Senate Republicans Filibuster Equal Pay For Women (Again)

Republicans in the Senate on Monday unanimously filibustered the Paycheck Fairness Act. Did you see this on the news? Did you hear about it on the radio? Did you read about it in your local paper? There is an election coming and accurate, objective information is essential for democracy to function.

The Paycheck Fairness Act “amends the portion of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) known as the Equal Pay Act to revise remedies for, enforcement of, and exceptions to prohibitions against sex discrimination in the payment of wages.” It “revises the exception to the prohibition for a wage rate differential based on any other factor other than sex. Limits such factors to bona fide factors, such as education, training, or experience.”

To sum up, it would put in place measures to ensure that women will be paid the same as men if they do the same work.

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Eric Cantor Goes To His Reward

Eric Cantor was a congressman from Virginia and was House majority leader. He was known for being particularly friendly to Wall Street and the giant, multinational corporations.

In the June Republican primary, his Virginia constituents got fed up with this and booted him, choosing to nominate Cantor’s challenger, David Brat, instead. Conservative Erik Erikson explained at FOX, that Cantor’s Virginia constituents did this because, “K Street, the den of Washington lobbyists, became his chief constituency.”

Cantor didn’t bother to finish his current term supposedly representing his Virginia constituents. He resigned from office effective August 18.

Just two weeks later Cantor has gone to his reward. Cantor will receive a huge, fat, lucrative, awe-inspiring, 1-percent-making, mansion-jet-and-yacht-buying, zillion-figure paycheck from his Wall Street/corporate constituents. He will become board member, vice chairman and managing director of investment bank Moelis & Co. (It typically takes longer than two weeks to negotiate a senior position like this one, if you know what I mean.)

Cantor earned this senior investment banking position with his vast experience in investment banking, if you know what I mean. (Cantor has a law degree, and a Masters in real estate, and worked in real estate development for his father before entering the clearly more lucrative field of representing certain constituencies, if you know what I mean.)

“Eric has proven himself to be a pro-business advocate and one who will enhance our boardroom discussions with CEOs and senior management as we help them navigate their most important strategic decisions,” Moelis CEO Ken Moelis said in a statement.

Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more, if you know what I mean.

Take The Gold Or Take The Lead

Our system has become corrupted and everyone knows what I mean. Everyone understands that government officials who “play ball” can get a huge paycheck after leaving government if they help certain big businesses while serving in government. The Nation explains, in When a Congressman Becomes a Lobbyist, He Gets a 1,452 Percent Raise (On Average), Secret deals, bribery and “buying” members of Congress are commonplace in today’s government. (See also: Tauzin, Billy.) (And: Public Interest Groups Call For Corruption Investigation Into Prescription Drug Law.)

Neil Barofsky was Special United States Treasury Department Inspector General overseeing the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP). In the preface to his book Bailout: An Inside Account of How Washington Abandoned Main Street While Rescuing Wall Street, Barofsky explained that people in government are given two choices, “the gold or the lead.” From the NY Times review, (emphasis added, for emphasis)

Mr. Barofsky, wearing an unseasonal wool suit at odds with a “Washington-appropriate wardrobe,” is poised to let the hostess seat them at a front table of her choosing, but Mr. Allison insists on a private table in the rear. Then he gets down to business.

“Have you thought at all about what you’ll be doing next?” Mr. Allison asks Mr. Barofsky, soon adding, “Out there in the market, there are consequences for some of the things that you’re saying and the way that you’re saying them.”

“Allison was essentially threatening me with lifelong unemployment,” Mr. Barofsky concludes, and alternatively suggesting a plum government appointment some day if Mr. Barofsky would simply “change your tone.”

When Mr. Barofsky tells his deputy of the exchange, the deputy says, “It was the gold or the lead,” resorting to the lingo of their joint experience prosecuting Latin American drug kingpins in New York: Cooperate and share the riches, or don’t and get plugged.

There are “consequences” if you don’t play ball. But if you do play ball, there are rewards. And everyone knows it.

Cantor represented Wall Street instead of Virginia in the Congress. His Virginia constituents didn’t like it, and booted him. Cantor has gone to his reward: a big pot of Wall Street gold. And everyone knows it.

Solution? Make it a law: No person employed by the government in any capacity may receive compensation in any form that is significantly greater than the compensation they received for their public service, for a period of five years.

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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.

Are American Corporations Really Less Competitive Because Of Taxes?

Corporate tax rates used to top out at 52.8 percent. Later rates were lowered to 48 percent and then 46 percent. Then in 1986 corporations complained that this (lowered) rate made them “uncompetitive” and demanded “corporate tax reform.” Because job creators. So the rate was lowered to 35 percent.

Now in 2014 corporations are complaining that this (lowered) rate makes them “uncompetitive” and are demanding “corporate tax reform.” Because job creators – or something. This time they threaten to – or do – renounce their U.S. citizenship, saying it is because of too-high tax rates.

So, here we are again. They want rates lowered even more. But are corporate tax rates really “uncompetitive?” And what does that even mean?

Tax Rates Are Plenty Competitive

At the New York Times’ Dealbook Andrew Ross Sorkin looks at this issue in “Tax Burden in U.S. Not as Heavy as It Looks, Report Says.” Sorkin looks at a paper, “‘Competitiveness’ Has Nothing To Do With it,” by Edward D. Kleinbard. Kleinbard is a professor at the University of Southern California and used to be chief of staff to the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation. Sorkin quotes Kleinbard:

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Backed By China? House Republicans Block Critical ‘Make It In America’ Bill

Last week one more example of Republican obstruction occurred – blockage of an important “Make It In America” bill – and one more time not a single corporate media outlet reported it.

The House Republican leadership last Tuesday blocked a bill to secure for American companies critical minerals used in the production of energy-efficient products, renewable energy systems, electronics and other technologies. The result is companies – and the Defense Department – continue to be forced to turn to China to make or obtain critical electronics components.

The China Problem

Put simply, China undermined most of the world’s other sources of these strategic minerals by such practices as underpricing, putting them out of business. Once an industry leaves a country it becomes enormously difficult to start it up again. The supply chain is gone. The expertise is gone. The educators are gone – and so on. And, of course, with the industry goes the jobs and the ability for a country to make a living in the world. A huge investment is required to rebuild all of this.

Now China is the main source (90 percent) for many critical minerals used in electronics manufacturing. China is using that 90 percent advantage to force other industries to come to China. China has been using export controls and other restrictions to drive up the price of manufacturing outside of China. If you simply cannot make or obtain certain critical electronics products anywhere else you either get them from China or go out of business. And yes, that includes our military.

The Bill

The Securing Energy Critical Elements and American Jobs Act of 2014 (H.R. 1022) from Rep. Eric Swalwell, (D-Calif.) was written “to assure the long-term, secure, and sustainable supply of energy-critical elements to satisfy the national security, economic well-being, and industrial production needs of the United States.” It would have increased exploration, research and development, and other national means to secure these critical minerals by coordinating the actions of federal agencies to:

  1. promote an adequate and stable supply of energy critical elements,
  2. identify energy-critical elements and establish early warning systems for supply problems,
  3. establish a mechanism for the coordination and evaluation of federal programs with energy-critical element needs, and
  4. encourage private enterprise in the development of an economically sound and stable domestic energy-critical elements supply chain.

This bill is one part of the overall Make It In America series of bills from House and Senate Democrats.

The Vote

A majority of the House voted for the bill, but House leadership set it up for failure by requiring a two-thirds vote to pass. It was voted on “under suspension of the rules” requiring the two-thirds instead of the normal majority.

The reason? Heritage Foundation and Club for Growth objected to our government helping American companies compete with China. They said that the American government securing necessary materials for American companies to manufacture is “interference with the free market.”

To some there apparently is no national interest, only “market” interests.

Of course, it is not a “free market” because China subsidizes its companies and uses strategic chokepoints like this to take over entire industries. China sees itself as a country with a national interest. Conservatives say we should not.

Heritage argued that government “interference in a functioning market is self-defeating.” In other words, let China have the business.

It really is time to find out if Heritage Action and Club for Growth receive funding from China as part of China’s national strategy to capture the world’s strategic industries. China would be foolish not to. But, on the other hand, maybe China doesn’t have to.

This is important stuff. Really important. You should help spread the word that this happened.

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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.

Today’s False-Equivalence Award

Today’s false-equivalence award goes to the New York Times for Fight Over Minimum Wage Illustrates Web of Industry Ties.

After exposing how a supposed “think tank” set up by a PR firm working for the restaurant industry puts out dishonest “reports” claiming that raising the minimum wage is bad policy, the Times writes this:

The campaign illustrates how groups — conservative and liberal — are again working in opaque ways to shape hot-button political debates, like the one surrounding minimum wage, through organizations with benign-sounding names that can mask the intentions of their deep-pocketed patrons.

Because “liberal” groups take in millions of corporate cash and set up phony “think tanks” to spread propaganda about how we should pay people less to enrich the billionaires and their giant corporations, too. Right?

m4s0n501

Who Will Fight To Help The Unemployed?

At the beginning of November, the poor went over the “Hunger Cliff” as Food Stamps were cut. Now long-term unemployment assistance will run out at the end of December. Regular people think the government has given up on them. They have been hit by one blow after another, with little or no help in sight. They see shutdowns and budget cuts at the very time the government needs to spend more to help Americans.

This is part of the Republican effort to turn Americans against government, because the public will blame Democrats. Democrats have to stop letting Republicans get away with it, and return to being seen as trying to help the unemployed and poor.

Long-Term Unemployment Assistance Running Out

In a few days, long-term unemployment benefits run out in spite of a “budget deal.” This cutoff of long-term aid means that in most states aid will end after a person is unemployed for 26 weeks, and in other states even less – some dramatically less. It occurs at a time when the average length of unemployment is 37 weeks, and there is still only one job for every three people still bothering to look for work.

1.3 million people will lose this assistance immediately, just after Christmas. By mid-2014 another 2 million will lose this aid as well.

“If my wife loses her benefit before she finds a job, we lose our house.” – Philadelphia resident.

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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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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.

How To Dismantle A Country

Let’s say it’s the 1970s and you’re a foreign power of one sort or another – Soviet Union, China, Arab oil interests, secret cabal of billionaires, whatever – and you want to dominate the world. But the US is in your way…
Let’s say you do a comprehensive analysis of all the things that make the US a world power (for better or worse). Let’s say you develop a plan to infiltrate, undermine, weaken, fracture and ultimately dismantle each the institutions that made America so strong.

Looking back today, can anyone offer anything that could have been more effective at accomplishing this plan than funding America’s conservative movement?

Government Hands $1 Trillion+ To Wealthy While Deficit Is $642 Billion

While our government is laying off hundreds and hundreds of thousands and cutting services in the name of cutting deficits, a new report exposes that taxpayers are handing more than $1 trillion a year to the wealthiest.

DC Focused On Deficits Not Jobs

Instead of focusing on jobs, Congress and the White House obsess on how to cut the budget -– the things We the People do to make our lives and economy better. While the “sequester” has already cost 900,000 jobs — 1.6 million thru 2014 — Republicans are threatening to shut down the government and force the country to default on its debt as leverage to force even more cuts.

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner has repeatedly said the country is “broke.” For example, “We’re broke, broke going on bankrupt,” Boehner said Feb. 28, 2011. Here he is saying it on Dec. 11, 2012, “Let’s be honest. We’re broke.”

So we have to cut and cut and cut, even though the cuts are costing millions of jobs and damaging the economy and the prospects for our country and peoples’ future, because supposedly “we’re broke.”

New Report: More Than $1 Trillion Per Year Handed To Wealthiest

But a report out today from the National Priorities Project (NPP) shows that the country is handing more than $1 trillion to the already-wealthy.

That’s right, the government is cutting services and laying off hundreds upon hundreds of thousands in the name of cutting deficits, while handing more than $1 trillion a year to the wealthiest. The rest of us pay taxes and suffer cuts in jobs and services to make up this lost money.

According to the report, lots of 1%ers will pay no taxes at all this year, while the country cuts jobs and services in the name of cutting the deficit.

“Ten major tax breaks that together total more than $750 billion in tax savings in 2013 are tilted heavily in favor of the top income earners; according to the Congressional Budget Office, 17% of the benefits from these major tax breaks go to the top 1% of households. In fact, according to the Tax Policy Center, nearly 1.2 million taxpayers in the top 1% will owe no income tax at all in 2013, thanks in large part to tax breaks that help them reduce their tax liability down to zero.”

Two of the key findings in the report tell the story:

  • Corporate tax breaks will total $108 billion in FY2013 – more than 1.5 times what the U.S. government spends on education funding. Between 2007 and 2013, the revenue lost from U.S. corporations deferring taxes on income earned abroad rose 200%, going from $14 billion to $42 billion.
  • All tax breaks for individuals will exceed $1 trillion this year, with about 17% of the biggest individual tax breaks going to the top 1% of earners. In fact, many individual tax breaks disproportionately benefit wealthy households.

The country’s budget shortfall is not from “entitlements” (things We the People are entitled to as citizens in a prosperous democracy) and “government spending” (the things We the People do to make our lives and economy better). The deficit is down to $640 billion while $1 trillion in tax breaks goes to the 1%. (Actually mostly the 1% of the 1%.)

Click through to read the entire NPP report, and here for a visualization of the impact.

Deficit Talk Is A Rigged Discussion

So why is the country terrified that budget deficits are going to eat us alive? Why don’t people know that the deficit is already down more than 50% from the levels Bush left behind and is falling at the fastest rate since the end of World War II? Why are Republicans able to get away threatening to shut the government and force the country into default in their drive to cut spending on the things that make our lives better?

The reason is that there is a massively-funded PR campaign underway to convince people of these things. Fix The Debt, for example, has pumped at least $60 million into a PR campaign to convince people that we have a deficit emergency and must therefore cut back on the things government does. Wall Street billionaire Pete Peterson has pledged $1 billion toward the same end. These are just two sources of the massively-funded campaign to convince people that the government should be cut back, instead of hiring people to fix the infrastructure, instead of having universal health care, etc.

And those are just two examples. How many headlines like these has the public seen? Budget deficit reaching point of no return, 20 Must-See Charts On America’s Disastrous Level Of Government Spending, Budget, Deficit, Debt Disaster, Deficits Must Be Curbed or It’s Disaster For Economy: Study and on and on and on.

And now we learn that the government is handing more than $1 trillion to the 1% and their corporations, while the deficit in only $640 billion and falling.

A Corruption Spiral

We are witnessing here a corruption spiral. This is big money using money to influence the government to give them even more money. And they then use that more money to influence the government even more to give them even more more money. And they then use that more money to influence the government even more more to give them even more more more money. And they then use that more more money to influence the government even more more more to give them even more more more more money. And then …

[fve]http://youtu.be/Kp5nUQkgWIc[/fve]

What Can We Do About This?

This is about the powerful predatory pigs feeding at the trough and taking it out on the weak. It has to stop.

How do we stop the corruption spiral that is eating our economy, our jobs and the things We the People do to make our lives better? We must get the money out of politics — and out of the national discussion. Money is not “speech.” In a democracy each person having an equal say is “speech.”

Corporate money is supposed to be used to run the corporation, period. Corporations use their money to drive the purposes of the corporation. So corporations by definition cannot use their money without the expectation of getting something in return. Even the use of corporate money to fund a Little League team is for the purpose of advertising and “brand development.” So giving money to a politician is done with the expectation of getting a tax break, a contract, a patent or some other form of advantage over competitors or otherwise increasing its profits. According to the law giving anything of value to any public official with the intent of influencing that official is bribery. It is not speech to give money to a politician, it is bribery. It is corruption.

By the same token, corporations giving their money to lobbying operations is done with the same intent. It is done to influence politicians or use front groups to drive support to politicians (a thing of value) to get them to do something that financially rewards that corporation.

And of course those with the most money are able to have the most influence. Which brings them more money. Which brings them more influence. This increased influence brings them more money, which brings them more influence. This increased influence brings them more money, which brings them more influence. This increased influence brings them more money, which brings them more influence. This increased influence brings them more money, which brings them more influence. This increased influence brings them more money, which brings them more influence. This increased influence brings them more money, which brings them more influence.

Again, a corruption spiral that eats our economy, jobs and democracy.

Corporate money must be banned from politics or otherwise influencing policy. Corporate money should be used to operate the corporation, period.

So how do we stop the influence of the billionaires? We just learned that the Koch brothers ran a group that pumped almost a quarter of a billion dollars into the last election (that we know of). Aside from that, according to the Sunlight Foundation, the 1% of the 1% funded a huge share of the election all by themselves.

The answer here is of course limiting the amounts individuals can put into campaigns and banning efforts to influence elections outside of campaigns themselves. This includes a complete crackdown on the use of special-tax-status organizations in election activities, front groups, etc.

These steps will at least be a start, and will give democracy a bit of breathing room. Then We the People might be able to figure out where to go from there.

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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