The U.S. Chamber of Commerce claims to be “a business federation representing companies, business associations, state and local chambers in the U.S., and American Chambers of Commerce abroad.” They claim to be “the voice of” their members. They are supposed to represent their members.
So what does the Chamber do when it learns that their members support policies that do not align with the right-wing ideology of the “conservative movement”? Do they work to implement the policies their members support? Or do they hire experts to manipulate their members and the public into thinking that businesses do not support what they know their members actually do support? (Hint: they don’t go with their members.)
If the Chamber of Commerce is not really the voice of its members as it claims, whose voice does the Chamber really represent, and why?
Here’s the story. The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) – the people who exposed ALEC – obtained a confidential poll and webinar done by LuntzGlobal, the polling firm of prominent GOP pollster Frank Luntz, for Chamber of Commerce lobbyists.
The Council of State Chambers (COSC) commissioned Frank Luntz’ firm LuntzGlobal to poll members and potential members, and found they overwhelmingly support progressive policies. The poll of 1,000 local, state and national top senior corporate executives who are either current or prospective Chamber members found that business executives overwhelmingly support progressive policies. Some of the poll results:
● 80 percent of current or prospective Chamber members support raising their state’s minimum wage – only eight percent opposed it,
● 73 percent support paid sick days,
● 78 percent support predictive scheduling policies,
● 72 percent support increased maternity leave time,
● and 82 percent support increased paternity leave time, among other policies.
What did the Chamber do after learning that their members support these policies? In response, the Chamber had Luntz’ firm instruct lobbyists on messaging to use to defeat policies their own members support.
Webinar On How To “Combat” What Its Members Support
LuntzGlobal held a webinar for the Chamber’s Council of State Chambers lobbyists on how to counteract this support, so they can advance their anti-worker agenda. From the webinar:
“So what we’ll try to do is actually give you a few helpful hints on how to actually combat these [workplace reform efforts and their popularity among business leaders] in your states…”
“This webinar reveals just how deeply corporate interests and their lobbyists are influencing the priorities of state Chambers of Commerce, even when that agenda contradicts the opinions of their local business members,” said Lisa Graves, executive director of CMD. “Rather than listening to its members and crafting a policy agenda that reflects their priorities, Chamber lobbyists pick their policy positions behind closed doors and then figure out how to convince their members to fall in line.”
The U.S. Chamber has close ties to some of the largest multinational corporations in the world, including Koch Industries, whose leaders, Charles and David Koch, have funded an array of groups that actively oppose policies like increasing the minimum wage. The Koch brothers’ group Freedom Partners has donated millions to the Chamber of Commerce in recent years. In January, the Council of State Chambers held a session for state lobbyists on “Policy and Politics in 2016,” where Marc Short, then-President of Freedom Partners, was a designated speaker.
The LuntzGlobal survey reflects a national sample of business owners and executives who are registered voters and who are members of the local, state, or U.S. Chamber of Commerce or match the profile of executives that the chambers would want to attract. In all, 73% were CEOs or owners; more than half (59%) had revenues of between $50 million and $500 million; 39% had fewer than 100 employees while another 41% had 100-499 employees. The results included 250 responses per region (East, Midwest, South, West), with results weighted among all states in each region.
Whenever minimum wage increases are proposed on the state or federal level, business groups tend to fight them tooth and nail. But actual opposition may not be as united as the groups’ rhetoric might make it appear, according to internal research conducted by a leading consultant for state chambers of commerce.
The survey of 1,000 business executives across the country was conducted by LuntzGlobal, the firm run by Republican pollster Frank Luntz, and obtained by a liberal watchdog group called the Center for Media and Democracy. … Among the most interesting findings: 80 percent of respondents said they supported raising their state’s minimum wage, while only eight percent opposed it.
There is no force in America that has spent more time and effort to keep wages low than the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the state chambers that aggressively lobby against increasing the minimum wage. The U.S. Chamber is a $165 million dollar lobby shop (2013 990), which raised and spent $35 million in the 2014 election cycle, according to Open Secrets.
“With their internal polls showing that business owners and executives support raising the minimum wage by an overwhelming 80-to-8 percent, it’s unconscionable that the U.S. Chamber and state chambers continue to fight the wage increases that America’s workers and our economy need,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project.
You can see videos, transcript, the poll, and presentation slides from the webinar here.
“We knew the tech industry was booming, but we weren’t seeing that translate into an abundance of jobs for our communities – until we looked at the low-wage jobs in contracting industries. Those are growing fast, just like tech profits are. It’s no wonder that one in three working households in Silicon Valley can’t make ends meet when these growing industries pay wages that barely cover rent.”
– Derecka Mehrens, Executive Director of Working Partnerships, USA.
In the last two-and-a-half decades, the number of Silicon Valley “second-class” jobs in potential contract industries has grown three times faster than overall Silicon Valley employment. These contractors and subcontractors jobs are disproportionately filled by Black and Latino workers compared to direct tech employees, and these workers receive much lower wages. As a result, Silicon Valley’s inequality and occupation segregation is amplified, especially among people of color.
The report finds that direct tech employees earn $113,300. Contractor and subcontractor tech industry workers – workers employed indirectly rather than treated as legitimate employees – are paid much less. White-collar workers in contract industries average $53,200 and blue-collar workers in contract industries average $19,900.
Along with this wage differential, as income drops the proportion of the workforce that is comprised of Black and Latino workers goes up. According to the report, Black or Latino workers make up, on average:
● 10 percent of Silicon Valley’s direct tech workforce.
● An estimated 26 percent of the white-collar contract industry workforce.
● An estimated 58 percent of the blue-collar contract industry workforce.
Silicon Valley companies have gotten a lot of heat in recent years for failing to recruit people black and Hispanic people into their ranks. But if you factor in contractors and others whose jobs bring them inside those companies, the industry appears bit more inclusive — just perhaps not in the way one might hope.
At one time in history, the janitors, bus drivers, food service workers, and security guards who staff corporate campuses might have been employed directly by the businesses where they cooked lunches and cleaned floors. That’s become less and less true in recent decades, according to a new analysis of labor data by researchers at the University of California – Santa Cruz — especially in Silicon Valley.
The Road to Responsible Contracting
The report concludes with a section on how companies could contract out jobs responsibly.
Silicon Valley Rising calls on our region’s leading businesses to commit to the following principles:
Responsibility: Ensure that their subcontracted workers are paid a livable wage, receive equitable benefits, have the right to a voice at work without fear of discrimination or retaliation, do not suffer mass layoffs when contracts change hands, and are protected from misclassification and other forms of wage theft.
Transparency: Release public data on their subcontracted workforces, including diversity, pay, and benefit data for each subcontractor.
Inclusion: Invest in building a community where janitors, security officers, cafeteria workers, teachers, nurses, firefighters and other non-tech workers can afford to live. Support access to full-time work, affordable housing, an accessible, world-class public transit system, and high-quality education for low-wage workers and their children.
Opportunity: Work with advocates to explore new approaches to create education and career pathways for contract workers and their families to move into core tech jobs.
The technology industry faces a clear choice. It can continue the status quo of exclusive jobs and exclusionary growth, widening the existing racial, gender and income gaps and accelerating the race to the bottom. Or it can wield its enormous economic influence combined with its capacity for innovative solutions to become a true global pioneer – to not just disrupt markets and technology, but to disrupt inequality.
You’ve heard people ask, “How come they can come up with a couple trillion dollars to invade Iraq, or hundreds of billions for corporate tax cuts, but say we’re broke when we need to fix our infrastructure so pipes don’t contaminate children with lead poisoning?”
The answer is that the priorities of our current rigged “system” lead to choices like these by our current Congress. The taxing and spending in our government’s budgets reflect those priorities. As we all know, these priorities more and more often reflect the values and wishes of the “donor class” and less and less often reflect the values and wishes of the rest of us.
The CPC People’s Budget deals with the real needs of Americans and our economy. It makes major job-creating investments in our country through clean energy, infrastructure, housing, and education, which will increase opportunity for all and boost wages for working Americans. It financially supports a justice system that is fair and effective for all Americans, supports women’s reproductive health, supports voting rights, makes debt-free college a reality for all students, provides a plan to halve poverty and more. It pays for this by eliminating corporate tax dodges and breaks.
Priority: Austerity Or Prosperity
Choose your priority:
● Austerity – the current “donor class” budgeting that benefits billionaires, Wall Street and giant corporations through cuts in things government does to make our lives and economy better, combined with cuts in taxes for billionaires and giant corporations. Austerity literally takes money out of the economy and “eats the seed corn.” When there are fewer jobs and people really need to find work, employers can pay as little as they can legally get away with, and pit the employees against each other. Meanwhile tax cuts defund our government’s ability to regulate what corporations and Wall Street do.
● Prosperity – a “People’s” budget that creates millions of jobs (resulting in higher pay for everyone) through investment in maintaining and modernizing infrastructure, launching green energy projects, making preschool and higher education freely available for anyone who wants to attend and supports a justice system that is fair and effective for all Americans. This investment in our people and our economy’s future creates fertile soil in which people and businesses can prosper. When there are lots of jobs, companies will “bid up” wages and benefits to attract people to work for them.
The People’s Budget will:
● Provide a $1 trillion investment to repair roads and bridges and ensure the restoration of our crumbling infrastructure.
● Create 3.6 million good-paying jobs to push our economy back to genuine full employment by targeting a 4 percent unemployment rate.
● Make corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes, cracking down on loopholes and avoidance schemes.
● Make debt-free college a reality for all students by overhauling the student loan system, which currently leaves college students saddled with unmanageable levels of debt.
● Take bold action to fight climate change and invest in a clean-energy economy that supports green jobs with good wages.
… sharp contrast between the progressive vision of a government working to strengthen working families and make our economy and politics more fair, and a conservative vision of government all but abandoning struggling families while coddling the wealthy and powerful.
It’s your choice: Choose the current priority of austerity that benefits billionaires, corporations and Wall Street or a prosperity People’s Budget that invests in our economy – and us.
The Progressive Caucus People’s Budget is a bill in front of our Congress. All it takes is enough votes and it becomes the budget of our country. If you choose prosperity, here are some things you can do to help push this budget through Congress:
Our country’s “free trade” agreements have followed a framework of trading away our democracy and middle-class prosperity in exchange for letting the biggest corporations dominate.
There are those who say any increase in trade is good. But if you close a factory here and lay off the workers, open the factory “there” to make the same things the factory here used to make, bring those things into the country to sell in the same outlets, you have just “increased trade” because now those goods cross a border. Supporters of free trade are having a harder and harder time convincing American workers this is good for them.
Free trade is when goods and services are bought and sold between countries without tariffs, duties and quotas. The idea is that some countries “do things better” than other countries, which these days basically means they offer lower labor and environmental-protection costs. Allowing other countries to do things in ways that cost less “frees up resources” which can theoretically be used for investment at home.
“Free trade”: The elites are selling it but the public is longer buying it. Look at the support for Democrat Bernie Sanders and Republican Donald Trump, especially in light of Sanders’ surprise 20-point comeback in this week’s Michigan primary. With primaries coming soon in Ohio, Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina, will Sanders’ trade appeal resonate again?
Voters See Free Trade Killing Their Jobs And Wages
Voters have figured out that our country’s current “free trade” policies are killing their jobs, wages, cities, regions and the country’s middle class. Giant multinational corporations and billionaires do great under free trade, the rest of us not so much.
Elites say increasing trade is always good. But when you close a factory here, then open the factory “there” and bring the same goods back to sell in the same outlets, you have “increased trade” because those goods now cross a border. The differential between wages paid here and there goes into the pockets of the executives and shareholders. Those unemployed American workers add to wage pressures on the rest of us. Inequality increases.
There are other bad consequences as the effects of free trade ripple through local economies. The stores and gas stations and restaurants where the workers shopped and dined have to cut back. The factory’s suppliers have to cut back and lay off, too. Property values drop in the neighborhoods where all of those workers lived. The local tax base erodes. Roads and buildings and downtowns deteriorate… (The old lead pipes going to the houses do not get replaced.)
On a national scale, these local effects add up to a tragedy.
The national industrial ecosystem collapses as well. The manufacturing “know-how” migrates out of the country. The schools that taught people how to do what the factory did drop those classes. The investors who know how to evaluate manufacturing proposals go away. The raw materials pipeline migrates away. Reviving the outsourced industries will require tremendous and nationally coordinated investment.
For decades we’ve been told all this is actually good for “us.” But people have come to understand that the “us” this is good for doesn’t include about 99 percent of “us” or our country.
Trade Behind Sanders’ Michigan Upset
Sanders’ Michigan primary upset was most likely driven by his repeated trade message. Michigan’s primary upset demonstrates again that voters have caught on that our country’s trade policies have sent millions of jobs out of the country, put tremendous downward pressure on wages, decimated regions of the country (Flint, Detroit, the “rust belt”) and are dealing a death blow to America’s middle class.
Watch this Sanders ad on the damage our trade deals have done:
While people talk about “NAFTA” (the North American Free Trade Agreement) the term is really used as a shorthand for all of our country’s disastrous trade policies, including the millions of jobs and tens of thousands of factories outsourced to China.
The exit polling from Michigan indicates that most voters there are wary of free trade agreements — and that Sanders and Trump drubbed their opponents among those voters.
According to CNN, 58 percent of Democratic voters polled after casting ballots said they believe U.S. trade with other countries takes away U.S. jobs, compared with just 30 percent who said they believe it creates them. Among that group, Sanders won by a whopping 17-point margin: 58 percent to Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s 41 percent. He won the primary overall by less than a 2-point margin.
[. . .] Trade — and resentment toward U.S. trade policy — has been the sleeper issue in 2016. By eliminating trade barriers with low-wage countries, the North American Free Trade Agreement and subsequent treaties over the past two decades have encouraged U.S. companies to move jobs to countries where workers are paid less.
Sanders has made a point of pressing Clinton on trade throughout the Democratic debates, including just days ago. The Vermont independent has been a vocal opponent of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal with 12 Pacific Rim countries championed by President Barack Obama. Clinton’s stance on the deal hasn’t beennearly as clear.
Mr. Sanders pulled off a startling upset in Michigan on Tuesday by traveling to communities far from Detroit and by hammering Mrs. Clinton on an issue that resonated in this still-struggling state: her past support for trade deals that workers here believe robbed them of manufacturing jobs. Almost three-fifths of voters said that trade with other countries was more likely to take away jobs, according to exit polls by Edison Research, and those voters favored Mr. Sanders by a margin of more than 10 points.
The salience of trade, in a state where unemployment had tumbled more than half since the start of the Great Recession, blindsided a Democratic Party that has struggled to find coherence between its labor base and its neoliberal leadership. It also worried Republicans, whose leaders and donors are resolutely in favor of free trade.
“There has been a bipartisan conventional wisdom that the damage done to working-class jobs and incomes are simply part of inevitable changes, ones we cannot and should not challenge,” said Larry Mishel, president of the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. “Even President Obama is blaming inequality problems on technological change, which is not even a plausible explanation for post-2000 America. People correctly understand that many elites simply believe that wage stagnation is something we cannot change.”
… In Michigan, exit pollsters for the first time asked voters whether they thought trade created or took away American jobs. The “take away” faction made up 55 percent of the Republican primary vote and 57 percent of the Democratic primary vote. Trump won the GOP faction with 45 percent, and Sanders won the Democratic side with 56 percent.
A YUGE part of Donald Trump’s appeal is his position on trade. A new poll shows that 66% of Republican voters oppose TPP.
Last week’s post, Trump Taps Into Economic Anxiety Resulting From ‘Free Trade’ noted that “Trump is tapping into an economic anxiety felt by many, many Americans. Our trade policies are at the root of this anxiety, and Trump knows it and says it, and people nod their heads.” Here is Trump speaking after the “Super Tuesday” primaries:
Our nation is in serious trouble. we’re being killed on trade, absolutely destroyed, China is just taking advantage of us. I have nothing against China, I have great respect for China but their leaders are just too smart of our leaders, our leaders don’t have a clue. And the trade deficits at 400 billion dollars and 500 billion dollars, are too much, no country can sustain that kind of trade deficit. It won’t be that way for long, we have the greatest business leaders in the world, on my team already, and believe me we’re going to redo those trade deals and it’s going to be a thing of beauty.
Trump has been sounding this message throughout his campaign. Here is Trump on trade from last November:
“I’ll tell you, there’s one thing that we’ve very similar on,” Trump said during a town hall hosted by MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. “He knows that our country is being ripped off big league, big league, on trade.”
1. A message of economic populism, particularly protectionism, is much more potent in the Rust Belt than we understood.
Most Michiganders feel like they are victims of trade deals, going back to NAFTA under Bill Clinton, and they’re deeply suspicious of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Outsourcing has helped hollow out the state’s once mighty manufacturing core.
Trump and Sanders both successfully tapped into this.
Six in 10 Michigan Democratic primary voters said international trade takes away U.S. jobs, and Sanders won these voters by roughly 20 points, according to preliminary exit poll data reported by CNN. Only 3 in 10 thought trade creates jobs; Clinton won that group.
One-third of voters said Clinton is too pro-business. Sanders won more than four in five of them.
… Clinton, after speaking supportively of the TPP, flip-flopped once the agreement was signed.
4. Free trade is Clinton’s albatross. Just as the cable networks were calling the shocker for Sanders, an email popped into my inbox from one architect of Obama’s 2008 triumph, who was travelling overseas. “Americans really hate free trade,” he wrote. “Don’t know how else to explain it. Same thing running through republican race.”
Clinton … has the burden of schlepping the albatross of NAFTA with her throughout the Midwest. This is where voters’ lack of trust and her core belief in the value of open markets for American manufacturers collide: When Clinton questions free trade nobody really believes her; Sanders’ thunderous anti-free trade talk taps a vein of deep grievance, his cash advantage allowed him to saturate markets with word of his opposition to TPP and NAFTA – and his debate-stage answer on the topic was pithier and more convincing than Clinton’s.
Will Sanders’ Trade Position Resonate In Upcoming Primaries?
And a new statewide poll of likely Ohio voters finds trade will likely be a dominant issue in the March 15 primary, as vast majorities of respondents worry that the United States has “lost too many manufacturing jobs” and think it would be effective to “crack down on foreign countries that violate their trade agreements.”
… Conducted Feb. 27 to March 2 by Public Opinion Research and The Mellman Group, the poll looked at voter opinion on trade, manufacturing and the presidential candidates. Researchers discovered that while support for American manufacturing is nearly universal, majorities of respondents are worried about a shrinking middle class and the impact of manufacturing job loss.
Most participants are also concerned about foreign trade, including with China. Ninety-one percent agreed that it’s time for crack down on countries that violate trade agreements, and 83 percent said that it is important that China is officially declared a currency manipulator.
… Other key findings:
● 93 percent of participants worry that the U.S. has “lost too many manufacturing jobs in this country.”
● 74 percent of participants have unfavorable views of “manufactured goods made in China,” including 77 percent of “conservative” respondents.
● 96 percent of participants are favorable of “manufactured goods made in America,” including 98 percent of “conservative members of the GOP.”
● 92 percent of participants think that “too many jobs are being shipped overseas” and 86 percent are worried they “don’t seem to manufacture anything here in America anymore.”
Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina have also been hammered by outsourcing of jobs caused by trade policies and likely have similar sentiments.
There Is A Better Way To Do Trade
Current U.S. trade policies are written by representatives of multinational corporations with the intent of locking in their dominance while driving wages and environmental costs down. The resulting agreements are clearly in their interests and not the rest of us. Our country’s enormous, humongous trade deficit is a metric for understanding the damage being done to our country.
Now that the public is clearly rejecting the current trade approach, there are alternatives available. Just having non-corporate stakeholders including representatives of labor, consumer, human rights, environmental and other groups at the table would bring about a more fair and just trade regime.
● Protect Congress’ Authority to Set Trade Policy
● Restore Balanced trade
● Put Workers First
● Stop Currency Manipulation
● Expand Buy America Procurement Practices
● Protect the Environment for Future Generations
● Prioritize Consumers above Profits
● Protect Nationhood Rights
● Secure Affordable Access to Essential Medicines and Services
● Respect Human Rights
● Provide a Safety Net for Vulnerable Workers
● Create shared gains for the workers whose labor creates society’s wealth.
● Strengthen protections for the environment. Companies must not use trade rules to pit one country’s environmental rules against another, as they seek the lowest-cost place to produce.
● Protect the freedom to regulate in the public interest.
● Set rules for fair competition. Workers of a nation must not be unduly disadvantaged by unfair economic competition resulting from choices about how to organize their economies.
● Include strong rules of origin so that trade agreements are not merely a conduit to ease the global corporation’s race to the bottom.
● Not provide extraordinary privileges to foreign investors.
● Effectively address currency manipulation.
● Retain the ability for all nations to stimulate their economies through domestic infrastructure and spending programs.
● Protect the right of governments to choose the scope and level of public services to provide.
● Protect intellectual property (IP) in a fair and balanced manner.
● Protect the unique U.S. transportation regulatory and legal structure.
● Protect the right of governments to secure the integrity and stability of their financial systems.
● Be negotiated in an open, democratic and accountable manner.
● Be flexible and responsive.
A Supreme Court justice has died. Normally (and according to the Constitution) the process is that the president nominates a successor, the Senate holds hearings, and there is a vote on whether to confirm that nominee. According to the Constitution, that’s their job, and they took an oath to do that job.
President Obama has said that of course he will fulfill his constitutional duty to nominate a successor to Justice Scalia. But this time Republicans have announced that they will refuse to participate in the constitutional process and will not consider any nomination that the president brings them.
This is part of an ongoing Republican attack on our form of government.
Ongoing Attack On Government And Rights
The country has been through years and years of Republican obstruction of everything government does. Why is that?
The architect of the modern conservative movement was corporate and tobacco attorney Lewis Powell, and his blueprint was “the 1971 Powell Memo,” titled, “Attack on American Free Enterprise System.” The memo claimed that “the American economic system” (capitalism) and “business” were “under broad attack” from “Communists, New Leftists and other revolutionaries.” It complained of “the stampedes by politicians to support almost any legislation related to ‘consumerism’ or to the “environment.” It called on business as a class to “conduct guerrilla warfare” against this on “the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences” as well as politicians the public and the courts. The goal was for business to “consider assuming a broader and more vigorous role in the political arena.”
The memo led to the building of the massive corporation/billionaire-funded conservative “infrastructure” of ideological “think tanks,” activist organizations and media/propaganda “echo chambers” that constantly push corporate/conservative propaganda out to the public. Book after book, article after article, study after study has warned of this movement effort to alter our government away from democracy and toward a corporatocracy.
Once such conservative movement organization is the Federalist Society, established in 1982 and receiving funding since from conservative foundations including the Earhart, Bradley, Simon, and Olin Foundations, and the Carthage, Koch, and Scaife Foundations. Justices Scalia, Roberts, Thomas and Alito were all members of the Federalist Society.
For how long did the Republican majority on the Supreme Court give us one highly partisan 5-4 decision after another, reversing one hard-won civil right, environmental gain, consumer right, worker right after another? Fifteen years ago the Republican Five even forced on us a president who didn’t receive a majority of the vote.
After Barack Obama was elected president, the Republican minority filibustered more than 500 important bills (on issues ranging from infrastructure funding to ending tax breaks for offshoring jobs) before they took control of the Senate – an unprecedented number. But it has not just been legislation; they have blocked nominees to positions that keep government functioning. They have blocked appointments to judgeships: there are 35 Obama judge appointees who were waiting for a Senate confirmation vote long before Senate Republicans conjured up their no-appointees-during-an-election-year stance, one as far back as September 2014.
Republicans also dismantle government in the states, cutting taxes for the rich and corporations while cutting the things government does for the state’s citizens. Many of these governors and legislatures achieved majority status following the Supreme Court’s 5-4 Citizens United decision that opened the floodgates of undisclosed corporate and billionaire money into the political process. Once in, they passed restrictive voting rights laws and extremely partisan redistricting plans to lock in their majorities.
After so many years of this, the public is, to say the least, disillusioned to the point of giving up on government – even our current pretense of democracy.
But this has only gotten worse. This year, President Obama submitted his budget to Congress and Republicans refused to even look at it. They refused to schedule hearings before the House and Senate budget committees. They won’t let the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) come to Congress to testify.
Now, to top it all, Republicans have said they will not even consider any presidential nominee to the Supreme Court. If they prevail, the court will operate with only eight members, and precedent assures us that important cases will receive a 4-4 tie.
This Makes No Sense, Unless…
Republicans won’t consider the President’s budget? Won’t consider a Supreme Court nominee – any nominee? Won’t allow important bills to pass? Won’t allow important governmental posts to be filled? Won’t allow important government functions to be adequately funded? Dismantle important state agencies? It’s like Republicans are saying, “No, we’re not going to let you have your constitutional government.”
What is going on?
Republicans are able to do these things to our government because the “framers” of our Constitution never anticipated that a (well-funded) ideology that opposes the very concept of democratic government would capture a political party, gain seats in the Congress and, as a strategy, simply refuse to participate in the processes of constitutional government.
The Founders did require an oath of office that assumes such participation, but they did not outline steps to take should obstruction be used to block operation of the government.
If you look at all of this from a perspective that Republicans are working within our form of government, it makes no sense at all. They have a constitutional duty to pass budgets, but instead allow the government to shut down. They have a constitutional duty to confirm (or not) appointments to government positions and judgeships, but they obstruct. They have a constitutional duty to consider Supreme Court nominees, but they refuse.
But if you consider that their purpose is to fundamentally change our form of government, it all makes more sense.
People who see much of the public as “takers,” who view taxes as “theft,” who view roads, schools and social services as “free stuff” are not people who prefer a democratic form of government. They (or at least those funding them) want a different form of government where the haves have the power and the don’t-haves don’t, instead of We the People sharing the power and the country.
At some point you have to take them at their word and accept that they mean what they say: “We want to get the government small enough to drown it in a bathtub.” We are not looking at a disagreement over how to run our government here, we are looking at a disagreement over our form of government.
But our Constitution is clear on the form of government We the People have. That is why they are intent on setting the Constitution aside. We must tell Republicans that they took an oath to support the Constitution and its processes – or step aside and let We the People have our government back.
What The President Should Do
President Obama should nominate a known and dedicated liberal/progressive to the court, to balance the movement conservatives on the Court now. However, unlike the conservatives, this nominee should mean it when she or he states support the Constitution, and be ready to decide cases based on the Constitution and law, not ideology.
Republicans will always nominate a dedicated movement conservative who is sworn to advance the anti-government (and therefore anti-U.S. Constitution) conservative project, against voting rights, consumer rights, environmental rights, and for corporate rule.
It’s time the right-wing ideologues are called out for their obstruction of democracy – and to make to clear that the presidential candidates who have participated in or have endorsed that obstruction have no place in our government. It’s not just about a budget or a Supreme Court justice; it’s about restoring the principle that the United States must act as a democracy of the people, every day of every year.
Here are two petitions that you can sign to tell Republican senators to “do their job” and consider President Obama’s choice for the Supreme Court:
Secretary Hillary Clinton has accepted millions in “speaking fees” and campaign contributions from interest groups – most notably Wall Street firms – that she will be in a position to help or hurt as president. She promises that the money will not influence her if she takes office, but voters are understandably skeptical.
Voters have been betrayed again and again by people who have become known as “corporate Democrats.” These politicians made promises to help regular working people, then turned on them after elections and enacted policies that boost the monied interests – especially Wall Street and giant corporations – at the expense of the rest of the country.
What can Clinton do to overcome the resulting voter skepticism? Are there concrete things she can do and commitments she can make now that can reassure voters that she will be able to represent the other 99 percent of us once in office? Are there ways she can show the public that she means what she says when she claims to be as “progressive” as her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Bernie Sanders?
Our government has been on a privatization binge for some time. Things that We the People used to just do federally or through state and local governments were closed down and private corporations were hired to do those things instead. This “saved money” because the well-paid public workers were laid off, losing their benefits and seniority, and new workers were hired at the lowest possible wages with few or no benefits.
Of course, this “cost savings” meant that the tax base eroded, the old and replacement workers often had to go on public assistance, property values plunged as the homes of the old workers were foreclosed and the new workers couldn’t afford to buy, schools were strapped as more low-income kids came in, and all the other ways that the transition to a low-wage economy has ended up costing all of us.
Tyco is also remembered for its former President Dennis Kozlowski, who was convicted in 2005 of various crimes related to looting shareholders and using the money for things like a 2001 $2.2 million party on the island of Sardinia.
The Inversion Tax Scam Game
An inversion allows corporations to pretend to be non-U.S. companies and dodge taxes while still getting the full benefits of our country’s taxes: roads and other physical infrastructure, advanced legal system, educated workforce, police and other protections, military protection, and so on.
November’s post, “Pfizer Buying Allergan So It Can Pretend To Be Irish In Tax Scam” explained how this works: “In other words, the resulting merged company will make and sell products in the same places it makes and sells them now. The same executives will occupy the same buildings. It will receive the same taxpayer-funded U.S. services, infrastructure, courts and military protection that it receives now. But the company will now claim it is “based” in tax-haven Ireland and thereby dodge U.S. taxation.”
The thing is, corporations and shareholders already pay lower tax rates than regular people do. They also get special privileges including “limited liability.” People who make money trading corporate shares get a special, lower “capital gains” tax rate. (This capital gains tax rate is lower because the wealthiest make most of their income from capital gains, and the wealthiest make most of their income from capital gains because the capital gains tax rate is lower.)
But they want more. They want it all. And they’re getting it.
Who Pays Instead?
The billionaires and other shareholders already enjoy special lower tax rates than the rest of us (low capital gains tax rates, the Social Security “cap,” the carried interest loophole, multitudes of other breaks…) This is just one more tax break they utilize as their wealth builds and builds. And that massive accumulated wealth buys more and more privileges and breaks.
We the People of the United States, through our elected Representatives in Congress, allow this. Or, to put it in today’s reality: Billionaires and their corporations pay handsomely for a Congress that allows this.
But when these giant corporations and the billionaires behind them don’t pay their taxes, guess who has to either make up the difference or suffer the cutbacks in the things government does to make our lives and economy better? (Hint: Register to vote today and be absolutely sure to show up and VOTE this time. Don’t be misdirected, demoralized, suppressed or otherwise tricked into not voting. Talk to other people about registering and voting, too.)
The Republican candidates generally propose stopping corporate inversions to avoid U.S. corporate taxes by reducing or even ending U.S. taxation of corporations.
Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have similar proposals for limiting these “inversions.”
“It is outrageous when large multinational corporations game the tax code and shelter money overseas to avoid paying their fair share, including through maneuvers like inversions. As I have said throughout my campaign, these efforts to shirk U.S. tax obligations leave American taxpayers holding the bag while corporations juice more revenues and profits.”
Clinton’s “detailed and targeted plan to immediately put a stop to inversions and invest in the U.S.” includes:
● A 50 percent threshold for foreign company shareholder ownership after a merger before an American company can give up its U.S. identity.
● An “exit tax” to ensure multinational companies that change their identity pay a fair share of the U.S. taxes they owe on earnings stashed overseas.
● A crackdown on “earnings stripping,” one of the key benefits of inversions.
“The potential Johnson-Tyco merger would be a disaster for American taxpayers,” Sanders said. “Profitable companies that have received corporate welfare from American taxpayers should not be allowed to renounce their U.S. citizenship to avoid paying U.S. taxes. These corporate inversions must stop.
“My message to these corporate deserters is simple: You can’t be an American company only when you want corporate welfare from American taxpayers or you want lucrative contracts from the federal government,” Sanders continued. “If you want the advantages of being an American company then you can’t run away from America to avoid paying taxes.”
The Sanders Corporate Tax Reform Plan involves:
● Ending the rule allowing American corporations to defer paying federal income taxes on profits of their offshore subsidiaries.
● Closing loopholes allowing American corporations to artificially inflate or accelerate their foreign tax credits.
● Preventing American corporations from claiming to be foreign by using a tax-haven post office box as their address.
● Preventing American corporations from avoiding U.S. taxes by “inverting.” Under Sanders’ bill the U.S. would continue to tax such a company as an American corporation so long as it is still majority owned by the owners of the American party to the merger or acquisition.
● Prevent foreign-owned corporations from stripping earnings out of the U.S. by manipulating debt expenses.
● Preventing large oil companies from disguising royalty payments to foreign governments as foreign taxes.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will likely be back in the news at least for a brief moment next week, when the treaty comes up for a formal signing ceremony involving representatives of the 12 participating countries, including the United States.
The agreement has largely been out of the news since the release of the text in early November. President Obama did mentioned it briefly in his State of the Union address earlier in January. Other than that, there have been no dramatic headlines.
Meanwhile, the public and much of Congress remain solidly opposed to the agreement – as have presidential candidates in both political parties. That, hopefully, means the politics do not line up for a vote on the agreement before the 2016 election. But there’s always the risk that Wall Street will find a way to force a vote sooner. So people should continue pressing Congress to oppose the TPP.
Formal Signing Feb. 4 In New Zealand
The date for the big signing ceremony for TPP was announced last week. It will be Feb. 4 in Auckland, New Zealand. Ministers from participating countries, including U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, will participate.
Note that this ceremony does not “trigger” any timeline forcing Congress to vote within a certain number of legislature-in-session days. That clock starts when President Obama submits authorising legislation to Congress.
Report On TPP’s Economic Effect
Next up for the U.S. process is the International Trade Commission’s (ITC) report on TPP’s economic impact. The commission is expected to produce this report by May 18.
For three consecutive days last week, in eight-minute segments spanning nine hours each day, lobbyists for some of the nation’s biggest corporations, labor unions and trade groups testified before the panel of six appointed bureaucrats.
They included lobbyists for Walmart and Gap Inc., who praised the deal for lowering tariffs on beef, cheese, pencil cases and cotton sweaters. Leaders of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers framed the pact as a chance for U.S. companies to sell more goods abroad. Representatives for the AFL-CIO, United Steel Workers and other unions urged the commission to consider the deal’s potential to erode labor conditions and wages.
Corporate lobbyists might frame TPP as “a chance for U.S. companies to sell more goods abroad” because they have to say that in public. What they really mean is that TPP will encourage them to lay off even more U.S. workers, close even more U.S. factories and move even more production to countries with near-slave-labor conditions and no costly protections for the environment. This offshoring lets them pocket the wage and protection differential while enabling them to use havens to dodge U.S. taxes.
The congressionally created Labor Advisory Committee for Trade Negotiations and Trade Policy (LAC) has just released a scathing report that urges President Obama “in the strongest possible terms” to send the Trans-Pacific Partnership “back to the negotiating table” instead of to Congress, saying the treaty “will harm our economy overall.”
… “The TPP is likely to harm U.S. manufacturing interests, cost good jobs, suppress wages, and threaten our democracy and economic security interests,” the report said.
Note that laying off U.S. workers, closing the factory, moving production out of the country, then importing the same goods to sell in the same outlets to the same customers “increases trade” because now those goods cross a border.
Negotiating Implementing Legislation
After the ITC report is released, the administration will formally send Congress an official, final TPP text. Even though TPP’s text has been released to the public, this is a formal action, and will be accompanied by details of how the administration plans to implement TPP.
The administration has begun negotiating with Congress to finalize an implementing legislation bill. The administration is deciding when to submit this formal, final implementing legislation to Congress. That does start a countdown clock as specified in the “fast track” trade legislation passed last year. The White House will do this based on when they think they have the best chance to get TPP passed. Currently, it looks for a number of reasons as if this is likely to be delayed until after the election – but it could come at any time.
Significant Public Opposition
The optimism that a vote on the TPP might not happen until after the election, if ever, is directly related to significant public opposition to the agreement. For example, earlier this month The Washington Post, in “Hundreds of advocacy groups ask Congress to block Obama’s Pacific Rim trade pact,” reported that a “coalition of more than 1,500 interest groups is sending a letter to Congress on Thursday demanding that lawmakers block the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the 12-nation Pacific Rim trade pact championed by the Obama administration.”
Labor unions, environmental groups, consumer advocates and faith groups are among the 1,525 organizations that signed onto the document, which was organized by the Citizens Trade Campaign. Hundreds of local labor union affiliates have signed on.
Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are actively and vocally campaigning against TPP, with Sanders also continuing to attend rallies and lobby other members of Congress to oppose it. Candidates Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz have gone on record as opposing it because of the public opposition.
Republicans Demanding More Corporate-Favoring Language
Another barrier potentially in the way of a near-term vote is Republican opposition based on TPP not being favorable enough for corporations. For example, Republicans leaders are demanding changes that favor big corporations like tobacco. TPP has a “tobacco carve-out” that can keep countries from being sued when they try to protect public health by helping citizens stop smoking or keep children from starting. This interferes with corporate profits, which under the investor-state dispute settlement “corporate court” provisions countries cannot do.
Non-tobacco companies say that allowing any such “tobacco carve-out” is a bad precedent, opening up a slippery slope of allowing countries to protect citizens from other products that harm or defraud their citizens. They are joining with tobacco companies to demand side letters from participating countries saying they will allow these suits even as TPP’s formal text gives them a choice of opting out of them.
Republicans are also demanding even longer patent monopoly terms for pharmaceutical companies.
Election Issue Risk – Or Lame-Duck Risk?
Usually public opposition does not matter in Congress if Wall Street is in favor of something, as it is with TPP. But in an election year there is a risk of something as overwhelmingly unpopular as TPP becoming an election issue. For example, Sacramento-area Representative Ami Bera is facing opposition after he voted in favor of “fast track” trade legislation. Local Democratic clubs are refusing to endorse him, and there will be a full floor fight over endorsing him at the February statewide Democratic convention. With the election coming up, other “corporate Democrats” are taking note of this.
However, the big corporate lobbying organizations, the Business Roundtable, the Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) are pushing the administration to move the TPP toward passage as soon as possible. Under the fast-track trade legislation passed last year, the timing of a vote is in the administration’s hands, not those of congressional leaders. If there is a reason to think Congress will pass TPP, the administration will move very fast to get a vote.
But it currently looks like Wall Street, the big corporations, the Obama administration and the Republican Party are lining for a TPP vote in the “lame duck” session after the election. In a lame-duck session members who have retired or been kicked out of office are still allowed to vote – but there is no way for the public to hold them accountable. So for them a TPP vote would be like an audition for a lucrative corporate lobbying position. Also members who have been elected or re-elected with Wall Street financing will be asked to repay their contributors, with two whole years before the public can do anything about it.
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) explained on a press call earlier this month why a TPP vote might come in the “lame duck” session. “Wall Street has the money that our current campaign finance system requires,” he said. “Members can take the money for their campaigns, get elected in November, then deliver the votes in December to reward those contributors after the election.”
Either way – whether the vote is orchestrated to come before or after the elections – everything that people can do to push Congress to line up on the side of the public will could prevent a vote from happening at all, or ensure a vote defeating the TPP. Contact Congress today to let your representative know you want that person to come out publicly in opposition to the TPP.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has provisions that allow corporations to sue governments for laws and regulations that limit profits. The cases bypass national court systems and are heard by “corporate courts” with the governments allowed no appeal. These investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions are also in trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement.
When fast-track trade promotion authority was being debated, people like Sen. Elizabeth Warren raised warning flags about the ISDS provisions in TPP.
[. . .] In her letter, Warren raises concerns that the deal could include provisions that would allow foreign companies to challenge U.S. policies before a judicial panel outside the domestic legal system, increasing exposure of American taxpayers to potential damages.
After a decades-long effort to place ideologically committed “movement” members in the judicial branch of government, funded by extremely wealthy individuals and their corporations, it looks like the resulting corporate/conservative wing of the Supreme Court is ready to make a ruling that would bankrupt public-employee unions. And clearly already-decimated private-sector unions will be the next target.
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday in the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. In this case the Court is asked to overturn a unanimous 1977 decision that said public-employee unions can charge nonmembers a fee to cover the cost of the services the unions are required by law to provide those nonmembers. The fee does not cover political activities of the union, only the cost of services the unions must, by law, provide.
If the corporate/billionaire class gets its way – and it looks like it will – the terrible inequality you see in the country today is nothing compared to what’s coming. Having grabbed all the income gains since the recession, having wiped out the middle class, having pushed so much to the top that a few families now have more wealth than all of the rest of us combined, now the corporate/billionaire class is coming after the rest of the money in the economy.