Exclusive: Zach Galifianakis Wants You to Know How Bad Gerrymandering Has Gotten
Exclusive: Zach Galifianakis Wants You to Know How Bad Gerrymandering Has Gotten
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton says she opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) but is having trouble convincing people to believe her. Imagine the trouble Hillary Clinton will have trying to build support for her effort to govern the country if TPP is ratified before her inauguration.
According to Politico’s Wednesday Morning Trade, the Obama administration is launching a “TPP blitz” push to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP),
Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker last week said the administration is planning at least 30 trade events by the end of the month. That effort, similar to last year’s “all of Cabinet” push for trade promotion authority, is expected to shift to Capitol Hill in September when lawmakers return from their summer break.
In spite of the opposition of much of the public, both presidential candidates, all of labor, almost all Democrats, all progressive-aligned consumer, human rights, environmental and other organizations and even the Tea Party right, what is happening here is that Wall Street, the multinational corporations, most Republicans and unfortunately President Obama are preparing to insult democracy by pushing to ratify TPP. This undermine’s Clinton’s credibility while campaigning for election, and if it passes it harms her ability to govern if she is elected.
There is something Clinton can do to bolster her credibility on the TPP. Clinton on Thursday is giving an economic speech near Detroit. This speech is an opportunity for Clinton to put this behind her for good. She should loudly call on President Obama to withdraw TPP now, and call on Democrats to vote against the TPP if he does not do that.
Progressive groups are asking her to do just that, calling people to sign a petition telling Clinton: “Lead against lame-duck vote on TPP.”
Clinton Opposes TPP, But …
Clinton has stated her opposition to TPP, but has not asked Democrats to join her in opposition, particularly during the “lame-duck” session of Congress that follows the election. This is one reason that Clinton continues to have a credibility problem on TPP.
Donald Trump repeatedly tells audiences that Clinton isn’t really against TPP; she is just saying it for votes. He says she will “betray” us. This is Trump in his Monday “economy” speech in Detroit:
The next betrayal will be the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Hillary Clinton’s closest friend, Terry McAuliffe, confirmed what I have said on this from the beginning: If sent to the Oval Office, Hillary Clinton will enact the TPP. Guaranteed. Her donors will make sure of it.
Along with McAuliffe, who is the governor of Virginia, Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue has said she will reverse herself. And it was Clinton delegates who blocked putting specific TPP opposition in the Democratic platform. So yes, there is a credibility problem.
Dan Balz, writes about her problem at The Washington Post, in “Clinton has yet to respond to Trump’s attack on globalism“:
Clinton came out against the agreement last year to put herself in alignment with Sen. Bernie Sanders … But in doing so, she put herself at odds with the views enunciated by her husband, Bill Clinton, when he was president, and raised questions about whether her change of heart was mere political expedience.
Which is why her position on trade and global economics has remained suspect to those on the left…
What does Clinton really think about this aspect of economic policy? How do her views today square with what she has thought and advocated during her public career? …
Those are issues about which she has so far been relatively silent. … Trump has presented her with a challenge; is she is prepared to take it up?
… In her responses to Trump’s Detroit speech, Clinton did not address what the GOP nominee said about trade. It’s difficult to believe that was an oversight.
… Does Clinton not owe the public a fuller explanation of her views on a topic that her rival has made central to his candidacy?
Passing TPP Would Destroy Clinton Presidency Before It Starts
Polling shows that Clinton continues to have a problem with “unfavorables” and credibility with the electorate. As of now it appears Clinton will almost certainly win the election – maybe even in a blowout. But this will not necessarily be due to overwhelming support of Clinton. Instead it will be at least partly because of the ugly words and actions of her reprehensible opponent. After the election, much of the public will likely remain divided, looking for signs that things will be OK after all under a Clinton presidency.
Imagine if TPP does come up for a vote in the lame-duck session and passes. The public, particularly progressives, will certainly feel betrayed. It will also bolster the opposition, who will say, “I told you so” because of Trump’s predictions of a betrayal on TPP. If that happens, it won’t matter that Clinton has said she opposes TPP. People will feel she just said it to get votes, and now that the election is over…
This is a terrible recipe for beginning a presidency of a divided country.
Progressive Groups Asking Clinton To Lead Opposition To Lame Duck TPP Vote
The Hill has the story on how progressives intend to “pressure Clinton on TPP ahead of economic speech“:
Progressive groups are urging Hillary Clinton to publicly announce that she opposes a lame-duck session vote on the Obama administration’s Pacific Rim trade deal.
After initially supporting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Clinton reversed after Bernie Sanders made his opposition to the deal one of the cornerstones of his insurgent campaign for the presidency.
On Wednesday, the grassroots liberal groups Democracy for America and CREDO will begin circulating petitions urging Clinton to go further by making a public statement “urging the White House and Democratic congressional leadership to oppose any vote on the TPP, especially during the post-election lame duck session of Congress.”
The groups would like Clinton to make that declaration in her policy address on the economy this Thursday outside of Detroit.
Buzzfeed rounded up some statements from progressive leaders, beginning with Democracy for America’s Robert Cruickshank:
“Right now, Donald Trump is running around the country using the specter of a lame-duck vote on the job-killing Trans-Pacific Partnership to divide Secretary Clinton from the millions of voters who agree with her that this disastrous trade deal has to be stopped,” Robert Cruickshank, a senior campaign manger at Democracy for America, told BuzzFeed News in a statement.
CREDO’s Murshed Zahee also weighs in:
“Now we need her help to stop it from being jammed through Congress in a lame duck session. A personal and public statement from Secretary Clinton in opposition to a lame duck vote would provide huge momentum in the fight to stop the TPP once and for all,” CREDO’s political director Murshed Zaheed said in a statement to BuzzFeed News.
Sign The Petition
You can add your own voice to this effort to get Clinton’s help stamping out TPP by adding your name to this CREDO petition:” Tell Sec. Clinton: Lead against lame-duck vote on TPP“: “Make a public statement urging the White House and Democratic congressional leadership to oppose any vote on the TPP, especially during the post-election lame-duck session of Congress.”
The long-abused cafeteria workers of the U.S. Senate, who risked their jobs to fight to earn a living wage only to have the private contractor that runs the cafeteria renege on an order to increase their pay, won a key victory this week.
The Labor Department declared that the contractor had engaged in wage theft from 674 of its workers, deliberately misclassifying them so that they would earn less than their actual work entitled them to earn. The contractor also forced employees to do unpaid work “off the clock.” As a result, the multinational conglomerate Restaurant Associates and a subsidiary will have to give the workers back pay totaling $1,008,302.
Roll Call has more details, in “Senate Food Service Vendor Ordered to Pay $1 Million in Back Wages“:
Senate food service vendor Restaurant Associates and its subcontractor, Personnel Plus, improperly classified workers in order to pay them for lower-wage positions and required them to work overtime without compensation in violation of federal and local labor laws, the agency said in a news release. The contractors also failed to pay required health and other benefits.
“Workers in the restaurant industry are among the lowest-paid workers in our economy,” said the department’s Wage and Hour Division Administrator David Weil . “Most struggle to afford life’s basic expenses and pay their bills; they shouldn’t have to deal with paychecks that don’t accurately reflect their hard work and the wages to which they are legally entitled.”
The Privatization Scam
“Privatization” transfers something that We the People publicly own for OUR benefit, and hands it over to private interests so a few can make a profit for THEIR benefit. The scheme is sold with claims that privatization “saves money” because the private contracting company is “run like a business.” The bet is that no one will think through just how a private company might “save money” when they have to “run like a business” and make a profit that government doesn’t have to make.
Of course what happens is the private company “saves money” by laying off the government employees and hiring them back or replacing them at minimum wage with no benefits, then transferring the wage and benefit differential into a few pockets at the top of the company. But guess what? Now those workers make so little they qualify for government benefits, other poverty programs are strained, local stores are selling less, homes are foreclosed so local property values drop, the tax base is reduced … so the government didn’t “save money” at all, it just cut its own revenue and shifted spending from one part of the government to another – all at the expense of working people. And the money that was “saved” went into a few private pockets.
Beyond impoverishing workers with low wages, there are even worse ways private corporate contractors “save money,” such as cutting service, cutting quality, cutting corners, fighting unionization – all of which hurt the public that is supposed to be served. Plus, because it is “run like a business,” contracting corporations cut some of those corners by doing things like committing outright wage theft.
The Privatized Senate Cafeteria
In 2008 the U.S. Senate “saved money” by privatizing its food services. At the time California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein said, “There are parts of government that can be run like a business and should be run like businesses.”
The Senate cafeteria was, indeed, “run like a business.” The company paid low wages, fought against unionization efforts and engaged in various schemes to keep the workers down. After a while things got so bad that workers had to work two, even three jobs just to get by. Some of the workers were even homeless. In April 2015, the Washington Post reported on that:
For a week’s work at the Senate cafeteria — sweeping floors, mopping bathrooms, cleaning dishes, composting leftovers, transporting laundry — he says his take-home pay is about $360. And while he takes enormous pride in serving the country’s public servants, he is not sure these public servants are returning the favor.
“Our lawmakers, they don’t even realize what’s going on right beneath their feet,” he says. “They don’t have a clue.”
The usual ways to “run like a business” were not enough for the Senate cafeteria contractors. SO they added another way to “run like a business”: wage theft. When after months of protests the Senate cafeteria workers secured a wage agreement from Restaurant Associates, with the help of Good Jobs Nation and members of the Senate who voiced support for the workers, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the company immediately worked to undermine the agreement by reclassifying Senate cafeteria jobs so that the workers ended up not getting the wage increases the agreement called for. The jobs themselves did not change; Restaurant Associates changed what the jobs were called in order to justify not increasing the workers’ pay.
If This Is Happening Literally Right Under The Senate’s Nose …
The Huffington Post has a great quote from Joseph Geevarghese, director of Good Jobs Nation. “This is symptomatic of a larger problem,” Geevarghese is quoted as saying. “If federal contractors believe they can get away with breaking federal laws right under the nose of lawmakers, imagine what they’re doing all across the U.S., where workers don’t have access to power and access to the media. I would argue that what we’re seeing in Washington is just the tip of the iceberg.”
The Washington Post report, “Senate workers will get $1 million in back pay after Labor Department probe,” highlights a wider need this wage theft ruling points to: a “Model Employer” policy of contracting with employers that pay good wages and recognize workers’ right to form a union. In the Post, Geevarghese notes that “the truth is the Labor Department cannot investigate every federal contractor in the U.S. – we need a systemic solution, not just case-by-case fixes.”
Democratic Platform Demands “Model Employer”
The 2016 Democratic Party Platform calls for an executive order “or some other vehicle” directing the U.S. Government to spend taxpayer dollars on “Model Employers” and not on corporations that violate workers’ rights. From the platform:
Democrats support a model employer executive order or some other vehicle to leverage federal dollars to support employers who provide their workers with a living wage, good benefits, and the opportunity to form a union without reprisal. The one trillion dollars spent annually by the government on contracts, loans, and grants should be used to support good jobs that rebuild the middle class.
Sign This “Model Employer” Petition
Good Jobs Nation is calling next president to adopt a “Model Employer” policy of contracting with employers that pay good wages and recognize workers’ right to form a union. The organization is asking people to “Sign the Petition: the U.S. Must Stop Doing Business With Corporate Cheaters.”
From the petition web page:
“Currently, the federal government is America’s leading low-wage job creator, funding more poverty jobs than McDonald’s and Wal-Mart combined. 60% of federal contract workers are women and 88% are women of color working contracted jobs in areas like food service, janitorial work, or landscaping.
A Model Employer Executive Order would begin to reverse the federal government’s low-wage contracting policies by providing as many as 21 million people– 8 million workers and their families who rely on low-wage jobs in the federally supported economy – with good jobs that provide a path into the middle class.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan in an NPR interview Monday acknowledged that the poor are victims of our economic system. The interview sounds reasonable, almost soothing, until you examine what Ryan is really saying.
After acknowledging that poverty is systemic, he turns around and blames the poor themselves as being personally – even morally – responsible for being poor. He implies the poor are just lazy. He cited addiction, lack of skills, and, of course, government handouts as the real causes of poverty. He said raising the minimum wage would not help. His soothing-sounding words are actually quite radical and extreme.
Ryan was interviewed on Monday’s NPR’s Morning Edition by Steve Inskeep about his ideas on helping people get out of poverty.
When asked about people born into poverty who can’t get out of poverty, Ryan responds “That’s right … you go look at the country and the conditions, you’re just as likely to stay poor today as you were if you were born into poverty 50 years ago. … There are people out there fighting poverty … that do well, succeed but for government I think in many cases they could do more.”
Q: You’ve argued that welfare “is keeping people away from work, it disincentives work.”
Ryan: “Right. Yeah.”
Q: Do you want to cut welfare?
Ryan: “The smarter thing to do is to customize a benefit to a person’s particular needs. … Maybe this person needs addiction counseling, or maybe she needs a GED or transportation or something. You customize the benefits for her particular needs with the proper accountability.”
Asked about low minimum wages keeping people in poverty, Ryan rejects raising the minimum wage as a “one-size-fits-all solution.” Inskeep asks, “Why not do something that raises wages?”
Ryan: “Well, skills. I think when you raise the minimum wage … you’ll lose over a million jobs … So you don’t want to take away those entry-level jobs that give people hard and soft skills they need just to learn how to do work. Every person has a different problem, sometimes a person has an even deeper problem like addiction or something like that.”
What Ryan Is Saying
Ryan begins by acknowledging that the “country and the conditions” are what is keeping people poor. He says if you “look at the country and the conditions, you’re just as likely to stay poor today as you were if you were born into poverty 50 years ago.” But then he says there are people who are fighting poverty whose efforts would succeed “but for the government”
Ryan then contradicts what he said about “the country and the conditions,” and blames the poor themselves for being poor. They don’t have skills, they don’t have an education, they are addicted, and they are so lazy that a little bit of “welfare” keeps them from looking for work. He says they need to “learn how to do work.”
Several states have bought in to this “blame-the-poor” mentality to the point where they require drug testing before a person can get assistance. Earlier this year Think Progress surveyed these programs and found that despite the cost of this drug testing, several states did not find even one person testing positive. The national total was 321 positive tests, out of the millions in circumstances where they need help.
So why does Ryan bring up “addiction” when talking about poverty? For the same reason he talks about government and “welfare” causing people to not bother to look for work or even “learn how to do work.” These kinds of words point the finger at people for personal, moral failings, and contribute to a story that the poor are really just bad people who do not deserve our assistance.
Ryan also implies that people in poverty are lazy, saying “welfare” is “keeping people away from work.” But because of the decrease in the purchasing power of the minimum wage, many working people, even those working in full-time jobs, make so little that they qualify for “food stamps” and other government aid.
This chart, “Share of workers receiving public assistance for the poor, by industry” from The Washington Post Wonkblog report, “When work isn’t enough to keep you off welfare and food stamps,” tells the story:
“Share of workers in each field who rely on at least one program among Medicaid/CHIP, TANF, the EITC or food stamps. UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education”
According to the Wonkblog report, “The problem, according to this picture, isn’t that poor people won’t work — it’s that the work they do can’t sustain them.”
Ryan also says “when you raise the minimum wage … you’ll lose over a million jobs.” But a National Employment Law Project (NELP) report from May, titled “Raise Wages, Kill Jobs? Seven Decades of Historical Data Find No Correlation Between Minimum Wage Increases and Employment Levels,” found that,
The results were clear: these basic economic indicators show no correlation between federal minimum-wage increases and lower employment levels, even in the industries that are most impacted by higher minimum wages. To the contrary, in the substantial majority of instances (68 percent) overall employment increased after a federal minimum-wage increase.
So raising the minimum wage, giving working people more money to spend in local stores, not only doesn’t kill jobs but increases demand in the economy enough that it might actually cause those stores to hire people. Who could have predicted?
Plus, never mind that increasing the minimum wage to a “living wage” level would end the need for public assistance for millions of people.
Note that “welfare” as Ryan and Republicans describe it – giving cash to people who don’t work – ended with the 1996 “welfare reform”. Today people – overwhelmingly single mothers with children – can get minimal temporary cash assistance, minimal food assistance and health care. Some can get housing subsidies and a few other forms of aid.
The results of the 1996 experiment of ending “welfare” have not been good. Studies show it has “failed,” had a “negative impact,” has “shortened lives,” led to “less education,” and “created a system rife with racial biases.”
Ryan is repeating the old “personal responsibility” language conservatives have developed to shift people’s thinking about government and democracy away from the idea that We the People are in this together, toward a selfish idea that we should all be on our own. Of course, this leaves individuals defenseless against the powerful forces of aggregated wealth and power.
Paul Ryan, like many Republicans, is an admirer of Ayn Rand, who taught that society consists of a few “producers” and lots of “looters” and “parasites.” Rand taught that democracy is a “statist” “collectivism” of those parasitic looters, that it is wrong for people to help other people, altruism is evil and government is “monstrously evil,” “the political expression of altruism.”
Ryan’s words on “welfare” fit right into this radical, extreme framework, but in a more soothing-sounding way.
Here we are in “Infrastructure Week” and here we are with a new argument for a massive infrastructure investment project – worldwide.
Last week Peter Coy wrote at Bloomberg, in “How to Pull the World Economy Out of Its Rut,” about economist Larry Summers’ argument that we need massive public investment. Coy writes that Summers has been “jetting around the world” trying to convince central bankers “to reach out to the governments they work for … and insist on strong fiscal stimulus in the form of infrastructure spending and the like.” (i.e. “Public investment”.)
The case for this is very, very strong. Never mind that around the world infrastructure is crumbling. Just doing the basic job of government and making sure that things like infrastructure are up to par has fallen out of favor among the world’s elites, because “government spending.” Summers makes a different argument about why public investment – government spending on things countries and people and economies need – is essential to keep the world’s economy going.
Coy writes, “Summers’s deeper argument is that world growth is stuck in a rut because there’s a chronic shortage of demand for goods and services and a concomitant excess of desired savings.”
This Is Extremely Important And Summers Is Exactly Right
This is extremely important and Summers is exactly right on this. Too many people don’t have enough income, while a few people have lots of savings. But the few with lots of savings don’t have safe places to invest it because too many people don’t have enough income. In other words, the world faces a “chronic shortage of demand” and a “concomitant excess of desired savings.”
Capitalist economies necessarily move toward concentration of wealth, so over time a few people end up with lots of savings while most people get poorer. (Economist Piketty: “r > g” where ‘r’ is the rate of return on capital and ‘g’ is the rate of growth in the economy.) Since regular people participate in the economy by using money to demand goods and services, demand decreases as they get poorer.
Without something stepping in to break this cycle more and more of the resources end up in fewer and fewer hands, and after a while the entire system breaks down. Therefore in a capitalist economy government action is needed to redistribute “money” (resources and savings) away from the concentration at the top, back to more of “the people” so that they can again participate in the economy (demand).
This circle of money flowing around – demand gives savings good places to invest to meet that demand – shows why government redistribution is essential to keeping capitalist economies going. Taxing those who have a lot and using the money to build a sidewalk is redistribution because even poor people get to walk on the sidewalk. But even for those who hate the idea of redistribution, those sidewalks and roads and bridges and the rest are absolutely essential to economies. Even more essential, the jobs that are created to do the work building those things creates essential consumer demand.
The whole world is stuck in a rut because there is too much money at the top chasing insufficient demand.
Too Much Money At The Top Chasing Insufficient Demand
Wealth has concentrated. Inequality is extreme worldwide. The result is a worldwide “savings glut.” There is very little consumer demand so investment in things consumers/the private economy might buy is not bringing much of a return. This means there is too much money floating around the world looking for a safe investment that will bring a return. With few investments promising a safe return investors don’t want to risk investing.
Investment in the private sector has become too risky because of insufficient demand. So instead of finding private-sector investments, people are “parking” their money in government bonds. Governments that are safe are getting those savings to hold instead, sometimes even being paid (negative interest rates) to hold it.
Using different words, this shows there is a huge demand for government debt. That’s why the price has gotten so high (low interest rates mean there is a high price for a bond). Supply and demand: there is too much demand and too little supply of government debt.
Coy words it this way, “The interest rate, like any price, reflects supply and demand. It’s fallen because the demand for loans is weak and the supply of loans from savers, who have extra cash to deploy, is strong.”
The Things Governments Do Creates Demand In The Private Economy
The things governments do creates demand in the private economy when the private economy is not creating enough by itself. Infrastructure, investment in the people, education, job training, science and research, etc. are the underpinnings of the private economy later, but they wear out. Roads and bridges wear out, laid-off workers lose skills and well-educated people eventually get older and you need to do the next round of public investment. Our last round started drying up with the “Reagan era” ideology of “starve the beast” by killing government’s ability to spend.
When the private economy is doing well, savings finds places to invest. When savings is already thus engaged, interests rates rise. High interest rates mean government gets less when it sells its bonds. These higher rates are the market signal that government debt is not so much in demand, and governments need to borrow (and invest) less to keep the economy going. And because the private sector is going well people need fewer public services so governments don’t need to borrow to get the money to provide them…
The Markets Are Demanding That Governments Issue More Debt
Right now interest rates are extremely low – even negative in some countries. This high price for government debt means the markets are demanding that governments issue more debt. This is the law of supply and demand. Again: money markets are demanding more supply of government debt.
What should governments do with the money they get from selling more bonds? They should do what governments do with money. By definition this is “public investment.” Build roads, educate, feed people, etc. But instead of responding to the demands of markets, the anti-government ideology in control is forcing governments to do less, get smaller, need less money, issue fewer bonds.
For decades governments have been trying to follow the “less government” ideological mantra. But economics (and markets) says there is an essential role for government and public investment or economies don’t work. As governments withdraw from their role, economies stop working. Demand dries up, those with lots of money have nowhere to put it… and here we are. Secular stagnation.
So government cutbacks lead to low economy demand. The cycle is necessary, taxing the rich and using the money for government investment both creates demand at the time though spending and jobs, and the things it invests IN create demand later.
So the same thing has now been said about a dozen different and redundant ways here. People and the markets are demanding that governments around the world open up the spending spigot, invest in infrastructure and education and services other things governments do to make people’s lives better. The markets are demanding it and the proof is low interest rates on government debt. Not just here but worldwide.
You’ve heard people ask, “How come they can come up with a couple trillion dollars to invade Iraq, or hundreds of billions for corporate tax cuts, but say we’re broke when we need to fix our infrastructure so pipes don’t contaminate children with lead poisoning?”
The answer is that the priorities of our current rigged “system” lead to choices like these by our current Congress. The taxing and spending in our government’s budgets reflect those priorities. As we all know, these priorities more and more often reflect the values and wishes of the “donor class” and less and less often reflect the values and wishes of the rest of us.
There Is An Alternative Budget
You might not know there is an alternative budget proposal that is much more in line with the priorities and values of “We the People.” That budget is the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ (CPC) Budget for Fiscal Year 2017, also known as “The People’s Budget”. The People’s Budget is in front of Congress right now.
The CPC People’s Budget deals with the real needs of Americans and our economy. It makes major job-creating investments in our country through clean energy, infrastructure, housing, and education, which will increase opportunity for all and boost wages for working Americans. It financially supports a justice system that is fair and effective for all Americans, supports women’s reproductive health, supports voting rights, makes debt-free college a reality for all students, provides a plan to halve poverty and more. It pays for this by eliminating corporate tax dodges and breaks.
Priority: Austerity Or Prosperity
Choose your priority:
● Austerity – the current “donor class” budgeting that benefits billionaires, Wall Street and giant corporations through cuts in things government does to make our lives and economy better, combined with cuts in taxes for billionaires and giant corporations. Austerity literally takes money out of the economy and “eats the seed corn.” When there are fewer jobs and people really need to find work, employers can pay as little as they can legally get away with, and pit the employees against each other. Meanwhile tax cuts defund our government’s ability to regulate what corporations and Wall Street do.
● Prosperity – a “People’s” budget that creates millions of jobs (resulting in higher pay for everyone) through investment in maintaining and modernizing infrastructure, launching green energy projects, making preschool and higher education freely available for anyone who wants to attend and supports a justice system that is fair and effective for all Americans. This investment in our people and our economy’s future creates fertile soil in which people and businesses can prosper. When there are lots of jobs, companies will “bid up” wages and benefits to attract people to work for them.
The People’s Budget will:
● Provide a $1 trillion investment to repair roads and bridges and ensure the restoration of our crumbling infrastructure.
● Create 3.6 million good-paying jobs to push our economy back to genuine full employment by targeting a 4 percent unemployment rate.
● Make corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes, cracking down on loopholes and avoidance schemes.
● Make debt-free college a reality for all students by overhauling the student loan system, which currently leaves college students saddled with unmanageable levels of debt.
● Take bold action to fight climate change and invest in a clean-energy economy that supports green jobs with good wages.
Our Isaiah J. Poole has been all over the People’s Budget this month. He outlines the People’s Budget in “Newly Released People’s Budget Doubles Down On Progressive Policies.” Later he contrasted the People’s Budget with the Republican budget proposal in “People’s Budget Formally Unveiled Amid GOP Dystopia and Dysfunction,” noting its…
… sharp contrast between the progressive vision of a government working to strengthen working families and make our economy and politics more fair, and a conservative vision of government all but abandoning struggling families while coddling the wealthy and powerful.
Also see Poole’s “Five (of Many) Ways This GOP Budget Would Do Real Harm,” “Why We Need The People’s Budget’s $1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan” and “People’s Budget Puts Forward An Aggressive Plan To Green Our Economy.”
How To Help
It’s your choice: Choose the current priority of austerity that benefits billionaires, corporations and Wall Street or a prosperity People’s Budget that invests in our economy – and us.
The Progressive Caucus People’s Budget is a bill in front of our Congress. All it takes is enough votes and it becomes the budget of our country. If you choose prosperity, here are some things you can do to help push this budget through Congress:
● Sign our petition in support of the People’s Budget. This will help send a message to Congress – and to the presidential candidates.
● Call your representative in Congress and let them know you want her or him to support it, and to declare that he or she supports it.
● Write an op-ed or letter to the editor of a national or local paper about why you support the People’s Budget. Tell the media why a bold progressive budget matters to you and your community.
● If you want to find or organize an event in your congressional district to promote the People’s Budget, use this page, courtesy of People Demanding Action.
● Post on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtags #CPCBudget, #PeoplesBudget and #Budget2017 to share your message. Follow Twitter handle @ProgCongress.
Here are some sample tweets:
● We need a #PeoplesBudget that works for everyone – join @USProgressives and support the CPC budget: http://p2a.co/ProgressiveCong
● We need a progressive budget that invests in a clean, renewable future #Budget2017 #PeoplesBudget http://p2a.co/ProgressiveCong
● Tell Congress to support a #PeoplesBudget that creates a sustainable future for all http://p2a.co/ProgressiveCong
● The #PeoplesBudget has set aside $1 trillion to address and prevent crises like #Flint: http://p2a.co/ProgressiveCong
A Supreme Court justice has died. Normally (and according to the Constitution) the process is that the president nominates a successor, the Senate holds hearings, and there is a vote on whether to confirm that nominee. According to the Constitution, that’s their job, and they took an oath to do that job.
President Obama has said that of course he will fulfill his constitutional duty to nominate a successor to Justice Scalia. But this time Republicans have announced that they will refuse to participate in the constitutional process and will not consider any nomination that the president brings them.
This is part of an ongoing Republican attack on our form of government.
Ongoing Attack On Government And Rights
The country has been through years and years of Republican obstruction of everything government does. Why is that?
The architect of the modern conservative movement was corporate and tobacco attorney Lewis Powell, and his blueprint was “the 1971 Powell Memo,” titled, “Attack on American Free Enterprise System.” The memo claimed that “the American economic system” (capitalism) and “business” were “under broad attack” from “Communists, New Leftists and other revolutionaries.” It complained of “the stampedes by politicians to support almost any legislation related to ‘consumerism’ or to the “environment.” It called on business as a class to “conduct guerrilla warfare” against this on “the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences” as well as politicians the public and the courts. The goal was for business to “consider assuming a broader and more vigorous role in the political arena.”
The memo led to the building of the massive corporation/billionaire-funded conservative “infrastructure” of ideological “think tanks,” activist organizations and media/propaganda “echo chambers” that constantly push corporate/conservative propaganda out to the public. Book after book, article after article, study after study has warned of this movement effort to alter our government away from democracy and toward a corporatocracy.
Once such conservative movement organization is the Federalist Society, established in 1982 and receiving funding since from conservative foundations including the Earhart, Bradley, Simon, and Olin Foundations, and the Carthage, Koch, and Scaife Foundations. Justices Scalia, Roberts, Thomas and Alito were all members of the Federalist Society.
For how long did the Republican majority on the Supreme Court give us one highly partisan 5-4 decision after another, reversing one hard-won civil right, environmental gain, consumer right, worker right after another? Fifteen years ago the Republican Five even forced on us a president who didn’t receive a majority of the vote.
After Barack Obama was elected president, the Republican minority filibustered more than 500 important bills (on issues ranging from infrastructure funding to ending tax breaks for offshoring jobs) before they took control of the Senate – an unprecedented number. But it has not just been legislation; they have blocked nominees to positions that keep government functioning. They have blocked appointments to judgeships: there are 35 Obama judge appointees who were waiting for a Senate confirmation vote long before Senate Republicans conjured up their no-appointees-during-an-election-year stance, one as far back as September 2014.
Republicans have also continually obstructed by starving government agencies of the funds they need to operate – the Internal Revenue Service is a case in point. They have even shut down the government when they could.
Republicans also dismantle government in the states, cutting taxes for the rich and corporations while cutting the things government does for the state’s citizens. Many of these governors and legislatures achieved majority status following the Supreme Court’s 5-4 Citizens United decision that opened the floodgates of undisclosed corporate and billionaire money into the political process. Once in, they passed restrictive voting rights laws and extremely partisan redistricting plans to lock in their majorities.
After so many years of this, the public is, to say the least, disillusioned to the point of giving up on government – even our current pretense of democracy.
But this has only gotten worse. This year, President Obama submitted his budget to Congress and Republicans refused to even look at it. They refused to schedule hearings before the House and Senate budget committees. They won’t let the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) come to Congress to testify.
Now, to top it all, Republicans have said they will not even consider any presidential nominee to the Supreme Court. If they prevail, the court will operate with only eight members, and precedent assures us that important cases will receive a 4-4 tie.
This Makes No Sense, Unless…
Republicans won’t consider the President’s budget? Won’t consider a Supreme Court nominee – any nominee? Won’t allow important bills to pass? Won’t allow important governmental posts to be filled? Won’t allow important government functions to be adequately funded? Dismantle important state agencies? It’s like Republicans are saying, “No, we’re not going to let you have your constitutional government.”
What is going on?
Republicans are able to do these things to our government because the “framers” of our Constitution never anticipated that a (well-funded) ideology that opposes the very concept of democratic government would capture a political party, gain seats in the Congress and, as a strategy, simply refuse to participate in the processes of constitutional government.
The Founders did require an oath of office that assumes such participation, but they did not outline steps to take should obstruction be used to block operation of the government.
If you look at all of this from a perspective that Republicans are working within our form of government, it makes no sense at all. They have a constitutional duty to pass budgets, but instead allow the government to shut down. They have a constitutional duty to confirm (or not) appointments to government positions and judgeships, but they obstruct. They have a constitutional duty to consider Supreme Court nominees, but they refuse.
But if you consider that their purpose is to fundamentally change our form of government, it all makes more sense.
People who see much of the public as “takers,” who view taxes as “theft,” who view roads, schools and social services as “free stuff” are not people who prefer a democratic form of government. They (or at least those funding them) want a different form of government where the haves have the power and the don’t-haves don’t, instead of We the People sharing the power and the country.
At some point you have to take them at their word and accept that they mean what they say: “We want to get the government small enough to drown it in a bathtub.” We are not looking at a disagreement over how to run our government here, we are looking at a disagreement over our form of government.
But our Constitution is clear on the form of government We the People have. That is why they are intent on setting the Constitution aside. We must tell Republicans that they took an oath to support the Constitution and its processes – or step aside and let We the People have our government back.
What The President Should Do
President Obama should nominate a known and dedicated liberal/progressive to the court, to balance the movement conservatives on the Court now. However, unlike the conservatives, this nominee should mean it when she or he states support the Constitution, and be ready to decide cases based on the Constitution and law, not ideology.
Republicans will always nominate a dedicated movement conservative who is sworn to advance the anti-government (and therefore anti-U.S. Constitution) conservative project, against voting rights, consumer rights, environmental rights, and for corporate rule.
It’s time the right-wing ideologues are called out for their obstruction of democracy – and to make to clear that the presidential candidates who have participated in or have endorsed that obstruction have no place in our government. It’s not just about a budget or a Supreme Court justice; it’s about restoring the principle that the United States must act as a democracy of the people, every day of every year.
Here are two petitions that you can sign to tell Republican senators to “do their job” and consider President Obama’s choice for the Supreme Court:
● The Sierra Club petition: “We Need Three Functioning Branches of Government. Don’t let Congress’s dysfunction spread to the Supreme Court. Tell your senators to do their job and go through the normal constitutionally mandated process of choosing the next Supreme Court Justice.”
● Senator Sherrod Brown petition: “Senators, do your job.” “Tell Republicans: Do Your Constitutionally Mandated Job. The Constitution is clear — the president nominates Supreme Court justices, and the Senate confirms or rejects them. But Republicans in Congress want to ignore the Constitution. They’re saying they won’t consider anyone President Obama nominates. We, the undersigned, are tired of Republicans’ hypocrisy. A Senator’s Constitutional oath applies regardless of which party controls the Oval Office. Stop making excuses and do your job.”
Corporate conservatives have taken notice of the Bernie Sanders campaign, and has started accusing him of “buying votes” by “promising” “free stuff.” Is it true?
Here are some examples of what the corporate/billionaire-funded right is saying:
● American Thinker, “Surprise: Bernie Sanders’s free stuff will be very expensive for you!”
Avowed socialist, pretend independent, wannabe Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is promising lots of free stuff for Americans – and anyone else in the country, legally or not – if he is elected. Free health care! Free education from pre-pre-school through post-post-college. Free family leave.
They want “free” birth control, health care, college, “Cash for Clunkers,” free housing for the poor and paid time off for women who are having a child. They want welfare with no preconditions for anyone who wants it, a $15 minimum wage and they want to open our borders to anyone who wants to come here illegally, have a child and live off the American people for the next 18 years.
● Gateway Pundit, “4 of 5 Liberal Millennials Voted for Bernie – Want Free Stuff.”
● WorldNutDaily, Santa Sanders’ appeal: We all like free stuff.
The idea that things We the People “get” from government is just “free stuff” misunderstands the purpose of government. We the People established our government as a mechanism for all of us to decide to get together to do things that make our lives better.
In a democracy, if We the People decide it is a good idea to, for example, have public schools, does that qualify as “free stuff?” Or is it an investment in making our lives better? And, while we’re at it, an educated population makes the society better.
Aside from public schools, here are a few other bits of “free stuff” that We the People have decided we should have:
● Public roads and highways are “free stuff.” (Except where they have special “Lexus lanes” for those with more money.)
● Medicare for people over 65 is “free stuff.”
● Social Security is “free stuff.”
● Courts and our legal system are “free stuff.”
● Police and fire protection are “free stuff.”
● Sidewalks are “free stuff.”
● An unemployment check when we lose our jobs is “free stuff.”
● The Post Office is “free stuff.”
● Public parks are “free stuff.”
● ANYthing considered “public” qualifies as “free stuff” that We the People make available for all of us.
Each of those “free stuff” items serve a greater societal purpose. Schools and education improve our economy and society. Roads don’t just make our lives better by enabling us to get places, they enable our economy to function so our businesses can prosper.
Some of the “free stuff” that Sanders is proposing to add to this list includes:
● Free public colleges and universities. Just as public schools help all of us, a modern society demands a higher level of education. The crushing student debt so many face today also demonstrates the effect on the economy as people are unable to buy homes and support families. (This would be paid for with a “financial transaction tax” of only a fraction-of-a-percent on speculative investments.)
● Medicare-for-All enables everyone to get health care, but also saves individuals, businesses and our economy from the costs of a for-profit system. (This would be paid for with progressive income tax increases, mostly at upper levels. Elimination of premiums and co-pays would result in a savings of approximately $5,000 per family.)
● Investing in bringing our infrastructure up to par. We’ve been neglecting infrastructure needs and a massive investment is required. Sanders proposes a $1 trillion effort. (This would be funded largely by requiring corporations to pay taxes they already owe, but have deferred.) This will create millions of jobs, driving up wages across the economy. A modern infrastructure enables businesses to compete and prosper more efficiently.
● Paid family leave allows parents three paid months to care for newborn children. The benefits to people and society are obvious. (Workers would pay less than $2 a week into a fund to cover this.)
● A $15 minimum wage enables people working full-time to escape poverty, reduces reliance on public assistance programs, and boosts local economies as people have more income to spend.
Note that these proposals are “paid for” and not actually just “free.”
Conservatives accuse Sanders of “promising” these things to voters.
Is Sanders making “campaign promises,” as if to say, “If you vote for me I will give you these things?” No. Sanders tells voters that no president can do these things alone. He says that if enough people show up and vote, only then can we end the domination of big-moneyed interests, and begin to provide for each other again.
In Sanders’ words, “Change always takes place when millions of people fight back.”
Conservatives claim that Sanders is trying to “buy votes” when he tells people they can have “free stuff” like free college tuition. But in a democracy, what does this mean? Politicians don’t “give” things to the public; the public votes for representatives who are supposed to do what the public wants.
An Ecosystem Of Democratic Prosperity
We the People built an economic ecosystem by investing in infrastructure, education, research, courts, regulations, environmental protection, monetary stability – all the things necessary to provide fertile ground for businesses to prosper. Part of that ecosystem is that We the People reinvest part of the return from our investment back into the system to keep it going. Democracy also means that We the People mutually benefit from the gains that result from that ecosystem of democratic prosperity.
Our shared investment created American prosperity; the return from that investment should also be shared and expanded. (Another word for “shared” is “distributed.”)
Many say we should “run government like a business” and “save money” by “cutting spending” and “making government smaller.” Does this work? Do We the People really save money by doing these things?
Have you heard the phrase “penny-wise and pound-foolish”? How about “a stitch in time saves nine”? Maybe “eating the seed corn?” When government “saves money,” all of these snippets of time-honored wisdom, warning of what happens to those who try to “do it on the cheap,” should come to mind.
You can “save money” by not changing the oil in your car. But have you ever seen a car that has never had its oil changed? After a while white smoke pours out the back because the rings are ruined. Other parts of the engine are also being ruined. Eventually the engine will seize up and quit and you have to either replace the engine or scrap the car. A simple and inexpensive procedure every few months would have prevented many thousands of dollars in expenses later.
I still have a “land line” because I do radio shows. The home number is on the “do not call” list (and I re-add it regularly). It makes no difference at all whatsoever. That phone annoys us several times almost every day and night with phone solicitors.
The phone rings, you answer it, there is silence, then a click then an annoying voice, Mr. Johnson, how are you today?”
You won a free cruise. Do you need your carpets cleaned. The Police or Sheriff’s something or other wants a donation. Buy gold. On and on.
Has the “do not call” registry just gone away, or what? There’s obviously no enforcement whatsoever, like so many other things.
Wasn’t enforcement of rules, regulations and laws part of what government is supposed to do? I guess “smaller government” really has taken hold…
Our government has been on a privatization binge for some time. Things that We the People used to just do federally or through state and local governments were closed down and private corporations were hired to do those things instead. This “saved money” because the well-paid public workers were laid off, losing their benefits and seniority, and new workers were hired at the lowest possible wages with few or no benefits.
Of course, this “cost savings” meant that the tax base eroded, the old and replacement workers often had to go on public assistance, property values plunged as the homes of the old workers were foreclosed and the new workers couldn’t afford to buy, schools were strapped as more low-income kids came in, and all the other ways that the transition to a low-wage economy has ended up costing all of us.
But who’s counting?
Johnson Controls Inc. and Tyco International PLC have announced a $14 billion merger, with the resulting company pretending to be “Irish.” This is called an “inversion” and is all about dodging taxes.
Johnson Controls is actually based in Milwaukee. Tyco is based in Princeton, N.J. but became “Irish” through its own prior tax-dodging inversion(s). The Washington Post explains this, in “Manufacturing giants Tyco and Johnson Controls agree to merge“:
This is not the first time Tyco, which started as a New Jersey-based research laboratory for the U.S. government in the 1960s before growing into a global behemoth with workers in about 50 countries, has made use of tax-avoidance measures. In 1997, it merged with a Bermuda-based company in another corporate inversion before moving its headquarters to Switzerland in 2008. It moved to Ireland in 2013.
Tyco is also remembered for its former President Dennis Kozlowski, who was convicted in 2005 of various crimes related to looting shareholders and using the money for things like a 2001 $2.2 million party on the island of Sardinia.
The Inversion Tax Scam Game
An inversion allows corporations to pretend to be non-U.S. companies and dodge taxes while still getting the full benefits of our country’s taxes: roads and other physical infrastructure, advanced legal system, educated workforce, police and other protections, military protection, and so on.
November’s post, “Pfizer Buying Allergan So It Can Pretend To Be Irish In Tax Scam” explained how this works: “In other words, the resulting merged company will make and sell products in the same places it makes and sells them now. The same executives will occupy the same buildings. It will receive the same taxpayer-funded U.S. services, infrastructure, courts and military protection that it receives now. But the company will now claim it is “based” in tax-haven Ireland and thereby dodge U.S. taxation.”
The thing is, corporations and shareholders already pay lower tax rates than regular people do. They also get special privileges including “limited liability.” People who make money trading corporate shares get a special, lower “capital gains” tax rate. (This capital gains tax rate is lower because the wealthiest make most of their income from capital gains, and the wealthiest make most of their income from capital gains because the capital gains tax rate is lower.)
But they want more. They want it all. And they’re getting it.
Who Pays Instead?
The billionaires and other shareholders already enjoy special lower tax rates than the rest of us (low capital gains tax rates, the Social Security “cap,” the carried interest loophole, multitudes of other breaks…) This is just one more tax break they utilize as their wealth builds and builds. And that massive accumulated wealth buys more and more privileges and breaks.
We the People of the United States, through our elected Representatives in Congress, allow this. Or, to put it in today’s reality: Billionaires and their corporations pay handsomely for a Congress that allows this.
But when these giant corporations and the billionaires behind them don’t pay their taxes, guess who has to either make up the difference or suffer the cutbacks in the things government does to make our lives and economy better? (Hint: Register to vote today and be absolutely sure to show up and VOTE this time. Don’t be misdirected, demoralized, suppressed or otherwise tricked into not voting. Talk to other people about registering and voting, too.)
The Republican candidates generally propose stopping corporate inversions to avoid U.S. corporate taxes by reducing or even ending U.S. taxation of corporations.
Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have similar proposals for limiting these “inversions.”
“It is outrageous when large multinational corporations game the tax code and shelter money overseas to avoid paying their fair share, including through maneuvers like inversions. As I have said throughout my campaign, these efforts to shirk U.S. tax obligations leave American taxpayers holding the bag while corporations juice more revenues and profits.”
Clinton’s “detailed and targeted plan to immediately put a stop to inversions and invest in the U.S.” includes:
● A 50 percent threshold for foreign company shareholder ownership after a merger before an American company can give up its U.S. identity.
● An “exit tax” to ensure multinational companies that change their identity pay a fair share of the U.S. taxes they owe on earnings stashed overseas.
● A crackdown on “earnings stripping,” one of the key benefits of inversions.
Sanders released a statement condemning “corporate deserters”:
“The potential Johnson-Tyco merger would be a disaster for American taxpayers,” Sanders said. “Profitable companies that have received corporate welfare from American taxpayers should not be allowed to renounce their U.S. citizenship to avoid paying U.S. taxes. These corporate inversions must stop.
“My message to these corporate deserters is simple: You can’t be an American company only when you want corporate welfare from American taxpayers or you want lucrative contracts from the federal government,” Sanders continued. “If you want the advantages of being an American company then you can’t run away from America to avoid paying taxes.”
The Sanders Corporate Tax Reform Plan involves:
● Ending the rule allowing American corporations to defer paying federal income taxes on profits of their offshore subsidiaries.
● Closing loopholes allowing American corporations to artificially inflate or accelerate their foreign tax credits.
● Preventing American corporations from claiming to be foreign by using a tax-haven post office box as their address.
● Preventing American corporations from avoiding U.S. taxes by “inverting.” Under Sanders’ bill the U.S. would continue to tax such a company as an American corporation so long as it is still majority owned by the owners of the American party to the merger or acquisition.
● Prevent foreign-owned corporations from stripping earnings out of the U.S. by manipulating debt expenses.
● Preventing large oil companies from disguising royalty payments to foreign governments as foreign taxes.