Law and Disorder Radio – Economic Update with Rick Wolff – Lawyers You’ll Like: Jan Susler – Hosts: Heidi Boghosian, Michael Steven Smith & Michael Ratner – Produced by Geoff Brady

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Economic Update: Professor Rick Wolff

We welcome back returning guest Professor Rick Wolff to get an economic update. Recent news of Janet Yellen emerging as a frontrunner to succeed Ben Bernanke as Federal Reserve chairman garnered the support of many Democrats in the House and Senate, yet she supported lower payments to senior citizens on Social Security and voted to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act. Meanwhile, President Obama, with the support of the Republican Party has targeted Social Security and Medicare for cutbacks. We talk about these topics and more with Professor Rick Wolff who hosts Economic Update on WBAI Saturdays at noon.

Professor Rick Wolff:

  • The Federal Reserve is an enormously important institution all of the time.
  • It has nothing less than the mandate in this economy to control and manage and manipulate the monetary system.

It is a wonderful reality to throw at anyone who thinks we live in a free market economy where the government plays a marginal role.

  • When the government controls the quantity of money and the cost of borrowing it, it’s not a marginal role, it’s most central role a government can play.
  • We have a dysfunctional Congress and President who can’t figure out what to do, unwilling to take serious steps to deal with this crisis, leaving it to the Federal Reserve.
  • We are now in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
  • Clearly, now that we’re entering the 6th year of this calamity, and we have huge unemployment, huge foreclosures, the Federal Reserve also failed to make it short and shallow–it is in fact long and deep.
  • Ms. Yellen’s nomination would go through quickly and more smoothly than Summers would have. Obama and his folks don’t want a big review of how they manage the economic system since its an unmitigated disaster.
  • Enough extreme right Republicans exist now in the House of Representatives to make serious the threat of denying the Federal Government the right to raise the debt ceiling.
  • The President has already signaled his willingness to compromise with Republicans around Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
  • There’s a longstanding debate about measurements of the cost of living for Social Security. That’s a very difficult thing to do and perfectly reasonable economists disagree.
  • All they’ve done is picked the one that looks the smallest to use as a benchmark, to therefore give the smallest increase.
  • The first thing you should understand, which is an outrageous injustice, is that the money for Social Security is only withheld from a wage or a salary.
  • It’s not withheld if you earn interest income, if you earn dividend income or if you earn capital gain income.
  • That’s why the tax for Social Security is called a payroll tax.
  • Currently, it’s a payroll tax but it’s only on the first $113,000 dollars a year that you earn.
  • For every dollar above $113,000, you don’t pay anything.
  • The inequality of wealth in the United States has gotten much worse in the last 30 years and has also gotten worse across this crisis.
  • That’s interesting because in the Great Depression, the crisis collapsed the gap between the rich and the poor.
  • The top ten percent of American income earners this last year, 2012, took home more than half the total income.
  • Ten percent have half the income and the other 90 percent share the other half.
  • The 400 richest people in America have more total net worth than half the population.
  • There’s been a movement of sheer outrage when you read about this extraordinary wealth while some people are earning $7.25 an hour.
  • There are signs of upset within the United States beginning to build around this inequality.
  • We have a minimum wage at the federal level, $7.25. We also have state minimum wages that vary all over the place.
  • We have now a situation where wealth is so concentrated at the top that the folks who have that wealth love the way the economy is going. They’re gathering the wealth into their own hands, and they’re not stupid.
  • They understand that when you concentrate wealth that much you’re creating an impossible tension between an ostensibly democratic political system where universal suffrage means the mass of people vote, on the one hand, and their concentrated wealth on the other.
  • “We have to worry that the political system will be used by the masses to undo politically the benefits we get economically.”
  • A billionaire from California buys the Washington Post and a billionaire from Boston buys the Boston Globe.
  • Democracy at Work

Guest –  Richard D. Wolff is Professor of Economics Emeritus, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he taught economics from 1973 to 2008. He is currently a Visiting Professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs of the New School University, New York City.

 Lawyers You’ll Like: Jan Susler

Attorney Jan Susler joined the People’s Law Office of Chicago in 1982. Before that she worked as a Clinical Law Professor at the legal clinic at Southern Illinois University’s School of Law, Prison Legal Aid. Susler continues to her litigation and advocacy work on prisoner’s rights issues and also represents people wrongfully imprisoned, falsely arrested, strip searched or subjected to excessive force by police officers.

Attorney Jan Susler:

  • The National Lawyers Guild was an amazing refuge. When I went to law school women were 10 percent of the class and really resented.
  • It was a hostile environment, lots of rich white boys who thought they were all that.
  • The GI Bill actually evened things out class-wise, which was a delight.
  • I worked at Legal Aid while I went through law school and it kept me sane. My first job was at Law School Clinic.
  • We provided civil legal services to state prisoners.

Through the process of doing abortion rights work, anti-death penalty work and prisoner’s rights work through the Guild, I met the folks at the People’s Law Office.

Even today, there’s only a handful of people who do that work and we tend to know each other.

Michael Deutsch, who’s been my law partner for the last 3 decades, called me up and said, “We have a couple of Puerto Rican radicals who have been sent to the state prison near where you’re doing your work and you need to go see them. They’re quite at risk; the state considers them to be enemies.”

  • I knew nothing about Puerto Rico being a US colony, having been invaded, them resisting colonialism. I learned about international law making it a crime against humanity.
  • They really opened my world, what a gift it’s been for me.
  • The National Lawyers Guild created a Puerto Rican project to work with Puerto Rican lawyers and activists in the independence movement and people who were trying to get the Navy out of the small Puerto Rican island of Vieques.
  • It’s culminating in this wonderful convention we’re going to have in the middle of October in San Juan.
  • There’s going to be a panel and workshop on the death penalty in Puerto Rico, which the US imposes on its colony.
  • There will be workshops about labor, and political prisoners.
  • I think people in this country understand who Nelson Mandela is and what he stood for and sacrificed and what he meant for his country. These men and women are the same for the people of Puerto Rico.
  • They were artists and working in universities. Most had college degrees, but really understood that colonialism is a crime against humanity.
  • They organized clandestinely into an organization called the Armed Forces for National Liberation. They were arrested in the early 1980s and accused of seditious conspiracy.
  • My job was to advocate for their human rights and educate about their situation. They refused to accept the jurisdiction of a US court.
  • For the National Lawyers Guild, I’ve gone to the United Nations Decolonization Committee to present.

Guest – Attorney Jan Susler. In her 36 years as a lawyer, Jan Susler has worked with the Puerto Rican independence movement and with progressive movements challenging U.S. foreign and domestic policies. She was an adjunct professor of criminal justice at Northeastern Illinois University, and taught constitutional law at the University of Puerto Rico.