Democracy V. Plutocracy, Unions V. Servitude

Servitude: “a condition in which one lacks liberty especially to determine one’s course of action or way of life”
Democracy: “a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections”
Plutocracy: government by the wealthy
Labor union: an organization of workers formed for the purpose of advancing its members’ interests in respect to wages, benefits, and working conditions
You may have seen the recent flurry of stories about how hi-tech products are made in China. The stories focus on Apple, but it isn’t just Apple. These stories of exploited Chinese workers are also the story of how and why we — 99% of us, anyway — are all feeling such a squeeze here, because we are suffering the disappearance of our middle class. Our choice is democracy or servitude.

Working In China

A collection of excerpts from the Charles Duhigg and David Barboza story, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad and the Charles Duhigg and Keith Bradsher story, How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work both from the NY Times:
Rousted from dorms at midnight, told to work:

Apple had redesigned the iPhone’s screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly line overhaul. New screens began arriving at the plant near midnight.
A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.

“Work hard on the job today or work hard to find a job tomorrow.”

Banners on the walls warned the 120,000 employees: “Work hard on the job today or work hard to find a job tomorrow.”

(How close is that to the very definition of servitude?)
Long shifts, legs swollen from standing:

Shifts ran 24 hours a day, and the factory was always bright. At any moment, there were thousands of workers standing on assembly lines or sitting in backless chairs, crouching next to large machinery, or jogging between loading bays. Some workers’ legs swelled so much they waddled. “It’s hard to stand all day,” said Zhao Sheng, a plant worker.

Write confessions if late:

Mr. Lai was soon spending 12 hours a day, six days a week inside the factory, according to his paychecks. Employees who arrived late were sometimes required to write confession letters and copy quotations. There were “continuous shifts,” when workers were told to work two stretches in a row, according to interviews.

Injuries from speed-up toxics:

Investigations by news organizations revealed that over a hundred employees had been injured by n-hexane, a toxic chemical that can cause nerve damage and paralysis.
Employees said they had been ordered to use n-hexane to clean iPhone screens because it evaporated almost three times as fast as rubbing alcohol. Faster evaporation meant workers could clean more screens each minute.

American companies forcing Asian suppliers to squeeze workers:

“You can set all the rules you want, but they’re meaningless if you don’t give suppliers enough profit to treat workers well,” said one former Apple executive with firsthand knowledge of the supplier responsibility group. “If you squeeze margins, you’re forcing them to cut safety.”

The Results For The 1%

A series of recent newspaper headlines tells the story of how China’s working conditions benefit the 1% here.
NYT: Apple’s Profit Soars‎
CBS Moneywatch: Apple shares close at record high
SF Chronicle: Apple CEO’s Stock Awards Lift Compensation to $378 Million
ZDNet: Apple: made in China, untaxed profits kept offshore. We don’t even get to tax the profits from moving our jobs to China, to use for schools, roads, police, etc.

The Results For The 99%

Headlines like these show how things are going better and better for the 1%. But what happened to our middle-class prosperity? We allowed companies to move jobs and factories across the borders of democracy to places where workers are exploited, calling that “trade.” This enabled the breaking of unions and the weakening of our democracy.
The threat is in the air: “Shut up and take the wage cuts or we will move your job to China.” How is that threat used on us? Here is an example: We have heard the stories of Mitt Romney’s company Bain Capital, and how it “earned” its millions. According to the Christian Science Monitor, this is the story of what happened when a Bain-owned company “came to town”:

The new owner, American Pad & Paper, owned in turn by Bain Capital, told all 258 union workers they were fired, in a cost-cutting move. Security guards hustled them out of the building. They would be able to reapply for their jobs, at lesser wages and benefits, but not all would be rehired.

Workers in countries like China where people have no say have low wages, terrible working conditions, long hours, and are told to shut up and take it or they won[t have any job at all. They are given no choice.
Increasingly workers here have their wages, hours, benefits, dignity cut and are told to shut up and take it or their jobs will be moved to China. Because we are pitted against exploited workers in countries where people have no say, we have no choice.
The unions are weakened, the government doesn’t enforce or weakly enforces labor laws and regulations, age, gender or race discrimination laws, worker safety laws, so workers are placed in a terrible squeeze. Workers who try to organize unions are isolated, moved, smeared, fired, humiliated, whatever it takes.
This quote by Steve Jobs is from How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work,

Not long ago, Apple boasted that its products were made in America. Today, few are. Almost all of the 70 million iPhones, 30 million iPads and 59 million other products Apple sold last year were manufactured overseas.
Why can’t that work come home? Mr. Obama asked.
Mr. Jobs’s reply was unambiguous. “Those jobs aren’t coming back,” he said, according to another dinner guest.

Democracy Brought Us Prosperity

We used to be a democracy, where everyone used to have a say in things. Because we had a say we built up a country with good schools, good infrastructure, good courts, and we made rules that said workers had to be safe, get a minimum wage, overtime, weekends… we protected the environment, we set up Social Security. We took care of each other. This made us prosperous. A share of the prosperity for the 99% was the fruit of democracy.
China, on the other hand, is not a democracy, and workers in China don’t really have a say. So they don’t make much money, they don’t have good working conditions, the environment isn’t protected, etc.

We Used To Protect Democracy

We used to protect our democracy. We used to put a tariff on goods coming in if they were made by people who didn’t have the ability to speak up and better their condition. We’d let the goods in but we would use a tariff to strengthen our country, our infrastructure, our schools – our democracy. This brought us prosperity.
For some reason, we started letting our companies move our factories over there, forcing our workers to compete with workers who have no say. We got tricked, by people who call that “trade,” and said it would be good for us. (Like cutting taxes for the wealthy “job creators” is good for us.)
We opened the borders and let the big companies move the jobs, factories and industries over the border of our democracy, to places where workers don’t have a say, so they are exploited. And the result was the big corporations were able to come back and cut our pay, and get rid of our pensions, and tell us, “take it, shut up, or we will move your job, too.” We made the wages and working and conditions and environmental protections prosperity that democracy brings into a cost. We turned ourselves into a cost. We made democracy a competitive disadvantage.

Plutocrats Say Shed Benefits Of Democracy

Plutocrats say we need to shed the benefits of democracy and become more like China if we want to compete. They say get rid of regulations, employee protections, environmental protections, good wages, benefits like pensions and time off, etc… They say that We, the People (government) “get in the way of doing business.” They say the taxes that pay for good infrastructure and schools and police and courts and services like Social Security and care for the disabled and health care for children “take money out of the economy” but they mean these take some of the money that they have been taking from the economy.

Democracy Is The Best Economics

Look at the primary target of the corporate/conservatives: unions. That should tell you something. This is a power confrontation. This is the power of the 1% overcoming the power of the 99%.
Democracy is the power of the 99% to make the decisions, and to build structures that protect us from exploitation by the wealthy and powerful. This confrontation is the story of the origin of our country — how We, the People confronted the power and corruption of the British aristocracy, overcame that power, and built a country of, by and for the people.
Democracy and the taxes it enabled us to ask from the wealthiest is what enabled us to build the infrastructure and schools and everything that enabled our prosperity. The regulations of democracy are what enable our smaller businesses to compete with the giants. The shared prosperity — redistribution of wealth — is what enabled the middle class to grow, and turned us into the most prosperous country and largest market in the world.

Unions

Unions are about building up the power of groups of people, to confront and overcome the advantages of wealth and the power wealth brings to a few. When a union is strong enough to be able to confront the power of big corporations the result is that the 99% get a share of the pie. When unions are strong we all get better wages and better working conditions and a say in how we are treated, whether we are in unions or not. The benefits flow to the rest of the economy.
It would be nice if our system worked well enough that we didn’t need to organize unions on top of the structure of laws and regulations, but it is just the fact of life that the wealthy and powerful and their corporations have throughout our history been able to exert tremendous influence over legislative bodies, again and again. So to fight that working people organize and build these organized unions of people, and leverage that power of the group to demand wages and benefits and weekends and a share of the prosperity. The story of the power confrontation between unions of working people (99%) and the large corporations (1%) is the story of how we built a middle class that brought us the prosperity we enjoyed.
It is not just a coincidence that the weakening of the unions coincides with the decline of the middle class. It is not just a coincidence that the current rise of the plutocrats brings in a swarm of anti-union legislation. It is not just a coincidence that the times when our democracy is strongest we all do so much better. And now, when our demcoracy has been weakened by the money and power of the 1% and their corporations, the rest of us are so much worse off.

Not US v. China

This is not about US workers and markets vs China. Working people in all countries are at risk when their countries trade with countries where workers are exploited. China’s huge trade imbalance is threatening the world’s economy. The loss of manufacturing to countries that exploit workers is threatening workers in many countries.
The US market is still large, and the US can still demand that imported goods be made according to better standards for workers. The rest of the world can also demand that China’s workers be brought up to international standards. And we can certainly hold companies like Apple accountable, and demand that they only buy from suppliers that treat and pay workers according to international standards, because allowing companies to cheat, exploit workers and commit fraud drives the good companies out of business.
This is not about taking jobs back from Chinese workers! This is about demanding they be paid fairly and given a say in their workplaces! This is about not exploiting people there or here!
Trade can be an upward spiral, rather than a lever for exploitation of the 99% by the 1%. If Chinese workers are given a say and paid fairly then they can buy things we make and we can keep buying things they make.
Unions = Democracy = Middle Class = Shared Prosperity
Jon Stewart explains:

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
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Why Keep The Capital Gains Tax Break?

m4s0n501

Mitt Romney’s ultra-low tax rate on his ultra-high income is reviving questions about the breaks and perks that the wealthiest of the 1% receive from the rest of us. One of these is a special low tax rate for investments — as if anyone needed special tax incentives to induce them to make a bundle.
High Incomes At The Top
How much does Romney make? We won’t know until we get a chance to see his tax returns — if we do — but Romney described his $374,328 income from speaking fees last year as “not very much.” If $374K is “not very much” of his income … well … at least we can understand why he feels he can casually make $10,000 bets as if he was just pulling a dime from his pocket.
In his post What Mitt’s Taxes Could’ve Paid For (If Not For Those Cushy Tax Breaks), Richard Eskow writes,

1,470 households made more than a million dollars and yet paid nothing — zero, zip, nada — in Federal income tax in 2009.
[. . .] The top 25 hedge fund managers in the US made $22 billion in 2010.

Low Taxes At The Top
Mitt Romney’s admission that he probably pays a 15% tax rate shows us what is going on. For you or me, when our taxable income passes about $35,000, we start paying a 25% rate, much higher than Mitt pays on his millions on income. (That doesn’t mean we pay 25% on money up to $35K, which is what most people think. It means any additional money we make after the $35K is taxed at that higher rate rate. If we make $35,001 we only pay an increase of ten cents. That’s how tax brackets work.)
Lots Of Money To Use To Attack The Deficits
This special low tax rate on capital gains is sucking a lot of money out of We, the People’s ability to pay for our schools, military, infrastructure, etc, which is part of why we are borrowing so much. How much? Continuing to steal from Richard Eskow’s post,

As we wrote earlier, eliminating these tax breaks would add as much as $44 billion to our bottom line in the next ten years. Or to put it another way:
Ending cushy breaks for these 25 billionaires could also reduce the deficit by as much as $44 billion. Paging all deficit hawks!
In 2008 the taxable income of everyone earning above $100,000 was $3.4 trillion. If we concentrate our tax reform on the upper end of that spectrum — the Romneys, not the folks in the $100-$400 thousand range — we know that every percentage point in increased collection comes out to another $34 billion per year. That ain’t chicken feed.

Why The Low Capital Gains Tax Rate?
The justification for a special tax rate for gains from investing capital is supposed to be to provide an incentive to invest. But there is already a really good incentive to invest: to make a bundle of cash. Piling a special “incentive” on top of making a bundle of cash creates market distortions – moving investors away from deciding where to put their money based on the value and merits of the investment and toward tax-reduction schemes.
The necessary precondition for investing capital is having capital. So a tax break on the return from investing capital is by definition a break for the well-off. Here is the reality: capital gains are taxed at a lower rate because most of the income of the 1% is from capital gains, and most of the income of the 1% is from capital gains because the tax rate is lower. The “incentive to invest” should be making a good investment, period.
I’ll bet you $10,000 that getting rid of this tax break helps fix the deficit, and leads to a saner investment climate. (Of course, I’m kidding, I think that is a lot of money.)
This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
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What Next In The Fight Over Who Our Economy Is For?

Who is our economy for, anyway? In the United States We, the People are supposedly in charge and our country and economy are supposed to be managed for the public good. But that isn’t how things have been working out, is it?
Let’s take a quick look at America over the last few decades.
We used to have a social contract. We invested in top-notch infrastructure (like the interstate highway system) and education (the best universities and research), and then tax the resulting gains at very high rates, to recirculate those gains for the benefit of all of us.
Broken Social Contract
Then the contract was broken. Starting in the 1970s a cabal of wealthy businessmen and conservative ideologues organized and funded an attack on We, the People government, manipulating public opinion and our political system, gutting the regulations and trade rules that protected us and our way of life, privatizing — selling off things We, the People own — and killing the tax-and-invest cycle so they could keep the gains from all of that prior investment for themselves.
Blanket Of Propaganda
To provide cover for the operation these agents of the 1% spread a thick blanket of propaganda, using every technique in the modern marketing book. They divided us by race, religion, gender, sexual preference, even pitting people who like quiche and lattes against those who like beer and sausage. To cripple potential opposition they infiltrated and fractured key institutions, and turned the public against the news media. They developed a professional career-path system that rewards those who play along with the corruption and destruction and punishes those who do not. To cripple dissent they used ridicule, shame and intimidation.
Destructive Choices Come Home To Roost
Since then things have steadily fallen apart. The infrastructure is crumbling. Unemployment is extreme. The country has very high debt. The trade deficit is extreme. Half of us are poor or nearly poor. Inequality is at the highest levels.
Bailouts For The 1%, Sell-Outs For The 99%
When things hit the fan it became clear that our country is no longer run for the good of We, the People. When it came down to it, a few got special treatment, the rest of us got … uh, less-than-special-treatment. (And weren’t even kissed.)
When the financial crisis occurred Congress was told they literally had only hours to come up with hundreds of billions to bail out the too-big-to-fail banks, and they did – with almost no conditions. We know now that the Federal Reserve also stepped up, providing trillions to the big banks, even hundreds of millions to bankers’ spouses! State and local governments, institutions and smaller businesses? The unemployed and millions facing foreclosure? Not so much.
Plutocracy Not Democracy
They provided assistance for the giant financial institutions of the 1%. Instead of providing assistance to the 99& — We, the People — our government instead cut the things We, the People do for each other. It was made clear that this country is now a plutocracy, not a democracy.
System Of Control Breaking Down
It is clear where we are. But it is also clear that the system of control is breaking down. The elections of 2006 and 2008 shook the foundations. Democracy tried to reassert control. The behind-the-scenes system of lobbyists writing legislation that passes under cover of “studies” from corporate-front think tanks, telling us this is for our own good, propelled by a flurry of corporate-funded op-eds, stopped working. After the bailouts for banks / sell out for the rest of us, people started figuring things out. In response the 5-4 Supreme Court handed down the Citizens United decision, flooding the system with corporate money.
Instead of stealth takeover masked by propaganda we now see blatant grabs of wealth and raw power poorly disguised. Now the control is in our faces every day. Even constant filibusters of acts that might help We, the People were no longer enough to keep a lid on. So now it is shutdowns, hostage-taking, refusal to follow laws, refusal to prosecute, threats to take down the government and/or the economy. Now more visible methods of suppression are in use — batons, tasers and pepper spray.
Waking Up
Everyone has been frustrated, discouraged, betrayed, scared and angry but without a focus for action. Then came the Occupy movement, people actually showing up and showing how! It resonated. People responded, and the conversation of the country was pulled out of the propaganda fog, at least for a while.
Stephen Lerner, interviewed by Sarah Jaffe for AlterNet, discusses where we go from here, saying, “[I]t’s an exciting feeling to see something a lot of people spent a lifetime hoping for –this kind of dramatic increase in activity that targets financial capital, those who really control the country.” On Occupy Wall Street, Lerner says,

Everybody knows they’re getting zapped by banks, and what’s so good about Occupy is that it’s put that front and center. The fact that they were in Wall Street, I think everybody forgets. It was not Occupy a park somewhere, it was the fact that it was in the middle of the financial district. And I think on an intuitive level, people all over the political spectrum understand that those guys are at the center of how the economy is organized in a way that doesn’t work for most people.

On Wall Street’s position in our economy,

I don’t think people are mad at somebody who invented a product or founded a company. It’s that people see that Wall Street is not productive. Their wealth and their riches, they do not come through any normal means — they come through cheating and gambling and ripping us off, which I think troubles us in a different kind of way.

On today,

I don’t think anybody should view a sort of holiday or winter lull in activity as a sign of anything. As people have said, movements ebb and flow, and whenever we look back, spring is the time that things take off again. It’s really important that people not say “Oh, everything was front page news and now it’s not.” People instead should be stepping back, saying, “In three months we did more than anybody imagined we could do, now it’s time to step back and figure out the next stage.”

What Next?
Now comes the long slog of organizing people into focused action to take back our country from the 1%. Van Jones has been laying the groundwork, joining with MoveOn.org and other organizations to organize the Rebuild the Dream movement, and its Contract for the American Dream. Please visit and get involved.
Here is Van Jones at Netroots Nation, talking about the American Dream movement:

Organized labor is fighting, too, with new tactics and getting more people involved. They are focusing on labor’s role in creating a middle class in America. The recent Take Back the Capitol demonstrations are a case in point. In conjunction with many local and national organizations SEIU brought unemployed people to the DC to occupy the offices of 99 legislators, asking for jobs programs and extensions of unemployment benefits. They also marched on “K Street” – the symbolic center of lobbying activity.
Here is AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka, Take Back the American Dream conference in October, calling for “a massive, militant movement”:

Trumka told the audience that the right wing is “banking on an upside-down America for its path to political power.” Trumka said that now is the time for “a mighty movement for jobs and a just economy,” adding, “We won’t stop fighting, shoving and kicking until everyone is back at work.”
Here is Steelworkers President Leo Gerard, talking about labor support for Occupy Wall street, and holding Wall Street accountable:

Here is Communication Workers of America President Larry Cohen discussing the fight for the middle class on The Ed Show.

See the pics in this post, showing labor’s involvement at the November 2 Occupy Oakland actions:

Up To Us
What happens next is up to us. Don’t be discouraged. “The people, united, will never be defeated.”
THIS is what democracy looks like. Here are Wisconsin protesters chanting: “Tell me what democracy looks like. THIS is what democracy looks like!”

For those of us who can’t get enough, here is 13 minutes of THIS is what democracy looks like!

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
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Dems Should Vote For Clean Debt Limit Bill

The House is voting on a “clean” debt ceiling bill today — a bill to raise the debt ceiling without any “hostage-taking” conditions. This is the right thing to do for the country and every Democrat should vote for this. Voting for a clean bill will draw the contrast for the public between those who are doing the right thing, and those willing to hold the world’s economy hostage to a make-the-rich-richer plutocracy agenda. Democrats who do not vote for a clean bill should lose committee assignments, parking places, even bathroom keys.
The Debt Ceiling
The country’s “debt ceiling” has been reached. This means that the government’s authority to borrow money has reached its limit. The Treasury Department is engaging in gimmicks and schemes to keep the country going but time is running out. The Congress must extend this limit, or the government will default on its bonds.
If our government defaults on its bonds it would initiate a worldwide financial crisis that dwarfs the Wall Street meltdown of a few years ago.
WHY We Have This Debt
In 1981 the Reagan administration dramatically changed the course of the country. They defunded government by passing huge tax cuts for the rich and massively increasing military spending, and began cutting back on the things We, the People (government) do for each other. The country cut back on maintaining — never mind modernizing — our infrastructure, our schools, colleges and universities, scientific research and other things that make us competitive in world markets. We began cashing in our factories and moving the jobs out of the country. As a result of Reagan-era changes our trade deficits soared, wages stagnated, pensions disappeared, and a few extremely wealthy started getting much, much richer.
One major result of these changes, of course, was the huge budget deficits that accumulated into today’s massive debt. This was the plan from the start, to “starve the beast” by defunding government and forcing the debt to reach a level where there was no choice but to cut back on democratic government’s protections for the people, unleashing plutocracy.
Hostage-Taking Enabled: The Tax Cut Extension
This debate over the debt ceiling and hostage-taking follows the recent extension of the Bush tax cuts — another product of hostage-taking. At the end of the last Congress unemployment benefits for the millions of unemployed were running out. Republicans — having filibustered much of the legislation of the prior two years — held the extension of benefits “hostage” saying they would not let it pass unless the deficit-creating Bush tax cuts were extended.
Enough Democrats caved and passed an extension of the Bush tax cuts. This validated hostage-taking as a successful tactic while making the deficit much worse, setting the stage for today’s debt-ceiling fight.
The Vote Is A Trick
Today’s vote has been scheduled by the Republican leadership as a trap, trying to get some Democrats to vote with Republicans to support their hostage-taking agenda and create the appearance of bipartisan support for plutocracy. If the Republican position gets the support of enough Democratic members, Republicans can then demand deep cuts in Medicare and other programs that help people and hold corporate power in check, in exchange for their votes to allow the world’s economy to continue to operate.
From TPM: First Debt Limit Vote Today As GOP Looks To Divide Dems,

The vote is intended to expose fault lines within the Democratic caucus, with Republicans counting on sizable number of Democrats to side with them and bolster their case that Democrats need to agree to deep spending cuts as a condition to raising the debt limit.

Vote For A Clean Debt-Ceiling Bill
Voting for a clean bill stops government-by-hostage-in its tracks. Voting for a clean bill saves the world’s economy. Voting for a clean bill fights the plutocracy agenda. Voting for a clean bill saves Medicare, Social Security and the things We, the People do for each other. Voting for a clean bill is the right thing to do and doing the right thing is the right thing politically.
Call your member of Congress NOW and demand a vote for a clean debt-ceiling bill.

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
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Yet Another Poll Shows… Plutocracy Stupid, Democracy Smart

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
Yet another poll is out, showing that the public wants taxes raised on the rich and on Wall Street and the giant multi-national corporations, and does not want cuts in the things We, the People do for each other. Other polls show the public wants cuts in military spending, and increases in spending on infrastructure and other job-creation, economy-growing investment. And, in fact, if we did these things the deficit problem — caused by tax cuts for the rich and increases in military spending — would be fixed. So why do Washington deficit-reduction plans always do the opposite?
From today’s Progressive Breakfast,

Yet another poll shows strong support for raising taxes on the wealthy, opposition to Medicare and Social Security cuts. W. Post: “The Post-ABC poll finds that 78 percent oppose cutting spending on Medicare as a way to chip away at the debt … 72 percent support raising taxes [on family income over $250,000] … “

Meanwhile, in DC the insider story is that the “Gang of 6″ is “closing in” on a “deficit deal.” In all likelihood it will (they all do) end up being about cutting taxes for the rich and cutting the things We, the People (government) do for each other and cutting investment in the things that make our economy grow: infrastructure, education, science, job-creation, etc…
Serious People
Another popular DC-insider deficit plan is called “Simpson-Bowles.” This plan was put together by a right-wing Republican, former Republican Senator Alan “three hundred million tits” Simpson and a Wall Streeter, Erskine Bowles, a member of the Board of Directors of Morgan Stanley. This plan (they all do) cuts taxes for the rich and cuts the things We, the People (government) do for each other. It is put together by “serious” people so it is considered “serious.”
Poll after poll shows one thing, DC plan after DC plan does another. The public isn’t considered “serious.” Republicans and Wall Streeters are considered to be “serious.” In fact, things the public wants and needs are not considered at all in today’s DC. Democracy is not “serious.”
Democracy vs Plutocracy
In January I wrote about this phenomenon in, Sen. Conrad Plutocracy Plan Vs. Democracy Deficit Commission. Back then the deficit plan was (they all do) to cut taxes on the rich while increasing them on everyone else, and cut Social Security, even though Social Security has nothing whatsoever to do with the deficit. I wrote,

This is what happens when Wall Street and conservative Republicans design a plan: give even more to the already-wealthy few, gut what our government does for We, the People.
Here is the real deficit commission that you would expect to see if we were a democracy instead of a plutocracy: It would have 100 members:

  • 98 of the 100 members would make less than $250,000 a year.
  • 50 of the members would come from households in which the total income of all wage-earners is less than $50,221.
  • 17% of the commission members would be un- or underemployed, and would be wondering why they are on a deficit commission instead of a jobs commission.
  • 19 people on the commission would receive some form of Social Security benefits, 12 of those as retirees. And on this deficit commission they get to talk when the ones making over $250K propose cutting Social Security.
  • 43 of the commission members would have less than $10,000 saved up for retirement. 27 of those less than $1,000.
  • The commission would include the right proportion of factory and construction workers, and people who work in a kitchen, and waiting tables, and teaching, and nursing, and installing tires, and all the other things that people do except, apparently, those on DC elite commissions. (People who do manual labor get an extra vote each on what the retirement age should be.)
  • Include people who are on active duty in the military – the people who said they don’t need that expensive plane, but couldn’t get body armor.
  • 60 members would not have college degrees.
  • 13 members would be receiving food stamps.

What The Public Wants Is Smart
And guess what, when you take a poll, you are measuring what the public wants. A poll shows what would happen if the deficit plans were drawn up by regular people. And POLLS SHOW they want tax increases on the rich and cuts in military. They want jobs programs and infrastructure investment and investment in the things that grow the economy. They want a Medicare-For-All health care plan, and in fact other countries have proven this solves the long-term health care cost problem.
Plutocracy Stupid, Democracy Smart
Here’s the thing: what the public wants actually would fix the borrowing. And what the plutocrats want would make it worse. The deficit is the result of tax cuts for the rich, increases in military spending, spending on the recession and long-term cost increases in health care. So fixing that means putting taxes back where they were before the deficits, realizing that the Soviet Union is gone, investing to grow the economy, and implementing a Medicare-For-All plan like the rest of the world has.
And that is what polls show the public wants to so.
So maybe the public isn’t that stupid after all. Maybe democracy can work. The plutocrats plans are stupid, because the plutocrats just greedily give everything to the plutocrats, and sacrifice everyone’s future, even the plutocrats’.
Plutocracy stupid, democracy smart, fire baaaad!:


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It’s A Really Bad Time to Be Middle Class

It’s a really bad time to even be middle class in this country, and forget about being poor. The only way to be protected is to be very wealthy: then you are guaranteed that your house is safe, your medical care is covered, and your children will have a future. It’s that bad, and not one bit of this is subtle.
There is a class war underway in this country. The rich, or those that represent their interests, and corporations want control. Dave Johnson, blogger for the Campaign for America’s Future, nailed it when he wrote that: “This budget fight is about a stark choice: jobs and growth for We, the People, or going down the road of plutocracy — rule by the super-rich and big corporations — with little or nothing left over for the rest of us.”
This is the power grab of our generation playing out in Obama’s budget. It reflects true entitlement for the super wealthy. The government revitalization of the “too big to fail” banks was only the tipping point. Of course, the bankers deserved their bonuses. Remember that you heard it here. The battleground is not about the so-called entitlement programs espoused by the Democrats. Social Security, and other such programs are not the culprits; they are the scapegoat for the real agenda.
Obama is being forced to rip open the social fabric of this country to reduce the Bush generated debts. In the President’s proposed budget, most social programs will be ravaged left and right (no pun intended). Yes admittedly, this budget is a massive jobs creation machine. But watch out – don’t get sick folks or have an on-the-job accident because there will little if any safety net. Certainly, we all know about health care reform, yet if Speaker Boehner and his boys have their way — that too will be reduced to a hill of beans and severely compromised. The fight for survival of the middle class and the poor has been ratcheted up a notch. Strap in folks, this is class warfare.
Note, this will also appear in the Huffington Post.

Social Security Proposal: Make Them Work — Longer

Update – please see RJ Eskow’s post, As The Aging Stoop To Their Labors, Prosperous Pundits Lecture Them About Sacrifice
This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
DC is talking about cutting Social Security for working people at the very same time it is talking about extending tax breaks for the wealthiest people in history. This is a result of our county’s shift away from democracy and toward plutocracy. This post is about the astonishing change in attitude toward regular people that is the result of this shift.
There is a DC “Deficit Commission” that is supposed to be cutting budget deficits (that result from tax cuts for the wealthy and increases in military spending) but is instead talking about cutting Social Security. Get this: Social Security is a fully-funded program that uses no tax money. By law it cannot borrow so it cannot contribute to the deficit! At the same time, the huge military budget (we spend more than all other countries combined) is completely unfunded and faces a huge shortfall every year — but cutting that is off the table.
The real problem: Social Security built up a huge trust fund that was spent on tax cuts for the rich, and that money is coming due. DC thinking is to cut Social Security instead of paying back what was borrowed. One proposal under consideration is to raise the retirement age, recently increased to 67, to 70! This at the very time that every social indicator is saying that we should be increasing Social Security and lowering the retirement age. Increasing because people’s savings have been slammed by the financial collapse so they need Social Security as their fall-back position, and lowering because so many people over 50 can’t find work.
What About The People Affected?
Almost no one has been talking about how this will effect the people whose benefits will be cut. This is because there has been a change in attitudes in America. We are becoming a not kinder, not gentler nation. The crippled compassion component of conservative ideas about citizenship continues to cut into what’s left of our consciences.
Kudos to the NY Times for sending a reporter out from a comfortable desk in their air-conditioned offices to look at what cutting Social Security means to actual people who actually work. Retiring Later Is Hard Road for Laborers,

A new analysis by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that one in three workers over age 58 does a physically demanding job … — including hammering nails, bending under sinks, lifting baggage — that can be radically different at age 69 than at age 62. Still others work under difficult conditions, like exposure to heat or cold, exposure to contaminants or weather, cramped workplaces or standing for long stretches.

A Washington Post story the next day looks at the flood of desperate people trying to get on Social Security disability because their unemployment benefits are exhausted and they can’t find work. Jobless are straining Social Security’s disability benefits program,

Social Security officials say they are confident that their vetting process screens out most people who might try to get benefits without being qualified. But, they acknowledge, when jobs are scarce, more workers who might otherwise struggle through with their ailments try to secure disability benefits.

McClatchy looked at desperate older people who can’t get jobs and are “taking early retirement” even though it means dramatically reduced monthly checks. Social Security surplus hit by joblessness, early retirement,

Led by aging baby boomers and older workers frustrated by the tough job market, record numbers of eligible Americans started receiving Social Security retirement benefits in 2009. . . . Annual jobless rates for men and women age 55 and older were higher in 2009 than at any time since the government started collecting the data in 1948, Johnson said. That forced many to claim retirement benefits at 62, their first year of eligibility, instead of waiting to collect at the full retirement age of 66.

The findings: People really need the help that Social Security offers.
Cut Social Security? Really? We spent trillions bailing out the wealthy Wall Street elite, we gave huge tax cuts to the wealthiest people in history, we spend hundreds of billions on unaccountable “defense” contractors with shadowy addresses concentrated around DC, and we are seriously considering cutting Social Security?
The New American Attitude
But this is the new America. We’re helping the rich and taking our frustrations out on the unfortunate and weak: “the help.” I wrote about this attitude change in Simpson Social Security Comments Highlight Battle Of Democracy Vs. Plutocracy

These battles over cutting Social Security and extending tax cuts for the wealthy expose the competing worldviews of We, the People democracy vs corporatist plutocracy. Is our country a community of the people, by the people and for the people? Or are we “the help,” only here for the benefit of the wealthy few.
In the democracy worldview we are a community that takes care of and watches out for each other. We are each citizens with equal rights and equal value, to be respected equally. Our government and economy are supposed to be for us. In the democracy worldview we should be increasing Social Security’s benefits because people really need it.

An effect of moving to plutocracy is that the rest of us need to “know our place.” I mean, just who do we think we are? We have been acting like we own this place, like We, the People are in charge here! We think we are entitled to … entitlements. Things have changed and we need to get with the new program. Our job now is to shut up and be thankful for anything we receive the the behest of the country’s new owners.
This is the new attitude: Make Them Work – Citizens As “The Help”

That’s right, you have to make them work, or they’ll just sit around and wont be “productive.” They wont face up to the “consequences” of unemployment. These parasites will just suck the blood out of the producers. You hear language like this all the time from conservatives. The unemployed are “lazy,” or “on drugs” etc. They are not “productive.” They are mooching off the rest of us.
This is all in sharp contrast to the noble rich, who are an entirely different species biologically and spiritually. They are the “wealth producers” who we must treat with kid gloves and certainly not ask them to pay for their use of infrastructure or government services lest they decide to stop working. They just want to keep working, and what they do is so important, so pure, so necessary to the sustenance of the rest of us that they must be coddled at all times lest we lose their golden-egg magic touch!

This is the new attitude: If You Feed Them They Breed — And Other Dehumanizing Conservative Idiocy We Should Ignore

The latest nonsense they are spreading is that helping the unemployed keeps them from finding jobs. Good Lord! This is basically the old “if you feed them they just breed” storyline. They say “it makes them dependent” as if hard-working people laid off because of Wall Street’s scams are squirrels. Or, to hear the nasty way conservatives talk about these human beings, they are like rats. “Hobos,” one Congressman called the unemployed! And the DC elite listen, chuckle and repeat.

This battle over Social Security, at the very same time as DC fights over extending tax cuts to the wealthiest people in history, points out how it will be as our democracy slides away. If we sit back and accept these changes, we lose. To fight this we need to come back to an understanding of what it means to be a citizen in a country where We, the People are supposed to be in charge. A government of We, the People should be about taking care of each other, protecting and empowering each other and respecting each other. WE are supposed to be the boss of you here. And we are supposed to be in charge.
Please add your name to the “Hands Off Social Security” petition. The Deficit Commission should get on to figuring out how to reduce the deficit (clue: it was caused by tax cuts for the rich and military spending increases) and keep their hands off Social Security!
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Simpson Social Security Comments Highlight Battle Of Democracy Vs. Plutocracy

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
Former Wyoming Republican Senator Alan Simpson is co-chair of President Obama’s Fiscal Commission. This is what he said the other day about the relationship between the American people and our government:

“We’ve reached a point now where it’s like a milk cow with 310 million tits!”

This country that was once run by We, the People with government “of the people, by the people and for the people” has become instead a country where the ruling elites can talk about the public as babies, the unemployed as parasites who are jobless because they are “lazy.” The prevailing attitude about the public, from the new Versailles that has grown up around Washington, DC — what bloggers call “the village” seems to be if you feed them they will breed.
Look at the weird situation we are in today. The wealthy are wealthier than ever. The gap between the rich and the rest of us is bigger than ever. Big corporate profits are soaring and the too-big-to-fail multinational corporations have more power than ever. At the same time wages that were stagnant for decades are now dropping, people with jobs are working longer and harder, more of our people are unemployed and unemployed for longer, more without health insurance, more are depending on food stamps for basic nutrition, more are losing their homes than ever with bankruptcies soaring, and small businesses are barely hanging on or are going under at an alarming rate.
But what are our political leaders up to? On the one hand, the deficit commission is focused on cutting Social Security (which does not contribute to the deficit or debt) at a time when more people need it and need it more than ever. On the other hand many in the Congress are looking for ways to extend the deficit-causing Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2%.
And few are talking about our government hiring or helping the unemployed, stimulating the economy, or holding the bad actors who caused this mess accountable. In fact, far from talking about helping our fellow citizens, our ruling DC elites have a different view of things entirely. We, the People are just in the way. It is our own tit-sucking fault, they say, and we need to step up and sacrifice because we are not doing enough to help the people who really deserve it: the producers, the “job creators.”
Did you catch the rhetorical trick I used above? I said “our” people, and “our” government. How quaint. You don’t hear that kind of talk much anymore. Instead you hear about “personal responsibility,” which makes everything that is done to someone by the wealthy and powerful their own fault.
This Is About Democracy vs. Corporatist Plutocracy
These battles over cutting Social Security and extending tax cuts for the wealthy expose the competing worldviews of We, the People democracy vs corporatist plutocracy. Is our country a community of the people, by the people and for the people? Or are we “the help,” only here for the benefit of the wealthy few.
In the democracy worldview we are a community that takes care of and watches out for each other. We are each citizens with equal rights and equal value, to be respected equally. Our government and economy are supposed to be for us. In the democracy worldview we should be increasing Social Security’s benefits because people really need it.
In the plutocratic worldview held by conservatives and corporatist moderates we are “the help,” 310 million loafers (“parasites” is the Randian word) sucking their ” unearned sustenance” (more Rand) from the tits of the milk cow when we all ought to be working harder because the portfolios of the “achievers” (and more) are down a bit. Your value to society is only what you “produce.” Your role otherwise is to “consume.” In that worldview the wealthy deserve tax cuts and the parasites shouldn’t be getting Social Security checks at all.
So what is it going to be? Will we see and understand ourselves as citizens, who share this country on an equal basis with the rich and the poor, with rights and entitlements, deserving dignity, respect, protection and empowerment from a government that is of, be and for We, the People? Will we demand those things and fight for them? Or will we quietly yield those hard-won rights to our “betters” and allow ourselves to be told what to do, fleeced by giant corporations, hoping to get a flat-screen TV out of the deal if we behave?
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