The Strengthen Social Security Campaign

Social Security is once again under attack.
Time after time Social Security has come under attack. Do you remember the Bush “privatization” campaign a few years ago? Each time the attack uses a different myth, repeated over and over. Then, in between attacks, the myths continue circulating. This time they’re trying to make people think that Social Security contributes to the budget deficit. It doesn’t. They say this because so many people are worried about budget deficits. If polling showed that people were worried that their arms are going to turn into green cheese, they would be repeating and repeating that Social Security is the reason your arms are turning into green cheese. Sheesh!
In response to the latest attack a coalition of groups has formed to fight back and protect Social Security, demanding that Congress not make any benefit cuts. The coalition represents 30 million members, who are asked to remind elected officials that Social Security remains the “third rail” of American politics and that any sort of benefit cuts are opposed by wide majorities, from liberals to Tea Partiers.
The coalition is saying Strengthen Social Security, Don’t Cut It. Their website is strengthensocialsecurity.org and its blog is at strengthensocialsecurity.org/blog.
Most important, its petition is available to sign here.

The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility is trying to cut Social Security benefits. We can’t let that happen.
Can you sign our urgent petition to the Commission?
Social Security belongs to the people who have worked hard all their lives and contributed to it. Social Security is a promise that must not be broken. If you pay in, then you earn the right to benefits for yourself, your spouse and your dependent children when you retire, experience a severe disability, or die.
We need to strengthen Social Security, not cut it. That is why I oppose any cuts to Social Security benefits, including increasing the retirement age. I also oppose any effort to privatize Social Security, in whole or in part.

Meet Billy Bankster! Please watch this video from the coalition:

Here are videos from the launch event. First is Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW):

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Even Wall Street Agrees: Govt Should Borrow To Invest

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
Our current economic model depends on ever-increasing consumption. This model worked during the early industrial revolution worked because it filled existing needs: Farmers depending on horses needed tractors. Kitchens needed gas stoves and refrigerators, etc. Eventually the majority of needs were filled, and we invented demand creation: marketing and advertising made us want to buy things we don’t really need. All the while population growth helped push demand along at a steady pace.
When the limits of demand creation joined up with declines in population growth consumption would slow, the economies would stagnate, and governments would prime the pump. This ended up creating bigger and bigger bubbles, and bubbles pop.
And never mind the whole chewing up the planet thing where we are fishing out all the seas, removing all the mountaintops, cutting all the trees, drilling and mining deeper and deeper holes, putting more and more carbon into the air.
Bill Gross of PIMCO, says government stimulus plans should borrow to invest, not to push consumption. Writing about “New Normal” in Privates Eye at Real Clear Markets, worries that declining population growth is a warning flag for capitalism itself,

Production depends upon people, not only in the actual process, but because of the final demand that justifies its existence. The more and more consumers, the more and more need for things to be produced. I will go so far as to say that not only growth but capitalism itself may be in part dependent on a growing population.

WIth a growing population, the growth model of capitalism continues for a while,

Currently, the globe is adding over 77 million people a year at a pace of 1.15% annually, but slowing. Still, that’s 77 million more mouths to feed, 77 million more pairs of shoes to make, 77 million more little economic units of demand – houses, furniture, cars, roads, oil – more, more, more.

Gross speculates that this is at the root of the wobbly economies we have seen in recent decades,

The lack of population growth was likely a significant factor in the leveraging of the developed world’s financial systems and the ballooning of total government and private debt … Lacking an accelerating population base, all developed countries promoted the financing of more and more consumption per capita … Finally … there was nowhere to go but down.

Gross writes that continually borrowing to push consumption is not the right way to spend that money. You should borrow to invest, not to consume. Other countries are pe\ursuing policies of investment not consumption:

Far better to create and mimic other government industrial policies aimed at infrastructure, clean energy, more relevant education and less costly healthcare services.

If our government “stimulus” continues to push consumption — i.e. tax cuts — instead of spending that invests in infrastructure, education and health care, things can only get worse.
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Speaking Fees

Speaking fees are one way people in the conservative movement — even bloggers –make significant money. Many corporate trade associations pay significant fees to have people speak. Local organizations pay significant fees as well.
Apparently Republican Party groups around the country pay pretty well, too: Fred Barnes not on a team? Why did GOP pay him? – Joe Conason – Salon.com
Go here and here and here for some examples of who is on the circuit and how much they’re getting paid.
$5,000 here, $10,000 there, after a while it adds up. And you don’t want to bite the hand that feeds you $5K and $10K every now and then.

Harry — Roll Out The Cots! Again And Again And Again!

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
Dear Senate Majority Leader, you are letting the public down. We, the People need you to get things done but everything is being blocked by a minority. The public doesn’t understand that everything is being filibustered, so they are not applying the pressure that could break the tactic. That is your fault, not theirs: you have to show them. You owe it to the public, in the name of democracy, to let them know what is going on. There is a clear way to do that: Roll out the cots!
The country has so many things wrong that need fixing. A majority of the Congress, elected to make changes, is trying to get things moving for the people, but a corporate-sponsored minority is blocking almost everything. Their strategy is to frustrate the public and they count on misinformation to confuse people as to who is responsible for the logjam. As a result the public doesn’t see that there is a strategy of pure obstruction at work here.
The obstructionists have help in spreading the confusion. Newspaper stories rarely use the word “filibuster.” Many in the media tell the public that Senate rules require 60 votes to pass bills. Other stories blame “partisan bickering” for the lack of progress. So the public blames “both sides” because they don’t know what is really going on.
But you are helping spread the confusion too. 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.

Look what happened in April when you did roll out the cots! The cots were only part way down the hall when the obstructors held up their hands in surrender! That was a clue, Harry!
A Senator might (probably would) say, “But Senate Rules don’t recognize the circumstances unless there is an amendment to an amendment that meets a motion from the designated parliamentarian over the division of the rule to the committee and the amendment amends the amdenment to amend, and we have to suspend the rule by consent to amend the amendment before the amendment can be amended.”
I would respond, “ROLL OUT THE COTS.” Roll out the cots every single time they try to filibuster. Every single day. Cots. Cots. Cots. Park a truck out front of the Capital, filled with cots, and every time any Senator starts to say “No” workers should be starting to unpack the cots from the truck.
After a while the public will get it. You owe it to them to do this. Roll out the cots.
Cots.

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Cots.
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Bravo To Congress’ Making It In America Push — What It Still Needs

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.
House leaders deserve praise for fighting for working people by launching a “Make It In America” initiative which they officially unveiled today. The country still badly needs an immediate job-creation effort, but this is a very important longer-term initiative for reviving America’s manufacturing base and restoring our competitiveness in the world economy. Good work!
Manufacturing is the core of our country’s income. Making things that we sell is how we earn money to buy things that others make. This is why it is so important to restore America’s manufacturing base and the infrastructure that supports it. People want to go into a store and have a choice to buy things that are made here.
This week these important bills made it to the House floor: (click through for details)

  • National Manufacturing Strategy Act
  • Clean Energy Technology Manufacturing and Export Assistance Act
  • End the Trade Deficit Act
  • As the Congress rolls out this initiative here are important components it should include:

    Buy American
    Public money should be going to our people. This is what other countries, like China, are doing with domestic preferences and “indigenous innovation” policies.

  • Pass “Made in America” policies in every phase of any manufacturing plan, boosting domestic content requirements in federal procurement, (state and local government should do the same with their procurement policies).
  • Trade policies
    (Is “trade” even the right word for making the same things in other countries that we used to make here.)
    We are doing very little to combat the mercantilist nations, in particular China and Germany. China manipulates its currency and will not match its exports with imports. Germany is limiting domestic consumption — the resulting trade surplus is out of balance.

  • End tax incentives to move production overseas; create incentives to keep production at home. Current laws allow corporations to defer taxes on income earned overseas, which almost forces companies to develop schemes to make goods outside the country.
  • Require tariffs on goods from countries that manipulate currency, to overcome the pricing advantage this creates.
  • What about a “democracy tariff?” This is a tariff on imports to counter the advantages that come from moving factories to countries where the people don’t have the power or opportunity to insist on fair wages and worker and environmental protections.
  • Encourage the “Green Economy”
    Stimulate American manufacture of wind turbines, solar panels, biofuels, etc. This creates jobs and makes us competitive in the new green economy that will replace the carbon economy.

  • Create a domestic non-carbon energy market with a strong Renewable Energy Standard (RES) and a direct carbon tax (since the Senate has blocked cap-and-trade).
  • Use government procurement to help trigger this market. Phase in purchases of non-carbon energy, creating a strong market, triggering increased investment. Procurement should require American-made components. For example, wind-power purchases should require American-made turbines are used.
  • Infrastructure
    Our roads, bridges, rail, water and electrical systems, etc. are the backbone of a competitive economy. The infrastructure enables business to thrive. If it is not kept in good working order and up-to-date (and it has not been), businesses do not thrive (and they aren’t).

  • We need the Congress to create a National Infrastructure Investment Bank, capitalized with public money to lure private capital for investment in rebuilding key components of America’s infrastructure. Stop the obstruction – we need this!
  • Rebuild existing, crumbling infrastructure. This “spending” investment earns the money back many times over.
  • Pass the surface transportation reauthorization bill. This will boost American industry as while creating jobs, saving energy and incentivizing green development.
  • Build new infrastructure-for-the-future like high-speed internet and high-speed rail and a national electric “smart grid”.
  • Require companies to make the infrastructure components in America.
  • This is a brief outline of some of the needed components in a Make It In America strategy. These are things that Congress can do. Congress must not back away from bold reforms in the face of resistance from the right-wing monopolist business lobbyists, who speak for the job exporters, and their “free-trade ideologue” allies.
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    Shouldn’t High Unemployment = Less Work To Do?

    This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
    Simple question: have we reached a point where machines and computers leave us with less work to do? If so it can mean a lot of people are left without jobs and incomes, losing their homes and health, while the rest have our wages dragged ever downward. Or we can make some changes in who gets what for what, and every one of us ends up better off.
    Cake or death? Which will it be? (*explained below)
    Somewhere around one in five of us is un- or under-employed while at the same time so many of the rest of us, still employed are stressed, tired, doing the work of those laid off. With too few employed many stores, restaurants, hotels and many other businesses are falling behind. As Bob Herbert puts it today, “Simply stated, more and more families are facing utter economic devastation: completely out of money, with their jobs, savings and retirement funds gone, and nowhere to turn for the next dollar.” The government has stepped in with stimulus to pick up some of the slack in demand but that can’t go on forever and we need to find long-term solutions.
    Is it structural?
    There are signs that the jobs crisis may now be structural, or built into the system. This means that the usual solutions are not going to “restart the engine” and trigger a return to an economy that had where almost everyone can find a job, (even if it is a menial, boring time-suck).
    Our unemployment emergency may really be about less work to do. Hale “Bonddad” Stewart writing at 538.com, Labor Force Realignment and Jobless Recoveries concludes, (click through for gazillions of charts and full explanation)

    The “jobless recovery” is in fact a realignment of the US labor force. Fewer and fewer employees are needed to produce durable goods. As this situation has progressed, the durable goods workforce has decreased as well. This does not mean the US manufacturing base is in decline. If this were the case, we would see a drop in both manufacturing output and productivity. Instead both of those metrics have increased smartly over the last two decades, indicating that instead of being in decline, US manufacturing is simply doing more with less.

    So it may be that machines and computers are doing more of the work that people used to have to do.
    Robert Reich sees signs of structural unemployment as well, writing in The Great Decoupling of Corporate Profits From Jobs,

    … big U.S. businesses are investing their cash in labor-saving technologies. This boosts their productivity, but not their payrolls. [. . .] The reality is this: Big American companies may never rehire large numbers of workers. And they won’t even begin to think about hiring until they know American consumers will buy their products. The problem is, American consumers won’t start buying against until they know they have reliable paychecks.

    So what do we do?
    Maybe we need some changes in who gets what for what. Right now we have an economy that is structured to send most of its benefits to a few at the top, while the rest of us — the help — sink ever downward into less and less security. People with power and wealth benefit when they figure out how to cause other people to receive lower pay — or just lose their jobs. Eliminating jobs brings bonuses to the eliminators — a perverse incentive if ever there was one. If someone can figure out how to cut your pay and benefits or just get rid of you (“eliminate your position”) they get to pocket what you were making, and you get nothing (and conservatives say you’re lazy). If you don’t own the company you’re out of luck.
    In the past this perverse incentive was mitigated by people banding together in governments and/or unions and forcing the wealthy and powerful to share. But modern marketing science has been successful at making people believe that government and unions are bad for them. This was also mitigated by the ongoing need to find people to do the jobs that needed to get done. But with continual improvements in technology this need is reduced. We’re living the result.
    Also, this perverse incentive structure assumes an infinite pool of customers to sell to, ignoring that the transaction of benefiting from eliminating a job also eliminates a customer. But modern business has become so efficient at job elimination that this comes into play. Who will be able to buy theTVs that the employee-eliminating factory makes, if all the employees are eliminated and have no income?
    These are structural problems that we can change. Let me just brainstorm a few possibilities for structural changes into the mix here:

  • Today when they replace a worker with a machine, the few at the top get another chunk of income, the worker gets nothing. But suppose a worker got to keep some of the economic benefit from getting laid off! Suppose that if your company replaces you with with a machine you get, say, 15% of the cost-savings as ongoing income. Heck, getting laid off would be a good thing, like winning a prize. After you get laid off a few times you only have to work part time. Get laid off enough times, you can retire.
  • Suppose we just shorten the workweek? What if we change from a 40-hour workweek to a 30-hour workweek? Economist Dean Baker has been offering ideas for workweek reductions for some time:

    The other obvious way to provide a quick boost to the economy is by giving employers tax incentives for shortening their standard workweek or work year. This can take different forms. An employer who currently provides no paid vacation can offer all her workers three weeks a year of paid vacation, approximately a 6% reduction in work time.

  • Suppose the corporations and wealthy were taxed at the rate they were taxed before all the deficits and income inequality started, and the government just sent everyone a check, which served as a base income? Then everyone’s wages would be higher because desperate people wouldn’t be fighting over the few jobs. So then the better those at the top do, the better all of us do.
    These are just a few ideas for restructuring the economy in ways the help all of us instead of just a few at the top. Please add your ideas in the comments.
    We have a choice. We can continue with the system we have, and most of us — the help — will just get poorer and poorer while a few at the top take home more and more. Or we can change who gets what for what, and everyone comes out ahead.
    *So which will it be, cake or death?

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  • Cut Social Security To Pay For Tax Cuts For Rich?

    This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
    We have a deficit because we cut taxes for the rich, increased military spending, started two decade-long wars and handed tons of money to Wall Street. The Washington elite crowd says therefore, to fix a deficit caused by cutting taxes for the rich and sending military spending up into the stratosphere we have to … cut Social Security?
    I see. And while we’re at it I have a bridge I want to sell you, too.
    Social Security and the deficit are like apples and oranges. They are different things. Social Security has nothing to do with the budget deficit. As Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at Netroots Nation last week,

    “To change Social Security in order to balance the budget, they aren’t the same thing in my view,” the Democrat said today at the Netroots Nation conference in Las Vegas. “When you talk about reducing the deficit and Social Security, you’re talking about apples and oranges.”

    As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said at Netroots Nation,

    During a question and answer session, Reid … argued against “fear tactics of those who say Social Security is going broke. It’s not.” … “Social Security is the most successful social program in the history of the world,” he said.

    Don’t fall for it. The way to fix a budget deficit caused by cutting taxes for the rich and increasing military spending way beyond what is needed is to … well see if you can figure it out. Hint: get the money from where the money went.
    Coming Soon: Strengthen Social Security Campaign
    On Thursday there will be a news conference to announce a Strengthen Social Security Campaign. A coalition of 60 groups are getting together to fight this latest effort to kill Social Security. At the announcement: Richard Trumka (AFL-CIO), Gerald McEntee (AFSCME), Justin Ruben (MoveOn.org), Dennis Van Roekel (NEA), Eliseo Medina (SEIU), Terry O’Neill (NOW), Donna Meltzer (Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities), Hilary Shelton (NAACP), Ed Coyle (Alliance for Retired Americans).
    You can go sign the petition at strengthensocialsecurity.org
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    Why We’re Disappointed In Obama

    Frank Rich in There’s a Battle Outside and It Is Still Ragin’ – NYTimes.com,

    Tom Vilsack, the secretary of agriculture who fired Sherrod without questioning the video’s patently spurious provenance, was far slower to reverse himself than the N.A.A.C.P. Good for him that he seemed genuinely chagrined once he did apologize. But an executive so easily bullied by Fox News has no more business running a government department than Ken Salazar, the secretary of interior who let oil companies run wild on deepwater drilling until disaster struck. That the White House sat back while Vilsack capitulated to a mob is a disgraceful commentary on both its guts and competence. This wasn’t a failure of due diligence — there was no diligence.

    Kind of says a lot, no? It feels like the Obama administration governs based on a fear that Rush Limbaugh will say something bad about them.
    Dear President Obama: Rush Limbaugh IS going to say something bad about you no matter what. So go ahead and do the right thing.
    By the way, how many banksters have been prosecuted so far? Weren’t there more than 1,000 prosecutions after the Savings and Loan crisis?