Supreme Obstruction

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.

Since Obama

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 have also continually obstructed by starving government agencies of the funds they need to operate – the Internal Revenue Service is a case in point. They have even shut down the government when they could.

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:

● The Sierra Club petition: “We Need Three Functioning Branches of Government. Don’t let Congress’s dysfunction spread to the Supreme Court. Tell your senators to do their job and go through the normal constitutionally mandated process of choosing the next Supreme Court Justice.”

● Senator Sherrod Brown petition: “Senators, do your job.” “Tell Republicans: Do Your Constitutionally Mandated Job. The Constitution is clear — the president nominates Supreme Court justices, and the Senate confirms or rejects them. But Republicans in Congress want to ignore the Constitution. They’re saying they won’t consider anyone President Obama nominates. We, the undersigned, are tired of Republicans’ hypocrisy. A Senator’s Constitutional oath applies regardless of which party controls the Oval Office. Stop making excuses and do your job.

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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.

Is Clinton Bought By Wall Street? There Is A Test For That

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?

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Privatization Causes Poverty, Senate Cafeteria Workers’ Story Continues

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.

But who’s counting?

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The Latest Tax-Scam Corporate ‘Inversion’ – Who Pays Instead?

Johnson Controls Inc. and Tyco International PLC have announced a $14 billion merger, with the resulting company pretending to be “Irish.” This is called an “inversion” and is all about dodging taxes.

Johnson Controls is actually based in Milwaukee. Tyco is based in Princeton, N.J. but became “Irish” through its own prior tax-dodging inversion(s). The Washington Post explains this, in “Manufacturing giants Tyco and Johnson Controls agree to merge“:

This is not the first time Tyco, which started as a New Jersey-based research laboratory for the U.S. government in the 1960s before growing into a global behemoth with workers in about 50 countries, has made use of tax-avoidance measures. In 1997, it merged with a Bermuda-based company in another corporate inversion before moving its headquarters to Switzerland in 2008. It moved to Ireland in 2013.

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 Candidates

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.”

Here’s Hillary Clinton’s statement on the Johnson Controls-Tyco inversion deal:

“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.

Sanders released a statement condemning “corporate deserters”:

“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.

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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.

What To Watch For Next In The Fight Against The TPP

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.

The Washington Post PowerPost explained what’s happening with the ITC in “Independent agency holds big sway over TPP trade deal“:

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.

Studies by outside groups have determined that whatever TPP’s economic effect is for Wall Street and U.S. multinational corporations, it will not by favorable for U.S. workers or the economy. For example, from December, “Important Report Says TPP ‘Skews Benefits To Economic Elites’“:

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.

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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.

Keystone, Food Labeling Cases Demonstrate TPP’s Threat To Democracy

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.

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Supreme Court Appears Ready To Bankrupt Public-Employee Unions

Renee_AFSCMEAfter 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.

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Lack Of Public Options Shows How The Economy Gets Rigged Against Us

In a country with a Constitution beginning with the words, “We the People,” should our economy work for all of us instead of just a few of us? You would think it should work for We the People, but example after example shows how it is actually rigged to work for only a few people.

Postal Banking

Last week, in “Citizens Deliver 150K Petitions Demanding Postal Banking,” made the point: “We can continue to have a rigged system that enables and encourages predators to take advantage of the public, or we can offer public options that protect and provide services for the public.”

Here is a new video of the speakers at the Postal Banking petition delivery:

[fve]https://youtu.be/zAwC3VyWGH4[/fve]

Nearly 28 percent of U.S. households (54 percent of African-American households) are forced to turn to payday lenders, check-cashers and other financial predators, because they can’t get accounts at private banks. Postal banking — having the post office offer simple savings accounts, bill paying, debit card and ATM services and small loans — would provide low-cost financial services through the nation’s 30,000 U.S. Post Offices.

Every other developed country has a postal banking option to serve their people. We do not. Because we do not, if Americans can’t get a bank account they are forced to rely on predatory services. That rigs the financial services game against We the People.

Health Care

If you need to see a doctor in England you just do, and you don’t have to pay to do it. Almost every other developed country provides health care to serve their people. We do not. We are instead on our own — forced to purchase private insurance with its high deductibles and co-pays.

We are banned by law from buying into Medicare until we are 65 — and Republicans are trying to get rid of that by turning Medicare into a limited voucher to buy private scam insurance. That rigs the health care game against We the People.

Telecommunications

How about our internet service? Did you know that municipalities — or the Post Office — could offer us “public option” high-speed internet at a very low cost? (In many countries their Post Office offers internet and phone options to the people.) But by and large we don’t get a public option. Instead we have to rely on telecommunications monopolies who deliver slow broadband speeds and make us pay whatever they say we have to pay. (And don’t forget the fees!) This rigs the internet/telecommunications game against We the People.

Public Options Forbidden

We have been through decades of “privatization” – turning public services over to private enterprise. They lay off the well-paid, unionized public employees and hire people at minimum wage. This cuts the tax base, hits local businesses, and forces foreclosures. On top of that, minimum-age employees require public services like food stamps just to get by.

The privatizers justify that by saying that private businesses always do everything better than government. But if We the People decide that we want to provide ourselves with a public option for a service, this is banned because it would be “unfair competition” with the private sector.

Why would it be unfair competition? Because government offers economy of scale, public oversight of operations, transparency, higher standards, good service, and most of all doesn’t have to push all the gains to a few people at the top. This last is, by the way, the real reason for privatization — to push all the gains to a few people at the top.

Our government is meant to serve We the People, instead of just some people. When We the People are not allowed to offer each other public options, it rigs the economy against us and in favor of an already-wealthy few.

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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.

Public Demands Campaign Donor Disclosure So GOP Congress BANS It

Republicans put a surprise sneak law into the big, last-minute “omnibus” budget bill: It bans the administration from making companies and “charities” disclose who is putting up the baksheesh money for political campaigns. The president has to sign it or the government shuts down. The result is that the rigging of our system to work only in the interests of those with big money will get even worse.

What The Public Wants

Poll after poll shows that the public wants something done about the country’s campaign finance system. Obviously just knowing who is bribing funding the politicians as they continue to rig the system against us is at the top of any list: “78 percent of Democrats and Republicans alike favoring a requirement that donor names be made public.”

What The Public Gets

The public might want something done about the campaign finance bribery corruption payoff system we have, but the bribed, corrupt, paid off politicians who owe their careers (and future lucrative corporate positions) to secret, big-money contributions want it kept the way it is, or made even “darker.”

After the Citizens United ruling (by justices who obtained their seats with the help of corporate and billionaire-funded efforts), Republicans filibustered to prevent the majority of the Senate from passing the Disclose Act. “The bill would have required disclosure of anyone who donates to independent groups that spent more than $10,000 on campaign ads – or their functional equivalent – and other election spending.”

Blocks SEC From Requiring Corporations To Disclose

The new “omnibus” budget bill contains “riders” that block the government from doing anything to bring light to the “dark money” swamping our elections. It blocks the president and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) from making corporations disclose how much they are putting into the political system, and blocks the Internal Revenue Service from making nonprofits disclose which billionaires are putting money into the political system.

The Wall Street Journal has the story about the budget bill banning the administration from requiring corporations to disclose their political contributions, in “Deal Restricts SEC From Requiring Disclosure of Corporate Political Contributions”:

If signed into law, the provision would prevent the SEC from using funds authorized by the bill to “finalize, issue, or implement” a rule on disclosure of political contributions, or contributions to trade associations and other tax-exempt organizations, according to text of the bill posted early Wednesday.

However, if the President does not sign the bill, the government will shut down.

But wait, there’s more. Zach Carter reports at the Huffington Post, in “Congress Is About To Make Citizens United Even Worse”:

Another rider attached to the budget bans President Obama from issuing an executive order requiring government contractors to disclose their political spending, including donations to nonprofit groups engaged in elections, as a condition of submitting a bid. As HuffPost has previously reported, this does keep alive the prospect of an executive order mandating disclosure from contractors after they have secured their contract.

That’s right. Thanks to Republican “riders” in this budget bill, corporations do not have to disclose who they are paying to get tax breaks, subsidies, etc., and don’t even have to disclose payments they make to help them get contracts with the government.

Blocks IRS From Requiring Non-Profit Charities To Disclose

The Washington Post has the story about how this affects non-profit “charities” that are used to hide donors, in “Congress’ budget deal halts political disclosure efforts“:

The omnibus legislation would prohibit the Internal Revenue Service from using any federal funds in the coming fiscal year to revise or issue new rules governing the political spending of tax-exempt advocacy groups. The measure would effectively halt a two-year-long attempt by the IRS to set a clear limit on how much money such nonprofit groups, setup under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, can spend on politics.

The Post notes “a 1959 regulation that states that such groups must not be engaged in political activity, as they are meant to be ‘primarily engaged in promoting in some way the common good and general welfare of the people of the community.'” Except now they can.

The Journal fills this in a bit more, in “Spending Deal Preserves Nonprofits’ Ability to Spend Campaign Cash in Secret”:

Under the new legislation, the IRS cannot use federal funds in fiscal year 2016 to “issue, revise or finalize” any rules about how tax-exempt 501(c)(4) organizations can spend money to influence elections. Since 2013, the Obama administration has beenseeking to rein in the influence of such groups in elections by creating rules to restrict their spending on campaign-related activities.
Recent elections have seen an explosion in spending by nonprofit groups, such as the conservative heavyweight Crossroads GPS. The 2016 election is unusual in the volume of nonprofits that are spending millions to benefit specific candidates in the primary.
… Unlike super PACs, 501(c)(4)s are not required to disclose their donors, and most won’t have to file any IRS disclosure reports concerning their operations and spending until after the general election next year.

So, thanks to Republican “riders” in this budget bill, the IRS is not allowed to enforce laws already on the books against political activity by non-profits, and can’t even make them disclose who is funding that activity.

Pubic Citizen Reaction

The Post story has Public Citizen’s reaction:

“It’s outrageous that lawmakers are interfering with the most modest measures to increase disclosure of political spending,” Lisa Gilbert, who directs the watchdog group Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, said in a statement. “The American people want – and deserve – to know who is trying to buy our elections.”

Democracy Spring

Note – many groups involved in the Democracy Initiative are working to plan a Spring 2016 mobilization in Washington combined with joint action in states – focused on voting rights and campaign finance reform.

“Collectively, we strive to build a 21st century democracy where the voice of every American is heard and counted with a government that is of, by, and for the people,” the campaign’s statement of purpose says. Note on the left side of the website where it says, “Click Here to Subscribe to our Newsletter!

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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.

Citizens Deliver 150K Petitions Demanding Postal Banking

“The United States has two separate banking systems today – one serving the well-to-do and another exploiting everyone else,” – Prof. Mehrsa Baradaran, author of How the Other Half Banks.

“Car title loan for $1200.00. $300 a month interest. They are killing me and no way to pay back the loan. I dont know what to do! Can you help?” – Marta, IN

We can continue to have a rigged system that enables and encourages predators to take advantage of the public, or we can offer public options that protect and provide services for the public.

Wednesday the Campaign for Postal Banking, Campaign for America’s Future and dozens of other national consumer, labor, and civic organizations delivered petitions signed by more than 150,000 Americans, asking the USPS Postmaster General to implement Postal Banking. Postal Banking would provide low-cost financial services through the nation’s 30,000 U.S. Post Offices.

CAF’s Roger Hickey spoke at the event, saying,

“I’m here to call attention to all the groups you haven’t heard from today.

The idea of Postal Banking is so simple, so innovative — that when people hear about it, they say Yes!!!. Why not?

Despite attempts in Congress to sabotage the Postal Service, Post Offices are still everywhere in America

… postal banking would be a god-send in communities where banks are leaving – and where “Payday loan” and “car title” loan predators suck the financial blood out of the working poor.

…the bankers, and the payday loan ripoff artists — and the conservative enemies of the Postal Service had better get out of the way.”

CAF’s Roger Hickey at the petition-delivery event.

Why Postal Banking?

While every other developed country has Postal Banking to serve their people, America’s rigged, Wall Street-dominated system gives great banking services to people with money but squat to those who do not. As a result of this rigged system, nearly 28 percent of U.S. households are forced to turn to payday lenders, check-cashers and other financial predators. They end up having to spend an average of 10 percent of their income on fees and services.

If this reminds people of the way the US health care system only offers predatory insurance companies with no “public option”, there’s a reason. The US Postal Service (USPS) could provide an affordable, high quality “public-option” alternative right now. But in our rigged system, it doesn’t. Postal Banking is a non-profit banking “public option” that would both serve Americans who need this service — and help preserve the USPS at a time when it is under attack by the same privatizers who have rigged the rest of our system against us.

It would be simple for the USPS to set up Postal Banking. The USPS offered savings deposit accounts until 1967. It still offers money orders and international wire transfers. They have the authority to expand this. Adding savings accounts, bill paying, ATM services and other services would be easy. And this is why Wall Street is fighting to keep it from doing so.

A May 15 report from the USPS Inspector General David Williams said, “Offering expanded financial services would help the Postal Service improve the lives of millions of Americans as it fulfills its universal service obligation.”

“The sad part is that the people who go to loan stores can’t get a loan from the bank because, they either have bad or no credit to get approved. The loan stores take advantage of this and make a bad situation worse. It is completely unethical and a sad picture of the way humanity is on a downward spiral.” – Heather, WI

“I am caught in the payday loans cycle… I cannot afford to pay them off so I have to continue borrowing month after month and it is draining me.” – Toni, KS

See also:

The Campaign for Postal Banking website

This Postal Banking Petition Is Important

Sanders Pushes Postal Banking

Postal Workers And The Public Want A Postal Banking Public Option

A “Grand Alliance” To Save Our Public Postal Service

Why We Need Postal Banking: Statements from Leaders

The Need for Postal Banking: Personal Stories

Budget Deal: Republicans In Service To Oil Companies, Never The Public

The “omnibus” budget for the next year is out. Here are some of the winners and losers.

With a Republican Congress, every budget battle is about ratcheting down the things our government does to make our lives better. Every budget battle is a defensive action, with Democrats fighting to keep things that help the public for another year or two. Republicans fight for tax cuts for the rich and corporations to defund government. Then they can claim that government doesn’t have any money, so we need to cut budgets. (Note that almost all corporate shareholders are largely the same rich people, so corporate tax cuts are really just tax cuts for the rich.)

What We The People Get

This time We the People “get to keep” tax incentives for wind and solar for another five years. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) (for low income people with income from work), Child Tax Credit (CTC) (for people who have children), American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) (for sending kids to college) were actually made permanent. We get to keep providing health care for 9/11 responders who got sick from helping at the World Trade Center site after the 2001 terrorist attack — all of which Republicans tried to strip out.

Making those tax credits permanent is a big win. These help lift 24 million working-class families.

The “Cadillac Tax” that was set up as a disincentive to employers to offer high-quality health insurance coverage is delayed for two years. This means people will be able to get better health insurance with lower co-pays and deductibles. (See the post “What Is This ‘Cadillac Tax’ Health Insurance Thingy?” for details.)

Because of all the tax cuts, the country’s public schools are generally underfunded to the point where teachers are using their own money to buy books for the students and supplies for the classrooms. The budget lets teachers forced to do this at least have a tax deduction from their income.

What We The People Stopped

Republicans were fighting to block the “fiduciary rule” that requires financial advisers to give advice that is in the interest of their clients, instead of tricking their customers just to make money for themselves — or at least disclose to customers if they have a conflict of interest. They didn’t get that rule blocked, so financial advisors cannot continue their fraud-based business model.

Republicans were trying to chip away at the Dodd-Frank bank-regulating rules, so Wall Street can expand its fraud-based business model. They were trying to strip power from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and cut the ability of the Financial Stability Oversight Council to do its job. They didn’t get those.

Republicans Got Tax Cuts To Further Defund Government And Enrich Billionaires

Republicans fought for more corporate tax cuts and got $650 billion, including the “active finance exception” for multinational financial corporations and what Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) calls “the much-abused research credit.” CTJ says these “are nothing but ineffective giveaways to the nation’s wealthiest corporations.” CTJ concludes, “As a whole, this tax package is mostly a lobbyist-wrapped Christmas present for our nation’s biggest corporations.”

Republicans also won tax breaks for special interests including NASCAR, horse racing and film and television productions.

Having won another $650 billion of government defunding while handing $650 billion to big corporations, Republicans will soon come back and complain about “deficits” and demand a new round of cuts in the things our government does for us.

Oil Companies Get The Oil Export Ban Lifted

But Republicans especially fought for lifting the ban on exporting U.S. oil. This was their highest priority.

This is a typical news reports on the budget deal: “By far the biggest win for Republicans, besides the extended tax cuts, is a measure that would lift a four-decade-long ban on exporting crude oil.”

Why is this a “win” for “Republicans?” Because oil companies wanted it, period. The Republican Party is nothing if not always, always in service to oil companies. A political party placed ending the oil export ban as their highest, highest, do-or-die priority. It does nothing for the public, the country, the climate, jobs or anyone or anything else except for the oil companies, and this is what the Republican Party laid itself down to get done.

This puts more oil on world markets, just after the Paris climate talks. The reasons oil companies wanted this so much are:

1) In the short term, this gets some of the glut of oil out of the U.S., thereby raising gas and other prices within the U.S. (This was the real goal of the Keystone pipeline. Canadian oil is already coming into the U.S., the pipeline would take it to Gulf ports so it can be gotten out of the U.S., thereby reducing the glut and raising U.S. gas and other prices.)

2) The Paris climate agreement is a signal that the era of fossil fuel is ending. A lot of the oil that is still in the ground is going to have to stay there. The question is whose oil will have to stay in the ground, and producers are trying to get their oil out of the ground as fast as they can. Producers are now fighting with other producers to dump their oil before they are forced to stop. Saudi Arabia and OPEC are pumping oil as fast as they can. Lifting the U.S. oil export ban lets U.S. producers fight directly with them to get their own oil out of the ground first.

Democrats traded this in exchange for keeping tax incentives for wind and solar for another five years, and some of those other things We the People got to keep for a while longer.

P.S.: This Was Not Cool At All

By the way, the budget bill repeals a law requiring Country Of Origin Labels (COOL) on meats, because a corporate court decided We the People should not be allowed to know where the meat we purchase comes from. This cuts into the profits of giant meat producing corporations that are not U.S.-based.

For background on this see “Corporate Court Overrules U.S. Congress, Public.”

WOW Look What Republicans Snuck Into The Budget

Republicans banned the government from requiring disclosure of who funds their campaigns.

From The Hill:
Language in the spending bill prevents the Securities and Exchange Commission from issuing a rule requiring publicly traded companies to disclose their political spending and the IRS from defining the activity that’s allowed by 501(c)(4) groups.