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Republican Pledge: A Rotten Egg for the Middle Class

7:14 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

When Herbert Hoover ran for president in 1928, the Republican party promised his victory would assure the prosperity of “a chicken in every pot.” This week, Republicans proffered a similar pledge to America.

Hoover won, and in 1929, after a decade of GOP rule in Washington, Republicans did deliver something foul to Americans. It wasn’t the much-anticipated cooking hen. It was the Great Depression.

Now in the Great Recession, also delivered during a GOP presidency, Republicans have presented a new promise. They pledged to withdraw all unspent Recovery Act money to prevent it from employing even one more worker; kill health care reform to stop 30 million Americans from getting affordable insurance; slash $100 billion from federal programs protecting the middle class; preserve tax cuts for the rich and cut government regulation — like oversight of Gulf-oil-gusher-BP and contaminated-egg-producers Jack and Peter DeCoster.

This time, the GOP downsized the “chicken in every pot” promise. Instead they’re pledging a salmonella-poisoned egg.

In 1932, Americans wisely rejected re-electing Republican Hoover, who is regarded as one of the nation’s most inept leaders, and chose instead Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt, revered as one of the best. This fall, it’s crucial that Americans choose sagely again, selecting Democrats intent on reforming Washington and protecting the nation’s middle class.

Eight years of Republican rule in Washington climaxed with the worst recession since the Great Depression. Since that downturn officially began in December of 2007, poverty, unemployment and foreclosures have risen while middle class income and health insurance coverage have fallen.

The poverty rate increased to the worst level in 16 years, with 3.7 million people slipping from the middle class to the ranks of the poor in 2009. One in seven Americans now is impoverished. More than 8 million workers have lost their jobs, and 2.3 million families have lost their homes to foreclosure. Nearly one in four mortgage holders is under water, meaning they owe more on their house than it’s worth. Also, last year, the number of uninsured Americans rose by 4.4 million to 50.7 million — 16.7% of the population. It was the largest annual increase since the government began collecting comparable data in 1987.

By contrast, on Wall Street, where unrestrained and unregulated bankster recklessness caused the recession, happy days are here again. The banks that taxpayers bailed out have resumed paying million-dollar salaries and bonuses. The nation’s top 25 hedge-fund managers each took home an average of $1 billion (BILLION) last year. Those hedgers are among the nation’s richest 1 percent, those whose take home pay grew so fast between 1979 and the start of the recession in 2007 that nearly 39 percent of all income growth went to that tiny number of super-wealthy. Only 36 percent went to the bottom 90 percent of the nation’s population.

Democrats, keenly aware of the diverging experiences of the nation’s sucker-punched workers and its well-heeled elite, have worked to aid the beleaguered middle. They passed the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which the Congressional Budget Office estimated created between 1.4 million and 3.3 million jobs by July.

Democrats reformed health insurance so that children with pre-existing conditions can’t be denied insurance; senior citizens won’t have to pay for “donut hole” medications; young adults up to age 26 may remain on their parents’ plans, and insurance companies can no longer choose doctors or place lifetime limits on coverage or drop the sick. On top of all that, the Democrats’ reform will lower federal deficits by $138 billion.

Now, Democrats are fighting to preserve income tax cuts for the middle class while eliminating breaks for the rich. The Democrats would continue to lower by $1,132 a year the taxes of median wage earners, those with incomes of about $50,000 a year. Under the Democrats’ plan, the super rich – those taking home more than $1 million a year — would still get a tax cut of $6,349 – six times that of the middle class. But Democrats would have the super rich pay $97,651 in taxes a year that they now pocket.

Democrats think the rich have an obligation to pay those taxes. To get where they are, in the top one percent income bracket, they’ve used tax-subsidized public services at significantly higher rates than the other 99 percent of Americans. That includes services such as roads and airports, civil courts, the U.S. patent office, the U.S. Department of Commerce and professional licensing, regulation and inspection departments.

Republicans don’t agree. They believe the middle class should pay so the rich can continue getting breaks. The GOP believes it is fine to give tax cuts to the rich that will cost nearly $1 trillion over 10 years, but not pay for them. Conversely, Republicans have refused to extend unemployment insurance for the middle class jobless unless that’s paid for. The GOP believes it’s appropriate to continue tax breaks for multi-national corporations that ship jobs overseas but it’s not to extend aid to the middle class unemployed to pay for health insurance.

In their Pledge to America, Republicans promise to take care of the rich. They said they’d change Washington by decimating the very regulation that protects middle class workers and their families and by cutting off money that is providing jobs to the unemployed. The GOP pledges to undermine middle class America.

It might be called a turkey, but even that would inflate its value. It’s a rotten egg hurled at middle America.

Greed Explains the Disasters and the Lying Afterwards

12:42 pm in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

(This post is by both Leo W. Gerard, International President of the United Steelworkers, and by Cecil Roberts, International President of the United Mine Workers of America)

As oil mucked the Gulf of Mexico and families mourned 11 dead rig workers, BP officials proclaimed that the corporation’s priority always was safety.

This tracked the tack taken by Massey Energy, whose officials also declared safety was paramount after an explosion in the corporation’s Upper Big Branch mine killed 29 workers.

CEOs commonly make such incongruous assertions to protect profits after corporate-caused disasters. They’re driven by the same factor that is fundamental to the catastrophes – greed.

Nothing wrong with that, right? Not in a society that has converted greed from a vice to a virtue. Not in the place that inspired the book, “Greed is Good: The Capitalist Pig Guide to Investing.” Surely it’s no problem in the land where “Greed” has its own game show on Fox and where Ayn Rand, the “money-is-the-root-of-all-good” philosopher, reigns as Republican queen long after her death.

Americans worship God on the Sabbath and the rich every other day. Billionaire Warren Buffett’s word is investment gospel. Americans gave Wall Street banksters hundreds of billions in bailout money — protecting their multi-million dollar bonuses. But in the midst of the Great Recession caused by Wall Street recklessness, America has repeatedly delayed renewal of unemployment benefits and now is terminating federal health insurance support for the furloughed middle class.

Middle class workers are the ones who die in coal mines and on oil rigs.

Afterwards, CEOs say anything to save the bottom line – the one that will determine their bonuses.

Discussing the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster, Massey CEO Don Blankenship told stock analysts in a conference call late in April:

“Some of the implications have been that we don’t focus on safety or we put dollars in front of safety and nothing could be further from the truth.”

Though the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) issued 1,342 safety violation notices to Upper Big Branch over the past five years, Blankenship explained that’s just life in the coal business:

“Violations are unfortunately a normal part of the mining process.”

In addition, Blankenship said the titles of two Massey programs proved safety was supreme:

“The naming of those two programs speaks for itself: S1 – safety is job one; P2 – production is job 2. That’s been the case for my entire tenure.”

Still, 29 miners are dead. And dozens died at Massey mines in the past decade. Three died at Upper Big Branch between 1998 and 2010. The Massey dead include two workers who suffocated in a mine run by Massey subsidiary Aracoma Coal Co. on Jan. 19, 2006, just three months after Blankenship issued a memo ordering underlings to produce coal to the exclusion of other activities, such as building ventilation systems called overcasts. Aracoma officials pleaded guilty in December, 2008, to removing and failing to replace ventilation devices, the lack of which contributed to the suffocation deaths.

And Massey workers aren’t as sure as Don Blanekship that safety is job one. Several spoke to NPR about it. Teddy Cole, who worked a dozen years at Upper Big Branch, said Blankenship prioritizes production:

“It’s supposed to be safety first, but to me, it was production first.”

Former co-worker Brian Jerral agreed:

“A lot of times, it’s production first and safety third.”

Adam Vance, who worked at two Massey mines, described a culture of greed:

“They cover [themselves] with their safety meetings, but the main thing Massey’s out for is to get that all-mighty dollar. If the coal ain’t running, they ain’t making no money.”

And it’s a lot of money for Massey — $1.02 million a day in 2008.

Massey miner Ricky Lee Campbell 24, of Beckley, W.Va., told reporters about his safety concerns on April 7. Massey suspended him a week later, then fired him. He has filed a federal whistle-blower complaint.

Similar to Massey, BP officials claim safety is job one.

Shortly after BP named Tony Hayward CEO in 2007, he told the Houston Chronicle:

"I think we have the opportunity to set a new benchmark in industrial safety. . .We have to have a work environment where people don’t get injured or killed, period."

That was significant since an explosion two years earlier had killed 15 workers and injured another 170 at BP’s Texas City, Texas oil refinery, and federal regulators blamed the catastrophe in part on cost cuts initiated by Hayward’s predecessor. The following year, BP admitted oil leaks into Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay were caused partly by cost cutting.

Despite Hayward’s safety assertions, another 11 workers are dead. And survivors told CNN that PB routinely cut corners and pushed production despite potential safety problems. They also told CNN co-workers had been fired for raising concerns about dangerous practices that could delay drilling if remedied and that BP had insisted on an unsual process shortcut on the day of the blast.

Immediately after the rig explosion, BP contended its under-Gulf pipe was spewing only 1,000 barrels of oil a day. Fairly quickly, it revised that estimate to 5,000 barrels, but continued to refuse to make public its live video of the oil-churning pipe.

After a freedom of information request and Congressional pressure forced BP to release the video, federal officials estimated as much as 40,000 barrels are being discharged daily.

Still, BP’s Hayward flatly denied the existence of underwater oil plumes, saying:

“The oil is on the surface. There aren’t any plumes.”

And he discounted the effect of the unleashed oil on the environment:

“The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume.”

Hayward had a good (greed-based) reason to deny access to the video, discount the amount of oil spewing into the sea and defy the assessment of government and university researchers who confirmed the plumes of dispersed oil stretching for miles beneath the ocean surface. BP will be fined based on the number of barrels of oil its well disgorges into the gulf – somewhere between $1,100 and $4,300 a barrel — depending on whether the government can prove gross negligence.

David Leonhardt, an economics columnist for the New York Times, described BP’s Texas City, Gulf of Mexico and Alaska crises this way:

“Much of this indifference stemmed from an obsession with profits, come what may.”

Greed.

It’s one of the seven deadly sins. When it afflicts corporate CEOs, it’s deadly to workers.

Honest profit is fine. But it’s perverse to celebrate greed, to elevate it over human life.

The Message of Massachusetts: Jobs

7:07 pm in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

Bill Clinton saw it clearly when he was running for President against Bush I. It became his mantra: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Clinton wanted to reform health insurance too. But he understood that during a recession, the first priority is jobs.

Politicians and commentators continue to blather obtusely about the meaning of Massachusetts Senate candidate Martha Coakley’s loss to a Republican in a heavily Democratic state. Like Coakley and her advisors, they’ve failed to see the obvious, failed to learn from Clinton’s victory:

It’s the economy, stupid.

Poll results show that Massachusetts voters punished Coakley – and Democrats — for neglecting the issue most vital to them: jobs. If politicians had studied earlier polls or attempted to actually get in touch with mainstream, Main Street Americans, or just listened to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka’s Jan. 11 address at the Washington Press Club, they’d have known to focus on jobs. The message of Massachusetts should be clear: If Democrats want to save their own jobs in the mid-term elections this fall, they must create jobs now.

A poll taken as far back as the first week in December exposed voters’ anger over the economy. The bipartisan Battleground Poll showed this: A huge majority of those surveyed ranked improving the economy and jobs as the most important tasks for Congress. It was 40 percent, compared to healthcare reform, at just 15 percent.

Here’s what pollster Celinda Lake said about the results:

“The number one thing Democrats have to do is prove they really have a jobs program and an economic program that is going to sell on Main Street.”

That was a month before the Massachusetts vote. In the meantime, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced unemployment numbers for December – and they were worse in 43 states than they had been in November. Joblessness in Michigan, a high population heartland state, was the highest in the country at 14.6 percent. Only the rates in two other states, Rhode Island – 12.9 percent — and South Carolina — 12.6 percent, beat that in one of the dozen largest economies in the world – California. There it was 12.4, significantly higher than the U.S. average of 10 percent.

People are hurting. Pay attention, politicians. Pay attention.

They didn’t. In the Massachusetts race, they were talking about terrorism and baseball.

In a Research 2000 poll done for MoveOn.org, 95 percent of Massachusetts residents surveyed ranked the economy as either important or very important to their candidate choice. Research 2000 questioned 1,000 registered voters – half of whom voted for Republican Scott Brown and half of whom did not vote at all.

Among those who voted for Obama in 2008 but Brown in 2010, 51 percent said they believed Democratic policies helped Wall Street more than Main Street.

It’s the economy, stupid. The Main Street economy.

Similary, in a Hart Research Associates poll conducted on election night in Massachusetts, 79 percent of voters said electing a candidate who would strengthen the economy and create more good jobs was the single most important factor in their decision. The most crucial quality for a candidate, they said: Someone who would fix the economy.

The Bush II Great Recession is more than two years old now. Workers are frightened and angry. They see bailouts for Wall Street, big bonuses for bankers and unemployment continuing to rise.

They will vent their frustration on politicians. Massachusetts showed it. Trumka warned about it earlier this month in his talk at the Press Club:

“At this moment, the voices of America’s working women and men must be heard in Washington – not the voices of bankers and speculators for whom it always seems to be the best of times, but the voices of those for whom the New Year brings pink slips and givebacks, hollowed-out health care, foreclosures and pension freezes – the roll call of an economy that long ago stopped working for most of us.”

He went on: “Working people want an American economy that works for them – that creates good jobs, where wealth is fairly shared. . .”

He recommended immediate implementation of the AFL-CIO’s five-point jobs creation program – a plan that would produce 4 million jobs and includes dramatically increasing federal infrastructure and green jobs investments and direct lending of the refunded bank bailout money to small and medium sized businesses that can’t get credit because of the financial crisis.

Just as important is implementation of the recommendations in the Framework for Revitalizing American Manufacturing report issued by the White House manufacturing task force in December. That report contains concrete measures to revive manufacturing in the U.S. to generate real wealth, not the illusory paper assets counterfeited on Wall Street.

Trumka called for immediate action, not going slow, not taking half steps. Those who seek delay are “harming millions of unemployed Americans and their families,” he said, and jeopardizing economic recovery.

He ended with this warning:

“the reality is that when unemployment is 10 percent and rising, working people will not stand for tokenism. We will not vote for politicians who think they can push a few crumbs our way and then continue the failed economic policies of the last 30 years.”

Workers executed that warning in Massachusetts.

What Americans want is jobs.

The Gift America Needs Most: Manufacturing

10:07 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

In Columbus Ohio, a 5-year-old girl jumped onto Santa’s lap last month and asked if he could give her dad a job as an elf.

Mike Smith, who works the Santa station at the Polaris Fashion Place in Columbus, asked why, the Wall Street Journal reported. The little girl in the Dora-the-Explorer sweat shirt responded:

“Because my daddy’s out of work, and we’re about to lose our house.”

Happy Holidays America.

The gift this country needs most this holiday season is an economy built on a solid foundation, one that will provide middle class, family-supporting jobs now and into the future.

That present would not be another version of Monopoly for Wall Street wannabees. It would not be Barbie-goes-to-the-mall-credit-cards for youngsters in families already maxed out on their plastic and their mortgages.

The metaphorical gift our economy could really use is an Erector set – a strong steel construction kit from which the intrepid manufacture airplanes, automobiles, robots on motorized tracks, backhoes, helicopters, skyscrapers, cranes, even working Ferris wheels.

That’s because, most of all, this economy needs manufacturing. Enthralled by the glitz, glamour and bogus bonuses of Wall Street, we’ve allowed multinationals to export our grit and grimy factories overseas. Factories that made clothing, sports shoes, large appliances, tire, glass and so much more in big and small U.S. towns and transferred to China and Indonesia and India, lured not just by cheap labor, but also by lavish government subsidies and absent environmental regulations.

Manufacturing, the basis of any strong economy, has continuously declined as a percentage of the U.S. gross domestic product since its World War II peak, when it was 28.3 percent. Its new low is less than half of that — 12 percent.

Here’s the most obvious difference between an economy based on manufacturing and one based on Wall Street: You can hold the handlebars of Harley-Davidson in your hands, but just try grasping a derivative.

The paper traders on Wall Street bundle mortgages into exotic financial instruments called derivatives, sell those, buy pseudo-insurance to secure them, then engage in legal betting on whether the “instruments” will soar or fail. This kind of activity caused the financial collapse in 2008. Frankly, beyond being incredibly risky, these transactions don’t create true wealth; they just generate big bonuses.

In manufacturing, an entrepreneur takes raw material and adds energy, ingenuity, tools and labor to create a product – like steel. That has real value and can be sold on the market to someone who needs it to combine with other materials to make finished merchandise like motorcycles or refrigerators. And those manufactured items are durable and valuable.

In the process of manufacturing, many people are employed – to get the raw materials, whether it’s limestone or iron or trees, to transport it to a factory, to generate electricity to run the factory, to transform the raw material at the factory, to deliver the product to the buyer, to pave the roads and build the bridges and repair the railroads necessary for all that transportation, to design the highways and factories and overpasses, to feed all the workers lunch.

Tragically, the Great Recession caused by Wall Street has hit manufacturing hard. While unemployment is at a 25-year high of 10 percent, the unemployment in manufacturing has run a couple of percentage points higher than that. More than 2.1 million manufacturing workers have been thrown out of their jobs since the recession began in December 2007.

These workers are the parents of children in Dora-the-Explorer sweat shirts who are asking Santa for elf jobs.

These are the workers who have cut back on doctor visits or medical treatments – although almost half are suffering from depression or anxiety, a New York Times/CBS poll of unemployed adults showed.

These are the workers who told the pollsters that the frustration and stress of unemployment has provoked conflicts and arguments with family and friends.

These are the workers who have lost their homes or have been threatened with eviction or foreclosure, who have difficulty paying bills and have resorted to borrowing money from friends and relatives. These are the workers profiled by Anne Hull of the Washington Post in a story that began by describing desperate laid off Warren, Ohio residents in a pawn shop:

“At campaign time, they are celebrated as the people who built America. Now they just want to know how much they can get for a wedding band.”

These are workers selling their precious keepsakes to survive 15 percent unemployment in an area along the Mahoning River that once was the world’s fifth-largest steel producer – until it lost 50,000 of those family-supporting manufacturing jobs and another 11,500 middle-class jobs at the Lordstown General Motors plant all in a decade.

These workers could be holding good, steady factory jobs if the United States had implemented a manufacturing strategy, the way China, Japan, Germany, even The Netherlands did long ago.

Just last week, the Obama administration offered a gift to all those who believe in manufacturing. It is that strategy for America. Its formal name is the White House Plan to Revitalize American Manufacturing.

For that five year old girl in the Dora the Explorer sweat shirt. For her furloughed father and her family. For the future of this country, let’s give ourselves the gift of a future constructed on a solid economic foundation. Let’s implement that plan to revitalize American manufacturing immediately. Millions of unemployed workers can’t wait.