“If by a "Liberal" they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people-their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights and their civil liberties-someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a "Liberal", then I'm proud to say I'm a "Liberal.”
John F. Kennedy, Profiles in Courage

Poverty in America

Robert Reich Explains the Economy

Tea Party Pubic Service Announcement

April 23, 2010

Earth Day Index

4.39 the number of pounds of trash thrown away each day by the average American

10% amount of solid waste in US that gets recycled

18 billion the number of disposable diapers thrown away each year

2.5 million plastic bottles are thrown away every hour in America

4 million the number of tons of junk mail delivered in America every year

650 the average number of pounds of paper used by each American in one year

43,000 the number of tons of food thrown out in the US every day

270 million the number of tires thrown away annually in the US

2 the number of manmade structures seen from space, the Great Wall of China and the Fresh Kills Landfill in NYC

900 million the number of trees cut down annually for US paper and pulp mills

5% the percentage of the world’s population that lives in the US

33% the percentage of the earth’s timber and paper consumed by Americans

96% the amount of energy saved using a recycled aluminum can rather than making a can from ore

95% the amount of reduction in air pollution manufacturing an aluminum can from recycled materials rather than ore

97% the amount of reduction in water pollution manufacturing an aluminum can from recycled materials rather than ore

1 million the number of gallons of water that can be contaminated from improperly disposing of one quart of engine oil

4 million the number of tons of wrapping paper and shopping bags thrown away during the holiday season in the US

9 cubic yards the amount of landfill space saved by recycling one ton of cardboard

60 pounds the amount of air pollutants avoided by producing one ton of recycled paper

April 19, 2010

U.S. Inequality Index

81% increase in net worth enjoyed by top 5% of wealthiest US households between 1979-2005

1.1% decrease in net worth experienced by lowest 20% of income households during the same period

50% the amount that US worker productivity has increased since 1970 while average wages declined

$20.3 billion the amount paid out in Wall Street bonuses in 2009

38% amount of total US income growth that went to the top .1% of Americans between 1978-2008

400 number of American families whose income quintupled from $16 million to $87 million from 1992-2007

13% the average income loss experienced by American families during that same period

99 the increase in new American billionaires between 2001-2007 bringing the total to 400

18.6% the number of American families with zero net worth

17 million number of US households that experienced food insecurity in 2008

200,000 number of US veterans who are homeless on any given night

1.35 million number of US children who experience homelessness in a twelve month period

25% reduction in public housing vouchers between 1999-2006

$114 billion reduction in federal funding for affordable housing between 2004-2007

13.2 per centage of US citizens living below the official poverty level

14.4 million number of US children living below poverty level

April 18, 2010

What Do We Get For Our US Tax Dollars?

We like to think of Europeans as poor overtaxed serfs but the benefits they receive show the shortcomings of the US system

By Steven Hill

April 16, 2010 "The Guardian" -- Most Americans seem to regard 15 April – the day income tax returns are due to the Internal Revenue Service – as a recurring tragedy on the order of a biblical plague. Particularly this year, with US government deficits soaring, everyone from the Teabaggers to Senate Republicans are reviving a scary Friday the 13th scenario from the 1990s about a return to Big Government. Recently Rudy Giuliani even stated that President Obama was moving us towards – heaven forbid – European social democracy.

Europe frequently plays the punching bag role during these moments because there is a perception that the poor Europeans are overtaxed serfs. But a closer look reveals that this is a myth that prevents Americans from understanding the vast shortcomings of our own system.

A few years ago, an American acquaintance of mine who lives in Sweden told me that, quite by chance, he and his Swedish wife were in New York City and ended up sharing a limousine to the theatre district with a southern US senator and his wife. This senator, a conservative, anti-tax Democrat, asked my acquaintance about Sweden and swaggeringly commented about "all those taxes the Swedes pay". To which this American replied, "The problem with Americans and their taxes is that we get nothing for them." He then went on to tell the senator about the comprehensive level of services and benefits that Swedes receive.

"If Americans knew what Swedes receive for their taxes, we would probably riot," he told the senator. The rest of the ride to the theatre district was unsurprisingly quiet.

The fact is, in return for their taxes, Europeans are receiving a generous support system for families and individuals for which Americans must pay exorbitantly, out-of-pocket, if we are to receive it at all. That includes quality healthcare for every single person, the average cost of which is about half of what Americans pay, even as various studies show that Europeans achieve healthier results.

But that's not all. In return for their taxes, Europeans also are receiving affordable childcare, a decent retirement pension, free or inexpensive university education, job retraining, paid sick leave, paid parental leave, ample vacations, affordable housing, senior care, efficient mass transportation and more. In order to receive the same level of benefits as Europeans, most Americans fork out a ton of money in out-of-pocket payments, in addition to our taxes.

For example, while 47 million Americans don't have any health insurance at all, many who do are paying escalating premiums and deductibles. Indeed, Anthem Blue Cross announced that its premiums will increase by up to 40%.

But Europeans receive healthcare in return for a modest amount deducted from their paychecks.
Friends have told me they are saving nearly a hundred thousand dollars for their children's college education, and most young Americans graduate with tens of thousands of dollars of debt. But many European children attend for free or nearly so (depending on the country).

Childcare in the US costs over $12,000 annually for a family with two children, but in Europe it cost about one-sixth that amount, and the quality is far superior. Millions of Americans are stuffing as much as possible into their IRAs and 401(k)s because social security provides only about half the retirement income needed. But the more generous European retirement system provides about 75-85% (depending on the country) of retirement income. Either way, you pay.

Americans' private spending on old-age care is nearly three times higher per capita than in Europe because Americans must self-finance a significant share of their own senior care. Sixty million American workers have no paid sick leave, millions more have no paid parental leave following a birth, and so must self-finance their own time off. But Europeans receive all this in exchange for their taxes.

Americans also tend to pay more in local and state taxes, as well as in property taxes. Americans also pay hidden taxes, such as $300bn annually in federal tax breaks to businesses that provide health benefits to their employees. When you sum up the total balance sheet, it turns out that Americans pay out just as much as Europeans – but we receive a lot less for our money.

Unfortunately these sorts of complexities are not calculated into simplistic analyses like Forbes' annual Tax Misery Index, a "study" which shows European nations as the most miserable and the low-tax United States as happy as a clam – right next to Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

But Forbes only adds up income tax, social security, sales tax or VAT and a few other minor fees. A thorough analysis would need to create a ledger in which all the supports and services Europeans receive are listed on one side and the amount of taxes and any additional fees they pay are listed on the other; and then do a similar analysis for Americans, listing what Americans pay in taxes as well as out-of-pocket expenses for those same services.

In this economically competitive age, increasingly these kinds of services are necessary to ensure healthy, happy and productive families and workers.

Europeans have these supports, but most Americans do not unless you pay a ton out of pocket. Or unless you are a member of Congress, which of course provide European-level support for its members and their families.

That's something to keep in mind on 15 April. Happy Tax Day.

April 6, 2010

The Dangerous Drift Back Towards Segregated Schools

by Marian Wright Edelman

Marian Wright Edelman, President of the Children's Defense Fund, is part of Change.org's Changemakers network, comprised of leading voices for social change.

Two recent decisions by school boards in North Carolina are local signs of a troubling national trend towards resegregation in public schools. In New Hanover County, which includes Wilmington, parents and advocates spent much of last year debating a new middle school redistricting plan that would focus on "neighborhood schools," essentially resegregating the schools by race and economic class because our neighborhoods look that way.

School board member Elizabeth Redenbaugh was the only White and only Republican member to join two Black Democratic colleagues in opposing the new plan. In a letter sent to parents and fellow board members last fall, Redenbaugh described some of what she was seeing: "I have literally had parents...approach me and state, ‘The bottom line is this: I do not want my children in school with black children.' I have had parents ask me why we do anything at all for the black children in our county. They look me in the eye and say, ‘we have spent so much money on black children . . . Nothing helps. I don't know why we even try anymore'...Such statements literally grieve my heart and beg the question: Who is my neighbor?" But despite the concerns Redenbaugh and her colleagues shared, they were ultimately overruled by the other members early this year in a 4-3 vote.

Meanwhile, in Wake County, North Carolina, which includes Raleigh, schools may be moving backwards in a similar direction. Wake County has been lauded for its student assignment policy to balance schools using socioeconomic status augmented by a comprehensive program of magnet schools. But on March 24, the Wake County School Board voted to begin studying a new districting plan that would change the current busing system and reassign students based on "neighborhood attendance zones"-a return to potentially more segregated schools because of the neighborhood demographics. Advocates for Wake County's current socially and economically integrated school system are fighting to prevent this change. But these significant decisions represent a very disturbing trend across the country. The sad truth is that the dream Dr. King rightly considered one of the greatest victories of the Civil Rights Movement-the desegregation of our nation's schools-is unraveling before our eyes.

Desegregated schools grew in the years directly following the Civil Rights Movement, but since 1988, racial resegregation in public schools has been rising slowly and systematically. In June 2007, both the spirit and intent of the historic Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision were assaulted when the Supreme Court acknowledged in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 and Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education the benefits of racially diverse schools for all students who attend them, but ruled that desegregation plans that assign students to schools on the basis of race are unconstitutional. At a time when the number of poor and minority children in America is growing and the number of White middle-class children is decreasing, our schools are once again becoming isolated by race and class. Plans like the diversity policy and magnet school program that have been in place in Wake County, which focused primarily on socioeconomic status instead of race, helped produce integrated schools with broad appeal and academic achievement gains; this two-pronged approach was lauded as another method of achieving diversity without concentrating children in racially isolated, high-poverty schools. But as the recent school board decision there shows, even those successful measures are now under attack.

The problem, as leading expert Gary Orfield of the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles and others have argued, is that segregated schools are not good for any of our children. We already know they are disastrous for poor and minority students, for whom there is a strong connection between school segregation, failing schools, and high dropout rates. Almost half of America's Black students and nearly two-fifths of Latino students attend high schools that have been labeled "dropout factories" by Johns Hopkins University researchers and the U.S. Department of Education, where less than 60 percent of the freshman class will graduate in four years. But studies of the outcomes of inter-district transfer programs also show that while programs designed to improve integration significantly improve the life chances of children who are transferred in, they do not have a negative effect on the academic progress of students in the receiving district-one of the apparent fears of many parents. In fact, as Orfield and others note, integration has been shown to benefit children on both sides.

As our society becomes more and more diverse, it is critically important that children from all backgrounds learn to interact with one another productively. When parents are allowed to hold on to the outdated beliefs that sending their children to a "diverse" school means sending them to an inferior school, it does their own children a disservice. In a rapidly globalizing world, returning to segregated schools would be another missed opportunity for all of America's children. We have so far left to go. We can't afford to take any more steps backwards.

Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children's Defense Fund and in 2000, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award