Right-wing media figures are baselessly stoking fears about calls to reduce inequality and expand opportunity to low-income Americans, claiming that these efforts are evidence of persecution of the rich and class warfare.
Fox Business' Charles Payne falsely claimed that the 16-day government shutdown helped increase economic growth, despite direct evidence to the contrary.
On January 30, the U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of Economic Analysis released its report on gross domestic product (GDP) for the fourth quarter of 2013. According to the report, the U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 3.2 percent, down from 4.1 percent growth in the third quarter. Despite GDP growth falling, a number of economists agreed that the number was impressive.
Discussing the report on Fox News' America's Newsroom that day, Payne asserted that the 16-day government shutdown -- which occurred in the fourth quarter of 2013 -- helped spur economic growth:
PAYNE: Our economy has gotten so much traction since the government shutdown, which the mass media has said is an evil awful thing and it hurt us, well, during that period, more jobs were created, during that period, the stock market was up and we continue to see, as government gets out of the way, the private sector comes in.
Payne is completely incorrect.
While it's true that the GDP report showed a relatively strong increase, it is important to note how much better it would have been absent the government shutdown. According to MSNBC's Steve Benen:
The congressional Republicans' government shutdown, for example, shaved about 0.3% from the overall total. That's a difference, in other words, between 3.2% growth and 3.5% growth. It's still not clear exactly why GOP lawmakers did this, or what they hoped to accomplish, but there's evidence now that the gambit took a toll on the economy.
And despite Payne's claim that the shutdown helped job growth, Jason Furman, head of the Council of Economic Advisers, previously claimed that it reduced private sector employment by 120,000 jobs in October, 2013.
Furthermore, while Payne claimed that less government spending helped grow the economy, evidence suggests otherwise. Absent government spending cuts, economists estimate GDP in the fourth quarter would have risen an additional 0.9 percentage points.
Image via DJHEAVYD using a Creative Commons License.
Fox Business contributor Charles Payne argued that a businessman "may be a couple of years ahead of the curve" after he drew parallels between the treatment of the wealthy in America and "fascist Nazi Germany."
On January 24, The Wall Street Journal published a letter to the editor comparing the alleged "demonization of the rich" to the boiling over of European anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust. The letter, written by billionaire venture capitalist Tom Perkins, questions whether a "Progressive Kristallnacht" looms on the horizon:
Progressive Kristallnacht Coming?
Regarding your editorial "Censors on Campus" (Jan. 18): Writing from the epicenter of progressive thought, San Francisco, I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its "one percent," namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the "rich."
From the Occupy movement to the demonization of the rich embedded in virtually every word of our local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent. There is outraged public reaction to the Google buses carrying technology workers from the city to the peninsula high-tech companies which employ them. We have outrage over the rising real-estate prices which these "techno geeks" can pay. We have, for example, libelous and cruel attacks in the Chronicle on our number-one celebrity, the author Danielle Steel, alleging that she is a "snob" despite the millions she has spent on our city's homeless and mentally ill over the past decades.
This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendant "progressive" radicalism unthinkable now?
Mr. Perkins is a founder of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
In response to media criticism, Perkins defended his remarks during a January 27 interview with Bloomberg. Perkins admitted that Kristallnacht was a "terrible word to have chosen," but reiterated that he neither regrets nor retracts his core argument that the rich are being demonized and persecuted in the United States.
The sentiment that America's ultra-wealthy are being singled out for persecution is shared by some voices in the right-wing media. On the January 28 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co., contributor Charles Payne glossed over Perkins' demeaning allusion to the horrific, racially-motivated violence that defined Nazi Germany at the onset of the Holocaust. Rather than criticizing the paranoia of Perkins' comments, Payne argued that the wealthy have "justified rage" and Perkins "may be a couple of years ahead of the curve":
Fox News has a history of facile and offensive comparisons of progressive economic or social policies with Nazi Germany. This is not even the first time a Fox employee has used Kristallnacht as the impetus for their faux outrage. In response to his recent indictment for violating campaign finance regulations, Fox darling Dinesh D'Souza wasted no time in parroting the "this is like Nazi Germany" line.
The fact remains, the United States in no way resembles Nazi Germany and there is no legitimate defense of Tom Perkins, or any other person, comparing Kristallnacht and other Nazi atrocities to protestors advocating in favor of better wages, affordable housing, and reasonable income tax rates for high earners. Perkins, a yacht-enthusiast who owns high-end property around the world as well as his own personal submarine, is not witnessing the sort of persecution faced by European Jews in the 1930s. The real Kristallnacht (November 9-10, 1938) saw intense racial violence in which 267 synagogues were destroyed, at least 91 innocent Jewish citizens of Germany were killed in the streets, and tens of thousands more were rounded up and placed in concentration camps. Most of them would die before Europe was liberated from Nazi oppression.
At Fox News, President Obama's push to increase the federal minimum wage for millions of American workers through legislative and executive action is merely a "symbolic" gesture.
On January 28, the White House announced that President Obama had authorized an executive order raising the minimum pay for federal workers to $10.10 per hour, a regulation that will be effective for all employees signing a new federal contract. According to the White House's official press release, the president hopes that this move will encourage Congress to take action on a proposal by Representative George Miller (D-CA) and Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 for all American workers.
On the January 28 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, co-host Bill Hemmer called the move a "shot across the bow" for congressional Republicans resisting an increase to the minimum wage. Fox Business' Stuart Varney questioned the White House's motivation, claiming that it was a "symbolic" move motivated by political circumstances and concluding that an executive order lifting wages for all federal employees was simply "not a big deal":
Varney's disregard for the impact of executive action on the minimum wage mirrors comments from other Fox News personalities. On the January 27 edition of The Real Story, contributor Charles Payne scoffed at the notion that lifting the minimum wage is an important goal, noting, "higher minimum wage is not the cure, we're talking about something that impacts less than 3 percent of real workers."
Demos' Heather McGhee hailed the Obama administration for lifting federal pay through executive order, noting that the decision "adds momentum to the fight for a federal minimum wage increase." According to research from the Economic Policy Institute, adopting a $10.10 minimum wage nationwide, which would require congressional legislative action, would positively impact the wages of more than 27 million workers while boosting overall economic growth by $22 billion and creating enough economic demand to support 85,000 new jobs.
Increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 nationwide also has the support of hundreds of economists around the country, including numerous Nobel Laureates.
In an economy as large as the United States, while it may be easy for right-wing media voices to shrug off the implications of minimum wage policies, the fact is that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly 3.6 million American workers currently work at or below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. After adjusting for inflation, the federal minimum wage is lower than at any point from the 1950s to the early 1980s.
Right-wing media's opposition to raising the minimum wage has grown as public sentiment has turned in favor of it. Varney's pattern of deriding both policies to lift wages and low-wage workers themselves appears to be par for the course.
House GOP leaders reportedly distributed a memo instructing members on how to demonstrate compassion when discussing unemployment. And even as news of the memo leaked, conservative media were demeaning unemployed Americans as "lazy" and calling "hunger" a superior policy to jobless benefits.
Fox News contributors Rich Lowry and Charles Payne erroneously asserted that income inequality cannot be mitigated, ignoring the causes of rising inequality and a multitude of policies proposed by economists.
On the January 3 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, co-host Bill Hemmer hosted Lowry and Payne to discuss President Obama and recently inaugurated Mayor of New York Bill de Blasio's focus on reducing income inequality. Reacting to comments from Obama and de Blasio regarding inequality, Lowry claimed that while it may be a problem, it simply cannot be stopped (emphasis added):
LOWRY: The broader point, Bill, and this is something the president neglects when he talks about this, inequality is a trend across the decades, across all presidencies, across every developed advanced economy, it has to do with deep trends in our world - globalization, automation -- so there's no way it's going to be stopped. And when President Obama or Bill de Blasio says somehow they're going to end social and economic inequality, it's a pipe dream and they can only do damage by trying to do it.
Payne responded to Lowry's comments, saying, "I don't disagree" before Lowry later claimed that "if you honor just certain basic norms -- if you graduate from high school, if you get a full-time job, if you get married before you have kids -- the chances of you being poor are basically nil."
Lowry and Payne's assertion that income inequality is somehow a natural result of economic activity that cannot be mitigated through policy, however, is at odds with economists' opinions.
Economist and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has long argued that reducing income inequality is one of the United States' greatest current policy challenges, and has proposed a number of solutions, such as the institution of living wages, larger earned income tax credits, better access to education, and increased union rights. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, while agreeing that inequality is a wide trend, argues that "the trend [is] not universal, or inevitable." Stiglitz traces the recent surge in inequality to a number of government policies:
American inequality began its upswing 30 years ago, along with tax decreases for the rich and the easing of regulations on the financial sector. That's no coincidence. It has worsened as we have under-invested in our infrastructure, education and health care systems, and social safety nets. Rising inequality reinforces itself by corroding our political system and our democratic governance.
Indeed, the Economic Policy Institute recently launched an educational project with Reich demonstrating that because inequality is the result of policy, it can be mitigated through policy changes.
Economists also discount Lowry and Payne's claim that any attempt to reduce inequality will harm economic growth. Multiple economists have argued that reducing inequality is a means to increase economic growth through enhancing the skills and purchasing power of a greater number of people.
To hear conservatives tell it, Santa Claus is most definitely white, and his home isn't melting. At least that's what Fox News, with its recent barrage of attacks on an ad in which Santa warns about the impact of climate change on his Arctic home, would lead you to believe.
In December, the environmental group Greenpeace released an ad featuring the butler from Downton Abbey as a distraught Santa, who warns that as climate change drives continued Arctic ice melt, he may have to cancel Christmas. The ad calls for protecting the Arctic from offshore oil drilling, which, in a grim irony, is only possible in the region because of the ice melt.
The cheeky video was a "new low" achieved by "any-means-necessary" tactics, according to Fox News. It was also a chance to deny climate change. Rush Limbaugh declared "The ice is not melting at the North Pole," and a Fox News guest said "Santa's home is going to be fine ... for a long, long time to come." Fox News co-host Eric Bolling claimed contrary to any temperature record that "the globe is getting colder":
But Santa is right: the North Pole is melting. Arctic ice registered a record low in 2012 in line with a long-term melting trend. The sea ice extent in 2013 was not as low as 2012's (as was expected), but it was still among the lowest extents in the 35-year record, and does not represent a "recovery":
A new study reveals how successful government safety net programs are at keeping people out of poverty, delivering an additional blow to the Fox News myth that government assistance cannot improve the lives of low-income individuals.
According to The Washington Post, researchers Christopher Wimer and Liana Fox of the Columbia Population Research Center found that from 1967 to 2012, the safety net reduced the poverty rate from 26 to 16 percent.
Official poverty measures did not take government programs used by low-income Americans into account before 2010, often giving the appearance that poverty rates have remained unchanged over the past 50 years. Wimer and Fox adjusted poverty rates going back to 1967 to take into account additional costs and the effect of safety net programs, revealing the 10-point drop in poverty. Previous research by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities suggested that government programs reduce the official poverty rate, but Wimer and Fox found that the safety net has an even greater effect in reducing poverty.
The findings of the study reveal how crucial government anti-poverty programs are, undercutting the right-wing media myth rampant on Fox News that government programs cannot help low-income people.
Fox Business contributor Charles Payne made this point as recently as September, arguing that government assistance has been a waste because poverty numbers have not decreased since the "Great Society" in the 1960s, which implemented many anti-poverty measures.
In a discussion on The O'Reilly Factor, Fox Business' John Stossel recently railed against anti-poverty programs, claiming that government makes poverty "worse with these government programs" and that "we should get rid of most of government and allow poor people to become rich."
Indeed, the belief that government assistance cannot help low-income individuals is somewhat of a theme in the right-wing media, with figures continually questioning the efficacy of safety net programs.
The study also found that absent government safety net programs, 29 percent of Americans would be in poverty today -- an increase since 1967. These findings show that while the economy has grown tremendously in the past few decades, the gains have not reached those at the bottom.
The study reinforces previous research about the nature of growing income inequality in America. However, it is unlikely that voices in right-wing media will take notice of the findings as a problem, especially considering previous calls to reduce inequality have been met with staunch opposition and accusations of implementing a communist agenda.
While Fox News may continue to dismiss government assistance as wasteful, it doesn't change the fact that it plays a critical role in reducing poverty and inequality.
Fox News downplayed the gravity of income inequality -- proven insurmountable for a majority of the poorest Americans and detrimental to economic growth -- in order to tout a report which found that 20 percent of adults in the U.S. will be among the top 2 percent of earners at some point in their lives.
On December 9, NBC News published an Associated Press report which found that 20 percent of U.S. adults enter the wealthiest 2 percent of earners at some point in their lifetimes [emphasis added]:
Fully 20 percent of U.S. adults become rich for parts of their lives, wielding outsize influence on America's economy and politics. This little-known group may pose the biggest barrier to reducing the nation's income inequality.
Made up largely of older professionals, working married couples and more educated singles, the new rich are those with household income of $250,000 or more at some point during their working lives. That puts them, if sometimes temporarily, in the top 2 percent of earners.
On the December 9 edition of Your World, host Neil Cavuto touted the AP study as "good news" and ignored its negative implications, such as the finding that those in the top 2 percent are "less likely to support public programs, such as food stamps or early public education, to help the disadvantaged":
CAVUTO: You ever want to be in the top 2 percent? Well, you've got a 1 in 5 chance of making it -- it's true, 21 percent of Americans have been there, making the 250,000 bucks or so it takes to be among those rarefied few. That's good news, right? Well, not if you're the mainstream media. It's seen as a problem, not a triumph. To quote the Associated Press, this little-known group may pose the biggest barrier to reducing the nation's income inequality. Biggest barrier, so now, this is a problem?
Fox News contributor Charles Payne dismissed the importance of closing the income gap, saying, "People make it all the time in this country." But findings from a recent Pew report refute Payne's claim, particularly where Americans at bottom of the income ladder are concerned. According to the report, "43 percent of Americans raised at the bottom of the income ladder remain stuck there as adults, and 70 percent never even make it to the middle."
Fox News contributor Monica Crowley later described the administration's efforts to reduce income inequality as "a war on wealth" and "a war on success." However, many economists agree that policies aimed at reducing inequality also spur economic growth. Economist Robert Reich has argued for decades that economic inequality "is bad for everyone," including the very wealthy, because it hinders economic growth. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has also contended that income inequality leads to "less growth and less efficiency."
During their discussion, Cavuto and his guests ignored the harsh realities faced by Americans excluded from the top income bracket. According to another AP report, "4 in 5 American adults struggle with joblessness, near poverty or reliance on welfare for at least part of their lives." And contrary to Cavuto's optimistic outlook, the U.S. Census Bureau found that the poverty rate increased by 2.7 percent from 2007 to 2012.
Fox News dismissed the economic benefits of long-term unemployment insurance, erroneously characterizing the program as a "crutch" holding back economic growth.
On December 6, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its unemployment report for the month of November. The national unemployment rate edged down from 7.3 to 7 percent, while the economy added a total of 203,000 jobs month-to-month, beating economists' expectations.
On the December 6 edition of Fox News' Your World, host Neil Cavuto and Fox Business contributor Charles Payne used the better than expected report to cast doubt on Rep. Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) recent call to extend long-term unemployment benefits set to expire at the end of the year. Cavuto claimed that Pelosi was misguided for "talking up the need for extending jobless benefits and all of that in the face of more jobs" before Payne launched an all-out attack on social safety net programs:
PAYNE: Yeah, you know, it's really interesting as people, as we get more and more people coming off these jobless benefits, what are they doing? They're going back into the job market. What's happening? More jobs are being created. It's the exact opposite of what they're preaching in Washington which is the defeatist attitude. They don't believe in the American economic system. You know, it doesn't need all these crutches, it doesn't need all these aids. Let people come back into the job market, that's a sign of confidence; confidence is what this is all about. That's what will spark a real recovery. Unlimited unemployment benefits, 50 million people on food stamps, that's nutty stuff, you can do the math, you can talk about multiplier effects all you want, that's not what America was built on. This stock market wants people to get off these unemployment benefits after three years and look for a job, because they will eventually find a job and that's better for all of us.
Cavuto and Payne's claim that the strong jobs report indicates that unemployment insurance doesn't have to be extended -- in addition to claiming that allowing the program to expire would help the economy -- is at odds with reality.
Despite recent months of relatively strong job growth, the long-term unemployed -- the same people who are facing benefit cuts when the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program expires later this month -- have seen little gain. According to economist Chad Stone of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, long-term unemployment currently "equals the highest rate achieved in any previous recession since the end of World War II." Stone also noted that when previous emergency unemployment insurance programs expired, the long-term unemployment rate was at far lower levels.
As the Detroit bankruptcy moves forward, Fox News personalities have been quick to blame worker unions and political corruption for the city's unfunded pension liabilities. This discourse ignores the forces actually undermining Detroit's financial solvency: the dramatic reduction of the city's population and taxbase since its post-war peak.
From the December 3 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Company:
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From a November 15 speech at the Freedom Center's 2013 Restoration Weekend:
Fox Business' Charles Payne questioned the need for fast food workers to rely on federal assistance, absurdly citing aggregate earnings of workers and ignoring the fact that many in the industry earn below subsistent wages.
On the October 25 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co., guest host Charles Payne and Fox contributor Elizabeth MacDonald discussed a recently released audio recording from the advocacy group LowPayIsNotOK.org. In the recording, a long-time McDonald's employee is directed by a "McResources" representative to seek out federal benefit programs to augment her inadequate take-home income. MacDonald cited a statement from McDonald's disavowing the call before Payne launched into a slander-filled tirade against a stereotyped generalization of low-wage, fast food employees:
PAYNE: There is a lot of unfortunate parts of the story. If you want to create a society where these jobs -- $8 jobs go for $15. Then what you're saying to people is like, okay, "don't improve your life. Don't finish high school. Don't go to college. Don't, you know what, have three or four kids out of wedlock. Don't put yourself in a predicament where this is your only option. In fact, keep doing what you're doing, smoke weed all day if you want. Doesn't matter. You'll get rewarded because in this society Mickey D's has got the money. They owe it to you." And I think that's a work mentality.
Payne concluded his screed by referencing the aggregate wages of fast food employees nationwide to support his claim that they don't actually need taxpayer-subsidized assistance programs:
PAYNE: By the way, people should know. They say it's between $3 to $7 billion that fast food workers get in care from the government. In the same time though, these fast food workers make between $41 and $46 billion. So who is subsidizing who?
While Payne is quick to dismiss that workers need these programs, absurdly citing aggregate earnings of fast food workers, facts show that they are indeed essential.
According to a recently released study by economists at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign titled "Fast Food, Poverty Wages: The Public Cost of Low-Wage Jobs in the Fast Food Industry," "annual earnings in the fast food industry are well below the income need for self-sufficiency," and after accounting for limited work hours, the median annual earnings of a fast food worker stands at just $11,056 -- below the federal poverty threshold for an individual. Couple those low earnings with the fact that workers in the industry are twice as likely to be in households with total income below the poverty line, and it becomes clear that reliance on federal programs is necessary.
Indeed, fast food workers are overwhelmingly more reliant on public assistance programs than other segments of the workforce.
From the September 28 edition of Fox News' Cavuto On Business:
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