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Republicans: Against It Before They Were For It

7:19 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

First, Republicans opposed extending the payroll tax cut that put an extra $20 a week in the pockets of 160 million working Americans.

Next, they supported it. If the cost were offset the way they wanted. Even though Republicans previously had said that tax cuts never need be offset.

After that, they opposed a stopgap measure extending the break by two months. Even though the cost was offset.

Ultimately, they approved the 60-day extension.

Then, they opposed extending the tax cut another 10 months. Unless the cost were offset.

Finally, however, they supported that. Even though the cost was not, in fact, offset.

What’s that sound? It’s the frantic flailing of a grounded GOP fish: flip flop, flip flop, flip flop.

Republicans revel in casting themselves as the principled party. They claim they’re the moral majority. Their values, they contend, are unshakable. So their serial waffling on this issue is confusing. Against it; for it; against it; for it. Isn’t that what they ridiculed a Democratic Presidential candidate for?

There’s a simple explanation, however. Throughout this entire episode, Republicans never wavered or vacillated or faltered in any way in performing their most vital, their most basic function as a political party: pandering to the rich.

The thread running through this drama, from beginning to end, is Republican opposition to equitably taxing the rich. The GOP did whatever it took to prevent the nation’s millionaires and billionaires from parting with another cent. In the end, the party’s public image took a beating. But Congressional Republicans triumphed in shielding the nation’s richest from paying their fair share.

So focused are Republicans on providing welfare for the rich in the form of special tax breaks and perks that initially the party didn’t support extending the payroll tax cut for the middle class at all. Late last November, party leaders, including U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, announced they opposed a one-year expansion. Republicans said they’d allow a temporary tax cut for the middle class to expire, no problem, even though they’d previously contended they couldn’t end the supposedly temporary income tax cut Bush gave the rich because that would be a “tax increase,” and they could never support a tax increase. Not ever. Read the rest of this entry →

America’s Failed Mole-by-Mole Trade Policy

7:54 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

This American Car Enthusiast Makes The Point

Last week several groups, including the United Steelworkers, petitioned the federal government to whack the latest trade mole – illegally traded auto parts from China.

With President Obama announcing creation of a new trade enforcement unit in his State of the Union Address, the feds probably will investigate. But even if they whack down the auto parts mole, experience has shown a new mole will pop up.

Mole-by-mole trade enforcement isn’t the solution to America’s massive trade deficit. Although conservative candidates revel in ridiculing Western Europe, America could learn crucial economic lessons from Germany, which doesn’t rely on Whack-a-Mole and maintains trade surpluses, including one with China in auto parts.

The Steelworkers – along with the United Auto Workers, the Alliance for American Manufacturing and Campaign for America’s Future – explained why the federal government must smack down the latest trade problem that has raised its ugly head.

China and several other countries promote their auto parts manufacturers by providing subsidies and engaging in additional practices banned by the World Trade Organization (WTO). As a result, the United States imports more auto parts than it produces, a situation that kills manufacturers and manufacturing jobs here. For example, over the past 11 years, as the U.S. auto parts trade deficit increased by 867 percent, the Unites States lost 45 percent of its auto parts jobs – a total of 419,000.

The reason the groups sought action against China specifically is that its exports of auto parts to the United States have increased faster in the past three years than any other country’s and China supports its auto parts industry in ways that violate its commitments to the WTO.

For example, China provided $27.5 billion in subsidies to its auto parts industry between 2001 and 2010. It’s fine with the WTO if countries subsidize industries that sell their products domestically. But it forbids subsidies for exported products because that distorts the free market, wrongly destroying jobs and industries in the countries that buy those artificially low priced goods.

Beijing also aggressively limited import of American-made auto parts. This is hardly startling. In December, China imposed steep tariffs on imported American-made sports utility vehicles and other large cars. And the WTO affirmed last week that China violated its trade commitments by restricting export of key raw materials. Earlier, the WTO supported President Obama’s imposition of tariffs on tires imported from China because Beijing had violated international trade rules. Read the rest of this entry →

Retirees Occupy Century Aluminum

7:46 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

On Dec. 18, a dozen retirees, men and women in their 60s, 70s, even 80s, began occupying a median strip along Route 33 in front of the closed Century Aluminum smelter in Ravenswood, W.Va. In tents and under tarps, a small group stays overnight, despite hypertension, arthritis and other old age ailments. One has suffered a stroke.

These vulnerable people expose themselves to weather extremes although some have no health insurance at all. Century cancelled it. That’s why they’re occupying Century.

The retirees labored their entire lives for wages and pensions comparably lower than those of other aluminum workers. They did it believing they made those sacrifices in exchange for good, lifelong health coverage. Over the past two years, however, Century evicted them, about 540 retirees altogether, from the insurance plan.

The betrayal burns. Executives at Century, corporate 1 percenters, committed the same sort of treachery that is being condemned by Occupy Wall Street demonstrators representing the victimized 99 percent across the country. Thus the retirees adopted the grandchildren’s protest tactic of encampment.

Century shuttered the 50-year-old Ravenswood smelter in February of 2009, throwing 651 workers out of jobs. Century, headquartered in Monterey, Calif., didn’t go bankrupt though. It still operates aluminum plants in Kentucky, South Carolina and Iceland. And it didn’t immediately cancel promised insurance for retirees.

Nine months after the shutdown, it announced it would terminate as of June 1, 2010 health benefits for retirees eligible for Medicare. Then on Nov. 1, 2010, Century told its retirees who weren’t yet eligible for Medicare that it would stop paying for their coverage as of Jan. 1, 2011.

This revoking of earned benefits isn’t an isolated incident or a fluke. It is part of a pattern documented by Wall Street Journal investigative reporter Ellen E. Schultz in her new book “Retirement Heist.” The subtitle is, “How companies plunder and profit from the nest eggs of American workers.

She describes in gory detail how corporations raided worker pension accounts, siphoning off surpluses that would be needed later to prop up plans damaged by the Wall Street collapse. She provides detailed accounts of executives gouging the funds to pay for their own exorbitant retirement packages. She tells of corporate executives ending retiree health insurance and freezing pensions but deceptively calling the changes improvements, so that CEOs could pump up company profits with money that had been pledged to workers.

While breaking promises to workers and violating contracts, these CEO 1 percenters falsely portrayed themselves as beleaguered champions of workers, valiantly attempting to preserve underfunded pensions. Like Costa Concordia Captain Francesco Schettino saving himself while abandoning passengers on his sinking cruise ship, the captains of industry padded their own pockets with pension and health care funds intended for retirees, then deserted the workers. Schultz describes the CEO scams this way in the book: Read the rest of this entry →

Emblematic of 1 Percenters, Cooper Tire Punk’d Workers

8:00 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

Four years ago, Cooper Tire told its workers they’d have to sacrifice to save the company. With a straight face, Cooper executives said it was essential for the corporation’s survival that workers take tens of millions in pay and benefit cuts.

The workers understood the link between their livelihoods long term and Cooper’s success. Dedicated and loyal, they accepted the cutbacks. Soon afterward, city and state officials granted Cooper millions in subsidies.

Management didn’t share in the workers’ and taxpayers’ pain, though. The top dogs rewarded themselves with millions in pay increases and a shiny new corporate jet.

Cooper punk’d the workers and taxpayers.

This isn’t an aberration. It’s a pattern. Corporate executives, the 1 percenters, slash workers’ wages, then give themselves big bonuses. CEOs tell mayors and governors their businesses are in such dire shape that they may close or move offshore. Government officials dutifully shovel truckloads of taxpayer cash into CEO hands, then the CEOs grant themselves more perks. The television show Punk’d, in which actor Ashton Kutcher humiliates famous people, took a five-year hiatus. The 1 percenters gave workers and taxpayers no such break. Punking the 99 percent for profit has only escalated.

At Cooper, 1,050 members of the United Steelworkers union in Findlay, Ohio agreed in 2008 to give the company $30 million in concessions when executives cried destitute at the negotiation table. The next year, after witnessing the same sad song and dance, Ohio officials began transferring $2.5 million from taxpayer pockets to corporate coffers.

Between 2008 and 2011, though, Cooper awarded its executives two pay hikes and double bonuses. The year after Cooper told workers they had to suffer for the company, Cooper CEO Roy Armes got a 50 percent pay increase. The next year, in the middle of the recession, his bump was 19 percent, giving him a package worth $4.7 million in 2010.

Cooper 1 percenters also bought themselves a corporate jet and, for $17 million, a Serbian tire company. Since January of 2009, Cooper posted $360 million in income before taxes.

The workers who took the cutbacks and taxpayers who subsidized the company got punk’d. Read the rest of this entry →

Recess Appointments: Backlash to Blackmail

8:00 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

In America, when gangs of bullies torment school children, pushing them around and extorting their lunch money, parents know only one response effectively counters the abuse: confrontation. Running, whining, negotiating — none of that works.

For the past year, since Republicans took the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, they’ve behaved like young thugs, extorting Democrats to get what they wanted. Employing the blackmail techniques of schoolyard gangs, House Republicans repeatedly threatened to hurt the American people and the American government if Democrats didn’t submit.

Then President Obama confronted them. In recent weeks, he finally internalized and implemented the advice of American parents on dealing with bullies. He stood his ground. He called the GOP bluff on the payroll tax. And they backed down. He recess appointed four officials, defying GOP attempts to thwart service to American workers and borrowers.

Apparently, it’s a new day in Washington, one in which Democrats, who control the presidency and the majority in the U.S. Senate, are fed up and not going to take GOP extortion anymore.

For a year, Republicans leveraged their demands with blackmail. If Democrats didn’t accept draconian and economic recovery-starving budget cuts, Republicans would shut down the government. If Democrats didn’t agree to slash the budget by exactly the amount Republicans required, the GOP would destroy the country’s credit rating.

In December, House Republicans overplayed. Initially, they’d opposed President Obama’s proposed extension of the payroll tax break that puts about $1,000 a year back into the pockets of working Americans. Just before the holidays, they changed their minds and said they’d accept a one-year extension, if it were offset by cuts in the federal budget. A dispute ensured between Democrats and Republicans about what to cut. As time ran out before the scheduled holiday break, the Senate compromised and passed a two-month extension, with the remaining 10 months to be settled later. The approval was overwhelming, 89 to 10. The Senators went home.

That bi-partisan action in the Senate left House Republicans with the choice of approving a two-month extension of a tax break they claimed to support or rejecting it, which would increase payroll taxes for 160 million workers.

For days, House Republicans refused to accept the Senate measure, threatening workers with a tax increase. The House Republicans claimed they wanted a one-year extension, but what they really wanted was a one-year extension paid for by cuts they chose without Democratic input. They demanded Senators return to Washington and vote on cuts to support a one-year deal. Or they’d increase taxes.

The Senate refused. Obama refused. They confronted the bullies.

And the bullies blinked. The House passed the two-month extension.

Before they left town, however, the House Republican majority refused to allow the Senate to recess for more than three days. The Constitution permits each chamber to deny the other the ability to adjourn for more than 72 hours. The result is charade sessions in which a lawmaker, every three days, smacks down a gavel, declares the chamber open for business, recites the Pledge of Allegiance, then strikes the gavel again to close and leaves.

No lawmaker actually works for the people during these “sessions.” But the political dance allows a chamber to claim it’s not recessed. And that’s supposed to stave off recess appointments by the President.

In this case, Republicans intended to block recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. By New Year’s, NLRB membership had dwindled to two, denying the organization the quorum that this group, whose function is to protect workers’ rights, must have to make decisions.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, by law, could not fulfill all of its duties to protect borrowers from fraudulent lending practices until it had a director. Using blackmail again, Republicans said they would filibuster the appointment of any proposed director, no matter how qualified, until they got what they wanted – which was measures to weaken the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, legislation designed to prevent another Wall Street collapse.

Republicans created what appeared to be a foolproof scam to cripple implementation of the law. The legislation wouldn’t be fully effective without a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau director and Republicans refused to approve a director unless Democrats agreed to dilute the law. In addition, the GOP would block recess appointments by never officially recessing.

Obama rebuffed this abuse. He called a legislative session that opens for three minutes every 72 hours while 99 Senators are vacationing what it is – recessed. And he made the appointments. He explained:

“When Congress refuses to act and, as a result, hurts our economy and puts people at risk, I have an obligation as President to do what I can without them. I have an obligation to act on behalf of the American people. I will not stand by while a minority in the Senate puts party ideology ahead of the people they were elected to serve. Not when so much is at stake. Not at this make-or-break moment for the middle class.”

Give ‘em hell, Barack!

Resolutions, Political Resolutions and Damned Lies

8:08 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

‘Tis the season of resolutions. With the new year comes pledges to quit smoking, get out of debt and spend more time with family. Gym memberships jump. Weight Watchers’ profits fatten.

This also happens to be the season of political resolutions. It’s that every-fourth-year event featuring presidential candidates in a contest of campaign promise one-upmanship. Ron Paul pledges to legalize marijuana. Michele Bachmann swears she’ll cut gasoline prices to $2 a gallon. Newt Gingrich guarantees he’ll create millions of jobs “right now.” Mitt Romney assures every college graduate a job.

Unfortunately, this also has been, for some time, a season of damned lies. These are deliberate deceptions involving a higher level of scheming. The Contract with America and the more recent Pledge to America are examples. Republicans knew they couldn’t fulfill what they led the public to perceive as promises. But the GOP designed these “pledges” specifically so that Republicans couldn’t be labeled as failures when what they pseudo-promised never materialized. That’s the stuff of damned lies.

Unfulfilled New Year’s resolutions are legendary. Low calorie salad fixings fill fridges Jan. 2, and remain there, rotting, on Feb. 2. The victim of this broken promise is also the perpetrator and therefore unlikely to protest the infraction.

These days, political resolutions strewn along the presidential campaign trail are picked up and carefully cataloged on the Internet by reporters and bloggers who hold candidates accountable for every syllable. That’s a good exercise, but the public generally recognizes political promise hyperbole and realizes that unexpected events may prevent a president from keeping his word. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, for example, pledged not to involve the country in the European war, but then the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Mostly, the public shrugs off presidential contenders’ inflated political resolutions.

Damned lies, however, are dangerous because they subvert trust in the political system, which needs the faith of the electorate to function. Damned lies may, in fact, be an integral part of Republican strategy since the GOP hates government of the people by the people and hopes to shrink it small enough to drown in a bathtub.

In their 1994 Contract with America, Republicans vowed: Read the rest of this entry →

Antidote for Stupidity of Shipping Tax-Dollar-Financed Jobs Overseas

7:55 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

Amid prolonged, painfully high unemployment, ABC News Anchor Diane Sawyer for the past year tirelessly advocated a simple solution – buy American-made products. She clearly explained the reasoning: every American dollar spent on an American-made product helps create an American job.

Defying Sawyer’s admonition to search for “Made in America” tags, California set a record for using government money to create jobs in China. The Golden State awarded a contract for the new Bay Bridge that created 3,000 jobs in China for five years – a period during which the state’s unemployment rate persisted at two percentage points above the nation’s already high average.

Now there’s an antidote for California’s stupidity. It is legislation called the Invest in American Jobs Act. Championed by U.S. Rep. Nick J. Rahall, (D-W.Va.) and Senators Sherrod Brown, (D-Ohio), Bob Casey, (D-Pa.), and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), it would strengthen existing requirements for buying American products when federal tax dollars pay for construction of highway, bridge, public transit, rail, water systems and aviation infrastructure equipment.

To create 200,000 American jobs, Sawyer has challenged Americans to spend just $64 of their $700 in holiday purchases on American-made gifts. Imagine the American jobs that would be created if “Made in America” were stamped on every single part of all $59 billion in infrastructure projects the federal government funds in a typical year.

That’s what Rahall, Brown, Casey and Stabenow want. Unless American-manufactured components aren’t available or would be outrageously more expensive, these lawmakers believe American tax dollars should buy American jobs while financing American infrastructure. So they propose to expand the existing “Buy American” requirements and close loopholes that allow governors like California’s Arnold Schwarzenegger to circumvent the rules.

Schwarzenegger contended that California would save $400 million on the $5.1 billion Bay Bridge if it hired a Chinese firm to build steel decking and a 52-story tall support tower and ship them 6,500 miles to San Francisco.

This turned out to be a “you get what you pay for” lesson for California. The state should have been forewarned by years of publicity about problems with Chinese-manufactured products. For example, toxic drywall imported from China sickened American homeowners, corroded pipes and resulted in hundreds of millions in successful damage claims against the Chinese firms that fabricated it. Or there was the tainted blood thinner Heparin from China that killed at least 81 Americans. Read the rest of this entry →

Americans Are Greater Together

6:27 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

Teddy (photo: davetron5000/flickr)

Teddy (photo: davetron5000/flickr)

It wasn’t so much a vote as a proclamation of ideology last Thursday when Republicans filibustered Obama’s nominee to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The rebuff had nothing to do with the person, Richard Cordary, who even Republican Senator Orrin Hatch said appeared well qualified. Rather, it was part of the GOP campaign to hobble the agency created to safeguard borrowers from dodgy payday lenders and predatory mortgage salesmen.

The GOP thwarts regulatory agencies in order to enforce its “you’re on your own” philosophy. That is, each citizen, like an island, fends for himself in a world where the invisible hand of the market serves as regulator. Democrats believe something very different. They espouse the principles set out by President Teddy Roosevelt in his 1910 speech in Osawatomie, Kan., and echoed by President Obama in his address there last week. That is America and Americans are better when citizens work together and watch out for each other, that cooperating invigorates the individual, the economy and the nation, and that primacy is in people and profit is subordinate.

The late Senator Paul Wellstone expressed the essential sentiment most succinctly:

“We all do better when we all do better.”

Republicans don’t ascribe to that. They want to set up a country where every person is responsible for every aspect of daily life, from ensuring drinking water is safe to reducing workplace hazards. The GOP wants to shred regulations that protect citizens, even eliminate the federal agencies that enforce them. Congressional Republicans have worked to defund the Environmental Protection Agency, a move that would “empower” each citizen to persuade big industrial polluters to limit the particulates, mercury, arsenic, cadmium and lead belching from smokestacks.

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said he’d reverse laws forbidding child labor –the same regulations Teddy Roosevelt endorsed to keep youngsters in classrooms and out of factories. In a nation deeply concerned about the quality of schools and the quantity of imported oil, GOP candidate Rick Perry plans to close the Education and Energy departments. Republican candidate Ron Paul would abolish the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the organization citizens created to aid fellow Americans who fall victim to natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes and floods.

But that’s just the point: Republicans don’t believe Americans should help each other – they should only help themselves. In the GOP view, greed and selfishness aren’t sins. They’re virtues. Read the rest of this entry →

Hey, GOP: Give the 99 Percent Some Lovin’

8:06 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

MTV needs to stop giving that creepy vampire guy and moony human girl in the “Twilight” series the “best kiss” prize in its annual movie awards because it’s Republicans who truly earned the trophy for the big wet smooches they lay on the 1 percent.

Just think of the GOP lovin’ that went into the Bush tax breaks that gave millionaires more than $125,000 a year and the middle class less than $1,000. Or the arduous embrace signified by cutting the capital gains tax to a rate lower than that on middle class income.

The GOP is a faithful lover to the 1 percent, steady and true. Last week, Republicans found themselves confronted with a choice between raising taxes on the 99 percent or on the 1 percent, and the GOP spared the millionaires. The GOP’s fidelity to the 1 percent is so strong that Republicans wavered on their promises – never raise taxes – and principles – tax cuts don’t have to be offset. As a result, the 99 percent is beginning to feel more than a little spurned by the GOP.

Since the days of the Bush breaks in 2001 and 2003, Republicans consistently have said that tax reductions stimulate the economy and the lost revenue needn’t be offset. Jon Kyl, the No. 2 Senate Republican, asserted, for example: “You should never have to offset the cost of a deliberate decision to reduce tax rates on Americans.” The GOP didn’t pay for the Bush breaks, a decision that dramatically increased the deficit, which Republicans now say the 99 percent must pay by suffering slashed government services.

Similarly, Republicans have loyally upheld their solemn pledge to lobbyist Grover Norquist to never, ever raise taxes. Last year, for example, they GOP refused to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire, contending that would be a tax increase, not the end of rates intended to be temporary.

To recap: The GOP vowed never to raise taxes. The GOP defines an expiring temporary tax cut as a tax increase. And the GOP believes tax reductions don’t have to be offset.

To serve the 1 percent, however, Republicans discarded all of that supposedly sacrosanct philosophy during last week’s struggle over extending the temporary payroll tax cut. Congress voted last December to decrease for one year the payroll tax from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent, putting an extra $1,000 in the hands of 160 million workers during a recession to pay bills. Read the rest of this entry →

The 1 Percent Indifferent to Their Indebtedness

7:40 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

Famous Indifferent 1%-er, Pictured Here Not Eating Cake (Photo: heilemann, flickr)

Famous Indifferent 1%-er, Pictured Here Not Eating Cake (Photo: heilemann, flickr)

Most Americans, the 99 percent, feel the pressure of indebtedness. When they owe a friend a buck, their conscience bothers them until they’re square. They pay their bills, working second jobs if necessary. They meet mortgage obligations even when underwater.

That’s why there was a deficit Super Committee. Americans don’t like debt, including bills owed by their government. It weighs on them, even when it’s borrowing by Washington to create jobs and speed recovery.

But for the majority of millionaires – the 1 percent — incurring debt does not evoke anxiety. They’re numb to the feeling of responsibility that indebtedness induces in the 99 percent. They believe they owe nothing to their country or society despite all they’ve gained. They feel no duty to repay America for creating the environment that enabled them to amass all that wealth.

Thus the Super Committee failed.

The committee was searching for $1.2 trillion over 10 years. The Bush tax cuts, which disproportionately benefited the rich, cost $2.8 trillion over the past decade. But the 1 percent obstructed a return to the pre-Bush-balanced-budget-era tax rates and would sneer at the mere suggestion that they pay the much higher marginal rates the wealthy accepted after World War II to settle those government debts. In fact, Republicans on the Super Committee actually proposed additional tax cuts for the rich.

More breaks for the wealthy would require slashing social safety net programs for the 99 percent — Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, child nutrition. It would mean no funds to create jobs and boost the economy. The result would be less money to build highways, refurbish bridges and renovate schools.

That’s okay with the 1 percent because they feel no obligation for those social responsibilities. Read the rest of this entry →