How religion has shaped American politics over the past 50 years

Inside the evangelicals: 

North Carolina exemplifies how the Christian left’s past informs its present — it’s not just the Christian right

Inside the evangelicals: How religion has shaped American politics over the past 50 years

A stained glass window adorns Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, Wednesday, July 6, 2016. The church marks its 200th anniversary in the city where it was founded by a former slave. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)(Credit: AP)

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

On Oct. 3, Longwood University, a public university in Virginia, hosted the first and only 2016 vice presidential debate. In what were described as the debate’s “most sincere” and “most honest” moments, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Gov. Mike Pence (R-IN) discussed their religious faiths.

Pence, a Roman-Catholic-turned-evangelical, appealed to familiar concerns of the Christian right, such as abortion and “the sanctity of life.” Kaine, a Roman Catholic, emphasized the moral responsibility of honoring individual choice.

That Pence pivoted toward abortion is not surprising. Since 1973 — when the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade legalized the right to an abortion — the Christian right has put abortion, as well as homosexuality and “family values,” at the center of conservative politics.

This particular focus stemmed from the fear, particularly among white southern evangelicals, of disturbing an old order based on white supremacy, heterosexuality and female domesticity. Decades of judicial and legislative progress toward a more inclusive and democratic nation as a result of the civil rights, women’s rights and gay liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s only increased that fear. It also consolidated southern white evangelicals’ political strength in the Christian right.

It is not surprising, therefore, that since the 1970s, it is the Christian right that has set the discourse about religion in America. What has remained unrecognized is the important role the Christian left has played during the last 50 years.

What is the “Christian left” really?

Generally, left and left-leaning Christians seek religion not so much in expressing faith in social justice. Sociologist Nancy T. Ammerman has found that these “lay liberals” are “defined not by ideology, but by practice.” They especially value practicing Christianity according to the Golden Rule, or Jesus’ message,

“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Matthew 7:12)

Their concerns include income inequality, racism, violence, hunger and homelessness. They do not necessarily support the hard-line ideological positions of the Christian right, including those regarding LGBTQ Americans and marriage equality.

The Christian left does not easily fit within traditional organizational structures, though they do value church membership.

The Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Survey is suggestive of this trend. In the American South, where 34 percent of residents identify as evangelicals and 14 percent as mainline Protestant, the survey found that at least 21 percent of adults identify as liberal and 32 percent as moderate. These data suggest that the Christian left has found space within evangelical and mainline Protestant southern churches.

A historic tradition, a southern legacy

The Christian left is not a new phenomenon. American Christians have played important roles in many progressive movements dating back to the anti-slavery movement of the early- to mid-19th century.

After the Civil War, many Christians championed workers’ rights, orphanages and schools, women’s suffrage and resistance to American intervention in World War I. During this time, the black church, particularly in the South, became an important instrument in promoting social activism based on ideas of “social responsibility and good works” grounded in Christianity.

The black church was integral to the civil rights movement. At the time, both black and white Christians living in the South confronted head-on the Jim Crow laws, which enforced segregation and voting rights.

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s historic decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which made racial segregation illegal, many white Christian leaders joined hands with African-Americans to advocate for racial justice within their white congregations, as racial injustice continued.

One of the most well-known Christian left organizations at the time was the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Formed in 1957, the SCLC put black evangelical clergy at the forefront of the movement, including Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It coordinated with local civil rights organizations and played a role in voter drives and the 1963 March on Washington. That was where King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Perhaps King best summarized his vision for the Christian left, shared by the SCLC, when he wrote from inside a Birmingham jail cell,

“Was not Jesus an extremist in love?”

It is important to note that the Christian left did not limit its reach to racial justice, nor did its significance wane in the 1970s and 1980s, when the Christian right consolidated its political base.

For example, it is not widely known that some Christian denominations welcomed LGBTQ Americans. According to historian Jim Downs, churches for gay men and women, including those located in the South, played an important role in gay liberation in the 1970s. In the 1980s, mainline Protestant denominations such as the Episcopal Church formed support ministries for LGBTQ members. Episcopalians also took a lead role in affirming women’s rights by ordaining women.

A southern phenomenon then and now

This history of Christian activism in the South continues today. North Carolina — a state that has been the focus of my own research — exemplifies how the Christian left’s past informs its present.

Historically one of the most progressive southern states, North Carolina is home tothe Moral Monday Movement. Formed in 2013 by Rev. Dr. William Barber, president of the North Carolina National Association for Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the movement raises its voice against a wide range of issues related to unfair treatment and discrimination such as restriction of voting rights and cutting funding for Medicaid, welfare and education.

When the Moral Monday Movement began in North Carolina in 2013, religious leaders issued a joint statement urging activism not along partisan but religious lines.

The movement has since spread to other southern states, including Georgia, Floridaand Mike Pence’s home state of Indiana. Moral Monday rallies have also been held inAlabama and Missouri.

Lost in media coverage

Despite the growth of movements such as Moral Mondays, however, the Christian left often gets lost in media coverage during election cycles.

This is not surprising as media coverage of religion is limited. In 2008 and 2012,merely one percent of media coverage concerned religion, and 2016 appears to be no different.

Furthermore, whatever coverage does take place is often limited to conservative Christians and the “red states” of the South.

Unfortunately, the “red state” identification does not capture the region’s social, political and racial diversity. It is true that religion is important in the South. In 2014,62 percent of adults in the South reported that religion was “very important” to them. However, the percentage of religious southerners who lean Republican and Democrat are roughly the same (approximately 40 percent).

The voices that have been missed

It is important to note that even in this election cycle, the South’s Christian left has not been silent.

On Sept. 26, in the aftermath of the fatal shooting of Keith Lamont Scott by a Charlotte police officer, Rev. William Barber led a “unity rally for justice and transparency” at a historic black church in North Carolina, where he asked his audience to hold up their “faithful voter cards.” He led the gathering in a civil rights marching song.

This year’s presidential election might be an opportunity for the Christian left to become more visible. There were indications of this when on Oct. 6 more than 100 evangelical leaders denounced Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and warned the media against viewing evangelicals as a monolithic group.

Of course, the “Christian left versus Christian right” discussion is itself limiting. In the context of the rich religious pluralism of the United States, we must ask more broadly what the religious left can do collaboratively to affect change in American political discourse.

There is movement in this direction, including in the federal government. For example, in 2009, just two weeks into his first term, President Barack Obama established the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The office has embraced core principles of the Christian left, including social and economic justice. This year it appointed Barbara Stein to the advisory council, who is the first openly transgender appointee and an active member of the United Church of Christ.

Such examples can prove instructive, especially to local, grassroots organizations. As election day approaches, the Christian left can play an important role in taking a stand in favor of this progress.

The Conversation

Timothy J. Williams is a visiting assistant professor of history at the University of Oregon.


You Call That a Debate?

Posted on Oct 5, 2016

By By Michael Winship / Moyers & Company

  Republican vice presidential nominee Gov. Mike Pence, left, and Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Tim Kaine shake hands after their debate. (Joe Raedle / AP)

Well, that was depressing.

Not because Vice Presidential Candidate X beat Vice Presidential Candidate Y in Tuesday night’s debate. Or vice versa.

READ: Tim Kaine Puts Mike Pence on the Defensive as Candidates Take on Issues, Each Other

No, it was dispiriting because it so vividly displayed the problem with our current system of debates. This is no way to run a democracy.

If last week’s Donald Trump free-for-all, freefall debate performance was one extreme – out of control and fact-resistant – this week’s vice presidential event showed another, a demonstration of the perils of being overcoached and overprepared with stock, canned answers repeated ad nauseum and infinitum.

So there was Republican Mike Pence stolidly behaving like a real-life version of Sam the Eagle from the Muppets, shaking his head and bemoaning the fate of an America ruled by Hillary Clinton, and Tim Kaine as the overeager puppy eager to make his presence known, apparently told that the way to dispel the image some may have of him as too soft and nice is to keep interrupting; in effect, chewing the other guy’s new slippers.

Kaine may have started it, but in truth, the interruptions by each of the two were, as Rachel Maddow said on MSNBC, “maddening to the point of incomprehensibility.” The hectoring crosstalk did diminish some as the night wore on but it wasn’t conducive to any real dialogue or thoughtful discussion of the issues (the exchange on abortion at the end actually came somewhat close, thanks to Kaine).

And once again there was no talk of climate change or income inequality or education or infrastructure or healthcare, to name but a few of the topics that desperately need to be addressed. Instead, we got Pence running contrary to his running mate’s embrace of Vladimir Putin, calling the Russian leader “small and bullying” and Kaine repeatedly going after Pence for Donald Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns. No one would mistake Monday’s slapfest as a celebration of the Federalist Papers.

If, as many have suggested, the Clinton-Kaine campaign’s strategy was to put Pence on the defensive, denying that Trump has said a basket of deplorable things we all know he has said, then the evening may ultimately belong to them. We won’t know for sure until we see the impact, if any, of the fact checking that will appear over the next few days as Pence’s denials are thrown up against the videotape of Trump declaring exactly what Pence claimed he didn’t. Those facts certainly won’t change the magical thinking of the Trump-Pence base; perhaps it will affect the undecideds on the fence.

Rating by onstage performance and the response of the pundit class, Pence’s icy calm may have won out over Kaine’s hyper champing at the bit, and the Republican governor certainly has deftly positioned himself for 2020. But as Mark Twain said of Richard Wagner’s operas, Kaine’s attacks may have been better than they sound.

We’ll see. What’s for sure is that the clear losers were any Americans who hoped to hear something, anything, of real substance. Days to go: 33, and the republic is still adrift, with no sign of the lifeboats.

Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and, and a former senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos. Follow him on Twitter at @MichaelWinship.

Robert Reich: Why it’s time to start considering a universal basic income

As the job market will contract, there’s only one solution to mass unemployment


Robert Reich: Why it's time to start considering a universal basic income
FILE – In this Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012, file photo, a sign attracts job-seekers during a job fair at the Marriott Hotel in Colonie, N.Y. (Credit: AP)

This originally appeared on Robert Reich’s blog.

Imagine a little gadget called an i-Everything. You can’t get it yet, but if technology keeps moving as fast as it is now, the i-Everything will be with us before you know it.

A combination of intelligent computing, 3-D manufacturing, big data crunching, and advanced bio-technology, this little machine will be able to do everything you want and give you everything you need.

There’s only one hitch. As the economy is now organized, no one will be able to buy it, because there won’t be any paying jobs left. You see, the i-Everything will do … everything.

We’re heading toward the i-Everything far quicker than most people realize. Even now, we’re producing more and more with fewer and fewer people.

Internet sales are on the way to replacing millions of retail workers. Diagnostic apps will be replacing hundreds of thousands of health-care workers. Self-driving cars and trucks will replace 5 million drivers.

Researchers estimate that almost half of all U.S. jobs are at risk of being automated in the next two decades.

This isn’t necessarily bad. The economy we’re heading toward could offer millions of people more free time to do what they want to do instead of what they have to do to earn a living.

But to make this work, we’ll have to figure out some way to recirculate the money from the handful of people who design and own i-Everythings, to the rest of us who will want to buy i-Everythings.

One answer: A universal basic income – possibly financed out of the profits going to such labor replacing innovations, or perhaps even a revenue stream off of the underlying intellectual property.

The idea of a universal basic income historically isn’t as radical as it may sound. It’s had support from people on both the left and the right. In the 1970s, President Nixon proposed a similar concept for the United States, and it even passed the House of Representatives.

The idea is getting some traction again, partly because of the speed of technological change. I keep running into executives of high-tech companies who tell me a universal basic income is inevitable, eventually.

Some conservatives believe it’s superior or other kinds of public assistance because a universal basic income doesn’t tell people what to spend the assistance on, and doesn’t stigmatize recipients because everyone qualifies.

In recent years, evidence has shown that giving people cash as a way to address poverty actually works. In study after study, people don’t stop working and they don’t drink it away.

Interest in a basic income is surging, with governments debating it from Finland to Canada to Switzerland to Namibia. The charity “Give Directly” is about to launch a basic income pilot in Kenya, providing an income for more than 10 years to some of the poorest and most vulnerable families on the planet. And then rigorously evaluate the results.

As new technologies replace work, the question for the future is how best to provide economic security for all.

A universal basic income will almost certainly be part of the answer.

Robert Reich, one of the nation’s leading experts on work and the economy, is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written 13 books, including his latest best-seller, “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future;” “The Work of Nations,” which has been translated into 22 languages; and his newest, an e-book, “Beyond Outrage.” His syndicated columns, television appearances, and public radio commentaries reach millions of people each week. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, and Chairman of the citizen’s group Common Cause. His new movie “Inequality for All” is in Theaters. His widely-read blog can be found

Two American Dreams: how a dumbed-down nation lost sight of a great idea


As Clinton and Trump prepare to debate next week, noble ideals are overwhelmed in a culture where most Americans do not know what is real anymore and the dream of equal opportunity is a fantasy


Every child had a pretty good shot

To get at least as far as their old man got

But something happened on the way to that place

They threw an American flag in our face.

Billy Joel, Allentown

We know it today as the American Dream. The now-obscure historian James Truslow Adams coined the term in his book The Epic of America, defining “the American dream” as:

a dream of a social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.

Adams was writing in 1931, but the dream was there from the start, in Jefferson’s “pursuit of happiness” formulation in the Declaration of Independence, “happiness” residing in its 18th-century sense of prosperity, thriving, wellbeing.

Nobody ever came to America with a starry-eyed dream of working for starvation wages. Plenty of that available in the old country, and that’s precisely why we left, escaping serfdom, peonage, tenancy, indenture – all different iterations of what was essentially a “rigged system”, to put it in current political verbiage – that channeled the profits of our labor upstream to the Man. We came to America to do better, to secure for ourselves the liberation that economic security brings, and for millions – mostly white males at first, and then slowly, sputteringly, women and people of color – that’s the way it worked out, nothing less than a revolution in the human condition.

Upward mobility is indispensable to the American Dream, the notion that people can rise from working to middle class, and middle to upper and even higher on the model of a (fictional) Horatio Alger or an (actual) Andrew Carnegie. Upward mobility across classes peaked in the US in the late 19th century. Most of the gains of the 20th century were achieved en masse; it wasn’t so much a phenomenon of great numbers of people rising from one class to the next as it was standards of living rising sharply for all classes. You didn’t have to be exceptional to rise. Opportunity was sufficiently broad that hard work and steadiness would do, along with tacit buy-in to the social contract, allegiance to the system proceeding on the assumption that the system was basically fair.

The biggest gains occurred in the post-second world war era of the GI Bill, affordable higher education, strong labor unions, and a progressive tax code. Between the late 1940s and early 1970s, median household income in the US doubled. Income inequality reached historic lows. The average CEO salary was approximately 30 times that of the lowest-paid employee, compared with today’s gold-plated multiple of 370. The top tax bracket ranged in the neighborhood of 70% to 90%. Granted, there were far fewer billionaires in those days. Somehow the nation survived.

“America is a dream of greater justice and opportunity for the average man and, if we can not obtain it, all our other achievements amount to nothing.” So wrote Eleanor Roosevelt in her syndicated column of 6 January 1941, an apt lead-in to her husband’s State of the Union address later that day in which he enumerated the four freedoms essential to American democracy, among them “freedom from want”. In his State of the Union address three years later, FDR expanded on this concept of freedom from want with his proposal for a “Second Bill of Rights”, an “economic” bill of rights to counteract what he viewed as the growing tyranny of the modern economic order:

This Republic had at its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights – among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship … As our nation has grown in size and stature, however – as our industrial economy has expanded – these political rights have proved inadequate to assure us equality. We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence.

Political rights notwithstanding, “freedom” rings awfully hollow when you’re getting nickel-and-dimed to death in your everyday life. The Roosevelts recognized that wage peonage, or any system that inclines toward subsistence level, is simply incompatible with self-determination. Subsistence is, by definition, a constrained, desperate state; one’s horizon is necessarily limited to the present day, to getting enough of what the body needs to make it to the next. These days a minimum wage worker in New York City clocking 40 hours a week (at $9 per hour) earns $18,720 a year, well under the Federal Poverty Line of $21,775. That’s a scrambling, anxious existence, narrowly bounded. Close to impossible to decently feed, clothe, and shelter yourself on a wage like that, much less a family; much less buy health insurance, or save for your kid’s college, or participate in any of those other good American things. Down at peon level, the pursuit of happiness sounds like a bad joke. “It’s called the American dream,” George Carlin cracked, “because you have to be asleep to believe it.”

“Necessitous men are not free men,” said FDR in that 1944 State of the Union speech. “People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.” A dire statement, demonstrably true, and especially unsettling in 2016, a point in time when the American Dream seems more viable as nostalgia than a lived phenomenon. Income inequality, wealth distribution, mortality rates: by every measure, the average individual that Eleanor Roosevelt celebrated is sinking. Exceptional people continue to rise, but overall mobility is stagnant at best. If you’re born poor in Ferguson or Appalachia, chances are you’re going to stay that way. Ditto if your early memories include the swimming pool at the Houston Country Club or ski lessons at Deer Valley, you’re likely going to keep your perch at the top of the heap.

Income inequality, gross disparities in wealth: we’re told daily, incessantly, that these are the necessary consequences of a free market, as if the market was a force of nature on the order of weather or tides, and not the entirely manmade construct that it is. In light of recent history, blind acceptance of this sort of economics would seem to require a firm commitment to stupidity, but let’s assume for the moment that it’s true, that the free market exists as a universe unto itself, as immutable in its workings as the laws of physics. Does that universe include some ironclad rule that requires inequality of opportunity? I’ve yet to hear the case for that, though doubtless some enterprising thinktanker could manufacture one out of this same free-market economics, along with whiffs of genetic determinism as it relates to qualities of discipline and character. And it would be bogus, that case. And more than that, immoral. That we should allow for wildly divergent opportunities due to accidents of birth ought to strike us as a crime equal in violence to child abuse or molestation.

Franklin Roosevelt: “[F]reedom is no half-and-half affair. If the average citizen is guaranteed equal opportunity in the polling place, he must have equal opportunity in the market place.” The proposition goes deeper than sentiment, deeper than policy, deeper even than adherence to equality and “the pursuit of happiness” as set forth in the Declaration. It cuts all the way to the nature of democracy, and to the prospects for its continued existence in America. “We may have democracy in this country,” wrote supreme court justice Louis Brandeis, “or we may have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” Those few, in Brandeis’s judgment, would inevitably use their power to subvert the free will of the majority; the super-rich as a class simply couldn’t be trusted to do otherwise, a thesis that’s being starkly acted out in the current era of Citizens United, Super Pacs, and truckloads of dark money.

But the case for economic equality goes beyond even equations of power politics. Democracy’s premise rests on the notion that the collective wisdom of the majority will prove right more often than it’s wrong. That given sufficient opportunity in the pursuit of happiness, your population will develop its talents, its intellect, its better judgment; that over time its capacity for discernment and self-correction will be enlarged. Life will improve. The form of your union will be more perfect, to borrow a phrase. But if a critical mass of your population is kept in peonage? All its vitality spent in the trenches of day-to-day survival, with scant opportunity to develop the full range of its faculties? Then how much poorer the prospects for your democracy will be.

Economic equality can no more be divorced from the functioning of democracy than the ballot. Jefferson, Brandeis, the Roosevelts all recognized this home truth. The American Dream has to be the lived reality of the country, not just a pretty story we tell ourselves.

I have always gotten much more publicity than anybody else.

Donald Trump

Then there’s that other American dream, the numbed-out, dumbed-down, make-believe world where much of the national consciousness resides, the sum product of our mighty Fantasy Industrial Complex: movies, TV, internet, texts, tweets, ad saturation, celebrity obsession, sports obsession, Amazonian sewers of porn and political bullshit, the entire onslaught of media and messaging that strives to separate us from our brains. September 11, 2001 blasted us out of that dream for about two minutes, but the dream is so elastic, so all-encompassing, that 9/11 was quickly absorbed into the the matrix of FIC. This exceedingly complex event – horribly direct in the result, but a swamp when it comes to explanations – was stripped down and binaried into a reliable fantasy narrative of us against them, good versus evil, Christian against Muslim. The week after 9/11, Susan Sontag was virtually crucified for pointing out that “a few shreds of historical awareness might help us understand how we came to this point”. For this modest proposal, no small number of her fellow Americans wished her dead. But if we’d followed her lead – if we’d done the hard work of digging down to the roots of the whole awful thing – perhaps we wouldn’t still be fighting al-Qaida and its offspring 15 years later.

Here’s a hypothesis, ugly, uncharitable, but given our recent history it begs inquiry: most of the time most Americans don’t know what’s real any more. How else to explain Trump, a billionaire on an ego trip capturing a major party’s nomination for president? Another blunt-speaking billionaire tried twice for the presidency in the 1990s and went out in flames, but he made the mistake of running as himself, a recognizably flesh-and-blood human being, whereas Trump comes to us as the ultimate creature, and indisputable maestro, of the Fantasy Industrial Complex. For much of his career – until 2004, to be exact – he held status in our lives as a more or less normal celebrity. Larger than life, to be sure, cartoonishly grandiose, shamelessly self-promoting, and reliably obnoxious, but Trump didn’t become Trump until “The Apprentice” debuted in January 2004. The first episode drew 20.7 million viewers. By comparison, Ross Perot received 19,742,000 votes in the 1992 presidential election – yes, I’m comparing vote totals with Nielsen ratings – but Trump kept drawing that robust 20 million week after week. The season finale that year reached 28 million viewers, and over the next decade, for 13 more seasons, this was how America came to know him, in that weirdly intimate way TV has of delivering celebrity into the very center of our lives.

It was this same Trump that 24 million viewers – a record, of course – tuned in to watch at the first Republican debate last year, the glowering, blustering, swaggering boardroom action figure who gave every promise of shredding the pols. One wonders if Trump would have ever been Trump if there hadn’t been a JR Ewing to pave the way, to show just how dear and real a dealmaking TV rogue could be to our hearts. Trump’s performance on that night did not disappoint, nor through all the debates in the long march that followed, and if his regard for the truth has proved more erratic even than that of professional politicians, we should expect as much. In the realm of the Fantasy Industrial Complex, reality happens on a sliding scale. The truth is just another possibility.

I speak the password primeval.

I would give the sign of democracy;

By God! I will accept nothing which all cannot have their counterpart of on the same terms.

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

In nine days Trump and Hillary will take the stage for their first face-to-face debate. There will be blood. The knives are going to be out, and the ratings are bound to be, need it be said, yuge. The American Dream will no doubt be invoked from both podiums, for what true-blue patriot was ever against the American Dream? And yet for the past 30 years the Democratic candidate has worked comfortably within a party establishment that’s battered the working and middle classes down to the bone. The “new” Democrats of the Clinton era are always strong for political rights, as long as they don’t upset corporate America’s bottom line. Strong for racial and gender equality, strong for LGBT rights (though that took time). Meanwhile this same Democratic establishment joined with the GOP to push a market- and finance-driven economic order that enriches the already rich and leaves the rest of us sucking wind.

That’s the very real anger Trump is speaking to, no fantasy there. Bernie as well; small wonder their constituencies overlapped, though Trump’s professed devotion to the common man stumbles over even the simplest proofs. On whether to raise the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, Trump’s moral compass has spun from an implied no (wages are already “too high”), to implied yes (wages are “too low”), to weasel words (leave it up to the states), to yes and no in the same breath (“I would leave it and raise it somewhat”), and, finally, when pressed by Bill O’Reilly in July, to yes-but (raise it to $10, but it’s still best left to the states). All this from the candidate who’s firmly in favor of abolishing the estate tax, to the great benefit of heirs of multimillionaires and none at all to the vast majority of us.

Meanwhile, the Fantasy Industrial Complex is doing just fine this election season, thank you. Speaking at a Morgan Stanley investors’ conference in March, one of the commanders of the FIC, Leslie Moonves, the chief executive of CBS and a man whose 2015 compensation totaled $56.8m, had this to say about the Trump campaign. “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS. The money’s rolling in and this is fun … this [is] going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But bring it on, Donald. Keep going.”

Meet the Right-Wing Poverty Deniers.

It’s Not Just Climate Change Anymore.

This past Sunday, I joined C-SPAN’s Washington Journal for a discussion on the House GOP poverty plan released earlier in the week.

My conservative counterpart on the show—Robert Rector of the right-wing Heritage Foundation—made his views on poverty clear early on in the conversation when he lamented that our aid programs are “too generous.” Believe it or not, he went on, poor people in America have basic household appliances such as refrigerators, stoves, ovens, microwaves, and—gasp! —air conditioning. He accused folks on the left—and the nonpartisan Census Bureau—of “exaggerating” the state of poverty in the U.S.

These are hardly new talking points for Rector. He’s been putting out “research” on how good poor Americans supposedly have it for years. Back in 2011, Rector’s brazenly titled report, Air Conditioning, Cable TV, and an X-Box: What is Poverty in the United States Today? got the attention of Stephen Colbert, who gave it the treatment it deserves on The Colbert Report: “A refrigerator and a microwave? They can preserve and heat food?  Ooh la la!  I guess the poor are too good for mold and trichinosis.”

All joking aside, the fact that Rector is still peddling this line reflects just how out of touch right-wing views on poverty are today.

For starters, are our aid programs “too generous?”

As I noted on Washington Journal, Rector should try telling that to the more than 6 million Americans whose only income is food stamps—which provides just $1.40 per person per meal in nutrition assistance. Or the 3 in 4 low-income families who are eligible for housing assistance but don’t receive it and can spend 60, 70, or 80 percent of their income on rent and utilities each month, while they remain on decades-long waiting lists for aid. Rector should see how his line goes over with the 3 in 4 families with children in poverty who are not helped by Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), because it was converted to a flat-funded block grant that’s lost one-third of its purchasing power since 1996. Or even with the small fraction of families lucky enough to receive TANF—because in no state are benefits greater than half the federal poverty line.

And are poor people in America secretly living high on the hog?

Most observers view the austere federal poverty line as an inadequate measure of hardship. Experts say a family of four needs an annual income of $50,000 to achieve an adequate but basic standard of living—more than twice the poverty line for a family of four, which is a measly $24,000.

By that measure, the number of people in this country struggling to make ends meet far exceeds the 47 million Americans with incomes below the poverty line; it amounts to nearly 1 in 3 Americans—more than 105 million people—living on the economic brink today. This much larger figure is confirmed by recent survey data. In a report released last month by the Federal Reserve Board, one-third of American adults say that they struggle to make ends meet.

It is clear that after decades of growing income inequality, economic hardship can hardly be described as an “us and them” phenomenon. With working families facing flat and declining wages and gains from economic growth increasingly concentrated in the hands of the wealthy, economic instability is now a widespread experience.

Rector’s comments on Washington Journal made clear his proposed solution: just deny the existence of poverty and hardship in America. If poor families are actually doing just fine—they have refrigerators and microwaves, after all—then not only does that free up policymakers to slash aid programs, it also removes any need to boost wages or enact any other policies that would cut poverty and make it easier to get ahead.

But for the 105 million Americans struggling to get by, the fact that they are fortunate enough to be able to refrigerate—and heat!—their food offers cold comfort.

It’s not just Heritage who’s out of touch. Last week, House Speaker Paul Ryan released a long-awaited poverty plan as part of his “A Better Way” House GOP policy agenda. He unveiled the plan at a drug rehab center, offering a not-so-subtle reminder of his views on the causes of poverty.

As Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-WI) pointed out at a Center for American Progress event last week, if Ryan truly understood poverty in America, rather than seeing struggling individuals as “broken people,” he would have given the speech at a McDonald’s, surrounded by low-wage workers struggling because of a broken economy.

Even more out of touch were the comments made by Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) at the plan’s release—he actually referred to people living in poverty as “untapped, dormant assets.”

Speaker Ryan and his colleagues’ limited understanding of poverty is also evident in the “A Better Way” plan itself, which echoes many of the themes found in their previous budgets. (This year’s House GOP budget, for example, got three-fifths of its cuts from programs that serve low- and moderate-income people, while protecting tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations.)

In addition to slashing housing assistance in the midst of a national affordable housing crisis, and proposing to cut school lunches, their solutions to poverty include legalizing bad financial advice by rolling back the Obama Administration’s “fiduciary rule” and blocking the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s proposed rule to protect cash-strapped borrowers from predatory payday lenders.

Perhaps even more notable than what’s in the plan is what it leaves out: any policies to create jobs or boost wages. Indeed, Ryan made clear in the Q&A following his speech that despite his previous claims to want to “push wages up,” he and his colleagues remain steadfastly opposed to raising the minimum wage.

Bipartisan interest in tackling poverty and expanding opportunity would be a welcome development. But instead of putting our heads in the sand, policymakers on both sides of the aisle must acknowledge the very real experience of poverty in America—and the many structural barriers that stand in the way of getting ahead.

That starts by admitting that poverty exists.

It’s Not Just Climate Change Anymore. Meet the Right-Wing Poverty Deniers.

This Is Not a Democracy: How the Sanders-Clinton Contest in California Failed Voters

Posted on Jun 14, 2016

By Jordan Elgrably

  The choice American voters now face. (Ted Eytan / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Bernie Sanders inspired millions of Americans this year and became stiff competition for Hillary Clinton’s bid to become our next president. He was the only candidate who seriously addressed the growing income inequality in this country, referring to the Wall Street bailouts and the incredible tax breaks and loop holes enjoyed by the very wealthy and large corporations, who either fail to pay their fare share of taxes, or pay no taxes at all. (Indeed, a March 2016 USA Today report found that 27 “giant profitable companies,” among them General Motors, paid zero taxes in 2015.)

It is probable that a Sanders win in California would have made a difference in the national contest. Yet while millions of voters turned out for Senator Sanders across the nation, millions of our votes in California were never counted. In case you thought voter suppression went out in the year 2000 when we had “hanging chads” in Florida’s Gore-Bush contest, I have bad news for you: voter suppression is still in full swing.

First, as of Thursday, June 9, more than 2.5 million votes in California had yet to be counted, according to Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s office. A full accounting of those ballots will not be completed until the end of June at the earliest, yet Hillary Clinton has already been announced as the unchallenged winner in California’s Democratic Primary.

Second, there are a staggering 4.2 million independent, “No Party Preference” or NPP voters in California. As you can imagine, many of them would be voting for Senator Sanders, who for years represented his Vermont constituents as an independent, progressive and even socialist politician whose loyalty to his ideals for social justice came before any party loyalty. Yet according to investigative journalist Greg Palast, writing for, “In some counties like Los Angeles, it’s not easy for an NPP to claim their right to vote in the Democratic primary — and in other counties, nearly impossible.”

Palast found that unless NPP voters who wanted to vote for Sanders asked for a “crossover ballot” at their polling place, their normal NPP ballot would automatically not include the presidential race. And according to Election Justice USA, poll workers were instructed to give NPP voters who requested a “crossover ballot” a provisional ballot. Notes Palast, who has tracked elections in the U. S. for years and is the author of two books on election fraud, “Provisional ballots are generally discarded.”

Voting is a privilege and an obligation in a democracy, and as a voter in a state as big as California, I feel that my vote as John Q. Citizen actually makes a difference. Imagine the frustration, then, of millions of other Californians who were either unable to vote in this presidential primary or whose vote wasn’t even taken into consideration when Hillary Clinton was announced the winner of the contest.

The choice American voters now face are two presidential nominees who are both under investigation for fraud and corruption. Donald Trump is the subject of multiple lawsuits for alleged swindles by Trump University, and is being pursued by New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman for defrauding thousands of students. Hillary Clinton is the subject of an FBI criminal investigation into her use of a private email server that may have damaged national security. Also, the FBI has launched a criminal investigation into the myriad questionable business dealings of the Clinton Foundation, including potential influence peddling while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, in particular involving her approval of the sale of shares in a uranium mining ranch in Utah. My other concern about Hillary is that she is an admitted protégé of war criminal Henry Kissinger, and has shown herself to be a hawk when it comes to foreign military adventures.

Millions of Americans who might have voted for Bernie Sanders, a peace candidate if ever there was one—Sanders was one of the few people in Washington who voted against the Iraq War in 2003 that has proven devastating to the entire region—have been hoodwinked into thinking our election process is fair and impartial.

This is not a democracy when each and every vote isn’t counted.

Perhaps the best we can hope for is that Elizabeth Warren becomes Hillary’s running mate and vice president, because she might be able to dissuade HRC from making some of those inevitable bellicose decisions. In fact, the best outcome would be that both Warren and Bernie Sanders become an essential aspect of the coming four years.

California primary voters speak on social inequality, war


By our reporters
8 June 2016

Voters went to polls on Tuesday in the final six primary contests of the 2016 election cycle, with the exception of the District of Columbia, which will vote next week. Hillary Clinton declared victory in the Democratic Party nomination contest Tuesday evening.

WSWS reporters spoke to voters throughout the state of California. California, while traditionally having relatively little influence on the nomination process due the voting schedule, nonetheless is a significant gauge as it is the largest state in the country.

More than 650,000 Californians registered to vote in the final six weeks of the registration period, pushing the state’s total registered voters to 18 million, the most ever heading into a primary election. Many of these newly-registered voters were under the age of 45, a group that has favored Sanders heavily over Clinton.

In Los Angeles, many voters said the growth of social inequality and poverty were motivating factors in their election decisions.

“We have so many problems here,” one voter said. “I take the bus down 7th street and there’s homeless people everywhere. It’s ridiculous for us to continue spending money in places like the Middle East. But at the same time we’ve caused everything that’s going on over there.”

Another expressed frustration with the media’s declaration of Clinton as the presumptive nominee the day before the California vote. “They shouldn’t have done that,” he said. “They should have to wait until all the ballots are counted to make sure people feel free to vote for the candidate of their choice.”

WSWS reporters also spoke to voters in Berkeley, California, many of who expressed illusions in both the Sanders and Clinton campaigns.

Bob, an engineering student in Berkeley, said that he voted for Sanders. “I believe he has good policies for social change that will represent the younger generation,” he said. “Public education is a big deal for me. I believe it’s important to have an educated population.”

Asked about Clinton, Bob replied, “I think she’s an acceptable candidate. I would have nothing against her as a candidate, but Bernie Sanders seems to have much more audacity.”

Helcio, a Brazilian national, expressed a growing and widespread resignation about the US election system. “It’s pretty sad,” he said. “There is not much hope anymore. All the top 1 percent are in control. It doesn’t matter what you do, it will take a long time for people to get power again.”

Chris, a database architect, said he voted for Sanders because of concerns over income inequality. “Paraphrasing Robert Reich, I think Hillary Clinton is the best candidate for the system we have, and Bernie is the best for the system we would like to have. I’m voting my conscience in the primary.” Asked about the lack of discussion of war in the presidential election, Chris replied, “We’re to the state of a forgotten war.”

Rishi, an engineer, also voted for Sanders. His primary concerns are “the environment, climate change, and having a good foreign policy that doesn’t lead to war,” he said. “Trump is out of his mind. Hillary is a little too pro-war, pro-involvement in all the things she voted for. That was probably the biggest reason I voted for Bernie.”

When asked what kind of issues were of particular concern to him, Patrick, a voter in the San Francisco area, said, “The big one for me is medical debt. It hits me personally because I have kidney failure. I was diagnosed last November. For just a four-day stay in the hospital, it would have been $80,000. Luckily, I was able to qualify for Medi-Cal,” the state’s Medicaid health care program.

Many voters in San Diego also expressed distrust in the election process and a disbelief that anything would significantly change regardless of which candidate wins in November.

Alex, a student worker, said, “The super delegates can do whatever they want instead of doing what the people want. I read last night that Hillary Clinton is now the nominee. Why should we even bother voting now? The election process is rigged, we don’t have a voice.”

WSWS reporters in San Diego also spoke to voters from City Heights, a mostly Hispanic working class and immigrant community.

Freddie a telecom worker told reporters he was voting because, “I’m tired of blue-collar workers like myself suffering due to the financial institutions, Wall Street banks and corporations.”

When asked if he felt that this framework could adequately address the democratic rights of the population, he responded, “No! It doesn’t feel like it is a democracy when the politicians can be bought and sold. I don’t feel like it’s a democracy if hundreds of police can get away with killing people.”

Freddie was engaged in the strike by 1,700 workers for AT&T, which was contained by the union to San Diego. When our reporters asked why the union, the Communication Workers of America, made strikers return to work without a contract, Freddie responded that he was disappointed in AT&T. When pressed why the union had allowed them to even work without a contract, he agreed that the unions were no longer organizations of the working class.

Speaking on the difficulties of making ends meet, Freddie also said, “It’s not [quite] the [official] poverty line, but it’s paycheck to paycheck and that’s poverty. We work our whole lives and what do we get in the end? To pay off our car, maybe pay off a house that we can pass on to our children. That’s it?! You work so hard and you’ve got nothing to show for it at the end of your lifetime.”

Juan is a 30 year old military veteran who spent time in Afghanistan. He said he was there to vote for Sanders because he agreed with the way Sanders spoke about Wall Street and the difficulties of life for average people. Despite Sanders saying he would support Hillary Clinton if she won the primary, Juan maintained the impression that Sanders would never support Clinton. He said he would refuse to vote for Clinton, believing the Democratic and Republican parties are thoroughly corrupt and can only be reformed by Sanders.

When asked about Bernie Sanders’ support of the wars in Libya and Syria, as well as his votes to fund the wars in Iraq, Juan said he believed that Sanders did not really support the current wars in the Middle East.

A young mother also spoke to our reporters briefly saying she was going to the polls because it was her obligation. Expressing her disapproval of US military interventions abroad she said, “It’s my taxes that are paying these people to send soldiers to war and kill thousands of people in other countries. We are paying these people and they should answer to us.”

Daniel, a cook and student at a local community college said he was disgusted with growing social inequality, and expressed disbelief that it could be in any way addressed through either of the two big business parties. “The election is controlled by the 1 percent of both parties, the Democrats and Republicans. The race has become a popularity contest, we have no idea what politics is.”

Daniel continued, “We can’t trust anything Hillary says, she is two-faced. There will be no difference if Hillary or Trump wins.”