December 30, 2010
The right's propaganda machine begins with a simple narrative, repeats it endlessly, and then ties current events to the narrative to drive the point home. The corporate/conservative right are currently working a narrative that public employees and their unions are the reason for state and local budget problems. This is repeated endlessly, and every current event that hits the news is then used to support the claim. This is how an untruth becomes "conventional wisdom."
Source Of Story: Three "Unidentified" Workers
Huge headline at the Drudge Report: NYC SNOW JOB: SLOW CLEAN-UP WAS UNION 'PROTEST' The headline links to a NY Post story, Sanitation Department's slow snow cleanup was a budget protest. The source of the claim? Three "unidentified" plow workers.
Halloran said he met with three plow workers from the Sanitation Department -- and two Department of Transportation supervisors who were on loan -- at his office after he was flooded with irate calls from constituents.
The story claims the unions did this to protest budget cuts. Of course the obvious cause of the snow mess was that budget cuts caused the problem because there were not enough people employed to clear the snow.
The way the right's "noise machine" works is that a story gets started somewhere and is amplified by the right-wing media machine that includes FOX, Limbaugh and scores more talk-radio hosts, blogs, newspapers and magazines. And in this case, of course the story is being spread by ... FOX, Limbaugh and scores more talk-radio hosts, blogs, newspapers and magazines. The idea is to create enough "noise" that the mainstream press picks up the story.
Yesterday at FOX, the "rumor" (that no one had heard) was a headline story,
The chairman of the Municipal Labor Committee, Local 831, which represents men and women of the New York City Sanitation Department says there is no truth behind a rumor that his members worked slower during the blizzard of 2010.
Today the NY Post piles on with three "unidentified" workers saying the unions did it. The right's blogs and magazines of course amplified.
Strata-Sphere, Union Protest Killed New Born Child,
That is called negligent homicide or manslaughter – and every union idiot who participated in that blizzard protest should be charged and locked away for as long as possible.
National Review, How Will Bloomberg Deal With a Union Snowplow Slowdown?
The Noise Machine Drives It To The Mainstream
The "noise machine" is having success. Even though the entire story is based on three "unidentified" snow plow drivers, the story has been driven into the mainstream corporate media.
CBS News, Report: Disgruntled Workers Slowed NYC Cleanup. CBS News "reports" that there is a "report" that unions caused the problem. Does not work to verify the story, sends it out to the nation.
Getting To The Point: Cut Pay And Pensions
In Ten Holiday Attacks On Public Employees I warned,
If you haven't already noticed, there is a corporate/conservative campaign underway to convince the public that public employees are living high on the taxpayer's dime and should have their pay and pensions cut back. Even during the holidays this attack does not let up.
The blog Big Government takes the "unions caused the snow mess" story to the obvious point, that "lavish" public-employee pensions and benefits must be cut: Union Snow Job Just Glimpse of Coming Blizzard,
With all the political payoffs, scandals, and bailouts, the issue seems as mundane as the figures are mind-boggling, but the bill for lavish public employee pay is coming due in the form of a pension tsunami — or, if you prefer, a blizzard that will have union bosses calling for a bailout.
And, Business Insider, Meet The Hundreds Of NYC Sanitation Workers Who Earn Over $100000,
There are also perks that come with the job. While delaying clean-up for the city, sanitation workers promptly plowed the street in front of Doherty's Staten Island home, according to the Daily News.
And to make the point as clear as possible, the Examiner's Beltway Confidential, New York City streets unplowed, but at least sanitation workers retire well,
According to the Manhattan Institute's "See Through New York" database of 2009 pensions, nearly 180 retired employees make over $66,000 year -- in other words, over and above the maximum salary of currently working employees. In fact, 20 retirees make upwards of $90,000 in retirement, up to $132,360.
You will probably be hearing a lot more about this, maybe even Congressional hearings in January. All based on three "unidentified workers" who made the claim. This is how the right's "noise machine" diverts us from seeing and solving real problems and into voting against our interests.
If you haven't already noticed, there is a corporate/conservative campaign underway to convince the public that public employees are living high on the taxpayer's dime and should have their pay and pensions cut back. Even during the holidays this attack does not let up.
Background: The Reagan Revolution ended most "defined-benefit" (they pay you) pensions for working people in the private sector, replacing them with "defined-contribution" (you pay Wall Street) pensions. Now with the Great Recession employers have cracked down and private-sector workers are afraid and not willing to risk their jobs by speaking out about abuses. With private workers sector out under control, conservatives are targeting public employee pay and pensions. They are driving resentment of government employees by casting them as overpaid and receiving good benefits at a time when everyone else is under the corporate thumb. Private-sector employees have made sacrifices, so now government employees should, too, they say.
When you see this kind of coordinated campaign from the right (and "mainstreamed" by corporate media) you know it is part of a larger strategic plan. The larger plan is to weaken public-employee unions, including teacher's unions.
Here is how conservatives turn a strategic narrative into "conventional wisdom" through repetition. Phony conservative think tank "studies" show there is a "crisis," that pensions are "gold-plated," etc. This campaign claims the crisis is in government employee pension funds. They also claim public employees are very highly paid compared to the private sector. Then they explain how the "average voter" is affected. This time the claim is high state property and income taxes or an impending "crisis" that cold force states to go bankrupt. When specifically attacking teacher's unions the claim is that schools are not educating kids because teacher unions block reform.
The news stories follow a conservative template almost word-for-word. You will see phrases like: "Lavish" or "luxurious" or "back-breaking" and "gold-plated" government pensions. You'll hear that "Taxpayers shoulder the burden" of pensions.
For perspective: Congress just passed tax cuts for the rich along with a huge cut in the estate tax, Wall Street bonuses are up, corporate profits are the highest ever, the top 1% are taking home a higher percentage of all income, and sales of luxury items are breaking records.
Here are ten holiday-season media attacks on public employees:
The nation's menu of crises caused by governmental malpractice may soon include states coming to Congress as mendicants, seeking relief from the consequences of their choices. ...
... under bankruptcy, judges could rewrite union contracts or give states powers to do so, thereby reducing existing pension obligations.
Civil servants have long prized these benefits as the payoff for a career yoked to lower-paying jobs, but their rapidly rising cost has led to growing resentment in an economy that has forced a relentless tide of layoffs and givebacks in the private-sector workforce. Defined-benefit pensions are disappearing from the private sector. Retiree health coverage is almost unheard of. On Long Island, even the average private-sector wage has fallen behind government pay ...
Wall Street Journal, Pensions Push Taxes Higher,
Cities across the nation are raising property taxes, largely citing rising pension and health-care costs for their employees and retirees.
Ocean County (NJ) Examiner: Public pensions getting deeper into the red,
While New Jersey can lessen regulatory loads on business, lowering tax rates is difficult as this exacerbates pension deficit problems. The obvious solution is long term and entails lowering government worker pension and benefit packages. ... Public sector unions have demonstrated an unwillingness to forego past agreements in the interest of promoting fiscally sound policies.
San Diego Union Tribune: Government pay practices must change,
At a time when there’s rising fury over public employees’ generous pensions, the report used official U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ data to show there’s one more big area where the taxpayer-funded public sector is thriving at a time of private-sector misery.
The crisis in state pensions is cascading into a property-tax crisis.
Cities across the nation are raising property taxes, largely to cover rising pension and health-care costs for their employees and retirees.
Washington Examiner: America's public pension crisis has tragic consequences,
The biggest obstacle to preventing what happened in Pritchard from happening nationwide might be the public employees themselves. Public union leaders simply refuse to believe America is out of money.
Milwaukee, Walker, Barrett seek checks on unions
Walker, who has tangled with Milwaukee County unions as county executive, is gearing up for a clash with state workers, seeking wage and benefit cuts and threatening legislation to weaken or eliminate state unions' bargaining rights if they won't agree to concessions.
Chicago Sun-Times, ‘Sucking the system dry’,
Jim Tobin, president of National Taxpayers United of Illinois, held a news conference at the St. Charles Public Library to discuss what he called a threat to every Illinois taxpayer.
... Tobin also released names of retired Kane County government employees who are receiving what he called “lavish, gold-plated pensions.”
Private-sector companies and workers have made many sacrifices, he said, "and we all need to share in this. So it's now the public sector coming into more alignment with what the private sector has already done."
December 29, 2010
About 200 charts and explanations, but comes down to this: Housing prices will revert to the 100-year mean. Gary Shilling: House Prices Will Drop Another 20%
This chart shows how well the economy grew at different top tax rates. It shows that higher top tax rates coincided with higher GDP growth until passing a top rate of 92.5%.
Also see The top marginal income tax rate should be about 65%... where he explains why, but how it could go as high as 75% before any drop-opp in growth.
However, growth does not drop much at all as you go higher, so it makes sense when you have a lot of debt to go to the highest, not the optimal, until the debt is paid down. So we really could go to 85-90% for a while.
December 28, 2010
Interest rates are zero. The Fed is pumping emergency money. Millions are in foreclosure. Wages are falling.
There are bright spots and good signs, finally, but don't go all crazy and think nothing more needs to be done. Official unemployment is around 10% and people hit in the huge wave of layoffs are hitting the 99-week limit of unemployment checks.
December 26, 2010
Republican Sen. Tom Coburn says confidence in the country's economy and currency will be "undermined significantly" in the next several years if the government doesn't find a way to cut federal spending.
... Coburn says all Americans must make sacrifices to secure the country's fiscal future. He says he could find more than $300 billion a year in spending that could be cut without objection from the American people.
December 24, 2010
In his press conference this week President Obama said the economic focus is no longer saving the economy from crisis, but "jumpstarting" it to make a dent in unemployment. He listed education as one of the pillars of that effort. Later in the press conference he talked about making colleges and universities being open not just to people who are well-to-do, but to all of us.
Progressives For A We, The People Economy
Progressives believe that a We, the People economy works best when we act as a community where "we are all in this together," and watch out and take care of each other. We mutually benefit from this approach: the better off we all are, the better off we all are. Conservatives, on the other hand, believe we should all be on our own, looking out for only ourselves and our families, and it is up to each of us, alone, to take "personal responsibility" for our own success.
Our differing approaches to education reflect these different philosophies. Progressives believe that education is good for all of us, and should be available to all of us. We believe that the economy does better when more of us can receive a good education, whether this brings a vocational or advanced degree, in a community college or a university. We try to enact policies that make this education affordable for everyone.
Conservatives, on the other hand, believe that "the government" (We, the People) has no business helping people. So they resist providing free public or university education. They call this "socialism."
And so America's conflict continues, one side asking for public investment in all of us for the long-term benefit of We, the People while the other side tries to harvest the public good for the short-term benefit of a few.
Compromise With Conservatives
A compromise of sorts has existed in recent decades in which the government helps students get loans, enabling them to go to more expensive schools. But these loans increasingly leave students with a very high debt to pay off after they graduate. In recent years students are graduating with more student loan debt than they can reasonably be expected to pay off.
Result: Increasing Debt
CNBC reports: Student loans leave crushing debt burden
The cost of a college education is rising faster than the cost of medical care and as much as three times as fast as consumer prices in general. But that's just the beginning of the price of admission. This is the story of a debt crisis few are talking about.
Americans now owe more on their student loans than they do on their credit cards — a debt fast approaching $1 trillion with no end in sight.
Please read the entire CNBC report on the crushing debt load that students are taking on, just to get an education that will help our economy. Here is a clip of the video available at the link:
USA Today reports: Student loan debt exceeds credit card debt in USA,
Total student loan debt exceeds total credit card debt in this country, with $850 billion outstanding, according to Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FinAid.org and FastWeb.com, websites that provide information about student aid and scholarships.
Consumers owe about $828 billion in revolving credit, including credit card debt, according to seasonally adjusted numbers in a report on July credit from the Federal Reserve.
Result: Increasing Defaults
With the increasing debt load and the resulting crushing monthly payments come increasing defaults. From the Dept. of Education, Student Loan Default Rates Increase,
"This data confirms what we already know: that many students are struggling to pay back their student loans during very difficult economic times. That's why the Administration has expanded programs like income based repayment and Pell grants to help students in financial need," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
And, of course, along with the for-profit privatization of what should be a public function, and the compromise of federal help for loans comes the companies profiting from federal dollars.
"The data also tells us that students attending for-profit schools are the most likely to default," Duncan continued. "While for-profit schools have profited and prospered thanks to federal dollars, some of their students have not. Far too many for-profit schools are saddling students with debt they cannot afford in exchange for degrees and certificates they cannot use. This is a disservice to students and taxpayers, and undermines the valuable work being done by the for-profit education industry as a whole," Duncan continued.
Result: Increasing Quick-Buck For-Profit Scams
Along with increasing and crushing debt and defaults another problem has cropped up. Just like with the housing bubble, the private predators have arrived to prey on the public. Private schools like Kaplan University are increasingly scamming their students with schemes reminiscent of the worst of the housing bubble, running up loan debt greater than any job they would ever get could pay, even hitting them with excessive fees and outright fraudulent charges. A Huffington Post report of their investigation of Kaplan University, At Kaplan University, 'Guerilla Registration' Leaves Students Deep In Debt, exposes Kaplan's practice of "guerilla registration" in which they register students and charge them tuition for classes they don't want or take, even in some cases after they have withdrawn from the school. And then they send the debt collectors after them for the money.
Despite having attended only two online sessions, Castillo had remained officially enrolled at Kaplan for nearly a year after her withdrawal.
Far from an aberration, Castillo's experience typifies the results of a practice known informally inside Kaplan as "guerilla registration": academic advisors have long enrolled students in classes they never take, without their consent and sometimes even after they have sought to withdraw from the university, in order to maximize the company's revenues, according to interviews with former employees.
Please read the whole Huffington Post report, there is much, much more there. Kaplan University, by the way, is owned by The Washington Post company.
Speaking of Kaplan, this is also in the news: NY Times, E.E.O.C. Sues Kaplan Over Hiring,
Sending a sharp warning to employers nationwide, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued the Kaplan Higher Education Corporation on Tuesday, accusing it of discriminating against black job applicants through the way it uses credit histories in its hiring process.
. . . In the E.E.O.C.’s suit, which was filed in federal district court in Cleveland, the agency said that since at least January 2008, Kaplan had rejected job applicants based on their credit history, with a “significant disparate impact” on blacks.
. . . The E.E.O.C. typically brings discrimination cases only when it is convinced that serious abuse has occurred.
Demos: Student Loans and Student Loan Debt, links to Demos resources and research on this issue.
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Published by Sudeep Johnson
Doggie Paw Cards Inc.
Many thanks to (from top clockwise) Darwin, Fergie, Paddington & Poppy without whom there would be no card.
Click here for last year's card, and you can trace back through all the cards over the years.
December 23, 2010
Everyone please read: Daily Kos: The Selfish Rich Are Killing Retired People
December 22, 2010
Are there "good" companies and "bad" companies? No, there are just companies, and companies don't have moral characteristics any more than a chair does. Here is something to understand about the things companies "do." If we LET a company "do" something, all companies HAVE TO do it. The misunderstanding of deregulation is that anything that CAN be done WILL be done. Anything.
E. J. Dionne Jr., in Even progressives need CEOs writes that it is,
... important to recognize that there is no single business class or corporate model. Obama doesn't need to coddle CEOs so they will say warm things about him at parties in the Hamptons. He should figure out which parts of the private sector share an interest in reducing the dreadful inequalities that have metastasized over nearly four decades and in creating an economy that produces well-paying jobs.
[. . .] Government policies, no matter how often we use the words "free enterprise," through design or inadvertence, inevitably affect the private economy. Why not choose policies that specifically encourage sectors that create good jobs for Americans?
The piece is well-worth reading because it points out that there are plenty of great business leaders who want to help the country address our problems and do better for our people. Mostly we hear today about the worst kind of self-interested, greed-driven business leaders because those seem to be the ones calling the shots for our economy and our political system. This is because we let the them get away with being the worst, so they rise to the top.
We need strong regulations and tough laws so the good CEOs can do the right thing, and still remain competitive.
Corporations Are A Good Idea
Last year in Why I Am Pro-Corporate, I wrote about why corporations are a good thing
The things that the corporate legal structure enables people to do are good for society. This is why We, the People decided to enact the laws that created corporations. If we want to be able to accomplish things on a large scale, like build a railroad or airports and airplanes or skyscrapers – or solar power plants to replace coal power plants – we want to enable people to more easily raise the necessary capital and amass the resources needed to get the job done. The legal structure of the corporate form of a business accomplishes this.
Corporations are just an idea. They are just a bundle of contracts. They don't do things, people do.
Do Companies "Do"? Do They "Want"?
It is the business leaders, not the companies, who make decisions and want things and do things. Companies are just things that don't "want" any more than they "do." They don't "think." They don't "decide." They don't "respond." Sentient entities want and do. It is the people who make decisions want and do things. Companies are not sentient entities any more than chairs are. And how we think about this affects the conclusions we reach.
One reason we apply these characteristics to companies is because they want us to. ("They want." There I go do it, too.) When the people who do marketing for companies (is that better?) try to make us think about companies this way, it is called "branding." They try to make us believe that a company is somehow a sentient entity because then we can think they "are good or bad" and therefore form emotional attachments that cause us to be influenced into buying their products. This is really just a manipulation and a distraction but it affects our brains. It is so important to realize that we are dealing with individual people who run companies because then we can think clearly about how to deal with the problems that they cause.
We have to understand the system, and what we are dealing with. We are dealing with people who run companies, not with companies. You can't be "pro-business" or "anti-business" because business just is. But you can require that people do the right thing.
We Need Very Strong Regulations And Tough Laws
When we complain about Wal-Mart "doing" something we are misunderstanding the system. The people who run Wal-Mart will do what we don’t stop them from doing. They have to. They don't necessarily want to. (Though some do.) That is what the system is. We set down rules, and they follow the rules. If something is not against a rule, then they don't just do whatever it is, they have to. And if they do something that is against the rules but we let them get away with it, then they will continue and others will start doing that, too.
Here is why: If Wal-Mart doesn’t then (the executives who run) Target or KMart or another company will, and then Target or KMart will have a competitive advantage, and after a while we’ll all be complaining about Target or KMart instead because Wal-Mart won’t be in the picture. They have to do everything we let them do. That is how the system works, and that is why we have to have strong regulations and tough law.
Instead of complaining about the things the business leaders do, we have to make strong regulations and tough laws to stop them and we have to enforce them. Period. We, the People have to use government “interference” and use force and that is our job and our responsibility to each other and to all of the business leaders who want to do the right thing.
It Is Not Fair To The Good, Responsible Leaders Not To
Let's say you are running Wal-Mart and you want to pay people more and want to provide good benefits. But the law does not require you to. If you do these things anyway, and your competitor doesn't, you are putting your company at a disadvantage, and you are risking the livelihood of everyone in the company. Think about the conflict and pressure that creates in good people who want to do good things. They can't do good things unless we make all the businesses do good things.
Companies are forced by competitive pressure to do the things other companies do, whether they "want" to or not. There isn’t really a middle ground. Our system of competition forces companies to do everything they can get away with, and they will do that, and the only thing that will stop them is We, the People actually stopping them.
So don't complain about things companies are doing, and certainly don't blame the companies. What do you have to do is change the rules. It just isn't fair to good people who want to do good things to do anything else. We have been letting good people down by listening to and doing the bidding of the likes of the Chamber of Commerce and the others who are fronts for the worst among the business community, who are working to corrupt our business environment and our politics.
Most Business Leaders Are Good People
Almost all corporate leaders are good, responsible and well-intentioned. For this reason they want and need clear rules that let them operate their companies responsibly. This is why listening to the greedheads who are always complaining about government and regulations is such a mistake. Most business leaders want to do the right thing and good, strong regulations and laws that are enforced let them do that. The deregulation and lack of enforcement that we see all around us today forces them to do wrong things in the name of staying competitive.
When you initially deregulate, good corporate leaders will try to be responsible and they will have every intent of doing so. They will live up to their promises. But along will come other corporate leaders who just want to make money for their companies,and more to the point, for themselves. They will do whatever we let them do to accomplish that. They will push up to and a bit beyond the exact wording of what they think they can get away with. The “good” CEOs will be at a disadvantage and will be forced to do the same.
Clear And Strong Regulations
When I ran a company I had a rule for agreements – get everything on paper and signed because the people talking about things today on both sides might get in a car wreck, or move to another company or forget or whatever and all that is left is the agreement and not the intent of the agreement. Similarly, we need to clearly lay out every little part of what can and cannot be done because that is what people will do in the end.
Business leaders want and need a clear playing field with rules that are strong enough to enable them to do the right thing and remain competitive. Let's help them out.
Blame the unions, blame the unemployed, blame loans to the poor, blame the government... As income and wealth increasingly go to a few at the top public anger is directed at the economy's victims.
I am in a clinic all day participating in a medical study, so I was talking to one of the nurses. She brought up that California is in real trouble, is going broke, it’s a real mess. She says she doesn't know what we’re going to do. She has heard that, "lots of states are going bankrupt. There is no money anymore."
So I asked her what we should do about it.
She said it is because of the unions. “It’s just ridiculous. They want so much.”
I asked if she follows the news closely, she said she does. “I watch the news a lot.”
Some facts: California is famous for leading the country in a wave of anti-government tax-cutting and into Reaganism. We cut taxes an an anti-government ferver and increased prison spending in a law-and-order fever. Then the federal government cut taxes and increased military spending, leading to big deficits. Now we’re out of money to run the state government and the country is getting there, too. California’s problems have little or nothing to do with what state employees are paid, and a lot to do with tax cuts and people across the state not getting paid enough.
Blaming The Unions
This weekend CBS' 60 Minutes joined the anti-worker chorus, blaming public employee unions for the problems faced by the states. Media Matters, in 60 Minutes' one-sided, GOP-friendly report on state budgets describes the segment,
In 2,600 words about state deficits, you won't find the phrase "tax cuts." Instead, CBS adopts the Republican framing that deficits are all about spending -- frequently with loaded phrasing like "gold-plated retirement and health care packages." And throughout the report, CBS allows Christie, New Jersey's Republican governor, to launch attacks on unions and make unsupported claims about budget problems, all without ever challenging his assertions and without including substantive disagreement from Christie critics.
... You'd never know from CBS' report that a big part of the reason that "Christie and his predecessors" failed to make required contributions to the pension fund is that they decided to use the money for tax cuts instead. [emphasis added]
Mike Hall at the AFL-CIO blog explains that New Jersey's workers and pensions are not the problem,
While politicians like Christie rail against the pensions public employees have secured through collective bargaining—painting them as overly generous golden parachutes, McEntee notes the average annual pension for an AFSCME member is $19,000, and the workers contribute 80 percent during their lifetime on the job.
Tax cuts, income and wealth going to a few at the top, but the unions take the blame because they fight for a better life for working people.
Blaming The Unemployed
The unemployed and the checks they get are often blamed for their plight. They are called "lazy," and it is even suggested the be tested for drugs. CAF graduate David Sirota, in Why the ‘Lazy Jobless’ Myth Persists
The thesis undergirding all the rhetoric was summed up by conservative commentator Ben Stein, who insisted that “the people who have been laid off and cannot find work are generally people with poor work habits and poor personalities.”
[. . .] The trouble, though, is that the whole narrative averts our focus from the job-killing trade, tax-cut and budget policies that are really responsible for destroying the economy. And this narrative, mind you, is not some run-of-the-mill distraction. The myth of the lazy unemployed is what duck-and-cover exercises and backyard nuclear shelters were to a past era—an alluring palliative that manufactures false comfort in the face of unthinkable disaster.
Blaming The Poor And Government
Republicans on the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission are sabotaging the commission's work, demanding that "Wall Street" and "deregulation" not appear anywhere in the report. They are refusing to participate, instead releasing a counter-report blaming the government, claiming We, the People forced the giant banks to give home loans to the poor, and blaming the poor for receiving those loans.
What People Think
People tend to think about what is put in front of them to think about. That's why everyone goes to see a new movie on the first weekend instead of waiting until they can get good seats with no lines. Wall Street and the likes of the Chamber of Commerce understand this so they put scapegoats in front of the public to mask what they are doing. Right now there is a corporate/right campaign to blame working people for the problems they caused.
Like 60 Minutes this weekend, the news sources are run by big corporations, and they have been saying over and over (and over and over) that unions and the unemployed and the poor and the government are the cause of the problems. (When was the last time you saw a union representative on TV, explaining the benefits of joining a union?) And, naturally, after hearing these things over and over (and over and over), viewers like the nurse at the clinic I am in think they should blame the unions, the unemployed, the poor, the government, too.
So much of the income and wealth are concentrating at the top. Taxes have been cut so far. The things our government does for us have been cut back so far. Working people's wages have been stagnant for so long.
But the blame right now is directed at the unions, the poor, the unemployed and our government: We, the People.
As the AFL-CIO blog concludes,
The long term solution to state and local fiscal challenges ... is “a robust economy, one that is creating jobs and replenishing tax revenue.”
To repeat: The long term solution to state and local fiscal challenges ... is “a robust economy, one that is creating jobs and replenishing tax revenue.”
December 21, 2010
The country’s huge debt was caused by tax cuts for the rich and increases in military spending. But debt-cutting recommendations from the D.C. Elite never suggest restoring taxes on the rich and cutting military spending. Go figure. Instead they suggest cutting the things government does for We, the People. The D.C. Elite is not We, the People. Let's stop this in its tracks.
Just a week after the Senate voted to give a big tax cut to the rich, increasing the deficit by more than $800 billion, a few senators have gotten together to push the deficit-cutting recommendations of … two guys.
According to The Washington Post, Senators Mark Warner and Saxby Chambliss are leading a group of senators gearing up to push deficit-cutting recommendations made by Senator “Milk cow with 300 million tits” Alan Simpson and Senator “On the Board of Morgan Stanley” Erskine Bowles. They will push this as the recommendations of the full deficit commission, even though the deficit commission specifically did not recommend this. This is just a plan that two guys came up with. Or, as they described themselves, "just two clowns from Wyoming and North Carolina."
From Reuters, Warner, misrepresenting the source of the deficit plan,
"Taking the commission's report ... we'll be introducing that as legislation, a legislative vehicle, next year, recognizing in the process that a lot of that would be subject to change," Democratic Senator Mark Warner said.
Wrong! Not the deficit commission, just two guys.
Everything On The Table -- Except Anything Wall Street Doesn't Like
The group claims that "everything" will be on the table, even though the recommendations of the two guys closely follows a Wall Street corporate/conservative agenda.
"The way you do it is put everything on the table," Chambliss said Wednesday, appearing with Warner before a group of reporters.
Everything, that is, except tax rates on the rich and corporations, and military spending, and a financial transaction tax, and restoring the estate tax, and... . In fact, the plan is to get rid of tax breaks for the middle class and cut tax rates on the rich and corporations, and the recommendations of the Citizens Deficit Commission or commission member Rep. Jan Schakowsky's deficit plan. Everything -- except all of that.
So what does the plan by the two guys propose? From the Washington Post story,
Warner noted that the two men agree on the general idea of broadening the tax base by eliminating many existing deductions, while at the same time lowering personal and corporate tax rates.
That’s right, the two guys propose cutting tax rates for the rich and corporations even more. Income and wealth is increasingly concentrating at the top, leaving the rest of us with less and less, starving the country's infrastructure, starving our people's education and health care and retirement and pushing us ever closer to third-world status, the D.C. Elite are pushing even more tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations and even more cuts in the things government does for We, the People.
Take a minute to absorb that.
The "Leverage" Of Destroying The Economy
In our democracy, how do they think they can push this Wall-Street-oriented plan to gut our government through? For some reason, they think that taking hostages might work. Why, oh why, would they think that threatening to do harm to the country and its economy might give them "leverage" to get what they want? Where would they ever get that idea? What hostage do they plan to take?
They plan to threaten to destroy the "full faith and credit' of the country if we don't give in.
Before next summer, Congress will have to take a painful vote to raise the federal debt ceiling to allow the country to borrow more money.
"If we can use that as a leverage" to get the ball rolling on a deficit-reduction plan, Chambliss said, "that's an ideal scenario."
The threat to block a debt-ceiling increase is leverage because if the debt ceiling is not raised the United States of America will be forced to default on its debts, destroying the "full faith and credit" of our country, the "soundness" of the dollar, and the underpinnings of the world's economy. This would have consequences that go far beyond the harm caused by the financial crisis of 2008. This is the fire they want to light.
But who is really being taken hostage with this "leverage" play? Dean Baker, in Saving Social Security: Stopping Obama's Next Bad Deal says that the debt default threat is actually pointing at Wall Street, not the country. Baker writes:
A debt default would be a very bad situation and one that we absolutely should try to avoid. But the day after the default, the country would still have the same capital stock and infrastructure, the same skilled labor force and the same technical knowledge as it did the day before the default. In other words, the ability of our economy to produce more than $15 trillion in goods and services each year will not have been affected.
One thing that would not be around the day after a default is Wall Street. The default would wipe out the value the assets of the Wall Street banks, sending Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and the rest into bankruptcy. The recovery for the economy from such a situation will be difficult, but the shareholders of the Wall Street banks would be wiped out and their top executives unemployed.
For this reason, the threat of a default is a gun pointed most directly at Wall Street. Given the power of Wall Street over Congress, is inconceivable that they would ever let the Republicans pull the trigger.
So while the conservatives claim they have "leverage" by taking the country hostage, the country would survive but Wall Street would not.
Even so, this idea that holding the full faith and credit of the country hostage is playing with fire. It is an outrageous threat to hold over anyone’s head. They are literally threatening the livelihood of, well, everyone, to get more tax cuts for the rich and big corporations and cuts in the things government does for We, the People. Not a vote by the public, but a threat to wipe us out if we do not give this to them.
Should our representatives in the Congress be trying to find common ground with people who want to gut our government and threaten to wipe out our ability to make a living?
The Public Hates Threats
Conservatives tried this before, under Speaker Newt Gingrich. They actually closed down the government in an attempt to dismantle the Medicare program. President Clinton stood up to the threat. The country was aghast that Gingrich and his party acted so irresponsibly and they paid the price. Clinton turned his presidency around by standing up to Gingrich.
President Obama should show the backbone that Clinton showed against the Gingrich Congress. The public hates being threatened and will not forgive anyone who gives in to it. Do not give in.
Action: Get ready now for the coming fight!
December 20, 2010
There are rumors that President Obama is going to ask for cuts in Social Security in his State of the Union speech. We have 4 weeks to stop him. People, we can stop this.
Last week in Obama to blink first on Social Security, Robert Kuttner wrote that the President, in his coming State of the Union speech, might follow up on the recommendations of his deficit commission by announcing a plan to cut Social Security.
If this happens it would be an utter disaster for Americans and for the future of American politics.
Millions of elderly people now and in the future absolutely depend on Social Security as the only thing keeping them from eating cat food because they can afford nothing else. On top of that, Social Security is the bedrock of people's faith in and understanding of government. Politically, the Social Security program is the very symbol of what the Democrats Party is and does. If the Democratic Party doesn’t represent protecting Social Security then it represents nothing.
If these rumors are true we owe it to those elderly people now and in the future to do what we can to head this off. We owe it to the idea of democratic government. And we owe it to the President to stop him from listening to bad advice from advisors who are so out of touch with the American people! There is an elite concensus in DC, created by expert Wall Street propagandists, that it is "responsible" to cut Social Security, and it is just wrong. It is not a correct analysis, and it is the morally wrong thing to do because so many people depend on Social Security. If anything the program needs to be expanded and increased because that is what would help the greatest number of people.
We CAN stop this if we mobilize. We must spend the next month preventing this from happening. We shouldn't assume that is is out of our control. We should assume that we have it in our power to do something. The vast majority of Democrats don’t want this to happen. Heck, even most Republican don't want this to happen. Cutting Social Security would harm everyone (except Wall Street), including the President.
People, we can stop this. We have to mobilize to stop it. Don’t assume that the President is going to do it -- we have to show up and make him not do it! Get engaged in the fight. Do not succumb to cynicism. Go out there and ask the president not to do this. Show up!
Did you know that the problem isn't that most of the money now goes to the top few? The problem is that the rest of us want wages and benefits and retirement! THAT is where the real problem is!
Everyone should read Terrance Heath's post An Investment Agenda for America | OurFuture.org,
"By failing to invest in direct job creation, our leaders are taking a 'do nothing' approach to shaping the new economy. Doing nothing — and yes, tax cuts amount to doing nothing, given their track record — will yield an economy in which the 'new normal' is a permanently lower standard of living for millions of Americans ... An infrastructure bank may be an idea whose time is has come ... Where an infrastructure bank leaves off, investment in preserving and creating local jobs can make a difference for millions of Americans ... An investment agenda for America must include incentives for corporations to invest again in an America that has been a long-term investor in their success — perhaps even asking them to be American corporations again ... President Obama recently hinted that reforming the tax code may next on his agenda. He would do well to consider that the tax code currently favors wealth over work."
December 18, 2010
Republicans successfully filibustered the DREAM Act.
December 17, 2010
Looks like the vote is tomorrow. This is really important to a lot of PEOPLE.
I received this:
Right now it looks like: * Murkowski is leaning yes * Lugar (IN), Bennet (UT) will vote yes * Tester, Baucus, Nelson (NE) are likely no's on the D side. Tester in particular has enjoyed netroots support and should feel some pain for this.
People monitoring closely think we're within 4 votes on this.
There's a number that will randomly assign you to someone we're trying to persuade if you call: 866-587-6101.
Click through for local numbers:
Lisa Murkowski (R)
Washington, DC: ph: 202-224-6665 adr: U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510
Anchorage: ph: 877-829-6030 adr: 510 L Street, Anchorage, AK 99501
Fairbanks: ph: 907-456-0233 adr: 101 12th Avenue, Fairbanks, AK 99701
Juneau: ph: 907-586-7400 adr: 709 West 9th Street, Juneau, AK 99802
Kenai: ph: 907-283-5808 adr: 130 Trading Bay Road, Kenai, AK 99611
Ketchikan: ph: 907-283-5208 adr: 540 Water Street, Ketchikan, AK 99901
Wasilla: ph: 907-376-7665 adr: 851 East Westpoint Drive, Wasilla, AK 99654
George LeMieux (R)
Washington, DC ph: 202-224-3041 adr: U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 205100001
Coral Gables, FL ph: 305-418-8553 adr: 8669 NW 36th St., Coral Gables, FL 33166
Jacksonville, FL ph: 904-398-8586 adr: 1650 Prudential Drive, Jacksonville, FL 32207
Pensacola, FL ph: 850-433-2603 adr: 1 N. Palafox St., Pensacola, FL 32502
Tampa, FL ph: 813-977-6450 adr: 3802 Spectrum Boulevard, Tampa, FL 33612
Mary Landrieu (D)
Washington, DC: ph: 202-224-5824 adr: U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510
Baton Rouge: ph: 225-389-0395 adr: U.S. Postal Building, Baton Rouge, LA 70801
Lake Charles: ph: 337-436-6650 adr: One Lakeshore Drive, Lake Charles, LA 70629
New Orleans: ph: 504-589-2427 adr: Hale Boggs Federal Bldg, New Orleans, LA 70130
Shreveport: ph: 318-676-3085 adr: U.S. Courthouse, Shreveport, LA 71101
Susan Collins (R)
Washington, DC: ph: 202-224-2523 adr: U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510
Augusta: ph: 207-622-8414 adr: 68 Seawall Street, Augusta, ME 04330
Bangor: ph: 207-945-0417 adr: 202 Harlow Street - Room 204, Bangor, ME 04401
Biddeford: ph: 207-283-1101 adr: 160 Main Street, Biddeford, ME 04005
Caribou: ph: 207-493-7873 adr: 25 Sweden Street - Suite A, Caribou, ME 04736
Lewiston: ph: 207-784-6969 adr: 11 Lisbon Street, Lewiston, ME 04240
Portland: ph: 207-780-3575 adr: 1 City Center, Portland, ME 04101
Olympia Snowe (R)
Washington, DC: ph: 202-224-5344 adr: U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510
Auburn: ph: 207-786-2451 adr: Two Great Falls Plaza, Auburn, ME 04210
Augusta: ph: 207-622-8292 adr: 68 Sewall Street - Suite 101C, Augusta, ME 04330
Bangor: ph: 207-945-0432 adr: 1 Cumberland Place, Bangor, ME 04401
Biddeford: ph: 207-282-4144 adr: 231 Main Street, Suite 2, Biddeford, ME 04005
Lewiston: ph: 207-784-6969 adr: 11 Lisbon Street, Lewiston, ME 04240
Portland: ph: 207-874-0883 adr: 3 Canal Plaza - Suite 601, Portland, ME 04112
Presque Isle: ph: 207-764-5124 adr: 169 Academy Street, Presque Isle, ME 04769
Claire McCaskill (D)
Washington, DC: ph: 202-224-6154 adr: U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510
Cape Girardeau: ph: 573-651-0964 adr: 555 Independence Ave., Cape Girardeau, MO 63703
Columbia: ph: 573-442-7130 adr: 915 East Ash Street, Columbia, MO 65201
Kansas City: ph: 816-421-1639 adr: 4141 Pennsylvania, Kansas City, MO 64111
Springfield: ph: 417-868-8745 adr: 324 Park Central West, Springfield, MO 65806
St. Louis: ph: 314-367-1364 adr: 5850 A Delmar Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63112
Max Baucus (D)
Washington, DC ph: 202-224-2651 adr: U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510
Billings: ph: 406-657-6790 adr: 202 Fratt Building, Billings, MT 59101
Bozeman: ph: 406-586-6104 adr: Federal Building, Bozeman, MT 59715
Butte: ph: 406-782-8700 adr: Silver Bow Center, Butte, MT 59701
Great Falls: ph: 406-761-1574 adr: 18 5th Street South, Great Falls, MT 59401
Helena: ph: 406-449-5480 adr: 225 Cruse Avenue - Suite D, Helena, MT 59601
Missoula: ph: 406-329-3123 adr: 211 North Higgins - Room 102, Missoula, MT 59802
Jon Tester (D)
Washington, DC: ph: 202-224-2644 adr: U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 205100001
Billings: ph: 406-252-0550 adr: 222 North 32nd Street, Billings, MT 59101
Helena: ph: 406-449-5401 adr: 208 North Montana Avenue, Helena, MT 59601
Missoula, MT ph: 406-728-3003 adr: 116 West Front Street, Missoula, MT 59802
Butte, MT ph: 406-723-3277 adr: 125 West Granite, Butte, MT 59701
Great Falls, MT ph: 406-452-9585 adr: 321 First Avenue North, Great Falls, MT 59401
Kalispell, MT ph: 406-257-3360 adr: 1845 Highway 93 South, Kalispell, MT 59901
Kay Hagan (D)
Washington, DC: ph: 202-224-6342 adr: U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510
Greensboro: ph: 336-333-5311 adr: 701 Green Valley Rd, Greensboro, NC 27408
Raleigh: ph: 919-856-4630 adr: 310 New Bern Avenue, Raleigh, NC 27601
Kent Conrad (D)
Washington, DC: ph: 202-224-2043 adr: U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510
Bismarck: ph: 701-258-4648 adr: Federal Building, Bismarck, ND 58501
Fargo: ph: 701-232-8030 adr: Federal Building, Fargo, ND 58102
Grand Forks: ph: 701-775-9601 adr: Federal Building, Grand Forks, ND 58203
Minot: ph: 701-852-0703 adr: 100 First Street SW, Suite 105, Minot, ND 58701
Kay Bailey Hutchison (R)
Washington, DC ph: 202-224-5922 adr: U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 205100001
Harlingen, TX ph: 956-412-1468 adr: 222 East Van Buren Street, Harlingen, TX 78550
Dallas, TX ph: 214-361-3500 adr: 10440 North Central Expressway - Suite 1160, LB 606, Dallas, TX 75231
Houston, TX ph: 713-653-3456 adr: 1919 Smith Street - Suite 800, Houston, TX 77002
Austin, TX ph: 512-916-5834 adr: Federal Building, Austin, TX 78701
San Antonio, TX ph: 210-340-2885 adr: 145 Duncan Drive, San Antonio, TX 78226
Abilene, TX ph: 325-676-2839 adr: 500 Chestnut Street - Suite 1570, Abilene, TX 79602
Joe Manchin (D)
ph: 202-224-3954 adr: 311 Hart Office Bldg., Washington, DC 20510
Congress passed tax cuts for the rich and cut the estate tax way down, adding $800 billion to the deficit and placing Social Security on the chopping block. No one will have predicted what’s coming next year in the name of deficit reduction: they are going after Social Security and everything else that benefits the middle class, and will hold the full faith and credit of our country hostage to get that. Choice: Gut the programs or kill the country. Action: get ready now for the coming fight.
Where We've Been
The Congress passed tax cuts for the rich and a huge cut in the estate tax at a time of worries about deficits and intense concentration of wealth. This act just puts the name on what has occurred since Reagan: it formalizes the collapse of We, the People democracy, replaced by plutocracy. And that was with the big Democratic majorities that we all worked so hard to elect. Next year is when it starts getting bad. Action: get ready now for the coming fight.
Here is my message to Republicans: Tax cuts for the rich were so important to you that you took the country hostage, you refused to help the unemployed, you obstructed everything to get them. You blocked unemployment checks, DADT, the DREAM Act, the START Treaty, everything. So don't come back to me and complain about deficits, and say you need to cut the budget.
My message to the President and Democrats: Rewarding obstruction just makes things worse. You caved on, well, everything in the last two years. You pre-negotiated away things the country needs, only to have Republicans respond by increasing their demands, and then you caved on that. They filibustered something like 420 bills, not to mention judges and appointees, and you only brought the cots out once. So they just did it more. And they will do it more and more, until you stop rewarding them. Action: get ready now for the coming fight.
Worse Fights Coming
There are already signs of the start of the next fight. The big fight is when the debt ceiling has to be raised, and they can hold the country's and world's economy hostage to their demands. Before that, though, will be an omnibus spending bill.
Giving in to hostage takers has only solidified this kind of hostage-taking as a successful tactic. For example, last night, even while the House was capitulating to the last hostage-taking, Republicans again used the tactic to kill the omnibus spending bill. Republicans took the spending bill hostage and threatened to shut down the government if Dems didn’t accept their new demands. And Dems again gave in. As TPM puts it today,
Late last night, Harry Reid's plan to get the federal government funded through the end of the fiscal year went up in flames, burning months and months of work by Senate appropriators and their staffs. To avert a government shutdown, Reid agreed to work out a federal funding plan with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell -- Congress will agree to continue funding the government at its current levels through some yet-to-be-determined point next year.
... Next year, though, this arrangement will come back to haunt Dems. ... Whatever date they decide will be the deadline for resolving the next spending fight, which will occur in a dramatically different, and more conservative political environment. Republicans will demand spending cuts. And if they're successful, the stimulative impact of the just-passed tax package will be clawed back.
If they win every time, why would they stop using the tactic? Again and again rewarded for obstruction, Republicans take new hostages. Essentially they say, again and again, "Agree to our demands or we will blow everything up." Again and again the President and Dems cave. Rinse and repeat.
Action: get ready now for the coming fight.
How Far Will They Take This?
Just how far will they take this? Look at just how far they have taken it. Look what they have already done to the country. As CAF's Robert Borosage put it in Top End Tax Cuts and a Collapsing Infrastructure
America is literally falling apart. Collapsing bridges, exploding water mains, crumbling levees are a deadly clear and present danger. Children go to schools that are dangerous to their health. Our declining infrastructure is also costly economically, with outmoded transport, crowded highways, slow and inadequate broadband impeding our ability to compete. As President Obama has suggested, we need to make significant investments in building a 21st-century infrastructure, in education and training, in research and development as a foundation for a revived American economy.
The new batch of conservatives is very different from anything this country is used to, and that even includes the conservatives who shut down the government in the 90s, and relentlessly investigated President Clinton and literally anyone who ever knew him. Don't forget impeachment. They do not care about governing, they care about winning. And they now see absolute obstruction -- no matter the cost to the country -- as a wining tactic.
People haven’t come to grips yet with what it means when one party can just block everything, and has no interest in governing at all. The corporate right intends to use the debt ceiling and the threat of literally ruining the country to get their way. They will refuse to provide funding for anything they don’t like and threaten to kill the government if they don't get their way. At risk: Social Security, Medicare, alternative energy programs, infrastructure funding, the Department of Education, certainly NPR, anthing to do with science, reason, civility ...
They see this as their moment. They intend to reform the government in their far-right image or destroy it. If you think I am being extreme to say this, watch Fox for a while, listen to their radio shows, read their magazines and blogs. They intend to destroy the government.
Limbaugh: “We won the election, we shut it down.”
Limbaugh was talking about last night's hostage-taking on the omnibus spending bill, but reflects what I am hearing on the radio and blogs about their attitude in general. They really, really mean it, they see this as their moment to get everything they want or just destroy the government. They don't really care which.
Former Senator Alan Simpson recently gave a preview of conservative thinking. From Politico,
“I can’t wait for the bloodbath in April,” Simpson said, relishing the prospect of political turmoil. “When debt limit time comes, they’re going to look around and say, ‘What in the hell do we do now? We’ve got guys who will not approve the debt limit extension unless we give ‘em a piece of meat, real meat” in the form of spending cuts.
“And boy, the bloodbath will be extraordinary,” he said.
They want that "bloodbath." They just can't wait.
First we have to bolster our own leaders, ask them to stop rewarding obstruction and fight for us and let them know you will fight for them if they do. We need an absolute commitment that Social Security will not be touched! Especially now that the just-passed payroll tax cut threatens Social Security's financing.
Action: get ready now for the coming fight.
December 15, 2010
Can we compete with China's wages? Does government interference and regulation hold us back? Are our unions keeping us from being competitive? Do we need to lower our standard of living in a race to the bottom? You might be surprised to learn that Germany pays higher wages, has strong unions, has much more government involvement and is doing better as a result. Conclusion: our wages, unions and government are not the problem, they are the solution.
Germany is NOT a low-wage country. But they weathered the recession. They value manufacturing and have national policies to bolster their manufacturers.
Hourly manufacturing compensation (wages plus benefits) was $48 in Germany in 2008 - the most recent year surveyed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics - while it was $32 in the United States. Yet Germany is an export giant, while we are the colossus of imports.
In Germany, workers also get six weeks vacation - by law, federally mandated, a right. They get health care, university, child care and pensions and as a result they have higher productivity. In Germany, the government requires worker representatives to hold seats on the boards of directors of companies, depending on the number of workers. Government-funded research and vocational training, and policies to retain skilled workers bring another competitive advantage. Germany values manufacturing and the government has an industrial policy. The government is currently helping promote green manufacturing, for example.
The result of all this government interference is that Germany's export-oriented manufacturing economy recovered from the recession and is doing OK, and their workers are paid well and have great benefits.
Our government is supposed to be of, by and for the people. But today in the U.S. it is considered "socialistic" to talk about these things because it violates the dominant conservative "free market" ideology that is designed to enrich a few at the expense of the rest of us. If we try to talk about a national industrial/economic policy, it is derided with such slogans as "government interference" or "picking winners and losers." If the discussion is allowed it very quickly will move to the dominance of fossil fuels and the other industries that are holding us back but have a lock on influence over the government. If we talk about taking the burden of health care off of the people and businesses, the giant insurance companies beat it back, calling it "socialized medicine," to keep us from doing something about how their profits are draining the rest of the economy. And imagine the furor that would result if anyone even suggested mandating worker representatives on boards of directors so the companies take the interests of workers and communities into account!
Our adherence to conservative free-market ideology is clearly holding our country back. The ideology is designed to transfer wealth from the public to a very few, and hold the lead of the already-dominant. This is killing market innovation and it is destroying our competitiveness and standard of living. We should be looking at what works for the country instead of what keeps the few at the top at the top.
Just Who Is Interfering With Our System?
We need to develop a national economic/industrial policy to help us with our competitive position relative to the rest of the world. We need Medicare-For-All to lower the burden on our people and companies. We need to reorient our labor policies to bring better wages and benefits to our people. We need to restore a level playing field on which innovative smaller companies can complete with the giants—who are interfering with the system while complaining that the attempts by We, the People to stop them are interfering with our system.
Later we can talk about whether China's government interferes with its businesses, and how their economic growth is doing compared to ours.
WikiLeaks raises some of the most poignant questions of our time about the power of cyber warfare, the role of hackers, and the future of the Internet. It is not a coincidence that Madame Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has created a whole new effort to explore and fight cyber terrorism. In fact, WikiLeaks and Assange may represent the first of the wholesale anarchists using today's information highway to do battle. Consider that instead of taking to the streets in protest, this generation may take to the Internet to wage their battles and carry their message. We are living a time represented by the power of Facebook that links over 500 million people together. And if this is true, we may have unleashed a whole new generation of cyber warlords on the world's information centers.
Many of our brethren are writing about democracy, liberty and the freedom of information pivoting off what they believe WikiLeaks stands for. Julian Assange has been elevated to the "Man of the People" as filmmaker Michael Moore contributes to his bail fund, and the Huffington Post sets up a whole section devoted to whistleblower Fantasy Land. You know, we all need something valiant to believe in during the difficult days of Obama. The obnoxious wealthy are dancing on the heads of US lawmakers. The banks are still doing the Texas two-step, and the Middle Class continues to suffer in silence with simmering rage. There are two deeply divisive wars. China is rising and scaring the heck out of us. The liberals of the Democratic Party continue to act like toddlers, and Sarah Palin is making hay laughing all the way to her off-shore accounts. So Julian Assange, or whoever is backing him, could not have picked a better moment of discontent. They are evoking new archetypes of good and bad in a world that is increasing grey.
Assange is the anti-hero. He has been personified as a man with no country who is a metrosexual kind of guy willing to risk it all to uncover the truth. Yet, we don't really know much about this man, or what makes him tick. Is he really the wizard behind or the curtain, or there really someone or something else pulling the strings. Is he a hacker extraordinaire, or just a man that is a brilliant online community organizer? In fact and most importantly, what does it mean to be a hacker? Are hackers by definition anarchists, or is it just Julian that wants to topple the establishment at any cost. Or are there droves of these cyber-sleuths trolling the black lands of the Internet looking for back doors into silos of information? Remember Assange was a cryptologist of sorts which is the super duper folks that develop the ways to tunnel into software code. And it may be fair to assume that these same hackers were probably responsible for the DOS (Denial of Service) attacks on Visa, Master Card and others. And if this is true then who is really pulling the strings since these were very, targeted attacks on specific corporations that shut out the money flow for WikiLeaks? The bottom line is that we still don't know how the WikiLeaks information is gathered and/or obtained. Does it come from this new breed of whistleblowers, such as Private Manning that had a rare blend of tech talents and access? If so; does this new breed even resemble our beloved archetypical whistleblowers circa Daniel Ellsberg, or even Erin Brockovich? And I ask again, have we grappled with the ramifications of an Internet that is locked down in response to WikiLeaks? Are we ready to usher in a new age of restrictions? This sadly will make the debate around net neutrality seem like child's play if cyber war erupts.
Please note that this post appeared earlier in the day in the Huffington Post.
December 14, 2010
If you like your Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, courts, roads, trains and the rest of what government does for We, the People, then you should pay attention to this. Early next year the Republicans will demand severe cuts to everything or they will allow the country to default on its debt. They mean it and they are planning for it. The coming "debt ceiling" fight can be averted by increasing the debt ceiling as part of this tax-cut deal.
A week ago, in Stop The Next Bad Deal: The Debt Ceiling Fight, I wrote about this,
If you think the tax cut fight led to a bad deal… it may also lead to an expectation by conservatives they will finally be able to cut, gut or shut the government in the coming fight over raising the debt ceiling. The President and Democrats in Congress should take steps now to keep them from thinking they can win that.
Early next year the country’s debt ceiling has to be raised – or else. Conservatives are likely to push for “or else” and hold the “full faith and credit of the United States” hostage to their demands to gut the middle class and democratic government.
Here is what Democrats can do: add the debt ceiling increase to this tax-cut deal or say no deal. Adding huge amounts to the deficit in this tax-cut bill is setting the Republicans up to take hostages again. But adding the debt ceiling increase to this deal prevents them from doing that.
Democrats in the House, at the maximum point of leverage, should add this to their demands for passing this tax-cut deal.
The Next Hostage-Taking Opportunity
It's coming for sure. Conservatives see the debt ceiling fight as an opportunity to cut, gut or shut the government and are planning for it. They are planning to create a crisis -- possibly the worst the country has faced -- to force panic and then impose severe "Shock Doctrine" reforms. Here's what The Hill is reporting:
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said Tuesday he's hoping to assemble a bloc of senators who will demand tax and spending reforms before agreeing to vote to raise the U.S. debt ceiling next year.
The very idea that they might not vote to increase the debt ceiling -- and allow the US government to default -- tells you what is coming. But if you want more proof:
"The debt ceiling, obviously, is going to have to be increased if we're not going to default, so the question is, what do we get in exchange for that, and what kind of fiscal controls?" said Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the incoming chairman of the House budget panel, last week on Bloomberg Television.
They are going to do this. They are going to take the biggest hostage ever. You can stop this. Democrats in the House are at the maximum leverage point. You can stop this. You can literally save the country by demanding the debt ceiling be increased in exchange for this tax-cut deal and the huge amount of debt it adds.
The Washington Post ran a story how hard it is for a family making only $250K a year. Just who could a story like this be written by and for? How many ways does this story mislead its readers? If you want to write about hardship write some stories about and for the rest of us!
Over the weekend the Washington Post carried a story labeled as a "Fiscal Times" piece, Where does $250,000 a year go? Summary:
It's the annual income that President Obama and others have repeatedly used to define what it means to be "rich" in America today. ... Just how flush is a family of four with a $250,000 income?
... The bottom line: Living in high-tax areas on either coast can leave our $250,000-a-year family with little margin.
Richard Eskow hit the nail on the head in his post, A Quarter Of A Million Little Pieces: Pete Peterson & The Washington Post Have A New Fiscal James Frey, writing,
This "analysis" was written by someone named Karen Hube, and it's based on two phony premises: First, that "President Obama and others have repeatedly used (that level of income) to define what it means to be 'rich' in America today," and second, that it's a hardship to get by on $250,000 a year.
(Please read Richard's post, because he gets into what the Fiscal Times is, and why it carries stories like this one.)
The story claims that President Obama and others label them as "rich" because $250K would be the lower borderline if the Bush “tax cuts for the rich” expire. But this misleads readers because the family making $250,000 will NOT see any tax increase at all. If you understand how tax brackets work you know that only amounts above $250K get taxed the additional 4.6%, so someone making $250,001 will pay an additional tax of $0.046. Yes, that’s right, four point six cents. The amounts become large only with very (very) high incomes, but those incomes are so high that the additional tax is still almost nothing. A person making $1,000,000 would pay an additional tax of $2,875 a month on their $83,333 a month of income. (Sorry, it's hard to write a number like that without shouting.)
So Who Is The Story For?
Just who is going to feel the pain of the people who "only" make $250K? The Joneses in the story actually have retirement savings and life and disability and health insurance! They have student loans to pay off because they went to expensive universities and they will have the high expenses to send their kids because their kids will, too. 98% of us understand that when we read this story. Since anyone who makes less than $250K is going to know better from their own experience than to believe what they read in this story, who is this story written for? Hint: the Washington Post is in ... wait for it ... Washington!
What about the rest of us? If $250K a year -- the borderline for entering the top 2% -- leaves the Joneses "with little margin" then shouldn't there be 49 articles for every article like this, explaining how people who make less than $250K are doing -- since that is almost all of us? Shouldn't there be 49 articles about how 98% of us are not getting by, and have no margin at all?
The story tries to make an anti-government point by claiming that taxes are squeezing the Joneses, complaining that the Joneses "only" take home $173K after all taxes (incl cell phone tax). (That is "only" $14.4K a month take-home.) But a careful reading shows that the opposite might be the case. It might really be limited government that is squeezing them:
College Costs: One of the factors in the cost analysis is college costs. They are paying off high student loans, and are getting ready to send kids to expensive collected. But college costs are so high because we have less government, because of tax cuts. This is clearly true in California, for example.
Child Care: Child care costs are high because government is "limited" in our conservative on-your-own society.
Health Care: The Joneses health insurance bill is another product of our on-you-own limited government here. Health care is covered anywhere else.
Retirement: The Joneses are saving a lot for their retirement. This drain on their income is high because in conservative America you are on your own. Corporations got rid of most pensions through the 401k scam, while the Social Security system is inadequate.
There are many other areas where limited government pouts a squeeze on people: insufficient transportation options and high energy costs due to fossil-fuel reliance among them.
They Did One For The Rest Of Us
To their credit the Post also has a story this weekend, In the U.S., Christmas remains a great divide, but the story misses the point by blaming the recession for the difficulties regular people face,
A new division is emerging in America between those who have moved on from the recession and those still caught in its grip.
This holiday season, those two worlds have been thrown into stark relief: At Tiffany's, executives report that sales of their most expensive merchandise have grown by double digits. At Wal-Mart, executives point to shoppers flooding the stores at midnight every two weeks to buy baby formula the minute their unemployment checks hit their accounts. Neiman Marcus brought back $1.5 million fantasy gifts in its annual Christmas Wish Book. Family Dollar is making more room on its shelves for staples like groceries, the one category its customers reliably shop.
But many, many people with jobs are having a hard time buying baby formula, too, these days. It was like this for more and more people before the recession. In fact, many say that is why there is this bad economy. Where I live people go through my recycle bin looking for cans - and were doing so before the recession. People living on Social Security are having a very, very hard time while the people making $250K "with little margin" can talk casually about cutting the program in order to avoid having the cap lifted causing them to pay a bit more into the system.
The Post story attributes the divide to the “grip” of the recession and not to the problems caused by policies that have led to our intense concentration of wealth. The problem is that our economic system for thirty years has been increasingly rewarding a few at the very top, and not the rest of us. Tax cuts, bailouts and bonuses for them, government cutbacks and stagnant wages for us.
But flawed as it is, that is one down, only 48 more stories about the other 98% to go to catch up with the one about getting by on only $250K.
Take a look at the great photos in the IBEW 2010 Photo Contest
December 13, 2010
We had bailouts and bonuses for Wall Street but letdowns and layoffs for Main Street. We had a deficit commission but no jobs commission. We have tax cuts for the rich and budget cuts for the rest of We, the People. And this week the President is having a "summit" with the heads of giant corporations. So how about holding a summit with the unemployed?
President Obama is holding a "summit" with 20 or so CEOs Wednesday, "to ease strained relations with business." NY Times: Obama to Meet With Executives,
President Obama will host a roundtable with about 20 corporate chiefs on Wednesday, according to the White House, part of an attempt to ease strained relations with business.
… With the mood for the meeting already lightened by his recent announcements of a trade deal with South Korea and a compromise on tax cuts with Congressional Republicans, Mr. Obama and the executives will discuss an overhaul of the tax system...
See if you can guess what sort of "overhaul of the tax system" suggestions are likely to come out of a "summit" with top CEOs. Hint: a recent "summit" with Republican leaders resulted in a plan for extending tax cuts for the rich and cutting the inheritance tax.
The Washington news types talk about "strained relations" between business leaders and President Obama. The business news reports I've been reading don't reflect a "strain" at all. A recent NY Times story: Corporate Profits Were the Highest on Record Last Quarter,
American businesses earned profits at an annual rate of $1.659 trillion in the third quarter, according to a Commerce Department report released Tuesday. That is the highest figure recorded since the government began keeping track over 60 years ago, at least in nominal or noninflation-adjusted terms.
Record corporate profits. Wow. Just wow. And for the rest of us?
High Unemployment, Very High Long-Term Unemployment
But wait, something else is at high levels as well. This year's headlines:
September: Long-term unemployment reaches crisis level
Susie Madrak , over at Crooks and Liars, has a few things to say about this summit in her post, Obama To Hold CEO Summit Wednesday; Execs To Present Their Very Reasonable Demands For Ransom
Basically, they want to run untaxed, unregulated businesses with few (if any) legal obligations to the people who still work for them. Oh, and they want "austerity" for the working classes…
… Now perhaps the president can convene a one-day summit of the unemployed and the working poor to ask them what they think, for a change.
Yes, perhaps the President can convene a summit with the unemployed.
Playing The Ref
In November I wrote about this idea that President Obama is “anti-business,”
Here is what has been going on. In a classic "playing the ref" move, the Chamber of Commerce has been pitching the idea that the Obama administration is "anti-business" because they don't give the big, monopolist, multi-national corporations everything they want. "Playing the ref" is a sports term, the idea being that if you complain enough about the calls a referee makes the referee will feel the need to give your team a few breaks in order to appear to be making fair calls.
So the Chamber, by complaining that Obama is "anti-business," is really trying to get Obama to be even more pro-business. (The same strategy is at work when you hear complaints about the "liberal media." After so may years of this accusation by right-wingers, newsroom editors are terrified of appearing to be left-leaning, resulting in so many right-leaning news stories.)
This summit to "ease strained relations" with business leaders is in response to a classic "playing the ref" move. While sitting on the highest profits ever they complain that the President is :anti-business" and get what they want. It's too bad the unemployed -- with the highest rates of long-term unemployment ever -- are not represented in Washington by swarms of well-paid lobbyists, or by campaign contributions, or by "independent expenditure" smear-ad campaigns, or by astroturf (providing a corporate-purchased appearance of "grassroots" support) organizations. That seems to work. Being one of the regular old-fashioned "We, the People" doesn't seem to buy much influence on our government and its leaders any more.
So how about holding a summit with the unemployed, and taking their suggestions? This might "ease strained relations" between the unemployed and the country's leaders and their policies.
Equipment trouble: Today's show canceled, tomorrow's still on.
Monday and Tuesday I will be co-hosting the Fairness Doctrine radio show from noon-2 EST, 10-noon PST. Call in with questions or rants at 617-328-8700
The show airs on several AM stations around the country. Wherever you are you can also listen to the show live on the Internets at Cyberstation USA.
December 12, 2010
Everyone should see this: Irish Wanking Bankers | Video Cafe.
"And who's going to pay for it? The working man."
December 10, 2010
This Monday and Tuesday I will be co-hosting the Fairness Doctrine radio show from noon-2 EST, 10-noon PST. Call in with questions or rants at 617-328-8700
The show airs on several AM stations around the country. Wherever you are you can also listen to the show live on the Internets at Cyberstation USA.
Yesterday I wrote that the President may have sacrificed his long-term vision on trade and economic/industrial policy to day-to-day concerns and politics. The tax-cut deal is another indicator that a big-picture vision has been sacrificed. But however much smoke gets thrown up to mask the real problem it's still all about the economic paradigm.
There is still a lot of forward-thinking work to do on our economy. The big picture is, of course, jobs. It is balance of trade, a coherent and especially comprehensive economic/industrial policy, education, infrastructure. But even more than those, fixing the real economic mess is about finding a sustainable and equitable formula, and changing the equations of who gets what for what. It is a bigger picture.
But now we are totally caught in the day-to-day fights over tax cuts for the rich, giving forever more and more to the big financial institutions, letting the big corporations get away with more and more while delivering less and less and making us work harder and harder. It seems that all we do now is just react to corporate/conservative assaults. We are trying to fight off attacks on everything, everything and on every, every front.
Instead of job-creation programs we are fighting over just giving unemployed people the same unemployment benefits that American workers have always gotten. Instead of doing something about climate change we are fighting to keep the big oil companies from killing rail projects and green energy initiatives.
The corporate/conservatives are using their "Overton Window" tactics to push the discourse ever further to the right and away from addressing the real problems. (I don't mean Glenn Beck's book. More info here and here.) And we are now living the result.
Step back, remember how we got here. Thirty years ago the corporate conservatives launched their assault on We, the People. They elected Ronald Reagan, who declared that "We, the People are the problem," and that decision-making by We the People (government) had gotten too big. Now the Reagan Revolution has come home to roost and we are living in the conservative dream. The rich ever richer with more and more power, the rest of us are "the help," just trying to get by, and our minds are under continual assault from a sophisticated propaganda barrage designed to keep us from doing something about it.
The basics have not changed. The fundamental changes we need are still needed. The corporate conservatives have all the money in the world and are so well organized but they can't fight off reality forever. The planet really is warming and the climate really is changing and it really is because of carbon. The conservative economic model really does not work and is draining the people and the planet for the benefit of just a few.
In my first post for the Campaign for America's Future, It's The Economic Paradigm, Stupid!, I wrote,
It is not just the economy out of whack. The business practices that brought us here -- overextraction, overextension, overleveraging, overconsumption -- have also whacked the planet’s resources. The fisheries are increasingly depleted. The aquifers are increasingly drained. The forests are increasingly logged. The landfills are increasingly full. And, of course, the planet is increasingly hotter.
Our economic system has also taken a toll on the people. Too many hours at a stressful workplace with too little sleep have burned many of us out. Our thinking and identity are about our jobs, not our spirit and character. Our values are devoted to markets with many of us placing making money over loving and caring for families and others. And there's no time for that stuff anyway. We have become consumers instead of citizens and humans. Decades of falling wages, decreasing savings and increasing debt have tapped us out. Consumption has used us up. And we’re fed up.
The problems are still the problems, only more so. And we're still fed up, only more so.
(*Please click the links)
(*Please click the links)
Have you heard about the conservative government in England, cutting back on spending on the people?
They tripled tuition at universities, and students fought back. Watch this 15-year-old talking about what this meant to him:
December 9, 2010
The investor class reacts: US Treasuries hit by biggest sell-off in two years
Remember how "investors" were worried about the US deficit? But interest rates were the lowest ever, which showed that they weren't worried at all?
Well now they are reacting to the deal on tax cuts for the rich -- and they are WORRIED.
December 8, 2010
This fall I was invited to cover the the Keep It Made In America Tour put on by the Alliance for American Manufacturing. I spent a week driving around Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, ejoying the fall colors and visiting small towns all along the way.
I live in Silicon Valley where in spite of the high unemployment -- still 10.6% -- it's still pretty nice here, so the extent and especially breadth of the decline of so many cities and towns was a shock. Everywhere you go you see America's infrastructure crumbling! Of course I know this has been going on, but when you actually come from somewhere that is still pretty nice and see it firsthand - and everywhere - you really see it.
As I drove around these states I saw pretty much the same thing in town after town. As you approach the town on the highway the first thing you encounter is what I will call the vulture circle that surrounds it. This is the circle of Wall Street-owned chains emulating the Wal-Mart model of sucking cash out of the area and sending it away to the wealthy elites who own ... almost everything now. These are the national chains that are all the same in every town, all selling the same stuff, all made in China, all putting the local small businesses out of business.
As you drive into town the next thing you encounter is the circle of home equity extraction, with newer houses that have taken on big first and second Wall Street mortgages. These houses mostly look OK -- except the foreclosures with the brown lawns and grass growing in the cracks in the driveway. This area has car dealers and strip malls that used to sell expensive cars or nice goods. These dealers and stores feasted on those "take money out of your house" refinancings or second mortgages. Now they have nail and hair salons or are just "for lease."
As you get closer to the center of town you come to the areas of older houses, more of them boarded up than you want to see, with old, boarded-up stores on a few of the corners of the larger streets. Where there are still-occupied houses they have bars on the windows.
Finally you come to the old, crumbling downtown where there are many empty storefronts, some boarded, the lost dreams of the local small business-owners. Here and there you see, between the vacant lots, a few government buildings.
And then somewhere is what they always call "the old plant." This is one or more closed-up, fenced-off, rusting old factories or mills. They are fenced off, with lots of broken windows, and maybe part of a building is falling down. This is where the people used to work but the jobs moved to Mexico or China.
Much of the country is like this now. So many of the older small towns, crumbling, the money sucked out by the Wall Street elite. The factories sold off, closed. The people can't make a living, the towns can't make a living, the country can't make a living, the Wall Street elite making a killing.
You can see the process starting here in Silicon Valley, too. As you drive around this area you see that one of every four or five office or light-industrial buildings has an "Available" sign. The region has the same number of manufacturing jobs as it had when the "tech revolution" began. The rest have moved to China. We don't make cell phones here. We don't make flat-screen TVs here. We don't make computers here. We certainly don't make iPads here -- even though Jobs is his name!
Even exclusive Palo Alto has empty storefronts on the main drag. (You know the economy is bad when the rug stores on University Avenue are actually going out of business!) It is even happening here. It will get worse.
In July Intel's retired CEO and Chairman Andy Grove wrote an important opinion piece,
How to Make an American Job Before It's Too Late, in which he warned,
Clearly, the great Silicon Valley innovation machine hasn't been creating many jobs of late -- unless you are counting Asia, where American technology companies have been adding jobs like mad for years.
[. . .] As time passed, wages and health-care costs rose in the U.S., and China opened up. American companies discovered they could have their manufacturing and even their engineering done cheaper overseas. When they did so, margins improved. Management was happy, and so were stockholders. Growth continued, even more profitably. But the job machine began sputtering.
Please take the time to read Grove's entire piece.
The storm that created the rust belt is heading our way, and we need to pay attention. What will it take for American companies to create American jobs rather than jobs outside America?
This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.
December 7, 2010
Deal or No Deal? OurFuture.org's Bill Scher and Dave Johnson make their cases for and against the preliminary tax cut deal between the President and Republican leaders. Dave Johnson's case against the deal is below. Click here for Bill Scher's case for the deal.
The White House has announced a deal on extending tax cuts for the rich, in exchange for restoring unemployment benefit extensions for those out of work more than 26 weeks. They are also going to cut the Social Security tax and give more tax breaks to businesses. I think this is a mistake.
President Obama's "deficit commission" failed, but it did make some terrible suggestions that would gut the middle class if implemented. Saying that the country is on an unsustainable budget path, the co-chairs suggested cutting Social Security benefits and raising the retirement age, getting rid of home mortgage deductions, higher Medicare premiums, getting rid of the Earned Income Tax Credit and other things. Cuts: $4 trillion. Claim: absolutely necessary to save the country from bankruptcy.
After subjecting the country to a months-long fight over a "deficit crisis" the White House is brokering this deal on cutting taxes --cutting taxes -- which only makes the claimed problems worse!
Either we have a deficit crisis or we don't. If the country really is on an unsustainable budget path won't cutting taxes now mean that raising the retirement age, raising Medicare premiums, cutting home mortgage deductions and all the rest that the deficit commission proposed will, after these tax cuts, only get us back to the unsustainable budget path we are already on, thereby requiring even more cuts to gut the middle class?
If you think the currently-suggested cuts are bad, just wait until you hear what they want cut following even more deficit-creating tax cuts. The conservative plan all along has been to force a debt crisis that they can use to force "smaller government" -- meaning less for the people: less retirement security, less health security, less education, less transportation investment, less infrastructure investment, fewer health and safety inspectors, fewer mine and oil rig inspectors, less consumer protection, etc.
How is cutting taxes going to make this situation any better? Won't it just help the conservative argument for further gutting democracy's security and protections?
As Paul Krugman points out today, this tax cut deal will have the effect of validating and rewarding the kind of hostage-taking conservatives are engaged in, ensuring its continued use. And it sets them up to do exactly this with taxes all over again when this extension expires.
As long as Republicans believe that Mr. Obama will do anything to avoid short-term pain, they’ll have every incentive to keep taking hostages. If the president will endanger America’s fiscal future to avoid a tax increase, what will he give to avoid a government shutdown?
If it works, let's do it again, they'll say. Of course they will! Using conservative "market" arguments, isn't giving in because so many are unemployed and need help just an incentive for conservatives to put even more people out of work, therefore needing even more help, so they can get the administration to cave even more? This is why our government takes the official position that it is wrong to negotiate with terrorists: it just encourages more terrorism.
Don't give in on this, it will just make the situation worse. The debt situation, the terrible budget cut situation, the conservatives-killing-jobs-on-purpose situation and the conservatives-destroying-democratic-government situation.
December 6, 2010
A rare and coveted Seeing the Forest Blog Hero Award goes to David Sirota for the post, Open Left:: Fear, Loathing & Epiphany From Isaac's Diaper-Changing Table.
The deficit commission suggestions added up to $4 trillion. Cutting Social Security, making working people retire later, etc...
It looks like Obama is going to cave on Republican demands for a tax cut for the rich, which COSTS, not saves $4 trillion.
And then they'll need to cut $8 trillion instead.
December 5, 2010
December 3, 2010
9.8%! It’s still all about jobs. It's still an emergency. And the DC elite still don’t get it -- or don't care. They give us a "deficit commission" not a jobs commission. They've got it nice while the rest of us have it not-so-nice. Maybe we should move the Congress out of DC so they can see for themselves what is happening to America.
If you visit DC (and don’t go to the “wrong” areas) you see nice buildings, nice stores, nice houses, nice hotels, nice trains, nice cars and lots and lots of nice and very expensive restaurants. You see lots of nice nicely-dressed people walking in a hurry to their nice jobs. Lots of nice jobs. Nice, very expensive houses. Nice cars. Nice life. Nice fantasy.
But if you leave DC you see something very, very different. Congress clearly doesn't see what the rest of us see. If they did, how could they possibly do the things they are doing? There is an absolute emergency going on in the country and Congress refuses to even see it. With 9.8% of us jobless -- that is the official rate, not counting the people who have given up or are "under"employed or took pay cuts or whatever -- Congress is debating tax cuts for the rich and cutting back on programs for the rest of us.
Congress actually did act on jobs last week: with unemployment near 10% they killed unemployment benefits for people out of work more than 26 weeks!
What You See Outside Of DC
This fall I spent some time driving around Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. I was covering some of the events on the Keep It Made In America Tour. I am from Silicon Valley, and it's still pretty nice right here, so the extent and breadth of the decline of our cities and towns was somewhat of a surprise to me. Of course I know what is going on, but when you actually come from somewhere that is still pretty nice and see it firsthand - and everywhere - the abrupt transition makes its point.
Here is what you see in town after town. As you approach the town the first thing you encounter is the vulture circle that surrounds it. This is the circle of Wall Street-owned chains emulating the Wal-Mart model of sucking cash out of the area, and sending it to the wealthy elites who own ... almost everything now. Nice stores near highway exits. National chains, all the same...
Next is the circle of home equity extraction, the newer houses with the big first and second Wall Street mortgages. These houses mostly look OK -- except the foreclosures with the brown lawns and grass growing in the cracks in the driveway. This area has the car dealers and strip malls that used to sell the nice cars or nice goods that feasted on those "take money out of your house" refinancings or second mortgages. Now they have nail and hair salons or are just "for lease."
Then you get to the areas of older houses, more of them boarded up than you want to see, boarded up stores on a few of the corners of the larger streets. Lots of the still-occupied houses have bars on the windows.
Then you get to the old, crumbling downtown where there are many empty storefronts, some boarded, a few government buildings here and there.
And somewhere is "the old plant." One or more closed-up, fenced-off, rusting old factories or mills with broken windows, maybe part of it falling down, where the people used to work, the jobs moved to Mexico or China.
Much of the country is like this now. So many of the older small towns, crumbling, the money sucked out by the Wall Street elite. The factories sold off, closed. The people can't make a living, the towns can't make a living, the country can't make a living, the Wall Street elite making a killing.
As I said, I am from Silicon Valley, and it's still pretty nice here, but you can see it starting here, too. One of every four or five office or light-industrial buildings has an "Available" sign. The region has the same number of manufacturing jobs as it had when the "tech revolution" began - the rest moved to China. Even exclusive Palo Alto has empty storefronts on the main drag. It is even happening here. It will get worse.
But it is not happening yet in the parts of New York and DC where the well-to-do elite spend their time. So they don't see or feel or care what is happening to the country. And these plutocrats control all of the levers of power, making it impossible for the rest of us to participate in the system to fix the situation. Which means that people are starting to talk about moving outside of the system. Tea Party, for example. Militias, for example. Nonvoting, for example.
Deficit Commission Instead of Jobs Commission?
The priorities of the plutocratic DC elite do not reflect America's problems. DC gives us a deficit commission instead of a jobs commission. Their deficit commission proposes to cut the lifeline of retirement. There is nothing about investing in our crumbling infrastructure or education or the new green industries that move us away from the oil/coal economy that is draining us and threatening our climate and coastlines. There is nothing about an economic/industrial policy to restore our competitiveness in the world economy.
Perhaps moving the Congress would help, so they can see the gap that has formed between the DC elite and the rest of us. I suggest Lorain, Ohio. Then after a month, Wheeling, West Virginia. Month after that, Canton, Ohio. Next, Erie, Pennsylvania. Then move it permanently to Flint, Michigan.
And, of course, the chart that no one in DC is able to understand:
The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (“Deficit Commission”) was charged with coming up with a plan to reduce the budget deficits and accumulated debt caused by tax cuts for the rich and military spending increases. It was supposed to come up with a bipartisan package that, taken as a whole, would get votes from both sides of the aisle. It was supposed to vote by Dec. 1, and it was only supposed to issue recommendations if they got 14 votes.
It didn’t work out that way. Dec. 1 has passed and the out-of-business commission apparently can’t get the required 14 votes. The commission has failed.
What happened? Two hidden agendas were brought to the table, undermining the commission's work. Both come from longstanding campaigns by corporate-backed conservatives to undermine trust in, and ultimately defund democratic government. The first was an attack on Social Security. The second was a demand for even more tax cuts for the rich. It is no surprise that these undermined the deficit commission; the well-funded corporate-conservative anti-government agenda now undermines every effort to govern our country, solve our problems and help our people.
From the start it was clear that the agenda to undermine Social Security was going to be a problem for the commission. Wall Street billionaire Peter G. Peterson’s Foundation, whose ongoing mission seems to be to turn Social Security over to Wall Street, was involved from the start (in many ways instigating the idea), even providing the commission with free staff. Peterson also launched a concurrent, multi-front public relations campaign involving town hall meetings, planting “news” stories – even starting its own "news" outfit, and releasing various “reports” calling for Social Security cuts.
The commission did not help itself. After getting off to a slow start, the commission met in secret and maintained an elite attitude, undermining its credibility with the public. It ignored deficit and debt solutions the public favors, instead spending much of its time and energy on Social Security, which by law cannot borrow so it cannot add to the deficit. The focus appeared to be ideological, never addressing the fallout of the financial crisis or proven debt solutions like investing to grow the economy which reduces the debt's percentage of GDP, and creating jobs which brings in additional tax revenue.
Members even insulted citizens and mocked their concerns. In June Commission co-chair Alan Simpson ranted at Alex Lawson of Social Security Works on camera, making it clear that the co-chair of the commission did not understand basic facts about the way Social Security is funded!
As CAF's Richard Eskow explained at the time in his post, Simpson's Social Security Video Rant: Why It's Important,
But, while Simpson's outrageousness makes the video entertaining, here's what makes it important: Alan Simpson is one of two chairs of a bipartisan commission created by President Obama to study the Federal deficit. His comments reveal a number of very important things about his biases, his tendency to distort and mislead, and his ideological extremism. These traits are likely to taint the Commission's work - work which has great implications for the future.
Now it is that future and the commission has failed.
Then there was Simpson’s famous “milk cow with 310 million tits” comment that angered women, all sane people, and probably even the dairy industry. See"310 Million Tits" - If Simpson Doesn't Resign, The President Must Fire Him, by Richard Eskow, Milk Cow Blues: Why The Alan Simpson Flap Won't Go Away by Richard Eskow and Women Confront Deficit Commission Over Social Security by some guy.
Then, to make matters worse, in September another agenda surfaced when some commission members insisted that the commission propose tax cuts for the rich. As Talking Points Memo reported at the time,
Republicans on President Obama's fiscal commission, which is tasked with coming up with ways to reduce the deficit, have privately argued in official meetings that the panel should recommend further corporate and capital gains tax cuts as part of its mandate. The panel has been charged with raising revenues and cutting spending, to bring the federal budget into greater balance. But if Republican members are successful, their advocacy would result in either an unbalanced report, dedicated wholly to spending and benefit cuts -- or to gridlock and, thus, no recommendations at all.
Finally, when it was becoming clear last month that the commission was going to fail, its agenda-laden co-commissioners tried another path, releasing their own agenda packaged as commission recommendations but voted on by NO members of the commission. Of course the agenda included cuts in Social Security and tax cuts for the wealthy. As I wrote then, in Simpson & Bowles Show Deficit Commission Is Cover For An Agenda,
They have released their own “plan,” separate from what the deficit commission might release, allow the press to refer to it as the commission’s plan, and say they are sticking with it no matter what the commission does. Why? It is clear these two came into this with an agenda to attack Social Security, and are using their role on the commission as cover for their agenda.
[. . .] Agenda: Simpson and Bowles say they won’t compromise their plan to get 14 votes from the commission. What does that mean to a commission that is not supposed to release any plan without getting 14 votes? This clearly demonstrates that Simpson and Bowles have an agenda apart from the goals of the deficit commission.
As CAF's Terrance Heath wrote Tuesday in his post, America Speaks. Will Washington Listen?
On the one hand, the commission's co-chairs issued a chairman's mark that essentially painted a big fat bulls-eye on Social Security. On the other hand, the co-chairs went out of their way to separate Social Security from the mission of the deficit reduction. So, why include Social Security in a deficit reduction plan if Social Security has nothing to do with deficit reduction?
Maybe someone at the commission is half listening to what Americans are saying about Social Security. Numerous polls show a majority of Americans oppose cuts in Social Security — including cuts in benefits and cuts via raising the employment age. Our August 2010 joint poll with Democracy Corps showed that 68% of Americans oppose major cuts in Social Security and Medicare to reduce the deficit. Additionally, 65% oppose raising the Social Security retirement age. A poll by Social Security Works and Lake Research, conducted between October 31 and November 2, 2010, showed thatoverall 82% oppose cutting Social Security to reduce the deficit, 63% oppose cutting Social Security benefits, and 69% oppose raising the retirement age. If the deficit commission and the administration were really listening to the American people, they'd take social security off the table.
The key point:
Again and again, Americans have spoken and said that they want their leaders to focus on creating jobs and fixing the economy. The existence of the deficit commission, let alone its co-chair's proposals, reflect that few in Washington are listening.
There are good proposals for cutting the deficit without gutting Social Security and the middle class, while further enriching the already-wealthy:
So at least in these proposals there is a path forward following the failure of the commission.
Is there a lesson to learn from the failure of the deficit commission? If so, it is the same lesson that can be learned by the ongoing failure of our Congress and entire political system. The corporate/conservative agenda to undermine and defund democratic government is dividing us and making us fail as a country. Which, apparently, is the plan.
December 2, 2010
Apparently all you had to do was prove you were wealthy enough to deserve free money from the government.
Meanwhile: Unemployment benefits just ended for people out of work more than 26 weeks. Republicans in Congress just killed an extension of the Child Nutrition Act. And they are blocking everything until Congress passes more tax cuts for the rich.
December 1, 2010
In the news: Congress debates extending an extra tax cut for the rich, Obama's "deficit commission" proposes tax cuts to cut the deficit. Both of these assume tax cuts help the economy. But do they? What is the record?
In this morning's public hearing of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (deficit commission) Rep. Paul Ryan repeated the conservative mantra: "Economic growth comes from lower taxes." You may have heard this before. In fact, you may not have been able to avoid hearing this, repeated over and over, until you are running in circles with your hands over your ears. You can't get away from it.
In the Congress, Republicans and some conservative Democrats are demanding that the special Bush-era extra tax cut for the wealthy be extended, repeating (over and over and over and over and over) that you must not raise taxes in a recession, because it will hurt growth.
It is certainly a convenient argument, if you are really, really wealthy. But is it based on reality or ideology? A look at the record can provide some answers to that question.
To start, here are three charts I have been using that show what happened after previous tax cuts:
First, as top tax rates declined, so the the GDP:
Second, a different look at growth since the 80s tax cuts using 12-quarter rolling average nominal GDP growth:
Third, the effect of tax cuts for the rich on the country's debt:
What impact did the Bush tax cuts have on economic growth?
The evidence is not favorable. For example, according to this Census report (see table A1), median household income in 2007, adjusted for inflation, was lower than it was in 2000. ... employment growth was particularly weak ... real wages and salaries grew at a 1.8 percent average ... as compared with a 3.8 percent average... (Click through to read)
It’s Possible for Tax Cuts to Reduce Economic Growth
Furthermore, even the part of the tax cuts used for investment purposes may not result in enhanced long-run growth. ... the growth disappears as soon as the bubble pops. In fact, this type of investment leads to reduced growth relative to what could have been achieved with other investments. Thus, to the extent that tax cuts helped to fuel the housing bubble, they actually harmed rather than helped long-run growth. (Click through to read)
The Bottom Line
... Like it or not, tax increases will be required. ... If allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire for the wealthy is the only acceptably equitable way to raise taxes in this political environment, then there is little evidence that this will be harmful. ... (Click through to read)
It is obvious that the Reagan and Bush tax cuts for the wealthy have hurt us in many ways.
But this was the plan all along, wasn't it?
Click here to read the The Citizens’ Commission On Jobs, Deficits And America’s Economic Future's report on how to create jobs, grow the economy and reduce the borrowing.