If you’re covered in political stink, it might be prudent to avoid yelling “dirty politics” at others.
Posts Tagged ‘social welfare’
I think of a “social welfare charity” being like The Little Sisters of the Poor – not The Little Koch Brothers of the Plutocracy.
Yet, the brothers have created their very own social welfare charity, which they used as a political front group for funneling $39 million into campaigns against Democrats last year. Interesting, since, under IRS rules, 501(c)(4) “charities” are supposed to do philanthropic work for the welfare of all, not political hatchet jobs for billionaires. In fact, the law bans these tax-exempt entities from spending more than 49 percent of their funding on political efforts to promote their “issues.”
Yet, hundreds of these (c)(4)s – mostly right-wing – are flagrantly violating the tax law by operating primarily as political fronts for funneling secret corporate donations into raw, partisan campaigns. How did they get their privileged status as charities? By outright lying to the IRS, then defying the agency to stop them as they dump millions of corrupt dollars into our elections. (more…)
Posted May 21, 2013 at 8:00 am, in From the USW International President
Targeting Tea Party groups for scrutiny, even if through incompetence, not intention, turned the IRS into a nasty carbuncle on the governing body.
Carbuncles are never good. Strength-sapping, painful, ugly, they’re to be avoided. Here’s the thing, though: while every politician in Washington is cursing the carbuncle, hardly one has complained of the cancer killing the patient. Allowing unlimited, unaccounted-for corporate spending in elections is a malignancy threatening the life of the republic. Permitting Tea Party, left-wing, libertarian, middle-of-the-road – whatever – groups to define themselves as untaxed social welfare organizations that may accept unlimited, untaxed, secret corporate gifts and sponsor political ads is a sarcoma on democracy.
Nobody wants the IRS singling out applicants based on politics. The American people do, however, want someone, if not the IRS, someone else, somewhere to do something about the perversion of election finance. The IRS is hardly a good candidate for that job. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) could help. A constitutional amendment would be better.
The IRS has some regulatory power. In the Tea Party case, the IRS was examining applications for “social welfare” or 501(c)(4) status, which is commonly used to circumvent campaign finance laws.
The tax code defines 501(c)(4) groups like this: “civic leagues or organizations not organized for profit but operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare.” These are different from charity organizations, called 501(c)(3), such as food banks and homeless shelters. And they are different from political outfits, which have their very own place – Section 527 – in the tax code.
Over the past decade, an increasing number of political groups sought “social welfare” status instead. That’s because of a 2001 law requiring political outfits to disclose their donors. “Social welfare” organizations don’t have to do that. Politicized “social welfare” groups sprouted even faster after the U.S. Supreme Court decided in the Citizens United case in 2010 that corporations are people free to spend unlimited cash in elections. (more…)
Twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, one thing is increasingly clear: Boy, do the Republicans miss communism.
For Republicans, being anti-communist didn’t merely mean opposition to the Soviets and their ideology. That kind of anti-communism was all but universal in the United States, from the Republican right to the small, democratic socialist left (and encompassing European socialists as well). For the 45 years after World War II, however, anti-communism was also the Republicans’ ultimate wedge issue in U.S. politics.
It enabled them to label Democrats as soft on communism when those Democrats opposed wars, such as Vietnam, as counterproductive and unwise. It enabled them to label liberals as proto-communists when those liberals favored social welfare programs such as Medicare. It enabled them to link liberals to domestic, and thus Soviet, communists when liberals and communists favored the same goals, notably an end to segregation. And it enabled them to attack even hardened Democratic Cold Warriors such as Harry Truman and Dean Acheson as commie-coddlers over events about which the United States had little control — such as the Maoist takeover of China — and for Soviet espionage activities, real and imagined, here at home.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, then, the task of demonizing Democrats became vastly more difficult, as this year’s Republican presidential contest illustrates. Of late, a favorite Republican theme is that President Obama is a European socialist. “I am for the Constitution,” Newt Gingrich recently proclaimed, while Obama “is for European socialism.” Not to be outdone, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has suggested that the choice between Obama and himself is one between “a European-style welfare state” or “a free land.” (more…)
In the frenzy of the Republican race for the presidential nomination, candidates have appealed to conservative populism through racially coded appeals evoking the dependency of the black “underclass” on government handouts. Late last year, former Speak of the House Newt Gingrich caused a commotion when he referred to child labor laws as “truly stupid.” He mused that poor children could develop the honest work ethic missing in their communities, and escape poverty, by replacing unionized janitors in their schools, and working as library, cafeteria and office assistants. The comments had little to do with race explicitly. Yet, his casual assumption that such children lack adult role models who work, or earn money legally, is one commonly attributed to the “underclass,” which made the target of his remarks clear. Gingrich stirred a toxic brew of anti-unionism, thinly veiled racism exempting children of color from protections against exploitation, and disdain for meaningfully combating the poverty that engulfs almost 40 percent of black children.
As if this race-inflected undertow was not strong enough, Gingrich labeled Barack Obama “the food stamp president,” and condescendingly offered to lecture a gathering of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) on why the black community should “demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.” The episode not only illustrated Republican-based animosity toward a program that has saved millions, across race, from food insecurity; it also crudely bound the president, and African Americans more generally, to a means-tested program popularly associated with stereotypes of black indolence. It helped catapult Gingrich to victory during the recent South Carolina Republican primary, but he has not been the only one to use this rhetoric. Fellow GOP contender Rick Santorum made similar remarks linking welfare dependency and African Americans, though unlike Gingrich he denied them. Not to be outdone, Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, also castigated Obama for supplanting a “merit-based society with an entitlement society” – this from a multimillionaire who possesses his own deep sense of entitlement to the White House, indifferent to the fact that large portions of his own party reject him. The former Massachusetts governor, still glowing from his victory in the Florida primary, has commented openly that his campaign will not concern itself with the “very poor” at all. Even the only black candidate in the Republican field, Herman Cain, blamed the unemployed for their own predicament. This was less an irony than an illustration of the adaptability of “underclass” language across racial and class contexts. (more…)
Posted June 8, 2010 at 8:00 am, in From Center for Working-Class Studies
By Sherry Linkon
Co-Director of the Center for Working-Class Studies at Youngstown State University
When the latest report was released last September, the poverty rate in the U.S. stood at 13.2 percent, the highest rate in 11 years. Given the recession, the increase shouldn’t surprise us, and we’ll probably see higher numbers when the next report is issued in August. I was surprised that the increase wasn’t more dramatic, but in fact the national poverty rate has hovered between about 10 and 13 percent for most of the past four decades. While a few percentage points represent a whole lot of people, I was struck by the relative stability of the figures. Clearly, today’s higher rate of poverty illustrates the effects of the recession. But if we almost always have more than 10 percent of Americans living in poverty, then it’s clearly a persistent and troublingly-policy-resistant problem.
A conversation with a tour guide and another American tourist on a van in Argentina a few weeks ago got me started thinking about all this. The tour guide was explaining that her government provides subsidies to families with children, and she was lamenting that some families choose to subsist on those government payments instead of entering the workforce. The American tourist agreed that this was a problem. She suggested that the right answer would be to “incentivize” poor people, so they would choose work over idleness.
Underlying the conversation were several assumptions about poverty and the role of government. The first is that most people are poor because they choose not to work. I suppose this is true for some, but I’m skeptical that laziness explains most instances of poverty. According to a 2007 report from the U.S. Census, only 21.5 percent of people in poverty don’t work. Today, the percentage may be higher, but given the unemployment rate, that’s not surprising, and we can’t read it as evidence of laziness. Indeed, the New York Times has been running a terrific series on “The New Poor,” presenting stories and analysis of how a complex mix of accident and policies are driving people from the middle and working classes into poverty. For a good example, read a recent report in the New York Times about how state cuts to child care subsidies are making it impossible for some low-income women to hold on to their jobs. The women profiled in the story are far from lazy. They want to work, but they can’t leave their children at home alone and have few options.
Second, we assume that if people are poor, it’s entirely their own fault. Common wisdom suggests that poor people would be comfortably middle class if only they were smart enough or worked hard enough to take advantage of the opportunities this country offers. Great myth, but in fact, upward mobility is less common in the U.S. than we’d like to think. Most Americans remain in the social class in which they grew up. Poverty is often situational and temporary. Equally important, as we have noted here previously, the U.S. can expect to see the most job growth over the next few decades in low-income jobs, meaning that increasing numbers of hard-working Americans will also be poor.
A third assumption in that tour van conversation is that government’s role should be to push people to work hard, not support those in need. Social welfare, the assumption goes, teaches people to depend on the government and thus increases, or at least perpetuates, poverty. While tracing this correlation can be tricky, a study by Lane Kenworthy, Professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of Arizona (who also writes for the conservative Cato Institute), found that Germany and Sweden, two European countries with the most generous state welfare programs, experienced lower levels of poverty than other nations. Such programs don’t eliminate poverty, and the results are uneven across Europe and elsewhere, but they do seem to help more than hurt. Based on his comparative study of the effects of social welfare programs, Kenworthy concludes that “relatively modest increases in benefit levels for programs that assist nonworking individuals and low-income workers might well be sufficient to bring the U.S. into line with at least a few of the other affluent nations in reducing poverty.”
Of course, we don’t address poverty only through direct supports. Improvements in education, worker rights, and health care would create better opportunities for people in poverty to achieve economic stability and move toward prosperity, and many people and organizations are working on these issues, here in the U.S. and globally. Yet such improvements are not only slow to develop, they are also – like most public policy – matters of intense debate. What does “better education” look like? What rights should workers have? Is access to good health care a human right, and if so, how should we pay for it? As the seemingly endless Congressional and media battles over health care demonstrated, solving the social problems that contribute to poverty is a cumbersome and frustrating process.
Much of the debate comes down to two big questions. First, does the free market generate good social practices? In other words, when corporations and business leaders pursue their interests, does that generate sufficient prosperity and opportunity to help the poor and working class? Second, do we believe that society as a whole has an interest, either moral or economic, in supporting those who are living in poverty? Or do we view economic inequality as either a “natural” condition or a self-inflicted problem that should be left alone, either because we believe we can’t do anything about it or because we believe that those who are poor don’t deserve assistance?
Clearly, neither the American people nor our leaders agree on how to answer these questions, and because those on both sides are passionate and committed to their views, we may never reach consensus. That means that policy debates will continue to be contested, and most likely, especially given the U.S. system of government (see James Fallows on this), the policies we develop will usually take moderate, often muddled and cautious approaches.
Policy solutions seem elusive, but we should nonetheless think carefully about how we characterize people in poverty. When we treat them with disdain and suspicion, the result is the sort of demeaning, even dehumanizing legal and bureaucratic practices that Barbara Ehrenreich has been documenting. Or we can view them as equal human beings, people worthy of not just our sympathy but our assistance and respect. We can check our judgments and question our assumptions. And perhaps most important, we can listen to their stories so that we can understand their experiences and perspectives. When we listen to others, they become human. They become part of “us,” members of our society whom we cannot so easily brush aside or condemn.
This piece was first posted on the Working-Class Perspectives blog
Sherry Linkon, is editor of the Working-Class Perspectives blog. Her Working-Class Studies research focuses on issues of education, diversity, literature and the arts, and pop culture. She is also an expert on teaching and learning in the humanities.