The U.S. middle class accounted for the lowest share of wealth among developed countries

The middle class may be the foundation upon which the United States was built, but a number of recent studies suggest the working class is being left in the dust.

A study from the Pew Research Center in December showed that middle-class Americans are no longer in the majority. Whereas in 1971 middle class Americans totaled 80 million, and lower- and upper-income classes combined equated to 51.6 million, the 2015 data looks far different. As of last year, 120.8 million adults were in the middle class ßß but this figure now takes a back seat to the 121.3 million combined lower- and upper-income households. Aggregate wealth for middle-class households is also shrinking according to Pew’s research, from 62% of all wealth in 1970 to just 43% as of 2014.

A number of other publications also concurred with the idea that the middle-class is in decline, including publications from Brookings, Fortune, and The New York Times.

However, one report released last year highlighted a middle class statistics so shocking that you’ll probably do a double-take.

One chart every middle class American needs to see
The 2015 Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report is now in its sixth year of examining and analyzing wealth across the world in order to get a better understanding of wealth creation, consumption, saving, and asset allocation. Every year Credit Suisse picks a specific wealth topic to focus on, and in 2015 it was the middle class.

Having the largest GDP of any other country, it’s not surprising to find that the middle class in the U.S. also has the highest total wealth in U.S. dollars at $16.85 trillion. The next-closest are Japan, China, and the U.K. at $9.72 trillion, $7.34 trillion, and $6.19 trillion, respectively.

Now here’s where things get interesting…

Credit Suisse also looked at what percentage of wealth the middle-class comprised within a country. Of the 21 countries individually examined, here were the results:

middle class share of wealth

No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. As a percentage of total country wealth, the U.S. middle class accounted for the lowest share of wealth among developed countries, such as Germany and France, as well as emerging markets like China, India, and Brazil.

Why middle class wealth is withering away
Why do U.S. households have so little net wealth relative to the total wealth of the country as a whole? It looks to be a number of factors at play.

First, the housing bubble from late last decade really sapped the net worth out of middle-class households. Although home prices have recovered from their lows, some areas have recovered slower than others. The housing price collapse is still fresh in many Americans’ minds, and many fear overreaching on home prices even in today’s growing economy.

Secondly, access to credit is arguably easier in the U.S. than in many other regions of the world. During the housing boom in the mid-2000s, this was a great way for middle-class families to grow their wealth. However, the housing bubble, combined with high debt levels, have chipped away at middle-class household wealth.

A third issue? Stagnant wage growth. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, median household income has actually dropped by roughly $5,000 since 1999 to a median of $51,017 as of 2012. Pew Research pointed out that in spite of nominal wage growth of 727% between 1964 and 2014, in constant 2014 dollars (meaning when taking inflation into account) real wage growth has totaled just 7.8% over 50 years. College tuition, medical care, and even fuel costs have risen at a faster pace, thus diminishing the buying power of the middle class.

Fourth, there’s quite an income gap between the richest Americans and the middle class in the United States. According to CNN, the U.S. has 42% of the world’s millionaires, and basically half (49%) of all people with $50 million or more in assets. These super rich Americans certainly skew the results.

Finally, near record-low lending rates aren’t helping. The middle class, which was hammered by the stock market decline during the Great Recession, has few avenues of safety to turn to with CD and money market rates losing to an already reduced inflation rate.

 

 

Free-market capitalism and universal social policies go well together—this isn’t about big government, it’s about smart government.

Helsinki Finland designHelsinki, Finland

Anu Partanen, The Atlantic

Bernie Sanders is hanging on, still pushing his vision of a Nordic-like socialist utopia for America, and his supporters love him for it. Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, is chalking up victories by sounding more sensible. “We are not Denmark,” she said in the first Democratic debate, pointing instead to America’s strengths as a land of freedom for entrepreneurs and businesses.

Commentators repeat endlessly the mantra that Sanders’s Nordic-style policies might sound nice, but they’d never work in the U.S. The upshot is that Sanders, and his supporters, are being treated a bit like children—good-hearted, but hopelessly naive. That’s probably how Nordic people seem to many Americans, too.

A Nordic person myself, I left my native Finland seven years ago and moved to the U.S. Although I’m now a U.S. citizen, I hear these kinds of comments from Americans all the time—at cocktail parties and at panel discussions, in town hall meetings and on the opinion pages. Nordic countries are the way they are, I’m told, because they are small, homogeneous “nanny states” where everyone looks alike, thinks alike, and belongs to a big extended family.

This, in turn, makes Nordic citizens willing to sacrifice their own interests to help their neighbors. Americans don’t feel a similar kinship with other Americans, I’m told, and thus will never sacrifice their own interests for the common good. What this is mostly taken to mean is that Americans will never, ever agree to pay higher taxes to provide universal social services, as the Nordics do. Thus Bernie Sanders, and anyone else in the U.S. who brings up Nordic countries as an example for America, is living in la-la land.

But this vision of homogenous, altruistic Nordic lands is mostly a fantasy. The choices Nordic countries have made have little to do with altruism or kinship. Rather, Nordic people have made their decisions out of self-interest. Nordic nations offer their citizens—all of their citizens, but especially the middle class—high-quality services that save people a lot of money, time, and trouble. This is what Americans fail to understand: My taxes in Finland were used to pay for top-notch services for me.

Bernie SandersREUTERS/Jim YoungBernie Sanders is espousing a Nordic-style social safety net.

When I lived in Finland, as a middle-class citizen I paid income tax at a rate not much higher than what I now pay in New York City. True, Nordic countries have somewhat higher taxes on consumption than America, and overall they collect more tax revenue than the U.S. currently does—partly from the wealthy. But, as an example, here are some of the things I personally got in return for my taxes: nearly a full year of paid parental leave for each child (plus a smaller monthly payment for an additional two years, were I or the father of my child to choose to stay at home with our child longer), affordable high-quality day care for my kids,one of the world’s best public K-12 education systems, free college, free graduate school, nearly free world-class health care delivered through a pretty decent universal network, and a full year of partially paid disability leave.

As far as I was concerned, it was a great deal. And it was equally beneficial for others. From a Nordic perspective, nothing Bernie Sanders is proposing is the least bit crazy—pretty much all Nordic countries have had policies like these in place for years.

But wait, most Americans would say: Those policies work well because all Nordics share a sense of kinship and have fond feelings for each other. That might be nice if it were true, but it’s not, as anyone who has followed recent political debates about immigration or economic policy in Nordic countries understands.

Nordics are not only just as selfish as everyone else on this earth but they can—and do—dislike many of their fellow citizens just as much as people with different political views dislike each other in other countries. As for homogeneity, Sweden already has a bigger share of foreign-born residents than the U.S. The reason Nordics stick with the system is because they can see that on the whole, they come out ahead—not just as a group, but as individuals.

Even so, surely these Nordic “socialist nanny states” pay the price in squashing entrepreneurship and business innovation? This is another refrain I repeatedly hear: Nordic countries have produced no Steve Jobs, no General Motors, and no medical breakthroughs. In short, American entrepreneurs, scientists, and other innovators have changed the world while Nordic countries fall short of taking risks and working hard.

This is what Hillary Clinton implied when she responded to Sanders’s praise of the Nordic region in the first Democratic debate. “When I think about capitalism,” Clinton said, “I think about all the small businesses that were started because we have the opportunity and the freedom in our country for people to do that and to make a good living for themselves and their families… And I think what Senator Sanders is saying certainly makes sense in the terms of the inequality that we have. But we are not Denmark. I love Denmark. We are the United States of America.”

SwedenMichael Campanella/Getty ImagesSweden has a larger share of foreign-born residents than the US.

In reality, however, Nordic nations have produced what is, by any metric, an impressive output of successful entrepreneurs, international businesses, and brands. Sweden has Ikea, H&M, Spotify, and Volvo, to name a few. From Denmark have come Lego, Carlsberg, and one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, Novo Nordisk. A Swede and a Dane co-founded the video calling service Skype.

The core programming code of Linux—the leading operating system running on the world’s servers and supercomputers—was developed by a Finn. The Finnish company Nokia was the world’s largest mobile phone maker for more than a decade. And newer players like Finland’s Supercell and Rovio, creators of the ubiquitous video games Clash of Clans and Angry Birds, or Sweden’s Mojang, the publisher of the equally popular video game Minecraft, are changing the face of online gaming.

Nordic countries are well-ranked when it comes to helping facilitate starting a business. At the most basic level, what the Nordic approach does is reduce the risk of starting a company, since basic services such as education and health care are covered for regardless of the fledgling company’s fate. In addition, companies themselves are freed from the burdens of having to offer such services for their employees at the scale American companies do. And if the entrepreneur succeeds, they are rewarded by tax rates on capital gains that are lower than the rate on wages.

Nordic economies go through cycles like all countries, and they make mistakes like everyone else—Finland is in the midst of a recession right now, whereas the Swedish economy is doing phenomenally well. As in any region, some Nordic companies eventually crash and burn, and others never get off the ground.

Some continue to dominate their market for decades. This is all as it should be in free-market, capitalist economies—which is what Nordic countries are. In fact, as capitalist economies the Nordic countries have proven that capitalism worksbetter when it’s accompanied by smart, universal social policies that are in everyone’s self-interest.

From my Nordic-American perspective, I’m actually surprised by how many Americans discount Bernie Sanders’s policy proposals  because at their root they’re no different from what the Nordic countries have already proven works. I understand why Sanders supporters believe in his vision, and I can assure them that they are not being the least bit naive.

The problem is the way Sanders has talked about it. The way he’s embraced the term socialisthas reinforced the American misunderstanding that universal social policies always require sacrifice for the good of others, and that such policies are anathema to the entrepreneurial, individualistic American spirit. It’s actually the other way around. For people to support a Nordic-style approach is not an act of altruism but of self-promotion. It’s also the future.

CopenhagenFlickr/Tony WebsterCopenhagen, Denmark.

In an age when more and more people are working as entrepreneurs or on short-term projects, and when global competition is requiring all citizens to be better prepared to handle economic turbulence, every nation needs to ensure that its people have the education, health care, and other support structures they need to take risks, start businesses, and build a better future for themselves and for their country. It’s simply a matter of keeping up with the times.

Americans are not wrong to abhor the specters of socialism and big government. In fact, as a proud Finn, I often like to remind my American friends that my countrymen in Finland fought two brutal wars against the Soviet Union to preserve Finland’s freedom and independenceagainst socialism. No one wants to live in a society that doesn’t support individual liberty, entrepreneurship, and open markets.

But the truth is that free-market capitalism and universal social policies go well together—this isn’t about big government, it’s about smart government. I suspect that despite Hillary Clinton’s efforts to distance herself from Sanders, she probably knows this. After all, Clinton is also endorsing policies that sound an awful lot like what the Nordics have done: paid family leave, better public schools, and affordable day care, health care and college for all.

The United States is its own country, and no one expects it to become a Nordic utopia. But Nordic countries aren’t utopias either. What they’ve done has little to do with culture, size, or homogeneity, and everything to do with figuring out how to flourish and compete in the 21st century.

In the U.S., supporters of not only Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, but also of Donald Trump, are worried about exactly the kinds of problems that universal social policies can help solve: worsening income inequality, shrinking opportunity, the decline of the middle class, and the survival of the ordinary family in the face of globalization. What America needs right now, desperately, isn’t to keep fighting the socialist bogeymen of the past, but to see the future—at least one presidential candidate should show them that.

Read the original article on The Atlantic. Check out The Atlantic’s Facebook, newsletters and feeds. Copyright 2016. Follow The Atlantic on Twitter.

 

Millennials have been betrayed by previous generations

A staggering Guardian investigation reveals how far from being “the most indulged young people in the history of the world,” westerners born in the 1980s and mid 1990s have actually been betrayed by previous generations who have left them in debt, jobless and locked out of property markets.

The series, which will be published over the next couple of weeks, will combine decades of data on 8 of the largest developed nations in the world with accounts of “the fortunes, feelings and finances of the developed world’s young adults, as well as looking at fallacies surrounding them.” The newspaper also promises to analyze what the results of these “betrayals” have been and will be, such as a decline in birthrates.

From The Guardian:

In our series, we will reveal that today’s young people are not delaying adulthood because they are – as the New Yorker once put it – “the most indulged young people in the history of the world”. Instead, it appears they are not hitting the basic stages of adulthood at the same time as previous generations because such milestones are so much more costly and in some cases they are even being paid less than their parents were at the same age.

In Australia, millennials are being inched out of the housing market. In the UK, new figures will show the notion of a property-owning democracy has already been terminated. In the US, debt is the millennial millstone – young people are sitting on $1.3tn of student debt.

Across Europe, the issue centres more around jobs – and the lack of them. The numbers of thirtysomethings still living with their parents is stubbornly high in countries such as Italy and Spain, with grave implications for birthrates and family formation in places whose demographics are already badly skewed towards elderly people.

“We’ve never had, since the dawn of capitalism really, this situation of a population that is ageing so much and in some countries also shrinking, and we just don’t know whether we can continue growing the economy in the same way we once have,” said Prof Diane Coyle, an economist and former UK Treasury adviser.

This election year is shaping up to be America’s most serious constitutional crisis since the Civil War

 

Robert Kuttner

The 2016 election year is shaping up to be America’s most serious constitutional crisis since the Civil War — and the most important partisan re-alignment since 1932 or maybe since 1860. To appreciate what’s at work, it’s important to understand these two trends, and how they interact.

The essence of the constitutional crisis is that one of our two parties, the Republicans, has stopped conceding the legitimacy of the Democrats. This has been building for decades, but it went critical under Obama.

The Republican leadership, and most of the 2016 presidential field, basically don’t concede that Obama is a legitimate President of the United States. You see this in charges of his alleged Muslim religion and foreign birth and his supposed radicalism (Obama is basically a centrist and instinctive compromiser — well to the right on key issues of such presidents as Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, and even Nixon and Eisenhower.)

The Republican refusal to even consider a presidential nominee to the Supreme Court is only the latest example, and it comes on the heels of several threats to shut down the government or to refuse to roll over the national debt if Obama did not give in to Republican demands, a scorched-earth tactic that dates back to the Speakership of Newt Gingrich in the 1990s.

This degree of permanent partisan obstruction is something new and menacing, and it interacts poisonously with the vision of America’s founders. They wrote a Constitution with lots of checks and balances to promote compromise, not on the assumption that one of the two parties would simply refuse to play. But the checks and balances create paralysis if one of the parties proceeds in bad faith.

In political science, the concept of legitimacy is essential to a functioning democracy — in two senses: Legitimacy means that the authority of the government is accepted as earned rather than being a function of brute force; and it means that one party accepts that the other is loyal. For one party to deny the legitimacy of the other has not happened since the Civil War, when Southern Democrats were literally traitors to the Union, and the South viewed Lincoln’s Republican Party as an occupying army to be resisted by every means including force and assassination.

Republican obstructionism today operates against the long-term erosion of American democracy, and it leaves government paralyzed in the fact of mounting national problems. That further erodes legitimacy and democracy itself.

The hollowing out of democracy is reflected in the loss of confidence in public institutions, in the fact that big money has been crowding out citizen participation. Republicans have contributed to this trend by their money-is-speech ideology and by sponsoring measures that make it more difficult to vote — reversing a two- century trend of expanding democracy. Meanwhile, ordinary people feel more and more alienated from both the economy and the system of government.

So we have a constitutional crisis — one party destroying the ability of the government to govern, combined with a crisis of our democracy at a time when we need government to act.

Republicans, as far-right corporate conservatives, have pursed this strategy knowingly and cynically, in the hope of weakening government and its capacity to regulate and to collect taxes. They have perfected a dog-whistle strategy in which appeals to racism are couched as a rejection of political correctness, producing support by working class voters for policies that don’t really serve their interests.

But be careful what you wish for. This vacuum of functioning democracy in the face of mass frustration was ready-made for the emergence of a demagogue. And for Republicans, the appalling thing about Donald Trump is that he is no conservative.

He is far to the right on immigration and on national defense — well to the right of most of the corporate elite; but he is surprisingly leftwing on trade and on corporate exports of jobs. He doesn’t hate government, and would defend such programs as Social Security. You could imagine him expanding public works. And he is a lot more tolerant of gays and reproductive rights than most of the Republican base. He is also dangerously reckless as a potential commander-in-chief.

The emergence of Trump has so upset the Republican elite that there is serious talk of running an independent Republican against him, with the full knowledge that this would surely throw the election to Hillary Clinton, another centrist Democrat who has more in common with mainstream Republicans than Donald Trump does.

Many Republicans would rather see a Clinton presidency and continue their familiar tactics of obstructionism than a Trump presidency in which they could lose control of their party to a populist. Republicans would still likely control the House, and most governorships. The crisis of government authority, legitimacy and deepening popular disaffection would only deepen, and they would hope to pick up the pieces in 2020.

The great political scientist, Walter Dean Burnham, wrote of “critical elections,” in which major partisan realignments took place because of shifting socio-economic needs and demands that neither major party had addressed. The year 1932 saw such an election. Franklin Roosevelt turned the Democrats into a progressive party, and mobilized large numbers of voters who had either not been participating or who had been voting Republican. To a lesser degree, 1980 was a realigning election, as many white working class voters turned to Reagan, either because of his social conservatism, his nationalism, his optimism, or all three.

But what kind of realignment will we see in 2016? If, say, Elizabeth Warren rather than Bernie Sanders were the prime challenger to Hillary Clinton, we might have seen the Democrats once again as a full-throated progressive party, capturing the broad economic disaffection and turning it into a governing majority. But at this point, Bernie Sanders is fighting the good fight but is a long shot; meanwhile, it is the Republican primaries where turnout is increasing, pulling in large numbers of disaffected people to vote for Trump.

If Clinton beats Sanders for the Democratic nomination, and Republican elites manage to deny Trump either nomination or election, all of that bottled up frustration still will have to go somewhere. In 1933, Roosevelt managed to turn the economic and political crisis in a constructive direction. In 1860, the constitutional crisis was resolved only by a war, one that many in the white South are still fighting.

In 2016, it’s hard to see a path that will restore either a government with broadly accepted legitimacy, or one capable of governing, much less one capable of solving the festering economic injustices that have brought our politics to such an angry boil. It is a recipe for more demagoguery and more permanent crisis.

Sometimes in circumstances like these, leaders rise to the occasion. We surely need such leadership now.

This Is Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Who Risked Her Career to Endorse Bernie Sanders

By Alexander Reed Kelly

It was remarkable to watch Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, an Iraq War veteran, defy her bosses, resign her post as vice chair of the Democratic National Committee and endorse Sen. Bernie Sanders for president.

She did so Feb. 28 on the grounds that Sanders would make a more responsible and effective commander in chief than Hillary Clinton, his rival for the Democratic nomination and the party’s clear favorite.

The nation must have a president “who has foresight, who exercises good judgment,” Gabbard told NBC host Chuck Todd on Sunday’s edition of “Meet the Press.”

Gabbard, 34, is one of only five members of Congress currently endorsing Sanders. The others are Democratic Reps. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, Alan Grayson of Florida, Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Peter Welch of Vermont. (Read a comprehensive list of Sanders’ endorsements here.)

“As a veteran and as a soldier I’ve seen firsthand the true cost of war,” Gabbard continued on “Meet the Press.”

“I served in a medical unit during my first deployment, where every single day I saw firsthand the very high human cost of that war. I see it in my friends who now, a decade after we’ve come home, are still struggling to get out of a black hole.

“I think it’s most important for us to recognize the necessity to have a commander in chief who has foresight, exercises good judgment, who looks beyond the consequences, looks at the consequences of the actions they’re looking to take before they take those actions, so we don’t continue to find ourselves in these failures that have resulted in chaos in the Middle East and so much loss of life.”

Gabbard was referring in part to Sanders’ opposition to President George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq, a decision the Vermont senator has described as “the worst foreign policy blunder in the history of the country.” The invasion and subsequent fighting killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and thousands of Americans and plunged the region deeper into a sectarian hell that birthed the D.C. establishment’s current bête noire, Islamic State.

In a debate with Clinton in early February, Sanders said that what occurred as a result of the invasion was entirely predictable and avoidable.

“We differed on the war in Iraq, which created barbaric organizations like ISIS,” he said. “Not only did I vote against that war, I helped lead the opposition. … And it gives me no pleasure to tell you that much of what I feared would happen the day after Saddam Hussein was overthrown, in fact, did happen.”

Clinton seemed to regard the point as inconsequential, saying merely that she and Sanders differed at the time and that “a vote in 2002 is not a plan to defeat ISIS. We have to look at the threats that we face right now.”

Sanders was not impressed. “I fully, fully concede that Secretary Clinton, who was secretary of state for four years, has more experience—that is not arguable—in foreign affairs,” he said. “But experience is not the only point—judgment is. And once again, back in 2002, when we both looked at the same evidence about the wisdom of the war in Iraq, one of us voted the right way, and one of us didn’t.”

Still, some voters remain unconvinced. “What is Sanders’ plan?” they ask, phrasing the concern as Clinton did. Reinforcing Gabbard’s confidence in Sanders is Lawrence Korb, a former director of national security studies at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations and former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration. Korb has advised President Obama on foreign policy and, the senator has said, is one source of advice in the Sanders campaign.

“[H]ow serious could Sanders—the socialist crusader battling the former secretary of state—really be?” Lawrence asked at the top of an article published at Politico in early February. “The answer is: serious.”

“In my dealings with him, and in analyzing his record in Congress over the past 25 years, I have found that Sanders has taken balanced, realistic positions on many of the most critical foreign policy issues facing the country.” Sanders, Lawrence wrote, “isn’t a foreign policy lightweight: In fact, given his long tenure in the House and Senate, he has more foreign policy experience than Ronald Reagan or Barack Obama did when they were running for office the first time.”

Korb presumes that a Sanders foreign policy would rest on the principles of restraint, diplomacy and international cooperation and a clear articulation of objectives when a decision is made to use force.

“Those who argue that Sanders should get more specific about foreign policy should keep in mind that some of our more successful foreign policy presidents were not all that specific as candidates,” Korb went on. “Eisenhower said only that he would go to Korea; he had no specific plan for how to end the conflict there. … Candidate Nixon said he had a secret plan to end the war in Vietnam but never said what it was.”

Because we can’t predict exactly what challenges the next president will face, Korb added, “ultimately, judgment matters more than experience for a potential president.” Korb warns against investing advisers with ultimate control over policy. Reagan, Obama, George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State John Kerry, he wrote, “all showed great judgment in considering, but not bowing to, the advice of the foreign policy establishment.”

“With the right partners in place—and, above all, the right [principles] and instincts—a President Sanders could be just the foreign policy president we need.”

That’s a message Tulsi Gabbard is helping get past a cadre of publishers, editors and broadcasters that has failed to deliver Sanders’ message of justice, economic equality and accountable governance to Americans who polls suggest would support it.

We don’t know what her endorsement might cost her in advancing up the Democratic Party ladder. But her courage is an example to all who believe in the moral necessity of Sen. Sanders’ campaign. For risking her career to endorse Sanders, we honor Tulsi Gabbard as our Truthdigger of the Week.

Why Is Our Government Working for the Private Good Over the Public Good?

By The Daily Take Team, The Thom Hartmann Program

It’s been more than two years since a massive chemical spill in West Virginia left regulators puzzled over basic questions like, how toxic is this chemical? Does it pose a threat to pregnant women and children? How long will this chemical stay in the environment, or in people’s bodies?

The reason we couldn’t answer those questions was simple.

Chemicals that were invented or discovered before 1976 – thousands and thousands of chemicals that were developed in the early 20th century – were simply “grandfathered in” to the Toxic Substances Control Act (ToSCA) of 1976 and presumed safe until proven dangerous.

There was a massive public outcry in response to the Elk River chemical spill, and Congress quickly took up action to reform and strengthen the ToSCA.

So, more than two years later, how’s that new legislation coming along?

If you happen to be on the board of a multibillion dollar agrichemical giant called Monsanto, it’s going great!

Not so much though, if you happen to be a private citizen who actually wants accountability when corporations poison communities or expose them to cancer-causing chemicals.

Right in the middle of the sweeping new chemical safety bill that Congress is working out, Republicans in the House of Representatives have added one paragraph that would save Monsanto, and only Monsanto, hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits.

The clause relates to “PCBs,” which are non-flammable Monsanto-produced chemicals that were used extensively in electronics, caulk, paints, pesticides and thermal insulation in buildings for most of the 20th century.

Starting in the 1930s, Monsanto manufactured nearly all of the 1.25 billion pounds of PCBs that were produced and sold in the United States.

In 1977, Monsanto stopped producing PCBs because of health concerns, and the EPA banned the chemical with few exceptions in 1979.

PCBs don’t break down easily though: They stay in the environment and in sewage systems, they accumulate in the fat tissues in animals and humans, and they cause health problems like cancer.

Just last year, cities and school systems tried to sue Monsanto for hundreds of millions of dollars to get them to pay part of the cost to reduce PCB levels in sewer discharge and in construction caulk to meet federal and state regulations.

At the same time, another group of individuals with non-Hodgkins lymphoma related to PCB exposure sued Monsanto for damages.

If the House version of the new chemical safety bill passes into law though, those cities and schools will be stuck with the bill to clean up Monsanto’s cancer-causing chemical, and individuals will be stuck with the bill to treat the cancers that the chemical caused.

That’s a real possibility, because our government has stopped working for the public good, and now it works mostly to line the coffers of multibillion dollar corporations.

Thanks to the court rulings in Citizens United, Buckley v. Valeo and Santa Clara County v. the Southern Pacific Railroad, Monsanto is technically a person, and the money that Monsanto spends to put their shills in Congress is technically “free speech.”

But these corporations apparently aren’t happy with being seen as merely being equal to living, breathing human beings under the law.

No, they also use their incredible financial resources to go to court to make sure that certain laws just don’t apply to them.

Right now, Monsanto is suing the state of California to make sure that consumers in California don’t know that Roundup is probably cancerous.

Under a California law that was passed by ballot initiative back in 1986, it is illegal for businesses to knowingly expose any individual to a chemical known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity without first giving a clear and reasonable warning, and the discharge of such chemicals into a source of drinking water is prohibited.

Just makes sense right? Companies should tell consumers when they’re being exposed to dangerous chemicals, and those chemicals should be kept out of people’s drinking water.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer found in 2015 that glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup, is “probably carcinogenic.”

So this should be an open and shut case.

Monsanto produces a chemical that’s recognized as cancerous, and the law says that they have to label products that contain cancerous chemicals.

But Monsanto is suing, saying that it’s unconstitutional for a state agency to use findings from any international organization.

And that’s just flat-out insane, because WHO research and the international exchange of public health data is critical to answering questions like “is this chemical linked to cancer?”

The fact is that these corporations don’t really care about public health, they care about their bottom line.

They figure that it’s cheaper to sue the state of California than to potentially lose out on sales by telling people about the fact that chemicals like those in Roundup can cause cancer.

And that’s the same reason why Monsanto pays to get Monsanto-friendly politicians into Congress.

Buying elections might be expensive, but owning lawmakers who can write loopholes is cheaper than paying out hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits.

Our government should be protecting people’s health, not corporate bottom lines.

We need a government that we can count on to inform us about health risks and protect us, because not everyone is a scientist, not all science is created equal and people just don’t have the time to research every chemical that they’re exposed to.

We need a government that we can trust to protect us from corporations that only care about shareholder profits, even when their products are killing Americans.

That’s why it’s time to repeal Citizens United and to pass a constitutional amendment that makes it clear that a corporation is not a person and money is not speech, because our government should work on behalf of the living, breathing citizens of this country.

This article was first published on Truthout and any reprint or reproduction on any other website must acknowledge Truthout as the original site of publication.

 

 

 

A “complete rebuild” of the U.S. election system is needed to take money out of politics.

By Jack Rasmus

As the United States election cycle began to ramp up last summer, for example, the New York Times/NBC News poll showed no less than 84 percent of U.S. voters – Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike – shared the common view that there was simply “too much money” flooding into U.S. elections today. While 85 percent of those in the poll further indicated that either major changes or a “complete rebuild” of the U.S. election system was needed to take money out of politics.

Forget minor tweaking reforms of campaign financing. The people of the U.S. now believe the entire process is rigged in favor of rich contributors and corporations who fill to over-flowing the campaign coffers of their chosen politicians.

A related major concern expressed by those polled was that those billionaires writing the checks for candidates were “hiding behind the curtain” as never before. The electoral system itself was becoming increasingly opaque. Seventy-five percent of those polled thus demanded full disclosure of just who was providing all the money.

The current election cycle is just now getting underway with the primary season and nominating of candidates, so total spending won’t be known for at least mid-2017 at the earliest. But there are signs appearing in numerous places that this election year will break all records for money flowing from the billionaires, their banks, and their corporations to their “hat in hand” candidates, as they regularly stumble over themselves and trek one after the other attending private meetings with the Koch Brothers, the Sheldon Adelsons, the Paul Singers, Goldman Sachs and other bankers – and all the rest of the billionaire class who write checks for tens of millions of dollars at a single sitting – to fund whichever candidate bends his knee and bows his head the most in committing to their favorite economic interest or pet political cause. And bend and bow they do.

Marco Rubio

For example, there’s the Republican presidential candidate, Marco Rubio, who led the attack on Argentina in the U.S. Congress to pressure that country’s Kirchner government to concede to the blackmail by U.S. vulture funds led by multi-billionaire, hedge fund magnate, Paul Singer. A financial supporter of the expansion of Israeli settlements in the west bank of Palestine, Singer is an ardent advocate that “Israel can do no wrong.” As Singer’s boy in the U.S. Senate, Rubio consistently takes a hard line on every Israel debate and vote, effectively representing Singer’s views and interests. Not surprisingly, for that Rubio has been repaid well. Singer is Rubio’s second biggest campaign contributor, second only to Florida real estate billionaire, Norman Braman. Multi-billionaires, both have already contributed more than US$11 million in 2015 to Rubio’s campaign. Software billionaire, Larry Ellison, the world’s fifth richest person, worth $47 billion, has also already contributed millions to Rubio. All three no doubt appreciate Rubio’s pledge to eliminate all taxes on capital gains and dividends, which would mean $1 trillion tax free to them and their billionaire friends. Rubio’s election campaign committee and his “Conservative Solutions” super PAC have accumulated more than $60 million in 2015. Bush money is reportedly moving to Rubio recently as well.

Ted Cruz

Then there’s candidate Cruz. His billionaires include ultra-right wing, hedge fund owner Robert Mercer, who contributes to restoration of the death penalty, advocates return to the gold standard, funds pro-life and anti-gay causes, and collects machine-guns for a hobby; Toby Neugebauer, the billionaire Houston investment banker; and Farris and Staci Wilks, extreme bible-thumpers, who view the U.S. from a prism of the biblical old testament, and whose family has made their billions by fracking and poisoning land in the U.S. from Texas to Montana. All have all written checks to the Cruz campaign for more than $10 million each thus far, and contribute heavily to Cruz’s super PAC, “Keeping the Promise,” and his campaign committee, together worth at latest estimate more than $100 million. Cruz repeatedly pilgrimages to their respective billionaire compounds and retreats, that is, when he’s not getting loans from the big Investment bank, Goldman Sachs, where his wife worked as a managing director, and from which Cruz has been given low interest loans.

Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush got most of his money from his personal and family investment sources, from his super PAC, “Right to Rise,” to which wealthy friends have already contributed $118 million in “outside money,” from his election committee with a pot of more than $40 million more so far, from his 50+ per year public speeches for which he is paid an average of $40,000 each, and unknown amounts from his multi-billionaire Bush dynasty family. Another big billionaire contributor, writing a $10 million check recently, was the notorious Hank Greenberg, former Chairman of the American Insurance Group that the government and U.S. taxpayer bailed out to the tune of $180 billion in the 2008 crisis.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton’s money comes from all the above sources and then some. For example, there’s hedge fund billionaire, George Soros, who contributed $8.5 million just last year. And the media billionaires, Haim and Cheryl Saban, who have directly already contributed millions; and reportedly may have contributed an estimated $10-$25 million more indirectly from their own personal foundation to the Clinton’s foundation: a favorite way the rich contribute to each other. Both Hillary and Bill have also had multi-million dollar royalty book contracts, Hillary’s latest worth $5 million. She is also the biggest recipient of contributions from professional Lobbyists among all the candidates. Her campaign committee has amassed $115 million as of January 2016 and her super PAC, “Priorities USA,” more than $40 million.

The Clintons, however, have especially farmed the speech circuit for big money ever since Bill left office. That’s how former presidents and other big-name, high visibility politicians who have performed well for the rich are “paid off” in the U.S. when they leave office. Corruption is “post-hoc” in the U.S. system, a more sophisticated arrangement than crude graft or theft while in office practiced in other countries. Bill Clinton has earned more than $100 million in speeches alone since 2001. Hillary and Bill have earned another $25 million just since her announcement to run. And then there are Hillary’s “closed door talks,” off-the record, unrecorded, Q&A sessions of an hour or so, which Hillary has held with scores of financial institutions, banks, and big companies since announcing her candidacy.

Her speeches and talks average $225,000 to $275,000, according to her “schedule A” campaign finance statement that is public record. When challenged by Sanders why she has been accepting fees of $275,000 from scores of bankers and big corporations, including a recent 3 speech $675,000 fee from Goldman Sachs, her reply was “I don’t know, that’s just what they offered”. Yeah, out of the pure generosity of their banker hearts, expecting nothing in return no doubt.

The Clintons have given more than 50 speeches each in 2014 alone, according to public records. Adding it up, it’s more than $25 million in speeches and “talks” in 2014 alone. Their 2014 income was $28 million and net worth $110 million. At least $28 million, and likely far more will eventually be reported for 2015 later this summer. Even more for 2016.

Trump and Sanders

Trump claims his net worth is more than $10 billion, and receives $3 million per show just as host of the TV show, “Celebrity Apprentice,” providing ample cash for his campaign, that is, so far. His long list of investments generate millions more in cash every year.

Sanders relies on small donors, has no super PAC or outside money, while his campaign committee reportedly has accumulated $95 million. He owns no business and his net worth is reportedly $330,000.

Estimating the Totals

A proxy of just how much money is involved this year is perhaps estimated by how much in total was spent on the 2014 midterm Congressional elections, where no presidential candidate was running. No less than $3.77 billion was spent that year. And that was what was only official reported to the Federal Election Commission for donors contributing more than $200 – excluding as well all spending on state and local government races and excluding what is called “dark” money from nonprofit organizations – called 501( c) (4) shell groups-like Karl Rove’s notorious “Crossroads GPS,” which has reportedly raised $330 million in recent years. Spending by 501s is directed at attacking a candidate’s opponents instead of contributing to the favorite candidate via PACs, super PACs, campaign committees, party committees, and the like. But it is campaign spending on behalf of candidates, nonetheless. Super-PACs and 501s are projected to spend more than a $US billion each in the current year.

Totals for 2015 from all the above sources – i.e. corporate and special interest PACs, super PACs, leadership PACs, the 30,000 Washington, D.C. lobbyists, the 501s and their “Limited Liability Company” middlemen who raise money from the super-wealthy but can legally keep their names unreported, from House and Senate and political party fund raising committees, and so on – were likely more than $5 billion, at minimum. But public records for 2015 totals won’t be released by the government until June 30, 2016

For the entire 2015-2016 election, the cumulative totals will no doubt range from $10 to $15 billion. But the actual totals will have to wait even longer, until June 30, 2017. But even then will reflect only what is officially reported, as more “dark money” flows into elections in increasingly opaque system that grows progressively “darker” as the mountains of election money provided by billionaires, corporations, and bankers grow ever higher.