Apr 132011

Milwaukee’s ordinance requiring businesses to provide paid sick leave would be voided under a bill Assembly Republicans sent Gov. Scott Walker on Tuesday.

Walker said he is likely to sign the measure. The city’s sick leave ordinance was overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2008 but has never gone into effect because of legal challenges. The Assembly voted 59-35 to ensure it would never be implemented.

Patrick Marley, Journal Sentinel

Scott Walker - Cartoon

Image by DonkeyHotey via Flickr

So let’s see, Milwaukee voters use the rights given them in an American democracy to effect legislation. The initiative is passed and then immediately subjected to judicial review and is left standing, so it becomes law. But then the “small government” Republicans in Madison decide that they don’t like the law, so they scramble to pass legislation that will effectively nullify the will of the people . . .

Isn’t democracy grand?

We presently live in a nation where the “haves” have everything. They don’t worry about paying rent or putting food on the table; they have healthcare; they have the wealth, with the top 1% having more than the bottom 95%. If they happen to get sick, they’re not concerned — they will likely be paid for the time away from work, and if not they have the resources to weather the storm.

But for the 98% of Americans who are the “have nots,” those of us who essentially live month to month, the story is quite different. Our incomes have been stagnant for more than 30 years; millions of us are unemployed or underemployed, with real rates currently over 22%; there are presently 52 million of us without healthcare insurance and millions more who are covered but still can’t afford treatment. When we get sick, we are worried about any loss in pay because we need every cent earned just to make ends meet.

So, the good people of Milwaukee, Wisconsin take the initiative to use their democracy to pass a law that would at least provide a solution for one of the many issues pressing on the working people of our nation. They didn’t fight for higher pay or even for healthcare; they didn’t ask for paid time for leisure — no, they just want to be paid when they get sick, but even that’s too much too ask for in the Bizarro World of profits-over-people American conservatism.

As stated by Rep. Christine Sinicki (D-Milwaukee), “This [Republican] bill is a slap in the face to the people of the City of Milwaukee.” But alas, Darth Walker and his hoard of Republican stormtroopers don’t really give a flying flip about the people, about their democracy or about anything resembling ethical behavior. They have the power, so they will assert their rule of the land. The will of the people be damned! The aristocracy has spoken.

All working Americans will be well-served to pay close attention to what’s going on in Wisconsin and other states being overrun by newly elected Republican majorities. They all talk about small government and pay lip service to jobs and workers, but at every opportunity they use the power of government to trash the rights of the many for the benefit of the elite few.

Wake up America! Wake up and learn that in the Republican vernacular, “small government” simply means government that serves a very “small” minority. 

Read the entire Article at the Journal Sentinel  

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Apr 082011
Entrance to the Planned Parenthood Federation ...

Image via Wikipedia

Do you think there are many great athletes amongst those who don’t care for sports? How about capable accountants who don’t like numbers? Surgeons who are turned off by blood or teachers by kids?

Regardless of a person’s profession, in order to excel, in order to even become competent, there must be some interest on the part of the individual that will motivate them to perform. Great musicians love music; great scientists are inspired by science; engineers find reward in design and creation, nurses in providing care, and programmers in writing clever code. In order to have effective government, it’s absolutely essential that our elected officials are motivated to “govern,” because those who can’t govern — politic.

This sad truth is the real story behind the cavalier attitude held by the House Republican majority now pressing for a shutdown of the federal government. They have abandoned their constitutional responsibility to fund the government in favor of seizing an opportunity to forward their political agenda, and they’re holding millions of Americans hostage in the process.

As required by legislation, President Obama fulfilled his duty and presented the Congress with a budget for fiscal 2011 in February of 2010. That budget was supported by Democrats in Congress but was blocked by Senate Republicans who would not agree to pass long-term funding. When the new fiscal year started in October of 2010, the government had to be funded or else face shutdown, and the response was bipartisan agreement to pass emergency funding in the form of a “continuing resolution” or CR.

Since that time, the federal government has been funded through a series of CRs, six in all, with the last remaining in effect until midnight tonight. A great outcome for Republicans, who appreciate the fact that the CRs essentially freeze spending at 2010 levels and prevent the implementation of the new healthcare law and financial reform bill. But for the state and local agencies that don’t receive funding under the temporary measures, or for anyone else interested in a functional government, it’s indicative of a failure to govern.

So, with time running out, the debate has surrounded the depth of spending cuts to be passed. The Republicans responded to the President’s $3.64 trillion budget proposal, with a proposal of their own that contains $61 billion in cuts all coming from the $441 billion slice of the budget consisting of non-defense discretionary spending. These cuts are all directed at programs that benefit the needy and the nation as a whole. From billions in cuts to education and HUD and more than $3 billion from the EPA, to nearly $1 billion from energy efficiency efforts, over $1 billion from FEMA First Responders, and nearly $2 billion from job training. Over half ($33 billion) of the Republican’s planned cuts are at the expense of  labor and transportation/housing.

Desperate for a compromise solution, President Obama and the Democrats have countered the Republican proposal with an additional $33 billion in heavy spending cuts to social programs. According to Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, they even upped the ante to $38 billion, in exchange for Republicans dropping all policy riders (i.e. specific policy positions, like cuts to EPA, etc.). But Republicans, led by Speaker John Boehner are still refusing to compromise, with the last remaining bone of contention apparently the $317 million in federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

Of course, Boehner still contends that the debate is over “spending.” So, according to his map of the world, the $23 billion difference in spending cuts, a whopping 6-tenths of 1% of the federal budget, is worth shutting down the government of the United States.

A shutdown would mean disruption of government services, including pay for military personnel. It would delay processing of applications in several federal programs, close national parks and museums, and require furloughs for 800,000 federal workers. Nobody knows how much a shutdown would cost American taxpayers, but the toll of closing the parks alone is estimated to be $32 million per day, with the lion’s share impacting small businesses in local economies.

So, whether you buy Boehner’s spin on the divide or not, the fact of the matter is that there will be a price to pay for a shutdown, and regardless of the Speaker’s true motivation, the rider to defund Planned Parenthood is still in the mix.

Republicans, and especially Tea Partiers, have painted a target on Planned Parenthood as the national bastion for abortion. According to Senator John Kyl (R-AZ), abortion services amount to “well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does. The truth is that they actually account for only 3% of services, with the other 97% being centered on preventative assistance. The real focus being reproductive care for women who can’t afford alternatives, Planned Parenthood provides millions of breast exams, Pap smears and other services to a population where 75% of those treated live below the poverty level.

In the end, if there’s any legitimacy in Boehner’s claim that “the big fight is over the spending,” then the Republicans need to end their assault on Planned Parenthood. Federal law has prevented the use of federal funds for abortion since 1976 anyway, and $317 million of the federal budget is less than we spent in a single day bombing Libya.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has already rolled out the Republican proposal for the 2012 budget. That’s where the fight on spending cuts needs to move. After all, fiscal 2011 is already half over.

Right now, Republicans need to drop their “government is the problem” position and pretend for a minute that they’re actually interested in governing. They need to recognize that the Democrats have already compromised to the tune of 62% of what’s been demanded. They need to understand that good governing isn’t based on winner-take-all.

They really need to set aside their partisan agenda long enough to put the wellbeing of our nation ahead of their political gain.

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Mar 282011
Surplus Commodities Program. (53227(1770), 00/...

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First there was the New Deal, and then there came the Ordeal; now we need the Re-Deal.

For more than four decades after the Great Depression struck, programs based on progressive principles worked to ensure that all Americans shared in the prosperity of our great nation. The rich did get richer, but so did everyone else; fairness and empathy for our fellow man formed the moral foundation of our culture, and together we forged arguably the greatest nation in the history of the planet.

But all good things must come to an end, and that’s what started happening in the U.S. during the 1970s. The oil crisis of 1973, followed by a stock market crash and runaway inflation brought economic growth to a standstill. Productivity actually went backwards in 1974, shrinking by 1.5%, stagflation set in, the prime rate soared, and Americans were left desperate for change.

That change came in 1980. Ronald Reagan was elected in reaction to a stalled economy, the 444-day long Iran Hostage Crisis, and a general sense that America was losing its way. Reagan did bring change, by the boat load, and the short term results were impressive. In direct opposition to the austerity called for by Jimmy Carter, Reagan set in motion the wheels of a fiscally-expansive economic policy that would drop the 13.5% inflation rate of 1980 to just 3% by 1983.

Of course, most of the credit for the drop in inflation belongs to the monetary policies of then Federal Reserve chief, Paul Volcker, but it was Reagan’s combination of increased defense spending, coupled with massive tax cuts that would create a model for the future. Reagan would nearly double military spending during his time in office, while simultaneously ripping away the federal tax base. The result was a tripling of the federal debt, to $2.8 trillion, a dramatic shift that moved the U.S. from being the world’s largest international creditor to the world’s largest debtor nation.

Sadly, not only did Reagan plunge our nation into debt, but he did so as the reverse-Robin Hood in Chief. Establishing tax cuts very favorable to the rich, while cutting social programs and gutting the internal regulatory structure of the government, Reagan was the political godfather of movement conservatism. His policies, coupled with his suppression of union rights laid the foundation for the lopsided balance of prosperity we have today.

But as detrimental as Reagan’s policies were for working Americans, their harmful effects pale when compared to a single tenet that emanated from his bully pulpit — “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

No more destructive words have ever been uttered by a U.S. president. With a single statement, the actor turned president both rationalized his dismantling of social programs and gutting of tax revenues and also disassociated a large portion of the American public from their only means to combat their own demise. As Nobel Prize winning economist, Paul Krugman, once said in reference to movement conservatism, “Reagan taught the movement how to clothe elitist economic ideas in populist rhetoric.”

Once the American public bought into the notion of government-is-the-problem, the die was cast. The progressive ethics upon which modern America was built would soon be trampled time and again. Before long, the only Americans to reap any bounty would be the economic elite, who began to prosper as never before, doing so at the expense of everyone else.

The shift in public attitude was so strong that, in order to gain election, Democrats who once supported progressive principles embraced instead the Third Way. Combining conservative economic policy with a liberal position on social issues, Third Way Democrats are more Republican-light than truly Democratic. Bill Clinton presided in this manner, and as a result is responsible for such anti-worker legislation as NAFTA, as well as a heap of corporate wealthfare in the form of telecom “reform,” commodities treatment that opened the doors to the wild derivatives nightmare that nearly sunk the economy, and the repeal of Glass-Steagall, which removed all remaining barriers preventing commercial banks from playing in the Wall St. casino.

To his credit, Clinton did at least balance the budget and turn over a surplus to his successor. But once George Bush took office, all stops were removed. Without a progressive bone in his body, the younger Bush wasn’t held back by any sense of fair play. He drastically cut taxes, especially for the rich, dismantled the regulatory structure, replacing all key posts with industry insiders, and spent federal money like a drunken sailor. Bush was asleep at the wheel when the Islamic terrorists attacked on 9/11, and again when the economic terrorists on Wall St. attacked in 2008. He opened a new prison for the former and rewarded the latter with a $700 billion bail-out.

President Barack Obama was then elected by campaigning on a platform of “Change we Need.” Obama rode the wave of anger directed at Republicans and Wall St. all the way into the Whitehouse and then quickly proceeded to surround himself with the very people who had orchestrated the collapse.

Another Third Way Democrat, Obama has promoted more aid for those in need than what occurred under the eight years of W’s rule, but he’s also bowed to conservative economic policy time after time. The Obama healthcare “reform” improved access to healthcare insurance, but did so without effectively addressing the related costs. The financial “reform” bill, ostensibly enacted to prevent another banking crash, was passed without provision to deal with Too-Big-Too-Fail or the derivative casino. Most recently, Obama signed legislation providing tax relief to average Americans but not without also extending the Bush cuts for the most wealthy.

The net result of more than 30 years of a federal government divorced from progressive principles is an America more reminiscent of that which created the Great Depression than the one that was created to ensure that it would never happen again. Concentration of wealth today is the worst since the Depression — so bad that the top 1% have leaped from 9% of overall income prior to Reagan, to 23.5% today, and now have more financial wealth than the bottom 95% of all Americans.

The richest 400 Americans now have more wealth than the bottom 50%, while a record number of our people live in poverty, including one in every five children. The robbery of wealth extracted through the subprime mortgage scheme took 30% of all middle class wealth and transferred it to the Wall St. thieves and disreputable brokers across the country. Homeowners by the millions are still facing foreclosure, and many who are not are paying underwater mortgages. Yet the banks are still paying out billions in bonuses, even after being bailed out with taxpayer money, and now account for more than 40% of all American corporate profits.

Meanwhile, the corporate share of federal tax revenues collected dropped from more than 30% during the progressive era to a mere 6.6% today. But even that low rate would present a huge increase for firms like G.E. that just filed its second return in a row where the IRS had to pay them money, in spite of billions in profits. Of course, American corporations responsible for shipping as many as 8 million jobs overseas need their tax savings in order to pay for their CEO salaries that skyrocketed from 24-to-1 in the late 1960s to a high of 431-to-1, before dropping after the banking crash to a mere 319-to-1.

Average Americans would likely cheer the prosperity of the elite, if only a bit of it was shared. But while the rich have been lining their pockets, median household income has now experienced its first decline since 1967, and job growth under Bush was the slowest since 1945. The U6 unemployment rate, which tracks the underemployed along with the unemployed, is still hovering near 17%, and overall participation in the labor force is at its lowest point since 1984.

Politicians say that corporations would start hiring but might need incentives, because their record profits, the highest ever at $1.659 trillion in the third quarter of 2010, just aren’t sufficient. But not to worry, because while the Congress may be in stalemate, the wave of new Republican governors in statehouses across the country are doing everything they can to cut taxes, along with social programs, while waging a war against public employees. Who says we can’t concentrate wealth still further?

We now have a national debt that exceeds $14 trillion, and the clarion call amongst politicians on both sides of the aisle is for austerity, for cuts to Social Security and Medicare and a draconian slashing of social programs of all types. We are in dire fiscal trouble they say, and there must be shared sacrifice — but the only sharing going on is a split where all benefits go to the wealthiest 1% and all sacrifice to the other 99% of us.

There is no excuse for this corrupted mess. The American People have allowed our country to be hijacked by a self-serving elite who deliberately drive wedges into the populace so that we’ll fight amongst ourselves while they bleed us all dry. Hard working people across the nation are struggling to make ends meet while the money changers struggle to find more ways to exploit them. Hard work should be rewarded above clever manipulation. In the words of one of our greatest presidents, a Republican named Abraham Lincoln, “Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

Another famous Republican, President Teddy Roosevelt, once said “A great democracy must be progressive or it will soon cease to be a great democracy.” Truer words were never said. Progressive principles demand that all citizens work together for the common good. They support entrepreneurialism and prohibit monopoly. They’re rooted in fairness and insist that prosperity be shared. They require that we invest in our infrastructure, and in our people, for such investments form the true strength of a nation.

Progressive principles are about progress, about building a better America. Progress isn’t a dirty word — unless you prefer that things stay exactly as they are. The America captured in the artwork of Norman Rockwell, the America for which so many of us are nostalgic, that was an America built on progressive principles. The Great Depression was that same nation ravaged by scorched earth policies like those in effect today.

Isn’t it time that all Americans ask themselves which America they prefer?

We can work together to end the Ordeal and demand a Re-Deal where all Americans get a fair deal. One nation, one people — we must unite against the evil that’s destroying us; that evil has a name — its name is Greed.

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