Monday, February 28, 2011

Gov. Scott Hosni Mubarak Walker May Have Committed Impeachable Offenses

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Hosni Mubarak Walker May Have Committed Impeachable Offenses

When Gov. Scott Walker discussed strategies to lay off state employees for political purposes, to coordinate supposedly “independent” political expenditures to aid legislators who support his budget repair bill, and to place agent provocateurs on the streets of Madison in order to disrupt peaceful demonstrations, he engaged in what a former attorney general of Wisconsin says could turn out to be serious ethics, election law and labor violations.

Much of the attention to the “prank” call that the governor took from a blogger who identified himself as billionaire David Koch has focused on the bizarre, at times comic, character of the discussion between a blogger posing as a powerful political player on the right and a governor whose budget repair bill has sparked mass demonstrations in Wisconsin communities and a national outcry. But the state’s former chief law-enforcement officer described the governor’s statements as “deeply troubling” and suggested that they would require inquiry and investigation by watchdog agencies.

“There clearly are potential ethics violations, and there are potential election law violations and there are a lot of what look to me like labor law violations,” said Peg Lautenschlager, a Democrat who served as Wisconsin’s attorney general after serving for many years as a U.S. attorney. “I think that the ethics violations are something the (state) Government Accountability Board should look into because they are considerable. He is on tape talking with someone who he thinks is the funder of an independent political action committee to purchase advertising to benefit Republican legislators who are nervous about taking votes on legislation he sees as critical to his political success.”

Lautenschlager, a former legislator who has known Walker for many years and who has worked with many of the unions involved in the current dispute, says: “One of the things I find most problematic in all of this is the governor’s casual talk about using outside troublemakers to stir up trouble on the streets, and the fact that he only dismissed the idea because it might cause a political problem for him.”

On the tape, Walker is asked about “planting some troublemakers” to incite the crowds at what have been peaceful protests.

“(We) thought about that,” replied the governor, who added: “My only fear would be is if there was a ruckus caused is that that would scare the public into thinking maybe the governor has gotta settle to avoid all these problems.”

“I think there’s a serious issue there,” Lautenschlager explained. “That’s a public safety issue. And I think that is really troublesome: a governor with an obligation to maintain public safety says he’s going to plant people to make trouble. That screams out to me. For a governor even to consider a strategy that could unnecessarily threaten the safety of peaceful demonstrators — which the governor acknowledged he did — is something that simply amazes me.”

Lautenschlager reviewed the tape of the phone call and the transcript at the request of The Capital Times. She noted a pattern of instances where the governor seemed to put his personal political agenda ahead of his duties as the state’s chief executive.

Lautenschlager noted, in particular, the governor’s reference to displaying a photo of former President Ronald Reagan at the dinner where he explained plans for his budget repair bill — which seeks to strip state, county and municipal employees of their collective bargaining rights, restructure state government in a manner that dramatically extends the power of the governor, undermine the BadgerCare and SeniorCare programs, and sell off publicly owned power plants to private firms like Koch Industries.
Walker has powerful friends with lots of money so he probably will not be impeached, but beginning the impeachment process would send a signal that Walker is a public official, paid by tax payers, to protect the public interests and keep his behavior within the rule of law.

Hosni Mubarak Walker probably got his idea to plant trouble makers in the crowds of protesters from other tea nut conservatives, Tea Party Taliban plan to impersonate union protesters: “Even if it becomes known that we are plants the quotes & pictures will linger as defacto truth.”

How to Screw Over a Democratic Republic. Wisconsin Gov. Walker Throws Gasoline on the Fire
The governor could end this crisis if he's willing to work with the unions and both political parties. As we all know, this crisis is not about the money and never was. To the extent that Wisconsin has a budget deficit, it is a problem of the governor's own making, thanks to tax breaks he just gave to corporations. The workers have already agreed to Gov. Walker's requests for concessions on pension and health care. But the governor won't budge - he continues to put his ideological agenda ahead of the people of Wisconsin. That's just plain wrong and makes little sense as a practical matter.

The governor is needlessly alienating Wisconsin's workers. I understand why the governor attacked his own work force of public-service employees in his first six weeks in office. Taking away collective-bargaining rights from all workers is an important agenda item for the big corporations and the extremists in his own political party. But this plan has backfired. The middle-class families of his state are turning against the governor.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Conservative Republican Media Claim That State Employees Earn More Than Private Workers

Conservative Republican Media Claim That State Employees Earn More Than Private Workers

The Conservative Republican Wash. Examiner: "Total Compensation Costs Of State And Local Government Workers Was 44 Percent Higher Than Private Industry." A February 21 op-ed in The Washington Examiner claimed that "state and local government workers" were paid "44 percent" more than private sector employees in 2010. The op-ed, titled, "There is no right to collective bargaining," was written by David Denholm, president of the anti-union Public Service Research Foundation. From the op-ed:

We might resent that [government is sovereign] when it comes to things like taxes but we need it when it comes to things like murder and mayhem. A sovereign institution might choose to seek input from interested parties about a decision, but when the decision is made, it is the law.

How different this is from a typical public-sector bargaining situation where the union makes demands and those demands are backed up by the threat -- whether legal or illegal -- of a strike.

There is a consequence to this distortion. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2010, the total compensation costs of state and local government workers was 44 percent higher than private industry; pay was only 33 percent higher but benefits cost 70 percent more. [The Washington Examiner, 2/21/11]

Kelly Claims There Is "Quite A Gap" Between "Salaries Of Public And Private Sector Employees" In WI. During the February 21 edition of Fox News' America Live, host Megyn Kelly followed live coverage of the ongoing protests at the statehouse in Madison by saying, "A closer look at the salaries of public and private sector employees in Wisconsin reveals quite a gap." A graphic showing "average annual pay" in Wisconsin in 2009 was then aired:

After reading the graphic, Kelly said: "What a difference. It used to be if you went to work for the state government, you would make less, but it was worth it, because you would have good benefits, good health care, nice fat pension, that kind of thing. So your salary would be lower. You can see from that full-screen we just showed you, that graphic, that that's no longer the case." [Fox News, America Live, 2/21/11]

Serial Liar and Draft dodging drug addict Limbaugh Repeats Discredited Claim That Public Employees Nationwide Make "Twice" As Much As Private Workers. On the February 17 edition his Premiere Radio Networks radio show, Rush Limbaugh claimed: "Taxpayers are paying public sector unions twice, on average, what the American employee earns. Pensions, welfare, benefits, the health care -- all of that stuff. Twice. Wages, salary, you name it." [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 2/17/11]
EPI Study: WI Public Employees Earn "4.8% Less ... Per Hour" Than Private Sector Counterparts

EPI: "Wisconsin Public Employees Earn 4.8% Less In Total Compensation Per Hour Than Comparable Full-Time Employees In Wisconsin's Private Sector." A study published February 10 by the think tank Economic Policy Institute (EPI) found that when "[c]omparisons controlling for education, experience," and other factors are taken into account, "Wisconsin public employees earn 4.8% less in total compensation per hour than comparable full-time employees in Wisconsin's private sector." From the EPI briefing paper released with the study:

[T]he data indicates that state and local government employees in Wisconsin are not overpaid. Comparisons controlling for education, experience, organizational size, gender, race, ethnicity, citizenship, and disability reveal that employees of both state and local governments in Wisconsin earn less than comparable private sector employees. On an annual basis, full-time state and local government employees in Wisconsin are undercompensated by 8.2% compared with otherwise similar private sector workers. This compensation disadvantage is smaller but still significant when hours worked are factored in. Full-time public employees work fewer annual hours, particularly employees with bachelor's, master's, and professional degrees (because many are teachers or university professors). When comparisons are made controlling for the difference in annual hours worked, full-time state and local government employees are undercompensated by 4.8%, compared with otherwise similar private sector workers. To summarize, our study shows that Wisconsin public employees earn 4.8% less in total compensation per hour than comparable full-time employees in Wisconsin's private sector.

These compensation comparisons account for important factors that affect earnings, the most important of which is the educational levels of public employees. When comparing public and private sector pay it is essential to consider the much higher levels of education required by occupations in the public sector. As a consequence of these requirements, Wisconsin public sector workers are on average more highly educated than private sector workers; 59% of full-time Wisconsin public sector workers hold at least a four-year college degree, compared with 30% of full-time private sector workers. Wisconsin state and local governments pay college-educated employees 25% less in annual compensation, on average, than private employers. The compensation differential is greatest for professional employees, lawyers, and doctors. On the other hand, the public sector appears to set a floor on compensation, which benefits less-educated workers. The 1% of state and local government workers without high school diplomas earn more than comparably educated workers in the private sector. [EPI, "Are Wisconsin Public Employees Over-compensated?" 2/10/11]

EPI: "Workers With A Bachelor's Degree Or More ... Are Compensated Between $20,000 ... To Over $82,000 A Year Less" Than Private Sector Counterparts. The EPI report also included a graphic showing the average compensation for public and private sector employees in Wisconsin by education:

A February 18 post on EPI's website that highlighted this graphic stated: see graph at top.

The campaign against state and local workers is often justified with claims that they are privileged relative to their private-sector peers or have somehow been cushioned from the effects of the recent recession and slow recovery. These claims are clearly false.

In Wisconsin, which has become a focal point in this debate, public servants already take a pretty hefty pay cut just for the opportunity to serve their communities (Keefe 2010). The figure below shows that when comparing the total compensation (which includes non-wage benefits such as health care and pensions) of workers with similar education, public-sector workers consistently make less than their private-sector peers. Workers with a bachelor's degree or more--which constitute nearly 60% of the state and local workforce in Wisconsin--are compensated between $20,000 less (if they just have a bachelor's degree) to over $82,000 a year less (if they have a professional degree, such as in law or medicine). [EPI, 2/18/11]

Klein: "The Ones Who Got Played" In Wisconsin "Are The Public Employees." In a February 19 blog post, The Washington Post's Ezra Klein discussed EPI's analysis to argue that, in reality, it was the public employees who got the "bad deal" from the state government when negotiating their contracts. From his post:

The deal that unions, state government and -- by extension -- state residents have made to defer the compensation of public employees was a bad deal -- but it was a bad deal for the public employees, not for the state government. State and local governments were able to hire better workers now by promising higher pay later. They essentially hired on an installment plan. And now they might not follow through on it. The ones who got played here are the public employees, not the residents of the various states. The residents of the various states, when all is said and done, will probably have gotten the work at a steep discount. They'll force a renegotiation of the contracts and blame overprivileged public employees for resisting shared sacrifice.

Which gets to the heart of what this is: A form of default. There's been a lot of concern lately that states or municipalities will default on their debt. This is considered the height of fiscal irresponsibility -- an outcome so dire that some are considering various forms of federal support. But the talk that states or cities will default on their obligations to teachers or DMV employees? That's considered evidence of fiscal responsibility. And perhaps it's a better outcome, as defaulting to the banks makes future borrowing costs higher, and can hurt the state economy.
Rather than deal in facts, the Republican haters of the working class have decided to put on a 24/7 disinformation campaign that is reminiscent of the authoritarian groups that sprung up in early 20th century Europe. If they these far Right conservative zealots cannot handle the facts, what does that say about their motives and their character.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Republican, Excuse Me, Rethuglican Shakedown of America

The Republican, Excuse Me, Rethuglican Shakedown of America

You can't fight something with nothing. But as long as Democrats refuse to talk about the almost unprecedented buildup of income, wealth, and power at the top -- and the refusal of the super-rich to pay their fair share of the nation's bills -- Republicans will convince people it's all about government and unions.

Republicans claim to have a mandate from voters for the showdowns and shutdowns they're launching. Governors say they're not against unions but voters have told them to cut costs, and unions are in the way. House Republicans say they're not seeking a government shutdown but standing on principle. "Republicans' goal is to cut spending and reduce the size of government," says House leader John Boehner, "not to shut it down." But if a shutdown is necessary to achieve the goal, so be it.

The Republican message is bloated government is responsible for the lousy economy that most people continue to experience. Cut the bloat and jobs and wages will return.

Nothing could be further from the truth, but for some reason Obama and the Democrats aren't responding with the truth. Their response is: We agree but you're going too far. Government employees should give up some more wages and benefits but don't take away their bargaining rights. Private-sector unionized workers should make more concessions but don't bust the unions. Non-defense discretionary spending should be cut but don't cut so much.

In the face of showdowns and shutdowns, the "you're right but you're going too far" response doesn't hack it. If Republicans are correct on principle, they're more likely to be seen as taking a strong principled stand than as going "too far." If they're basically correct that the problem is too much government spending why not go as far as possible to cut the bloat?

The truth that Obama and Democrats must tell is government spending has absolutely nothing to do with high unemployment, declining wages, falling home prices, and all the other horribles that continue to haunt most Americans.

Indeed, too little spending will prolong the horribles for years more because there's not enough demand in the economy without it.

The truth is that while the proximate cause of America's economic plunge was Wall Street's excesses leading up to the crash of 2008, its underlying cause -- and the reason the economy continues to be lousy for most Americans -- is so much income and wealth have been going to the very top that the vast majority no longer has the purchasing power to lift the economy out of its doldrums. American's aren't buying cars (they bought 17 million new cars in 2005, just 12 million last year). They're not buying homes (7.5 million in 2005, 4.6 million last year). They're not going to the malls (high-end retailers are booming but Wal-Mart's sales are down).

Only the richest 5 percent of Americans are back in the stores because their stock portfolios have soared. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has doubled from its crisis low. Wall Street pay is up to record levels. Total compensation and benefits at the 25 major Wall St firms had been $130 billion in 2007, before the crash; now it's close to $140 billion.

But a strong recovery can't be built on the purchases of the richest 5 percent.

The truth is if the super-rich paid their fair share of taxes, government wouldn't be broke. If Governor Scott Walker hadn't handed out tax breaks to corporations and the well-off, Wisconsin wouldn't be in a budget crisis. If Washington hadn't extended the Bush tax cuts for the rich, eviscerated the estate tax, and created loopholes for private-equity and hedge-fund managers, the federal budget wouldn't look nearly as bad.

And if America had higher marginal tax rates and more tax brackets at the top -- for those raking in $1 million, $5 million, $15 million a year -- the budget would look even better. We wouldn't be firing teachers or slashing Medicaid or hurting the most vulnerable members of our society. We wouldn't be in a tizzy over Social Security. We'd slow the rise in health care costs but we wouldn't cut Medicare. We'd cut defense spending and lop off subsidies to giant agribusinesses but we wouldn't view the government as our national nemesis.

The final truth is as income and wealth have risen to the top, so has political power. The reason all of this is proving so difficult to get across is the super-rich, such as the Koch brothers, have been using their billions to corrupt politics, hoodwink the public, and enlarge and entrench their outsized fortunes. They're bankrolling Republicans who are mounting showdowns and threatening shutdowns, and who want the public to believe government spending is the problem.

They are behind the Republican shakedown.

These are the truths that Democrats must start telling, and soon. Otherwise the Republican shakedown may well succeed.

Robert Reich is the author of Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future, now in bookstores. This post originally appeared at
As Mr. Reich probably knows the two biggest hurdles for getting America to see the truth are apathy and the 24/7 disinformation campaign run by a media that is largely Right of center. While I have all the respect in the world for organized labor in Wisconsin, Indinana, Ohio and Michigan - where were all the demonstartions during the mid-term elections. Economic justice and economic sanity is not just about one election or one extremists governor like Walker. It is about the taking the long view. What happens to day affects what happens ten years from now. The tremendous economic inequality we see now started back in the 80s under Reagan. The reward wealth and punish work crowd has been pushing their agenda for for decades. Middle-class and the working poor need to start working on their agenda and never let up.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Republican Deficit Hysteria Will Not Solve Our Economic Problems

The Republican Deficit Hysteria Will Not Solve Our Economic Problems

Remember the German economic boom of 2010?

Germany’s economic growth surged in the middle of last year, causing commentators both there and here to proclaim that American stimulus had failed and German austerity had worked. Germany’s announced budget cuts, the commentators said, had given private companies enough confidence in the government to begin spending their own money again.

Well, it turns out the German boom didn’t last long. With its modest stimulus winding down, Germany’s growth slowed sharply late last year, and its economic output still has not recovered to its prerecession peak. Output in the United States — where the stimulus program has been bigger and longer lasting — has recovered. This country would now need to suffer through a double-dip recession for its gross domestic product to be in the same condition as Germany’s.

Yet many members of Congress continue to insist that budget cuts are the path to prosperity. The only question in Washington seems to be how deeply to cut federal spending this year.

If the economy were at a different point in the cycle — not emerging from a financial crisis — the coming fight over spending could actually be quite productive. Republicans could force Democrats to make government more efficient, which Democrats rarely do on their own. Democrats could force Republicans to abandon the worst of their proposed cuts, like those to medical research, law enforcement, college financial aid and preschools. And maybe such a benevolent compromise can still occur over the next several years.

The immediate problem, however, is the fragility of the economy. Gross domestic product may have surpassed its previous peak, but it’s still growing too slowly for companies to be doing much hiring. States, of course, are making major cuts. A big round of federal cuts will only make things worse.

So if the opponents of deep federal cuts, starting with President Obama, are trying to decide how hard to fight, they may want to err on the side of toughness. Both logic and history make this case.

Let’s start with the logic. The austerity crowd argues that government cuts will lead to more activity by the private sector. How could that be? The main way would be if the government were using so many resources that it was driving up their price and making it harder for companies to use them.

In the early 1990s, for instance, government borrowing was pushing up interest rates. When the deficit began to fall, interest rates did too. Projects that had not previously been profitable for companies suddenly began to make sense. The resulting economic boom brought in more tax revenue and further reduced the deficit.

But this virtuous cycle can’t happen today. Interest rates are already very low. They’re low because the financial crisis and recession caused a huge drop in the private sector’s demand for loans. Even with all the government spending to fight the recession, overall demand for loans has remained historically low, the data shows.

Similarly, there is no evidence that the government is gobbling up too many workers and keeping them from the private sector. When John Boehner, the speaker of the House, said last week that federal payrolls had grown by 200,000 people since Mr. Obama took office, he was simply wrong. The federal government has added only 58,000 workers, largely in national security, since January 2009. State and local governments have cut 405,000 jobs over the same span.

The fundamental problem after a financial crisis is that businesses and households stop spending money, and they remain skittish for years afterward. Consider that new-vehicle sales, which peaked at 17 million in 2005, recovered to only 12 million last year. Single-family home sales, which peaked at 7.5 million in 2005, continued falling last year, to 4.6 million. No wonder so many businesses are uncertain about the future.

Without the government spending of the last two years — including tax cuts — the economy would be in vastly worse shape. Likewise, if the federal government begins laying off tens of thousands of workers now, the economy will clearly suffer.

That’s the historical lesson of postcrisis austerity movements. The history is a rich one, too, because people understandably react to a bubble’s excesses by calling for the reverse. When Franklin Roosevelt was running for president in 1932, he repeatedly called for a balanced budget.

But no matter how morally satisfying austerity may be, it’s the wrong answer. Hoover’s austere instincts worsened the Depression. Roosevelt’s postelection reversal helped, but he also prolonged the Depression by raising taxes and cutting spending in 1937. Only the giant stimulus program known as World War II finally ended the Depression. When the private sector is hesitant to spend, the government has to — or no one will.

Our recent crisis serves up the same lesson. Germany isn’t even the best example. Its response to the crisis has had some successful features, like an hours-reduction program to minimize layoffs, and Germany’s turn to austerity has not been radical. Britain’s has been radical, with a tax increase having already taken effect and deep spending cuts coming. Partly as a result, Britain’s economy is now in worse shape than Germany’s.

“It’s really quite striking how well the U.S. is performing relative to the U.K., which is tightening aggressively,” says Ian Shepherdson, a Britain-based economist for the research firm High Frequency Economics, “and relative to Germany, which is tightening more modestly.” Mr. Shepherdson adds that he generally opposes stimulus programs for a normal recession but that they are crucial after a crisis.

The trick is finding the political will to end the stimulus when the time comes. That is not easy, especially for Democrats, given that stimulus programs tend to include policies they favor. But the wave of recently elected Republicans, in Congress and the states, will no doubt be happy to help summon that political will.

For the sake of the economy, the best compromise in coming weeks would be one that trades short-term spending for medium- and long-term cuts. Beef up the cost-control measures in the health care overhaul and add new ones, like malpractice reform. Cut more wasteful military programs, like the F-35 jet engine. Force more social programs to prove they work — and cut their funding in future years if they don’t.

By all means, though, don’t follow the path of the Germans and the British just because it feels morally satisfying. (reprinted for educational purposes).

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

How to Screw Over a Democratic Republic. Wisconsin Gov. Walker Throws Gasoline on the Fire

How to Screw Over a Democratic Republic. Wisconsin Gov. Walker Throws Gasoline on the Fire

Gov. Scott Walker's attack on Wisconsin's middle class and his plan to take away the rights of public service workers is wrong. It's certainly wrong for the governor to work for corporate special interests like the infamous Koch brothers instead of the people of Wisconsin. And his threat Tuesday of "dire consequences" was disingenuous and irresponsible, especially since his draconian attack on the freedom of employees to have a voice at work has nothing to do with balancing the state's budget.

It's time for the governor to stop fighting with public employees, put aside his partisan agenda and help Wisconsin move forward. The governor should work with the unions and both political parties and remember that this is not about winning a fight - it's about getting things done.

In Indiana, for example, that's what Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels has decided to do. Ideologically, Daniels and Walker are kindred spirits, and the Indiana governor is no friend of workers. But Daniels decided this is not the right time to declare war on workers. According to the Indianapolis Star, Daniels signaled Tuesday that "Republicans should drop the right-to-work bill that has brought the Indiana House to a standstill for two days and imperiled other measures."

Wisconsin's governor has created an unnecessary impasse. Gov. Walker has driven 14 Democratic state senators into hiding because it's the only way they can force a pause in the legislative process. He is staring out his office window at unprecedented protests by thousands of Wisconsinites from all walks of life. Recent polls show the public is not on his side. Everyone understands that Gov. Walker's claims about the state budget are a pretext to take away peoples' rights and shrink Wisconsin's middle class. This is no way to lead a state. The governor should work across party lines to solve this problem so Wisconsin lawmakers can move on to other issues - including the budget for the coming fiscal year.

The governor could end this crisis if he's willing to work with the unions and both political parties. As we all know, this crisis is not about the money and never was. To the extent that Wisconsin has a budget deficit, it is a problem of the governor's own making, thanks to tax breaks he just gave to corporations. The workers have already agreed to Gov. Walker's requests for concessions on pension and health care. But the governor won't budge - he continues to put his ideological agenda ahead of the people of Wisconsin. That's just plain wrong and makes little sense as a practical matter.

The governor is needlessly alienating Wisconsin's workers. I understand why the governor attacked his own work force of public-service employees in his first six weeks in office. Taking away collective-bargaining rights from all workers is an important agenda item for the big corporations and the extremists in his own political party. But this plan has backfired. The middle-class families of his state are turning against the governor. Of course people are angry. Giving tax breaks to corporations and the super rich while taking away the rights, income and benefits of middle-class families isn't fair. No state can afford this kind of strife when budget crises make "shared sacrifice" the phrase of the day. Shared means shared.

Gov. Walker should move Wisconsin forward instead of pursuing his partisan political agenda. There's no room for political games in a fragile economy. There are tough problems to solve, and that can't happen when politicians are playing politics with people's lives. Politicians like Gov. Walker shouldn't be declaring war on the middle class to appease their corporate backers. They should not talk about making "tough" decisions to reduce the standard of living for working families at the same time they increase the wealth of billionaires like the Koch brothers.

A right-wing corporate cabal funded by the Kochs is applying growing pressure on Walker and all Republicans to attack unions. Tomorrow, the Koch-led front group Americans for Prosperity will begin a Wisconsin TV and radio ad campaign to promote this assault on workers.

Now we're seeing exactly the same attacks in states like Ohio. Until these governors and politicians ask the corporations and the very rich to pay their fair share, they have no business asking the rest of us for anything.

You can join the fight --
Maybe Walkers imagines himself the leader of a banana republic where workers have no rights. The only people who have rights in Walker's bizarro world are wealthy corporations.

Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. - Abraham Lincoln

Monday, February 21, 2011

Watch Out Middle-Class America You're a Target - Eyes On Wisconsin and the Right-Wing Agenda

Watch Out Middle-Class America You're a Target - Eyes On Wisconsin and the Right-Wing Agenda

The Great Recession and its aftermath are entering a new phase in the United States, which could bring even more severe assaults on the living standards and basic rights of ordinary people than we have experienced thus far. This is because a wide swath of the country’s policy- and opinion-making elite have singled out public sector workers—including schoolteachers, healthcare workers, police officers and firefighters—as well as their unions and even their pensions as deadweight burdens sapping the economy’s vitality.

The Great Recession did blow a massive hole in state and municipal government finances, with tax receipts—including income, sales and property taxes—dropping sharply along with household incomes, spending and real estate values. Meanwhile, demand for public services, such as Medicaid and heating oil assistance, has risen as people’s circumstances have worsened. But let’s remember that the recession was caused by Wall Street hyper-speculation, not the pay scales of elementary school teachers or public hospital nurses.

Nonetheless, a rising chorus of commentators charge that public sector workers are overpaid relative to employees in comparable positions in the private sector. The fact that this claim is demonstrably false appears not to matter. Instead, the attacks are escalating. The most recent proposal gaining traction is to write new laws that would allow states to declare bankruptcy. This would let them rip up contracts with current public sector employees and walk away from their pension fund obligations. Only by declaring bankruptcy, Republican luminaries Jeb Bush and Newt Gingrich argued in the Los Angeles Times, will states be able to “reform their bloated, broken and underfunded pension systems for current and future workers.”

But this charge is emanating not only from the Republican right; in a front-page story on January 20, the New York Times reported on a more general trend spreading across the country in which “policymakers are working behind the scenes to come up with a way to let states declare bankruptcy and get out from under crushing debts, including the pensions they have promised to retired public workers.”

Considered together, state and local governments are the single largest employer in the US economy. They are also the country’s most important providers of education, healthcare, public safety and other vital forms of social support. Meanwhile, the official unemployment rate is stuck at 9 percent—a more accurate figure is 16.1 percent—a full eighteen months after the recession was declared over. How have we reached the point where the dominant mantra is to dismantle rather than shore up state and local governments in their moment of crisis?

Why States Need Support During Recessions

The Wall Street–induced recession clobbered state and local government budgets. By 2009, state tax revenues had fallen by fully 13 percent relative to where they were in 2007, and they remained at that low level through most of last year. By comparison, revenues never fell by more than 6 percent in the 2001 recession. Even during the 1981–82 recession, the last time unemployment reached 9 percent, the decline in state tax revenues never exceeded 2 percent. These revenue losses, starting in 2008, when taken together with the increased demand for state services, produced an average annual budget gap in 2009–11 of $140 billion, or 21 percent of all state spending commitments.

Unlike the federal government, almost all state and local governments are legally prohibited from borrowing money to finance shortfalls in their day-to-day operating budgets. The state and local governments do borrow to finance their long-term investments in school buildings, roads, bridges, sewers, mass transit and other infrastructure projects. They have established a long record of reliability in repaying these debt obligations, even during the recession. Nevertheless, these governments invariably experience a squeeze in their operating budgets during recessions, no matter how well they have managed their finances during more favorable economic times.

If, in a recession, states and municipalities are forced to reduce their spending in line with their loss in tax revenues, this produces layoffs for government employees and loss of sales for government vendors. These cutbacks, in turn, will worsen conditions in the private market, discouraging private businesses from making new investments and hiring new employees. The net impact is to create a vicious cycle that deepens the recession.

As such, strictly as a means of countering the recession—on behalf of business interests as well as everyone else in the community—the logic of having the federal government providing stimulus funds to support state and local government spending levels is impeccable. The February 2009 Obama stimulus—the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)—along with supplemental funds for Medicaid, has provided significant support, covering about one-third of the total budget gap generated by the recession. But that leaves two-thirds to be filled by other means. ARRA funds have now run out, and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will almost certainly block further funding.

In 2010 roughly another 15 percent of the budget gap was covered by twenty-nine states that raised taxes and fees-for-services. In general, raising taxes during a recession is not good policy. But if it must be done to help fill deepening budgetary holes, the sensible way to proceed is to focus these increases on wealthier households. Their ability to absorb such increases is obviously strongest, which means that, unlike other households, they are not likely to cut back on spending in response to the tax hikes. In fact, ten states—New York, Illinois, Connecticut, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Oregon, Hawaii, Vermont, Rhode Island and Delaware—have raised taxes progressively in some fashion.

Of course, the wealthy do not want to pay higher taxes. But during the economic expansion and Wall Street bubble years of 2002–07, the average incomes of the richest 1 percent of households rose by about 10 percent per year, more than three times that for all households. The richest 1 percent received fully 65 percent of all household income growth between 2002–07.

One charge against raising state taxes in a progressive way is that it will encourage the wealthy to pick up and leave the state. But research on this question shows that this has not happened. We can see why by considering, as a hypothetical example, the consequences of a 2 percent income tax increase on the wealthiest 5 percent of households in Massachusetts. This would mean that these households would now have $359,000 at their disposal after taxes rather than $370,000—hardly enough to affect spending patterns significantly for these households, much less induce them to relocate out of the state. At the same time, a tax increase such as this by itself will generate about $1.6 billion for the state to spend on education, healthcare and public safety.

But even with the ARRA stimulus funds and tax increases, states and municipalities have had to make sharp cuts in spending. More severe cuts will be coming this year, with the ARRA funds now gone. These include cuts that will reduce low-income children’s or families’ eligibility for health insurance; further cuts in medical, homecare and other services for low-income households, as well as in K–12 education and higher education; and layoffs and furloughs for employees. The proposed 2012 budgets include still deeper cuts in core areas of healthcare and education. In Arizona, the governor’s budget would cut healthcare for 280,000 poor people and reduce state support for public universities by nearly 20 percent. In California, Governor Brown is proposing to bring spending on the University of California down to 1999 levels, when the system had 31 percent fewer students than it does today.

State and Local Government Workers Are Not Overpaid

Even if state and local government employees are not responsible for the budgetary problems that emerged out of the recession, are they nevertheless receiving bloated wage and benefits packages that are holding back the recovery? Since the recession began, there has been a steady stream of media stories making such claims. One widely cited 2009 Forbes cover article reported, “State and local government workers get paid an average of $25.30 an hour, which is 33 percent higher than the private sector’s $19…. Throw in pensions and other benefits and the gap widens to 42 percent.”

What figures such as these fail to reflect is that state and local government workers are older and substantially better educated than private-sector workers. Forbes is therefore comparing apples and oranges. As John Schmitt of the Center for Economic Policy Research recently showed, when state and local government employees are matched against private sector workers of the same age and educational levels, the public workers earn, on average, about 4 percent less than their private counterparts. Moreover, the results of Schmitt’s apples-to-apples comparison are fully consistent with numerous studies examining this same question over the past twenty years. One has to suspect that the pundits who have overlooked these basic findings have chosen not to look.
Over the past seventy years unions have raised everyone's wages and standard of living whether you belong to a union or not. The only issue in Wisconsin is bargaining rights. The unions have agreed to all of Walker's demands except taking away bargaining rights. Walker did not take away the bargaining rights of police and firefighters. So the issue is not wages and it is not even bargaining rights for some state employees, it is about teachers, school administrators, prison guards and the people who run the day to day business of the state. If Walker is right, why is he lying. Why has Walker thrown honor and integrity out the window. Walker is not known for prizing values like honor and truthfulness in public debate - Scott Walker Padded Salary Increases for Cronies During Budgetary Distress: 24% Salary Increase for Aide with 2 Public Pensions. So the non-union middle-class can seat by and let Walker take away a fundamental right of public workers - the ones he doesn't like - will he becoming for you next. Walker and his right-wing friends like the Koch brothers can claim you're rest breaks are costing corporate America too much money. Why have a half hour or whole hour lunch - only communists need that much time to eat - 15 minutes lunches from now on. Maybe they'll stop offering health insurance. Why should companies provide anything that cuts into profits. Walker and the corporate right might decide not to pay you enough to afford even a modest place to live - what's stopping them other than pressure from unions to pay a living wage.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Republican strategy is to split the vast middle and working class

The Republican strategy is to split the vast middle and working class

The Republican strategy is to split the vast middle and working class -- pitting unionized workers against non-unionized, public-sector workers against non-public, older workers within sight of Medicare and Social Security against younger workers who don't believe these programs will be there for them, and the poor against the working middle class.

By splitting working America along these lines, Republicans want Americans to believe that we can no longer afford to do what we need to do as a nation. They hope to deflect attention from the increasing share of total income and wealth going to the richest 1 percent while the jobs and wages of everyone else languish.

Republicans would rather no one notice their campaign to shrink the pie even further with additional tax cuts for the rich -- making the Bush tax cuts permanent, further reducing the estate tax, and allowing the wealthy to shift ever more of their income into capital gains taxed at 15 percent.

The strategy has three parts.

The Battle Over the Federal Budget

The first is being played out in the budget battle in Washington. As they raise the alarm over deficit spending and simultaneously squeeze popular middle-class programs, Republicans want the majority of the American public to view it all as a giant zero-sum game among average Americans that some will have to lose.

The president has already fallen into the trap by calling for budget cuts in programs the poor and working class depend on -- assistance with home heating, community services, college loans, and the like.

In the coming showdown over Medicare and Social Security, House budget chair Paul Ryan will push a voucher system for Medicare and a partly-privatized plan for Social Security -- both designed to attract younger middle-class voters.

The Assault on Public Employees

The second part of the Republican strategy is being played out on the state level where public employees are being blamed for state budget crises. Unions didn't cause these budget crises -- state revenues dropped because of the Great Recession -- but Republicans view them as opportunities to gut public employee unions, starting with teachers.

Wisconsin's Republican governor Scott Walker and his GOP legislature are seeking to end almost all union rights for teachers. Ohio's Republican governor John Kasich is pushing a similar plan in Ohio through a Republican-dominated legislature. New Jersey's Republican governor Chris Christie is attempting the same, telling a conservative conference Wednesday, "I'm attacking the leadership of the union because they're greedy, and they're selfish and they're self-interested."

The demonizing of public employees is not only based on the lie that they've caused these budget crises, but it's also premised on a second lie: that public employees earn more than private-sector workers. They don't, when you take account of their education. In fact over the last fifteen years the pay of public-sector workers, including teachers, has dropped relative to private-sector employees with the same level of education -- even including health and retirement benefits. Moreover, most public employees don't have generous pensions. After a career with annual pay averaging less than $45,000, the typical newly-retired public employee receives a pension of $19,000 a year.

Bargaining rights for public employees haven't caused state deficits to explode. Some states that deny their employees bargaining rights, such as Nevada, North Carolina, and Arizona, are running big deficits of over 30 percent of spending. Many states that give employees bargaining rights -- Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Montana -- have small deficits of less than 10 percent.

Republicans would rather go after teachers and other public employees than have us look at the pay of Wall Street traders, private-equity managers, and heads of hedge funds -- many of whom wouldn't have their jobs today were it not for the giant taxpayer-supported bailout, and most of whose lending and investing practices were the proximate cause of the Great Depression to begin with.

Last year, America's top thirteen hedge-fund managers earned an average of $1 billion each. One of them took home $5 billion. Much of their income is taxed as capital gains -- at 15 percent -- due to a tax loophole that Republican members of Congress have steadfastly guarded.

If the earnings of those thirteen hedge-fund managers were taxed as ordinary income, the revenues generated would pay the salaries and benefits of 300,000 teachers. Who is more valuable to our society -- thirteen hedge-fund managers or 300,000 teachers? Let's make the question even simpler. Who is more valuable: One hedge fund manager or one teacher?

The Distortion of the Constitution

The third part of the Republican strategy is being played out in the Supreme Court. It has politicized the Court more than at any time in recent memory.

Last year a majority of the justices determined that corporations have a right under the First Amendment to provide unlimited amounts of money to political candidates. Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission is among the most patently political and legally grotesque decisions of our highest court -- ranking right up there with Bush vs. Gore and Dred Scott.

Among those who voted in the affirmative were Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia. Both have become active strategists in the Republican party.

A month ago, for example, Antonin Scalia met in a closed-door session with Michele Bachmann's Tea Party caucus -- something no justice concerned about maintaining the appearance of impartiality would ever have done.

Both Thomas and Scalia have participated in political retreats organized and hosted by multi-billionaire financier Charles Koch, a major contributor to the Tea Party and other conservative organizations, and a crusader for ending all limits on money in politics. (Not incidentally, Thomas's wife is the founder of Liberty Central, a Tea Party organization that has been receiving unlimited corporate contributions due to the Citizens United decision. On his obligatory financial disclosure filings, Thomas has repeatedly failed to list her sources of income over the last twenty years, nor even to include his own four-day retreats courtesy of Charles Koch.)

Some time this year or next, the Supreme Court will be asked to consider whether the nation's new health care law is constitutional. Watch your wallets.

The Strategy as a Whole

These three aspects of the Republican strategy -- a federal budget battle to shrink government, focused on programs the vast middle class depends on; state efforts to undermine public employees, whom the middle class depends on; and a Supreme Court dedicated to bending the Constitution to enlarge and entrench the political power of the wealthy -- fit perfectly together.

They pit average working Americans against one another, distract attention from the almost unprecedented concentration of wealth and power at the top, and conceal Republican plans to further enlarge and entrench that wealth and power.

What is the Democratic strategy to counter this and reclaim America for the rest of us?

Robert Reich is the author of Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future, now in bookstores. This post originally appeared at
Almost everything the average working class American takes for granted - a minimum wage, a forty hour work week, week ends off ( or two days a week off), work breaks, a regular lunch hour, employee health care plans, workman's compensation for work place injuries - are all the legacy of worker unions. There is the impression that union employees and public employees make more money or get more benefits, as Mr. Reich's statistics show that is clearly not the case. Why do Republicans in Congress, state government and in comment sections across the internet tell that lie? To divide workers based on envy or the impression of unfair wage disparities. Even Americans that do not belong to unions generally get wages for non-union work that is comparable to union wages. Unions rise prices and make the US uncompetitive in the global market place is a myth. Germany and Japan both have fairly strong unions and social safety net and both countries are obviously very strong competitors in the car and electronics market in particular. Unions make economies stronger. The only reason they are even necessary is because left to their own devices a large wrath of corporations and state governments would not do right by workers without the basic bargaining rights people like Wisconsin's Republican governor Scott Walker, Ohio's Republican governor John Kasich and New Jersey's Republican governor Chris Christie would like to take away. These governors want no less than than to take away basic democratic rights of people who actually work for a living.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Glenn Beck the Self Appointed Messiah Channels Right-wing Christianist

Glenn Beck the Self Appointed Messiah Channels Right-wing Christianist

Author Joel Richardson has a long history of antagonism toward Islam, having written in his book The Islamic Antichrist that Islam will be the "primary vehicle" "used by Satan to fulfill the prophecies of the Bible." He has also agreed with the Florida pastor who planned to burn Qurans that "Islam is of the devil" and written a column headlined "What Obama and the Antichrist have in common."
Beck's Media Empire Increasingly Promoting Richardson

Richardson Pens Articles For Beck Website, Appears In Beck-Produced Video. In addition to his scheduled appearance on the February 17 Glenn Beck -- where, according to a WorldNetDaily report, he was to discuss "Islam's Mahdi, the Antichrist, the Middle East and Bible prophecy" -- Richardson has also benefited from promotion by other segments of Beck's media empire:

* In the past two weeks, Beck's website The Blaze has published columns by Richardson on the "History of the Caliphate" [, 2/6/11] and "The Emerging Leftist-Islamist Revolutionary Alliance." [, 2/8/11]

* Richardson appears in Rumors of War, a video released January 24 about "the true threat level a nuclear Iran poses to the United States and the Israel." It was produced by Beck's company Mercury Radio Arts and is available only to Insider Extreme subscribers on Beck's website.

Richardson Has Praised Beck's Attacks On Social Justice. Richardson wrote in a post on his blog: "I am truly grateful to TV and radio host Glenn Beck for highlighting the Marxist foundations of the 'social justice' movement. There is a vast difference between 'social justice' and genuine Biblical justice. Christians that swallow this poison pill are quickly transformed into little socialists for Jesus." [Joel's Trumpet, 7/8/10]

Richardson In 2009: "Beck Needs To Have Me On Sometime." Richardson wrote in a 2009 blog post: "Beck needs to have me on sometime. He gets a lot of his info wrong. Ayatollah Khomeini never banned 'Twelvers', as he himself was one. He banned the Hojjatieh of which Ahmadinejad is arguably a member of and which Mesbah Yazdi below is as well." [Joel's Trumpet, 10/1/09]
Richardson: Islam Is The "Vehicle" Of Satan

Richardson Posits That Muslim Mahdi Will Be The Antichrist. In his book The Islamic Antichrist [WND Books, 2009], Richardson "makes the case that the biblical Antichrist is one and the same as the Quran's Muslim Mahdi." [WorldNetDaily, 8/3/09]. He also claims that Islam is "the primary vehicle that will be used by Satan to fulfill the prophecies of the Bible about the future political/religious/military system of the Antichrist." From The Islamic Antichrist:

So maybe you now agree that it is important to become informed regarding Islam, but you may wonder why it is important to understand Islamic eschatology specifically. That's a good question. Please think through some of these points carefully: The Bible makes it clear that the Devil's primary plan for the last days has been, for the past few thousand years, to raise up two men, the Antichrist and the False Prophet, as his primary instruments to deceive the inhabitants of the earth. How do you suppose that Satan has planned to include the world's 1.5 billion Muslims in his grand end-time deception? Did Satan fail to foresee and strategize regarding the global spread of Islam? Or has Satan included the Muslims of the world in his end-time strategy? Will Islam, the world's third monotheistic religion, also undergo the persecution of Satan along with Christians and Jews as they all resist the Antichrist together? Or will Islam -- the religion that prides itself on resisting any form of idolatry -- simply submit to a demonic and false religious leader without putting up any real fight? For years, I questioned the Lord about these issues. In time, as my knowledge of Islam deepened, the answers to my questions became very clear. This book is my attempt to share with you what I have learned. I understand that this may sound like a strong statement to make, but I believe that the information presented in this book will establish the fact that Islam is indeed the primary vehicle that will be used by Satan to fulfill the prophecies of the Bible about the future political/religious/military system of the Antichrist that will overwhelm the entire world just prior to the second coming of Jesus Christ. [The Islamic Antichrist, Pages 11-12 (italics in original)]

Richardson Agreed With Pastor Who Planned To Burn Qurans That "Islam Is Of The Devil"

Richardson: "One Cannot Be A Christian And Also Believe That Islam Is Not Evil." Discussing Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who last year announced plans to hold a "Burn A Quran Day," and then changed his mind in the face of widespread condemnation, Richardson wrote at WorldNetDaily:

I fully agree with Pastor Terry Jones regarding the title of his book, "Islam is of the Devil." There's no question about it. In fact, I would say that if one is a true Christian and genuinely informed regarding Islam, there is no other option. One cannot be a Christian and also believe that Islam is not evil.
Most security experts a agree that al-Qaeda is the biggest exterior threat to the west. Its membership only numbers in the tens of thousands at most. With about 1 billion Muslims in the world, hard core radicals represent a small percentage of Islam. Yet Richardson and the looney beck are wetting their diapers in fear. if this is an average year about 2,500 Americans will kill each other, a few thousand Americans will sexually assult other Americans and car wrecks will kill 45,000 Americans. Radical jihadists will not even come close to killing as many Americans as cars do.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Wisconsin Republican Gov. Walker Reiterates That The ‘National Guard’ to Shoot Workers Who Don't Behave Like They'll All On The Republican Plantation

Wisconsin Republican Gov. Walker Reiterates That The ‘National Guard’ to Shoot Workers Who Don't Behave Like They'll All On The Republican Plantation

ThinkProgress has been following both Gov. Scott Walker’s (R-WI) recent “budget repair bill,” which would effectively eliminate state workers’ right to collectively bargain, and his coinciding threat to deploy the National Guard to stop a walkout. Yesterday, the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers criticized Walker, saying that collective bargaining is “fundamental” to the middle class.

Approximately 13,000 peaceful protesters flooded the state Capitol yesterday, including nearly 800 Madison East High School students who left school to protest Walker’s bill. Democratic lawmakers listened to testimonies from citizens for more than 20 hours, stretching into the early morning. Many people who hadn’t yet gotten to speak pulled out sleeping bags.

Responding to his inappropriate threat to use the National Guard against resisting workers, Walker said last night on Greta Van Susteren’s On The Record that the National Guard has contingency plans for natural disasters, and a worker “walk-off is part of [the] contingency plan”:

VAN SUSTEREN: You have the Guard on alert. Why, if that is true?

WALKER: No, in our case we have contingency plans that we put into place that are updated from where they were before. The National Guard is part of that. They would be part of that whether it is a snow emergency, tornado, earthquake, flood, anything else. And a work walk-off is part of contingency plan.

Walker also dismissed the huge numbers of protesters, saying that the number of participants (reportedly 13,000) was not significant because there are “about 5.5 million people in the state.”

The Wisconsin state Senate President said Tuesday that there are enough votes to pass Walker’s bill, and State Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R) said “there’s no doubt in my mind the Assembly will pass this.” But, in light of the massive opposition to Walker’s proposal, there are indicators that Republican support is beginning to crack.
Walker does realize he is a government worker - he receives a pay check and health care benefits courtesy the workers of Wisconsin. The difference seems to be is that Walker views himself as the plantation master and everyone else should be grateful to their master for even being allowed to work. Welcome to the plutocracy.

Rep. Peter King's, R-N.Y. continues to be a huge embarrassment to conservative Republicans. King wets his Depends every time someone says Muslim or Sharia - The HUAC-inspired spectacle will tap into a fear of Muslims already planted by the right-wing media . Many phobias can be over come with proper therapy. Maybe he and Glenn Beck could get a group discount.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Glenn Beck is Positive George Bush State Department Was in League With Muslim Radicals and Communists

Glenn Beck is Positive George Bush State Department Was in League With Muslim Radicals and Communists

Glenn Beck broadened his ever-expanding theory about Egypt again on Monday, and in doing so, introduced some ideas that are extremely hard to accept:

* The co-founder of an anti-extremism think tank funded by the British government -- who has testified before Congress -- may be lying about renouncing radical Islam.

* You shouldn't do Google searches, because Google is "pretty deeply in bed with the government," as evidenced by the fact that a former State Department employee who's now a Google executive helped found a nonprofit group that supports grassroots activists around the world.

* MTV is "involved with this," because it sponsors that nonprofit group, the Alliance for Youth Movements, or Beck also listed "CBS, MSNBC, Facebook, YouTube, National Geographic, Columbia University Law School."

* Perhaps most unbelievable: The State Department under the Bush administration was "in bed" with the "radical Islamists, communists, and socialists" who are working together against Israel and capitalism, and to overthrow stability. Why? Because the State Department under Bush helped start the Alliance for Youth Movements.

It's increasingly difficult to understand what Beck is alleging here. Is he saying that everybody he mentions supports the coalition of radical Islamists and communists that he thinks is trying to create global chaos, as seen in Egypt?

MTV and the Bush State Department?


During both his radio and television shows today, Beck spent a good deal of time raising questions about the character of Maajid Nawaz, a British Muslim who is one of the founders of the anti-extremism think tank Quilliam. The Times of London reported that the British government was giving almost 1 million pounds to Quilliam.

Nawaz testified before the Senate Homeland Security committee in July 2008 about how he came to reject Islamist ideology after being a member of the pan-Islamist party Hizb ut-Tahrir. In a 2007 Times of London op-ed, Nawaz summed up his experience:

I took on board this ideology as my own, propagating it through campuses and across borders until it consumed my life. Eventually my activities caught up with me in Egypt, where I was sent by my university for a year of my Arabic and law degree. For the second time in my life I was arrested at gunpoint, but this time it was not by mistake and there was no apology. I was sentenced to five years for membership of Hizb ut-Tahrir and was adopted by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience.

It was during this time in prison that I began to utilise my time by studying as much as I could about the ideology that I professed to be working for. My aim was to study Islam to such a depth that once released I would be even more potent at propagandising than before.

As I studied various branches of traditional Islamic sciences, however, I grew more and more surprised. The sheer breadth of scholastic disagreement that I found, on issues I had believed were so definitive in Islam, surprised me. Where we had been willing to challenge, even overthrow, regimes on certain issues, traditional jurists of Islam had treated these as academic disagreements to be debated through books.

It slowly dawned on me that what I had been propagating was far from true Islam. I began to realise that what I had subscribed to was actually Islamism sold to me in the name of Islam. And it is with this realisation that I can now say that the more I learnt about Islam, the more tolerant I became.

Now I am involved in trying to counter the black and white mindset that I once so vehemently encouraged. Although I was young when I was recruited to Hizb ut-Tahrir, I take full responsibility for my actions. I made the decisions that I did and I am responsible for undoing them.

Here's the first part of Beck's discussion of Nawaz and the Alliance for Youth Movements on his Fox News show tonight:

While Beck noted Nawaz's conversion, he heavily emphasized his previous association with Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Beck made much of the fact that Nawaz is an ambassador for the Alliance for Youth Movements. The group's sponsors page lists its corporate partnerships, which is where Beck came up with the laundry list of companies -- including MTV -- that he ticked off during his radio show. (A clip and transcript are below.)

And here is the video(at link) of Beck claiming that the Bush State Department is "in bed" with the radical Islamists and communists
Who knows what or why Beck does what he does. Many right-wing conservative pundits and politicians helped lie us into Iraq and misled America about economic policy ( thus the Great Recession). Having severely hurt their reputations for being "fair and balanced" or even as well informed as a fire hydrant, may be the plan is for Beck to seem so bizarre that he makes those old school right-wing pundits like Hannity, Limbaugh, Coulter , Michelle Malkin and O'Reilly( all of whom have established a well documented record as anti-American serial liars) seem sane and reasonable by comparison.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Conservatives Say Business Needs Deregulation and Tax Cuts. Is That The Reward For Screwing American Consumers

5 Ways Corporate Scavengers Are Making Big Money Off Our Economic Pain

The ruins of the American economy represent a massive crime scene. Wall Street built a house of cards on fraud and misrepresentation, it crashed, and Americans' aggregate net worth is now more than $12 trillion off of its peak. Unemployment remains sky-high and the prospects for a robust recovery anytime soon are dim.

But as Naomi Klein artfully laid out in her book, The Shock Doctrine, a catastrophe for you and I usually presents an opportunity for the Titans of capital. And the grievous economic crisis affecting so many American families is no exception -- big business has found a number of ways to profit, directly, from Main Street's economic pain. Like vultures descending on a rotting corpse, they've come up with a variety of innovative methods to pull the last scraps of meat off the bones of America's middle-class.

Here are five ways these scavengers are making coin from our economic devastation.

When Americans Go Hungry, JPMorgan Profits

It's been widely reported that 43 million Americans now require help meeting their basic nutritional needs. Less well known is that JPMorgan is the largest servicer of food-stamps in the U.S., offering benefit cards in 26 states. As Mary Bottari wrote for AlterNet, “The firm is paid per customer. This means that when the number of food stamp recipients goes up, so do JPMorgan profits.”

Perhaps that doesn't get your blood boiling. If not, Bottari adds: “JPMorgan is taking its responsibility to keep the U.S. unemployment rate high by offshoring the servicing of many of these contracts to India, according to ABC News.” Yes, they're profiting off of our pain, and offshoring the work required to do so.

JPMorgan was the recipient of $25 billion worth of taxpayer bailout, and its CEO, Jamie Dimon, took home $17 million in compensation last year – the biggest windfall on the Street.

Good Old-Fashioned Biblical Usury

When First Premier Bank first offered a credit card with a top interest rate of 79.9 percent, it evoked outrage. So they lowered it…to 59.9 percent. And, as Michael Snyder at the Economic Collapse noted, “Not only are the interest rates on those cards super high, but they also charge a whole bunch of fees on those cards as well.”

They include:

* $45 processing fee to open the account
* annual fee of $30 for the first year
* $45 fee for every subsequent year
* monthly service fee of $6.25

Some argue that anyone who would sign onto a deal like that must be "stupid." But these are cards pitched to those with bad credit – an ever larger group thanks to the recession. It's easy to scoff at such rubes until one realizes that the lion's share of these “stupid” people have no choice but to take on even very costly debt if they want to eat or pay the rent. 6.2 million Americans have been out of a job for 27 or more weeks; 3.9 million saw their benefits run out entirely last year.

CNN reported that 700,000 people have signed up for the card, and between 200,000 and 300,000 new applications are coming in each month. That's a lot of bread for First Premier.

Dunning the Desperate for Fun and Profit

One sector in this moribund economy is doing quite well: collection agencies. But they're not your father's collection agencies --the business is different today.

Across the country, savvy investors are buying up the debts of those who have run into difficulties for just pennies on the dollar. They then turn the screws on borrowers in order to get a return on their investments. As the Sarasota Post-Star reported, “Debt collectors often use threats and insults to intimidate consumers. But in recent years, collection has become more aggressive, more litigious and more prone to fraud.”

Creditors will call neighbors and family members in search of the consumer, and reveal information about their debt. They will contact the consumer's place of employment and threaten to get them fired with repetitive calls. They will say harsh and insulting things to force the person to pay.

"Around 9/11, a debt collector said to my client, ‘After all those people died in the towers, you won't pay your bills,'" said [attorney Ron] Kim. "It was an absurd statement, as if the two were connected, but she was so upset and ultimately ended up filing for bankruptcy."

They've increasingly resorted to filing lawsuits, which are often settled by borrowers who don't have good legal representation, even when the lender's claims are suspect. According to research by the Legal Aid Society, debt buyers filed over 450,000 lawsuits in New York City alone between January 2006 and July 2008, over 90 percent of which ended in judgments against consumers who “likely weren’t aware they were being sued and only 1% of whom were represented by an attorney.”

According to Moe Bedard of LoanWorkout, a newsletter about the loan modification industry, the now familiar robo-signing scam is popping up in the market for consumer debt as well as home-loans.

According to the Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, collectors are increasingly taking disputes to court without proof that they own the debt in question, or even that the debt is valid.

Consumers Union points to automated software used to file lawsuits by the thousands and the proliferation of “robo-signers” who falsely claim to review and verify debtors’ records before taking legal action.

For a while after the crash, Americans had unloaded debt, but with wages stagnating and unemployment remaining above 9 percent for 21 straight months, the trend has reversed and they're again taking on mountains of debt to stay afloat. All of this means that while the recession takes its toll on the American middle class, the shaky debt industry is booming.


So-called pay-day loans are sold as short-term, stop-gap measures for people living paycheck to paycheck, but their interest rates often start at an annual rate of 600 percent – and some go much higher than that.

This recession has been great for the industry. Congress has tried several times to put a cap on their usury, but as the Huffington Post reported last year during the financial reform debate, “The influential $42 billion-a-year payday lending industry, thriving from a surge in emergency loans to people struggling through the recession, is pouring record sums into lobbying, campaign contributions, and public relations.”

It worked, they killed off any meaningful limits on the vig they can charge and business is booming.

A similar ripoff for the working (or the not-working) poor are those rent-to-own schemes that allow people to pick up a couch with no money down, only to end up paying far, far more than they would have otherwise paid. According to ABC News, “The rent-to-own industry has a history few retailers would envy but recent sales most would covet.” And contrary to popular belief, people rarely rent these items in order to own them at the end of the day; industry officials told ABC that “just 5% of their customers end up buying their products; customers are simply looking for short-term solutions when critical appliances go kaput.”

Can't Afford to Pay Back Taxes? There's a Ripoff That's Right for You!

A lot of folks are struggling with all sorts of costs, and some can't afford to pay the property taxes on their homes. The Huffington Post Investigative Fund dug into the problem, and found that Bank of America and a hedge fund called the Fortress Investment Group had “spotted a fresh money-making opportunity -- collecting the tax debts of tens of thousands of people.” What do they do with it? Well, the banksters add interest charges and fees, and then they bundle the debts into securities and sell them off to investors. (Sound familiar?)

In late May and early June, proxies for the two institutions quietly bought hundreds of millions of dollars in homeowners' property tax debts in Florida by bidding at a series of online auctions held by county tax collectors. They didn't use their names but donned multiple other identities, dominating the auctions and repeatedly bidding on the same parcels -- in the case of Walker's small home, more than 8,000 times.

Then, in September, Bank of America's securities division packaged $301 million worth of the tax liens it and Fortress had acquired into bonds pitched privately to major investors. The anticipated return -- estimated at between 7 to 10 percent -- is possible because buyers of tax debts can assess a panoply of interest charges and other fees. When the debt goes unpaid long enough, the liens buyer can seize properties through foreclosure.

That's Just Big Finance

All of these scams probably add up to a fraction of what the financial industry has gained from the Treasury's bailouts and the free money the Fed has showered on them.

But it's not just Wall Street that's profiting from the wreckage of our once-mighty economy. Good old fashioned wage theft is on the rise. With all sorts of subsidized programs to retrain workers – and with Americans feeling, rightly, that they need as much education as possible -- fly-by-night diploma mills are proliferating. Walmart, which had seen its profits languishing, is now making a killing on the cheap goods it imports from its overseas sweatshops.

It's the essence of the Shock Doctrine: never let a crisis pass without exploiting the potential to profit. ( reprinted for public education purposes).
Let's all get on the deregulation band wagon, because as anyone can see, when business is left to regulate itself they always do the right thing by consumers. Right?

The Fifteen Biggest Lies about the Economy: And Everything Else the Right Doesn't Want You to Know about Taxes, Jobs, and Corporate America [Paperback]

Monday, February 14, 2011

Fight Against Affordable Care Act is an Attack on the People and the Consititution

Health Care Opponents Yearning for a Hobbled Federal Government, Newspaper, Issue Brief Say

As noted in a new ACS Issue Brief the opponents of the landmark health care reform law, the Affordable Care Act, are fighting to advance a long-outdated view that the Constitution limits the federal government's ability to effectively address national concerns. Simon Lazarus, author of the brief, "The Health Care Lawsuits: Unraveling a Century of Constitutional Law and the Fabric of Modern Government," writes that the opponents are pushing legal theories that if accepted by the federal judiciary would endanger other landmark federal laws and programs, such as Medicaid, Medicare and civil rights laws.

The opponents of the health care law argue, Lazarus writes, that Congress does not have the constitutional ability to "effectively reform a dysfunctional health care market comprising over 17% of the national economy, that causes 62% of personal bankruptcies, leaves 50 million citizens uninsured, and deprives individuals with pre-existing medical conditions of access to affordable health insurance and, thus needed health care." If the high court were to buy into those arguments and "block an undisputed rational solution for an economic problem so big and so urgent, what limit is there on the Court's capacity to hamstring federal stewardship of the national economy?"

A recent editorial in The New York Times also notes the health care opponents' broader agenda. Noting a recent hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the constitutionality of the health care reform law, the editorial cites Georgetown law professor Randy Barnett's testimony attacking the health care law as "a means to severely limit the power of Congress, urging senators to reach their ‘own judgment about the scope of Congressional powers,' regardless of ‘how the Supreme Court,' has ruled." Later in his testimony, the editorial notes, Barnett "warned sensationally, ‘Congress would have all the discretionary power of a king and the American people would be reduced to subjects,'" if the Supreme Court finds the health care law's individual responsibility provision falls within Congress's constitutional authority to regulate commerce.

Barnett's overwrought rhetoric falls in line with talking points being pushed by other far-right opponents. The Cato Institute, as the Constitutional Accountability Center's Elizabeth Wydra recently noted, has run ads in national publications arguing that the Constitution was never intended to give Congress broad powers to regulate commerce.

But The Times says, citing former U.S. Solicitor General Walter Dellinger, who also testified at the Senate committee hearing, by applying a "mainstream understanding of the Constitution," this debate can be simply resolved. As Dellinger put it, "Will it lead to some extraordinary expanse of congressional power? It will not."
Opponents of health care reform do not want to turn back 200 years of legal arguments that give Congress the right to regulate commerce, they want to return to the age of authoritarian European monarchies that can tell a suffering population to eat cake.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Compare Republican Health Care plan to ObamaCare Plan

‘No Apology’ Romney Embraces Senate Massachusetts Health Reform And Individual Mandate

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who must be biting his lip to keep from announcing his bid for the White House, went on the record with Greta Van Sustren yesterday and doubled down on his support for Massachusetts health care reform and the individual mandate:

ROMNEY: [Reform in Massachusetts] is actually working pretty much as anticipated at the time it was passed….In my view, we could make the plan much more effective by doing something I proposed in the original legislation, which was to say that everybody had to pay something for their insurance, that there were no free rides, that people had to at least put some portion of the cost down for their premiums….

Actually, in our plan in Massachusetts, everybody is insured, so there’s no issue about preexisting conditions or changing jobs because you’re always able to have insurance. And the insurance companies don’t have a problem with that because we have everybody in the pool. They don’t have to worry about adverse selection where only the sick or only those with preexisting conditions go out and buy insurance. So because the entire state is insured, the system can work.

While Governor, Romney had advocated a “personal responsibility” policy that would have required individuals who failed to purchase coverage to spend up to $10,000 in the form of a bond that could be used to pay for hospital care. As my colleague Emma Sandoe explains, Romney’s plan ensured that the penalty funds were directed back into health care and provided a pretty powerful incentive to purchase coverage (rather than pay $10,000), but Democrats argued that charging everyone the same flat fee would disadvantage poorer families. To a family making $1 million a year, a $10,000 fee is only 1% of their income, while to a family making $30,000 a year, this fine is a third of their income. “The final version of the Massachusetts plan included a fee based on half of the cost of the lowest price plan either in their private insurance exchange system (Commonwealth Choice) or in their government subsidized program (Commonwealth Care) for lower income individuals.”

Romney may have some minor qualms with Massachusetts reform, but he supports its key pillars (although he disagreed with the employer requirement), which are also, as it turns out, part of the Senate health care proposal. It’s basically the Massachusetts plan with cost controls:

Major Provisions Senate Bill Massachusetts Bill
Individual Mandate Yes Yes
Employer Responsibility Yes Yes
Affordability Credits Yes Yes
Standard Benefit Package Yes Yes
Establishes Exchanges Yes Yes
Prohibits Insurance Company From Canceling Coverage Yes Yes
Bans Denying Medical Coverage For Pre-existing Conditions Yes Yes
Medicaid Expansion Yes Yes
Medicare Cuts Yes No Authority
Cap On High-Cost Plans Yes No

In recent media interviews promoting his new book, No Apology, Romney has tried to argue that the health care bill he signed differs from the Senate legislation because Massachusetts did not reduce Medicare spending. It’s a blatantly ridiculous argument, since states don’t have the ability to cut into the federally-funded Medicare program.

As Romney prepares for his second presidential campaign, he should take a page from his book and offer ‘no apology’ for supporting the kind of health care reform that Democrats are promoting. But if the previous campaign is any indication, to Romney, it’s probably still just a book title.
The Massachusetts plan was also based on the Republican think-tank plan put out by the Heritage Foundation. A think-tank that frequently turns out the Right's supposed solutions to public policy issues. Its too late for Republicans to take credit for a plan that will get 35 million Americans affordable health care insurance since every Senate Republican voted against RomneyCare or should we say ObamaCare.