IPS Blog

Where Would Bernie Make His Big Budget Cuts?


(Image: Flickr / Michael Vadon)

Sen. Bernie Sanders has big plans. Make college free. Create a single-payer health care system. Invest in repairing our crumbling infrastructure and upgrading it for a future built on clean transport and energy. If the 2016 presidential candidate succeeds in pulling all this off, the lives of Americans will definitely be better.

But many are doubtful that he can do it. For one thing, they’re wondering where all the money is going to come from. But the news is good on that score too.

Sanders’ “pay-fors” emphasize eliminating tax breaks for the rich and corporations, both stellar targets. But in addition to making big changes to the tax code – the revenue side – he’ll need to look at spending, over on the other side of the ledger, and particularly at the big ticket items in the “discretionary” budget, the one that Congress votes on every year.

The biggest ticket of them all, by far, is the military’s share. In the budget President Barack Obama just unveiled, it accounts for more than all the other government departments, put together, get to spend.

Fortunately, Sanders has a strong track record of training his sights on that target, too.

He stood with only two other Democratic senators in opposing the 2014 defense bill, for example, calling it bloated “particularly in light of the many unmet needs we face as a nation.” In a Senate speech explaining his vote, he noted that this budget had nearly doubled since 2001, not counting the billions in the separate budget on top of this to pay for the wars we are actually fighting. And he quoted President Dwight Eisenhower’s famous declaration that “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

These are not new ideas to Sanders. He’s been arguing for a military that defends the nation, rather than one that serves the interests of military contractors, since he came to Congress just as the Cold War was coming to its bloodless end.

This was the time he began championing the abolition of nuclear weapons, for example. Survival of a nuclear war is no more possible now than it was then. But after years of phased, negotiated reductions in the U.S. and Russian arsenals, we are now back to “modernizing” these weapons and all three of the ways (by land, by sea and by air) we have of delivering them. It’s planned as a 30-year project, with a pricetag well over $1 trillion. Building them violates our treaty obligations to proceed with negotiated nuclear disarmament. Saving that trillion dollars could buy us a whole lot of infrastructure and put a whole lot of people to work building it. It could send a lot of kids to college debt-free. It could put us on a path to minimizing the effects of climate change.

Meanwhile, his Republican rivals are competing with each other to apply colorfully apocalyptic terms – “decimated,” “gutted,” “dramatically degraded” – to the state of the U.S. military. They are making these claims despite the fact that the U.S. is spending more now on its military, adjusting for inflation, than it did during all those Cold War years. During those years, the Soviet Union was trying to compete with us on military spending. Now, nobody is.

There is money in this overstuffed, overkill budget that could be reapplied to making American lives better. Does anybody doubt that as president, Bernie Sanders would work to get this done?

Some Questions for the ‘Expert’ Who Accused Me of ‘Passive Terrorism’


(Photo: Flickr / Kashfi Halford)

Misogynists have spun the old trope that what women wear is somehow the cause of what men do time and time again. But thanks to the Air Force, Muslim women are now getting a disturbingly refreshing take on the subject.

We’re used to getting blamed for the violence of men when we wear too little. Now we can also take credit for the violence of men when we wear too much.

In Countering Violent Extremism: Scientific Methods and Strategies, a recent white paper issued by the Air Force Research Laboratory, contributor Tawfik Hamid claims men join terrorist organizations because they’re sexually deprived by women who wear hijabs. Hamid, a self-described former Islamic extremist, calls the traditional head covering a form of “passive terrorism” and makes “weakening the hijab phenomenon” a pivotal piece of his plan to combat Islamic extremism.

There lies the gross generalization: Women like me who wear hijabs are terrorists.

I think some editor may have missed an error in the subtitle of this report — namely the part that suggests this claim has anything to do with “science.” Indeed, in a preface, the report’s editor hailed the document as “more relevant than ever.”

I’m always incredulous when I hear a powerful man tell a group of other powerful men that they’ll all be safer if more women just take off their clothes. But exalting testimonials from high-ranking military officials are featured prominently on Hamid’s website, so I’m willing to test the theory.

Thus, in the interest of science, I have some questions about a few things that must not have come up during his “research.”

I don’t wear a hijab every day, but I usually wear one on my way to the mosque on Fridays. Will I only end up on a no-fly list at the end of the week, then? Do I only count as a “passive terrorist” during those times when I choose to cover my hair and wear loose clothing?

Alternately, am I revered as a peacemaker on the days when I let my locks flow free and I put on skinny jeans? How can I tell when I’ll be targeted for looking “too Muslim”?

Since this is a scientific paper, we should test other variables too.

For example, are Christian nuns — who may hold conservative values and cover their bodies — also to blame for violent extremism? What does the “science” say on head-to-toe covering in different religions? Is it only Muslim women whose modest dress conjures up uncontrollable, testosterone-infused rage in men?

I won’t hold my breath waiting for the answers.

Wearing a hijab means something different to each woman. It’s a very personal decision that has absolutely nothing to do with whether our male counterparts will strap on a suicide vest.

But more to the point, claims like Hamid’s aren’t just offensive to women. They let the U.S. government itself off the hook for foreign policies — like invasions, drone strikes, arms sales to oppressive regimes, and military interventionism in the Muslim world — that play a much bigger role in driving terrorism than what a woman chooses to wear on her head.

I find it a little hard to believe that if I stop wearing my hijab on Eid, those men who have seen their homes destroyed, weddings bombed, and refugee children drowned as a result of U.S. militarism will feel less inclined to return the favor.

Unequal ZIP Codes


Abandoned storefront in Helena, Arkansas. (Image: Flickr / Joseph)

Last April, on an “America-roots-music” family road trip, we took a rambling drive out of Memphis and down Highway 61 into the Mississippi Delta. Late in the afternoon we crossed the Mississippi River and wandered into the once thriving Delta town of Helena, Arkansas. Helena is home to the famous blues broadcast, King Biscuit Time, a daily program running continuously since 1941.

Helena was one of the most devastated Main Streets I’d seen in a decade, and I’ve seen a lot. Block after block of empty store fronts, downtown Helena would be a good set for a movie about the neutron bomb. One of my kids astutely asked, “Are we still in America?”

There has been excellent research focused on growing inequality within major metropolitan areas. A new study, by the Economic Innovation Group, examines how the 2008 economic meltdown has accelerated disparities between communities and ZIP codes. The most prosperous communities have gotten richer while distressed communities, some just a mile from rich ZIP codes, have deteriorated.

According to the EIG study, Helena, Arkansas rates among the most blighted on their interactive map and Distressed Community Index.

The study’s authors note that the Distressed Community Index,

provides a multifaceted look at the circumstances underlying the prevailing economic anxiety for many Americans. While more Americans live in communities that have recovered from the Great Recession, there are large swathes of the country that continue to be plagued by disproportionate poverty and joblessness. The DCI reveals that more than 50 million Americans live in economically distressed communities.

Many distressed communities are in the South and the former rust belt states of the northern mid-west. While many of these communities were distressed prior to the Great Recession, they have been further left behind since 2009.

“The most prosperous areas have enjoyed rocket-shiplike growth,” EIG researcher John Lettieri told The New York Times. “There you are very unlikely to run into someone without a high school diploma, a person living below the poverty line or a vacant home…They are enjoying a boom that camouflages what’s going on at the bottom.”

We know that extreme inequalities create parallel universes of rich and distressed. This gap leads to a breakdown in the social solidarity required to build political support for policies that reduce inequality.

I wonder how the 50 million people in these distressed communities are voting. I suspect these are the ZIP codes that are heavily voting against establishment candidates. Stay tuned for some additional research on this topic.

Why the Right Should Fear Inequality


(Image: Flickr / Steve Johnson)

Modern-day American conservatives typically see government regulation as an outright assault on freedom. They also see inequality as inevitable in any “free” society. Any government that moves against inequality, they go on to assume and argue, will have to threaten freedom.

But these linkages, the insightful UK economic analyst Chris Dillow points out in a new commentary, don’t hold up. In fact, an annual freedom index published by the conservative Heritage Foundation has Denmark, one of the world’s most equal nations, ranking higher on “business freedom” than the United States, the developed world’s most unequal nation.

What’s going on here? For starters, Dillow notes, the really rich have no real interest in economic freedom. They care far more about shielding their monopoly power from competition. Red tape suits them fine, since red tape tends to burden small firms more than large ones.

People generally, Dillow adds, want to see fairness. If market forces aren’t delivering that fairness, “they’ll demand it via the ballot box in the form of state regulation.”

That dynamic, Dillow suggests, ought to make every “freedom-loving” conservative an advocate for stronger trade unions.

“If workers have the power to bargain for better wages and conditions and the real freedom to reject exploitative demands from bosses,” he explains, “then we’ll not need so much business regulation.”

“In this sense,” the British analyst sums up, “greater equality and cutting red tape go together.”

Looking Beyond The Election


Sociology professor Juliet Schor (Image: YouTube)

The presidential primary election is dominating today’s news cycle as candidates from both parties aim to win over voters in the early primary states. In this media frenzy, it’s easy to lose track of the long-term vision for serious economic change. What could a transition towards a more democratic and egalitarian economy look like in the long run?

Harvard Law School recently brought three visionary thinkers, Gar Alperovitz, Juliet Schor, and Greg Watson, to offer their ideas on this question in an event hosted by Unbound, the Modern Money Network, and the Social Enterprise Law Association.

While a blog post is far too short to convey even a simplified version of their ideas, here is a small introduction to the themes they discussed with links to read much more.

Gar Alperovitz is a professor at University of Maryland and Director of the Democracy Collaborative. He sees the economy as neither collapsing nor thriving, but rather stagnating and decaying slowly. This economic decay is coinciding with the decay of our political institutions’ ability to solve problems. This is inspiring people to create solutions outside of the system and creating the potential for a major system change.

In his most recent book, What Then Must We Do: Straight talk about the next American revolution, Gar poses the question: if you don’t like state socialism and you don’t like corporate capitalism, then what? It’s not written, he says, that these are the only two options for an economic system and the opportunity for a new system must first be conceived and developed intellectually before it can take shape physically. He points to worker owned co-operatives and regional forms of governance as tenants of the next system, which he calls the pluralist commonwealth.

For a lot more on Gar’s ideas, check out our recent interview with him, or go to the many online outlets showcasing his work and ideas: The Next System Project, Democracy Collaborative, Community-wealth.org, and his personal site, GarAlperovitz.com.

Juliet Schor is a sociology professor at Boston College and former economics professor at Harvard. She spoke of the skyrocketing levels of income inequality and wealth concentration over the past 40 years. She described our present moment as distinctly different from the 20th century because of the threat of global climate change, the captured state of Congress, and the extreme financialization of the modern economy. This creates a serious need for systemic change, but also the impetus to create this change. As she makes clear, old ways of thinking like Keynesian economics or New Deal ideas aren’t going to fix the current crises.

At the core of the next economic system needs to be the reversal of environmental destruction and mitigation of climate change. Transforming the economic system will require transforming the means of production in a way that democratizes wealth rather than continues to concentrate wealth. While this will require significant public investment, the gains in productivity make this investment possible and should be shared in the form of reduced work hours and increased leisure time. Most importantly to Schor, the solutions must be diverse if they are to work, not a monoculture, which works neither in agriculture nor in social change.

For much more of Schor’s ideas, check out her recent book, Sustainable Lifestyles and the Quest for Plenitude: Case Studies of the New Economy and the organization she co-founded, The Center for a New American Dream.

Greg Watson, the current Director of Policy and Systems Design for the Schumacher Center for New Economics spoke third. Watson’s asks simply, where is technology taking us? With robots replacing workers and with work becoming increasingly efficient, the answer is total unemployment. This end is not necessarily bad if traditional work income can be replaced with other ways to distribute resources equitably. He points to ideas like guaranteed basic income and community supported small-scale agriculture as ways to create a more just and sustainable economy.

Getting big change to happen, Watson argues, is difficult, but not impossible and far from unprecedented. He points to his experience with the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative in Boston for inspiration. Developers had invested heavily in the Dudley neighborhood with hopes of urban renewal and had burned their properties for insurance payouts when the development never came. The community came together to take back the land and are using it for food production and other community needs in a model that could be replicated in neighborhoods across the country.

For more on Greg Watson’s work, check out the Schumacher Center for New Economics website.

Obama’s Last Budget Offers Hope. Could it Bring About Change, Too?

(Image: Flickr / frankieleon)

(Image: Flickr / frankieleon)

At its finest, a president’s budget proposal is an expression of values, aspirations, hopes, and dreams for the country. At its most effective, it also offers politically practical mechanisms for achieving some of those aspirations.

President Obama recently released a $4.1 trillion budget proposal for his last year in office. Is it just more “hopey-changey stuff,” as the relentlessly un-hopey-changey Sarah Palin once quipped? Or is Obama’s new budget request something more substantially hopeful, with a real chance at change?

There just may be some of both hope and change to celebrate.

First, Obama deserves praise for taking the problem of economic hardship seriously. His budget includes a strong focus on the people most often left out of consideration — those in deep poverty.  Obama proposes $12 billion over the coming decade to keep hungry kids fed in the summer time when schools are out. He’s requested $11 billion end family homelessness by 2020. He’s also increased funding, previously frozen for 20 years, for the notoriously unresponsive Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program. Medicare is also bolstered with this budget.

The budget offers some hope for both families with and without kids. It increases the effective Earned Income Tax Credit for hard-working Americans without children while also providing $82 billion over 10 years to help working parents secure safe affordable child care. It supports funding for much needed early childhood education programs as well as for raising the minimum wage, even for tipped workers as well as those who rely on federal unemployment insurance. The budget calls for funding to assist states with paid family and medical leave, supports free community college, and strengthens Pell Grants. It also creates and expands supports for Native youth programs.

Second, there’s also some important funding for criminal justice reform in this proposal. Obama’s budget would make a $5 billion, 10-year investment in a new 21st Century Justice Initiative. This would focus on reducing violent crime, reforming harsh prison sentences, and building trust between law enforcement and the communities they’re supposed to protect. This budget would fund state-focused reforms of both the adult and juvenile justice systems and try to reduce obstacles for citizens re-entering society after incarceration.

Third, Obama also calls for a substantial investment — over $300 billion — to fix our crumbling infrastructure.

Fourth, did I mention that this budget would also reduce the deficit by almost $3 trillion over 10 years?

There’s the hope — lots of hope. Now, what about the change?

To understate it, the politically practical mechanisms for securing this funding are more elusive. The conservatives on Capitol Hill have long opposed spending aimed at helping working families and families living in poverty. The current climate is even more polarized than in recent years. Indeed, Congress won’t even be inviting the president’s budget director to discuss the budget resolution, as has been customary.

But there’s one big-haired wild card in the mix this time: Donald Trump and the conservative populist moment.

It seems that more and more conservative voters are so fed up with the GOP establishment that they’re turning in droves to the likes of Donald Trump. Though the Trump faction is in many ways the opposite of the surging Sanders movement for democratic socialism, Trump and his supporters are also anti-Wall Street, opposed to tax breaks for the super-rich, and opposed to further privileging of certain special interests, such as Big Pharma. Unlike many Tea Party voters, Trump’s GOP populist supporters want their Social Security and Medicare protected. They want the jobs that come with fixing our failing infrastructure. (They also want to keep out immigrants and refugees and propel us into violent, endless wars, but that’s a different commentary.)

Finally, criminal justice reform has emerged as a single, shining bipartisan desire. There may just be GOP support for this important piece of Obama’s domestic budget proposal.

Like it or not, Obama’s “hopey-changey” budget proposals stays within the budget caps agreed on by both sides of the aisle last year. And it reduces the deficit while addressing many of the issues that disaffected Trump supporters care about. If the GOP wants to stay relevant, its establishment members of Congress may have to pay more attention to this budget than they wish to.

From Civil Rights to Human Rights, Black Community Control Now!

Image: Malcolm London of Chicago | Al Podgorski/Sun-Times Media

Image: Malcolm London of Chicago | Al Podgorski/Sun-Times Media

A United Nations Working Group preliminary report on human rights violations against Black America advocates Black community control of police. That’s the general position of Pan African Community Action, one of the groups that testified before the UN experts. Community control of police would shift power, enforce democracy and allow folks to re-imagine community security as “a social force to actually protect and serve” Black people.

Now that the fact-finding visit to the U.S. by the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent is over and their preliminary findings seemingly catalog an endless list of racial discriminations and repression by the U.S. state, the struggle of African/Black people must gear up for a next phase. Certainly this UN Working Group (WGEPAD) has been to the U.S. on the same mission before and cited similar issues although but not as extensive and bone chilling.

In 2010 the particular members of this Working Group were different, and as would follow so too were the members of this delegation. Today the WGEPAD is chaired, and this delegation was led, by Mireille Fanon-Mendes-France, daughter of the late revolutionary psychiatrist, philosopher, intellectual Frantz Fanon. Ms. Fanon-Mendes-France is well established in her own right in the fields of international law, conflict resolution, as well as on racism and discrimination. In 2009, she received the Human Rights Award by the Council for Justice, Equality, and Peace.

This time, the WGEPAD’s visit came on the heels of a series of nonindictments following the brutal murder of Black women, men, children, and queer and transgender African/Black people by U.S. police. The visit began January 19, ended the 29th and was to examine the oppressive conditions of Black people living in the U.S. In February 2014, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2015-24 the International Decade of People of African Descent and this UN presence marks another important step forward to obtaining true independent oversight and justice for many who have lost their families to anti-Black police terrorism and is seen as something more than the ineffective federal investigations.

The WGEPAD included an explicit call for reparations for Black people.”

It is no small victory that this time –unlike in 2010– within their preliminary findings released at a press conference on January 29th, 2016 the WGEPAD included an explicit call for reparations for Black people, alarm at and call for urgent remedy for the rampant killings of Black people by police with impunity. The findings also embraced the radical community call for community control over police saying, “Following the epidemic of racial violence by the police, civil society networks calling for justice together with other activists are strongly advocating for legal and policy reforms and community control over policing and other areas which directly affect African Americans.”

The Working Group recommends that “Community policing strategies should be developed to give the community control of the police which are there to protect and serve them. It is suggested to have a board that would elect police officers they want playing this important role in their communities.”

While WGEPAD appreciated the grassroots community’s push to have control over the police, they are still not as clear on the issue and the particulars as our movement must be. We must be clear that people of African descent in the U.S. are a domestic colony and that the police are NOT here to protect and serve us. That is to say, our treatment in this country reflects the outlook and policies the U.S. government and the Western world practice against all African people globally.  The treatment of African/Black people in the U.S. is a direct extension of a colonial subject status in relation to white society and the police are an occupying force for political control by the capitalist class.

One need only examine the historical development of the modern U.S. police. The earliest form of the modern American police lies in the brutal Southern slave patrols legislated through the slave codes that started in South Carolina in 1712. “The plantation slave patrols, often consisting of three armed men on horseback covering a ‘beat’ of 15 square miles, were charged with maintaining discipline, catching runaway slaves and preventing slave insurrection,” according to The Iron Fist and The Velvet Glove; An Analysis of the U.S. Police.

“People of African descent in the U.S. are a domestic colony and that the police are NOT here to protect and serve us.”

This comprehensive 1975 study by the Center for Research on Criminal Justice goes on to explain that “in the North and West, the police institution evolved in response to a different set of race and class contradictions.”  There they originated as private security to protect the property of capitalist, to break up worker strikes, and prevent worker protest for fair working conditions.

In present day, while their form has been expanded and their image spun by media and public relations departments, the essential function of police remains to enforce the will and protect the power of those in charge.

In practice, this means that police officers’ main priority is to protect the wealthy and their property from oppressed Black communities, the homeless population and anyone that doesn’t conform to the ruling class.

With Community Control Over Police the priority of police becomes protecting all human beings, not just the wealthy and their buildings. This is a call for Community Control Over Police as a means of shifting power, enforcing democracy, deconstructing the historic relationship between the police and the Black Community and reimagining a social force designed to actually protect and serve it’s population as policy, not as a meaningless slogan.

The WGEPAD report must now be seen as a window of opportunity toward intensified grassroots organizing for Community Control Over Police, what this can look like and the steps it will take to win it. Some organizations like the DC-based organization Pan-African Community Action (PACA) have begun to do just that.

“PACA is also calling for a non-elected and randomly selected civilian board from the ranks of the community itself to exercise full community control over police.”

Between now and the September 2016 release by the WGEPAD of their full and final report Black organizations need to intensify the struggle to build a powerful movement led by the most impacted of our communities. The struggle continues. Organizing around the WGEPAD visit wasn’t done because Black liberation rest in the hands of the UN. It was done to expose the domestic contradictions in the U.S. Empire on a world stage. It was done to forge practical relationships between local and national forces. It was done to spread in the Black community the idea that we have an inseparable connection to African people all over the world.

For its Justice 4 Zo campaign PACA is calling for an independent dual track investigation, conducted by the United Nations or the Organization of American States, into both the death of DC resident and 27 year old educator Alonzo Smith by special police and the social and economic conditions that lead to the disproportionate stops, arrests and deaths of Black people at the hands of the police. PACA is also calling for a non-elected and randomly selected civilian board from the ranks of the community itself to exercise full community control over police, including the budget that is allocated, setting priorities, policies and the hiring and firing of individual police officers.

This year’s visit by the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent was historic and empowering. But the struggle to build African/Black power in the U.S. led by the most impacted in our communities continues.

Pan-African Community Action says, “This new 21st century belongs to African/Black people. This decade is the decade of organized African/Black resistance. Forward then to Community Control. Community Control NOW! Tomorrow, the United States of Africa.”

How Will the Candidates Tax the Rich?

(Image: Flickr / Disney | ABC Television Group)

(Image: Flickr / Disney | ABC Television Group)

With the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary right around the corner and the debates finished up, the Democratic primary appears neck and neck as Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton jostle for support in key early states. They have each put forward detailed tax reform plans that give voters the chance to compare their ideas on how to reduce inequality through the tax code.

If you’d like to compare the two plans yourself, see Bernie’s plan here and Hillary’s plan here. For context on the two plans, keep reading.

Comparing the two candidates’ tax reform plans requires the recognition of a bit of history. Bernie Sanders has made reducing inequality the marquee issue of his campaign. He has been calling for changes to the tax code that would raise taxes on the most profitable corporations, the wealthiest households, and the largest Wall Street banks since he first entered Congress in 1991.

Hillary Clinton’s record on tax reform, particularly regarding Wall Street, has been much less consistent in both tone and substance over the course of her career, although she recently has come out with detailed plans reflecting much of what is included in Bernie’s tax reform plans.

A fair comparison also requires an acknowledgement of scale. Clinton’s plans aim to raise about $500 billion over ten years. Bernie’s plans aim to raise over $5 trillion. Put simply, Bernie’s plans rate as 10 times more ambitious than Hillary’s plans.

The two candidates’ plans, seen side by side, do show significant overlap. Both seek to strengthen and expand the federal estate tax, a small levy on the inheritances of the wealthiest households. Both close loopholes that allow the wealthy to avoid paying their fair share, including the carried interest loophole. Both raise taxes on top incomes and put the squeeze on offshore tax havens.

But Bernie’s plans, on nearly every front, go further than Hillary’s do. This difference in scale has major implications for how much revenue would be raised and how much inequality would shrink. Bernie’s plans also come linked to concrete public programs, a crafty political move that builds in a constituency for each tax reform, a constituency that would be directly impacted by each reform and more willing to fight for it.

Bernie’s plans go an additional step further, by including a direct financial transaction tax on Wall Street as well as by lifting the (arbitrary) cap on income subject to the Social Security payroll tax, a move that would ensure the long-term solvency of Social Security. Together, these two plans would raise trillions of dollars in revenue over ten years.

Both candidates’ plans differ fundamentally from any of the plans proposed by candidates in the GOP primary field. Those plans all rely on debunked supply-side theories that treat enriching the already rich as the key to prosperity.

Disclosure: The author worked on Bernie Sanders’ Senate Staff as a Legislative Aide before joining the Institute for Policy Studies.

Affluenza: An Outrage in All Its Forms

(Image: Flickr / Christian Ramiro González Verón)

(Image: Flickr / Christian Ramiro González Verón)

Which is worse, letting a rich kid off easy for a heinous crime or allowing an ultra wealthy adult to drain public coffers through bribery? These two scenarios may seem completely unrelated, but they both illustrate the corrupting influence of modern inequality—treating those at the top differently than the rest of the country.

Consider the case of Ethan Couch. Ethan first made headlines in 2013 when at age 16 he drove his car drunk into a crowd of people in Texas, killing four people and injuring many others. While drunk driving is unfortunately not uncommon in the United States, what made Ethan unique was the defense he used in court to get a dramatically reduced sentence. Ethan, through his lawyers, claimed he suffered from “affluenza”—he didn’t know right from wrong because he grew up rich and thus couldn’t be held responsible for his actions. To the astonishment of just about everyone, that worked.

Ethan was sentenced to mere parole instead of prison. Ethan Couch, whose family is worth a reported $15 million, became the embodiment of our unfair treatment of the rich. He recently re-entered headlines after a jaunt through Mexico in violation of parole left him in federal custody. He may, in the end, face jail time.

The public outrage at Ethan’s legal treatment has been understandably intense. Why should someone get off easy simply because they’re rich?

However, much less public outrage has come from another insidious form of affluenza—the legalized tax evasion by the ultra wealthy. According to a blistering new report from The New York Times, “The very richest are able to quietly shape tax policy that will allow them to shield millions, if not billions, of their income.”

This tax evasion is enabled by the army of lobbyists hired by the ultra-wealthy to buy policies that lower their effective tax rate without actually changing the nominal tax rate. This legal corruption costs the wealthy millions of dollars, but saves them billions.

While tax rates did not change from 2008 to 2012, the effective rate paid by the top 0.01 percent dropped by 15 percent!

The methods they use to accomplish this are complex and the impact can be hard to see as clearly as, say, a manslaughter case. Some may even consider it a victimless crime. What is the result of this unfair tax treatment? As former Supreme Court

What is the result of this unfair tax treatment? As former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Homes put it, “Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.” He might have added were he alive today, that massive tax evasion is the path to the breakdown of civilized society.

By appropriating billions in federal revenue, the wealthy starve important programs of critically important funding. Programs like Head Start, a program that provides early childhood education to low-income children, is consistently underfunded. Put differently, important public programs are starved so the ultra wealthy can become even wealthier.

The public outrage (and mocking) inspired by Ethan Couch is an inspiring sign that Americans are unwilling to accept a two-tiered criminal justice system for the rich and the rest of us. We should extend this outrage to the two-tiered federal tax system that benefits the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us.

Progressives Should Stop Underestimating Trump’s Appeal

Most Democrats think a Donald Trump nomination would be a huge gift for Hillary Clinton (assuming she clinches the Democratic nod). And barring a surge from Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz, it looks like he could be the one to duel her for the presidency.

With a policy slate best encapsulated by his vow to “ban all Muslims” from entering the United Stated, Trump’s critics are quick to write him off as the most extreme and unelectable presidential candidate in decades. But racism has had a longstanding place in the United States during times of terror, and Trump’s embodiment of it appeals to a large constituency that’s historically been disaffected in the race for the presidency. Huge swaths of American voters are unmoored from the issues and disenchanted by politics, but they’re “pulsating with grievance and rage,” as Glenn Greenwald put it.

This — and Trump’s notoriety — should wipe the smirk off of the face of the Democratic Party.

Democrats should be wary of underestimating Trump.  The hotel magnate is clearly tapping into gut-level emotions that are widely held in an era of government dysfunction. Here are a few statements Business Insider collected from his supporters, even before his notorious remarks about Muslims. Each reflects a pattern in the way his supporters have justified their fierce loyalty:

“Whether it’s the truth or not, I think he tells you the way he feels.”

His supporters view Trump as a vivid hero among seedy politicians. His connection to his audience goes straight past policy initiatives and right to his mastery of the emotional narrative of disaffected conservatives.

His offensive outbursts and frequent factual inaccuracies, according to this view, reflect an authentic personality that shines through the stifling social conventions of a presidential campaign. “I’m owned by the people. I’m no angel,” he explains, “but I’m going to do right by them.”

The routine spells out consistency and genuineness, transcending party lines to try to run the country as he sees fit. Trump appeals to conservatives unbound by the issues and sick of out-of-touch politicians who’ve mired us in gridlock. The more Trump blusters, the more human he seems.

“He won’t be bought off.”

Trump’s name isn’t only useful in terms of name recognition in mainstream America (an advantage, say, Bernie Sanders never had before his run).

It’s emblematic of success. His wealth is the outcome of what he portrays as his unparalleled business smarts, negotiating abilities, and — prized above all — entrepreneurship.

Trump’s business background has also allowed him to appear above the partisan fray. He doesn’t fit neatly into the Republican or Democratic camps, follows no script, and is seemingly genuinely unbound by campaign finance and corporate interests. As he bragged at a campaign speech, “I don’t need anybody’s money. I’m using my own money…I’m really rich, I’ll show you that.”

This is a priceless connection between Trump’s success as a businessman and his potential success in the White House. He can clean America up, his supporters believe, whether that means ethnic cleansing or sweeping away of debt.

“He’s like one of us.”

Trump projects himself as an embodiment of the American dream — be smart, get rich (though having a billionaire family doesn’t hurt). Trump’s narrative as a presidential candidate is that if you try hard enough, maybe you can be as successful as he is — and if you’re not, it means he’s smarter than you. That myth about inequality is as alive and well in white, low-income America.

Trump’s “everyman” appeal, such as it is, goes beyond the American dream. It also delves into deep set American racism. A poll taken last month found that 56 percent of Americans believe that Islam is “at odds” with American values — that’s all Americans, not just Republicans.

Trump’s racist comments, which previously focused on immigrants, have now shifted to Islam. He’s said he would “absolutely” implement a database of Muslims in America, a statement that’s been compared to Nazi Germany’s keeping tabs on the Jews during the Holocaust. The other candidates may be pulled towards Trump’s lean on these issues, but will never convey them with the simultaneous conviction and informality, making his tone and his presence relatable.

While Democrats may be cheering Trump’s popularity today — showing, as it does, an angry and “unserious” Republican voter base that shouldn’t hold up against a mainstream Democratic candidate — dismissing his emotional appeal could be a grave mistake. 

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