Did You Know That AARP Is A Paying Member Of ALEC?

Here is a real shocker. AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons) has been a paying member of the notorious right-wing, Koch-tied lobbying organization American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) since at least 2014.

Yes, that AARP, once known for protecting the interests of senior citizens and fighting to protect Social Security and Medicare. Yes, that ALEC — an organization dedicated to, among so many other things, privatizing Social Security and Medicare, and getting rid of public-employee pensions. AARP apparently joined ALEC even as many corporations were fleeing thanks to exposure of ALEC’s reprehensible actions.

Just wow.

Nick Surgey and Calvin Sloan exposed the story at the Center for Media and Democracy’s ALEC Exposed site, “REVEALED: AARP IS FUNDING ALEC”:

AARP, the non-profit seniors organization that exists to promote the financial security, pensions and healthcare of those over 50, is secretly funding the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization whose bills have acted against the interests of ordinary Americans, including retirees and their families.

The Center for Media and Democracy has learned that AARP has recently joined ALEC, and that it is a named sponsor of the ALEC annual meeting taking place in Indianapolis, Indiana from July 27-29, 2016.

Why does this matter?

Michael Hiltzik, Columnist at the LA Times, explains why this matters in “Why is AARP cozying up to the right-wing group ALEC while big corporations flee?”:

Among the policies that have been promoted by ALEC are several that arguably undermine the interests of seniors and retirees, AARP’s core constituency. ALEC has pushed for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which has saved Medicare enrollees millions of dollars by closing the Medicare drug benefit “donut hole.” It has opposed Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. It has targeted public pensions, pushing to cap benefits and shift workers toward defined contribution plans, which layer more market risk on individual workers’ shoulders.

ALEC’s right-wing, corporate agenda is all about privatizing Social Security, gutting pension plans, turning Medicare over to insurance companies and pushing laws that would make prescription drug prices even higher for seniors.

Talk about selling out your constituency. Just wow.

Many companies dropped ALEC after the organization’s right-wing ties were exposed by CMD. These companies include Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Kraft, Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft. (Click here for a list.) And then AARP apparently decided this all sounded good, and joined up.

Is This Even Legal?

Hiltzik’s column contains a revealing statement from AARP,

AARP’s statement acknowledged that it paid a fee to ALEC in 2016 to provide “an opportunity to engage with state legislators and advance our members’ priorities from a position of strength at ALEC’s annual meeting. AARP added, “given that Republicans control one or more chambers in 39 of the nation’s 50 state legislatures, we believe having a seat at the table at the ALEC annual meeting was necessary to our mission of representing the interests and needs of people 50-plus and their families.”

AARP says it paid a fee to “engage” with legislators and get “a seat at the table.” Paying the fee gives them a “position of strength.” This statement reveals how ALEC is set up as a “pay-to-play” corruption operation; the organization charges companies a fee for access to legislators, companies pay a fee so they can influence legislators, conservative legislators show up so they can be influenced. The public loses out on every side of that pay-to-play triangle of corruption.

Really? Paying a fee for an opportunity to engage with legislators? Or the other side of that equation, charging a fee? If this blatant corruption is legal at all, it is what is known as “lobbying.” But ALEC is a tax-exempt 501(c)3 charity that is prohibited from lobbying or engaging in politics at all. (Never mind a license for corruption.) Various complaints have been filed with the IRS, but nothing happens… Just wow.

Get Active

CMD has a petition you can sign: Tell AARP to Dump ALEC!

For decades, ALEC has plied state legislators with disinformation about Social Security, climate change, and other issues along with bills and resolutions that undermine Americans’ financial security and our future.

Please sign the following letter (and if you are a member of AARP, please also contact the organization directly and ask that they DUMP ALEC).

Also, Social Security Works is an organization that “leads the fight every day to expand and protect our Social Security system.” They want you to click this: No organization that claims to represent retirees should be anywhere near ALEC, let alone funding them. Join us in calling on AARP to immediately end its financial support of ALEC and repudiate the group.

FYI: About CMD

The Center for Media and Democracy investigates and exposes corruption. You might know CMD for ALEC Exposed, which brought ALEC to public attention. You might know them for PR Watch, which keeps an eye on how corporations use “spin.” They also operate the SourceWatch wiki.
However you know them, they do great work. Check them out.

And click through to read the entire piece exposing AARP’s membership in ALEC as well as Michael Hiltzik’s column the LA Times. They both contain so much more in-depth information than is included here.

——-

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 Progressive Breakfast.

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.

——-

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.

Why You Should Pay Attention To The ‘Friedrichs’ Supreme Court Case

The Supreme Court has once again decided to reconsider “settled law.” This time it is a case involving the rights of public-employee unions to charge employees a fee for the services the unions are required by law to provide to all employees – even those who are not members of the union. The goal is to bankrupt the unions by denying them the funds necessary to perform the required services.

The argument is that since unions protect working people’s pay and rights, paying fees for union services therefore violates the “free speech” of those who support concentrated wealth and power.

This case is going to be argued before the Supreme Court on Monday. Here’s why you need to pay attention.

Payment For Services Unions Are Required By Law To Provide

When a public-employee union negotiates a contract, even employees who are not union-members get the pay increases, sick pay, vacation pay, union services and other benefits of the contract. Union services include the cost of collective bargaining, administering the resulting contract, and representing employees who have grievances under the contract.

Currently, unions are required by law to provide these services to every employee covered by a union contract, even if those employees are not union members. So, the unions charge an “agency fee” to those non-union employees to cover the costs.

Public-Employee Unions Support Communities, Not Just The Workers

Public-employee unions, by their nature, fight for the interests not just of employees but of the entire community. On a Wednesday call about the implications of the Freidrichs case, members of public-employee unions described how their unions help them serve the whole community.

Vincent Variale, a New York Fire Department EMS lieutenant and 9/11 first responder, said it is important for first responders to have a voice at the table, because they fight for preventive safety regulations, good equipment and adequate staffing levels.

For example, he said that on 9/11 they had no respirators, so it was hard to provide medical care as needed. His union local brought these concerns to the fire department and fought to get better equipment. Now they have respirators and protective equipment that allows them to work in harsh environments, like building collapses, providing medical care that is needed. And now that there is such a concern about “active shooters,” the union is proactively trying to get bulletproof vests. This demonstrates how unions protect the citizens their members serve.

Pankaj Sharma, a high school teacher in Illinois, talked about how his union works to stop cuts to the most marginalized and at-risk students. Special education, for example, is an expensive program and is often a target for cuts. The union fights this. The union also advocates for referendums to get high quality facilities. Because teaching has a high turnover rate, the union created a mentoring program to help keep teachers. This helps school districts and the students.

Coming Soon: Not Just Public Employees

In 2014 the Court ruled 5-4 that the First Amendment prohibited unions from collecting a fee from home health care providers who are not members of the union, even though the union was required to provide services.

Because of the makeup of the Court it is likely to rule in Freidrichs that nonmembers no longer have to pay those fees while the unions will still be required to provide those services. (Why else would the Court have taken this case?)

These cases are about public employees, but undoubtedly all of this is intended to lead also to attacking the same requirements for private-employee unions. This is about making every state a “right-to-work” state, and suppressing unions and wages.

Corporate Conservative Court Is Reconsidering Supposedly “Settled” Cases

In 1977’s Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that public-employee unions can charge this fee. So for decades this has been considered to be “settled law.”

But now the Supreme Court has a majority of members who made their way to the court with corporate-funded conservative backing. So the court is systematically reversing older “settled” cases that affect corporations, workers rights, and other elements of conservative ideology like voting rights and womens’ rights.

This time the conservatives on the Court are reconsidering the unanimously and four-decade-settled Abood decision. The case the Court is using to accomplish this is Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. The court is going to decide if non-union public employees will still be required to pay for the services unions required by law to provide them. All bets are that it will be another 5-4 decisions in favor of the corporate-conservative position.

The “Free Speech” Argument

The argument being used this time is that making people pay for services they receive, even when those services are required by law, violates their “freedom of speech.” This is said to be about “speech” because unions represent working people, enabling them to band together and collectively bargain, and thereby confront those with concentrated wealth and power on a more level playing field. Therefore, by their very nature, unions are engaging in “political activity,” and making people pay for the services unions provide is “unconstitutionally compelled political speech.”

In other words, because unions engage in the activity of fighting for better wages, rights, and protection, therefore the “rights” of those who would deny people those things are put at risk if unions are funded. Assisting unions in this mission by paying this fee thereby violates the free speech of those who support concentrated wealth and power.

We The People vs Concentrated Wealth And Power

The current majority of the Supreme Court was brought to its position with funding and backing of those on that other side – corporate-funded conservatives. These are the “people” whose “free speech rights” the Court says are being violated if unions receive funds enabling them to represent working people. These corporations are also the “people” who the Court ruled are allowed to put unlimited money into our elections because of “free speech.”

The Supreme Court repeatedly takes the position that anything that protects working people and regular citizens from concentrated wealth and power is by its very nature “political advocacy” and therefore violates the “free speech” of those few with concentrated wealth and power.

But the United States of America was founded by We the People – all of us “created equal” – with the purpose of banding together to protect ourselves and secure our liberty from concentrated wealth and power. This Supreme Court is consistently issuing 5-4 rulings that go against the very reasons our country was founded and our Constitution was written.

As the Supreme Court hears this case on Monday, that day will mark the beginning of a week of action to ensure that the public is aware of what’s at stake: the ability of workers to stand up for themselves and for the people they serve. Please visit America Works Together – a coalition of working people and their allies, working people like teachers, nurses, firefighters, and other public service workers who are passionate about our work, and learn more about what you can do during the week of action.

——-

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.

Exxon’s Funding Of Climate Denial Turned Americans Against Their Own Government For Profit

Exxon and other fossil fuel companies may have committed a crime of enormous proportions, and more and more elected officials and others are demanding an investigation.

The charge is that Exxon scientists and management knew since the late 1970s that the company’s product was helping cause our planet to warm “catastrophically,” but management responded by covering this up and disseminating disinformation – joining with other companies to commit an enormous fraud on the public for profit.

For some time, environmentalists have been warning that oil and coal companies were behind a broad campaign to deceive the public and block the government from regulating or taxing carbon pollution. Sites like ExxonSecrets, the Union of Concerned Scientists, SourceWatch and their Coal Issues portal, CoalSwarm and many others have been exposing, warning, documenting and working to get the word out.

Continue reading

Another Attack On Our Postal Service

Should we run our country for the benefit of We the People, or so that a few people can profit off of We the People? This is a question that is rising to the surface in a battle between those who want the United States Postal Service (USPS) maintained and expanded, and those who want it privatized.

There are some conservative ideologues who just can’t stand that the USPS demonstrates government doing its job of helping make our lives better. As with Social Security, they attack it relentlessly and endlessly.

The latest push to privatize the USPS came from the Elaine Kamarck at the Brookings Institution, in “Delaying the Inevitable: Political Stalemate and the U.S. Postal Service.” Kamarck writes:

The USPS exists right now in never-never land. It is not fully public and it is not fully private. It is supposed to compete and innovate but it is stifled by law and saddled with a governance structure that impedes innovation. It is time to decide its future.

Using the old “buggy-whip” analogy, Kamarck claims that much of what the USPS does is obsolete. Paper mail is “fading away” because of the Internet (“only” 23 billion pieces of first-class mail were sent last year). UPS and FedEx compete in parcel delivery.

Kamarck’s defines USPS’ dilemma as a “stalemate” in Congress that prevents lawmakers from passing legislation that would address the postal service’s challenges. (This stalemate is really between anti-government privatizers who want FedEx and UPS to take over all mail and package delivery, and the public who rely on the USPS and want it maintained and even expanded into new services like public banking.)

The “solution” Kamarck recommends is splitting the USPS in two. One part would be a public institution that delivers mail, and only mail, to everyone nationally. (This part is a reluctant nod to the pesky fact that a Post Office is mandated in our Constitution and popular with the public.) The other would be a privatized organization for parcel delivery, a business that would compete with (or, more likely, immediately dismantled and sold to) FedEx and UPS.

Of course, for the resulting public mail-delivery institution to “make money” off of the public, mail delivery would have to be cut way back. Saturday delivery would have to end. It would have to get rid of several mail-processing facilities, even though this would slow delivery. Other steps – layoffs, along with pay and benefit cuts for the workers who remain – would make the service more “efficient.” Over time, service would degrade and eventually this would all end badly for the public and the employees. (But, of course, that’s the point.)

The paper has been promoted in various media outlets as offering partial privatization as a sensible solution to a congressional impasse. In “Should the Postal Service be sold to save it?” at The Washington Post, Lisa Rein summarizes the Brookings paper:

“… with three Congresses in a row failing to pass legislation to help stabilize its finances, some lawmakers and policy experts have reached the consensus that it’s time for the government to sell the post office.

This group was limited for a few years to conservatives and Republicans in Congress. But now a Democrat at the centrist Brookings Institution, Washington’s premier academic think tank, is joining the privatization side, arguing in a new paper that Congress’s inaction requires that something be done.

Rein gives a nod to that pesky “We the People” part of this, writing,

The idea of selling off any part of the government agency for which Benjamin Franklin first served as postmaster general has drawn fierce opposition from Democrats in Congress and the still-powerful postal unions. Others say it would be politically untenable.

That’s another way of saying:
1) The postal service is mandated in the Constitution (“Ben Franklin”) because of its importance to democracy and commerce.
2) A lot of people who work there (“still-powerful unions”) would be forced into low-wage jobs if it is privatized, damaging communities and the economy.
3) The public wants it and they can still vote (“politically untenable”) – for now.

(Mentioning that Kamarck is “a Democrat” imbues bipartisan “credibility” on the privatization argument.)

Competes With Private Sector

The meat of Kamarck’s argument is not really “stalemate.” The real argument arrives on page 8: The USPS competes with “the private sector.” In our current economic system We the People providing things that make all of our lives better is not desirable because this competes with the ability of a few already wealthy people to profit by providing those same things (but only to those who can afford it). So in our system We the People are prevented from providing for ourselves, saying this “unfairly competes” with the private sector.

Here is what Kamarck writes about this competition:

Some argue that the Post Office should get into more new lines of business – from delivering groceries to teaming up with retailers to deliver packages on the same day they are ordered. But this raises the thorny question of subsidies. To what extent do the U.S. government subsidies for the USPS create an unfair playing field for all those who are already in the private market place delivering everything from groceries to clothing?

The monopoly the USPS enjoys in the areas of mail delivery and mailboxes, as well as a host of other advantages, including tax subsidies, preferential interest rates on borrowing, and extensive real estate, means that when the USPS competes with the private sector, it enjoys an unfair subsidy. According to a recent study, these monopoly rights and privileges add up to an estimated $18 billion dollars in special annual savings and subsidies for the postal system.

Why yes, We the People could do a great job of providing these things for ourselves, if we were allowed to. But that would “unfairly compete” with those who want to profit of off doing those things, while only doing them for people who have enough money to pay for them.

USPS Hobbled

The USPS is financially hobbled. It is essential public infrastructure, but does not receive appropriations from Congress and is required to “make money” off of serving the public. But it also has to pre-fund the benefits of employees so far into the future that it is setting aside money for possible employees who are not even born yet.

The USPS is also hobbled by preventing it from doing things it could be doing to serve the public. With offices in almost every community in the country the USPS could offer public banking to serve the millions of Americans who do not have bank accounts and cannot cash and write checks or use ATMs. (Here’s an idea for serving the public: This bank could even offer insured retirement savings accounts, perhaps up to $250,000, and with some money from Congress could pay maybe 3% above market interest rates.)

The USPS could also serve the public by providing low-priced, super-fast fiber internet — and even cell service. It could even provide low-price cable TV services. But currently it is prevented from doing these things because it would “unfairly compete” with the private Internet and cell and cable providers who as we all can see are serving the public so well by delivering super-fast and low-cost (and fee-free) internet and cell and cable — all with absolutely first-class customer service! (HA!)

USPS A Major Employer, Providing Benefits

Here is an important part of this whole equation: The USPS is a major, major employer – the second largest employer in the United States after Walmart. The USPS should serve as a model employer, pay great wages, provide great benefits and be a great place to work. This is what We the People of the United States would want everyone to have at their job and what We the People should provide when it is up to us.

But corporate-funded, anti-government politicians again and again “save money” by forcing “efficiency” in the number, pay and benefits of public employees, or by just outsourcing their jobs. The outsourced companies hire at near-or-minimum wage with few-or-no benefits (so they can pay a few at the top astonishing amounts). This loss of good-paying jobs combined with the low wages of the replacements creates a strain on local communities that often have to provide assistance. Then, of course, the anti-government ideologues complain that government is providing “handouts.”

Never mind the subsidies private employers like Walmart get from us because they pay so little that the public has to provide public assistance to make up the difference so their employees can even eat. (Meanwhile the Walton family has more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans combined.)

If the USPS is partially or completely privatized, employees will be moved into low-wage positions with little or no benefits, working longer hours. Their communities would suffer as they cut back from spending and paying taxes, homes are foreclosed, public assistance is needed and problems of poverty start to appear. This is not what We the People want for our society, but this is what would occur.

Privatizer’s Playbook

Here is the privatizer’s playbook: Create a crisis and then offer “solutions” that fit their agenda. Make government not work and then say that because government doesn’t work we should get rid of it. In USPS’ case, engineer a requirement that the USPS “make money” instead of receiving government appropriations. Then hobble its ability to do that. When service is cut back, complain that it isn’t doing a very good job and complain that it should be privatized because it is “going broke.” (You may have also heard that Social Security is “going broke.” However you may not have heard that the military is not “making money” and is “going broke.”)

When a full-on frontal assault fails, offer incremental steps that lead to eventual total privatization or dismantlement. Break it into pieces, leaving guaranteed failure behind.

Of course, never, never mention that Congress could just appropriate money as needed for the USPS, and that the USPS could take advantage of its impressive national infrastructure to expand into new areas that serve public needs.

These obvious and simple solutions do not fit the privatization agenda. Instead, define the problem in other ways that lead to the desired solution. This is what they do, and this is what we are seeing here.

Note that FedEx is in the “Honor Roll of Contributors” to the Brookings Institution. Meanwhile another Brookings item calls the USPS “a hopelessly retrograde enterprise.” Writes Kevin R. Kosar, “To be clear, the Postal Service cannot be abolished; at least, not immediately. … But a day of reckoning must come.”

When that so-called “day of reckoning” comes, will We the People who benefit from all of the services that the USPS does provide and could provide end up being delivered a bill of goods?

—-

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.

VW Case Shows Need For More And Bigger Government

Again and again we hear about corporations doing bad things so they can make more money: polluting, selling contaminated food or otherwise harming people’s health, selling products that injure people or just don’t do what they advertise, tricking and scamming people out of their money, selling banned goods or providing financial services for terrorists or drug cartels, and so many other things that are not good for people or society.

Wouldn’t it be great if there were some entity that was more powerful than these corporations, whose purpose is to protect us, reign these corporations in, make and enforce rules, prosecute offenders and put a stop to this stuff?

This Week: VW

This week we are hearing about Volkswagen (VW). For years the company claimed they were selling “clean diesel” engines, but they were tricking their customers, the public and governments around the world. Their cars are really a public health threat, putting out up to 40 times the legal limit of pollutants that cause asthma and other disease.

VW built a “defeat mechanism” into as many as 11 million cars. This mechanism let the cars pass government tests, even though they were polluting like crazy when driven in the real world. The mechanism made the engine run clean during government tests, then when it detected that the tests were finished it set the engine to start polluting again.

For years these cars have been harming people and until now VW was getting away with (and making big profits from) this. They were finally caught, and we will see whether executives are prosecuted, or if this will be one more case of weak (or corrupted) government issuing a fine that lets a company make its shareholders pay the cost instead of holding the executives that did it accountable.

The Fix For The VW Cars

This is huge. Up to 11 million cars have these “defeat” mechanisms in them. These cars have to be fixed because their emissions can cause people to develop asthma and other respiratory diseases. But fixing this is a big problem.

According to Wired, in “VW Owners Aren’t Going to Like the Fixes for Their Diesels,” there are two choices for fixing these cars – and either choice means the car owners end up losing a lot of what they thought they had paid for.

The first is to update the software so the cars always run in the “test mode” that defeated the emissions tests. But the changes the software made to the engines to get them to operate within the legal emissions limits while being tested will cause the car to either have poor acceleration or poor gas mileage.

The second is to actually fix the problem that causes the engines to pollute. According to Wired, VW would have to add a “urea” tank and the means to inject this into the catalytic converter:

The standard way of making a diesel run cleanly is to use selective catalytic reduction, a chemical process that breaks NOx [mono-nitrogen oxides] down into nitrogen and water. Part of that process includes adding urea to the mix. The super effective system can eliminate 70 to 90 percent of NOx emissions, and is used by other diesel manufacturers like Mercedes and BMW. The downside is that it adds complication to the system, and cost — $5,000 to $8,000 per car. And you need to periodically add the urea-based solution to your car to keep it working.

… So it seems the logical way to get those cars to perform like their diesel cousins is to add a urea. VW’s unlikely to embrace that option, because adding hardware to half a million cars would be far more expensive than a computer update. It wouldn’t be any fun for the TDI owner, either. Not only do you have to spend an afternoon with your local dealer, you have to make room for the tank. That could mean sacrificing cargo space or giving up the spare tire.

The cost to VW will be huge, and the customers lose either way. Never mind all the people suffering asthma and lung disease resulting from the pollution these cars were emitting.

VW Not An Isolated Case

The New York Times reports, in “Volkswagen Test Rigging Follows a Long Auto Industry Pattern,” that,

For decades, car companies found ways to rig mileage and emissions testing data. In Europe, some automakers have taped up test cars’ doors and grilles to bolster their aerodynamics. Others have used “superlubricants” to reduce friction in the car’s engine to a degree that would be impossible in real-world driving conditions.

Automakers have even been known to make test vehicles lighter by removing the back seats.
… [In 1973 the EPA] fined Volkswagen $120,000 after finding that the company had installed devices intended specifically to shut down a vehicle’s pollution control systems. In 1974, Chrysler had to recall more than 800,000 cars because similar devices were found in the radiators of its cars.

[. . .] Beyond emissions, the industry has long been contemptuous of regulation. Henry Ford II called airbags “a lot of baloney,” and executives have bristled at rules requiring higher mileage per gallon.

VW might not even be the only company that is scamming government testing labs with “defeat mechanisms’ right now. From the report,

“We call it the tip of the iceberg,” said Jos Dings, the director of Transport and Environment. “We don’t think this will be limited to Volkswagen. If you look at the testing numbers for the other manufacturers, they are just as bad.”

The Times report lists several examples of the auto industry engaging in profit-making by endangering their customers. There was the “unexploded Pinto” problem of gas tanks blowing up. There were 271 deaths from the Ford-Firestone tire scandal. There were the Takata airbags that either don’t work or injure people. There was Chrysler selling as new cars that had been driven for 60,000 miles with the odometers disconnected. Click through, there’s plenty… But no one has been put in jail.

So what VW was caught doing is “not an isolated incident” and, in fact, VW had already been caught doing the same thing in the 1970s.

Not Just Auto Industry

VW is hardly the only company in the auto industry engaged in these practices, and the auto industry is hardly the only industry engaging in this kind of activity.

● Of course, tobacco still kills over 480,000 Americans each year and no one even talks about doing anything about it. Everyone understands this is because of the great wealth and power of the tobacco companies as well as their influence over a certain political party. More than 480,000 terrible, painful deaths each year!

● The “Obamacare” health reform was written the way it was because it was understood from the start that the insurance and pharmaceutical companies had enough power to block anything they didn’t like. So we didn’t get Medicare for All or even a “public option.” These industries had already blocked the administration of President Bill Clinton from reforming the health care system, leading to more decades of deaths, untreated illness and bankruptcies.

● In 2000, The Nation reported, in “The Secret History of Lead,” that the lead industry knew and kept secret for decades that they were poisoning people with lead in gasoline, paint and other products, and instead of doing something about it they protected their profits by covering this up and attacking government efforts to do something.

The leaded gas adventurers have profitably polluted the world on a grand scale and, in the process, have provided a model for the asbestos, tobacco, pesticide and nuclear power industries, and other twentieth-century corporate bad actors, for evading clear evidence that their products are harmful by hiding behind the mantle of scientific uncertainty.

Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum reported on just one of the societal consequences of this decades-long crime, in “America’s Real Criminal Element: Lead.” His investigative report concluded that lead may be “the hidden villain behind violent crime, lower IQs, and even the ADHD epidemic.” That whole put-millions-in-prison thing that has ruined so many lives? Oops, it might have been the lead industry’s doing. Are any lead industry executives in jail for that?

● The fossil-fuel industry is notorious for polluting and for causing climate change. The industry has captured an entire political party and has them fight the development of alternative energy sources, taxes on carbon, fuel-saving public transportation initiatives, other energy-saving efforts, etc. The industry funds a climate denial cult that threatens the entire planet.

These are just a few of so many examples.

Big Government Prosecutions Can Make A Difference

Corporations save money by cutting corners. Dumping carbon into the air. Putting lead in gasoline. You name it. They price the potential fines into the product as a cost of doing business. And company shareholders pay those fines. The executives who commit the actual wrongdoing are rarely if ever held accountable themselves.

Many companies can safely assume that the government isn’t even going to catch them or do anything if they do. Government cowed by intense anti-government propaganda. We hear that “government can’t do anything as well as business can,” that “big government threatens us,” and “government takes money out of the economy.” We hear about “burdensome government regulations” that “kill jobs” on a 24/7/365 basis. Government and democracy do not have an advertising budget to counter this relentless propaganda.

Government is underfunded because the propaganda elects corporate-backed anti-government politicians who convince people to allow tax cuts (on the corporations and their owners) paid for by cutting back on government. And especially cutting back on government regulation and enforcement. The result is government enforcement is backing down all the time.

Industry executives revolve through the door into government and then back into plush corporate offices where they collect rewards for protecting their industries. Our “captured” government notoriously refuses to bring corporate criminals to justice. Not one banker, for example, was prosecuted for obvious crimes leading to the 2008 financial crash.

However last week we saw one rare instance of a prosecution of individuals for corporate crime. The people running Peanut Corporation of America, a Georgia peanut company, were prosecuted after a salmonella outbreak that sickened and hospitalized hundreds of people and killed 9 of them. Company executives knew for years their product was made in unsafe ways that were causing contamination — but instead of spending what was needed to fix the problem they covered this up. So the owner was sentenced to 28 years in prison and other executives were sentenced to 20 years.

Thanks to an actual prosecution resulting in prison terms for company executives it is likely that the public will suffer fewer food-safety problems, at least for a while.

Our government supposedly exists to protect We the People from wealthy and powerful interests, including other countries. Our revolution against the wealthy British aristocracy and the King’s corporations testify to this. A government that is “of the people, by the people and for the people” should be big enough, strong enough and funded enough to reign in companies and billionaires, and protect We the People from the kind of corporate misbehavior we saw from Volkswagen — long, long, long before it involves 11 million cars all spewing out serious threats to public health.

—-

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.

Climate Denial Is Corruption, and the GOP Is Captured By It

While the world warms, the climate deniers are out in force, trying not only to sabotage American efforts to fight climate change but also to undermine international talks.

We are witnessing a spectacle of corruption, and the stakes literally could not be higher. It is an astonishing spectacle. The Republican party is working to sabotage efforts to fight climate change and is doing this because the fossil-fuel industry – and billionaires whose fortunes came from that industry – funds so much of their messaging and campaign infrastructure, and their candidates. This is not ideology; it is flat-out corruption.

Continue reading

Trump: Don’t Make Corporations Pay Their Taxes

Republican economics has been stated a thousand ways by a thousand (always paid) voices. But the basic idea behind all the schemes has been hard to pin down. Finally Republican front-runner Donald Trump has spelled it out in a way anyone can understand.

Thursday’s Progressive Breakfast (you should subscribe, it’s free, it’s really good) contains a story in which Trump clearly articulates the Republican/Billionaire/Wall Street case for a low-or-zero tax on corporate profits: “because they don’t want to pay the tax.”

Trump Sides With Multinationals
Donald Trump backs repatriation in Time interview: “Pfizer is talking about moving to Ireland. Or someplace else … Do you know how big that is? It would wipe out New Jersey … They have $2.5 trillion sitting out of the country that they can’t get back because they don’t want to pay the tax. Nor would I … We should let them back in. Everybody. Even if you paid nothing it would be a good deal. Because they’ll take that money then and use it for other things. But they’ll pay something. Ten percent, they’ll pay something.”

There it is in a nutshell. The Republican case for low or no taxes: “because they don’t want to pay the tax.”

Continue reading

Right-Wing Shutdown of Ex-Im Bank Already Threatening to Kill Jobs

Conservatives deride using government to help American companies export their goods as “picking winners and losers,” even when the winners are American exporters and workers.

So Republicans have closed the Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank, hopefully temporarily. The Ex-Im Bank provides financing guarantees to customers of American exporters if they cannot obtain financing elsewhere. This helps American companies make the sale.

Continue reading

Death To Pensions – Video

From AFSCME:

ENRON BILLIONAIRE ARNOLD HAS A PROBLEM WITH LIBRARIANS’ PENSIONS
Former Enron trader and hedge fund billionaire John Arnold is launching a multimillion dollar national PR campaign attacking the hard-earned pensions of public sector workers. Arnold has already quietly poured tens of millions of dollars into his efforts to persuade politicians to reduce middle class retirement security and now it looks like he may really just be getting started.

Conservatives Choose Govt Hatred Over Markets

Conservatives are supposedly all about markets. Markets should decide, not voters. But when it comes to the law of supply and demand for government debt, they go blind.

Greg Ip in the Wall Street Journal poses this surprising question: “Is Government Debt Too Low?

The interest rate that rich countries with super-safe debt (in the case of the eurozone, that means Germany but not Spain) pay is astonishingly low: lower than the growth rate of nominal gross domestic product (that is, GDP before subtracting inflation). In the U.S., the Treasury yield has gone from roughly equal to growth in nominal GDP in 2005 to 3 percentage points lower today.

By Mr. [Brad] DeLong’s reckoning, this means those countries are borrowing too little. Bond yields and prices move in opposite directions, so low government bond yields equate to very valuable government bonds. Mr. DeLong asks, “Isn’t the point of the market economy to make things that are valuable?” Since the debt of rich countries is “very cheap to make… shouldn’t we be making more of it?”

Say What?

Here is the argument. There is a huge demand for U.S. government bonds. There is so much demand that interest rates are exceptionally low. You almost have to pay the government to hold your money.

Remember the “law of supply and demand”? When there is a huge market demand for something, isn’t that supposed to mean that more of that thing should be produced?

Shouldn’t government be supplying more bonds? Saying that the government should be producing more government bonds is another way of saying the government should borrow more. This is what it means when the government “makes” bonds to sell.

If the government borrowed more, it could use the proceeds to maintain and modernize our infrastructure (which has to be done at some point, no?) We could build out a modern energy grid, high-speed rail across the country, double the number of community colleges, expand scientific and health research… And of course doing those things would end up employing millions, and making wages go up.

And if everyone had the job they wanted and wages went up, wouldn’t that boost market demand, which would trigger business investment?

And if we did all of those things – high-speed rail, smart energy grid, modern infrastructure, expanded scientific research, expanded educational opportunity, wouldn’t it mean that our economy was positioned to prosper, and everyone’s lives would be better?

And wouldn’t a revitalized private economy mean that people didn’t need to park their money in government bonds, so the supply wouldn’t have to go up any more to meet demand? And wouldn’t all the tax revenue from that revitalized private economy and full employment pay off those bonds over time?

“Gubmint Spending”

But no, we can’t maintain, never mind modernize our infrastructure. We can’t expand educational opportunity. We can’t increase scientific and heath research. We can’t do any of those things. Because government spending. We have to cut back, cut back, cut back.

Conservatives say they are about the belief that markets are better than government (and, by implication, better than democracy). But when it comes down to it, they really are about one and only one thing: They hate government and want to strangle it, period – no matter the cost to our economy and our people.

—-

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.

How Can The Earth Be Warming If It’s Snowing Outside?

Drudge and the rest of the Republican chorus are at it again today.

A headline at Drudge Report: Thousands March Through Snow Protesting ‘Global Warming’

Links to this at the Republican Daily Caller:

The “Gore effect” has struck again, this time forcing thousands of Canadian eco-activists to march through the snow over the weekend, rallying against global warming on a cold Quebec City day.

… But the “Gore effect” may, once again, blunt environmentalists’ message on global warming. The “Gore effect” is when cold weather appears as activists protest global warming. These Canadian groups aren’t the first to be hit by the “Gore effect” this year.

Considering how much of this is funded by oil companies, here’s a link to Conservative Is Not An Ideology – It Is Corruption for your reading pleasure.