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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.

Sacrilege: Wall Street Worship

5:42 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

The Wall Street Bull (Photo: herval, flickr)

The Wall Street Bull (Photo: herval, flickr)

Americans have been worshiping a bull. Too many citizens, and particularly politicians, prostrate themselves to Wall Street’s bronze idol.

They revere financial titans who pay themselves and their minions millions to manipulate money and gamble recklessly. Politicians gave tribute to the financiers with tax breaks and bailouts when the bankers’ bad bets threatened to bankrupt their institutions.

This false idolatry produced a nation gripped by massive unemployment, a nation in which destructive income inequality has risen beyond robber baron levels, a nation where greed has been perverted from sin to good, a nation where politicians genuflect to money changers, not majority citizens.

Salvation for the majority is not more failed trickle-down economics or more deregulation so that Wall Street can resume committing unfettered wagering. Redemption is political and economic systems devoted to serving the common good, not the affluent few.

These concepts — that governments should protect majorities and that the international financial collapse is an opportunity to transform the system into one supporting a more fraternal and just human family — are contained in a report released last week by the Pope’s Council for Justice and Peace. It says: Read the rest of this entry →

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.

Years of Discontent Trigger American Autumn

8:28 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

To convey the significance of the Occupy Wall Street movement, NBC News anchor Brian Williams this week quoted the 1960s Buffalo Springfield song, For What It’s Worth:

“There is something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.”

Maybe it’s unclear what the Occupy Wall Street movement ultimately will accomplish. But what’s happening – for the past three weeks in New York and now in hundreds of towns across North America – is a roiling, inspirational, grassroots expression of anger, disgust and revolution.

And, frankly, given what’s been going on in the United States since the bank bailout, it’s amazing that this uprising didn’t precede the Arab Spring. The powers-that-be, from the rich and influential to their coin-operated politicians and corporate-owned media, have mocked and belittled and ignored the protesters, the 99 percenters as they call themselves – everyone but the richest one percent. No matter what the critics say, these young people, with righteous outrage and new age communication, have launched the American Autumn.

This revolt could have started in the spring of 2009, immediately after the Bush administration pushed through Congress the Troubled Asset Relieve Program (TARP), the $700 billion in taxpayer money spent to prop up banks that had gambled and lost untold trillions. A Bloomberg News investigation later would show that the United States lent, spent or guaranteed as much as $12.8 trillion to save the banks. Despite that help, the Wall Street recklessness ruined the American economy, throwing tens of millions out of jobs and homes.

Poverty and hunger skyrocketed in the richest country in the world. As tax revenue fell, states, towns and school districts slashed essential public services and laid off teachers, librarians, firefighters and police officers.

Maybe it just took this long for the middle class to grasp all the horrible effects of the Wall Street gambling and to realize that a government held hostage by country club conservatives bent on cutting public services just made matters worse. Maybe young people looked at unrestrained war spending, Pell Grant slashing and voter disenfranchising and decided they were fed up and not going to take foreclosure of their futures anymore.

Whatever the spark, the American Autumn began three weeks ago in New York City’s Zuccotti Park, formerly Liberty Square. Late in September, some of the one percenters sipped Champaign on an upscale restaurant balcony as they looked down on the protesters in the streets below. This week, as protests spread, wealthy risk-takers at the Chicago Board of Trade put signs in the windows of their ritzy offices bragging, “We are the 1 percent.” They don’t get it.

Nor does Bank of America. Here’s a bank bailed out by taxpayers that just announced it would begin imposing a new fee – $5 a month, $60 a year – on debit card users. This bank also just announced that it would worsen the recession caused by bankster recklessness by laying off 30,000 workers.

This is a bank that engaged in the habitual, anti-capitalistic Wall Street practice of rewarding poor executive performance by giving its CEO Brian T. Moynihan a $9 million bonus immediately after the institution he runs lost $2.2 billion in 2010. Moynihan responded to criticism of the $5 fee by saying customers – and ultimately taxpayers — must line his pockets and that of shareholders, regardless of how badly he runs the bank or how stupidly he gambles with its money. That’s because, he asserted, the bank has a “right to make a profit.” No matter what.

The media and country club conservatives belittled the protesters. Here’s what Herman Cain, a Tea Partier seeking the GOP nomination for president, said:

“Don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame the big banks if you don’t have a job or you’re not rich. Blame yourself!”

He continued:

“It’s not a person’s fault because they succeeded. It’s a person’s fault if they failed. And so this is why I don’t understand these demonstrations and what it is that they’re looking for.”

He called the protesters “anti-capitalist,” although it was the banks that sought a socialist bailout from the government when they got themselves in trouble.

Cain didn’t blame banksters for unemployment, even though it was Wall Street gambling that took down the economy. He blames the teachers and police officers thrown out of work by local governments that are cash-strapped as a result of the recession — caused by Wall Street recklessness.

Cain and the media keep saying they don’t understand what the protesters want. They just don’t get it.

A specific list of demands is unnecessary. What the 99 percenters want is obvious. They want the American dream restored. Good public education for everyone. Equity in opportunity. Shared sacrifice so that the rich pay a tax rate at least equal to that charged the middle class. An end to poverty and unemployment in the richest country in the world.

In the Buffalo Springfield song, For What It’s Worth, lyrics talk of 1960s youths criticized for their protests:

“Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind.”

This time protesters will get backing. The members of my union, the United Steelworkers, get it. Members of the unions of the AFL-CIO and Change to Win federations get it.

We’re here to support the young people of the American Autumn.

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.

Colombia FTA: Rewarding Promises Instead Of Performance

7:32 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

Uribe protest

Uribe protest by Public Citizen, on Flickr

Tragically, the government of Colombia exhibits the behavior of an addict. And, just as regrettably, the United States is co-dependent, so addicted to so called free trade that it plans to award Colombia an agreement based solely on promises.

Addicts always promise. They’ll stop, they pledge. Their co-dependents desperately want to believe, so they cooperate with the addicts’ demands.

Colombia, the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists, has pledged to try to stop the murders to persuade Congress to approve a Free Trade Agreement (FTA). Promises, promises.

And the United States has agreed to accept those promises rather than demand performance before signing an FTA. American’s Wall Street banks and multi-national corporations crave another FTA so badly they will believe anything.

When the Colombia FTA was first proposed, Congress refused to approve it because so many trade unionists are assassinated each year by the Colombian military and paramilitary forces that the murders exceed the number of unionists killed in all other countries of the world combined. In 2007, the year that former President George W. Bush completed the agreement, 39 Colombian unionists were slain.

The Colombian government knew why Congress denied approval. It could have responded four years ago by protecting trade unionists and preserving their lives. It did not.

Instead, the murders increased. In 2008, 52 Colombian trade unionists were assassinated, one a week. In 2009, the number declined by 5 to 47, but it was back up to 52 last year. Six have been slain so far this year, including Hector Orozco and Gilardo Garcia, members of the agricultural union known as Association of Peasant Workers of Tolima, who were threatened by the Colombian military just before they were assassinated. Promises, promises.
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March to Stop the Freeloaders

6:03 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

The nation’s greedy corporations and insatiable wealthy are fattening themselves on workers. There’s no trickle down. It’s the opposite; the rich have been sucking the economic lifeblood from the middle class for decades.

When reckless Wall Street banksters get taxpayer-funded bailouts, billionaires get tax breaks and gigantic corporations like GE and Bank of America pay absolutely no federal income taxes, they’re getting for free the very public services that enable them to make massive profits in this country – the courts, the roads, the trade regulators, the patent enforcement.

The middle class doesn’t get those big time special deals and loopholes. Workers pay their taxes. As a result, it’s workers footing the bill for the government services that enrich the rich. Greedy corporations, their CEOs and the right-wing politicians they buy with tens of millions in campaign cash are freeloaders.

It’s time workers stood up to the freeloaders. Join Monday’s We Are One rallies. These demonstrations across the country by religious groups, social justice organizations and labor unions will illustrate that the middle class is mad as hell and not going to take trickster economics anymore.

It’s time for greedy corporations and the insatiable rich to pay their fair share. It’s time to stop cuts to the government programs most treasured by and vital to the middle class and the vulnerable in this country – education, public transportation, Social Security. It’s time to stop right-wing attempts to terminate democratic rights like collective bargaining and voting without harassment. It’s time for the middle class to stop paying for everything and for the insatiable rich and greedy corporations to start sharing the sacrifice required to recover from the economic crisis caused by reckless gambling by Wall Street bankster corporations.

March for your rights Monday. March for the middle class facing record rates of foreclosure, unemployment, child poverty, and loss of opportunity as country club conservatives cut off college loans and Head Start. March for the right of college students to register and vote in the towns where they study. March for the right of workers to band together, elect representatives and bargain with employers for better pay and working conditions. March for the right of the people to insist that corporations pay at least the same rate of taxes as workers do. March to end tax breaks for the wealthiest one percent who have now acquired more wealth than all the workers in the bottom 90 percent.

Greedy corporations, the insatiable wealthy and their purchased politicians have for three decades skewed public policy to enrich themselves while pushing down wages and benefits for the middle class.

From 1947 to 1975, a time of strong unionization in the workforce, real wages of average workers increased with productivity. The 75 percent rise in productivity and the nearly matching rise in wages gave the United States the largest, most vibrant middle class in the history of the world.
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In a Democracy, Freedom of Assembly Trumps “Free Enterprise”

8:01 am in Economy, Labor by Leo W. Gerard

Sign at pro-workers rally, Madison WI. (photo: WxMom via Flickr)

It’s illegal in America now to buy or sell a human being, but a recorded telephone conversation between a Republican governor and a guy he thought was a billionaire benefactor shows that it’s still possible to own a politician.

Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker didn’t have time to talk to Democratic leaders or union officials about his anti-union legislation – a proposal that has incited protests by tens of thousands for more than a week in Madison. But he jumped on the phone for 20 minutes this week when told the caller was billionaire David Koch, who was Walker’s second largest campaign contributor, who provided $1 million to a GOP fund to attack Walker’s opponent and who bankrolls radical libertarian organizations and the Tea Party.

Republicans like Walker, owned by billionaires like Koch, are fulfilling demands from corporate interests that government “free” enterprise by slashing corporate taxes and regulation. Over the past three years, America has suffered the consequences of a government under-funded after tax breaks to the rich and under-performing after years of lax regulation. The result: a growing federal deficit, the Wall Street collapse, the BP oil spill and the deaths of 29 Upper Big Branch miners. Still, Republicans want more government atrophy. That would leave only one restraint on corporate control of the economy, environment and government.

That one restraint is labor unions. A union is workers using their constitutionally-guaranteed freedom to assemble, the right to get together as a group, in this case a labor organization, to negotiate collectively with employers for better wages, benefits and working conditions.  . . . Read the rest of this entry →