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ROBERT B. REICH, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written thirteen books, including the best sellers “Aftershock" and “The Work of Nations.“ His latest, "Beyond Outrage,” is now out in paperback. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause. His new film, “Inequality for All,” is now available on Netflix, iTunes, DVD, and On Demand.
Updated: 34 min 34 sec ago
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A few words about patriotism – something we talk a lot about, especially around July 4th, but seldom stop to examine its real meaning.
True patriotism isn’t simply about waving the American flag. And it’s not mostly about securing our borders from outsiders.
It’s about coming together for the common good.
Real patriotism is not cheap. It requires taking on a fair share of the burdens of keeping America going – being willing to pay taxes in full rather than seeking tax loopholes and squirreling away money abroad.
Patriotism is about preserving and protecting our democracy, not inundating it with big money and buying off politicians.
True patriots don’t hate the government of the United States. They’re proud of it. They may not like everything it does, and they justifiably worry when special interests gain too much power over it. But true patriots work to improve our government, not destroy it.
Finally, patriots don’t pander to divisiveness. They don’t fuel racist or religious or ethnic divisions. They aren’t homophobic or sexist.
To the contrary, true patriots seek to confirm and strengthen the “we” in “we the people of the United States.”
Have a happy and safe Fourth of July.
OVERTIME: FINALLY, A BREAK FOR THE MIDDLE CLASS
The U.S. Department of Labor just proposed raising the overtime threshold – what you can be paid and still qualify to be paid “time-and-a-half” beyond 40 hours per week – from $23,600 a year to $50,400.
This is a big deal. Some 5 million workers will get a raise. (See accompanying video, which we made last month.)
Business lobbies are already hollering this will kill jobs. That’s what they always predict – whether it’s raising the minimum wage, Obamacare, family and medical leave, or better worker safety. Yet their predictions never turn out to be true.
In fact, the new rule is likely to increase the number of jobs. That’s because employers who don’t want to pay overtime have an obvious option: They can hire more workers and employ each of them for no more than 40 hours a week.
It’s high time for this change. When the overtime threshold was at its peak a half-century ago, more than 60 percent of salaried workers qualified for overtime pay. But inflation has eroded that old threshold. Today, only about 8 percent of salaried workers qualify.
Overtime pay has become such a rarity that many Americans don’t even realize that the majority of salaried workers were once eligible for it.
We just keep working longer and harder, for less. A recent Gallup poll found that salaried Americans now report working an average of 47 hours a week—not the supposedly standard 40—while 18 percent of Americans report working more than 60 hours a week.
Meanwhile, corporate profits have doubled over the last three decades – from about 6% of GDP to about 12% – while wages have fallen by almost exactly the same amount.
The erosion of overtime and other labor protections is one of the main factors worsening inequality. A higher overtime threshold will help reverse this trend.
Finally, a bit of good news for hard-working Americans.
[This post is drawn from a piece co-authored with Nick Hanauer with the help of the Center for American Progress.]
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#12. MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL: GET BIG MONEY OUT OF POLITICS
Over the past two months, the videos I’ve done with MoveOn.org
have detailed several ways to make the economy work for the many, not the few:
raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, making public higher education free,
busting up the big banks, expanding Social Security, making polluters pay, raising
the estate tax, strengthening unions, ending corporate welfare, helping families
succeed economically, and letting all Americans buy into Medicare.
But none of these is possible if we don’t get big money out of politics.
In fact, nothing we need to do as a nation is possible unless we limit the political power of the moneyed interests.
So we made one more video – the one accompanying this post – and it’s incredibly important you share this one, too.
At the rate we’re going, the 2016 election is likely to be the most expensive in history – and the moneyed interests will be responsible for most of it. Our democracy is broken, and we must fix it.
Easy to say, but how do we do it?
First and most immediately, require full disclosure of all original sources of campaign money – so the public knows who’s giving what to whom, and can hold politicians accountable if they do favors for contributors while neglecting their responsibilities to all of us.
If Congress won’t enact a law requiring such full disclosure, the Federal Election Commission has the power to do it on its own and the SEC can do it for public corporations – which, by the way, are major campaign spenders.
Meanwhile, the President should issue an executive order requiring all federal contractors to fully disclose their political contributions. There’s a growing movement to encourage him to do just that.
Next, our government should provide matching funds for small-donor contributions – say $3 in public dollars for every $1 dollar from a small donor. Those public dollars could come from a check-off on your income tax return indicating you want, say, $15 of your taxes devoted to public financing of elections.
Third and most importantly, we must reverse the Supreme Court’s 5-4 First Amendment decisions holding that money is speech and corporations have the political rights of people – and that therefore no laws can be enacted limiting the amount of money wealthy individuals or big corporations can spend on elections.
We have to work hard for a constitutional amendment to overturn “Citizen’s United” – with the understanding that we’ll either succeed in amending our Constitution, or we’ll build a social movement powerful enough to influence the Supreme Court, just like the movement that led to the historic “Brown v. the Board of Education” decision.
Ultimately we need Supreme Court justices who understand that the freedom of speech of most Americans is drowned out when big money can spend as much as it wants, to be as loud as it needs to be.
The fundamental rule for an economy that works for everyone is a democracy that works, period.
#11. WHY MEDICARE ISN’T THE PROBLEM; IT’S THE SOLUTION
Again and again the upcoming election you’ll hear conservatives claim that Medicare - the health insurance program for America’s seniors - is running out of money and must be pared back.
Baloney. Medicare isn’t the problem. In fact, Medicare is more efficient than private health insurance.The real problem is that the costs of health care are expected to rise steeply.
Medicare could be the solution – the logical next step after the Affordable Care Act toward a single-payer system.
Please see the accompanying video – #11 in our series on ideas to make the economy work for the many rather than for the few. And please share.
Some background: Medicare faces financial problems in future years because of two underlying trends that will affect all health care in coming years, regardless of what happens to Medicare:
The first is that healthcare costs are rising overall - not as fast as they were rising before the Affordable Care Act went into effect, but still rising too quickly.
The second is that the giant postwar baby boom is heading toward retirement and older age. Which means more elderly people will need more health care, adding to the rising costs.
So how should we deal with these two costly trends? By making Medicare available to all Americans, not just the elderly.
Remember, Medicare is more efficient than private health insurers whose administrative costs and advertising and marketing expenses are eating up billions of dollars each year.
If more Americans were allowed to join Medicare, it could become more efficient by using its growing bargaining power to get lower drug prices, lower hospital bills, and healthier people.
Allowing all Americans to join Medicare is the best way to control future healthcare costs while also meeting the needs of the baby boomer and other Americans.
Everyone should be able to sign up for Medicare on the healthcare exchanges set up under the Affordable Care Act.This would begin to move America away from its reliance on expensive private health insurance, and toward Medicare for all – a single payer system.
Medicare isn’t a problem. It’s part of the solution.
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#10 END MASS INCARCERATION NOW
Imprisoning a staggering number of our people is wrong. The way our nation does it is even worse. We must end mass incarceration, now.
If I’m walking down the street with a Black or Latino friend, my friend is way more likely to be stopped by the police, questioned, and even arrested. Even if we’re doing the exact same thing—he or she is more likely to be convicted and sent to jail.
Unless we recognize the racism and abuse of our criminal justice system and tackle the dehumanizing stereotypes that underlie it, our nation – and our economy – will never be as strong as it could be.
Please take a moment to watch the accompanying video, and please share it so others can understand what’s at stake for so many Americans.
Here are the facts:
Today, the United States has 5 percent of the world’s population, but has 25 percent of its prisoners, and we spend more than $80 billion each year on prisons.
The major culprit is the so-called War on Drugs. There were fewer than 200,000 Americans behind bars as recently as the mid-70’s. Then, a racially-tinged drug hysteria swept our nation, and we saw a wave of increasingly militant policing that targeted communities of color and poorer neighborhoods.
With “mandatory minimums” and “three strikes out” laws, the number of Americans behind bars soon ballooned to nearly 2.5 million today, despite widespread evidence that locking people up doesn’t make us safer.
Unconscious bias and cultural stereotypes lead to discriminatory enforcement of the laws – from who gets pulled over to where police conduct drug sweeps.
Even though Blacks, whites, and Latinos use drugs at similar rates, people with black and brown skin are more likely to be pulled over, searched, arrested, charged with a crime, convicted, and sent to jails and prisons where they can be subject to some of the worst human rights abuses.
As a result, black people incarcerated at a rate five times that of whites, and Latinos incarcerated at a rate double that of white Americans.
Even if you’ve “served your time,” you never escape the label.
A felony conviction can bar you from getting a student loan, putting a roof over your head, or even from voting. It might even disqualify you from getting a job which can make it impossible for people with felony convictions to pull themselves out of poverty. And many who end up in prison were living in chronic poverty to begin with.
All of this means a lot of potential human talent is going to waste. We’re spending a fortune locking people up who could fuel our economy and build strong communities, in some cases just to increase the profits of private prison corporations.
So what do we do?
First, enact smarter sentencing laws that end mandatory minimums and transform the way we treat people who enter the criminal justice system. Instead of prisons and jails, we need well-paying jobs, and to invest in proven and cost-effective alternatives to incarceration, like job training and mental health and drug treatment programs.
Second, stop the militarized policing and end discriminatory policing practices such as “stop and frisk” and “broken windows” that disproportionately target communities of color.
Third, stop building new jails, start closing some existing ones, and begin to invest in schools, public transit, and housing assistance or local jobs programs. States are spending more and more on prisons, while cutting funding for schools. That’s crazy.
Finally, “ban the box” – the box on job applications that asks whether you have ever been convicted of a felony on a job application. Already, dozens of states cities, and counties have passed bills requiring that employers consider what you can do in the future, not what you might have done in the past.
Instead of locking people up unjustly, and then locking them out of the economy for the rest of their lives, we need to stop wasting human talent and start opening doors of opportunity – to everyone.
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#9. MAKE POLLUTERS PAY US
Instead of investing in dirty fuels,
let’s start charging polluters for poisoning our skies – and then invest the
revenue so that it benefits everyone.
Each ton of carbon that’s released into the atmosphere costs our nation between $40 and $100, and we release millions tons of it every year.
Businesses don’t pay that cost. They pass it along to the rest of us—in the form of more extreme weather and all the costs to our economy and health resulting from it.
We’ve actually invested more than $6 trillion in fossil fuels since 2007. The money has been laundered through our savings and tax dollars.
This has got to be reversed.
We can clean our environment and strengthen the economy if we (1) divest from carbon polluters, (2) make the polluters pay a price to pollute, and (3) then collect the money.
Please see the accompanying video, and share.