Meet the Billionaires Using Their Immense Wealth to Make Life Miserable for Ordinary Americans

I wrote this for AlterNet: Meet the Billionaires Using Their Immense Wealth to Make Life Miserable for Ordinary Americans: 5 examples of billionaires pushing a right-wing economic agenda.

Here is how it works these days: You start hearing about a big, national problem and then it becomes a drumbeat. First there are a few articles and columns mentioning that such-and-such is a problem. Then a number of articles appear, then a “study” from a “think tank” confirms the problem and sounds the alarm about how terrible it is, and then just as the issue seems to be the only thing you are hearing about a solution is presented. Of course, the solution always involves taking something away from you and giving it to some company or industry standing in front of a billionaire or three. The right question to start asking when you hear about these “problems” is which billionaire is driving this.

Here are five-plus examples of billionaires who use their money to try to get us to think what they want us to think in order to enact a right-wing economic agenda.

Go read the rest at AlterNet!

No Fast Track To TPP: Fix NAFTA First

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

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

TPP, Fast Track And NAFTA

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

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National Media Blackout Of Saturday’s Huge Moral March In Raleigh

A crowd declared by organizers to exceed 80,000 showed up to march to protest Republican policies in Raleigh, N.C. Saturday. But you wouldn’t know it if you live outside the area.

Saturday’s big march, organized by the North Carolina NAACP along with more than 160 partner organizations, was called “the Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HKonJ) People’s Coalition.” Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the N.C. NAACP and convener of HKonJ, said at the march,

“We are black, white, Latino, Native American. We are Democrat, Republican, independent. We are people of all faiths, and people not of faith but who believe in a moral universe. We are natives and immigrants, business leaders and workers and unemployed, doctors and the uninsured, gay and straight, students and parents and retirees. We stand here – a quilt of many colors, faiths, and creeds.”

Local News Reports

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Today’s False-Equivalence Award

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

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

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

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

New Budget CUTS Tax Collection

You’ve heard about that new budget Congress passed that cuts Food Stamps another $8 billion? Here’s another brilliant cut Democrats agreed to: cutting funding for tax collection.

Citizens for Tax Justice: The Dumbest Spending Cut in the New Budget Deal,

The newly passed $1.1 trillion bipartisan budget appropriations bill includes myriad spending cuts, but the $526 million cut to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has to be the most foolish. Under the new budget, the IRS’s 2014 budget will be $11.3 billion, which is $1.7 billion less than the administration requested and about $2.5 billion higher than the radical 25 percent cut proposed by some House Republicans earlier this year.

… The newly passed $1.1 trillion bipartisan budget appropriations bill includes myriad spending cuts, but the $526 million cut to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has to be the most foolish. Under the new budget, the IRS’s 2014 budget will be $11.3 billion, which is $1.7 billion less than the administration requested and about $2.5 billion higher than the radical 25 percent cut proposed by some House Republicans earlier this year.

Thaysay they are worried about “deficits?” Bullshit. That’s not what the austerity is about at all.

Are ‘Globalization’s’ Costs Inevitable?

You hear often that we “live in a global world now.” You hear that “globalization” means we have to drop our wages and standards to match those in impoverished, Third-World countries. You hear that the “cost” of controlling pollution makes us uncompetitive in the world. Etc. Etc. Etc. It’s inevitable – a force of nature – so don’t fight it, they say. This is endlessly repeated as if we weren’t in a “global” world when the first camel crossed a border or the first sailing ship crossed a sea. But since that first camel countries have enacted policies to make things better for their people.

Sunday’s New York Times published an op-ed, “The Myth of Industrial Rebound,” by Steven Rattner, one more wealthy Wall Street executive who revolved through the door from being an Obama administration official after he revolved through the door from being a Wall Street executive. In his op-ed Rattner accurately describes many of our economy’s problems but concludes that we should let these things just happen to us because, “In a flattened world, there will always be another China.”

Rattner points out that many of the new manufacturing jobs are low-wage. “This disturbing trend is particularly pronounced in the automobile industry. When Volkswagen opened a plant in Chattanooga … the beginning wage for assembly line workers was $14.50 per hour, about half of what traditional, unionized workers employed by General Motors or Ford received.” Meanwhile, “in Germany, the average autoworker earns $67 per hour. … Volkswagen has moved production from a high-wage country (Germany) to a low-wage country (the United States).”

Rattner is correct that falling wages are slowing economic recovery. “These dispiriting wage trends are a central reason for the slow economic recovery; without sustained income growth, consumers can’t spend.”

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So Why DID We Invade Iraq?

So why DID we invade iraq, anyway?

We know for a fact it had nothing to do with “WMD.” We went through this huge sell-job, the “run-up.” The whole country was whipped into a terrified frenzy. Do you remember being told we would be attacked with smallpox, and all the news stories about what smallpox can do to a person, does Iraq have it, how will they spread it, etc?

For that matter, why did we get into the Vietnam war? No one ever answered that one, either.

If we had self-government maybe people could get our Congress to investigate these things…

To Understand Republican Government, Read This

NY Times today, A Lieutenant Governor, an Artist and a Portrait of a Smear. It describes one case of Republicans using smears to make people think government is wasteful and corrupt, and the way the smears hurt people.

In her first year in office, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno opened a frontal attack on an unlikely target, the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

Its contracting was “inexcusably” flawed, she said. Its practices were “unethical” and too cozy. Its director had to go.

Like Joe McCarthy, they needed a target.

In spring 2011, she began a new offensive. She went before legislative committees and pilloried a man doing work on an Arts Council contract, building a 9/11 timeline at Liberty State Park in Jersey City. His contract was no-bid, she said, the money unclear.

OK, there’s your waste, fraud and abuse. You’ve got to read the details.

Just like that, Mr. Aubrey fell into reputation’s ditch, and the Christie administration piled dirt atop him. Except — and this is not incidental to our story — Mr. Aubrey did nothing wrong.

Again, read the details, he really, really did nothing wrong.

“None of it was true,” the newspaper noted in a December 2011 editorial. “The state could find no evidence of wrongdoing.”

But wait, there’s more.

It was, in fact, worse than that. The lieutenant governor and Department of State, it turns out, had control of the Arts Council’s spending all along. Her divisions signed off on every payment.

So not only did these Repubicans smear a good man who had done nothing wrong — who in fact was practically donating his time — the Lt. Gov. office was the responsible party all along.

Think about that the next time you hear a Republican run down things like Arts Councils and other things government does to make our lives better – also known as “government spending.”

Republicans. They just lie.

5 Right-Wing Myths About Raising the Minimum Wage, Debunked

I wrote this for AlterNet: 5 Right-Wing Myths About Raising the Minimum Wage, Debunked.

They edited out one that I had in it so I’ll share it with you:

6. Myth: The minimum wage fight is “the latest distraction from Obamacare.”
According to many conservatives like those at website Redstate, “Democrats are turning to their age old panic button – demagoguery over the minimum wage.” OK, busted. This is, of course, the real truth. The conservatives have exposed that the real reason that so many people currently forced to live in poverty are pushing for an increase in the minimum wage is to distract the public from Obamacare.

Will The GOP Get Away With Its Economic Sabotage?

Republicans smell an election opportunity – but only if they can keep the economy down, jobs down and wages down. Most recently to keep people and the economy miserable they filibustered long-term unemployment assistance, and are working to cut back from the meager 26 weeks of assistance the states offer.

The New York Times explains in “States Cutting Weeks of Aid to the Jobless,” “[L]ast July, North Carolina sharply cut its unemployment program, reducing the maximum number of weeks of benefits to 20 from 73 and reducing the maximum weekly benefit as well.”

When North Carolina did this, a huge number of people just gave up looking for work and disappeared from the workforce. This made it look like the unemployment rate went down because only people who are actively looking are counted in the statistics. But what actually occurred was an increased need for food stamps and other aid. This, of course, doesn’t save the government money because, instead of paying unemployment, they are paying for this assistance.

As Republicans explain it, their idea is that people getting unemployment assistance are too “comfortable.” So the have to force these lazy, comfortable people into conditions that are so bad they will take any nasty, low-wage, humiliating, dangerous job. Of course, this means they will work for even less than the people who are already in such jobs. Meanwhile, the reality is that there is only one job for every three people looking for work.

Here is the thing: Obviously cutting this assistance drags down the surrounding economy as even more people can’t pay their mortgage or rent or buy shoes, gas, clothes of even enough food. So local stores have to cut back, causing even more unemployment. Billions are taken out of the economy, things get worse… And now more “red” states are working on doing the same thing.

The Bet Is That The Public Will Blame Democrats

Republicans are betting that voters will blame the “party in power,” which means the party of the president. Our corporate media is complicit in this strategy. If Americans found out that it is Republican filibusters in the Senate and obstruction in the House that keeps bills from even getting a vote that is holding back the economy, they would know who to blame. The media works to keep that a secret.

For example, from the New York Times story cited above:

A federal program supplying extra weeks of benefits to the long-term unemployed expired at the end of 2013, and congressional Democrats failed in an effort to revive it.

Right, It was Democrats who “failed to revive it.” This surely tells voters to hold Democrats responsible for the cutoff of long-term unemployment assistance. With media reports like this, Republicans will win their bet.

While Republicans are doing everything they can to hold back economic recovery, the right’s propaganda machine is blasting out that the economy is terrible. For example, one of the headlines at Drudge this week, “Wall Street Advisor: Actual Unemployment is 37.2%…,” was right there next to the usual drumbeat, “Record 20% of Households on Food Stamps…

The strategy is paying off. This from The Hill: “Boehner touts poll finding more blame Obama for economy than Bush“:

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Tuesday used a private meeting with House Republicans to tout polling that suggests that voters now blame President Obama more than former President George W. Bush for the state of the economy.

. . . Republicans, he argued, now have the upper hand when it comes to the economy.

. . . After Obama’s 2012 reelection, according to Winston’s polling, 53 percent of voters said “policies of the past” were causing the nation’s economic problems, while 44 percent blamed policies “of the present.” Polling in November 2013 found those numbers largely reversed; 41 percent blame the policies of the past, while 49 percent blame current policies.

Other Sabotage Examples

Related to this is the ongoing Republican effort to sabotage Obamacare. This Wednesday TPM had this: “Republicans Seek To Sabotage Obamacare With Higher Premiums“:

Conservative wonks and Republican lawmakers are coalescing around a new strategy to sabotage Obamacare by repealing a temporary piece of the law designed to hold down premiums in the event of major market disruptions.

. . . The conservatives are open about the end goal: collapse Obamacare by causing higher premiums on the law’s marketplaces for the newly insured, which progressive experts who support Obamacare agree would occur if the provision is scrapped.

But wait, there’s more. The Guardian reported last month that “State conservative groups plan U.S.-wide assault on education, health and tax.”

Conservative groups across the US are planning a co-ordinated assault against public sector rights and services in the key areas of education, healthcare, income tax, workers’ compensation and the environment, documents obtained by the Guardian reveal.

The strategy for the state-level organisations, which describe themselves as “free-market thinktanks”, includes proposals from six different states for cuts in public sector pensions, campaigns to reduce the wages of government workers and eliminate income taxes, school voucher schemes to counter public education, opposition to Medicaid, and a campaign against regional efforts to combat greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

Here’s the strategy: Sabotage things, wait as corporate media doesn’t inform the public who is filibustering and obstructing, let conservative propaganda outlets tell the public to blame Democrats for the terrible suffering and economic catastrophe that result. Over time people really don’t have much choice except to blame the people who the radio and TV and FOX News and all the other outlets tell them to blame: Obama and the Democrats.

The sabotage strategy is starting to become apparent. Brian Beutler at Salon recently wrote this article, “GOP’s ulterior motive on unemployment: Economic sabotage?

Unemployment benefits make people’s lives better and buoy a fragile, but possibly accelerating recovery. Some Republicans are apparently reluctant to give the economy, and by extension the Democrats, a shot in the arm right now.

A while back I posted this at Crooks and Liars, “It’s Economic Sabotage As GOP Obstructs Infrastructure Work” and C&L published this video at the top:

5 Years of Republican Economic Sabotage Explained in 3 Minutes

Rev. Al Sharpton had this on the air:

Here is the Economic Policy Institute, a year ago, in “The congressional GOP has smothered a more rapid economic recovery“:

If this ideologically driven objective of deeply cutting spending is met, this will represent just one more way that the GOP Congress has managed to delay full recovery from the Great Recession. The evidence continues to pile up that these spending cuts, forced on a still-depressed economy, can easily throw the nation back into an outright recession and prolong the nation’s economic misery.

Is this an overly harsh read on the motivations of GOP members of Congress? Not at all. Motivations aside—regardless of whether they deeply believe that their ideological goal of reducing government spending will help the economy or whether they think that a slowed economy will simply help their own electoral prospects—the facts are simply that congressional Republicans have consistently hamstrung efforts that a large consensus of economists agree would have provided crucial help in lowering American unemployment.

[. . .] Conclusion

Concern that the GOP Members of Congress have a vested interest in slowing economic recovery has been brewing for quite some time. Speaking at Cuyahoga Community College ahead of the election, former President Bill Clinton accused congressional Republicans of deliberately trying to keep the unemployment rate elevated for political gain.

Here is Talking Points Memo from June 2012, “Harry Reid Accuses Eric Cantor Of Economic Sabotage“:

It’s a theory that progressives have grown sympathetic to as Republicans make it ever-more difficult for President Obama to govern and thwart initiatives in Congress to stimulate the economy. Democratic operatives have loosely floated the claim in broad ways by suggesting the GOP is hoping for economic failure, but Reid’s pointed accusation took it to a new level.

But these are not the outlets that reach the broad majority of Americans. Will the Republican strategy of economic sabotage win them the House, Senate and maybe even the presidency? If it does succeed, what does this mean for the future of our economy and our country?

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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