Congress Giving Up On Helping Unemployed?

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
Suddenly the word is all over the place that the Congress is not going to extend unemployment benefits further! It seems that the economy is booming (for Wall Street, top corporate executives, and Washington legislators) so it doesn’t feel like there is a need to keep carrying these people.
Is the economy booming? Michael Moore’s movie “Capitalism, A Love Story” brought attention to a concept known as “plutonomy,” referring to economic growth that is powered and consumed entirely by the wealthy. The idea is that the world’s economy no longer needs regular people or a middle class to keep it going. The thinking is that the rich at this point are just carrying them along for the ride – for now. And for sure, an attitude seems to have set in among the elites that they are carrying the rest of us, and we are a burden. Stock markets are up, bonuses are up, we’re out of the woods. Next month the jobs report is expected to be 300,000 new jobs created. Problem solved. So why are we still acting like there’s a problem?
A Bloomberg report yesterday that Congress won’t be extending unemployment benefits reflects exactly this worldview, quoting Sen. Max Baucus,

Democrats who have pushed through the past extensions agree there’s insufficient backing to go beyond 99 weeks, largely because of mounting concern over the federal deficit, projected to reach $1.5 trillion this year.
“You can’t go on forever,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, of Montana, whose panel oversees the benefits program. “I think 99 weeks is sufficient,” he said.
“There’s just been no discussion to go beyond that,” said Senator Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat.
Some Republicans say cutting off aid will spur people to find work.

Goldman “designed to fail” Sachs is quoted seeing no “political climate” for helping the unemployed,

“The political climate is not as conducive to additional expansions as it had been last year,” a Goldman analysis said. “The result is likely to be a greater share of unemployed workers not receiving unemployment compensation.”

“Why don’t they just give themselves million-dollar bonuses like everyone else does?” one expects to hear next.
The radio show Marketplace interviews Stuart Rothenberg, confirming that Congress actually might not extend benefits to the millions and millions of unemployed,

We just don’t have the resources to do this. The money’s not there, and we’re already in debt. Everybody’s fighting for every nickel, and so it would be difficult to extend benefits.

The Marketplace correspondent adds,

But there is an argument that paying benefits for longer actually keeps the unemployment rate high. That’s because people who get a check don’t search as hard for work. And they’re picky.

“The money’s not there.” Maybe because we got tricked into giving it all to Wall Street?
So is it just a problem if people not wanting to get jobs? The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes unemployment rates for metropolitan areas. Scroll down to number 209, Prescott, AZ, where the numbers first reach 10%, then scroll to the bottom where number 372, El Centro, CA is 27%. If any of those people in those 163 metropolitan areas do find a job all they are doing is taking a job from someone else, at a lower wage. (Which may be the objective of denying unemployment benefits, to drive wages down further.)
What are people going to do? Job seekers still outnumber jobs by 6 to 1. Deborah Weinstein of the Coalition on Human Needs says,

We have 6.5 million people who are long-term unemployed. The numbers jump each month. Even from Feb to March the number grew by 414,000 in just that one month. There are record-breaking numbers of people who have been unemployed for 6 months or more. If we cut off benefits we are hurting the people who are hurting the most and we will threaten the very fragile beginnings of the recovery that we are only just starting to see.

Meteor Blades, writing at Daily Kos, adds,

Among those politicians who are too sensitive to invoke the specter of hobos, there’s still a widespread view that most jobless people so much enjoy living on benefits that they won’t look for a job until the benefits go away. So, take the benefits away and, magically, everybody is employed again.
Then there is the real world.

Are they just engaging in magical thinking
The Congressional leadership has to come out right now and tell us what they are doing about jobs. Are they or are they not extending unemployment, COBRA subsidies and COBRA itself? Are they supporting the Miller Jobs Bill? What about additional proposals? What about aid to the states? Like Nevada, New York, Virginia, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey, and that is just from 5 minutes of The Google.
You can help the Congress figure out if they should be helping the unemployed. You can call your own member of Congress and let them know your own thoughts on this.
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The Revolving Door

This post originally appeared at Open Left.
If you are not familiar with the term “revolving door” it describes people who move from lobbying firms to government and back.
The Sunlight Foundation has just come out with Revolving Door From Capitol Hill to Big Banks,

Concerned about seeing their huge profits cut, six big banks are leading the charge to weaken or block new financial regulations being considered in the United States Senate. To push their cause these banks have hired 145 former government officials–congressmen, staffers and executive branch officials–to lobby on Capitol Hill and in the executive branch.

And they are spending a ton of money,

The top six bank holding companies engaged in lobbying on financial regulation include Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, these banks spent a combined total of $23.8 million lobbying Washington in 2009.

Please go over to Sunlight and take a look at this.
The level of influence that the largest corporations have over our government is not a surprise to anyone. The way it works is we are supposed to have a marketplace that is a level playing field and our government officials make the rules of that playing field from a distance, uninfluenced. Companies then compete on that playing field, and the ones who best serve the public are rewarded.
But what happened is that the rulemaking was not kept apart from the players on the field. Imagine a player in a football game approaching the rulemakers in the middle of a game and offering $150K to change a rule. And obviously that player then gains from the change and the gain enables more resource for more and larger bribes. How fast does the playing field tilt completely to that player?
So what we have is the largest companies setting the rules of the playing field so that the game comes out in favor of … the largest companies. Oil, tobacco, health insurance, we see it everywhere.
The solution? Prohibit company resources from leaking out of the company in any way that can influence the public or legislators. Company funds should be used to run the company only. Of course, the Supreme Court just did the opposite…

The Oil Economy & The Price

This post originally appeared at Open Left.
The disaster in the Gulf unfolds. It looks like this is worse than thought and is going to get a LOT worse.
A LOT worse: BP Oil Well Leaking Five Times Faster Than Estimated

A damaged BP Plc oil well in the Gulf of Mexico is leaking as many as 5,000 barrels of crude a day, five times more than previous estimates as the oil slick drifted the closest yet to shore, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

5,000 barrels is 210,000 gallons. This is turning out to be much, much bigger than the Exxon Valdez disaster.
How many times have you heard, “The private sector does everything more efficiently and effectively than government?” Right. Not this time. Leaking Oil Well Lacked Safeguard Device,

The oil well spewing crude into the Gulf of Mexico didn’t have a remote-control shut-off switch used in two other major oil-producing nations as last-resort protection against underwater spills.

So once again the private sector screwed up and created a disaster that is way, way beyond private capabilities to fix things… and again it is government to the rescue: US military joins Gulf of Mexico oil spill effort. But government coming in after the fact to clean things up after the private sector created a major disaster is a very expensive way to do things. Maybe we ought to revisit that “government is bad” ideology that let’s this kind of thing happen over and over again.
Anti-government ideology? Deregulation ideology? I wonder where it comes from? Well, all that Koch money you may have been hearing about, funding the Tea Party movement, funding the climate deniers, funding all that anti-government, anti-regulation crap — that’s oil money. Exxon, Schell and BP are in that mix as well.
This stuff follows a model developed by the tobacco companies to keep their franchise going after it became clear they were profiting from a product that was killing people. The model is to fund a political movement to throw as much smoke as possible in the air — “doubt is our product” — get people arguing about “personal responsibility” instead of our community responsibilities to each other, and turn people against government so it can’t regulate. It works: tobacco still kills over 400,000 Americans a year and it’s still legal — and still very, very profitable. Revise and extend the model and you have today’s conservative movement – a pay for play operation serving the biggest companies.
Meanwhile, here is one more reason the big corporations are opposing things like wind energy: Wind’s latest problem: it … makes power too cheap.

The key thing here is that we are beginning to unveil what I’ve labelled the dirty secret of wind: utilities don’t like wind not because it’s not competitive, but because it brings prices down for their existing assets, thus lowering their revenues and their profits.

Never forget the 11 workers who were killed.

Attacking Deficits

This post originally appeared at Open Left.
Yesterday was the President’s Deficit Commission and today is the Peterson summit. The very serious people (who didn’t know there was a housing bubble) are telling us that our own government providing benefits to our people is baaaad and very unserious. (Military spending? What’s that?)
As Paul mentioned here yesterday in a GREAT post, Campaign for America’s Future is hosting a “Virtual Summit On Economic & Fiscal Responsibility (For People Who Did Not Wreck The Economy)“. Mike Lux has pitched in there as well. Lots of great stuff.
So what about that deficit, and the Social Security crisis? Always, always keep in mind that the whole bruhaha over Social Security comes out of a strategic plan to get rid of it. As Paul pointed out in his post and as I have written about,

This strategy goes back to a larger Wall Street effort to get rid of Social Security. A 1983 Cato Institute Journal document, “Achieving a Leninist Strategy” by Stuart Butler of Cato and Peter Germanis of Heritage lays it out for us. The document is still available at Cato, and select quotes are available at Plotting Privatization? from Z Magazine. …
[quotes from the Cato strategy document]
… Every time you hear that “Social Security is going broke” you are hearing a manufactured propaganda point. Every time you hear that “Social Security is a Ponzi scheme” you are hearing a manufactured propaganda point. Every time you hear that “Social Security won’t be there for me anyway” ” you are hearing a manufactured propaganda point.
Don’t fall for it. If they can gut Social Security they stand to make a lot of money but you stand to lose your retirement.

AND never forget that the deficit was also manufactured on purpose, to defund government’s ability to regulate business and protect citizens, and to force a shrinking of what the corporate right calls “big government.” Government is We, the People making the decisions for ourselves, “big government” is We, the People making more decisions for ourselves. The only alternative is the wealthy and big corporations making the decisions for us instead. Don’t fall for it. We didn’t have deficits until we cut taxes on the rich.

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The Race Card

This post originally appeared at Open Left.
There is a big story out there, but not so big in the progressive blogosphere. For days now the Drudge Report has had a headline up, “OBAMA PLAYS RACE CARD”. Initially the big headline (but no siren), it is still there as a smaller headline. The headline links to Politico: Obama seeks to ‘reconnect…young people, African-Americans, Latinos, and women’ for 2010
Of course, the Politico story makes no “race card” claim.

Turning out those so-called “surge” voters — who turned out for the first time to back Obama, but who sat out gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia last year — has become the Democrats’ central pre-occupation for the midterm elections, and the new Democratic effort to nationalize the election around Obama and his agenda mark an attempt to energize those voters.

Currently there are over 3000 comments to the Politico story, like:

“Pathetic…the very people who are his “base” are the ones who are the problem, the non-producers, the takers. These are the people who pay no taxes. Pathetic, absolutely pathetic.”

Ahhh, the opening shot to garner the Hispanic vote as they work their amnesty legislative blitzkrieg through Congress, continuing their Socialistic attack on the Republic.

The racist president at it again. This white hating man should be thrown from power now, he does not reprent the American people, he represents hatred.

And 3000 more like those. Of course it’s all over talk radio. Rush Limbaugh chimed in at length. And, of course, Fox News. Of course the RW blogs (scroll down to a list of other blogs just linking to this one post). Wash. Times.
So … was President Obama “playing the race card” by appealing to those who were first-time voters in 2008? Are women even a “race?” Are right-wingers idiots?
Media Matters has more.

14 Ways A 90 Percent Top Tax Rate Fixes Our Economy And Our Country

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
A return to Eisenhower-era 90% top tax rates helps fix our economy in several ways:
1) It makes it take longer to end up with a fortune. In fact it makes people build and earn a fortune, instead of shooting for quick windfalls. This forces long-term thinking and planning instead of short-term scheming and scamming. If grabbing everything in sight and running doesn’t pay off anymore, you have to change your strategy.
2) It gets rid of the quick-buck-scheme business model. Making people take a longer-term approach to building rather than grabbing a fortune will help reattach businesses to communities by reinforcing interdependence between businesses and their surrounding communities. When it takes owners and executives years to build up a fortune they need solid companies that are around for a long time. This requires the surrounding public infrastructure of roads, schools, police, fire, courts, etc., to be in good shape to provide long-term support for the enterprise. You also want your company to build a solid reputation for serving its customers rather than cheapening the product, pursuing quick-buck scams, cutting customer service, etc. The current Wall Street/private equity business model of looting companies, leaving behind an empty shell, unemployed workers and a surrounding community in devastation will no longer be a viable business strategy.
3) It will lower the executive crime rate. Today it is possible to run scams that let you pocket huge sums in a single year, and leave behind the mess you make for others to fix. A high top tax rate removes the incentive to lie, cheat and steal to grab every buck you can as fast as you can. This reduces the temptation to be dishonest. If you aren’t going to keep the whole dime, why risk doing the time? When excessive, massive paydays are possible, it opens the door to overwhelming greed and a resulting compromising of principles. Sort of the definition of the decades since Reagan, no?

4) Combined with badly-needed cuts in military spending – we spend more on military than all other countries on earth combined – taxing the wealthy ends budget deficits and starts paying off the massive Reagan/Bush debt. This reduces and ultimately eliminates the share of the budget that goes to pay interest. The United States now has to pay a huge share of its budget just to cover the interest on the borrowing that tax cuts made necessary. Paying off the debt would remove this huge drag on our economy. (Never mind that Alan Greenspan famously called for Bush’s tax cuts by saying it was dangerous to pay off our debt – now that same Alan Greenspan says we need to cut benefits to retired people because our debt is so high.)
5) It will bring in revenue to pay for improvements in infrastructure that then cause the economy to explode for the better. Investing in modern transit systems, smart grid, energy efficiency, fast internet and other improvements leads to a huge payoff of increased prosperity for all of us – especially for those at the top income levels. Infrastructure improvement and maintenance is the “seed corn” of economic growth. We have been eating that seed corn since Reagan’s tax cuts.
6) (related) It will bring in revenue for improving our schools, colleges and universities. Not only will this help our competitiveness, but it will improve each of our lives and level of happiness.

7) It will boost economic growth and rebuild a strong middle class. A consumption-based economy does better when consumers have more to spend. Perhaps not cause-and-effect, though I suspect so, but after FDR raised top tax rates the economy grew dramatically. The 90% top rate years under FDR, Truman, Eisenhower and the beginning of the Kennedy years were the years when we built the middle class. And remember, after Clinton raised top tax rates only modestly the economy grew. How’s it been doing since Bush’s tax cuts for the rich?
A look at economic growth rate charts shows a steady decline in the decades since top tax rates began to fall. Is it just a coincidence that the economy booms after tax increases that provide revenue to invest in new “seed corn,” and that the economy declines as we reduce taxes?
8) It is good for business because increased revenue will enable increasing government spending for the benefit of regular people. This recirculates money into the economy more productively than the current system of putting huge fortunes into a few hands and hoping for a resulting consumption of high-end goods. The wealthy can only spend so muc h so more disposable income in the hands of regular people is good for business. Any business owner will tell you they want customers more than they want tax cuts. (Let’s wait until the top one percent no longer owns most of everything before we talk about whether there is an effect on investment.)
9) It protects working people. Exploiting workers with long hours, low pay or lack of pay increases, lack of worker protections, firing union organizers and schemes that call employees “contractors” will no longer pay off as it does today. The era of extreme union-busting came in at the same time as the tax cuts.

Krugman:

The chart shows the share of the richest 10 percent of the American population in total income – an indicator that closely tracks many other measures of economic inequality – over the past 90 years, as estimated by the economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez.

10) It redistributes income and wealth in ways that help all of us. Currently a few people receive most of the income and own most of everything. A very high top tax rate reduces this concentration of wealth.
11) It fights the political instability that results from concentration of wealth. Great inequality in a society and the resulting loss of opportunity results in political instability that can lead to extreme ideologies, rebellion, etc. We are seeing all the signs of a resurgence of these problems today.
12) It will help rebuild our sense of democracy and belief in equality. As we have seen and are seeing, when too much is in the hands of too few, they have too much power and influence and use it to get even more.
13) It will strengthen the government that We, the People have worked hard to build, and strengthen its ability to enforce the laws and regulations that protect all of us and the resources we hold in common. It will increase its ability to provide all of us equally with the benefits of our joint efforts and our economy.
14) Finally, for good measure, increasing top tax rates will cause those affected to work harder to make up the difference. The Ayn Randians claim the very rich are the “producers” and all the rest of us are just parasites and slackers who feed off their “work.” So it will be very good for our economy to get them working harder by taxing them at 90%! You may have heard about those 25 hedge fund managers who brought in an average of $1 billion each last year – an amount that would have paid for 658,000 teachers — while the rest of the country suffered through a terrible economy. If we had a top tax rate of 90% they would “only” take home $100 million or so each – in a single year. And we could have 658,000 more teachers. So it’s a win-win.
Taxes are how we all pitch in to enjoy the benefits and protections of modern society. Those benefits and protections are what enable people to become wealthy, and we ask that they give some back so others can prosper as well.
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Conservative Failure – New $100 Bill “Looks European”

Conservatives just hate Europe. They think the US should be less like Europe. Its a thing with them.
So following along with this there was a big headline over at the conservative website Drudge Report the other day: “Even Obama’s New $100 bill looks European“.
Here’s the thing. The Americans that conservative outlets like Drudge and Fox News appeal to with this sort of nonsense more than likely haven’t been to Europe, so they don’t know what European money looks like. If they had been to Europe they would also know a few other things about Europe:
* Europe has high-speed rail connecting major cities, and good transportation when you get there.
* Workers get 5-6 weeks vacation.
* Workers get generous pensions.
* People receive great medical care often completely covered by the government.
* Many countries offer paid parental leave.
* And more, leave a comment with your own additions.
And if you ask any conservative they’ll tell you why these are bad things. Go figure.
I suspect that conservatives hate Europe because by comparison it shows off how badly America’s conservative policies have failed us over the last 30 or so years!
This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture as part of the Making It In America project. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary.

Workplace Democracy: Corporate Style


From IBEW:

New video produced by the IBEW reveals the truth about what really happens when workers try to exercise their rights in the workplace: 78 percent forced to attend closed door meetings with management , 75 percent of employers bring in professional union-busters.
Its to time to fix our broken labor laws so all workers have the right to choose their future without fear of retribution or intimidation.