A Moral And Economic Imperative To Extend Unemployment Benefits

Federal unemployment assistance for 1.3 million people who have been unemployed longer than 26 weeks expired last Saturday, after Republicans blocked efforts to extend them. 3.6 million more people will lose these benefits over this year. Restoring these benefits is a moral, economic and political imperative.

On Monday the Senate will hold the first procedural vote on bringing back unemployment benefits for people who have been out of work longer than 26 weeks. The hope is to break a Republican filibuster so the extension can be passed and sent to the House (where Republicans will likely refuse to even allow it to come up for a vote).

Click here to Tell Congress to Extend Unemployment Benefits.

A Moral Imperative

When the financial crisis hit the country provided assistance to (“bailed out”) the largest banks. We have a moral imperative to also help our fellow citizens. A democracy provides assistance for people who need help. A fair and just society provides assistance for people who need help. A moral society provides assistance for people who need help.

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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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Sleight Of Hand On Retirement vs Military

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

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

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

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

Food Stamps Cut Just In Time For Thanksgiving

This is that time of year when newspapers bother to write about how there are hungry people in America. But this year is special. As the recession drags on for the non-1%, cuts in Food Stamps have completely swamped the capacity of food banks and other non-government assistance. Meanwhile pending cuts in unemployment compensation and even more cuts in Food Stamps and other assistance programs mean things will get much worse for millions of invisible Americans.

Hunger Cliff

Have you heard about the Nov. 1 “Hunger Cliff?” On November 1 the Food Stamp program was cut. Millions of Americans are out of work, unemployment benefits have run out (and been cut), winter is arriving in force, but Congress allowed a temporary, recession-boosted increase in the Food Stamp program to run out! $5 billion in urgently-needed assistance just went away.

Terrance Heath told the story in 47 Million Americans Are Going Over the “Hunger Cliff”, writing “Millions of Americans will plunge over the “Hunger Cliff” tomorrow, when $5 billion in cut to food stamps go into effect tomorrow. While Congress negotiates even more cuts, millions of Americans will face negotiating where their next meal will come from.”

Food Banks Swamped

The “Hunger Cliff” has hit people hard. The cuts mean people just can’t get enough to eat. Hungry people are swamping the food banks.

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What’s Next With Filibuster Reform?

Republicans are obstructing and sabotaging everything government does to make our lives better. Their plan is to run for office saying Democrats couldn’t make government work, so elect them and let them put “efficient” corporations and billionaires in charge. Last week Senate Democrats (finally) started to change the game by changing the filibuster rules. What happens next? With the right changes we could finally get progressive legislation that vast majorities of the public want passed, like expanding Social Security.

When last week started, this was the obstruction situation, with Republican efforts to thwart and nullify the will of the people:

1) Republicans in the Senate were filibustering all nominees to become judges, to run agencies, even to be cabinet members.
2) In the Senate Republicans were filibustering to block almost all legislation from coming up for a vote.
3) In the House Republicans were keeping all bills from being voted on if they would pass because of the votes of Democratic members.
4) In the states Republicans are obstructing efforts to implement the new health care law.
5) In the states Republicans are attempting to restrict voting, to keep people who would vote against them away from the polls.

This week this is the obstruction situation:

1) Republicans in the Senate were filibustering all nominees to be judges, to run agencies, even to be cabinet members to block them from coming up for a vote. Many nominees will be able to get votes and the judicial system and agencies can begin to function and serve We the People.
2) In the Senate Republicans were filibustering to block almost all legislation from coming up for a vote.
3) In the House Republicans were keeping all bills from being voted on if they would pass because of the votes of Democratic members.
4) In the states Republicans are obstructing efforts to implement the new health care law.
5) In the states Republicans are attempting to restrict voting, to keep people who would vote against them away from the polls.

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Absolute Must-Watch: Moyers And Henry Giroux

Zombie Politics: Scholar Henry Giroux says America’s current political system is leading to a culture where people are so focused on surviving, they become like ‘the walking dead.’

From Moyers’ site:

In his book, Zombie Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism, author and scholar Henry Giroux connects the dots to prove his theory that our current system is informed by a “machinery of social and civil death” that chills “any vestige of a robust democracy.”

This week on Moyers & Company, Giroux explains that such a machine turns “people who are basically so caught up with surviving that they become like the walking dead – they lose their sense of agency, they lose their homes, they lose their jobs.”

What’s more, Giroux points out, the system that creates this vacuum has little to do with expanding the meaning and the substance of democracy itself. Under “casino capitalism,” the goal is to get a quick return, taking advantage of a kind of logic in which the only thing that drives us is to put as much money as we can into a slot machine and hope we walk out with our wallets overflowing.

A cultural and social critic of tireless energy and vast interests, Giroux holds the Global TV Network Chair in the English and Cultural Studies Department at McMaster University and is a distinguished visiting professor at Reyerson University, both schools in Canada.

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

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

Wikileaks Obtains TPP Chapter

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

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

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

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

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TPP And Wikileaks

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fast Track

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

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

Imagine Democracy

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

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

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

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