A Response to Eric Cantor on Inequality

A blog post by Stephen Herzenberg, originally published at Third and State.

Last Friday evening, I was asked to lead a Saturday afternoon “teach-in” on inequality to Occupy Harrisburg. Shortly after receiving this request, I got an email about a talk on income inequality that Eric Cantor, the Majority Leader of the U.S House of Representatives, had been scheduled to give Friday at the University of Pennsylvania.

Cantor canceled his talk at the eleventh hour, saying that he had only just learned his lecture would be open to the public. Cantor’s prepared remarks, however, were published by The Daily Pennsylvanian.

Cantor’s remarks were a refreshingly honest discussion of opportunity in America and what he, a leading conservative, has to say on the issue. So I decided to make my introductory remarks to Occupy Harrisburg a take-off on and response to Cantor’s text. See who you think gets the better of the argument by reading my remarks and Cantor’s.

After I delivered my prepared remarks, I spent an hour in a very enjoyable back and forth with the audience. In my experience giving talks and teaching students at leading universities, I have rarely met such an informed and thoughtful group.

OCCUPY WALL STREET: Separating Fact from Media


By Walter Brasch

Newspaper columnist Ann Coulter, spreading the lies of the extreme right wing, called the Occupy Wall Street protestors, “tattooed, body-pierced, sunken-chested 19-year-olds getting in fights with the police for fun.” She claimed the protestors, now in the thousands in New York, are “directionless losers [who] pose for cameras while uttering random liberal clich├ęs lacking any reason or coherence.” (Several hundred thousand of these “directionless losers” are expected to attend rallies in more than 650 cities, Oct. 15.)

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), House majority leader, called the protest nothing more than “growing mobs,” completely oblivious to his myriad statements that he supports “mobs” when they are from the Tea Party. Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, tacking as far right as possible to avoid anyone thinking he was once a moderate, called the protest “dangerous.”

Republican presidential contender Herman Cain, in a moment that demonstrated how out of touch he is with the economic reality of the five-year recession, argued, “Don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame the big banks; if you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself!”

Glenn Beck, too irrational even for Fox News, which terminated him less than two years after it tried to make him a TV superstar, told his radio audience, the protestors “will come for you and drag you into the streets and kill you.”

Lauren Ellis of Mother Jones, at one time a cutting edge magazine for social justice, believed that the protestors have a “lack of focus.” Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, wrote, “A protest without an objective is like a party or a picnic of the unemployed and the indolent. Unless you have an objective, what are you doing out there?”

First, let’s see just who these protestors really are. And then, let’s see what they stand for, since the mainstream media, of which Fox News is an entrenched part, don’t seem to be getting the message from the people.

The protestors rightly say they are part of the 99 percent; the other one percent have 42 percent of the nation’s wealth, the top 20 percent have more than 85 percent of the nation’s wealth, the highest accumulation since 1928, the year before the Great Depression. Even the most oblivious recognize the protestors as a large cross-section of America. They are students and teachers; housewives, plumbers, and physicians; combat veterans from every war from World War II to the present. They are young, middle-aged, and elderly. They are high school dropouts and Ph.D.s. They are from all religions and no religion, and a broad spectrum of political views.

Support has come from senior politicians with very different philosophies. Vice President Joe Biden believes the protests are because “In the minds of the vast majority of the American-the middle class is being screwed.” Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), unlike a vast majority of Republican politicians, stated, “If they were demonstrating peacefully, and making a point, and arguing our case, and drawing attention to the Fed-I would say, ‘good!'”

Second, like all protests, there are different opinions within the ranks. But, there is a core of beliefs. The protestors are fed up with corporate greed that has a base of corporate welfare and special tax benefits for the rich. They support the trade union movement, Medicare and Social Security, affordable health care for all citizens, and programs to assist the unemployed, disenfranchised, and underclass. A nation that cannot take care of the least among us doesn’t deserve to be called the best of us.

They’re mad that the home mortgage crisis, begun when greed overcame ethics and was then magnified by the failure of regulatory agencies and the Congress to provide adequate oversight, robbed all of America of its financial security. During the first half of this year alone, banks and lending agencies have sent notices to more than 1.2 million homeowners whose loans and mortgages are in default status, according to RealtyTrak. Of course, less regulation is just what conservatives want-after all, their mantra has become, “no government in our lives.”

The protestors are mad that the wealthiest corporations pay little or no taxes. They point to the Bank of America, part of the mortgage crisis problem, which earned a $4.4 billion profit last year, but received a $1.9 billion tax refund on top of a bailout of about $1 trillion. They look at ExxonMobil, which earned more than $19 billion profit in 2009, paid no taxes and received a $156 million federal rebate. Its profit for the first half of 2011 is about $ 21.3 billion.

They rightfully note that it is slimy when General Electric, whose CEO is a close Obama advisor, earned a $26 billion profit during the past five years, but still received a $4.1 billion refund.  

They’re mad that the federal government has given the oil industry more than $4 billion in subsidy, although the industry earned more than $1 trillion in profits the past decade.

They’re mad that Goldman Sachs, after receiving a $10 billion government bailout, and a $2.7 billion profit in the first quarter of 2011, shipped about 1,000 jobs overseas. During the past decade, corporations, which have paid little or no federal taxes, have outsourced at least 2.4 million jobs and are hoarding trillions which could be used to spur job growth and the economy.

They’re mad that corporations that took federal bailout money gave seven-figure bonuses to their executives.

They’re mad that the U.S., of all industrialized countries, has the highest ratio of executive pay to that of the average worker. The U.S. average is about 300 to 475 times that of the average worker. In Japan, Germany, France, Italy, Canada, and England, the average CEO earns between 10 and 20 times what the average worker earns, and no one in those countries believes the CEOs are underpaid.

They’re mad that 47 percent of all persons who earned at least $250,000 last year, including about 1,500 millionaires, paid no taxes, according to Newsmax. If you’re a Republican member of Congress, that’s perfectly acceptable. They’re the ones who thought President Obama was launching class warfare against the rich by trying to restore the tax rate for the wealthiest Americans. They succeeded in blocking tax reform and a jobs bill, but failed to understand the simple reality-if there is class warfare, it is being waged by the elite greedy and their Congressional lackeys.

Herman Cain, Fox TV pundit Sean Hannity, and others from the extreme right wing said the protestors are un-American, apparently for protesting corporate greed. The Occupy Wall Street protestors aren’t un-American; those who defend the destruction of the middle class by defending greed, and unethical and illegal behavior, are.

[Walter Brasch is an award-winning syndicated columnist, and the author of 17 books. His latest book is Before the First Snow, a social issues mystery set in rural Pennsylvania.]


Walter M. Brasch, Ph.D.

Latest Book: Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution





No New Jobs

The New Austerity is beginning to have its effect on the economy as no new jobs were created in August.  The net total of zero reflects job losses due to massive Republican (Tea Party) budget cuts across the country.  You cannot create jobs when you’re cutting them.

Meanwhile consumer confidence is declining along with the stock market.  The market collapses following the debt ceiling deal are hurting the overall economy as people see their investments disappear.  The lack of confidence in the future means businesses aren’t hiring.  We have been put into a downward spiral due to conservative radical ideology and signs point to another repeat of the fall 2008 collapse.

President Obama does not escape blame because he gave in to the demands for cuts.  Americans want JOBS but no one in Washington seems to be listening.

News & Notes August 27, 2011

As the east coast braces for Hurricane Irene I’m monitoring things as well as I can from Santa Fe.  The advantage of being here is my power won’t go out and I can monitor FEMA and news sources for the latest information.  I’ll do my best over the weekend to provide information.  If you have news and information let me know and I’ll get it out there.

It’s rained every day since I arrived in northern New Mexico which is very unusual.  This is the high desert and climate change has been effecting the southwest quite significantly.  These storms break a severe drought and are quite welcome to the residents and Native Americans.  

I met a couple from Los Alamos yesterday whom I knew from our Democratic Talk Radio facebook group.  It’s so nice to put faces with names and actually get to know people.  I’m trying to do some work while here on shale gas fracking.  It’s been going on out west for years and I’d like to learn what the longer term effects are on the environment.  Larry and Shirley Jeffreys are steering me to some people in Santa Fe with whom I can meet.

FEMA seems to be managing preparations for Irene pretty well. They have been conducting news conferences and sent people into the projected path of the storm ahead of time to deal with the aftereffects.  Following just days after the 5.8 earthquake this is a double whammy for the region.  Meanwhile Eric Cantor is insisting on more federal cuts in exchange for disaster aid.  Since the epicenter of the quake was in his own district there is no larger evidence of the need for him to go.  Government exists to provide disaster aid in the event of major events and if he cannot even support disaster aid for his own District his constituents need to elect a new Congressman.

Speaking of weather, drought and climate change Texas Governor Rick Perry said this in New Hampshire this week:

“I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data, so that they will have dollars rolling into their, to their projects,”

Al Gore responded back saying most scientists have no financial gain by calling for action about the issue.  He’s correct as most of them are academics.  If they owned companies who stood to gain financially from their work that would be a conflict of interest and cloud anything they said.  Sort of like the climate change deniers who are funded by ExxonMobil (to the tune of $18 billion) and other energy companies who do actually have a financial interest in denying the science.  They do have a conflict of interest and Perry apparently is too stupid top comprehend this fact just like he’s too stupid to understand the science.

The more we learn about Perry the more radical he is and we don’t need another radical Texas Governor in the White House.  Texas is being hit with severe high temperatures and drought this year due to climate change yet he thinks the solution is a prayer meeting.

Another closeted gay Republican surfaced this week when Puerto Rican Senator Roberto Arango. was outed by Gawker for explicit pictures he posted on the smartphone gay hookup site Grindr.  I love the sarcastic commentary in their article.

Congressman Tom Marino was targeted with a mock funeral in Williamsport over the death of jobs:

Republican Members of Congress are now charging the public to attend their events in a total effort to keep the people from expressing their concern and outrage over recent votes.  If you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen.

The White House is moving towards approving the controversial tar sands pipeline in the face of a continuous protest about running an oil line straight down the country from Canada to Texas.  With a straight face they are saying there’s minimal environmental risk.  One more reason not to vote for Barack Obama next year.

News & Notes May 26, 2011

Eric Cantor saw the tornado which ripped through Joplin and saw an opportunity, an opportunity to extort yet more spending cuts.  

Ed Schultz, the host on that clip was suspended by MSNBC for calling Laura Ingraham a “slut.”  That sort of language is never acceptable.  We may disagree with Ms. Ingraham but let’s try and keep our discourse above the level of an Ann Coulter.

In many aspects of his national security policy Barack Obama is worse than George W. Bush.  His crackdown on whistleblowers is definitely one such area.  Investigative journalism is already dying as newspapers close or cut staffs and news networks morph into entertainment divisions.  Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, one such whistleblower, said if successful the prosecution of Pfc. Bradley Manning would “a chill across all investigative journalism.”  

Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio (doesn’t that name sound a bit…Italian?)  is under yet more fire.  Several of his officers have been arrested for heroin and human trafficking.  In a related matter SCOTUS today upheld an Arizona law designed to prevent businesses from hiring undocumented immigrants.  

How much are you willing to pay for food?  Do you understand that our relatively cheap food is subsidized by tax dollars and is produced mostly with illegal immigrant labor?

Japan’s Fukushima reactor had not one but three meltdowns.  I remember all the BS from the energy industry telling us meltdowns would never occur.

The AFL-CIO blog tells us how more and more of our jobs are low wage:

Between 1980 and 2009, labor productivity increased by 78 percent but:

   The median compensation of 35- to 44-year-old male high school graduates (with no college) declined by 10 percent.

   The median compensation of 35- to 44-year-old male college graduates (without graduate degrees) grew by 32 percent, less than one half as much as overall productivity growth.

   Only the median compensation of 35- to 44-year-old men with post-graduate training came close to labor productivity growth increasing by 49 percent.

This was the result of policy, not chance.

In other labor news the Wisconsin Supreme Court has overturned the recent anti-collective bargaining law because it was enacted illegally.

Serbia finally arrested war criminal and genocide leader Ratko Mladic.  One small step back to the path of civilization for that nation.

Vermont is the first state to enact single payer health care.

My guess is Sarah Palin won’t run for president.  She quit as Alaska Governor to cash in so why dump her lucrative gig for such a huge pay cut?

Cantor on Social Security: Truth or Misspeaking?

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is under fire today for telling NPR his vision of America doesn’t include Social Security and Medicare.  The Republican from Virginia has 100,000 constituents on the program so he is now claiming he misspoke.  The quote:

I mean, just from the very notion that it said that 50 percent of beneficiaries under the Social Security program use those moneys as their sole source of income.  So we’ve got to protect today’s seniors.  But for the rest of us? For – you know, listen. We’re going to have to come to grips with the fact that these programs cannot exist if we want America to be what we want America to be.

Was it the truth, a Freudian slip or did he screw up and forgot to say what he meant?  It’s tough to figure someone as accomplished as the House Majority Leader would make a statement like this and claim he didn’t mean it.  Which part didn’t he mean?  Let’s take a look at what we’re seeing the Republicans revealing about the “America we want to be.”

President George W. Bush tried privatizing Social Security in 2005.  Then Sen. Rick Santorum went on a tour around Pennsylvania shortly thereafter promoting the plan which would send billions of dollars in investment fees to Wall Street bankers so they could gamble away our retirements.  We caught this video when he entered his town hall at Drexel University back then:

Now and then Republicans screw up and allow their real agenda to appear.  Cantor’s vision of America is obviously one where the elderly are impoverished and dependent upon the largess of their children for survival.   Disabled persons should simply crawl away and perish rather than receive medical care and a stipend to help them survive.  It is an America without child labor laws, unions, teachers and public schools, workplace safety, limits on banker’s salaries, a middle class, regulations for the robber barons of Wall Street, medical care, abortion services, equal pay for women, taxes for the richest Americans, restrictions on oil and gas companies, regulation of greenhouse gases, no renewable energy, no teaching of science in schools, no restrictions on guns and ammunition, no restrictions on fraudulent banking practices and securities, and the suppression of the vote for demographics who vote Democratic.

We are seeing Cantor’s vision for America playing out in Congress and statehouses all across the nation but we’re supposed to believe his statement about Social Security and Medicare were in error?  That he simply misspoke?  I report, you decide.

Random Thoughts March 30, 2010

Delaware and Tennessee won the first round of federal funds for education in the Race to the Top program designed to rethink education under Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.  Most Pennsylvania school districts opted out of the program yet the state finished in the next tier of five.  Will they get serious about the tens of millions of dollars available?

I asked Gubernatorial candidate Dan Onorato about it yesterday and he clearly was caught off guard.  Had he not heard the news or didn’t he know what the program is?  I’m not sure but it was one or the other.

Speaking of Arne Duncan he has done more media conference calls than any other Cabinet official.  Kathleen Sebelius is probably number two between the swine flu program and health insurance reform.  Sec. Duncan does another call this afternoon to discuss the expansion of Pell grants which was part of the health insurance bill just passed by Congress.

I was trying to think of one issue in which Mr. Onorato is progressive and could not come up with a single example.  Anti-choice, anti-equality for marriage, pro death penalty, willing to violate constitutional rights at the G20…  The way I watched him dance around direct questions yesterday was worthy of a seasoned politician however.  The thought of either him or Jack Wagner sitting as Governor is worrisome.

No sooner did I finish writing yesterday’s article on accountability for violence than I saw on television where this radical militia group was busted.  Very scary people and there are too many of these factions rising up as the result of all this hate speech.  Now a lunatic from Philadelphia has been arrested for threatening Congressman Eric Cantor.  It appears this guy is totally off his rocker.  I suppose you could say that about most of these militia/tea bagger folks.

The GOP talking points for opposing regulation of Wall Street leaked and, once again, their strategy will be to lie to voters.  Black is white and white is black to these people and they’ll stoop to nothing to brainwash stupid people.  How long will it be before the morons begin reciting the smear that this is yet another bailout when it’s exactly the opposite?  The morons are already gathering their talking points without reading the actual legislation and understanding what it says.  Reading without comprehension is like using a defective condom:  you’re screwed.

I have a serious problem about prosecuting children as adults especially when they are but 12 years old.  Let’s get civilized.

Joe Hoeffel went after AG Tom Corbett yesterday over his frivolous lawsuit to end health insurance reform.  He called him the “Motions Eleven.”  Great play on words but where was George Clooney Joe?

Baseball season is about to begin so spring has to be close.  That 70 degree weather was nice but came a bit too soon.  The rain has been better than snow but won’t a bit of sunshine feel good?  Is anyone betting on the date the Pirates get mathematically eliminated?  I take July 22nd.  It’s good to be a Phillies fan these days!  Every fifth day is a Halladay.

Ricky Martin came out of the closet, finally.  Did anyone not doubt his sexual orientation?  He called himself “a fortunate gay man.”  Now I suppose he can live “la vida loca.”

Michael Steele is under attack again for spending almost $2000 of RNC cash at a sex club in LA.  Who was stupid enough to report this on their FEC disclosure?  Having a party at a lesbian/bondage club is entirely legal but not very smart.  Of course when I think of Republicans and bondage Club Voyeur isn’t what comes to mind.  I think of slavery of African Americans and how too many Republicans continue to support that image.  There’s a reason the GOP is the Party of the South.