MICHEAL MOORE: AMERICA IS NOT BROKE
“Contrary to what those in power would like you to believe so that you’ll give up your pension, cut your wages, and settle for the life your great-grandparents had, America is not broke. Not by a long shot,” Michael Moore told a rally at Madison, Wis. (3/5). “The country is awash in wealth and cash. It’s just that it’s not in your hands. It has been transferred, in the greatest heist in history, from the workers and consumers to the banks and the portfolios of the uber-rich.
“Today just 400 Americans have more wealth than half of all Americans combined. Let me say that again. Four hundred obscenely rich people, most of whom benefited in some way from the multi-trillion dollar taxpayer ‘bailout’ of 2008, now have more loot, stock and property than the assets of 155 million Americans combined. If you can’t bring yourself to call that a financial coup d’état, then you are simply not being honest about what you know in your heart to be true.
“And I can see why. For us to admit that we have let a small group of men abscond with and hoard the bulk of the wealth that runs our economy, would mean that we’d have to accept the humiliating acknowledgment that we have indeed surrendered our precious Democracy to the moneyed elite. Wall Street, the banks and the Fortune 500 now run this Republic — and, until this past month, the rest of us have felt completely helpless, unable to find a way to do anything about it.”
Moore noted that the wealthy control the message. “By owning most of the media they have expertly convinced many Americans of few means to buy their version of the American Dream and to vote for their politicians. Their version of the Dream says that you, too, might be rich some day – this is America, where anything can happen if you just apply yourself! … The message is clear: keep your head down, your nose to the grindstone, don’t rock the boat and be sure to vote for the party that protects the rich man that you might be some day.”
The wealthy also have created a poison pill — their version of mutually assured destruction — if the people try to regain control. “And when they threatened to release this weapon of mass economic annihilation in September of 2008, we blinked. As the economy and the stock market went into a tailspin, and the banks were caught conducting a worldwide Ponzi scheme, Wall Street issued this threat: Either hand over trillions of dollars from the American taxpayers or we will crash this economy straight into the ground. Fork it over or it’s goodbye savings accounts. Goodbye pensions. Goodbye United States Treasury. Goodbye jobs and homes and future. It was friggin’ awesome and it scared the s**t out of everyone.”
The banks and the hedge funds got their bailout and their executives wrote themselves huge bonus checks and marveled at how perfectly they had played a nation full of suckers. And millions lost their jobs anyway, and millions lost their homes. But the smug rich were not satisfied. “They couldn’t have just been content with the money they raided from the treasury. They couldn’t be satiated by simply removing millions of jobs and shipping them overseas to exploit the poor elsewhere. No, they had to have more – something more than all the riches in the world. They had to have our soul. They had to strip us of our dignity. They had to shut us up and shut us down so that we could not even sit at a table with them and bargain about simple things like classroom size or bulletproof vests for everyone on the police force or letting a pilot just get a few extra hours sleep so he or she can do their job — their $19,000 a year job.”
That was Corporate America’s fatal mistake, he said. Trying to destroy the public employee unions gave birth to a movement that has become a massive nonviolent revolt around the country. “Now they act surprised and flummoxed about why so many hundreds of thousands have come to Madison over the last three weeks during brutal winter weather. ‘Why are they all standing out there in the cold? I mean there was that election in November and that was supposed to be that!’ …
“America ain’t broke! The only thing that’s broke is the moral compass of the rulers. And we aim to fix that compass and steer the ship ourselves from now on. Never forget, as long as that Constitution of ours still stands, it’s one person, one vote, and it’s the thing the rich hate most about America — because even though they seem to hold all the money and all the cards, they begrudgingly know this one unshakeable basic fact: There are more of us than there are of them!
“Madison, do not retreat,” he concluded. “We are with you. We will win together.”
See the entire speech at (http://bit.ly/gNLnDF).
WIS. GOP FACES LOUD TOWN HALLS. While Gov. Scott Walker (R) and Senate Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) insulted Democratic senators who are staying in Illinois to prevent the Republicans from passing a union-bashing budget bill (3/7), Republican elected officials in Wisconsin are starting to take heat at town-hall meetings. When US Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R) and state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R) ran into a raucous crowd in the Milwaukee suburb of Wauwatosa that was more interested in talking about the state budget bill with Vukmir than federal issues with Sensenbrenner, the congressman abruptly declared the meeting over — after only 27 minutes. Although Sensenbrenner’s communications director depicted the crowd as disrespectful, Wauwatosa Now reported (3/8) that city staff members in attendance said the crowd never got out of control and “it seemed the elected officials just didn’t like the line of questioning and were on the defensive from the start.”
ThinkProgress.org noted that Sensenbrenner in 2009 applauded organized protests that disrupted town-hall meetings called by Democrats who supported health reform.
WHAT’S GOOD FOR BIZ IS BAD FOR PEOPLE. According to the Census Bureau, Mississippi has the lowest per-capita income in the country, as well as the lowest life-expectancy. It ranks 47th on the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council’s annual Report Card on American Education, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which rates states on the basis of child welfare, puts Mississippi dead last. But the US Chamber of Commerce, in a new report on “The Impact of State Employment Policies on Job Growth,” ranked Missisippi “good” — it’s highest score — because the state has no minimum wage, low union membership and employment discrimination standards that are the minimum allowed by federal law. Pennsylvania, by contrast, ranks “poor” because of its extensive child labor laws, relatively high wage standards and high union density, Mike Alberti noted at RemappingDebate.org (3/7).
At the presentation of the Chamber report, Barbour said that, in his tenure as governor, he had seen “no benefit to safety” or to workers in adding “another layer of regulations” to existing federal law.
Josh Bivens, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, disputed the Chamber’s findings. Essentially what the Chamber found, he said, is that a group of lightly regulated states — including some who have lax regulation to promote mineral extraction industries — had a good decade. “They decided to exploit that by claiming that the light regulation led to good economic performance,” he said. “That’s clearly not true, or at least they haven’t even gotten into the universe of proving it.”
Mark Price, a labor economist with the Keystone Research Center in Pennsylvania, compared the Chamber’s rankings with the percentage increase in jobs in every state from 1994 to 2010. What he found, was that the states that are ranked “good” in the report generally had less employment creation than the states that are classified as “poor.”
Price noted that a more comprehensive rating system called the “Measure of America” from the American Human Development Project — which takes median earnings into account as well as education, life expectancy, and other factors — rates Mississippi 48th, ahead of only Arkansas and West Virginia.
Marianne Hill, a senior economist at the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning, noted that the jobs created by the “good” policies in the report “might result in more door-to-door salesmen, but that doesn’t mean that those jobs could support a family.”
Mississippi has the highest poverty rate in the nation (21.9% in 2009). Indeed, Remapping Debate noted a strong inverse correlation between a state’s ranking in the Chamber’s report and it’s ranking on the Human Development Index. Every state except Virginia that ranked “good” in the report ranked below the national average on the Human Development Index.
TEACHERS TO PAY FOR FLA. CORPORATE TAX BREAKS. Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), who was forced to resign as chief executive of Columbia/HCA in 1997 amid a scandal over business and Medicare billing practices, now plans to slash billions of dollars in Medicaid assistance to the poor, gut the budget of the Department of Children and Families, and cut the education budget by $4.8 bln over several years, reducing the average teacher’s pay by $2,335 a year, to pay for a $1 bln cut in property taxes and nearly $1.5 bln in corporate income taxes, ThinkProgress noted (3/7).
GEORGIA TAXES GIRL SCOUTS, WORKING FAMILIES TO GIVE CORP. TAX BREAKS. Georgia legislators are considering a bill that would expand the state sales tax to food and Girl Scout cookies and raises the tax on gasoline. The same bill, Alex Seitz-Wald noted at ThinkProgress (3/8), lowers tax rates on corporate income, from 6% this year to just 4% in 2014. “Beyond Girl Scout cookies, taxes on food and gasoline are highly regressive, disproportionately affecting lower- and middle-class consumers, who spend a larger share of their limited income on necessities like groceries than do people with higher disposable incomes,” Seitz-Wald wrote.
SEN. SCOTT BROWN BEGS KOCH FOR MONEY. Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) styles himself as a moderate, but at a fancy party for cancer research at MIT (3/4), he was caught begging for money from billionaire industrialist David Koch, who with his brother are the wealthy backers of much of the modern right-wing movement that helped elect Republicans nationwide in 2010. ThinkProgress.org videotaped Brown thanking Koch and his wife for their support, saying “I can certainly use it again.”
Brown lavished praise on the Kochs and MIT president Susan Hockfield for establishing the research center with $100 mln, about 0.5% of Koch’s petrochemical fortune, but ThinkProgress noted (3/7) that Koch’s Tea Party pols in the House are working to cut $1.6 bln in federal funding for the National Institutes of Health. Brown has been a loyal Koch foot soldier, voting to protect carbon polluters and complaining about the “onerous” estate tax.
ECONOMY-WRECKING BANKS DODGE TAXES. Hundreds of people from Make Wall Street Pay, a member of the Main Street Movement that seeks to defend the American middle class, shut down a Bank of America branch in Washington, D.C. over the bank’s tax dodging, ThinkProgress reported (3/7). In 2009, the bank used loopholes to avoid paying a penny of taxes. The protesters, many of them homeowners who had been abused by the bank’s mortgage policies, were outraged that the nation’s biggest bank was paid less taxes than the homeowners did in 2009.
National People’s Action and the Public Accountability Initiative, both of whom organized the Make Wall Street Pay protests, put out a report, “Big Bank Tax Drain,” which noted that the six biggest banks in the US together paid income tax at an approximate rate of 11% in 2009 and 2010. If they had paid 35%, which is the corporate rate without loopholes, the federal government would have received $13 bln in tax revenue — a sum which would cover the salaries, for two years, of every single one of the 132,000 teachers laid off since the beginning of the economic recession.
As the Wonk Room’s Pat Garofalo writes, “Though the US has a high statutory corporate tax rate, the effective tax rate that corporations actually pay is far lower, due to the myriad loopholes and credits in the corporate tax code, as well as the widespread sheltering of income in tax havens. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found, ‘corporate tax revenues are now at historical lows as a share of the economy.’”
In addition to shutting down a local Bank of America branch, Make Wall Street Pay protesters also demonstrated outside the convention of the National Association of Attorneys General, demanding action on the foreclosure crisis. They also flooded the offices of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), demanding that both support policies that would make big Wall Street banks like Goldman Sachs and Citigroup pay their fair share before attacking investments and crucial services in Main Street America.
GOOD JOBS REPORT, BUT A LONG WAY TO GO. The White House celebrated a February jobs report that showed a net gain of 192,000 jobs, as private industry added 222,000 jobs while state and local governments lost 30,000 jobs. The official unemployment rate dropped a notch to 8.9% and the underemployment rate, which includes discouraged workers and part-time workers who would prefer to work full-time, dropped to 15.9%.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said the February report showed the beginning of a fragile economic recovery, but added that the recovery is threatened by “irresponsible budget cutting in Congress and in states and cities across the country.”
Chad Stone, chief economist of the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (cbpp.org), said the February report showed the economy bouncing back, but job growth thus far in the economic recovery has reduced only a small part of the huge jobs deficit that the recession created, and unemployment remains stubbornly high long after the official end of the recession. It was the 12th straight month of private-sector jobs creation, but some 25 mln Americans are still unemployed, discouraged from looking for work or working part-time when they would like to be working full-time, and there is still only one job opening for every five unemployed people looking for work. In the face of those realities. But House Republicans want to cut off government efforts at job stimulation by immediately cutting government spending.
The Congressional Budget Office projects that even if job growth returns to roughly the pace of the late 1990s, it will take until 2016 to lower the unemployment rate to 5.3%. “Congress should not make it harder to strengthen the recovery and create more jobs by enacting ill-timed and excessive spending cuts,” Stone wrote.
ENVIRO ACTIVIST CONVICTED FOR FOILING ILLEGAL AUCTION. Tim DeChristopher foiled the Bush administration’s efforts in late 2008 to sell oil and gas leases on 22,500 acres of federal lands in Utah by bidding $1.8 mln that he didn’t have for the leases. The Obama administration later determined that it was an illegitimate auction, but the Justice Department proceeded with the prosecution of DeChristopher on charges of fraudulent bidding.
After US District Judge Dee Benson (an appointee of President George H.W. Bush) refused to allow DeChristopher to argue that he was acting to prevent greater environmental damage, the trial proceeded on the facts and a jury found him guilty on two felony counts (3/3). “Whether the [Bureau of Land Management] was correct in its decision to offer these parcels for oil and gas lease sales was not the question which this jury was asked to resolve,” US Attorney Carlie Christensen said after the verdict. DeChristopher faces up to 10 years in jail.
Bill McKibben noted at Grist.org (3/3), “Let’s consider for a moment the targets the federal government chooses to make an example of. So far, no bankers have been charged, despite the unmitigated greed that nearly brought the world economy down. No coal or oil execs have been charged, despite fouling the entire atmosphere and putting civilization as we know it at risk.
“But engage in creative protest that mildly disrupts the efficient sell-off of our landscape to oil and gas barons? As Tim DeChristopher found out on Thursday, that’ll get you not just a week in court, but potentially a long stretch in the pen.”
AGGIES UNDER FIRE FOR OPPOSING GUNS ON CAMPUS. Two Texas A&M faculty members are in trouble because they signed a letter posted on a university website in which they expressed opposition to allowing guns in classrooms. An A&M System lawyer told the Bryan-College Station Eagle the letter signed by Antonio Cepeda-Benito, professor of psychology and dean of faculties, and Bob Strawser, professor of accounting and speaker of the Faculty Senate, violates a policy that bars employees from using their official authority to achieve a political purpose.
The letter — penned by Strawser and dated Feb. 28 — states that allowing guns on campus is “a frightening prospect” for many faculty and adds, “Like Antonio, I also considered whether or not to express my own opinion on this important matter. As Speaker of the Faculty Senate, while I also wish to be perceived as neutral and open to all, I feel that I cannot remain silent.” It concludes, “For a number of reasons, I am totally and unequivocally opposed to allowing guns in classrooms and other University buildings.”
A university rule states that “it is the intent and expectation of Texas A&M University that all faculty, staff, and students avoid any behavior that could reasonably be interpreted as official University endorsement, support or promotion of political candidates or partisan political activities.”
‘BIRTHER’-WHISTLING IN THE GOP. Even George Will has noticed that the top Republican presidential challengers are a little weird. Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, now a Fox “News” commentator, recently was asked by right-wing talk radio host Steve Malzberg about the questions about President Obama’s birth, which for most of the nation were settled by the “Certificate of Live Birth” issued by the state of Hawaii as well as the birth notice in the Honolulu daily. But Huckabee volunteered, “I would love to know more. What I know is troubling enough. And one thing I do know is his having grown up in Kenya. …” Huckabee added, “his perspective as growing up in Kenya with a Kenyan father and grandfather, their view of the Mau Mau revolution in Kenya is very different than ours because he probably grew up hearing that the British were a bunch of imperialists.”
Will noted, “The architects and administrators of the British Empire were imperialists? Perish the thought.” Later, a spokesman for Huckabee “dutifully lied,” Will wrote, “saying his employer ‘simply misspoke’: ‘The governor meant to say the president grew up in Indonesia.’ Obama did not really grow up there — he spent just five of his first 18 years there and the other 13 years in Hawaii. But obviously Huckabee, with his dilation on the Mau Maus, was deliberately referring to Kenya. Unless Huckabee thinks the Mau Maus were Indonesians, which he might count as another ‘one thing that I do know.’”
Will also noted that Newt Gingrich, who also seems to be “theatrically tiptoeing toward toward a presidential candidacy,” also recently speculated about Obama having a “Kenyan, anti-colonial” mentality.
Leslie Savan noted at The Nation that “only after being called out did Huckabee say he ‘misspoke’ on the growing up in Kenya part (he later claimed he apologized, though that, too, isn’t true). Then he blamed the media for attacking him, and simply relocated the lie from Kenya to Indonesia. ‘Most of us,’ he told far-right radio talker Bryan Fischer, ‘grew up going to Boy Scout meetings and, you know, our communities were filled with Rotary Clubs, not madrassas.’ (Of course, Obama was born and grew up primarily in Hawaii, spending only the years between ages 6 and 10 in Indonesia — where, by the way, there were Rotary Clubs and he was a Cub Scout. In fact, according to the Boy Scouts of America, ‘The BSA is the second-largest Scouting organization in the world. The largest is in Indonesia.’)
“Huckabee even managed to trash his relatively decent stand on Obama’s birthplace. ‘What I have never done,’ he said, ‘is taken the position that Obama was born in Kenya or Indonesia or anywhere other than Hawaii, where he claims to have been born.’ That little ‘claims’ is of a weasely piece with John Boehner, who says he ‘believes’ that Obama is an American-born Christian because he takes the president ‘at his word.’”
After Huckabee followed up his “slip of the tongue” on Malzberg’s show with the Fisher interview about Obama’s “different world view,” Sheldon Alberts of the Montreal Gazette noted (3/4), “Once might be a mistake, but twice smacks of strategy.”
Obama attended a secular public school and a Catholic school (not an Islamic madrassa) in Indonesia before the family returned to Hawaii, where schools also were integrated and Obama lived with his white grandparents. Meanwhile, both Huckabee and Gingrich grew up in the segregated South, where they were taught that there was no way a colored person would be qualified to supervise white employees, much less become president of the United States. And as much as they claim to have moderated their views on race, we wonder if that informs much of their views on Obama’s “Kenyan” origins and their fixation with the “Mau-Maus.”
Chris Matthews on his MSNBC show (3/2) called it “The Lie That Won’t Die.” “It’s one thing to be a rube. It’s another one to pretend you’re a rube, and playing to the rubes,” Matthews said of Huckabee, who was a Southern Baptist preacher before he entered politics. “This isn’t about ideology — it’s about bearing false witness. It’s in the Bible, check it out, Huckabee.”
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court rejected for the second time a challenge to Obama’s eligibility to serve as president over the unsubstantiated claim that he was not born in the US, the Associated Press reported (3/7). But can a Republican candidate truly be considered plausible without pandering to “birther” prejudices?
We also wonder: Is the Republican base really that imperialist and pro-colonial? Why — other than an appeal to racism — would they criticize Kenyans who rebelled against the Brits but revere the Founders of the American Revolution? It seems odd for a group that styles itself after the Tea Party to criticize an insurgency against the British Empire, but then consistency has not been a feature of the GOP for some time.
TOM CRUISE MAKES CASE FOR PROPERTY TAX REFORM. In Colorado, where Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) is proposing a $375 mln cut in education funding and proposing to close four state parks, Tom Cruise pays just $400 a year in property taxes for a 248-acre property outside Telluride that he purchased for $18 mln, the Denver Post reported (3/7). He is one of many wealthy landowners who secure low property taxes through agricultural exemptions even though the property has little or nothing to do with producing food.
FaceTheState.com noted (3/6) that Gov. Hickenlooper pays only $75 annually on 225 acres he owns in the mountains of Park County.
GOP MOVES TO DISENFRANCHISE VOTERS. In statehouses across the country, ThinkProgress.org noted (3/5), Republican lawmakers are raising the specter of “voter fraud” to push through legislation that would restrict the voting rights of college students, rural voters, senior citizens, the disabled and the homeless. Efforts to require voters to show government-issued photo IDs would exclude millions who lack driver’s licenses from voting, it would depress Hispanic voting by as much as 10%, and it would cost taxpayers millions of dollars. In Indiana, where an ID law passed in 2005, nuns and college students have found themselves turned away from the polls. Similar laws are on the books in eight other states and that number could expand dramatically in coming months.
In New Hampshire, state Rep. Gregory Sorg (R) has introduced a bill that would bar thousands of college students and service members from voting in the communities where they attend school. According to New Hampshire House Speaker William O’Brien (R) the legislation is nececessary because there “are kids voting liberal, voting their feelings, with no life experience.”
In Kansas, the state House approved legislation, originally proposed by Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), with a twist that would require proof of citizenship upon registering to vote and photo identification at the polls. Democratic state senators have strongly objected to the proof of citizenship requirement, arguing that it is both unconstitutional and will depress voter registration.
Ironically, one of the few cases of actual voter fraud that has been uncovered involves Indiana Secretary of State Charlie White (R), who was indicted (3/4) on seven charges, including that he intentionally voted in the wrong precinct during the May 2010 primary election.
GOP HOPES MIDDLE CLASS TAX UNDERMINES HEALTH CARE LAW. House Republicans hope to weaken the health care law by imposing a tax on middle-class consumers, Brian Beutler reported at TalkingPointsMemo.com (3/7). To offset the cost of repealing the so-called 1099 provision, which requires businesses to report to the IRS all transactions with vendors in excess of $600, Republicans are proposing that recipients of health insurance subsidies based on a qualifying income level at the start of the year would have to reimburse the government if their income increases beyond 400% of the federal poverty level during the year. The cost of the reimbursement could amount to thousands of dollars.
WISCONSIN GOV. SHAVES $7M FROM CAPITOL CLEANUP ESTIMATE. The administration of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) didn’t gain much credit when they were forced to back off from their claim in a state district court (3/3) that damage to the marble inside and outside the State Capitol from masking tape used to attach placards to the walls would cost an estimated $7.5 mln to clean up.
Cari Anne Renlund, chief legal counsel for the state Department of Administration, told a state court in Madison, in support of an order to close the capitol to protesters, that estimates of damage to marble included $6 mln to repair damaged marble inside the Capitol, $1 mln for damage outside and $500,000 for costs to supervise the damage.
The next day, state officials backed off the damage claim. Michael Huebsch, secretary of the Department of Administration, said $7.5 mln was the information received from the Division of State Facilities. Jeff Plale, director of the Division of State Facilities, said the $7.5 mln was “more of a worst-case scenario.” The Administration Department said the state might be able to do a cleanup of the statehouse and grounds for $347,500, which still seemed a bit inflated, considering that most of the protesters cleaned up after themselves.
RIGHT-WING PRANKSTERS HIT NPR. In his latest sting, a group affiliated with right-wing prankster James O’Keefe taped NPR Foundation Senior Vice President Ron Schiller saying that “it is very clear that in the long run we would be better off without federal funding. And the challenge right now is that if we lost it altogether, we’d have a lot of stations go dark.” Schiller also told the pranksters, who claimed to be members of a Muslim education foundation: “The current Republican Party, particularly the Tea Party, is fanatically involved in people’s personal lives and very fundamental Christian — and I wouldn’t even call it Christian.” Unfortunately for the stingers, Dave Weigel noted at Slate.com, Schiller recently left NPR for another job at the Aspen Institute. And NPR noted that the network refused a $5 mln check from the fake organization.
Tea Party Patriots expressed outrage at Schiller’s remarks as proof that government funding should be cut off, but NPR previously has stated that the network is better able to survive a cutoff in federal funding than some local stations are. As for his depiction of the Tea Party, we must say we agree with it.
From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2011
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