Paul Ryan Says Poor Are Victims, But Blames Them For Being Poor

House Speaker Paul Ryan in an NPR interview Monday acknowledged that the poor are victims of our economic system. The interview sounds reasonable, almost soothing, until you examine what Ryan is really saying.

After acknowledging that poverty is systemic, he turns around and blames the poor themselves as being personally – even morally – responsible for being poor. He implies the poor are just lazy. He cited addiction, lack of skills, and, of course, government handouts as the real causes of poverty. He said raising the minimum wage would not help. His soothing-sounding words are actually quite radical and extreme.

The Interview

Ryan was interviewed on Monday’s NPR’s Morning Edition by Steve Inskeep about his ideas on helping people get out of poverty.

When asked about people born into poverty who can’t get out of poverty, Ryan responds “That’s right … you go look at the country and the conditions, you’re just as likely to stay poor today as you were if you were born into poverty 50 years ago. … There are people out there fighting poverty … that do well, succeed but for government I think in many cases they could do more.”

Q: You’ve argued that welfare “is keeping people away from work, it disincentives work.”

Ryan: “Right. Yeah.”

Q: Do you want to cut welfare?

Ryan: “The smarter thing to do is to customize a benefit to a person’s particular needs. … Maybe this person needs addiction counseling, or maybe she needs a GED or transportation or something. You customize the benefits for her particular needs with the proper accountability.”

Asked about low minimum wages keeping people in poverty, Ryan rejects raising the minimum wage as a “one-size-fits-all solution.” Inskeep asks, “Why not do something that raises wages?”

Ryan: “Well, skills. I think when you raise the minimum wage … you’ll lose over a million jobs … So you don’t want to take away those entry-level jobs that give people hard and soft skills they need just to learn how to do work. Every person has a different problem, sometimes a person has an even deeper problem like addiction or something like that.”

What Ryan Is Saying

Ryan begins by acknowledging that the “country and the conditions” are what is keeping people poor. He says if you “look at the country and the conditions, you’re just as likely to stay poor today as you were if you were born into poverty 50 years ago.” But then he says there are people who are fighting poverty whose efforts would succeed “but for the government”

Ryan then contradicts what he said about “the country and the conditions,” and blames the poor themselves for being poor. They don’t have skills, they don’t have an education, they are addicted, and they are so lazy that a little bit of “welfare” keeps them from looking for work. He says they need to “learn how to do work.”

Several states have bought in to this “blame-the-poor” mentality to the point where they require drug testing before a person can get assistance. Earlier this year Think Progress surveyed these programs and found that despite the cost of this drug testing, several states did not find even one person testing positive. The national total was 321 positive tests, out of the millions in circumstances where they need help.

So why does Ryan bring up “addiction” when talking about poverty? For the same reason he talks about government and “welfare” causing people to not bother to look for work or even “learn how to do work.” These kinds of words point the finger at people for personal, moral failings, and contribute to a story that the poor are really just bad people who do not deserve our assistance.

Minimum Wage

Ryan also implies that people in poverty are lazy, saying “welfare” is “keeping people away from work.” But because of the decrease in the purchasing power of the minimum wage, many working people, even those working in full-time jobs, make so little that they qualify for “food stamps” and other government aid.

This chart, “Share of workers receiving public assistance for the poor, by industry” from The Washington Post Wonkblog report, “When work isn’t enough to keep you off welfare and food stamps,” tells the story:


“Share of workers in each field who rely on at least one program among Medicaid/CHIP, TANF, the EITC or food stamps. UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education”

According to the Wonkblog report, “The problem, according to this picture, isn’t that poor people won’t work — it’s that the work they do can’t sustain them.”

Ryan also says “when you raise the minimum wage … you’ll lose over a million jobs.” But a National Employment Law Project (NELP) report from May, titled “Raise Wages, Kill Jobs? Seven Decades of Historical Data Find No Correlation Between Minimum Wage Increases and Employment Levels,” found that,

The results were clear: these basic economic indicators show no correlation between federal minimum-wage increases and lower employment levels, even in the industries that are most impacted by higher minimum wages. To the contrary, in the substantial majority of instances (68 percent) overall employment increased after a federal minimum-wage increase.

So raising the minimum wage, giving working people more money to spend in local stores, not only doesn’t kill jobs but increases demand in the economy enough that it might actually cause those stores to hire people. Who could have predicted?

Plus, never mind that increasing the minimum wage to a “living wage” level would end the need for public assistance for millions of people.

Note that “welfare” as Ryan and Republicans describe it – giving cash to people who don’t work – ended with the 1996 “welfare reform”. Today people – overwhelmingly single mothers with children – can get minimal temporary cash assistance, minimal food assistance and health care. Some can get housing subsidies and a few other forms of aid.

The results of the 1996 experiment of ending “welfare” have not been good. Studies show it has “failed,” had a “negative impact,” has “shortened lives,” led to “less education,” and “created a system rife with racial biases.”

Personal Responsibility

Ryan is repeating the old “personal responsibility” language conservatives have developed to shift people’s thinking about government and democracy away from the idea that We the People are in this together, toward a selfish idea that we should all be on our own. Of course, this leaves individuals defenseless against the powerful forces of aggregated wealth and power.

Paul Ryan, like many Republicans, is an admirer of Ayn Rand, who taught that society consists of a few “producers” and lots of “looters” and “parasites.” Rand taught that democracy is a “statist” “collectivism” of those parasitic looters, that it is wrong for people to help other people, altruism is evil and government is “monstrously evil,” “the political expression of altruism.”

Ryan’s words on “welfare” fit right into this radical, extreme framework, but in a more soothing-sounding way.


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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 Progressive Breakfast.

Larry Summers Gets This Right: We Really Need An Infrastructure Decade

Here we are in “Infrastructure Week” and here we are with a new argument for a massive infrastructure investment project – worldwide.

Last week Peter Coy wrote at Bloomberg, in “How to Pull the World Economy Out of Its Rut,” about economist Larry Summers’ argument that we need massive public investment. Coy writes that Summers has been “jetting around the world” trying to convince central bankers “to reach out to the governments they work for … and insist on strong fiscal stimulus in the form of infrastructure spending and the like.” (i.e. “Public investment”.)

The case for this is very, very strong. Never mind that around the world infrastructure is crumbling. Just doing the basic job of government and making sure that things like infrastructure are up to par has fallen out of favor among the world’s elites, because “government spending.” Summers makes a different argument about why public investment – government spending on things countries and people and economies need – is essential to keep the world’s economy going.

Coy writes, “Summers’s deeper argument is that world growth is stuck in a rut because there’s a chronic shortage of demand for goods and services and a concomitant excess of desired savings.”

This Is Extremely Important And Summers Is Exactly Right

This is extremely important and Summers is exactly right on this. Too many people don’t have enough income, while a few people have lots of savings. But the few with lots of savings don’t have safe places to invest it because too many people don’t have enough income. In other words, the world faces a “chronic shortage of demand” and a “concomitant excess of desired savings.”

Capitalist economies necessarily move toward concentration of wealth, so over time a few people end up with lots of savings while most people get poorer. (Economist Piketty: “r > g” where ‘r’ is the rate of return on capital and ‘g’ is the rate of growth in the economy.) Since regular people participate in the economy by using money to demand goods and services, demand decreases as they get poorer.

Without something stepping in to break this cycle more and more of the resources end up in fewer and fewer hands, and after a while the entire system breaks down. Therefore in a capitalist economy government action is needed to redistribute “money” (resources and savings) away from the concentration at the top, back to more of “the people” so that they can again participate in the economy (demand).

This circle of money flowing around – demand gives savings good places to invest to meet that demand – shows why government redistribution is essential to keeping capitalist economies going. Taxing those who have a lot and using the money to build a sidewalk is redistribution because even poor people get to walk on the sidewalk. But even for those who hate the idea of redistribution, those sidewalks and roads and bridges and the rest are absolutely essential to economies. Even more essential, the jobs that are created to do the work building those things creates essential consumer demand.

The whole world is stuck in a rut because there is too much money at the top chasing insufficient demand.

Too Much Money At The Top Chasing Insufficient Demand

Wealth has concentrated. Inequality is extreme worldwide. The result is a worldwide “savings glut.” There is very little consumer demand so investment in things consumers/the private economy might buy is not bringing much of a return. This means there is too much money floating around the world looking for a safe investment that will bring a return. With few investments promising a safe return investors don’t want to risk investing.

Investment in the private sector has become too risky because of insufficient demand. So instead of finding private-sector investments, people are “parking” their money in government bonds. Governments that are safe are getting those savings to hold instead, sometimes even being paid (negative interest rates) to hold it.

Using different words, this shows there is a huge demand for government debt. That’s why the price has gotten so high (low interest rates mean there is a high price for a bond). Supply and demand: there is too much demand and too little supply of government debt.

Coy words it this way, “The interest rate, like any price, reflects supply and demand. It’s fallen because the demand for loans is weak and the supply of loans from savers, who have extra cash to deploy, is strong.”

The Things Governments Do Creates Demand In The Private Economy

The things governments do creates demand in the private economy when the private economy is not creating enough by itself. Infrastructure, investment in the people, education, job training, science and research, etc. are the underpinnings of the private economy later, but they wear out. Roads and bridges wear out, laid-off workers lose skills and well-educated people eventually get older and you need to do the next round of public investment. Our last round started drying up with the “Reagan era” ideology of “starve the beast” by killing government’s ability to spend.

When the private economy is doing well, savings finds places to invest. When savings is already thus engaged, interests rates rise. High interest rates mean government gets less when it sells its bonds. These higher rates are the market signal that government debt is not so much in demand, and governments need to borrow (and invest) less to keep the economy going. And because the private sector is going well people need fewer public services so governments don’t need to borrow to get the money to provide them…

The Markets Are Demanding That Governments Issue More Debt

Right now interest rates are extremely low – even negative in some countries. This high price for government debt means the markets are demanding that governments issue more debt. This is the law of supply and demand. Again: money markets are demanding more supply of government debt.

What should governments do with the money they get from selling more bonds? They should do what governments do with money. By definition this is “public investment.” Build roads, educate, feed people, etc. But instead of responding to the demands of markets, the anti-government ideology in control is forcing governments to do less, get smaller, need less money, issue fewer bonds.

For decades governments have been trying to follow the “less government” ideological mantra. But economics (and markets) says there is an essential role for government and public investment or economies don’t work. As governments withdraw from their role, economies stop working. Demand dries up, those with lots of money have nowhere to put it… and here we are. Secular stagnation.

So government cutbacks lead to low economy demand. The cycle is necessary, taxing the rich and using the money for government investment both creates demand at the time though spending and jobs, and the things it invests IN create demand later.

So the same thing has now been said about a dozen different and redundant ways here. People and the markets are demanding that governments around the world open up the spending spigot, invest in infrastructure and education and services other things governments do to make people’s lives better. The markets are demanding it and the proof is low interest rates on government debt. Not just here but worldwide.

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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.

A Corporate/Billionaire Austerity Budget Or A People’s Prosperity Budget

You’ve heard people ask, “How come they can come up with a couple trillion dollars to invade Iraq, or hundreds of billions for corporate tax cuts, but say we’re broke when we need to fix our infrastructure so pipes don’t contaminate children with lead poisoning?”

The answer is that the priorities of our current rigged “system” lead to choices like these by our current Congress. The taxing and spending in our government’s budgets reflect those priorities. As we all know, these priorities more and more often reflect the values and wishes of the “donor class” and less and less often reflect the values and wishes of the rest of us.

There Is An Alternative Budget

You might not know there is an alternative budget proposal that is much more in line with the priorities and values of “We the People.” That budget is the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ (CPC) Budget for Fiscal Year 2017, also known as “The People’s Budget”. The People’s Budget is in front of Congress right now.

The CPC People’s Budget deals with the real needs of Americans and our economy. It makes major job-creating investments in our country through clean energy, infrastructure, housing, and education, which will increase opportunity for all and boost wages for working Americans. It financially supports a justice system that is fair and effective for all Americans, supports women’s reproductive health, supports voting rights, makes debt-free college a reality for all students, provides a plan to halve poverty and more. It pays for this by eliminating corporate tax dodges and breaks.

Priority: Austerity Or Prosperity

Choose your priority:

Austerity – the current “donor class” budgeting that benefits billionaires, Wall Street and giant corporations through cuts in things government does to make our lives and economy better, combined with cuts in taxes for billionaires and giant corporations. Austerity literally takes money out of the economy and “eats the seed corn.” When there are fewer jobs and people really need to find work, employers can pay as little as they can legally get away with, and pit the employees against each other. Meanwhile tax cuts defund our government’s ability to regulate what corporations and Wall Street do.

Prosperity – a “People’s” budget that creates millions of jobs (resulting in higher pay for everyone) through investment in maintaining and modernizing infrastructure, launching green energy projects, making preschool and higher education freely available for anyone who wants to attend and supports a justice system that is fair and effective for all Americans. This investment in our people and our economy’s future creates fertile soil in which people and businesses can prosper. When there are lots of jobs, companies will “bid up” wages and benefits to attract people to work for them.

The People’s Budget will:

● Provide a $1 trillion investment to repair roads and bridges and ensure the restoration of our crumbling infrastructure.

● Create 3.6 million good-paying jobs to push our economy back to genuine full employment by targeting a 4 percent unemployment rate.

● Make corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes, cracking down on loopholes and avoidance schemes.

● Make debt-free college a reality for all students by overhauling the student loan system, which currently leaves college students saddled with unmanageable levels of debt.

● Take bold action to fight climate change and invest in a clean-energy economy that supports green jobs with good wages.

Our Isaiah J. Poole has been all over the People’s Budget this month. He outlines the People’s Budget in “Newly Released People’s Budget Doubles Down On Progressive Policies.” Later he contrasted the People’s Budget with the Republican budget proposal in “People’s Budget Formally Unveiled Amid GOP Dystopia and Dysfunction,” noting its…

… sharp contrast between the progressive vision of a government working to strengthen working families and make our economy and politics more fair, and a conservative vision of government all but abandoning struggling families while coddling the wealthy and powerful.

Also see Poole’s “Five (of Many) Ways This GOP Budget Would Do Real Harm,” “Why We Need The People’s Budget’s $1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan” and “People’s Budget Puts Forward An Aggressive Plan To Green Our Economy.”

How To Help

It’s your choice: Choose the current priority of austerity that benefits billionaires, corporations and Wall Street or a prosperity People’s Budget that invests in our economy – and us.

The Progressive Caucus People’s Budget is a bill in front of our Congress. All it takes is enough votes and it becomes the budget of our country. If you choose prosperity, here are some things you can do to help push this budget through Congress:

Sign our petition in support of the People’s Budget. This will help send a message to Congress – and to the presidential candidates.

● Call your representative in Congress and let them know you want her or him to support it, and to declare that he or she supports it.

● Write an op-ed or letter to the editor of a national or local paper about why you support the People’s Budget. Tell the media why a bold progressive budget matters to you and your community.

● If you want to find or organize an event in your congressional district to promote the People’s Budget, use this page, courtesy of People Demanding Action.

● Post on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtags #CPCBudget, #PeoplesBudget and #Budget2017 to share your message. Follow Twitter handle @ProgCongress.

Here are some sample tweets:

● We need a #PeoplesBudget that works for everyone – join @USProgressives and support the CPC budget: http://p2a.co/ProgressiveCong

● We need a progressive budget that invests in a clean, renewable future #Budget2017 #PeoplesBudget http://p2a.co/ProgressiveCong

● Tell Congress to support a #PeoplesBudget that creates a sustainable future for all http://p2a.co/ProgressiveCong

● The #PeoplesBudget has set aside $1 trillion to address and prevent crises like #Flint: http://p2a.co/ProgressiveCong

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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.

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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What Happened To The ‘Do Not Call’ List?

I still have a “land line” because I do radio shows. The home number is on the “do not call” list (and I re-add it regularly). It makes no difference at all whatsoever. That phone annoys us several times almost every day and night with phone solicitors.

The phone rings, you answer it, there is silence, then a click then an annoying voice, Mr. Johnson, how are you today?”

You won a free cruise. Do you need your carpets cleaned. The Police or Sheriff’s something or other wants a donation. Buy gold. On and on.

Has the “do not call” registry just gone away, or what? There’s obviously no enforcement whatsoever, like so many other things.

Wasn’t enforcement of rules, regulations and laws part of what government is supposed to do? I guess “smaller government” really has taken hold…

Privatization Causes Poverty, Senate Cafeteria Workers’ Story Continues

Our government has been on a privatization binge for some time. Things that We the People used to just do federally or through state and local governments were closed down and private corporations were hired to do those things instead. This “saved money” because the well-paid public workers were laid off, losing their benefits and seniority, and new workers were hired at the lowest possible wages with few or no benefits.

Of course, this “cost savings” meant that the tax base eroded, the old and replacement workers often had to go on public assistance, property values plunged as the homes of the old workers were foreclosed and the new workers couldn’t afford to buy, schools were strapped as more low-income kids came in, and all the other ways that the transition to a low-wage economy has ended up costing all of us.

But who’s counting?

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The Latest Tax-Scam Corporate ‘Inversion’ – Who Pays Instead?

Johnson Controls Inc. and Tyco International PLC have announced a $14 billion merger, with the resulting company pretending to be “Irish.” This is called an “inversion” and is all about dodging taxes.

Johnson Controls is actually based in Milwaukee. Tyco is based in Princeton, N.J. but became “Irish” through its own prior tax-dodging inversion(s). The Washington Post explains this, in “Manufacturing giants Tyco and Johnson Controls agree to merge“:

This is not the first time Tyco, which started as a New Jersey-based research laboratory for the U.S. government in the 1960s before growing into a global behemoth with workers in about 50 countries, has made use of tax-avoidance measures. In 1997, it merged with a Bermuda-based company in another corporate inversion before moving its headquarters to Switzerland in 2008. It moved to Ireland in 2013.

Tyco is also remembered for its former President Dennis Kozlowski, who was convicted in 2005 of various crimes related to looting shareholders and using the money for things like a 2001 $2.2 million party on the island of Sardinia.

The Inversion Tax Scam Game

An inversion allows corporations to pretend to be non-U.S. companies and dodge taxes while still getting the full benefits of our country’s taxes: roads and other physical infrastructure, advanced legal system, educated workforce, police and other protections, military protection, and so on.

November’s post, “Pfizer Buying Allergan So It Can Pretend To Be Irish In Tax Scam” explained how this works: “In other words, the resulting merged company will make and sell products in the same places it makes and sells them now. The same executives will occupy the same buildings. It will receive the same taxpayer-funded U.S. services, infrastructure, courts and military protection that it receives now. But the company will now claim it is “based” in tax-haven Ireland and thereby dodge U.S. taxation.”

The thing is, corporations and shareholders already pay lower tax rates than regular people do. They also get special privileges including “limited liability.” People who make money trading corporate shares get a special, lower “capital gains” tax rate. (This capital gains tax rate is lower because the wealthiest make most of their income from capital gains, and the wealthiest make most of their income from capital gains because the capital gains tax rate is lower.)

But they want more. They want it all. And they’re getting it.

Who Pays Instead?

The billionaires and other shareholders already enjoy special lower tax rates than the rest of us (low capital gains tax rates, the Social Security “cap,” the carried interest loophole, multitudes of other breaks…) This is just one more tax break they utilize as their wealth builds and builds. And that massive accumulated wealth buys more and more privileges and breaks.

We the People of the United States, through our elected Representatives in Congress, allow this. Or, to put it in today’s reality: Billionaires and their corporations pay handsomely for a Congress that allows this.

But when these giant corporations and the billionaires behind them don’t pay their taxes, guess who has to either make up the difference or suffer the cutbacks in the things government does to make our lives and economy better? (Hint: Register to vote today and be absolutely sure to show up and VOTE this time. Don’t be misdirected, demoralized, suppressed or otherwise tricked into not voting. Talk to other people about registering and voting, too.)

The Candidates

The Republican candidates generally propose stopping corporate inversions to avoid U.S. corporate taxes by reducing or even ending U.S. taxation of corporations.

Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have similar proposals for limiting these “inversions.”

Here’s Hillary Clinton’s statement on the Johnson Controls-Tyco inversion deal:

“It is outrageous when large multinational corporations game the tax code and shelter money overseas to avoid paying their fair share, including through maneuvers like inversions. As I have said throughout my campaign, these efforts to shirk U.S. tax obligations leave American taxpayers holding the bag while corporations juice more revenues and profits.”

Clinton’s “detailed and targeted plan to immediately put a stop to inversions and invest in the U.S.” includes:
● A 50 percent threshold for foreign company shareholder ownership after a merger before an American company can give up its U.S. identity.
● An “exit tax” to ensure multinational companies that change their identity pay a fair share of the U.S. taxes they owe on earnings stashed overseas.
● A crackdown on “earnings stripping,” one of the key benefits of inversions.

Sanders released a statement condemning “corporate deserters”:

“The potential Johnson-Tyco merger would be a disaster for American taxpayers,” Sanders said. “Profitable companies that have received corporate welfare from American taxpayers should not be allowed to renounce their U.S. citizenship to avoid paying U.S. taxes. These corporate inversions must stop.

“My message to these corporate deserters is simple: You can’t be an American company only when you want corporate welfare from American taxpayers or you want lucrative contracts from the federal government,” Sanders continued. “If you want the advantages of being an American company then you can’t run away from America to avoid paying taxes.”

The Sanders Corporate Tax Reform Plan involves:
● Ending the rule allowing American corporations to defer paying federal income taxes on profits of their offshore subsidiaries.
● Closing loopholes allowing American corporations to artificially inflate or accelerate their foreign tax credits.
● Preventing American corporations from claiming to be foreign by using a tax-haven post office box as their address.
● Preventing American corporations from avoiding U.S. taxes by “inverting.” Under Sanders’ bill the U.S. would continue to tax such a company as an American corporation so long as it is still majority owned by the owners of the American party to the merger or acquisition.
● Prevent foreign-owned corporations from stripping earnings out of the U.S. by manipulating debt expenses.
● Preventing large oil companies from disguising royalty payments to foreign governments as foreign taxes.

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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.

Public Demands Campaign Donor Disclosure So GOP Congress BANS It

Republicans put a surprise sneak law into the big, last-minute “omnibus” budget bill: It bans the administration from making companies and “charities” disclose who is putting up the baksheesh money for political campaigns. The president has to sign it or the government shuts down. The result is that the rigging of our system to work only in the interests of those with big money will get even worse.

What The Public Wants

Poll after poll shows that the public wants something done about the country’s campaign finance system. Obviously just knowing who is bribing funding the politicians as they continue to rig the system against us is at the top of any list: “78 percent of Democrats and Republicans alike favoring a requirement that donor names be made public.”

What The Public Gets

The public might want something done about the campaign finance bribery corruption payoff system we have, but the bribed, corrupt, paid off politicians who owe their careers (and future lucrative corporate positions) to secret, big-money contributions want it kept the way it is, or made even “darker.”

After the Citizens United ruling (by justices who obtained their seats with the help of corporate and billionaire-funded efforts), Republicans filibustered to prevent the majority of the Senate from passing the Disclose Act. “The bill would have required disclosure of anyone who donates to independent groups that spent more than $10,000 on campaign ads – or their functional equivalent – and other election spending.”

Blocks SEC From Requiring Corporations To Disclose

The new “omnibus” budget bill contains “riders” that block the government from doing anything to bring light to the “dark money” swamping our elections. It blocks the president and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) from making corporations disclose how much they are putting into the political system, and blocks the Internal Revenue Service from making nonprofits disclose which billionaires are putting money into the political system.

The Wall Street Journal has the story about the budget bill banning the administration from requiring corporations to disclose their political contributions, in “Deal Restricts SEC From Requiring Disclosure of Corporate Political Contributions”:

If signed into law, the provision would prevent the SEC from using funds authorized by the bill to “finalize, issue, or implement” a rule on disclosure of political contributions, or contributions to trade associations and other tax-exempt organizations, according to text of the bill posted early Wednesday.

However, if the President does not sign the bill, the government will shut down.

But wait, there’s more. Zach Carter reports at the Huffington Post, in “Congress Is About To Make Citizens United Even Worse”:

Another rider attached to the budget bans President Obama from issuing an executive order requiring government contractors to disclose their political spending, including donations to nonprofit groups engaged in elections, as a condition of submitting a bid. As HuffPost has previously reported, this does keep alive the prospect of an executive order mandating disclosure from contractors after they have secured their contract.

That’s right. Thanks to Republican “riders” in this budget bill, corporations do not have to disclose who they are paying to get tax breaks, subsidies, etc., and don’t even have to disclose payments they make to help them get contracts with the government.

Blocks IRS From Requiring Non-Profit Charities To Disclose

The Washington Post has the story about how this affects non-profit “charities” that are used to hide donors, in “Congress’ budget deal halts political disclosure efforts“:

The omnibus legislation would prohibit the Internal Revenue Service from using any federal funds in the coming fiscal year to revise or issue new rules governing the political spending of tax-exempt advocacy groups. The measure would effectively halt a two-year-long attempt by the IRS to set a clear limit on how much money such nonprofit groups, setup under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, can spend on politics.

The Post notes “a 1959 regulation that states that such groups must not be engaged in political activity, as they are meant to be ‘primarily engaged in promoting in some way the common good and general welfare of the people of the community.'” Except now they can.

The Journal fills this in a bit more, in “Spending Deal Preserves Nonprofits’ Ability to Spend Campaign Cash in Secret”:

Under the new legislation, the IRS cannot use federal funds in fiscal year 2016 to “issue, revise or finalize” any rules about how tax-exempt 501(c)(4) organizations can spend money to influence elections. Since 2013, the Obama administration has beenseeking to rein in the influence of such groups in elections by creating rules to restrict their spending on campaign-related activities.
Recent elections have seen an explosion in spending by nonprofit groups, such as the conservative heavyweight Crossroads GPS. The 2016 election is unusual in the volume of nonprofits that are spending millions to benefit specific candidates in the primary.
… Unlike super PACs, 501(c)(4)s are not required to disclose their donors, and most won’t have to file any IRS disclosure reports concerning their operations and spending until after the general election next year.

So, thanks to Republican “riders” in this budget bill, the IRS is not allowed to enforce laws already on the books against political activity by non-profits, and can’t even make them disclose who is funding that activity.

Pubic Citizen Reaction

The Post story has Public Citizen’s reaction:

“It’s outrageous that lawmakers are interfering with the most modest measures to increase disclosure of political spending,” Lisa Gilbert, who directs the watchdog group Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, said in a statement. “The American people want – and deserve – to know who is trying to buy our elections.”

Democracy Spring

Note – many groups involved in the Democracy Initiative are working to plan a Spring 2016 mobilization in Washington combined with joint action in states – focused on voting rights and campaign finance reform.

“Collectively, we strive to build a 21st century democracy where the voice of every American is heard and counted with a government that is of, by, and for the people,” the campaign’s statement of purpose says. Note on the left side of the website where it says, “Click Here to Subscribe to our Newsletter!

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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.

How The Clinton and Sanders Infrastructure Plans Measure Up

“Investing in infrastructure makes our economy more productive and competitive across the board.”
– Hillary Clinton

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has announced a plan for infrastructure investment. How does her plan stack up against that of her chief competitor, Bernie Sanders?

Also, how will Clinton and Sanders pay for their plans? On that question, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) recently came up with a set of principles we can use to judge this.

Clinton’s Infrastructure Plan

Clinton on Monday announced a plan for investing in infrastructure improvements. Meteor Blades laid out the need for infrastructure investment at Daily Kos in “Clinton proposes $275 billion spending for infrastructure“:

… 11 percent of the nation’s bridges are structurally deficient and a fourth of them are functionally obsolete. Similar deficiencies can be found in schools, dams, levees, railroads, the electrical grid, and wastewater facilities. In its 2013 quadrennial report card on U.S. infrastructure, the American Society of Civil Engineers said the nation would need to invest an additional $1.6 trillion by 2020 to put its infrastructure into good repair. And that doesn’t include innovative infrastructure like universal broadband.

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Sanders’ Socialism Speech: America Is For All Of Us, Not Just Wealthy

“I don’t believe in some foreign “ism”, but I believe deeply in American idealism.”
– Senator Bernie Sanders

Sen. Bernie Sanders billed his talk Thursday at Georgetown University as a speech on “democratic socialism,” but it was immediately clear that what Sanders was really talking about were not the ideologies of a Cold War adversary but deeply American traditions of fairness that have been under attack by ideologues brandishing American flags.

Sanders anchored his speech as building on President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1944 “Second Bill of Rights” address. “Real freedom must include economic security.” he said. “That was Roosevelt’s vision 70 years ago. It is my vision today. It is a vision that we have not yet achieved. It is time that we did.”

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