Why the Right Should Fear Inequality

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(Image: Flickr / Steve Johnson)

Modern-day American conservatives typically see government regulation as an outright assault on freedom. They also see inequality as inevitable in any “free” society. Any government that moves against inequality, they go on to assume and argue, will have to threaten freedom.

But these linkages, the insightful UK economic analyst Chris Dillow points out in a new commentary, don’t hold up. In fact, an annual freedom index published by the conservative Heritage Foundation has Denmark, one of the world’s most equal nations, ranking higher on “business freedom” than the United States, the developed world’s most unequal nation.

What’s going on here? For starters, Dillow notes, the really rich have no real interest in economic freedom. They care far more about shielding their monopoly power from competition. Red tape suits them fine, since red tape tends to burden small firms more than large ones.

People generally, Dillow adds, want to see fairness. If market forces aren’t delivering that fairness, “they’ll demand it via the ballot box in the form of state regulation.”

That dynamic, Dillow suggests, ought to make every “freedom-loving” conservative an advocate for stronger trade unions.

“If workers have the power to bargain for better wages and conditions and the real freedom to reject exploitative demands from bosses,” he explains, “then we’ll not need so much business regulation.”

“In this sense,” the British analyst sums up, “greater equality and cutting red tape go together.”

The post Why the Right Should Fear Inequality appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Sam Pizzigati is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and edits Too Much, an online monthly on excess and inequality.

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US Mine Safety and Health Administration announces results of special impact inspections at 17 mines in January

US Mine Safety and Health Administration announces results of special impact inspections at 17 mines in January

Who: U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration

What: The Mine Safety and Health Administration announced today that federal inspectors issued 138 citations, four orders and one safeguard during special impact inspections conducted at 11 coal mines and six metal and nonmetal mines in January

Where: MSHA conducted special impact inspections at mines in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.

Background: Monthly impact inspections began in force in April 2010 at mines that merit increased agency attention and enforcement due to their poor compliance history or particular compliance concerns. Since then, MSHA inspectors have conducted 1,098 impact inspections and issued 15,833 citations, 1,303 orders and 58 safeguards.

# # #

Editor’s Note: MSHA’s Monthly Impact Inspection List for January 2016 is available here.

Release Date: 
02/25/2016
Media Contact Name: 

Amy Louviere

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Release Number: 
16-0412-NAT
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Unequal ZIP Codes

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Abandoned storefront in Helena, Arkansas. (Image: Flickr / Joseph)

Last April, on an “America-roots-music” family road trip, we took a rambling drive out of Memphis and down Highway 61 into the Mississippi Delta. Late in the afternoon we crossed the Mississippi River and wandered into the once thriving Delta town of Helena, Arkansas. Helena is home to the famous blues broadcast, King Biscuit Time, a daily program running continuously since 1941.

Helena was one of the most devastated Main Streets I’d seen in a decade, and I’ve seen a lot. Block after block of empty store fronts, downtown Helena would be a good set for a movie about the neutron bomb. One of my kids astutely asked, “Are we still in America?”

There has been excellent research focused on growing inequality within major metropolitan areas. A new study, by the Economic Innovation Group, examines how the 2008 economic meltdown has accelerated disparities between communities and ZIP codes. The most prosperous communities have gotten richer while distressed communities, some just a mile from rich ZIP codes, have deteriorated.

According to the EIG study, Helena, Arkansas rates among the most blighted on their interactive map and Distressed Community Index.

The study’s authors note that the Distressed Community Index,

provides a multifaceted look at the circumstances underlying the prevailing economic anxiety for many Americans. While more Americans live in communities that have recovered from the Great Recession, there are large swathes of the country that continue to be plagued by disproportionate poverty and joblessness. The DCI reveals that more than 50 million Americans live in economically distressed communities.

Many distressed communities are in the South and the former rust belt states of the northern mid-west. While many of these communities were distressed prior to the Great Recession, they have been further left behind since 2009.

“The most prosperous areas have enjoyed rocket-shiplike growth,” EIG researcher John Lettieri told The New York Times. “There you are very unlikely to run into someone without a high school diploma, a person living below the poverty line or a vacant home…They are enjoying a boom that camouflages what’s going on at the bottom.”

We know that extreme inequalities create parallel universes of rich and distressed. This gap leads to a breakdown in the social solidarity required to build political support for policies that reduce inequality.

I wonder how the 50 million people in these distressed communities are voting. I suspect these are the ZIP codes that are heavily voting against establishment candidates. Stay tuned for some additional research on this topic.

The post Unequal ZIP Codes appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Chuck Collins directs the Project on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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Some Questions for the ‘Expert’ Who Accused Me of ‘Passive Terrorism’

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(Photo: Flickr / Kashfi Halford)

Misogynists have spun the old trope that what women wear is somehow the cause of what men do time and time again. But thanks to the Air Force, Muslim women are now getting a disturbingly refreshing take on the subject.

We’re used to getting blamed for the violence of men when we wear too little. Now we can also take credit for the violence of men when we wear too much.

In Countering Violent Extremism: Scientific Methods and Strategies, a recent white paper issued by the Air Force Research Laboratory, contributor Tawfik Hamid claims men join terrorist organizations because they’re sexually deprived by women who wear hijabs. Hamid, a self-described former Islamic extremist, calls the traditional head covering a form of “passive terrorism” and makes “weakening the hijab phenomenon” a pivotal piece of his plan to combat Islamic extremism.

There lies the gross generalization: Women like me who wear hijabs are terrorists.

I think some editor may have missed an error in the subtitle of this report — namely the part that suggests this claim has anything to do with “science.” Indeed, in a preface, the report’s editor hailed the document as “more relevant than ever.”

I’m always incredulous when I hear a powerful man tell a group of other powerful men that they’ll all be safer if more women just take off their clothes. But exalting testimonials from high-ranking military officials are featured prominently on Hamid’s website, so I’m willing to test the theory.

Thus, in the interest of science, I have some questions about a few things that must not have come up during his “research.”

I don’t wear a hijab every day, but I usually wear one on my way to the mosque on Fridays. Will I only end up on a no-fly list at the end of the week, then? Do I only count as a “passive terrorist” during those times when I choose to cover my hair and wear loose clothing?

Alternately, am I revered as a peacemaker on the days when I let my locks flow free and I put on skinny jeans? How can I tell when I’ll be targeted for looking “too Muslim”?

Since this is a scientific paper, we should test other variables too.

For example, are Christian nuns — who may hold conservative values and cover their bodies — also to blame for violent extremism? What does the “science” say on head-to-toe covering in different religions? Is it only Muslim women whose modest dress conjures up uncontrollable, testosterone-infused rage in men?

I won’t hold my breath waiting for the answers.

Wearing a hijab means something different to each woman. It’s a very personal decision that has absolutely nothing to do with whether our male counterparts will strap on a suicide vest.

But more to the point, claims like Hamid’s aren’t just offensive to women. They let the U.S. government itself off the hook for foreign policies — like invasions, drone strikes, arms sales to oppressive regimes, and military interventionism in the Muslim world — that play a much bigger role in driving terrorism than what a woman chooses to wear on her head.

I find it a little hard to believe that if I stop wearing my hijab on Eid, those men who have seen their homes destroyed, weddings bombed, and refugee children drowned as a result of U.S. militarism will feel less inclined to return the favor.

The post Some Questions for the ‘Expert’ Who Accused Me of ‘Passive Terrorism’ appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Domenica Ghanem is a communications assistant at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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250 Valentine’s cards are on their way to global food workers

A big thank you to all of you who joined our Valentine’s campaign and sent your love to the people who produce our food. This year we asked you to also come up with your own personal message for the food workers in Morocco, Nicaragua and Thailand. This resulted in the most heart-warming messages!

“Dear food worker, Thank you for working so hard every day so that I have fresh food to eat, and for continuing to work so hard despite such difficult working conditions. I have so much respect and admiration for everything you do day after day. Elyse”

The cards are on their way

The touching messages have been translated into Burmese, Arabic and Spanish and so the Burmese shrimp workers in Thailand, sugarcane cutters in Nicaragua and tomato pickers in Morocco will be able to read them. The cards are on their way now and we hope that the food workers will receive them next week.

Translated cards

“Dear food worker, you’re my hero – just want to thank you for all your hard work. On this day of love, I want to show my respect for all your hard work! Lots of love, Liesbeth”

Let’s hope that these messages of love and gratitude for their hard work will make the food workers smile this year. They deserve it. Millions of people all around the world are producing, picking and packing our food on a daily basis, from tomatoes to shrimp, from cocoa to sugar. These workers often work long days under harsh working conditions, for wages that are not even enough to live on. While at the same they often don’t know their rights and even if they do, they are not allowed to stand up for them.

Dear madam, sir, Thank you so much for all the hard work to feed me and the rest of the world. It is a small gesture, but with this message I want to let you know that I care and truly appreciate the hard work you do! Lots of love, Joshua”

Would you still like to take the opportunity to send your love to the people who produce your food, but haven’t done so yet? You don’t have to wait until Valentine’s Day next year, you can still send your personal message here. We will make sure that your message will get to the workers.

Ps. If we’re lucky we may even receive some messages back from the workers this year! So stay tuned!

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Unemployment Insurance Weekly Claims Report

In the week ending February 20, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 272,000, an increase of 10,000 from the previous week’s unrevised level of 262,000. The 4-week moving average was 272,000, a decrease of 1,250 from the previous week’s unrevised average of 273,250.

Release Date: 
02/25/2016
Release Number: 
16-368-NAT
Override with PDF?: 
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Judge orders Illinois health care provider to repay more than $1.73M in losses to employee profit-sharing plan after making improper distributions

Judge orders Illinois health care provider to repay more than $ 1.73M in losses to employee profit-sharing plan after making improper distributions

CHICAGO – A federal judge has ordered an Illinois home health care provider and two of its officers to repay a total of $ 1,736,339 to the Alliance Home Healthcare Inc. Profit Sharing Plan.

An investigation by the department’s Employee Benefits Security Administration in Chicago found that Palos Hills-based Alliance Home Healthcare Inc., its President Dalisay Sulit and Secretary/Treasurer Reginaldo Sulit improperly transferred and distributed more than $ 1.6 million from the profit sharing plan to themselves, the company, and others.

The department filed a lawsuit in August 2015 asserting that these plan withdrawals were not in the best interests of the participants and beneficiaries of the employee benefit plan, as required by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

The $ 1,601,908 in withdrawn plan assets were used for non-plan purposes, including directly benefitting the company. The judgment also requires the trustees to repay lost opportunity costs of $ 134,431, bringing the total owed to $ 1,736,339.

“This judgment is a victory for the participants in the company’s profit sharing plan,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employee Benefits Security Phyllis C. Borzi. “Too often, we see employee benefit plan funds used illegally by company owners and management to prop up struggling companies. Employee benefit plans must be managed in the best interest of participants, bottom line.”

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division in Chicago, also removed the defendants from their positions as fiduciaries to the plan, and permanently enjoined them from serving as fiduciaries or service providers to any plan covered by ERISA. The court appointed Lefoldt & Co. P.A. of Ridgeland, Mississippi, as an independent fiduciary, compensated at the defendants’ expense, to distribute the plan’s assets to participants and beneficiaries and to terminate the plan.

Alliance Home Healthcare established the plan on Jan. 1, 2000, to provide retirement benefits to eligible employees. As of Dec. 31, 2006 – the last year an annual report was filed – the plan had 127 participants and $ 1.6 million in assets. Alliance Home Healthcare provided health care services to patients in their homes.

EBSA’s Chicago Regional Office investigated the case, and the department’s Regional Office of the Solicitor in Chicago is litigating it. Workers and employers with questions about benefit plans can contact a benefits adviser toll free at 866-444-3272 or online at http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/contactEBSA/consumerassistance.html.

Perez v. Alliance Home Healthcare Inc., Alliance Home Health Care Inc. Profit Sharing Plan, Reginaldo Sulit, Dalisay Sulit

Civil Action Number: 1:15-cv-07481

Release Date: 
02/18/2016
Media Contact Name: 

Scott Allen

Phone Number: 
Media Contact Name: 

Rhonda Burke

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Release Number: 
16-0205-CHI
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U.S. Support for the Saudi Regime is a Humanitarian Disaster

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A school in Yemen, destroyed by bombings. (Photo: Flickr / [Julien Harneis])

Although the Saudis have promised a high-level committee to investigate civilian deaths from their airstrikes in Yemen, they continue to strike civilian targets with countless deaths and destructions.

For instance, among those recently killed in an airstrike on an abandon cement factory were “people in parked cars, a grocery store owner, a pharmacist and shoppers.” The nationalist insurgents, the Houthis, have also unfortunately contributed to the increased casualties as they try to repel the invaders and defeat the local groups opposed to them.

The civil war in Yemen, compounded by the Saudi invasion, has so far displaced 2.3 million people. It has left 5,700 dead, among them 2,500 civilians. Two thirds of the deaths have resulted from airstrikes. And 82% of the population requires assistance and medical supplies. The United States fears that 14.4 million Yemenis are at risk of “severe hunger.”

To add to the misery of the Yemeni people, the United States just approved the sale of weapons to the Saudis worth $ 1.3 billion. Among the weaponry are air-to-ground ordinances that included 22,000 bombs. From 2010 to 2014, the United States sold $ 90 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia. Initially, among the U.S. weapons sold to the Saudis were the internationally banned cluster bombs.

The Saudis have feared Yemen for a long time. They worry that the Houthis and their allies will destabilize the Saudi regime and export revolutionary zeal to the Saudi people. The fear of losing their power is why the Saudi royals, with the help of the majority Sunni regimes in the Gulf, launched an air and ground war against Yemen. Riyadh hopes to reinstate the former government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansoor Hadi and make Yemen a satellite country of Saudi Arabia. Facing an onslaught by the highly equipped Saudi forces with American help, the Houthis were obliged to ally with the unsavory former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to defend Yemen. Although calls for talks have gone nowhere, a new effort is underway to hold negotiations in Europe under the auspices of the UN.

The Saudis have made the poorly supported claim that they are fighting a proxy war with Iran in Yemen. Unfortunately, the Obama administration parrots these lies in its official statements, which the major media then repeat. The Saudis and the Gulf States have conjured up Iranian’s involvement in order to justify their war on Yemen. In the meantime, al-Qaeda is deepening its roots and widening its reach in and around the country.

US support for the Saudi regime has continued despite the invasion and the resulting humanitarian disaster. The United States provides the Saudis with intelligence and helps to enforce the current naval blockade. Moreover, in January, Secretary John Kerry said, “We have as solid a relationship, as clear an alliance, and as strong a friendship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as we ever had, and nothing has changed.” Kerry’s level of support for the Saudis contrasts sharply with the U.S. claims of supporting freedom, democracy, and human rights worldwide.

Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the world. The Saudis and the Gulf states are some of the richest countries in the world. And yet the Saudis, the Gulf States, and the United States are destroying Yemen, which had been a potential outpost of democracy in the region. Again, the United States derailed a potential democracy to serve a totalitarian regime, Saudi Arabia.

The United States bears the moral and legal responsibility for facilitating a potential genocide in Yemen that results from the current war and the population’s lack of food, basic health, and sanitation. The United States keeps wondering why the people of the region continue to harbor the worst terrorists. The reason lies in part because the United States has chosen alliances with dictators for the sake of oil and the stability of corrupt regimes.

The post U.S. Support for the Saudi Regime is a Humanitarian Disaster appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Adil E. Shamoo is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies

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I Am Kalief Browder

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(Image: Flickr / [Derek Mindler])

The day before I started high school, my father took me up to the park around the corner from our house to have “the talk.”

It’s the talk black families had when Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in Florida. It’s the talk we had when Michael Brown was shot and killed in Missouri. It’s the talk we had when Tamir Rice was shot and killed in Ohio. And it’s the talk we had when Sandra Bland was found dead in a jail cell following a traffic stop in Texas.

If you’re a black teen, it’s a talk about how to survive.

My dad made sure I understood that I was going to be profiled — even put in danger of harm or arrest — simply because of the color of my skin.

I didn’t have to wait long to experience this harsh reality firsthand. When I was 16, my friends and I walked through a popular entertainment store in Cambridge, Massachusetts to meet up with some of our classmates.

A security guard at the door stopped us.

He looked at each of us, and then asked us to empty our backpacks. Confused, we protested that we hadn’t touched anything — and we hadn’t. But the image of three young black guys passing through a store with backpacks was enough make the security guard suspicious. It felt like he was presuming our guilt.

My friends and I were lucky enough to be released without charge. However, on any given day, over 50,000 young people are detained in state and local prisons nationwide. Although young black people are just 17 percent of the nation’s juvenile population, we account for 31 percent of all juvenile arrests.

Kalief Browder — a 16 year-old kid from New York — was once accused of stealing, just like us. Awaiting trial for robbing someone of a backpack — a crime he said he didn’t commit — Browder wound up spending three years at the notorious Rikers Island prison before the charges were finally dropped. He spent two of those years in solitary confinement.

Browder’s torture was so severe that he took his own life shortly after his release in 2013. He was just 22.

President Barack Obama mentioned Browder recently, when he issued an executive order banning juvenile solitary confinement in federal prisons. That was a welcome step, though it leaves the much greater number of young people locked up in state and local prisons without the same protection.

The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision Montgomery v. Louisiana, on the other hand, does offer some relief to incarcerated youth at the state level. The ruling upheld a previous decision that mandatory life sentences without parole for people under 18 were unconstitutional. Moreover, it worked retroactively, requiring that anyone who’d received the sentence when they were still underage must have the opportunity to argue for their release.

These two decisions reflect positive steps towards criminal justice reform, but they’re only helpful to young people who’ve already been arrested and locked up. That’s not enough. Every level of our legal system must be examined not only for inhumane detention practices and police brutality, but also racial profiling.

I didn’t know Kalief Browder, but I do know that the criminal justice system sees me the same way it saw him. That’s because we share three traits that presume our guilt: Being young, black, and male.

It’s time to change that. Because I don’t want to have to give “the talk” to my own child.

The post I Am Kalief Browder appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Branden Miles is an intern for the Criminalization of Poverty Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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Can Sanders Distinguish Himself From Clinton on Foreign Policy?

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has distinguished himself from his party rival Hillary Clinton when it comes to domestic economic issues, but when it comes to foreign policy that distinction is a bit more vague. Referring to his “no” vote on the Iraq War, Sanders has tried to sound more moderate on foreign policy, but has he got a full command of the issues at stake, especially when it comes to Syria and ISIS? Sanders has repeatedly called for sending American military equipment, air support and personnel to assist nations like Jordan and Saudi Arabia in fighting ISIS. What are the implications of this kind of policy in the region? To discuss Sanders’ position on the Islamic State is Peter Certo, an editor and writer at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Watch the interview on the Real News Network’s website.

The post Can Sanders Distinguish Himself From Clinton on Foreign Policy? appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Peter Certo is the editor of Foreign Policy in Focus, a project of the Institute for Policy Studies

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