the right. However, the median ideology for Democrats, whose moderate ranks have been depleted, drifts leftward.
In short, inequality causes a rightward shift in statehouses, and Democrats dig their heels in ever more deeply as they lose power and become more desperate to institute liberal policies designed to combat inequality.
So why exactly is this happening? It’s not easy to say.
While the causal link is clear, the mechanisms that explain it aren’t. But there are some hypotheses the authors are considering exploring in their future research.
“An influx of campaign funds going to politicians who are going to be more favorable to the wealthy when there’s an increase in inequality might be just enough to flip a district that once elected a moderate Democrat into one electing a Republican,” John Voorheis, the lead author of the study, told Mic.
But a change in the financing landscape is just one potential factor among many.
“There’s also the possibility that there could be a reaction by the electorate itself,” Voorheis explained. “Something about inequality causes people to become more right wing — and that could work through the media, potentially.”
What if people just tend to grow more skeptical of liberal policy when at least some of society seems to be faring very well? Or, alternatively, do they grow more hostile to redistribution when they think those at the bottom will benefit from taxation on an already-struggling middle class?
The takeaway: State legislatures are not the same as Congress, and some of the dynamics are different. There is, for example, evidence that Republicans have become more partisan and less compromising than Democrats in Congress.
But it seems highly likely the underlying factors related to inequality that are producing a bigger gap between the parties on the state level are producing them on a national level as well. It’s just extremely difficult to prove that with Congress, because, unlike with the states, which can be compared to each other to weed out confounding variables, there’s no control group to compare to Congress. For now, our understanding of the relationship between inequality and polarization on the national level will remain one of correlation.
The consequences of extreme inequality on the political process present a nefarious catch-22: Politicians must work together to assemble the major coalitions needed to fight inequality, but it may be precisely because of inequality that they can’t get their act together. As the chasm widens further, more and more ordinary Americans will be swallowed up by the absence of action.
h/t Washington Post
Busy day today guys. Post-op checkups and various other things prevented me from posting this earlier…KS
After a mass shooting, the NRA traditionally goes silent for a period of time. In the case of the gun massacre in Oregon, the NRA stopped tweeting on Thursday, October 1 at 1:44 p.m., shortly after the news broke. The account resumed tweeting at 12:07 p.m. on Friday, October 2 with an innocuous tweet about gun safety.
By Monday, the NRA twitter account was aggressively tweeting out information intended to head off any efforts to increase gun control in the wake of the massacre at Umpqua Community College. Much of this information, however, was wildly misleading or just plain inaccurate.
Here are five of the NRA’s most egregious recent tweets:
1. There is no gun show loophole.
— NRA (@NRA) October 6, 2015
There is a gun show loophole. At gun shows, unlicensed sellers can sell guns without any background check, waiting period, or paperwork. These are referred to as “private sales.” There are thousands of gun shows in the United States each year.
These unregulated “private sales” of guns also take place on the internet or other physical locations. The NRA disingenuously claims that these additional loopholes mean that there isn’t a specific gun show loophole.
2. The Australian gun buyback didn’t work.
— NRA (@NRA) October 5, 2015
After a gun massacre in Australia in 1996, the government “instituted a temporary gun buyback program that took some 650,000 assault weapons (about one-sixth of the national stock) out of public circulation.” At the same time, the government banned semi-automatic rifles and tightened licensing requirements.
A 2011 Harvard University study concluded that the buyback program was “incredibly successful in terms of lives saved.” There have been no gun massacres — defined as the killing of four or more people at once — in the 17 years since the buyback took place. There were 13 gun massacres in the 18 years prior to the program.
Additionally, the number of firearm suicides and homicides was reduced dramatically. This reduction was directly tied to the buyback program. The Harvard study found that “the drop in firearm deaths was largest among the type of firearms most affected by the buyback” and “firearm deaths in states with higher buyback rates per capita fell proportionately more than in states with lower buyback rates.”
The article cited by the NRA does not dispute the reduction in firearm deaths after the buyback program but simply asserts, without much analysis, that the drop was a coincidence. It relies almost exclusively on a deeply flawed study produced by the Australian gun lobby.
3. Gun free zones are magnets for murderers.
— NRA (@NRA) October 5, 2015
86 percent of mass shootings occur outside of gun-free zones. Studies have found no evidencethat people purposely choose gun-free zones for mass shootings. Rather, there is usually another clear motive for the choice of location. In most school shootings, for example, “the killers had personal ties to the school they struck.”
4. Over the last 5 years, twice as many people were killed with someone’s bare hands than with a rifle.
— NRA (@NRA) August 17, 2015
This is misleading to the point of parody. The statistic comes from this chart from the FBI that looks at murder victims from 2010 to 2014. The data found no more than 769 homicides each year with a “personal weapon” — a category that includes hands, feet and any other part of the body. Meanwhile, there were over 8000 homicides by firearms each year.
The NRA isolates the category “rifles” to make guns seem relatively safe — there are around 250-350 homicides with rifles each year — but this just reflects the popularity of handguns over rifles. Additionally, there are between 1600-1900 firearm homicides each year where the type of firearm could not be identified by the FBI. So the NRA’s claim, in addition to being highly misleading, also might not be true.
5. Fewer than 1 percent of criminals get guns at gun shows.
— NRA (@NRA) July 29, 2015
This statistic vastly understates the nexis between gun shows and criminal activity by focusing only on the proximate source of the gun. The same study found that “sixty-nine percent of criminals surveyed reported acquiring guns from a friend, family member, or street seller.” And where did those people acquire their guns? In many cases, at a gun show. Overall, “3 out of 10 guns that criminals use in crimes changed hands at a gun show somewhere in their chain of custody.”
So the burning question is who is benefiting financially from these “state mandated drug testing programs” across the country?
Tennessee’s first year of drug testing welfare recipients uncovered drug use by less than 0.2 percent of all applicants for the state’s public assistance system.
The state implemented the testing regime in the summer of 2014, adding three questions about narcotics use to the application form for aid. Anyone who answers “yes” to any of the three drug questions must take a urine test or have their application thrown away immediately. Anyone who fails a urine test must complete drug treatment and pass a second test, or have their benefits cut off for six months.
In total, just 1.6 percent of the 28,559 people who applied for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits in the first year of testing answered one of the three screening questions positively. Out of the 468 people who peed in a state-funded cup, 11.7 percent flunked the test.
With 55 people testing positive for drugs out of an applicant pool of nearly 30,000, Tennessee’s testing system uncovered that a whopping 0.19 percent of those who applied for aid were drug users. Ultimately, 32 applicants were denied benefits for failing to complete the state’s mandatory drug rehab process for those who test positive.
Tennessee officials say the year of testing cost $11,000, or $200 per failed drug test. But that only accounts for what the state paid to the outside vendor who conducted the actual tests, excluding staff hours that went into processing the new application materials and managing the logistics of testing those who gave an affirmative answer to a screening question.
Seven states that drug test welfare recipients have now spent about $1 million on the tests, according to previous ThinkProgress research. Each state has found drug usage rates among welfare applicants to be far below the national average of 9.4 percent for all Americans.
All of these states use a screening questionnaire similar to Tennessee’s, in part because wholesale testing of all applicants has been ruled unconstitutional. The ratio of failed tests among those who actually submit a urine sample is of course higher, but the fact remains that the systems these states erected to root out the imaginary scourge of welfare drug use have produced vanishingly small percentages of drug use among those who seek public assistance.
The drug screenings are widely criticized among both civil liberties advocates and drug abuse experts. Canada’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health warns the tests “further entrench the stigma which erroneously links drug addiction with economic need” and points out that 70 percent of drug users are employed. The American Civil Liberties Union has lodged legal complaints about the policies, but also pointed out that their premise is flawed because welfare recipients are no likelier than other Americans to use drugs.
There’s a moralizing strain to the idea that people seeking the public’s help should first have their choices and behavior audited. Requiring the poor to jump through such hoops is persistently popular with voters. But the conceit underlying the tests ignores the realities of poverty. Low-income families spend a far greater percentage of their meager incomes on necessities, and less on luxuries of all kinds, than do wealthier families.
This article originally stated that 1.9 percent of all applicants failed a drug test. In fact 0.19 percent of all applicants failed a test.
There are many important issues to debate. I believe that without manufacturing our middle class is doomed. Restoring manufacturing became my passion. That is why I changed my party affiliation and became a democrat.
An immigrant to this country from the former Soviet Union, I am an electrical engineer by profession and, with my wife, the owner a small business that manufactures women’s fashions.
Before 2009 I wasn’t political. But in 2009, during the brunt of the financial meltdown, and with the election of President Obama and the Democrats in congress, one heard the words “labor movement” and “forward” often…
An immigrant to this country from the former Soviet Union, I am an electrical engineer by profession and, with my wife, the owner a small business that manufactures women’s fashions.
Before 2009 I wasn’t political. But in 2009, during the brunt of the financial meltdown, and with the election of President Obama and the Democrats in congress, one heard the words “labor movement” and “forward” often. In the USSR, those words didn’t have the same connation they have in America; they were not empowering but were associated with the aims of the hated Soviet dictatorship. That drove me to political activism, and not always in a constructive way.
Living a place filled with conservatives, including many other immigrants from the former USSR who are attracted to the Republican Party because of its strong stand against the Soviets in the 1980s, my American political journey began as a Tea Party Republican. I was particularly moved by the arguments against government spending and the national debt.
Eventually, after observing, reading, listening to people of all political persuasions, my views changed. I realized our biggest problem is the relentless war on the middle class and the outsourcing of good-paying manufacturing jobs.
There are many important issues to debate. But I became convinced that without manufacturing and the good-paying jobs they provide, our middle class, already endangered, is doomed to extinction. Restoring manufacturing became my passion.
Yet, as hard as I tried, I couldn’t find any support for this position within Republican Party. Republicans were obsessed with “taking the country back”. (Taking it back from whom I’ve never been able to determine)
I found the people who were willing to fight with me for American jobs only in Democratic Party, two of whom (John Kubinski and Robert Holst) had started the Middle Class Action Project (MCAP) which is focused on the economic issues facing everyday Americans and finding ways to save a broad and prosperous middle class.
For years, the accepted truth has been that American-made products cannot compete with products made in China or other low-wage countries. The “accepted truth’ is a myth. The true cost of any product or material is more than just the cost of manufacture—it also includes the cost of transportation as well as added costs of middlemen, multiple levels of government agencies along the way. Most importantly, also comes with the added cost of the hollowing out the American middle class, whose good-paying jobs have been sent abroad. Those Americans no longer have the purchasing power to power the economy ahead and are often forced to live off debt in order to maintain the middle class lifestyle their parents took for granted.
Democrats were and are the people who accompanied me as we went from politician to politician, from club to club, and from forum to forum, with a plan to cut the real waste (read – save taxpayer’s money) and create good-paying jobs here at home, specifically in NYS.
I am still with disagreement with Democratic Party on many issues, and I realize full that they also had a hand in what’s happened over the last 35 years. But the Democrats seem to have learned from their mistakes while the Republicans have not. I can no longer be a member of a “trickle-down” Republican Party which has done so much damage to the American middle class and has evidently learned nothing along the way.
H/t: Paul Day II
For a Republican politician in the wake of a mass shooting, the formula is pretty simple: Pray, talk about mental health and, if you want to show a little ankle to the NRA, say that more guns would have prevented the tragedy.
For varying reasons, Bobby Jindal and Ben Carson didn’t stick to that formula today. Jindal needs to grab some attention; Carson seems genuinely confused as to where he is.
Carson went first, appearing on “Fox & Friends” this morning to tell all who would listen that, being the manly man that he is, he wouldn’t have just sat there and gotten shot like a pansy had he been in the room with the Christopher Harper-Mercer, last week’s shooter. He’d stay alive by rallying those around him to take that sumbitch down. As he said, quoted by the Huffington post, “I would not just stand there and let him shoot me…I would say, ‘Hey guys, everybody attack him. He may shoot me, but he can’t get us all.”
As HuffPo noted, one victim in last week’s shooting did exactly that:
Notwithstanding Carson’s claim that the UCC victims just “let” Harper-Mercer shoot them, Army veteran Chris Mintz did fight back. Harper-Mercer shot Mintz seven times. Mintz survived, but is still recovering from his wounds.
In politics, “authentic” is often just a polite way of saying “unskilled,” and in this sense Ben Carson’s answer on gun violence is, to say the least, authentic. Victim blaming is generally frowned upon in American politics, especially when the victims are dead and can’t defend themselves from your insulting their supposed lack of courage.
Additionally, unless Ben Carson has ever had a loaded gun pointed at him, I doubt he has any idea what he’d do in a situation like the one in which last week’s victims found themselves.
In fairness, Carson’s comment isn’t all that far from what Donald Trump had to say following the tragedy. Trump, who claims to have a concealed-carry permit, promised to shoot anyone who tries to harm him.
But while Carson and Trump were being their not-all-there and way-too-much-there selves with their answers, so you could at least play their comments off as, well, authentic, the same can’t be said for Bobby Jindal, who later in the day published a lengthy blog post pinning the shooting on “deep and serious cultural decay in our society” and that implicates Harper-Mercer’s father. As he wrote (for some reason, in bullet-point format):
- Now, let’s get really politically incorrect here and talk specifically about this horror in Oregon. This killer’s father is now lecturing us on the need for gun control and he says he has no idea how or where his son got the guns.
- Of course he doesn’t know. You know why he doesn’t know? Because he is not, and has never been in his son’s life. He’s a complete failure as a father, he should be embarrassed to even show his face in public. He’s the problem here.
- He brags that he has never held a gun in his life and that he had no idea that his son had any guns. Why didn’t he know? Because he failed to raise his son. He should be ashamed of himself, and he owes us all an apology.
- When he was asked what his relationship was with his son, he said he hadn’t seen him in a while because he lived with his mother. Case Closed.
Christopher Harper-Mercer was 26 years old. Bobby Jindal has zero clue what his family life was like — before or after he turned 18. If anything the newsworthy parent in all of this is Harper-Mercer’s mother, who kept a stockpile of weapons at home and trained her son to use them, despite knowing he was dealing with a mental health condition (a common denominator between last week’s shooting and the Sandy Hook massacre).
For all of the Republican talk about mental health issues, Bobby Jindal’s understanding of parenting seems to imply that such issues don’t actually exist. If parents only raised their kids right, they wouldn’t have to worry about keeping a revolutionary-grade arsenal within arms’ reach, no matter what mental health issues were present.
Instead, the real problem — forget mental health — is “cultural decay,” which has always been code for gay marriage, abortion and anything else that threatens a hyper-masculine patriarchy. As he concluded:
If anyone is at all serious about changing any of this, they must address the root problems, and those are cultural decay, the glorification of evil, the devaluation of human life, the breakdown of the family, and specifically the complete abdication of fathers.
Meanwhile, the shallow and simple minded liberals will continue to blame pieces of hardware for the problem, and they will long for the days before firearms were invented.
But the simple truth is, as long as we place no value on human life, as long as we glorify senseless violence and evil, we will get the exact same result.
Get bent, Bobby Jindal. Enjoy getting owned by Donald Trump on Twitter while you’re still marginally relevant:
@BobbyJindal Wow fifth-place good job
— Donald T. Trump (@reaDonaldTrump) October 6, 2015
Conservative heads will explode, because that’s what happens when they hear the truth of their stupidity.
For decades, conservatives have sung the praises of the Confederacy while forcing the nation to adhere to an economic system known as trickle-down. While working people struggle to make ends meet with low wages that rarely rise, the wealthy make more and more money off the backs of those they have been duped into believing that prosperity will come if they keep making the rich richer.
Those same people also continue to worship a flag that continues to stand for racism and hatred 150 years after the Civil War ended.
As it turns out, generations of white, Southern conservatives are still falling for the same con employed by wealthy slave-owners over a century and half ago.
Frank Hyman, a life-long resident of South Carolina, refuses to be drawn into believing the long-lasting racket that has fooled white Southerners into fighting against their own best interests for a very long time. In fact, Hyman is trying to convince his fellow Southern brethren to reject the Confederacy and the trickle-down economics that has kept them from prospering.
Hyman has done his research and he presented it in an essay that has run in several newspapers. He has repeatedly debunked the scam that causes so many white Southerners to long for the return of the Confederacy while supporting an economic system designed to make them little more than slaves to the wealthy class. He did it again during a radio interview with Joshua Holland onPolitics And Reality Radio last week.
Hyman pointed out that most slave-owners were one-percenters who made most of the profit from slavery while most Southerners struggled:
“A small number of people in the South profited immensely,” Hyman said.
“In my research I found that most of the one-percenters in the U.S. were Southerners, not northern industrialists. The southern states were wealthier than any nation in Europe, except for England, because there was so much money to be made growing cash-crops if you weren’t actually paying people to help you harvest them.”
Hyman also explained how these wealthy slave-owners sold trickle-down economics on the Southern masses long before Ronald Reagan made it the centerpiece of his economic agenda.
“That’s how they sold it in the literature of those days. Of course, they didn’t use the term “trickle-down.” We had to get into the 20th century before somebody came up with that, but that was the message they conveyed — that by having all this wealth, the plantation owners would be buying things and hiring people for things, and that would benefit the working class. The numbers just don’t support that, but as you know, anybody can say anything in politics.”
He went on to describe how wealthy slave-owners, many of whom were elected officials who jammed legislation through state legislatures to benefit themselves, waged a war on education, and supported low tax rates like conservatives still do today.
“Northerners had a higher rate of land ownership than southern whites, and a much higher literacy rate than Southern whites, because not only were the plantation owners maintaining a no-wage economy for blacks, and a low-wage economy for whites, they were also maintaining a very low tax environment. So there wasn’t any money for public schools for either white or black people. If you were wealthy, you could get tutoring and private schools for your kids, but southern working-class folks were often illiterate and rarely owned the land that they worked on.”
He also explained how slavery actually drove wages down:
“Slavery drove down wages in the skilled crafts because a quarter of all enslaved people were trained to be carpenters, and cobblers, and masons, and wheelwrights, and shipwrights — and everything else you could imagine. The slave-owners thought, ‘Gosh, why should I pay this white guy a professional wage when I can just train some of my slaves to do the work?’ So, most white folks in the south were economic losers because of slavery, but many of them bought into the institution for what they saw as its social value.”
It’s interesting how the super wealthy is still duping people into working for less money today. Now conservatives continue to push for “Right To Work” laws that weaken unions to the benefit of corporate fat cats who want the ability to pay workers less than the wages they deserve. It’s like they are trying to make slaves of people today. They are making a lot of money by doing just that, while promising workers will have better lives if they just keep working hard, and keep believing in the trickle-down lie that Republicans and their corporate puppet masters have been shoving down our throats.
It has been happening since before the Civil War.
“The wealthy no longer believe in slavery, but they still use the trickle-down argument as a way to get working class people on their side,” Hyman says.
“Today they’re saying, ‘When we buy yachts, you’ll benefit.’ The numbers still don’t support the rhetoric. Productivity has been on a rising arc ever since World War II ended, but since the end of the 1970s, wages for working people have been flat. They’re really suffering because of the way this whole trickle-down ideology captures working-class whites in the south, and then you still have racist dog-whistles, and what some call the ‘God, gays, and guns’ gambit. You still have this Lost Cause mythology around the Confederacy. So, you have people lower on the income ladder who are consistently voting against their own economic interests today just as you did back then.”
In short, conservative voters are hurting themselves by believing in trickle-down economics, and they continue to make themselves look like hateful racists by continuing to worship the Confederacy. Over 150 years after the end of the Civil War, white Southerners are still buying into a system that punishes them and their families, and the rest of us are suffering the consequences for their refusal to wake up.
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