Sleight Of Hand On Retirement vs Military

In a Washington Post piece complaining that democracy is “pandering” to voters, Charles Lane writes it is wrong to talk about increasing Social Security because of the country’s “limited resources.” (Note, the country was running a huge budget surplus before Bush’s tax cuts for the rich and doubling the military budget.) He writes,

The issue, however, is how to spend the federal government’s limited resources. After national defense, the next two largest items in the fiscal 2013 federal budget were Social Security and Medicare, programs mostly for retirees.

Lane writes that “the rich can be tapped only so many times” so there is no point trying to increases taxes on the wealthy. Huh? The top tax rate was 90%, and then 70% before Reagan, and the corporate tax rate was 50%. We would at least return to this and see what happens.

But look at what is missing in the discussion. We spend more on military than all other countries combined. But cutting that down to a reasonable size isn’t even part of this discussion. Why not?

The Health Insurance Website Works – What Will Media Whip Us Up With Next?

OK HealthCare.gov works now. The people in states that didn’t set up their own websites can get insurance. The great panic of October/November 2013 is over. What will we be whipped into a lather over this week? What will the media sensationalize next? What about our real problems?

Will the media whip the public up into a frothing fit over the terrible state of the nation’s infrastructure? What about the millions of unemployed, underemployed and underpaid (and how they could get jobs if we start fixing the infrastructure)? What about the 443,000 Americans who will die from tobacco this year, and next year, and every year? What about the pending collapse of coastal real estate prices when people realize that climate change is real? Will it be the terrible trade deficit that is draining our economy and is killing the middle class?

The answer is: probably not. We are probably going to be manipulated into being all worried about something that either makes a ton of money for a bunch of large corporations (to the detriment of smaller businesses and the rest of us), or something that ends up benefitting the Republican Party. Because that’s how our modern corporate media works now.

For decades the Republican/conservative/corporate machine has worked to “inject” their topics into the national media. For the last few weeks it was “Oh my God the Health Care website doesn’t work, shut down the government” followed by “A few people claim their health care costs went up and maybe that is because of Obamacare and not insurance company greed – never mind that tens of millions can finally get health care.”

Anyway, we’ll see. But we can be sure the corporate media will work to whip the public into a lather about something that distracts from the country’s real problems. Because that’s how our modern corporate media works now.

People tend to follow where the media points their noses. For example, “Black Friday.” People get all whipped up about “Black Friday” to the point where they are fighting each other in stores over a 40% discount on crap. (Even bringing stun guns to move other shoppers out of the way.)

PS you have 200 people in line, and you have 24 items on special sale, and you don’t think there’s going to be fighting and chaos? Really?

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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

Corporations Owe Hundreds Of Billions Of Taxes But GOP Goes After Federal Employees

Congress is again fighting over the budget with Republicans now demanding cuts in federal employee benefits. Is this really about the budget? Or is it about destroying government? Meanwhile hundreds of billions of taxes owed by corporations remain uncollected.

The recent Republican shutdown of the government ended with the can being kicked down the road, and the budget still in sequester and unresolved. The temporary funding runs out mid-January, and negotiators are trying to come up with a compromise. But Republicans insist that only cuts will be allowed, and that the sequester spending levels are the new normal.

Going After Federal Employees

Federal employees have endured a pay freeze for three years. They were furloughed during the government shutdown, they face ongoing furloughs because of the sequester cuts, and now they are being threatened with cuts in pay and pensions. WaPo reported in October that GOP lawmakers are eying federal-retiree benefits in upcoming budget talks.

Federal employees are bracing for the possibility of paying more toward their retirement benefits as political leaders slowly renew budget discussions with an eye toward deficit reduction. House Republicans and President Obama have both proposed the change in order to achieve savings.

Also, according to the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE),

To replace sequestration, House leaders have proposed cuts to federal employees’ pensions and benefits the elderly, the sick and the poor receive through Social Security and Medicare. It’s important to note that cutting Social Security benefits directly affects federal employees.

By the way, this is not part of the budget negotiations, but three Republican Senators have introduced a bill to just do away with pensions entirely.

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Best Walmart Video

Show this one at Thanksgiving!!

See What’s Walmart’s Business Secret? at the AFL-CIO blog.

The six Walton heirs own about 50% of the company and have a combined wealth of $142 billion. This means they have more wealth than 42% of all Americans combined.

Connect the dots: This stock is worth so much partly because taxpayers subsidize Walmart’s business practices. Walmart’s wages are so low that their employees qualify for various government assistance programs, like Medicaid and Food Stamps. So we are subsidizing the pay of Walmart’s employees, which increases this $144 billion fortune.

Walmart also takes advantage of trade policies that force American wages down. We let in goods made in non-democracies where people don’t have a say, so their wages are low, and the environment is not protected. The company also takes advantage of the low minimum wage. (40% of Americans now make less than the 1968 minimum wage, had it kept pace with productivity.)

The Walmart heirs were one of 18 families that funded a successful 10-year campaign to get rid of inheritance taxes. Public Citizen documented how these families used front groups to push the “death tax” astroturf campaign to convince Americans they average people were affected by this tax when only one-fourth of one percent of Americans were affected in 2006.

This $144 billion fortune influences our politicians to make sure this rigged system stays the way it is. The result is that Americans are paid less and less, and a very few people pocket the difference.

See previous CAF posts on Walmart.

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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

Why Do We The People Have To Read TPP On Wikileaks?

We the People finally get to read one chapter of the 29-chapter Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) “trade” agreement. If this agreement becomes law it will fundamentally alter the relationship between our government, other governments and giant multinational corporations, so you’d think America’s citizens would want to have a say in the negotiations. But the only reason We the People get to even read it at all is because it was leaked to Wikileaks.

Wikileaks Obtains TPP Chapter

Wikileaks has obtained one of the chapters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) “trade” agreement that is being negotiated in secret. This leaked section is the chapter about patents, copyrights, trademarks, industrial design and other “intellectual property.” Note that this has little or nothing to do with “trade.”

This chapter is from August, and it is unknown how the chapter may have changed between then and now. The chapter indicates that the US is pushing hard to get strong “protections” for giant telecommunications companies and pharmaceutical patent-holders.

WikiLeaks’ Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange said this in the announcement that Wikileaks had obtained the chapter text,

“If instituted, the TPP’s IP regime would trample over individual rights and free expression, as well as ride roughshod over the intellectual and creative commons. If you read, write, publish, think, listen, dance, sing or invent; if you farm or consume food; if you’re ill now or might one day be ill, the TPP has you in its crosshairs.”

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TPP And Wikileaks

Wikileaks has obtained one of the chapters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) “trade” agreement that is being negotiated in secret. This leaked section is the about patents and intellectual property. Note that this has little or nothing to do with “trade.”

The TPP process is set up to lead to a certain kind of agreement that favors corporate interests against the interests of most of us. Groups representing non-corporate stakeholders were kept out of the process. This section of TPP was negotiated with companies that hold patents and copyrights and profit from doing so at the table, while groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, consumer groups, patient protection groups etc. were NOT at the table. So it isn’t a surprise to see here the one-sided result of those negotiations.

Here are two examples of what results from this one-sided process.

First, you might remember that efforts to get rid of Net Neutrality and pass the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) failed to make it through our democratic, Constitutional process because people were able to become informed, rally opposition and make their case to stop these terrible things from happening. but this meant that the giant telecommunications corporations lost some power sand profit potential. So TPP becomes a treaty that accomplishes these same corporate goals by going around our democratic, Constitutional process.

Second, there is an argument going on inside TPP negotiations about whether to “carve out” tobacco from the treaty. The way the treaty is currently shaping up tobacco companies will be able to sue governments that try to protect their citizens with anti-smoking efforts. So some countries are trying to “carve out” tobacco from those rules in TPP. Never mind other corporate products that harm people, tobacco gets attention because it kills so many people. But the corporations are resisting this because it sets a precedent of allowing governments to set limits on things corporations can profit from.

I think this second thing should tell people all they need to know about this and similar “trade” agreements. They are really about setting certain giant corporations above government — and other corporations — restricting competition and innovation so these giants can stay dominant, and keep democracies and their citizens from meddling in the profit stream.

Fast Track

So if citizens were able to use democracy to fight SOPA and keep Net Neutrality and other things, how can they get TPP through? Here is how: they are trying to convince Congress to pass something called “Fast Track.” Fast Track limits the objections Congress can make to this treaty, forces them to vote “up or down” in a hurry, and this will of course happen in the middle of biggest corporate-funded campaign you have ever seen. If you think there is a lot of anti-Obamacare in the news today, or if you think there was a well-orchestrated “run up” to sell the Iraq war, well those are nothing compared to what they will do to sell this one.

Key point: They will try to push through “fast track” and then launch a massively-funded campaign to pass the treaty. If we can block Fast Track we might have a chance to head off this corporate takeover of the world.

Imagine Democracy

“We the People.” How many of us have really thought through the implications of these three words? Can people today even imagine a government that is on the side of We the People, instead of being rigged to benefit the already-wealthy and crush the hopes and efforts of the rest of us?

Since the early 1970s corporate/conservative-funded interests have pounded the public 24/7/365 with unceasing propaganda promoting the idea that government can’t do anything right, business always does everything better and more “efficiently,” market solutions (one-dollar-one-vote) are better than public (one-person-one-vote) solutions, and so on.

Meanwhile democracy does not have a marketing budget, and for so long now so many people have not even heard that there can be another side, another approach to solving our problems and making our lives better. People just hear over and over that “government is bad, efforts to do things for each other are bad, but private business for profit is good.”

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Economic Sabotage: Republicans Obstruct Infrastructure Work

There is consensus across the (sane) spectrum that the country absolutely needs to repair and modernize our infrastructure. There is widespread agreement this will help the economy now and in the future, and will create jobs. But Republicans in Congress refuse to allow infrastructure projects to proceed. Why? Because doing so will help the economy now and in the future, and will create jobs. Republicans in Congress are committing economic sabotage, and they know it.

Consensus

There is a bipartisan consensus — it even includes the Chamber of Commerce! — that the country has fallen behind and must maintain and modernize our infrastructure for the good of our economy.

President Obama talked about infrastructure in Jacksonville in July, saying,

We know strong infrastructure is a key ingredient to a thriving economy. That’s how the United States became the best place in the world to do business.

On the other end of things the Chamber of Commerce’s “Jobs & Growth Agenda” includes a section on “Reliable and Secure Infrastructure.” The Chamber says,

The U.S. Chamber is leading the charge to improve the quality of America’s infrastructure—whether it’s transportation, energy, or water networks—all of which directly impact our ability to compete in the global economy.

By modernizing our national infrastructure, we can improve commercial efficiency, increase U.S. competitiveness in the global economy, and create much-needed jobs in the near term.

Here are just a few of the other voices supporting a boost in infrastructure spending:

USA Today, USA’s creaking infrastructure holds back economy

Fareed Zakaria, Fixing infrastructure would help fix economy

Alliance for American Manufacturing, How Infrastructure Investments Support the U.S. Economy: Employment, Productivity and Growth

Business Insider, STUDY: Every $1 Of Infrastructure Spending Boosts The Economy By $2

Consensus vs. Obstruction

The Chamber of Commerce might say they are “leading the charge” but the Republicans in the Congress are obstructing the troops.

After the President asked for just a bit more infrastructure work, please, the Senate Republican leader responded, “No!” The House Republican leader has said that fixing the infrastructure is “more stimulus spending doomed to fail.”

The kook right (perhaps that should read “Koch right”) that really “leads the charge” for Republicans these days says Infrastructure Spending Is Not the Federal Government’s Business or that infrastructure spending is just more “big government.” Heritage Foundation claims here that government spending on infrastructure “takes money out of the economy”. Some of the (Koch-funded) kooks even actually claim that investing in infrastructure hurts the economy.

Obstruction Agenda Is Sabotage, Not Ideology

Look at this chart from the Financial Times’ FT Alphaville, The collapse of US infrastructure spending, charted:

This looks like lots of other recent charts, like the ones that show consumer confidence plunging in the face of Republican obstruction of everything (and especially their repeated hostage-taking over the debt-ceiling and their shutting down the government.) It is clear all of these things hurt the economy, and they continue to do them.

Maintaining the infrastructure is not about ideology. Even the conservative Chamber of Commerce understands that you have to maintain the roads and bridges, etc., and that it damages the economy if you don’t. And yet we don’t, and the obstruction continues.

So this is about a different agenda. Paul Krugman says it best at his blog,

This kind of behavior — ever-shifting rationales for an unchanging policy (see: Bush tax cuts, invasion of Iraq, etc.) — is a “tell”. It says that something else is really motivating the policy advocacy.

It is past time to argue that the Republican obstruction is hurting the economy, because it just is, and they know it. It is also past time to argue that they are doing this for some kind of ideological reason. Investing in infrastructure is not about ideology. Austerity is not about ideology.

Hurting the economy is not about ideology. There is a different agenda at work here. This is not an argument between differing visions of how best to help our economy. When this much is being done, hurting the economy again and again, and when the results of these actions are clearly that we are all being harmed, and yet it continues, this is not an accident. It is an agenda.

Economic Sabotage — Why?

So it is past time to argue if they are hurting the economy – that is settled. It is economic sabotage. There is no longer any question.

Now it is time to talk about why they are doing this.

Is it to damage Democratic election prospects? Are they betting that by making everyone feel enough pain, and blaming Democrats and President Obama, they can make people forget who got us into this mess? Do they think that economic sabotage will get them votes? That is the most charitable theory. Considering that much of the funding of the apparatus of the right that is behind this is secret, there are worse conclusions that could understandably be reached.

Democrats: The Filibusters Aren’t Stopping — What Are You Going To Do About It?

Senate Democrats, there have been over 400 filibusters. What are you going to do about it? We the People want to know. We thought we had elections. We thought things were decided and the country could finally move forward.

Are We the People the boss here, or are the billionaires and giant corporations behind this obstruction in charge?

Obstruction Of The People’s Will

Everything that We the People want to get done is being obstructed. In the Senate there is what the corporate media call “a requirement to get 60 votes for anything to pass” and in the House there is the “Hastert Rule” that prevents legislation from getting a vote if a majority that would pass it includes Democrats.

The country is being held back by an intentional strategy to block economic recovery and obstruct change that the public wants, so that Republicans can campaign for office saying the economy is bad so vote for us, and then mocking democracy saying, “How’s that hopey-changey thing workin’ out for ya?”

Are you going to do something about it? Are you going to deliver for We the People? We elected you to use the power of your office to deliver for us.

They sure are delivering for the billionaires and giant corporations who are paying them to do this.

Senate Democrats: What are you going to do about it? Who is the boss, We the People or the billionaires and giant corporations paying for the obstruction?

Here is Rachel Maddow interviewing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid this week:

Please visit Fix the Senate Now.

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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

TPP/Fast Track Fight Is On

You’ve probably been hearing warnings about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) “trade” agreement that is being negotiated. And you might have heard that the big corporations are going to push to use something called “fast track” trade promotion authority (TPA) to push it through.

It’s time to learn about TPP and fast track, and then call your member of Congress to let them know if you want them to hand the giant multinationals an end-run around democracy and national sovereignty.

The Fast Track Push Is Coming

“Fast track” trade promotion authority, if passed, means Congress yields its constitutional authority and obligation to review and amend trade agreements. A “fast track” treaty has to be voted on quickly, cannot be amended, and Congress has to give it an up-or-down vote.

The U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Michael Froman is pushing Congress to pass “fast track,” in hope of pushing through the TPP agreement by the end of the year. Politico lays it out, in “Froman pushing Congress to finalize trade deals,”

President Barack Obama was often criticized in his first term for moving too slowly on trade, but now his chief negotiator is pressing Congress to pick up the pace as the White House pushes to conclude a landmark trade deal in the Asia-Pacific by the end of the year.

[. . .] Froman and his team at USTR are pushing to finish the TPP talks by the end of the year, putting pressure on Congress to move a TPA bill to set the stage for the final phase of talks.

Fast Track To Push TPP

The next “trade” treaty will be the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This is a huge treaty with only a small part covering trade. Most of the agreement (according to leaks) sets down a new kind of regulatory structure for the giant corporations that would supersede the ability of any country to rein them in. The treaty is being negotiated in secret with only business interests “at the table.” Representatives of others with a stake in the outcome are not part of the process. Groups representing the interests of consumers, labor, human rights, the environment, democracy or even smaller and innovative companies that might want to compete with the giant multinationals are not part of the negotiations.

Economist Dean Baker explains that TPP is not about “free trade” and growth, writing,

Of course the TPP is not about free trade, in most cases the formal trade barriers between the countries negotiating the pact are relatively low. The main thrust of the negotiations is to impose a regulator structure in a wide range of areas — health, safety, environmental — which will override national and sub-national rules. This has little to do with trade and in some cases, such as the increased patent protection for prescription drugs being pushed as part of the deal (which is noted in the article), will actually involve increased barriers to trade.

In The Trans-Pacific Partnership: A Trade Agreement for Protectionists, Baker writes, “The

TPP is about crafting rules that will favor big business at the expense of the rest of the population in both the United States and in other countries.

… The world has benefited from the opening of trade over the last four decades. But this opening has been selective so that, at least in the United States, most of the gains have gone to those at the top. It is possible to design trade deals that benefit the population as a whole, but not when corporate interests are literally the negotiators at the table.

Other “Trade” Agreements Have Cost Us Dearly

One after another “trade” agreements come along that, rather than helping lift the working people of the world, instead help the multinationals use exploited workers to break unions and lower wages. These agreements also let companies manufacture in countries that do not require environmental protection while bringing the resulting lower-priced goods here with no added cost at the border, undermining our own protections. Allowing these things makes our democracy, and its good wages and protections, a competitive disadvantage in world markets.

Previous trade agreements were passed with the promise of increases in growth and wages here, but the opposite has resulted. And they have increased rather than reduced our trade deficits. They have only served to enrich the already-wealthy.

NAFTA: According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) briefing paper “Heading South: U.S.-Mexico trade and job displacement after NAFTA,” “As of 2010, U.S. trade deficits with Mexico totaling $97.2 billion had displaced 682,900 U.S. jobs.” (That is net jobs, taking into account jobs gained.)

China: In August, 2012 EPI estimated that the U.S. lost 2.7 million jobs as a result of the U.S.-China trade deficit between 2001 and 2011, 2.1 million of them in manufacturing. Aside from job losses wages US wages fell due to the competition with cheap Chinese labor costing a typical household with two wage-earners around $2,500 per year.

Columbia – “murders and threats”: A report issued Monday by Reps. George Miller (D-Calif.) and James McGovern (D-Mass.) titled The U.S.-Colombia Labor Action Plan: Failing on the Ground says,

Despite the LAP, murders and threats against union members and harmful subcontracting persist in Colombia largely unabated. At a minimum, 413 threats were documented, and 22 trade unionists were murdered for their union involvement in 2012.1 On April 1, 2013, the 991st death threat against a member of the labor movement was received since President Juan Manuel Santos became president in June 2011.2 Because of the fear of violence or employer retaliation associated with organizing or joining a union and the prevalence of anti-union and anti-worker prejudice, only four percent of Colombian workers are union members.

[. . .] “The members of the delegation conclude that the Government of Colombia is woefully falling short of compliance with the Labor Action Plan, and in many cases, these shortfalls have made working conditions for workers worse than before it came into effect,” the report said. “Before asking Congress to approve another trade agreement, such as the TPP, which poses similar labor and human rights issues, the Administration must first demonstrate concrete and effective improvements in workers’ rights on the ground in Colombia under the Labor Action Plan.”

Korea: EPI reported in July that the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement had already cost the U.S. 40,000 jobs and increased our trade deficit by $5.8 billion. According to EPI,

The tendency to distort trade model results was evident in the Obama administration’s insistence that increasing exports under KORUS would support 70,000 U.S. jobs. The administration neglected to consider jobs lost from the increasing imports and a growing bilateral trade deficit. In the year after KORUS took effect, the U.S. trade deficit with South Korea increased by $5.8 billion, costing more than 40,000 U.S. jobs. Most of the 40,000 jobs lost were good jobs in manufacturing.

Promises, Promises

The Politico story quoted above claims that President Obama is criticized for “moving too slowly on trade.” If anything, President Obama is criticized for promising in his 2008 campaign to renegotiate NAFTA, and reneging once in office.

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Get Informed

If you want to help stop “fast track,” call your member of Congress today!

Sign up for action alerts on fast track and TPP at Trade Watch.

Visit Stop TPP.

Visit the Eyes on Trade blog

Expose the TPP is a great action oriented site.

There’s also Flush the TPP.

The AFL-CIO recent convention passed a plan for people-oriented trade. Read the resolution here.

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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