How Obama Can Smoke Out Mitt: Call for Breaking Up the Biggest Banks, and Resurrecting Glass-Steagall

From Robert Reich: http://robertreich.org/post/33847356202

By Robert Reich
Thursday, October 18, 2012

President Obama should propose that the nation’s biggest banks be broken up and their size capped, and that the Glass-Steagall Act be resurrected.

It’s good policy, and it would smoke out Mitt Romney as being of, by, and for Wall Street — and not on the side of average Americans.

It would also remind America that five years ago Wall Street’s excesses almost ruined the economy. Bankers, hedge-fund managers, and private-equity traders speculated on the upside, then shorted on the downside — in a vast zero-sum game that resulted in the largest transfer of wealth from average Americans to financial elites ever witnessed in this nation’s history.

Most of us lost big — including over $7 trillion of home values, a $700-billion-dollar bailout of Wall Street, and continuing high unemployment.

But the top 1 percent have done just fine. In the first year of the recovery they reaped 93 percent of the gains. The latest data show them back with 20 to 25 percent of the nation’s total income — just where they were in 2007.

The stock market has about caught up to where it was before the crash. The pay and bonuses on the Street are once again sky-high. So are the pay and perks of top corporate executives. The Forbes list of richest Americans contains more billionaires than ever.

And the tax rates of the top 1 percent are lower than ever — courtesy of their armies of lobbyists.

Continue reading at:  http://robertreich.org/post/33847356202

Posted in Class War, Economic Issues. Comments Off

Making Labor Pay

From Dollars and Sense: http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2012/0912sciacchitano.html

Recent battles in Wisconsin and San Jose show why we need universal pensions.

By Katherine Sciacchitano

This article is from the September/October 2012 issue of Dollars & Sense magazine.

The political economy of the recovery is making the United States even more unequal than it was during the bubble years. Incomes fell across the board during the crisis: median family income is 6.3% below what it was in 2001. But the top 1% garnered 93% of income growth in the first year of recovery. Housing, still the main source of wealth for middle-income families, remains depressed while stocks are close to pre-crash highs. Moreover, the drive for more tax cuts for the wealthy continues. And policy initiatives to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid would weaken the safety net even as it is most needed.

A spate of attacks on state and local public-sector pensions now threatens to make inequality even more entrenched and painful, and to undermine both short- and long-term economic growth.

The power of labor is dead center in this agenda. Despite a long-term decline in workers covered by union contracts, unions have over 16 million members: they are still the social force most capable of combating the assault on workers’ incomes and militating for greater equality. Crippling their political power therefore remains both a tactical and a strategic objective on the right. With only 6.9% of workers in the private sector covered by union contracts, versus 37% in the public sector, public-sector unions are bearing the brunt of the attacks. And public pensions are the battering ram.

Attacking Unions, Eroding Pensions

The trip wire for the assault on pensions was the combined fall in state and local revenues from the bursting of the housing bubble, and the steep losses suffered by pension funds during the resulting stock market slide of 2007-2009: by 2010 there were widely acknowledged public pension funding shortfalls totaling nearly $800 billion

While pension funds are slowly making back market losses, conservative advocates like Andrew Biggs at the American Enterprise Institute are arguing for new measures of shortfalls that would bring them to over $4 trillion, and using this $4 trillion figure to call for a national movement to slash both public-sector pensions and union rights. The implicit threat is that taxpayers will have to pay these trillions now and into the future, even though they themselves may not have pensions. The stated policy objective is to convince taxpayers and politicians that defined benefit pensions are too expensive in the public sector and should be replaced with defined contribution plans.

Defined benefit pensions are a form of deferred compensation—pay for work performed; they provide guaranteed lifetime payments in retirement. Defined-contribution plans give workers tax breaks for individual savings; workers invest these savings and then pray they don’t run out. Over the past three decades, defined benefit pensions have been nearly eradicated in the private sector for non-union workers; their abandonment in the public sector would effectively end defined benefit pensions as a norm for retirement security and shift the burden of retirement savings almost entirely to individuals.

Continue reading at:  http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2012/0912sciacchitano.html

Meet Romney’s Economic Hit Man

From Truth Dig:  http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/meet_romneys_economic_hit_man_20121018/

By Robert Scheer
on Oct 18, 2012

Mark the name of R. Glenn Hubbard, the man who will make your life miserable if Mitt Romney is elected president. Unless, that is, you happen to be one of the swindlers who has profited mightily from the nation’s economic pain.

Hubbard is the ideological hit man instrumental in justifying the mortgage derivatives bubble that caused the Great Recession during the George W. Bush years. He now serves as Romney’s key economic adviser and is the front-runner to be the next Treasury secretary should the Republican win.

“Romney’s Go-To Economist” read the headline on a New York Times profile of the dean of Columbia University’s Business School, which notes that “During a stint as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers for President George W. Bush, from 2001 to 2003, Mr. Hubbard was known as the principal architect of the Bush tax cuts.” In that capacity, and after returning to Columbia, Hubbard was also the chief cheerleader for a runaway derivatives market that spiraled out of control and left the Great Recession in its wake.

While pocketing millions in fees from the financial industry that he was ostensibly studying as a neutral academic, Hubbard was an enthusiastic backer of the virtues of a burgeoning unregulated capital market that sold toxic derivatives to the world. In a landmark paper that he co-wrote in November 2004 with William C. Dudley, at the time the chief U.S. economist at Goldman Sachs, it was asserted, “The capital markets have helped facilitate a major transformation of the U.S. mortgage financing system over the past 25 years. … The result has been a dramatic decline in the cyclical volatility of housing activity.”

Their study was published by the Global Markets Institute of Goldman Sachs at the very time that Goldman, a leader in the capital market, was packaging and selling some of the toxic mortgage-based derivatives that would come close to destroying the world’s economy.

Continue reading at:  http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/meet_romneys_economic_hit_man_20121018/

End Polluter Welfare

From Common Dreams:  http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/10/16-1

by Bernie Sanders
Published on Tuesday, October 16, 2012 by Common Dreams

The Big Energy industries (oil, coal and gas) along with their political allies like Mitt Romney are waging war against sustainable energy and the need to transform our energy system and reverse global warming. In many instances they are aided and abetted by the very powerful nuclear power industry.

One of their main lines of attack (used repeatedly by Romney in his first debate with President Obama) is that the federal government is picking energy “winners and losers.” In fact, Romney has said he will not invest in “chasing fads and picking winners and losers” among energy technologies and he will allow the free market to determine energy development.

Romney is right about one thing. The government does pick winners and losers in the energy sector. What Romney has not told the American people, however, is that the big winners of federal support are the already immensely profitable fossil fuel and nuclear industries, not sustainable energy.

As a member of both the Senate Energy and Environment committees, I am working to stop the handouts to the fossil fuel industry. I have introduced legislation called the End Polluter Welfare Act. Rep. Keith Ellison filed the companion bill in the House of Representatives. Our measure calls for the elimination for all subsidies to the oil, gas and coal industries. Using the best available estimates from the non-partisan Joint Committee on Taxation and other budget experts, we found more than $113 billion in federal subsidies will go to fossil fuel corporations over the next 10 years alone. These subsidies benefit some of the wealthiest corporations on the planet, including the five largest oil corporations, which made a combined profit of $1 trillion over the last decade. Unlike sustainable energy incentives, many of these fossil fuel subsidies are written permanently into the tax code by industry lobbyists, which means they never expire.

Let me give you just a few examples of outrageously strong federal support for Big Energy companies:

  • BP, after committing one of the worst environmental disasters in the modern history of America, was able to take a large tax deduction on the money it spent cleaning up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Coal companies are able to sign single-bid sweetheart leases to mine on federal lands without paying fair value in royalties to the taxpayers of this country.
  • In 2009, Exxon-Mobil, one of the most profitable corporations in this country, paid no federal income taxes, and in fact received a rebate from the IRS. Many other large and very profitable oil companies also have managed to avoid paying federal income taxes in certain years.

But it is not just fossil fuel companies. The nuclear industry also benefits from massive corporate welfare. The non-partisan Congressional Research Service reports that the nuclear industry has received over $95 billion (in 2011 dollars) in federal research and development support in the last 65 years. Nuclear corporations currently have access to billions in federal loan guarantees to build new plants and enrich uranium. They also have federal tax incentives for mining uranium, producing nuclear electricity and even decommissioning a plant.

Continue reading at:  http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/10/16-1

The US Government Is Running A Massive Spy Campaign On Occupy Wall Street

From Business Insider:  http://www.businessinsider.com/the-us-government-is-running-a-massive-spying-campaign-on-the-occupy-movement-2012-5

May 24, 2012

Remember the Occupy Movement? Since last November, when the NYPD closed the Zuccotti Park encampment in downtown Manhattan –the Movement’s birthplace and symbolic nexus—Occupy’s relevance has seriously dwindled, at least as measured by coverage in the mainstream media. We’re told that this erosion is due to Occupy’s own shortcomings—an inevitable outcome of its disjointed message and decentralized leadership.

While that may be the media’s take, the U.S. Government seems to have a different view.

If recent documents obtained by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) are any indication, the Occupy Movement continues to be monitored and curtailed in a nationwide, federally-orchestrated campaign, spearheaded by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

In response to repeated Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by the Fund, made on behalf of filmmaker Michael Moore and the National Lawyers Guild, the DHS released a revealing set of documents in April.  But the latest batch, made public on May 3rd, exposes the scale of the government’s “attention” to Occupy as never before.

The documents, many of which are partially blacked-out emails, demonstrate a surprising degree of coordination between the DHS’s National Operations Center (NOC) and local authorities in the monitoring of the Occupy movement. Cities implicated in this wide-scale snooping operation include New York, Oakland, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Denver, Boston, Portland, Detroit, El Paso, Houston, Dallas, Seattle, San Diego, and Los Angeles.

Mexican Farmers Block Monsanto Law to Privatize Plants and Seeds

From Nation of Change:  http://www.nationofchange.org/mexican-farmers-block-monsanto-law-privatize-plants-and-seeds-1337785224

By Alfredo Acedo
Wednesday 23 May 2012

Progressive small farmer organizations in Mexico scored a victory over transnational corporations that seek to monopolize seed and food patents. When the corporations pushed their bill to modify the Federal Law on Plant Varieties through the Committee on Agriculture and Livestock of the Mexican Chamber of Deputies on March 14, organizations of farmers from across the country sounded the alarm. By organizing quickly, they joined together to pressure legislators and achieved an agreement with the legislative committee to remove the bill from the floor.

What’s at stake is free and open access to plant biodiversity in agriculture. The proposed modifications promote a privatizing model that uses patents and “Plant Breeders’ Rights” (PBR) to deprive farmers of the labor of centuries in developing seed. The small farmers who worked to create this foundation of modern agriculture never charged royalties for its use.

Although the current law, in effect since 1996, pays little heed to the rights of small farmers, the new law would be far worse. Present law tends to benefit private-sector plant breeders, allowing monopolies to obtain exclusive profits from the sale of seeds and other plant material for up to 15 years, or 18 in the case of perennial ornamental, forest, or orchard plants–even when the plants they used to develop the new varieties are in the public domain.

The legislative reform would extend exclusive rights from the sale of reproductive material to 25 years. Further, it seeks to restrict the rights of farmers to store or use for their own consumption any part of the harvest obtained from seeds or breeding material purchased from holders of PBRs.

The proposed law would also include genetically modified organisms (GMOs) among the plant varieties covered, converging with the so-called Monsanto Law (Law of Biosecurity and Genetically Modified Organisms). This is an absurd inclusion, since GMOs are created by introducing genetic material from non-plant species.

Continue reading at:  http://www.nationofchange.org/mexican-farmers-block-monsanto-law-privatize-plants-and-seeds-1337785224

Chicago police clash with Nato summit protesters

From The Guardian UK:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/may/21/chicago-police-nato-summit-protesters

Arrests and injuries as thousands march on downtown area of the city, where 51 world leaders are meeting


guardian.co.uk, Monday 21 May 2012

The main anti-war march at the Chicago Nato summit was marred by clashes between police and protesters, with several people injured and 45 arrests.

Thousands of people marched towards McCormick Place in the downtown area of the city, where 51 world leaders are meeting for the two-day summit.

However, the demonstration on Sunday ended in ugly scenes as police used batons to control the crowd. The violence came as a fifth person was charged with terrorism-related offences in in relation to alleged plots to disrupt the summit.

Sunday’s demonstration was the largest anti-war protest so far, after days of marches and protests in the city centre.

Gathering at Grant Park, thousands of protesters set off south towards the site of the summit, led by around 20 Iraq veterans against the war.

Arriving two blocks west of McCormick Place, the veterans, including Scott Olsen, the protester injured in Occupy Oakland demonstrations in October, staged a symbolic “returning” of their medals, tossing them in the direction of the sprawling conference space.

Continue reading at:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/may/21/chicago-police-nato-summit-protesters

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