Senate Republicans Filibuster Equal Pay For Women (Again)

Republicans in the Senate on Monday unanimously filibustered the Paycheck Fairness Act. Did you see this on the news? Did you hear about it on the radio? Did you read about it in your local paper? There is an election coming and accurate, objective information is essential for democracy to function.

The Paycheck Fairness Act “amends the portion of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) known as the Equal Pay Act to revise remedies for, enforcement of, and exceptions to prohibitions against sex discrimination in the payment of wages.” It “revises the exception to the prohibition for a wage rate differential based on any other factor other than sex. Limits such factors to bona fide factors, such as education, training, or experience.”

To sum up, it would put in place measures to ensure that women will be paid the same as men if they do the same work.

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Anti-Union States Get Lower Tax Revenue, Spend More On Assistance

A study from Labor and Employment Relations professor Robert Bruno of the University of Illinois-Urbana and policy director of the Illinois Economic Policy Institute Frank Manzo IV showed that states with anti-union “right-to-work” laws have lower tax revenue, and have to spend more on government assistance to the poor as a result.

The study, titled, “Free-Rider States,” found that legislation supporting workers’ right to organize increases wages and reduces income inequality. As a result, collective bargaining states have higher incomes and less inequality. States with “right-to-work” laws have lower wages. These lower wages mean lower state income tax revenue, a slower economy in those states, and higher demand for government “safety-net” services.

Our study found that right-to-work laws weaken state economies and strain public budgets. Right-to-work laws not only sap government revenue in the form of reduced tax receipts, but they also increase government spending in outlays for food stamps and the earned income tax credit.”

The study found that right-to-work laws:

  • Reduce worker income by 3.2 percent on average.
  • Lower both the share of workers covered by a health insurance plan (by 3.5 percent), and the share of workers covered by a pension plan (by 3 percent).
  • Reduce union membership rates by 9.6 percent.
  • Increase the employment rate (by 0.4 percent), but at the expense of a lower labor force participation rate (by 0.5 percent).

The study also found that workers in right-to-work states account for just 37.4 percent of all federal income tax revenues, but receive 41.9 percent of all non-health, non-retirement government assistance. This means that the better-paid people in union-friendly states are paying more taxes to subsidizing the low-wage earners in the right-to-work states.

Corporate Courts — A Big Red Flag On “Trade” Agreements

Think about everything you understood about our system of government here in the United States. We’re  governed under a document that starts with the words, “We the People.” Right? When We the People agree that something should done to make our lives better, it’s supposed to get done. Right?

You didn’t know it, but that whole system thing changed several years ago. Our government, in our name, signed a document that placed corporate profits above our own democracy. The “investor-state dispute settlements” chapter in NAFTA (and similar agreements) places corporate rights on above the rights of people and their governments.

As a result of “NAFTA-style” investor protections that are part of so-called “trade” agreements,  giant corporations can and do sue governments for trying to pass laws that protect their citizens from harmful chemicals, ban harmful products, and protect the rights of working people, among  other things. Corporations even sue governments for passing laws that might cause the investors in the corporations to make a bit less money — like raising the minimum wage.

But wait, there’s more.

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Images Matter: ISIL Knew That

Big, bold images of barbarism are shocking and shaking our civilization to its very core with the third brutal beheading and murder by ISIL of three:  two US journalists James Foley, Steven Sotloff, and now humanitarian British worker David Haines.  CNN, this was not an execution, but rather an act of barbarism and murder sent out over the airwaves via social media. And somehow they knew that these images would mar the psyche, and forever scar a generation.  Just as the pictures of the Twin Towers collapsing thirteen years ago ushered us to a misguided war, and those of the little girl running down the road burned by napalm forever changed the Baby Boomers from the cover of Life Magazine to make reparations to Vietnam and its people — these barbaric images will stay in the soul of a whole generation and may indeed speed the formation a global coalition to eradicate this evil from our planet.

Images do matter and again the terrorists understand their insidious power. Social media was not meant for this. It was not what the merry team around Zuckerberg‘s Facebook dreamt of late at night; rather, this is the antithesis of the global village they helped to create.

Note: Cross published from the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michelle-kraus/images-matter-isil-knew-t_b_5818808.html.

Living With War

Try to remember peace.

I’m living with war everyday
I’m living with war in my heart everyday
I’m living with war right now

And when the dawn breaks I see my fellow man
And on the flat-screen we kill and we’re killed again
And when the night falls, I pray for peace
Try to remember peace (visualize)

I join the multitudes
I raise my hand in peace
I never bow to the laws of the thought police
I take a holy vow
To never kill again
To never kill again

I’m living with war in my heart
I’m living with war in my heart in my mind
I’m living with war right now

Don’t take no tidal wave
Don’t take no mass grave
Don’t take no smokin’ gun
To show how the west was won
But when the curtain falls, I pray for peace
Try to remember peace (visualize)

In the crowded streets
In the big hotels
In the mosques and the doors of the old museum
I take a holy vow
To never kill again
Try to remember peace

The rocket’s red glare
Bombs bursting in air
Give proof through the night,
That our flag is still there

I’m living with war everyday
I’m living with war in my heart everyday
I’m living with wat right now

Read more: Neil Young – Living With War Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Hundreds Of Organizations Ask For Change In Trade Policies

Approximately 600 organizations have sent a formal, public letter to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) opposing “fast-track” trade promotion authority and calling for a new system for negotiating and implementing trade agreements. The letter asks for trade pacts that “deliver benefits for most Americans, promote broadly shared prosperity, and safeguard the environment and public health.” Read the letter here.

Campaign for America’s Future is one of the organizations that signed this letter. The letter was led by the Sierra Club, AFL-CIO, the Communications Workers of America, the Citizens Trade Campaign, and Public Citizen. The letter was written because new fast-track trade promotion authority is being drafted by Wyden’s committee. An earlier bill introduced by then-Senator Max Baucus and Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) would keep Congress from debating or altering trade pacts like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other upcoming agreements, even though they are considered one-sided in favor of giant multinational corporations over working people and the environment.

The letter asks for a new process for reaching trade agreements in which Congress has a role in selecting trade partners and in which Congress sets up a set of negotiating objectives that must be achieved. The new process would include more transparency and a way for Congress to certify that negotiating objectives have been met before trade negotiations are wrapped up.

Larry Cohen, President of the Communications Workers of America, said this new process can help us decide what kind of economy we want to have, saying, “A new model of trade authority is the only way to ensure that workers and communities have a voice in these trade decisions. We want to determine what kind of economy we have, not simply accept super-power status for multinational corporations and a snails’ pace for the enforcement issues raised by the rest of us.”

The Hill reports on this letter, in “Hundreds of groups call for new framework to negotiate trade deals,” quoting AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka:

“Only with new trade negotiating authority can we secure new trade rules that can help hard working Americans build a sustainable economy and promote broadly shared prosperity,” said President Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO.

“Chairman Wyden has a chance to make history by being the architect of a new and democratic trade policy, and we commit to doing all we can to help achieve that goal,” he said.

On fast track,

“There is no ‘acceptable’ version of fast track,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “Fast-track must be replaced so Congress can steer international trade in a new direction and create agreements that actually work for most Americans.”

Our Current Trade Deals Are Rigged Against Citizens By Choice

Our current trade deals are rigged – designed to benefit a few already-wealthy owners of giant multinational corporations. They were set up in order to transfer good-paying jobs out of the U.S. to take away the bargaining power of organized labor. This has forced down American workers’ bargaining power, resulting in stagnant wages, a shrinking middle class and widespread poverty. Meanwhile the rich get vastly richer.

These rigged trade agreements have also massively increased our country’s trade deficits. We currently run an enormous, humongous trade deficit of more than $40 billion a month.

Germany followed a different trade model. Germany worked with its companies and its labor unions to forge trade agreements that benefit businesses, workers and Germany’s economy. CAF’s Robert Borosage did a great job of laying out what happened in a recent interview on Richard Eskow’s The Zero Hour radio program. (Scroll to 5:15.)

Globalization isn’t an act of nature; it’s a set of policies, tax, trade, financial, monetary policies where you make choices and those choices benefit parts of the economy and injure others.

We made choices. Multinationals basically wrote our globalization strategy and they chose to benefit investors, made it easy to ship jobs abroad, made it even easier to threaten to move jobs abroad and dramatically weakened the ability of workers here at home.

But that was a choice.

In Germany they made a very different choice where unions were stronger, and the companies and the unions together navigated a globalization strategy that has made Germany one of the great export powers of the world and allows German workers to sustain middle class incomes and benefits.

Public Citizen has an action you can join: Write your representative to demand a real replacement to Fast Track and put an end to unfair trade deals.

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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.

Why Is SEC Sitting On Corporate Transparency Rules?

Are We the People the boss of the corporations, or are the corporations the boss of We the People? The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) needs to be reminded which way that question is supposed to be answered.

The SEC is the agency set up by We the People to “protect investors, maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets, and facilitate capital formation.” The SEC states that “all investors, whether large institutions or private individuals, should have access to certain basic facts about an investment prior to buying it, and so long as they hold it. … Only through the steady flow of timely, comprehensive, and accurate information can people make sound investment decisions.”

One would think those basic corporate facts and timely, comprehensive, and accurate information needed by investors would include access to a company’s tax returns. One would think they would include information about where the executives of the company are spending millions and millions of the company’s dollars. And one would think they would include disclosure of the ratio of CEO “pay ratio” of compensation to worker compensation, as required by the 2010 Dodd-Frank law.

But so far the SEC is not asking corporations to provide investors and the public with this information. Don’t shareholders — and We the People — deserve to know what these companies are really doing and how much they are really making?

What Are These Companies Really Earning?

Companies tell their investors that they are making tons of money. But to get out of paying taxes the same companies tell the IRS something entirely different. Don’t investors have a right to know what the companies they invest in are telling the tax office?

Last month Catherine Rampell wrote in the Washington Post, in “Shareholders, public deserve tax transparency,” that:

“[There is an] array of eye-glazingly complicated tax avoidance strategies adopted by America’s biggest companies … The basic rationale behind tax transparency is that shareholders (and creditors and the general public) deserve to know what publicly traded companies are doing, particularly if complicated tax acrobatics are distorting their operational and investment decisions.”

She points out that we started out requiring this.

This is not a new idea. In fact, when the modern federal corporate income tax was introduced in 1909, it came with a requirement to disclose the returns. Such transparency mandates were fought over bitterly for the next couple of decades, and U.S. returns have been confidential since 1935.

What About Company “Donations”?

If a company’s executives are literally giving the company’s money away to politicians, “charities” (maybe run by a relative), “think tanks” (that employ relatives, etc.) or other worthy recipients,  shouldn’t investors be provided with information about who is getting the company’s money, and how much they are getting? (Milton Friedman notably claimed that such donations are “theft” from the company.)

(Note: If a company gives money to a politician, and is not simply “giving the money away” for nothing — with absolutely no expectation of getting anything in return — that would be bribery,  under the law.)

Last week in The Nation Zoë Carpenter wrote about this in, “SEC Faces Renewed Pressure to Consider a Corporate Disclosure Rule”:

The campaign to lift the veil on secret corporate campaign donations hit a milestone on Thursday. More than 1 million comments have been submitted to the US Securities and Exchange Commission calling for a requirement that corporations disclose political spending to their shareholders—ten times more than for any other rule-making petition to the SEC, according to the Corporate Reform Coalition.

“Investors want to know how their money is being spent,” Tim Smith, director of shareholder engagement at the firm Walden Asset Management, said at a press conference outside the SEC in Washington. A sign over his right shoulder read, “Your money is being invested in secret. Why is the SEC doing nothing?”

Why Is SEC Sitting On These Rules?

So why is the SEC just sitting on these proposals to disclose basic information to shareholders? In the case of the CEO pay ratio, this is even required by a law passed almost 5 years ago.

Could it be that the people working at the SEC really do know who is the boss now? (“Boss” as in the writer of the big paycheck and future employer.) Maybe, and maybe not. Who’s to say?

In early 2013 the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) released it report, “Dangerous Liaisons: Revolving Door at SEC Creates Risk of Regulatory Capture”:

A revolving door blurs the lines between one of the nation’s most important regulatory agencies and the interests it regulates. Former employees of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) routinely help corporations try to influence SEC rulemaking, counter the agency’s investigations of suspected wrongdoing, soften the blow of SEC enforcement actions, block shareholder proposals, and win exemptions from federal law. POGO’s report examines many manifestations of the revolving door, analyzes how the revolving door can influence the SEC, and explores how to mitigate the most harmful effects.

At the time of the report’s release Bloomberg reported,

From 2001 to 2010, POGO says, more than 400 SEC alumni filed about 2,000 disclosure forms (which POGO obtained using the Freedom of Information Act) saying they planned to represent an employer before the SEC. That may vastly understate the problem because, as POGO points out, former SEC employees must file such statements for only two years after departing.

The SEC has exempted some senior employees (even sometimes blacking out their names on SEC documents) from a one-year cooling-off period during which they are barred from representing clients before the agency, POGO found.

Soon after the report was released: April, 2013, Ex-SEC chief Schapiro takes revolving door back to private sector,

With her seat barely cold at the chairmanship of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Schapiro will become a managing director at a financial consulting and lobbying firm that has hired a slew of former financial regulators over the last several years and that represents for many a nexus of the cozy relations between banks and their regulators.

Are We the People the boss of the corporations, or are the corporations the boss of We the People? Who’s to say? Not the SEC, apparently.

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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.

Everybody Has an Opinion v 2.0

It seems like everybody has an opinion on world affairs and what this President should or should not do even today on the Sunday morning political shows . Arm chair diplomats seem to be everywhere. In fact, every Tom, Dick and Harry is now an expert on Syria, Iraq, Iran, or the terrorist group — ISIS aka ISIL. It’s truly an amazing phenomenon to witness so much commotion from our elected officials, media personalities or everyday citizens. Some want to declare war; others want to bomb, bomb, and bomb; yet while others don’t want any troops deployed, and scrutinize every plane and/or drone that is used.

California’s senior Senator Dianne Feinstein from San Francisco led the Democrats and took her best shot at the President for being too cautious on last week’s Sunday’s Meet the Press, but seems to be coming around to support the President after his statements today. But adding to the polemic is the ever growing pack of Democrats up for re-election, and the Republicans with their tom-tom drums stirring up fear and even more adversity. These GOP naysayers come in all shapes and sizes from the Boobsie Twins, aka Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who are both continuously stirring the proverbial pot on the world stage and at home; to Governor Chris Christie who is pounding his chest this week about Russia’s Putin while judiciously checking his poll numbers. Really, really wish there was a way to simmer them all down because it is just not helping. Words do matter and this type of rabble rousing makes people even more uneasy during this time of great upheaval. Frankly, nothing good can come from Geraldo Rivera’s evocative words on social media, except more unrest:

“Morning, the president finally declared our strategic goal to ‘degrade and destroy’ ISIS. We must hold him to it. Behead the ISIS butchers.” 5:35 AM — 3 Sep 2014 New York, NY, United States

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Ford C-Max Is Awesome

I bought a C-Max Hybrid in May. I have had it for a few months and I love this car, so I’m writing this review about it.

I had a 2000 Honda Accord and it was losing its reliability. I spent a lot of time researching cars. (My wife was finally saying “Jeeze, just buy a car already, I don’t care anymore, just buy any car and get it over with.”)

Before trying the C-Max I researched and drove (and rented when I could) Ford Focus & Fusion, Honda Accord, Chevy Malibu, Chevy Volt, Toyota Prius and Toyota Camry. My favorite of those was the Volt but it was more expensive and my wife wasn’t as enthusiastic. I also liked the Accord.

The Fusion was nice but oddly my wife could barely see out of the passenger window and there were no options for raising the seat. (She is not short.) After driving the Fusion the salesperson suggested trying a C-Max — otherwise I would not have thought of it and hadn’t really even heard of it. This is when I discovered the C-Max, and both my wife and I loved it.

Gas Mileage

Even though I liked the Accord, I finally decided to buy either a hybrid like the Prius or a plug-in like the Volt or Ford’s Energi. (Notes: 1) I vastly prefer the C-Max now that I have been driving it. 2) Honda’s Accord Hybrid and plug-in Hybrid weren’t readily available yet and more expensive than they should be.) I’m just sick of being so dependent on the oil companies, shelling out huge amounts of $$ every time I fill up and filling up so often. I didn’t want a pure EV like the Leaf because of range. I want the freedom to take longer trips without renting a car. But the plug-in Energi didn’t work for me for a few reasons. (I am starting to regret the decision to just go hybrid.)
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Six Corporate Tax Myths In One Letter to Editor

How MANY mistruths can you count in a letter in today’s San Jose Mercury News?

Lower corporate taxes would boost economy

When the government wants to raise taxes, the counter argument is always that people and corporations will work harder if they can keep their earnings. It is either that, or pass the costs to the consumers. Either way, high taxes are a no-win situation for everybody. Now that we have the highest taxes of any industrialized nation, corporations are “voting with their feet” and using legal tax-inversion strategies to stay competitive. The administration that pushed for high taxes is crying foul and saying this is not patriotic. Now they don’t like the consequences of their greedy tax policies. Drop the corporate tax rate to 15 percent and watch the economy soar.

  1. Myth: People will work harder if they can keep their earnings. Actually, wouldn’t people work harder to make up for the money that goes to taxes?
  2. Myth: Corporations pass the “cost” of taxes onto consumers. Actually corporations can’t pass taxes to consumers. (And taxes are not a “cost.”) Summary: taxes are on profits and prices are already as high as the company can charge. If corporations could just increase prices to cover taxes then the profits would go up, which raises the taxes, so they wold have to increase prices again, which would increase profits, which raises taxes, so they have to increase prices again, etc.
  3. Myth: Taxes are no-win. Actually they pay for the reads, schools, courts, police, military and the rest of the things that enable corporations to prosper.
  4. Myth: We have the highest taxes. Actually we don’t. Corporations are shifting profits out of the country to avoid ever paying taxes. The solution is to make them pay their taxes, not lower tax rates to let them get away with this.
  5. Myth: The administration raised taxes on corporations. Actually the administration didn’t raise corporate taxes. Corporate taxes have been lowered from 46% to 35% since the 80’s.
  6. Myth: If the corporate tax rate was lowered to 15% the economy would soar. Actually there is no relationship between lower tax rates and higher economic growth. In fact, there is a correlation between lower rates and lower growth, possibly because lower taxes cause government to cut back on the things that help the economy prosper, like education, investing in infrastructure, basic research, etc.

The letter-writer probably actually believes the stuff he wrote. Many people do. This shows the effect of decades of corporate/conservative propaganda on the public. Unfortunately these beliefs are leading to policies that are killing our economy and our democracy.

What Are We All Supposed To Be Afraid Of This Week?

Is it still ISIS? It’s not Syria anymore … right … it’s the other side now.

Previous weeks’ scare stories: Children coming from Central America? Ebola? Black mobs playing “knockout game”? Remember the smallpox scare? Remember the fear during the “runup” to the Iraq war?

Remember that fear causes people to be more conservative.

For some perspective (before we start bombing someone) on things to be afraid of, tobacco kills more than 480,000 Americans each year. And you don’t have to be the one smoking to be hurt or killed by the smoke.