« December 2010 | Main | February 2011 »

January 30, 2011

Corporate Media Censorship Example

Al Jazeera English Blacked Out Across Most Of U.S.

You can't watch Al Jazeera on American cable.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 5:39 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

January 28, 2011

Democracy or Plutocracy? A Chart

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.

DEMOCRACY

PLUTOCRACY

We, the People

Wealthy Few

One Person One Vote

One Dollar One Vote

Government

Limited Government

Majority

Supermajority

Information

Propaganda

Taxes on the Wealthy

Tax Cuts for the Wealthy

Budgets

Budget Cuts

Jobs programs

Bank Bailouts

Welfare

Warfare

Express Lanes for 2 or More People

Express Lanes for 2 or More Dollars

Security Lines at Airports

Special First-Class Security Lanes at Airports

Public Schools

Private Schools

Public Investment

Private Investment

Updates:

Public TransportationPrivate Jets
AccountabilityImpunity
Rule Of LawAbove The Law
TransparencySecrecy
Sustainable growthPolluter Growth
Medicare-For-AllHealthcare For Profit
Clean ElectionsRigged Elections
Savings AccountsOffshore Accounts
Credit Card DebtCredit Default Swaps
Union membersSerfs
LayoffsPayoffs
HomiesCronies
GrassrootsAstroturf

Feel free to add additional contrasts in the comments.

Sign up here for the CAF daily summary.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:52 AM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

January 27, 2011

Cut Social Security To "Save" It From Cuts?

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.

Should we cut Social Security to "save" it from cuts?

Just two days after the President pledged during the State of the Union address to improve Social Security "without putting at risk current retirees" and "without slashing benefits for future generations" the program is again being subjected to widespread, misleading attacks in the media.

With the headline Social Security fund will be drained by 2037, AP ran a (since-changed, original is still available here. It is worth comparing the original with the revised.) op-ed story that began,

Sick and getting sicker, Social Security will run at a deficit this year and keep on running in the red until its trust funds are drained by about 2037, congressional budget experts said Wednesday in bleaker-than-previous estimates.

"Drained?"

The CBO story about Social Security is part of a larger overall budget deficit projection, the result of the recent vote to give more tax cuts to the wealthy. The AP story, widely echoed in the media, is instead focusing only on Social Security. But it is not "news" that the trust fund will be exhausted in 2037 (assuming continuing poor economic and wage growth -- read this and everything Bruce Webb writes about Social Security at Angry Bear), it is the projection that had been understood for years. However, using better economic assumptions that could result from policies that increase the wages of working people and reduce the concentration of wealth the trust fund does not run out at all.

Even so, in 2037, under these bad-case scenarios, Social Security will still be able to pay 78% of projected benefits, which are higher than today's benefits. So in this poor-case scenario, if nothing is done, recipients will face a cut of 22%.

Saying that we need to cut Social Security now because it might -- might -- have to be cut 22% in 2037 is saying we need to cut it to "save" it from cuts.

Deficit Commission Recommendations?

The AP story wrongly stated that the "Deficit Commission" had made recommendations to increase the retirement age and cut the program through reduced cost-of-living increases. In fact the commission was unable to agree on any recommendations.

A debt commission appointed by President Barack Obama has recommended a series of changes to improve Social Security's finances, including a gradual increase in the full retirement age, lower cost-of-living increases and a gradual increase in the threshold on the amount of income subject to the Social Security payroll tax.

Obama, however, has not embraced any of the panel's recommendations. Instead, in his State of the Union speech this week, he called for unspecified bipartisan solutions to strengthen the program while protecting current retirees, future retirees and people with disabilities.

Experts?

To assist with its anti-Social Security formulation the AP story claimed "experts" (plural) are calling for "reform" by quoting one "expert" (singular) from the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute.

Running A Deficit?

Conservative outlets are expanding on the CBO report, claiming that Social Security is running deficits -- as long as you don't cont the interest that the program's bonds earn. For example, note the use of the word "effectively" in CNS' CBO: Social Security to Run $45 Billion Deficit in 2011

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reports that Social Security will effectively run a $45-billion deficit in 2011 and continue to run deficits totaling $547 billion over the coming decade.

National Review, uses the word "broke" in CBO: Social Security Now Officially Broke, and claims the interest is only "camouflage,"

Today’s CBO report has some bad news about the deficit. But CBO has some really, really bad news about Social Security: It’s officially broke.

... But there’s a bit of camouflage attached: If you include the “interest” that the federal government “owes” the fictitious Social Security “trust fund,” then the program is in the black.

And so on...

Cut The Program To Save It From Cuts?

So does it make sense to cut the program to save it from cuts? The real agenda behind calls for cuts is so that the money does not have to be found elsewhere to repay the trust fund. The trust fund masked the harm done by tax cuts, and undoing tax cuts is what will be needed to pay back the money that working people have set aside for retirement,

Claiming that Social Security needs to be cut, or the retirement age raised, so that Social Security needs less funding is like your bank telling you that you need to cut back on food so they won't have to pay you back the money you put into a savings account.

Update - As this was posted AP released an astonishing new attack, Social Security posting $600B deficit over 10 years. Ignoring the program's huge trust fund and that there is no deficit at all when interest paid to that trust fund is counted, AP writes,

Social Security will post nearly $600 billion in deficits over the next decade as the economy struggles to recover and millions of baby boomers stand at the brink of retirement, according to new congressional projections.

This year alone, Social Security is projected to collect $45 billion less in payroll taxes than it pays out in retirement, disability and survivor benefits, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday. That figure swells to $130 billion when a new one-year cut in payroll taxes is included, though Congress has promised to repay any lost revenue from the tax cut.

. . . But the new projections show nothing but red ink until the Social Security trust funds are exhausted in 2037.

Sign up here for the CAF daily summary.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 7:32 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

Social Security Fight Not Over

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.

Tuesday the President pledged to improve Social Security "without putting at risk current retirees" and "without slashing benefits for future generations." With the State of the Union speech out of the way Progressives can claim some credit and breathe a little bit easier for a while. But the fight is not over -- it never is. The door is still open for new attacks. And Social Security's attackers never, ever, ever, ever give up.

Demonstrating that, Ross Douthat in the NY Times calls President Obama's statement of support for Social Security "evasion," lamenting the “looming insolvency of our entitlement system.” Others in the "conventional wisdom" machine continue to demand cuts to ward off the threat of future cuts, claiming the cuts will "save" the system from cuts.

There is one and only one reason Social Security is such a topic of discussion and that is because it is a target of the corporate-conservatives who denigrate government itself. Social Security is government, therefore it just can't be true that it works well, helps people and is the right thing to do. But it is. All the facts line up on Social Secuirty’s side, so they have to use trickery. They have to claim "insolvency." They have to claim that life expectancy is longer now -- even though they are referring to the effect of infant morality on statistics.

If Social Security's attackers truly want to "save" entitlements they would address the cost of health care in this country. They would look at the rest of the world and realize that the only thing that can work for that is some form of Medicare-For-All.

What Digby said,

I'm glad that he said he didn't want "fixing" Social Security to come at the expense of the vulnerable or by restricting benefits, but like the AARP I think danger lurks in the fact that he spoke about it in the context of deficit reduction. Best to be vigilant on this one.

By the way:

Let's Keep the Success Going

You did it! You helped the Campaign for America's Future sound the alarm to President Barack Obama that he must embrace jobs, not Social Security cuts. And he got the message. But the fight isn't over. And we need your help to keep fighting.

Sign up here for the CAF daily summary.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 7:32 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

January 25, 2011

State Of The Union—Infrastructure And Jobs: Two Problems, One Solution

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.

Tonight, when President Obama gives his State of the Union address, he will be facing a nation that has millions of infrastructure jobs that need doing and millions of people out of work.

The President is planning to address these two problems with a proposal to modernize our infrastructure to bring our economy back to world-class competitiveness. Two problems, one solution. And, for good measure, we are hearing that he plans to throw in investment in education.

Last weekend, President Obama gave a preview of his State of the Union speech to Organizing For America:

A New Course

The idea of investing in our people is a new course after 30-plus years of cutbacks and lowered expectations. Since the Reagan tax cuts for the rich we have been told that there just isn't the money for government to involve itself in big projects, that we are on our own, government won't be there for us. So people fear that our economy in a long-term decline. All around us we see crumbling infrastructure, people out of work, people who work but had their pay cut or have not seen a raise in a long time.

A new course turns us away from the conservative on-our-own model and sees us as a nation again, concerned about protecting and empowering and investing in our people.

Investing in Our People -- Dividends For Decades

Investing in our people is an idea that got lost sometime back during the Reagan Revolution, and now this lack of investment has come home to roost. As a result of tax cuts and cutbacks we have fallen behind China and Germany and many others. The first-class competitiveness that we used to take for granted has fallen behind too much of the world. Fallen behind, fallen behind — we hear this again and again.

Investing in our people will pay dividends for decades. Investing in modernizing our infrastructure will pay for itself by restoring competitiveness.

Infrastructure work—the rail, bridges, roads, schools, courts, power systems and everything else that makes our way of life better and makes our economy stronger by providing the soil in which business thrives—needs to be maintained and modernized. We have fallen behind and have to do it anyway one of these days. Modernizing our infrastructure will put millions back to work and help our businesses in the world.

More To Do

But modernizing our infrastructure is just catching up. We need to go beyond that. Investment is great but is not enough. It is not just our fallen-behind infrastructure that is hampering competitiveness. There are other things that have to change. Our trade policies are also holding us back. We need to develop and follow a national economic/industrial strategy. We have to take on mercantilist nations, and move toward more balanced trade that actually trades rather than big-corporate schemes to pit workers against each other to destroy unions and drive down wages. We need to make China bring its currency up to market rates. We need to renegotiate all the NAFTA-style anti-worker "free trade" scams.

When you close the factory we can't make a living! Will we take the steps necessary to revive American manufacturing, and revive American wages? To lift the economy, lift wages. If we can bring back good jobs with good benefits and start to rebuild our middle class, we can start to have a good standard of living again, for all of us, not just a wealthy few.

Here are Scott Paul and Richard Florida discussing manufacturing and innovation on the Dylan Ratigan show today:

Conservative Austerity -- The Wrong Approach

On the other side of the aisle there are calls to cut back, to reduce investment in our people, to reduce education, to send even more to the wealthy few. This austerity is premature and unjust. It is just weeks since another round of huge tax cuts for the rich, and now they are arguing for slashing programs vital to the survival of the middle class and poor. The way to get out of the debt is to invest and grow out of the debt!

The President is taking us in the right direction tonight, and should be thanked and congratulated.


Sign up here for the CAF daily summary.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 3:46 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

January 24, 2011

Filibuster Changes Would Bring The Public Back In

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.

We all want to see the Senate start working again, and be more democratic. We have all lived through the breakdown of the Senate and the damage this has done to our democracy and the public's faith in government because of the abuse of the current rules. There is a vote likely tomorrow and we want to see real changes. There is a way to fix the problem and restore public interest in government at the same time: make them talk!

Background

On the first “day” of a Senate session the rules can be changed. The Senate met January 5 but did not adjourn the session, which means that the first “day” continues. The Senate reconvenes tomorrow. There is likely to be a vote on rules reform tomorrow. And if the vote is not tomorrow, the Senate can go into recess instead of adjourning for the day, and continue in the “first day.”

Rumors

There are rumors in every direction about what they might do about the dysfunction of the Senate. Rumors aside, one month ago every Democrat in the Senate signed a letter in support of changing the rules to require Senators to actually talk. This is the best outcome and there is no reason at all not to do this. If another "compromise" against democracy occurs, the public will be further demoralized. The country does not need another blow against trust in government.

Restore Public Interest

The public thinks this is how it is done. The movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” has cemented this in the minds of everyone. Unfortunately it isn’t how it has been done, and the result is that the public does not even know that the Senate is broken. They only know that “government” doesn’t work for them, and the change they need just does not happen.

If the Senate required Senators to actually stand up and talk, in the conventional understanding of what a filibuster is, it would restore public interest. It would be dramatic. People would notice. It is a show, with a purpose. When Senators stand up and talk and don't stop the public wants to know why and they want to get involved. People would want to weigh in. This is the right way to fix the Senate. Just as in the movie, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, the public will have a chance to rise in support of the effort, or let Senators know they oppose it.

Please visit Fix The Senate Now for more information. And CALL YOUR SENATORS to tell them you support reforming the filibuster!

Sign up here for the CAF daily summary.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 1:11 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

January 22, 2011

Common Cause Going After Scalia and Thomas For Conflict

You may have heard that Common Cause has asked the Justice Department to look into conflicts of interest involving Justices Scalia and Thomas, the Koch brothers, and their vote to allow the Koch Brothers and other big-money corporate interests to put unlimited money into our elections. More than $300 million went from these corporate interests into the 2010 midterms, and that was just the beginning.

Go read, and sign this petition!

This Common Cause letter explains. It asks the Justice Department "to investigate whether Scalia and Thomas’ participation at Koch-sponsored private meetings represents a shocking and undisclosed conflict of interest when they ruled on the Citizens United case -- which opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate political spending."

Go read, and sign this petition!

Posted by Dave Johnson at 5:20 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

Comcast-NBC-Olbermann

The Comcast/NBC merger is approved and immediately Keith Olbermann Out At MSNBC

Do you get Internet through Comcast? How long till Daily Kos disappears, too?

Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:18 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

January 21, 2011

Social Security Videos

Sign this petition: Tell Obama: Keep Your Social Security Promise

Spread these around:

"I believe that cutting benefits is not the answer. ... Raising the retirement age is not the best option. ... Let me be clear, I will not do either. ... The best way forward is to first look to adjust the cap on the payroll tax." - President Obama during the campaign.

From CAF's Social Security: Keep The Promise.

"I'm 59 and I'm just trying to make it until I can retire at 62."

From PCCC, click here.

"Even though I don't get a lot of money I would be homeless right now."

From Social Security Online.

"What polls the worst is cutting Social Security." "It will destroy the Democratic Party."

From Sam Seder Majority Report Radio Show.

Another from Sam:

"For the public cutting benefits is the problem, not the solution, when it comes to Social Security."

Harry Reid defending Social Security.

From The Young Turks.


Sign this petition: Tell Obama: Keep Your Social Security Promise

Posted by Dave Johnson at 10:05 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

January 20, 2011

Best Of The Left

Every day I download some podcasts, plug an earbud into my ear, and take the dog for a walk. One of those podcasts is Best of the Left Podcast and I thought I would recommend it. It's great.

The dog:

Paddington

Paddington is partial to good podcasts.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 5:21 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

When You Close The Factory We Can’t Make A Living

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.

In a signal of change in elite attitudes, Steven Pearlstein wrote a Washington Post op-ed, Chinese follow same old script (and they get the punch line), describing the cost-to-us of the business-as-usual game we have been playing with China. Pearlstein has seen the light: China has an industrial policy and it is working for them as a nation. We do not. We have a lassez-faire ideology that enables a few at the top of "Multinational Corp." to get really rich moving manufacturing infrastructure to China, leaving the rest of us with no way to make a living. Next week President Obama can announce that he is changing that.

"Enough!"

Pearlstein writes about China’s bullying mercantilism, how it benefits China, the cost to us, and says “Enough!” He makes a startling suggestion to address the problem: do unto them as they are doing unto us. He writes,

“The right response to these challenges would be for the president this week to laud China for the success of its economic policies and announce that the administration will begin forthwith to apply each and every one of them to Chinese exports into the United States. Subsidies and directed credit for local companies, buy-American provisions for government agencies and government contractors, currency manipulation, the rules on "conditional market access" and "indigenous innovation" - surely China could hardly complain if we were to pay them the highest compliment by embracing their economic model.”

Read that paragraph again.

Pearlstein goes on to describe how a national industrial policy brings advantages to China, while our everyone-in-it-for-themselves ideology hampers us,

“…China can strike deals that may provide short-term profits to one company and its shareholders but in the long run undermine the competitiveness of [our] economy. What's good for GE or Honeywell or Rockwell is, in this case, almost certainly not good for America and American workers."

The Establishment

This column is significant because Pearlstein is part of what you might call "the establishment," a DC opinion leader, not part of the labor movement or a social-justice non-profit or, worse yet, an advocate for the unemployed. But here he is joining with us on the “far left” to say that we can't keep going down this road -- that it is time to see ourselves as a country of people who are in this together, with common interests. He actually makes the far-left argument that, “What's good for GE or Honeywell or Rockwell is, in this case, almost certainly not good for America and American workers.”

Will he keep his job? Or will others join him and begin to see that this is all of a piece. Our trade deficit is part and parcel of our budget deficit and our terrible unemployment problem and our bank bailouts and our deteriorating infrastructure and our deregulation and our tax-cuts-for-the-rich and our on-your-own ideology and our corporate-financed elections and our slow economic growth.

Evergreen Solar

To illustrate the difference a national industrial policy makes Pearlstein uses the instructive example of Evergreen Solar, a solar panel manufacturer that made waves this month announcing it is closing down its US manufacturing and moving it to China. Solar panel prices are plunging because of Chinese-subsidized manufacturing, and "Evergreen can still make money in China because of the lower costs and considerable government subsidies offered by the government there." But not here.

The NY Times covered the Evergreen Solar story last week, in Solar Panel Maker Moves Work to China. These snippets tall the story,

... But now the company is closing its main American factory, laying off the 800 workers by the end of March and shifting production to a joint venture with a Chinese company in central China. Evergreen cited the much higher government support available in China.

. . . Chinese manufacturers, Mr. El-Hillow said in the statement, have been able to push prices down sharply because they receive considerable help from the Chinese government and state-owned banks, and because manufacturing costs are generally lower in China.

. . . In addition to solar energy, China just passed the United States as the world’s largest builder and installer of wind turbines.

The article includes a reminder that we are, after all, talking about China,

… Evergreen’s joint-venture factory in Wuhan occupies a long, warehouselike concrete building in an industrial park located in an inauspicious neighborhood. A local employee said the municipal police had used the site for mass executions into the 1980s.

Business As Usual

China cheats. We don't stop them. They manipulate currency. They restrict imports. They subsidize exports. They subsidize companies. They steal intellectual property. They coerce companies to give up proprietary technology. They do what it takes to win key strategic industries, regardless of treaties and laws. And why should they if we won't stand up to this cheating and stop them? They watch out for themselves, and we do not.

Yesterday, describing China's currency manipulation as part of an industrial policy, I wrote that China looks at the overall, longer-term picture, seeing themselves as a country of people with a common interest. We do not. They understand that attracting industries to China is good for China and its people in the long term. We do not.

We follow a corporate/conservative greed-is-good ideology that says that the interests of individual companies and a few wealthy people are the interests of the country-at-large, and if companies can make larger profits in the short term and a few people can get wealthy closing factories and moving them to China that's just fine, even if it means a loss of jobs and of the country's overall ability to make a living in the long term. This just doesn't work for us as a nation. Or, as Pearlstein put it, "What's good for GE or Honeywell or Rockwell is, in this case, almost certainly not good for America and American workers."

Obama's State Of The Union Opportunity

Next week the President delivers his State Of The Union speech. This is an opportunity to announce a new direction. He can lead us in a transition back to a nation that sees itself in this together as a people watching out and taking care of each other. He can reject the conservative vision of each of us on our own, following a greed-is-good ideology that enriches a few but just doesn't work for We, the People. He can announce the formation of a bold national industrial/economic policy where we again lead the world toward greater prosperity. And he can announce that we are going to, as Pearlstein writes, "pay [China] the highest compliment by embracing their economic model" -- meaning do unto China as China is doing unto us. Enough!


Sign up here for the CAF daily summary.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 8:19 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

January 19, 2011

We're Paying For Everyone Else's Defense

Robert Wright: Sharing the Burden of Peace

In economics there is something called a 'collective action problem.'€ Suppose there's a row of merchants, and all are bedeviled by a troublemaker who roams their storefronts, scaring off customers. All merchants would benefit from getting rid of the troublemaker, but it doesn'€™t make sense for any one merchant to bear the entire cost of the necessary policing. Collaboration is in order.

The collaboration can take various forms. In a shopping mall, merchants may split the cost of a security guard. In a sidewalk setting, security comes from the town'€™s police, whose costs the merchants share by paying taxes. Either way, the point is that, in the absence of such collective arrangements, no single merchant is going to assume the burden of fixing the problem --€” unless that merchant is willing to let the other merchants be what economists call 'free riders.'€ In other words: unless that merchant is a sucker.

... Correct me if I'€™m wrong, but aren'€™t China and Iran really far away? I realize that both pose a potential threat to American security. But don'€™t they also pose a threat to lots of other countries that are actually in their neighborhoods? So, if we appoint ourselves world police, and foot the bill for a correspondingly gargantuan arsenal, aren'€™t we suckers?


Yes, aren't we just being suckers by paying for this huge military so the rest of the world gets to use its money investing in their people?

Posted by Dave Johnson at 1:54 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

January 18, 2011

Filibuster: Make Them Talk

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.

The Senate is considering reforming the rules for filibusters. In the last few years the filibuster has been used so frequently that it is now conventional wisdom that "it takes 60 votes to pass a bill in the Senate." This is because the public, and apparently even much of the news media, does not understand how the Senate operates. In fact, when you hear that something takes 60 votes to pass it is because it has been filibustered.

In the last two years everything has been blocked by an obstructive minority in the Senate. This was done as a strategy, on purpose, with the idea that by blocking everything and keeping the public from understanding this was what was going on, the public would turn against the Democrats for not getting enough done to solve the country's problems. And it worked.

Make Them Talk

So the Senate is considering changing the rules for the filibuster, in an attempt to restore democracy and enable a return to governing and problem-solving. They are not talking about getting rid of the filibuster, they are talking about returning to its original purpose. To sum it up, they are going to try to make them talk.

Currently a Senator can can announce a filibuster or place a "hold," and that alone requires that the Senate gather 60 votes to undo it. For nominations the Senator does not even have to be identified. But this is not what the public understand the filibuster to be. The public thinks the filibuster is a dramatic event, with Senators talking all night, like in the movie Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.

So the proposed changes in the filibuster will bring this back. Senators will have to talk, and it will be dramatic, and the public will know that there is a filibuster underway.

Senator Harkin: The Purpose Of The Filibuster

On a call with the press today Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa talked about this idea for changing the filibuster. He began by reminding us of the original purpose of the filibuster. This was so that when the majority is doing something that is egregious, the minority can hold it up, giving the public time to react if they so choose. But this is not at all what we have today. Today it enables the minority to block everything, subverting democracy.

Harkin said that by enabling the minority to block everything we have "stood democracy on its head." The minority decides everything, which means "the majority has the responsibility but not the ability to govern." "The minority should not have the power to dictate what the senate does."

The purpose of the filibuster, he said, should be to slow things down and let the public know something dramatic is happening. And the use of a supermajority was historically limited, originally for impeachment, treaties and overturing a veto. Not for passing legislation or confirming nominees.

Harkin would like to see a return to a dramatic, make-them-talk filibuster.

Good For Democracy

Making them talk would be good for democracy, because the public will be able to see that a dramatic event is taking place. Just as in the movie, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, the public will have a chance to rise in support of the effort, or let Senators know they oppose it.

Making them talk all night gives the public an opportunity to rally, one way or the other. It also, frankly, puts on a show, which will engage the public, restoring interest in government. This is good and we should do it.

Please visit Fix The Senate Now for more information. And CALL YOUR SENATORS to tell them you support reforming the filibuster!


Sign up here for the CAF daily summary.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 1:15 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

January 16, 2011

A Public Bank!

This is a really good idea: Eschaton: Public Banking Option

Yes there should be one though probably the best we could hope for is a "if you want to make money providing the financial services to run our food stamp debit cards then you must offer accounts on these terms." Not holding my breath for that one, but "paying someone lots of money to do what the government could do more cheaply" seems to be the only acceptable way to do anything decent these days.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:13 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

January 15, 2011

Tunisia???

Tunisia tossed out a dictator after months of public protests and street demonstrations. Scarecrow at FDL, talk about ... Tunisia? Tunisians Help "Expand Our Moral Imaginations"

Suppose you lived in a country in which the ruling elite had retained power for decades and then used that power to heap enormous wealth and privilege on the ruling elite, while the elite’s financiers profited even more from their regime by looting the nation’s financial system.

Suppose these financial and political elites had ignored the plight of ordinary citizens, allowed massive poverty and income inequality to persist, and instead fostered conditions allowing the elite to plunder the country’s resources and loot its citizen’s wealth, leaving millions unemployed and at risk of losing their homes.

Suppose this same elite controlled the media, could buy/bribe government officials at will, and could use the media and the trappings of democracy to claim legitimacy while enforcing a narrow range on political discourse and even narrower range of which problems and solutions possess political legitimacy.

And suppose any efforts at reform kept the same elites and their institutions in charge, even after they ransacked the country and caused great harm to millions of ordinary citizens, while the elite held none of themselves accountable, let alone criminally responsible.

What should the citizens of that nation do? And which country am I describing?

Posted by Dave Johnson at 3:08 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

"Half A Trillion In Cuts To Medicare"

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.

Watch as GOP Rep. Jim Renacci (OH) is confronted at a local town hall meeting, asked what the heck he thinks he is doing saying he will vote to repeal the health care reform law. Renacci replies that he and fellow Republicans campaigned on reversing the "half a trillion dollars in cuts to Medicare." (From Daily Kos.)

Republicans campaigned on protecting seniors from Medicare cuts. No way around it. In the 2010 election campaign Republican groups ran millions and millions of dollars of ads promising not to cut Medicare, and to increase Social Security. They campaigned against Democrats for "cutting $500 billion from Medicare" and not increasing Social Security cost-of-living. As a result, for the first time the senior vote went to Republicans.

Here are just a few of the ads that saturated the airwaves, saying that Democrats should be thrown out for cutting Medicare:



And voters were sent flyers like this: (click for larger)

politifact-photos-ron_johnson_flier_combined_660

Conservative Strategists Warn Republicans Against Cutting Social Security

National Review Senior Editor Ramesh Ponnuru, in a New York Times op-ed, How the G.O.P. Can Cut and Survive, warns Republicans not to touch Social Security,

Ronald Reagan suffered a defeat in his first year when he tried cutting Social Security’s early retirement benefits. Newt Gingrich’s 1995 Republican revolution fizzled when President Bill Clinton fought him over Medicare cuts. President George W. Bush’s effort to reform Social Security in 2005 ended any political momentum he brought to his second term.

Would-be reformers should draw two lessons from this history. The first is that reform can’t be sprung on the electorate. Reagan hadn’t campaigned on cutting Social Security in 1980, nor did the Gingrich Republicans promise to reduce the growth of Medicare.

Well, actually they campaigned on restoring $500 billion to Medicare and increasing Social Security, but everyone except the "low-information voters" they targeted understood they meant the opposite...

Keep in mind that most voters oppose cuts to Social Security and Medicare, so they are likely to be very nervous about any proposals to restrain their growth, especially if opponents portray such cuts as excessive. Even worse, most members of Congress are not well informed about these programs, so they’ll have a hard time soothing public anxieties.

Don't Cut Social Security, It's A Trap

Conservative and "centrist" (corporate) calls for President Obama to go after Social Security at the same time they are warning Republicans not to are nothing more than a trap. If the President calls for cutting Social Security you will see ad after ad after ad after ad after ad after ad blasting President Obama and Democrats in general for cutting Social Security and devastating seniors. The voters do not want Social Security cut and any politician who goes against the wishes of the voters will face their wrath. And cutting Social Security will devastate seniors. It is the wrong thing to do. So don't.

Sign up here for the CAF daily summary.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 2:37 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

Why No Right To A Job?

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.

Note: See also Isaiah Poole's We Need An Unemployed People's Campaign

Why don't we all have a right to a job? Who is our country and our economy for? The first three words of our Constitution provide us with a hint: "We, the People."

There are millions of people out of work and millions of jobs that need doing. The jobs that need doing pay for themselves because they make our economy more competitive, like modernizing our infrastructure and improving the energy efficiency of buildings.

Millions Of People Out Of Work

Here is The Chart (from Calculated Risk.)

EmploymentPercentLossesAlignDec2010

The following two charts are from this analysis. They are unemployed over 26 weeks and part time for economic reasons (underemployed)


UnemployedOver26WeeksDec2010 PartTimeDec2010

Millions Of Jobs That Need Doing

Since the Reagan-era tax cuts caused us to defer maintaining out infrastructure we have fallen behind much of the world in economic competitiveness. Modernizing ports, roads, rail, airports, Internet, wireless, water, sewer, schools... Retrofitting buildings and homes to be energy efficient would save us from buying so much oil from the Middle East. So would building wind, solar, electric car charging stations, efficient power grids, etc.

Meanwhile our economic competitors, countries like China and Germany and India, have been investing in their people and building modern infrastructure like crazy. Other countries are investing, educating, improving public services because they know these things make the economy explode later, paying dividends for decades.

The Right To A Job

Robert Borosage wrote this week about the 67th anniversary of FDR's Second Bill of Rights,

How does America dig out of the hole we are in? Surely the focus must be on first principles: how do we recreate an economy that works for working people? With the right talking about a return to the principles of the Constitution, it is worth remembering how Americans thought about first principles coming out of the last great economic calamity.

Among the rights FDR proposed: "The right to a useful and remunerative job..."


Monday is Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

"If a man doesn't have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists."

"If a man doesn't have a job or an income he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness, he merely exists." "All labor has dignity." "It is a crime for people to live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages." "... bridge the gulf between the haves and the have nots .. we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty."


Sign up here for the CAF daily summary.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 2:36 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

January 14, 2011

Trolling For Assassins

Everyone should read Trolling for Assassins, about "Becking," or "stochastic terrorism":

Think of cigarette smoking. We don’t know who will get cancer from the smoke – even though we can be confident that the death rate goes up the more people smoke. Or think of an advertiser who has no idea which viewers will buy their product -- yet spends millions confident that the ad campaign will pay for itself. As Gabby Giffords said so well, words and images have consequences. She had no way of knowing who the shooter would be, or when violence would strike, or that she herself would be among the victims.

From Stochastic Terrorism: Triggering the shooters:

Stochastic terrorism is the use of mass communications to stir up random lone wolves to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable.

his is what occurs when Bin Laden releases a video that stirs random extremists halfway around the globe to commit a bombing or shooting.

This is also the term for what Beck, O'Reilly, Hannity, and others do. And this is what led directly and predictably to a number of cases of ideologically-motivated murder similar to the Tucson shootings.

. . . Here's the mechanism spelled out concisely:

The stochastic terrorist is the person who uses mass media to broadcast memes that incite unstable people to commit violent acts.

One or more unstable people responds to the incitement by becoming a lone wolf and committing a violent act. While their action may have been statistically predictable (e.g. "given the provocation, someone will probably do such-and-such"), the specific person and the specific act are not predictable (yet).

The stochastic terrorist then has plausible deniability: "Oh, it was just a lone nut, nobody could have predicted he would do that, and I'm not responsible for what people in my audience do."

Posted by Dave Johnson at 6:11 PM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

January 12, 2011

A Great, Healing Speech

Thank you, Mr. President.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 6:30 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

They Even Filibustered The Public Printer!

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.

The Senate is considering changing the rules for the "filibuster" and this is an opportunity for you to do something that can make a difference. The filibuster has been abused and the Senate is broken. Call your Senators and tell them you want this fixed!

"Abuse" does not adequately describe what has happened with the filibuster and "broken" does not adequately describe what has happened with the U.S. Senate. Two years ago We, the People voted for change, but in the Senate change and everything else was blocked. Everything was filibustered as part of a strategy to demoralize people and undermine democracy. Everything. Important bills, judges, agency heads, ambassadors and all the things that constitute "everything." And the strategy worked.

They even filibustered the Public Printer!

What is the Public Printer? The Public Printer heads up the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO). The GPO manages our country's public documents. They print but also electronically distribute the Congressional Record, Supreme Court decisions, passports, tax forms, internal government documents, and agency publications. (They don't print the money.)

Benjamin Franklin served as the Public Printer when we were a colony, though the current office was established by Congress in 1861.

I am unable to locate any stated reason why the nomination of the Public Printer was filibustered, leaving me to assume that this particular filibuster came under the classification of "everything." Therefore the Public Printer was filibustered.

So now the Senate is considering whether to change their system. They are voting on January 24. They are considering making Senators actually filibuster instead of being able to block things from a nice table at a nice restaurant. This way the public will be aware that this tactic is being used to block things and can respond accordingly.

This is why you should call your Senators - both of them - today, and tell them that you want the Senate to reform the filibuster.

If you do this, some of them will say "Uh oh, they're on to us." They depend on the public not understanding what is going on, but if you call they will know that you are hip to their bag of tricks.

Others will say, "Hey, I don't have to be afraid to change things, they are paying attention!" These Senators will know that they have support and will be nudged toward voting to fix the problem, which will help make it so they can fix the rest of the problems.

Either way, calling WILL do some good. So call. Today. And tell others to call.

This is Annie Hill of the Communication Workers Union, with an overview of Senate Rules Reform:


Warning: If you are not a political junkie you might want to stop reading now and go call your Senators and say you want the filibuster reformed. The following content might be unsuitable for normal audiences.

Ezra Klein, with one of the best blog post titles in a long time, If you read only one John Kerry speech today ...,

I'm not going to summarize it here, because I think it's actually worth taking five minutes to read it in full. But the whole thing is below the fold:

Yes, if you like to read John Kerry speeches you should click through to read the whole thing, but just in case you are the rare individual who does not live to read John Kerry speeches here is "the meat," (and keep in mind that I, a vegetarian, had to actually read the speech to find "the meat" for you),

John and I considered postponing this speech, which had been planned for some time. But serious times call for serious discussions. And after some reflection, both of us felt that not only should this speech not be postponed, but that, in fact, it was imperative to give it.

Oh, wait, that's apparently not the interesting part. This is, about 115 paragraphs into the filibuster talk.,

Sometimes, as John Kennedy once said, “party asks too much.” Sometimes, party leaders also ask too much, especially if they exploit the rules of the United States Senate for the sole purpose of denying a President a second term. But that is what we have witnessed the last two years; Republicans nearly unanimous in opposition to almost every proposal by the President and almost every proposal by Democratic colleagues. The extraordinary measure of a filibuster has become an ordinary expedient. Today it’s possible for 41 Senators representing only about one tenth of the American population to bring the Senate to a standstill.

Certainly, I believe the filibuster has its rightful place. I used it to stop drilling for oil in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge because I believed that was in our national interest --and 60 or more Senators should be required to speak up on such an irrevocable decision. But we have reached the point where the filibuster is being invoked by the minority not necessarily because of a difference over policy, but as a political tool to undermine the Presidency.

Consider this: in the entire 19th century, including the struggle against slavery, fewer than two dozen filibusters were mounted. Between 1933 and the coming of World War II, it was attempted only twice. During the Eisenhower administration, twice. During John Kennedy’s presidency, four times-- and then eight during Lyndon Johnson’s push for civil rights and voting rights bills. By the time Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan occupied the White House, there were about 20 filibusters a year.

But in the 110th Congress of 2007-2008, there were a record 112 cloture votes. And in the 111th Congress, there were 136, one of which even delayed a vote to authorize funding for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps during a time of war. That’s not how the Founders intended the Senate to work-- and that's not how our country can afford the Senate not to work.

If only I could move to DC so I could listen to speeches like this every day instead of just reading them.

Sign up here for the CAF daily summary.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 5:19 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

January 11, 2011

Pension Envy

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.

Since the 80s many employers have stopped offering health care, pensions and other benefits to their employees. Many are also cutting pay and hours, while increasing the workload. So more and more people are hurting. As more and more of us fall further and further behind, corporate/conservative propagandists use resentment to drive anti-union feelings. They tell people to oppose unions, saying, "Why should they have it so good?" The real question you should ask is, "Why should we have it so bad?"

The New Yorker's James Surowiecki, in "State of the Unions," examines why "public support for labor has fallen to historic lows."

More than seventy per cent of those surveyed in a 1937 Gallup poll said they favored unions.

Seventy-five years later, in the wake of another economic crisis, things couldn’t be more different. ... In the recent midterm elections, voters in several states passed initiatives making it harder for unions to organize. Across the country, governors and mayors wrestling with budget shortfalls are blaming public-sector unions for the problems. And in polls public support for labor has fallen to historic lows.

. . . In 2009, for the first time ever, support for unions in the Gallup poll dipped below fifty per cent. A 2010 Pew Research poll offered even worse numbers, with just forty-one per cent of respondents saying they had a favorable view of unions, the lowest level of support in the history of that poll.

Surowiecki suspects that the gap between workers in and out of unions is the reason,

Union workers, on average, get paid more than their non-unionized counterparts—most estimates put the difference at around fifteen per cent—and that wage premium widens during recessions. Similarly, union workers often still have defined-benefit pensions, which sets them apart from all those Americans who watched their retirement accounts get ravaged by the financial crisis. That’s given rise to what Olivia Mitchell, an economics professor at Wharton, calls “pension envy.”

This resentment is most evident in the backlash against public-sector workers (who now make up a majority of union members).

The problem is that working people feel increasingly powerless, and this weakens support for the very institutions that would, in better circumstances, come to their assistance: government and unions. Normally you would think that when people see that workers who are in unions have it better they would reach a simple and obvious conclusion: they should JOIN A UNION! DUH! But circumstances in our economy today lead people to the wrong conclusions.

Today they see people who try to organize unions fired. They see whistleblowers persecuted. They see fellow employees lose their jobs for calling in sick or taking time off to care for a family member. They see people lose jobs for just reaching "a certain age." Many are even afraid to take vacations using time they have earned. And they don't see any way to do anything about it. Unions are unable to organize and workers are told facilities will close or their jobs will be moved overseas. Government inadequately enforces its own laws, or blatantly favors the wealthy and powerful. People don't feel that elections make any difference. So workers don't see any help on the horizon.

Crabs In A Bucket

Meanwhile many public employees still have unions, so as a result they in many cases have pensions, health care plans and dignity on the job. People look at that and the temptation toward "crab mentality" is strong. The corporate/conservative anti-union propagandists see an opportunity to set working people against each other and strike at support for unions:

Crab mentality, sometimes referred to as crabs in the bucket, describes a way of thinking best described by the phrase "if I can't have it, neither should you." The metaphor refers to a pot of crabs. Individually, the crabs could easily escape from the pot, but instead, they grab at each other in a useless "king of the hill" competition (or sabotage) which prevents any from escaping and ensures their collective demise. The analogy in human behavior is that of a group that will attempt to "pull down" (negate or diminish the importance of) any member who achieves success beyond the others, out of jealousy, conspiracy or competitive feelings.

This term is broadly associated with short-sighted, non-constructive thinking rather than a unified, long-term, constructive mentality. It is also often used colloquially in reference to individuals or communities attempting to "escape" a so-called "underprivileged life", but kept from doing so by others attempting to ride upon their coat-tails or those who simply resent their success.

The other day in Understanding The Attacks On Public Employees,

What do we see if we look around at the state of the economy? Stocks are soaring, corporate profits are way up, Wall Street gets trillions in bailouts and pays millions upon millions in bonuses. But regular people are having a hard time making ends meet and unemployment is still through the roof. Instead of programs to create jobs, stop foreclosures and rebuild our crumbling infrastructure the government passes more tax cuts for the rich. A few Wall Street and big-corporate types are getting very rich (richer) at the expense of the rest of us. If you are sitting pretty on Wall Street, you probably don't want people thinking about these contrasts too much.

“Look Over There!”

How do you get regular people to “look over there” with all of that going on? Simple: launch a big campaign to blame the librarians, firefighters and other public sector workers for the hard times. “Don’t blame US,” Wall Street says, “Look over there!” Blame the economy's victims for economic crimes. And, do you know what? This is a strategy that is proven to work every time.

So the corporate/conservatives pit people against each other, hoping to provoke the behavior of crabs in a bucket, instead of reaching the correct conclusion: stand together and join a union and fight for your rights and a share of the pie and you can have it better.

STOP THE LIES!

This video directs people to a STOP THE LIES website where you can sign up to add your voice, download a fact sheet and find other resources.

Sign up here for the CAF daily summary.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 12:02 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

January 10, 2011

Lose A Ton!

James Boyce: I’ve Already Lost A Ton This Year:

I am one of those people who should be quite willing and in fact, adept, at calculating my carbon footprint and then offsetting it. After all, CS NMS has clients such as NRDC and the Rainforest Alliance, and the environment is a true passion of mine. I also am a strong supporter of climate change legislation and everyone chipping in for good causes.

However, I have to confess — I have never offset my carbon emissions; and I haven’t even really come that close to trying if the truth be told. My biggest issue is that frankly it’s just too damm complicated; there are calculators to help you figure it out but you have to enter something in those calculators. They are not self-calculating and it takes a lot of work.

Can. Not. Be. Bothered.

So (drum roll please) when my friends at the Marion Institute launched a $7 Carbon Diet, that gives you the chance to offset just one ton of carbon emissions for just $7, I was happy. This I understand. This makes sense. I get it.


Go read the rest.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 11:03 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

Filibuster Reform ... But

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.

“But.” Everything you read about the filibuster talks about how important the filibuster is, allowing a minority to retain some power over abuse by a majority… and then it says, “But.”

For example, the Camden, NJ Courier Post, editorial today, Alter filibuster rules in Senate, reads,

In a representative democracy, the minority group or party should never be without any power, and the filibuster in the Senate has proved an important tool for both Republicans and Democrats when they've been in the minority. It allows the minority party to have a voice in the legislative process, even when the majority party would like to ignore that voice.

But over the last decade, as partisan divisions in Washington have become more entrenched, the filibuster privilege has been overused and abused by both parties. In just the last two congresses, filibusters have been used to block legislation or nominees 275 times. During the eight years when Dwight Eisenhower was president from 1953 to 1961, the Senate had to vote just twice to stop filibusters, according to Senate records.

"But over the last decade..." "overused," "used to block," etc... "But."

Of course the Courier Post threw in the “both sides” equivalence with no evidence. It’s a media rule that you can’t explain what conservatives are doing to the country without finding some way to equivalently blame "the other side."

The Albany, NY Times Union Fix the Senate, gets to the heart of the problem,

There actually were more filibusters in 2009 alone than in the 1950s and '60s combined.

A tool designed to guard against the tyranny of the majority has instead led to the tyranny of the minority. It's time for the Senate to consider allowing fewer than 60 votes to keep a bill under consideration. The rule of the majority, in both spirit and letter, remember, is just 51.

Even if a minority in the Senate is to retain this weapon, it should have to use it in a way that enhances debate, not undermines it.

More filibusters in the one year than the '50s and '60s combined...

The Problem: Blocking Everything

In the last two years Republicans pursued a strategy of trying to block everything -- every bill, every nominee, every judge -- and then campaigning saying that our country's problems were not being fixed. It worked. They got away with it. And our country's problems were not solved.

How bad is the problem? Last year one Senator placed a "blanket hold" on all Presidential appointments until he got earmarks for a defense contractor that was giving him tons of "campaign contributions." Even worse, here is a story about a lobbying firm that arranges filibusters for cash.

Abuse And Consequences

The filibuster is being abused, and the Senate is broken. Important bills are blocked. 420 important bills that had passed the House were not voted on in the Senate. The judges and executive appointees we need are not able to be confirmed. The country's problems are not being addressed.

This is more than just abuse, the filibuster is abused to the point that it is damaging the country and the world's understanding of democracy itself. Columnist Thomas Friedman has been warning that the abuse of the filibuster is causing the world to believe that China's autocratic system is a more effective form of government than our own. In Our One-Party Democracy, Friedman wrote,

The fact is, on both the energy/climate legislation and health care legislation, only the Democrats are really playing. With a few notable exceptions, the Republican Party is standing, arms folded and saying “no.” Many of them just want President Obama to fail. Such a waste.

And in a column titled, Never Heard That Before, he writes about whisperings heard at the Davos conference of world leaders,

This year, Asians and Europeans, in particular, pull you aside and ask you some version of: “Tell me, what’s going on in your country?” We’re making people nervous. . . . “Our two-party political system is broken just when everything needs major repair, not minor repair,” said K.R. Sridhar, the founder of Bloom Energy, a fuel cell company in Silicon Valley, who is attending the forum. “I am talking about health care, infrastructure, education, energy. We are the ones who need a Marshall Plan now.”

Indeed, speaking of phrases I’ve never heard here before, another goes like this: “Is the ‘Beijing Consensus’ replacing the ‘Washington Consensus?’ ”

Please read that whole column to see the damage to our country this obstructionism is bringing in the world's eyes. It is causing the world to view democracy as an inferior system.

Democracy Thwarted

The filibuster is not just abused now, so is the public's understanding of it. The public understands what a filibuster is and when it should and should not be used. But they think a filibuster is Senators talking, not sitting in a restaurant and placing an anonymous "hold."

The problem is that the public does not even know that the filibuster is being used. The public is not getting the information it needs to make decisions, and to apply political pressure where it should be applied. All they hear is that the Senate can't pass things. How many times have you read that "Senate rules require 60 votes to pass a bill?" This is now the accepted "conventional wisdom" assumption. But, in fact, Senate rules require a simple majority to pass a bill, not 60 votes.

Lat year, in Harry -- Roll Out The Cots! Again And Again And Again!, I wrote,

You are not drawing a clear contrast and repeating it. You are not telling a simple story in a clear, understandable way. It is not getting through to the public that the hated filibuster is being used over and over. You need to put on a show that breaks through the haze and informs the public. There is a way to do that: roll out the cots! The public gets that. They associate cots with filibusters. It is theater but the public needs to have the information and without the theater – yes, the circus – of rolling out the cots again and again and again, the public is, in effect, having that information withheld from them.

Ever since the movie, "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" the public has believed that a filibuster is about Senators staying up all night, talking. If that is what they believe, then that is what you have to give them. You have a responsibility to democracy to find ways to break through the media filter and help the public to understand what is really going on. You need to roll out the cots, and do it again and again, until the point is made with the public that what is going on is not the normal operation of the Senate, but instead is pure obstruction, used as a strategy to prevent the public from getting what they need, to demoralize them and keep them from voting.

After a while the public will get it. You owe it to them to do this. Roll out the cots.

Fix the filibuster. Fix the Senate. Stop the anonymous holds. Stop the silent filibuster. If they want to block a bill, make them block it, make them talk all night! Roll out the cots!

Cots.

filibuster_xl

Cots.

Sign up here for the CAF daily summary.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 10:47 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

Why Conservatives Use Extreme Rhetoric

Conservatives use extreme rhetoric as a strategy. Watch the video. I gave a talk on this in 2007, titled, "We're All In This Together."

Those in the conservative movement understand that public appreciation of community and government are the underpinnings of support for these and other target issues. So by first working to erode public support for government and community they can effectively leverage their efforts and erode support for all of their targets at the same time.

The guy in the video clip attacks public education – but he does it as part of a larger attack on what he calls “liberals.” “Liberals” is the shorthand name for their enemy but it is really an attack on community and government. Some of you here may not think of yourselves as “liberals,” but because you value public education this puts you in that enemy category as far as THEY are concerned

Posted by Dave Johnson at 7:38 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

January 8, 2011

Certainty

Remember how the Republicans were saying that the markets need certainty and confidence? Now they're saying they might blow up the debt ceiling, but you can't be certain. See Paul Abrams: On the Debt Ceiling, Silence is Golden: Let Wall Street Battle the Tea Party

Posted by Dave Johnson at 11:28 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

Does Money Influence Votes?

In Open Left:: The Money Paradox, David Sirota points out that legislators argue that tax-cut money influences people to act certain ways, and deny that the money the rich gave them to pass tax cuts influenced their vote.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 8:52 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

January 7, 2011

Understanding The Attacks On Public Employees

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.

You can barely open a newspaper or turn on a radio without hearing about states and local governments bankrupted by high-paid public employees, their pensions and their unions. How much of what you are hearing is really true, and how much is just one more Wall Street-funded campaign to turn people against each other and our government?

What do we see if we look around at the state of the economy? Stocks are soaring, corporate profits are way up, Wall Street gets trillions in bailouts and pays millions upon millions in bonuses. But regular people are having a hard time making ends meet and unemployment is still through the roof. Instead of programs to create jobs, stop foreclosures and rebuild our crumbling infrastructure the government passes more tax cuts for the rich. A few Wall Street and big-corporate types are getting very rich (richer) at the expense of the rest of us. If you are sitting pretty on Wall Street, you probably don't want people thinking about these contrasts too much.

“Look Over There!”

How do you get regular people to “look over there” with all of that going on? Simple: launch a big campaign to blame the librarians, firefighters and other public sector workers for the hard times. “Don’t blame US,” Wall Street says, “Look over there!” Blame the economy's victims for economic crimes. And, do you know what? This is a strategy that is proven to work every time.

“Look over there!” Gawker says it pretty well in the title of their post, The Plan to Blame Unions For Everything,

Why is our economy in the predicament that it's in today? High unemployment, sluggish growth...who's to blame? The unions, of course. The unions are the enemies of the working man. The working class must destroy unions for their own good.

. . . Public employees have jobs like everyone else. The right of workers to unionize should be a fundamental one. No one is claiming that unions are perfect; but if we're going to start destroying imperfect things, the statehouse would be a more beneficial place to start than the union hall.

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, in, The Shameful Attack on Public Employees, writes,

Public servants are convenient scapegoats. Republicans would rather deflect attention from corporate executive pay that continues to rise as corporate profits soar, even as corporations refuse to hire more workers. They don’t want stories about Wall Street bonuses, now higher than before taxpayers bailed out the Street. ...

It’s far more convenient to go after people who are doing the public’s work - sanitation workers, police officers, fire fighters, teachers, social workers, federal employees – to call them “faceless bureaucrats” and portray them as hooligans who are making off with your money and crippling federal and state budgets. The story fits better with the Republican’s Big Lie that our problems are due to a government that’s too big.

Above all, Republicans don’t want to have to justify continued tax cuts for the rich. As quietly as possible, they want to make them permanent.

But the right’s argument is shot-through with bad data, twisted evidence, and unsupported assertions.

"Look over there!"

Robert Creamer, at Huffington Post, in Time to Stand Up for the Public Sector, says this is really about advancing anti-government ideology,

For over forty years, the right wing has mounted an irrepressible campaign to discredit the very concept of government in the United States.

… The wealthy elites that dominate the American Right have financed the campaign to demonize government because they want the opportunity to pursue a very different group of values that have nothing to do with America's founding principles. They want the right to concentrate more and more wealth and power into their own hands.

David Dayen has been following this at Firedoglake, in The War on Public Employees,

The reason state and local budgets are in trouble simply has nothing to do with their spending on public employees. It’s about the financial crisis which triggered the Great Recession. In 2009, the recession dipped state tax revenues by 1/3. There’s no way on earth to attribute that to public workers. The obliteration of state revenue is entirely to blame. And the folks who created and sold toxic mortgage instruments and sucked trillions in wealth into a high-risk vortex shoulder the burden.

And yet they are not shouldering any of the responsibility; those danged public workers are.

Other Voices

At GRITtv, Laura Flanders talks about my post, Conservatives Claim Unions Caused NY Snow Jam in The F Word: Public Workers Getting Snowed, (hey Laura, I'm at Campaign for America's Future, not Center for American Progress.)

Buckle your snowshoes for more of this in the coming year, a lot of attacks from newly elected representatives and state officials on public sector workers -- and their unions. New Republican Wisconsin governor Scott Walker is bragging that he's going to “force” state workers' benefits in line with everyone else, New York's new Democratic governor just announced a pay freeze, and John Boehner is calling for austerity. For the state and its workers, mind you, not the super-rich few. 

Let's make a New Year's resolution not to get snowed.

Caitlin Vega of the California Labor Federation, in, Anti-Union Measures Harm ALL Workers,

The idea that unions are somehow responsible for destroying our economy is absurd. The Labor Movement has been the most outspoken critic against all of the things that actually did cause this crisis: bad free trade agreements that harmed all workers, unfair lending practices that resulting in millions of families losing their homes, unrestrained corporate greed that rewarded CEOs for mass layoffs and the offshoring of jobs.

Art Levine, at In These Times, asks, Will the New Assaults on Public Employee Unions Undermine All Workers?

Years of demonizing public employee unions as part of a right-wing assault against the labor movement now seems about to pay off. ...

To some observers, this attack against public employee unions—abetted by right-wing misinformation campaigns that unions and their allies are just starting to counter—so profoundly threatens the labor movement that it poses a broader danger to the economy while strengthening the "Winner-Takes-All" politics that has dominated public policy for decades.

"Look over there!"

Brave New Films has created a video, Wall Street Fat-Cats Flip Public Service Workers the Bird:



STOP THE LIES Campaign

Gerald McEntee, President of the AFSCME Union has a post at Huffinton Post, Stop the Lies,

By blaming public service workers and working families, the right wing tries to divert attention from the simple fact that reckless, unregulated behavior of multi-millionaires on Wall Street caused unprecedented state budget shortfalls, the loss of 15 million American jobs and the collapse of our economy.

We're not going to let them get away with it. At this pivotal moment in the economic history of our country -- indeed, the world -- we cannot stand by and let corporate CEOs and their flunkies define the debate and shape the future.

… Now, after capping private sector workers and their unions in the knees, the rich and the right have set their sights on public services and the men and women who provide them.

That's why AFSCME has created a campaign we're calling "Stop the Lies." You can join us bywatching our new video and adding your name to our Stop the Lies open letter.

STOP THE LIES Video and Website

Here is the STOP THE LIES video:

This video directs people to a STOP THE LIES website where you can sign up to add your voice, download a fact sheet and find other resources.

Here is Brave New Films' Robert Greenwald, on The Ed Show:



Some Facts

Tula Connel at the AFL-CIO Blog points out that, in fact, Public Employees Paid Less than Private-Sector Workers

With the barrage of orchestrated extremist attacks on public employees, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) reminds us today of a study it commissioned last year that disproves one of the biggest lies by anti-workers–that public employee make excessive pay. In short, public employees are paid less than private-sector workers, even when factoring in employer-provided benefits.

... Read the full report here.

Meteor Blades makes the same point at Daily Kos, in Public employees work for less, not more,

In the divide-and-conquer assault on public employees which the powers-that-be have unleashed in their latest round of class warfare, we've been told repeatedly that government-paid workers make more than private-sector workers. The typical approach is to point to a bus driver or a professor or a garbage collector who made some seemingly outrageous sum. As states struggle with revenue shortfalls and the unemployment situation remains grim, there is more and more talk about "fixing" this situation. Typically, that includes going after the unions. It is, after all, they who are at fault for the supposedly unfair windfall their government-paid members have gained while workers in the private sector have suffered from economic downturn.

Just one problem with this theme. It's based on what Jeffrey H. Keefe at the Economic Policy Institute has labeled the myth of the overcompensated public employee.

On average, state and local employees earn $6,061 per year less than their private-sector counterparts. Add in health and insurance benefits and the average public worker earns $2,001 less per year than her peer in the private sector.

Special Report

LABORnotes has a special report Public Sector, Public Good with several articles, including Public Employees: Myths and Realities,

With all the venom directed at public employees these days, it’s hard to separate the facts from the attacks. Here’s a guide to common claims made about government spending, taxes, and public employees.

The Claim: Government employees are overpaid.
The Facts: The Economic Policy Institute measured state and local public workers against their private sector counterparts with the same age, experience, and education. They found that public workers earn about 11 percent less.

CLICK THROUGH for more from LABORnotes.

I hope this roundup helps people to understand that the attacks on public employees and their unions is just one more effort by Wall Street and the biggest corporations to distract us from seeing the bigger picture of what is happening to us and to our economy. A wealthy few are using their power and influence to take more and more for themselves at the expense of the rest of us. This time, don't "look over there." Instead look at what is really going on.

Sign up here for the CAF daily summary.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 5:25 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

Unemployment Rate Dropped Because So Many People Gave Up

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.

Unemployment Rate Dropped BecausThe new monthly job numbers are out. They are a little bit better than they have been, but they are not very good. We added very few jobs but the unemployment rate went down. This is a function of a really bad economy in which people are so discouraged they aren't even bothering to look. So many people have given up that the labor force is actually smaller now than before the recession. We must make sure that these people are not just discarded, abandoned and marked up as a loss. They are people.

Any increase in jobs is good news. In December the economy created a net of 103,000 new jobs. Also the prior two months' numbers were revised up by 70,000. But there are real problems behind these numbers. We are more than two years into this recession, and we still are not seeing job growth that will bring the unemployment levels down anywhere near where they need to be. The stimulus worked but was not enough, and it is winding down. The new Congress has no intention whatsoever of new job-creation or infrastructure programs. And it is ending help for state and local governments that are increasingly shedding jobs.

The official unemployment rate dropped, but only because 260,000 people "left the labor force." That means they gave up looking for work. There are so many discouraged workers who are not in the labor market that any truly good news will bring a flood back into the labor force. And that will keep the unemployment number high.

Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research writes,

The 0.4 percentage-point drop in the unemployment rate was the largest since April of 1998, but this decline may just be an aberration. The 290,000 reported gain in employment reported in the Bureau of Labor Statistic's household survey is healthy, but inconsistent with so many people leaving the labor force. It is also worth noting that average weekly unemployment claims are still averaging more than 400,000. The economy did not start generating jobs at all following the last recession until weekly claims fell below 400,000 in 2003.

[. . .] On the whole, this report does not suggest a very positive picture of the labor market going into 2011. The decline in the unemployment rate is certainly positive, but with EPOPs hovering near their low point for the downturn, the main story appears to be people giving up looking for work. Furthermore, there is no sector that appears to be experiencing robust job growth at the moment, nor any likely candidates for the near future.

Lower Pay

Many of the new jobs come with lower pay than the jobs lost. Isaiah Poole writes about this in Where Are The Breadwinning Jobs?

There isn't much cause for gloating in today's unemployment report, with the number of jobs created during December—103,000—being lower than most analysts expected. But, more critically, we're not even treading water on creating a sufficient number of "breadwinning jobs" needed to grow and sustain America's middle class.

. . . "We are now America, the downwardly mobile," wrote Harold Meyerson this week when he offered his own analysis of what has happened in the job market in recent years. The shortage of breadwinner jobs exacerbates the middle-class economic decay that began with the economic policies of the Bush administration and the conservatives in Congress. As Meyerson points out, median household income (in 2007 dollars) went from $50,557 in 2000 to $50,233 in 2007 and $49,777 in 2009.

Stocks & Profits Are Up, Nothing Else Matters

The stock market is up and corporate profits are soaring, so as far as the people who make decisions are concerned, things are better than ever. They refuse to see the problems faced by the rest of the people of the country. While waves of people are hitting the "99er" limit for receiving unemployment checks, our leadership will not do anything about it. Plutocracy has replaced democracy.

Abandoned?

According to the Economic Policy Institute, we are 7.2 million payroll jobs below the start of the recession, and that does not take into account 3.7 million more jobs that were needed just to keep up with population growth.

We face a serious risk that a plutocratic leadership will just abandon the unemployed. Corporate profits and stock prices are up, even with this level of unemployment. So the plight of so many millions of Americans is of little concern.

There is so much work that needs doing. The country's infrastructure is deteriorating, dragging down our economy's competitiveness. This represents millions of jobs that need doing -- while millions of people need jobs. But the nation's leadership instead passes tax cuts for the rich, borrowing hundreds of billions for that purpose instead of for putting people to work and maintaining the infrastructure. And in the midst of the borrow for tax cuts instead of jobs, creates deficit commissions in stead of jobs commissions.

The Charts

Here is The Chart (from Calculated Risk.)

EmploymentPercentLossesAlignDec2010

The following two charts are from this analysis.

Unemployed over 26 weeks:

UnemployedOver26WeeksDec2010

Part time for economic reasons (underemployed):

PartTimeDec2010

The President and Congress should recognize that stock prices and corporate profits have become separated from what the rest of the country is experiencing. "Main Street" is not recovering. People are not finding jobs. It is still a crisis. We need a jobs first economic plan.e So Many People Gave Up

Sign up here for the CAF daily summary.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 5:19 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

Tea Party Betrayed On Spending Cuts

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.

The Tea Party membership is being set up for yet another huge betrayal by the DC Republican establishment. The members had very clear expectations that specific spending cuts would fix the government's budget problems. The Republican leadership is betraying them by cutting things Tea Party members do not want cut, and are not cutting the things they were led to believe would fix the budget problems.

Tea Party members expected the new Congress to fix the budget by cutting "government waste," stopping corporate bailouts and handouts and cutting a list of things they believed the government spends most of it money on. On top of this, Republican groups ran ad after ad after ad blasting Democrats for cutting Medicare and not increasing Social Security's cost of living adjustment. Tea Party members voted based on these promises and these promises are being broken as the new Congress convenes.

The very things they do not want cut will be up for cuts, and the things they want cut will not be cut. They are going to find out that the very people who campaigned against cutting Medicare and for increasing Social Security are actually planning to cut Medicare and Social Security. And they are going to find out that the budget cannot be fixed by cutting the things that the Republicans let them believe the government spends most of its money on.

Fact: Republican groups ran millions and millions of dollars of ads promising not to cut Medicare, and to increase Social Security. Republican establishment ran millions and millions of ads against Democrats for "cutting $500 billion from Medicare" and not increasing Social Security cost-of-living. As a result, for the first time the senior vote went to Republicans.

Here are just a few of the ads that saturated the airwaves, saying that Democrats should be thrown out for cutting Medicare:





And voters were sent flyers like this: (click for larger)

politifact-photos-ron_johnson_flier_combined_660

Fact: Polls show that Tea Party members believe that the government spends much of its money on foreign aid and welfare for illegal immigrants and Tea Party members expect the budget to be fixed by cutting those. The public thinks the deficits are caused by things like foreign aid. The Republican establishment was very happy to let them believe that, and to take their votes. The Republican leadership has done nothing to disabuse them of that notion, and continues to refuse to specify any actual spending cuts they plan to make.

Fact: People believe that much government spending is wasted. They want the waste cut, but they don't want cuts in things that are done for them. That is not what they think of as "waste." The Republican leadership has encouraged people to think government wastes money and the budget can be fixed by cutting :waste instead of things the public wants. They continue to lead the public to believe that so much is wasted, even after two terms of Reagan elected to cut waste, one term of the first Bush elected to cut waste, and two terms of the second Bush elected to cut waste. (Except, of course, military spending, which is were serious waste occurs but is "off the table" for cuts.)

Fact: aside from military, debt interest and various subsidies for large corporate interests, government largely spends money on We, the People. This is what Tea Party supporters, mislead by the Republican leadership, and discovering. The money isn't wasted (except in the military budget) and isn't misdirected. People do not want spending cuts on things the government does for US like Medicare, health research, education, unemployment benefits, mass transit, aid to the poor, etc. They were led to believe that the budget problems would be fixed by cuts elsewhere and that is hatt they expect. Anything else is a betrayal of their trust.

So, once again, what will Tea Party members do when their leaders betray them?

Sign up here for the CAF daily summary.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 5:18 PM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

Sen. Conrad Plutocracy Plan Vs. Democracy Deficit Commission

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.

If you saw this morning's Progressive Breakfast, you know that Senator Kent Conrad has an op-ed in Politico, "Priority no. 1: Pass long-term budget plan," in which he proposes steps to do something about the borrowing caused by the tax cuts for the rich that he just voted for. (And if you didn't see this morning's Progressive Breakfast you really ought to sign up to receive it every day. Click here and scroll to the bottom to sign up.)

In his op-ed Sen. Conrad claims that the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform -- the "deficit commission" -- released "a plan." This is surprising, because the deficit commission did not release a plan. The commission was assigned the task of coming up with an overall package that, taken as a whole, could receive 14 votes from the commission's members. Instead co-chairs Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, a conservative Republican and a Wall Street representative (a Director of Morgan Stanley) -- released a plan of their own that did not get the required support of the commission. Just two guys, not the commission.

Saying “the deficit commission” recommended anything is a deception that pushes the Wall Street-favoring plutocracy plan from those two guys. Others one the commission also released plans that were much more aligned with the public interest than Wall Street's interests, but Conrad ignores those plans. There was The Schakowsky Deficit Reduction Plan: A Proposal That Actually Strengthens Social Security and doesn't raise taxes on the middle class. There was Andy Stern's Invest in America plan. There was EPI's plan, Investing in America’s Economy: A Budget Blueprint for Economic Recovery and Fiscal Responsibility. And there was a comprehensive plan from The Citizens' Commission On Jobs, Deficits And America's Economic Future. Conrad ignores those plans, favoring the Wall-Street/Simpson/Bowles plutocracy plan.

Conrad says the Simpson/Bowles/Wall Street plan-for-plutocracy has "three basic principles [that] can serve as the foundation for a long-term deficit-reduction package." These are:

1) Address our long-term budget issues now without damaging our economic recovery. Good start.

2) Cut taxes on the rich while increasing them on everyone else. The plan goes off the rails.

3) Cut Social Security, even though Social Security has nothing whatsoever to do with the deficit. The hidden agenda comes to light.

This is what happens when Wall Street and conservative Republicans design a plan: give even more to the already-wealthy few, gut what our government does for We, the People.

Here is the real deficit commission that you would expect to see if we were a democracy instead of a plutocracy: It would have 100 members:


  • 98 of the 100 members would make less than $250,000 a year.

  • 50 of the members would come from households in which the total income of all wage-earners is less than $50,221.

  • 17% of the commission members would be un- or underemployed, and would be wondering why they are on a deficit commission instead of a jobs commission.

  • 19 people on the commission would receive some form of Social Security benefits, 12 of those as retirees. And on this deficit commission they get to talk when the ones making over $250K propose cutting Social Security.

  • 43 of the commission members would have less than $10,000 saved up for retirement. 27 of those less than $1,000.

  • The commission would include the right proportion of factory and construction workers, and people who work in a kitchen, and waiting tables, and teaching, and nursing, and installing tires, and all the other things that people do except, apparently, those on DC elite commissions. (People who do manual labor get an extra vote each on what the retirement age should be.)

  • Include people who are on active duty in the military – the people who said they don’t need that expensive plane, but couldn’t get body armor.

  • 60 members would not have college degrees.

  • 13 members would be receiving food stamps.


You get the idea. (2010 census data on race, marital status, etc. not yet located.) This democracy deficit commission would probably start fighting deficits by putting top tax rates back where they were when we didn't have huge deficits. It would probably understand that we don't have to pay to keep the Soviet Union at bay. It would recommend that we invest in our people and our infrastructure instead of giving even more to the already-wealthy at the expense of the rest of us. It would release a plan that is much more like the The Citizens' Commission On Jobs, Deficits And America's Economic Future plan than the Wall-Street/Simpson/Bowles plutocracy plan that Sen. Conrad is pushing.

Sign up here for the CAF daily summary.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 5:17 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

The Retirement Age Is Too Damn High!

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.

The D.C. elite insist that the retirement age should be raised even more than the current 67. They have jobs where they sit in nice chairs behind nice desks in nice offices in affluent areas. They don't even know anyone who waits tables or cleans or lifts boxes all day. They don't even know anyone without a fat 401K, or who is in their 50s who can't find work. That's not their problem; paying their share of taxes is what they are worried about.

But when you leave the affluent areas it becomes obvious that the retirement age is too high and Social Security pays too little. The Great Recession began with waves of layoffs that seemed to concentrate on people over 50 -- because of health care costs and reasonable pay (and they just smell bad). Two years later these people are having a very hard time finding work -- and don't even mention health insurance. Their savings are gone, their unemployment checks are stopping (the "99ers") and they are heAded for the streets. The DC elite solution is to keep them on the streets even longer.

Lowering the retirement age solves part of the unemployment problem. It solves part of the foreclosure problem by helping many people pay their mortgages. And this is a very out-of-date thing to say but it is humane. It helps people.

James K. Galbraith writes in ACTUALLY, THE RETIREMENT AGE IS TOO HIGH,

In the United States, the financial crisis has left the country with 11 million fewer jobs than Americans need now. No matter how aggressive the policy, we are not going to find 11 million new jobs soon. So common sense suggests we should make some decisions about who should have the first crack: older people, who have already worked three or four decades at hard jobs? Or younger people, many just out of school, with fresh skills and ambitions?

The answer is obvious. Older people who would like to retire and would do so if they could afford it should get some help. The right step is to reduce, not increase, the full-benefits retirement age.

Digby adds,

When I was young, a long time ago, it was conventional wisdom that you wanted the oldsters to get out of the job market to make way for the youngsters. ... But somewhere along the line it became an article of faith that anyone who didn't want to work until they dropped dead was a spoiled parasite who expected young people to keep them in style by working 20 hour days.

The retirement age is too damn high! It should be 62 at most. 55 would be better and we could do that if we weren't still paying for a military to keep the Soviet Union at bay. If affluent members of the DC elite want towork even longer, no one is stopping them. Of course, a lot of us have been wishing they would retire. I can think of a few pundits who have been writing the same column since the 70s.

Sign up here for the CAF daily summary.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 5:15 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

January 4, 2011

The Next Speaker Of The House

The next Speaker of the House talks about how he handed out checks from tobacco companies, on the House floor, just before a vote on tobacco subsidies:

And here is a story about a lobbying firm that can arrange a Republican filibuster for money.

This is what the next two years will be about -- big corporate interests paying cash for legislation. This is what the Tea Party voted for?

Posted by Dave Johnson at 7:49 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

"Gut Or Shut" -- Is America Ready?

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.

Republicans are saying they are going to either gut the government or shut it down. They mean it. It's gut or shut, and they are not going to allow a third choice. This is not just posturing and they are not likely to engage in bipartisan bargaining. Their rhetoric has painted them into a corner with their base. We should take them at their word and prepare.

On TV Sunday Lindsey Graham, a supposedly "centrist" US senator said he is willing to let the United States default on its Treasury obligations, saying,

“I will not vote for the debt ceiling increase until I see a plan in place that will deal with our long term debt obligations starting with Social Security, a real bipartisan effort to make sure that Social Security stays solvent, adjusting the age, looking at means tests for benefits. On the spending side I'm not going to vote for a debt ceiling increase unless we go back to 2008 spending levels, cutting discretionary spending...”

Sen. Graham said the threat to destroy the economy unless Social Security is cut is "a great opportunity to change the course of America's future." Yet there is little widespread shock or outrage or calls for his resignation from the so-called "responsible" leaders among the D.C. elites. So it appears that willingness to destroy the economy of the country and the world to score an ideological victory has moved into the realm of acceptability. This tells us how much our politics has changed in recent years.

One after another Republicans -- the very people responsible for the massive debt -- have been outlining their "conditions" for a vote to prevent default and allow the country's economy to survive. They maintain they are not going to pass a budget that does not gut the government, and if the Senate and President do not go along with this they will just let the government default. They say they "can't want" for a "bloodbath." Senator Jim DeMint, for example, said today,

"We need to have a showdown at this point that we are not going to increase our debt ceiling anymore," he said. "We are going to cut things necessary to stay within the current levels, which is over $14 trillion. This needs to be a big showdown."

This "gut or shut" threat is so far beyond anything the country has experienced that the country really has no idea what is about to happen in the next few months. But this is just the next step in a 30-year plan and we should understand it that way.

The Huge Debt Was The Plan

The huge deficit and accumulated debt was intentional. It was the plan all along: cut taxes on the rich, grow the debt into an emergency and then use that emergency to force cuts in things our government does for We, the People. Do not forget this and do not let the country forget this, either. This is not an emergency, it is just the next step in their plan.

Making this very point, President George W Bush called his deficits "incredibly positive news" because the resulting debt would force a debt crisis. And he left behind a $1.4 trillion deficit in his last budget year to clinch the deal. Now Republicans are gloating that they can gut or shut the government with the debt ceiling vote. This is not an emergency, it is just the next step in their plan.

It Is About WHAT To Cut

The huge debt was caused by tax cuts for the rich and military spending increases. But those are not what the Republicans are talking about fixing in the name of cutting the deficit. Far from it.

When they say they are “cutting spending” what they mean is they are cutting the things that government does for US - for We, the People. They are keeping the things that government does for the wealthiest 1% - the ones who got the bailouts and tax cuts. They are not talking about cutting the military even though we spend more than all other countries combined. They are not talking about cutting subsidies for big corporations - especially not for oil and coal companies. They are not talking about restoring top tax rates to where they were when the economy (more or less) worked.

They are talking about gutting the things that we do for each other and that protect us from the power of predatory corporate wealth – consumer protections, worker safety, environmental protections, health care, retirement, and the rest.

The Social Security Trap

It appears form Senator Graham's remarks, and others, that the #1 target is Social Security. While conservatives have had the program in their sights since its inception, today's focus on Social Security is also a trap aimed at the 2012 Presidential election.

Republican leadership are trying to trap President Obama into agreeing to cut Social Security and then use this to drive him from office. They plan to campaign that Obama cut Social Security, just as they successfully campaigned that "Democrats cut $500 billion from Medicare" in the 2010 midterms. In the 2010 campaign anonymous-donor organizations aligned with the Republican Party ran ad after ad after ad after ad in district after district after district claiming "Democrats cut $500 billion from Medicare." Seniors abandoned the Democratic party, and Republicans swept the election.

The Public Does Not Want Social Security Touched

This Social Security trap is one pillar of the 2012 plan, and the White House and party leadership should pay attention. Poll after poll after poll warn that the public does not want Social Security touched. Even Tea Party rank-and-file do not want Social Security touched.

Wall Street's Central Role

Wall Street is also at risk in this game, and should pressure the Republicans to stop threatening to let the country default on its debts. Economist Dean Baker, in Saving Social Security: Stopping Obama’s Next Bad Deal, points out that Wall Street would be destroyed by a debt default, while the rest of us wold survive. For this reason the President should call the bluff.

The prospect of the U.S. government defaulting on its debt creates the sort of end of the world scenario in which Congress rushed to pass the TARP in 2008. Back then ... luminaries told members of Congress and the public that we would have a second Great Depression if the Wall Street banks were not immediately bailed out, no questions asked. And the money flowed.

The prospect of defaulting on the debt will create a similar outbreak of shrill warnings of disaster. ... privatization of Social Security and Medicare and major cuts and/or elimination of other important programs. The argument from the administration will be that they have no choice.

[...] not only Democrats, but also independents and even Tea Party Republicans overwhelming support Social Security and Medicare. Furthermore, the gun, in the form of a potential debt default, is actually pointed at the Wall Street banks, not the public.

... 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.

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...

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.

This means that if President Obama is prepared to take the right and popular position of supporting Social Security and Medicare, he will win. This is both good policy and great politics.

Guy Saperstein, in The Looming Debt Ceiling Shakedown, writes that the President should call the bluff,

The Republicans are running a total bluff. They don't want the government to default on government bonds anymore than Obama. It would cause economic chaos, cost Wall Street trillions and lead to a civil war within the Republican Party between the Wall Street Wing and the Lunatic [aka, Tea Party] Wing ...

Wall Street is supporting the Republicans because they want a weaker, more controllable government -- and a piece of that Social Security money. They are convinced that President Obama will cave and agree to gut government and Social Security. But, as Baker points out, this game of default threats puts Wall Street at greater risk than the rest of us. President Obama should use that to draw a line in the sand: He won't sign anything other than a clean debt ceiling bill. Gutting Social Security should never be discussed as a budget-cutting strategy, and especially not at the barrel of a gun. Back off, send a clean bill, and then let’s talk about all the corporate sacred cows that members of both political parties have been protecting, that long ago needed to be weaned from the federal teat, as well as the unnecessary spending on defense and wasteful tax giveaways. And at the same time, let’s embrace the common sense that only in a growing economy that pays its workers well can we ever hope to repair the damage done by reckless conservative policies.


Sign up here for the CAF daily summary.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 7:16 AM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

January 3, 2011

America Needs An Industrial Policy

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.

Over the weekend Daily Kos ran a front-page story, America needs an industrial policy, making the point that Germany is doing well because their government understands that a national policy of promoting manufacturing drives the economy and jobs.

There is a simple reason why Germany manufactures so many high-end goods, from the best watches to the finest grand pianos, all the way up to Porsches and highly complicated precision instruments: it is the policy of the German government.

Well, it isn't exactly a policy. It is more of a framework. Germany's method of creating wealth is straightforward: 1. Produce a highly educated workforce. 2. Have that workforce create and make advanced, precision things for high wages. 3. Export the things at a high price and then re-invest that money back into item 1. This is why Germany is the Number 2 exporter in the world despite having only 27 percent of America's population and only 6 percent of Number 1 exporter China. The Germans realize they cannot beat either China or India based on cost. Advanced nations can't compete on cost. America could bust all the unions, get rid of the minimum wage, eliminate all social benefits and taxation and we would still lose jobs to low-wage nations. Germany decided to avoid going down the same path of downward spiral among its middle class that we are in. Instead, they invest in their people and in research.

Investing In People And Research Pays Off

As the Daily Kos story points out, Germany invests in their people and research. "America could bust all the unions, get rid of the minimum wage, eliminate all social benefits and taxation and we would still lose jobs to low-wage nations." And the results are there for all to see. Germany is recovering faster from the economic downturn with jobs returning. Manufacturing and exports lead the way.

Over the last 30 years, and the last 10 years in particular, America has conducted an experiment in letting "the markets" decide. Markets are a one-dollar-one-vote system, and of course those with the most dollars to begin with ended up deciding that they should be the primary beneficiaries from this experiment. Namely, them. Wall Street's share of profits jumped from around 16% to around 40% of all profits in the economy.

The "markets" experiment has failed for the rest of us. It is time for We, the People to realize that our government is us, and we need it to make decisions for us. Markets mean one-dollar-one-vote. When dollars decide those with the most dollars will decide to do things that benefit them. Democracy means one-person-one-vote, and that means making decisions that benefit We, the People. Our government - We, the People - must start deciding things that work for We, the People and not those who already have the most of everything. That means developing an industrial policy that invests in We, the People to pull us out of the mess that one-dollar-one-vote has put us in.

Sign up here for the CAF daily summary.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 4:59 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

January 1, 2011

Climate Disasters

Hottest Year In History Ends With Freak Climate Disasters | AlterNet

As greenhouse pollution continues to build in the atmosphere, 2010 is entering the history books as the hottest year on record. A year of unprecedented extreme weather disasters, 2010 is ending with yet more climate disasters, from floods in Australia to winter tornadoes across America:

Go read.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:50 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

When Oil Companies Rule

This is what happens when oil companies dominate an economy ... and media career paths.

Story in my local paper today: Electric car sales far from electrifying and likely to stay low

Sales so far have been microscopic, and they're likely to stay that way for some time because of limited supplies.

GM sold 250 to 350 Chevy Volts this month, and Nissan's sales totaled fewer than 10 Leaf sedans in the past two weeks.

OK, now with the stage set, with the public believing that electric cars are a total flop, something they would NEVER want to look at, comes the reason:

It will be well into 2012 before both the Volt and Leaf are available nationwide. And if you're interested in buying one, you'll need to get behind the 50,000 people already on waiting lists.

Next story, No One Goes To Maude's Diner

... because it's too crowded.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:11 AM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

Blood, running warmly down the sides of his head

This is what happens at a newspaper during the holiday shift, when the newsroom staff has been cut back to part-time, low-pay novelists and the editors are all on break.

Victims in pot-house robbery detail terror of home invasion - San Jose Mercury News,

Then he felt the blood, running warmly down the sides of his head. He began to think of his husband, his dogs, his cats.

"At first I knew that I was dying, then when I didn't die right away, I thought it's gonna be slower," Vlad said. "But somebody was watching over me."

Under his knit hat, on Friday he tenderly showed the two bloody holes -- one where the bullet entered his scalp and another where it burst out.

That night, Joseph was running for the front door with his friend to escape when he heard the pop. He knew then that the intruders had either shot his husband or Maya or Vito, their dogs. Joseph tried to keep calm. He had to think.

One of the men caught Joseph and his friend, grabbed Joseph by the shirt and punched him in the head.

They dragged Vlad into the same room. Vlad asked Joseph if he was bleeding. Joseph lied, telling him it wasn't that bad. Blood was gushing from his head, dripping off his chin. Vlad said his whole left side was going numb.

It all happened on a dark and stormy night.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:04 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos