Blaming The Economy’s Victims For Economic Crimes

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
Blame the unions, blame the unemployed, blame loans to the poor, blame the government… As income and wealth increasingly go to a few at the top public anger is directed at the economy’s victims.
I am in a clinic all day participating in a medical study, so I was talking to one of the nurses. She brought up that California is in real trouble, is going broke, it’s a real mess. She says she doesn’t know what we’re going to do. She has heard that, “lots of states are going bankrupt. There is no money anymore.”
So I asked her what we should do about it.
She said it is because of the unions. “It’s just ridiculous. They want so much.”
I asked if she follows the news closely, she said she does. “I watch the news a lot.”
Some facts: California is famous for leading the country in a wave of anti-government tax-cutting and into Reaganism. We cut taxes an an anti-government ferver and increased prison spending in a law-and-order fever. Then the federal government cut taxes and increased military spending, leading to big deficits. Now we’re out of money to run the state government and the country is getting there, too. California’s problems have little or nothing to do with what state employees are paid, and a lot to do with tax cuts and people across the state not getting paid enough.
Blaming The Unions
This weekend CBS’ 60 Minutes joined the anti-worker chorus, blaming public employee unions for the problems faced by the states. Media Matters, in 60 Minutes’ one-sided, GOP-friendly report on state budgets describes the segment,

In 2,600 words about state deficits, you won’t find the phrase “tax cuts.” Instead, CBS adopts the Republican framing that deficits are all about spending — frequently with loaded phrasing like “gold-plated retirement and health care packages.” And throughout the report, CBS allows Christie, New Jersey’s Republican governor, to launch attacks on unions and make unsupported claims about budget problems, all without ever challenging his assertions and without including substantive disagreement from Christie critics.
You’d never know from CBS’ report that a big part of the reason that “Christie and his predecessors” failed to make required contributions to the pension fund is that they decided to use the money for tax cuts instead. [emphasis added]

Mike Hall at the AFL-CIO blog explains that New Jersey’s workers and pensions are not the problem,

While politicians like Christie rail against the pensions public employees have secured through collective bargaining—painting them as overly generous golden parachutes, McEntee notes the average annual pension for an AFSCME member is $19,000, and the workers contribute 80 percent during their lifetime on the job.

Tax cuts, income and wealth going to a few at the top, but the unions take the blame because they fight for a better life for working people.
Blaming The Unemployed
The unemployed and the checks they get are often blamed for their plight. They are called “lazy,” and it is even suggested the be tested for drugs. CAF graduate David Sirota, in Why the ‘Lazy Jobless’ Myth Persists

The thesis undergirding all the rhetoric was summed up by conservative commentator Ben Stein, who insisted that “the people who have been laid off and cannot find work are generally people with poor work habits and poor personalities.”
[. . .] The trouble, though, is that the whole narrative averts our focus from the job-killing trade, tax-cut and budget policies that are really responsible for destroying the economy. And this narrative, mind you, is not some run-of-the-mill distraction. The myth of the lazy unemployed is what duck-and-cover exercises and backyard nuclear shelters were to a past era—an alluring palliative that manufactures false comfort in the face of unthinkable disaster.

Blaming The Poor And Government
Republicans on the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission are sabotaging the commission’s work, demanding that “Wall Street” and “deregulation” not appear anywhere in the report. They are refusing to participate, instead releasing a counter-report blaming the government, claiming We, the People forced the giant banks to give home loans to the poor, and blaming the poor for receiving those loans.
What People Think
People tend to think about what is put in front of them to think about. That’s why everyone goes to see a new movie on the first weekend instead of waiting until they can get good seats with no lines. Wall Street and the likes of the Chamber of Commerce understand this so they put scapegoats in front of the public to mask what they are doing. Right now there is a corporate/right campaign to blame working people for the problems they caused.
Like 60 Minutes this weekend, the news sources are run by big corporations, and they have been saying over and over (and over and over) that unions and the unemployed and the poor and the government are the cause of the problems. (When was the last time you saw a union representative on TV, explaining the benefits of joining a union?) And, naturally, after hearing these things over and over (and over and over), viewers like the nurse at the clinic I am in think they should blame the unions, the unemployed, the poor, the government, too.
So much of the income and wealth are concentrating at the top. Taxes have been cut so far. The things our government does for us have been cut back so far. Working people’s wages have been stagnant for so long.
But the blame right now is directed at the unions, the poor, the unemployed and our government: We, the People.
As the AFL-CIO blog concludes,

The long term solution to state and local fiscal challenges … is “a robust economy, one that is creating jobs and replenishing tax revenue.”

To repeat: The long term solution to state and local fiscal challenges … is “a robust economy, one that is creating jobs and replenishing tax revenue.”
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Can’t Get By On $250K? Try Leaving Your Bubble!

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
The Washington Post ran a story how hard it is for a family making only $250K a year. Just who could a story like this be written by and for? How many ways does this story mislead its readers? If you want to write about hardship write some stories about and for the rest of us!
Over the weekend the Washington Post carried a story labeled as a “Fiscal Times” piece, Where does $250,000 a year go? Summary:

It’s the annual income that President Obama and others have repeatedly used to define what it means to be “rich” in America today. … Just how flush is a family of four with a $250,000 income?
… The bottom line: Living in high-tax areas on either coast can leave our $250,000-a-year family with little margin.

Richard Eskow hit the nail on the head in his post, A Quarter Of A Million Little Pieces: Pete Peterson & The Washington Post Have A New Fiscal James Frey, writing,

This “analysis” was written by someone named Karen Hube, and it’s based on two phony premises: First, that “President Obama and others have repeatedly used (that level of income) to define what it means to be ‘rich’ in America today,” and second, that it’s a hardship to get by on $250,000 a year.

(Please read Richard’s post, because he gets into what the Fiscal Times is, and why it carries stories like this one.)
The story claims that President Obama and others label them as “rich” because $250K would be the lower borderline if the Bush “tax cuts for the rich” expire. But this misleads readers because the family making $250,000 will NOT see any tax increase at all. If you understand how tax brackets work you know that only amounts above $250K get taxed the additional 4.6%, so someone making $250,001 will pay an additional tax of $0.046. Yes, that’s right, four point six cents. The amounts become large only with very (very) high incomes, but those incomes are so high that the additional tax is still almost nothing. A person making $1,000,000 would pay an additional tax of $2,875 a month on their $83,333 a month of income. (Sorry, it’s hard to write a number like that without shouting.)
So Who Is The Story For?
Just who is going to feel the pain of the people who “only” make $250K? The Joneses in the story actually have retirement savings and life and disability and health insurance! They have student loans to pay off because they went to expensive universities and they will have the high expenses to send their kids because their kids will, too. 98% of us understand that when we read this story. Since anyone who makes less than $250K is going to know better from their own experience than to believe what they read in this story, who is this story written for? Hint: the Washington Post is in … wait for it … Washington!
What about the rest of us? If $250K a year — the borderline for entering the top 2% — leaves the Joneses “with little margin” then shouldn’t there be 49 articles for every article like this, explaining how people who make less than $250K are doing — since that is almost all of us? Shouldn’t there be 49 articles about how 98% of us are not getting by, and have no margin at all?
Anti-Government
The story tries to make an anti-government point by claiming that taxes are squeezing the Joneses, complaining that the Joneses “only” take home $173K after all taxes (incl cell phone tax). (That is “only” $14.4K a month take-home.) But a careful reading shows that the opposite might be the case. It might really be limited government that is squeezing them:
College Costs: One of the factors in the cost analysis is college costs. They are paying off high student loans, and are getting ready to send kids to expensive collected. But college costs are so high because we have less government, because of tax cuts. This is clearly true in California, for example.
Child Care: Child care costs are high because government is “limited” in our conservative on-your-own society.
Health Care: The Joneses health insurance bill is another product of our on-you-own limited government here. Health care is covered anywhere else.
Retirement: The Joneses are saving a lot for their retirement. This drain on their income is high because in conservative America you are on your own. Corporations got rid of most pensions through the 401k scam, while the Social Security system is inadequate.
There are many other areas where limited government pouts a squeeze on people: insufficient transportation options and high energy costs due to fossil-fuel reliance among them.
They Did One For The Rest Of Us
To their credit the Post also has a story this weekend, In the U.S., Christmas remains a great divide, but the story misses the point by blaming the recession for the difficulties regular people face,

A new division is emerging in America between those who have moved on from the recession and those still caught in its grip.
This holiday season, those two worlds have been thrown into stark relief: At Tiffany’s, executives report that sales of their most expensive merchandise have grown by double digits. At Wal-Mart, executives point to shoppers flooding the stores at midnight every two weeks to buy baby formula the minute their unemployment checks hit their accounts. Neiman Marcus brought back $1.5 million fantasy gifts in its annual Christmas Wish Book. Family Dollar is making more room on its shelves for staples like groceries, the one category its customers reliably shop.

But many, many people with jobs are having a hard time buying baby formula, too, these days. It was like this for more and more people before the recession. In fact, many say that is why there is this bad economy. Where I live people go through my recycle bin looking for cans – and were doing so before the recession. People living on Social Security are having a very, very hard time while the people making $250K “with little margin” can talk casually about cutting the program in order to avoid having the cap lifted causing them to pay a bit more into the system.
The Post story attributes the divide to the “grip” of the recession and not to the problems caused by policies that have led to our intense concentration of wealth. The problem is that our economic system for thirty years has been increasingly rewarding a few at the very top, and not the rest of us. Tax cuts, bailouts and bonuses for them, government cutbacks and stagnant wages for us.
But flawed as it is, that is one down, only 48 more stories about the other 98% to go to catch up with the one about getting by on only $250K.
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