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Are We Doomed to Ever More Inequality?

New research suggests that we’re certainly headed that way unless we go beyond token changes.

— by Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati

America’s ongoing debate over economic inequality may be turning a new page.

Starting in the 1980s, during the debate’s first chapter, pundits and policymakers battled over whether the United States was in fact becoming more unequal. This initial debate is over now. No serious analyst argues any longer that the gulf between America’s rich and everyone else hasn’t jumped substantially.

The debate’s second chapter — over the impact of the wealth of the ultra-rich — is still playing out. A decade ago, mainstream orthodoxy held that we didn’t need to worry about how much wealth the ultra-rich were amassing. We needed to focus instead — and only — on creating opportunity for people at the bottom of the economic ladder.

pizzigati-inequalitysuitmoneypowerceowallstreetbankerpaymoneycashcorporatecorporations-Truthout.orgTruthout.org/Flickr

This perspective has lost substantial ground. Most top analysts now agree that we endanger our democracy and destabilize our economy whenever we let income and wealth concentrate.

Today’s inequality experts have moved on. They’re now debating a more fundamental proposition. Is growing inequality, they’re asking, the default for modern market economies?

Before World War II, that seemed to be the case. Deep inequality and equally deep economic crises appeared inevitable in market economies. Then, in the decades right after World War II, everything seemed to change.

The United States became significantly more equal. The wealthy saw their share of national income plummet. A new prosperous mass-middle class took shape, first in the United States and then across the developed world.

But this middle class golden age didn’t last. Since the 1970s, our plutocrats have returned and middle class prosperity has faded. Can that prosperity be restored?

Enter the French economist Thomas Piketty, a global superstar on matters of distribution. A dozen years ago, a Piketty book on French incomes helped revolutionize how researchers calculate — and think about — the incomes of society’s richest.

All those numbers you see about the incomes of America’s top 1 percent? They typically trace back to Piketty’s pioneering work. Now this French scholar has a new book, due out this March in English, and some of the world’s most respected experts on inequality are positively swooning over it.

The World Bank’s Branko Milanovic has dubbed Piketty’s new work, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, “one of the watershed books in economic thinking.”

Piketty’s analysis actually begins back in the 18th century. This historical sweep helps him present equality’s mid-20th century heyday as an “unrepeatable phenomenon,” the product of cataclysmic world war and severe shocks to the body politic.

In the mid-20th century epoch, Piketty details, the economies of major developed nations grew at a faster rate than the return the wealthy could collect from their income-producing assets. That had never happened before — and hasn’t since. The return from capital — the income that asset ownership generates — has always outpaced the overall economic growth rate.

Why does this matter? The wealthy own a disproportionate share of society’s assets. If the income these assets generate is rising faster than the economy is growing, society’s wealth will inevitably end up concentrating at the top, as we’ve seen over the past four decades.

Left uninterrupted, Piketty argues, this dynamic might well return us to levels of inequality last seen in 19th-century Europe, a time when the top 1 percent held 60 percent of all wealth — almost double the share of national wealth America’s current top 1 percent holds.

What will it take to interrupt this intense wealth concentration? Nothing short of full-throttled redistribution, says Piketty. We would need to levy a progressive wealth tax on a global scale to prevent the world’s super rich from shifting their assets to low-tax havens.

Piketty’s work, in effect, changes our frame of reference. If modern market economies generate growing inequality as a matter of course, then reversing that inequality will take a great deal more than a few tweaks around the edges.



OtherWords columnist Sam Pizzigati, an Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow, edits the inequality weekly Too Much. His latest book is The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class. OtherWords.org

Seven Terrible State Bills

— by ThinkProgress War Room | Mar 27, 2013

Recently, we discussed some of the terrible bills floating around out there in state legislatures. Here’s another look at some of the worst proposals, including a couple that were signed into law this week:

  • NORTH DAKOTA: The state’s Republican governor signed a trifecta of terrible anti-abortion bills, which are likely to have the effect of banning abortion in the state. One bill unconstitutionally bans abortion after just six weeks, which is before many women even know they’re pregnant. An even more insidious bill takes up the anti-abortion movement’s favorite new tactic: drastic overregulation of abortion clinics to all but guarantee that they will have to close. These so-called TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws are also moving in North CarolinaMississippiTexasAlabama, and Virginia.
  • KANSAS: A new bill will allow the state to quarantine HIV positive individuals, something Kansas actually banned back in 1988.
  • INDIANA: An anti-abortion bill was going to mandate forced ultrasounds before a woman is provided with the abortion pill. Lawmakers explain that they are dropping the controversial provision in order to focus on their real goal: regulating abortion clinics out of existence.
  • VIRGINIA: Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-VA) signed a bill that will mandate that Virginians present photo identification when they vote, which will disproportionately impact young people, minorities, and the elderly.
  • KENTUCKY: The legislature passed a so-called “religious freedom” bill that allows individuals to ignore laws based on the vague notion of “sincerely held religious beliefs,” opening the door to discrimination against LGBT people, among other problems. Gov. Steve Beshear (D) vetoed the bill, but unfortunately his veto was overridden yesterday.
  • PENNSYLVANIA: Top Republicans in the state have yet to abandon a GOP plan to rig steal the White House by rigging the distribution of the state’s Electoral College votes. Republicans in Virginia, Florida, Wisconsin, and other states dropped the idea, but Pennsylvania Republicans are keeping it on the table.
  • ARKANSAS: In addition to its race to the bottom on abortion, Arkansas is considering some highly regressive tax changes. As part of an effort meant to stimulate growth, an Arkansas legislative committee passed two tax cuts that will largely benefit the rich and then rejected one that would benefit the working poor. A recent study found that state-level tax cuts don’t promote job growth.

Another week, another set of terrible proposals moving out in state legislatures.

Evening Brief: Important Stories That You Might’ve Missed


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.

What I’ve Been Reading Lately— Monday, 3/25/2013

Lean in, Women; Corporations and Government, Brush Off Your Hands

Veena Trehan, Op-Ed: Fifty years ago, Betty Friedan’s “Feminine Mystique” explained how wives were not fulfilled by homemaking and childbearing. Woman couldn’t get credit, were fired when their pregnancy showed and held mostly assistant or teaching positions in the 1960s. We’ve come a long way. Today, women comprise 58 percent of college students, 33 percent more college graduates than men, and a strong presence in most industries. Yet, they make up only 20 percent of Congress, 4 percent of Fortune 500 companies’ CEOs, and 15 percent of senior executives.

Senate Passes Monsanto Protection Act Granting Monsanto Power Over U.S. Govt.

Anthony Gucciardi, News Report: In case you’re not familiar, the Monsanto Protection Act is the name given to what’s known as a legislative rider that was inserted into the Senate Continuing Resolution spending bill. Using the deceptive title of Farmer Assurance Provision, Sec. 735 of this bill actually grants Monsanto the immunity from federal courts pending the review of any GM crop that is thought to be dangerous. Under the section, courts would be helpless to stop Monsanto from continuing to plant GM crops that are thought even by the US government to be a danger to health or the environment.

Drone Warfare is Neither Cheap, Nor Surgical, Nor Decisive

William Astore, Op-Ed: Today’s unmanned aerial vehicles, most famously Predator and Reaper drones, have been celebrated as the culmination of the longtime dreams of airpower enthusiasts, offering the possibility of victory through quick, clean and selective destruction. Those drones, so the (very old) story goes, assure the U.S. military of command of the high ground and so provide the royal road to a speedy and decisive triumph over helpless enemies below. Fantasies about the certain success of air power in transforming, even ending, war as we know it arose with the plane itself.

Don’t Like Your Health Insurance? Make Your Own

Nina Rogozen, News Report: Millions of Americans lack adequate health care, using emergency rooms as a costly alternative or getting no care at all. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), often called “Obamacare,” opened the door for an affordable option. The December 31, 2012 deal between Congress and the administration that avoided the so-called “fiscal cliff” has, at least for the moment, closed that door for 26 states. The ACA funds private, nonprofit health insurers called Consumer Operated and Oriented Plans—CO-OPs. It originally set aside $3.4 billion for low-interest loans—seed money for at least one health cooperative in each state, plus Washington, D.C.

Capitalism in Crisis: Richard Wolff Urges End to Austerity, New Jobs Program, Democratizing Work

Amy Goodman, Video Interview: As Washington lawmakers pushes new austerity measures, economist Richard Wolff calls for a radical restructuring of the U.S. economic and financial systems. We talk about the $85 billion budget cuts as part of the sequester, banks too big to fail, Congress’ failure to learn the lessons of the 2008 economic collapse and his new book, “Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism.” Wolff also gives FOX news host Bill O’Reilly a lesson in economics 101.

America Split in Two: Five Ugly Extremes of Inequality

Paul Buchheit, Op-Ed: The first step is to learn the facts, and then to get angry and to ask ourselves as progressives and caring human beings, what we can do about the relentless transfer of wealth to a small group of well-positioned Americans. End the capital gains giveaway, which benefits the wealthy almost exclusively. Institute a Financial Speculation Tax; both to raise needed funds from a currently untaxed subsidy on stock purchases and to reduce the risk of the irresponsible trading that nearly brought down the economy.

Thirteen Offensive Things Justice Scalia’s Compared to Homosexuality

Ian Millhiser, News Report: Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear the first of two cases which could end discrimination against same-sex couples and ensure that all Americans can marry the person they love. Whatever happens in those two cases, one thing is all but certain: Justice Antonin Scalia will vote to maintain marriage discrimination and he will spend much of this week’s oral arguments making insulting comments about LGBT Americans. After the offensive things Scalia compared homosexuality to in his past opinions, Scalia concludes his Lawrence dissent with a plea that he is not in the least bit anti-gay. “Let me be clear,” Scalia writes, “that I have nothing against homosexuals.”

Asia and a Post-American Middle East

Yuriko Koike, Op-Ed: When the consequences of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq ten years ago are fully assessed, the importance of the subsequent rise of political Islam there—and throughout the wider Middle East—may well pale in comparison to that of a geostrategic shift that no one foresaw at the time. That shift, however, has now come into view. With America approaching energy self-sufficiency, a U.S. strategic disengagement from the region may become a reality. China’s dependence on Middle East energy imports means that it is almost certain to seek to fill any regional security vacuum.

How to Avoid Fake Organic Products

Anthony Gucciardi, News Report: Thanks to corporate loopholes and profit-driven manufacturers, it’s harder than ever to really know what you are putting into your body — or perhaps even more importantly the mouths of your children. That said, it is possible to make sure you’re getting what is not just labeled organic and shipped from a contaminated facility in China, but actually high quality. The fact of the matter is that the decision to switch to organic food is one that signifies a serious change in lifestyle across the board, leading to a wealth of information and serious optimizations for your health.

Dozens Arrested as Keystone XL Protests Erupt Across the U.S.

News Report: One month after the largest climate rally in U.S. history urging President Obama to deny the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline’s northern segment, protesters in dozens of cities throughout the U.S. are confronting Keystone XL’s corporate backers directly. Thirty-seven have been arrested over the last 10 days for disrupting business as usual at TransCanada and their investors’ offices, with more actions planned over the next couple of days.

Debt Friendly Stimulus

Robert J. Shiller, Op-Ed: With much of the global economy apparently trapped in a long and painful austerity-induced slump, it is time to admit that the trap is entirely of our own making. We have constructed it from unfortunate habits of thought about how to handle spiraling public debt. People developed these habits on the basis of the experiences of their families and friends: when in debt trouble, one must cut spending and pass through a period of austerity until the burden (debt relative to income) is reduced.

Fox: Americans Need Assault Weapons to Protect Themselves from an Iranian Invasion, Al Qaeda

Igor Volsky, News Report: During a roundtable discussion on Friday, Fox News’ Lou Dobbs agreed with a network contributor who argued that Americans need to access military-style assault weapons to protect themselves from an Iranian invasion. “What scares the hell out of me we have a president, as we were discussing during break, that wants to take away our guns, but yet he wants to attack Iran and Syria. So if they come and attack us here, we don’t have the right to bear arms under this Obama administration,” Angela McGlowan, a former lobbyist for News Corp., said in the midst of a conversation about violence in Syria.

Climate Change Now Seen as Security Threat Worldwide

Jim Lobe, News Report: Defense establishments around the world increasingly see climate change as posing potentially serious threats to national and international security, according to a review of high-level statements by the world’s governments released here Thursday. The review, “The Global Security Defense Index on Climate Change: Preliminary Results,” found that nearly three out of four governments for which relevant information is available view the possible effects of climate change as a serious national security issue.

Tea Party Aligned S. Carolina Candidate Bankrolled by Kentucky Natural Gas Exec

Michael Beckel, News Analysis: Natural gas executive James Willard Kinzer of Kentucky is one of more than 100 small business owners listed online as supporting Curtis Bostic, the former Charleston County council member who appears to have advanced to a runoff against former Gov. Mark Sanford following Tuesday’s 16-way GOP primary in South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District. But he’s much more than that. Not only did Kinzer donate the legal maximum to Bostic’s underdog campaign, he pumped $30,000 into a pro-Bostic super PAC called the “Coastal Conservative Fund.”

BBC-Guardian Exposé Uses WikiLeaks to Link Iraq Torture Centers to U.S. Col. Steele and Gen. Petraeus

Amy Goodman, Video Feature: A shocking new report has been released by The Guardian newspaper and BBC Arabic detailing how the United States armed and trained Iraqi police commando units that ran torture centers and death squads. It’s a story that stretches from the U.S.-backed involvement in Latin America to the imprisoned Army whistleblower Bradley Manning. Amy Goodman is joined by Chief Reporter Maggie O’Kane

Beware the New Corporate Tax-Cut Scam: LIFT is a Big LIE

Dave Johnson, Op-Ed: The executives who run the giant multinationals want to be let off the hook for paying taxes on profits they make outside our borders. As an Apple executive said to The New York Times, giant multinationals “don’t have an obligation to solve America’s problems.” And to prove it, American corporations are holding $1.7 trillion in profits outside the country—just sitting there—rather than bringing that money home, paying the taxes due and then paying it out to shareholders or using it to “create jobs” with new factories, research facilities and equipment.

Full Show: What Has Capitalism Done for Us Lately?

Bill Moyers, Video Interview: Sheila Bair, the longtime Republican who served as chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) during the fiscal meltdown five years ago, joins to talk about American banks’ continuing risky and manipulative practices, their seeming immunity from prosecution and growing anger from Congress and the public. Also, Richard Wolff, whose smart, blunt talk about the crisis of capitalism the first time around now answers questions sent in by viewers, diving further into economic inequality, the limitations of industry regulation and the widening gap between a booming stock market and a population that increasingly lives in poverty.

An Open Letter to Mitch McConnell, From a Kentuckian

Carl Gibson, Op-Ed: Kentuckians live by the phrase, “United We Stand, Divided We Fall.” It’s emblazoned on our flag, and shows two men, a frontiersman (Daniel Boone) and a statesman (Henry Clay) standing together. They may be standing on opposite sides of the seal, but their embrace symbolizes a spirit of cooperation and caring for your fellow man even though you may sometimes disagree with him. Yet, as Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell proudly announced that his chief goal as the top Republican member was not to create jobs or help schools or look out for struggling middle class, but to deny President Obama a second term.

GMO Boycott: Major Supermarkets Say NO to GM Salmon

Anthony Gucciardi, News Report: Whether or not the FDA chooses to approve genetically modified salmon for sale in the marketplace, supermarkets themselves have decided to take a stand in the form of a mass boycott. One that would serve to crush the profits of the unlabeled seafood abomination. In a move that signifies the growing opposition to genetically modified creations from a grassroots level all the way to corporate understanding of consumer demand, chains like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Aldi, and others are now all reporting that they will refuse the sale of AquaBounty Technology’s modified salmon.

Faced with F-35 Failures, Costs; Congress Says to Push On

William Boardman, News Report: The F-35 is a case study of government failure at all levels—civilian and military, federal, state, local, even airport authority. Not one critical government agency is meeting its obligation to protect the people it presumably represents. Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who wrote the F-35 critique above, is hardly unique as an illustration of how government fails, but he sees no alternative to failure. The F-35 is a nuclear-capable weapon of mass destruction that was supposed to be the “fighter of the future” when it was undertaken in 2001.

Finally Confirmed: GOP ‘IS’ Out of Touch

GOP Report Shows Party is Out of Touch With Americans on Threats to Democracy: Money in Politics and Voter Suppression

The Republican National Committee released a report today reviewing its losses in the 2012 election cycle and laying out a roadmap for the future of the party.  People For the American Way Vice President Marge Baker released the following statement:

“This report highlights what we already knew: that the Republican party is out of touch with America. Instead of addressing the party’s anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-worker policies that voters resoundingly rejected in 2012, today’s report calls for a complete gutting of campaign finance reform – in essence calling for even more big money to be poured into our elections.  If the Republican party were listening to Americans, they would know that the country supports finding systemic solutions to the problem of unregulated money in our political system.  The answer is certainly not to gut the regulations we already have in place.  Instead, we need to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC and related cases so that we can create more effective regulations to get big money out of our democracy.

“The GOP report’s recommendations on voting rights also underscore a continuing focus on keeping certain voters from the polls.  After an election cycle overflowing with examples of discriminatory voter suppression efforts aimed at historically disenfranchised communities, the report recommends an ongoing focus on so-called  ‘ballot security training initiatives.’  This is simply another phrase for the same voter intimidation tactics used in the name of preventing supposed ‘voter fraud.’  It’s baffling that the GOP thinks it can improve its image with people of color while still working to block their access to the ballot box.

“This report is yet another example that the GOP’s ‘soul-searching’ hasn’t gotten them very far.  It’s time to refocus our efforts on getting the big money out of elections and the voters into the voting booth.”

Ready to go?

Just exactly how much lipstick have they purchased?  Maybeline and Revlon combined couldn’t make enough lipstick to take care of that pachyderm.

Yesterday— the Republican National Committee released its wide-ranging “autopsy” report called the “Growth And Opportunity Project Report.” In it, the party admits to several shortcomings that contributed to the party’s wide losses in the 2012 election. A portion of the report includes market research from voter focus groups around the country. Not surprisingly, when asked to describe Republicans, respondents said that the party was “scary,” “narrow-minded,” “out of touch,” and full of “stuffy old men.”  What’s most interesting is that the report failed to quantify just how out of touch their party has become on a number of issues, from climate change, to marriage equality, to universal background checks, to women’s rights, to the minimum wage, and more.

The GOP thinks they merely have a messaging problem … and just need to change a few words they used to talk about things.  HAH! Now that’s a joke and a half.  Maybe they should look at their 2012 Platform. Better yet, maybe they should look at what is happening in State Legislatures and what members of their party have introduced in the Congress:

  • Restricting access to or insurance reimbursement of costs associated with an abortion;
  • Restricting time frames in which a woman could seek an abortion to 12-weeks and in on case, to 6-weeks from conception;
  • Mandating the use of transvaginal ultrasounds and other medically unnecessary procedures as a means to shame women;
  • Gleefully and gloatingly defunding Planned Parenthood;
  • Attempting to elevate “religious” rights above all others to allow zealots to assert their religious rights to deny all types of service and/or medications should it offend “their” personal religious beliefs, making their beliefs superior to yours;
  • Continually attempting to repeal Obamacare and providing NO replacement;
  • Promoting continued systemic discrimination against the LGBT community, as a whole, via marriage inequality espoused throughout our Nation’s income tax and estate tax structures;
  • Attempting to enact one voter suppression tactic after another to disenfranchise voters as well as restricting early voting opportunities;
  • Continually filibustering one bill after another, even those introduced by Republicans;
  • Blocking Consumer Financial Protection and making multiple attempts to repeal Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform;
  • Promoting racial profiling as a means of harassment to convince Hispanics to “self-deport’ ;
  • Promoting Personhood for embryos and essentially demoting women’s status to nothing more than an incubator;
  • Replacing Democracy with Dictatorships (Overseers);
  • Promoting fatherhood visitation rights for rapists.

I’m sure I’ve missed of few other big issues we’ve had to overcome … but need I go on?  There’s a politically incorrect term we frequently used when I was in the Navy to define that kind of behavior.  The term stars with “cluster.”  The GOPs (Grouchy Old Patriarchs) problem is much more than a “messaging” problem.  It’s a policy problem and we should cheer them on  in pursuit of their messaging delusion.  It will most certainly shorten their path to minor party status.  We may have a few challenges to overcome in the short run, but we’ll all be much better off in the long run.

Don’t believe me?  See for yourself,  take your pick, click a pic or two.  Read/compare a few — then compare the numbers.

2012-GOP-Platform GOP Growth Opportunity Rpt 2009-GOP-Road-to-Recovery 2010-GOP-Better-Solutions
GOP 2012 Platform GOP Growth Opportunites 2009 Path to Recovery 2010-Better Solutions
2010-Pledge-to-America Path to Poverty v1.0 Path to Poverty v2.0 Path to Poverty v3.0
2010-Pledge to America P2P v1.0 P2P v2.0 P2P v3.0

Documents Reveal Anti-Gay Parenting Study Was Manipulated To Influence Supreme Court

By Zack Ford at ThinkProgress on Mar 11, 2013 at 9:15 am

image

Mark Regnerus has admitted his “family structures” study didn’t actually measure gay parenting, comparing the children of separated parents who had same-sex relationships with those of married opposite-sex parents. An internal auditor of the journal that published the Regnerus study last year concluded its findings were “bullshit” because this false comparison doesn’t adequately measuring same-sex parenting. Nevertheless, conservatives have repeatedly cited the study, even to the Supreme Court, claiming same-sex couples are unfit to raise children to substantiate their opposition to marriage equality, even though medical professionals have thoroughly debunked its claims. Now, documents reveal that the anti-gay conservatives who originally funded the study conspired before data was even collected to produce results that could influence “major decisions of the Supreme Court.”

The American Independent collected internal documents through public-records requests from the anti-gay Witherspoon Institute, which funded the Regnerus study, and found that its President intended the study to produce a result against gay parenting before it was even conducted. This is not surprising, as both the Witherspoon Institute, as well as the study’s other funder, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, are connected to Robert George, founding co-chair of the National Organization for Marriage and prominent legal opponent of marriage equality. Now these emails confirm that suspicion.

For example, the University of Texas hired academic consultant W. Bradford Wilcox to conduct data analysis on the Regnerus study, ignoring that he was a longtime fellow of the Witherspoon Institute and was still working with Witherspoon while the study was conceptualized. Regnerus reached out to Wilcox back in September of 2010 for input about “their hopes for what emerges from this project.” Wilcox also suggested the study be pitched to the journal Social Science Research, where Wilcox sits on the editorial advisory board.

The study was also rushed, with Witherspoon president Luis Tellez telling Regnerus in 2010 that the study should “move along as expeditiously as possible”:

TELLEZ: It would be great to have this before major decisions of the Supreme Court but that is secondary to the need to do this and do it well. I would like you to take ownership and think of how would you want it done, rather than someone like me dictating parameters but of course, here to help.

Tellez confirmed to The American Independent that he was referring to same-sex marriage cases. In April 2011 — a year before the study was complete — Tellez wrote in a letter that “we are confident that the traditional understanding of marriage will be vindicated by this study as long as it is done honestly and well.” He also suggested that no prior study had properly compared children raised by a mother and father and those “headed by gay and lesbian couples, but of course the Regnerus study doesn’t even do that.

Publication was similarly rushed. It was submitted for publication in February 2012 before Regnerus had even completed all of the data collection and accepted just six weeks later, while many other articles published in the same issue took a year between submission and acceptance. Peer review was similarly hurried, with one social demographer told he only had two weeks to review the study and offer a commentary — without even having access to all the data.

These documents vindicate suspicions that the study was politically calculated. Indeed, at every step of the process, the goal of this study was always to undermine same-sex parenting, not learn anything of its potential value. In truth, with the fraudulent methodology on national display, it has only served to reveal the animus behind those opposed to LGBT equality.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.

Defense Secretary Lifted Ban on Women in Combat

“The Pentagon announced an end to the ban on women in combat, finally allowing our military to fully benefit from the talents of women who want to serve and defend our great nation. When we as a nation lift restrictions and allow people to serve based on their performance, we benefit from it. That was true when President Truman desegregated the military, allowing African-Americans to serve as equals. It was true when President Obama ended “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” allowing our gay and lesbian service members to serve openly. And it is true now for women.  As a Veteran who saw combat action, I know firsthand that America’s daughters are just as capable of defending liberty as her sons.  Allowing our women in uniform to serve fully is a win for our nation. ”  — Rep. Tammy Duckworth

http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/310586-1

 

A Thrilling Victory

I’m thrilled to let you know we won a huge victory in Edie Windsor’s challenge to DOMA (the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act") — which prevents the federal government from respecting the existing marriages of same-sex couples.

This is a huge win for Edie Windsor, for civil liberties, for human rights, and for loving couples everywhere.

In the ruling, the judge decided a critical section of DOMA unconstitutionally discriminates against married same-sex couples. This now becomes the 5th case in which courts have struck down DOMA as unconstitutional — and solidifies an emerging consensus among federal judges that DOMA’s got to go.
Edie Windsor has long been a voice of strength and compassion and in this momentous victory, she had some wonderful words to share:

"Thea and I shared our lives together for 44 years, and I miss her each and every day. It’s thrilling to have a court finally recognize how unfair it is for the government to have treated us as though we were strangers."

On behalf of Edie and loving, same-sex couples everywhere, I thank you for your work with the ACLU in making this happen. And I’m happy to celebrate this victory with you all today.

Thanks for all that you do,

James Esseks
Director, ACLU LGBT Project

Follow the ACLU on Facebook

Follow the LGBT Project on Facebook

How Will Heller Vote Tomorrow?

NRSC communications director Brian Walsh went of the attack against Democrats and the Paycheck Fairness Act saying,

“This pathetic political attack is just the latest effort by Senate Democrats to distract Americans from their failed leadership on the economy and it simply drives home how out of touch they are.  While Democrats are busy sending out press releases and ginning up phony attacks, the rest of America is rightfully asking ‘where are the jobs.”

I seriously beg to differ with Mr. Walsh.  For many women across this nation, the Paycheck Fairness Act is very much about economics and the economy.  We work side-by-side with many men, performing the same job with equal proficiency, and in far too many cases, we, as women, are paid differently … predominantly less than our male counterparts merely because of our gender.  Now, adding insult to injury, it’s common practice by corporate America to impose a policy making it a dischargeable office to share information about what you earn with your co-workers.  Excuse me?

Far too many employers employ predatory wages for women and then turn around and employ predatory policies to prevent you from learning about the predation.  The ruling by the Supreme Court basically said that the discrimination begins from the first paycheck … and thus … if an employer can conceal that discriminatory act for the allowable 180 days in which the female employee has to file a case of discrimination …. hey, they’re good to go and can continue that discriminatory practice in perpetuity.

In union environments, if you perform a job covered by the bargaining agreement, you’re paid the same as all others in that job title.  That’s not necessarily the same in non-union environments. And given the GOP’s determination to wipe out unions and impose right-to-work laws uniformly across all 50 states, how do you think women will fare should that become the law of the land?

The majority of the middle class are women, and if you truly understand economics, you know that that makes women true “job creators” across this nation.  In spending their paychecks, they create demand for all types of products and services.  Thus, paying women less puts an automatic damper on demand.  Without demand, employers aren’t going to hire more people to create additional products and services when there isn’t a corresponding increase in demand.  No employer is going to consider increasing supply when there isn’t sufficient demand to recover their cost to produce that product or service.

Mr. Walsh and his GOP brethren, including unelected Sen. Dean Heller, in addition to pushing their supply-side economics hoax that has done nothing more than redistribute our nation’s wealth upward, now want to also ensure that women are incapable of achieving parity in the workplace.

According to AAUW Executive Director Linda D. Hallman, “Empowering women is one investment that always pays long-term dividends, not only for the women themselves, but also for their families and the nation as well. It’s time for the Equal Pay Act to live up to its promise to provide equal pay for equal work.”

Heller Insults Not Just Spanish-Speakers, But ALL Nevadans

Heller Has “Managed to Insult Every Spanish-Speaking person in Nevada”
AS WELL AS “every English-speaking person in the State of Nevada”

Las Vegas, NV – That’s going to leave a mark. Last night, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow called out Sen. Dean Heller over his papering over his record on immigration issues on his Spanish-language website – something Heller failed to do on his English-language one.  This comes after the Las Vegas Sun reported earlier this week that Heller’s English-language website includes rhetoric on immigration issues that is apparently missing from the Spanish-language website. Did he really think Nevadans didn’t know how to use Google translation services?  Given his opposition to the DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform, we wonder why he intentional information of his “en Español” version of his site.  Was the intent to deceive?

Republican Attitudes May Be Changing

Whoa … some members of the Republican Party may be seeing the light.  In a memorandum sent out by Jan van Lohuizen, a pollster for former President George W. Bush suggesting that Republican candidates should shift the way they discuss same-sex marriage.

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“BACKGROUND: In view of this week’s news on the same sex marriage issue, here is a summary of recent survey findings on same sex marriage:

  1. Support for same sex marriage has been growing and in the last few years support has grown at an accelerated rate with no sign of slowing down. A review of public polling shows that up to 2009 support for gay marriage increased at a rate of 1% a year. Starting in 2010 the change in the level of support accelerated to 5% a year. The most recent public polling shows supporters of gay marriage outnumber opponents by a margin of roughly 10% (for instance: NBC / WSJ poll in February / March: support 49%, oppose 40%).
  2. The increase in support is taking place among all partisan groups. While more Democrats support gay marriage than Republicans, support levels among Republicans are increasing over time. The same is true of age: younger people support same sex marriage more often than older people, but the trends show that all age groups are rethinking their position.
  3. Polling conducted among Republicans show that majorities of Republicans and Republican leaning voters support extending basic legal protections to gays and lesbians. These include majority Republican support for:
    1. Protecting gays and lesbians against being fired for reasons of sexual orientation
    2. Protections against bullying and harassment
    3. Repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
    4. Right to visit partners in hospitals
    5. Protecting partners against loss of home in case of severe medical emergencies or death
    6. Legal protection in some form for gay couples whether it be same sex marriage or domestic partnership (only 29% of Republicans oppose legal recognition in any form).

Recommendation: A statement reflecting recent developments on this issue along the following lines:“People who believe in equality under the law as a fundamental principle, as I do, will agree that this principle extends to gay and lesbian couples; gay and lesbian couples should not face discrimination and their relationship should be protected under the law. People who disagree on the fundamental nature of marriage can agree, at the same time, that gays and lesbians should receive essential rights and protections such as hospital visitation, adoption rights, and health and death benefits.”

Other thoughts / Q&A: Follow up to questions about affirmative action:
“This is not about giving anyone extra protections or privileges, this is about making sure that everyone – regardless of sexual orientation – is provided the same protections against discrimination that you and I enjoy.”

Why public attitudes might be changing:
“As more people have become aware of friends and family members who are gay, attitudes have begun to shift at an accelerated pace. This is not about a generational shift in attitudes, this is about people changing their thinking as they recognize their friends and family members who are gay or lesbian.”

Conservative fundamentals:
“As people who promote personal responsibility, family values, commitment and stability, and emphasize freedom and limited government we have to recognize that freedom means freedom for everyone. This includes the freedom to decide how you live and to enter into relationships of your choosing, the freedom to live without excessive interference of the regulatory force of government.”

Given this memo, maybe at least some Republicans are finally realizing that “freedom means freedom for everyone” … not just freedom for straight folks. There are 1,138 benefits, rights and protections provided on the basis of marital status in Federal law.
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Below is a Summary and Explanation compiled by the Human Rights Campaign:

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Social Security
Social Security provides the sole means of support for some elderly Americans.  All working Americans contribute to this program through payroll tax, and receive payments upon retirement.  Surviving spouses of working Americans are eligible to receive Social Security payments.  A surviving spouse caring for a deceased employee’s minor child is also eligible for an additional support payment.  Surviving spouse and surviving parent benefits are denied to gay and lesbian Americans because they cannot marry.  Thus, a lesbian couple who contributes an equal amount to Social Security over their lifetime as a married couple would receive drastically unequal benefits, as set forth below.
Family Eligible for Surviving Child Benefits Eligible for Surviving Parent Benefits

  • Family #1: Married husband and wife, both are biological parents of the child
    • Eligible for Surviving Child Benefits
    • Eligible for Surviving Parent Benefits
  • Family #2: Same-sex couple, deceased worker was the biological parent or adoptive of the child
    • Eligible for Surviving Child Benefits
    • Not Eligible for Surviving Parent Benefits
  • Family #3: Same-sex couple, deceased worker was not the biological parent nor able to adopt child through second-parent adoption
    • Not Eligible for Surviving Child Benefits
    • Not Eligible for Surviving Parent Benefits

Tax:
According to the GAO report, as of 1997 there were 179 tax provisions that took marital status into account.   The following is a limited sample of such tax provisions.

Tax on Employer-Provided Health Benefits to Domestic Partners: In growing numbers, both public and private employers across the country have made the business decision to provide domestic partner benefits in order to promoted fairness and equality in the workplace.   For example, as of August 2003, 198 (almost forty percent) of the Fortune 500 companies and 173 state and local governments nationwide provide health insurance benefits to the domestic partners of their employees.  Federal tax law has not kept up with corporate and governmental who take advantage of it are taxed inequitably.

As policymakers have put an increasing emphasis on delivering health coverage through the tax code and as the cost of healthcare has once again begun to skyrocket, the current inequities in the tax code have placed a burden on the employers who provide healthcare coverage to domestic partners and on the employees who depend upon these benefits to provide security for their families.

  1. Burden on Employees
    Employers who provide health benefits to their employees typically pay a portion of the premium – if not the entire premium.   Currently, the Code provides that the employer’s contribution of the premium for health insurance for an employee’s spouse is excluded from the employee’s taxable income.  An employer’s contribution for the domestic partner’s coverage, however, is included in the employee’s taxable income as a fringe benefit.
  2. Burden on Employers
    An employer’s payroll tax liability is calculated based on their employees’ taxable incomes.   When contributions for domestic partner benefits are included in employees’ incomes, employers pay higher payroll taxes.  This provision also places an administrative burden on employers by requiring them to identify those employees utilizing their benefits for a partner rather than a spouse.  Employers must then calculate the portion of their contribution that is attributable to the partner, and create and maintain a separate payroll function for these employees’ income tax withholding and payroll tax.  Thus, the employers are penalized for making a sound business decision that contributes to stability in the workforce.

Inequitable Treatment of Children Raised in LGBT Households:
Recent data shows that at least 1 million children are being raised by same-sex couples in the United States.  The Code contains competing definitions of “child.”  Certain provisions of the Code defining child penalize for the marital status of their parents and caregivers.

  1. Earned Income Tax Credit
    Eligibility for the earned income tax credit (EITC) is based in part upon the number of “qualifying” children in the taxpayer’s household.   See 26 USC § 32.   The definition of qualifying child under this provision includes only a child who is the taxpayer’s (a) biological child or descendent; (b) stepchild of the taxpayer; or (c) adopted child.  Certain children of lesbian and gay couples are disadvantaged by this provision.  For exampled, a taxpayer and their partner domestic are jointly raising the partner’s biological child.  The taxpayer works full-time and the child’s legal parent stays home to care for the child.  The state in which the taxpayer resides does not permit them to adopt through second-parent adoption or to marry the partner and become the child’s step-parent.  This working family is therefore ineligible for an adjustment of the EITC, and therefore has decreased the resources to devote to the child’s care.
  2. Head of Household Status
    Heads of household, as defined by 26 U.S.C. § 2, are eligible for an increased standard deduction that, among other things, provides taxpayers with increased funds to care for their dependents.   The “limitations” section of this provision explicitly denies the benefit of head-of-household status to taxpayers supporting non-biological, non-adopted children.  Thus, a gay or lesbian taxpayer who supports his or her partner’s child (and who is ineligible to adopt the child) has fewer post-tax dollars with which to support the child.
  3. Child Tax Credit
    Taxpayers meeting income eligibility requirements are entitled to a credit against tax for qualifying children in their households.   This provision limits the child tax credit to children who meet the relationship test set fourth in the earned income tax provisions, § 32(c)(3)(B).  As set forth above, § 32 does not include children of a taxpayer’s domestic partner if the children are not related to the taxpayer biologically or through adoption.All three of these inequities have the effect of penalizing families who choose to have one parent in the work force and the other caring for the children full-time.   In addition, they disadvantage such couples and their children by limiting the choice of which parent will be a full-time caregiver.  Although similarly situated married couples may choose which parent will fulfill that role without consequence, lesbian and gay couples, as well as other unmarried couples, face negative tax consequences for the same decision.

Tax on Gain from the Sale of the Taxpayer’s Principal Residence:  Under Internal Revenue Code §121, a single taxpayer may exclude up to $250,000 of profit due to the sale of his or her personal principal residence from taxable income.   Married couples filing jointly may exclude up to $500,000 on the sale of their home.  Lesbian and gay couples, who are not permitted to marry or to file jointly, are therefore taxed on all gain above $250,000, creating a large tax penalty compared to similarly situated married couples.

Estate Tax:
Internal Revenue Code § 2056 exempts amounts transferred to a surviving spouse from the decedent’s taxable estate.   For same-sex couples who are legally barred from marriage, this exemption is not available, creating an inequity in taxation.

Taxation of Retirement Savings:
Under current law, when a retirement plan participant dies, plan benefits must be distributed in a lump sum or remain in the plan to be distributed in accordance with the minimum distribution requirements of § 401(a)(9).   This problem does not exist if the beneficiary is the deceased participant’s surviving spouse, because the surviving spouse may transfer plan benefits to an IRA or a retirement plan in which he or she is a participant.  This entitlement is valuable because (a) it allows the surviving spouse to defer taxation of the proceeds, often until the survivor is in a lower tax bracket; and (b) it protects the surviving spouse from being forced to withdraw from an investment program when its value is depressed.  Because gay and lesbian couples are treated as strangers under federal tax and pension law, they cannot transfer plan benefits without incurring significant penalties, and do not have the flexibility to withdraw funds when they choose.

This example demonstrates this inequity: Michelle and Sarah have been in a committed relationship for over 10 years.   They have registered as domestic partners under the laws of the District of Columbia.  Throughout their relationship, they have taken every legal step available to formalize their relationship and protect themselves, legally and financially as domestic partners.  Michelle participated in her employer’s 401(k) retirement plans, naming Sarah as the primary beneficiary.  Sarah purchased an individual retirement account (IRA).  While driving to her job, Michelle is killed in a car accident.  Sarah does not have the option to transfer Michelle’s 401(k) funds into her existing IRA because, under current law, only a “spouse” may roll over 401(k) and inherited IRA plans upon the death of a plan participant.  Sarah must then take the entire proceeds of the inherited 401(k) in a lump sum and pay taxes on them immediately at a much higher rate, rather than rolling it over into her own name tax free as a surviving spouse can do.

Family and Medical Leave:
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantees family and medical leave to employees to care for parents, children or spouses.   As currently interpreted, this law does not provide leave to care for a domestic partner or the domestic partner’s family member.  Family and medical leave should be a benefit for all American workers.

Immigration Law: Currently, U.S. immigration law does not allow lesbian and gay citizens or permanent residents to petition for their same-sex partners to immigrate.  Approximately 75% of the one million green cards or immigrant visas issued each year are granted to family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.  However, those excluded from the definition, under current immigration law of family, are not eligible to immigrate as family.  Such ineligible person include (but are not limited to) same-sex partners and unmarried heterosexual couples.

Each year, current law forces thousands of lesbian and gay couples to separate or live in constant fear of deportation.   In some cases, partners of lesbian and gays face prosecution by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), hefty fines and deportation and U.S. citizens are sometimes left with no other choice but to migrate with their partner to a nation whose immigration laws recognize their relationship.  This creates a tremendous hardship, not only for those involved, but for their friends and family, and leads to a drain of talent and productivity for our country.Fifteen countries: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Sweden and the United Kingdom recognize lesbian and gay couples for the purposes of immigration.

Employee Benefits for Federal Workers:
According to the GAO Report, marital status affects over 270 provisions dealing with current and retired federal employees, members of the Armed Forces, elected officials, and judges.   Most significantly, under current law, domestic partners of federal employees are excluded from the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP).  Although married couples are eligible for reimbursement for expenses incurred by a domestic partner are not reimbursable.   As of August 2003, nine states and the District of Columbia and 322 local governments offer health benefits to the domestic partners of their public employees, while the nation’s largest employer – the federal government – does not.

Continued Health Coverage (COBRA):
Federal law requires employers to give their former employees the opportunity to continue their employer-provided health insurance coverage by paying a premium (the requirement was part of the consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985; hence the common name COBRA).  An increasing number of employers, including 198 of the Fortune 500, now offer their employees domestic partner benefits.  Although this trend is encouraging, the Federal COBRA law does not require employers to provide domestic partners the continued coverage guaranteed to married couples.  Under 29 U.S.C. § 1167, an employer is only required to offer continuation coverage to the employee and to “qualified beneficiaries,” defined as the employee’s spouse and dependent children, regardless of whether the employee’s original benefits plan covered other beneficiaries.  Because of the narrow definition of “spouse” under federal law, employees are not guaranteed continued coverage for their domestic partners. [2]

[1] Defense of Marriage Act: An Update to Prior Report, General Accounting Office, 2004
[2] Nothing in this law prevents an employer from extending COBRA benefits to domestic partners.

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It’s nice to see that at least some Republicans are finally beginning to realize that, just maybe, it’s well passed time to end the systemic discrimination against an entire segment of our population.  It’s time for them to stop cherry-picking excerpts from the Bible and incorporating them into governmental laws affecting the people of our nation.