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Bangladesh garment workers & the fight for Social Security

11:59 pm in Uncategorized by fairleft

Bangladeshi garment protest.

Are Americans willing to go as far to fight austerity?

There is predictable bad news on Social Security, that the Democrats are gonna try to shove cuts down our throats despite opinion polls showing overwhelming opposition to them, and overwhelming support for adjusting the income cap (can you believe it, there’s a damn regressive taxation income cap!) if we need more revenue. But don’t forget the (related!) good news. Bangladeshi garment workers worked hard after the preventable fire/catastrophe that killed 1100 last April, worked angry, got in the streets and closed them down, shut down factories, and so they have achieved, so far, a 50-80% wage increase:

Bangladesh’s garment factory owners are pencilling in a minimum wage increase of about 50 to 80 percent and will ask retailers to pay more to defray the cost, as the government tries to end a wave of strikes that hit nearly a fifth of workshops last month.

See, no cuts for those who get in the streets and make life impossible for the owners. The pay of Bangladeshi garment workers will go from $38 up to $57 to $68 a month — a month! — so they continue to protest, hard, in order to achieve their stated demand of $100. A good place to learn about the fight and how progress is being made is at The Real News, which interviews Michelle Chen, a labor expert who frequently contributes to MyFDL. As she would I think agree, and as I show through recent headlines, this is how you do it:

It’s working:

“These workers’ rights are being discussed all over the world now and the government is nervous,” said Amirul Haque Amin, the head of the National Garment Workers Federation, an umbrella group representing 37 unions.

“There is this pressure now,” Amin said in an interview in his ramshackle office, decorated with satirical posters of harangued factory workers and fat tycoons. “This has given us the opportunity to raise our voices.”

Are we willing to learn from the Bangladeshis? Our ‘middle-class’ American scene is crashing, but we don’t yet know how to protest like third world workers, or we just don’t have the guts for it. Maybe we think we’re at a higher level of civilization than ‘those people’? Or we think that the powers that be give a damn about opinion polls taken a year before elections. They don’t: post-democracy marches on, gathering money, getting ever stronger.

But what if we fought Social Security cuts the way Bangladeshi workers are fighting for safe workplaces and decent wages?

Read the rest of this entry →

Progressives & FDL & Greg Walden (R) versus Obama & Boehnerists & Club for Growth?

12:58 pm in Uncategorized by fairleft

Because Greg Walden said this about Pres. Obama’s Social Security cuts proposal — that it “really lays out kind of a shocking attack on seniors” — he finds himself reviled by Republican leaders and targeted for defeat in 2014 by the Club for Growth, an anti-economic-growth group that works single-mindedly to redistribute wealth from the rest of us to the rich.

Walden added later, in a conference call with Oregon media, that he was especially worried by the impact of the Obama proposal “on low-income seniors who rely on Social Security.” Now, doesn’t that needed rhetoric need defending against the right (Obama) and the far right (most Republicans and definitely the Club for Growth). I mean (cue random comment on Oregonlive.com), “Imagine that, a Republican not marching in lockstep with his leadership, but instead standing up for his constituents. Go Greg!”

So how about it Firedoggers??! Firebaggers? Collection for Greg Walden’s primary campaign? … ‘kay, never mind.

Here’s more on the Club for Growth attack, but I changed a few words to truthy up the LA Times mind-reading:

“You’re trying to balance this budget on the backs of seniors and I just think it’s not the right way to go,” Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon told CNN.

That potentially off-message comment provoked swift rebuke from the powerful Club for Growth, the redistributionist advocacy group that supports the measure as a starting point for redistributing more wealth away from social welfare and up to the rich.

The club quickly assigned Walden a place on its “Primary My Congressman” list of Republicans who deserve a GOP primary opponent because they are insufficiently true to redistributionist ideals.

“We always knew Greg Walden had a liberal record, but he really cemented it with his public opposition to even modest redistribution of wealth to the rich,” said Club for Growth President Chris Chocola.

Finally, a bit more of Walden’s CNN interview with Social Security cuts defender Wolf Blitzer:

Blitzer: What’s so shocking about changing that CPI, that consumer price index the way that you would determine how much inflation would go ahead with increases for Social Security recipients, for example?

Walden: Well, once again, you’re trying to balance this budget on the backs of seniors and I just think it’s not the right way to go.

Blitzer: But doesn’t the — doesn’t Paul Ryan’s budget have major changes as far as Social Security and Medicare concerned, as well?

Walden: Look, it doesn’t — yes, but it doesn’t do that.

Yeah, Obama’s proposal out-right-wings Paul Ryan … Kind of makes you barf, doesn’t it?

Reuters: redirecting fiscal crisis onto the old and sick is ‘avoiding’ it

11:24 pm in Uncategorized by fairleft

The latest, from Reuters:

President Barack Obama raised anew the issue of cutting entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security as a way out of damaging budget cuts, a White House official said on Sunday, as both sides in Washington tried to limit a fiscal crisis that may soon hit millions of Americans.

For the rational among us, and apparently we are a dwindling few, it can be hard reading ‘news’ like this. It’s the latest from oppositeland, where “cutting entitlements” is a way to cure what “damaging budget cuts” will do to the economy. But under any economic theory cutting Social Security and Medicare by the same amount as those damaging budget cuts (which disproportionately hit the military (YAY!)) can’t be any less damaging to the economy.

How can they be saying this stuff?!

Along the same lines, in non-oppositeland, the following — “as both sides in Washington tried to limit a fiscal crisis that may soon hit millions of Americans” — translates as

as both sides in Washington try to redirect the fiscal crisis so that it falls on the old and sick and not the military.

And that was just the first sentence … Does the Reuters stenographer, Richard Cowan, understand how abased, how bootlickingly absurd he sounds?

P.S. – The White House official, by the way, was Gene Sperling, whose deconstruction by William Neil is worth reading. Just another nice representative of Democratic Party elite economist thinking. A Naked Capitalism writer comments on Neil’s analysis:

… the thesis presented here, of neo-liberalism systematically de-industrializing/de-capitalizing America, and transforming it into an extractive economy (see fracking, mountaintop removal, Keystone and Trailbreaker pipelines, road and rail projects, etc.) with concomitant Second World-style political structures (elite impunity, secret police) has a lot of appeal for me.

Yup yup yup, that sounds like what I see everyday.

Robert Reich: “I haven’t figured out Obama is a Republican”

5:49 am in Uncategorized by fairleft

That might as well be the title of his new column at Truthout, Why Is the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers Helping the Republicans? I mean, come on:

If the President’s strategy is to hold his ground and demand from Republicans tax increases on the wealthy …

Now Hold On There Bob,

What makes you think that is Obama’s strategy? On economic/financial matters — Wall Street and the rich people stuff — has he ever given the impression he’s anything but a Republican? Knowing that the President is a Republican, carrying forward the legacy of his hero, Ronald Reagan, your apparent confusions (I assume you aren’t really confused but are instead engaging in self-thought control in order to keep your ‘mainstream card’) in the following paragraphs are very easy to answer:

If the President’s strategy is to hold his ground and demand from Republicans tax increases on the wealthy, presumably his strongest bargaining position would be to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire on schedule come January – causing taxes to rise automatically, especially on the wealthy.

So you’d think part of that strategy would be reassure the rest of the public that the fiscal cliff isn’t so bad or so steep, and that at the start of January Democrats will introduce in Congress a middle-class tax cut whose effect is to prevent taxes from rising for most people (thereby forcing Republicans to vote for a tax cut for the middle class or hold it hostage to a tax cut for the wealthy as well).

Okay then, here it is, in the unlikely event the great Robert Reich is authentically confused: The President’s goals are to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. He wants to do this with a bare minimum of symbolic and avoidable ‘tax increases’ on his and his party’s main campaign donors, the rich. The best leverage for attaining the preceding expires on January 1, when there would be, as you note, automatic tax increases on the rich (his and his party’s main campaign donors (oh, I mentioned this already)).

In order to achieve his real goals, President Obama and his people are now and always have been on the same team as the Pete Peterson campaign against Social Security, the same team as the debt fearmongers, and the same team as the ‘we love austerity’ folks. And so, as you would reasonably expect, his Council of Right Wing Economic Ideologues is fearmongering the fake fiscal cliff.

You’re a helluva smart guy, your Keynesian/New Deal take is right on, and so I’m sorry for even slightly pretending you don’t understand all of the above. I’m sure it was that impermissible narrative thing that made you sound like a clueless idiot in your latest piece.

Sincerely,

fairleft

My Jill Stein advice: “Social Security! Social Security! Social Security!”

12:00 am in Uncategorized by fairleft

Dr. Stein,

I urge you to please read Dean Baker — Obama and the Democrats right now are planning to cut Social Security but the corporate media has decided not to tell the voters. We know the shape of a deal by listening to the corporate bosses who visit DC and tell their paid-off Congresspeople what they want: mostly Bowles-Simpson, which includes cutting seniors’ benefits 3% a month by jerrymandering the cost of living adjustment.

You’ve got to tell the people about this! Who else but you? You are the leading left candidate for President and the election is three weeks away, so you are in an excellent position to exact a price for Obama and the Democrats’ betrayal of everyone but the rich. By doing so you’ll also surely put fear of the voters front and center when the smokey room tries to hammer out a deal in late 2012.

As I’ve written before, both mainstream-party-only debates provided evidence that cuts are the secret word: President Obama saying that he and Romney had a “somewhat similar position” on Social Security, and Martha Raddatz lying that the program is going broke and Joe Biden not correcting her in the VP debate. Biden provided additional evidence that “cuts are coming,” but nonetheless the mainstream media remains quiet on what these clues actually mean for real people, Social Security recipients present and future.

You have a small presence in the news media, but if you HAMMER AWAY at the backroom Social Security bargaining going on between corporate donors and the Congressional Demopublicans, many voters will hear you. Speak out, make it your first and most frequent sound bite.

And yes, of course, informing the people about Obama’s plan to cut Social Security would be very good for your campaign. I think especially so if you follow my advice and, after you shout about the backroom deal, highlight a positive and revenue-neutral alternative:

1. Delete the income cap. (Why should the rich pay less?)
2. Increase benefits and reduce the full-benefits retirement age from 67 down to 66 or 65. (Inflation has for years been eating into benefits since the feds (under Clinton) began using a measure that shorts inflation; 67 is just too long to wait for full benefits.)

Good luck Jill. I think most MyFDLers are rooting for you.

fairleft

Jill Stein, take Social Security offensive and call for eliminating income cap & raising benefits

3:45 am in Uncategorized by fairleft

Hey Jill Stein, though I see your campaign’s front page doesn’t mention Social Security, still hoping you might take the lead on saving and strengthening that great program. Besides aiding a righteous cause, (just sayin’ but) doing so might win you a few million votes …

After the second Social Security debate fiasco — Martha Raddatz lying that the program is going broke and VP Joe Biden not correcting her (the first fiasco was when Pres. Obama said that he and Romney had a “somewhat similar position” on Social Security) — it’s time to come up with a serious effort to save Social Security from Democratic and Republican preparations to cut it and privatize it.

However, obeying the political rule that the best defense is a good offense, I strongly suggest we push a clear, simple, and populist Social Security plan:

1. Delete the income cap. (Why should the rich pay less?)
2. Increase benefits and reduce the full-benefits retirement age from 67 down to 66 or 65. (Inflation has for years been eating into benefits since the feds (under Clinton) began using a measure that shorts inflation; 67 is just too long to wait for full benefits.)

Social Security lovers should do this not just because it is simple, clear and ‘on the offensive’, but because it is what Americans, especially working-class Americans, need. And, we would simply be following the strong hint provided Friday by Eric Kingson, co-director of the Strengthen Social Security Campaign, at the end of comments on Raddatz’s question and bad signals from the Vice-Presidential debate and the Obama administration (emphasis added):

Kingson said, “the White House was not willing to say that they will not cut benefits. And in fact that’s unfortunate that they’re not willing to draw that bright line in the sand that says, ‘We’re going to maintain this system.’” …

Kingson said he is worried about Obama’s openness to making “tweaks” to the program during negotiations to find a “grand bargain” over entitlements and the deficit after the election.

That concern is the reason Kingson said he found Raddatz’s question — which presupposed that there might need to be benefits “changes” to fix the “broke” Social Security system — “outrageous.”

“That framing … I would love to see a candidate say this is outrageous,” Kingson said. “This is part of the Washington journalist approach to Social Security: everyone knows it’s in crisis, everyone knows it’s going bankrupt. Baloney — that’s not a statement based in reality.”

With changes like lifting the cap on how much income individuals have to pay in Social Security payroll taxes, Kingson believes the program could be extended well beyond its current 2033 insolvency debate. What moderators should be concerning themselves with, he argued, are the millions of Americans who will be retiring in the near future with underwater mortgages and depleted 401(k)s, who could use if anything stronger Social Security benefits.

For more on Raddatz’s lie posing as a question, see Glenn GreenwaldDean Baker and No, Martha Raddatz, Social Security Is Not “Going Broke” For more on the White House’s obfuscations on and not-so-semi-secret plans for Social Security, see Still no straight answers on Social Security.

Romney pulls ahead; Social Security makes or breaks Obama?; Hey Stein, attack!

11:40 pm in Uncategorized by fairleft

Romney is pulling ahead because of Obama’s bad debate performance, where the President decided not to attack Romney/Ryan on the main populist issue of the day, Social Security, commenting with gross foreboding to Romney, “I suspect that on Social Security, we’ve got a somewhat similar position.” Joan Walsh writes,

I am bewildered about why [Obama] embraced Mitt Romney on the issue of Social Security, and let the entire first section of the debate, which was supposed to be about jobs, get derailed into a discussion of taxes and the deficit.

I’m not so bewildered as conventional Demopundits like Walsh. I think it’s clear that Obama is hoping to win re-election without playing the Social Security card. The reason is obvious: Obama’s main financial supporters want to cut Social Security, and therefore Obama wants to cut Social Security. If he nonetheless plays the S.S. card now, he will then have a hard time next month telling us “everything’s changed” and now we ‘have to’ cut Social Security.

The President and his advisers I assume learned from his failed 2011 effort to put the program on the table (i.e., to cut it). The people made him back off then. So he’s being stealthy and hoping to squeak through to re-election with minimal populist lies and maximal Wall-Street-pleasing ‘responsible austerity’ non-specifics.

Right now, Bernie Sanders and 28 other Senators are asking Obama to “oppose including Social Security cuts for future or current beneficiaries in any deficit reduction package.” If he doesn’t do that, Sanders and the Democrats are going to hold their breath till their faces turn blue. But they’ll still no matter what tell us all to vote for Obama. Lemmings and sell outs.

What I would love to see is Jill Stein sharpen her rhetoric and make ‘No Cuts to Social Security’ the center of her campaign, not just a sound bite. Here she is on Social Security (I deleted her ‘on the defensive’ verbiage as should she):

Q: How do you feel about privatizing Social Security?

A: Social Security needs to be protected. … we can hardly afford to trim back Social Security as would happen in a privatized system. We would challenge the very notion that Social Security is in crisis mode warranting messing with its foundations. It’s not in crisis at all.

Q: Do you support raising the cap on Social Security deductions, above the current limit of $106,000?

A: The cap could be lifted to ensure that Social Security should be solvent m without question forever.

NOW is the time for the Green Party to attack Obamney and his/their post-election plans to gut Social Security. Let Obama’s “I suspect that on Social Security, we’ve got a somewhat similar position” be his epitaph. And/Or, let Stein and Green Party attacks be the stimulus that makes Obama come out and promise to defend and not cut back Social Security. So, uh, C’mon Jill, fire away!

Fiscal crisis class war fantasy or unemployment crisis reality?

5:44 am in Uncategorized by fairleft

Pennies

Image: Davidd / Flickr

There is a U.S. unemployment crisis that no one is doing anything about that. There is no fiscal crisis …

… but the Republicans and Democrats are using that lie, that fantasy, to continue high and higher unemployment, to pillage Social Security and Medicare, and to pursue their main goal, the prime directive of the upper class: redistribute the economy’s wealth to the 1%.

Read Dean Baker and once again weep. How can the Washington Post write the following, in its lead editorial:

“THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE for the next president will be putting the nation’s long-term finances on sounder footing. The failure to do so is the biggest shortcoming of President Obama’s first term.” [capitalization in original]

All-caps, yeah right. This is a class warfare editorial of the most obvious and aggressive sort. Baker responds with faux naivete:

people who had access to data on the labor market would have to believe that the fact that tens of millions of people are still unemployed or underemployed in the biggest failure of President Obama’s first term. These people and their families are seeing their lives ruined.

The worst part is that the devastation they are suffering is not due to their own failings. Its due to the incompetence of people with names like Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke and Robert Rubin and the people who have the opportunity to express themselves in major media outlets like the Washington Post. This disaster would have been 100 percent preventable, if anyone in a position of authority had been able to recognize an $8 trillion housing bubble and understand that its collapse would have a devastating impact on the economy.

Which gets us back to the layers of tragedy. Not only is the real economic crisis ignored and class warfare fantasy put in its place, but no one is allowed to point that out in a major news source. A further layer is that both major political parties are selling the fantasy and ignoring the real economic crisis. As Serge Halimi writes,

Once again, with a political system operating for the benefit of two parties falling over each other to grant favours to the business community, millions of Americans disenchanted with Obama’s weakness will still be forced to vote for him. So they will resign themselves and make the usual choice offered in the US, that between bad and worse.

Tough MyFDL Balancing Act (Or ‘Metalicious’)

4:12 am in Uncategorized by fairleft

Not to get all ‘follow the money’ Marxist on you but I think the following is a reasonable way to boldly frame the issue here and at many ‘conventional progressive’ websites: there’s money in FDL/MyFDL as an Obama quasi-campaign site but there’s also money in the site’s role as a communication space for the many who are way to the left of Obama. Can MyFDL/FDL get through these next five months doing both?

“Maybe not,” some here think. And so some are looking over our shoulders, wondering what the limits are, and when the ban hammer will come down. And, oh yeah, (just to make you twitch a little more readily) there’s been some banning in the past, and I hear once you have a taste …

Anyway, my sense is that it’s useful to try to get the above in-bold sense for what is probably going on here (in a meta sense) during this election season. Respect that context, and let’s not exacerbate the difficulty of Jane Hamsher’s balancing act.

On the other hand, let’s not overrate the importance of being allowed to speak to the, really, pretty tiny audience of fellow more-or-less-real way-to-the-left-of-Obama leftists here, who mostly all already agree on most things. There aren’t that many of us over here and out in the world for a reason, because there are fundamental flaws at the core of U.S. leftism, as David Seaton and many others have indicated. No one has a right here to get all self-righteous toward anyone else, even an Obama fan. Yeah it’s a bad year for the fake left but it ain’t working for the real left either. And the blame for the latter doesn’t all fall on the ‘fake left’. (‘Fake left’ said in a jocular, affectionate tone of voice.)

And, let’s all stipulate, another four years of Obama will probably be better than four years of Romney, except better basically on issues that I for one consider, in the present deep economic crisis, pretty minor big-picture-wise. But I respect, heck I like, those here who think those issues matter a great deal.

Now, does this meta matter? Yes, because this place has value because it eases communication among like-minded and leftist people.

Does this meta matter a lot? No, because most of us aren’t moving beyond mere communication. And there are good and bad reasons for not moving, but just sayin’.

Will this meta matter a lot in the future? Maybe, because I think the next five years you’ll see economic recession that may generate a rebirth of economic leftism and/or neo-Keynesian economic progressivism that will generate the 2016 Democratic Party presidential candidate. FDL and MyFDL can help that along, be a small but meaningful part of that transformation.

Will this meta matter a lot in the immediate future? Maybe, because on bread-and-butter issues the post-election November and December will actually be more important than the Presidential election, IMHO. The Obamney election contest will not speak a word about the post-election grand budget conference, but that is where the PTB will attempt to cut Social Security and Medicare. I can’t see anything wrong with MyFDL/FDL being ready and fully functioning and fighting the good fight when that begins to take place.

So, it seems the best outcome is that money is made here in both ways stated in bold above, things sorta hold together here and more or less no one gets banned, and then these five months are in the past. Unless somebody has a better idea.

S&P: Credit Rating Cut If No Social Security Cuts

12:40 pm in Uncategorized by fairleft

The corrupt and incompetent, played-key-role-in-the-global-financial-meltdown Standard & Poor’s said today:

it sees a real risk that future U.S. government deficits may meaningfully miss discussed targets and that there is a 50-50 chance the U.S. AAA credit rating could be cut within three months, perhaps as soon as August. …

If an agreement is reached to raise the debt ceiling but nothing meaningful is done in terms of deficit reduction, the U.S. would likely have its rating cut to the AA category, S&P said.

S&P is clear that the rating scare is not about the debt ceiling. No, it demands cuts, deep cuts in the great social programs at the heart of a decent society. (See All-Out Obama & Media Blitz for $3 Trillion in Social Welfare Cuts.)

And the warning has nothing to do with how an honest credit rating agency would rate credit risk. An honest S&P would lower a rating to AA from AAA if there were ANY sign that the federal deficit had actually in the real world had an impact on investor behavior. I.e., you’d see rising long-term Treasury bond yields if investors were worried about the U.S. defaulting on its debts. The lower the yield (interest rate), the stronger the faith in creditworthiness. But those yields, already very low by historical standards in April, have continued to decrease over the last three months. The chart below is actually from yesterday at 4:55 p.m.

Photobucket

The chart shows increasing confidence in the creditworthiness of U.S. Treasury bonds. And with that, I’ll segue into repeating how spectacularly incompetent and corrupt S&P is. Dean Baker on April 18:

It is … worth noting that S&P has a horrible track record for judging credit worthiness. It rated hundreds of billions of dollars of subprime backed securities as investment grade. It also gave Lehman, Bear Stearns, and Enron top ratings right up until their collapse. Furthermore, no one was publicly fired for these extraordinary failures. Investors are aware that S&P’s judgement does not mean very much.

If Dean Baker doesn’t float your boat, listen to Joe Stiglitz on the 2008 financial meltdown:

I view the ratings agencies as one of the key culprits. They were the party that performed that alchemy that converted the [mortgage-backed] securities from F-rated to A-rated. The banks could not have done what they did without the complicity of the ratings agencies.

S&P was key to the crisis — “assigning rosy ratings to questionable mortgage bonds in order to win business” — and it is still the same time bomb. President Obama, of course, has reformed nothing, so the agencies still make their money by competing to credit rate stuff, and corporations shop for the most lenient rating. Not all Dems are like Obama though: Al Franken tried to do the right thing:

S&P is a profit-driven corporation that is paid tens of millions of dollars to give good credit ratings to [invesments that] may not deserve it. In an effort to stop this corrupt practice, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) recently offered an amendment that would have taken away power of the issuer to select the agency that rates its bonds, shifting it instead to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Unfortunately, S&P and other bond-rating agencies lobbied heavily, and successfully, to kill the amendment. Such is the power of the financial sector in the U.S.

Usual Obama presidency story there. Baker’s comment came after S&P had lowered to negative its “outlook for the United States.” On the same morning of April 18th yields on 10-year Treasury bonds had decreased, which, similar to my chart, showed increasing faith in the creditworthiness of the United States. One last quote, can’t resist, from Huffington Post’s Krystal Ball, reacting in April to the same thing as Dean Baker:

Thank you S&P for lowering the U.S. credit outlook from stable to negative. By doing so, you reminded me of your existence and your existence reminds me that you and your cohorts have failed to predict any major financial catastrophe and essentially caused the 2008 financial crisis.