The Privatization Scam: 5 Horror Stories of Gov’t Outsourcing to Greedy Private Companies

I have this up at AlterNet: The Privatization Scam: 5 Horror Stories of Gov’t Outsourcing to Greedy Private Companies,

For decades we’ve been subjected to constant propaganda that government is inefficient, bureaucratic and expensive. We’re told that the answer is to “privatize,” or “outsource” government functions to private businesses and they will do things more efficiently and everyone comes out ahead. As a result we have experienced decades of privatization of government functions.

So how has wave of privatization this worked out? Has privatization saved taxpayers money and improved services to citizens? Simple answer: of course not. If a company can make a profit doing something the government had been doing, it means that we’re losing out one way or another. It’s simple math. And the result of falling for the privatization scam is that taxpayers have been fleeced, services to citizens have been cut way back and communities have been made poorer. But the companies that convinced governments to hand over public functions have gotten rich off of the deal. How is this a surprise?

Here are 5 privatization horror stories, where government outsourcing has gone terribly wrong. (Or maybe you’d say it has gone terribly right if you are one of the companies getting the taxpayer dollars.)

Read the rest at AlterNet.

Democrats Should Be For Jobs, Against Corporate Tax Giveaways

The country needs jobs. The country needs to start fixing up its crumbling infrastructure. The country doesn’t need more corporate tax breaks. Guess which of these three is in legislation the House is passing – unfortunately with help from many Democrats. If this keeps up, how will voters be able to decide who to vote for this fall?

Last week the House passed a huge – $156 billion worth of huge – Research and Experimentation Credit tax break for corporations. This is one part of a package of “tax extender” corporate tax breaks that is sneaking through the House. Sixty-Two Democrats joined the Republicans in approving this huge corporate tax break.

This $156 billion corporate tax break was passed by the same House of Representatives that won’t even bring up a vote on restoring unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed.

While the R&E tax credit is worthwhile, it was wrong for some Democrats to join with Republicans in voting for that research tax credit. Such credits should have been awarded as part of a package that included a full employment program, infrastructure funding, restored long-term unemployment benefits, restoring food stamps and many other things the public needs. Instead of using the corporate desire for this break as leverage – and making a political statement going into the midterm election – 62 Democrats just went ahead and voted for it.

The Country’s Jobs And Infrastructure Needs Go Hand In Hand

The main reason the economy is just sort-of slogging along is “austerity” – all of the cutbacks in government spending. Never mind that the country is not hiring for new construction, etc., in the middle of this jobs emergency we have instead laid off construction workers, teachers, police, Social Security workers, and other public servants. At the very time the economy needed a boost, government cutbacks have cost businesses and suppliers. Cutbacks have meant foreclosures, bankruptcies, people spending less in stores – all acting as dampers on economic growth.

America desperately needs public investment to create jobs and grow the economy. But the country has been deferring spending on maintaining – never mind modernizing – our infrastructure since the Reagan tax-cut years – especially when it comes to transportation. When Reagan came in (with huge oil company backing), the solar panels were removed from the White House roof and many public transit projects were removed from the national agenda.

We need to fix our infrastructure and people need jobs – can our elected officials connect the dots? But instead of voting to help Americans by maintaining (never mind modernizing) our infrastructure the House – with 62 Democrats joining in – voted for a huge, $156 billion corporate tax break. So now there is even less money to use to hire people to fix up the infrastructure.

Example: Congress Needs To Act On The Highway Trust Fund

Next up before Congress, the Highway Trust Fund is running out of money and the current surface transportation bill expires in September – just before the election. This threatens 6,000 projects and 700,000 jobs. (Yes, “government spending” really does bring a lot of jobs.) Congress has to either raise the gas tax against oil company opposition – and Congress doesn’t do anything against the interests of oil companies – or find other sources of funding.

The Senate Finance Committee recently reported, “According to the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission, just maintaining the existing conditions and performance of U.S. roads and transit infrastructure would require a 50 percent increase in current funding levels.”

Again: just maintaining the infrastructure at current miserable levels (never mind modernizing) requires a 50 percent increase in funding. Democrats and progressives should be for that. This is public investment that pays for itself over time. There is no reason to “offset” this with cutbacks elsewhere.

The Republican Strategy Is Obstruction Coupled With Unprecedented Election Spending

This is happening because the Republican strategy for the fall elections is to do everything they can to deny people jobs and keep wages, benefits and the economy down – and then campaign blaming Obama and Democrats for the bad economy, lack of jobs and low wages. Republicans are obstructing everything that might help working people, while handing the treasury over to the billionaires and their giant corporations – especially oil companies. (The Koch Brothers are rich because they inherited one of those oil companies.)

This strategy could work unless Democrats expose it and offer sharp contrasts – all in ways that will reach the public. And reaching the public will be difficult. The Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity have stated they will be putting up at least another $125 million to elect Republicans – on top of the more than $35 million they have already spent to defeat Democrats in this year’s elections. This is just the one Republican organization, along with all the other spending coming this year by billionaires and corporations to elect Republicans.

Elite Frustration With Obstruction

The country’s elites understand that nothing is getting through the Congress, even as they do not tell voters who to blame. A recent Bloomberg news editorial, Creative Ways to Fill the Nation’s Potholes, expresses the national frustration with the gridlock. They say we need “creative thinking” to get important things funded and offer up with a scheme to bribe giant corporations. They write, “In a perfect world, the money for this essential work would be appropriated in a straightforward and transparent way. You’re right to laugh: That won’t happen.”

After not explaining to readers why “that won’t happen” – it is Republican obstruction – they offer some “creative thinking,” namely a huge bribe to corporations. They cite New York Democratic Rep. Steve Israel’s proposal “allowing companies holding large cash stockpiles abroad for tax reasons to bring their profits home at a preferential rate – on the condition that they spend about 10 percent of the repatriated income on a new kind of infrastructure bond.” (Because just telling these companies to pay their taxes is off the table.) Even Bloomberg admits, “A repatriation tax break worsens the convolution of a corporate tax code that is already far too tangled.”

Similarly, Norm Ornstein writes at the Atlantic:

Among the most embarrassing and unconscionable failures of the 113th Congress has been the inability to act in any way to help the economy through an infrastructure initiative, including but not limited to energy. The country’s infrastructure is crumbling, and the energy infrastructure is outmoded. Among the long-term unemployed, there are huge numbers of construction workers and skilled tradespeople who could be given a new lease on life, while energizing a continuing sluggish economy. And the money to pay for a major infrastructure initiative can be borrowed now at the lowest rates imaginable.

Ornstein also understands that nothing is going to get through Congress without bribing the giant multinationals. He also suggests letting companies off the hook for taxes on offshore profits if they use some of their cash to invest in infrastructure. He refers to bills before Congress that would “create a fund that would be capitalized with $50 billion in infrastructure bonds with 50-year terms paying a fixed interest rate of 1 percent. Corporations could repatriate a substantial amount of the profits they have accumulated overseas tax-free if they buy the bonds.”

Later, on another proposal, “The Green Bank would use a model that would incentivize companies to repatriate some of their profits abroad in return for investing in the bank as well.”

Again, this is just a bribe to the people Ornstein understands now control the Congress. Instead of Congress just making these companies pay their taxes and using that money to fund infrastructure, these are bribes to let them off the hook on their taxes if they would please let us fix the infrastructure a bit and thereby hire a few unemployed workers.

Draw A Contrast For The Election

The Republican strategy is simple and effective: Block everything, make everything feel worse for regular people, and then spend unprecedented amounts campaigning that nothing is getting done and everything feels worse under Obama and the Democrats. This will work, as long as the public feels everything getting worse without understanding that Democrats are trying to make things better but are being obstructed.

The only way to fight this obstructionist strategy is expose it and draw sharp contrasts between where conservatives want to take us and where a progressive populist economic agenda would take us. And these contrasts have to be sharp and clear enough to reach the public in ways that sink in.

Democrats should draw that contrast for voters in the coming elections and not confuse voters about what they are for and not for. Democrats should resolve to support only bills and deals that fix our infrastructure and create jobs. At the same time Democrats should say no to these tax giveaways to corporations. Democrats have to be seen fighting for jobs and being blocked. They have to be seen as trying to stop the corporate giveaways, not voting for huge corporate tax cuts.


Note – See the President’s transportation plan. Also see the National Priorities Project’s Report: “The Big Money in Tax Breaks Continues“:

In 2013, the cost of tax breaks was equal to the entire U.S. discretionary budget. However, the discretionary budget is subject to an annual appropriations process, where Congress debates the proposed spending. Tax breaks, on the other hand, remain on the books until lawmakers modify them. As a result, over a trillion dollars a year in lost revenue – more than 1.6 times the 2013 budget deficit – goes largely unnoticed.

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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. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.

Balancing Trade – Remember The “Buffett Plan”

The enormous, humongous trade deficit is doing incredible damage to our economy. Our country’s elites used to care about that.

In 2003 Warren Buffett wrote a highly-influerntial article, America’s Growing Trade Deficit Is Selling The Nation Out From Under Us. Here’s A Way To Fix The Problem–And We Need To Do It Now. Buffett began, “I’m about to deliver a warning regarding the U.S. trade deficit and also suggest a remedy for the problem.” Then he added, “… our country’s ‘net worth,’ so to speak, is now being transferred abroad at an alarming rate.”

To make his point, Buffett used a hypothetical example of “two isolated, side-by-side islands of equal size, Squanderville and Thriftville.” Thriftville lived off the food they grew, and worked extra time so they could export food. The people in Squanderville stopped working and issued IOUs so they could just buy food from Thriftville, thinking “they can now live their lives free from toil but eat as well as ever.”

Of course, Squanderville couldn’t issue IOUs forever to buy Thriftville’s food. Eventually Thriftville owned all of Squanderville and the people there had to start working 16 hours a day to make up for the work they hadn’t done. And because Thriftville now owned Squanderville, the long hours would continue forever, generation after generation.

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Why Would Obama Push A Trade Deal That Would Cut Pay Of 90% Of Workers?

President Obama is in Asia, partly to “reassure” partner countries that the U.S. is a strong ally and partly to push the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Both are to counter China’s growing influence. While TPP is being sold as a “strategic” countermeasure to China, like other so-called “trade” agreements TPP does not help American workers; it hurts them.

Obama In Asia Pushing TPP

President Obama is in Japan as part of his “pivot to Asia” tour of Pacific countries. He is also visiting South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines. The trip is meant to demonstrate U.S. diplomatic and economic efforts toward Pacific nations to counterbalance China’s increasing influence in the region. Part of this effort is a big push to get TPP negotiations back on track and completed.

TPP is a massive “trade” treaty between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam. “Trade” is in quotes because only five of the treaty’s 29 chapters actually deal with trade. Others set rules on investment, set limits on the ability of governments to regulate corporations, restrict a government’s ability to spend its own tax dollars on goods made in that country (such as “Buy America” procurement policies) and other things well beyond the usual scope of what would be considered a trade agreement. This leads many to claim that the treaty is really about limiting the ability of governments to reign in the giant corporations. (For those not familiar with TPP, read all about it in ourfuture.org’s TPP section.)

Most Workers Likely To Lose

The treaty is being negotiated in secret with lots of corporate involvement and not much involvement by stakeholders like labor, environmental, human rights, consumer and other groups that would be affected. But even though it is secret we know from leaks that TPP as currently negotiated appears to be designed to benefit a few giant corporate interests, while potentially driving the nail into the coffin of America’s middle class.

Since NAFTA our “trade” agreements have gotten a bad reputation with the public. People have come to realize that these “free trade” agreements are causing companies to close American factories and open factories in countries with low wages and that allow companies to pollute. Pitting American workers against low-wage workers has encouraged employers to cut wages and benefits for those who are able to keep their jobs.

A September 2013 study, “Gains from Trade? The Net Effect of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement on U.S. Wages,” by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), looked at the effect of past trade agreements and estimated what TPP would do if enacted. The study estimated that the TPP would force wages down (even more) for almost all U.S. workers.

The CEPR study estimated that U.S. economic gains would be only 0.13 percent of gross domestic product by 2025. In exchange for these small gains, according to the study, “… most workers are likely to lose—the exceptions being some of the bottom quarter or so whose earnings are determined by the minimum wage; and those with the highest wages who are more protected from international competition.”

Any workers who don’t lose would not win as a result of the “trade” parts of the treaty. “Rather, many top incomes will rise as a result of TPP expansion of the terms and enforcement of copyrights and patents.” So everybody loses except those who own copyrights and patents.

In “‘Trade’ Deal Would Mean a Pay Cut for 90% of U.S. Workers,” Public Citizen’s Eyes on Trade blog explains just who would lose,

[CEPR's] Rosnick shows that if we assume that trade has contributed just 15% of the recent rise in inequality (a still conservative estimate), then the TPP would mean wage losses for all but the richest 10% of U.S. workers. So if you’re making less than $87,000 per year (the current 90th percentile wage), the TPP would mean a pay cut.

But “everybody losing on wages” is not a bad thing for giant corporations; it’s a good thing. As much as they can squeeze down labor costs, that boosts their bottom line. And they are exactly who is pushing for this treaty.

Enormous, Humongous Trade Deficits

The United States used to try to have balanced trade, often with a surplus. This means we were selling more to the world than we were buying. More money coming in than going our made us comparatively “rich.” But since the free trade agenda that came along in the late 1970s, which was accelerated by the Reagan administration, we have been running continuing trade deficits. Then when we opened up trade with China, the deficit skyrocketed.

Now this trade deficit has reached enormous proportions, more than $700 billion before the recession. (It actually fell last year to $471.5 billion in 2013, from $534.7 billion in 2012.) Our trade deficit with China alone was over $318 billion last year.

In summary: the free-trade legacy so far.

  • Trillions of dollars lost. We have an ongoing trade deficit bleeding money from our economy.
  • Stagnant or falling wages for most of us. Pitting Americans against low-wage workers has forced US wages down.
  • Millions of good-paying jobs lost. Most of these workers are getting paid much less now, if they can find work.
  • Tens of thousands of factories closed, moved out of the country. This costs us our ability to make a living as a country.
  • Entire industries lost. As we lose the factories and supply chains, entire industries disappear.
  • Devastation of entire regions of the country. Nothing has come along to replace manufacturing in much of the country. Go take a look at Detroit, Flint, Cleveland, Lorain, Eria and so many other areas.
  • Massive increase in income and wealth inequality. A few billionaires do great when labor costs decline and profits rise.
  • Destruction of the middle class and maybe even our democracy. Just look around you.

Democracy Or Oligarchy?

The public “gets it” that these trade deals have really, really hurt regular, working Americans and TPP would continue free trade’s devastation of the middle class. There is a revolt going on in both parties in the Congress. House Democratic Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have reaffirmed that they don’t agree with the current process and course of TPP. Tea party conservatives and progressives oppose TPP. Even many American corporations oppose the current TPP!

The public “gets it.” Take a look at the Trade and Manufacturing section of the Populist Majority poll-aggregation website.

  • “95% favor goods manufactured in America.”
  • “73% favor offering companies a tax break for every job they bring from overseas to the US.” But current law gives tax breaks and deferrals for jobs, factories and profit centers shipped out of the country. Republicans are obstructing efforts to change this.
  • 84% of the public “support a concerted plan to make sure that economic, tax, education and trade policies in this country work together to help support manufacturing.” But that would be “government action” and “picking winners and losers” so it is opposed in the Congress.
  • “60% say the US needs to “get tough” with countries like China in order to halt unfair trade practices, including currency manipulation, which will keep undermining our economy.”
  • “65% consider outsourcing, rather than a potential shortage of skilled workers, as the reason for a lack of new manufacturing jobs.”
  • “56% believe trade agreements that allow corporations to sue governments, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, should be rejected.”

Democracy would say hold off on TPP. But a few giant, multinational corporations and the billionaires behind them want it. So in our corporate-dominated political system, it’s full speed ahead for TPP.

Trading Our Economy For National Security Fears?

The history of this is that many in government believe that America’s national security interests are served by letting the big corporations cut these trade deals with countries like China and Japan, because security arrangements should have a priority over economic concerns. So they have worked to strengthen South Korea, Japan and even China at the expense of our own economy. This was a Cold War strategy. Now they are using China as a bogeyman to push the TPP, saying we need it to counter China’s influence. Get all of these countries into this agreement and we’ll be stronger than China.

This way of seeing the TPP as a way to strengthen these strategic partners allows those countries to extract concessions in the treaty negotiations that the giant corporations like, but that hurt our own country’s economy. State Department and various National Security interests give this a go-ahead; they say this is good because it will elevate those countries. Meanwhile, our factories close, our own industries suffer.

Of course, even as this argument is used we do nothing about our massive trade deficit with China, we allow them to manipulate their currency and exploit workers.

The reality at this point is that it is now in the security interest of America to rebuild our own middle class, rebuild our infrastructure and competitive position, rebuild our education and research institutions, rebuild our own democracy. Real security comes from having a strong economy and a strong middle class.

We can do trade right. We can elevate the people and economies of other countries without exploiting working people around the world and destroying our own middle class.

Scott Paul of the Alliance for American Manufacturing wrote Thursday that “A Good Trade Deal Is Well Worth the Wait“:

[L]ost in this rush to secure a pact is what the TPP (and every other trade agreement) should actually accomplish: A more balanced U.S. trade account that ultimately benefits the American middle class, which recent reports show could use some help right about now. Unfortunately, America’s track record on trade policy has pushed our trade deficits in the wrong direction and weakened the middle class. And despite the Obama administration bromides that this will be a “21st century trade agreement,” it’s hardly certain that the TPP will be any different, at least when it comes to deterring currency manipulation.

With that in mind, I say a good trade deal is well worth the wait and effort.

We’ve already seen what’s happened when trade policy is inexpertly wielded as a tool of foreign diplomacy. Consider the debacle of permanent normalized trade relations with China in 2000. In exchange for the promises of a more open Chinese society, a Republican Congress and a Democratic president removed the threat of annual review of tariffs on Chinese imports. This resulted in none of the hoped-for democratic reforms (if anything, China has used its funding stream courtesy of our burgeoning trade imbalance to become more belligerent) and ;massive job loss in the U.S. manufacturing sector.

But while China and Japan couldn’t be more different in terms of domestic governance, they share a remarkable similarity in international economic policy: Both regularly distort their currency exchange rates to push their trading surpluses with the U.S. high and keep them higher. Despite that fact, no U.S. action has been taken against China or Japan for manipulating their currency. And though there is much secrecy around the details of the TPP proposal (of which Japan is a potential party and is, as the world’s third largest national economy, the most important negotiator aside from the U.S.), a rule barring currency manipulation has most certainly not been discussed.

We can do so much better. Our government can negotiate for the American people instead of against them, as they have done. Step back, take a breath, wait … Get the giant corporations out of the front seats of the process and go back and make NAFTA work for us and Mexican working people and farmers. Make trade work for the American people and Chinese working people.

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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. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary

Elites Discover So-Called “Free-Trade” Is Killing Economy, Middle Class

The New York Times editorial board finally gets it right about trade in its Sunday editorial, “This Time, Get Global Trade Right.” Some excerpts:

Many Americans have watched their neighbors lose good-paying jobs as their employers sent their livelihoods to China. Over the last 20 years, the United States has lost nearly five million manufacturing jobs.

People in the Midwest, the “rust belt” and elsewhere noticed this a long time ago as people were laid off, “the plant” closed, the downtowns slowly boarded up and the rest of us felt pressure on wages and working hours. How many towns — entire regions of the country — are like this now? Have you even seen Detroit?

“This page has long argued that removing barriers to trade benefits the economy and consumers, and some of those gains can be used to help the minority of people who lose their jobs because of increased imports,” the editors write. “But those gains have not been as widespread as we hoped, and they have not been adequate to assist those who were harmed.”

So acknowledging that our trade deals have hurt the country, they say maybe we could try to do it right with coming agreements. They write:

If done right, these agreements could improve the ground rules of global trade, as even critics of Nafta like Representative Sander Levin, Democrat of Michigan, have argued. They could reduce abuses like sweatshop labor, currency manipulation and the senseless destruction of forests. They could weaken protectionism against American goods and services in countries like Japan, which have sheltered such industries as agriculture and automobiles.

They write that one problem is that these agreements are negotiated of, by and for the giant corporations:

One of the biggest fears of lawmakers and public interest groups is that only a few insiders know what is in these trade agreements, particularly the Pacific pact.

The Obama administration has revealed so few details about the negotiations, even to members of Congress and their staffs, that it is impossible to fully analyze the Pacific partnership. Negotiators have argued that it’s impossible to conduct trade talks in public because opponents to the deal would try to derail them.

But the administration’s rationale for secrecy seems to apply only to the public. Big corporations are playing an active role in shaping the American position because they are on industry advisory committees to the United States trade representative, Michael Froman. By contrast, public interest groups have seats on only a handful of committees that negotiators do not consult closely.

The current trade-negotiation process is a system designed to rig the game for the giant multinationals against everyone else:

That lopsided influence is dangerous, because companies are using trade agreements to get special benefits that they would find much more difficult to get through the standard legislative process. For example, draft chapters from the Pacific agreement that have been leaked in recent months reveal that most countries involved in the talks, except the United States, do not want the agreement to include enforceable environmental standards. Business interests in the United States, which would benefit from weaker rules by placing their operations in countries with lower protections, have aligned themselves with the position of foreign governments. Another chapter, on intellectual property, is said to contain language favorable to the pharmaceutical industry that could make it harder for poor people in countries like Peru to get generic medicines.

These trade agreements place corporate rights over national sovereignty:

Another big issue is whether these trade agreements will give investors unnecessary power to sue foreign governments over policies they dislike, including health and environmental regulations. Philip Morris, for example, is trying to overturn Australian rules that require cigarette packs to be sold only in plain packaging. If these treaties are written too loosely, big banks could use them to challenge new financial regulations or, perhaps, block European lawmakers from enacting a financial-transaction tax.

And they’re asking, like the rest of us are asking, why in the world won’t they do something about currency?

It’s easy to point the finger at Nafta and other trade agreements for job losses, but there is a far bigger culprit: currency manipulation. A 2012 paper from the Peterson Institute for International Economics found that the American trade deficit has increased by up to $500 billion a year and the country has lost up to five million jobs because China, South Korea, Malaysia and other countries have boosted their exports by suppressing the value of their currency.

What So-Called “Free Trade” Agreements Did To The Economy

A trade deficit means that we buy more from the rest of the world than we sell to it. This means that jobs making and doing things here migrate to there. Before the mid-70s the United States ran generally balanced trade, with a bias toward surplus. Look at this chart to see what happened, beginning in the ’80s, and then … wham.

Now we have an enormous, humongous, ongoing trade deficit that over the years has added up to trillions and trillions of dollars drained from our economy. We have lost millions and millions of jobs as tens of thousands of factories closed. We have lost entire industries. We are losing our entire middle class to the resulting wage stagnation and inequality.

Here is what happened when the trade deficit took off. First, look at this chart of the “decoupling” of wages with productivity. In other words, as productivity goes up, what happens to the share of those gains that go to labor:

In case you don’t see the correlation, this chart shows both the trade deficit and labor’s share of the benefits of our economy:

Most people understand the damage that so-called “free trade” has done to the economy, much of our country and the middle class. Millions of people have outright lost their jobs because of corporate CEOs who conclude, “It’s cheaper to manufacture where they pay 50 cents an hour and let us pollute all we want.”

Many others have felt the resulting job fear: “If I so much as hint that I want a raise or weekends off they’ll move my job to China, too.” Entire regions have lost their economic base as factories and entire industries closed and moved.

But We Globalized And Expanded Trade

The basic pro-free-trade argument is that all trade is good and these agreements increase trade. NAFTA negotiator Carla Hills, defending NAFTA, says, “our trade with Mexico and Canada has soared 400 percent, and our investment is up fivefold.”

Of course, this is like proudly telling people that the Broncos scored 8 points in the 2014 Super Bowl*. (Hint: the Seahawks scored 43 points.)

Yes, trade is up and exports are up, but imports are up even more, which costs us jobs, factories and industries. What happened was NAFTA “expanded” trade against American workers and our economy, costing about a million jobs and increasing our trade deficit 480 percent. And don’t even ask what happened with our China trade. (Hint: our 2013 trade deficit with China was 318.4 billion dollars.)

How Would The N.Y. Times Fix Trade?

The Times editorial says we should “press countries to stop manipulating their currencies” and “the president also needs to make clear to America’s trading partners that they need to adhere to enforceable labor and environmental regulations.”

OK, but why would the giant multinationals participate? The point of the free-trade regime up to now has been to accomplish the opposite: to free the giants from the pesky laws and regulations imposed by governments, especially from labor and environmental regulations. The negotiations have been a rigged game designed to transfer the wealth of entire nations to a few billionaires (including Chinese billionaires) and giant, multinational corporations. It worked.

Meanwhile … In The L.A. Times

Meanwhile in the Los Angeles Times, representatives George Miller (D-Calif.), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) have written an op-ed, “Free trade on steroids: The threat of the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” talk about NAFTA as a “model for additional agreements, and its deeply flawed approach has resulted in the outsourcing of jobs, downward pressure on wages and a meteoric rise in income inequality,” and ask us not to “blindly endorse any more unfair NAFTA-style trade agreements, negotiated behind closed doors, that threaten to sell out American workers, offshore our manufacturing sector and accelerate the downward spiral of wages and benefits.”

In 1993, before NAFTA, the U.S. had a $2.5-billion trade surplus with Mexico and a $29-billion deficit with Canada. By 2012, that had exploded into a combined NAFTA trade deficit of $181 billion. Since NAFTA, more than 845,000 U.S. workers in the manufacturing sector — and this is likely an undercount — have been certified under just one narrow program for trade adjustment assistance. They qualified because they lost their jobs due to increased imports from Canada and Mexico, or the relocation of factories to those nations.

The recent Korea free trade agreement followed the NAFTA model and the results have already proven terrible for American workers:

Obama said it would support “70,000 American jobs from increased goods exports alone.” In reality, U.S. monthly exports to South Korea fell 11% in the pact’s first two years, imports rose and the U.S. trade deficit exploded by 47%. This led to a net loss of tens of thousands of U.S. jobs in this pact’s first two years.

They conclude:

There are many things we can do to enhance our competitiveness with China and in the global economy.

We can invest in our own infrastructure, manufacturing and job training. We can work harder to address issues like currency manipulation, unfair subsidies for state-owned enterprises in other nations and global labor protections. We can enter deals that increase U.S. exports while doing right by our workers and our priorities, and we can address the real foreign policy challenges in Asia with appropriate policies instead of through a commercial agreement that could weaken the United States and its allies.

What we should not do is blindly endorse any more unfair NAFTA-style trade agreements, negotiated behind closed doors, that threaten to sell out American workers, offshore our manufacturing sector and accelerate the downward spiral of wages and benefits.

No New Trade Agreements, Instead Fix The Ones We Have

Of course, as we reach consensus that we got trade wrong, and realize how these “NAFTA-style” agreements have done so much damage to our economy and middle class, doesn’t this mean it is time to back up and renegotiate NAFTA and others?

*P.S. The 2014 Super Bowl started at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, February 2, 2014.

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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. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary

CEO Pay Soars As Worker Pay Stagnates

How’s your job going – if you even have one? The odds are very, very high that you haven’t seen a raise in a long time. Or maybe you were laid off and found a new job at half your old pay. They say this is the “new normal.”

Meanwhile, CEO pay just keeps climbing and climbing and climbing (and climbing and climbing and climbing and climbing and climbing and climbing). This inequality is destabilizing our economy.

Soaring CEO Pay

The AFL-CIO has released this year’s 2014 Executive PayWatch at www.PayWatch.org, a “comprehensive searchable online database tracking the excessive pay of CEOs of the nation’s largest companies.”

PayWatch.org offers workers the unique ability to compare their own pay to the pay of top executives. According to Executive PayWatch data, U.S. CEOs pocketed, on average, $11.7 million in 2013, compared to the average worker who earned $35,293. That means CEOs were paid 331 times that of the average worker. (CEO pay was 774 times the minimum wage.)

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Good Lord, Republicans STILL Pretending There Is An “IRS Scandal”

It has become a “truth” on the right that the IRS “targets” conservative “political” groups. Here is what is going on.

Sea Of Smear Ads From Anonymous Donors

Who is providing the sea of anonymous money behind the nasty smear-campaign ads in local, state and national elections? You might (not) be surprised to find out that these ads are from “social welfare” organizations! These organizations don’t have to disclose their donors because they are tax-exempt nonprofits that, according to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), “must be operated exclusively to promote social welfare.”

That’s right, your community, state and nation elections are being flooded with nasty, political, smear-campaign ads from organizations that claim to “further the common good and general welfare of the people of the community” and have no involvement with political campaigns.

Social Welfare Organizations

Here are the technical details. A 501(c)(4) charity is a group that does not have to disclose its donors to the public. The law says these groups must operate “exclusively” as “social welfare” organizations and not political organizations. They “must operate primarily to further the common good and general welfare of the people of the community.” (Disclosure: The Campaign for America’s Future operates as a 501(c)(4) organization; its sister organization, the Institute for America’s Future, is a 501(c)(3) organization.)

But government agencies have to “interpret” laws when it comes to their own day-to-day operating rules, and there are grey areas between activities that could be seen as “social welfare” and activities that could be seen as electoral politics. Is voter-registration a general social welfare activity or a political activity? Is issuing a well-researched policy paper on the effect of a higher minimum wage on poverty a social welfare activity or a political lobbying activity?

So years ago the IRS decided that these social welfare groups could spend “up to 49%” of their efforts in politically related activity.

“Congressman Bob Bobson Eats Babies” Is Not A Political Ad?

Obviously these groups are not supposed to be running campaign ads. But a smear ad appearing a week before an election that says “your member of Congress Bob Bobson eats babies” but not “vote against Bob Bobson for eating babies” has been “interpreted” to be a social welfare activity and not a political ad.

Because of this huge, vast, gaping loophole a number of (mostly Republican) political election campaign-related organizations that wanted to hide their donors figured out they could become “social welfare” organizations to run these campaign ads. Then “the Republican majority” on the Supreme Court as E.J. Dionne calls them, allowed billionaires and corporations (even foreign-owned corporations) to put unlimited sums of money into politics. This opened the floodgates of influence-buying – the more money you put into politics, the more tax breaks, contracts, subsidies, monopoly protection, etc. you get back – and a race was on.

Keeping Campaign Donors Secret

Corporations and billionaires that wanted to keep their influence-buying secret could put money into these “social welfare” organizations (and the people running these organizations could make themselves a fortune), so there was a flood of applications to the IRS to start conservative, tax-exempt, “social welfare” nonprofit organizations.

At the same time, Senate Republicans also filibustered the DISCLOSE Act that would let the public know who was funding all of these smear ads.

The Phony IRS “Scandal”

Republicans charge that the IRS is “targeting” conservative “political” groups when they look to see if “social welfare” groups are actually illegally engaging in election-related politics. It has become a “truth” on the right that “the government” is “harassing” conservatives for their politics. They say the IRS is “intimidating” them by looking into “their political activities.”

This all feeds into the Republican/Fox News/Wall Street Journal/talk radio/blog “scandal machine.” For example, the Wall Street Journal today has this “story” today, “GOP Report on IRS: Only Tea Party Groups Received ‘Systematic Scrutiny’.” The party issues a “report” and the conservative media machine blasts the “findings” around the wingnutosphere, and the “outrage” ensues.

Republicans in the House of Representatives have been holding hearings intended to drive this idea of IRS “harassment” out to their followers. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has his Oversight and Government Reform Committee holding televised (FOX) “hearings” that haul people before them to be yelled at by various Republicans. One person, threatened by Republicans with prosecution and jail, was advised by her attorney to assert her Fifth Amendment rights, so Republicans made her appear for hours, repeating again and again that she was “pleading the Fifth.” Now Republicans plan to vote to hold her in “contempt” for asserting her constitutional rights, and have even created a logo advertising the contempt vote:

Here’s The Thing

The IRS is required by law to look at all applicants to see if they are engaged in impermissible political activity. If they are engaged primarily in political activity, they are neither “charities” nor “social welfare” organizations and, by law, are not supposed to receive special tax status allowing them to keep their donors secret. That alone should tell you that something is fishy with the corporate/conservative accusation that the IRS is “targeting” conservative “political” groups. The IRS is required by law to see if groups are “political.”

This is really about Republicans trying to stop the IRS from policing the big right-wing political groups that are using special tax status to mask their donors. This is an intimidation tactic; it’s an attempt to keep the IRS from seeing if these groups are engaged in political campaign activity and shut down the ones that are, all in an effort to mask their billionaire/corporate and foreign corporate donors.

See also:

The Latest Lie: IRS Targeted Conservatives

The Latest Lie: “IRS Targeting Was Broader Than Thought”

The IRS “Scandal” Was A Set-Up

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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. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary

Beware of the “Sneak Laws”

One way the corporate/plutocrat/conservative agenda gets foisted on us is through what I call “sneak laws.” These are laws that sneak through state legislatures and the Congress before We the People get a chance to learn about them and organize opposition. (Read to the end to learn about a monster of a sneak law sneaking through the Congress that could cost our government as much as $700 billion now and tens to hundreds of billions a year from now on.)

There are tons of federal, state and local sneak laws written to benefit a few key corporations or billionaires. These sneak laws limit competition, grant monopolies, provide subsidies, give (sometimes huge) tax breaks, grant special waivers from laws and regulations, prohibit consumers from fighting back when harmed … you name it. But they never, ever help regular We the People.

Sneak laws can be stopped if people find out about them and get the word out in time. One recent notable sneak law was exposed just in time – not long before it was going to be signed into law by the governor. The Arizona “anti-gay” law would have legalized bigotry under the disguise of “religious freedom.” But people found out about this law and got the word out. Organizations and citizens were able to rally opposition in time and Governor Brewer vetoed the law – even after her own staff had helped write it.

Tennessee’s Sneaky Whiskey Label Law

This Monday’s TPM writes about one of these sneak laws. Tennessee legislators managed to sneak through a state law last year to help the company that makes Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey. According to TPM, the law specified that, “If it isn’t fermented in Tennessee from mash of at least 51 percent corn, aged in new charred oak barrels, filtered through maple charcoal and bottled at a minimum of 80 proof, it isn’t Tennessee whiskey.”

The thing is, this law “resembles almost to the letter the process used to make Jack Daniel’s.”

The result of this sneak law? Many of Jack Daniels’ competitors aren’t allowed to call their product “Tennessee Whiskey.” Sneaky.

A Sneaky Law To Block Tesla

Another example of sneak laws written to help established special interests is in the news. Most (all?) states do not allow automobile manufacturers to sell cars themselves, instead requiring them to go through independent dealers. Electric-car maker Tesla wants to sell their own cars themselves. So to get around requirements that they sell their cars through dealerships, Tesla sets up local showroom galleries, but customers have to purchase Tesla’s cars online.

Auto dealers in New Jersey just got the Christie administration to come up with a new regulation that New Jersey customers cannot purchase a car without the help of a middleman, and Tesla now has to close two showrooms. (Texas and Virginia have similar rules and Ohio and New York are working on blocking Tesla, too.)

So what’s next? Will Best Buy cough up the cash needed to purchase laws or regulations to ban Apple stores?

Sneaking Guns Into Georgia Airports

The gun manufacturers’ lobby (NRA) is trying to sneak a bill through the Georgia legislature to allow people to bring guns into elementary schools, churches and even airports. Yes, guns in elementary schools and airports.

The bill would also expand Georgia’s “Stand Your Ground” law to allow felons immunity from prosecution if they claim they stood their ground after shooting someone, even though felons aren’t allowed to carry guns. Yes, you read that right, someone already convicted of murder in the past could now claim immunity from prosecution because they were just “standing their ground.” (Of course one part of this that is not written into the law but it is clearly understood by all involved: as long as the victim is black and the shooter is not.)

Teacher Sneak Law

A sneaky sneak law snuck through Congress in the bill that ended the government shutdown. This one lets states use low-cost trainees instead of teachers who are highly qualified. The Washington Post covered this last October, writing:

In language that does not give a hint about its real meaning, the deal extends by two years legislation that allows the phrase “highly qualified teachers” to include students still in teacher training programs — and Teach For America’s recruits who get five weeks of summer training shortly after they have graduated from college, and are then placed in some of America’s neediest schools.

Here is the actual language in the bill that snuck this through:

SEC. 145. Subsection (b) of section 163 of Public 5 Law 111-242, as amended, is further amended by striking 6 ”2013-2014” and inserting ”2015-2016”.

Wow, extra sneaky! And now it is the law.

A Plutocrat-Enriching, Inequality-Driving, Job-killing, Corporate-Takeover Trade Sneak

The NAFTA-Style Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is an example of an attempt to sneak in laws bypassing Congress‘ ability to regulate what corporations do. And an obscure Congressional procedure called “fast track” was planned to help sneak it through. But bloggers and others caught on to this one ahead of time and rallied enough people to start a response. So far fast track has been delayed but not killed. And TPP is still in the works. Keep your eye out for fast track and TPP!

Hide And Sneak: A Monster Of A Sneak Law Is Sneaking Through Congress Now

The mother of all sneak laws is quietly making its way through Congress disguised as corporate tax “reform.” Corporations have been avoiding taxes by moving production and profit centers out of the U.S. because of a loophole that lets them “defer” paying the taxes they owe until they “bring the money home.” Now they are hiding around $2 trillion or more outside of the country, which means they owe up to $700 billion in taxes!

So they are pushing “corporate tax reform” proposals and almost all of these would let them bring the money back without paying the $700 billion they owe. Not only that, these “reform” ideas would dramatically cut taxes they pay in the future. Some of the proposals would even let them pay little or no taxes on money made outside the U.S., meaning companies would move all the rest of the jobs, factories, labs, call centers, profit centers, intellectual property patents and copyrights, and so on out of the country to take advantage of this.

This is the big one, the monster sneak attack, and it’s worth $700 billion now and tens or hundreds of billions a year from now on – plus the rest of the jobs, factories and all the rest – if they are able to sneak this one through.

We can expose this if we act in time. Keep an eye out for “tax reform” because they are going to reform the taxes they owe like a lumberjack reforms a redwood tree with an axe.

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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. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary

Close The Loophole That Lets Companies Avoid Paying Taxes

Big companies have discovered a loophole that lets them avoid paying their taxes. These tax-dodgers are holding $2 trillion-plus of taxable profits outside of the US, on which they could owe as much as $700 billion in taxes. What could our country do with this $700 billion it is owed? Why won’t Congress just make them pay what they owe?

These companies discovered that they can move jobs, factories, labs, call centers and profit centers out of the country and by doing that they can avoid paying U.S. corporate taxes. Instead of figuring out how to get these companies to pay the taxes they owe, Congress is considering proposals to reward them and encourage more companies to do this.

The Loophole That Lets Companies Avoid Paying Taxes

Current tax laws let companies defer paying the taxes they owe on profits made outside the country until they “bring the money back.” The reason for this is that some companies want to use this money to expand, leading to increased future profits. This is good for these companies and our country because they expand profits and the country gets additional tax revenue later.

But more and more companies have been cheating, using this “deferral” to avoid paying taxes at all. They are holding profits outside of the country simply to avoid taxes and not to invest and expand, even though this is not the intent of this tax rule. Some companies are even inventing ways to make it look like their US profits were made outside of the US so they can take advantage of this mistake in the tax laws. Other companies actually move jobs, factories, call centers and profit centers out of the country to take advantage of this loophole.

$2 Trillion!

It has gotten so bad that U.S. companies are holding as much as $2 trillion or more outside of the country. If this were taxed at the top tax rate of 35 percent, that would mean $700 billion in taxes is already owed, but is being kept away from being used to fix bridges, improve schools, pay judges and the other things We the People (government) do to make our lives better. Also those profits are being kept away from use investing in the US, as well as from shareholders.

Meanwhile companies that keep jobs and production inside the U.S. and don’t cheat on their taxes are at a clear disadvantage. They have to compete with companies that lay off U.S. workers and close U.S. factories, and get to not pay their taxes because they did that. And, of course, they have less money to use for bribes lobbying to get what they want.

Here are the proposals currently being discussed in Congress to address this:

  1. Make these companies just pay the taxes they owe and stop moving jobs and factories, etc. out of the country. (No one is actually suggesting this, these companies are very powerful and spread a lot of bribe lobbying and campaign money around.)
  2. Let them just keep doing what they have been doing, which encourages more companies to move jobs, factories, etc. out of the country. This is the current status quo.
  3. Let them off the hook and have a “tax holiday” that lets off the hook for some or all of the taxes they owe. There are proposals before the Congress to do this. (Too bad for those companies that actually paid their taxes.)
  4. Change the tax laws so companies that move jobs, factories, call centers and profit centers out of the country don’t have to pay taxes. This is called a “Territorial Tax System” and there are proposals before Congress to do this. (Too bad for companies that don’t want to move jobs, factories etc out of the country, they won’t be able to compete.)

Two of the proposal in front of the Congress include,

  • Republican Rep. Dave Camp’s House Ways & Means proposal gives a tax holiday to companies that owe taxes (#3), and then cuts taxes on profits made from moving jobs and production out of the U.S. by 90 percent (#4). Finally it would cut top U.S. corporate tax rates from 35 percent to 25 percent.
  • The Partnership to Build America Act (sponsored by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.)) would let companies that owe taxes bring home offshore profits tax-free (#3) if they use some of the money to buy bonds in an “infrastructure bank.” This would be a loan, so the companies get even this money back, with interest.

Call your member of Congress and ask them to just make these companies bring those profits home and pay their taxes, period. Tell them no “tax holidays” and no “territorial tax.” Just make them pay their taxes.

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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. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary

Today’s Housing Bubble Post: Who Could Have Known?

People are writing about the just-released transcripts for Federal Reserve deliberations during the 2008 financial crash, and who knew what and when. No one at the Fed knew, didn’t get it even after it started, and still say no one could have known.

The first “Today’s Housing Bubble Post” on this blog appeared on April 5, 2005. Yes, I was already writing about the housing bubble and its dangers so often that I started giving the post a “Here we go, again” title…

I was not alone. Bloggers all across the country were screaming that a crash had to come from this.

Reading this one dated April, 2005 today was heartbreaking because it links to this post,

The warning signs are everywhere that a mortgage/housing fiasco is unfolding and the silence is deafening. Except for newcomers like Cramer, the media isn’t covering this debacle or the Doral matter. The home builders having their head handed to them after record existing and new sales, plus record earnings, should put the media on notice that we have a problem.

Perhaps asking the media to quit cheerleading and look at the housing crisis objectively is too much. What of our representatives in Washington? The congress had better be meeting to figure out what the heck they are going to do instead of debating who is more responsible for Fannie.

It was heartbreaking because I happened to see this comment today, which is dated 2005 – 9 years ago:

Our economy is awash with problems right now:
- inflation
- lack of jobs
- manufacturing moved offshore
- pending health care crisis
- pending social security crisis
- housing bubble
- foreign investors fleeing the dollar.

Do you hear the media or government discussing any of this in great detail ? Instead they focus the publics attention on trivia personal interest stories.

… If the media started focussing on the real above mentioned issues, maybe the general public would start making better life decisions…

The post I linked to is titled, “Media, Congress Need To Wake Up.” Inflation is not a problem today, potential deflation is. (In fact inflation hurts bankers but helps working people…) The health care crisis will be helped a lot by Obamacare. There is and was no “pending social security crisis.” Foreign investors are fleein to the dollar. But “lack of jobs” and “manufacturing moved offshore” are worse, and the housing bubble is back in some areas.

Yeah, well, fat chance with that, it’s much worse 9 years later. The media and Congress have their heads even further up their asses.

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No Fast Track To TPP: Fix NAFTA First

The big corporations and the Obama administration are trying to push through a giant new trade treaty that gives corporations even more power, and which will send even more jobs, factories, industries and money out of the country. This is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and they are pushing something called “fast track” in Congress to help push it through.

We have to stop this, and we should take the momentum we have generated in our push-back on this to demand Congress and President Obama instead fix NAFTA first. Then fix all of our trade relationships to help working people on all sides of our borders.

TPP, Fast Track And NAFTA

There has been a lot of news about the upcoming TPP trade agreement. The agreement is being negotiated in extreme secrecy in a corporate-dominated process that appears to be leading to an agreement that would give corporations even more power than they already have. Now there is a push to pass a process called fast track through Congress in order to enable the large corporations to strong-arm TPP into law mobilized organizations around the country to sound the alarm.

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