Must Must Must Listen Podcast: Robert Reich On This Election

I listened to this on a walk, and it is a must, must, must listen podcast.

Robert Reich, speaking Tuesday at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco: “The Oddest Presidential Election in Living Memory

From the website:

Tue, Sep 27 2016 – 6:30pm
Robert Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley; Former Secretary of Labor; Author, Saving Capitalism

Holly Kernan, Executive Editor for News, KQED—Moderator

In the midst of an unpredictable presidential election, get insight from a veteran political figure who knows Washington inside and out. Time magazine named Reich one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the 20th century. He is a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause. Come hear his provocative thoughts on the presidential election and the future of America.

EU Tells Giant Corporation It Is The Boss Of Them

Corporations are more and more in the habit of telling governments that they are the boss of them. If corporations get their way, “trade” agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) will formalize their dominance. But not quite yet.

The European Union (EU) just told Apple that it is the boss of them, and not the other way around. The EU has ruled that Apple’s tax-avoidance scheme with Ireland’s government is illegal, and Apple owes Ireland $14.5 billion — plus interest. The EU decided that Ireland’s tax deal with Apple, based on Apple demanding a tax break to “bring jobs” to Ireland instead of somewhere else, constitutes “state aid” to the company. The EU pointed out that other, smaller companies are hurt when giant corporations like Apple get special tax deals.

In other words, the EU has ruled that it is illegal for an EU government to give in to corporate extortion, because giving in and paying the extorting company a tax break ransom means the government is providing “state aid.”

In other other words, where last week Apple’s CEO told the US government that the giant corporations are the boss of government, this week the EU told Apple that, actually, government is still the boss of the giant corporations.

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CEO Of Giant Corporation Tells US Government He’s The Boss Of Them

Are We the People the boss of giant multinational corporations, or are they the boss of us?

Imagine, if you will, going to the IRS and saying, “I don’t think the tax rate is fair so I’m not going to pay it.” Regular Americans can’t do that. But Apple just did.

Apple’s CEO Tim Cook was interviewed by The Washington Post early this month. He was asked about the vast sums of profits that Apple has shifted into overseas tax havens thanks to a loophole in US tax law that lets them “defer” paying taxes on those profits as long as the money technically stays outside the country. Cook said (emphasis added, for emphasis):

And when we bring it back, we will pay 35 percent federal tax and then a weighted average across the states that we’re in, which is about 5 percent, so think of it as 40 percent. We’ve said at 40 percent, we’re not going to bring it back until there’s a fair rate. There’s no debate about it.

What would happen to any regular American if they did what Cook did, and said they they aren’t going to pay taxes because they don’t think the tax rate is “fair”? (Hint: Jail. And maybe 2 or 3 years added to the sentence for the contempt of saying, “There’s no debate about it.”)

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How “Free Trade” Kills Democracy

“Comparative advantage.” It used to mean that one region can grow bananas, another region can grow cotton. So they trade, and both regions can have cotton AND bananas. That is not what the term means today. Now it means low wages and lack of environmental protection.

In the US we (used to) have democracy. When people get to say what they want, they say they want good wages, good schools, good infrastructure, protect the environment, good courts, things like that. These of course cost money, but they money comes from the advanced business environment supported by good schools and infrastructure… So the prosperity from businesses growing due to good infrastructure and schools and courts etc is the fruit of democracy.
In places without democracy people are told they can’t have those things so wages are low and there is no cost to protect the environment.

If we let companies just close factories here and open them there and bring the same goods back to sell in the same stores, what we have done is made democracy a “comparative disadvantage.” “Free trade” lets those companies escape the costs of good wages and protecting the environment while still enjoying open access to the good market that democracy had created.

“Free trade” turns democracy into a comparative and competitive disadvantage. Over time it erodes the tax base that gave us good schools and infrastructure — the fertile soil in which businesses can grow. Also known as “look around you.”

Is that really what we want?

The Democratic Platform: It’s Time to Deliver on Democracy

From The Democracy Initiative:

During the weekend of June 17-18th, the Democracy Initiative attended the Platform Drafting Committee for the Democratic Party and spoke on the subject of protecting and expanding our democracy. Members of the DI went to Phoenix, Arizona to provide testimony on the importance of voting rights and money in politics.

Election Results

Imagine this scenario. We are in Russia, and voting is conducted by handing your ballot through a curtain. You are not allowed to look behind the curtain. You are never allowed to see the stack of ballots that was handed through the curtain. Then at the end of the day the ballots are destroyed and Putin comes out and announces who won.

Are you going to take Putin’s word for it?

This is exactly the scenario of our current computerized voting systems. If you have a voting machine and do not have a paper ballot that can be counted with independent observers verifying the count, you are really just trusting Putin to look behind the curtain and then tell you who won.

If you have a voting machine with a “paper trail” but not one compares the paper trail to the reported count you are still trusting Putin behind the curtain to tell you who won.

Even if you have paper ballots but they are counted by computers, and no one conducts an independent audit to test if the marks on the ballots match the reported results, you are still trusting Putin behind the curtain to tell you who won.

You should not trust any election unless the system allows anyone including you yourself to count the ballots. That is transparency. If you or someone you trust cannot examine the ballots you can’t trust it and why should you? No other system can be trusted. Billions and trillions are at stake in our elections so there are interests that will go to great lengths to make sure the elections go their way — if they an get away with it.

The question to ask about any election result is, was the process transparent and verifiable and if so DID someone verify it? Otherwise it’s Putin and curtain.

What’s The Problem With “Free Trade”?

Our country’s “free trade” agreements have followed a framework of trading away our democracy and middle-class prosperity in exchange for letting the biggest corporations dominate.

There are those who say any increase in trade is good. But if you close a factory here and lay off the workers, open the factory “there” to make the same things the factory here used to make, bring those things into the country to sell in the same outlets, you have just “increased trade” because now those goods cross a border. Supporters of free trade are having a harder and harder time convincing American workers this is good for them.

“Free Trade”

Free trade is when goods and services are bought and sold between countries without tariffs, duties and quotas. The idea is that some countries “do things better” than other countries, which these days basically means they offer lower labor and environmental-protection costs. Allowing other countries to do things in ways that cost less “frees up resources” which can theoretically be used for investment at home.

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Supreme Obstruction

A Supreme Court justice has died. Normally (and according to the Constitution) the process is that the president nominates a successor, the Senate holds hearings, and there is a vote on whether to confirm that nominee. According to the Constitution, that’s their job, and they took an oath to do that job.

President Obama has said that of course he will fulfill his constitutional duty to nominate a successor to Justice Scalia. But this time Republicans have announced that they will refuse to participate in the constitutional process and will not consider any nomination that the president brings them.

This is part of an ongoing Republican attack on our form of government.

Ongoing Attack On Government And Rights

The country has been through years and years of Republican obstruction of everything government does. Why is that?

The architect of the modern conservative movement was corporate and tobacco attorney Lewis Powell, and his blueprint was “the 1971 Powell Memo,” titled, “Attack on American Free Enterprise System.” The memo claimed that “the American economic system” (capitalism) and “business” were “under broad attack” from “Communists, New Leftists and other revolutionaries.” It complained of “the stampedes by politicians to support almost any legislation related to ‘consumerism’ or to the “environment.” It called on business as a class to “conduct guerrilla warfare” against this on “the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences” as well as politicians the public and the courts. The goal was for business to “consider assuming a broader and more vigorous role in the political arena.”

The memo led to the building of the massive corporation/billionaire-funded conservative “infrastructure” of ideological “think tanks,” activist organizations and media/propaganda “echo chambers” that constantly push corporate/conservative propaganda out to the public. Book after book, article after article, study after study has warned of this movement effort to alter our government away from democracy and toward a corporatocracy.

Once such conservative movement organization is the Federalist Society, established in 1982 and receiving funding since from conservative foundations including the Earhart, Bradley, Simon, and Olin Foundations, and the Carthage, Koch, and Scaife Foundations. Justices Scalia, Roberts, Thomas and Alito were all members of the Federalist Society.

For how long did the Republican majority on the Supreme Court give us one highly partisan 5-4 decision after another, reversing one hard-won civil right, environmental gain, consumer right, worker right after another? Fifteen years ago the Republican Five even forced on us a president who didn’t receive a majority of the vote.

Since Obama

After Barack Obama was elected president, the Republican minority filibustered more than 500 important bills (on issues ranging from infrastructure funding to ending tax breaks for offshoring jobs) before they took control of the Senate – an unprecedented number. But it has not just been legislation; they have blocked nominees to positions that keep government functioning. They have blocked appointments to judgeships: there are 35 Obama judge appointees who were waiting for a Senate confirmation vote long before Senate Republicans conjured up their no-appointees-during-an-election-year stance, one as far back as September 2014.

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

Republicans also dismantle government in the states, cutting taxes for the rich and corporations while cutting the things government does for the state’s citizens. Many of these governors and legislatures achieved majority status following the Supreme Court’s 5-4 Citizens United decision that opened the floodgates of undisclosed corporate and billionaire money into the political process. Once in, they passed restrictive voting rights laws and extremely partisan redistricting plans to lock in their majorities.

After so many years of this, the public is, to say the least, disillusioned to the point of giving up on government – even our current pretense of democracy.

But this has only gotten worse. This year, President Obama submitted his budget to Congress and Republicans refused to even look at it. They refused to schedule hearings before the House and Senate budget committees. They won’t let the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) come to Congress to testify.

Now, to top it all, Republicans have said they will not even consider any presidential nominee to the Supreme Court. If they prevail, the court will operate with only eight members, and precedent assures us that important cases will receive a 4-4 tie.

This Makes No Sense, Unless…

Republicans won’t consider the President’s budget? Won’t consider a Supreme Court nominee – any nominee? Won’t allow important bills to pass? Won’t allow important governmental posts to be filled? Won’t allow important government functions to be adequately funded? Dismantle important state agencies? It’s like Republicans are saying, “No, we’re not going to let you have your constitutional government.”

What is going on?

Republicans are able to do these things to our government because the “framers” of our Constitution never anticipated that a (well-funded) ideology that opposes the very concept of democratic government would capture a political party, gain seats in the Congress and, as a strategy, simply refuse to participate in the processes of constitutional government.

The Founders did require an oath of office that assumes such participation, but they did not outline steps to take should obstruction be used to block operation of the government.

If you look at all of this from a perspective that Republicans are working within our form of government, it makes no sense at all. They have a constitutional duty to pass budgets, but instead allow the government to shut down. They have a constitutional duty to confirm (or not) appointments to government positions and judgeships, but they obstruct. They have a constitutional duty to consider Supreme Court nominees, but they refuse.

But if you consider that their purpose is to fundamentally change our form of government, it all makes more sense.

People who see much of the public as “takers,” who view taxes as “theft,” who view roads, schools and social services as “free stuff” are not people who prefer a democratic form of government. They (or at least those funding them) want a different form of government where the haves have the power and the don’t-haves don’t, instead of We the People sharing the power and the country.

At some point you have to take them at their word and accept that they mean what they say: “We want to get the government small enough to drown it in a bathtub.” We are not looking at a disagreement over how to run our government here, we are looking at a disagreement over our form of government.

But our Constitution is clear on the form of government We the People have. That is why they are intent on setting the Constitution aside. We must tell Republicans that they took an oath to support the Constitution and its processes – or step aside and let We the People have our government back.

What The President Should Do

President Obama should nominate a known and dedicated liberal/progressive to the court, to balance the movement conservatives on the Court now. However, unlike the conservatives, this nominee should mean it when she or he states support the Constitution, and be ready to decide cases based on the Constitution and law, not ideology.

Republicans will always nominate a dedicated movement conservative who is sworn to advance the anti-government (and therefore anti-U.S. Constitution) conservative project, against voting rights, consumer rights, environmental rights, and for corporate rule.

It’s time the right-wing ideologues are called out for their obstruction of democracy – and to make to clear that the presidential candidates who have participated in or have endorsed that obstruction have no place in our government. It’s not just about a budget or a Supreme Court justice; it’s about restoring the principle that the United States must act as a democracy of the people, every day of every year.

Here are two petitions that you can sign to tell Republican senators to “do their job” and consider President Obama’s choice for the Supreme Court:

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

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

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.

Is Bernie Sanders Promising ‘Free Stuff’ To Buy Votes?

Corporate conservatives have taken notice of the Bernie Sanders campaign, and has started accusing him of “buying votes” by “promising” “free stuff.” Is it true?

Here are some examples of what the corporate/billionaire-funded right is saying:

● American Thinker, “Surprise: Bernie Sanders’s free stuff will be very expensive for you!

Avowed socialist, pretend independent, wannabe Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is promising lots of free stuff for Americans – and anyone else in the country, legally or not – if he is elected. Free health care! Free education from pre-pre-school through post-post-college. Free family leave.

● TownHall, “Newsflash! Bernie Sanders Fans: All That “Free Stuff” Will Break the Middle Class“:

They want “free” birth control, health care, college, “Cash for Clunkers,” free housing for the poor and paid time off for women who are having a child. They want welfare with no preconditions for anyone who wants it, a $15 minimum wage and they want to open our borders to anyone who wants to come here illegally, have a child and live off the American people for the next 18 years.

● Gateway Pundit, “4 of 5 Liberal Millennials Voted for Bernie – Want Free Stuff.”

● WorldNutDaily, Santa Sanders’ appeal: We all like free stuff.

“Free Stuff”?

The idea that things We the People “get” from government is just “free stuff” misunderstands the purpose of government. We the People established our government as a mechanism for all of us to decide to get together to do things that make our lives better.

In a democracy, if We the People decide it is a good idea to, for example, have public schools, does that qualify as “free stuff?” Or is it an investment in making our lives better? And, while we’re at it, an educated population makes the society better.

Aside from public schools, here are a few other bits of “free stuff” that We the People have decided we should have:

● Public roads and highways are “free stuff.” (Except where they have special “Lexus lanes” for those with more money.)

● Medicare for people over 65 is “free stuff.”

● Social Security is “free stuff.”

● Courts and our legal system are “free stuff.”

● Police and fire protection are “free stuff.”

● Sidewalks are “free stuff.”

● An unemployment check when we lose our jobs is “free stuff.”

● The Post Office is “free stuff.”

● Public parks are “free stuff.”

● ANYthing considered “public” qualifies as “free stuff” that We the People make available for all of us.

Each of those “free stuff” items serve a greater societal purpose. Schools and education improve our economy and society. Roads don’t just make our lives better by enabling us to get places, they enable our economy to function so our businesses can prosper.

Some of the “free stuff” that Sanders is proposing to add to this list includes:

Free public colleges and universities. Just as public schools help all of us, a modern society demands a higher level of education. The crushing student debt so many face today also demonstrates the effect on the economy as people are unable to buy homes and support families. (This would be paid for with a “financial transaction tax” of only a fraction-of-a-percent on speculative investments.)

Medicare-for-All enables everyone to get health care, but also saves individuals, businesses and our economy from the costs of a for-profit system. (This would be paid for with progressive income tax increases, mostly at upper levels. Elimination of premiums and co-pays would result in a savings of approximately $5,000 per family.)

Investing in bringing our infrastructure up to par. We’ve been neglecting infrastructure needs and a massive investment is required. Sanders proposes a $1 trillion effort. (This would be funded largely by requiring corporations to pay taxes they already owe, but have deferred.) This will create millions of jobs, driving up wages across the economy. A modern infrastructure enables businesses to compete and prosper more efficiently.

Paid family leave allows parents three paid months to care for newborn children. The benefits to people and society are obvious. (Workers would pay less than $2 a week into a fund to cover this.)

● A $15 minimum wage enables people working full-time to escape poverty, reduces reliance on public assistance programs, and boosts local economies as people have more income to spend.

Note that these proposals are “paid for” and not actually just “free.”

“Promising”?

Conservatives accuse Sanders of “promising” these things to voters.

Is Sanders making “campaign promises,” as if to say, “If you vote for me I will give you these things?” No. Sanders tells voters that no president can do these things alone. He says that if enough people show up and vote, only then can we end the domination of big-moneyed interests, and begin to provide for each other again.

In Sanders’ words, “Change always takes place when millions of people fight back.”

Conservatives claim that Sanders is trying to “buy votes” when he tells people they can have “free stuff” like free college tuition. But in a democracy, what does this mean? Politicians don’t “give” things to the public; the public votes for representatives who are supposed to do what the public wants.

An Ecosystem Of Democratic Prosperity

We the People built an economic ecosystem by investing in infrastructure, education, research, courts, regulations, environmental protection, monetary stability – all the things necessary to provide fertile ground for businesses to prosper. Part of that ecosystem is that We the People reinvest part of the return from our investment back into the system to keep it going. Democracy also means that We the People mutually benefit from the gains that result from that ecosystem of democratic prosperity.

Our shared investment created American prosperity; the return from that investment should also be shared and expanded. (Another word for “shared” is “distributed.”)


Related: “When Government ‘Saves Money’ And Gets ‘Smaller,’ We All Lose

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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.

When Government ‘Saves Money’ And Gets ‘Smaller’ We All Lose

Many say we should “run government like a business” and “save money” by “cutting spending” and “making government smaller.” Does this work? Do We the People really save money by doing these things?

Have you heard the phrase “penny-wise and pound-foolish”? How about “a stitch in time saves nine”? Maybe “eating the seed corn?” When government “saves money,” all of these snippets of time-honored wisdom, warning of what happens to those who try to “do it on the cheap,” should come to mind.

Infrastructure

You can “save money” by not changing the oil in your car. But have you ever seen a car that has never had its oil changed? After a while white smoke pours out the back because the rings are ruined. Other parts of the engine are also being ruined. Eventually the engine will seize up and quit and you have to either replace the engine or scrap the car. A simple and inexpensive procedure every few months would have prevented many thousands of dollars in expenses later.

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