Are Tea Party Members Getting Played?

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture I am a Fellow with CAF.
Are the Main Street Tea Party members getting “played” by Wall Street and big-corporate billionaires? There is a big, big, big difference between what the regular members and the big-money funders expect. If Tea Party candidates get elected will they do what their supporters want, or what their Wall Street and big-corporation funders demand?
What Tea Party Members Want
I just finished a week driving around Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia attending and writing about the “Keep It Made In America” Town Hall meetings. At these meetings and on the road I had occasion to talk to self-identified members of “Tea Party” groups. My conversations tell me, and polling confirms, that the regular day-to-day Tea Party supporters want government to stop job outsourcing and help American manufacturers. And even more than that they really don’t like trade agreements like NAFTA. In fact some go so far as to say that NAFTA and the WTO violate our country’s sovereignty. And even more than that they hate Bush’s bailout of Wall Street (but have been told Obama did it).
What Tea Party Funders Want
At the same time I saw and heard ad after ad after ad after ad that backed Tea Party-type candidates, that were paid for by the Chamber of Commerce and other front groups for Wall Street and the big multinational monopolist corporations that live off of “free trade” and have been closing factories and outsourcing jobs. And the Tea Party was originally set up by and is largely funded and maintained by front groups for this same crowd.
Here is just one example of how much the Tea Party is funded by these front groups: In Oregon one Wall Street hedge fund manager is spending up to $1 million (pocket change) on a front group to elect a Tea Party candidate and unseat a Congressman who didn’t do his bidding and sponsored a couple of Wall Street reform bills. Do you think the Main Street Tea Party members in Oregon expect their Tea Party candidate to support or oppose measures that further enrich Wall Street hedge fund managers? I’ll give you three guesses and the answers are Main Street, Main Street and Not Wall Street. Do you think the Tea Party candidate will dare? I’ll give you one guess.
Will Tea Party Members Or Funders Win Out?
So the regular Tea Party people hate NAFTA and “free trade” agreement, Wall Street bailouts, want a stop to job outsourcing and want help for American manufacturing — but the people behind them and funding their ads do not. What will happen if these candidates get into office? Will they stick with their Tea Party supporters from Main Street, or will the be beholden to the big-money behind their campaigns? As Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”
This is a very, very serious problem. The “crowd” instincts of regular people are usually pretty good and even in the Tea Parties they understand the damage that “free trade,” Wall Street, big-corporate interests and the rest of the “free enterprise” crowd have done to the country. But the big money is steering them away from the solutions that their collective gut tells them are right.
Serious Consequences
The financial crisis that Obama inherited has not really gone away. The unsustainable trade deficit that has been growing since Reagan is draining our economy. The huge budget deficit that Bush left behind — caused by tax cuts and military spending increases — has not gone away. Global warming has certainly not gone away. All of these problems are still there. We may be headed into a trade war, we need to rebalance the global economy, the rest of the world is jumping on the Green Industrial Revolution and we are not — but we can’t even begin to have a reasonable conversation about it because the entrenched wealthy interests are able to purchase the megaphone, microphone and amplification system that let’s people hear the arguments.
I say yes, the Main Street supporters of the Tea Party are getting played. What I want to know is, what will they do if the Tea Party candidates get elected, and then support “free trade’ and Wall Street and all of that? Will go even further to the right, or will they start to figure it out?
Sign up here for the CAF daily summary.

Tax Tricks – Do Corporations Pass Taxes On To Customers?

Here is a tax trick you hear all the time: we shouldn’t tax corporations because they just “pass the taxes along to customers.” Go to any of the usual anti-tax, anti-government sites and you’ll see them trying to trick people with this.
First of all, if companies really did “pass taxes along to consumers,” so what? Is that a reason not to pay for the roads, bridges, schools, courts etc., that enable the company to be profitable enough to pay taxes? But actually they don’t — because they can’t.
This tax trick is based on a popular assumption that businesses can just raise prices whenever they want to. But a well-run business is already charging what they should charge for their product or service. If they have room to raise prices they should already have done so. But of course doing so this will cause them to lose sales to competitors.
Taxes are on profits, and profits are calculated at the end of a tax year by adding up all the revenue and subtracting all the costs. When a product or service is sold the company doesn’t really know yet how much profit, if any, it will have at the end of the year, so it doesn’t know what the tax will be, so how can it adjust prices? But if a company was able to just raise prices based on anticipation of profits, then the result would be that profits would be higher because of the higher price charged, which means taxes would be even higher, so the company should have raised prices even more, but that means the profit would be even higher, so they have to go back and charge more, but then … I think you are starting to see how silly this idea of raising prices to cover taxes can get.
About those competitors – if one company is doing well and therefore making a profit, and another company is not doing so well, and therefore not making as much profit, and the first company raises prices to cover the taxes on the profit, then the second company has a price advantage so the first company loses sales and isn’t going to have a profit after all so they really should put the prices back down, but then the other company’s price advantage goes away and they are making a profit again so they should raise prices but … Hey, this just gets silly, too!
Companies do not pass on taxes to their customers. So don’t fall for this tax trick, it’s just silly.
This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture as part of the Making It In America project. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary.

Low Taxes Destroy Our Small Businesses

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.
Remember last year when the Republicans laid out the price of a budget deal and it was a giant tax cut for the biggest corporations? So in the middle of a revenue crisis they forced … less revenue. Well, imagine that you are a struggling small or medium business in California, and the Republicans gave your nemesis even more power to crush you.

Corporate taxes are on profits. So a tax cut means that the more profitable companies pay back less to the government for their use of the roads, schools, police and fire protection.  The very infrastructure that supports new businesses is weakened.

Meanwhile, smaller businesses that are struggling don’t pay corporate taxes, so tax cuts do nothing for them. And small businesses that make modest profits only pay modest taxes, and don’t care.

On the other hand, the giant monopolistic corporations that are chewing up small businesses, destroying local and regional retailers, take those tax cuts and use them to turn themselves into even better small-business-destroying machines.

For example, the giant Wal-Marts are destroying local and regional retailers.  But it is the Wal-Marts, not the local and regional retailers that are the beneficiaries of tax cuts.  This is why the “usual suspects” who get their campaign funds from the giant companies, and work with lobbyists for the largest corporations are the same ones who always advocate corporate tax cuts.

Businesses Need Customers Not Tax Cuts.

Click through to Speak Out California.

Public Still Trusts Corporations More Than Self-Government

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

Marketing works.  But we already knew that.  Big business has been marketing the idea that corporations making decisions for us is better than having government run by the people.  And a lot of people have bought into that idea.

But is it really better to be government by corporations?  In February I wrote,

After decades of anti-government speeches claiming that government holds back business, government takes money out of the economy and government is less efficient than corporations, people came to believe that, as Ronald Reagan famously said, “Government is the problem, not the solution.”  This led to deregulation and budget cutbacks in all areas including education and infrastructure. 

If you think about it, government really is what We, the People want it to be.  In a democracy we jointly make decisions about the best way to manage our affairs.  So saying that corporations do things better is really an anti-democracy message.  What they are saying is that organizations run by a few wealthy elites telling everyone else what to do, with the benefits of everyone’s work mostly going to those few at the top, is a better way to manage society than to have everyone making the decisions and sharing in the results.

Just for fun, here is the video from that post again:




Here is more proof that marketing works:  A recent Gallup Poll of public trust of government vs corporations found that the public still would rather be governed by big corporations than by themselves.

Gallup’s recent update of its long-standing trend question on whether big business, big labor, or big government will be the biggest threat to the country in the future finds Americans still viewing big government as the most serious threat. However, compared to Gallup’s last pre-financial-crisis measurement in December 2006, more now see big business and fewer see big government as the greater threat.

Gallup’s results, graphically:

GallupGovtBusResults.gif

Marketing works.  Especially when it is repeated over and over for decades, unopposed.  This blog reaches a moderate audience, but the message that government by the people is a good thing needs to reach people who don’t hear it very often, and only hear the marketed anti-government, anti-democracy message that is spread by the corporations.  Did you know that Speak Out California also provides speakers to talk to local groups across California and do radio and TV interviews discussing the benefits of government and democracy? Please contact us at info@speakoutca.org to schedule a speaker for your event.

Click through to Speak Out California and leave a comment.

America Was Created To Fight Corporate Power

Americans should all understand the reasons behind the formation of this country. We formed this country because a wealthy elite, called royalty, controlled the economy and set up legal monopoly operations for the benefit of their cronies, called corporations, and then set up the laws and tax structure to benefit those corporations and their owners at the expense of the rest of us.
We fought a revolution to change this. We set up a governement and economy that is supposed to be controlled by We, the People. Think about the meaning of that the next time you hear corporate-funded voices complain about “big government.” They are complaining that the people make the decisions instead of the corporate elite — once known as royalty.
PLEASE read The Real Boston Tea Party was Against the Wal-Mart of the 1770s

The real Boston Tea Party was a protest against huge corporate tax cuts for the British East India Company, the largest trans-national corporation then in existence. This corporate tax cut threatened to decimate small Colonial businesses by helping the BEIC pull a Wal-Mart against small entrepreneurial tea shops, and individuals began a revolt that kicked-off a series of events that ended in the creation of The United States of America.
They covered their faces, massed in the streets, and destroyed the property of a giant global corporation. Declaring an end to global trade run by the East India Company that was destroying local economies, this small, masked minority started a revolution with an act of rebellion later called the Boston Tea Party.

Later in the piece,

The citizens of the colonies were preparing to throw off one of the corporations that for almost 200 years had determined nearly every aspect of their lives through its economic and political power. They were planning to destroy the goods of the world’s largest multinational corporation, intimidate its employees, and face down the guns of the government that supported it.

A link to this was posted at Atrios’ blog, by Avedon of The sideshow.

Stop Corporate Lobbying With Taxpayer Money

zv7qrnb

This post originally appeared at the Commonweal Institute’s Uncommon Denominator blog

Why are recipients of the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) – better known as the Banking Bailout – allowed to continue to lobby? Taxpayer dollars should not be used to influence our government. We, the People should be telling them what to do, not the other way around.

TARP recipients spent $114 million on lobbying last year as the financial crisis emerged. In just the last quarter of the year eighteen bailout recipients spent $14.8 million to influence the government, as the TARP funds were distributed.

The lobbying has paid off. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, “The companies’ political activities have, in part, yielded them $295.2 billion from TARP, an extraordinary return of 258,449 percent.”

TARP recipients are currently lobbying against compensation caps at companies receiving TARP, against increasing bank regulation – and even against increased oversight of the use of TARP funds in the TARP Reform and Accountability Act! They are also lobbying against the Arbitration Fairness Act, the Fairness in Nursing Home Arbitration Act, the Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act and the Helping Families Save Their Homes in Bankruptcy Act, Credit Card Holders Bill of Rights and the Stop Unfair Practices in Credit Cards Act!

But these companies are not just lobbying in favor of their own(ers) interests; they are lobbying against those of the rest of us. Recently it has come to light that Bank of America, Citigroup and other TARP recipients are organizing efforts to oppose the Employee Free Choice Act – federal legislation that would enable workers to organize unions, which results in increased income and benefits for working people, thereby enabling them to make their credit card and mortgage payments.

Use of corporate funds to influence our government is a larger problem than just this current misuse of TARP. In fact, this BofA and other companies’ use of TARP funds to oppose the Employee Free Choice Act supports an argument that the current economic crisis is a result of corporate lobbying. A corporate-funded assault on government has resulted in de-legislation and deregulation, enriching a few at the expense of the rest of us, while eroding the foundations of our economy and our democracy. Now the public has been harvested in one scheme after another, plundered for every dollar as incomes stagnated, debt skyrocketed and savings fell. Consumption fell off the cliff as the work- and debt-load tapped out people’s ability to participate in the economy. The resulting crisis has led to taxpayer dollars propping them all up.

And now millions of those taxpayer dollars are being used for … even more lobbying.

Whether or not this collapse occurred as a direct result of lobbying and other influence buying, it was not a grassroots movement that led to repealing the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, allowing financial giants to trade mortgage-backed securities and collateralized debt obligations. It was not citizens holding politicians’ feet to the fire that killed the Financial Services Antifraud Network Act. At the same time the lobbying-bought deregulation and suspension of oversight allowed these companies to sell trillions in credit default swaps without the necessary reserves to cover the potential downside. And here we are.

Companies understand lobbying as a way to profit, not to advance policies that serve all of us. A 2006 New York Times article discusses how Google felt it had “no choice but to get into the arena” to start “spreading its lobbying dollars” around to politicians and quotes a Google lobbyist saying the “policy process is an extension of the market battlefield.” According to the Washington Post, a lobbyist explosion occurred in the last decade, doubling to 34,750 between 2000 and 2005, the result of “wide acceptance among corporations that they need to hire professional lobbyists to secure their share of federal benefits.”

This lobbying does not bring We, the People any benefit, it only boosts the financial interests of certain individuals. This is not competition to improve a product or service or the efficiency of the company. It is paying off politicians to gain unfair competitive advantage or to receive subsidies or tax breaks.

Clearly it is time to demand that TARP recipients stop using corporate funds for anything other than operating their companies, and get their noses out of our business.

Lobbyists say they serve a necessary function, providing information to legislators. But corporations can’t have it both ways. If lobbying is purely informational and not intended to sway favor for particular corporations, then the funds are not being used to generate profit for the shareholders and the use of funds and resources is theft from the company. But if the lobbying is intended to tilt the playing field and gain benefits for a company over others it is really just bribery, an affront to our democracy and laws, corrupting our system. If the use of corporate funds to lobby is for the financial gain of a few executives, this is also theft from the company by those few for their personal gain.

We should immediately prohibit companies from engaging in lobbying while accepting taxpayer dollars. Restricting lobbying by TARP recipients would be a bipartisan solution, as Republican lawmakers have called for exactly this approach in the past. The 1981 Heritage Foundation Mandate for Leadership called for a ban on lobbying by recipients of federal funds, as did the 1995 Republican “Istook Amendment.”

And it is time to open a discussion about whether any corporate funds – whether the company is a recipient of TARP funding or not – should be used to influence our government. We should be telling them what to do, not the other way around.

Click through to the Commonweal Institute’s Uncommon Denominator blog

California Government Is Good People But The System Is Designed To Fail

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
I was in Sacramento for some meetings this week, and have a few thoughts and observations.
The first is the most important. The people in and around our government are good, dedicated people who are doing those jobs because they care and want to do the right thing. You don’t make big money in public service. In the last few decades a government job meant less pay than a comparable “private” sector job and a number of working-environment hassles, like the extra procedures (paperwork and bureaucracy) that are required in public positions to involve transparency and accountability. And, of course, they have to put up with the Republican-inspired abuse of people who work for the government. So give these people a break and assume good faith.
After decades of budget cutting our government is universally strapped for resources and it makes for a difficult workday. The things people went into public service to accomplish are being stripped out from under them by the state’s structured-to-fail system (see below). I hope the Bush years trigger some serious thinking about what things would be like without a government, because we are getting close to that possibility.
The state government is now structurally designed to fail — and this latest budget deal compounds the problem. This situation was created on purpose by anti-government ideologues, usually corporate-funded. Thus really is a choice between government by the people or government by a wealthy few who happen to be in control of large corporations. To them government is “in the way” of making money. Government means food and safety inspectors so people don’t get sick and workers don’t get hurt, and protecting workers and the public costs them profits. Government means regulations stopping them from dumping stuff in the water or air and properly disposing of waste costs them money. Government means regulations that make them pay back customers who are overcharges. Government means regulations requiring delivering goods and services that were promised. SO you can see why the hate government and regulation — they keep them from just taking your money and giving nothing back!
So they have used the power that comes from their access to corporate resources to set up a state system that is giving them what they want. They pay petition-gatherers to get anti-government initiatives on the ballot, and then they flood the TV and radio with lying ads that trick people into voting against their own interests — and here we are.
Here are just a few of our designed-to-fail structural problems:

  • Term limits mean that thinking must be short term, and encourages passing problems along instead of solving them, because then the problems will be “not on my watch.” People who are effective in their jobs are forced out, and voters who want to keep them there are prevented from doing so.
  • The campaign-finance system puts corporate-backed candidates in office by necessitating big money to win elections. And corporations, designed to amass resources, are perfect vehicles for pushing the interests of the few who control them.
  • The two-thirds budget requirement means that a few anti-government extremists are able to sabotage the process, keeping any budget from passing and shutting down the state.
  • The disappearance of political reporting in California media means the state’s citizens are uninformed about what is going on. The corporate-owned media concentrates on sitcoms and what Britney is wearing, and does not let the people find out what government is about.
    These are just some of the structural problems, and the system is. of course, structurally designed to keep us from fixing them. The only way we are going to address this is to get lots and lots of people involved. The election of Barack Obama tells us this is possible but I despair at amount of work that will have to be done to accomplish it.
    Click through to Speak Out California

  • Corporate Tax Trickery

    This post first appeared at Speak Out California.
    Here we go again with the “corporate taxes are passed along to the consumer” lie. Instead of telling the public about harm to the public interest from budget cuts, teacher layoffs, privatizing public resources, police cutbacks, etc., instead we hear about how taxing the rich is a terrible thing.
    What am I talking about? See The Tax Foundation – Tax Foundation TV, Radio Ads Show That Corporate Income Taxes Cost the Average American Household $3,190. They have a couple of ads their corporate funders are paying them to run.
    And of course there is the usual scholarly proof that we should all give ever more money to the corporate rich,

    “Research from the Congressional Budget Office shows that in a global economy where capital is highly mobile but workers can’t easily move abroad, workers end up bearing the brunt of corporate taxes. In 2007, Economist William Randolph found that 70 percent of corporate tax burdens fall on employees through lower wages and productivity, while the remaining 30 percent fall on company shareholders.”

    Taxes are not a cost that can be “passed on to the customer.” Taxes are calculated as a percentage of profits, after all costs are figured in. A well-run business charges the most it can get for its product or service. If the business has competitors it has to price its product or service in some relationship to competing products or services. Were a business to add to to prices to cover taxes this would increase the price above what had been determined to be the optimal price! If a company were able to raise prices to cover taxes the it would mean the company was previously negligent in not pricing as high as the market would bear.
    And if the company was negligent, then increasing prices to cover taxes would increase profits, which would increase taxes, which would require an additional price increase, which would increase profits which would increase taxes. Etc. – you get the picture. It’s a silly idea.
    In the same way, a properly-run business has as many employees as it needs. When profitability caused them to apy taxes, it means they employed the correct number of people to realize that profit, and certainly are not going to lay someone off because they made a profit that was taxed.
    But one step further on this. A corporation itself is neutral on taxes. After all, a corporation is just a bundle of contracts, and doesn’t really have interests any more than a chair has interests. It is the owners who have interests and it is a good idea to think about any “passing on” involving corporate taxes is that it can lower the amount of money that is “passed on” to those people at the top of the economic ladder. Realizing this changes the way the brain understands the problem here. The fundamental question then becomes WHO is benefiting from our economy, and our legal infrastructure that creates and protects corporations. It really is about which people are getting the cash, and seen in this light, this idea of lowering or elimminating corporate taxes takes on a new meaning.
    This ad plays on public misunderstanding of taxes – a misunderstanding previously created by the same crowd. (Similar to the idea that if you earn a penny over $250K all of your earnings are taxed at the higher rate.) So it is like a further step in a strategy of creating increasing ignorance, so that you can further harvest the public… (Why can’t WE think in terms of multi-stage strategies, but to instead increase public understanding and appreciation of democracy?)
    So, when will we start hearing about the harm caused to the public interest by reduced taxes on corporations and the rich causing us to lay off teachers, cut police and firefighters, defer infrastructure maintenance, etc.? When do we hear about how this hurts, instead of always about how taxes hurt the rich?
    Click through to Speak Out California

    Another Corporate Gimmick – Arbitration

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.
    Does your credit card or bank loan agreement have an “arbitration clause?” More and more consumer-oriented contracts and “agreements” have clauses specifying that disputes must go to arbitration rather than our civil justice system. The justification for this is that arbitration saves the time and expense of working within our legal system. But here’s the thing: the corporations choose the arbitrators and every arbitrator knows they will never, ever, ever, ever (ever) get another job if they rule against the corporations. Never.
    And guess what: 98.8% of arbitrations end up in favor of the corporations. This is not a surprise.
    The Progressive States Network’s newsletter has a story about this today, Arbitration: “Set up to squeeze small sums of money out of desperately poor people”,

    The headline above is a quote from former West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Richard Neely, describing what his role was as an arbitrator at the National Arbitration Forum (NAF), a for-profit company hired to enforce mandatory arbitration clauses for credit card consumer loans. “NAF is nothing more than an arm of the collection industry hiding behind a veneer of impartiality,” says Richard Neely.
    In a devastating expose by BusinessWeek, Neely and other former arbitrators describe an arbitration system stacked completely against consumers– a system where creditors win 99.8% of all disputes involving companies ranging from Bank of America to Sears to Citgroup. Arbitration clauses buried in the fine print of credit card offers means consumers lose the right to have disputes decided in an independent court and instead are forced into corporation-selected arbitration firms.

    The BusinessWeek story mentioned in the Progressive States Network story is titled, Banks vs. Consumers (Guess Who Wins)
    This story about credit card companies taking unfair advantage of consumers is one more attack on citizen rights to access our own legal system (one more of so many attacks). Think about what is happening here. First the big corporations fought against “regulations” which are the rules that We, the People set up requiring safe workplaces or environmental standards, or products that do not injure people, etc. Then when fewer regulations of course resulted in worker or consumer injuries or toxic spills or other harms the inured parties filed more lawsuits asking the companies to make good. So in response to these lawsuits the corporate-financed “tort reform” movement came along, working to limit the ability of citizens to be compensated for the results of corporate bad behavior. The result has been fewer regulations preventing harms and more restrictions on citizen access to courts where we can seek damages after we are harmed.
    I didn’t even bring up the corporate-conservative movement to install their own business-friendly judges in the courts.
    But even those erosions of our access to justice has not been enough for the greedy corporations. Now there is arbitration: clauses that show up in contracts and agreements that remove your ability to take a dispute to the courts at all! And the judges in these courts are dependent on the corporations for their livelihood!
    Deregulation, tort reform and now arbitration that is rigged against the consumer. Drip, drip, drip. One after another the big corporations are eroding the rights of citizens.
    Click through to Speak Out California.

    Job Killers — Or Just More Fear?

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
    The California Chamber of Commerce has released its annual list of what it calls “job-killer bills.”
    Why is it that the Chamber’s job-killer bills hit-list seems to only target Democrats? Not a single targeted bill belongs to a Republican. “Bad bills”, like those designed to protect public health, climate concerns or consumer rights legislation, are all authored by Democrats. The chamber has always been a lobbying organization, but it has gotten so bad that the Chamber seems to have devolved into little more than just one more fear-mongering Republican Party front group.
    The “job killers” on this list are any laws that protect consumers, reduce energy use, require worker protections or anything else that might hinder a very few corporate executives from reeling in another several-hundred-million dollars a year. The jobs that are “killed” are those of lobbyists for the energy industry.
    The first group on the “job killer” list is bills that ask for any kind of energy or water conservation or environmental standards for new housing construction. For example, AB 1085. The bill describes itself as undating,

    “building design and construction standards and energy conservation standards for new residential and nonresidential buildings to reduce wasteful, uneconomic, inefficient, or unnecessary consumption of energy.”

    But the Chamber’s job-killer list says this

    Substantially increases the cost of housing and development in California by implementing significant energy efficiency measures

    Now, think about this — if it costs less to heat and cool your house, this saves you money. If you want to add energy-saving technology like solar electric or water-heating on your house this creates good jobs. Maybe Exxon won’t benefit as much from this as the new, upcoming solar industry, but heck, the solar companies aren’t coughing up the big bucks and providing the good jobs to the Chamber of Commerce’s lobbyists!
    The next group of “job killers” is “workplace mandates” like paid sick leave for employees, disability pay for on-the-job injuries or providing California’s citizens with health insurance.
    Ah yes, the money businesses pay out to provide sick leave and disability pay for those pesky employees “kills jobs.” They could hire so many more people if they didn’t have to actually pay them and keep them from getting injured! This is one of the oldest arguments in the books. Slaves are always cheaper. But why do we have an economy if not to provide US with good jobs and other benefits? Do we have an economy so a very few corporate CEOs get all the money and benefits, or do we have an economy so the people can also get good pay and benefits and safe working conditions? The evidence (this, for example) is clear that good wages and benefits do not hurt jobs or the economy.
    Then there are “economic development barriers” like asking online retailers to collect the same sales taxes that you local business owner collects, asking the wealthy to help pay for our schools, raising fire standards in high-risk fire areas and protecting our environment. I guess the online retailers must be paying the Chamber more this year than the retailers who have to actually rent storefronts and pay wages in your town. I can’t think of any other reason why SOME retailers should collect sales taxes and others should be exempt. Doesn’t this change the playing field waaayyy in favor of online retailers and harm the prospects of businesses that actually set up in our local communities? God forbid we ask them to help pay for our schools and police and fire protection!
    This “job killer” list is nothing more than the use of fear to scare us into allowing a few rich corporations to have their way. By saying that protecting workers or the environment might “cost jobs” they are trying to make us afraid to ask these big corporations to live up to their responsibilities to our communities. How long will we let these lobbyists make us afraid?

    Why Don’t We Hear About Labor Issues Anymore?

    Last week security guards working at Kaiser Permanente facilities in California went on strike to protest illegal anti-union activities on the part of their employer, Inter-Con Security. Instead of hiring security guards directly in California, or using a union-friendly security contractor, Kaiser contracts with Inter-Con. The strike lasted three days.
    A few local TV news broadcasts covered the story, and there were a few newspaper articles announcing that there was going to be a strike. But there was almost no actual coverage of the strike except on progressive sites and labor outlets. What’s up with that?
    Why does the media barely cover labor issues?
    Of course, when I write “the media” here I mean the newspapers, TV and radio that we usually call the “mainstream” media and lots of us call the “corporate” media. This is where most people get the news and information that forms the basis of their opinions and understanding about what is happening – and why it is happening. And therefore for most people the information presented by this mainstream or corporate media necessarily forms the basis of their voting decisions, their opinion poll survey answers, and their overall acceptance of and consent for actions conducted in their name by government and other institutions of society.
    When things are repeatedly reported in “the media” as problems, most people begin to become concerned and perceive that these “problems” need to be somehow “solved.” We see cycles of this development of public concern. In recent years, for example, the media has done a great deal of reporting on the problem if children being kidnapped. And there is a great deal of concern about this among parents — to the point that societal patterns are changing and children rarely are allowed out of the house unaccompanied. Fewer and fewer children walk to school, go to parks alone, etc.
    In reality child kidnappings are extremely rare, which makes this a case study of the power of the major media to sway the behavior of the entire country. Over the years similar media-driven concerns about drugs, shark attacks and satanic cults have created waves of national hysteria.
    If actual threats held sway, car accidents, guns, and other real threats would receive much, much more public attention and concern.
    The other side of this ability to drive public attention is the power to hide real problems. The national debt is approaching ten trillion dollars, and interest on that debt is approaching half a trillion dollars per year, but is rarely mentioned as a concern. The military budget is greater than the military spending of all other countries in the world combined, much, much higher than when we faced down the Soviet Union, while a lot of people are making a whole lot of money from it with little public scrutiny. (This is not even counting Iraq/Afghanistan spending.) But this is never brought up.
    And then there is the problem that labor unions are trying to address. This is the domination of our government by big-business interests and the accompanying concentration of wealth into the hands of a very few people at the expense of the rest of us. Workers like the Inter-Con security guards who are trying to organize to demand even minimal pay and benefits are absolutely invisible in today’s mainstream/corporate media. The illegal tactics being used – with the assistance of the Bush administration – are not covered by today’s mainstream/corporate media. But what else would you expect, as the media becomes further and further concentrated into the hands of a few very, very large corporations? Do you think for a minute that a large corporation would allow any kind of pro-labor stories to be carried on news media that it owns?
    You hear that the reason for this is that “labor is declining.” Well there are a lot more members of unions in this country than there are Fellows at neo-con think tanks, but you sure do hear from them a lot in the mainstream/corporate media. There are a lot more members of labor unions than there are members of the far-right Christian Coalition, but you sure hear a lot about their concerns the corporate media. And there are a lot more people who work for a living in jobs that pay too little, don’t provide adequate health care or sick leave or other benefits and need to hear about the benefits of joining unions. That’s for damn sure.
    In fact any coverage of the plight of these security guards is necessarily pro-labor. When you hear about their living and working conditions you will understand what I mean. My next post will be about that, so stay tuned.
    I encourage you to visit StandForSecurity.org.
    I am proud to be helping SEIU spread the word about this strike. sfs-234x60-animated-v2

    Why They (And You) Need A Union

    Yesterday I wrote about the security guards who are striking at Kaiser Permanente because their contractor-employer is engaging in illegal tactics while trying to block them from forming a union. The guards work for Inter-Con Security Inc., which is contracted by Kaiser to provide security services.
    You can read articles with details about what happened with the strike yesterday here and here. (There is close to zero coverage of this strike in newspapers. But you wouldn’t expect a corporate-owned media to provide information about labor, now would you?)
    Please visit the site Stand for Security for background and details about the security guards’ fight to form a union.
    While this strike is about violations of workers’ rights, there are very good reasons for their three-year effort to form a union.
    In Oregon, the state just north of California, Kaiser Permanente security guards are employed by Kaiser, not by a contractor. They are unionized and here is a short chart of just some of the difference this makes.

    In-House Union (ILWU)
    Kaiser Security Officers
    Inter-Con Officers at Kaiser
    Wages $15 – $18 per hour
    (Oregon has a much lower
    cost of living)
    As little as $10.40 per hour
    Raises $.70 – $1.45/hour annually,
    depending on seniority
    (Guaranteed in writing!)
    No schedule, no guarantee
    Free Family Health Care YES NO
    Health Insurance Elegibility 20 hours worked “Full-time”, which for many
    officers means 1-2 years of
    working 40 hours a week before
    qualifying for health insurance.
    Bereavement Pay 3 days paid time off none
    Sick Leave 1.6 hours per pay period
    (Time accrues)
    none
    Jury Duty Paid off as needed none
    Pension YES none
    Grievance Procedure YES none
    Shift Differential $.90/hour evenings
    $1.25/hour nights
    none

    This chart is an example of the difference that a union makes. The column on the left — the one with better pay, health care, sick days, pension and other benefits — is the workers who are in a union. The column on the right is these security guards. So this is why these security guards have been fighting for three years to join a union. The employer, Inter-Con Security won’t even give sick days! For people working in hospitals! What are these workers supposed to do? And they won’t even pay when the workers have jury duty! (Shouldn’t a company be concerned about the greater public good, like a court system that works?)
    But this chart is also representative of other workplaces, showing the difference that forming a union can make for other workers. How else are workers going to get back their rights, get health care, get pensions, and get paid? If you see a better idea out there, please let us all know because this strike and the things happening to these security guards shows that it is very very difficult to form a union. In today’s environment where workers are afraid of employers moving their jobs overseas – or even just laying them off and telling everyone else to work harder – and then giving their pay out as raises to the executives and multi-million-dollar bonuses to the CEO, this is a very brave action to take.
    On top of that, the Republican government has stacked the labor Department and the National Labor Relations Board to side with the big corporations. So it is even harder to form a union than ever. Which is, of course, why wages are stagnating and CEO pay is off the charts.
    This is why these workers are striking — to demand that their civil rights be honored and to demand that their right to form a union be honored. These security guards are placing everything on the line — and doing this for all of us. If they win this fight, all of us are a step further toward our rights being honored, and toward our own jobs paying more and giving benefits.
    I am proud to be helping SEIU spread the word about this strike. sfs-234x60-animated-v2.gif