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The Road to Jobs and Economic Growth

2:03 pm in Uncategorized by Lee Saunders

Road

Road

One of the great lies of our time is that raising taxes on the wealthy hurts job creation and undermines economic growth. There is absolutely no evidence anywhere in the world that this claim is true. In fact, all the evidence points to the exact opposite being true: When the wealthy are taxed fairly, jobs are created and economic growth is encouraged. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, for example, when the economy boomed and the middle-class expanded, the top bracket for high-income earners was 90 percent. Today, the top bracket is at 35 percent, but the top 1 percent are paying an effective tax rate of less than 30 percent.

In 1993, when President Clinton proposed raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans, he was roundly criticized by the corporate-controlled politicians on Capitol Hill and the Wall Street barons who always oppose higher taxes on the rich. They claimed the economy would suffer and jobs would be lost. Yet, when President Clinton won that tax increase, just the opposite happened. The nay-sayers were wrong. Job creation skyrocketed and we ushered in nearly a decade of strong economic growth.

A dozen years ago, however, that growth came to a halt with Pres. George W. Bush’s program of tax cuts for the rich and the deregulation of Wall Street. Instead, we were left with the lowest job creation of any Presidency in modern times. There is a reason for this result: When the wealthy get massive tax cuts, they don’t spend the money. Neither do corporations. In fact, corporations are now sitting on more than $1 trillion in cash.

On the other hand, when working families get a tax break, they spend it – creating more demand for products and giving corporations an incentive to produce more and hire more people. That is why President Obama makes such a strong case for keeping taxes low on the working middle class while allowing the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy to expire. Yet the same, age-old arguments are made by the wealthy to keep their taxes low.

They’ve even got a corporate CEO-funded front group, called Fix the Debt, arguing that we need to cut programs that help the poor, seniors and the sick in order to finance more tax cuts for the richest people in the country. That kind of thinking won’t put America back to work. And it won’t finance the important investments in infrastructure and education that we need to remain competitive in the future. All it will do is give the rich a tax break that they don’t need.

That is one reason why the 2012 election was the most important one of our lifetime. Big issues were debated, including whether we would return to Bush-era policies or enact the kind of Clinton-era tax policies supported by President Obama. The voters sent a clear signal that they supported President Obama’s plan to move the country forward by raising taxes on the wealthy and protecting vitally important programs that the poor and middle-class rely upon, such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Some on Capitol Hill – such as Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina – say they will only accept a revenue increase if the President will agree to major cuts in Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. But Congress and President Obama have already cut more than $1.5 trillion in government spending. Now, the focus must be on revenue.

More than 40 members of the House have indicated their opposition to any cuts in Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Tom Harkin underscored the opposition to unnecessary cuts in a letter they circulated earlier this week. They urged President Obama to “reject changes to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security that would cut benefits, shift costs to states, alter the structure of these critical programs, or force vulnerable populations to bear the burden of deficit reduction.”

The taxes on the richest people in America have been too low for too long. Our economic recovery is being damaged by this fundamentally flawed policy. Just this week, billionaire Warren Buffet made this clear in an op-ed published in The New York Times. In his column, Buffet called on Congress to immediately “enact a minimum tax on high incomes.”

Buffet also suggests a 30 percent rate for income between $1 million and $10 million, and a 35 percent on amounts above that. “A plain and simple rule like that will block the efforts of lobbyists, lawyers and contribution-hungry legislators to keep the ultra-rich paying rates well below those incurred by people with income just a tiny fraction of ours,” Buffet wrote.

We need to mobilize and demand that the Congress raise taxes on the wealthy and protect vital programs. It is the only way to avoid a fiscal disaster while encouraging job creation and greater economic growth.
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Romney and Ryan and Respect for Workers

1:50 pm in Uncategorized by Lee Saunders

I Am A Man mural on T St.

Photo: Tracy Woodward, Washington Post

A bold and innovative street artist with the simple name “JR” has transformed an unoccupied building at 14th and T Streets in Northwest Washington, DC. JR has given the nation’s capital a new and inspiring mural, an enormous version of the iconic “I Am A Man” photograph of AFSCME sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn., during their 1968 strike. This project could not be more timely, as it provides a powerful reminder that the struggle for respect the workers in Memphis undertook nearly 50 years ago is an ongoing battle.

The struggle continues, and not just in states such as Wisconsin where Gov. Scott Walker was able to strip public employees of their rights to collective bargaining. No, the struggle is nationwide, especially in this election season as Gov. Mitt Romney and his allies work to spread the attacks on public service workers to every state in the nation. Romney speaks out regularly against the right of sanitation workers and other public service workers to have a voice on the job. He opposes their right to organize or to have collective bargaining rights. Paul Ryan shares his view. In their America, the men and women who collect trash, plow streets, guard prisoners, care for children and heal the sick should simply do as they’re told.

Their contempt for workers and the right to have a voice in the workplace is not limited to public service workers. Romney and Ryan want to eliminate the ability of unions in both the private and public sector to effectively raise funds, recruit members and have the freedom to negotiate for better wages, working conditions and benefits.

They support transforming every state – including places like Iowa, Ohio and Pennsylvania, where unions have a long history – into new versions of Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina and other so-called “right to work” states where wages are low, benefits are few and workers are given little or no respect on the job. They want governments to be run for and by businesses, with little attention paid to the vulnerable, seniors, the poor and the unemployed. In their brave new world, workers are a cost center on a balance sheet, not partners in building profitable businesses, strong communities and an economy that benefits everyone.

Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Eugene Robinson made this point in a column he wrote on Romney and Ryan’s disdain for the working class. “Workers are not mere cogs in a machine designed to service those who make more money,” he wrote. “They are part of a community. The same is true of teachers, police officers, firefighters and others whom Romney and Ryan dismiss as minions of ‘big government’ rather than public servants.”

This mindless rush to belittle the worth of workers pervades the elitists who fund and support the Romney-Ryan ticket.

Consider a CEO like David Siegel of Westgate Resorts, who sends his employees a whining, self-serving email telling them that they will lose their jobs if President Obama raises taxes on the wealthiest Americans:

“If any new taxes are levied on me, or my company, as our current President plans, I will have no choice but to reduce the size of this company,” he wrote to employees. “Rather than grow this company I will be forced to cut back. This means fewer jobs, less benefits and certainly less opportunity for everyone.”

Siegel also notes that he has suffered in the Great Recession: He’s had to stop construction on his 90,000 square foot home. He’s a billionaire who thinks it’s perfectly alright to blackmail his employees into voting against their economic interest and for his.

The billionaire Koch brothers are also doing their part. In addition to the hundreds of millions of dollars they are using to corrupt our democracy, now they are sending letters to employees at Koch-owned companies urging them to support Mitt Romney and other right-wing candidates.

We see it in the attitudes expressed earlier this month by FOX News performers Geraldo Rivera and Bill O’Reilly as they belittled working men and women like Richard Hayes, Temo Fuentes and Joan Raymond. These three AFSCME members in San Diego appear in videos describing the work they do that benefits Mitt Romney at his vacation home in La Jolla, Calif.

Rivera says the sanitation workers represent all “the people whose pensions are bankrupting cities and have been, you know, in the crosshairs of Mitt Romney and the Republicans for this entire election cycle.” He ignores the fact that the average pension for an AFSCME retiree is less than $20,000 and is funded largely by investments made by the retirees themselves during their working careers.

O’Reilly says Richard Hayes’ video is “bogus” and shares Rivera’s view that it is “a low blow” for working men and women to speak up about Mitt Romney. “They are appealing to just ignorant voters,” said the millionaire O’Reilly, as millionaire Rivera smiled in agreement.

This kind of condescending attitude is much too pervasive among the well-heeled in America. It’s repulsive and ugly. Mitt Romney and his crass remarks about the 47 percent of Americans who feel “entitled” only makes it worse.

How much worse? Well, Rivera and O’Reilly’s parent company, announced plans earlier this month to begin production of a degrading and dehumanizing entertainment to rival the extremes of “The Hunger Games” and “Lord of the Flies.” According to the latest issues of Entertainment Weekly, Fox is finalizing a deal for a new show called Does Someone Have To Go? The repulsive “hook” of the new show: Real employees at real companies will decide which other real employee will be fired at the end of the hour.

Fox executives think stripping workers of their livelihoods is a creative and entertaining idea. In reality it is another sign that workers need their voices heard in the struggle to maintain their dignity. It’s a reminder that the struggle for respect that the Memphis sanitation workers fought to win continues to this day. Workers must raise their voices and cast their votes against corporate-backed politicians and policies that would deny them the respect and rights that each of us deserve.

“It Takes a Lot of Brass: Romney and America’s Veterans”

2:47 pm in Uncategorized by Lee Saunders

Veterans Day 2010

(Photo: xalamay/flickr)

It takes a lot of brass, to paraphrase Pres. Bill Clinton, to tell a room full of fat cats paying $50,000 for a meal, that nearly half of the American people are freeloaders sponging off the government. Yet, as everyone now knows, that’s exactly what Mitt Romney did. He told his wealthy backers that 47 percent of the electorate – who he falsely claimed pay no income taxes - will support President Obama “no matter what.”

Romney ignores the fact that just about every working American pays taxes of one kind or another, including payroll taxes that finance Social Security and Medicare, for example. It is seniors, the disabled and the poor who make up the majority of citizens who don’t pay income taxes. Romney said these people see themselves as “victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them.” His job, he continued, “is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” It’s not everyday that voters can see a candidate express such unbridled contempt.

There is another group of Americans who don’t pay federal taxes, a group that Romney has insulted before: the 80,000 young men and women fighting for our nation on the frontlines in Afghanistan. Romney thinks so little of the contribution these brave Americans make that he gave his acceptance speech in Tampa without even once mentioning them. He never even uttered the name of the country in which they were deployed and where more than 1,200 American lives have been lost during the past decade of war.

Romney later told Fox News that he didn’t mention Afghanistan and our troops because they were not important. Then he laughed about it. Hard to believe. Yet, when Fox News personality Brent Baier asked him if he regretted leaving the war and our troops out of his remarks, here’s how Romney replied: “When you – when you give a speech, you don’t go through a laundry list. You talk about the things you think are important.” Romney said his support for a strong military budget should be interpreted as support for our troops, as though a budget is the same as the men and women in uniform. Well, that’s the kind of nonsense you get from a candidate who thinks corporations are people.

This omission wasn’t the mistake of a Romney speechwriter. As the Washington, DC, newspaper Politico noted earlier this week, the campaign brought in veteran speechwriter Peter Wehner to craft Romney’s address. His speech included remarks on Afghanistan, but the campaign rejected his work. Romney and his campaign manager crafted the speech as given, and scrapped the references to our men and women in the military.

The reaction to this insult was immediate. Bill Kristol, the neo-conservative editor of The Weekly Standard, blasted Romney’s failure to say even “a word about the war in Afghanistan. Nor did he utter a word of appreciation to the troops fighting there, or to those who have fought there. Nor for that matter were there thanks for those who fought in Iraq, another conflict that went unmentioned.” Kristol expressed real shock at “the civic propriety of a presidential nominee failing even to mention, in his acceptance speech, a war we’re fighting and our young men and women who are fighting it.”

Romney, who avoided the Vietnam draft while living in Paris, France, has a history of ignoring our troops and veterans. According to the American Presidency Project, which keeps transcripts of campaign speeches, Romney has mentioned Afghanistan only 10 times during the two-year course of his current race for the presidency. When he travelled overseas this summer, he found no time to visit a military base. Unlike candidate Obama in 2008, who visited troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan, Mitt Romney made no time to see any active duty personnel or visit wounded warriors in a hospital. That shows you where his priorities are.

His record in Massachusetts was just as disgraceful. He sought to cut state hiring preferences for veterans and tried to cut funding for veterans outreach programs. He tried to increase user fees for long-term care for veterans and even sought to cut funding for the care of veterans’ graves. And he tried to combine veterans’ services with the state’s Office of Elder Affairs. The move was “incomprehensible,” said Walt Sanders, president of the Massachusetts AARP. “Not all veterans are elders and not all elders are veterans,” he noted.

With his eye on the bottom line, Romney ignored the real hardships faced by many of his state’s neediest veterans. While wasting tens of thousands of dollars for new television sets for his staff, Romney forced blind citizens – including many veterans – to pay a tax. Under Romney, Massachusetts began a policy of requiring the blind to carry “a certificate of blindness.” The blind were required to pay $10 annually for the certificate and $15 every four years for a blind identification card. “It’s just another form of taxation,” said Stephen Matthews of the Blinded Veterans Association. John Ray, an 85-year-old blind veteran of three wars called the Romney blindness fees “an amateurish act” to bleed residents. “I just don’t understand this foolishness,” he told the Boston Herald.

We can expect the same kind of “foolishness” to spread across the nation if Romney and his allies have their way. He has endorsed a budget that would force Draconian cuts in veterans’ programs, turn Medicare into a voucher program and eliminate hundreds of millions of funding from long-term care for seniors. Romney has made no secret of his contempt for the men and women who sacrifice for all Americans. It is the same contempt he feels for every American who relies on government to help when there is a need for a helping hand. With fewer than 50 days until the election, there is still time to avoid his cruel – and foolish – agenda.

Killing Pensions to Benefit the 1 Percent

5:59 pm in Uncategorized by Lee Saunders

Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, the Pravda of the 1 percent, is at it again, continuing its push to gut the retirement security of millions of middle class workers across the country while enriching the Wall Street moneymen who just three years ago took our economy over the cliff.  

Virtually everyone agrees that our nation faces a retirement security crisis, but The Journal last week published a shameful op-ed calling for the elimination of pensions for nurses, firefighters, corrections officers and others who still have them.  Having punched private sector workers retirement in the gut, these folks won’t be happy until the whole concept of a secure retirement for working Americans is a thing of the past.

The typical AFSCME member – men and women who plow our streets, care for the sick, protect our children, clean our buildings and keep our communities safe – receives a pension of approximately $19,000 a year after a career of public service. The employees have earned and paid for these pensions. Employee contribution rates commonly amount to 3 percent to 10 percent of their paychecks. These contributions, combined with investment earnings, usually account for 75 percent or more of all pension benefit funding. 

The economy’s collapse in 2008-2009 took its toll on everyone’s retirement savings. But our nation’s public pension systems, which were fully funded before the crash, continue their robust recovery earning their highest returns in decades in fiscal year 2011. Pensions continue to provide irreplaceable retirement security to millions of Americans who provide public services. Yet, the corporate-backed opponents of pensions are creating a myth that the system is falling apart and that state and local governments are going bankrupt because of the $19,000 pensions sanitation workers are earning.

That is simply not true.  According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the size of the projected state and local government pension funding shortfalls is manageable. In most states, the total shortfall for the pension funds is less than 0.2 percent of projected gross state product during the next 30 years.  Even in states with the largest shortfalls, the gap is less than 0.5 percent of projected state product during that period.  And, because pension payments are made over generations of workers, funding can remain stable over long periods, and funding challenges managed over decade long periods, despite short-term economic setbacks. These are facts that the opponents of public pensions simply ignore, as they seek to punish workers for Wall Street’s psychopathic behavior. 

Andrew Biggs and Jason Richwine – representing two right-wing, corporate-funded propaganda outfits, the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation – were given prime space on The Journal’s op-ed page last week to make an argument for radically transforming the retirement savings of working Americans.  They laid out a reckless plan to end guaranteed retirement accounts, and in some cases require workers to forfeit their life savings, and force public workers to enrich Wall Street firms that have already demonstrated their inability to produce adequate resources to meet the needs of retirees.  What’s even worse, their plan would cost taxpayers significantly more than the current system, thereby transferring even greater amounts of taxpayer money into the coffers of Wall Street bankers.

This scheme would put the retirement savings of millions of working, middle-class Americans with earned pensions into a casino-like 401(k) system.  In the private sector, it has already failed miserably.  It’s a plan that could devour the ability of hard-working public employees to retire with any semblance of security.  Even The Journal admitted in an article last year that the median household with a 401(k) has less than one-quarter of the savings needed for retirement. Yet it seems the editorial page editors ignore this fact and continue their misguided crusade against workers’ economic security. 

And let’s put an end to the notion that public employees haven’t had to accept reductions.  Fully 40 states have reduced benefits and/or increased employee contribution requirements in the past two years. AFSCME is willing to work with government officials at all levels to enact sensible pension reforms. 

While pension funds face manageable challenges, the same cannot be said for the failed 401(k) system that Wall Street and the corporate chieftains have forced onto private sector workers.  After three decades of experience with it, we know 401(k)s do not meet the one true test of effectiveness: economic security in retirement.  Yet instead of devoting their energies to fixing the system they foisted on workers, the right-wing, pension heretics are intent on destroying the retirement security of the remaining Americans who have it. 

That’s not a real solution.  It’s just another cynical effort to attack working Americans and benefit the folks at the top of the income ladder.  We need to ensure that more workers in our country have real retirement security and say no to the extremists who want to transfer more of America’s wealth to the top 1 percent.