Archive for journalism

Collective Net Worth of Congress Increased $390 Million from 2008 to 2012

Underreported… I’ll say. At the end of 2012, the editors of Time Magazine posted their picks for most overlooked news of the year, and I think the fourth-most underreported story deserves far more attention than it initially received.

According to Roll Call, the collective net worth of members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives rose to $2.04 billion in 2012, up from $1.65 billion in 2008—an increase that averages out to nearly three quarters of a million dollars per congress member. Read the full story below, then share your thoughts.

From Roll Call

And Congress’ Rich Get Richer
Net Worth of Lawmakers Up 25 Percent in Two Years, Analysis Demonstrates

By Paul Singer and Jennifer Yachnin
Nov. 1, 2011, Midnight

Members of Congress such as Rep. Michael McCaul reported major increases in their net worth, and Congress’ collective net worth also increased. Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo

Members of Congress had a collective net worth of more than $2 billion in 2010, a nearly 25 percent increase over the 2008 total, according to a Roll Call analysis of Members’ financial disclosure forms.

Nearly 90 percent of that increase is concentrated in the 50 richest Members of Congress.

Two years ago, Roll Call found that the minimum net worth of House Members was slightly more than $1 billion; Senators had a combined minimum worth of $651 million for a Congressional total of $1.65 billion. Roll Call calculates minimum net worth by adding the minimum values of all reported assets and subtracting the minimum values of all reported liabilities.

According to financial disclosure forms filed by Members of Congress this year, the minimum net worth in the House has jumped to $1.26 billion, and Senate net worth has climbed to at least $784 million, for a Congressional total of $2.04 billion.

These wealth totals vastly underestimate the actual net worth of Members of Congress because they are based on an accounting system that does not include homes and other non-income-generating property, which is likely to tally hundreds of millions of uncounted dollars. In addition, Roll Call’s tally is based on the minimum values of assets reported by Members on their annual financial disclosure forms; the true values of those assets may be much higher.

While wealth overall is scattered fairly evenly between the two parties, there is an interesting divide in the two chambers. Democrats hold about 80 percent of the wealth in the Senate; Republicans control about 78 percent of the wealth in the House.

And as protesters around the country decry the supposed consolidation of wealth in America, the trend can be seen starkly in Congress, a comparison suggested by American Enterprise Institute visiting scholar Mark Perry. The 50 richest Members of Congress accounted for 78 percent of the net worth in the institution in 2008 ($1.29 billion of the $1.65 billion total); by 2010 the share of the 50 richest had risen to 80 percent ($1.63 billion of the $2.04 billion total). The pie of Congressional wealth got bigger, and the richest Members are getting a bigger slice.

But there is still plenty to go around. Overall, 219 Members of Congress reported having assets worth more than $1 million last year; subtracting the minimum value of their liabilities brings the total number of millionaires in Congress down to 196 — again not counting any value on their homes or other non-income-producing property. If one were to assume that every Member of Congress has $200,000 worth of equity in real estate, the total number of millionaires would rise to 220 Members, just more than 40 percent of the Congress.

As with the general U.S. population, a few exceedingly wealthy people skew the averages for the rest of the membership. But still, by almost any measure, the average Member of Congress is far wealthier than the average U.S. household.

For example, dividing the total wealth of Congress by the number of Members creates a mean (average) net worth for each Member of about $3.8 million (excluding non-income-producing property such as personal residences). By comparison, for the rest of the country, based on statistics released by the Federal Reserve, average household net worth is around $500,000 this year (including personal residences), according to David Rosnick, an economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

But a handful of Members of Congress are worth tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars — the richest Member of Congress this year, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), is worth a minimum of $294 million, meaning that McCaul’s own wealth has the effect of raising the average of every Member of Congress by about $500,000.

So a better number for comparison is the median, the number where half the group is above and half the group is below. For Congress, the median net worth in 2010 was about $513,000. For regular households, the Federal Reserve Board pegged that number at about $120,000 in 2008, and that number this year is probably around $100,000, Rosnick said.

While it is hard to make an exact comparison between Congress and the rest of the nation, what is clear is lawmakers “are all a lot richer than anything you would call a typical American,” Rosnick said.

And Congress appears to be getting richer faster than the rest of the nation. Citing Federal Reserve data, Rosnick said, “From the end of 2008 to end of 2010, aggregate household worth increased
12 percent.” That is about half the increase Congress achieved during the same time period.

The cautionary note in any Congressional wealth analysis is that significant changes in apparent wealth of Members do not necessarily represent an actual change in net worth.

For example, Rep. Darrell Issa reported this year that his 2010 assets were worth at least $295 million, nearly double what they were the year before. The reason for the change appears to be in part because the California Republican moved some properties from a single account into separate accounts. An account that Issa had listed as having a minimum value of $50 million in 2009 dropped to a minimum value of $25 million in 2010, but he added 11 accounts with a minimum combined value of $38.2 million. Even if none of the actual account (or property) values increased, the minimum value of those assets on paper rises by $13.2 million, or more than 25 percent.

Alan Ziobrowski, a professor of real estate at Georgia State University, has produced studies of Congressional investment patterns indicating that lawmakers in both chambers tend to fare better in their investment portfolios than the average American, in part because “[t]here is no doubt in my mind that they are trading in some way on information that is there.”

But he also points out that the Membership of Congress has turned over since 2008, making it difficult to compare wealth over time. “You’ve got different people,” he said.

In the aftermath of the 2010 elections that swept Republicans to power, about 20 percent of the Members included in the 2010 survey were not included in the 2008 survey.

Highly Secretive Trade Agreement Designed to Exempt Multinational Corporations from Domestic Law

Leaked documents coming out of Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations need greater public exposure before it is too late. Over the past two years, the United States has been meeting behind closed doors with eight Pacific nations, drafting an agreement designed to exempt multinational corporations from legal recourse if they violate domestic laws. If the leaks are anything at all representative of Trans-Pac’s final outcome, this agreement will set a dangerous precedent for government abdication of national interests to global corporatism.

We know that ‘hard to explain’ stories are sometimes ignored by mainstream media, but this could be a major game changer for the future of democratic self-governance, Rule of Law, and the ability of US citizens and political representatives to protect our national sovereignty. If you’re not getting more information on this story from sources you trust, you must demand a thorough investigation into how this dangerous trade agreement will limit our ability to hold foreign corporations accountable for activities on U.S. soil.

EFF created this infographic to capture the most problematic aspects of TPP, and to help users, advocates and innovators from around the world spread the word about how this agreement will impact them and their societies.

From Alternet

Read more

A Perfect Storm of Fear and Unrest in Gaza is Being Live-tweeted

Israel and Hamas are not just fighting a war with rockets and bombs anymore. On Wednesday, both the Israel Defense Forces and Hamas military, Al Qassam Brigades, began live-tweeting their military tactics in an attempt to rally support and communicate with the broader international community.

Is this an isolated example of propaganda in the digital age, or will live-tweeting warfare become the new norm? Read the following article on the Gaza conflict from NBC News and share your thoughts below.

As Israeli and Palestinian forces clash in Gaza this week, those same armies are engaging in a real-time battle of hashtags and twitpics, trying to win the hearts and minds of watchers around the globe.

From NBC News’ Technology Blog

Read more

Our Multinational Fast Food Corporations are Dodging Billions in Taxes

Not only is the overconsumption of fatty, salty, and sugar-laden foods literally killing us, our multinational fast food corporations are dodging billions in taxes; earning enormous profits through franchising fees, then diverting the profits to overseas operations where they can’t be taxed by the U.S.

Consumerism is the mantra; insidious marketing is everywhere. Fast food chains providing cheap food stuffs to Americans who can afford little more ignore both the physical welfare of our citizens and the fiscal health of our country. Read the following articles and share your thoughts.

Fast food companies are dodging billions of dollars in taxes by registering their products as "intellectual property" and by diverting profits offshore. So the next time you're biting into a Big Whopper, know that you're making their headquarters in Switzerland very happy! | Susie Madrak, Crooks and Liars

From Crooks and Liars

Read more

Pages: 1 2

Where does George Romney factor into Mitt’s political upbringing?

Walter De Vries, a longtime aide to Gov. George Romney, issued a scathing critique of Mitt Romney, calling him a businessman who “would say and do anything to close a deal – or an election.” Despite Mitt’s frequent claim that his father was highly influential in his political life, De Vries says George’s greatest strength “was his ability and determination to develop and hold consistent policy positions over his life.”

In a long-form exposé posted on BuzzFeed, John Bohrer posits that Mitt’s “chameleonic approach to politics” was actually a trait Romney picked up from his father. Read the following two articles on George Romney’s legacy and share your thoughts below.

The Republican nominee's father didn't walk out of the '64 convention. And George Romney didn't teach Mitt that you lose by being honest — he taught him that you change your positions to win. | John R. Bohrer, BuzzFeed Contributor

From The New York Times

Read more

Pages: 1 2

Romney’s Business Ties to An E-Voting Manufacturer Operating in 13 States

In 2011, Romney’s former business partners at Bain Capital acquired Hart Intercivic, a voting machine company known for their vulnerable, insecure, and often 100% unverifiable voting and tabulation systems now being used in all or parts of CA, CO, HI, IL, IN, KY, OH, OK, OR, PA, TX, VA, and WA.

Unsurprisingly, the frenzied GOP legislators who claim voter fraud is real threat to our democracy haven’t yet disputed the conflicts of interest for public officials and voting machine manufacturers who could electronically flip the 2012 presidential election in their candidate’s favor. Truthout takes a look at how this scenario played out in Ohio during the 2004 presidential election.

Hart Intercivic machines have famously failed in Tarrant County (Ft. Worth), adding 10,000 non-existent votes. The EVEREST study, commissioned by the Ohio secretary of state in 2007, found serious security flaws with Hart Intercivic products. In this photo, a PEB emulator running on a Palm Pilot simulates an initialization PEB during an open election, resetting all terminal passwords to "EVEREST".

Hart Intercivic machines have famously failed in Tarrant County (Ft. Worth), adding 10,000 non-existent votes. The EVEREST study, commissioned by the Ohio secretary of state in 2007, found serious security flaws with Hart Intercivic products.

 

From Truthout

Read more

Public Money Continues to Supplement the Building of Private Corporate Infrastructure

Our nation is still experiencing the after-effects of major economic crisis, and yet public money continues to supplement the building of private corporate infrastructure. Time and time again, our legislators and government officials have proven that they’re willing to put the interests of the public aside in order to appease big business by lowering tax rates, offering more tax breaks, and increasing corporate subsidies.

These government subsidies do not encourage economic growth as much as productive taxpayers do, and as a result, everything from Social Security to unemployment and welfare rolls is affected. As you’ll see in the following article, when it comes to competitive business privileges—tax breaks, subsidies, overt political power—individuals and small businesses might as well fugetaboutit.

Welfare queens may actually look more like giant corporations.

From The Huffington Post

Read more

Modern “Conservatives” Are Quick to Impede Progress Without Offering a Different Course

The Republican Party I knew growing up was brimming with “progressive” visionaries who valued national investment in science technology and infrastructure—building, innovating, and investing, publicly and privately, in America’s future. Now, modern “conservatives” are quick to put the brakes on progress without offering a different course.

If they wish to revitalize the Republican Party, conservatives must be willing to strike a balance between free-market ideologies and traditional conservative principles. Balancing these interests does not mean confiscating and redistributing wealth or subsidizing people’s lives, but inequalities must be addressed. Your thoughts?

"In the polarized political conflict with liberalism, shrinking government has become the organizing conservative principle. Economic conservatives have the money and the institutions. They have taken control. Traditional conservatism has gone into eclipse. These days, speakers at Republican gatherings almost always use the language of market conservatism — getting government off our backs, enhancing economic freedom. Even Mitt Romney, who subscribes to a faith that knows a lot about social capital, relies exclusively on the language of market conservatism." David Brooks | New York Times

From The New York Times

Read more

96 Percent of Americans Have Relied on Social Welfare Programs

In a 2008 national survey conducted at Cornell, 96 percent of Americans reported needing the assistance of federal social welfare programs at some point in their life. However, many government officials, especially Republican leaders, regularly insist upon deep cuts to services for most citizens while simultaneously defending tax breaks, subsidies, and overt political power for transnational corporations.

In its preamble, the Founders stated explicitly that our Constitution was established to promote the general welfare. Americans recognize the difference between ideological rhetoric and realistic solutions, and what they’re seeking is honest leadership that puts the welfare of citizens and our system of government above all else. Would you agree?

From The New York Times

Read more

Ayn Rand’s Radical Defense of Economic Darwinism

Ayn Rand, the self-proclaimed radical and author of Atlas Shrugged was the ultimate purist, advocating uncontrolled, unregulated capitalism. She perverted Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” into her “virtue of selfishness” and defended an ugly dog-eat-dog economic Darwinism: The masses were servile and insignificant, government was invasive and usually malevolent.

Absolute objectivism, along with the rest of Rand’s arguments, may sway teens—a time when renegade individualism stirs the blood—but time and experience validates the social/political principles envisioned by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Adam Smith.

It was back in April when audio of Paul Ryan praising Ayn Rand first gained traction during a debate over the libertarian icon's influence on the conservative congressman. Paul Ryan dismissed the suggestion that he was fixated on the author an "urban legend." National Review ran an article called "Paul Ryan Isn't a Randian" aimed at "refuting the Left’s favorite charge against Paul Ryan." | Andrew Kaczynski, Buzzfeed

From Buzzfeed Politics

Read more

Switch to our mobile site