Archive for category Corporate Socialism

More Awfulness From Congress

Hell no we won't go
Hell no, we won’t go!!

The must-pass National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) contains a 449-page package of public lands riders. As you might expect from this Congress, it’s a stinker full of corporate giveaways. It transfers 110,000 acres of our public lands into private ownership. Part of the Tonto National Forest in Arizona will be given to Rio Tinto for a copper mine, including sacred Apache lands. Coal reserves in the Bull Mountains of Montana will be given to Great Northern Properties, a Houston-based coal company. Sealaska Corporation gets 70,000 acres of the Tongass National Forest for clear-cutting timber that used to belong to all Americans.

There’s a stealth provision removing existing Wilderness Study Area (WSA) protections for two areas in eastern Montana, without any public input whatsoever.

The legislation also mandates automatic renewals of livestock grazing on our public lands, even where grazing operations are degrading wildlife habitat and fouling streams and rivers — without the evaluation under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that’s currently required. The so-called “Grazing Improvement Act” also automatically extends grazing permits on public lands from 10 to 20 years. The exemption of grazing permits from NEPA basically puts public land management agencies out of business with regard to ecosystem management. That is a heavy hit with far-reaching consequences.

Ten right-wing Tea-GOPers including Tom Coburn of Oklahoma had objected to including parks and wilderness bills in a defense bill. They were joined by Democratic Senators Jeff Merkeley (OR), Ron Wyden (OR), and Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) and Independent Bernie Sanders (VT). On December 11, the Senate voted 85-14 to break the filibuster.

As a “Christmas tree” bill enjoying widespread bipartisan support, the NDAA passed the House by a vote of 300-119 last Thursday and the Senate by 89-11 yesterday. The package of legislation is expected to be signed by the President soon.

On the plus side, the NDAA riders would add 250,000 acres to the National Wilderness Preservation System, establish or expand national parks, and designate more than 100 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers. But the losses far outweigh the wins.

More info:
Some Context on the Defense Bill Riders: Public Lands Losses Far Outweigh Any Wins
Top 5 Offensive Provisions of the Public Lands Rider
Defense bill with wilderness & parks plus land giveaways beats cloture 85-14. 3 Dems & Sanders no
Congress Protects New National Parks And Wilderness Areas For The First Time In 5 Years
Defense Bill Passes, Giving Sacred Native American Sites To Mining Company

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Senator Elizabeth Warren: Who Does Congress Work For?

Wall Street wants to get bailed out by taxpayers AGAIN, the next time they recklessly crash our financial sector with risky derivatives. This could cause the next Great Depression. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is trying to stop them, even though the Tea-GOP is threatening to shut down the federal government (in less than five hours) if a Dodd-Frank repeal proposal written by Citigroup lobbyists doesn’t pass.

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Facts About The Low-Wage Economy

The high cost of low wages

According to the National Employment Law Project (PDF), low-wage jobs made up 22 percent of job losses from Bush’s Great Recession, but accounted for 44 percent of employment growth after the recession. Today, lower-wage industries employ 1.85 million more workers than at the start of the recession.

On FDL today, Peter Van Buren points out some facts about the low-wage economy:

  • One in four U.S. employees are low-wage workers. That is 20 percent higher than in the United Kingdom, and the highest percentage among industrialized nations.
  • The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009.
  • In 1968 the federal minimum was $1.60 per hour, approximately $10.70 in 2013 dollars
  • 88 percent of minimum-wage workers are adults, with more than a third over age 40.
  • The percentage of low-wage workers with at least some college education spiked 71 percent since 1979, to 43.2 percent today.
  • The way you functionally subsidize companies paying low-wages to workers– ponying up the difference between what McDonald’s and others pay and what those workers need to live via taxpayer-paid SNAP (food stamps) and other benefits– is a hidden cost in plain sight.
  • If the nation’s largest private employer Wal-Mart increased wages to $12 per hour it would cost the company only about one percent, so that made-in-China $10 item would run you all of $10.01.
  • A Paychex/IHS survey, which looks at employment in small businesses, found that the state with the highest percentage of annual job growth was Washington, which also has the highest statewide minimum wage.
  • Nationwide, even a small hike to $10.10 an hour would put some $24 billion a year into workers’ hands to spend and lift 4.6 million Americans out of poverty. Consumer spending drives 70 percent of our economy.
  • Two-thirds of all minimum wage workers are not employed by small businesses. Better yet, one survey shows three out of five small business owners favor raising the minimum wage; their profits depend on a strong local economy, which requires more money in local consumers’ hands.

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11 Banks Still ‘Too Big To Fail’

TBTF

Via HuffPo:

Eleven of the nation’s largest banks have failed to convince federal regulators they could safely be wound down if they neared failure, government authorities said Tuesday, reinforcing the idea that they are too big to fail.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said October blueprints submitted by banks, including JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, detailing how they think they’d be resolved in bankruptcy if they neared collapse were “not credible.” The Federal Reserve, another bank regulator, said the so-called living wills need significant improvement by July 2015 or the government may force them to shrink.

…The phenomenon known as too big to fail is based on the notion that government officials will always rescue a failing financial company when it believes the failure would cause financial chaos. Since investors in the company believe they’d be bailed out, they accept a lower return for funding the company’s operations. That in turn enables the too big to fail company to enjoy a taxpayer-provided subsidy unavailable to its smaller rivals.

Tuesday’s announcement by federal regulators that the 11 banks’ living wills were inadequate strikes at the heart of the argument that the banks are no longer too big to fail.

TBTF means bailouts and bonuses for billionaires and corporate execs, and nothing for the ever-shrinking American middle class.

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The War Power, The Sergeant, the Senator: Treason or Heroism

The Sergeant who some years ago left his post in that unnecessary and unwinnable war in
Afghanistan is either a hero, a traitor, or just a terribly young man in the wrong war at the wrong time. He spent terrible years of torture and probably said things he didn’t really mean.

Some years ago in Vietnam, Senator McCain was shot down over Vietnam, another unconstitutional war, and equally unwinnable war, confessed repeatedly to things he later recanted, once safely in the United States, and is, quite rightly regarded, despite his confessions to American war crimes, a hero. The two cases are not quite completely on all fours, as we say in the law. But the similarity is sufficient to compare with each other and with the undergirding of law.

Presidents, from George Washington to Barack Obama, who are visited by war, either their own or, like Obama, inherited from another (in Obama’s case two other) fools who preceded them, have always had this power. While not yet president, and without this act may well not have become president, Ronald Reagan communicated with Iran, telling them, in effect, just to refuse to deal with Carter on releasing our citizens from the U. S. Embassy in Iran, and await his presidency. Their deal (which killed Jimmie Carter’s hope for a second term and by the way was treason, meriting a firing squad.)

The 30, 60, 90 day notification of Congress is also unconstitutional, but not for the reasons the Republicans and Democrats alike, trumpet. Saint Paul, as I recall, said “this trumpet has an uncertain sound.” And I know he said that some leaders have “zeal without knowledge.” This is Republican and Democratic leaders on steroids, just like my former wife.

The reason the War Powers Act is unconstitutional is not what is now said by either Republicans or Democrats, as I told Joe Biden when he was both Minority Senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate and when he was chair. I testified before his committee a few times, and he called me at the law school sometimes to chat about this. The reason is simple. Due to both a few but very senior Democrats and almost all Republicans, Congress forced the Demo’s to give the president 30, 60, or 90 days to play with Congress’ army while he picked his nose. War has not been officially declared since FDR did it in WW2. George Bush (the first) and Colin Powell, in my opinion, got it right, constitutionally, by voting 50-50 in the Senate, and then the Dark Lord, Vice President Cheney, broke the tie and we went to war in Iraq the right way by law; and they had the smarts to stop when their limited mission was accomplished. And until this time, the President, as Commander in Chief, has no constitutional power to use the United States armed forces, save self-defense.

In the Framers’ mind that means only when the United States of America, not our allies, are attacked. For Utahns, the reason J. Reuben Clark, my hero and a great patriot, a rock-ribbed Republican who served under many Republican presidents, served variously as chief legal adviser to the Department of State (then, as an deputy Attorney General on loan from Justice to State,,,,,,now called Legal Adviser to the State Department; and Vice Secretary of State, and Ambassador to Mexico; and advised many presidents between world wars one and two, on all arms control treaties between those to dreadful wars) opposed NATO was because it delegated the war power to a generation not yet born and for the defense of people, and nations, not yet born. Neither the United Nations (Korean War) nor NATO (Ukraine?) can declare war for the United States of America. This is the statement of law, the War Clause, that makes this beyond debate. Remember, that it is also the sole right of Congress: not the President of the United States, nor NATO, nor the United Nations, that decides what constitutes International law, as well. So, both Constitutional Law and International Law, save an attack on the United States, inform us that Congress, not the president or these international bodies, who determines for war or peace.

So screw the people and the Congress and president now living. When the president, any president, has this army to use, that army will never return to Congress’ care. This is unconstitutional because it is an illegal attempt to delegate to the President a plenary power, given exclusively, textually, to the Congress. Like the power over interstate commerce (the road by which most civil rights legislation is constitutional), along with the equal protection and due process of law clauses of the 5th and 14th amendments. It’s as if Congress were to say to Obama, “Say, friend, we’re so damned tired of life in Washington, despite the cherry blossoms, we will do what the Supreme Court does, and reconvene when good weather returns. We’re going to go to Balboa Island, California, where it’s nice and sunny, in ocean or on the beach, and pick our nose and scratch our butts. And better yet, we have one in eight chances not to pick both with the same finger. Even though we’ve proven, time out of mind, that we in Congress cannot chew gum and pick our nose, simultaneously (a great blessing). So, pres., you now have the taxing and the spending power, and we’ll sweeten the loaf by throwing into the pot, since you do have to stick around in this shitty weather, and give you the power also to fund and provide for the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Navy. And don’t sweat it about financing things by the provision in the Constitution that spending bills begin in the House. Since you already have the taxing and spending power, do all this in the White House. P.S. please instruct the Treasury Department to deliver our checks, our salaries, and all the REALLY big bucks from the armaments industry and all those other lobbyists. We really have earned this right by selling our souls to the devil. Have a good life.

I say that both Senator and Soldier are bona fide heroes. Ed Firmage xoxox

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Capitalism is a Failing System

This editorial by Richard D. Wolff caught my attention:

Janet Yellen, the United States’ Federal Reserve’s new chair, and I were graduate economics students around the same time at Yale University. The professor who shaped the macroeconomics we learned was James Tobin. He taught us to be Keynesian economists: that is, to accept capitalism as the sole object and focus of our studies, to celebrate it as the best possible system and to preserve it against its own serious faults. Keynesian economics teaches that to secure capitalism’s blessings requires systematic government intervention in the workings of the economy.

So far, conventionally Keynesian and even neo-liberal.

No courses at Yale troubled Yellen or myself with any analyses of how exploitation lies at the core of capitalist production. We were never taught that the majority of industrial workers produce more value for employers than what employers pay them. We were prevented from encountering arguments examining how this idea of “more” (or, in economic terms, of a surplus) contributed fundamentally to the systemic inequalities that define capitalist societies.

Now we’re getting interesting:

Capitalism’s dysfunctions have led me to appreciate and independently learn what Marxian economics has to teach me, outside of Yale’s mainstream economics. Yellen and her cohorts avoided and bypassed all that.

Convinced that we can do better than capitalism, many have analyzed the incipient alternatives emerging from capitalism’s deficiencies, such as cooperatives, workers’ self-directed enterprises and others. For us, Occupy Wall Street represents a powerful surge against capitalism, yet another sign of the waning tolerance for a system that Yellen will try to preserve.

The whole article is worth a read.

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$1 Trillion Farm Bill Another Victory For The 1 Percent

In the farm bill, Congress boosted the already-massive subsidies to agribusiness while screwing the poor. President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law on Friday.

Via DSWright on FDL:

The price tag for the Farm Bill comes in at nearly $1 trillion. Most of that money is designed to enrich the already rich. Remember that next time someone tells you the 1% hate “Big Government.” Because austerity and fiscal discipline speeches haven’t stopped wasteful programs– they have just given cover to cutting meager benefits for the poor.

Many so-called Democrats voted for an almost $9 billion cut to the SNAP (formerly Food Stamp) program, which takes away $90 a month from 850,000 of the nation’s poorest who seek help to buy groceries. This is in addition to the cuts already enacted late last year.

UPDATE: Food Stamp Cuts Signed Into Law

Republican legislators refused invitations to attend the signing ceremony because they wanted bigger safety net cuts.

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McDonald’s Wants YOU To Pay Its Workers

h/t Low Pay Is Not OK

The video’s release comes a week after economists at the University of California Berkeley and the University of Illinois released a study finding that fast food workers in the US draw nearly $7 billion annually in taxpayer-funded federal aid, in the form of food stamps ($1 billion), Medicaid ($3.9 billion), and earned income tax credits ($1.9 billion). More than half of the 1.8 million “core” fast food workers who work at least 11 hours per week and 28 percent of those who work full time rely on some form of public assistance, according to the study.

More info: Recently released study by economists at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign: “Fast Food, Poverty Wages: The Public Cost of Low-Wage Jobs in the Fast Food Industry” (PDF).

McDonald’s helpline to employee: Go on food stamps
Fox Doesn’t Understand Why Low-Wage Workers Need Government Assistance

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They Only Call It Class Warfare When We Fight Back

SNAP facts

Via Media Matters: As the Republican-led House votes to cut $40 billion dollars from the food stamp program, we encourage you to brush up on your facts about SNAP.

Is it right to eliminate food assistance for 3.8 million Americans while expanding federal subsidies for millionaire farmers, including some members of Congress?

More: The Real Consequences Of Terrible Journalism

UPDATE: House Votes To Cut Food Stamps By $40 Billion

Yesterday, in act of extreme viciousness and cruelty, the House of Representatives voted to give those already down a swift kick to the teeth. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) and backed solely by Republicans in a 217-210 vote, cuts $40 billion in nutrition aid over 10 years and starts denying people food as early as next year.

UPDATE: Writing a Neutral Story About Something So Heartless As the Food Stamp Vote Is Not Good Journalism

Yesterday’s vote was not only an undeniable act of heartlessness, it was also perhaps the ultimate example of how today’s increasingly radical and unhinged GOP leadership picks on the poor, coddles the rich, makes thinly veiled appeals to racism, and plays time-wasting political games instead of governing.

…Everyone is concerned when there are a lot of people getting food stamps, but the problem is that they are hungry, not that they are being fed.

UPDATE: The Average American Family Pays $6,000 a Year in Subsidies to Big Business

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Robert Reich: The 7 Biggest Economic Lies

Best video I saw today. H/t Huffington Post.

I would add another lie to the list, the Faux News-worthy idea that raising the federal minimum wage to keep up with inflation will cause unemployment. Wrong. Wall Street financiers crashing our economy causes unemployment.

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Congressman Uses Out-of-Context Bible Quote to Justify Screwing Poor People

SNAP

Sometimes I think Republicans have their own special GOP edition of The Bible. Via Think Progress:

The House Agriculture Committee convened earlier this week to discuss whether or not to cut as much as $4.1 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps).

As House members discussed slashing the budget for the Farm Bill, which funds SNAP, Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN) took issue with some Democrats who cited Jesus Christ’s call to care for “the least of these” when describing the government’s need to assist the hungry. Instead, Fincher explained that his support for the proposed cuts by quoting a very different Bible verse – 2 Thessalonians 3:10: “For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.”

But while the use of 2 Thessalonians is a convenient tool for those who want to justify ignoring the poor, Fincher’s lukewarm Biblical argument doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. As many religious bloggers have already pointed out, the author of 2 Thessalonians was actually referring to ancient Christians who had stopped working in anticipation of Jesus’ Second Coming. The verse is concerned with correcting a theological misunderstanding (i.e., don’t just wait around for Jesus, live an active faith), not passing judgement on the poor.

Worse still, Fincher’s use of the Bible to defend the slashing of food stamps isn’t just bad theology, it’s also bad policy.

Undergirding Fincher’s sloppy exegesis is an old conservative fiction that people who rely on food stamps are lazy parasites who mooch off the government and refuse to work. In reality, most of the country’s 47 million food stamp recipients are children or the elderly, and many are employed. A 2012 report from the USDA found that 45 percent of SNAP recipients were under 18 years of age, nearly 9 percent were age 60 or older, and more than 40 percent lived in households with earnings.

Fincher’s misguided Bible-thumping ignores the plight of America’s 8.9 million “working poor.” This massive group includes the thousands of participants from the recent fast food and retail workers strikes, people who, despite working full-time 40 hours a week for booming industries, often only make around $7.25 an hour, or $15,000 a year. That’s far below the federal poverty threshold of $23,550 for a family of four and leaves many working families with no choice but to apply for food stamps just to feed their loved ones. The strikers, who are consistently backed by droves of religious leaders, are clearly willing to work, yet lawmakers like Fincher (who made his millions with the help of government farm subsidies) stand poised to deny them access to the food they need by decimating funding for SNAP.

UPDATE: Local Charities Speak Out On GOP’s Effort To Slash Food Stamps

UPDATE: 50 Million Americans Are Going Hungry As Congress Considers Gutting Food Stamps

UPDATE: Krugman: “Get really, really angry” about GOP attack on SNAP


More info:
Congressman Who Gets Millions In Farm Subsidies Denounces Food Stamps As Stealing ‘Other People’s Money’

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Reason Derangement Syndrome

Think Progress reported yesterday that the painfully unaware State Rep. Dennis Hedke has introduced a bill that would prohibit public funds from promoting sustainable development. An interesting story, and a great example of rightwing hypocrisy and nincompoopery. But I also think it overlooks the real story.

The article points out that Hedke is so blissfully ignorant of his own actions that he can’t see why anyone would question a connection between his day job and his latest bill. This is interesting, since his day job is contract geophysicist for some 30 local oil and gas companies. Conflict of interest? Certainly not!

“I can’t see why,” Hedke said. “I didn’t think about that. It really never crossed my mind. I’d probably just say no.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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