Follow the Yellow Brick Road to… Poverty?

Brownback’s Conservative Utopia Dystopia

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has turned the Land of Oz into an experiment in ultra-conservative GOP economic policy. He’s also single handedly proving it doesn’t work.

Cowardly Lion: [noticing the snow that fallen on the poppy field] Unusual weather we're having, ain't it?

Ever wondered what the Republican dream world looks like?

Are you thinking of a place where corporate taxes are minimal; unions are systematically busted; public schools are criminally underfunded; legislators gravely refer to gun-free areas as “dangerous zones”; large cities have not a single abortion provider; and poverty is rising because everyone’s being kicked off social services in the middle of a recession?!

Surprise! You’re imagining a real place — the unfortunate state of Kansas. It’s a place where a rubber-stamp legislature has given ultra-conservative Governor Sam Brownback free reign since 2011.

Scarecrow: I haven't got a brain... only straw. 

Dorothy: How can you talk if you haven't got a brain? 

Scarecrow: I don't know... But some people without brains do an awful lot of talking... don't they?

Brownback’s five-point plan for the state’s future included goals such as “Decrease the percentage of Kansas children living in poverty” and “Increase the percentage of fourth-grade students reading at their grade level.” When elected, though, Brownback promptly cut school funding to illegal levels and condemned thousands more children to poverty by kicking 15,000 people off welfare, 20,000 off food stamps, implementing a staggeringly regressive tax policy, and eliminating tax rebates on food and rent aimed at the state’s poorest residents. And let’s be clear: Brownback’s tax policy is the most regressive in the country, actively raising taxes on the poor.

Brownback thinks is that poor people just don’t try hard enough to get jobs: “Instead of giving people a pittance of money from the government,” he explains. “Let's push people into work." This is his poverty-reduction strategy. Oh, that and the promotion of “family values.” And why all the cuts, you might ask? To help cover the budget shortfall created by tax cuts for the wealthy, of course!

The results paint a gloomy picture. Brownback’s policies led child poverty rates this summer to hit a record high, creeping up 1.6 percent since Brownback took office. Cuts to schools have left them “barely able to operate.” Debt incurred through massive tax breaks for the rich has led Moody’s to give Kansas bonds a “negative outlook”. Unemployment rose to 5.7%, the job growth rate (1.7%) is under the national average, and Kansas ranks 25th out of 45 states in job creation. Personal incomes fell 1.2% in 2013.

Dorothy: My goodness, what a fuss you're making! Well naturally, when you go around picking on things weaker than you are. Why, you're nothing but a great big coward!

Brownback’s Kansas experiment is a microcosm of what goes on on the national stage. Republican lawmakers intentionally mislead the public about the effects of their policies — particularly, who these policies are designed to help. For while conservatives like Brownback promise middle-and lower-class constituents that austerity will lead to more jobs, better schools, and less poverty, it’s clear that their legislative agendas bear no resemblance to the their folksy, populist, and disingenuous rhetoric. Promise better-educated children? Underfund schools by almost $500 million a year. Reduce child poverty? Cut welfare and food stamp programs, programs widely understood to disproportionately benefit poor children. Balance the budget? Lose hundreds of millions in revenue through tax breaks for the rich. It’s not spinning the truth; it’s lying.

Brownback’s classist policies demonstrate how completely unconcerned Republicans are with income inequality. Even the party’s recent obsession with balancing budgets appears to play only second fiddle to the fervor to reduce taxes on the wealthy. Brownback is the perfect example of why the GOP remains out of touch and unfriendly to middle- and working-class Americans: he misrepresents his loyalties and guts the programs that help them the most. Republicans pretend to wonder why they’re known as the “party of rich white men,” blaming the reputation on “identity politics” and “communication” issues. But here’s the blunt truth, GOP: people don’t vote for you when they realize that you aren’t on their side.

Brownback now has the fourth worst approval rating of all US governors.  

If they had their way, Republicans would model the United States after the unequal, impoverished, and indebted dystopia that Kansas is becoming.

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Categories: Big Business Budget and Taxes Economy and Jobs Education

Citizens United is about to Get Much Worse and No One is Talking About It

photo via Reuters

How much worse?

On Oct. 8, the Supreme Court is poised to take up a case that we all need to pay attention too. In McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the Court will rule on whether aggregate contribution limits are constitutional.

The media buzz surrounding the case is minimal, but don’t be fooled: this attack on key campaign finance regulation could hugely increase the power of big money to decide elections.  McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission is yet another attempt from the GOP to drown out the voices of average Americans and unfairly tilt the scales— it’s Citizens United 2.0.

Again?! Who’s the culprit?

Plaintiff Shaun McCutcheon built his fortune as CEO of Coalmont, an engineering firm specializing in coal mining; eliminating net giving limits would allow McCutcheon to drown out average Americans while supporting the dirty energy agenda. And because the Republican National Committee so wants donors like McCutcheon to enjoy unfettered donation privileges, it has joined McCutcheon as an appellant on the case.

And they think this is fair?

In Citizens United, the Supreme Court eroded our first line of defense against big money by allowing unlimited donations to groups with political agendas as long as they don’t coordinate with candidates. Now McCutcheon, the RNC and their legal team want to eliminate our last line of defense — contributions directly to candidates and committees. A ruling against aggregate contribution limits would lay the groundwork for the elimination of candidate contribution limits, which would effectively eliminate the average American from the conversation.

Why we should pay close attention to this

McCutcheon’s lawyers have won before; lead counsel Jim Bopp was a driving force behind Citizens United. And we’ve already seen what Citizens United has done. One study revealed that the ruling had an immediate effect on funding in the 2012 election; of the $465 million spent on the presidential election by September, $365 million could be attributed to the Supreme Court’s ruling. Money in politics is already hard enough to fight without additional regulatory rollbacks.

A ruling against the FEC would further drown out the little guy — it’s difficult for politicians to focus on middle class voters when the rich can donate $93 million to a campaign. This case is less about McCutcheon’s gains than about the average American’s losses; money speaks volumes in politics, and it is profoundly unfair to allow the most affluent among us to exert virtually unlimited influence on our nation’s policymakers. We believe that everyone deserves an equal voice, even if they can’t donate to a campaign. After all, there’s a reason we’re not called Plutocracy for America.

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Categories: Big Business Campaign Finance Elections

WATCH: Jon Stewart and Robert Reich Solve Income Inequality

Robert Reich dropped by the Daily Show to discuss his new movie, Inequality for All (watch the trailer here), as usual a thorough and fascinating discussion ensues.

At 2:30 Robert Reich exposes that income inequality is a direct assault on the American Dream

At 2:50 He picks up the Howard Dean mantra, You Have the Power!

At 4:00 He quotes Winston Churchill, telling us to be upbeat.

At 5:00 Jon Stewart sets up a Slam Dunk for why the conservative movement could not be more wrong about income inequality.

At 6:48  Robert Reich lays out some pretty shocking numbers.

At 7:00 Jon and Robert solve income inequality... it's just that simple.

In Part Two, Robert Reich tells you why you can’t give up on politics.

What do you think we need to do to solve this crisis? 

PS Don't forget to sign up to join Robert Reich and Howard Dean on a conference call to discuss Income inequality this Wednesday.  

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Categories: Campaign Finance Economy and Jobs

Minimum Wage -- I'm Not Loving It.

This week, we learned that the income gap between the rich and the rest of us is greater than it's been since the 1920's. The 1% are pulling in profits hand over fist while most Americans struggle to make ends meet. It's unacceptable and we need change now. Congress could alleviate some of the economic pain and close the gap by raising the minimum wage, but we all know that the Republicans would never let that happen. 

But that doesn't mean that progress needs to wait. Multi-billion dollar corporations like McDonald's could improve the lives of millions of working Americans tomorrow by paying their employees a living wage instead of locking them in near the minimum wage. McDonald's workers went on strike recently to demand better pay, but they can't win this fight alone. McDonald's won't change unless the American public stands behind these workers and demands it.

Tell McDonald's that you've had enough - no working American deserves to live in poverty. Pay your employees a living wage. 

Last year, McDonald's brought in $5.5 billion dollars in profits - and tripled its CEO's salary. But the majority of its employees make less than $16,000 a year. Many of these workers are adults caring for ailing parents or young children, and a salary that low makes it nearly impossible for them to survive. Most of them have to hold down multiple jobs. Many frequently go hungry.

McDonald's has responded to public pressure to make positive change happen before. Decades ago, environmentalists turned up the heat on McDonald's over the use of plastic foam packaging, which isn't biodegradable. The corporation resisted at first, but after the environmentalists educated and rallied the public McDonald's listened to the people and introduced more eco-friendly packaging.

They've listened before. Let's make them listen again.

Join us and tell McDonald's to pay their employees a living wage now. 

Thank you for standing up for workers,


Karli Wallace, National Campaign Organizer
Democracy for America

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Categories: Economy and Jobs

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