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Sunday, October 31, 2010

What will tea party members do when their politicians betray them?

Dave Johnson // Oct 29, 2010

Tea Party members hate Wall Street bailouts, trade deals like NAFTA, job outsourcing, giant corporations buying laws, government spending, and elites telling the rest of us what to do. But there is no question that their candidates — many of them wealthy corporatists themselves — are funded by big corporations (even foreign oil companies) and Wall Street. So the question is, once in Congress will they vote with their base or their owners? And when they vote with the people who bought them, what will Tea Party members do about it?
Trade
Tea Party members want to be able to buy things that are “Made In America” in stores again. I have yet to meet a Tea Party supporter who doesn’t absolutely hate NAFTA, WTO and other one-sided “free trade” agreements. They say these treaties “violate our sovereignty.” But Tea Party candidates are funded by groups like the Chamber of Commerce and others who are the drivers of these “free trade” policies that close American factories and send jobs out of the country. This does not bode well for these candidates voting the way Tea Party members expect them to if they are elected.
Outsourcing
Tea Party members are astonished when they learn that the government gives companies tax breaks that encourage companies to send jobs away. But just a month ago a bill to do something about this was filibustered in the Senate by a unanimous Republican caucus. One thing about Tea Party candidates — they’re also unanimously Republicans. Does anyone other than Tea Party members really think the Tea Party candidates are going to go against the now-unanimous Republican support for these outsourcing incentives if elected? Tea Party candidate Scott Brown didn’t after he was elected.
Bailouts
If there is one thing that unites all Tea Party members, it is hatred of the Bush Bank Bailouts (except they think these passed under Obama). But this is an area where their leaders will almost certainly stand with the banks, because that’s where the money is — their campaign money to be precise. The other day I wrote about how in Oregon one Wall Street hedge fund manager is spending up to $1 million (pocket change) on a front group to elect a Tea Party candidate and unseat a congressman who sponsored a couple of Wall Street reform bills.
Government Spending
Will Tea Party politicians vote to balance the budget? Really? Their members certainly expect them to. But like so many misinformed Americans, Tea Party members think the government spends most of its money on welfare and foreign aid. This is why Tea Party candidates refuse to specify just what spending they will cut to balance the budget (Also see here, and here, and here and here, and here and here< and here,and here, etc).
So when they get into office will they really cut spending — where the spending really is? There are plenty of reasons to think they won’t. The first and foremost reason is they are funded by people like the Chamber of Commerce who really, really want that spending to keep flowing. This is why Republicans increased government spending and deficits so much the last time they were in charge. In fact, there are reasons to think they’ll incresase spending. For example, they hate health care reform, but if they really vote to repeal it they will increase the deficit, because the reform cuts the projected deficits by at least $138 billion.
But the bloated, huge, vast, overwhelming military budget might be worth a look. We spend more on military than every other country combined (Total military-related spending actually pretty closely matched the deficit this yea). What do you think the odds are that the Tea Party politicians will cut the military budget?
Foreign Oil
Tea Party members understand that our addiction to foreign oil is harmful. We spend more than $300 billion a year on foreign oil — much of it sent to the Middle East (MUSLIMS!) — and need to find alternative sources of energy. But Koch Oil is the primary organizer, supporter, funder and everything of the Tea Party, as well as much of the so-called “conservative movement.” But Koch Oil is mostly about oil, not representative government. This is why they directly fund or set up front groups to support climate denial or oppose transit projects, alternative energy, even energy conservation. So don’t expect Tea Party leaders to do anything — anything — that Koch Oil doesn’t want them to do.
What Happens When Tea Party Members Are Betrayed?
It’s pretty clear that the Tea Party members are being set up for a big disappointment. There is little chance that the politicians they are supporting are going to do what the members think they’re going to do once in office. The members might supply the votes, but the big corporations behind so many of the things that the Tea Party members hate are the ones supplying the money and organization. These politicians, once in office, will understand that the big money can go after them just as well is it went for them this time, if they don’t do what they’re told by their big corporate funders. But on the other hand, there will be lucrative lobbying jobs waiting for them if they play along. They are going to disappoint the Tea Party members, no question. What will Tea Party members do then?
This post originally appeared at the Campaign for America’s Future, where Dave is a fellow.
Dave Johnson
Campaign for America's Future

Saturday, October 30, 2010

News Media Share Blame for Voters' Ignorance

by Jerry Lanson

A couple of interesting items on politicalwire.com today show how hopelessly ill-informed the electorate is.

One is a Gallup Poll that says 37 percent of Americans believe Congress has accomplished less this year than in previous years, while 23 percent believe it has accomplished more.  The poll notes that, in fact,   "the current Democratically controlled Congress has passed a series of high-profile legislative bills, including the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, and others."

The second is a Bloomberg national poll that finds by 2-1, likely voters Tuesday believe "taxes have gone up, the economy has shrunk, and the billions lent to banks as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program won't be recovered. "

The truth, Politico.com notes. "The Obama administration cut taxes for middle-class Americans, has overseen an economy that has grown for the past four quarters and expects to make a profit on the hundreds of billions of dollars spent to rescue Wall Street banks."

In the Bloomberg article, its pollster blames the electorate's ignorance on Democrats.

“The public view of the economy is at odds with the facts, and the blame has to go to the Democrats,” said J. Ann Selzer, president of Selzer & Co., a Des Moines, Iowa-based firm that conducted the nationwide survey. “It does not matter much if you make change, if you do not communicate change.”

I beg to differ. I believe much of the blame lies with traditional news outlets, which have consistently split the difference between party perspectives as the Republican propaganda machine pummeled any and all Democratic accomplishments.  In my mind this is neither balanced journalism nor good journalism. The media's job is to place the news -- including political attacks -- in context. Overall, I don't believe the media has done much to point out the sustained attack politics of Republicans or the way in which they skew the verifiable facts contained as provisions of some of these laws.  Nor are other news outlets willing to take on Fox News, which, at a national political level, is little more than a propaganda outlet for the Republican Party.

Yes, Democrats deserve part of the blame. They need to communicate better. But if the president devoted all his time to traveling around the country, a lot less would get done. As for the news media, they should spend a whole lot less time predicting the outcome of elections and a whole lot more looking at the substance of what's behind the elections.


Jerry Lanson is an associate professor of journalism at Emerson College in Boston.  His third book, "Writing for Others, Writing for Ourselves: Telling Stories in an Age of Blogging" will be published by Rowman & Littlefield this fall. His blog can be found at jerrylanson.wordpress.com

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Tea Party Constitution Versus the Thomas Jefferson Constitution


by John Nichols

The default position for Tea Party candidates such as Christine O'Donnell in Delaware, Joe Miller in Alaska, Sharon Angle in Nevada, Ken Buck in Colorado and Ron Johnson in Wisconsin is to declare that—if elected—they will follow the dictates of the Constitution.
But that is a campaign slogan, not a serious commitment.

If O'Donnell, Johnson and their Tea'd-Off compatriots were even minimally serious about adhering to the founding document, they would all be thoughtful critics of the undeclared wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, ardent foes of the Patriot Act and steady opponents of free trade deals that remove the authority of Congress to represent and serve the interests of American workers, farmers and communities. But then they would be Russ Feingold, and it goes against the Tea Party narrative—at least as it has been framed by the movement's corporate paymasters and messaging consultants—to regard a progressive Democrat as the most ardent defender of the American experiment.

So it should be understood that O'Donnell, Miller, Angle, Buck, Johnson and the rest of the Tea Partisans who might be senators are not talking about the Constitution as it was written or as the founders intended it. Rather, they are talking about the Constitution as they would like to see it rewritten and reinterpreted—with the help of the most activist Supreme Court in American history. While their intents are radical, their prospects must be seen in light of the fact that Chief Justice John Roberts and his conservative majority have already reinterpreted the First Amendment's free speech protection in a manner that extends the natural rights that the founders reserved for human beings to multinational corporations.

How big a leap would it be to rewrite the amendment's referencing of religion as an invitation to promote an establishment of religion?

That depends on whether you are reading Christine O'Donnell's Constitution or Thomas Jefferson's Constitution.

O'Donnell, the Tea Party favorite who is carrying the Republican banner in this fall's Delaware US Senate contest, found herself debating the First Amendment earlier this month at the Widener University Law School—where the man whose seat she hopes to occupy, Vice President Joe Biden, once taught constitutional law.

Her Democratic opponent, Chris Coons, explained that, while parochial schools can teach creationism, the Constitution makes it clear that "religious doctrine doesn't belong in our public schools."
O'Donnell shot back: "Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?"
Coons explained that the First Amendment bars Congress from making laws respecting the establishment of religion.

To which O'Donnell responded: "You're telling me that's in the First Amendment?"

"You actually audibly heard the crowd gasp," Widener University political scientist Wesley Leckrone told the Associated Press.

No surprise there. The law professors and law students in the room recognized that Coons had been referencing the specific language of the First Amendment, which reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Law professors may expect candidates for the US Senate—where Supreme Court nominations are approved or rejected—to have at least a passing familiarity with the Constitution's most famous section,
But expectations with regard to the Constitution go out the window when O'Donnell and her Tea Party cronies comment of the document.

That's because they presume the Constitution outlines an agenda reflective of their own passions—in keeping with the satirical headline in The Onion: "Area Man Passionate Defender Of What He Imagines Constitution To Be"—rather than a set of enlightenment ideals that rejected the divine right of kings, priestly titles and official state religions.

What distinguished the American Constitution and the founding moment was this recognition that individual liberty and the democratic experiment upon which the United States was embarking required freedom of thought and action with regard to religion—a freedom that was preserved and protected by leaders who recognized that they ruled by the will of the people rather than by "divine right."

Today's Tea Party candidates are hardly the only partisans who have hailed the Constitution without actually bothering to consult it—let alone consider expressions from the founders regarding its intents and purposes. But as the O'Donnell incident illustrates, their confusion with regard to the founding document might best be described as unsettling. Wisconsin Senate candidate Johnson, for instance, has fretted during the current campaign about how the Constitution "is not an easy document to read" and complained that he was finding it "hard to study." While Johnson said he thought he was clear on the free speech and right to bear arms parts, he griped that: "There are also things that aren't quite so easy."

But one part is actually very easy, as we have not merely the wording on paper but the clearly expressed original intentions of the founders.

That's the part about keeping government out of the business of establishing or encouraging particular religious ideas or practices.

The United States was not founded as a country that "tolerated" religious diversity. It was founded as a country that embraced that diversity as one of its greatest strengths, welcoming Christians, Jews and Muslims, believers, nonbelievers and skeptics into a polity where, as George Washington explained, "The government… gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance."

The US Senate made the founding position explicit and official a decade after the drafting of the Constitution, when the chamber ratified the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the United States of America and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli of Barbary, with its declaration that: "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries."

Again and again, the principle was explicitly affirmed. The most famous of these affirmations came in 1802, when Thomas Jefferson explained in his letter to the Danbury Baptists that: "Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between church and state."

While the founders survived, there was no mystery about their "original intent" with regard to that wall of separation between church and state. Indeed, when the greatest of our public services, the post office, was developed, it was determined without serious debate that mail would be delivered seven days a week.

Only in the late 1820s did some Christian groups object. And their complaints were quickly rejected by Congress, which adopted the position—stated by Kentucky Sen. Richard M. Johnson—that: "our government is a civil and not a religious institution."

Many adherents of the Tea Party movement fear that the United States is adrift, floating further and further from the moorings put in place at the republic's founding.

In this, they are probably correct.

America, founded by sons and daughters of the enlightenment, who rejected the notion that there was anything "divine" about the crimes and corruptions done in the name of European monarchs and false piety, has drifted.

Candidates for the highest offices are unfamiliar with or hostile to the basic premises of the republic. And their wrongheaded positions are, increasingly, sustained by justices of a Supreme Court that has tipped the scales of justice against the Constitution itself.

It is true that our founding values are neglected and affronted in these times. But the assault is not coming from members of the House and Senate who vote for unemployment benefits are want to maintain Social Security,

It is coming from politicians like Christine O'Donnell and Ron Johnson, who never took the Constitution seriously—and still don't.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Boehner: 'Not A Time For Compromise'

Elections 2010 LIVE Updates
12:34 PM ET Boehner: 'Not A Time For Compromise'

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), who has largely avoided national media in recent weeks, appeared on Sean Hannity's radio program on Wednesday and openly declared that Republicans will not compromise with Democrats if the GOP takes over Congress in 2011.
"This is not a time for compromise, and I can tell you that we will not compromise on our principles," said Boehner, who will likely be elected House Speaker if Republicans win control. "To the extent the president wants to work with us, in terms of our goals, we'd welcome his involvement."

Gone are the days when top Republicans pleaded for the White House to display bipartisanship and embrace more of their ideas. This past summer, Boehner criticized President Obama over a speech he found overly partisan, and claimed, "All of the president’s talk of post-partisanship, reaching out and finding common ground reminds us that the country deserves better than his hyper-partisan speech today."

Now, on the verge of a potential wave election that could sweep Democrats out of power in the House, GOP leaders are firing up their base by promising to be an uncompromising wrench in the cogs for the White House.

Boehner's comments yesterday echo those of other top House Republicans:

"Look, the time to go along and get along is over," said Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.), the chairman of the House Republican Conference. "House Republicans know that. We’ve taken firm and principled stands against their big government plans throughout this Congress, and we’ve got, if the American people will send them, we’ve got a cavalry of men and women headed to Washington, D.C. that are going to stand with us."

Read more about Boehner's interview here.


WikiLeaks: The Secret Iraq Files (VIDEOS)

Read The Original Article on Aljazeera

After the biggest leak of military secrets ever this special programme reveals the truth about the war in Iraq



PART TWO:

Keith Olberman: If The Tea Party Wins America Loses (VIDEO)

Christine O'Donnell's campaign threatened a radio station with a lawsuit (VIDEO)

Read The Original Article on The Huffington Post

DOVER, Del. — Republican Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell's campaign threatened a radio station with a lawsuit if it posted video of an interview with the tea party favorite on the Internet.
During the interview Tuesday on WDEL-AM, O'Donnell snapped her fingers and beckoned a spokesman to her side after the host of "The Rick Jensen Show" pressed her on how she would have handled the New Castle County budget differently from her Democratic opponent Chris Coons, who is the executive of the state's largest county.
Jensen told The Associated Press that O'Donnell said after the interview that she would sue if the video was released. O'Donnell campaign manager Matt Moran then called WDEL general manager Michael Reath, demanded that the station turn over the video and threatened to "crush" the station with a lawsuit if it did not comply, Reath said.
"He accused us of creating a story to garner ratings because we must be hurting since the (Philadelphia) Phillies were no longer on the air," Reath said, adding that Moran accused Jensen of "grandstanding."
After viewing the video, which the station provided to the campaign before posting it Tuesday night, O'Donnell's campaign attorney called WDEL's attorney and was very apologetic, Reath said.
O'Donnell spokesman Doug Sachtleben, who was in the studio during the interview, said her camp tried to find out before the questions whether it would be videotaped and, after not getting a clear answer, assumed it would not be.
"It was more of an issue of whether or not they were forthright with us," he said after a campaign event Wednesday from which a local newspaper reporter who wrote a March story outlining O'Donnell's personal financial problems was banned.
Reath noted that before the interview began – when O'Donnell, her sister, and Sachtleben were in the studio – a video technician came in to adjust the cameras and microphones.
The Wilmington station said it routinely posts audio and video of interview segments on it website, and that a September appearance by O'Donnell had been recorded and posted on the Web.
Moran wouldn't answer questions from AP, instead issuing a statement denying that he used the word "crush," even though Reath says he did.
"This is another example of the liberal media shamelessly attacking Christine O'Donnell to boost their ratings," Moran said in the statement, even though Jensen, the host of the show in question, is a well-known conservative.
___
Associated Press writer Ben Evans in Wilmington contributed to this report.




Sunday, October 24, 2010

Starving The Beast

Government is Good - Starving The Beast

Starving The Beast


"We're not talking about minor policy adjustments,” says Paul Krugman. “If taxes stay as low as they are now, government as we know it cannot be maintained."

The large tax cuts promoted by the right-wing are intentionally designed to force government to cut back severely on social spending.

For decades, a key part of the anti-government agenda of conservatives has been to cut spending on social programs. Their targeted programs have included: health care for the elderly and poor, welfare and food stamps, military retirement, drug abuse centers, unemployment compensation, aid to education, college student loans, nursing homes, employment training, childcare centers, housing subsidies for the elderly and disabled, and school nutrition. They believe that these programs have grown too large and cost taxpayers to much money.

But attacking social spending has not been easy. Most Americans think that these programs do a lot of good and do not want to see them cut. Indeed, as another article on this site points out, most of us want the government to actually spend more on education, retirement, and health care – not less.
So Republicans have developed a tactic for attacking social spending that they hope will not trigger the ire of the public – an indirect attack on these programs. The tactic? Tax cuts. The idea is simple: if we keep cutting taxes, eventually there won’t be enough money to spend on these social programs and they will have to be reduced. They call this tactic “starving the beast.” Taxes are what nourish government, and so if that source of nourishment is taken way, government must inevitably shrink. For anti-tax advocates like Grover Norquist, this is the ultimate purpose of tax cuts: “The goal is reducing the size and scope of government by draining its lifeblood.”1

Milton Friedman, the arch-conservative economist, speaking of ways to limit or reduce the size of government, offered this prescription: “How can we ever cut government down to size? I believe there is only one way: the way parents control spendthrift children, cutting their allowance. For the government, that means cutting taxes. Resulting deficits will be an effective – I would go as far as to say, the only effective – restraint on the spending propensities of the executive branch and the legislature.”2

So underneath all the Republican rhetoric about cutting taxes – all the talk about stimulating the economy and giving money back to hardworking Americans, there is another, deeper political goal: to strangle government social programs. But this is rarely discussed publicly. Conservatives focus the public’s attention on what they will gain from the tax cuts, not what they will lose by reducing social programs.

This strategy was first tried in the Reagan administration. He came into office in 1980 promising to balance the federal budget. But he quickly cut taxes and raised military spending, creating huge budget deficits. (Sound familiar?) This made little sense to many people at the time and was not understood until Reagan’s budget advisor, David Stockman, later revealed that this was a conscious effort to “starve the beast” – a phrase he is reputed to have coined.3 The idea was to put increasing financial pressure on social programs in order to make it easier to cut them. And indeed, it had some effect, with domestic discretionary spending falling from 4.5% of the economy in 1981 to 3.3% in 1988.3

A series of massive tax cuts during the George W. Bush administration revived this strategy and implemented it in a much more extensive way. These tax cuts cost the federal government over two trillion dollars ($2,000,000,000,000) in lost revenue from 2001 to 2010 alone.5 As economist Paul Krugman observed at the time, “‘starving the beast’ is no longer a hypothetical scenario. It’s happening as we speak. For decades, conservatives have sought tax cuts, not because they’re affordable, but because they aren’t.”6

The Goal: Massive Cuts in Social Programs

So what kinds of drastic cuts in government social programs are conservatives really after? To see, we need only look at the 2007 budget proposal made by President Bush. His proposal covered budget goals for the five years from 2007 to 2011. Bush targeted programs such as education, housing, job training, environmental protection, community development, and children’s services for $221 billion in cuts. These would have been severe and unprecedented reductions in these programs. But it is important to see that these kinds of cuts in discretionary spending, whether they were in education or environmental protection, were only part of the starving-the-beast strategy. Anti-government activists were also out for much bigger game: cuts in mandatory spending for the large entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. These programs form the bulk of federal spending and they were the ultimate targets. The President’s 2007 proposal also hacked away at this kind of mandatory spending – detailing $65 billion in cuts for these programs. This included $36 billion to be taken from Medicare programs and $14 billion for Medicaid. Over $650 million would also have been cut from Food Stamps, thus denying them to over 300,000 people in working families.7

But as draconian as these proposed cuts were, they paled in comparison to the budget reductions being demanded that same year by some Republicans in Congress. The Republican Study Committee, a group of conservatives members of the House of Representatives, proposed to establish an “entitlement cap” that would have limited the total federal expenditures for entitlement programs other than Social Security. This cap would have required that projected entitlement spending be slashed by $1.8 trillion over the next ten years. That translates into $766 billion cut from Medicare, $405 billion from Medicaid, $114 billion from federal civilian retirement and disability, $66 billion from military retirement and disability, $63 billion from unemployment compensation, and $50 billion from food stamps.8 The Committee argued that these program cuts were necessary for the “restoration of the American dream.” They were obviously not taking into account the dreams of the elderly, the sick, the disabled, the jobless, and the poor who would have to pay the price for these truly staggering reductions in federal programs.

Ironically, despite having advocated such deep cuts in spending, these conservative budget plans would have done little or nothing to reduce the deficit because they included a new round of large tax cuts – $1.7 trillion in new tax reductions in the case of the President’s budget.

The Deficit Trap

There is an obvious problem with this starving the beast strategy. On the federal level, cutting taxes does not necessarily require spending cuts: the government may simply borrow money and increase its debt to continue spending. And this is exactly what happened during the Bush administration. Along with his tax cuts, Bush also oversaw some large increases in government spending – mostly in the area of defense. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cost an estimated 900 billion dollars between 2001 and 2009. This combination of increased spending and huge tax cuts caused budget deficits to soar during the Bush years. This led some conservatives to complain that Bush had abandoned the idea of limited government. David Brooks concluded in one of his New York Times columns that all this spending and the growing deficits heralded “the death of small government conservatism.”9

But these accusations were misplaced. They ignored one key fact: growing deficits were entirely consistent with the long-term plan to reduce government. The hope was that soaring deficits and a rapidly growing national debt would eventually force policymakers to reduce government spending – whether they liked it or not. From its very first days, the Bush administration embraced deficits as a good way to reign in government. In August of 2001, as the federal budget surpluses began to disappear and new deficits began to loom, the president had an unusual fit of candor and described these developments as "incredibly positive news," arguing that this would now put Congress in a "fiscal straitjacket." Ten Republicans in Congress also came around to this point of view. As conservative Rick Santorum explained it, he first hated deficits, but then came to like them because they made it harder to pass any new spending bills. “I came to the House as a real deficit hawk but I am no longer a deficit hawk. I’ll tell you why. …Deficits make it easier to say no.”11

Clearly if the Republicans had remained in power in Washington and their program of massive tax cuts had continued, deeper reductions in spending for mandatory programs, even including Social Security, would eventually have become inevitable. Deficits and public debt simply cannot continue to grow forever. At some point, the federal government eventually has to start paying its bills. As Paul Krugman has explained, the crunch would most like come when baby boomers begin to retire and start making increasing demands on the Social Security and Medicare systems. At that point, the gap between the government’s income and its outlays would become alarmingly large. The government would have no choice but to either rapidly raise taxes or drastically cut spending. Given the difficulty of raising taxes, the most likely scenario – and the one anti-government conservatives would favor – would be for government to dramatically slash spending. "We're not talking about minor policy adjustments,” says Krugman. “If taxes stay as low as they are now, government as we know it cannot be maintained."12 He predicts that we could experience cuts of up to 40% on some of the largest government programs: "Social Security will have to become far less generous; Medicare will no longer be able to guarantee comprehensive medical care to older Americans; Medicaid will no longer provide basic medical care to the poor."13

When the Democrats took control of the White House and Congress in 2008, it seemed that finally the tax cuts and the attacks on social spending would stop – which did in fact occur. But the huge deficits and growing national debt of the Bush era continue to act as a “fiscal straightjacket” for the Democrats and have been preventing them from increasing funding for badly needed programs. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has estimated that the Bush-era tax cuts and the costs of his wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will contribute more the $500 billion to the fiscal 2012 budget deficit alone -- making up over 50% of that shortfall. Those wars and tax cuts will eventually contribute a whopping $7 trillion to federal deficits by 2019. To make matters worse, the severe recession that started in 2008 greatly reduced federal revenue and required a surge in spending for an economic stimulus package – all of which contributed even more to already large yearly deficits.

The Republicans, who seemed totally unconcerned about racking up huge deficits during the Bush administration, are now screaming that reducing spending and the deficits must be our number one priority. And they have been successful in convincing many moderate Democrats in Congress to go along with them.

In reaction to the deficits, President Obama first proposed a three year freeze on most domestic spending. Then he requested that all federal agencies lower their fiscal 2012 budget requests by at least 5% from their 2011 funding – an idea that pleased many Republicans. While 5% may seem like a small reduction, keep in mind that many of these regulatory agencies have already been suffering for years from inadequate funding and staff cuts imposed during the Bush administration.

Unless Democrats are willing to raise taxes – and many are reluctant to do so – there is a good chance that the “starving the beast” strategy of the anti-government movement will succeed. It will strangle any efforts to create new programs and to increase funding for needed social programs and important regulatory agencies. Eventually it may even create a fiscal crisis that will require large cuts in crucial safety net programs like Medicaid and Medicare. A very worrying situation to say the least.


Starving the States

Today, conservatives remain in control of many state and local governments. And it is on this level that we see the most dramatic effects of the starving-the-beast strategy. In large part, this is due to an enormous advantage that anti-government activists have on these levels of government: virtually all states and cities must balance their budgets. So when revenues fall or expenses increase, these governments cannot borrow to make up the difference; they must either cut programs or raise taxes. Conservatives have often been successful in blocking tax increases, which has meant that states have had no choice but to reduce spending on social programs.

During the recession that began in 2008, most states cut their social spending – often in disturbing ways. Many of these cuts fell on these states’ most vulnerable residents. Several states cut reimbursements to nursing homes or made it more difficult for the elderly to qualify for nursing home care. Twenty-one states implemented cuts that restricted low income children’s access to health insurance. Services for the elderly and disabled were cut in 22 states. Educational spending also took big hits, with state aid for K-12 education reduced in 24 states. Funds were also cut for higher education in 32 states, forcing some to raise tuition by more than 10%. 14

Clearly, the decline in state revenues caused by the recession played a large role in these budget cuts. But that is not all that was going on. Many states have had ongoing fiscal problems, and in many cases those problems have been caused or exacerbated by conservative forces who have attacked the abilities of states and local governments to raise needed taxes. For example, the foundations for many states’ fiscal problems were laid in the 1990s when state-level anti-government groups waged successful campaigns to reduce taxes. Between 1994 and 2001, under political pressure from conservatives, 44 states passed significant tax cuts. The effects of these cuts were masked at first by the stock market boom that increased the states’ returns on investments in the late 1990s. But now, with the stock market boom long gone, those cuts have come home to roost and are costing the states an estimated $40 billion or more a year in lost revenue – a significant cause of the long-term fiscal difficulties in many states.15

Conservatives have also been successful in many states in installing caps on certain tax rates. In Massachusetts, for example, local property taxes cannot be increased by more than 3.5% a year. In many years, city expenses have risen faster than that rate and tax revenues have not kept up. This has forced many cities to repeatedly cut public school budgets – firing teachers, reducing course offerings, eliminating sports, and increasing class sizes. Cities have also been forced to reduce fire and police staffing and limit essential public services like snow plowing and road repair.

Fourteen states also now require supermajorities for the raising of some taxes – and this has become particularly problematic. Supermajorities require that 60%, 67%, or even 75% of the legislators must agree before taxes can be raised – rather than the simple majority of 50% plus one that applies to other kinds of legislation. This allows a anti-tax minority to block majority rule. In some states, for instance, a majority of citizens in local school districts have often voted to raise taxes to help fund education – but they have been frustrated because they couldn’t marshal the needed two-thirds majority. Statutory requirements like supermajorities and tax caps are the some of the best political weapons used by anti-government forces because they make it all but impossible to raise taxes and this forces state and local governments to cut spending on programs.

Making matters even worse, conservatives are now pushing efforts to establish constitutional caps on state government expenditures – plans that would limit spending growth to the rate of inflation plus population growth. The first state to adopt this approach, Colorado in 1992, saw its public services deteriorate significantly. For example, it dropped from 35th to 49th in K-12 spending as a share of personal income, and from 35th to 48th in higher education funding a as share of personal income.16 In 2005, citizens in Colorado voted to suspend this amendment for five years so that they can restore needed funding to vital services. The disastrous results in Colorado have not stopped anti-government activists from launching campaigns to pass similar amendments in 15 other states.

The Case of California

The severe and ongoing budget problems in California are a good example of the kind of damage that anti-government activists can do on the state level. During the recent recession, the state ran into billions of dollars of deficits and was forced to make draconian cuts in state programs and services. The main problem was not excessive spending but excessive restrictions on the taxing ability of the state, which made it all but impossible for it to raise taxes to deal responsibly with its fiscal crisis.

The problems for California began decades ago when obstacles to tax increases were introduced into the state constitution by an anti-tax campaign. Proposition 13 was passed in 1978 and capped property taxes at ridiculously low levels. Cities and counties were then forced to try to raise other assessments and fees in order to continue to supply basic public services. But anti-tax zealots were then able to pass Proposition 218, which prevented cities from raising those fees without the approval of two-thirds of the voters – usually an impossible barrier to overcome.

This left localities no choice but to go begging to the state government for needed revenues. But Proposition 13 actually worked to restrict this source of funds as well. It mandated that the state could not increase taxes without the approval of two-thirds of both houses of the legislature. This anti-democratic arrangement has allowed a minority of tax-hating lawmakers to frustrate the majority and consistently block any efforts to raise needed revenues.

Faced with these anti-tax restrictions, the state had no choice but to institute a series of very damaging cuts in state services. Severe cuts were made in aid to K-12 school systems. California’s public schools already ranked 34th among the states in per-pupil expenditures and 49th in teacher-student ratio – a disgraceful situation that could only be worsened by new budget cuts. Millions of children have been denied medical coverage. Large cuts have also been made in many other essential programs, including mental health services, mass transit, home health care, food stamps, prisons, and aid to the blind and disabled. State colleges and universities have become more expensive and less accessible.

The Effects of Starvation on Education and Infrastructure

Sometimes the effects of starving the beast are serious, but not immediately obvious. Some vital public sector programs have been reduced so gradually that the effects may not be clear to many in the public. Two examples of this are the effects of funding cuts on higher education and infrastructure development.

In recent years, spending for state higher education institutions has taken a hard hit. States have been cutting budgets for public colleges and universities – which produce three quarters of all degrees in the United States. Teaching positions are being cut, class sizes are spiraling, and needed maintenance is being neglected. Some colleges are now unable to provide students with the required courses they need to finish their degrees. In addition, states have been raising their tuitions and cutting financial aid. A study by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education gave the public college and university systems in 43 states a grade of “F” for affordability.17 This means that many low and middle-income students simply cannot afford college anymore – in one year alone a half million were turned away for lack of money.18

Crucial infrastructure spending is also being neglected. A study by the American Society of Civil Engineers found that America’s infrastructure is in terrible shape and blamed low levels of investment by state and federal governments. They estimated that over the next five years it would take at least $1.6 trillion to bring our national infrastructure into an acceptable state. 19 Some excerpts from the report:

Roads and transit systems are in peril. Funding at the federal, state and local levels is in danger of drying up and citizens are failing to invest in their communities' futures. The nation is failing to even maintain the substandard conditions we currently have, a dangerous trend that is affecting highway safety, as well as the health of the economy. … 27.5% of the nation's bridges (162,000) were structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. …The nation's 16,000 waste water systems face enormous needs. Some sewer systems are 100 years old and many treatment facilities are past their recommended life expectancy. Currently, there is a $12 billion annual shortfall in funding for these infrastructure needs. …Due to either aging, outdated facilities, severe overcrowding, or new mandated class sizes, 75% of our nation's school buildings remain inadequate to meet the needs of school children. While school construction spending has increased, the cost to remedy the situation remains more than $127 billion.

Clearly this failure to invest in our infrastructure has produced a looming crisis – one that can only be addressed with higher taxes and more spending on the state and federal level. But in 2006, the Republican Study Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives actually proposed that federal spending for highways, bridges, mass transit and other infrastructure development and repair be cut by $103 billion by 2011.

Seeing the wide spread negative effects – and human costs – of all of these cuts in services, programs, and investments on the state level, you might expect that conservatives would have second thoughts about their anti-tax and anti-spending policies. But amazingly, these kinds of problems have actually been welcomed by anti-government activists. Reports indicate that the Bush White House was happy to see states and their citizens caught in a fiscal crunch and forced to cut programs, and had no desire to help bail them out. Numerous administration officials stated privately that the states’ fiscal problems would play a useful role in shrinking state governments.20 And anti-tax activist Grover Norquist seemed almost gleeful about the fiscal troubles being faced by states, remarking that “I hope a state goes bankrupt.”21

There is an Alternative

It doesn’t have to be this way in state governments. In fact, it hasn’t always been this way. In the days before the anti-tax movement took hold in the U.S., many states had a vibrant public sector with healthy investments in infrastructure projects and adequately funded social programs for state residents. In his book, Paradise Lost, Peter Schrag offers the following descriptions of pre- and post-Proposition 13 California:

California was once widely regarded has both model and magnet for the nation – in its economic opportunities, its social outlook, and its high-quality public services and institutions. With a nearly free and universally accessible system of public higher education, a well supported public school system, an ambitious agenda of public works projects – in irrigation and flood control, in highway construction and park development – and a wide array of social services and human rights guarantees that had no parallel in any other state, California seems to have an optimism about its population, possibilities, and future....

But California ... is no longer the progressive model in its public institutions and services, or in its social ethic, that it once was. California's schools, which 30 years ago had been among the most generously funded in the nation, are now in the bottom quarter among the states in virtually every major indicator – in physical condition, in public funding, in test scores – closer in most of them to Mississippi than to New York or Connecticut or New Jersey. The state, which had almost doubled in population since the early 1960s, has built some 20 new prisons in the past two decades, but has not opened one new campus of the University of California for nearly three decades. Its once celebrated freeway system is now rated as among the most dilapidated road networks in the country. Many of its public libraries operate on reduced hours, and some have closed altogether. The state's social benefits, once among the nation's most generous, had been cut and cut again, and then cut again. And what had once been a tuition-free college and university system, while still among the world's great public educational institutions, struggles for funds and charges as much as every other state university system, and in some cases more.22

Schrag laments what he has termed the “Mississippication” of California. He has nothing against Mississippi, but is simply referring to the reputation that state has for stingy social programs, abysmal schools, inadequate health care programs, and a poor quality of life. This is what could be in store for all of us if government is reduced to an emaciated state. If the anti-government and anti-tax crusaders have their way, we will all be living in Mississippi, whether we want to or not.

*************

For more on how anti-government activists have been attacking vital government programs, see Stealth Deregulation.



The Bush Lie

by David Michael Green

First the Big Reagan Lie, now the Even Bigger Bush Lie.

It was only a matter of time, of course, before conservatives would come out of hiding.

Pummeled over the years for their association with the catastrophe known as the Bush administration, singing its praises had become too great a lie even for those whose every political utterance is an exercise in deceit and hypocrisy.

But I knew they wouldn't wait long before trying to canonize their main man, just as they've already done over the years by building a one-man Mt. Rushmore In The Sky for their patron, Saint Ronald of Hollywood-cum-Washington (and what, really, was the difference between the two in his case, anyhow?).

And now, of course, they are starting to do it for the Caligula Kid as well.

Billboards are popping up on the landscape with a picture of the prior president, asking, "Miss me yet?"

Regressive commentators on television are beginning to dare mentioning the Bush years again. Recent poll data shows that Bush and Obama are rated as near equals in the public's assessment of the two presidencies. Now the Boy King's memoir is soon to be released, and we can certainly expect a lot more of these attempts at reviving the stinking corpse of his wrecking ball presidency.

But the project of turning Bush into a great president comes with a few, um, issues associated with it, however. Heck, even just rescuing him from the cesspool of the club of failed presidents requires no small miracle.

Most of the presidents amongst these bottom-dwellers are guilty of some singular bungling of large proportion, such as failing to prevent the Civil War, blowing Reconstruction, or doing too little in response to the Great Depression. Those are serious indictments. But what if you were guilty of the equivalent of all of those crimes, plus ten more? All in one presidency?

Meet George W. Bush, 43rd president of the United States.

Trying to mythologize the Bush presidency is not going to be easy.

If you manage to turn a record high surplus into a record high deficit, and to double the national debt in the process, history will not hold you in high regard for doing so, just as it indicts Ronald Reagan for tripling the debt on his watch.

If your policies serve the interests of an economic oligarchy rather than the people, history will not approve of that, just as it does not admire Republican presidents from Grant to Hoover for doing the same.

If you populate your administration with corrupt political cronies rather than experts and experienced administrators, history will treat you poorly for it, just as it does Ulysses Grant.

If you completely fail to respond to a catastrophic hurricane that drowns a major city, history will adore you about as much as it does Nero, who fiddled while Rome burned.

If you manage to sell your country a war on the basis of lies, history will not regard you well, as it has not Lyndon Johnson for precisely that reason.

If you succeed in mismanaging a war into protracted failure, history will not be kind to you for that, just as it isn't kind to Harry Truman for the stalemate of Korea.

But if you manage to do that for seven years, rather than three, history will be even less kind to you.

And if you manage to that for not one but two wars, over seven years time, history will be very angry indeed.

If you make your country hated in the world, history will not respect you, just as it admires John Kennedy for doing the opposite.

If you shred the US Constitution in order to facilitate a police state with unlimited government powers, history will cast its aspersions upon you, just as it does on Joe McCarthy.

If you ignore a looming catastrophe like global warming - and indeed if you exacerbate that catastrophe - history will regard you very poorly, just as historians generally agree that James Buchanan is America's worst president for failing to respond to its unfolding Civil War crisis.

If you are warned of a cataclysmic terrorist attack by your staff and do not respond, instead spending the month before on vacation, history will devastate you for this alone, just as one of Stalin's great crimes (among many) was to fantasize that Nazi Germany would not attack the Soviet Union, ultimately at a cost of tens of millions of his people.

Indeed, if you spend more time during your presidency on vacation than any other president ever, history will not admire you, just as it does not admire Warren Harding.

If you run for president as one kind of politician but then completely abandon those politics for something different (and supremely ugly), history will not look kindly upon you, just as it does not upon John Tyler.

If you employ disgusting prejudices to win elections, history will consider you cheap garbage for doing so, just as it does George H. W. Bush.

And if you manage to deeply polarize your country, especially in a time of national crisis, history will admire you about as much as it does Richard Nixon for doing the same thing.

If you did any one of these things, you'd find yourself down at the bottom of the list in the historical ranking of American presidents.

But if you've managed to do every one of these things over the course of a single presidency, you'd not only occupy the very bottom slot on the list, you'd be in a category all your own.

It really is astonishing, isn't it, to think about how thoroughly this perfect storm of a president could wreak havoc on a developed (or is it?) democracy (or is it?) in the 21st century.

But what is even more astonishing is that his mythologized revival is already showing signs of working.

Even today, less than two years out of that nightmare.

Even today, with both of Bush's two wars still endlessly droning on, still dragging down the country as they chew up American, Iraqi and Afghani lives like some sort of industrial-scale human sacrifice machine.

Even today, as Bush's economic depression spreads misery across the land.

It's astonishing that the guy is taken even remotely seriously, let alone that he has not been thrown in jail or met the same fate that the Tsar or Il Duce did.

It's astonishing that he would dare to publish a book less than two years after having wrecked a world so thoroughly.

In just what sort of country can something so shameful happen?

Yep, trying to mythologize the Bush presidency is not going to be easy.

If this were Sweden or Canada, that is.

But this is America.

David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers' reactions to his articles (mailto:dmg@regressiveantidote.net), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website, www.regressiveantidote.net.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

MEMO: Health Insurance, Banking, Oil Industries Met With Koch, Chamber, Glenn Beck To Plot 2010 Election

by Lee Fang

In 2006, Koch Industries owner Charles Koch revealed to the Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Moore that he coordinates the funding of the conservative infrastructure of front groups, political campaigns, think tanks, media outlets and other anti-government efforts through a twice annual meeting of wealthy right-wing donors. He also confided to Moore, who is funded through several of Koch’s ventures, that his true goal is to strengthen the “culture of prosperity” by eliminating “90%” of all laws and government regulations. Although it is difficult to quantify the exact amount Koch alone has funneled to right-wing fronts, some studies have pointed toward $50 million he has given alone to anti-environmental groups.

Recently, fronts funded by Charles and his brother David have received scrutiny because they have played a pivotal role in the organizing of the anti-Obama Tea Parties and the promotion of virulent far right lawmakers like Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC). (David Koch praised DeMint and gave him a “Washington Award” shortly after the senator promised to “break” Obama by making health reform his “Waterloo.”)
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While the Koch brothers — each worth over $21.5 billion — have certainly underwritten much of the right, their hidden coordination with other big business money has gone largely unnoticed. ThinkProgress has obtained a memo outlining the details of the last Koch gathering held in June of this year. The memo, along with an attendee list of about 210 people, shows the titans of industry — from health insurance companies, oil executives, Wall Street investors, and real estate tycoons — working together with conservative journalists and Republican operatives to plan the 2010 election, as well as ongoing conservative efforts through 2012. According to the memo, David Chavern, the number two at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Fox News hate-talker Glenn Beck also met with these representatives of the corporate elite. In an election season with the most undisclosed secret corporate giving since the Watergate-era, the memo sheds light on the symbiotic relationship between extremely profitable, multi-billion dollar corporations and much of the conservative infrastructure. The memo describes the prospective corporate donors as “investors,” and it makes clear that many of the Republican operatives managing shadowy, undisclosed fronts running attack ads against Democrats were involved in the Koch’s election-planning event:
Corporate “investors” at the Koch meeting included businesses with a strong profit motive in rolling back President Obama’s enacted reforms. Several companies impacted by health reform, including Allan Hubbard of A & E Industries, a manufacturer of medical devices and Judson Green, a board member of health insurance conglomerate Aon, were present at the meeting. Other businessmen at the meeting, like Omaha Burger King franchiser Mike Simmonds, are owners of fast food stores which have fought efforts to provide health insurance to their employees. Many corporate attendees of the meeting represent the financial industry impacted by Wall Street reform. For instance, attendee Bill Cooper is the CEO of TCF Financial, a corporation involved in the mortgage banking industry. Cooper recently filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Wall Street reform. Other financial industry players in the meeting hail from firms ranging from Bank of America, JLM Investment, Allied Capital Corp, AMG National Trust, the Blackstone Group and Citadel Investment. Annie Dickerson, a representative of Paul Singer, a powerful hedge fund manager who also gives tens of millions to Republican causes, was present. In addition, Koch Industries itself has a hedge fund and other financial derivative products in its portfolio of interests, which include oil pipelines, coal shipping, asphalt, refineries, consumer goods, timber, ranching, and chemicals.
 – Corporate “investors” at the Koch meeting included businesses with a strong profit motive in preventing progressive reforms promised by President Obama. Several executives at the meeting have an incentive to stop Democrats and President Obama from addressing climate change and enacting clean energy reform. The meeting included oil executives from Aspect Energy, Murfin Drilling, Anschutz Company, GeoPark Holdings, Smoky Oil, and several members of Koch’s various subsidiaries. The meeting documents explicitly state that funding efforts to curb “climate change alarmism” were discussed.
 – Fred Malek, Karl Rove’s top fundraiser for his $56 million attack ad campaign against Democrats, attended the meeting, along with leaders of other secret attack groups. Heather Higgins, who leads the Independent Women’s Forum, a shadowy group that has spent millions of dollars in attack ads on health reform, attended the meeting. So did Gretchen Hamel, a former Bush flak who now runs an attack ad group called “Public Notice” that runs ad which denounce spending programs.
 – Participants collaborated with infamous consultants who specialize in generating fake grassroots movements, as well as experts on how corporations should take advantage of Citizens United. One session, about how to “mobilize citizens for November,” involved a discussion with Republican strategists Tim Phillips and Sean Noble, anti-union leader Mark Mix, and longtime Koch operative Karl Crow. Phillips — a veteran astroturf lobbyist who previously managed a deceptive grassroots lobbying campaign to help the Hong Kong-based Tan family maintain their forced abortion sweatshops in the Mariana Islands — now leads the day-to-day operations of Americans for Prosperity, the group ThinkProgress first reported to have helped organize many of the initial Tea Party rallies against Obama. Americans for Prosperity, founded and financed by David Koch, has a field team of over 80 campaign staffers spread out around the country, and additionally plans to spend $45 million dollars worth of attack ads against Democrats.

Shortly before the planning meeting, Crow authored a campaign finance memo explaining that because of the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, he advised specifically that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 501(c)(6) and Americans for Prosperity’s 501(c)(4) can “now use general treasury funds to produce communications materials opposing or supporting specific candidates” and corporations can aggressively pressure their employees to vote a certain way.

The memo notes that participants in the 2010 election planning meeting “committed to an unprecedented level of support.”

Interestingly, the Koch meetings are managed by Kevin Gentry, an executive who doubles as a staffer in the Koch Industries lobbying office in Washington and as the key point person who helps deliver Koch charitable foundation grants. As ThinkProgress has documented, Koch Industries has dramatically boosted its own profits by using conservative front groups to manipulate public policy. The fusion between the “intellectual” conservative movement and big businesses opposed to regulations and accountability has a history in America dating back to the New Deal. During the thirties, the Du Pont family and other wealthy interests organized an assortment of “Liberty League” front groups to try to defeat New Deal agenda items and repeal President Roosevelt’s Social Security program. Now, corporations fund groups like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute — both had representatives at the Koch meeting — to further their lobbying agenda. The American Enterprise Institute even changed its name from the New Deal-era American Enterprise Association to try to dispel the notion that they were nothing more than a glorified business trade association.

As the memo states, Beck has addressed this regular gathering of conservative corporate executives in previous years. Past Koch meetings have included various Republican lawmakers, including DeMint, and Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia as speakers.

After ThinkProgess published its exclusive investigation of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce revealing that the Chamber has been actively fundraising from foreign corporations for its 501(c)(6) account used to run a $75 million attack ad campaign, Chamber lobbyists found common cause with Beck and many of the conservative talking heads. Shortly after our investigation, Beck hosted an on-air fundraiser, asking his audience to give to the Chamber. Casual observers might have been surprised by the Chamber’s swift alliance with Beck (Chamber executives appeared on the Beck radio program and sung Beck’s praises on the Chamber blog), who has compared Obama to Adolf Hitler and called the President a “racist” who has a “deep-seated hatred for white people.” By telling his listeners to give money to the Chamber, Beck, who owns a media company worth more than $32 million dollars and an experimental Mercedes Benz, essentially told his working class viewers to give their wages back to their employers.

However, Beck never disclosed his long working history of discussing political strategy with America’s largest corporations. The Koch memo clearly shows that Beck has been collaborating with the Chamber, as well as other titans of industry, for years. In his latest appeal for support to the Chamber’s foreign-funded trade association, which already counts JP Morgan and ExxonMobil as dues-paying members, Beck yesterday told his audience that the Chamber simply “defends the little guy.”
 
Click below to view a letter inviting corporate executives to attend the next Koch meeting in January, along with a list of the sessions held by Koch for the last meeting in June of 2010.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Theft of Private Property?

Read The Full Story Here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/10/18/the-new-tax-man-big-banks_n_766169.html


The Corporate Exploitation of The American Workforce

The U.S. is the Most Overworked Nation in the World
We, as Americans, work too many hours. If you don’t believe so, check out the following data points that compare us to our peers around the world.

American Work-Life Balance

  • According to the Center for American Progress on the topic of work and family life balance, “in 1960, only 20 percent of mothers worked. Today, 70 percent of American children live in households where all adults are employed.” I don’t care who stays home and who works in terms of gender (work opportunity equality for all – it’s a family choice). Either way, when all adults are working (single or with a partner), that’s a huge hit to the American family and free-time in the American household.
  • The U.S. is the ONLY country in the Americas without a national paid parental leave benefit. The average is over 12 weeks of paid leave anywhere other than Europe and over 20 weeks in Europe.
  • Zero industrialized nations are without a mandatory option for new parents to take parental leave. That is, except for the United States.
american work ethic

American Average Work Hours:

  • At least 134 countries have laws setting the maximum length of the work week; the U.S. does not.
  • In the U.S., 85.8 percent of males and 66.5 percent of females work more than 40 hours per week.
  • According to the ILO, “Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers.”
  • Using data by the U.S. BLS, the average productivity per American worker has increased 400% since 1950. One way to look at that is that it should only take one-quarter the work hours, or 11 hours per week, to afford the same standard of living as a worker in 1950 (or our standard of living should be 4 times higher). Is that the case? Obviously not. Someone is profiting, it’s just not the average American worker.

American Paid Vacation Time & Sick Time:

  • There is not a federal law requiring paid sick days in the United States.
  • The U.S. remains the only industrialized country in the world that has no legally mandated annual leave.
  • In every country included except Canada and Japan (and the U.S., which averages 13 days/per year), workers get at least 20 paid vacation days.  In France and Finland, they get 30 – an entire month off, paid, every year.
  • Then there’s this depressing graph on average paid vacation time in industrialized countries:
American paid vacations

The Impact of Too Much Work

I’m not telling you to work less hours. If you genuinely love what you do and are doing it for the right reasons, you are more than entitled to spend all of your waking hours plugging away.
But for many of us, more work leads to more stress and a lower quality of life. Without time to unwind, take care of your home, spend time with loved ones, enjoy our hobbies, connect with friends, and generally live a more balance life. Stress is the #1 cause of health problems – mentally and physically. And there are few things that stress us out on a consistent basis like work does, especially when it takes away from all of the other things that life has to offer.

Americans are the Outliers

And if all of this data tells anything, it’s that we are the outliers, not the norm. Why are we the outliers?
  • Our companies fairly ruthlessly let people go. We want to keep our jobs and not be a ‘low performer’ compared to others.
  • The decline of the union has led to less paid time off and other leave benefits.
  • Cultural value of money over everything else. We love money, we want more of it, and we think money can buy happiness. And the more we work, the more we get paid.
  • It’s been drilled in our heads that we are lazy compared to emerging market counterpart workers in India, Mexico, China, and other parts of Asia. Who isn’t? And what is our mental image of the work environments in those locales? To validate those fears, our jobs are being outsourced to the cheap labor in those countries. In reality, the U.S. is still the world leader in productivity per person.
  • Our legislative branch of the government (on both sides of the aisle) has been bought and as a result has shied away from passing laws that protect workers that every other industrialized nation has passed.
  • We generally don’t fight for our working rights. We take what is given to us.

What we All Need to Remember

What we all need to remind ourselves is that it doesn’t have to be this way.
  • It’s OK to ask to move to fewer hours at work.
  • It’s OK to take a week-long vacation if we need to.
  • It’s OK to ask to work from home.
  • It’s OK to take a month of unpaid leave while you raise a child.
  • It’s OK… you get the idea.
Don’t let life pass you by in the name of fear, circumstance, greed, or misguided hopes. Sometimes you just need to draw a line in the sand and say “enough is enough”.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Justice: tilted toward the wealthy and moneyed interests

Access To Justice In U.S. At Third-World Levels, Says Survey
Scales Of Justice

Why haven't more Americans successfully sued the banks that lured them into fraudulent mortgages, then foreclosed on them without the required paperwork?

It could be because the civil justice system in this country is essentially inaccessible to many Americans -- and when it does get accessed, is tilted toward the wealthy and moneyed interests.

That's certainly consistent with the finding of a world-wide survey unveiled Thursday morning that ranks the United States lowest among 11 developed nations when it comes to providing access to justice to its citizens -- and lower than some third-world nations in some categories.

Particularly when it comes to access to and affordability of legal counsel in civil disputes, the U.S. ranks 20 out of the 35 nations surveyed, below not only developed nations but also such countries as Mexico, Croatia and the Dominican Republic.

The results are from the World Justice Project's new "Rule of Law Index", which assesses how laws are implemented and enforced in practice around the globe. Countries are rated on such factors as whether government officials are accountable, whether legal institutions protect fundamental rights, and how ordinary people fare in the system. The index will expand from 35 countries to 70 next year.

The lowest-ranking countries in this year's survey included Liberia, Kenya, Nigeria and Pakistan.

The U.S. didn't lead the world on any of the rule-of-law measures, ranking near the bottom of the developed world on most -- including even fundamental rights. But the most striking findings related to access to justice for ordinary people.

As part of its fact-finding, the organization polled 1,000 people in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, and found a significant gap between the rich and the poor in terms of their use and satisfaction with the civil courts system. According to a news release:

For instance, only 40% of low-income respondents who used the court system in the past three years reported that the process was fair, compared to 71% of wealthy respondents. This 31% gap between poor and rich litigants in the USA is the widest among all developed countries sampled. In France this gap is only 5%, in South Korea it is 4% and in Spain it is nonexistent.

Juan Botero, the index's director, told the Huffington Post that the U.S.'s poor ranking on access to justice "is a little bit surprising" considering that our society is so prone to litigation, and so fascinated by TV shows about law and order. But he said the index simply quantifies what was already the consensus among legal experts: That when it comes to access to justice, "the U.S. could do a better job, especially with marginalized communities."

Indeed, the index's findings are consistent with previous studies of access to justice by lower-income people. The Legal Services Corporation reported last year that state-level studies had concluded that less than one in five of the legal problems experienced by low-income people are addressed with help from either a private or legal-aid lawyer.

Unequal access to the legal system is also a problem that the Obama administration has publicly acknowledged and is trying to address.

In March, Attorney General Eric Holder appointed prominent Harvard Law Professor Larry Tribe to serve as a senior counselor in charge of a new Access to Justice Initiative. His goal is to work with judges and lawyers across the country to find ways to help people who cannot afford a lawyer.

As Tribe himself put it in a June speech:

The truth is that as a nation, we face nothing short of a justice crisis. It is a crisis both acute and chronic, affecting not only the poor but the middle class. The situation we face is unconscionable. It's why the President and the Attorney General created the Access to Justice initiative that I am leading, and it's why we won't rest until we have made measurable and sustainable progress, but to make that progress and to do it across the board, we have got to first acknowledge that what we do know is far outweighed by what we don't know.

Botero said the index is not intended to be prescriptive. "The index doesn't give you a complete recipe for action; it doesn't even give you a full diagnosis. It's like a thermometer," he said.

Nevertheless, he noted that many other countries have more robust mechanisms to provide legal assistance to the poor.

For instance, in many Latin American countries, law students spend their final year of law school serving the poor. Or in Japan, many disputes are adjudicated by administrative bodies. In the U.S., he said, small claims court works very well. "However, the scope of coverage is limited." The result: "There seems to be a gap in the system."

The U.S. criminal justice system received a mixed grade in the new index, ranking well when it comes to guaranteeing due process of law, but ranking last among developed nations on delivering impartial justice.

How exactly does the index define access to justice? The report states:

In a nutshell, these factors measure whether regular citizens can peacefully and effectively resolve their personal grievances in accordance with generally accepted social norms, rather than resorting to violence or self-help.


For civil and informal justice, this implies a service that is affordable, effective, impartial, and culturally competent. For criminal justice, this implies a system capable of investigating and adjudicating criminal offences impartially and effectively, while ensuring that the rights of suspects and victims are protected.

Impartiality includes absence of arbitrary or irrational distinctions based on social or economic status, and other forms of bias, as well as decisions that are free of improper influence by public officials or private interests. Accessibility includes general awareness of available remedies, availability and affordability of legal advice and representation, and absence of excessive or unreasonable fees, procedural hurdles, and other barriers to access the formal dispute resolution systems. Access to justice also requires fair and effective enforcement of the decisions.

And why is all this important? The report explains:

Establishing the rule of law is fundamental to achieving communities of opportunity and equity--communities that offer sustainable economic development, accountable government, and respect for fundamental rights.


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Dan Froomkin is senior Washington correspondent for the Huffington Post. You can send him an e-mail, bookmark his page; subscribe to RSS feed, follow him on Twitter, friend him on Facebook, and/or become a fan and get e-mail alerts when he writes.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s foreign fundraising operation

Last week, ThinkProgress published an exclusive story about the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s foreign fundraising operation. We noted the Chamber raises money from foreign-owned businesses for its 501(c)(6) entity, the same account that finances its unprecedented $75 million dollar partisan attack ad campaign. While the Chamber is notoriously secretive, the thrust of our story involved the disclosure of fundraising documents U.S. Chamber staffers had been distributing to solicit foreign (even state-owned) companies to donate directly to the Chamber’s 501(c)(6).
We documented three different ways the Chamber fundraises from foreign corporations: (1) An internal fundraising program called “Business Councils” used to solicit direct, largely foreign contributions to the Chamber, (2) Direct contributions from foreign multinationals like BP, Siemens, and Shell Oil, and (3) From the Chamber’s network of AmCham affiliates, which are foreign chambers of the Chamber composed of American and foreign companies. The Chamber quickly acknowledged that it receives direct, foreign money, but simply replied, “We are not obligated to discuss our internal procedures.” Instead of providing any documentation or proof to demonstrate foreign money is not being used for electioneering purposes, the Chamber launched an aggressive media strategy to first, attack ThinkProgress with petty name-calling and second, to confuse the media by highlighting the Chamber’s relatively minor AmCham fundraising, which the Chamber says (also without documentation) totals “approximately $100,000” from all 115 international AmCham chapters. The Chamber and the media largely ignored ThinkProgress’ revelation about the Chamber’s direct foreign fundraising to its 501(c)(6) used for attack ads.
Yesterday, the Chamber’s chief lobbyist Bruce Josten, who has been spoon-feeding much of the media distortions about our report, went on Fox News (whose parent company donated $1 million to the Chamber recently for its ad campaign) to again try to dilute the issue by dissembling about the Chamber’s fundraising and membership. “We have probably 60 or so foreign multi-national companies in our membership that we have had for decades, many of which have been in the United States for half a century or a century,” said Josten.
The Chamber is being deceptive. In addition to multinational members of the Chamber headquartered abroad (like BP, Shell Oil, and Siemens), a new ThinkProgress investigation has identified at least 83 other foreign companies that actively donate to the Chamber’s 501(c)(6). Below is a chart detailing the annual dues foreign corporations have indicated that they give directly to the Chamber (using information that is publicly available from the Business Council applications and the Chamber’s own websites):
Company Location Money/Level
4G Identity Solutions Hyderabad, India $7,500
A2Z Maintenance & Eng. Gurgaon, India $7,500
Amarchand Mangaldas Mumbai, India $15,000
Apollo Hospitals Chennai, India $7,500
Arshiya International Mumbai, India $15,000
Astonfield Management Mumbai, India $7,500
AXA Group Paris, France $7,500
Avantha Group India $7,500
Avasarala Technologies Bangalore, India $7,500
AZB & Partners Mumbai, India $15,000
Azure Power New Delhi, India $7,500
Bharat Forge Pune, India $15,000
Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP Toronto, Canada $7,500
Brookfield Asset Management Toronto, Canada $7,500
Cameco Corporation Saskatoon, Canada $7,500
Credit Suisse Zürich, Switzerland $15,000
Devas Multimedia Bangalore, India $15,000
DSK Legal Bombay, India $7,500
Dua Associates Hyderabad, India $15,000
Educomp Solutions Ltd Delhi, India $7,500
Essar Group Mumbai, India $7,500
Fox Mandal Little India $7,500
GMR Bangalore, India $15,000
Hindalco Group, The Mumbai, India $15,000
Hinduja Group, The London, UK $15,000
Hindustan Construction Company Mumbai, India $15,000
HSBC London, UK $15,000
ICICI Bank Mumbia, India $7,500
Infosys Bangalore, India $15,000
Infotech Enterprises Hyderabad, India $7,500
International SOS Assistance Singapore $7,500
Ireo Management Gurgoan, India $15,000
ITC Group Kolkata, India $15,000
J. Sagar Associates Mumbai, India $15,000
J.B.Boda Insurance Mumbai, India $7,500
J.M. Baxi & Co. Mumbai, India $15,000
Jagran Prakashan Kanpur, India $7,500
Jindal Power New Delhi, India $15,000
Jubilant Organosys Noida, India $7,500
Kimaya Energy New Delhi, India $15,000
Kotak Mahindra Mumbai, India $7,500
KPIT Cummins Pune, India $7,500
KPMG Amstelveen, Netherlands $15,000
Lahmeyer International Frankfurt, Germany $7,500
Larsen & Toubro Mumbai, India $15,000
Leela Hotels Bengaluru, India $7,500
Linklaters LLP London, UK $7,500
Luthra & Luthra New Delhi, India $15,000
Macquarie Capital Sydney, Australia $15,000
Majmudar & Company Mumbai, India $7,500
NIIT Technologies Delhi, India $15,000
Nishith Desai Associates Mumbai, India $15,000
Novartis Basel, Switzerland $15,000
Oberoi Group Dehli,India $7,500
Patni Americas Mumbai, India $15,000
Punj Lloyd Gurgaon, India $15,000
QuEST Global Singapore $7,500
Ranbaxy, Inc. Gurgaon, India $7,500
Reliance Industries Mumbai, India $15,000
Reliance Communications Navi Mumbai, India $7,500
Rolta Mumbai, India $7,500
Sanofi-Aventis Paris, France $7,500
SKP Crossborder Consulting Mumbai, India $7,500
SNC Lavalin Montreal, Canada $7,500
State Bank of India Mumbai, India $15,000
Sun Life Financial Toronto, Canada $7,500
Tata Group Mumbai, India $15,000
Tatva Legal India $15,000
Urenco Investments Slough, UK $7,500
Trilegal India $7,500
Walchandnagar Industries Mumbai, India $7,500
Welspun Mumbai, India $7,500
Wipro Bangalore, India $15,000
TAIB Bank* Dubai $20,000
Aluminum Bahrain B.S.C Kingdom of Bahrain $10,000
Bahrain Financial Harbour Holding Company Kingdom of Bahrain $10,000
Gulf Air Kingdom of Bahrain $10,000
Midal Cables Kingdom of Bahrain $10,000
The Nass Group Kingdom of Bahrain $10,000
Bahrain Maritime & Mercantile International Kingdom of Bahrain $5,000
The Bahrain Petroleum Company Kingdom of Bahrain $5,000
First Leasing Bank Kingdom of Bahrain $5,000
Gulf Petrochemical Industries Company Kingdom of Bahrain $5,000
TOTAL   $885,000
Again, all of these annual dues are collected in the same 501(c)(6) the Chamber is using to run partisan attack ads. The data above reflects information from public sources, and the Chamber likely has many more foreign corporations as dues-paying members — but refuses to divulge any of the funders for their ad campaign. Unfortunately, many reporters in the traditional press covered the Chamber story, but missed the entire point of our reporting. Most reporters (from the New York Times, McClatchy, the Associated Press, etc.) never contacted ThinkProgress, instead opting to only interview Chamber officials.
Here’s how the Chamber’s unusual foreign fundraising operation works. According to this internal Chamber staff chart obtained by ThinkProgress, the Chamber has an international division devoted to promoting free trade and related policy issues. U.S. Chamber staffers, based here in Washington, D.C. with offices in the Chamber’s building at 1615 H Street, create bilateral “Business Councils” fundraising programs to solicit money from foreign corporations in Korea, Egypt, Brazil, Bahrain, India, and other places. For instance, the Chamber’s US-Egypt Business Council directs potential members to wire their checks to the US Chamber of Commerce. The application also notes that checks should be marked “ATTN: Leila Vossoughi.” Vossaoughi is a regular staffer at the Chamber. Promotions to join the Chamber have included promises that foreign firms obtain “access to the US Chamber of Commerce and everything that it does” and pledges to help the foreign firms promote free trade policies in America. All of the staffers who manage the Business Councils work directly for the Chamber. These Business Councils are nothing like the Chamber’s AmChams, which are foreign affiliates of the Chamber composed of American and foreign businesses abroad. Business Councils are based in the Chamber and even hosted on the U.S. Chamber’s website domain. Bylaws from the US-Bahrain Business Council confirm that the money the U.S. Chamber raises from these applications — which welcome foreign-owned businesses — goes into the Chamber’s 501(c)(6). Click below to see one such application:

application
Again, the information above documents the fact that foreign donations go directly to the Chamber without any intermediary, for instance, through an “AmCham” or another Chamber affiliate organization. The same Chamber account funded by these foreign corporation is running a $75 million attack campaign. In fact, a Chamber spokesperson acknowledged the foreign funds go into the Chamber’s general account. Any responsible reporter should have to note these direct donations given to the Chamber, which the Chamber has refused to discuss. Or, reporters should contact us directly if there is any confusion about our report.
ThinkProgress intern Riley Waggaman contributed to this post.