Grounds for Protest: Clocking Out

What economists understand, and pundits don’t, about deficits.

Related: “It is time to refocus. The US needs a plan for faster growth, not more deficit reduction.”

How Starbucks’ CEO bullied his baristas into promoting austerity.

Austerity for who? Bailed-out banks are giving executives huge compensation packages.

When states decide not to take the Medicaid expansion, it leaves the most vulnerable people out of the health care system.

Comprehensive look at the 2012 House elections, with maps and charts.

Two crushing blows to democracy in the Senate.

A “territorial tax system” would encourage corporations to ship even more jobs overseas.

Inspired by a recent victory at the Port of Los Angeles, a second group of truck drivers moves to organize.

 

Real Entitlement Reform: 4 Steps to Cut Billions from the Budget Without Hurting the Safety Net

You can’t throw a stone in Washington, DC without hitting one of what Paul Krugman calls the Very Serious People (VSPs): self-described “moderates” who are very “gravely concerned” about our country’s fiscal situation.

These VSPs say the main thing we need to do is “get serious” about “entitlement reform” and “tax reform.” Pro tip: When they say “entitlement reform,” they mean cutting Social Security benefits and shifting costs to Medicare beneficiaries. Don’t be fooled. We don’t get these benefits because we feel “entitled,” we get them because we pay for them our whole lives through payroll deductions. It’s like sneering at someone with a movie ticket and saying they feel “entitled” to see the movie, or berating a mother because she feels “entitled” to the groceries she just purchased. When someone turns 65 and receives SS benefits and health insurance through Medicare, it’s because they earned it. It’s because they paid for it.

But the Very Serious People are right about one thing: there are “entitlements” in our budget – and they fit much closer to what that word actually means. We’re spending money on benefits for individuals and corporations who expect payments for absolutely no logical reason. And when you suggest taking them away, they react with horror and indignation that taxpayers shouldn’t shower them with free money. Very “entitled” indeed!

If there’s a Very Serious Person in your life, send this over to them. They’ll love it. Here are 4 quick steps to real “entitlement reform” that doesn’t cut the earned benefits of Social Security and Medicare.

Step 1. Close loopholes for outsourcing. Right now, you the taxpayer are subsidizing the cost of companies shipping jobs offshore. How? A loophole in our tax code allows American corporations to “defer” or “delay” paying taxes on overseas profits. “Deferral” amounts to a tax break for American companies when they shift production offshore, and we’ve seen how entire communities suffer when that happens.

Repealing “deferral” would raise $583 billion in revenue over 10 years, and companies would have less incentive to leave American communities high and dry.

Step 2. Close loopholes for Wall Street. Any politician who says our corporate tax rate is too high is either lying to you or has been asleep for many years. The fact is that the U.S. has a lower effective corporate tax rate than most of the developed world. Not only that, but in recent years at least 78 large corporations paid no federal income tax or actually made money off the tax code (Example: Between 2008 and 2010, Verizon paid a -2.9 percent income tax. Yes, that’s a negative sign). Not only that, but between 2008 and 2010, at least 30 corporations spent less on income taxes than they did on lobbying our lawmakers!

And it’s not like they don’t have the cash to spare, seeing as corporate profits are at an all-time high, at the same time worker wages as a percentage of GDP fell to a record low.

Reform of the corporate tax code could generate hundreds of billions of dollars in tax revenue over the next 10 years.  Want an added bonus? See Step 2a.

Step 2a. Put a tiny fee on financial transactions. The London Stock Exchange has one. So do Singapore, Switzerland, and 27 other developed countries. It’s called a financial speculation tax (FST) and it places a fee of a fraction of a percent on financial transactions.

This isn’t a new idea. The U.S. used to levy 0.02 percent on trading in stocks, but that ended in 1966. During the Great Depression, Congress actually doubled the tax to aid in recovery and job creation. Sound familiar? European countries are now moving forward with a plan to collect a very small speculation tax on trading in a much wider range of complex financial products. As a bonus, the added transaction cost would discourage the kind of reckless, high-volume, short-term trades that got our economy in trouble in the first place.

Critics argue that the burden of such a tax will be borne by middle class investors. Sorry, not so. As economist Dean Baker points out, most middle class investors don’t do much trading – they mostly want to save for retirement and higher education, and they are less interested in flipping stock for a profit. The bulk of the FST would be borne by hedge funds and high-volume traders who, coincidentally, are its most vocal critics. The FST would not tax consumer financial transactions, such as bank transfers and credit cards.

Step 3. Close loopholes for big drug companies. When Congress passed Medicare Part D in 2003, no one was happier than the big drug companies. The Medicare Part D drug benefit prohibited Medicare from negotiating lower drug prices with drug companies. Closing this loophole could save Medicare more than $200 billion over 10 years (hear that, Paul Ryan?). A more modest proposal would be to apply the Medicaid rebate on single-source drugs to Medicare Part D would save $156 billion over 10 years. As the law stands now, taxpayers are essentially forking over free money to one of our country’s most profitable industries.

Step 4. Tax fairness for the 98 percent. During the Clinton years, individuals making roughly $250,000 a year or paid 39.6 percent in income tax, and the economy boomed. During the Bush years, rates across the board were cut, so individuals with annual incomes between roughly $178,000 and $38,000 paid 33 percent and above that they paid 35 percent.

You know the end of this story already – the Bush years weren’t so great for the economy! And while there are zillions of other factors to consider, it’s important to keep this in mind when politicians holler bloody murder about small increases in the marginal tax rate: The Clinton increases were followed by full employment and a budget surplus, and the Bush cuts were followed by the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression.

During our last Fiscal Showdown/Cliff/Curb/Whatever in December, the compromise was to let the tax rates for those making $400,000 or more to revert to Clinton levels. In truth, all of those in the top 2 percent making $250,000 and above can more than afford to revert back too, and by exempting them we lost out on $100 billion over 10 years in badly needed revenue. If the conversation is going to be between cuts for the 98 percent and a marginal, 1990’s level increase on the 2 percent, we should all agree what the priority is.  Limiting tax breaks for the richest 2 percent of taxpayers could raise $500 billion in revenue.  So could a surtax on income over $1 million.

A very conservative back of the envelope calculation shows that the right kind of tax reform – “entitlement reform” for corporations and the uber-wealthy – could lead to well over $1 trillion in new revenues.  And the right kind of social safety net reform – the kind makes entire systems more cost-effective, without cutting benefits or shifting costs to beneficiaries – could also save hundreds of billions of dollars.

So if you’re “Very Serious” about our fiscal situation, these policy changes should be on the table.

Dear David: Too Friendly

I recently got a promotion at work, which I was very excited about. Unfortunately, I have two different male supervisors who have always acted overly friendly to me. It used to be that I could mostly ignore their behavior because I didn’t see them all that often. Also, I knew they behaved the same way to my coworkers. However, as I have been training for my new position I have been spending more time with both of these supervisors, and their inappropriate actions and attitudes are becoming more obvious. Both of them will stand very close to me, lean over me when unnecessary, touch me on the shoulder or back, and say things that make me feel uncomfortable. One of them has even gone so far as to bite my hair. I had absolutely no idea how to react. I’ve had problems with customers in the past at work, and management has been of very little help. For this reason, I am reluctant to go to them now about my supervisors, especially because one of the reasons I received a promotion was because I get along so well with everyone. I’d prefer not to quit. Any advice?

— Once bitten, OR

Answer:

It’s time to bite back. You do have rights, although it sounds like management missed that memo. Some key steps: First, find a secure way to document every instance of inappropriate behavior. Best to email it to yourself—that proves the date. Be specific about what they did and what your response was—e.g., “So-and-so inserted a lock of my hair into his mouth, bit down, and then said ‘xxx.’ I immediately turned the subject back to work.” Second, send a written note to the supervisors making it clear that you want to keep a professional environment at work and are asking them to refrain from any sexual remarks or touching. It helps to write a first draft for your eyes only in which you say what you really feel, and then rewrite it to what you’d like to see in, say, a newspaper account. Look for other women this is happening to—these guys don’t sound like they’ve reserved this behavior just for you. Having more than one person file a complaint makes it a lot harder for management to ignore.

You’re smart not to put all your eggs in the management basket, but find out what channels there are for making a sexual harassment complaint if you need to. You have the right to go to the EEOC, but they’d want to know you used internal channels first.

“Getting along well with others” should never mean “putting up with bull.”

Tell Us How You Really Feel About Testing: Punching In

Huzzah! GM investing another $200 million in its Pontiac, Michigan engineering headquarters.

Who the Koch Brothers funded in 2011.

New push to ban fair bargaining in Pennsylvania (aka “right to work”) heavily inspired by ALEC.

Related: Visa shareholders urge company to disclose ALEC ties.

Cablevision-Optimum illegally fires 23 workers in Brooklyn.

A blunt and accurate headline: “Testing Kills the Joy of Teaching and Learning.”

Obama Cabinet musical chairs continues.

Nissan trying to thwart collective bargaining at plant in Mississippi.

The 44 percent: Nearly half of Americans are one financial shock away from poverty.

Related: Poverty rising in Ohio.

The idiocy of sequestration.

Finally: Graphic of the Day.

GDPrecarious: Clocking Out

A close look into a negative economic report.

The slip in GDP came mostly from a decline in government spending.

The biggest danger to our economy is austerity mania.

Speaking of austerity: Absolutely devastating cuts to health care from Louisiana’s Gov. Jindal.

Jeb Bush’s education “reform” group is closely tied to ALEC and corporations that stand to profit from school privatization.

Five tasks for the next Secretary of Labor.

How did Minnesota voters defeat a vote-suppressing amendment?

Time to make sure the right to vote is explicitly protected in the Constitution.

A bipartisan pair of Senators raise important questions about Wall Street prosecutions.

Two Big Energy Industry Groups Dump ALEC After Attacks on Green Jobs

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) are cutting ties with the corporate-backed conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Yeah, we know, a lot of acronyms. But it’s still good news.

We’ve written about ALEC before: it’s a technically “nonprofit” organization that brings right-wing think tanks, corporate lobbyists, and state legislators together to produce model bills that can be introduced around the country. You may recognize some of their greatest hits: the “Show Your Papers” draconian immigration law in Arizona, Florida’s now notorious “Stand Your Ground” gun law, and Michigan’s “cyber schools” law that uses public school funds to pay for privately-run online classrooms.

The AWEA and SEIA joined ALEC last year, wanting a “seat at the table” as the organization developed energy legislation, according to AWEA spokesman Peter Kelley. But ALEC – who says it focuses on all “free market” legislation, but also counts Exxon Mobil, Duke Energy, Peabody, and Koch Industries as members – soon showed itself to be hostile to renewable energy, even when there was money to be made.

The straw that broke the camel’s back came in October, when ALEC adopted a model bill called the “Electricity Freedom Act,” which would end requirements that utilities generate a certain amount of electricity from renewables. These laws also called “renewable energy mandates” or “renewable portfolio standards (RPS).”

“There are 29 states that have renewable portfolio standards, and it’s my understanding that ALEC is targeting each one,” said Bill Gupton of Consumers Against Rate Hikes.

AWEA spokesman Kelley said that they were taken aback by ALEC’s association with conservative think tanks like the climate-skeptical Heartland Institute, which helped draft the RPS repeal bills. ”We want to warn our former fellow members of ALEC about that misinformation because we won’t be around to protect them,” said Kelley.

One such bill is in North Carolina, where ALEC member Rep. Mike Hager (R-Rutherford) is introducing a repeal of that state’s renewable energy mandate. According to EENews.net: “North Carolina currently requires utilities to procure 12 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2021.”

We’re glad to see these industry associations get up and leave ALEC, because ALEC isn’t about the “free market” as they say. It’s about a small number of people having great power over all of us, and our ability to get energy from multiple sources just isn’t part of their plan.

Clap Your Thunder Say Yeah: Punching In

If you are on Twitter or Facebook (most of you) join our Thunderclap now!

The Wall Street Journal tells corporations how to avoid Obamacare.

Related: Wall Street is, like, totally confused that some Republicans want to tax derivatives.

Sick leave ordinance makes its debut before the Portland City Council.

36 U.S. Senators vote against relief for Hurricane Sandy, many who previously requested disaster relief funds.

Politico ridiculously reports that “liberals” want to cut Social Security.

Josh Mandel, who spent all of last year lying about Sherrod Brown, starts 2013 by lying about collective bargaining.

Obama speech yesterday kicks off “best shot at immigration overhaul in decades.”

Since the owners don’t seem to care, the NFLPA is funding a study to determine the long-term health consequences of on-the-field injuries.

Finally: Cheer up! Fox News ratings hit 12-year demo lows.

Game Over: Clocking Out

Virginia Republicans give up on electoral-vote rigging scheme.

In other good news, it looks like Republicans in Michigan and Ohio also won’t rig the electoral vote.

The Beltway deficit obsessives can’t understand why the rest of us care more about jobs.

Time to acknowledge it: Republican politicians who whine about deficits actually just care about cutting programs.

Non-defense discretionary spending is on track to hit historic lows.

President Obama spoke today on immigration reform in Nevada.

The NLRB court case represents a clear instance of right-wing judicial activism.

A Kentucky miner spoke out about unsafe conditions–and now he’s getting sued by his old employer.

With traditional unions under pressure, alternative forms of worker organizing are on the rise.

Coming Soon: An iPhone App That Makes Corporate Behavior More Transparent

Reposted from the AFL-CIO NOW Blog

As educated consumers, we try to keep up on the latest boycotts and ethical practices of employers so we can make responsible buying decisions, but it isn’t always easy. Next Monday, a free iPhone app, BizVizz, will be available in the app store to help people track taxes, government subsidies and political campaign donations of major corporations.

The app’s creator, Brad Lichtenstein, created BizVizz after his film production company, 371 Productions, released the documentary, “As Goes Janesville,” which follows a company in Wisconsin that obtained taxpayer dollars without any public input.

“I watched the democratic process being subverted and felt we should do something on a grander scale to make corporate behavior more transparent, especially when we’re all called on to do our part during tough economic times,” said Lichtenstein. The Independent Television Service (ITVS), funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, backed BizVizz to extend the movie’s impact.

Once you download the app, simply enter a company’s name or snap a picture of its logo and then the company information pops up. Future developments include creating an Android version of the app and expanding the catalog of corporate information.

Check out a 10-minute clip of “As Goes Janesville.” The documentary will air for the second time on PBS on Feb. 3. Check your local listings for times.

Before the app comes out next Monday, don’t forget to “like” BizVizz on Facebook and follow BizVizz on Twitter.

The Rise of ‘Never-Never’ Employment

Reposted from the AFL-CIO NOW Blog

How did we end up with all these low-wage, no-benefit temporary jobs in our economy?

Erin Hatton, of State University of New York at Buffalo, had a fascinating read in the New York Times this weekend, The Rise of the Permanent Temp Economy, tracing the rise in America of the temp industry, and how it forged “new cultural consensus about work and workers.” Hatton says:

American employers have generally taken the low road: lowering wages and cutting benefits, converting permanent employees into part-time and contingent workers, busting unions and subcontracting and outsourcing jobs. They have done so, in part, because of the extraordinary evangelizing of the temp industry, which rose from humble origins to become a global behemoth.

U.S. companies fueled the rise of the temp industry by buying the promise of “never-never” employees—who never ask for a raise, take a sick day or stick around when the employer is finished with them.

Hatton concludes:

If we want good jobs rather than just any jobs, we need to figure out how to preserve what is useful and innovative about temporary employment while jettisoning the anti-worker ideology that has come to accompany it.

Read the op-ed piece here.