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Richard (RJ) Eskow
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Richard (RJ) is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America’s Future and the host of The Zero Hour, a weekly program of news, interviews, and commentary on We Act Radio. The Zero Hour is syndicated nationally and is available as a podcast on iTunes. Richard has been a consultant, public policy advisor, and health executive in health financing and social insurance. He was cited as one of “fifty of the world’s leading futurologists” in “The Rough Guide to the Future,” which highlighted his long-range forecasts on health care, evolution, technology, and economic equality. Richard's writing has been published in print and online. He has also been anthologized three times in book form for “Best Buddhist Writing of the Year.”

Entries by Richard (RJ) Eskow

Hillary's Choice: 'Anti-Gridlock' or 'Anti-Wall Street'?

(101) Comments | Posted December 19, 2014 | 8:58 AM

We're told that Hillary Clinton is spurning something her advisors call the "anti-Wall Street" movement and will run instead on a platform of "working across the aisle" with Republicans. Her camp is suggesting, without much evidence and against the lessons of recent history, that she will be more effective at...

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A Fight Is Lost, But at Least Someone's Fighting

(93) Comments | Posted December 15, 2014 | 11:14 AM

Last week Sen. Elizabeth Warren warned that "the House of Representatives is about to show us the worst of government for the rich and powerful." They promptly did, and the Senate quickly followed suit. We are now at greater risk of another derivatives-based financial crisis, and billionaires and corporations now...

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This Is Not a Drill: The Budget Deal Is a Disaster

(20) Comments | Posted December 11, 2014 | 10:57 AM

It sounds like one of those fundraising emails Democratic groups kept sending out during the last election season, warning of imminent impeachment and other inflated threats: "Listen, I'm pleading." "CRUSHING blow." "Disaster." "Kiss all hope goodbye." "SHOCKING news."

It sounds like it, but it's not. We really have an...

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Wall Street Moves In for the Kill

(4) Comments | Posted December 10, 2014 | 10:34 AM

It's been six years since Wall Street's recklessness and criminal fraud caused trillions of dollars in economic damage and nearly shattered the global economy. The 2008 financial crisis opened millions of Americans' eyes to the widespread corruption and mismanagement in the financial industry, and built public support for stronger bank...

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Eric Garner: The Unseen Heart of the Violence

(7) Comments | Posted December 4, 2014 | 11:32 PM

Death, like life, occurs within an interconnected web of forces. Eric Garner died at a specific place and time, but he was drawn there by those larger unseen forces. So was the officer who took his life.

One of them never left.

The neighborhood where Eric Garner died was near...

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Demographics Won't Save the Democrats -- Unless They Change

(3) Comments | Posted December 4, 2014 | 12:34 PM

In his examination of former Virginia Senator Jim Webb's potential presidential candidacy, New York Times commentator Thomas Edsall explored Webb's potential appeal to "voters convinced that Wall Street owns both parties, voters tired of politicians submitting to partisan orthodoxy and voters seeking to replace 'identity group' politics with a...

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A Democratic Party in Search of Its Soul

(20) Comments | Posted December 3, 2014 | 9:55 AM

Lately there's been a great deal of talk about finding a better Democratic message, one that will unify the party and energize voters. But how, exactly, can Democrats reconcile factions that include both the Wall Street-friendly Clintons (whose relationship with the financial industry is highlighted in this cutting infographic...

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Prosecute Now: The Justice Department Can Still Act Against Bad Bankers

(4) Comments | Posted November 26, 2014 | 11:39 AM

It's been a grim period for American justice. Despite compelling evidence of widespread bank fraud in the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis -- and despite all those billion-dollar settlements -- prosecutors have not indicted executives at any major U.S. bank. This stands in contrast to the much smaller savings...

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An Emotional, Poorly Argued Attack on Elizabeth Warren from Times' Sorkin

(27) Comments | Posted November 25, 2014 | 5:18 PM

Andrew Ross Sorkin of the New York Times has attacked Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Her offense? Criticizing the appointment of yet another Wall Street banker to a top economic post.

Sorkin's periodic defenses of the powerful are no longer unexpected. More surprising is the overall theme of this attack, which characterizes...

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Guess Who Doesn't Want Social Security's Offices Closed -- and Who Does

(34) Comments | Posted November 19, 2014 | 10:53 PM

Some surprising new polling results underscore the unpopularity -- and long-term destructiveness -- of Congress' ongoing attacks on the Social Security system.

The new Republican Congress is expected to force additional office closures and impose additional cuts on the Social Security Administration's budget, even as a poll released this week...

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Bill Clinton's Out of Touch Economically -- and That's a Big Deal

(113) Comments | Posted November 14, 2014 | 7:29 AM

He's eloquent, he's popular ... and he's out of touch with the daily lives of most Americans. Bill Clinton's economic worldview spells trouble, both for a party that's still reeling from defeat and for a nation where millions of people struggle just to make ends meet.

Hillary Clinton, the heavily-favored...

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8 Hotly Debated Issues... From the Election That Never Was

(4) Comments | Posted November 6, 2014 | 11:00 AM

Call it the Election That Never Was.

We've heard a lot of talk about this week's election, but the election we needed is the one we didn't see. The important issues, the issues that affected people's daily lives, were never debated. Voters never heard a genuine exchange of views and...

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In Big-Money Move, Corporations Seek to Make Congress a Wholly-Owned Subsidiary

(44) Comments | Posted October 30, 2014 | 1:45 AM

As Election Day approaches, two reports show us exactly how corrupted our political system has become. Unless voters come out in force, it looks like corporate money is about to buy itself another house of Congress.

The Wall Street Journal analyzed filings from the Federal Election Commission and concluded that

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GOP Betrays Social Security-Cutting Dems: Who Could've Seen It Coming?

(8) Comments | Posted October 28, 2014 | 12:15 PM

Who could've seen it coming?

Progressives could be forgiven for developing something of a Cassandra complex when it comes to the Democratic Party's economic stances. Here's the latest case in point:

The Washington Post and Politico have warned us that Republicans, led by Karl Rove's dark-money outfit, are attacking Democratic...

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From Secret McConnell Audio, 12 Destructive Things a GOP Senate Would Do

(953) Comments | Posted October 24, 2014 | 11:49 AM

If Republicans take the Senate next month (and if he wins his own reelection race), Mitch McConnell will be that body's next Majority Leader. Then what happens?

McConnell's been frank about what the GOP would do with the Senate -- at least when he thinks nobody's listening. This quote comes...

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5 Reasons Dems Should Push Social Security Expansion -- Now

(8) Comments | Posted October 22, 2014 | 11:58 AM


Witold Skwierczynski of the AFGE discussing Social Security field office closings

In two weeks voters will go to the polls in a race that looks increasingly dire for Democrats. It's not that voters agree with Republicans on the issues. On the contrary, polls show that a majority of voters across the political spectrum agree with core Democratic principles and programs.

The problem is that Republicans keep changing the subject, and Democrats keep letting them. Rather than letting themselves be kept on the defensive -- about President Obama, the Affordable Care Act, Ebola, or the Middle East -- Democrats would be wise to pick one or two key issues and keep hammering away at them.

The Democrats should be using Social Security expansion as a key part of their 2014 election strategy. (See "Democrats Can Win on Social Security - By Fighting to Increase It.") And in recent days Social Security has been raised by Democrats in several Democratic races.

But the days are dwindling down to a precious few. There isn't enough time left to promote Social Security expansion in depth, but Democrats can still use it as a key campaign tool. Here are five reasons why they should:

1. Social Security a "core value" -- and a winning issue.

As Celinda Lake told me in a radio interview (available here), there is "overwhelming" support for expanding Social Security and taxing millionaires to do it. This support is present among voters of all political leanings, including self-identified Republicans and independents. Social Security is a "core value" for voters, and Lake described it to us as a "valence issue" -- that is, an issue that is likely to sway their vote.

Her observations came from a study of likely voters, nationwide and in several key states, which she conducted for Social Security Works and the Center for Community Change. Voters were asked how they felt about "increasing Social Security benefits and paying for that increase by having wealthy Americans pay the same rate into Social Security as everybody else."

The results were striking:

  • 90 percent of Democrats said they support the idea; 75 percent strongly supported it.
  • 73 percent of independents support it; 55 percent strongly supported it.
  • 73 percent of Republicans support it; 47 percent strongly supported it.
  • 63 percent said they are more likely to vote for a member of Congress who votes to increase Social Security.
  • 70 percent said they are less likely to vote for someone who votes to cut Social Security benefits.

These findings reinforce several earlier polls (compiled in PopulistMajority.org), such as the one that found that "87% of voters favor protecting Social Security and Medicare."

When I asked why more Democrats weren't embracing this idea, Lake answered "I can't imagine."

2. It helped them win in 2006.

When the Democrats took back the House of Representatives in 2006, Social Security was a key part of that victory. President Bush and Congressional Republicans tried unsuccessfully to privatize the program in 2005, which proved to be deeply unpopular with voters. The memory of that attempt was fresh in voters' minds when they went to the polls the following year.

That year the Democrats held a nearly 30-point advantage among voters who were asked, "Which party do you trust more on Social Security?" (Wall Street Journal/Lake Research Partners) Four years later, after the Obama White House began flirting with Social Security cuts through the Simpson/Bowles Deficit Commission, the Dems' 28-point lead had become a 3-point deficit. Voters actually trusted Republicans more on the issue, if only by a slight margin.

The Democrats lost the House that year.

3. It's a great way to distinguish themselves from Republicans.

Social Security is a "core value" among voters. It's also a signature Democratic accomplishment, one that Republicans tried to dismantle less than a decade ago.

Of course, few Republicans are foolish enough to boast of their anti-Social Security efforts in an election year. That's why candidates like Louisiana's Mary Landrieu and Mark Pryor of have begun running attack ads highlighting their opponents' support for cutting Medicare and raising the Social Security age to 70.

But attack ads alone probably won't be enough. Social Security expansion draws a clear line of demarcation between privatization-friendly Republicans and Democrats who want to expand the social safety net at a time of diminishing prosperity for most Americans.

Alaska Sen. Mark Begich understands this. He was one of the first Democrats on the Hill to embrace Social Security expansion, and he's making it a cornerstone of this year's race. That's an interesting choice, given that he faces an uphill battle in a decidedly Red state. (Remember Demi-Governor Palin?)

The latest Senate candidate to embrace this approach is Iowa Senate candidate Bruce Braley. This week Braley came out with a plan to expand Social Security that tracks closely with Lake's polling. In a new television ad, Braley says that his plan would "Make millionaires pay Social Security taxes on all of their earned income," "keep Social Security strong," and "increase monthly benefits."

That tracks with proposals from Senators Begich, Bernie Sanders, Tom Harkin, and Elizabeth Warren.

4, People don't like getting shafted.

The American people understand that the raw deal they've been given includes the lousy service they've been getting from everyone, especially big businesses like the cable operators. They know that when you cut administrative costs, you're taking a chunk out of their day - and sometimes out of the services to which they're entitled.

Now, thanks to overzealous budget-cutting in Washington, even Social Security suffers from this private-sector syndrome. Its administrative costs are a fraction of those in the private sector, and they're fully funded by Social Security contributions (that is, by you and me).

The number of backlogged disability cases is now approaching one million.

Nevertheless, Congress keeps cutting Social Security's administrative budget. They're closing field offices, which negatively affects people's ability to receive timely attention - or even to receive the benefits to which they're entitled. (We interviewed Witold Skwierczynski of the American Federation of Government Employees about this -- see the clip at the top of this page -- and found his comments informative.)

They're planning to continue these cuts, and perhaps even to close Social Security's offices altogether in favor of an Internet-based system and outsourced "private partners." (See "A 'Secret Plan' to Close Social Security Offices -- and Outsource Its Work.") These service cutbacks are being implemented even as Baby Boom retirements are beginning create an enormous additional demand for services.

Voters understand that cuts in Social Security's operating budget deprive them of something they've been paying for throughout their working lives. The next phase of Social Security expansion should also call for expanding, not shrinking, Social Security's administrative functions.

5. It changes the subject.

As we were saying, Republicans have been setting the agenda this year. Ebola. ISIS -- they want to talk about anything except what they have in mind for the vast majority of Americans.

Instead of answering silly questions like "Did you vote for Obama?" Democrats could keep doing what Bruce Braley is now doing in Iowa. His new ad points to opponent Joni Ernst's support for Social Security privatization and emphasized the riskiness of that approach. And the narrator in a new Louisiana ad says (in that grim "narrator" voice):

"When it comes to seniors, Congressman Bill Cassidy has a plan: Raise the retirement age for Social Security and Medicare to 70."

It's late in the campaign, and voters' minds may already be pretty much made up. But it only makes sense to put Republicans on the defensive for supporting proposals that would hurt American families -- and for contrasting that with proposals that would make things better for those families.

But if Democrats are going to do that, they better act...

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Top Regulator Says Bank CEOs Meant Well -- This Evidence Says Otherwise

(5) Comments | Posted October 21, 2014 | 12:24 PM

The head of one of Wall Street's most important regulatory agencies argued recently that Big Bank CEOs never intended to break the law or engage in foreclosure fraud. Instead, Thomas Curry of the Office of Comptroller of the Currency tells us they weren't cautious enough.

Internal documents obtained from a...

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Study Shows Big Government Makes People Happy, 'Free Markets' Don't

(15) Comments | Posted October 15, 2014 | 12:26 PM

Interview with Patrick Flavin, principal author of the study, conducted by the author

Forget about feeling "like a room without a roof," or whatever that "Happy" song says. If you want to know "what happiness is to you," try living in a social democracy.

A recent study confirms something leftists have suspected for a long time: People are happier in countries with larger governments, a more generous "welfare state," and more government intervention in the economy. Policies that depend on the so-called "free market," on the other hand, decrease personal satisfaction.

This is not a matter of opinion, according to the data, but of fact.

More Than Being Married

We interviewed political scientist Patrick Flavin of Baylor University, lead author of the study (see clip above), who said:

"We were basically looking to measure both how involved the government is in regulating or intervening in the economy. There's no agreed-upon way to do that ... so we used four different measures (and) as researchers like, all four showed the same result: Governments with more intervention in the economy or a larger size of government had happier citizens."

The paper is titled "Assessing the Impact of the Size and Scope of Government on Human Well-Being," and it begins by asking a simple yet compelling question: "Does more government enhance human happiness?" The authors say, "We found what we believe to be conclusive evidence that indeed it does."

Flavin and his co-authors make clear that they are not engaging in an ideological debate. Instead they examined global survey data involving 50,000 people in 21 countries, conducted over a period of years, to determine which form of government leads to greater individual happiness and life satisfaction.

The finding? "Leftist" policies make people happier.

What's more, the correlation between left-leaning government and individual life satisfaction is strong. Being married and having a job are two factors that strongly influence personal happiness, as researchers know from previous studies. And yet, as Flavin told us, "The effects of living in a country where the government intervenes in the economy is larger than both those effects."

That's a striking finding. As Flavin explains in the interview, it also helps confirm the study's conclusions.

Size Matters

But what, exactly, is "big government"? In the interview, Flavin reviewed the four measures used in the study:

The first was the size of government as a percentage of GDP. The second was the relative size of social welfare expenditures -- with higher expenditures signifying a "larger government." The third was the "generosity of the welfare state" in terms of benefits, and the fourth was government intervention in the labor market economy.

Each of these measurements represent policies that the American right and the Republican Party adamantly oppose, and that "centrist" Democrats have also been known to resist. We now have evidence that conservative and neoliberal politicians are against working against the cause of human happiness.

Indicators such as this chart, which shows a net loss of government jobs for the first time in recent history, could therefore be interpreted as yet another sign that we're on the wrong path. The same is true of proposals to cut Social Security or Medicare benefits.

The study suggests that proposals to expand Social Security, however, would be likely to increase overall happiness and life satisfaction in this country.

The authors conclude by reiterating:

"While we find empirically (and believe there are strong theoretical reasons to believe) that social democratic policies do contribute to a world in which there is greater life satisfaction, we offer no judgment on whether an expansive, activist state is 'better' or 'worse' than a limited one."

They are researchers, not ideologues, so that's appropriate -- for them. I, on the other hand, am more than happy to offer an opinion here: I'm going to go with "better."

The Politics of Joy

The authors also conclude that "politics itself matters. Specifically, the preferences and choices of citizens in democratic polities, as we have shown, have profound consequences for quality of life. In short, democracy itself thus matters."

That should be of particular concern to citizens of a nation that is governed by the preferences of the elite few, not the democratic many, according to a Princeton study conducted by political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page.

Why aren't these findings receiving broader media attention? If the opposite conclusion had been reached, you can be sure that the study would have received massive coverage -- especially from Fox News -- and its authors would be media stars.

Maybe this study hasn't received more publicity because its findings aren't likely to be popular among our media, business, and political elites. It suggests that the road to happiness can be found through larger government, more intervention in the so-called "free market" economy, and comprehensive electoral reform to get money out of politics.

Unless, of course, we don't want to be happy. In that case we can just keep doing what we're doing.

Interview courtesy of The Zero Hour:

ThisIsTheZeroHour.com

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Darkness on the Edge of Congress

(0) Comments | Posted October 13, 2014 | 11:50 AM

As autumn descends on the nation's capital, I guess you could say there's a darkness on the edge of town. It's born of the fear, pessimism and uncertainty which have become the Republican political brand. And if the polls are right, there's every chance that it will fall upon Capitol...

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Bill de Blasio: From Education to Poverty, Leadership by Example

(2) Comments | Posted October 9, 2014 | 1:09 PM

Progressives who are elected to executive office have a unique opportunity to highlight neglected issues and stimulate much-needed debate, by taking actions which challenge the "conventional wisdom." They can change the political landscape by employing a principle that might be called "leadership by example."

The mayor of New York City...

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