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Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 12:17 PM PST

The Hoax of Conflict

by donnyg1941

This entry was written by HEIST co-producer and co-director Frances Causey.

The conflict and profit driven mainstream media continually props up the belief that Democrats and Republicans can’t agree on anything.  But when it comes to economic policy, conflict is an engineered myth, a smokescreen perpetuated by the “inside the beltway gang” ostensibly to keep the faithful of both parties happy. I call it smoke and mirror politics.

What is being obscured is the fact that both parties shamelessly support multi-national corporations and financial elites at the exclusion of everything and everyone else. Since the late 1970’s, the GOP and their billionaire backers have spent billions of dollars shaping government in their own “profits at any cost” vision.  The Democrats began falling nicely into line beginning with President Jimmy Carter who started the deregulation craze by deregulating the airline and trucking industries. No, this is not your grandfather’s Democratic party anymore.  

The Democratic Party, once the champion of working people and defender of Roosevelt’s New Deal that defined liberalism, now finds itself making policy and laws that are destroying what is left of the New Deal and subsequently the middle-class.

Reading between the lines of President Obama’s Top 50 achievements speaks to this reality.
Yes, President Obama and Congress threw working people a few bones like the auto bailout and extension of long term unemployment benefits (to be rescinded somewhat if the sequester happens) but closer scrutiny of the list reveals that a majority of  “accomplishments” were for the very few at the very top of the economic scale.

Number One on the list is health care reform.  Polls show that 77% of Americans overwhelmingly wanted a government run healthcare option to compete with private insurers. But the public option was dead on arrival after President Obama and Finance Committee Chairman Democrat Sen. Max Baucus played the “Washington shell game” and let Big Pharma and the insurance industry dictate the terms of the legislation, which was a huge windfall to both.  

The insurance industry got millions of new customers and high premiums subsidized by the taxpayer and Big Pharma can continue its predatory pricing and monopolistic policies while high drug prices and healthcare costs continue to devastate the budgets of working class families. Big money finds a way.

Number Two on the list is the passage of the stimulus, which was touted and allegedly designed to spur the economy for EVERYONE.But figures show that 93% of recovery dollars went to the 1%. The stimulus did keep the economy from going off the cliff by not completely shutting down our banking system but offered little else in the long term to bring back good jobs with benefits to working people. Relative to our 1979 economy (when Democrats acted like Democrats), the current economy has lost about one third of its ability to generate good jobs or those with good wages, healthcare benefits and retirement.  

Lastly, lets look at Number Three on the list: Wall Street Reform.  As I write, the White House and Congress are effectively putting the last nails in the coffin of Dodd-Frank, the law originally designed to re-write the rules of how Wall Street did business.

Instead, Congress is once again pandering to groups like the Mortgage Bankers Association that is sitting on bad mortgages to the tune of a 30% loss, which they are loath to write off.   The only way to recoup their losses is to create another housing bubble and Congress is only too happy to comply by loosening lending standards again.
Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley is currently crafting a bill that would set up a trust to “purchase or guarantee refinanced (private) mortgages.”  Taxpayers will be forced once again to pay for the excesses of investors. After all, this IS how our democracy works these days.

America experienced her greatest prosperity in the 1950’s and 1960’s when we had a political balance of power and laws that ensured fairness.  The Democrats representing working people were a counterweight to the power of the capital class, represented by Republicans.  Income equality and upward mobility, a core component of the American Dream, was the result.  Today, there is overwhelming evidence that your children will not have their fair shot at the American dream.  Our Democracy and dreams have been sold to the highest bidder. If indeed there are only two kinds of power in America: organized money and organized people, organized money has had its way. Which do you belong to?

This entry is also available on firedoglake.

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Mon Feb 04, 2013 at 02:03 PM PST

Americans' Net Worth

by donnyg1941

This entry was written by Heist Co-Producer and Co-Director Frances Causey.

A recent report that the economy contracted the last quarter is no surprise. Despite the recent numbers, we consistently get rosy reports from the mainstream media that the economy is generally improving. But the reality is that tens of millions of Americans have never been less secure financially because the current economy leaves them out in the cold. The numbers never lie.

From 2007 to 2010, the median net worth of each middle class American family dropped by nearly 40%, wiping out 18 years of accumulated wealth. The housing crash contributed to most of the losses. In that same period, middle-class families went from having on average $126,400 to $77,300. Median income for middle class families is now about where it was in the mid-1990’s. These are stunning losses (not JUST a number) and not without severe consequences, particularly when one considers the psychosocial impact to families. The 1% had big losses too during the crash but they were significantly less impacted because their assets were more diversified. Yet consider this. The earnings of the top 1.0 percent grew a staggering 134% between 1979 and 2007 while those in the bottom 90% grew just 15%.

So where are working Americans suppose to make up for their losses? Apparently not by working. Most of the jobs lost in the economic collapse were replaced by low paying jobs with no benefits. One of the most astonishing numbers consistently left out of the national debate is how 40 million good jobs with benefits were lost well before 2007. These also were replaced with low paying, low-skill service jobs. And yet somehow we continue to think this restructuring of the American economy that began in the late 1970’s when Democrats and Republicans alike began to worship at the altar of free market utopianism is good for us.

Since the late 1970’s average workers have faced historic obstacles in the search for decent employment. Current forecasts suggest there will be protracted unemployment for years to come. To put it bluntly, there is little doubt (and Washington knows this) that the living standards of a majority of working Americans will continue to decline over the next decade.

Even many relatively high tech manufacturing jobs today are paying just $10-12 an hour.  In a recent 60 Minutes/CBS News story the reporter filed a piece on the subject of how American manufacturing cannot find enough skilled workers to run their factories.  The piece profiled several workers who went back to school to get the necessary training. And guess how the worker is being rewarded for her initiative? She is being paid $12 per hour! Yet the reporter never questioned the employer about the low wages he pays for his “skilled” workers. And American employers wonder why there is a dearth of candidates applying for these positions? These are not living wages when a gallon of milk costs $5.  Workers simply can’t afford to take these jobs and support their families.

Yet, without rebuke from the people who elected them, politicians on both sides of the aisle continue to cry about a worker “skills gap”.  Just recently, a bi-partisan group of Senators, guided by an addiction to the belief that the market always knows best, just sided 100% with multinational corporations against American high-tech workers by proposing a bill that would overhaul the high-skilled worker visa program. The bill would immediately increase the cap on temporary H-1B from 65,000 to 115,000 a year, giving guest workers an advantage of American workers. How are American workers of any skill level ever able to compete again with the deck so stacked against them?

We hear everywhere that we are in a “recovery” citing the fact that our economy is “growing”.  But since the economic collapse, our Gross Domestic Product is consistently averaging around 2.5%. But that number is not high enough to create enough jobs for those job seekers entering the market for the first time much less the millions who need jobs but cannot find them.

Which brings me to another narrative waffling out there.  A favorite mantra of the corporate and Wall Street class, and Tea Party is that America is a “welfare state”.  Out of work Americans are taking too many handouts and after all “enough is enough.” A closer look at the numbers bearing reality reveals a much different truth.  If readers will recall, President Clinton “reformed” welfare in 1996. To receive cash assistance or Temporary Assistance to nearly enough to meet even the most basic of needs. TANF’s role in providing income support to families has declined dramatically since 1996 yet the need has never been greater. For instance in 2011, only 27 families received TANF for every 100 families in poverty.

If the working poor are on Medicaid its because employers like Wal-Mart don’t offer health care.  If the working poor participate in SNAP or the food stamp program its because they are not paid enough by employers like Wal-Mart to feed their families. Since 2007, over 12 million families have lost their homes to foreclosure.  As of January 2013, another 11 million are underwater on their mortgages and in serious jeopardy of default. Yet, there are currently 1.2 million people in public housing, hardly a huge number given the number of families displaced by the housing crisis. But yet we hear the constant refrain from those who have never wondered where their next meal was coming from complain that our working poor are consistently “on the take”.  Corporate or white collar welfare in the form of subsidies, low tax rates for corporations and wealthy individuals, and the auctioning of public resources like oil, timber and the public airwaves for pennies on the dollar costs taxpayers ten times what blue-collar welfare does.

So what is the solution? Profits are not the problem.  Blind, relentless pursuit of them at any cost by any business small or large is.  American style Democracy has always been grounded in the fact that a majority of America’s citizens worked hard and shared in her prosperity. American worker productivity has never been higher yet American workers are not seeing any return. So we have to make “work” pay again in this country.  But how do we do that?  If we truly grasp and follow the current numbers, we need a revolutionary change in what’s left of our Democracy.  

Through organizing and grassroots efforts, we must rally those left behind in this economy and acting in unison, reconstruct our economy by rebuilding from the bottom up and pressuring those at the top to change policy. This means strengthening the power of workers wherever we can, through workplace laws, policy and unions, which remain the only institutional hedge against the power of Wall Street. Moreover, we must realize that our problems are not just about electing the next politician. Perhaps we even need to redefine the American Dream into one that is more inclusive of all.

This entry is also available at firedoglake.

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This entry was written by HEIST co-producer/co-director Frances Causey.

In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant, hoping to spur development of the West, signed a law called the General Mining Act, which authorized prospecting and mining on public lands for precious "hard rock" metals including gold, copper, silver and platinum. Unlike the oil, coal, and natural gas industries that pay a 12.5 percent royalty on minerals they extract, the 1872 Act lets mining companies take "hard rock" metals from America's public lands for free.

You read that right. Mining companies take billions of dollars in gold, silver, and other precious metals from our public lands -- with little or no environmental oversight or protections -- and don't have to pay a penny in royalties to U.S. taxpayers.

After 140 years, the 1872 mining law has become disastrously obsolete and needs to be reformed.

Many people rightfully ask why, in this day and age, when we are debating what to do about the government's massive deficits, this law is still on the books. Why, they wonder, are giant, hugely profitable mining companies from all over the world allowed to tear up our National forests and public lands, pollute our air and water with mercury, lead, arsenic and other poisons, ship the gold, copper and other metals overseas, and then walk away with all the profits?

In the bizarre world of Washington politics, the answer is all too simple. The extraordinarily powerful mining lobby, with the help of Senator Harry Reid, whose state profits mightily from gold mining, has successfully perpetuated a "hands-off" approach to the 1872 law. In 2008, legislation that would have reformed the 1872 law was passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, but was dead on arrival in the Senate.

The proposed Rosemont copper mine south of Tucson, Ariz., (where I live) is the poster child for 1872 reform. The proposed mine is a particularly shocking example of how big mining corporations, including foreign corporations, continue to take advantage of the 1872 law to enrich themselves and their overseas investors. Vancouver-based Augusta Resource Corporation, the speculative outfit that set up the Rosemont Copper company as a local front, is currently seeking government permits to build a mile-wide, half-mile deep copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains on the Coronado National Forest southeast of Tucson.

The project, perhaps the largest of its kind near a major metropolitan area of almost one million residents, is a cauldron of potentially disastrous economic and environmental impacts. If built, the mine will destroy a beloved mountaintop that is home to the only known jaguar left in the United States, suck millions of gallons of precious groundwater away from existing farms, ranches, residents and business in an already bone-dry state, bury nearby forests, canyons and streams under billions of tons of toxic mining waste, and contaminate Arizona's pristine air which has drawn people and their dollars to Arizona for generations.

Arizona has a long history of mining but the Rosemont mine has generated tremendous local opposition and would not even be on the drawing board if it weren't for the 1872 mining law.
Worse still, according to independent, Arizona-based investigative journalist John Dougherty, Augusta's executives have a long track record of putting speculative mining profits ahead of local concerns. When Dougherty investigated the company, he found when they operated a similarly speculative mining venture a decade ago, they didn't pay vendors, misspent a government loan, hid investors from the public and regulators, and left a toxic mess that threatens a local community to this day.

Six of Augusta's current and former board members operated Sargold Resource Corporation, another Vancouver speculative mining company, between 2003 and 2007. Sargold owned and operated a gold mine in Sardinia, Italy and left a trail of deception and destruction that is chronicled in a short documentaryproduced and directed by Dougherty called Cyanide Beach. The film's title stems from the toxic pit lake that Sargold left in its wake, which locals have dubbed "Cyanide Beach"." Dougherty, using Sargold's own publicly-available financial reports, shows how the company failed to pay Italian contractors, forced vendors to go to court in order to get paid, and misspent a $787,000 Sardinian government loan that was supposed to be used to develop a underground mine.

Dougherty searingly lays out how Sargold mislead investors by issuing a press release that overstated Sardinian gold reserves. The Toronto Venture Stock Exchange later required Sargold to retract the erroneous projections. Sargold also tried to hold the Sardinian village of Furtei hostage by refusing to clean up the contaminated mine site unless the company was given gold mining rights elsewhere in Sardinia. The Sardinian government did not give in. So in 2007, Sargold merged with another Vancouver speculative mining company called Buffalo Gold Ltd., which resulted in a windfall for Sargold's executives who then walked away. A year later, Buffalo went bankrupt, leaving the environmental mess in Sardinia.

At the same time its board members were engineering the profitable exit strategy in Sardinia, Sargold failed to disclose on numerous occasions in regulatory filings that its Chairman, Richard Warke, had filed for personal bankruptcy in 1998. Sargold wasn't alone in failing to disclose this information, which is required by both Canadian and U.S. regulators in order to protect potential investors. Augusta also ignored Warke's bankruptcy for years in its own regulatory disclosure reports.

One of the most entertaining and revealing moments in the documentary is when Dougherty interviews Franco Cherchi, a former Sardinian business partner of Warke's. Cherchi was president of Sargold's Sardinian subsidiary, Gold Mines of Sardinia. When asked by Dougherty if Mr. Warke is a man of his word, Cherchi replies with wry smile: "When it's no longer convenient for him, he withdraws the promise." Ultimately, Dougherty's investigation reveals that Augusta's Rosemont Copper Company is employing many of the same tactics used by Sargold in Sardinia. The strategy includes an expensive and misleading public relations campaign and using Arizona-based middle managers to obtain the necessary state and federal permits. Augusta, meanwhile, keeps issuing optimistic and misleading press releases to keep investors buying its stock. Augusta's end game appears to be the same as in Sardinia: Sell out and leave town.

Financial analysts expect Augusta to be quickly acquired by a much bigger company if, and when, it obtains the permits. Warke, and other Augusta board members, would reap huge profits while Arizona is left with a new company poised to blow the top off one of the state's most beautiful mountains. One likely suitor is Augusta's principal lender, the evangelical, London-based hedge fund Red Kite, which is among the largest copper trading firms in the world.

As a citizen impacted by the potential mine, what is most depressing is watching how Augusta and its Arizona puppet exploit the economic fears of local officials and citizens who are desperate for jobs can be so easily exploited and duped by misinformation distributed by Augusta and its Arizona puppet, Rosemont Copper. According to Dougherty's research, if the mine were built it would add less than one tenth of one percent of the jobs to Southern Arizona's economy.

The economic benefits from the Rosemont mine -- most of which will go to overseas investors -- don't come close to offsetting the costs of destroying a beautiful mountaintop forever, exterminating the jaguar from the U.S., and polluting our precious air and water with mercury, lead, arsenic and other poisons. It's just not worth it. And if you don't believe me, just ask the people of Furtei in Sardinia, Italy.

This entry is also available at The Huffington Post and Firedoglake.

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Mon Jan 07, 2013 at 01:47 PM PST

Dear Mr. Speaker!

by donnyg1941

This entry was written by HEIST co-director/co-producer Frances Causey.

In opening the 113th Congress last Thursday House Speaker John Boehner declared that debt is imperiling the American Dream. This is the kind of intentionally misleading narrative Republicans, in collusion with corporate America and conservative think tanks, have spent 40 years and billions of dollars developing. Unfortunately, the old adage rings true that if you repeat a lie enough it becomes fact.

First, Speaker Boehner you are a bit confused about debt.  And so are you Mr. President. Debt is not stealing the American Dream. Corporate America and its political collusion with Democrats and Republicans are. But lets cut to the political-economic quick America, we have one political party-the corporate party.

Look to any primer on debt provided by progressive economists like Dean Baker who predicted our economic collapse.  According to Baker, the housing collapse, brought on by reckless Wall St. financial scams (think sub-prime mortgage and collateralized mortgage backed bonds), sank the world economy --and the steps that government took to counter all of this—created the preponderance of our debt. According to Baker this is indisputable. Many other economists like Robert Kuttner also echo this.

In 2007 the budget deficit was just 1.2 percent of gross domestic product output, a very reasonable amount. According to the Congressional Budget Office, this year’s deficit will measure 7.3% of GDP. So the increase in the public debt since 2007 can be squarely placed at the foot of Wall Street. Financial corporations (Countrywide, etc.) peddled “debt” to those who could least afford it, those who yearned for their slice of the American Dream-owning a home. Even former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson admitted in a 2009 Vanity Fair article that he and his Wall Street cohorts said housing would continue to go up in value. But Conservatives love to blame the victims as part of their narrative in order to rally their base, which conveniently believes that personal debt caused our current troubles. Nothing could be further from the truth. Just ask Senator Elizabeth Warren who studied this extensively while at Harvard. I think it’s more plausible to blame those at the top of the pyramid who knew exactly what they were doing.  

But tell that to Speaker Boehner and the “fix the debt” Corporate CEO’s who apparently were inspired by the guy who got us into this mess in the first place- Alan Greenspan! So instead of fixing the roots of the problem, which is corporate control of politics and the economy, these corporate acolytes want to instead swoop in and fix (in the coming negotiations over extending the debt ceiling) what ain’t broke, which is Social Security and Medicare!

In his speech Speaker Boehner said that if we “free ourselves from our debt“ (read that: reduce the social safety net) our economy will be set free and jobs will come home. Oh the hypocrisy! You know as well as anyone, Mr. Speaker, that most manufacturing jobs are not coming back to America.

Jobs are leaving America because you, at the behest of the corporations, passed laws that made exporting jobs incredibly profitable. Those laws are enabling 70 U.S. based corporations to not pay taxes on over 1.2 TRILLION in profits around the world.

In his remarks, Speaker Boehner cites that debt is “draining free enterprise”. Corporate profits have never been higher, but nor has inequality, a fact you will never hear from the Speaker. Work no longer pays in America. The game is fundamentally rigged and ordinary people who do everything right, who play by rules, still end up with the short end of the stick.

But make no mistake, the corporate party knows there is plenty of prosperity in America-it’s in the hands of the 1%. Investors all over the world are plowing into U.S. Treasury bonds, signaling a federal government nowhere near default. CEO’s know this, politicians know this and Wall Street investors know this but the media doesn’t, or at least doesn’t understand or acknowledge it, and therefore most Americans don’t either. I call it media free of fact.

But the reality Mr. Speaker, one that working Americans feel in their guts everyday, is that since the great collapse- created by corporate domination of our political economy-trillions in housing wealth has been lost, millions of families lost their homes to foreclosure, many millions more are underwater, millions remain out of work and over 46 million Americans live poverty. But you and your colleagues continue to play political games at the public’s expense and pander to the corporate elite who elected you. You can change that, by overseeing a government that represents ALL OF US, not just its profit at any cost corporations.

This entry is also available at firedoglake.

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Tue Dec 18, 2012 at 11:18 AM PST

What would FDR do?

by donnyg1941

Written by HEIST co-director/co-producer Frances Causey.

History has proven time and time again that the United States has prospered the most when capital and labor work hand in hand with each other. When they don't, you get the likes of Michigan, Wisconsin, Hostess and Wal-Mart. Henry Ford understood that he needed to pay his workers well or who else would buy his automobiles? Pretty logical, huh?

Today, the balance of power between workers and capital has been obliterated with a tiny few elites making off like bandits as we have illustrated in Heist. The 1 percent has captured 93 percent of income growth since the alleged recovery of the economy. (This page asks, how can this truly be a recovery when only 1 percent of the population benefits?)

The tragedy is that our own lawmakers have allowed American corporations and the super rich to makeover government to suit their own whims. Don't be deceived. American corporations have abandoned America for emerging markets, dispensing with loyalty as easily as they would an unprofitable manufacturing sector. Corporate media consolidation has sold this bill of goods (free market mysticism) to the American people as patriotic.

There is a fascinating yet depressing book entitled At Any Cost: Jack Welch, General Electric, and the Pursuit of Profit that illustrates just what has gone wrong with corporate America. Jack Welch maximized shareholder value by turning one of America's most enterprising companies, GE, into a mercenary financial monolith that was eventually bailed out to the tune of $140 billion dollars by U.S. taxpayers.

Tens of thousands of GE jobs were (are) being outsourced at the exact moment the American people were bailing the company out! Then in the cruelest irony of all, President Obama appointed GE's CEO Jeffrey Immelt to run his Presidential Council on Jobs and Competitiveness!

When an American corporation benefits greatly from being American (favorable tax law, use of U.S. infrastructure, protection of U.S. embassies abroad, favorable trade deals et al), it is the duty of our lawmakers who allegedly represent us to hold these companies accountable to America and her workers. We are not naïve as we understand that capital flows to the highest return but everything must have rules. The 1 percent has made their own rules and 99 percent of us are paying the price.

If FDR were president today, my guess is he would not meet in secret with the House speaker to cut a backroom deal that would further hammer the 99 percent by reducing Medicare and Social Security benefits that we have already paid for. Instead, FDR would call it like he saw it -- as he did in a 1936 speech while accepting the Democratic Party's nomination for president. FDR addressedwhat he saw as a grave threat to the United States from within:

"These economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America. What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power."
The economic royalists of today are the financial and corporate elite that lobbies for their own set of rules. Both U.S. parties are beholden to their outrageous cash flows. We as a united people can't change things until we have accepted this reality. Under FDR, workers had a seat at the table but who speaks for us now? The Progressives won with FDR and we can do it again if President Obama stands with us. If not now, when? It's time for President Obama to channel his inner FDR -- if he has it in him.

This entry is also available at The Huffington Post and firedoglake.

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By Frances Causey

The fix is in. If you read the media tea leaves, it looks like Medicare and Social Security benefits will likely be cut to avoid going over the contrived fiscal cliff because signs are that BOTH U.S. political parties and the Obama Administration have already agreed to it. Reading between the lines of the media speaks volumes to this truth.

It is not so much what is being said by politicians but what ISN’T being said. Have you noticed the dog and pony show around President Obama “drawing a line in the sand” about tax increases for those making $200,000 and up, and House Majority leader John Boehner feigning a fight.

With his populist rhetoric, President Obama is sure to rally his “base” which will soften the blow when he cuts benefits to Medicare and Social Security. I particularly marveled when word leaked by the Obama Administration that he would not be averse to rescinding the tax increase after one year. Hint hint.

The reality?  On matters of economics, the Democratic Party does not look a whole lot different from the Republican Party. The Democrats who are right of center as a party long ago abandoned the ideals of FDR who created policy that saved capitalism from itself in the 1930’s and defended working people against its excesses. We need today’s Democrats to put up a fight and they are taking a pass.  Crimes of gargantuan proportions have been committed since the 1980’s and continue with instruments like derivatives.  Now, the thievery continues with cuts to Social Security and Medicare.  As Senator Bernie Sanders says in Heist.

If you really did the investigation, the Democrats would not be able to simply say; oh it was that George W. Bush, it was him. Well you know what, it was a lot of Bush. But I’m afraid the Republicans would be able to say, sorry, not just us, take a look at Robert Rubin, secretary of treasury under Bill Clinton, and all of the Rubin guys. They were working with Allan Greenspan; they were working with Phil Gramm, to deregulate all of this stuff. So you got true bipartisanship – everybody wants bipartisanship, you got it!
I’m still amused when I read or hear people talk about how both parties are separated by ideology with Democrats wanting big government while Republicans are for smaller government. This is just more subterfuge to deceive the public about what is really being negotiated between volleys on the Capital’s basement tennis courts. Both parties support big government to help their favorite industries (think Wall Street, military contractors or Big Pharma, for example,) and occasionally the 99%.

So Act Two of the ideological dog and pony show is trotted out on stage mainly to entertain the good ole boy network as Economic Policy Institute Co-founder Jeff Faux describes in Heist.

If Greenspan and Rubin had really believed the ideology that they preached, they would not have bailed out the S&L’s the way that Greenspan did.…Rubin would not have bailed out the Wall St. holders of Mexican bonds in nineteen ninety-five. Greenspan would not have bailed out the stock market in two thousand and two thousand one. The only explanation I can have for this is that it’s a class question. These people were protecting their class. And what class was that? That was the class - global class - the network of financial wheeler-dealers who had essentially dominated the world economy.
Did you see the actual details (or those NOT leaked to the media) of the financial wheeler-dealer and former Morgan Stanley Director Erskine Bowles’ plan to repair our budget? These were provided by one of the two members (Elizabeth Warren being the other) of the Senate - Bernie Sanders - who retains any credibility.
According to Senator Sanders, Simpson-Bowles would cut Social Security benefits for current retirees by reducing the cost of living adjustment; cut Social Security benefits for middle class beneficiaries by 35 percent; raise the eligibility age of Social Security to 69; and cut Veterans benefits. (Remember during the campaign how both parties invoked these benefits as sacred.)  But our favorite Simpson-Bowles bullet point is the one that would reduce taxes for the super rich and corporations, which has already done such wonders for our economy.

There is some good news. A truly progressive social movement is in its infancy in this country but who would know about it? Certainly not the mainstream news media. First we had Wisconsin, then Occupy Wall Street, the re-election of President Obama, the election of truly Progressive candidates Tammy Baldwin and Elizabeth Warren who demanded and won a seat on the senate banking services committee. And now we have fast food workers demanding a living wage and the right to join a union! Imagine that.

And the good people of California voted to raise taxes on the rich, defeated an anti-union initiative, and Washington state voted in legalization of gay marriage and marijuana. The 99% is awakening to the menace of corporate rule.  Our work now is to not be fooled by the rhetoric of the Democrats who quietly and spinelessly agree to the severe, slow cuts outlined in Simpson-Bowles. Read behind the headlines to know where your bottom line is.

JeffreeB will be available for comment directly following publication.

This entry is also available on The Huffington Post and firedoglake.

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By Frances Causey

Journalists have long loathed to write about and report on economics, dismissing the entire field as too hard to understand or impossible to reduce to a quote or a sound bite.  Because of this, working Americans are paying the price as the parameters of the current debate around the deficit, budget and the so-called fiscal cliff are being defined by the likes of Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein and Peter G. Peterson, two men who are heavily invested in the outcome around the subject. With important programs like Social Security and Medicare on the line, there can be little doubt that working people are not represented in Washington.

Reading mainstream media headlines and watching cable news is really bad for your bottom line because those stories are for the most part based on content churned out by the huge public relations machines funded by Peterson and Blankfeins’ Goldman Sachs.  This ideologically driven (we only want government when it enriches us) information is neither comprehended nor analyzed by the journalists or news outlets that send them out like retreads on a worn tire. In other words, if a lie is repeated enough it becomes the truth.

This writer encourages readers to look not to the mainstream media, but to the work of academics like economist Dean Baker from the Center for Economic Policy and Research.  In today’s maelstrom of corporate owned news, we must turn directly to the source of good, non-partisan information. Dean Baker’s “think tank” is actually “reporting” and researching the facts behind our economic crisis unlike Peterson’s money fueled organization, which spews its founder's personal beliefs and then manipulates the data to support them, all of which lead to the “creation” of the fiscal cliff to begin with.  Please stop and question everything you see and read about the deficit because chances are it's loaded with billionaires self-interested political and financial goals.

As Dean Baker, who predicted our crisis many years ago, points out, our deficit was both relatively modest until the economy collapsed in 2008.  And as neither Republicans nor Democrats would like to admit our deficit is not  “attributed to “extravagant social spending”. Baker writes with authority that this is “straightforward and not debatable.”

Baker’s research also shows that our current deficit, which is 10 percent of GDP, was created when the housing bubble induced the economic collapse, which then lead to a sort of perfect storm or a “plunge” in tax collections, coupled with an increase on spending for food stamps and unemployment insurance.  So now you have the simple, unvarnished truth about the roots of our economic collapse. Is it really that hard to understand? But seriously, we encourage all citizens concerned about their own “economy” to discover the facts for themselves. We did at Heistand came up with our own solutions to “fix the debt”.

    •    The Payroll Tax Holiday will expire at the end of the year and go from 4% back to 6%.  Solution: keep the tax at 4% and raise the cap on people who are making more than $108,000/year.  Do this and Social Security will remain solvent for the next 75 years.

    •    Turn Medicare into Medicare for all.  The U.S. would spend a similar % of GDP for medical care that all advanced industrial countries do, and save hundreds of billions of dollars a year.

    •    The Pentagon spends one third of federal revenue and generates debt for which we pay interest. Reduce the Pentagon’s budget by 40-50% as the fiascos in Iraq and Afghanistan have already cost us between 3 and 5 trillions dollars.

    •    Continue unemployment insurance for people who can't find a job. Overwhelmingly, the economy needs the spending generated by unemployment checks.

    •    Create a WPA for green jobs and green infrastructure instead of just handing money over to the private sector without any demand on return such as with business tax credits which, if extended, will cost the U.S. Treasury 890 Billion dollars between 2013 and 2022.  With the WPA, the federal government would hire people who would then pay taxes!

    •    Demand that the new Congress negotiate with Big Pharma new reimbursement rates for Medicare patients in line with the way the Veteran’s Administration does.  Drug companies will be paid $400 billion in the next 10 years unless this changes.

    •    Get rid of Medicare Advantage Programs that siphon public Medicare money into private insurance companies with no improvement of care. This cost the Medicare Program 30 billion dollars in 2006, and that money could have gone directly into Medicare services.

    •    Get rid of the Bush Tax Cuts- Raise rates on individual income tax for the 1%, capital gains and dividend income.

    •    Hands off Social Security and Medicare, as these programs are self-funded through payroll taxes, paid by employees and their employers. Social Security currently has a 2.7 trillion dollar surplus. By law, it cannot be allowed to be in deficit.  Medicare is partly funded through payroll taxes.  A majority of the spending on Medicaid, which is funded by the Federal government and the states, goes to the elderly and disabled.

For more information about Heist: Who Stole the American Dream? go to www.heist-themovie.com

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This entry was written by Frances Causey.

Thankfully, stories of striking workers at Wal-Mart and Hostess are making the front pages of newspapers and leading the “A” blocks of cable news shows.  These two companies epitomize the war against workers that began over 40 years ago.  Wal-Mart is the poster-child for corporate malfeasance and draconian worker policies.  Wal-Mart workers on average are paid so little that the American taxpayer is literally subsidizing these workers as tens of thousands of them have no health benefits which forces them to use state Medicaid for healthcare.  Wal-Mart made $15 billion dollars last year. Four out of the America’s top ten Billionaires are Wal-Mart heirs.

Its no better over at Hostess, a company that has been bought and sold three times since the 1980’s, putting the Twinkie maker in debt but making Wall Street investment bankers and top management a bunch of dough (sorry). And guess who bankrolled those deals? Fees and stock deals were funded by employee layoffs!  But the biggest ding-dong of all would be the current Hostess CEO who while decrying striking workers for wanting livable wages and benefits gave himself a 300 percent raise.

The American worker-those who live off a paycheck – has experienced “death by a thousand cuts” over the last forty years which we amply portray in HEIST. Despite slick corporate press releases regurgitated by corporate owned media, workers at Wal-Mart and Hostess have been forced to rise up because they can no longer support their families with what they EARN. Forty million good paying jobs with benefits have been shipped overseas or dismantled by corporations since the late 1970’s and were replaced by low wage service jobs with no benefits.

Simply put, working for a living no longer pays for most workers in this country. Incomes in America are much lower than is widely understood. Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter David Cay Johnston crunched the numbers in Heist. One-third of jobs in America pay less than $15,000 a year, which includes part time workers and people with two small jobs. But half of Americans make less than $25,000. Three quarters make less than$54,000. Ninety-nine percent of workers make less than $250,000 per year.  HEIST describes the corporate makeover of big government that saw the Democratic Party become almost indistinguishable from Republicans on economic matters. Policies were developed that clearly favored the “capital” class not the “working” class.

American style Democracy has been unique for one simple reason: a majority has- for the most part- benefitted from the fruits of the nation’s labors. But this is no longer true as the workers at Wal-Mart and Hostess know all too well.  With nowhere to go, these brave workers are fighting back and making great strides in raising the nation’s consciousness about economic inequality.  We must support them!  So if you live in a city where Wal-Mart workers are striking, go there this Friday, black Friday, and instead of shopping, take striking workers a sandwich, a bottle of water or give them a pat on the shoulder or a word of encouragement. These workers are “walking the walk”!

For more information on the Wal-Mart workers' strike, check out forrespect.org

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Note: This post was written by HEIST co-producer and co-director Frances Causey.

The war against people who work for a living in this country continues with the “Grand Bargain” that will slash social spending by trillions on programs that benefit the most vulnerable among us and also “reform” Social Security and Medicare.

We at Heist: Who stole the American Dream? see the cruel irony in this brazen attempt to further erode living standards for the 98%. Today, some 70 percent of Americans pay more in payroll taxes than they do in income taxes!  Social Security and Medicare are not “entitlement” programs. Hard working Americans along with their employers pay into this system their entire working lives. But rather than tax corporations and the super rich by allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire, apparently President Obama, Congress and the corporate-financial class on Wall Street would prefer instead to "balance" the budget on the backs of working Americans.  Senator Bernie Sanders points out in HEIST the callous indifference inherent in Washington’s march towards austerity.

“Let’s go after little kids, let’s go after the elderly, let’s go after the sick, let’s go after the most vulnerable, but apparently in the Senate we can’t ask Chevron to pay taxes.

How much more can working people give up before they rise up? The tally so far? Across the board, wages have stagnated since the mid-70’s, over 40 million good paying jobs with benefits have been shipped overseas, trade agreements that benefit the corporate and shareholder classes prevail, employers are asking workers to pay more for healthcare, risky 401k’s have replaced guaranteed defined benefit pensions, and now the 1% is going after the one element of FDR’s New Deal that remains, Social Security!

Austerity as described by Webster: difficult economic conditions created by government measures to reduce a budget deficit, especially by reducing public expenditures. So what is in effect here is the Golden Rule:  He who has the gold (and the pockets of Congress) makes the rules. As we point out in HEIST, in 1971 there were 175 lobbyists in D.C. but by 2008 there were more than 33,000. Because of this, Congress spends more time hobnobbing with lobbyists who represent the super rich and corporations than they do with most of their constituents, ordinary working people.  The big disconnect here is that politicians believe the problems of the one percent are the problems of the country. It’s safe to say that working people have no voice in Washington.

As a result, our priorities are way out of whack as pointed out by Sen. Bernie Sanders in HEIST. -Instead of a society in which we’re struggling together to deal with this environmental crisis, to deal with education, to make sure all of our people have healthcare, we are a society now in which the goal is to be one of those people on top that have tremendous wealth and tremendous power.

By the way, did you notice as we did in HEIST that our “deficit” problems began in 2008 when the world economy tanked thanks to Wall Street’s criminal activity? But to cover their crimes, the cartel’s message machine switched into high gear, effectively convincing working Americans that they were to blame because they bought too many televisions. NO, our deficit “problems” began when Wall Street crashed our economy, people lost jobs and the government lost tax revenue, and brought back the ultimate tool of “magical thinking”?, the Reagan-Bush tax cuts. It’s maddening to hear over and over again from cable pundits, anchors and reporters make assumptions about the “deficit” without understanding its source or doing their own reporting.  This is the corporate-political-financial class message machine doing its finest work.  The result has been disastrous for working Americans as Jakada Imani of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights says in HEIST.

Folks who are in charge of this economy ran red light after red light after red light, and caused car wreck after car wreck after car wreck, and no one’s held them accountable. There hasn’t even been a conversation about accountability.

So the political coup begun in the mid 1970’s by nihilistic corporations and the super rich as described in HEIST, that swept up both American political parties continues to this day.  In all honesty, on matters regarding the economy it’s almost impossible to separate the Democrats from the Republicans. We sincerely hope President Obama proves us wrong. To make matters worse, the corporate owned media has helped create within the working class a sort of “learned helplessness”, that we are powerless to counter the powers that be. This country has a history of social movements, the feminist and civil rights movements, among others.  We must support social movements like Occupy Wall Street, which is raising the level of consciousness about the grave inequality present in this country. Which is exactly why the corporate-political class swooped in to shut it down so quickly.

For more information about Heist: Who Stole the American Dream? please go to www.heist-themovie.com.

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Note: This entry was co-written by donnyg1941 and JeffreeB

Many readers of our last post about Pete Peterson's attack on Social Security commented on a very accurate point: Social Security contributes nothing to our national debt. It is a system into which we pay; and then, eventually, it pays us. And, as we previously pointed out, the Social Security Trust Fund is in surplus. And if the Social Security Trust Fund does begin to run dry, by law, it automatically reduces benefits payments to compensate. Which raises the question: Why do Peterson and pals so badly want us to believe that in order to reduce our national deficit, we have to reduce benefits and increase eligibility age for Social Security?

Well, let's take a look at just who exactly wants to "help" us "fix the debt." Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, the budget hawks who co-chaired the Simpson-Bowles Commission at President Obama's behest, founded the Fix the Debt campaign with a nice chunk of change from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation (which is run by Pete's son, Michael). Fix the Debt is co-chaired and co-"steered" by an array of politicians from both sides of the aisle. At last, bipartisanship!

But there are others on the steering committee. One of these is Dave Cote, CEO of Honeywell. Cote ranked 11th on a list compiled in a recent study conducted by the Institute for Policy Studies of executives who have saved the most from the Bush tax cuts. According to the IPS, Cote's taxable compensation for 2011 was a bit over $55 million, and he got out of paying about $2.5 million thanks to the Bush tax cuts.

Another member of the steering committee is Robert Zoellick, former Vice Chairman of Goldman Sachs. Citizens for Tax Justice reported in 2011 that Goldman Sachs claimed a $352 million Excess stock compensation deduction in 2010 and received a $123 million tax subsidy. Goldman along with 170 other companies avoided paying $2 billion in taxes from this loophole alone. And one of Goldman's former ringleaders is now going to help us fix the debt!

Pete Peterson's aforementioned son Michael is also on the steering committee, along with James B. Lee, Jr., vice chairman of JPMorgan Chase. And there is a sizable, ever-growing list full of other nefarious CEOs who have signed on to Fix the Debt's CEO Fiscal Leadership Council.

This is the dream team Peterson has assembled to pull us out of this whole mess. Oddly enough, you may have noticed, the lineup looks strikingly similar to that of the team that put us in this mess in the first place.

But let's take a moment to look at how we got here in the first place. The reality is that the current system of taxation created by Ronald Reagan and put on steroids by George W. Bush is working quite well for Peterson and his fellow oligarchs. Economist Robert Kuttner outlines the beginnings of this historic wealth transfer in our film Heist: Who Stole the American Dream?:

You had massive lobbying beginning in seventy-six, seventy-seven, seventy-eight, for cutting taxes on rich people -- trickle down economics. Cut capital gains taxes, cut dividend taxes, cut income taxes, and the economy will flourish. Some of the Democrats started drinking the Kool-Aid along with the Republicans.
So in 1981 Ronald Reagan convinced Congress to pass his Economic Recovery Tax Act, which cut the top tax brackets by nearly a third but raised taxes on the middle class. What was the practical effect of this new taxation? David Cay Johnston explains in Heist:
The Washington press corps went along with the White House, calling these "revenue enhancements." By dramatically increasing the social security tax, as recommended by Alan Greenspan to Ronald Reagan, we shifted the burden of government, so that today, seventy some percent of Americans pay a heavier share of their income in Social Security and Medicare taxes than they do in income taxes, and we pushed the burden down. At the same time at the very, very top we radically cut taxes so that the 1,000 richest men, women, and children in America face an effective total federal tax rate -- social security and income taxes -- of about 17 cents on the dollar, and their average income is 263 million dollars.
Let's be very clear, Peterson and his gang are fixated on the debt because they don't want to pay their fair share of taxes! And now, we supposedly sit on the edge of the cliff, below which yet another financial mess awaits. And Peterson and pals claim to have the solution. Sound familiar? Maintaining the Reagan-Bush tax cuts is the number one goal of today's ultra-conservative movement that has been in control of these United States since the late 1970s.

The way to peddle it to the American people? Beat the drum of debt reduction through the mainstream media megaphone. All of this is to obscure the real truth, which is that our debt is the direct result of the severe economic downturn, the continued failure of big corporations to pay their taxes on profits sitting offshore, the huge bank bailouts (paid for by you and me), and two wars fought on credit.

Up next on the Peter G. Peterson chopping block? Your Social Security and Medicare!

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This post was co-written by donnyg1941 and JeffreeB.

You may or may not have heard of Peter G. Peterson, but he has been trying very hard lately to make you believe your Social Security is in jeopardy. Peterson spent about half a billion dollars in 2011 alone to make sure that you feel that you are about to lose your "entitlements" and that we have to deal with this immediately.

So who is this mystery master of manipulation? Peterson has spent decades on Wall Street, amassing a net worth of nearly 3 billion dollars. He has spent some time in politics, serving under President Nixon as Secretary of Commerce. He also co-founded infamous private equity juggernaut Blackstone Group. Sounds like your typical fat cat, right?

Not exactly. While most of Peterson's cronies make no bones about their right-wing politics, Peterson really wants you to think of him as nonpartisan. Peterson is definitely a conservative, but through his billion-dollar-endowed Peter G. Peterson Foundation, he has made a gargantuan effort to present himself as a friend of both sides of the aisle. Peterson has given grants to conservative think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. But he has also given grants to the likes of the liberal Economic Policy Institute, and Peterson's foundation has brought the likes of Bill Clinton to its fiscal summit.

By attempting to present himself as nonpartisan, Peterson has been able to set our nation's agenda. Both Democratic and Republican politicians are being told by their sources of information that Social Security needs reform, so social security reform has, of course, become a big political issue. Peterson isn't exactly throwing handfuls of money at grantees and yelling, "Tell everyone we have to reform Social Security!" But he is making his priorities our priorities. As Michael Hiltzik puts it in his article "Unmasking the most influentialbillionaire in U.S. politics," "Peterson's influence in national politics stems largely from his ability to make his interests appear eclectic and nonpartisan." Peterson declined Hiltzik's interview request for the article.

One of Peterson's latest projects, the bipartisan Fix the Debt campaign, is spending millions to convince us all we need to take one for the team if we want to save Social Security. Fix the Debt proposes a gradual COLA decrease, as well as an increase in retirement age to 69 years old. Mitt Romney, by the way, champions this plan.

This sounds like a reasonable sacrifice to save Social Security, right? After all, if we don't do something now, we're going to lose it, right? Wrong. As of 2011, the Social Security Trust Fund had a surplus of $2.7 trillion. The Social Security Board of Trustees states that the fund will not be exhausted until 2033. And at that point, Social Security recipients will still receive 75% of expected benefits. But thanks to the efforts of Peter Peterson, we talk about Social Security as if we are going to lose it tomorrow. If you ask Peterson, the sky is indeed falling.

Do our "entitlement" programs need reform? Yes. If we continue our present course, we will run into trouble in a couple of decades. Is Social Security circling the drain as we speak? No. But Peterson wants you to think it is. If we believe this, we are much more likely to accept losing some of the benefits of the system we pay into every working year of our lives.

What we don't talk much about, though, is an alternative. Right now the Social Security payroll tax cap is set at $110,100, meaning that any yearly income earned above this is not taxed for Social Security. Next year this figure will increase to $113,700. But lifting the payroll tax cap altogether would yield over $100 billion more per year for Social Security. And the only Americans affected by removing the cap would be those making over $110,000 per year. If you're making less than that, your entire income is subject to the payroll tax, anyway.

So should we all listen to Chicken Little Peterson and retire later and get less back from the system into which we ourselves pay (and into which Peterson and friends pay a fraction of a fraction of their income)? Or should all Americans pay their fair share of payroll tax? The answer seems pretty clear.

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This entry was co-written by donnyg1941 and JeffreeB

With a recent report from the Economic Policy Institute that states, "Between 2001 and 2011, the trade deficit with China eliminated or displaced more than 2.7 million U.S. jobs," much attention has lately been aimed at outsourcing.

But we're losing jobs in less publicized ways, too. David Pitt points out in his article "Congress not acting on credits despite job fears" that 27,000 jobs are in jeopardy as Congress decides on the fate of the tax credit that created those jobs. And while 27,000 jobs may not sound like much when compared to the damage outsourcing has done, these jobs represent a potential turning point in our ability to sustain our economy and environment.

The 27,000 Americans that face unemployment work on the manufacture and implementation of wind turbines. And with the recent, dramatic rise of domestic turbine production, jobs in this sector were on the rise.

But the credit's renewal faces slim odds. It has become yet another battlefield for Congress's war over spending. Interestingly, the sides on this battlefield are not split along the aisle. "Extension of the tax credit," Pitt says, "is caught up in deep differences over spending in Congress, where fiscal conservatives in the Republican Party are fighting renewal even as other GOP members push to have the program continued."

In fact, the man behind the tax credit, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, is a Republican, while the one and only Mitt Romney opposes the credit's renewal; you might remember Romney's attack on current green energy expenses in the first debate. His answer to green energy spending was, "I like coal." Grassley said Romney's stance on the wind tax credit "was just like a knife in my back." It seems Washington's perpetual spending war will claim almost 30,000 jobs not because of partisan politics, but because of GOP in-fighting.

Opponents of the credit focus on debt and wind energy's current unprofitability. But the credit's importance cannot be overstated. In addition to providing thousands of jobs and potentially thousands more, the tax credit also represents a preliminary step toward rebuilding our economy and our environment. Wind energy was once extremely expensive because we had to import turbines. However, Pitt states, "More than 470 manufacturing facilities are operating, up from 30 in 2004." This increase meant job creation. And it could mean more job creation in the future if given the chance.

The merits of wind energy are obvious, and the wind energy tax credit could be a win-win. We could have a potentially limitless clean energy source while putting more Americans back to work.

But we seem to have taken one step forward and two steps back. Pitt notes, "The policy uncertainty has already caused job cuts as wind energy producers delay new projects until it's clear whether the credits will be renewed." As the odds of a vote to renew the credit before it expires wane, more Americans lose their jobs.

We are on the verge of letting this tax credit fall by the wayside even though it has yielded some very promising results, and, given the chance, it can make America's future cleaner and brighter. More of us can get back to work, we can produce more of our own energy, and our environment will thank us. So let your elected officials know it matters!

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