Monthly Archives: December 2011

Economic Downturn Took a Detour at Capitol Hill

By ERIC LICHTBLAU, New York Times, 12/26/11

WASHINGTON — When Representative Ed Pastor was first elected to Congress two decades ago, he was comfortably ensconced in the middle class. Mr. Pastor, a Democrat from Arizona, held $100,000 or so in savings accounts in the mid-1990s and had a retirement pension, but like many Americans, he also owed the banks nearly as much in loans.

Today, Mr. Pastor, a miner’s son and a former high school teacher, is a member of a not-so-exclusive club: Capitol Hill millionaires….

Largely insulated from the country’s economic downturn since 2008, members of Congress — many of them among the “1 percenters” denounced by Occupy Wall Street protesters — have gotten much richer even as most of the country has become much poorer in the last six years, according to an analysis by The New York Times based on data from the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit research group.

Congress has never been a place for paupers. From plantation owners in the pre-Civil War era to industrialists in the early 1900s to ex-Wall Street financiers and Internet executives today, it has long been populated with the rich, including scions of families like the Guggenheims, Hearsts, Kennedys and Rockefellers.

But rarely has the divide appeared so wide, or the public contrast so stark, between lawmakers and those they represent….

read the full article at New York Times

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US Lawmakers Get Richer as Voters Struggle

Alternet, 12/27/11, from Agence France Press

WASHINGTON — The wealth gap between members of Congress and ordinary Americans is growing larger, with nearly half of all lawmakers now worth more than one million dollars, according to US media reports Tuesday.

US lawmakers are increasingly likely to be multimillionaires and are on average nine times richer than the other Americans, according to data made available to the New York Times and Washington Post.

The papers reported figures from the Center for Responsive Politics that showed the median net worth of a member of Congress stood at $913,000 and is climbing, compared to $100,000 and falling for the rest of the population.

Amid protests against the country’s wealthy elite that have seen many US cities “occupied” by demonstrators, it appears elected many elected representatives make up the “one percent.”

Among the richest is Republican representative from California, Darrell Issa.

According to separate figures from the Center for Responsive Politics’ released in November, Issa was worth $195 to $700 million last year, his fortune coming from his car alarms business.

Texas Republican Representative Michael McCaul and Democratic Senators John Kerry, Mark Warner and Herb Kohl were also among the most wealthy.

According to the Washington Post, members of the House of Representatives were worth an average of $725,000 in 2009 compared to $280,000 in 1984, adjusted for inflation. Those figures do not include home equity.

Their wealth stands in stark contrast to the economic fate of most Americans, who have seen their value shrink over the last two decades.

Over the same period American families saw their average wealth drop from $20,600 to $20,500, also inflation-adjusted and not including home equity.

The reasons for the gap are far from clear, although many point to the cost of running for office being a deterrent to the poor, and also lawmakers being able to profit from market-moving knowledge….

continue reading at Alternet

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Fair Work, Fair Pay: Lessons From Australia

by Salvatore Babones, Truthout, 12/26/11

On January 1, Connecticut will become the first state in the United States to require at least some employers to provide paid sick leave for their employees. The Connecticut law covers only a fraction of the state’s workers, caps the required paid sick leave at five days per year and explicitly excludes the state’s most vulnerable workers: day laborers and temp workers. Still, it’s a start.

One-third of all American workers – including 79 percent of low-wage workers – don’t get any sick days at all….

Among cities, San Francisco and Washington, DC, have paid sick leave laws and Seattle is introducing paid sick leave next September. San Francisco and Washington also have living wage ordinances that set citywide minimum wages at levels substantially higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. In fact, San Francisco leads the country with a local minimum wage of $9.92 an hour.

That’s pathetic.

Across the Pacific in Australia, the national statutory minimum wage is $15.51 an hour in Australian dollars. Over the past three years, the Australian dollar has been roughly equal in value to the American dollar, so the figure in American dollars is about the same. One Australian dollar roughly equals one American dollar.

Only about 2 percent of Australians, however, are covered by the minimum wage. The rest are covered by industry-wide agreements that are negotiated by the government on behalf of workers. The minimum wage in most of these agreements (including, for example, for adult fast food workers) is $17.03 an hour.

But wait, there’s more: full-time permanent employees in Australia, from toilet cleaners to chief executives, get at least ten sick days, 20 vacation days and (depending on the state) ten or more paid holidays every year. Everyone. All over Australia….

continue reading at Truthout

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Time for Real Democracy

By Bill Shein, Reason Gone Mad, 12/15/11

Two notable events took place on Tuesday, though few may have noticed the vital connection between them.

The first was a long-overdue speech by Attorney General Eric Holder addressing shameful efforts, in more than two dozen states, to limit democratic participation by restricting early voting, adding unnecessary ID requirements, and curtailing voter-registration drives. These efforts, which impact millions of otherwise-eligible, low-income, young, old, and minority voters, are perhaps the greatest threat to voting rights since the Jim Crow era.

Underwritten by corporate-backed groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council, the goal of this crackdown on voting is simple: Close the door on a truly representative democracy. Because those who profit from today’s unjust status quo know they must block massive citizen action – whether it’s Occupy-style uprisings or huge turnout on Election Day – in order to maintain their grip on power….

continue reading at Reason Gone Mad

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