Category: From the News

Meet IL Governor Bruce Rauner -- Poster Boy for War on Middle Class

Robert Creamer Political organizer, strategist and author

Meet IL Governor Bruce Rauner -- Poster Boy for War on Middle Class

Last fall, Illinois GOP candidate Bruce Rauner spent $63.9 million -- $27.3 million of his own money -- to buy the right to occupy the Illinois Governor's mansion.

Now that he's in office his first moves have confirmed that he is the poster boy for the War on the Middle Class.

Rauner is a hybrid of the worst traits of Mitt Romney and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. In fact, you could say he personally embodies the reason why -- even though our economy has grown 77% in the last 35 years -- the wages of ordinary Americans have been stagnant or actually declined.

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We Are the Most Unequal Society in the Developed World... And We Don't Know It

Les Leopold Author, The Looting of America

We Are the Most Unequal Society in the Developed World... And We Don't Know It

The American people have spoken. But what did we really say about inequality?

At first glance, it seems that extreme inequality mattered little to the majority of voters who put pro-business candidates into office. After all, the Republicans, along with far too many Democrats, are certain to cater to their Wall Street/CEO donors. Do Americans really want an ever rising gap between the super-rich and the rest of us?

A important study ("How Much (More) Should CEOs Make? A Universal Desire for More Equal Pay") by Sorapop Kiatpongsan and Michael I. Norton provides insight on why Americans aren't more upset about rising inequality: It shows we are clueless about how bad it really is. Their analysis of a 2009 international survey of 55,187 people from 40 countries, found that when it comes to understanding the severity of inequality, we're the most clueless of all.

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A Really Good Reason to Oppose the Next 'Trade' Deals

Stan Sorscher

Stan Sorscher Labor Representative, Society for Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace

My job depends on trade. I'm 100 percent in favor of trade.

By the same token, we can have good trade policies that raise living standards, or bad trade policies that deindustrialize our economy and distort social and political power relationships.


Figure 1. What people hear, when you say "trade deal."

Two cases in point: the "Trans-Pacific Partnership" (TPP) and the "Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership" (TTIP). Both are variations on NAFTA, a vigorously oversold agreement with Canada and Mexico.


Figure 2. Twelve Pacific Rim countries currently negotiating in the Trans-Pacific Partnership

Journalist William Greider explains the origin and intent of one particularly troubling feature of the NAFTA model. NAFTA's legal process helps global companies enforce certain provisions in the agreement. In full jargon, it is called "investor-state dispute settlement," or ISDS.

We understand how the US Constitution establishes our legal framework. The Constitution and Bill of Rights were specifically written to protect individuals from tyranny, and balance public interests with private interests. Our courts settle legal disputes by applying Constitutional principles.

NAFTA, as a legal framework, creates a parallel structure at the global level. However, NAFTA and similar deals have a very different design goal. They prioritize corporate investor rights, while pushing public interests to the side.

As the cynical catchphrase goes, under NAFTA, governments can do "whatever they want," to protect the environment, labor rights, human rights, public health, prudent financial regulation, and internet freedom (for instance), as long as they pay corporations for any lost profit -- including potential profit for activities that have not even occurred, yet!

Greider sketches the history of this question in America. In 1905, a corporate-friendly Supreme Court held that employers' rights outweighed public interest. That Court struck down laws setting a 10-hour day(!) and workplace safety rules. In the 30's, the Supreme Court reversed this interpretation, and recognized the legitimate role of government regulation in the public interest.

During the '30s, corporate interests were pushed back in a political struggle. The widespread economic suffering of that time discredited the idea of unregulated capitalism. New policies brought in a system of controls and regulations for banking and workplace safety. We introduced unemployment insurance, bank deposit insurance, and other familiar policies to prevent the huge market failures of the Great Depression.

NAFTA was negotiated in the early 90's. With NAFTA, corporate interests could draft a new global legal system on a clean sheet of paper. Battles lost in the 30's could be won quietly at the global level in the 90's.

NAFTA set up rules favoring global corporations, and shadowy trade tribunals to enforce those rules.

In practice, these tribunals can compel outcomes favorable to global corporations, in spite of decisions made through our domestic legislative process, or courts -- including the Supreme Court.

Trade tribunals are not courts. They don't have judges. Trade lawyers render decisions. They are not accountable to any political body. The proceedings are secret. Complaints are brought by corporations; all defendants are countries. Decisions reflect global investor rights, as written into NAFTA-style trade deals. Since public interest and public good are subordinated in the trade deals, people and the planet take a distant second place in decisions rendered by the trade tribunals.

In this system, foreign corporations have greater rights than domestic corporations. Of course, in the global economy, any large company can create a token presence offshore, and use that entity to seek damages in a trade tribunal. Any corporation with money and nerve can challenge a national law or court. Over 500 such ISDS cases have been filed, and the number is growing rapidly.

Greider interviewed a lead NAFTA negotiator who explained that it was his clear intention to rewrite the history of investor rights.

As for anyone troubled by the intrusions on US sovereignty, he said, "My only advice is, get over it. " ... the architects of NAFTA knew exactly what they were creating. "The parties did not stumble into this," he said. "This was a carefully crafted definition [of investor rights]."

In Greider's article, Georgetown law professor Robert Stumberg sharpens this point.

NAFTA's investor protections "are based on a long-term strategy, carefully thought out by business, with many study groups and law firms involved in developing them. This is about limiting the authority of government -- that is its central importance."

NAFTA, TPP, TTIP and other NAFTA-style deals are not "trade agreements." They are moral, social, political and economic documents -- with governing authority similar to our Constitution. One difference, of course, is that the Constitution never mentions corporations -- not even once. In contrast, these bad trade deals establish legal and social standards heavily biased in favor of investors.

In the '90s, NAFTA advocates enjoyed a presumption of trust. We trusted that public interest and moral values were an effective counterweight to global corporate power. Skeptics of NAFTA had the burden of proof.

Twenty years after NAFTA, we can look back and measure decades of glowing promises against our lived experience. Public trust is shifting. Now, negotiators for TPP and TTIP have the burden of proof.

Consider this: The web of NAFTA-style trade deals is a system, specifically designed to shift power in favor of global corporations. This is a system designed to work for the 1% and to subordinate the interests of most of the people we know. These deals are purposefully designed to determine how life will be organized in 2050.

Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz calls this trade policy "global governance without global government."

This system is doing exactly what it was designed to do.

If TPP, TTIP and other bad trade deals go into effect, they will lock in global standards for generations, with no practical process to modify, amend or repeal them.

Investor-state dispute settlement is a really good reason to oppose TPP and TTIP. We should rethink the entire premise for ISDS.

The last thing we should do is ratify TPP and TTIP, elevating ISDS to a global norm for generations.

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This has been reposted from The Huffington Post.

USW Lays Out Action Platform as Gerard Denounces 'Shrewd, Greedy and Powerful' Forces Set to Destroy Workers

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Steelworkers convention delegates adopted a multi-point action platform for their union for coming years to battle what re-elected President Leo Gerard called “shrewd, greedy and powerful” forces out to destroy workers.

The plan was touchstone of the 4-day convention, in Las Vegas , August 11-15.

The platform calls for the union, which represents workers in steel, oil, rubber and plastics, chemicals and other industries, “to fight continually” for jobs with family-sustaining wages and to reduce income inequality.  Reducing inequality “is at the core of rebuilding our economies.” delegates said.  That means also changing the way USW organizes, they said.  

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The States With The Highest Uninsurance Rates Are All Led By Republicans

Tara Culp-Ressler

Tara Culp-Ressler Health Editor, Think Progress

The States With The Highest Uninsurance Rates Are All Led By Republicans

The 10 states with the highest percentage of uninsured adult residents all have one thing in common: They’re led by Republican governors or legislatures.

That data comes from the latest polling from Gallup, which confirms the widening gulf between red states and blue states when it comes to health coverage. This divide existed before health reform went into effect; however, it’s only gotten worse under Obamacare, which has helped the national uninsurance rate plunge to record lows but which has been implemented unevenly across the country.

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Largest American Drugstore Chain Decides Not To Dodge Taxes By Moving Headquarters Overseas

Bryce Covert

Bryce Covert Economic Policy Editor, Think Progress

Largest American Drugstore Chain Decides Not To Dodge Taxes By Moving Headquarters Overseas

Walgreen Co announced on Wednesday that it won’t go through with its acquisition of Switzerland-based Alliance Boots, a move called an “inversion” that would have shifted company headquarters overseas to avoid paying U.S. taxes.

While it will still go through with buying all of Alliance Boots’s shares, Walgreen will still be based in the Chicago area.

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Extending Unemployment Benefits During The Recession Prevented 1.4 Million Foreclosures

Bryce Covert

Bryce Covert Economic Policy Editor, Think Progress

Extending Unemployment Benefits During The Recession Prevented 1.4 Million Foreclosures

Extending unemployment insurance during the recession didn’t just give the unemployed some extra income, but actually prevented millions from being foreclosed on, according to a new study from Joanne W. Hsu, David A. Matsa, and Brian T. Melzer.

Given that different states have different amounts they’ll pay out in unemployment benefits — in 2011 it ranged from $6,000 in Mississippi to $28,000 in Massachusetts — the researchers looked at what impact more generous benefits had on mortgage delinquency. They found that for every $1,000 extra in maximum benefits, the likelihood that an unemployed worker’s mortgage would go into delinquency declines by 25 basis points. Getting benefits for a longer period has a similar effect, as each additional week decreases the chance of delinquency by 34 basis points. “Based on this variety of tests, we conclude that the estimated effect of UI generosity is causal,” they write, meaning that bigger checks reduce the chances of going into delinquency directly.

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With One Case Before State Supreme Court, 2nd IN Judge Rules “Right-to-Work” Unconstitutional

Chaz Bolte

Chaz Bolte

An Indiana Judge has ruled that the state’s “Right-to-Work” law is unconstitutional, the second such blow to the legislation since its passage in 2012.

Lake County Circuit Judge George Paras decided against the state in United Steelworkers vs. Zoeller on July 17th, ruling that the law was “null and void in its entirety” and the state is “permanently enjoined” from enforcing it.  The law is already before the state Supreme Court as a result of a challenge from the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 150.  Oral arguments in that case are set to be heard on September 4th. 

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Walgreens May Face Consumer, Political Backlash if It Elects to Become a 'Corporate Deserter'

Robert Creamer Political organizer, strategist and author

Within the next several weeks Illinois-based Walgreens drug store chain is set to decide if it will become what President Obama referred to last week as a "corporate deserter" by - in essence - tearing up its U.S. Citizenship in order to cut its corporate taxes.

Walgreens recently bought a 45 percent stake in the Swiss drug chain, Alliance-Boots. It is now considering whether to complete a merger with the Swiss firm, so it can move its official corporate headquarters to lower-tax Switzerland, while maintaining most of its operations in the United States.

Forty-seven American corporations have used this this tax trick - known as an "inversion" -- over the last decade and the maneuver is increasingly favored by corporations that apparently have no loyalty to the United States - and instead have pledged allegiance entirely to their own bottom lines.

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Big Lie: America Doesn't Have #1 Richest Middle-Class in the World: We're Ranked 27th!

Les Leopold Author, The Looting of America

Big Lie: America Doesn't Have #1 Richest Middle-Class in the World: We're Ranked 27th!

America is the richest country on Earth. We have the most millionaires, the most billionaires, and our wealthiest citizens have garnered more of the planet's riches than any other group in the world. We even have hedge fund managers who make in one hour as much as the average family makes in 21 years!  

This opulence is supposed to trickle down to the rest of us, improving the lives of everyday Americans. At least that's what free-market cheerleaders repeatedly promise us.

Unfortunately, it's a lie, one of the biggest ever perpetrated on the American people.

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Union Matters

Steel for Wind Power

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities. 

Siemens Gamesa last month laid off 130 workers at its turbine blade manufacturing plant in Iowa, just months after GE Renewable Energy decided to close an Arkansas factory and eliminate 470 jobs.

The companies reported shrinking demand for their products, even though U.S. consumption of wind energy increases every year.

America’s prosperity depends not only on harnessing this crucial energy source but also ensuring that highly skilled U.S. workers build the components with the cleanest technology available.

Right now, the nation relies on imported steel and turbine components from foreign manufacturers like China while America’s own steel industry—well equipped for this production—struggles because of dumping and other unfair trade practices.

Steel makes up the bulk of turbine hubs and the wind towers themselves. It’s also used to make the cranes and platforms necessary for installing the towers.

Yet the potential boon to America’s steel industry is just one reason to ramp up domestic production of wind energy infrastructure.

American steel production ranks among the cleanest in the world, while China has the highest carbon emissions of any steelmaking nation and flouts environmental regulations.

The nation’s highly-skilled steelmaking workforce must play an essential role in the deeply-needed revitalization and modernization of the nation’s failing infrastructure. Producing the components for harnessing wind energy domestically and cleanly is an important step that will put Americans to work and position the United States to be world leaders in this growing industry.

 

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work