Bernie Sanders Proposes To Boost Worker-Ownership Of Companies

Businesses are run for a profit that goes into the pockets of the business’ “investors.” To be an investor requires that you have money. This is a rigged system that by definition channels the returns and gains of our economy to the people who have money in the first place.

That system forces a terrible business model: investors try to squeeze money out of businesses as fast as they can. Then they move on. People who put the money in have even more money, but leave behind them a trail of squeezed-out ruin. This squeezing of the business involves squeezing the workers, squeezing the product, squeezing the customers and squeezing the government out of any taxes that might be owed.

This is bad for America’s long-term economy, people, environment and — since it brings about intense concentration of wealth — bad for our democracy, too. But hey, it’s great for a few already-wealthy people at the top.

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A Look At The Fast Track Bill Shows It’s The Wrong Thing To Do

The “fast track” trade promotion authority bill has been introduced in the Senate. Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution says, “The Congress shall have power to … regulate commerce with foreign nations.” But under fast track, Congress relinquishes that power and agrees to pass trade bills brought to them by the executive branch in a very short time frame with little debate and without making any changes should any problems present themselves.

Though it was announced that this year’s fast track bill was the result of a “deal” between Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) the 2015 bill is nearly identical to the 2014 bill that died in Congress without support for a vote. See this side-by-side comparison from Rep. Sander Levin of the House Ways and Means Committee. It is unclear from this comparison why the “negotiations” between Hatch and Wyden took so long, and what Wyden got that enabled him to put his name on it, enabling the bill to be sold as “bipartisan.”

Fast Track Sets Aside Normal Procedure

Congress does not set aside normal procedure, debate, the ability to fix problems that turn up and agree to vote within 90 days except for trade agreements – even though trade agreements have now proven to have such a tremendous and often detrimental effect on our economy, jobs, wages and inequality. Where did the idea to do this come from? According to Public Citizen, this unusual procedure was “initially created by President Richard Nixon to get around public debate and congressional oversight.”

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Postal Workers And The Public Want A Postal Banking Public Option

Contract talks between the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) and the U.S. Postal Service for a new contract start Thursday. Along with asking for fair wages and benefits, the APWU wants improvements in customer services, including postal banking.

“There are two competing visions of the future of the Postal Service,” said APWU President Mark Dimondstein. “Postal management’s policy has been to severely degrade service, dismantle the postal network, and engage in piecemeal privatization. … Management has shortened hours at neighborhood post offices, closed mail processing centers, lowered delivery standards, and slowed mail delivery.”

Instead of trying to “save money” by cutting service with layoffs and closings that cause more customers to turn away, which costs revenue, the Postal Service should add services such as postal banking. This would also help millions of people who currently are left wide open to predatory services like payday lending.

Postal Banking: A Public Option For Banking

Until 1967, the Postal Service (then called the Post Office) operated postal banking through the United States Postal Savings System. Reviving postal banking would be like offering a “public option” for financial services. It would let people have accounts they could use to cash checks, get small loans, pay bills and even get prepaid debit cards. These services would enable lower-income Americans to avoid the exploitative “payday lenders” and check-cashing “services” that eat up working people’s earnings.

The Postal Service would use existing bank infrastructure as the backbone for these services, particularly the debit card service. In “A public option for banking,” Mike Konczal explains how the Treasury Department is already doing this with their Direct Express debit card program for disability and pension payments.

The program allows unbanked recipients of Social Security, federal disability and a few pension-related federal programs to receive their benefits on a debit card. The program emerged from congressional efforts in the 1990s to move from paper checks to direct deposits for these benefits. Congress tasked Treasury to make sure there were low-cost accounts available to the unbanked so they could access deposits.

… By 2007, the department initiated a competitive bidding process for the cards, and Comerica won the account by offering the low-fee schedule the cards now have.

The Treasury Department is already offering this service. There is no reason the Postal Service could not do the same thing with postal banking.

Millions Would Benefit

A lot of people would benefit if the Postal Service offered postal banking. The term for people with no bank accounts is “unbanked.’ According to the 2013 FDIC National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households, “7.7 percent (1 in 13) of households in the United States were unbanked in 2013. This proportion represented nearly 9.6 million households.” On top of that, “20.0 percent of U.S. households (24.8 million) were underbanked in 2013, meaning that they had a bank account but also used alternative financial services (AFS) outside of the banking system.”

In “The Post Office Should Just Become a Bank, David Dayen explains how this idea could free these millions from the grips of “check-cashing stores, pawn shops, payday lenders, and other unscrupulous financial services providers who gouged their customers to the tune of $89 billion in interest and fees in 2012,” and help the Postal Service at the same time. With small fees for services, including small, low-interest loans, the Postal Service would be helping Americans and increasing its funding.

Post offices could deliver the same services at a 90 percent discount, saving the average underserved household over $2,000 a year and still providing the USPS with $8.9 billion in new annual profits, significantly improving its troubled balance sheet. The report calls simple financial services “the single best new opportunity for the posts to earn additional revenue.”

These millions are not being served now by the financial industry, as Dayen explains,

Banks don’t want these customers; if they did, they would actually make a play for their business. Large banks have closed branches in the very low-income communities with the largest percentages of unbanked Americans. In fact, banks find it more profitable to fund payday lenders that charge junk fees and outrageous interest—currently the subject of a Justice Department investigation—than actually take market share away from them.

Instead of partnering with predatory lenders, banks could partner with the USPS on a public option, not beholden to shareholder demands, which would treat customers more fairly.

If ever there was an idea whose time has come (again) it is the idea of a public option for postal banking. It would help millions of people, would boost the revenue of the Postal Service and would demonstrate that our government actually can be on the side of regular people. (Note that a government service in a democracy should be providing a government service, not trying to “operate like a business” and “make money” off of citizens.)


Also see “A “Grand Alliance” To Save Our Public Postal Service.”

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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.

Holiday Bright Spots For Progressives

The midterm elections were a wake-up call. Voters had given up on the Democratic party as irrelevant – not really on their side, so they didn’t bother to show up at the polls. But there are end-of-year holiday season bright spots for progressives as we think about the coming year’s fights.

People are becoming more active with protests over issues like low pay and police treatment. Locally people are putting core progressive policies like fighting pollution, raising the minimum wage and giving people sick days off into effect. And there are signs that the national Democrats are starting to “get it” that they have to demonstrate they are on the side of regular, working people.

People Becoming More Active

Madison, Wisc. and the Occupy movement were flare-ups of popular protest that focused the national discussion on inequality. There are signs that people are starting to become even more active. Black Friday saw the largest strikes ever against Walmart, with employees demanding a living wage. There were pickets and strikes at 1,600 stores in 49 states.

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Is The Democratic Party Relevant Anymore?

Many Democrats examining what happened in the 2014 midterms are asking “what did the voters want?” But the right question is why did only 36.4 percent of potential voters bother to register and vote? Obviously Democrats did not give those voters a good enough reason to take the trouble. Is the Democratic Party relevant anymore?

“New Coke” Democrats

In 1985 Coca-Cola was the market leader, but Pepsi was gaining market share. Coca-Cola’s executives panicked and reformulated its flavor to taste like the more-sugary Pepsi. But Pepsi drinkers already drank Pepsi and Coca-Cola drinkers were left with no brand that they liked. If this sounds like an analogy to the Democratic Party consultants who keep urging Democratic candidates and politicians to be more like Republicans, that’s because it is.

Democrats were considered the majority party from the time of Roosevelt’s New Deal until the 1980s. All they had to do to win was to get a high enough voter turnout. Democratic operations were more about Get Out The Vote (GOTV) than giving people reasons to vote for Democrats instead of Republicans. They just assumed most people agreed with them – because most people agreed with them. But that time has passed.

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Democrats – There’s Still Time

“It is hard to understate the intensity of the response to the role of big money.”

Mike Lux, writing at The Huffington Post in “Four Weeks Out: What Will Be the Narrative of Election 2014?,” echoes something that we have been pounding on here at OurFuture.org: Democrats who campaign with a populist message will do better than Democrats who support the “centrist” – big corporate, Wall Street – positions.

In his post, Lux writes:

In a fascinating memo from Stan Greenberg and James Carville’s Democracy Corps and Page Gardner at Women’s Voices Women’s Vote Action Fund, they suggest that there is a modest but nonetheless quite significant trend toward Democratic candidates in the battleground Senate races. … They argue that a populist message especially focused on women voters’ top economic concerns and attacking the big money corporate interests that want to “make sure CEOs paid no higher taxes and that their loopholes are protected, while working men and women struggle” moves these razor-tight races an average of 4 crucial points, from -2 to +2.

… Democrats should be driving the story of the corrupting influence of big money in politics. As the DCorps memo states: “It is hard to understate the intensity of the response to the role of big money.”

I’m going to repeat that. Focusing “on women voters’ top economic concerns and attacking the big money corporate interests that want to “make sure CEOs paid no higher taxes and that their loopholes are protected, while working men and women struggle” moves these razor-tight races an average of 4 crucial points, from -2 to +2.”

How can Democrats say this? Lux suggests this:

The real-world narrative Democrats should tell is about the spending of the Koch brothers and their agenda, which they laid out at their secret meeting in June: no minimum wage, no Social Security, no public education or student loans, lower taxes for the wealthy, and less regulations. “Because we can make more in profit,” said their so-called “grand-strategist” Richard Fink.

Not a bad idea, considering that the Koch brothers network is driving much of the Republican party at this point, and certainly their money is driving much of the election.

Democrats, there is still time.

Here are a few posts to check out (Many of these, plus some other useful posts, are on our “Winning Issues for 2014” page):

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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.

Full Employment Is More Than Possible – It Is Essential

Progressives have not only been able to beat back the D.C.-elite effort to cut Social Security, we put the idea of expanding Social Security on the table instead. We pushed LGBT rights and gay marriage and have won significant victories. Sunday’s Climate March will force climate onto the map.

We got the discussion of income inequality going. We have achieved minimum wage increases and paid sick days in several cities and states. The National Labor Relations Board is functioning and we even saw labor-movement gains in the South this week. We have held back (so far) the drumbeat for big cuts in corporate taxes they’re calling “tax reform.”

Now it’s time to put our demand for full employment policies on the table. And guess what – it’s a great way to win elections!

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