What’s Going On With Infrastructure?

At the beginning of the Obama administration Democrats had control of the Congress and passed the “stimulus.” Unfortunately only a third of that was for infrastructure work. Then Republicans in Congress obstructed every proposal since then to fix up our country’s infrastructure. Now the idea of maybe fixing some of our crumbling infrastructure seems to be back on the table.

What is the right way to invest in rebuilding our infrastructure, and how should it be “paid for”?

Election Proposals

Infrastructure was one of the few actual policies that received any discussion at all during the election campaign – and it didn’t receive much.

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Trump Declares TPP Still Dead. So Now What?

President Trump formally withdrew the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Though TPP was killed by a long progressive fight that resulted in it not having the votes to pass Congress, of course, he took credit for killing it himself.

TPP was another “trade” deal written in secret using a process dominated by corporate interests. As David Dayen, writing in The Nation Tuesday, put it,

The public recognized that free-trade deals aren’t about free trade anymore—tariffs are currently so low it would be hard to get them meaningfully lower—but about guaranteeing corporate profits through eliminating regulations and enforcing patents. Another deal written in secret, with lobbyists whispering in negotiators’ ears, gave nobody confidence that this would change. Secret enforcement tribunals were a prime target for criticism, because they protect corporate and investor profits and enable financial speculation. No such platform exists for workers if their rights are violated.

This rigged trade process and its results brought us Trump, and here we are.

So now that that’s over, how should our country trade with the world?

Do We Even Need “Trade Deals”?

“Trade” used to be about countries that grow bananas and “developed” countries exchanging bananas for cars and toasters. The banana regions had a “comparative advantage” because the climate favored banana-growing, the developed countries’ advantage was a completed manufacturing ecosystem. Unfortunately “comparative advantage” today means companies moving their production to places that allow them to pollute and exploit workers to “lower their costs.” (The costs of pollution and exploitation are then instead borne by working people and the planet.)

It is a common misconception that we need to have a trade deal with a country before American companies can export to that country. This is partly due to misleading arguments used to sell corporate-favoring trade agreements, like saying, “Ninety-five percent of America’s potential customers live overseas, so closing ourselves off to trade is not a solution.”

Not having a trade agreement doesn’t “close ourselves off to trade.” American businesses trade with the rest of the world and the rest of the world trades with us regardless of trade deals. But without trade deals countries can set tariffs and barriers according to their own country’s needs and goals.

“Protectionism”

In places where people have a say, people say they want good wages and environmental protections (and public education and health care and infrastructure and parks and science and other things people vote for in democracies). These protections mean that working people and the environment receive a larger share of the economic pie. The economic pie is also larger as a result of that investment in public education and infrastructure and the rest, so the “investor” class does better, too. To pay for these investment those who do better are taxed more.

In non-democracies and other places where people don’t have a say people aren’t paid well, the environment is not protected and a few people at the top end up with a larger share of the smaller economic pie.

So a democracy might want a tariff to remove the price advantage of goods made at “less cost” in countries without those protections. With a balancing tariff those goods won’t undermine democray’s good wages and protections, and undermine the tax base along with them. These tariffs and barriers might be called a “democracy tax,” with the revenues used for investment to make the goods made in the democracy more competitive worldwide.

Business and “investor” interests want to pay lower wages and environmental protection costs, so they encourage countries to pass “free trade” deals that prevent governments from imposing tariffs and barriers in the future. They call the idea of democracy taxes and other decision-making by governments to protect national interests “protectionism.”

“Free trade” deals set aside each country’s political decision-making in favor of “more trade” — thereby placing business interests above national sovereignty. Governments are prevented from acting to “protect” a country’s interests and businesses are free to seek the lowest costs, regardless of what happens to countries and the people in them and the environment.

“Opening New Markets” – To Monopolization

When corporate interests advocate for free trade deals they also claim the deals will “establish new markets.” Again, this falsely implies they can’t already export without establishing a trade deal. This language also makes it seem as though those countries don’t already have companies and industries in those markets. What they really want is a deal that blocks governments from using tariffs and barriers “protecting” their developing or strategic industries from being overtaken and knocked out by established or subsidized competitors from other countries. This “opens markets” to outside competition from giant corporations.

With open trade the largest multinational corporations are able to sweep into other countries — “new markets” — and buy up or knock out existing, smaller businesses. The larger companies use economies of scale, established supply chains, superior access to credit, and other advantages of bigness to become even bigger. The resulting “efficiencies” mean that people are laid off wages and benefits are cut and systems are set up to push profits to the “investors” in the corporation.

People Caught On

So American voters finally caught on to the gimmicks used to sell “free trade.” Or, better put, the damage from from free trade finally caught up to most of us. People rose up and demanded a change, and change is upon us. With TPP out of the way, and “free trade” on hold for the time being it is time to re-evaluate what We the People want from our trade deals and economy.

Stan Sorcher writes, in Restoring Trust After Our “Free Trade” Charade Ends,

Our failed “neoliberal” approach has been to manage globalization through trade deals, written by and for the interests of global companies. The neoliberal vision is a fully integrated global economy, where national identities are blurred, shareholder interests have top priority, public interests are devalued, and gains go almost entirely to investors.

… In this neoliberal vision, markets will solve all our problems, government is bad, and power and influence should favor those who already have plenty of both.

It’s time for a change. But what will the new trade regime look like?

Proposals For A New Trade Regime

Trade doesn’t have to mean a race to the economic bottom resulting in massive worldwide inequality. The benefits of a modern, globalized world are clear. Jared Bernstein, wrote last year that trade deals,

… provide necessary rules of the road by which countries deal with trade logistics, barriers, cross-border investments and conflicts, and, in this sense, they can smooth the path of globalization in useful ways. But they can also be captured by partisan or corporate interests and thereby used to channel the benefits of trade to a favored group. This has certainly been the case in the United States, and it is why many of us who are committed globalists opposed the TPP.

A new approach is needed. The question is how do we manage globalization and trade for the benefit of all of us instead of using it to set all of us against each other?

Plenty of groups and interests are already weighing in. Lori Wallach and Jared Bernstein, writing in The American Prospect last year, in The New Rules of the Road: A Progressive Approach to Globalization, (click through for specifics),

The new rules must prioritize the economic needs of low- and middle-income families while preserving the democratic, accountable policymaking processes that are essential to creating and maintaining the environmental, consumer, labor, and human-rights policies on which we all rely.
[. . .] A more transparent process with opportunities for meaningful engagement, accountability, and oversight by the public and Congress—rather than the current regime that privileges the commercial interests that have long captured these negotiations—is needed.

The AFL-CIO recently posted, 6 Ways We Could Improve NAFTA for Working People, which can be applied more generally to new trade negotiations, (click through for details),

1. Eliminate the private justice system for foreign investors.

2. Strengthen the labor and environment obligations (the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation and the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation), include them in the agreement, and ensure they are enforced.

3. Address currency manipulation by creating binding rules subject to enforcement and possible sanctions.

4. Upgrade NAFTA’s rules of origin, particularly on autos and auto parts, to reinforce auto sector jobs in North America.

5. Delete the procurement chapter that undermines “Buy American” laws (Chapter 10).

6. Upgrade the trade enforcement chapter (Chapter 19).

The Sierra Club has issued a discussion paper, A New Climate-Friendly Approach To Trade, with ideas that

“start from a simple premise that marks a fundamental departure from the status quo: Trade and investment should be treated as tools for advancing public interest objectives—not ends in and of themselves.1 Agreements between countries should encourage trade and investment that support a more stable climate, healthy communities, and good jobs, while discouraging trade and investment that undermine these goals. This means, for example, incentivizing investments in renewable energy but not in fossil fuels,2 lowering barriers to the spread of green technology, and using taxes on highemissions trade to support increased climate protection and climate-friendly job growth.”

The Coalition for a Prosperous America offers 13 21st Century Trade Agreement Principles. Among these: Balanced Trade, reciprocity, stop currency manipulation, allow “Buy America” procurement, enforceable provisions, and more.

Many ideas being discussed seem to involve a “small-ball” approach, reacting to the existing trade regime instead of reimagining the possibilities. Current discussions revolve around things like getting rid of rules favoring investors over governments, or including enforceable labor and environmental standards. And, of course that is all needed. But so is a reimagining.

Obviously the first goal of a new trade policy should be to lift prosperity and improve people’s lives on all sides of trade borders — not just for a few at the expense of the many, but generally. This means the interest of all economic and trade “stakeholders” — labor, consumers, human rights, LGBTQ+, environmental, health, etc. and their governments, along with investors and businesses — need to be involved in the process.

It can be done. For example, imagine a “trade deal” that prohibits companies from threatening workers with having their jobs moved to another country. Hmm… By imagining the unimaginable all kinds of new possibilities begin to open up.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their OurFuture site. I am a Fellow with CAF, a project of People’s Action. Sign up here for the OurFuture daily summary and/or for People’s Action’s Progressive Breakfast.

Kansas And Puerto Rico Show How Trump’s Tax Cuts Will Hurt Us

The business-oriented media are loudly proclaiming that president-“elect” Donald Trump’s proposed tax cuts for the rich and corporations will “boost” the economy.

● WSJ: Trump’s Proposed Tax Cuts Could Boost U.S. and Global Growth, Says World Bank

● CNBC: Trump tax cuts could boost earnings by 20 percent next year: Yardeni

● Fortune: OECD Says Trump Tax and Spending Plans Will Boost Global Economy

● Fox Business Video: Why Trump’s tax cuts will boost the world economy

● Investors Business Daily: Here’s How Much Trump Tax Cuts Could Boost The Stock Market

The word filters down to the local media: (The exact word: “boost”…)

● Indianapolis Business Journal: Trump’s tax-cutting plan will boost economy

Really? Is THAT what happens when taxes are cut for the wealthy and their corporations?

Presidents Reagan and both Bushes cut taxes for the rich and their corporations, promising that the “benefits” would “trickle down’ to the rest of us. Kansas gave huge tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy to “boost” investment and jobs. For decades Puerto Rico offered tax breaks “attract businesses.” How’d that work out for them — and us?

Kansas, Oops

Sam Brownback took office as Governor of Kansas in 2011. With a Republican legislature Kansas conducted a “real live experiment” and dramatically cut tax rates on the wealthy and corporations. They said it would boost investment and create jobs. They said the “boost” in the economy would actually increase tax revenues.

How did that work out? Not so great. The LA Times reports, Hard times for Kansas and its schools as economic ‘experiment’ creates gaping budget hole,

In February 2015, three years into the supply-side economics experiment that would upend a once steady Midwestern economy, a hole appeared in Kansas’ finances.

To fill it, Gov. Sam Brownback took $45 million in public education funding. By April of this year, with the hole at $290 million, Brownback took highway money to plug it. A month later, state money for Medicaid coverage went into the hole, but the gap continued to grow.

Today, the state’s budget hole is $345 million and threatens the foundation of this state, which was supposed to be the setting for a grand economic expansion but now more closely resembles a battleground, with accusations and lawsuits flying over how to get the state’s finances in order.

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) took a long look at the Kansas experiment and what happened, and reported in Kansas’ Tax Cut Experience Refutes Economic Growth Predictions of Trump Tax Advisors,

In fact, the tax cut failed to boost the Kansas economy:

● Since it took effect in January 2013, total employment in Kansas has risen only 2.6 percent, compared to 6.5 percent nationally. Private sector employment in Kansas has risen 3.5 percent, compared to 7.6 percent nationally.

● The state’s economy has grown less than half as fast as the national economy; Kansas’ gross domestic product (GDP) grew 4.8 percent from the end of 2012 through the first quarter of 2016, while national GDP rose 11.9 percent.

● Kansas’ share of newly opened business establishments in the United States has actually declined slightly rather than increased.

But wait, there’s more. According to CBPP, “Moreover, the Kansas tax cut package has had a deleterious impact on the state’s financial stability and the provision of critical services.” Tax revenues did not grow as promised, they continue to decline as the state’s economy collapses. The resulting reduction in infrastructure funding is hitting roads, etc., The state’s bond rating has been downgraded — twice — so the state has to pay higher interest rates. Economic growth and job growth is slower than much of the rest of the country.

More bluntly, Mother Jones, Trickle-Down Economics Has Ruined the Kansas Economy.

Puerto Rico, Oops

Puerto Rico offered “competitive tax rates” to corporations, in an effort to boost their economy. How did that turn out?

A Reuters Special Report from December, How dependence on tax breaks corroded Puerto Rico’s economy,

In trying to be attractive to U.S. firms, Puerto Rico instead

The industrialization push, dubbed Operation Bootstrap, rested on the premise that manufacturers lured by tax breaks would spur the development of a local economy because they would need local suppliers. The federal government supported the effort, viewing Puerto Rico as a vital capitalist outpost in the Caribbean.became indentured to them, pledging tax breaks and cheap labor for ultimately transient economic benefits.

… It turned out that the manufacturers were generally locked into global supply chains, and so they had limited impact on local business creation.

… Today, the U.S. territory has nearly $70 billion in debt, an unemployment rate 2.5 times the U.S. average, a 45 percent poverty rate, nearly insolvent pension systems and a chronically underfunded Medicaid insurance program for the poor.

The economic nosedive started in 2006, at the end of a 10-year phase-out by U.S. congress of tax breaks that had brought manufacturers to the island. Plant closures and job losses followed. Puerto Rico’s commonwealth government made things worse by taking on years of debt to replace the lost revenue.

Tax cuts didn’t work out so well for Puerto Rico, either.

Studies: Tax Cuts Do Not “Boost” The Economy

Republicans always argue that tax cuts for the rich and their corporations will “boost” the economy because “taxes take money out of the economy” and the promise that by cutting taxes at the top the “job creators” have more of an “incentive” to work “harder.” They even argue that cutting taxes actually increases tax revenue as a result of that “boost” in the economy.

So what’s the record?

In September 2012 the Congressional Research Service published a report that looked at 65 years of tax cuts and the economy, Taxes and the Economy: An Economic Analysis of the Top Tax Rates Since 1945. From that report,

Throughout the late-1940s and 1950s, the top marginal tax rate was typically above 90%; today it is 35%. Additionally, the top capital gains tax rate was 25% in the 1950s and 1960s, 35% in the 1970s; today it is 15%. The real GDP growth rate averaged 4.2% and real per capita GDP increased annually by 2.4% in the 1950s. In the 2000s, the average real GDP growth rate was 1.7% and real per capita GDP increased annually by less than 1%. There is not conclusive evidence, however, to substantiate a clear relationship between the 65-year steady reduction in the top tax rates and economic growth. Analysis of such data suggests the reduction in the top tax rates have had little association with saving, investment, or productivity growth. However, the top tax rate reductions appear to be associated with the increasing concentration of income at the top of the income distribution.

What all those words say is as tax cuts took effect the economy slowed and longer term it slowed more. They didn’t conclude this was causal, but clearly tax cuts didn’t “boost” growth. The kicker: tax cuts were associated with wealth concentrating at the top.

So no, tax cuts didn’t “boost” growth at all and possibly cut growth while making income inequality worse.

David Leonhardt in the New York Times, also September 2012, Do Tax Cuts Lead to Economic Growth?

The defining economic policy of the last decade, of course, was the Bush tax cuts. President George W. Bush and Congress, including Mr. Ryan, passed a large tax cut in 2001, sped up its implementation in 2003 and predicted that prosperity would follow.

The economic growth that actually followed — indeed, the whole history of the last 20 years — offers one of the most serious challenges to modern conservatism. Bill Clinton and the elder George Bush both raised taxes in the early 1990s, and conservatives predicted disaster. Instead, the economy boomed, and incomes grew at their fastest pace since the 1960s. Then came the younger Mr. Bush, the tax cuts, the disappointing expansion and the worst downturn since the Depression.

From my December 2010 post, Do Tax Cuts Help The Economy,

It is obvious that the Reagan and Bush tax cuts for the wealthy have hurt us in many ways.

But this was the plan all along, wasn’t it?

The April, 2011 post, Conservative Tax Tricks – Did Tax Cuts Grow The Economy? is full of charts and figures, including this:

And this:

From my post Tax Cuts Are Theft,

A beneficial cycle: We invest in infrastructure and public structures that create the conditions for enterprise to form and prosper. We prepare the ground for business to thrive. When enterprise prospers we share the bounty, with good wages and benefits for the people who work in the businesses and taxes that provide for the general welfare and for reinvestment in the infrastructure and public structures that keep the system going.

Since the Reagan Revolution with its tax cuts for the rich, its anti-government policies, and its deregulation of the big corporations our democracy is increasingly defunded (and that was the plan), infrastructure is crumbling, our schools are falling behind, factories and supply chains are being dismantled, those still at work are working longer hours for fewer benefits and falling wages, our pensions are gone, wealth and income are increasingly concentrating at the very top, our country is declining.

Tax Cuts Hurt We the People

The record proves that tax cuts don’t “boost” the economy, they just make the rich even richer. So why do we keep getting told they will?

Tax cuts make the rich richer and hurt the rest of us because they force budget cuts in things that make our lives better and actually do grow the economy, like infrastructure and education. A prosperous economy with good businesses and good jobs and good wages result from good education and the business conditions created by good infrastructure, research, etc. These things take investment and regulation and those are the result of taxes and strong government.

If you cut taxes and wages to offer a “competitive environment” what happens is companies move from somewhere else, government there collects less in taxes, government in the new location collects less in taxes, the workers there get laid off and the new workers are always paid less — sometimes much less. If you do the math, you see that in the larger picture of an economy — one that includes the places the companies moved from and moved to — overall wages drop so the public in general is poorer, government is weakened so it can’t help and invest. In the end, the owners of the companies have a larger share of the pie.

Tax cuts are a scam to weaken democracy and our government’s ability to fight corporate power and concentrated wealth.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their OurFuture site. I am a Fellow with CAF, a project of People’s Action. Sign up here for the OurFuture daily summary and/or for People’s Action’s Progressive Breakfast.

Happy New Year (Prince Can’t Die Again)

Mac McCaughan: Happy New Year (Prince Can’t Die Again)

Oh, it was a year when everybody died
And it was a year when the adults and children cried
For the loss of their hope, for the loss of their youth
And next year might be better but I don’t see any proof

And this year it seemed like nothing really mattered
You could say any horrible thing and rise to the top of this shitheap

So if you still have friends
Raise a glass with them
Saying, “Happy New Year, Prince can’t die again”
“No, happy New Year, Prince can’t die again”

Okay, but this could be a great year if you’re rich
Or if you’re a racist craving an authoritarian hand
And the sun will shine on you if you hate women
And then the sun itself will turn us all to sand

Yeah, this year it seemed like nothing really mattered
You could be any horrible thing and rise to the top of this shitheap

So if you still have friends
Raise a glass with them
Saying, “Happy New Year, Prince can’t die again”
“No, happy New Year, Prince can’t die again”

So gather with your retrograde relations at the table
Nursing hangovers with hatefulness and fear
Remember who needs to get out and see the world
Play the long game, muster up some cheer
‘Cause if they believe that nothing really matters
All that winning might end sooner than they think
We might not have democracy or freedom anymore
But resistance will be hatched around this drink

And yes, you you still have friends
So raise a glass with them
Saying, “Happy New Year, Prince can’t die again”
“Happy New Year, everything ends”
“Happy New Year, the South won’t rise again”
“No, Happy New Year, gotta work to make that arc bend”
“Yeah, Happy New Year, away from these old white men”
“Yeah, Happy New Year, at least Prince can’t die again”
“Happy New Year, it can’t be this one again”

Billionaires Celebrate Their Own Social Security Freedom Day

Ninety-four percent of us pay into Social Security from every paycheck we receive. A few of us stop paying into Social Security in the first few working hours of the year.

The “Tax Freedom Day” Scam

Every year you hear a lot about Tax Freedom Day. This is the day the public supposedly has “earned enough money to pay its total tax bill for the year.”

According to the Tax Freedom Day website: “Americans will collectively spend more on taxes in 2016 than they will on food, clothing, and housing combined.”

The trick, of course, is the word “collectively.” As in “Bill Gates walks into a room full of homeless people. Collectively the room owns billions of dollars of wealth.” Non-billionaire Americans don’t pay nearly this much in taxes.

Tax Freedom Day is an anti-government propaganda gimmick where the billionaire class suggests that we stop “working for the government.” It’s a trick: most of us don’t pay that much in taxes and those who do are making so much money they hardly notice it.

Let’s see how this “Tax Freedom Day” formula can be applied to framing America’s retirement crisis.

“Social Security Freedom Day”

Almost all of us pay the 6.2 percent Social Security “payroll tax” on every dollar that we earn. Employers pay an additional 6.2 percent. If you are self-employed you pay the entire 12.4 percent. These taxes are paid until we reach a “cap” of $127,200 in a year so the maximum anyone pays is $7,886 (twice that if you are scam-classified as a “contractor.”) Ninety-four percent of us never reach that point.

Again, you pay 6.2 percent of your earnings, 12.4 percent if you are self-employed, until you make $127,200. So there is no “Social Security Freedom Day” — the day we stop paying this tax — if we are regular people who make less than $127,200.

Put another way, if you make more than $127,200 you reach a “Social Security Freedom Day” and stop paying this tax. You only pay $7,886 no matter how much more you make. The more you make the sooner your “Social Security Freedom Day” arrives.

“Social Security Freedom Day” never arrives for most of us. But how early does “Social Security Freedom Day” arrive for some of us? According to a post by Teresa Ghilarducci, an Economics professor at The New School for Social Research titled, Who Is Finished Paying Their 2017 Social Security Taxes? Probably Not You.,

For those at the upper end of the income distribution (the top 1 percent, or the 2 million people earning more than $250,000 per year and the 137,000 people earning more than $1 million per year), $127,200 is a trivial amount on which to pay Social Security tax.

Take, for example, the top 9,600 or so wage earners who earned over $10 million per year (2015 is the latest data available). New Year’s Day 2017 fell on a Sunday. By the time they finish their two weeks back at work, they will be done paying Social Security taxes for the entire year.

That is nothing. The 202 Americans who earned more than $50 million a year finished paying less than 5 hours after the ball dropped in Times Square. Another 773 people earning between $20-$50 million a year will finish paying the tax before you finish reading this blog on January 2nd.

“Social Security Freedom Day” arrived very early for those top 773. How early? Ghilarducci writes, “We can have fun with the calculations: who will finish paying by their first coffee break of the day? After brushing their teeth? After their hangover?”

The rest of us pay in all year, a 6.2 percent tax that the wealthy don’t pay. That’s 12.4% if you are a “contractor.” Straight off the top of your income.

The Retirement Crisis

America’s experiment in shifting retirement obligations away from employers and onto working people through IRAs and 401Ks has clearly failed. Most Americans do not have enough savings, pension and expected Social Security benefits to be able to get by when they retire — if they even can. One-third have nothing saved up. The median working-age couple has saved only $5000 and seventy percent of couples have less than $50,000 saved.

Even people who have earned pensions are seeing them being cut because corporations skimped on funding the plans.

This leaves far too many people dependent on Social Security. The average monthly retirement income from Social Security was $1,341, or $6,092 per year, and only $2,212 for couples, or $26,544 per year.

This is not enough for people to get by. But a few of us — the very same few who stop paying into Social Security so early in the year — are retiring in luxury.

The Retirement Divide

Not everyone is facing a retirement crisis. Not at all. There is a stark divide between most of us and a few of us when it comes to retirement. Those same few who get a nice, early “Social Security Freedom Day” and no longer pay into Social Security are the very people who do not face a retirement crisis.

Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, for example, is retiring to join the Trump/Putin administration. He is receiving a $180 million retirement package including include a pension valued at $69 million.

How wide is this divide? A December, 2016 Institute for Policy Studies report titled, A Tale of Two Retirements, shows there is a huge retirement security divide between those at the top of corporate America and nearly all the rest of us.

From a summary of the report:

Just 100 CEOs have company retirement funds worth $4.7 billion — a sum equal to the entire retirement savings of the 41 percent of U.S. families with the smallest nest eggs.

This $4.7 billion total is also equal to the entire retirement savings of the bottom:

59 percent of African-American families
75 percent of Latino families
55 percent of female-headed households
44 percent of white working class households

Need To Increase Social Security

Obviously the first obligation of a government should be to its people. With the failure of “market solutions” that shifted responsibility for retirement from corporate pension plans to to IRAs ad 410ks something needs to be done. This shift boosted corporate profits, providing huge sums for payouts to executives and shareholders — again, the very same people who get their own “Social Security Freedom Day”. But it has impoverished huge percentages of resent and future retirees.

How do we pay for expanding Social Security? That’s simple. Social Security needs to get the money from where the money went. The well-to-do don’t need a “Social Security Freedom Day” because they are already well-to-do. Eliminate this “cap” and have everyone pay into the system so everyone can retire with some dignity. And what about a requirement for corporations to contribute to employee retirement pension funds?

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their OurFuture site. I am a Fellow with CAF, a project of People’s Action. Sign up here for the OurFuture daily summary and/or for People’s Action’s Progressive Breakfast.

Oxfam: Ten Multinational Corporations Control Most Food Brands

Take a look at Oxfam’s report, “Behind the Brands: Food justice and the ‘Big 10’ food and beverage companies.”

A Food System In Crisis

The Behind the Brands report explains, “For more than 100 years, the world’s most powerful food and beverage companies have relied on cheap land and labor to produce inexpensive products and huge profits. But these profits have often come at the cost of the environment and local communities around the world, and have contributed to a food system in crisis.”

Explaining the campaign, the report says, “Oxfam’s campaign focuses on 10 of the world’s most powerful food and beverage companies – Associated British Foods (ABF), Coca-Cola, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg, Mars, Mondelez International (previously Kraft Foods), Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever – and aims to increase the transparency and accountability of the ‘Big 10’ throughout the food supply chain.”

“Big Ten” Infographic

The report includes a great infographic showing how just ten multinational conglomerates control almost all of the food and beverage “brands” we all recognize. These ten companies “collectively generate revenues of more than $1.1bn a day.”

These ten companies are:
● Associated British Foods (ABF)
● Coca-Cola
● Danone
● General Mills
● Kellogg
● Mars
● Mondelez International (previously known as Kraft)
● Nestle
● PepsiCo
● Unilever

The Campaign

Oxfam’s Behind the Brands website explains the campaign:

Behind the Brands is part of Oxfam’s GROW campaign to help create a world where everyone has enough to eat. Right now, nearly one in eight people on earth go to bed hungry. Sadly, the majority of these people are farmers or farm workers supplying the very food system that is failing them. Yet there is enough food for everyone. That’s an outrage – but we can be the generation that ends this crazy situation.

While the food system is complex and its problems multi-faceted, we know that the world’s largest food and beverage companies have enormous influence. Their policies drive how food is produced, the way resources are used and the extent to which the benefits trickle down to the marginalised millions at the bottom of their supply chains.

Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign aims to provide people who buy and enjoy these products with the information they need to hold the Big 10 to account for what happens in their supply chains. In putting together a scorecard based entirely on publicly available information on company policies, we posed the question “what are they doing to clean up their supply chains”?

Visit Oxfam’s Behind the Brands website for more.
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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their OurFuture site. I am a Fellow with CAF, a project of People’s Action. Sign up here for the OurFuture daily summary and/or for People’s Action’s Progressive Breakfast.

Holiday Card From The Johnsons

Happy Holidays from the Johnsons:

That’s our dog Paddington.

The back of the card:
Published by Sudeep Johnson
Doggie Paw Cards, Inc.
www.doggiepawcards.com
Many thanks to Paddington the little white dog, without whom this card would not have been possible.

Here is last year’s: Holiday Card From The Johnsons. (That card has a link to the previous year’s, which has a link to the previous year’s, etc…)

Trumpism Coming, Hide

I’m at a motel in Roseville, CA. They serve a motel “breakfast.” I got the little egg thing for us. In the room we started eating and discovered the center had ham in it. I went to the desk to complain, it wasn’t labeled, there were no non-meat offerings…

I said there are Jews, Muslims, people from India, vegetarians, all wouldn’t be able to eat this.

The look on her face was line “one more month, and we can deal with all of them.”

Trump Punch Down Strategy Endangers Local Union Leader

“You better keep your eye on your kids. We know what car you drive.” That’s the kind of threats a local union official is getting after President-presumed-Elect Donald Trump tweeted something bad about him.

“You gonna die. Death is coming to you real soon.” A Florida woman is arrested for threatening the parents of a child killed at Sandy Hook. Trump-tied “fake news” sites claim the shootings there were a “hoax” intended to push gun control.

A guy shows up at a Pizza shop based on conspiracy theories — some pushed out by Trump insiders, others by the same Trump-related websites and radio shows that pushed the Sandy Hook hoax — claiming Hillary Clinton runs a child sex trafficking ring from its basement. He brings an assault rifle,

… terrifying customers and workers with his ­assault-style rifle as he searched Comet Ping Pong, police said. He found no hidden children, no secret chambers, no evidence of a child sex ring run by the failed Democratic candidate for president of the United States…

Is this the “new normal” for our country?

Trump Attacks Local Union Leader

The latest example of this top-down attacking involves Chuck Jones, the president of United Steelworkers (USW) local 1999. Local 1999 represents workers at Indiana’s Carrier furnace and air conditioner manufacturer.

After Trump falsely announced that he had made a deal to “save” 1,100 Carrier jobs Jones said Trump had, “… for whatever reason, lied his a– off.” (See LA Times, Trump’s Carrier jobs triumph looks more like a sham every day.)

Trump publicly responded to Jones on Twitter,

and

This is the next President of the United States publicly attacking a guy who is president of a local union in Indiana, singling him out for national attention. And this national humiliation and endangerment by the next President of the United States is because the guy told the truth after Trump did not.

According to the Washington Post report, Donald Trump insulted a union leader on Twitter. Then the phone started to ring., “My first thought was, ‘Well, that’s not very nice,’ ” he told The Washington Post on Wednesday night. “Then, ‘Well, I might not sleep much tonight.’ ”

Then things started to get bad,

Half an hour after Trump tweeted about Jones on Wednesday, the union leader’s phone began to ring and kept ringing, he said. One voice asked: What kind of car do you drive? Another said: We’re coming for you.

He wasn’t sure how these people found his number.

“Nothing that says they’re gonna kill me, but, you know, you better keep your eye on your kids,” Jones said later on MSNBC. “We know what car you drive. Things along those lines.”

But there’s more to it. Attacking a union’s leadership, saying “no wonder companies are fleeing the country,” the union should have “kept those jobs in Indiana” and saying the union should “spend more time working-less time talking. Reduce dues.” is classic management anti-union propaganda. Saying the union is costing jobs is a union busting tactic intended to drive a edge between the union and rank-and-file workers.

This anti-union action shows the mindset of Trump toward working people. It sends a signal. If unions try to help their membership, and challenge Trump’s tactics and facts, Trump will attack them and threaten their leadership.

Support For Jones: #ImWithChuck

Not everyone is intimidated by these attacks on individuals by the next President.

In response to Trump’s attack on Jones, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka issued this statement,

Chuck Jones is a man of passion, conviction and integrity who would do anything for his union brothers and sisters. President Gerard is exactly right – Chuck is a hero. An attack on him is an attack on all working people.

Chuck is right to call out the president-elect for inflating the number of jobs that will be saved at Carrier. He understands better than anyone that these are more than numbers—they are people with families to support and bills to pay.

Instead of attacking those who have been working hard to save jobs, the president-elect needs to engage with local union leaders at Carrier and at his hotel in Las Vegas. Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas is breaking the law by not bargaining with its newly unionized employees. Mr. Trump will soon occupy the White House. His words and actions need to befit that office.

Scott Paul, President of the Alliance for American Manufacturing tweeted this about Jones,

Also on Twitter, the hashtag #ImWithChuck has messages of support of Jones.

This Is The Next President?

Trump, believe it or not, is President-elect on the United States. That is a position of great power, commanding great influence over what people think and do. When Trump or those around him “punch down” and publicly attack individuals or advance bizarre conspiracy theories, it puts people in danger. Trump and those around him don’t seem to care. And by publicly not caring and continuing to do it, it starts to look like intent.

Trump and the people around him are, in essence, sending these nuts after people. Provoking. Inciting. But with the tweets attacking Chuck Jones using classic union-busting propaganda Trump is also strategically attacking the interests of all working people.

Trump’s Absurd Plan To Dismantle Government’s Protections

Donald Trump released a video announcing his agenda for his “first day in office.” One of the things he said is, “I will formulate a rule which says that for every one new regulation, two old regulations must be eliminated.” Can we count the number of ways this is absurd and dangerous?

Under Trump’s 2-for-1 idea, if we want to have a regulation that a company can’t store explosives next to an elementary school, we have to eliminate a regulation that protects us from food poisoning AND a regulation that stops companies from taking money out of your bank account for no reason? (Or how about creating fake accounts and charging them fees?)

Or how about we eliminate the regulations requiring seat belts in cars? Or requiring cars to have headlights? There’s two more! And think of all the money this would save the car companies! (Ignore the pain and suffering and loss this would cause regular Americans — that’s not money.)

Here’s one that can go: eliminate the regulations against defrauding students using high-pressure sales techniques to get them to enroll at scam universities. Or against “financial elder abuse“.

Government Is We The People

In the United States government was once supposed to be about We the People organizing to accomplish things that make our lives better. We vote, our representatives impose taxes and spend and make laws and regulations toward that end.

The ongoing corporate/conservative attack on the legitimacy of government and democracy have eroded public understanding of these concepts. Education. Firefighting. Scientific research. Health care. Parks. Transportation. All are core things a government of, by and FOR the people does to make our lives better — and all are under attack, “privatized” or “eliminated” by representatives who have been “captured” by corporate/conservative money.

Government of, by and for the people by definition stops some people from doing things that hurt others. In particular for this discussion, it stops people who have businesses from defrauding others, harming others, polluting our air and water, selling dangerous products, and other destructive practices. But this means that these people make less money, so they complain, and sometimes they use their money to influence those who would regulate to stop them.

“Burdensome government regulations” all cost companies money: food inspection, clean water, fire codes, zoning rules and drug safety rules. They all “get in the way” of a company scamming, hurting, polluting or whatever makes them more money.

Regulations too often come about as a reaction to something terrible happening. Fire codes came from times when entire towns burned down. Drug-safety rules came from “snake oil” scammers selling poison and leaving town before the damage is done. Seat belt regulations came from terrible traffic injuries and deaths.

Regulations are about “how can We the People do this better?”

The Underlying Assumptions Behind Trump’s Absurd Plan

Underlying Trump’s plan to “eliminate” government regulations is the premise that “government regulation” is itself a bad thing. And underlying that is the premise that government of by and for the people itself is illegitimate. It gets in the way of business. We the People making decisions interferes with efficient decision-making done for the narrow purpose of making money.

Corporate-financed conservatives will always tell you that government and its regulations are always bad. Government just “interferes” in things it knows nothing about. They will say that government regulations hold back businesses from expanding and hiring and generally getting things done that make money. But these are self-interested complaints from people who make their money scamming or hurting or polluting. People like Donald Trump.

We should see Trump’s proposal for what it is. This is not an approach to governing, it is about dismantling what government is for so that an already-wealthy few are free to fleece, scam, harm and and pollute in the name of greed.