What they know for sure that just ain’t so about the minimum wage

February 27, 2014

Some corporate shills say they “know for sure” that raising it will result in fewer jobs.  They claim that if you raise the price of labor, you will have less of it, simple supply and demand.   But it just ain’t so. The common sensical know employers hire workers when they have work to get done.  A restaurant owner hires a cook when they need a cook.  If they have to pay that cook a little more per hour, are they going to lay them off?  No.  They still need a cook.  They might raise prices a tiny bit if their market competition will allow it.  They might take lower profits for themselves (now there’s a novel idea).  They might shift spending on material goods.

Raising the minimum wage actually boosts overall employment.  Those who earn at that level spend everything they earn.  They may buy more from their own employer or from the store down the street.  This increases demand, more work needs to be done and more workers are hired.  The whole wage scale slides up a little too, which adds more demand.  Consumers are the real job creators, so when you give them more money they create a need for additional jobs.  This has been the actual effect when the minimum wage has been increased in the past, including the 4 years following the minimum wage increase of 1996.  Why should we think it would be any different today?

With so many large employers paying such low wages, millions of workers cannot make ends meet.  They have to rely on assistance programs paid for by the taxpayers.   This boosts government spending, deficits and debt.  It is also a de facto subsidy of those businesses by the taxpayers.  However, if we raise wages, incomes go up and more is paid into, not out of, government funds.  More sales taxes are paid as well.

You’d think there would be widespread support across party lines for raising the minimum wage.  And you’d be thinking right, because there is widespread support among the American people.  It’s the conservative elected officials blocking the road to prosperity for us all.  They, such as our two Texas Republican Senators Cornyn and Cruz, know a lot that just ain’t so.

What They Know For Sure Just Ain’t So

December 30, 2013

I hope for the new year that “conservatives” will update their databanks regarding how our economy, society and government actually work.  As Mark Twain said, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”  When public policy is based on misinformation it’s usually ineffective or destructive. And, when ineffective or destructive public policy harms people, animals or the planet, in my book that IS “evil.”  People of all religious leanings (or none at all) agree we aren’t supposed to go around hurting others.

We have recently become fully aware that, for decades, a disinformation campaign, funded by self-interested billionaires, has been spinning away in support of really libertarian, not traditional conservative, public policy.  There never has been a successful society organized around libertarian principles, so, not surprisingly, these public policies, have destructive outcomes.  They place Wall Street, billionaires and corporations in control of the people and their government.  Additionally, it makes it difficult to argue amicably regarding what our government should do if we can’t agree on the facts.  For example, it makes it impossible to move forward as a nation when libertarian Republicans control a US House of Representatives with the worst performance in the history of the Republic.

They formed think tanks and funded segments of educational institutions to give the patina of truth to propaganda.  They’ve bought up TV networks and stations, newspapers large and small, and radio networks, then hired pundits to repeat the misinformation again and again or to omit myth-busting facts.  They’ve even established organizations that write their favored laws and place them in the fists of their funded and promoted elected officials for adoption. They fund campaigns of hatred and lies to attack those who speak truth or oppose their agenda.  The propaganda has infected primarily the Republican Party, but Democrats are not immune, as  today those who call themselves “conservative” in both parties really speak fluent libertarian.  If you think I exaggerate please read up on the history of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the John Birch Society, the Koch brothers, the State Policy Network, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Rupert Murdoch and Fox News.

Well, what are some the demonstrably factually wrong ideas?  I simply list some here because space doesn’t allow discussion.  They’ve been thoroughly debunked and exposed as wrong and some about our economy are as follows:

Government does not create jobs.

Government spending on social programs is redistribution of wealth, but government tax policies that favor the wealthy are not redistribution.

Government tax policies are not the source of our income inequality.

Income or wealth inequality on the scale we have today isn’t a serious threat to our economy, society and democracy.

The “free” market provides better solutions to social problems than do government social programs.

Religious and private charities can meet the needs of our unemployed, disabled, children, elderly and poor.

Government social programs don’t work; they create more problems than they solve; they create greater dependency and reward laziness.

A corollary of that–The New Deal and regulatory policies of FDR did not lead to recovery from the Great Depression and LBJ’s policies (Medicare, Medicaid, Welfare) of the 60s did not reduce poverty or help the middle class.

Another corollary–The stimulative efforts of President Obama along with our social safety net (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, food stamps) didn’t pull us out of the latest depression.

People using food stamps (SNAP) are able-bodied but too lazy to work.

Most of the money in government social programs goes to bureaucrats not people in need.

Unemployment insurance makes the unemployed avoid seeking work or education to get new employment; it kills jobs, hurts the economy.

Raising the minimum wage reduces employment and causes price inflation.

Minimum-wage jobs are most often held by teenagers.

Our government annual deficits and total debt are due to social safety net spending.

Our deficit and public debt are the greatest threat to our national security.

Our government has a spending problem, not a revenue problem.

“Austerity” (lower taxes and lower government spending) leads to economic recovery and creates jobs; especially tax cuts on higher incomes create jobs.

Government regulations reduce employment (i.e., kill jobs).

Immigration and immigration reform, including citizenship for those undocumented, harms our society and our economy.

The Affordable Care Act takes health insurance away from people; will increase the debt and deficits; will reduce the ability of people to get the care they need; will reduce individual freedom; will kill jobs and harm the economy.

Social Security is bankrupt.

We’re broke and can’t afford the government we used to have.

The policies of the Obama administration have driven the debt higher; spending is out of control under President Obama.

Unfortunately that’s hardly an exhaustive list.  Remember, no matter how many times you may hear these myths repeated, it will NEVER make them true.  Whether it’s in the local newspaper or on national TV channels, these things some people “know for sure….just ain’t so.”  Worse still, this misinformation is spread to induce support for government policies that directly harm people, our society and our democracy while serving only the profits of corporations (especially polluters), Wall Street and the wealthy. These myths justify cuts to food assistance, education, Social Security, and local services like police and fire protection.  They support the failure to extend unemployment benefits to over a million long-term unemployed, the failure to put people back to work upgrading aging infrastructure and the failure to raise the minimum wage which has not kept up with inflation.  They leave in the shadows over 10 million immigrants deserving of citizenship.   They would take away our recent improvements in health care accessibility and quality. They call for spending cuts while refusing to raise taxes on corporations and higher incomes back where they used to be to fund government services.  Look in the mirror, Mr and Ms America, these tales you’ve been told are justifying public policies that either directly or indirectly hurt YOU.  It’s past time to bust those myths wide open.

Do you still want to repeal Obamacare?

May 30, 2012

Do you really want the Supreme Court to rule the whole act unconstitutional? Do you really want to put the health insurance conglomerates back in complete control of your health care?  Then, to put it politely, what ARE you thinking?

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is over 2 years old.  Though not all provisions have kicked in, enough have to be of genuine benefit to millions of Americans already.  I’m one who’s already benefitted and you might be too.

2.5 million more young adults have insurance coverage thanks to the provision that allowed them to stay on their parents’ plan until age 26.

More than 5 million seniors have saved more than $3.1 billion on prescription drug costs.  Some, caught in the “doughnut hole” where prescription coverage dropped off, got direct rebates of $250 and, in time, the doughnut hole will be complexly erased.

Millions of people (including me) have not paid a copayment for annual checkups and preventive care such as cancer screenings and contraceptives.  They’re not free – we pay for those in our premiums.

Insurance companies can no longer drop your coverage when you most need it or deny benefits to any of the 17.5 million children with pre-existing conditions. 62,000 adults have been able to get insurance from Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plans and in 2014 everyone with pre-existing conditions must be insured.

When someone faces a devastating diagnosis, they no longer need to worry about their insurance having a lifetime limit on benefits. If they are uninsured, they will have access to new coverage when insurers refuse to offer it.

Insurance companies now have to justify excessive proposed rate hikes, with states establishing review procedures that limit annual increases.  Some rate hikes exceeding 10% have already been ruled improper and rolled back, benefitting millions of customers. (Unfortunately for Texans, the Texas Department of Insurance, under heavy pressure from lobbyists, is dragging its feet on this process.)

Performance standards are being enhanced to improve patient care and reduce injury or deaths from medical or hospital errors, a serious problem in the US.  The network of community federally-funded health centers is already being expanded.  The health care provider industry is among the fastest growing sectors of the American economy, contributing to our recovery from recession and providing millions of good-paying jobs that can’t be outsourced to other countries.  For example, one young adult I know is completing training as an assistant physical therapist and another just received certification as a massage therapist.

In January 2011, a requirement became effective that insurance companies spend 80% of premiums dollars on direct care, not on administrative costs, CEO salaries and profits.  If they fail to spend 80% they have to return the extra money to consumers.  Already insurers have had to return $1.3 billion to consumers they overcharged.

Worried about our national debt?  Obamacare is beginning to slow the growth in health care spending.  Medicare projections of cost increases are $70 billion lower than predictions before Obamacare.  As a matter of fact, the Congressional Budget Office reported that, because it contained a number of cost control measures, repealing the act would add significantly to Medicare and Medicaid costs.  Repeal would add to our national debt.

And, in case your sympathies lie with the insurance companies, their profits have never been better and, if the law were repealed, they would lose $1 trillion in future revenue.  In place of 32 million more customers, they have to meet reasonable standards that protect those customers from abuse.

Still hate that “mandate” even though it hasn’t become effective?  Well, if you have insurance, as 60% of Americans do, it won’t even apply to you at all. And, when it becomes effective, all it will amount to is a penalty on your income taxes that is less than the amount you would pay in insurance. For the tax penalty you would get nothing, but for the health insurance you might get care you would not have otherwise received.

Before the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was enacted, 70% of Americans wanted health care reform that would cover everyone.  When it passed, Republican leaders said they supported 80% of it.  Now, they want to repeal the whole thing and replace it with what?  They now say they’ll replace it with nothing, nada, zip for millions of Americans.  What reason do they give for wanting to repeal it?  Again, none except an irrational hatred for our President with such a passion that you and I and our welfare have become irrelevant to them.

Here’s the point of the whole thing.  Millions more Americans are now able to go to a doctor or be hospitalized or buy medicine and get health care THEY WOULD NOT OTHERWISE have received without Obamacare.  How many lives do you suppose have already become healthier, longer or happier?  Anyone’s guess, but it’s sure to be many.  For those who would do away with Obamacare, what is it about healthier, longer and happier that you don’t like?

Why the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Should be Found Constitutional

April 8, 2012

While the Supreme Court considers appeals regarding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) – which some pro and con now call “Obamacare” for different reasons – we citizens can apply our own common sense to the question.   When we do, we see that, unless this Court engages in rampant judicial activism driven by political ideology, they should uphold the act.

Consider these portions of the US Constitution:

Article I The Legislative Branch

Section 8 – Powers of Congress

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States;

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;

And; To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

Look at the second of the powers listed: To regulate Commerce  “among the several States….,” in other words, “interstate commerce.”  Is buying and selling health care insurance interstate commerce?  Seems pretty clear that it is since customers buy coverage from nation-wide companies.  Is buying and selling health care itself – paying the doctors, hospitals, drug companies, etc. to care for us – interstate commerce?  Again, it surely is, as the providers, the medicines and the equipment come from all over the world.

Look at the last of the powers listed, the power “To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers….”  Under this section, Congress is authorized to enact detailed standards and requirements “necessary and proper” to accomplish their goals.  We should not be surprised the act takes up two thousand pages and has to be phased in.  It’s a big deal benefiting millions of Americans and something 70% of us asked Congress to do in 2008.

So, how did Congress choose to enforce a requirement that everyone obtain health insurance coverage?  Read the first of the enumerated powers:  “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes….”  They chose to enforce PPACA through the tax code.  The “individual mandate” is actually in 2 parts of the act.  The first part says everyone must buy insurance and the second part says that, if they don’t do so, they will have a penalty added to their taxes.  No one goes to jail or faces criminal or civil penalties.  And if we are unable to pay for the insurance, assistance in getting good coverage will be provided.  By the way, the “individual mandate” has no effect whatsoever on people who have health insurance – over 60% of the population.

With authority to tax, Congress could have taken other routes in assuring health care that would also be constitutional. Congress could have simply left out the first part of the individual mandate and left in place the tax penalty clause to have exactly the same effect. Alternatively, they could have just raised everyone’s taxes to fund a single-payer insurance program like Medicare and made it available to everyone. Either way, the authority of the government to lay and collect taxes and thus enforce the mandate is provided in the Constitution.

Regarding the requirement to purchase insurance from private companies, government often requires that we pay for certain things we may not want to purchase – like care insurance we may never use.  Intuitively we know that health care isn’t the same as cars. Virtually, all of us will at some time need health care, yet we don’t know in advance when and what we will need; and at the time of need we likely won’t be able to pay out of pocket.  So we must pre-pay for some unknown but virtually certain need.  Those of us who don’t pay are costing those of us who do over $1,000 on average per year to cover their care. There’s evidence in the questions asked by the Supreme Court justices, that they understood how this market works and why everyone has to pay so everyone is covered.

Finally, in previous decisions, the Supreme Court has asserted its authority to rule on the constitutionality of legislation, a claim unchallenged by Congress and the President. However, the Court also has ruled that acts of Congress are presumed to be constitutional because House and Senate members are elected by the people and take the same oath of office the justices do to uphold the Constitution of the United States.  The Legislature is a branch of government coequal with the Supreme Court; thus the Court has recognized that ruling legislation unconstitutional “…frustrates the intent of the elected representatives of the people.”  The Supreme Court has previously upheld many interstate commerce and tax laws. If they now were to rule PPACA unconstitutional it would call into question other programs (like Medicare) that have long provided “…for the common defence and general Welfare of the United States…”

An “activist court” steps beyond its proper authority by ignoring the actual wording of the Constitution and ignoring previous court decisions in order to write its own laws based on its own ideology.  Odds are good that a majority of the members of this Court know both the Constitution and the previous decisions of their Court. When they were confirmed before the Senate they all testified under oath that they would follow “stare decisis” and abide by the rulings of previous Courts.  Thus it would be an extremist and activist court that failed to uphold PPACA.

By the way, if you think PPACA erodes your individual freedom, consider how free you’d feel ill, aged or disabled and unable to get care because you didn’t have insurance or your insurer had dumped you.  A whole other article could be written on the “powers” individuals have already or will gain from “Obamacare.”  It’s likely a majority of the Supreme Court justices know this as well and are reluctant to take those away from the people.

 

Confronting Congressman Francisco Canseco, Texas Dist 23, With Some Inconvenient Truths

October 18, 2011

A fellow progressive Texas Democrat and I attended the town hall meeting conducted Saturday, October 15, 2011, by Congressman Francisco Canseco in Marfa, Texas.  To our surprise, we were the only citizens there, so the Congressman said we could proceed in a more informal manner.  Instead of listening to his entire speech then commenting or asking questions, we were able to stop him at various points for discussion.

His presentation can be summarized as the facts are ALL fixed around the policies and the policies ALL serve large corporations, banks, Wall Street and the wealthy.  In an effort to convince us that government debt was the country’s most serious problem, he first presented the same chart as at the last town hall in Alpine.  It says it’s based on Congressional Budget Office projections, but it went far beyond those for purely dramatic effect.  While CBO does no projections further than 10 years, his chart projects the debt out to 2077 and assumes no action to reduce it.  No wonder the debt goes off the chart.

We asked why he didn’t mention the causes of the debt.  It’s only logical to look there if aiming to reduce it.  He falsely insisted that it was all due to excessive spending under President Obama. We reminded him that the debt rose from roughly $5 trillion to $10 trillion under President Bush.  And furthermore, most of the debt under President Obama ($4 trillion) is due to continuation of policies he inherited, such as the Bush tax cuts, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and Medicare Part D giveaway to pharmaceuticals.

Then there is debt due to stimulus spending necessary to recover from the economic collapse caused by deregulation of financial institutions.  Over the past 2 decades “Big Money” was able to get Congress to legalize their scams then bail them out when it all blew up.  Now, this Republican Congressman, who sits on the Financial Services Committee, wants to repeal the Dodd-Frank regulations and let Big Money destroy the economy again.  We asked him why and he insisted “regulations were causing uncertainty.”

In trying to sell us on the need for a Balanced Budget Amendment to force the Federal government to spend no more than it receives, Congressman Canseco claimed that almost half of Americans were not paying any personal income tax, as if to imply they were freeloaders.  We stopped him there to remind that the reason they don’t pay is they don’t earn enough to pay income taxes.  The percent of non-payers used to be around 35% and now has risen to 47% as most American incomes have stalled or fallen.  Furthermore, all those non-payers of income tax do pay other taxes – payroll taxes, sales, and property taxes.  As a result middle and low income Americans pay a much higher percentage of their earnings in overall taxes than do the wealthy and corporations.

The Balanced Budget Amendment is such a non-starter that Congressman Canseco didn’t bother to sell it further.  It only sounds good – “don’t buy what you can’t pay for on the spot.”  Families, small and large businesses and states do have to balance their budgets, but it is not the same with the Federal government.  It sets the value of money and has responsibility for operation of the economy, overspending when necessary to restore balance and deal with emergencies such as natural disasters.  Furthermore, families, small and large businesses and states do have to operate with some debt within their balanced budgets.  So to imply that a Balanced Budget Amendment would end government debt is misleading.

The reason the amendment is being pushed by the Big Money backing Congressman Canseco is that it’s paired with a provision requiring a supermajority (e.g. 60%) vote to raise taxes.  That’s the same undemocratic provision as California’s Proposition 13 that severely damaged the state economy and cut services for all Californians.  And it is similar to one of the rules of the US Senate that has turned that body into a roadblock to passing much-needed legislation.

At a time when a clear majority (actually even a supermajority) of Americans want to raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations, Republicans like Congressman Canseco are now blocking it and trying to make it almost impossible to achieve in the future.

We addressed his other false talking points one by one.  One was that “government doesn’t create jobs.”  It’s mystifying to have to explain this to a supposedly knowledgeable US Congressman.  It’s obvious that government creates millions of jobs, some by directly employing people to do the public’s work.  Millions more are created through government contracting whereby private companies hire workers to do things like infrastructure improvement.  They buy materials from other companies supporting more jobs.  And those employees go out and buy food, goods and services, which creates jobs throughout the economy.  Then taxes come back to the government at all levels.

Another talking point was a claim that small businesses are struggling under “burdensome regulations.”  We informed him of a recent survey of businesses nationwide which revealed their biggest concern was providing health insurance for employees and business insurance.  They were also concerned with inability to get loans, high interest rates on credit debt and a lack of customers.  Regulations were not a major concern for small businesses.  But two kinds of businesses do want fewer regulations:  Big polluting industries like oil, gas and minerals and large financial institutions, both Congressman Canseco’s base.

High gasoline prices are also restraining our economy and up to 40% of the price is due to speculation in oil commodity futures.  Congressman Canseco denied these facts and refuses to regulate that speculation.

We discussed a non-economics issue, asking why he voted for HB 358, the “Let Women Die” Act.  Currently, if someone appears in an emergency room in need of life-saving treatment, the hospital has to provide treatment if it can.  This bill makes an exception for one group of people, pregnant women.  It allows a hospital to refuse to treat a women bleeding to death from a miscarriage if the life-saving procedure is an abortion.  Congressman Canseco denied that this was in the bill and insisted that it was only about federal funding for abortions, something already prohibited under the Hyde Amendment.  Cynically, the bill was formally titled “Protect Life Act” to deceive apparently even the Congressman.  Its passage by the House was all for show.  It’s unlikely to pass the Senate and President Obama will veto it if it does.  But this is what our Congress was doing instead of passing a true jobs bill.

Perhaps none of our input got through to the Congressman, but we left him with the assurance that we were not going away.  We’re going to continue to “occupy” his space in sympathy with the Occupy Wall Street movement and on behalf of the 99 percent of the American people now under the thumb of the 1% wealthiest he serves.

How the Koch Brothers Mess With the Texas Environment (Revised)

August 11, 2011

(Note:  This is a revision of the earlier article of the same name made after I received more information about Koch Industries manipulation of oil commodity prices)

Remember the old saying “What’s good for business is good for Texas?”  Perhaps that old saw just won’t cut it anymore. The “Billionaire Brothers Koch” apparently believe that what’s good specifically for THEIR business is good for YOU, Mr and Ms Texan.

Koch Industries, the second largest privately held US corporation, has subsidiaries in all but a few states. They earn $100 billion each year marketing a wide array of products.  Subsidiaries are all over Texas, including Flint Hills Resources, Koch Pipeline Company, INVISTA, Georgia-Pacific, Koch Supply & Trading, Koch Carbon, Koch Pulp & Paper Trading, Koch Agriculture Company (including the Matador Ranch), Koch Chemical Technology Group, and Koch Nitrogen Company.

They refine and supply oil, gas and chemicals (with a web of pipelines and terminals in every major Texas city), fabrics like nylon, spandex and polyester polymers (e.g., STAINMASTER® carpet and COOLMAX® fabric), construction materials like wallboard, pulp, paper and tissue, and cattle and horses.  Furthermore, they trade commodities and derivatives in financial markets.

To distort the information base from which public policy is derived, the Koch brothers have created and/or helped fund foundations and “think tanks” like the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Institute for Policy Innovation, and the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

But that’s not all:  They’ve injected their ideology into public institutions of higher education such as the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in Virginia.  Recently, Charles Koch donated $1.5 million to Florida State University’s economics program with strings attached allowing him approval of professors hired.  Individually and through the Association of Private Enterprise Education, the Kochs fund dozens of university programs with similar strings, such as a focus on specific research benefiting their industries and installing “pre-trained,” industry-friendly professors.

But that’s not all:  They have funded and informed a variety of political advocacy groups, their “boots on the ground,” to spread the corporate ideology across the land – e.g., Americans for Prosperity, Citizens for a Sound Economy, Citizens for the Environment, FreedomWorks, the Independent Women’s Forum and, most recently, tea party groups.

But that’s not all:  After the Citizens United Supreme Court decision awarding 1st Amendment personhood rights to corporations, in 2010 Koch Industries directly enlisted their 50,000 employees into political action on behalf of KOCHPAC, supplying them with lists of favored candidates for whom it was “suggested” they campaign and vote.  Through this and through campaign and “outside” funding, they succeeded in electing tea party Republicans who are currently wrecking havoc on our state and nation.

The public policies that benefit Koch Industries stretch too far across the political spectrum to cover in one article.  However, prime policy goals are the rollback of environmental and safety standards, the weakening of environmental enforcement and prevention of citizen action against polluters.

Through sympathetic appointees and elected officials they have succeeded in weakening the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), most recently making it harder for citizens to contest permits granted.  In 2009, the US EPA stated that TCEQ’s pollution rules did not fulfill the requirements of the Clean Air Act and were inadequate for protecting our air and water.  The Koch Industries solution is to just do away with the EPA instead of upgrading TCEQ, and they recently succeeded in getting Congress to cut EPA funds.

The Independent Women’s Forum attacks public school curricula regarding what they call the “junk science” of man-made global climate change.  The Koch-backed political machine is fighting market-based strategies such as “cap and trade” which account for the cost of carbon discharges. Meanwhile, in other countries they profit from trading carbon credits. Their raft of lawyers and lobbyists fought the designation of dioxin and formaldehyde as a cancer risks.

Koch commodity traders invented the speculative oil derivative in 1986 and obtained market deregulation in the 1990s. In 2009 Koch Industries boasted of being one of the world’s top five oil speculators.  The financial reform bill in 2009 ordered that oil speculation again be regulated but Koch and other oil speculators are fighting it tooth and nail. The price spikes of 2008 and today have not been caused by oil supply problems. Oil company CEO’s recently testified to Congress that prices would be 30-40% lower without market speculation.

This anti-environment agenda benefits Koch Industries bottom line.  It’s costly to meet environmental and safety standards, and Koch Industries has paid millions in penalties for their environmental catastrophes.  Some of many examples:  In the mid 90s, they paid $33 million in fines and committed to $5 million in environmental projects for 300 spills discharging 3 million gallons of oil.  In 1999, they were found negligent in the deaths of two Texas teenagers from a leaky underground butane pipeline.

Doing the right thing might have been easier, but Koch Industries instead backs “tort reform” to limit the ability of injured parties to sue for damages and make “losers pay” if they are outmatched by corporate attorneys.

Texans, are these public policies good for you?  Does it matter to you that Texas leads the nation in toxic chemicals in water, in carcinogens and carbon dioxide in the air?  If Texas was a nation it would rank 7th in the world in total carbon dioxide emissions.

Is it good for your children to NOT learn the science of global climate change?  Are you willing to bet THEIR future on the remote chance that all the pertinent organizations and countless reputable climate scientists are wrong?

If you or your family were injured by the actions of heavy industries, is it OK with you that seeking compensation through the courts is curtailed?  Will you not get cancer from exposure to dioxin or formaldehyde just because they say so?

When you hear their spokespersons call for the elimination of the “onerous” EPA or “burdensome” financial regulations ask yourself if those agencies and regulations are as much an onerous burden on you as is the haze in Big Bend National Park or the price of gas inflated by unrestrained market speculation.

What’s good for Koch Industries is not good for Texas or for the nation. And they are not alone at the trough of public policy that is really corporate welfare. But, unless we rethink old sayings, get the facts, stand up, speak out, and demand government policies that serve the interests of the people, not the corporations, one of these days we may find the formerly great state of Texas listed among the “subsidiaries” of corporations like Koch Industries.

Another Day Older and Deeper in Debt

June 17, 2011

Got debt?  Do you have credit cards, car loans or a mortgage.  If so, what do you suppose would happen if you wrote those who loaned you the money and said you weren’t going to pay back what you’ve already borrowed?

The consequences would be pretty grim.  Interest rates on your debt would quickly rise as would the amount creditors expected you to pay each month.  Your credit score would drop, limiting your future capability to borrow.  And if you defaulted on secured debt like auto and home loans the assets would be seized.  Millions of our fellow Americans face this grim reality now.

Well, raising the US public debt ceiling is much the same as a creditor setting allowable total credit for an individual or business with two differences.  First, government can do what individuals and businesses can’t – set its own debt limit.  And second, raising the debt limit is our collective agreement that we will pay back what we’ve ALREADY borrowed. Raising the limit protects the full faith and credit of the United States and avoids catastrophic economic consequences we’ve never faced because we’ve NEVER failed to acknowledge our collective debt, NEVER in the entire history of our nation.  This is why the US dollar is the world’s reserve currency.

According to CNN Money, since 1962 we have raised the debt ceiling 74 times including 10 times since 2001.  All financial bills originate in the House of Representatives and this House, under the control of the tea party Republicans is refusing to raise the ceiling.  Word they pass among themselves is that not raising it either wouldn’t be that serious a problem or, if it is, they’ll just blame it on President Obama and the Democrats.  That’s the crazy game they’re playing with our country these days.

In recent newsletters, Representative Francisco Canseco, a former bank director who should know better, repeated the Republican line of opposing raising the debt ceiling.  Here’s one of his talking points:  “…it is time we cut up the national credit card and force government to live within its means, just like American families and small businesses do every day.”

Since when have American families and small businesses be able to get along without credit debt?!!  Only the rich can buy houses and cars and major appliances without using credit.  And thanks to “trickle-drown” economic policies of the last 30 years, the income of average Americans has been flat.  We’ve been forced to use credit for unexpected medical bills, auto repairs, replacing broken appliances, and other unplanned expenses.  Small businesses rely on credit to buy equipment and inventory just to stay in business.

Responsible individuals and small businesses are struggling now to keep from defaulting on their debt.  We expect our government to do the same.  We do NOT expect our government to operate debt-free.  While individuals and businesses are worried about their ABILITY to repay their debt, the US government has the ability — but the radical right is UNWILLING to do it.

Another talking point:  They say it’s about “…getting Washington’s spending addiction under control so that private-sector job creation can once again thrive in America.”  This is the same argument they made to force continuation of the Bush tax cuts.  Republicans, where are the jobs from those tax cuts?  All they have accomplished is RAISING the debt.  If the Bush tax cuts had never been enacted, today our debt as a percentage of GDP would be a manageable amount under 50% instead of the 70% it is.  That’s the “revenue problem” Republicans deny we have.

Furthermore, Republicans are the ones with the spending addiction.  Our debt has accumulated from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars which were hidden off the books during GW Bush’s administration, and an unfunded drug program that prohibits Medicare from negotiating for lower prices.  Furthermore, the recession, which we now know was caused by deregulation of Wall Street, the banksters and the housing market, caused the debt to grow.  Tax revenue dropped while essential recovery spending increased.

Now, congressional Republicans want raising the debt ceiling to hinge on huge spending cuts.  Hello, people! We’re in a major recession and you don’t turn that around by cutting government spending.  You don’t create jobs by cutting jobs.  Our economy runs on demand for good and services, not tax cuts for the rich and corporate.  And a recovering economy will pay down a lot of the debt.

Furthermore, they refuse to consider spending cuts in areas that contributed to the debt, like military spending.  “No, no,” they say, “must keep those military contracts pumping money overseas and out of our economy.”  They recently refused to end subsidies to oil companies — one of which, Exxon, recently posted the highest profit of any corporation in the history of history!

Instead, they want to cut spending that actually helps ordinary middle class Americans – Medicare benefits, education, infrastructure spending. They want to cut the spending that is the REAL job creator in our economy.  For what they think will be their political gain in 2012, they want the economy to fail.

Strangely, they refuse to do what responsible individuals and businesses do when faced with debt, and that is to raise revenue.  They maintain corporate tax rates are too high, but the United States has the lowest real corporate tax burden (1.8% of GDP) among the 32 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.  In 2009, General Electric paid NO taxes on $10.3 billion income and took a tax benefit of $1.1 billion.  Overall tax revenues (what is really paid) as a percent of GDP are at their lowest level in more than 50 years.

Republicans tout recent surveys in which those polled opposed raising the debt ceiling.  Of course!  If you misinform people as to the consequences they’re likely to think raising the limit is a bad idea.  However, failing to raise the debt limit is a default that will hurt every individual and business in the country.  Standard and Poors has already warned that our bond rating will go down.  All our interest rates will rise and the value of our assets (property, pensions, savings, etc) will decline.  The single weakest part of our economy, housing, will be devastated.  We’ll see an economic collapse far worse than that of 2008.  And we will STILL have both our personal and public debt now ever larger.

And Republicans will still be pushing “voodoo economics.”  Oh, but don’t fret about this, Americans.  When the economic collapse comes they’ll just blame it on President Obama and the Democrats.  Won’t that make you feel much better?

How the Koch Brothers Mess With the Texas Environment

May 21, 2011

Remember the old saying “What’s good for business is good for Texas?”  Well, maybe that old saw just won’t cut it anymore. The “Billionaire Brothers Koch” apparently think not only what’s good for business in general is good for Texas, they also think what’s good specifically for THEIR business is good for YOU, Mr and Ms Texan.  Do you buy that?

Koch Industries is the second largest privately held US corporation, with subsidiaries in all but a few states. They rake in $100 billion each year by selling us a wide array of products.  They’re all over Texas with subsidiaries including Flint Hills Resources, Koch Pipeline Company, INVISTA, Georgia-Pacific, Koch Supply & Trading, Koch Carbon, Koch Pulp & Paper Trading, Koch Agriculture Company (including the Matador Ranch), Koch Chemical Technology Group, and Koch Nitrogen Company.

Their businesses are refining and supplying oil, gas and chemicals, with a web of pipelines and terminals in every major Texas city, fabrics like nylon, spandex and polyester polymers (e.g., STAINMASTER® carpet and COOLMAX® fabric), construction materials like wallboard, pulp, paper and tissue, and cattle and horse ranching.  Furthermore, they also trade in the commodities they sell and derivatives in financial markets.

It’s easy to see what public policies would be good for Koch Industries.  But maybe we need to examine these policies and ask, “Are these good for me, my family, my neighbors, my business, my community, my state and nation?”  Is what’s good for Koch Industries really good for the rest of us?

To distort the information base from which public policy is derived, the Koch brothers have created and/or helped fund foundations and “think tanks” like the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Institute for Policy Innovation, and the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

But that’s not all:  They’ve also injected their ideology into public institutions of higher education such as the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in Virginia.  Charles Koch donated $1.5 million to Florida State University’s economics program with strings attached allowing him approval of professors hired.  Individually and through the Association of Private Enterprise Education, the Kochs fund dozens of university programs with similar strings attached such as a focus on specific research benefiting Koch Industries and installing “pre-trained,” Koch-friendly professors.

But that’s not all:  They have funded and informed a variety of political advocacy groups, their “boots on the ground,” to spread the corporate ideology across the land – e.g., Americans for Prosperity, Citizens for a Sound Economy, Citizens for the Environment, FreedomWorks, the Independent Women’s Forum and most recently, tea party groups.

But that’s not all:  After the Citizens United Supreme Court decision awarding 1st Amendment personhood rights to corporations, in 2010 Koch Industries directly enlisted their 50,000 employees into political action on behalf of KOCHPAC, including supplying them with lists of favored candidates for whom it was “suggested” they campaign and vote.  Through this and through campaign and “outside” funding, they succeeded in getting elected a whole raft of tea party Republicans who are currently wrecking havoc on our state and nation.

The public policies that benefit Koch Industries stretch too far across the political spectrum to cover in one article.  However, prime policy goals are the rollback of environmental and safety standards, the weakening of environmental enforcement and prevention of citizen action against polluters.

Through sympathetic appointees and elected officials they have succeeded in weakening the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), most recently making it harder for citizens to contest the granting of permits.  In 2009, the US EPA stated that TCEQ’s pollution rules did not fulfill the requirements of the Clean Air Act and were inadequate for protecting our air and water.  The Koch Industries solution is to just do away with the EPA instead of upgrading TCEQ and they recently succeeded in getting Congress to cut EPA funds.

The Independent Women’s Forum attacks public school curricula regarding what they call the “junk science” of man-made global climate change.  The Koch-backed political machine is fighting market-based strategies such as “cap and trade” which accounts for the cost of carbon discharges.  (Meanwhile, Koch companies trade carbon emission credits in Europe.)  Their raft of lawyers and lobbyists fought the designation of dioxin as a cancer risk and regulation of the financial (commodity trading) markets.

This anti-environment agenda works to the benefit of Koch Industries bottom line.  It costs money to meet environmental and safety standards, and Koch Industries has spent a pretty penny paying for their own environmental catastrophes.  Some of many examples:  In the mid 90s, they paid $33 million in fines and committed to $5 million in environmental projects for 300 spills discharging 3 million gallons of oil.  In 1999, they were found guilty of negligence in the deaths of two Texas teenagers from a leaky underground butane pipeline and paid an undisclosed settlement.

Doing the right thing might have been easier, but Koch Industries instead backed “tort reform” to limit the ability of injured parties to sue for damages and make “losers pay” if they are outmatched by corporate attorneys.  Texas elected higher court judges consistently rule in favor of corporations over individual citizens – the best judiciary money can buy….for the Koch brothers.

Texans, are these public policies that benefit Koch Industries good for you?  Does it matter to you that Texas leads the nation in toxic chemicals in water, in carcinogens and carbon dioxide in the air?  If Texas was a nation it would rank 7th in the world in total carbon dioxide emissions.

Is it good for your children that the science of global climate change is stripped from their school curriculum?  Are you willing to bet THEIR future on the outside chance that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and countless reputable climate scientists are wrong?

If you or your family were injured by their actions, would it be OK with you if your access to the courts to seek compensation would be curtailed?  Will you not get cancer from exposure to dioxin just because they say so?

When you hear their spokespersons call for the elimination of the “onerous” EPA or “burdensome” financial regulations ask yourself if those agencies and regulations are as much an onerous burden on you as is the haze in Big Bend National Park or the price of gas inflated by unrestrained market speculation.

What’s good for Koch Industries is not good for Texas or for the nation. And they are not alone at the trough of public policies that amount to corporate welfare. But, unless we rethink old sayings, get the facts, stand up, speak out, and demand government policies that serve the interests of the people, not the corporations, one of these days we may find the formerly great state of Texas listed among the “subsidiaries” of corporations like Koch Industries.

The Kochs Mess With Texas, Our Minds and Our Future

April 16, 2011

Sometimes when you turn over a rock all sorts of creepy things crawl out. Think Progress, a project of the Center for American Progress, has produced a report on the political dealings of the brothers Charles and David Koch, and the Center for Public Integrity has reported on the Koch lobbyists in Washington.  What crawled out when they turned over these stones is truly disturbing. These reports can be found at:

http://www.americanprogressaction.org/issues/2011/04/koch_brothers.html

http://www.publicintegrity.org/articles/entry/3120/

For decades, these legacy-billionaire brothers have moved their radical right, libertarian agenda to make them and their partners more loot.  The agenda is anti-government, anti-tax, anti-regulation, anti-environment, anti-education, anti-science, anti-human and essentially anti-American. The only thing it’s “pro” is corporate domination.  From their libertarian roots, Koch organizations took over, funded and molded the tea party.  And, though in years passed the Republican Party rejected this ideology as too extreme, now the GOP has embraced it.

A few things about this agenda must be said.

First, if any suffer under the misperception that this corporatist agenda aims to help people or make this a better world, just “fuggedaboudit.”  Most of us matter only as paying customers, not beneficiaries, of this agenda.  And there are no plans for a time when we’ve been bled dry and can’t pay anymore.  There are no plans regarding which planet earthlings can escape to when our resources are exhausted.

It doesn’t have to be that way.  There are a number of very large corporations who make dandy profits while helping people and protecting the planet.  They act on the basis of enlightened self-interest that has long been a fundamental American value.  The economist Joseph Stiglitz explains, “It means appreciating that paying attention to everyone else’s self-interest—in other words, the common welfare—is in fact a precondition for one’s own ultimate well-being …. Those canny Americans understood a basic fact:  looking out for the other guy isn’t just good for the soul—it’s good for business.”  The enlightened understand that we’re all in this together; not so the Koch brothers and their band of corporatistas.

Second, the public policies in the Koch agenda don’t even work, never have, never will anywhere on the earth.  They don’t result in better government and healthier societies made up of happier people.  They don’t even, in the long run, lead to prosperous businesses.  They lead to societies divided into “them up there” and the rest of us pecking it out down here.  They lead to economic bubbles that inevitably burst and slime everyone, like our recent housing and financial collapses.  And they lead to ruin of the environment upon which the future depends.  Theirs is the path of disaster crony capitalism.

And third, the reason the Koch/corporatist agenda doesn’t work is that it is “a house built on sand.” The underlying information upon which it rests is a collection of fantasies, distortions, lies and unscientific notions.  Small wonder that part of the agenda is anti-public education and that it created “think tanks” to give the appearance of a credible information base.  Heaven forbid that the truth be told!

It is on the misinformation campaign where the Koch brothers started their work that continues today.  Their father Fred was a founding member of the ultra-right John Birch Society in the 1950s.  In 1977, Charles Koch co-founded the libertarian Cato Institute and in 1980 David Koch was the Libertarian Party’s vice presidential candidate.  In 1984 David Koch created Citizens for a Sound Economy which in 2004 split into FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity Foundation.  (There’s no doubt whose prosperity they are for, their own.)

The reports say they have given at least $85.9 million (that we know of) to 85 right-wing think tanks and advocacy groups over the last decade and a half. Some organizations that receive Koch support are: Heritage Foundation, Reason Foundation, Federalist Society, American Enterprise Institute & Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies, Texas Public Policy Foundation, and the American Legislative Exchange Council.

They’d like you to think these nice-sounding organizations are about genuine public policy.  For example, they’d like you to believe economic measures are analyzed objectively to derive economic policy recommendations.  Actually, just the reverse is true.  Like the lead-in to the Iraq war, “the intelligence is being fixed around the policy.” For example, though these organizations call for “free market solutions” they can’t point to a single instance of genuinely free markets even existing much less working well.  And, they favor corporate tax breaks and subsidies that benefit the oil, chemical and agriculture industries. So much for “free market.”

Here’s another:  They claim regulation of polluting industries kills jobs when actually the opposite is true.  Still another:  They attack the science of global climate change when we can clearly see the ongoing change all around us.  And another: They claim public sector employees earn 69% more than private sector employees, but they are comparing well-educated government scientists to private sector burger-flippers, not employees in comparable jobs.

Notice the American Legislative Exchange Council listed above.  ALEC is an organization for elected Republican officials.  It cranks out legislative wording for adoption by primarily state governments.  This is why in “red” state after state (Ohio, Michigan, Florida, Texas, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Kansas, Maine, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina), we are seeing the exact same legislation put forth. The organization stands for limited federal government, greater power to the states and, there you go again, “free markets.”  A list of companies on the Enterprise Board of ALEC reveals the corporations that have signed on to the Koch agenda.  These include Energy Futures Holdings, Johnson & Johnson, PhRMA, American Bail Coalition, Kraft Foods, GlaxoSmithKline, Coca-Cola, AT&T, Pfizer, Peabody Energy, Intuit, Inc., ExxonMobil, Bayer, Reynolds American, WalMart, State Farm Insurance and UPS.

These corporations want a weakened federal government because the federal government is the only entity that can stand up to them, if it will.  It’s the only entity that can regulate them to protect workers, consumers and the environment.  Want to know why gas prices are so high right now? It’s not supply disruption; it’s commodity futures trading in oil by a branch of Koch Industries and other speculators.  They want to continue doing that to us without restraint.

Whew!  I’ve run out of space, but there’s more to this tale yet to tell.

Our Congressman Misrepresents the Facts and Misrepresents Us

March 24, 2011

It would be paying him a compliment to say that Republican Representative Francisco Canseco didn’t personally write the February column “Job report not clear indicator of reality,” though he put his name to it.  It consisted entirely of talking points and misinformation Koch Industries/tea party propaganda thunk tanks are pushing in similar columns and letters to the editor.

Wouldn’t we prefer to hear from our Congressman what he is doing for us, how he is representing us?  Shouldn’t he be informing us of happenings in our district?  Instead, we got another false partisan attack on the Administration.

The article claimed Democratic efforts to recover from the Great Recession are not working.  But this month’s job report is an even better indicator than last month’s report that those efforts ARE working.  We added 192,000 more jobs and the unemployment rate dropped to 8.9%.  This must be very disturbing to Republicans who wanted to keep doing all the things that caused the recession in the first place – tax cuts for the rich, cuts in government services, outsourcing, deregulation and privatization.

The article called the policies of the last two years “intrusive and burdensome” without a shred of evidence that they’ve been either one.  It continues, “Washington’s answer to our economic woes has been to spend more of your tax dollars and grow government.” Government has not grown significantly; no evidence was presented that it had.

Then there’s a real whopper: “This approach has halted job creation, leading to 2.45 million lost jobs….”  The 2.45 million jobs were lost BEFORE any of the recovery programs could be implemented, and Republican policies have lost us 8 million jobs since 2007!  Now we’re back to gaining jobs due to stimulus spending the article falsely claims has failed.

Hello folks!, government spending is the ONLY way to recover from a recession this deep.  Some spending is even automatic.  And, you betcha, we want OUR tax dollars spent; we want them spent to improve OUR wellbeing!  We want our taxes to come back to us, to the citizens and small businesses that paid them!

Consumer and business spending is about 70% of our economy.  If it drops off severely, either because jobs were lost or incomes have dropped, a downward spiral develops that feeds on itself.  Businesses are selling less and earning less, they cut business spending and layoff employees who, in turn, cut further back on spending.  Businesses also reduce investment because they don’t see future demand for their products.  This is recession and the only way to recover is for the government to boost spending to build back lost jobs and public infrastructure.

The claim is made that if government just gets out of the way and cuts their taxes private entrepreneurs will create jobs.  How’s that been working for us for the last decade or two?  Not so well, because entrepreneurs will not create jobs unless there is demand for their products and they won’t invest in their businesses unless they have incentives to do so.  They are NOT the job creators; demand is.

Government spending needs to be up, not down, until recovery is complete and employment rebounds, even if that spending adds to our debt.  As the economy recovers, more workers become taxpayers who pay down debt.  So our present problem is economic recovery and jobs, not the debt, which is a long-term problem.

This information is lost on Republicans.  Or maybe it isn’t lost on them and they purposely want to kill recovery by cutting government spending.  Do they actually believe that if they do that and harm our entire country, the voters will reward them by booting the Democrats out of office?

Their budget cuts are not just bad economics; they are morally indefensible.  Budgets are moral documents.  They express who in our society receives the benefits of our society.  Republicans already got their temporary tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires in exchange for Democrats getting recovery spending for Main Street America.  Not content with that, elected state and national Republicans are attempting to slash and burn government spending, most particularly spending which helps those in greatest need.

As Speaker Boehner said, if jobs were lost, “So be it.”  Really, Mr. Boehner?  “So be it” to 700,000 jobs the Republican-proposed budget cuts? “So be it” for the teaching and public service jobs Republican-run states like Texas are cutting? No! Their moral compass is spinning backward!  Those aren’t just jobs, they’re HUMAN BEINGS working at jobs, teaching our kids, building our future!

They say over and over that we’re broke, but we’re not.  TRILLIONS of dollars sit in the hands of billionaires, millionaires, corporations and banks.  Republicans have given them still more and are trying to make middle America pay for it.  There is a term for this extremism:  Disaster capitalism.  It has been used elsewhere in the world to take nations to their knees and turn them over to corporate control.  Read The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein.

Speaking of shock, I was shocked, I say, shocked and awed to hear our banker Congressman calling the financial reform legislation “over burdensome.”  What passed in financial reform won’t faze Wall Street and the banksters much less burden the rest of us.  It really was quite mild after Republicans watered it down and it didn’t address systemic problems with the financial system like the “too-big-to-fail” banks and toxic investments.

The rest of the article was stock blather – “free market” – “private sector solutions” – “government out of the way” – “out-of control spending” – “lower national debt” – “ simplify the tax code” – “end burdensome Washington policies that stifle job-creation”  – etc.  Representative Canseco should save that nonsense for fundraising like that which got him in the news before he was even sworn in (read “Incoming GOP freshmen rapidly embracing big-money fundraisers,” Washington Post, December 6, 2010).

No matter how many times these corporatist talking points are repeated it won’t make them true.  And the disaster capitalism Republicans are pushing on us has not only failed the USA, there is not a country on the face of the planet where it HAS worked.

(Note: I see in a more recent paper another deceptive column on cutting government spending from Rep. Canseco.  More on that nonsense later.)