Supreme Court Appears Ready To Bankrupt Public-Employee Unions

Renee_AFSCMEAfter a decades-long effort to place ideologically committed “movement” members in the judicial branch of government, funded by extremely wealthy individuals and their corporations, it looks like the resulting corporate/conservative wing of the Supreme Court is ready to make a ruling that would bankrupt public-employee unions. And clearly already-decimated private-sector unions will be the next target.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday in the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. In this case the Court is asked to overturn a unanimous 1977 decision that said public-employee unions can charge nonmembers a fee to cover the cost of the services the unions are required by law to provide those nonmembers. The fee does not cover political activities of the union, only the cost of services the unions must, by law, provide.

If the corporate/billionaire class gets its way – and it looks like it will – the terrible inequality you see in the country today is nothing compared to what’s coming. Having grabbed all the income gains since the recession, having wiped out the middle class, having pushed so much to the top that a few families now have more wealth than all of the rest of us combined, now the corporate/billionaire class is coming after the rest of the money in the economy.

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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.

What Your Right-Wing Brother-In-Law Might Say Thursday

Here’s something (not) to look forward to: Thanksgiving dinner with your family in the time of Trump.

This week you’re heading home to spend quality time with your family. Of course, your right-wing brother-in-law (RWBIL) is going to be there, spouting off quotes from Trump and Rush and fully Foxified. Actual facts will not be present at this table and would not penetrate the Drudge-shield if they were, but conspiracy theories will abound. Brace yourself.

Starbucks Is Anti-Christian

Don’t be surprised if your RWBIL immediately gets right in your face, loudly proclaiming, “Merry CHRISTMAS,” with an emphasis on “Christmas” and jumping on you if you dare say, “Happy Holidays.” He has not just finally gone crazy, there’s a (crazy) reason he will be doing this. Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and the rest of that crowd are telling him (and telling him and telling him and telling him – you know how they repeat things) that Starbucks is anti-Christian because their traditional, seasonal red cups are … red this year. But they took off the snowflakes and Santa Clauses, etc. So obviously Starbucks is part of the liberal “war on Christmas.”

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Here It Comes

Trump says “you’re going to have to strongly consider” shutting down mosques in the US.

Update – now the Republicans only Christian refugees should be allowed into the US. This is beyond disgusting, it is getting dangerous.

Ted Cruz said in South Carolina last night: “There is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror. If there were a group of radical Christians pledging to murder anyone who had a different religious view than they we would have a different national security situation.” Jeb Bush said on CNN that the government should focus on helping “Christians that are being slaughtered.”

The Water Is Boiling Now And The Frog Still Doesn’t Know It

Thursday’s Clinton-bashing hearing in Congress carried with it that “frog in heating water” feeling. The water is boiling and the country is the frog. This is a period where the country has gone crazy.

This has been slowly building since the ascendency of the corporate-funded “conservative movement” and then the presidential election of Ronald Reagan. The 24/7/12/365 drumbeat of corporate/conservative propaganda started then. The intentional defunding of government started then. The refusal to maintain our infrastructure started then. The continuing trade deficit that has drained our economy of jobs started then. The “volunteer army” perpetual-war machine got revved up then. The privatization of publicly held wealth started then. The collapse of the middle class started then. So many things started going wrong then. And after a slow, decades-long buildup, the country is threatening to collapse like an unmaintained bridge.

The planet is heating (the strongest western-hemisphere hurricane ever is heading toward Mexico as I write this). We are on the verge of a debt-ceiling crisis that could throw the world into something far worse than 2008 or the 1930s Depression. The corporate/conservative/billionaire money is flowing so freely into elections that almost all of the Republican candidates voice the concerns of the billionaires funding their campaigns and don’t say a word about what the public needs. No wonder Republicans have turned to Donald Trump.

“Were You Alone All Night?”

The gerrymandered-into-office Republican Congress is completely dysfunctional for governing, and instead of addressing the country’s problems we got this: An 11-hour long hearing asking a former first lady, senator and Secretary of State, “Were you alone all night?”

What the country experienced Thursday is SO FAR from any kind of normal, reasonable operation of a Congress or a country that I can’t believe it could even happen. The Republicans have fallen SO FAR down into a hole of their own propaganda machine that reality is lost completely for them.

But it’s like the alcoholic in the family that no one dares talk about. The elite pundit and news media class is so mired in a “both sides do it,” and their careers are so tied to boosting Republican corporatism, that they can not scream about the situation.

Systemic collapse builds slowly and then happens very quickly. The water is boiling rapidly now. It’s clearly a question of when, not if.

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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.

Will Trump Be The Reasonable One In The Debate Bunch Tonite?

When “Jeb!” Bush started campaigning for president, people starting asking, “Wait, was W the smart one?” Now the rest of the Republican candidates are causing people to ask, “Wait, is Trump the reasonable one?”

Wednesday night we will all get a chance to see the next round of the freak show. Who would have thought that Donald “Mexicans are rapists” Trump would stand out in the Republican field as the rational one? But consider this:

● Running second to Trump, Ben Carson wants to cut taxes on billionaires all the way to 10 percent, while requiring the poor to pay more. Along with the other Republican candidates, he denies the science behind climate change. Carson is the candidate who said, “Obamacare is really I think the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery. And it is in a way, it is slavery in a way…” He also proposes letting tax-dodging corporations hoarding more than $2 trillion outside of U.S. out of paying most of the up-to-$700-plus billion they owe.
● Scott Walker is now campaigning almost entirely on destroying unions.
● The Jeb Bush tax plan gives a (another) huge ($3.4 trillion) tax cut to billionaires and corporations.
● John Kasich closed half of Ohio’s womens’ health clinics, forced Ohio women to get ultrasounds before an abortion, forced Ohio rape counseling centers to not mention abortion and demands that Congress defund Planned Parenthood, saying this is all a “Christian moral imperative.”
● Ted “Shut Down the Government” Cruz wants to shut down the government again over funding for Planned Parenthood. So does Bobby Jindal. So does Carly Fiorina.
● Even worse, Mike Huckabee would put the U.S. into default over the debt ceiling to defund Planned Parenthood. He would also give “due process” rights to fetuses.
● Carly Fiorina says “liberal politicians” caused California’s terrible drought.

This could go on and on – you get the idea: These people are nuts. In this crowd, Donald “Laziness Is a Trait in Blacks” Trump stands out as the reasonable one. Consider this:

● Trump says CEO pay is too high, even “disgraceful,” and his Republican voters love it.
● Trump says he was “strongly” against the Iraq war, and his Republican voters love it.
● Trump says cutting Social Security would not be fair to people who need it, and his Republican voters love it.
● Trump calls for raising taxes on hedge-fund managers, and his Republican voters love it.
● Trump is not blindly pro-“free trade” and has come out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and his Republican voters love it.
● Trump even says “single-payer” health care works elsewhere, and his Republican voters love it.
● Etc…

All of these go against conservative orthodoxy – and have helped propel Trump into the lead.

Trump’s Republican Base Rejects Conservative Ideology

During the first Republican debate, the moderators tried to turn the Republican audience against Trump by saying he goes against conservative ideology. “Mr. Trump, it’s not just your past support for single-payer health care. You’ve also supported a host of other liberal policies.” It didn’t work. Following the debate Trump’s support among Republicans surged.

For decades that Republican Party has run a game in which they get votes by feeding “red meat” to “the base” and then, once in office, pass tax cuts for the rich and grant favors for giant corporations while cutting the things government does to make people’s lives better. They offered weak cover stories to justify this economic assault on 99 percent of us, like “tax cuts increase government revenue,” “government takes money out of the economy,” “corporations making decisions is better than government making decisions,” “giving money to billionaires increases jobs.”

Meanwhile the things they promised the base (based on racism, nativism, theocracy) were never actually enacted because they needed to be kept around as red-meat issues for the next election. A significant portion of the Republican electorate finally got fed up with being played.

So along comes Trump, challenging this corporate-conservative orthodoxy on economic issues while still brandishing many of the red-meat policies on social issues the Republican establishment has used to get the votes. Trump is exposing that the Republican base is not as locked into the conservative dogma of trickle-down, austerity economics as the Republicans establishment leadership would have us believe.

Trump goes where the base has been trained to go, combined with obvious popular positions. And he is able to do this because he’s able to self-fund his campaign.

Trump doesn’t offer actual solutions. He says, “I’ll just do it.” He says “I’m rich.” (See inside some of his mansions here.) He says of his competitors, “They’re all stupid.”

Trump’s basic message is, “I’ll make the trains run on time.” This sounds great compared to the rest of them, who say, “I’ll destroy the government, launch endless wars, deny basic scientific and economic facts and give everything of value to a few billionaires.” Who would have thought there could be a gathering that makes Donald “if Ivanka Weren’t My Daughter, Perhaps I’d Be Dating Her” Trump look good. We’ll see how this holds up at Wednesday’s 2nd Republican debate.

P.S. By the way, why haven’t there been any Democratic debates?

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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.

Will TPP Kill The Post Office?

Corporations are notorious for sneaking things into laws and regulations before the public can find out and rally to stop it. And we know from the conservative Supreme Court arguments against the Affordable Care Act that even what amounts to a typo can be used to change the obvious meaning and intent of a law.

These are reasons we need to see the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership before Congress votes to preapprove it with fast track trade promotion authority (TPA). They are pushing what is literally a pig in a poke on us. We the People need to open that bag and have a good, long look inside before fast track buys the TPP pig in our name.

Negotiated in secret by corporate representatives, it is probable that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is loaded with things the big corporations have snuck in. We already know from leaks that TPP contains provisions allowing companies to sue our government in “corporate courts” if they feel a law or regulation is cutting into their profits. What else is in there?

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How To End Unemployment

Alongside Friday’s good employment data, there is a brouhaha on the Internets over claims that the government’s employment numbers are a “big lie.” Jim Clifton, Chairman and CEO of the Gallup polling company penned “The Big Lie: 5.6% Unemployment,” claiming that “the media” is “cheer-leading” and the White House is “scor[ing] political points” over phony numbers that the government makes up to make things look better than they are.

In fact, the “top line” unemployment number – now 5.7 percent, representing 9 million people, does not factor in people who have given up looking, 6.8 million part-time workers who want to work full-time, 2.2 million “marginally attached” people, people who are grossly underpaid, etc. But everyone knows that, and the government reports that. The “official” number has a specific definition, the “U-6 “alternative measure of labor under-utilization” reports the more accurate 13.5 percent number. So somewhere between 15 and 20 million Americans count as un- or underemployed. But even that doesn’t count those who have given up. It’s still bad out there, but the government’s figures are not being manipulated.

Intentionally High Unemployment

I want to suggest that this high un- and underemployment is intentional. Here is why. Two things that the government could easily do right now would pretty much get rid of unemployment. But our government is blocked from doing those things by extremely wealthy people, who benefit from the low wages, and a desperate and “cowering” reserve army of unemployed status quo.

First, balancing the trade deficit would by itself bring back more than 5 million jobs. This is based only on the 3.1 million lost to the China trade deficit, 1 million lost to NAFTA and 900,000 lost to the Japan trade deficit. We also have trade deficits with Germany, South Korea, and others.

A way to visualize this is to imagine the effect on our economy of $500 billion of new orders coming in to businesses that make and do things inside the U.S. Then another $500 billion next year and every year after that. Our annual trade deficit is $500 billion. Fixing that means $500 billion of new business here, now,  and continuing every year from now on. What you are visualizing is the damage this trade regime has done to us since Wall Street and the right’s “free trade” ideology took over.

Second, we have deferred maintaining our infrastructure since the Reagan era started the cycle of tax cuts and spending cutbacks. To bring the country’s infrastructure up to standards (never mind modernizing) we would need to spend $360 billion each year for 10 years, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Infrastructure Report Card. If you conservatively estimate that each $1 billion spent on infrastructure creates 30,000 jobs, $350 billion translates to 350×30,000 = 10.5 million jobs.

So that’s conservatively 15.5 million jobs if we just go back to doing what the country did before the Reagan era. (This gives you a hint at the damage Reagan’s “trickle down” economics, and “free trade” market ideology have done. Look around. The extreme inequality that resulted tells you why it was done.)

Balance trade and fix up our aging infrastructure means at least 15.5 million jobs. (Think about what that would mean for wages, too.)

But That’s Just Catch-Up

But those things are just playing catch-up. It comes close to giving jobs to the unemployed, part-time for economic reasons and “marginally attached” workers. It doesn’t even start to dig into the people who have given up and left the labor market.

We got here by cutting taxes for the rich, gutting government, deferring maintenance, a and letting a few billionaires harvest our public wealth through privatization, etc. We’ll get out of it by fixing the trade deficit, repairing our infrastructure, undoing policy mistakes that have continued since the Reagan era, and ending “trickle down” tax cuts.

How do we take this a step further? The following things would employ tons of people and bring a long-term economic return far above any “cost.”

First, retrofit buildings and homes to be energy-efficient. Start with the basics: plug leaks and drafts, paint roofs white. These simple things could employ tons of people who we call “low skilled.” Take it a step further, and install energy-efficient windows, insulation, modern heating and cooling systems, solar on the roofs, etc. — all made in America, of course — and we will employ millions more. The energy payoff would be enormous, and we would go into the future with a much more efficient economy.

Next, engage in 21st century infrastructure projects like high-speed rail across the country and into Canada and Mexico — just like China is already doing. (See: “New Silk Road.“) We’ll create jobs, and end up with a massively more efficient, competitive economy. Then, modernize our power grid and install wind turbines across the plains states. Again, we end up with a massively more efficient, competitive economy. Requiring American-made supplies boosts the return to our economy.

What about building out national, high-speed, fiber internet? Imagine the innovation that would result.

There is so much we could do to first bring about full employment, and then move our economy into the 21st century. But we are held back by this weird Reagan/Wall Street/conservative ideology that tells us not to believe that We the People deserve a government that spends to make our lives better. That spending boosts us up now, makes our lives better, and more than pays for itself later. But we are kept from dreaming and doing because that return on our investment would go to us, instead of into the pockets of a few billionaires.

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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.

Remember When Republicans Filibustered The Cybersecurity Bill?

One would think that the media would be mentioning this in light of the recent attacks on computers… Sony … North Korea … hackers …

NYT, August 2, 2012, Cybersecurity Bill Is Blocked in Senate by GOP Filibuster, (BARF WARNING — there is big picture of Joe Lieberman.)

A cybersecurity bill that had been one of the Obama administration’s top national security priorities was blocked by a Republican filibuster in the Senate on Thursday, severely limiting its prospects this year.

The bill would have established optional standards for the computer systems that oversee the country’s critical infrastructure, like power grids, dams and transportation.

The next paragraph says everything you need to know about Democrats in recent years:

In the hopes of winning over Mr. McCain and the other Republicans, the bill had been significantly watered down in recent weeks by its sponsors, led by Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, who made the standards optional. Original versions of the bill said the standards would be mandatory and gave the government the power to enforce them.

They watered it down hoping to get Republican votes, made the rules optional, etc — and it was filibustered anyway.

As for the media silence about this right now, this is sort of like how two police officers were killed by two people who had been at the Bundy Ranch, and they laid a Tea Party flag on one of the officers and … nothing in the news about that. But the killings of two cops in NYC, we have wall-to-wall coverage blaming protesters, liberals, Obama, etc…

Just sayin’…

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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Here’s What ’60 Minutes’ Should Have Reported About Infrastructure

“60 Minutes” ran a report Sunday, “Falling apart: America’s neglected infrastructure,” describing the seriousness and damage to the economy caused by our country’s crumbling infrastructure.

Here are a few choice quotes, but really you should click through and watch the whole thing (and then come back here):

  • “Except for the stimulus nothing much has happened. It is ‘just another example of political paralysis in Washington.’ “
  • “1 of every 9 bridges (70,000) is structurally deficient.”
  • “It all comes down to funding.”
  • “These all are tragedies waiting to happen.”
  • “32% of major roads in America are in poor condition.”
  • “It’s falling apart because we haven’t made the investment.”
  • “Public spending on infrastructure has fallen to its lowest level since 1947.”

How bad is the problem? The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) issues a regular “report card” on “the condition and performance of the nation’s infrastructure.” The 2013 grade is D+ and the cost to get us back to normal is now at $3.6 trillion. (The longer we wait the more the cost increases.) Because of this, The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report ranks the U.S. as 16th in the quality of its infrastructure.

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