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

Posted in Class War, Corporate Abuse, Economic Issues, Employment, Hard Times, Human Rights. Comments Off on Making Labor Pay

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/

Posted in Class War, Economic Issues, Hard Times, Right Wing Extermist. Comments Off on Meet Romney’s Economic Hit Man

This Is What Tyranny Looks Like

From Common Dreams:  http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/05/23-4

by Carl Gibson
Published on Wednesday, May 23, 2012 by Common Dreams

Remember when police beat Tea Party activists with batons, raided homes without warrants, unjustly arrested and strip-searched Tea Party protesters, or attacked and intimidated journalists covering Tea Party rallies?

Me neither. But then again, the Tea Party took to the streets in favor of higher profits and less regulations for the richest 1 percent, whose ranks they hope to but will never join. The media is more than happy to inflate their crowd estimates, and police are more than happy to let pro-status quo protests take to the streets undisturbed. The Tea Party has since phased out street protests to take over a major political party and make it bend to their every radical whim.

While it hasn’t yet taken over a major party, the Occupy movement has successfully exposed the oppressive fascist police state that has reared its ugly head in the past year. If you want to see what tyranny looks like, consider what happened to the estimated 75,000 protesters who took on the military-industrial complex at last weekend’s NATO summit in Chicago, after the mayor revoked protesters’ attempts to lawfully assemble.

-A night before protests even begun, the Chicago Police Department raided an activist’s home and arrested several on unproven allegations of terrorist activity, all without a valid warrant.

-At the front of a police line surrounding a NATO gathering, police suddenly start beating unarmed protesters with batons in an eerie video resembling police at Egypt’s Tahrir Square.

-While covering the protests, credentialed journalists are attacked by police who use bicycles as weapons.

Continue reading at:  http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/05/23-4

Posted in Civil Rights, Class War, Constitutional Rights, Fascism, Globalization, Hard Times, Police Abuse, Police State. Comments Off on This Is What Tyranny Looks Like

Global Protests Against Draconian Education Cuts, Tuition Hikes

From The Nation:  http://www.thenation.com/blog/168049/global-protests-against-draconian-education-cuts-tuition-hikes

Allison Kilkenny
on May 24, 2012

Austerity protests have become part of the new global landscape, a reality underscored by a wave of recent protests in Philadelphia and Quebec.

More than 1,000 people rallied Wednesday to protest the Philadelphia District’s plans to “transform schools,” a pleasant euphemism generally meaning school closures and mass layoffs. The Philly district plans to possibly lay off 2,700 blue-collar workers, including every member of SEIU B2BJ Local 1201, the city school union representing bus assistants, cleaners, mechanics and other workers.

Philly.com reports that all these workers have received pink slips and could be let go by the end of the year.

Eleven men and three women were arrested during Wednesday’s protest, including B2BJ president George Ricchezza, union health and welfare administrator Dennis Biondo and retired teachers Lisa Haver and Ronald Whitehorne, among others. They were later released and are to be arraigned in June.

The individuals were arrested for “clogging traffic,” according to a local CBS affiliate.

Earlier in the month, the school system announced that it expects to close forty public schools next year and sixty-four by 2017, shocking figures that received little national attention, prompting Black Agenda Report’s Bruce A. Dixon to publish an article titled, “Why Isn’t Closing 40 Philadelphia Public Schools National News?

Continue reading at:  http://www.thenation.com/blog/168049/global-protests-against-draconian-education-cuts-tuition-hikes

Posted in Class War, Education, Environment, Equal Treatment, Globalization, Hard Times. Comments Off on Global Protests Against Draconian Education Cuts, Tuition Hikes

Did slaves catch your seafood?

From Salon:   http://www.salon.com/2012/05/21/did_slaves_catch_your_seafood/singleton/

Thailand, a major source of fish imported to the US, depends on forced labor for its product

By , GlobalPost
Monday, May 21, 2012

This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

PREY VENG, Cambodia, and SAMUT SAKHON, Thailand — In the sun-baked flatlands of Cambodia, where dust stings the eyes and chokes the pores, there is a tiny clapboard house on cement stilts. It is home to three generations of runaway slaves.

The man of the house, Sokha, recently returned after nearly two years in captivity. His home is just as he left it: barren with a few dirty pillows passing for furniture. Slivers of daylight glow through cracks in the walls. The family’s most valuable possession, a sow, waddles and snorts beneath the elevated floorboards.

Before his December escape, Sokha (a pseudonym) was the property of a deep-sea trawler captain. The 39-year-old Cambodian, his teenage son and two young nephews were purchased for roughly $650, he said, each through brokers promising under-the-table jobs in a fish cannery.

There was no cannery. They were instead smuggled to a pier in neighboring Thailand, where they were shoved aboard a wooden vessel that motored into a lawless sea. His uncle had fallen for the same scam five years prior and escaped to warn the others. But Sokha told his son, then just 16, that this venture would turn out differently. He was wrong.

“We worked constantly, for no pay, through seasickness and vomiting, sometimes for two or three days straight,” he said. “We obeyed the captain’s every word.”

Continue reading at:  http://www.salon.com/2012/05/21/did_slaves_catch_your_seafood/singleton/

Posted in Abuse, Class War, Fascism, Globalization, Hard Times, Human Rights, Nazism, Slavery, Workers. Comments Off on Did slaves catch your seafood?

Greeks fearing collapse of eurozone bailout pulled record sums from bank

From The Guardian UK: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/dec/16/greeks-fearing-collapse-of-eurozone-bailout-pulled-record-sums-from-bank

Bank of Greece reveals that investors fearful of political instability and economic collapse pulled €12.3bn from local banks as Papandreou referendum threatened debt deal

in Athens
guardian.co.uk
, Friday 16 December 2011

An unprecedented exodus of capital from Greece – peaking in a record number of withdrawals from banks in recent months – has exacerbated the liquidity crisis now wracking the recession-hit country.

The latest figures released by the Bank of Greece reveal that in September and October alone investors pulled €12.3bn (£10.3bn) from domestic banks, spurred by fears of political uncertainty and economic collapse.

Overall, outflows have reached a record 25% since September 2009 – when household and corporate deposits stood at a peak of €237.5bn, the data showed.

Theodore Pelagidis, an economics professor at the University of Piraeus, said: “This is part of the death spiral of the recession as a result of austerity measures. People realise that contagion has come to banks and they are very afraid of losing their deposits. On average around €4bn-€5bn in capital flees the banking system every month.”

The extraordinary figures back up anecdotal evidence that it is not just the super-rich behind the flight of funds.

Over the past year, as the eurozone debt crisis has intensified in the nation where it largely began, there have been countless cases of ordinary depositors hauling suitcases stuffed with cash to the safer destinations of Cyprus, London and Switzerland.

Continue reading at:   http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/dec/16/greeks-fearing-collapse-of-eurozone-bailout-pulled-record-sums-from-bank

Posted in Anti-Globalization, Class War, Corporate Abuse, Depression, Globalization, Hard Times, Uncategorized. Tags: , , . Comments Off on Greeks fearing collapse of eurozone bailout pulled record sums from bank

How Credit Collectors Have Reinvented the Debtors’ Prison

From New Deal 2.0:  http://www.newdeal20.org/2011/12/14/how-credit-collectors-have-reinvented-the-debtors-prison-67301/

by Mike Konczal
Wednesday, 12/14/2011

ew tactics have an old ring to them and low-income debtors are falling prey.

NPR just ran a story called “Unpaid Bills Land Some Debtors Behind Bars.” As they report, ”Here’s how it happens: A company will often sell off its debt to a collection agency, generally called a creditor. That creditor files a lawsuit against the debtor requiring a court appearance. A notice to appear in court is supposed to be given to the debtor. If they fail to show up, a warrant is issued for their arrest.” Marie Diamond has more.

This is increasingly common across the country. My colleagues Matt Stoller and Bryce Covert have both written about debtors being jailed for failure to appear in court. Debtors’ prisons are illegal, and some point out that this is really jail for a summons problem, not a payment. But I haven’t had a full vision of the practice until I read this excellent working paper by Lea Shepherd of Loyola Chicago law school, “Creditors Contempt” (h/t creditslips). Beyond laying out the problems with the current system, which gives a disproportionate amount of the coercive powers of the state to creditors, this paper also has implications for another topic I’m interested in — the class bias of the submerged state.

The key here is something called in personam debt collection remedies. In an agrarian economy, it was relatively straight forward for creditors to order a sheriff to seize the property of a debtor. In rem actions, where a sheriff would go and seize property, would work just fine. But this became harder to do as time went on.

The debt collection market evolved in personam debt collection remedies. This in personam action has two goals: discovery and collection. The court orders the debtor to disclose information about his property, location of his assets, etc. to help creditors track down those assets. Then the court orders certain payments to be made, which allows for collection. This court order is enforced through the court’s authority to hold debtors in contempt, which in turn is enforced through threats of imprisonment. Depending on the jurisdiction, contempt charges can be made against either the failure to show up for the discovery process or the failure to stick to the collection ordered.

Continue reading at:   http://www.newdeal20.org/2011/12/14/how-credit-collectors-have-reinvented-the-debtors-prison-67301/