Weekly Audit: A Progressive Deficit Fix?

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

The co-chairs of the 18-member deficit commission issued a preliminary presentation two weeks ago that favored tax breaks for the wealthy and left open the possibility of deep cuts to Social Security, Medicare and other social programs. But there’s still time for the commission to radically reshape its message before it issues its final report.

Jan’s plan

That’s exactly what progressive Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) is trying to bring about. Schakowsky is a member of the commission and she has an alternative, progressive plan to rein in the deficit, as David Moberg reports for Working in These Times:

It would not go into effect until 2015 or after unemployment subsides, and it provides for $200 billion of job-creating investments during the next two years, in addition to reducing the deficit by $441 billion in 2015, nearly double Obama’s target. Slightly more than a third of Schakowsky’s proposed deficit reduction would come from new revenue (mostly tax changes hitting the wealthy and corporations but also from cap-and-trade carbon emission controls), 30 percent from ending or reforming tax expenditures (again, mainly benefiting rich taxpayers), a quarter from defense cuts, and 9 percent from mandatory programs (like offering a public option for health insurance and requiring Medicare to bargain over drug prices). Though Social Security does not contribute to the deficit, Schakowsky plans to secure future payouts without benefit cuts by increasing how much the wealthy pay into the retirement program.

A public option for health insurance would keep rising health care costs in check because insurers would have to compete with non-profit, government-administered insurance. Instead of cutting Social Security benefits for the needy, Schakowsky would simply eliminate the arbitrary payroll tax ceiling on high earners. Sounds like common sense, doesn’t it?

A coalition of progressive groups calling itself Our Fiscal Security unveiled its own alternative proposal for cutting the deficit on Monday, Luke Johnson reports for the Colorado Independent. Key planks of the platform include repealing the Bush tax cuts, reinstating the estate tax for married couples with assets greater than $4 million, and capping itemized deductions at 15%. Coalition members include Demos, the Century Foundation, and the Economic Policy Foundation.

Generation Recession

Young adults have the highest unemployment rate of any demographic. At the National Radio Project, Rina Palta examines the impact of joblessness on the nation’s 80 million “Millennials.” (Audio) Palta talks to young people who are weathering their first layoffs mere weeks or months after landing their first professional jobs.

Mark Kirk: Tax Cuts for the Rich “No Matter What”

The day before 2.5 million Americans stand to lose their unemployment benefits, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) went on TV to insist that unemployment insurance is misguided and that the government must cut taxes for the rich “no matter what,” Julianne Escobedo Shepherd reports in AlterNet.

Oddly enough, Kirk fancies himself a moderate by Republican standards, according to Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly. Kirk believes that extending unemployment insurance would “just add to the deficit.” In fact, as Benen notes, extending unemployment benefits would be a very efficient way to infuse billions of dollars into the economy. Unemployed people will spend their extended benefits on food, gas, rent, and other necessities. That money doesn’t just disappear into the ether, it feeds local businesses, who in turn keep other Americans working.

The Republican Party line is that the rich need tax cuts because they create jobs. If tax cuts for the rich created jobs, we should already have a full employment economy. As the Bush tax cuts are set to expire, taxes for the rich are at all time lows and unemployment is at historic highs. It is crazy to assume that allowing these tax cuts to continue will magically produce jobs that have yet to materialize, or even bring back the jobs that have disappeared since the Bush tax cuts went into effect.

Ireland’s Billion Dollar Bailout

Over the weekend, the world’s financial institutions agreed to spend $90 billion to bail out Ireland. Tim Fernholz of TAPPED worries that this sum is too small to bring Ireland back from the brink of its sovereign debt crisis. He argues that the world financial community is making the same mistake it made in the 1990s when it forced debtor nations into fiscal austerity without forcing creditor nations to restructure their loans on more sustainable terms.

Once again, bondholders are being spared while Irish taxpayers are being expected to shoulder the heaviest burdens. The economic argument for saving the bondholders is that a bond is an ironclad promise, and that if you start expecting bondholders to accept less than 100% of what was promised to them (no matter how ill-advised they were to take that promise), the entire system will fall apart. It’s ironic that the promises that governments make to their citizens are endlessly renegotiable while bond deals are ironclad. Worldwide, citizens outnumber bondholders. Having citizens lose faith in their government seems far more dangerous than expecting bondholders to take a haircut.

 

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

The 4 million women you can thank for your last meal

From the Restore Fairness blog-

They’re the backbone of our food supply. Their hands sliced the chicken breast we had for lunch. Their sweat brought the fresh tomato to our plates. Their backs bent to pick the lettuce in our salads. They are America’s undocumented workers.

Every day, on farms and factories across America, millions of women work to produce billions of dollars worth of fruit and vegetables that fill our stores and kitchens and nourish our children. At least 6 out of every 10 farm workers in this country are undocumented, and almost all of them live on the fringes of society, earning below minimum wage and facing humiliation, exploitation and sexual assault from their employers on a regular basis.

According to a new report, ‘Injustice on Our Plates,’ published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the 4.1 million undocumented women living and working in the U.S. are among the lowest paid and most vulnerable members of our society. These women form the backbone of the agricultural system in this country, looking after their families, often working weeks without getting paid, working in unsafe and unsanitary conditions, with little or no recourse to any protection against the indignities they suffer at the workplace. They live in constant fear of being discovered and sent back to their home countries, with the looming threat of being separated from their children, many of whom are American born. It is grossly unfair that while contributing as much as $1.5 billion a year to the Medicare system and $7 billion a year to the Social Security system, undocumented immigrants will never be able to collect benefits upon retirement.

The report was compiled by SPLC researchers who conducted extensive interviews with 150 women from Mexico, Guatemala and other Latin-American countries who are or have been undocumented, and are working in the food industry, picking tomatoes, apples, green beans, lettuce, etc. in places like Arkansas, California, Florida, Iowa, New York and North Carolina. From a CNN article about the report-

Regardless of what sector of the food industry these women worked in, they all reported feeling like they were seen by their employers as disposable workers with no lasting value, to be squeezed of every last drop of sweat and labor before being cast aside.

Interviewed for the report, a woman called Maria reported being paid as little as 45 cents for each 32-pound bucket that she filled with tomatoes, and said that one employer did not allow his workers to go to the bathroom during their work-shifts. Olivia, a 46-year old meatpacker who came to the U.S. from Mexico to run away from her abusive husband and build a better life for herself, told the SPLC the horrific story of how she was raped by one of her supervisors after working a 12-hour shift. When she tried to report the incident to the senior management, her complaints were met with the retort, “What is so bad about that? He left you in one piece, didn’t he?” Despite extreme medical injuries and severe emotional trauma from the attack, Olivia was too scared to report the rape to the police out of fear that her immigrant status would be found out and she would be deported. Like countless women in similar circumstances, she was bound by the desperate need to work in order to look after her daughter and her parents who depended on her, and she had no option but to continue working for the man that beat her unconscious and raped her. The new report tells us that Olivia’s story is not the anomaly, but the norm-

Undocumented immigrant women are, in most cases, virtually powerless to protect themselves against such attacks…Some feel too much shame to report harassment or sexual violence, leaving them extremely vulnerable to exploitation by male co-workers or supervisors…Their abusers use their lack of legal status against them, knowing they are not likely to report sexual harassment or even violent attacks. Because of the many obstacles arrayed against them — fear, poverty, shame, lack of access to legal resources, language barriers, immigration status and cultural pressures — few immigrant women ever come forward to speak out against the wrongs committed against them. Too often, they are forced to compromise their dignity — to endure sexual harassment and exploitation — to obtain a better life and a measure of economic security for themselves and their families.

These women are economic refugees, running away from lives beneath the poverty line, hunger and desperation in their home countries, with the hope of working hard to provide their children with basic amenities like education, health and stability. The fact that such injustice and degradation is suffered by tens of thousands of hard-working women in this country on a regular basis is horrific and shameful on a number of levels. These women, responsible for putting food on our tables, are part of a systemic malady that is only getting worse. This is indicative of the sad irony of a world where high-level trade and capital move across borders with uncanny speed and ease, lining the pockets of nations and people in power, while the hands that build these “globalized” empires are forced to remain circumscribed within their lot, regardless of how unfair a lot it might be.

Deporting all 10.8 million undocumented immigrants would cost the economy over $2.6 trillion over the next ten years, not to mention the huge human rights violations that would occur as a result. Moreover, legalizing undocumented workers would raise the U.S. gross domestic product by $1.5 trillion over a decade. The report stresses the importance of immigration reform that would address these injustices in a way that is comprehensive, while respecting fundamental American values of dignity and justice.

Learn. Share. Act. Go to restorefairness.org

 

 

 

Cutting Social Security is the New TARP

Politicians who signed off on TARP lived to regret the day they did (especially Republican ones, just ask Bob Bennett and Mike Castle). Those votes will haunt the congressmen who supported the bailouts for years to come. That's the same exact thing that's going to happen to politicians who sell out the middle class by agreeing to cut Social Security.

Sign our Petition telling the President not to touch Social Security HERE

The chairmen of the Deficit-Reduction Commission just released a report that recommends that we cut benefits for current retirees by 3 to 6% and eventually raise the retirement age to 69. Why not make it 89 while you're at it? At that point, Social Security will be completely solvent forever because only three people will live long enough to collect it. Remember, it's not just that you can't retire till later, it's that you don't get benefits for those extra two to four years - that's a huge cut of your Social Security.

Plus, to add insult to injury they also propose to cap Medicare. Some worry this might even lead to rationing. This helps because the cuts to Social Security didn't hurt enough.

These are all non-starters. Social Security currently has a $2.5 trillion surplus. Anyone telling you otherwise is lying. They have created a fake crisis about Social Security not being able to pay full benefits by 2037. So, the answer is to shred benefits now? How does that help?

Of course, this proposal doesn't help you to collect the Social Security payments that you're owed after a lifetime of paying into the system. It helps them rob you. Now, those are stark terms, but totally justified when you consider the second part of this so-called Deficit-Reduction Commission. Instead of addressing the deficit by doing spending cuts and tax increases (both painful and both necessary to reduce deficits), they actually cut taxes. That's mental. That makes the deficit much, much worse.

They propose to cut the top rate from 35% to 23% for the personal income tax, and the corporate tax rate would get cut from 35% to 26%. What an unbelievable joke. So, you have to cut Social Security and Medicare because you just had to give the rich one more gigantic tax cut? They'll claim they are getting rid of some tax exemptions and credits, but that doesn't come close to making up for the tax cuts they have proposed.

But we have to thank them for making their intentions undeniably clear. This Deficit-Reduction Commission has nothing to do with the deficit. It never did. I was always thought it was an excuse to cut Social Security to pay for the tax cuts that went to the rich and ate up the Social Security surplus. It turns out, it's more audacious than that. It cuts Social Security to pay for whole new round of tax cuts for the rich. The balls on these guys.

A new poll out by PPP indicates that when asked how to balance the budget, 43% of real Americans said tax the wealthy, 22% said cut defense spending and only 12% said cut Social Security. They didn't stutter. That's crystal clear. If some of our current politicians make the mistake of backing these cuts for Social Security, those numbers are going to come back to bite them. And they'll be our former politicians. I, for one, will work the rest of my life to kick out of office anyone who signs off on this robbery. I don't give a damn what party they claim to be from. That includes the president.

Through all of my frustrations with the president, I have never called for a primary opponent against him in 2012. And I don't know any other established progressive that has. If he pushes for this plan, he should definitely get a primary challenger. Because I couldn't vote for a guy who agreed to rob the middle class like this. This is definitely the last straw. If he does this, then he was never on our side to begin with.

Sign our Petition telling the President not to touch Social Security HERE

Watch The Young Turks Here

Follow Cenk Uygur on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TheYoungTurks
Become a Fan of The Young Turks on Facebook: www.facebook.com/tytnation

 

 

Cutting Social Security is the New TARP

Politicians who signed off on TARP lived to regret the day they did (especially Republican ones, just ask Bob Bennett and Mike Castle). Those votes will haunt the congressmen who supported the bailouts for years to come. That's the same exact thing that's going to happen to politicians who sell out the middle class by agreeing to cut Social Security.

Sign our Petition telling the President not to touch Social Security HERE

The chairmen of the Deficit-Reduction Commission just released a report that recommends that we cut benefits for current retirees by 3 to 6% and eventually raise the retirement age to 69. Why not make it 89 while you're at it? At that point, Social Security will be completely solvent forever because only three people will live long enough to collect it. Remember, it's not just that you can't retire till later, it's that you don't get benefits for those extra two to four years - that's a huge cut of your Social Security.

Plus, to add insult to injury they also propose to cap Medicare. Some worry this might even lead to rationing. This helps because the cuts to Social Security didn't hurt enough.

These are all non-starters. Social Security currently has a $2.5 trillion surplus. Anyone telling you otherwise is lying. They have created a fake crisis about Social Security not being able to pay full benefits by 2037. So, the answer is to shred benefits now? How does that help?

Of course, this proposal doesn't help you to collect the Social Security payments that you're owed after a lifetime of paying into the system. It helps them rob you. Now, those are stark terms, but totally justified when you consider the second part of this so-called Deficit-Reduction Commission. Instead of addressing the deficit by doing spending cuts and tax increases (both painful and both necessary to reduce deficits), they actually cut taxes. That's mental. That makes the deficit much, much worse.

They propose to cut the top rate from 35% to 23% for the personal income tax, and the corporate tax rate would get cut from 35% to 26%. What an unbelievable joke. So, you have to cut Social Security and Medicare because you just had to give the rich one more gigantic tax cut? They'll claim they are getting rid of some tax exemptions and credits, but that doesn't come close to making up for the tax cuts they have proposed.

But we have to thank them for making their intentions undeniably clear. This Deficit-Reduction Commission has nothing to do with the deficit. It never did. I was always thought it was an excuse to cut Social Security to pay for the tax cuts that went to the rich and ate up the Social Security surplus. It turns out, it's more audacious than that. It cuts Social Security to pay for whole new round of tax cuts for the rich. The balls on these guys.

A new poll out by PPP indicates that when asked how to balance the budget, 43% of real Americans said tax the wealthy, 22% said cut defense spending and only 12% said cut Social Security. They didn't stutter. That's crystal clear. If some of our current politicians make the mistake of backing these cuts for Social Security, those numbers are going to come back to bite them. And they'll be our former politicians. I, for one, will work the rest of my life to kick out of office anyone who signs off on this robbery. I don't give a damn what party they claim to be from. That includes the president.

Through all of my frustrations with the president, I have never called for a primary opponent against him in 2012. And I don't know any other established progressive that has. If he pushes for this plan, he should definitely get a primary challenger. Because I couldn't vote for a guy who agreed to rob the middle class like this. This is definitely the last straw. If he does this, then he was never on our side to begin with.

Sign our Petition telling the President not to touch Social Security HERE

Watch The Young Turks Here

Follow Cenk Uygur on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TheYoungTurks
Become a Fan of The Young Turks on Facebook: www.facebook.com/tytnation

 

 

Weekly Pulse: The Coming War on Health Reform, Government Cheese, and how CPCs Incubate Anti-Choice Violence

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Republicans don’t have the votes to repeal health care reform, but they are determined to use their newly-won control of the House to fight it every step of the way. Marilyn Werber Serafini gives Truthout readers a sneak-peek at the GOP playbook to attack healthcare reform in 2011.

Who are some of the top contenders in this coming battle? Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) is a leading candidate to chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Barton is vowing, if elected chairman, to use the oversight powers of the committee to hold a flurry of hearings on alleged misconduct in the crafting of the Affordable Care Act. Barton plans to show that budget experts “covered up” the true projected costs of health care reform. In Barton’s world, the fact that there’s no evidence to support this allegation is all the more reason to investigate.

Other key players include James Gelfand, the director of health policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who has already compiled a wishlist of 31 investigations that he wants the newly Republican-controlled House to undertake. The Chamber spent millions to elect Republicans this cycle. Barton’s hearings will have to compete for political oxygen with those of Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA), the chair apparent of the Investigations Committee, who is promising to gum up the works of government with at least to seven hearings a week for 40 weeks, a projected rate nearly triple that of his predecessor Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Ca).

Health care freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose

If they can’t undo health reform in the corridors of Washington, conservatives are looking to the states and the federal courts. In The Nation, Nicholas Kusnetz reports on how a coalition of hard right groups are organizing against health care reform at the state level.

A group known as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is at the forefront of the drive to pass so-called “health care freedom acts” in the states to preemptively outlaw federal health reform before it can be implemented. ALEC claims to have filed or pre-filed bills in 38 states and passed 6 so far. Few expect these laws to stand up in court, if challenged, but they are part of ALEC’s long term strategy to fight health reform itself in the federal courts. A Virginia judge recently ruled that an ALEC-sponsored “freedom” law gave the state standing to challenge federal reform.

Kusnetz shows the close ties between ALEC officials and Americans for Prosperity, the Cato Institute, and other Koch-Industries-funded conservative activist groups that are campaigning against health care reform in various capacities.

What about Medicare?

At the Washington Monthly, Steve Benen notes that many Republicans, including Senator-Elect Rand Paul (R-KY) successfully campaigned on a platform of repealing health care reform to save Medicare. Benen explains that repealing the Affordable Care Act would actually put Medicare in worse financial straights than staying the course. The Republican rhetoric of defending Medicare and railing against socialized medicine is a flagrant self-contradiction. It’s not hard to see which of these two projects they are more committed to.

As Brie Cadman points out at Change.org, the self-proclaimed “Young Guns” of the Republican Party are keen to privatize Medicare all together.

Government cheese: Corporate welfare edition

The USDA is scheming to make you eat more cheese. Tom Philpott of Grist explains how it works. Big Dairy produces more milk than Americans care to drink. Plus, consumers are increasingly demanding reduced-fat milk. That leaves a lot of milk left over to make cheese, but Americans aren’t eating enough cheese to make a dent in the national milk fat surplus.

Unsold milk fat could become a toxic asset on the books of Big Dairy. So, the USDA created a non-profit corporation called Dairy Management (DM) to convince fast food companies to spike their products with millions of tons more cheese every year. With the help of DM, Domino’s Pizza created a line of “Legend” pizzas with 40% more cheese. Who can forget the epic 2002 “Summer of Cheese” when DM teamed up with Pizza Hut to boost cheese consumption by an astonishing 102 million pounds? The average American now eats 33 pounds of cheese per year, three times as much as in 1970.

Officially, the USDA is supposed to help Americans eat better and support the agriculture industry. Cheese can be part of a healthy diet, but not in ever-increasing quantities. In practice, supporting the profits of Big Agra should not take precedence over preventing obesity or reducing the incidence of heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

CPCs: Incubators for anti-choice violence

In Ms. Magazine, Kathryn Joyce explores the shadowy world of “crisis pregnancy centers,” anti-choice ministries that pose as full-service reproductive health clinics, but offer no real health services. CPCs have a business model built on deceit. They seek to prevent abortions by tricking women seeking comprehensive reproductive health care, which might include abortion.

Activism rooted in such deceit and contempt for women’s autonomy can flare into violence. Joyce reveals that CPCs also serve as incubators for radical anti-choice activism. Radical groups like Operation Rescue encourage their supporters to volunteer. Scott Roeder, the assassin of Dr. George Tiller, got his start accosting women on the street outside abortion clinics as a volunteer “sidewalk counselor” for a crisis pregnancy center.

Just the presence of a CPC near an abortion clinic is correlated with increased violence against the clinic, as Joyce reports:

A recent survey by the Feminist Majority Foundation of women’s reproductive-health clinics nationwide found 32.7 percent of clinics located near a CPC experienced one or more incidents of severe violence, compared to only 11.3 percent of clinics not near a CPC. (Severe violence includes clinic blockades and invasions, bombings, arson, bombing and arson threats, death threats, chemical attacks, stalking, physical violence and gunfire.)

Doctors on the front line see the overlap between CPCs and more virulent forms of anti-choice activism every day. “[CPCs and violent anti-choice activists] have two different spheres,” OB-GYN Dr. LeRoy Carhart, one of the nation’s last remaining specialists in late-term abortions, told Joyce. “The underlying theory of both is never let the truth stand in the way of getting your point across. If you distort facts to women, there is no difference.”

Flip Benham’s slap on the wrist

One of the activists Joyce interviews in her piece is Rev. “Flip” Benham, director of Operation Save America/Operation Rescue. Robin Marty of RH Reality Check reports that Benham was found guilty of stalking an abortion provider and posting “Wanted” posters with the doctor’s picture on them, accusing him of being a baby killer. Benham was sentenced to 24 months probation.

In his defense, Benham claimed that this was a harmless gesture that never killed anyone. In fact, “wanted” posters for abortion doctors are a time-honored intimidation tactic that has been used repeatedly before the murders of abortion providers. Benham is deliberately cultivating a climate of fear and rage is conducive to violence.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

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