What the Court’s “Harris v Quinn” Union Decision Means

In case you were wondering why it is so hard for regular working people to get ahead in our economy, look no further than today’s Harris v. Quinn Supreme Court decision. In the usual 5-4 pattern, the corporate-conservatives on the Supreme Court struck another blow against the rights of working people to organize and try to get ahead.

Home care workers (mostly women) in Illinois (like elsewhere) were on their own, working long hours for very low pay. They were treated poorly and did not have any job security. So they organized and a majority voted to join a union, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Health Care Illinois-Indiana (SEIU-HCII). The union then worked with the state of Illinois to forge a contract to deliver services to elderly and disabled state residents. Since they formed the union, they were able almost double their hourly wages and they get health insurance, regular professional training and representation from the union.

An anti-union organization, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRTWLDF) – funded by the Koch and Walton families and others – brought filed the Harris v. Quinn suit against the union. This suit wound its way through the courts and finally the Supreme Court decided to rule on it.

The Court decided that a contract between the state of Illinois and Medicaid-funded home care workers cannot require the covered workers to pay a “fair-share fee” that covers the costs of benefits they receive from union representation. This “fair-share fee” (union dues) covers the costs of the union’s activities – collecting bargaining, implementing and enforcing the contract including making sure people are paid the right amounts, representing employees at grievance hearings, etc.

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The Democrat’s Agenda Should Be: Fix The Trade Deficit

There is no way around it: There are three issues on people’s minds as we go into the midterm elections: jobs, jobs and jobs.

Since the 2008 financial crash – actually since Reagan was elected – most of the gains from our economy have gone to the 1 percent and many of the jobs have been shipped out of the country. And everyone knows it. What they don’t know is the direct relationship between the two. That relationship is the trade deficit.

The trade deficit is a direct measure of jobs leaving the country. The trade deficit is factories closing. The trade deficit is American dollars going to other countries so people there can spend them. The trade deficit is our standard of living leaking away. And the trade deficit is a major factor driving what remains of the budget deficit.

The trade deficit is our economy’s problem. Democrats need to get on board with that message. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also true.

Democrats Don’t Get That Republican Propaganda Works

Democrats in Washington are surrounded by D.C.’s daily events and don’t get it that the public doesn’t see what they think they see. They are immersed in the news and fighting daily battles and tend to think the public is informed and doing that, too. They tend to put reasons on things the public does that line up with what they experience in D.C.: “The reason voters in district 5 of the county special election in Colorado voted for Kranitz was because the sub-amendment to our section 5 jurisdictional funding retroparticle was blocked in committee on the third markup. Because it was on C-SPAN.”

But the public isn’t seeing it that way. The public is seeing “Democrats have been in charge” since 2008 and the economy is still bad. Period, end of story. (Not 2009, by the way; the election was in 2008 so they think the 2009 $1.4 trillion budget deficit was caused by Obama and the stimulus.)

Democrats Need A Simple And Clear Economic Agenda

If Democrats can’t come up with a counter to the Republican message that the economy is bad because Democrats are “in charge” and spend too much, they are going to lose badly. (P.S.: The answer is not to say “OK, so we’ll spend less.” That’s just feeds the lies and – as we have seen – just makes the economy even worse.)

At The New Republic, Danny Vinik writes in “Hillary Clinton’s Biggest Vulnerability: Her Economic Agenda” that “as we enter the latter half of Barack Obama’s second term, the public increasingly blames him and his party for the weak recovery.”

Vinik explains that there are Democratic proposals that would really help fix the economy, but they are from “left-leaning economists” and “they have little political support.” One proposal is in a paper from (“left-leaning”?) Larry Summers, who argues that we have entered into “secular stagnation” and the “solution to secular stagnation is significant rounds of fiscal stimulus to fill the still-large hole in consumer demand for goods and services, known as aggregate demand.” In other words, more “stimulus” that Republicans will obstruct.

Another proposal is to fix the trade deficit:

A separate paper, from left-leaning economist Dean Baker, argues that the trade deficit is a significant impediment to full employment. U.S. imports exceeded exports by $500 billion in 2013—that is, $500 billion of American demand for goods and services supported jobs overseas. In response, Baker proposes lowering the value of the dollar and cracking down on currency manipulators like China who artificially lower the value of their currency so that their goods and services are cheaper, boosting exports. Yet, trade policy is not an exciting or accessible issue to most voters. A candidate could include it as part of their economic platform, but it cannot form the backbone of it.

Yet another proposal is a change in monetary policy to promote full employment. This brings up a political problem, according to Vinik. The public doesn’t understand monetary policy and has been propagandized to be against further stimulus. (The public thinks “government spending” causes unemployment.)

Vinik writes “Democrats will have to convince voters that much of the Obama agenda is still the right prescription for the economy, despite the weak results over the past five-plus years. That’s not easy.”

What Went Wrong: Filibusters And Austerity

President Obama and Democrats have made significant proposals that would have made a tremendous difference in the economy we experience today, but they also contributed to the mess we are in.

It’s a fact that Senate Republicans filibustered literally everything Democrats offered that might have helped the economy. That’s their strategy and it’s working: Block anything that could help the economy and blame Democrats because they were “in charge” while the economy continued to stagnate.

Here’s the thing: Democrats let them do it. They did not end the filibuster. For whatever reasons – tradition, attempting to remain “bipartisan” and “civil” against uncivil partisan opponents, whatever – the end result was they did not deliver for their constituents, the American people.

The other thing that Democrats let Republicans do to the country was austerity. In fact, most Democrats bought into it, went along with it, pushed it, reinforced it, messaged it and gladly fell into the Republican trap.

So, with an election coming, Democrats haven’t delivered for their constituents – the 99 percent – and the public is not happy with that.

The Problem Is The Trade Deficit, Not The Budget Deficit

Here is a path for Democrats: Talk about the trade deficit.

Our trade deficit is literally a measure of how many jobs we ship out of the country. And our trade deficit is huge. It is humongous. It is enormous. It is larger than any trade deficit in the history of the world, and the parts of it that most affect jobs continues and continues and gets worse and worse. Last year’s trade deficit with China was a record.

The trade deficit is also a traditional Democratic issue. It is about jobs, blue-collar workers, jobs, factories, jobs, manufacturing, good wages and jobs. It is about seeing “Made in America” in stores again.

Everyone knows where the jobs went and continue to go: out of the country, mostly to China.

Everyone knows that the reason their pay is stagnant of falling is because people are afraid their job will be sent out of the country, too.

Everyone knows that something has been going on with these trade deals that let companies move out of the country to places where people and the environment are exploited and then bring the same goods back to the U.S. and sell them in the same stores for the same prices. OF COURSE that means jobs leave the country!

Ask almost anyone what they think of “NAFTA” – shorthand for all trade deals – and you will discover what is certainly one of the most salient, activating issues in politics today. Democrats, Republicans, Tea Party members, they all get it that jobs are being shipped out of the country (because they are), they all get it is making a few people really, really rich (because it is), and they all get that it is causing the rest of us to feel pain (because that is the result).

Economist tell us that the trade deficit represents “demand” that is leaving our country and is fueling jobs elsewhere. This means that people here are buying stuff – “demand” – but that the stuff they are buying is made somewhere else so we don’t get the benefit of those people all buying stuff. And the fact that there is a “deficit” means that the “somewhere else” is not reciprocating by buying stuff from us. They are not “trading” with us, they are selling to us but not buying from us. They are cheating and playing tricks to drain our country of those jobs and factories that would come back if they were buying the same amount from us as we are buying from them.

If Democrats want a simple jobs plan, this is it: Fix the trade deficit. Explain to people what balanced trade means and demand that trade be balanced. Come up with a clear plan to BALANCE trade and explain how this will bring back the jobs.

Do your part. Ask every candidate for Congress if they understand what the trade deficit is, how bad it is and what their plan is to fix it.

Virtually Speaking Tonite 6PT / 9ET

6p pt/9pm et – Avedon Carol & Dave Johnson

Shortsighted centrism empowers republicans while implementing bad policy. Triangulation backfires, as with immigration or misses opportunities, as with the ACA, SS benefit cuts, gay marriage. Policy and political concerns would be much more successful if widely popular, effective polices were adopted. Instead, we get Rahm’s memo. Plus political satire from @Bobblespeak

Follow @Avedon_Says @DCJohnson @JayAckroyd

Listen live or later at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/virtuallyspeaking/2014/06/23/avedon-carol-dave-johnson-virtually-speaking-sundays

The 2014 Virtually Speaking Media Panel: Avedon Carol, Cliff Schecter, David Dayen, Dave Johnson, David Waldman, digby, Gaius Publius, Joan McCarter, Marcy Wheeler, RJ Eskow, Stuart Zechman

A Different View On Cantor’s Surprising Loss

Last week Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was defeated in a primary. He not only won’t be Majority Leader anymore, he won’t even be in Congress. This was an absolutely unexpected and shocking upset that has reversed the narrative that the Republican “establishment” has taken back momentum from the Tea Party.

The reason there as a fight over control between the Republican establishment and Tea Party was that the Tea Party uprising has threatened not only Republican electability nationally, but the domination of the Republican Party by Wall Street and the giant multinationals — the Chamber of Commerce types. The real grassroots-based core of the Tea Party is actually quite upset by the “crony capitalism” corruption that is rampant in Washington, DC and rampant in both political parties. (This is one thing the Tea Party types have in common with progressives.) The Tea Party types are anti-Wall Street and are very, very aware that the giant multinational corporations have been profiting from closing factories and moving jobs out of the country. This awareness threatens the Republican “establishment” because the Republican establishment is Wall Street and giant, multinational corporations. Hence the fight for control.

So there are lots of opinions talking about how the Republican Party establishment and the party’s Wall Street/corporate funders have “created a monster” with the Tea Party, and now the monster is turning on them. …

My Take: 12%

Here is my take on Cantor’s loss. Turnout was 12%. That’s what you need to understand about what happened.

You can’t tell anything about the electorate from a 12% turnout. You can’t learn about what the district wants. You can’t even learn what “the Republican base” wants. You can’t tell if immigration (or any other issue) is or is not a driving force and is or is not a candidate killer. You can’t really tell anything from this except that turnout was exceptionally low.

Here is the real reason this is bad for the Republican “establishment.” For decades the Republican Party has been engaged in efforts to drive down election turnout and this is the result.

Higher Turnout Favors Democrats

Here is a political truth: High turnout favors Democrats. So to elect Republicans they have to keep turnout low. Then Republicans use whatever it takes to get “their” voters to show up. For decades this has meant a combination of fundamentalist Christianity, racism, nativism, whatever.

The game is clear and cynical: Create apathy so people don’t vote. Make people hate government in general so they don’t vote. Make people feel like voting won’t change anything so people don’t vote. Use negative ads to turn people off from the process so they don’t vote. Create division and despair and so people don’t vote. Do what it takes to convince people not to bother to vote.

For the ones who will still bother to vote make it hard for them to vote — “suppression.” Make it hard to register to vote. Purge the voter roles. Enact restrictive ID laws hopefully requiring actual birth certificates. Only let the polls open for one day — a workday. Keep voting machines out of Democratic-oriented districts.

Then, after you have done everything possible to keep most people from voting stir up the activists and rubes — your activists and rubes — with distractions and fear to get them to the polls. This is why you see so many “Democrats secretly plan to ban the Bible” and “black mobs attack white women” and similar headlines at the right’s paid outlets.

Once Elected Pass Capital Gains And Corporate Tax Cuts

Once your people are elected they vote for capital gains tax cuts, corporate tax cuts and deregulation. Ignore the distractions that you used to get your activists and rubes to the polls. If you actually give them what they want you can’t offer it to them next time.

After decades of driving down turnout this is the result. Only the farthest-right talk show listeners are turning out now and the Republican establishment can’t control them. And they actually remember that they were promised something last time. Maybe it was abortion, maybe it was immigration … they remember and want it, not capital gains tax cuts and lower corporate taxes.

This bit Eric Cantor in the ass and it is finally biting the Republican Party establishment in the ass. And there is nothing Republicans can do about it, because higher turnout always favors Democrats. To keep turnout low Republicans have driven the morale of the voters down and down and down. They have driven the economy down and down and down. They have driven the process down and down and down. They have driven everything we value down and down and down.

Now they have literally hit bottom.

No Prosecution For Obvious Bribery?

A Virginia state senator took a bribe to resign, thereby throwing control of the state Senate to the other party. In exchange for this scheme he got a nice job and his daughter received a judgeship.

This was big news last week.

So … will he be prosecuted for taking a bribe, or not? What is the public to think if he is not prosecuted?

After all, it’s not like the guy is a banker or anything.

8 Reasons Some CEOs Make 331 Times As Much As Their Employees

I have this up over at AlterNet: 8 Reasons Some CEOs Make 331 Times As Much As Their Employees
We all know income inequality is a major problem, but the reasons for it rarely break into the mainstream media.

Here are some depressing statistics: In 2013, CEOs of S&P 500 companies made 331 times as much as their employees. Your average American worker not in a supervisory role made $35,239, while the average CEO made $11.7 million, according to the AFL-CIO Executive Paywatch website. CEO pay has increased a whopping 937 percent since 1978, according to a new report by the Economic Policy Institute.

So while CEOs are making a killing, more and more people find themselves with stagnant-at-best pay. People laid off from good-paying jobs (the result of rigged trade deals) are forced into jobs at half their former pay and no benefits, if they can find a job at all. Weak wage growth predates the Great Recession. Between 2000 and 2007, the median worker saw wage growth of just 2.6 percent, despite productivity growth of 16.0 percent, while the 20th percentile worker saw wage growth of just 1.0 percent and the 80th percentile worker saw wage growth of just 4.6 percent.

Read the rest at AlterNet.

Will We Let Congress Hand Billion$ More To Big Corporations?

This one is simply outrageous. Corporations currently owe up to $700 billion in unpaid, “deferred” taxes. The country needs the money – partly because these companies owe so much in taxes. Which of the following choices should the country make?

1. Tell the companies to pay up what they owe, bringing us hundreds of billions to use now and tens of billions a year more from now on.

2. Let them off the hook from ever paying most what they owe, if only they please would let us have a little bit of it now.

Who Is The Boss Of Whom?

The choice depends on who you think is supposed to be the boss of whom. If you believe that We the People are in charge of this country, then obviously you’d say these corporations should just pay the taxes they owe. But if the corporations are in charge of us they’ll tell us they aren’t going to pay these taxes unless we give them something.

Not surprisingly, Congress appears to be working toward option ’2.’ It’s called a “repatriation tax holiday.” They are proposing to tell the companies that moved jobs, factories and profit centers out of the country that it was the right thing to do. Unfortunately that will tell companies that didn’t do these things that they were chumps.

What Is A Tax Holiday?

Here is what’s going on. Giant, multinational U.S. corporations owe our government up to $700 billion in taxes on about $2 trillion in profits they have made (or made it look like they made) outside of the country. But there is a loophole that lets them hold off on paying those taxes owed until they “bring the money home.” So of course, many corporations have been engaged in all kinds of schemes to make it look like they make their money elsewhere – and/or move jobs, factories and profit centers out of the country.

Why is this important right now? In a New York Times “politics” story Tuesday, “Plan to Refill Highway Fund Stokes Conflict in Congress,” this nugget:

[Sen. Harry] Reid and [Sen. Ron] Paul are quietly pressing for a one-time tax “holiday” — a special and lucrative tax deduction — to lure multinational corporations to bring profits home from overseas, producing a sudden windfall.

Instead of telling these corporations that it’s time to pay up, it looks like Congress is preparing to just let them keep much (85 percent) of the money. It’s called a “tax holiday.”

What is the “conflict” the headline talks about? It isn’t a conflict between those who want to hand corporations hundreds of billions of dollars and those who do not want to. The conflict is over how to hand them the money!

Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, the Finance Committee chairman, and Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the ranking Republican, want that money to help smooth passage of a broad rewrite of the tax code.

So if Senator Reid is on board for a tax holiday and Senator Wyden is on board for a tax holiday, it looks like the idea of giving this huge amount of cash to these corporations is baked in to the thinking in the Senate. And we’re talking about Democrats here. One side wants (Reid) to give them a tax holiday and get a little bit to use to pay for infrastructure, the other side (Wyden) wants to use it as a bribe to get these giant corporations to let the U.S. government “reform” the tax laws. Both sides are conceding that they’ll accept a tax holiday.

But no one in this discussion is just saying, “Hey, we’d get up to $700 billion and tens of billions every year from now on if we just told these companies to pay the taxes they owe.”

The cost: At Least $95.8 Billion

The idea is to give these companies an 85 percent deduction – the “tax holiday” – on their foreign profits and only taxing 15 percent of the profits. In other words, instead of taxing $2 trillion of profits being held out of the country they’ll only tax $300 billion. If these corporations “bring the money home.”

Bloomberg News looks at the cost of this, in “Repatriation Tax Holiday Would Cost U.S. $95.8 Billion.” The “holiday” would bring in a quick $19.6 billion, but would cost $95.8 billion of tax revenue that would come in anyway over the next decade with no changes – not even making these companies just pay up. (Note: This calculation assumes Congress won’t just tell these companies to just pay their taxes. That would bring in up to $700 billion at the top tax rate of 35 percent and tens of billions a year from now on. Companies can deduct any taxes already paid elsewhere, so “up to” means $700 billion minus taxes paid elsewhere.)

An Engineered “Crisis”

That’s right, after all these years of propaganda about budget deficits and the hostage-taking and the “fiscal cliff” and the “debt ceiling” and the sequester and all the resulting budget cuts in essential services and “austerity” and how this has held back the recovery … it looks like Congress is going to just let companies off from paying hundreds of billions of taxes they already owe. This is not about passing another tax break/subsidy, etc. These are taxes that are due and payable on profits that have already been made but that these companies are keeping outside of the country (and away from their shareholders).

Why would Congress even consider letting these corporations off from paying the taxes they owe? Because of rules about not increasing the deficit Congress “needs” the money. This is a “realpolitik” deal, recognizing that the companies have enough power to keep Congress from just making them pay up what they owe. The thinking is they can appease the corporations with an 85 percent tax holiday to get them to pay at least 15 percent of that they owe.

This is another engineered “crisis” where the country is made to believe that deficits are keeping us from doing things we need to do. We need to fund transportation infrastructure, we can’t borrow the money to invest in things like this that make our economy more efficient, hence the need to “incentivize” the corporations to please bring home some of the money they owe us.

They Did This In 2004 And It Made Things Worse

In 2004 corporations ran the same scam on Congress, except that time they promised to use the money they brought back to “create jobs.” So what happened?

In 2011 the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) looked at the results of the 2004 tax holiday and found that “their holiday didn’t just fail to create the promised jobs. Their holiday enriched corporations that actually destroyed jobs in the months right after they received their tax windfall.” IPS found that 58 multinationals who used the “American Job Creation Act of 2004″ tax holiday not only immediately laid off tens of thousands, they continued laying off, and laid off close to 600,000 workers between 2004 and now. From the IPS summary of the study,

One government study looking at the first two years after the repatriation windfall found that 12 of the top recipients laid off more than 67,000 American workers. These firms collectively brought back home more than $100 billion …

According to IPS, the companies that gained the most from the tax holiday actually cut jobs, on top of that they used the tax gift money to buy back their own stock, increasing its value, and pay out dividends, both thereby enriching executives and shareholders.

(This is from 2011. Another half a trillion of profits have been shifted offshore since then.)

From the Times story,

In 2004, when Congress approved a similar holiday, lawmakers vowed never to do it again. If it became a habit, they reasoned, companies would keep their profits overseas waiting for the next tax holiday. That, the bipartisan Joint Committee on Taxation explained, is the idea’s “moral hazard problem.”

The 2004 tax holiday only made things worse because companies realized they could get out of paying taxes entirely if they moved profits offshore and held out until the next holiday season. If we do it again, every company will be compelled to move jobs, factories and profit centers out of the country to stay competitive.

They are going to try to sneak this through under the radar. Maybe We the People can stop it if we make enough noise.

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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.

5 Companies Ripping Off America and the Simple Tax Change That Could Make Them Pay Up

I have this over at AlterNet: 5 Companies Ripping Off America and the Simple Tax Change That Could Make Them Pay Up,

Believe it or not, all four of the statements below are currently being made in Congress and in the hallowed halls of elite opinion:

  • “We’re broke” and we have to cut the budget. – House Speaker John Boehner.
  • America just can’t afford more government spending like hiring teachers or repairing bridges.
  • We have to cut entitlements like Social Security and Medicare or the country will go bankrupt.
  • Corporations and multinational giants don’t have to pay up to $700 billion in overdue taxes.

We’re broke. We have to cut back on all the things government does to make our lives better. Yet let’s let the giant corporations off the hook for hundreds of billions of dollars of taxes they already owe.

Read the rest at AlterNet.

Republican Strategy: Obstruct, Blame Democrats For Obstruction’s Damage

Republicans are beginning to harvest the fruits of their obstruction.

The strategy is to set the stage for the election by obstructing everything that could help the economy get better, as well as anything that might make our lives better. They understand that they just will not be held accountable for their obstruction. Then they campaign against Democrats because things are not getting better.

The current example is the Veterans Administration “scandal.” Republicans obstructed every bill to improve the situation for veterans. Then they drummed up a “scandal” based on things not getting better for veterans. Republicans are already running this ad telling Alaskans to vote against Senator Mark Begich because of problems at the VA.

Strategy Phase 1: Obstruct Everything

In February Senate Republicans filibustered a bill that would have increased the VA budget by $21 billion, improved veterans’ health and dental care, authorized 27 new veterans’ clinics and medical facilities, added to veteran education programs and repealed a provision of the Murray-Ryan budget deal that slashed military pensions.

Filibustered. Obstructed. Killed off.

Reuters in February posted “U.S. Senate Republicans block veterans’ health bill on budget worry“:

U.S. Senate Republicans blocked legislation on Thursday that would have expanded federal healthcare and education programs for veterans, saying the $24 billion bill would bust the budget.

Even though the legislation cleared a procedural vote on Tuesday by a 99-0 vote, the measure quickly got bogged down in partisan fighting.

Supporters said the measure would have brought the most significant changes in decades to U.S. veterans’ programs. For example, it called for 27 new medical facilities to help a healthcare system that is strained by veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. [...]

Referring to recent budget deals that aim to bring down federal deficits, Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama said: “This bill would spend more than we agreed to spend. The ink is hardly dry and here we have another bill to raise that spending again.”

Watch this video from Senator Bernie Sanders’ office:

Every VA Bill Obstructed

Thom Hartmann, writing in his post “The Mitch McConnell VA Scandal,” said:

And it wasn’t like this anti-veteran Republican filibuster was some radical break from the past either. Time and time again during the Obama presidency Republicans have either blocked or opposed bills that would have helped out the veterans they’re now claiming to care so much about.

Back in 2012, for example, GOP senators blocked a $1 billion jobs bill would have helped millions of unemployed veterans find work. And in that same year, Republican opposition also blocked a bill – the so-called Veterans’ Compensation Cost of Living Adjustment Act – that would have kept veterans’ benefits on par with rising expenses.

The list goes on. Before that, GOP lawmakers killed the Wounded Veteran Job Security Act, the Veterans Retraining Act of 2009, the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program Reauthorization Act of 2009, the Disabled Veterans Home Improvement and Structural Alteration Grant Increase Act of 2009, the Veterans Business Center Act of 2009, and the Job Creation Through Entrepreneurship Act of 2009.

Every single one of these bills would have helped veterans and every single one was killed exclusively by Republican opposition.

Here is an October, 2013 Daily Kos diary that lists several more instances of Republican obstruction of help for veterans, “GOP’s actual track record on supporting veterans.”

Killed With A Media Assist

If the public is told someone is obstructing the things they want, they can hold them accountable.

If the public is told things like “both sides do it” or “the Senate failed” they will decide not to bother to vote.

Republicans are certain they will not be held accountable for their obstruction, and they have good reason to be. Our news media and even many Democrats refuse to tell the public who did and who didn’t obstruct these bills.

Does the public get information that enables them to make informed decisions about who to hold accountable from headlines and news reports like these?

The Washington Post reported that “Senate rejects far-reaching Veterans Affairs bill“:

A broad Department of Veterans Affairs bill that would have expanded benefits for former service members and repealed a military pension cut for future troops was rejected in the Senate on Thursday.

CBS: Veterans’ benefits bill blocked in Senate

CNN: Vets bill fails in Senate, victim of election-year gridlock

AP: Senate blocks Dems’ bill boosting vets’ benefits,

A divided Senate on Thursday derailed Democratic legislation that would have provided $21 billion for medical, education and job-training benefits for the nation’s veterans.

USA Today: Senate rejects bill on veterans benefits

The largest piece of veterans legislation in decades — aimed at expanding health care, education and other benefits — was rejected Thursday by the Senate on a procedural issue after proponents failed to obtain 60 votes to keep the bill alive.

Military Times: Senate blocks huge vets benefits bill

Here is a personal favorite – outrage with no accountability from the American Legion: Legion: Senate vote on veterans bill ‘inexcusable’ ,

American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger expressed frustration and disappointment with Thursday’s Senate debate that effectively killed S. 1982, the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014.

The Senate voted 56-41 to waive an extra budget point of order made against the bill – four votes short of what was needed to move the legislation onto a full Senate vote – ending floor consideration of the measure.

“Today, the Senate had a chance to put aside partisan politics and do what was right for the men and women who have sacrificed so much while wearing our nation’s uniform,” Dellinger said. “Instead, we saw the same political gamesmanship that led our federal government to a shutdown last fall. There was a right way to vote and a wrong way to vote today, and 41 senators chose the wrong way. That’s inexcusable.”

Who Did 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 and/or for the Progress Breakfast.

Does Inequality Just Happen? Or Is It The Result Of Choices?

A recent AP “big story” tries to explain why CEO pay soaring and everyone else’s is stagnant or falling. It says more than it intends about the state of our economy and our governing system.

AP’s “The CEO Got A Huge Raise. You Didn’t. Here’s Why,” by Josh Boak boils down to this:

[P]ay for the typical CEO … surged 8.8 percent last year to $10.5 million, it rose a scant 1.3 percent for [the rest of us].

Here are five reasons why CEOs are enjoying lavish pay increases and five reasons many people are stuck with stagnant incomes.

WHY CEOs ARE GETTING HUGE RAISES

1. They’re paid heavily in stock.

2. Peer pressure. Corporate boards often set CEO pay based on what the leaders of other companies make. …

3. The superstar effect.

4. Friendly boards of directors.

5. Stricter scrutiny. … companies often raise pay to compensate for the risk of job loss.”

WHY MANY OF US AREN’T GETTING A RAISE

1. Blame the robots. Millions of factory workers have lost their spots on assembly lines to machines. Offices need fewer secretaries and bookkeepers in the digital era.

2. High unemployment. … Businesses face less pressure to give meaningful raises when a ready supply of job seekers is available.

3. Globalization. Companies can cap wages by offshoring jobs to poorer countries.

4. Weaker unions.

5. Low inflation.

These Didn’t Just Happen, These Are Choices

These ten reasons are framed as “just the way it is.” CEOs get compensated with stock as well as cash, and stocks are way up. That’s just the way it is. China sucks jobs out of the U.S., and robots are doing more of the work, so people are left without jobs or any way to make a living. That’s just the way it is.

Too bad, so sad.

Here’s the thing. Not one of these 10 points “just happened.” They are the result of choices that our country’s leaders made. All of those choices drive the national income and wealth to a few at the top, and away from We the People.

We Are Not Helpless

It comes down to choices, not inevitability. Inevitability implies helplessness. But understanding that these were choices leads to understanding that we have the opportunity to make different choices.

These are things that conservatives and neo-liberals convinced our Congress to DO (or, in the case of needed changes, to NOT do), and we are living with the results. These things are not inevitable. They are not things we just have to accept. They are things that we can change.

What Happened To We The People?

In a country where We the People make decisions, we would choose to do things that make our lives better. But when CEO and corporate types are in charge of the political system, what we’ve got is exactly what you would expect. Look at how things are set up and ask yourself if We the People are benefiting from that, or if only a few already-wealthy people are benefiting at the expense of the rest of us, and decide to do something about it.

Think about some of the things we have come to take for granted. For example – and just one of many, many examples – we are told that corporations are only supposed to be about making money for the shareholders. But would a country run by We the People to do things to make our lives better have set up these things called corporations to be like that? What do We the People get from a system like that? Would corporations have been created for the purpose of doing things that benefit We the People and our country and our economy, not only a few already-wealthy people at the expense of our country and economy?

Think that through. Think about how it would be set up if We the People wanted to make our lives better, and then start working to make it that way.

This is a moment to think about how we got here, and why we let things happen this way. This is a moment to realize that things do not have to be the way they are, and that we can change what is happening to us for the better. Even if we indeed have become a country that only does what CEO types want done, We the People can change that, too.

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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.

Let’s Stop Searching For A ‘Messiah’ And Build A Movement

After Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) gave her rousing speech at the New Populism Conference Thursday, she, of course, was asked if she was going to run for President. (The crowd was chanting “Run, Elizabeth, Run!”)

Warren replied, “I am not running for president,” which prompted one hopeful progressive to tweet, “Interesting choice of tense.”

This reminded me of this scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian:

In the scene, imagine that progressives chase Sen. Warren through the desert. Finally, she says, “I am not running for President, do you understand? Honestly!” A woman cries out, “Only the true candidate denies her candidacy.”

After lunch, the Communication Workers of America’s President Larry Cohen talked about the Democracy Initiative, “creating a common narrative setting the state for common collective action,” a new approach that comes out of labor and other progressive causes continually losing.

Cohen discussed the massive increase in the amount of corporate and billionaire money going into politics since Citizens United, and said “we have to be insane” if we are only going to be involved in electoral politics as a way to try to move forward on obtaining economic justice. Instead of politics, we have to build movements and the organizations that work with movements.

Speaking of how different progressive-aligned groups currently tend to compete for scarce resources and to move their own issues, often over and above working together to advance general goals, Cohen asked, “Can we put a little more into common ideas?”

Today’s situation necessitates common movement-building, Cohen said. (And, in fact, the promotion of a general progressive agenda would do more to advance the issues of all of the “silo” groups than what they are achieving on their own as conservatives dominate our politics.)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) also talked about the enormous amount of money the billionaire Koch brothers and others have put into right-wing politics and other efforts to push right-wing ideas.

Finally, Rev. William Barber II gave a moral vision, talking about a “fusion” movement of black, white and all types of people coming together to fight for the things regular people need. “The movement is about the moral fabric of our society,” he said, and “I don’t want people to go left or right, I want them to go deeper into who we are called to be.”

The Answer Is Movement-Building

The Koch brothers, other billionaires and corporate groups have been remarkably successful in pushing Congress to pass legislation that helps their interests while hurting the rest of us. How did they do it?

Last weekend the New York Times ran a story, “Quixotic ’80 Campaign Gave Birth to Kochs’ Powerful Network,” that looked at the origins of the Koch brothers’ shadowy network of front groups, think tanks and other organizations.

The key lies in a 1974 Charles Koch speech in which he said, “The most effective response was not political action, but investment in pro-capitalist research and educational programs” – in other words, institutions they built that reached the public to tell them about libertarian, anti-government philosophy. The Times quoted Koch as saying, “The development of a well-financed cadre of sound proponents of the free enterprise philosophy is the most critical need facing us today.”

The Kochs, other billionaires and the corporations put their money into think tanks, communication outlets, publishers, various media, etc. with a long-term plan to change the way people see things. This “apparatus” has pounded out corporate/conservative propaganda 24/7 for decades.

You can’t get away from it. The conservative movement rewards its friends and punishes, smears, intimidates, bullies, discredits and otherwise “neutralizes” its opponents. That is how they were able to get Congress to lower taxes on the rich and corporations, break unions, defund schools and the rest of the things that have made them so much money and wreaked havoc on the rest of us. The money was not for politicians who run for office today (not all of it, anyway); it was to build organizations to execute long-term strategies to get what they want tomorrow.

The moral of the story: the right put its resources into long-term movement building, setting up think tanks, radio shows, even an entire TV network to reach the public to persuade them that conservative ideas would make their lives better. They infiltrated and took over organizations like the National Rifle Association and set up rapid-response organizations to pressure politicians. They deliver for their constituents – the billionaires and their giant corporations – and keep “our side” from delivering for ours, the American people.

On our side the money, resources and effort tend to go into candidates, with so many people looking for a “messiah” candidate to lead them out of the wilderness and somehow convince the public of the rightness of our cause. Then after the campaigns are over, the infrastructure dissolves, the expertise disperses, needing to be rebuilt from scratch two or four years later. It is a remarkably ineffective approach.

Some might say the right’s success came about because there is so much more money on the corporate/conservative side. But we have the numbers. Imagine if 100 million left-of-center Americans gave an average of $100 (27.4 cents a day) each year to build progressive organizations… (Hint: That adds up to $10 billion a year.)

Imagine dozens of fully funded, fully staffed progressive organizations reaching out to all corners of America, employing people to write op-eds, appear on the radio, speak to audiences, knock on doors. Imagine TV commercials telling and showing people how progressive values and a progressive approach to issues would do good things for regular people. Imagine our elections after a few years pushing back against the kind of propaganda we constantly have to hear from the right, usually unanswered.

Money put today into efforts to build an ongoing information infrastructure is money put into every single progressive initiative and candidate in every single future election.

Full Employment: First Principle Of New Populism

Word is there’s an economic recovery going on. The New Populism ConferenceBut approximately 99 percent of us have no reason to believe that.

The public sees that the government bailed out the biggest banks and that the “recovery” is going really well for a very few people. But most Americans are actually falling behind, and know it. Wages are still stagnant at best and the minimum wage has fallen so far behind that people working full time remain in poverty. Unemployment is down largely because of people “leaving the workforce.” And all along government services are being cut and cut and cut.

People see the government working for a wealthy few at the top, and against the rest of us. People see the rigged game at work against them. This is not just an economic and human catastrophe. With an election coming, key Democratic constituencies have simply been left behind during the Obama administration. “Are you better off now than you were 4 or 8 years ago? HELL NO!”

So this could become a political catastrophe as well, potentially bringing the return of the very people and conditions that got the country into this mess.

An Ongoing Catastrophe For Regular People

What Washington has done since the “Reagan Revolution” and especially since the 2008 crash has benefited the few, usually at the expense of the general public. Washington rescued the big banks, and left homeowners and the rest of us to fend for ourselves.

Anti-inflation monetary policy has been a catastrophe for regular people. (Protecting Wall Street at the expense of Main Street? Really?)

Washington’s austerity, budget-cutting fixation has been a catastrophe for regular people. (Laying off hundreds of thousands of public employees, cutting public investment and cutting back on the safety net during an unemployment crisis? Really?)

Washington’s “free trade” policies have been great for giant, multinational corporations but have been a catastrophe for regular people, sending millions upon millions of jobs out of the country. (Not even confronting blatant currency manipulation that is costing 5.8 million jobs? Really?)

Washington’s corporate tax policies have been a catastrophe for regular people. (Giving companies huge tax breaks for moving jobs, factories and profit centers out of the country? Really?)

One catastrophe after another hitting regular people. And people see it coming from a system that is rigged against them, working just fine for a wealthy few.

We did get the “stimulus.” The stimulus reversed the terrible plunge in jobs and showed that our government could fix the jobs emergency.

But that was all it did, and that was it. It worked but it was just not enough to get things going again. And now it’s five years later. As most people can see, after the stimulus the Obama administration capitulated to Republican/Wall Street demands for austerity – and outright budget blackmail. The President even at times reinforced the right’s ideological position by boasting about government progress in balancing its books rather than emphasizing the human cost of not boosting government resources to drive job creation. Democrats even voted to cut food stamp spending and the president signed the bill! (Cutting Food Stamps in the middle of a national jobs and poverty emergency? Really?)

We Demand Full Employment

The New Populism Conference on Thursday will demand full employment as the first principle of the new populism.

We demand full employment! Full employment means there is a job for everyone who wants a job. There is simply no reason whatsoever that we can’t have full employment – except for policies that are intentionally keeping us from having full employment.

We demand full employment! Why isn’t our government stepping up and just hiring all of the people who need jobs? It’s not as if there are not enough things that need to be done. Our infrastructure is in serious need of repair. We need to retrofit millions of buildings and homes in the country to be energy efficient. We need to build a modern energy grid to bring energy from wind farms that we need to build in the plains states (where the wind is) to the cities and industrial centers (where the need is). We need to cut the number of children per classroom in half. We need to do … so many things. Why isn’t our government the employer of last resort, just hiring people to do those things we need done – in the middle of an employment emergency?

We demand full employment! Unemployment is a human and economic catastrophe. There are so many things our government could do besides direct hiring (which they should be doing). Our government could fix our job-sucking trade deals and balance the trade budget. Our government could demand that corporations return the trillions of dollars they are holding outside of the country to avoid paying the taxes due on that money. That’s a double whammy; take away the huge incentive to move jobs out of the country because of the tax break – and use the money they already owe to just hire millions of people!

The New Populism Conference

Two speakers at this week’s New Populism Conference, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and economist Jared Bernstein will talk about the importance of growth and jobs in order to bring about a rapid change in inequality.

Rep. Ellison will talk about the Progressive Caucus investment strategy for full employment. Bernstein will talk about full employment and his recent book, “Getting Back to Full Employment: A Better Bargain for Working People,” co-written with economist Dean Baker.


The New Populism Conference on May 22 in Washington (featuring Sen. Elizabeth Warren) will discuss ways to fight for an agenda for economic change that strong majorities of Americans already support. (See the Populist Majority website containing polling numbers showing that Americans support this New Populist agenda.) Click here to register or to watch the conference live online.

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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.