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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 →

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 →

Traditional Voting Fails; Alternative Works

6:13 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

Voting doesn’t work anymore. If it did, Americans would get what they want — or at least some of it — from Washington.

But they don’t.

Instead of the people’s priority, which is jobs, country club conservatives in Congress stubbornly fixate on deficits. Instead of ensuring millionaires and corporations pay their fair share, House Republicans passed a budget that would destroy Medicare and Medicaid.

Corporate and clandestine campaign contributions have undermined the power of traditional voting, the kind done at polls on election day. Rather than voters, politicians now serve donors — billionaires and banksters — who invest untold millions and demand returns in the form of self-serving policy.

This is demoralizing to those who cherish democracy and the sanctity of one person, one vote.

Hope, however, arrived with the debit card fee victory. The 99 percent forced Bank of America to back off its proposed fee. Average Americans accomplished this by voting differently, not at the ballot box but at the twitter account, the Occupy march and the teller window, where 1 million depositors went to move $4.5 billion from the big Wall Street banks to community banks and credit unions. They found another way to exercise their franchise and force the powerful to respond.

The 99 percent must exploit the method of this triumph to get what they need. Because politicians sure as hell aren’t giving them what they want.

The numbers don’t lie. Coin-operated conservatives in Congress have rejected President Obama’s jobs plan, parts of the jobs plan and Obama’s pitch to raise taxes on the rich to pay for it.

And yet, the electorate strongly supports both surtaxing millionaires and the elements of the jobs plan. In a CNN poll in October, 75 percent favored sending federal money to the states to hire teachers and first responders and 72 percent favored infrastructure investments.

A whopping 76 percent wanted millionaires to pay higher taxes.

In that same CNN poll, there’s another compelling statistic. Sixty-one percent said reducing unemployment was the most important issue. Reducing the deficit didn’t even come close at 35 percent.

The numbers aren’t flukes. Another survey, taken a week later by CBS found the same thing.

At a time when companies are hoarding $2 trillion in reserves, failing to create jobs and demanding tax cuts, the CBS poll provided a snapshot of public opinion on corporate responsibility. It found 67 percent opposed shrinking big business tax obligations.

That is a result of the public knowing intuitively what a report released last week proved: corporations aren’t paying their fair share. Citizens for Tax Justice conducted a comprehensive study that showed 280 of the nation’s largest publically-traded corporations paid only 18.5 percent of their profits in taxes over the past three years. That is little more than half the official rate of 35 percent, and it is lower than the rate paid by their competitors in other industrialized nations.

Thirty of the companies paid nothing. For three years.

Numerous polls over time found Americans, including Tea Partiers by a two-to-one margin, strongly oppose cutting Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare benefits. Yet, what is the Congressional super-committee talking about? Cutting Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare.

If only the public could get their elected representatives to listen. If only they could walk into those plush Congressional offices — the way corporate lobbyists do — grab those lawmakers and get them to understand the sentiment of all those polls, the feeling of the vast majority of the electorate: Tax the rich; don’t cut the social safety net; create jobs now; worry about the deficit when the economy improves.

Traditional balloting has failed to get country club conservatives to listen to the public. To the majority. To the people who a democratically-elected government is supposed to serve.

The Bank of America debit card fee reversal suggests, however, that the majority can win with non-traditional balloting. In this case, a big bank that had been bailed out by the public after it engaged in excessively-risky betting, a bank that gave its CEO a $9 million bonus after he lost billions, announced that it had “the right to make a profit” off the backs of poor people by charging them a new $5-a-month fee to use their own money with their debit cards.

Other Wall Street banks indicated they would do the same.

Fed up, depositors said they wouldn’t take it anymore. They began transferring their money out of the Wall Street banks, participating in the “Move Your Money” campaign that urged citizens to deposit their savings in community banks and credit unions. YouTube began featuring outrageous videos of Wall Street bank branches denying depositors access to their accounts when they tried to withdraw their money to move it.

The effort was tweeted and blogged. It was cheered by Occupy Wall Street protesters who marched to bank headquarters buildings in New York City carrying thousands of letters of complaint.

Wall Street banks began backing off their new fee plans. One by one they abandoned Bank of America. Finally, it too cancelled the fee, meanwhile refusing to disclose just how much businesses it lost.

Last Saturday was the big, official “move your money” day. Of course, the Wall Street banks won’t tell how many more customers they lost. But depositors, more than 78,000 of whom pledged to make the move, made their point.

They voted differently. They voted with their feet and their wallets. And they won. They cast ballots in the only way coin-operated politicians and big banks respond to.

The 99% Seek a Just Economy, Not Just an Economy

10:37 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

Republicans jammed together a mess of old, failed and vague schemes and called it a jobs bill. Sen. John McCain conceded the reason for the rehash: “Part of it is in response to the president saying we don’t have a proposal.”

They still don’t. This despite the fact that they promised voters during their campaign to take control of the U.S. House one year ago that they’d create jobs. That they’d focus on jobs. That nothing was more important to them than jobs.

Now, what they’ve offered instead of actual jobs is a polyglot of GOP talking points. It’s certainly no vision to move the country forward. It’s a plot to set the country back – to repeal the health care law that will soon help provide coverage for the nearly 50 million Americans without insurance, to rescind the Wall Street reform law designed to prevent another financial sector-caused meltdown, and to thwart regulations, like those that stopped distribution of listeria-infected cantaloupe that killed 25.

GOP Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio called the Republican polyglot a “pro-growth proposal to create the environment for jobs.” It is, in fact, a pro-business proposal to permit corporations to destroy the environment for humans.

It is another GOP ploy to appease, accommodate and absolve corporations. It is another GOP ruse to firmly establish in America an economy designed for, dedicated to and directed by corporations rather than a just economy controlled by and beneficial to the 99 percent.

Republicans offered up their “Jobs Through Growth Act” mishmash after the GOP minority in the Senate wielded the filibuster again to block a vote on President Obama’s $447 billion American Jobs Act, a measure that even Republican economists determined would create 1.9 million jobs and reduce the nation’s aching 9.1 percent unemployment by as much as 1 percent.

The Republican measure, by contrast, could hurt the economy, according to Gus Faucher, director of macroeconomics at Moody’s Analytics, an independent firm whose chief economist advised the McCain presidential campaign. Here is what Faucher said:

“Should we look at regulations and make sure they make sense from a cost benefit standpoint? Certainly. Should we reduce the budget deficit over the long run? Certainly. But in the short term, demand is weak, businesses aren’t hiring, and consumers aren’t spending. That’s the cause of the current weakness, and Republican Senate proposals aren’t going to address that in the short term. In fact, they could be harmful in the short run if the focus is on cutting spending.”

Of all the Republican proposals, the most insidious, the most dangerous, the absolutely most outrageous is their demand to roll back Wall Street reform, to repeal the Dodd-Frank Act that was passed in an attempt to prevent recurrence of the 2008 financial collapse that destroyed the U.S. economy and caused the highest levels of foreclosures, unemployment and misery among the 99 percent since the Great Depression.

Go back, the Republicans are saying. Go back to 2007 when Wall Street financiers sold worthless mortgage-backed securities to unsuspecting investors, contending with a straight face that these were assets. Go back to 2008 when these firms made hundreds of millions betting those securities would fail. Go back to 2009 when the banksters, bailed out by taxpayers, awarded billions in bonuses to the executives who’d gotten the firms and the U.S. economy into so much trouble. Go back to early 2010, the Republicans are saying, before Obama signed the Dodd-Frank reform act, and allow Wall Street to do it all over again. Reprise unfettered, irresponsible Wall Street, the Republicans demand.

For Republicans, it’s all about enforcing freedom for the few – allowing corporations and millionaires to do whatever they want. No matter what that means to the freedoms of the 99 percent. The GOP demand for repeal of health care reform is another example of that. Already, this law has expanded health coverage for a million young adults because it allows them to remain on their parents’ plan until age 26. It has also helped 1.2 million senior citizens afford their prescription drugs by beginning to close the “donut hole” during which they must pay.

Still, Republicans want to get rid of that law. They want to regress to those free-for-all days when health insurance corporations could make unlimited profits from illness, deny coverage to those with chronic illnesses and terminate coverage when policy holders got sick. They want those young adults dropped. They want senior citizens to pay more for their prescriptions again. For Republicans, it’s all about enforcing freedom for the few – allowing health insurance corporations to do whatever they want. No matter what that means to the freedoms of the 99 percent.

The Republican rebuke of any attempt to control the 1 percent is highlighted in their “jobs bill” by its call for a regulation moratorium. No new rules! The country is in the midst of the deadliest outbreak of foodborne illness in 25 years. Twenty-five people are dead. A total of 125 people in 26 states have been sickened by listeria-poisoned cantaloupe from Jensen Farms in Holly, Colo. One sickened woman suffered a miscarriage. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says more illnesses and deaths may occur over the next several weeks.

If the Republicans got their way, the FDA would be unable to write new regulations to prevent another such incident. It’s fine with the GOP that Jensen had hired its own inspector, a firm that certified the Jensen packing plant fine and dandy just before listeria-tainted cantaloupes killed 25 and just before the FDA found numerous, obvious violations.

That’s because the Republican precept is: an economy just for the 1 percent.

The Week of Walking Backwards

7:26 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

It's not only Michael Jackson that can dance backwards. (Photo: typoyock on flickr)

It's not only Michael Jackson that can dance backwards. (Photo: typoyock on flickr)

As the Occupy Wall Street movement spread across the nation last week, politicians in D.C. flipped the bird at protesters – including those camping in Washington’s McPherson Square.

Here’s how: While occupiers sought political focus on the unemployment, impoverishment and foreclosures suffered by the nation’s non-rich 99 percent, politicians considered three major pieces of legislation and passed only the one that will help the wealthiest 1 percent and hurt the remaining 99 percent.

Senate Republicans murdered-by-filibuster the American Jobs Act, which would surtax the 1 percent to provide jobs for the 99 percent. The Senate did pass the currency manipulation bill, but House GOP leaders refused to schedule a vote on the measure that would protect jobs for the 99 percent by punishing countries that undervalue their currencies to artificially lower prices on their exports.

By contrast, both houses of Congress adopted the so-called Free Trade Agreements with Panama, Colombia and Korea, which will, just like their predecessor NAFTA, destroy jobs held by the 99 percent.

It’s incredible. Inexplicable. Inexcusable. In a country where joblessness is a painful 9.1 percent. Where one in five children lives in poverty. Where foreclosures rose again last month. Where a whole movement is growing to protest the appeasement of the rich at the cost of the middle class. In that place, Congress chose to walk backwards. It didn’t take two steps forward – which it could have by passing the currency bill and jobs act. No. It just took a giant step backward by embracing job-killing trade agreements.

It all forces the 99 percent to demand even more loudly: Where’s the jobs? Read the rest of this entry →

Equity and Sensibility

9:52 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

A long time ago, in an historical America, lawmakers determined a progressive tax code to be the fairest and most logical for all.

The legislators asked more of those who had benefitted most from the advantages America provides. They asked less of those who benefitted least.

As time passed, the rich and wealthy corporations perverted the progressive tax code. Now what America’s got is a flip-flop under which the fabulously wealthy pay taxes at rates lower than the middle class.

This week, President Obama proposed returning the tax code to a time closer to equity and sensibility. He asked that millionaires and corporations pay taxes at the same rate as the middle class. Not more, as they once did. But at an equal rate. It’s not revolutionary. It’s retro. And it would help create jobs.

It’s an idea whose time has come – again. And it should be implemented immediately.

Obama called it the Buffett Rule after billionaire Warren Buffett who has written repeatedly that he thinks it’s wrong that he pays taxes at a lower rate than his secretary. He spoke out most recently in a New York Times op-ed on Aug. 14 titled, “Stop Coddling the Super-Rich.” Here’s what he said:

“Our leaders have asked for ‘shared sacrifice.’ But when they did the asking, they spared me. I checked with my mega-rich friends to learn what pain they were expecting. They, too, were left untouched.

“While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks.”

His petition to American lawmakers for a return to fairness has been joined by fellow billionaire Mark Cuban and a large group of Americans calling themselves Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength. In an open letter to political leaders, these millionaires asked to be taxed more. It says:

“We are writing to urge you to put our country ahead of politics.

“For the fiscal health of our nation and the well-being of our fellow citizens, we ask that you increase taxes on incomes over $1,000,000.”

Cuban wrote on his blog that millionaires may choke when they see the size of their tax bills, but then they should rejoice at having such a “problem.” He also said:

“In these times of ‘The Great Recession’ we shouldn’t be trying to shift the benefits of wealth behind some curtain. We should be celebrating and encouraging people to make as much money as they can. Profits equal tax money. While some people might find it distasteful to pay taxes. I don’t. I find it Patriotic.”

The rich are ready to pay their fair share. It’s not fair now. Buffett and the other richest 399 billionaires in America pay an average income tax rate of 16.6 percent, while a worker earning between $35,000 and $84,000 a year pays a marginal rate of 25 percent.

Obama described the simple math of tax rates in seeking institution of the Buffett Rule. The nation is faced with a massive deficit and a crushing recession. America doesn’t receive sufficient tax revenues to buy everything it wants. So it must make choices. It could continue to give the rich and corporations special tax treatment and pay the country’s debts on the backs of the middle class. That would require slashing the programs that sustain workers – Medicare, Medicaid, food inspection, public education, Pell Grants – and the government programs that kindle the economy and provide middle class jobs such as infrastructure construction.

Or America could ask the rich to pay a tax rate equal to that of the middle class. America could end outrageous loophole for massively-profitable corporations – loopholes that not only enabled GE to pay no taxes at all last year but allowed it to demand the government give it $3.2 billion! Asking the rich to pay an equitable rate would raise enough money to moderate cuts to crucial government services.

The wealthy supporters of increasing taxes on the wealthy recognize another benefit of paying more – it increases their ability to earn more. Government services, from public schools and roads to civil courts and patent protections benefit business. Cutting funding for those services threatens business profits.

In addition, if government spends money to renovate schools and improve infrastructure as Obama has proposed in his jobs plan, it creates jobs. Those workers spend money. And that stimulates demand for products.

Only when corporations experience demand will they begin spending some of the record $2 trillion in cash they are now just sitting on to hire new workers. Those new workers will spend their paychecks, further increasing demand. It’s a virtuous cycle. The rich pay more in taxes and get more in profits.

Tax equity is not radical. It’s basic fairness. In fact, it’s not even progressive. Progressive would be returning to the days when the fabulously wealthy and profit-fat corporations paid higher tax rates than the middle class. Progressive would be charging the rich a “wealth tax” each year, not on their earnings but on the value of their holdings. This tax, suggested for the United States by Yale law professors Bruce Ackerman and Anne Alstott in a Los Angeles Times op-ed, already is collected by France, Norway, Switzerland and five other countries.

Parity isn’t progressive. But it is equitable and sensible.

Making America the Best Place on Earth to Work

8:09 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

Not the wars. Not greenhouse gasses. Not even the deficit. The issue most important to Americans is jobs.

Despite that, jobs failed to make an appearance in the State of the Union address.

The talk was all about business. Business was doing better. Business needed taxpayers to help pay for research and innovation. Business will get government help to eliminate pesky regulations. Business must have lower taxes.

The most telling statement was this:

“We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business.”

Especially because it wasn’t matched by a companion:

“We have to make America the best place on Earth to work.”

The speech expressed a policy in which business is the focus of government, taking precedence over workers. The American colonists created a government for their own benefit; they did not constitute an agent to serve business. A policy giving corporations primacy is risky for American workers.

The state of the union noted that happy days are here again for corporations and banks:

“Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back. Corporate profits are up. The economy is growing again.”

Never mentioned, however, were the 14.5 million unemployed Americans, the sustained record rate of foreclosure, and the increasing poverty and food bank reliance among citizens of the richest nation in the world.

The state of the union outlined a plan under which the government will coddle corporations, essentially proving companies government welfare using American workers’ tax dollars. If businesses create jobs for workers as a result, fine. If they don’t, there’s no plan to exact a penalty.

For example, under the policy described in the speech, American workers will fork over tax dollars to pay for research and development for businesses that are sitting on a record $1.8 trillion in cash reserves — hoarding it rather than creating jobs.

The president said:

“Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven’t seen since the height of the Space Race. And in a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal. We’ll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology — an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.”

Maybe it will create new jobs. Hopefully. But no guarantees were offered. Mentioned as a business success story in the speech was a Michigan company, Luma Resources, which began manufacturing solar shingles with the help of a $500,000 government grant. It created 20 jobs, $25,000 a job. American taxpayers might think that’s a little pricey, but what’s worse is the potential for Luma Resources to go the way of Evergreen Solar, squandering the corporate welfare.

Evergreen, the third largest maker of solar panels in the U.S. and recipient of at least $43 million in corporate welfare, announced earlier this month it would close its main American factory in Massachusetts and move manufacturing to China. Eight hundred Americans will lose their Evergreen jobs by April.

Evergreen officials said China will give the company even higher amounts of corporate welfare, which, of course, makes sense since China is not a capitalist country. Its economy is government controlled. And that government routinely violates international trade regulations – by providing banned subsidies to industries and by deliberately devaluing its currency.

No matter how better educated American workers get. No matter how much more innovative. No matter how much more productive. No matter how many tax dollars the government spends on research and development, if the corporations that benefit move manufacturing overseas, the American workers who paid for it will suffer.

In fact, it’s more than suffering; it’s betrayal by their government that provided tax benefits to companies for off-shoring jobs. It is betrayal by their government that fails to stop violations of trade laws by countries like China that lure away firms like Evergreen.

At the end of the State of the Union speech, the president said:

“From the earliest days of our founding, America has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream.”

An ordinary American dreams of a family-supporting job, owning a home, saving enough to pay for a child’s college education, helping to build a safe community. Corporations aren’t Americans, no matter how often the U.S. Supreme Court grants them rights that the U.S. Constitution guarantees to human beings. Businesses aren’t citizens. Their allegiance isn’t to America. It’s to profits. They dream only of dollars. They concede no responsibility to family, community or country.

They were not included when the president said:

“Tucson reminded us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater — something more consequential than party or political preference. We are part of the American family.”

The top priority of the American government must be making America the best place on Earth for Americans. If that’s good for corporations, great. The government must never place American citizens second.

Time to Wield the Foreign Policy Stick

9:35 am in China, Economy, Foreign Policy, Korea, Labor by Leo W. Gerard

Map of China (source: CIA World Factbook)

America plays the role of abused partner in its relationship with China. Although the Asian giant repeatedly injures U.S. industry by violating international trade rules, America has responded, almost exclusively, by pleading and begging for China to stop.

China says it’s sorry. And continues to violate the rules. America respectfully beseeches China to discontinue manipulating its currency, and China says it will. Then it allows the value to increase a completely insignificant amount. Still America does nothing. Nothing. It simply accepts the abuse.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Michael Williams, senior vice president of U.S. Steel stood with me Wednesday at a press conference in Pittsburgh to urge President Obama in his meetings this week with Chinese President Hu Jintao to announce that America is done with soft talk. We want President Obama to tell President Hu that America has heard enough promises; the United States is bucking up and pulling out that big stick that Teddy Roosevelt carried in foreign policy negotiations.

This is a rare issue on which politicians, Republican and Democrat, manufacturers and organized labor all agree. Here’s what Sen. Casey said at the press conference, “In my estimation, and that of a lot of Americans, the time for talking is over. The time for action is now.” He, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., plan to introduce legislation next week to force the federal government to hold China accountable, to enforce compliance with World Trade Organization (WTO) rules – rules that China agreed to comply with when WTO countries permitted it to join even though it is a non-market economy.  . . . Read the rest of this entry →

The Voters’ Message: Manufacturing a Solution

8:45 am in Business, Economy, Employment, Labor, Manufacturing by Leo W. Gerard

No doubt voters sent a message last Tuesday. Deciphering it correctly is crucial.

Republican cryptographers interpreted the election results that gave the GOP control of one house of Congress as a directive to demolish everything produced over the past two years – health care reform, Wall Street re-regulation and economic stimulus. In fact, like the Blues Brothers, they believe they’re on a mission from God. Unlike Jake and Ellwood who set out to save an institution, Republicans intend to crush the President, and if a crippled leader means the nation suffers, well, too bad.

Republicans got it wrong. The electorate wants construction, not destruction. Voters want cooperation, not gridlock.

President Obama properly decoded the message and reached across the aisle, inviting Republicans to a White House summit. At that meeting, he will attempt to collaborate with politicians bent on his annihilation, which is like trying to navigate a mine field. But in these negotiations, there is a safe zone. That is manufacturing. The electorate wants American manufacturing restored to greatness. Voters know industrial revitalization would create good, middle class jobs, strengthen national security and improve the economy.

Some Republicans already have shown a willingness to cooperate on this issue. Just before the midterm recess, 99 Republicans voted with Democrats to pass by 348 to 79 the Currency Reform for Fair Trade Act, which would enable the Commerce Department to impose import tariffs to offset the detrimental effects of manipulated currencies. This is vital in places like Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania where manufacturing has been decimated by Chinese exports sold at artificially low prices. Products from several Asian countries are falsely cheap because the governments intervene in the market to suppress the value of their currencies against the dollar.

Voters know that punishing currency manipulators, dealing boldly with violations of international trade rules like forced technology transfer and copyright abuse, and ending tax incentives to outsource jobs would help reverse the decline of American manufacturing.  . . . Read the rest of this entry →