No Fast Track To TPP: Fix NAFTA First

The big corporations and the Obama administration are trying to push through a giant new trade treaty that gives corporations even more power, and which will send even more jobs, factories, industries and money out of the country. This is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and they are pushing something called “fast track” in Congress to help push it through.

We have to stop this, and we should take the momentum we have generated in our push-back on this to demand Congress and President Obama instead fix NAFTA first. Then fix all of our trade relationships to help working people on all sides of our borders.

TPP, Fast Track And NAFTA

There has been a lot of news about the upcoming TPP trade agreement. The agreement is being negotiated in extreme secrecy in a corporate-dominated process that appears to be leading to an agreement that would give corporations even more power than they already have. Now there is a push to pass a process called fast track through Congress in order to enable the large corporations to strong-arm TPP into law mobilized organizations around the country to sound the alarm.

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Today’s False-Equivalence Award

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

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

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

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

GOP Economic Sabotage Continues With Filibuster of Jobless Benefits

Republicans are engaged in yet more hostage-taking obstruction. (Whatever gave them the idea that hostage-taking can work?) They are engaged in a filibuster of the effort to extend unemployment insurance, using it as a hostage to try to get even more cuts to the things government does to make our lives better. Their “pay-for” demand is really a demand for Democrats to agree to even more economic sabotage.

Senate Republicans Monday continued to fight Democratic efforts to pass an extension of federal unemployment insurance benefits for people who have been out of work longer than 26 weeks. Traditionally our government has provided this assistance to unemployed workers at times of high unemployment. This is an “automatic stabilizer,” meaning that this assistance helps stop the downward spirals that occur when business hit recession. Unemployed workers aren’t forced to pull back from paying mortgages or rent, or buying food and other basic needs, which then causes even more unemployment.

Many feel this economic stabilization effect is the reason Republican oppose the extension. They suspect Republicans want the loss of this assistance to cause more layoffs, foreclosures and economic hardship. This way the economy looks worse as the 2014 elections approach, and voters will turn on what they perceive as the “party in charge” – namely the Democrats.

By requiring “pay-fors” – cuts somewhere else – in exchange for allowing this assistance to the unemployed, they are removing the economic boost that the program provides, causing damage to the economy. In other words: they are engaged in economic sabotage.

One such proposal from Republicans is to stop working people with disabilities from claiming both Social Security Disability Insurance and federal unemployment benefits. Cutting this really means preventing people with disabilities from taking the risk of going out and working to see if they can get off of disability. Michael Hiltzik writes about this at the Los Angeles Times in “An awful idea: Hammer the disabled to pay for unemployment benefits”:

It uniquely burdens the disabled among all workers, and it sets a terrible precedent of raiding Social Security to pay for other social programs.

… The idea that disabled persons are “double-dipping” by collecting wages or other compensation while also getting a disability check is enshrined in conservative attacks on disability. But it’s untrue. The Social Security disability program is designed as a bridge to full employment. Its benefits aren’t intended as a substitute for wages, but a supplement.

Michael Tomasky writes about the hostage-taking involved here in “The Fight Over Unemployment Benefits Underscores the Right’s Extremism” at The Daily Beast:

Republicans are insisting on cuts from elsewhere in the federal budget to pay for the benefits’ $6.4 billion cost. And Democrats are talking with them. But there’s no progress yet. In fact, it seems today that even the six Republicans who voted in the Senate last week to allow debate to proceed would not vote to extend the benefits just yet.

[. . .] if Democrats win, great. But it looks like they’ll only win by agreeing to the pay-for demand, which means that there’ll be new demands next time. There’s no end to how far right these people will go.

Richard Eskow (who really should have a column in the New York Times) writes about the economic sabotage of “pay for” in “No, Congress, You Shouldn’t “Pay For” Extending Unemployment Insurance”:

The simple truth is, Democrats are still being outmaneuvered by Republicans on economic policy. They’re letting the GOP call the shots, rhetorically, even though Republicans lost two out of three seats of federal government (the Senate and White House). They even lost the total popular vote for the House of Representatives.

… Here’s a better idea: Don’t try to pay for extended unemployment benefits. Don’t boast, as Reid did last week, that the extension is “entirely paid for.” Sure, Democrats will eventually need to make a deal – if they can – in order to extend unemployment insurance benefits. But why aren’t they first making the case against “paying for” those benefits on the Republicans’ terms?

Why aren’t Democrats instead speaking up against the “pay for” logic that gives a free pass to the wealthy and corporations – especially when the total cost is a blip, a rounding error, on a $1 trillion 2014 federal budget?

Economically, “pay for” is a Catch-22: It means every job-creating proposal must be offset with job-killing cuts elsewhere.

5 Reasons To Extend Unemployment Insurance

The AFL-CIO Now blog offers “5 Reasons Congress Must Extend Unemployment Insurance.” (Click through for details, charts and links.)

1. The long-term unemployment rate is higher than ever before.
2. The typical unemployed worker has been out of work longer than ever before.
3. More unemployed workers are running out of benefits than ever before.
4. The unemployment rate remains unacceptably high.
5. There are still three job seekers for every job opening.

Call To Action

The Coalition on Human Needs wants us to “tell your senators to renew federal unemployment insurance now, before the next recess, and don’t tie renewal to harmful amendments like denying the Child Tax Credit to low-income immigrant families or denying aid to unemployed workers with disabilities.”

If you haven’t called your senators yet (or even if you have!) please call 1-877-267-2485 (Toll Free). (Thanks to AFSCME for making this toll-free number available.)

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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

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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This Video Explains Why Economists Say The Weird Things They Say

Have you ever wondered why an economist would say that giving tax cuts to the rich makes the economy better? Or why they say that getting rid of unions is good for the economy?

Watch this to learn why some economists say things like this:

Rachel Maddow shares details of a report showing Koch brothers funding behind an economic report flattering to conservative economic policies.

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Here’s A Fresh, New Idea: Hire Some People To Fix Infrastructure!

Washington is embroiled in a round of budget-cutting fervor. There is a “budget conference” going on. There are rumors that “deals” are being made behind closed doors. How much to cut? Who to hurt? Who to lay off or furlough next?

Here’s the thing. The American Majority wants jobs. They want Congress working on jobs. (They also want Congress working on jobs for more than 5 days this month.)

Here’s a fresh, new idea: hire some people to fix the aging infrastructure. Ever since the Reagan tax cuts the country has been deferring essential maintenance. Everyone said, “If you do this, later you’ll be sorry.” Now it’s later, and we’re really sorry. Bridges are falling down. The power grid is ridiculous, as in “worthy of ridicule.” Etc., etc. We’re $3.6 trillion behind — $3.6 trillion that went out to the wealthy as tax cuts instead of used for infrastructure investment. P.S. click that link.

How many people would be hired if we just caught up to doing that deferred infrastructure maintenance — never mind crisp, new, modern, energy-efficient, 21st-century power grid and ports and roads and rail that would increase our country’s competitiveness internationally? $3.6 trillion of work that has to be done anyway, and we really need to employ Americans today. The longer we hold off, the more it costs and the more damage is done.

Speaking of damage done, here’s a simple infrastructure idea: hire some people to install speed regulation systems in trains.

It isn’t hard to realize this. In fact, not hiring people to fix the infrastructure now is intentional. It’s about keeping unemployment high and taxes on the wealthy low. Desperate, hungry people don’t ask for raises, and don’t demand their rights. They’ll take any nasty, humiliating, low-wage job they can find and will be told they should be thankful to have it.

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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

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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Corporations Owe Hundreds Of Billions Of Taxes But GOP Goes After Federal Employees

Congress is again fighting over the budget with Republicans now demanding cuts in federal employee benefits. Is this really about the budget? Or is it about destroying government? Meanwhile hundreds of billions of taxes owed by corporations remain uncollected.

The recent Republican shutdown of the government ended with the can being kicked down the road, and the budget still in sequester and unresolved. The temporary funding runs out mid-January, and negotiators are trying to come up with a compromise. But Republicans insist that only cuts will be allowed, and that the sequester spending levels are the new normal.

Going After Federal Employees

Federal employees have endured a pay freeze for three years. They were furloughed during the government shutdown, they face ongoing furloughs because of the sequester cuts, and now they are being threatened with cuts in pay and pensions. WaPo reported in October that GOP lawmakers are eying federal-retiree benefits in upcoming budget talks.

Federal employees are bracing for the possibility of paying more toward their retirement benefits as political leaders slowly renew budget discussions with an eye toward deficit reduction. House Republicans and President Obama have both proposed the change in order to achieve savings.

Also, according to the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE),

To replace sequestration, House leaders have proposed cuts to federal employees’ pensions and benefits the elderly, the sick and the poor receive through Social Security and Medicare. It’s important to note that cutting Social Security benefits directly affects federal employees.

By the way, this is not part of the budget negotiations, but three Republican Senators have introduced a bill to just do away with pensions entirely.

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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.