The government gives, the government has taken away

Posted on 21. Jan, 2013 by Stephan Helgesen in Energy/Environment, Politics

Or, do they take and then give? It appears to be a vicious cycle with no beginning or end.

For the last four years, President Obama and his EPA have waged a war on coal. Though they deny it, their regulations have cost thousands of miners their jobs, and hundreds of coal-fueled power plants are scheduled to be closed within the next few years.

On January 7, Georgia Power announced that it will “shut down 15 coal and oil-fired units, cutting nearly one-sixth of its power grid capacity to comply with federal rules aimed at reducing air pollution.” This, the latest in a string of plant-closure announcements, will take away nearly 500 jobs. Over the next five years, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation forecasts closures of plants that currently produce 20 percent of the nation’s coal-fueled generation.

The Atlanta-Journal Constitution report cites the closures come “after the utility and parent Southern Co. spent years unsuccessfully fighting the regulations.” The regulatory hit to the coal industry is tough to deny: “Currently, the amount of coal that Georgia Power uses to produce electricity stands at 47 percent, down from 70 percent five years ago.”

The government has taken away.

Despite the assault on coal that has decimated the economy of entire regions, lawmakers voted to subsidize coal through Section 406 of the American Taxpayer Relief Act—known as the “Fiscal Cliff Deal.” The 400 Section of the 157-page bill is for “Energy Tax Extenders” and includes “provisions of the Bill that are relevant to ongoing and future projects in the renewable energy space.”

Within the package, various tax credits are extended—including the Production Tax Credit for wind energy that I’ve fought to end. Other extensions include those for “closed and open-loop biomass facilities, geothermal facilities, landfill gas facilities, trash facilities, qualified hydropower facilities, and qualified marine and hydrokinetic renewable energy facilities.” And then, there are a few lines in Section 406, buried in a group of renewable energy provisions, which extend a tax credit for coal produced on American Indian land.

American coal is bad, but apparently coal from Indian lands is good?

Section 406 “extends,” by one year, an accommodation in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that allows a credit for “Indian coal”—which the bill defines as coal produced from reserves which were owned by an Indian tribe on June 14 2005.

Compared to the amount for renewables, the actual dollar amount going to Indian coal is miniscule in the grand scheme of the Fiscal Cliff Deal—estimated to be about $1 million, The Missoula Independent states that Section 406 currently applies to only three mines in the country, but it is the hypocrisy; the incongruity of it that is so troubling.

One mine that benefits from the tax credit is the Absaloka mine, a 10,427-acre, single-pit surface mine on the Crow Indian reservation in southeastern Montana, operated by Westmoreland Coal Company. The mine employs about 100 tribal members and provides royalties for the Crow Indians.

According to the Independent, “The section 406 tax credit pays Westmoreland an estimated $2.26 per ton of coal extracted at Absaloka. In 2007, the mine produced 7,704,556 tons of coal. In 2010, it produced 5,467,670 tons.” So, in 2010, the US taxpayers gave Westmoreland nearly $12.5 million to mine coal on the Crow Indian Reservation.

The government gives.

Native Americans have long been given some special accommodations—though it does seem that their coal contributes to CO2 as well. While the tax code gives, the EPA has taken away.

The Navajo Nation occupies land in what is known as the Four Corners region—where New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado meet. Coal is important to the everyday life of the Navajo. A report on coal’s uncertain future, says the following about coal’s place in the life of the Navajo: “It warms their homes, and provides them with jobs. Recent events threaten both winter warmth and job security for the future.”

Navajo lands include coal mines and coal-fueled power plants that are facing decommissioning and closure due to the EPA’s expensive emission controls. The coal mines support the power plants—if the power plants shut down, quick closure of the mines is expected. All three coal-fueled power plants in the area are facing closure of some or all of their units.

The Navajo Mine has one customer: the Four Corners Power Plant—which has five coal-fueled units—and provides electricity to 300,000 households in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The three older units are scheduled to be shut down by the end of the year, and the plant’s partial shutdown will reduce demand for the mine’s coal by about 30 percent. On January 8, jobs cuts at the mine were announced: “BHP Billiton plans to cut about 100 jobs at Navajo Mine.”

The government has taken away.

Sources tell me, BHP Billiton, the Australian company that operates the mine, has been trying to sell it for several years. Tightening environmental regulations decrease the mine’s potential profitability. With the mine’s sole customer’s partial shutdown, it hasn’t attracted any buyers.

Enter Section 406.

Back in December, BHP Billiton reached an agreement with the Navajo Nation that provided for a 100 percent stock sale of the mine’s assets to a tribally chartered corporation by mid-2013. The regional newspaper reported: “A tribal corporation would have certain tax advantages.” The sale of the Navajo Mine to the Navajo Nation could preserve 800 high-paying jobs at the plant and mine. BHP will continue to run the mine through 2016.

The government gives.

Encouraging resource development and the economic prosperity that comes with it is good for the Navajo Nation, the Crow Tribe, and all Native Americans—but that can happen through an inviting, rather than hostile, regulatory environment.

And, if coal is OK for them, it should be OK for the American Nation. Coal warms our homes and provides good paying jobs for all Americans —whether in the coal mines, coal-fueled power plants, manufacturing that depends on cost-effective energy, energy-intensive high-tech industries, or other fields. Instead of taking away our resources, we should all benefit from the bounty—which includes “winter warmth and job security for the future.”

The government shouldn’t be in the business of giving and taking. That role should be reserved for “the Lord” alone.

This article was submitted by the author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon, who serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc. and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). Together they work to educate the public and influence policy makers regarding energy, its role in freedom, and the American way of life. Combining energy, news, politics, and, the environment through public events, speaking engagements, and media, the organizations’ combined efforts serve as America’s voice for energy.


America’s bi-polar legislature: The Club of Reward and Punishment

Posted on 31. Dec, 2012 by Stephan Helgesen in Economy, Politics

Not being a psychologist or mind reader I can’t point with certainty to the reasons our elected leaders act as they do, but if I were to make an educated guess I’d say that they all subscribe to the two kinds of people theory, aligning themselves with one of two schools of thought on how to legislate and motivate.

They are: the reward school — those who would rather change human behavior by offering incentives and the punishment school — those who believe that rigid rules and regulations will accomplish their goals.

I haven’t done extensive research on how successful each of these two approaches has been, but there are some actual decisions we can look at to see the fingerprints of the carrot and stick at work.

Let’s start with perhaps the classic example of a well-meaning law (punishment) that ended up being reversed after just 13 years in force (reward)… the Volstead Act or prohibition.

In 1920, all private ownership and consumption of alcohol was made illegal by the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, and the Government crackdown on beer, wine and distilled spirits ended up creating a cottage, off-the-books industry which eventually spawned a tidal wave of an even bigger industry, organized crime.

Way to go, Temperance League and politicians! By not understanding human nature, the punishment school advocates used this law to take away a good from those who had abused it and punished the not guilty as well. Talk about collateral damage!

Now I’m not saying that the alcohol banners’ motives weren’t admirable. Fact is, we’d probably be better off without all the DWIs, spousal abuse, crisis intervention and treatment costs associated with alcoholism. They just used the then nuclear option and failed. By the way, liquor sales (not counting beer or wine) were nearly $20 billion in 2011, up 4% from the year before. Exports were up 16.5% to $1.3 billion.

Next is the oil depletion allowance, an incentive (reward) to oil companies going back to WWI that lets them deduct 15% of the money generated from their wells from their taxes. It essentially allows oil companies to treat oil in the ground as capital equipment which can be written down.

Proponents say it’s a small price to pay (reward) for eventually drilling themselves out of business as resources dry up, but detractors say that oil in the ground must never be treated as capital equipment but rather a national resource which they say is being used for the oil companies’ profits (punishment).

A recent bill introduced in May 2011 that would have removed this subsidy was voted down in the Senate by 45 Republicans and 3 Democrats. It seems that oil is bi-partisan.

A prime example of a piece of legislation that embodies both the reward AND punishment school of legislative thought is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — aka Obamacare.

Whatever your own personal feeling about this legislation, it was a bill born of a steamrollered process (punishment), passed using reconciliation requiring only 51 Senate votes (punishment) and enshrined healthcare coverage for all Americans (reward) while instituting a penalty (punishment) for those who refused to buy health insurance.

The 2,300 page bill will effectively impose other taxes (punishment) and may result in a government takeover of an industry that represents 26% of our GDP (punishment or reward depending on your political point of view).

While it may be human nature to use both reward and punishment for social engineering, it is probably the ultimate mistake to use only one of them all of the time.

Every parent knows the value of a carrot and a stick in child-rearing. It’s a pity our legislators didn’t get the memo, especially as we face the prospect of going over a fiscal cliff into the abyss where there is only punishment to greet them.

- Editor

Our beleaguered Second Amendment

Posted on 29. Dec, 2012 by Stephan Helgesen in Politics, Social/Cultural

The recent massacre of innocent children in Newtown, Connecticut got me to thinking about the Second Amendment to the Constitution and the controversy that swirls around it.

It is probably fair to say that this amendment is the most contentious among the 27 in that great document, though there have been instances where acts of violence have occurred after citizens have exercised their First Amendment rights, among others.

“The right to keep and bear arms” means different things to different people, but the innocent victims of crimes committed with guns haven’t the luxury of parsing that amendment.

They are the tragic reminder that the criminal and the mentally disturbed in our society have both the means and the opportunity to break the sacred covenant of peaceful coexistence that the framers of the Constitution wanted for us.

Each generation of Americans wrestles with the evil that is inherent in human beings, trying to understand what motivates people to take another person’s life, especially the lives of children.

For all our introspection, however, it hasn’t brought us much clarity.  Maybe the only conclusion we can draw is that evil exists and mental illness exists, and when these factors come together we’re all in peril, especially when any weapon can be obtained by these people.

So, knowing we cannot eliminate evil or are seemingly powerless to seriously treat the disturbed in our society we cast about, trying to do something, anything that will give us some consolation and maybe close the circle of grief.

This time we’re focusing on a new ‘gun bill’ that will shortly be introduced by California Senator Diane Feinstein that will focus on limiting the tools that the perpetrators use to commit their heinous crimes.

It would seem obvious, that by eliminating the spread of high-powered multiple-round capable semi-automatic weapons that we will stop crimes committed with those weapons, and while I commend Senator Feinstein or any person who is passionate about saving lives, I do not believe that her bill will work.

There are just too many of that particular type of weapon in circulation already (millions to be exact). Her bill would probably stop the further spread of those weapons, but it will do absolutely nothing to cure the mental illness that plagues far too many Americans who would use them or any weapon to wreak havoc on the rest of us.

We must be realistic about our gun laws. With over 300 million weapons currently in the hands of Americans (most law-abiding) we must do a better job in the screening process and on other fronts.

Here are a few areas we might focus on first knowing that the confiscation of guns is illegal or impossible to affect.

Suggestion #1: Tighten up the licensing process as it refers to background checks. Each state must have a foolproof means of eliminating persons with mental illness, illegal aliens, underage buyers or felons from getting a license to purchase a firearm, period.

Suggestion #2: Make Federal Firearm License holders (dealers) the first line of defense in insuring gun safety by requiring that first-time gun purchasers who qualify to buy a gun take a short on-site gun safety course and then have the Federal Government pay the dealers to administer it.

Suggestion #3: Allow purchasers of gun safes, gun locks and those who choose to de-commission firearms to get a federal income tax deduction (their choice to take it or not) for purchasing or de-commissioning them.

Suggestion #4: Require background checks of gun purchases at bona fide gun shows. If the seller is not a FFL holder then the seller and purchaser must go to a seller at the show who does have one to do the background check for them (a token reimbursement for that service should be given the FFL holder by the prospective seller and purchaser).

Suggestion #5: Encourage all states to issue certificates of reciprocity to other states for concealed carry permit holders.

Suggestion #6: Bring outlying states like Illinois and New York and the District of Colombia into compliance with other states’ regulations for gun ownership. It is simply not right to disadvantage law-abiding citizens in those states in favor of the criminals.

Suggestion #7: Encourage all schools to hire professional armed security guards or police officers to guard their students or allow specific school personnel to carry a concealed weapon (the criteria for this would be up to the individual school district). Strengthen other security procedures as well such as CCTV.

Suggestion #8: Offer a yearly free firearm safety course to those persons already in possession of a firearm. Proceeds for these costs would come from the individual states’ budgets, perhaps from the fees charged concealed carry permit holders or with voluntary financial support from gun manufacturers and gun dealers.

Suggestion #9: Develop a Federal public awareness program about firearms and firearm safety.

Suggestion #10: Encourage gun-owner groups like the NRA to support the above-mentioned suggestions.

Finally, our mental healthcare professionals must be given more resources to help identify, early on and on a continuing basis, those among us whose mental or emotional state puts them and the rest of us at risk should they gain access to a firearm. Gun safety and responsible gun use is just as important to our communities as the regulation and safe operation of a motor vehicle and should be treated with the same level of seriousness.

- Editor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2012 – A bewildering election

Posted on 19. Dec, 2012 by Stephan Helgesen in Politics

Around 48% of American voters are licking their wounds while about 52% are licking their chops now that the greatest show on earth has finally come to an end.  I’m speaking of course about the Presidential election – the one that cost campaign contributors over a billion smackeroos.

In its wake, I’ve struggled to understand how 95% of all Blacks, 71% of all Hispanics and 55% of all women (who have all suffered the most since 2008) voted for the man who has presided over the biggest economic catastrophe since the 30s (I know, I know, ‘Bush did it all and left the President with a mess.’).

That mantra’s been heard more often than Hail to the Chief – and you really have to have some high numbers to outdo the times the President’s triumphal entry music is played, believe me.

Seems that voters were not as concerned about rising unemployment, escalating poverty, widespread food stamp use, falling house values, a burgeoning national debt and the coming fiscal cliff as I thought.

That’s where the Republicans were wrong, too. They thought the American electorate was singularly focused on America’s pocketbook. After all, previous generations thought with their wallet, why should this one have been any different? The answers were right in front of the Republicans all along, and had they looked, they would have recognized the telltale signs of a coming Democratic victory.

The President’s party had kept people on the ground in key parts of the U.S. after the 2008 election as a kind of motivational ‘mod squad.’ They steadily organized get out the vote campaigns, and they were deeply immersed into fund raising – with the President holding out the biggest tin cup man had ever seen!

They had also devised a masterful and winning strategy that included destroying the opposition by playing the ‘old white men’ race card on candidates, labeling them as against women’s reproductive rights because they didn’t support government-provided birth control or abortions.

They cozyed up to the media and celebritydom full-well knowing that Hollywood actors occupy choice real estate on America’s Mount Olympus. Then they used the social media to shotgun their message of coolness, progressivism, and inclusivity to the mind-numbed living on or by this new American jungle drum of mediocrity.

Admittedly, the Republicans willingly shot themselves in their own feet from time to time or hung themselves with rope happily supplied by the DNC. For example, I would really like to know which boneheaded consultant told Governor Romney that he should use a phrase like self-deport when talking about his immigration reform ideas. Personally, I believe the Governor lost all or most of the Hispanic vote that night on the strength of that one, hyphenated word.

The huge African-American/Black vote came as no surprise, as most political analysts believed that that community would readily support their man for another four. What was shocking was the size of the percentage AND the fact that the Republicans hadn’t bothered to cultivate that vote or at least Conservative Black voters long before the final months of the campaign.

Military tacticians and corporate strategists would do well to study the Obama re-election campaign.

It was both successful and revelatory. Not only did it help a President remain in the White House but it also unveiled the real America for all to see.

We know more about our electorate now than ever before. We know it listens to NPR, the Daily Show and Bill Maher. We know it is easily persuaded by ethnic or gender-charged messages delivered by specialty haranguers. We know it values smartphones, Facebook and You Tube over church on Sunday, and we know that it is perpetually hungry for something new.

I have no doubt that the new Administration will definitely give them that in spades. It remains to be seen what they’ll do with it. I think I know what the other 48% will do.

- Editor

Senator Ingle retained as Senate Minority Floor Leader – All three Republican leaders retained

Posted on 19. Dec, 2012 by Stephan Helgesen in Politics

(Santa Fe) New Mexico State Senator Stuart Ingle (R-Portales) was elected by acclamation tonight by the Senate Republican Caucus  to retain his leadership position as Senate Minority Floor Leader.  It is a leadership position he has held since 2000.  All three current leaders in the Republican Caucus were elected by acclamation to retain their current leadership positions.

“While the entire State Senate is undergoing many changes because of the many new Senators who will begin serving in January, the leadership  in the Minority Caucus will remain the same.   Our members know what to expect from us and the Senate as a whole knows that the Minority Leaders who were voted by acclamation tonight will continue to work across the aisle for the good of the entire state,” Senator Ingle said.  “We welcome the new freshman Senator who will be serving with us  and we know each and every one of them will be dedicated to making the state a better place. It is going to be an interesting time in the legislature.”

Before being Minority Floor Leader, Ingle served as Minority Whip and Senate Minority  Caucus Chair.

Senator Ingle has served as a State Senator since 1985. Senator Ingle serves Senate District 27 in Eastern New Mexico that includes portions of  Chaves, Curry, De Baca, Lea and  Roosevelt counties.

State Senator Bill Payne (R-Albuquerque) will continue to serve as Minority Caucus Whip,  a leadership position he has held for four years and State Senator Steve Neville (R-Farmington) will retain his leadership position of Senate Minority Caucus Chair, a position he has held for two years.

Senator Payne was first elected to the Senate in 1996, where he now is the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, a member of the Energy Council, a Commissioner of the Uniform Law Commission, and the recognized leader for utility, veteran/military affairs, and natural resource issues in the Senate.

Senate Neville began serving the Senate in  January of 2005.  Senator Neville serves on both the powerful Senate Finance Committee and the Legislative Finance Committee.

The term of the leadership positions is four years.

The Senate will be comprised of 17 Republicans members  and 25 Democrat members  for a total of 42 Senators when all are sworn in for the upcoming legislative session which begins January 15, 2013.

This information was submitted by: Diane Kinderwater  505-986-4702

 

Legislative Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee to hear testimony on Marijuana

Posted on 19. Dec, 2012 by Stephan Helgesen in Politics, Social/Cultural

DPA: Reducing Marijuana Penalties will Improve Lives, Save Taxpayer’s Dollars and Significantly Reduce the Burden on Law Enforcement Resources

Santa Fe, NM – the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) will be testifying to the Interim Legislative Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee about the importance of decreasing penalties for adults who possess small amounts of marijuana. DPA is scheduled to present at 10 am in Room 307 at the State Capitol in Santa Fe.

The proposed legislation reduces the penalty structure for possession of up to 1 ounce to no fine or penalty, and 2 ounces to 8 ounces from a misdemeanor to a fine. Currently, in New Mexico, possession of up to 8 ounces of marijuana is a misdemeanor that can include large fines and jail time.

“Although misdemeanors seem relatively insignificant they are anything but minor,” stated Dan Abrahamson, Director of Legal Affairs for Drug Policy Alliance.  “A misdemeanor can ruin a person’s job prospects, affect child custody, access to health care, and have hefty fines that low-income families in New Mexico cannot afford to pay.”

This proposed legislation is badly needed.  There is a common misconception that New Mexico’s local law enforcement agencies do not arrest people for marijuana possession.  The data tell a wholly different story.  According to the Marijuana Arrest Research Program’s analysis of the Uniform Crime Reporting data, in 2010 there were 3,277 marijuana possession arrests for a rate of 159 per 100,000. Marijuana possession arrest rates vary widely throughout the State, based in part on marijuana use levels as well as local enforcement policies.

Dona Ana, Chaves, Sandoval, San Juan and Bernalillo counties led the State in the number or arrests for marijuana possession, collectively representing 63% of the State’s total number of possession arrests (2,055 arrests).  Dona Ana County alone represented 28% of the State’s total (901 possession arrests).

“The proposal to reduce adult marijuana possession penalties is a step in the right direction by allowing police to issue a ticket rather than arrest someone for possessing tiny amounts of marijuana,” stated Emily Kaltenbach, the New Mexico State Director of Drug Policy Alliance. “This legislation is pragmatic – we are confident that if signed into law it will improve lives, save taxpayer’s dollars and significantly reduce the burden on law enforcement resources.”

Around the country, similar change is afoot.  There is growing momentum to reduce penalties for small amounts of marijuana, with California reducing penalties in 2010, Connecticut in 2011 and Rhode Island earlier this year. In the most recent November elections, both Colorado and Washington approved initiatives to legalize and regulate the recreational use and commercial production of marijuana.

This proposed legislation represents yet another important step in the growing movement to stop treating people who consume drugs as criminals in need of incarceration. Its principal impacts are reducing arrests of drug users, especially those who are young and/or members of minority groups; allowing police to focus their precious and limited resources on more serious crimes; reducing criminal justice system costs; and better enabling individuals, families, communities and local governments to deal with drug misuse as a health rather than criminal issue.

In recent years American attitudes have shifted dramatically on this issue: For the first time, support for marijuana legalization topped 50% nationwide last year, according to Gallup, and a recent Mason-Dixon poll found that 67% of Republicans believe that the federal government should get out of the way and let states enforce their own medical marijuana laws, rather than prosecute people complying with state law. As marijuana reform becomes a mainstream position, political candidates and elected officials will find it is less and less of a political third rail.

These arrests impose significant costs on individual, families and communities, as well as on police, prosecutors, courts and taxpayers generally. Furthermore, these arrests provide few if any benefits. As with the impact of most bad drug policies, the people bearing the brunt of the problem are poor, not white, and young.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is the nation’s leading organization of people who believe the war on drugs is doing more harm than good. DPA fights for drug policies based on science, compassion, health and human rights.

This press release was submitted by: the Drug Policy Alliance www.drugpolicy.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leo Hindery closes out 2012

Posted on 19. Dec, 2012 by Stephan Helgesen in Politics

We’re pleased to bring a collection of Leo Hindery’s most recent articles for the months of November and December and thank him for his contributions over the course of 2012 – Editor

ARTICLE: Elections have consequences – and carry messages

Dick Gephardt, the esteemed former House Leader, often said that “elections have consequences” and always “carry messages.”

The consequence of the elections just past is pretty obvious. Despite a staggering $6 billion having been spent on all of the federal races (“Consider the Source,” Center for Public Integrity, 11-05-12), and all those speeches and all those political ads, we still have the makings of further partisan gridlock.

Yet the message to the new Congress from the electorate is nonetheless quite precise: get on with it! And coming as this message appears to out of the expressed anxiety of millions of voters regarding their prolonged un- or under- employment, their stagnant wages and their economic insecurity, “it” is an immediate comprehensive effort aimed at rebuilding our middle class economy.

A thoughtful look at how the elections played out in Ohio – the state that largely gave President Obama his reelection victory and reelected Sherrod Brown its Senator – suggests what that economic agenda should look like.

There, a majority of the voters understood the imperative of bailing out the auto industry and committed themselves to a future that still includes manufacturing as a cornerstone of a balanced economy. And in doing so, they and a majority of voters throughout the country rejected the philosophy that government plays no constructive role in our economy, clearly preferring instead that, when needed, it help protect and foster high quality jobs which meet the diverse needs of our society.

Of course, they also rejected the Governor Romney’s belief that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with offshoring jobs to China, which he did repeatedly when he ran Bain. And they also rejected his jobs policy which largely consisted of more tax cuts for the wealthy rather than meaningful investment in our middle class and resuscitation of our manufacturing sector.

If Congress listens to this message, it will develop and pursue an agenda based on the core economic premises that:

·         Near-term large-scale job creation through government stimulus efforts, on the one hand, and long-term deficit cutting, on the other, are not mutually exclusive;

·         Government does create good jobs, millions of them in fact; and

·         Government cannot continue to gut the principle of progressive individual taxation without further eviscerating the middle class.

Well-conceived employment stimulus efforts are, because of their very large multiplier effects, at least deficit neutral in the medium term and, most likely, substantially deficit reducing. Thus Congress doesn’t have to choose between stimulus and austerity – it just has to get each challenge’s priority and timing right. And when it does it will also be able to find responsible pathways to resolving the recommendations of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (i.e., ‘Simpson-Bowles’), major entitlement reform and the pending ‘fiscal cliff’.

Implicit in achieving this balance, however, must be immediately resuscitating and then materially growing our depleted manufacturing sector.

Over the past 12 years, U.S. manufacturers have cut 31% of their workforce, or nearly 6 million workers, and manufacturers’ contribution to GDP has fallen to just 12.2%, from 22.7% in 1970. Yet despite this, the sector still has by the largest multiplier of all sectors of the economy, its productivity and jobs-producing R&D consistently outpace all other sectors, and it more effectively and respectfully employs workers of all skill and education levels.

In order for the American manufacturing sector to again have an employment base of 20% or more of total U.S. employment and contribute a fairly similar percent of the nation’s GDP – which is what’s required to stop our economy from lurching from one consumer-credit-driven bubble to another – we need:

i.            An American manufacturing policy that integrates government policies related to access to financing, R&D and investment tax credits, taxation, trade and subsidies, and domestic procurement;

ii.            An all-of-government effort to make the new abundant reserves of lower-cost natural gas and alternative energy sources quickly available to the nation’s manufacturers;

iii.            An independent National Infrastructure Bank, with a capitalization of at least $1 trillion, to invest in the large-scale rebuilding and upgrading of our country’s much depleted infrastructure;

iv.            Fundamental corporate tax reform that changes the provisions of the tax code which currently discourage some American manufacturers from expanding domestically and eliminates the incentives which encourage other manufacturers to close plants here and ship jobs overseas; and

v.            Reformed trade with China.

Regarding the second premise, of course government creates good jobs, right now 22 million of them that the private sector can’t fill, including teachers, police officers, firefighters, soldiers, epidemiologists and anti-terrorism agents (“The Myth of Job Creation,” New York Times, 10-21-12). We are already far past the point where further cuts of these jobs are appropriate by any measure, and preserving the ones remaining must be a priority of any new stimulus initiatives. This said, however, when it comes to these jobs, we must much more responsibly and sensitively address the related pension burdens which already exist and any new ones that might be created.

Finally, there is the reality of our broken individual income tax system, with its resultant extreme income inequality which, according to recent research by economists at the IMF, indisputably slows economic growth, causes financial crises and weakens business demand. Just since 1980, the share of national income going to the richest 1% of Americans has doubled, from 10% to 20%, and more recently, more than 90% of all of the income gains since the Great Recession began have gone to the top 1% (“The rich and the rest,” The Economist, 10-13-12).

We need to bury once and for all the thoroughly discredited ‘trickle down’ philosophy, and three perfect places to start would be to treat “carried interest” as the ordinary income which it indisputably is, increase capital gains tax rates for the extremely wealthy back to the levels they were under President Reagan, and bring fairness and fair tax treatment back to executive compensation which today is on average the most extreme in the developed world.

The recent elections clearly showed that in the minds of the electorate it’s past time to restore vibrancy to the middle class and restore for all citizens the American Dream of equal opportunity, economic advance and fair employment. What the elections also clearly showed was that the American people want a government that, when appropriate, will intervene in the economy to protect jobs and promote job creation.

ARTICLE: Campaign Finance is a Women’s Democracy Issue

Which corporations are financing whose campaigns? What are their political surrogates saying about Planned Parenthood and rape? Should we boycott? After 2012 these are big civil rights questions for women to consider.

(WOMENSENEWS)–As a “white male feminist” (and businessman) — I know this description of myself sounds strange, but I’m going to try to make a point — I’ve been asking myself what would happen if progressives, especially women, used their combined political and economic muscle to bring corporate political donors to heel.

What if women lead the charge to make campaign finance reform the next great civil rights fight?

Two Supreme Court decisions (Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission and, later, American Tradition Partnership v. State of Montana) and an appellate court decision (SpeechNow v. Federal Election Commission) have fundamentally transformed our political system and our democracy to a degree we’ve just been able to grasp from the results of this year’s elections, when an unprecedented $6 billion was spent on the federal elections: presidential, Senate and House combined. Never has our electoral process been more captive to vast sums of money from a handful of large corporations and wealthy individuals.

And for all the scorn rightfully heaped on Citizens United, it’s actually the SpeechNow case that’s been the most destructive.

SpeechNow allows not-for-profit organizations to accept unlimited contributions from individuals for independent expenditures, which birthed (i) “super PACs,” which can accept unlimited contributions but must disclose donors and (ii) especially pernicious, tax-exempt — or 501copyright — organizations (often referred to as non-disclosing groups or dark money groups), which are not required to disclose the sources of their funding — especially pernicious. Under the current Supreme Court and Congress, the prospect of putting reasonable curbs on the political contributions of the extremely wealthy seems quixotic at best.

However, I’m convinced that curbing the political spending of corporations — their disclosed contributions and, especially, their masked contributions through intermediaries and their anonymous contributions through tax-exempt organizations — needs to turn into a civil rights fight for this time, of the sort in which we engaged in the ’60s and ’70s. Only this will allow us to see a future where the nation’s large corporations are no longer unfairly influencing our federal elections and, in the process, often helping to steal our civil liberties.

Attack on Rights

None of the large corporations currently dominating federal elections is, as far as I know, opposed to civil liberties. However, these companies — of which American Electric Power, Aetna, Prudential Financial, Dow Chemical, Merck, General Electric and the oil companies rank among the nation’s most significant political contributors –consistently fund (usually anonymously through an intermediary such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or through one of the new tax-exempt organizations) federal candidates who enable attacks on reproductive rights for women; resist equal rights for gays and lesbians and fair immigration reform; advance regressive tax policies; and/or seek to limit the influence of unions.

Remember it was Congressman (and vice president “wannabe”) Paul Ryan who believes that the women’s health exception in abortion laws is a “loophole big enough to drive a Mack Truck through,” and it was Congressman Todd Akin who dismissed the significance of rape as he opposed contraception and abortion. And it’s Ryan and Akin and their ilk who’ve been receiving massive amounts of corporate campaign contributions.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, arguably the largest and most prominent of the so-called intermediaries, earlier this year indicated that it planned to spend as much as $100 million on the 2012 elections. An analysis of campaign spending data from the Center for Responsive Politics by Public Citizen’s Chamber Watch and the Main Street Alliance shows that in 29 of 35 Senate and House races where the Chamber contributed money, it was the biggest or second biggest “dark money spender” in the race.

There is no “freedom to spend anonymously” in the Constitution; so once we know which companies are dominating political giving, and to whom they’re donating, we should take action. Product boycotts, as we used them widely in the 1960s, spring to mind.

Representing America

Civil rights organizations have so far mainly hung back from campaign finance reform, believing, understandably, that each organization’s primary concern is its respective community of interest.

However, we are entitled to a government that represents all of America — women, not just largely white males; people of color; the working class, not just management; and small business owners, not just large corporations — rather than one that is controlled by the wealthiest individuals and the largest companies. Otherwise, our civil liberties will be recast by those who are little more than prejudicially elected puppets of those who’ve become the oligarchs of America.

If we cannot stop unrestrained spending through legislative action, which seems unlikely, then we need to at least ensure that strong disclosure laws are in place to guarantee transparency and begin the process of re-establishing our electoral rights.

We especially have the right to know if we are supporting hate and discrimination when we go buy a light bulb or a gallon of gasoline or a chicken sandwich, and we always have the right to protest and boycott.

In the recent elections it was women — white, African American, Latina and Asian (and pension-recipients and small business owners) — who essentially reelected President Barack Obama and elected four new pro-choice senators and 20 new female pro-choice representatives.

Leading New Charge

Now it should be women (and the progressive “male feminists” who respect and love them) who lead this new charge. A charge which says no more purchasing from anti-women and anti-civil liberties companies, no more turning a blind eye to the harmful social agendas of extremist candidates, no more anti-Planned Parenthood efforts, no more deportation of Mexican mothers whose children were born here, no more “knocking off” Big Bird and no more same-sex-marriage resistance.

And while they’re at it, women should say to the managers of the nation’s pension plans — public (e.g., CalPERS) and private (e.g., GE) alike — that it’s past time to use their massive shareholdings to force public disclosure of all corporate political contributions and lobbying expenses.

They should also press the Securities and Exchange Commission to compel public companies to disclose their direct and indirect political contributions, since they might affect shareholders’ decisions to invest.

I end with a plea that all civil rights, civil liberties and labor organizations start demanding — through marches and boycotts — an end to corporate political contributions that work against a fair and inclusive society. In order to restore balance to our democracy we have no choice — in terms of our civil rights — but to march again against hostile companies, refuse again to buy the products of these companies and decline again to invest in them.

 

ARTICLE: It’s nonsense to suggest the state has no role in commerce

Obama’s proposed ‘one-stop-shop’ business department would help American companies to succeed, writes Leo Hindery. President Barack Obama said that the most “salient message” from the election was the voters’ demand that all levels of government and the private sector work together to “help the middle class move forward”. He’s right.

Real unemployment, in all categories, remains above 16 per cent; wages for 90 per cent of workers remain stagnant; there is little business confidence despite cash-rich treasuries; and the trade deficit in manufactured goods is a persistent $300bn each year.

Voters, particularly those in the industrial heartland, and only slightly less so on each coast, have demanded a more balanced economy. They want an economy that restores the vitality of the manufacturing sector. These workers supported the bailout of the auto industry because they believed there was no reasonable alternative. And they feel that the private sector, acting alone, cannot sufficiently advance the economy or protect their interests.

It is no surprise then that during the campaign Mr Obama called frequently for combining the executive branch’s nine distinct department and agency commerce-related efforts into a reconfigured “department of business”. It is not a new department but, rather, under a reconstituted and renamed commerce department, a consolidation of responsibilities and activities.

Given the complexity of the steps that need to be taken to speed up economic recovery, Mr Obama’s proposal is not just practical and expedient, it is also imperative.

The steps to be taken are obvious. First, adopt a manufacturing and industrial policy that integrates the government’s policies related to financing, research and development, and investment tax credits, taxation, trade, subsidies and domestic procurement.

Second, overhaul the corporate tax code to change the provisions that discourage some US companies from expanding domestically. Eliminate the incentives that encourage other companies to ship jobs overseas and lower tax rates in exchange for eliminating certain special tax breaks.

Third, invest significantly in the rebuilding and upgrading of the nation’s infrastructure, ideally through a new, independent national infrastructure bank, with a capitalisation of at least $1tn.

Finally, create a justice department bureau to enforce trade agreements and protect the nation’s intellectual property. The current system places trade agreement negotiation side-by-side with enforcement, often in the same hands, and without prescribed IP protection protocols.

With Mr Obama’s proposed “one-stop-shop” reform of the commerce-side of the executive branch, whose stated goal is to “help American businesses succeed”, there would just be a single, encompassing department of business with focused front-end guidance, resource allocation and follow-up. It would replace the nine disconnected agencies whose efforts are further complicated by the multiplicity of Congressional oversight committees.

A rationalised business department is the best hope for a unified, national effort to boost productivity. We last saw such an effort during the extraordinary inter-department, inter-agency period of co-operation of the second world war.

“Helping the middle class move forward” and “helping American businesses succeed” means, of course, creating millions of high-quality jobs. In this, business leaders have a vital and primary role to play – from identifying the steps that the administration and Congress should take to helping the administration be as effective as possible.

In difficult times, what distinguishes great business leaders is an ability to position their companies – and in the process the national economy – for growth and success. While Mr Obama undertakes his executive branch reform, chief executives should be supporting this reform rather than falling back on the discredited libertarian canard that government has no meaningful role to play in the nation’s commerce. It is imperative in these challenging times to find a way to cut deficits while at the same time investing for the future. The creation of a department of business would be a reflection of enlightened political and corporate leadership.

These articles were submitted by Leo Hindery Jr. who is chair of the U.S. Economy-Smart Globalization Initiative at the New America Foundation, co-chair (with United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard) of the Task Force on Jobs Creation, founder of Jobs First 2012 and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He is the former CEO of ATandT Broadband and its predecessors, Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI) and Liberty Media, and is currently an investor in media companies.

Thanks, Mr. Romney

Posted on 08. Nov, 2012 by Stephan Helgesen in Politics

Last night I was ready to embrace you as our next president. Then, the Electoral College reared its ugly head and in a brief moment you became a part of presidential campaign history when President Barrack Obama was re-elected. When I went to bed, the popular vote difference between the two of you was only 665,000 votes, hardly enough for what they’re now calling a clear mandate to lead.

Governor, I just wanted you to know that for running a spirited yet civil and serious campaign you deserve the thanks of all Americans – even those who didn’t vote for you. Your campaign stood in stark contrast to that of the President’s that employed all manner of class and gender warfare as well as personal attacks that severely cheapened and demeaned the election process.

To your credit, you didn’t condone or use what some might call, Chicago-style tactics. I suspect that your conscience and respect for the process was the reason you chose a different path. Sadly, that was not the path that our country is on these days. That path takes us through the muddy fields of personal disparagement and ridicule.

You did your best, but if there was one mistake you made, Governor, it was being too nice to the President.  You gave him a back door to escape his responsibility by not calling him out on his willful ignorance and selective application of our laws like the deportation slowdown of illegal aliens. You never mentioned the scandalous, Fast and Furious gun-walking program that ended in the tragic death of a U.S. Border Patrol Agent or the September 11th attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that resulted in the deaths of four brave Americans.

You never gave us any reason to doubt your personal integrity, Mr. Romney, and, perhaps it’s that integrity and respect for the office of the President that kept you from advancing those issues. I can only say that political campaigns are a crucible as well as a contest in which the mettle and decency of the contestants are tested, and you passed with flying colors.  Sadly, the winner didn’t.

This long campaign must have exacted quite a toll on your family, and we, the American people owe your lovely wife, Ann, and your sons a thank you too for their dedication. Through them we gained new and important insight into your character, and the more we learned, the easier it became to picture you in the Oval Office.

Though that will not happen in January 2013, we have hopes that your enthusiasm will not be dampened by the coming four years. May God bless you and your family and keep you well.

- Editor

Stephan J. Helgesen

 

Imagine America in four years

Posted on 06. Nov, 2012 by Stephan Helgesen in Politics, Social/Cultural

Take just a moment before you go to vote today and imagine what America might be like under your candidate for the next four years with all of the following problems and challenges thrown his way…

A one-party dominated Congress (or Senate too) stymieing  or eliminating the possibility of bi-partisan legislation

Our enormous rise in poverty (1/6 of the country now lives in poverty)

47 million Americans on Food Stamps (15% of the population)

23 million Americans either without work, underemployed or who have given up looking for work (15% of our total workforce)

Our tepid (approx. 2.0% at best) annual economic growth

The unwillingness of America’s businesses to hire enough workers to even keep pace with the new workers entering the job markets (estimated to be over 200,000/month)

The impending costs of ‘Obamacare’ in 2013 and 2014 to businesses

The continued rise in gas prices (the price has doubled since 2008)

The fear of sequestration, triggering massive defense cuts and the loss of many more jobs

The ballooning $16 trillion debt

Our balance of trade deficit with China (over $250 billion/year) and that country’s growing economic hold over us

Our porous borders with Mexico and continued illegal immigration

The stubborn rise of American-directed terrorism

The escalation of nuclear danger in the Middle East

Our decaying infrastructure at home

Falling literacy and our weakened educational competitiveness.

Now add to these challenges our inability to even talk to one another about these issues without breaking into choruses of talking points or worse, raising our voices, slamming the door on friendships or turning off completely and you can see why strong, tested leadership is needed for America.

Candidates’ actions are always more important than their words. Do not be swayed by a clever phrase, a memorable slogan, a winning smile or celebrity endorsements.

Look at how the candidates have solved problems in the past. Look at how they spend their time, how they give to their community and church, who they associate with, how they succeeded and more recently, how they ran their campaign.

Vote for America today and for the man who has the experience to tackle her problems and who can bring both sides together.

Do not vote against someone or for a rigid political ideology.

The promise of America can never be fulfilled without honest open dialogue, tolerance, sound principled leadership or without dedicated citizens with long memories who are unwavering when holding their leaders accountable.

- Stephan Helgesen, Editor

Stephan J. Helgesen

We are all the one percent

Posted on 06. Nov, 2012 by Stephan Helgesen in Economy, Politics, Social/Cultural

With only one day to go before election day, I find my head in a perpetual state of jerky lateral motion over the disreputable tactics used by some of the campaigns to say nothing of the downright nasty epithets about the opposing candidate that have been hurled our way.

It seems we’ve graduated from the simple ‘flip flopper’ designation and ‘swift-boating’ techniques that worked in the 2004 campaign to one of total thermonuclear character annihilation – a take-no-prisoners, scorched Earth approach that even Dr. Strangelove would have rejected.

I watched all the primary debates and the Presidential and Vice-Presidential debates along with the pre-debate and post-debate coverage. I sat through commentary by Chris Matthews, Chris Wallace, Bill Maher, Bill Moyers, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, and foreign correspondents like Catty Kay from BBC.

I tuned in to NPR (and even Amy Goodman) and read Time and Newsweek, countless blogs and online newspapers.  I viewed both conventions and listened to the speeches. In addition, I poured over the analyses of pollsters from the left and right and pundits of every shape, size and political stripe.

I managed to survive the war on women, the birth certificate skirmish, the Occupy Wall Street movement, the Tea Party rallies, the Congressional stalemate on the debt ceiling, the war against big business and Wall Street, the rise of Sandra Fluke on the reproductive rights fight, the seedy Mormon innuendoes along with attacks on Paul Ryan and Medicare privatization, President Obama’s fund-raisers, golf game and TV appearances, Joe Biden’s “…put you all back in chains” gaffe, along with criticism of Mitt Romney’s dog, his hair, his memory (Romnesia), his wife’s horse and his car elevator.

But the worst tactic of all has been the 1% versus the 99% argument, proffered by the President and his acolytes. This clear divide-and-conquer strategy hasn’t been used to such an extent since the 1917 Russian Revolution, and it hasn’t rung more hollow since the fall of the Soviet empire in the late 1980s/early 90s.

That is not to say it will not work on November 6th.. It may very well, especially when combined with his party’s ‘laser-targeting strategy’ of ripping apart the American electorate into bite-size separate demographics and playing to their weaknesses, envy or fear of the opposition and what America might become under an elitest administration.

Indeed, this campaign ploy to paint a whole political party and candidate for president as the party or candidate of one percent, is not something I would have expected from a President who said he would unite us. It is, however, something I’ve come to expect from certain politicians (left or right) who will do everything possible to hold on to power, no matter if they’re in the Middle East or on the banks of the Potomac River.

So there you have it, the 1% argument: us against them, good against evil, the entitled against the robber barons, poor America against rich America, undeserving wealthy people against deserving innocents, the privileged class against the working class (or the unemployed class).

Actually, when you examine the 1 vs. 99 case, it is a specious or sophistic argument at best. A reasonable person need only use some of his own life experience to measure its validity. For example, how many of your classmates were responsible for all the disruptive antics in the classroom?

Probably 1%. Or how many policemen protect all of the 155 million workers (not to mention the unemployed) in the U.S.? Answer: fewer than a million. And how many active duty military personnel put their lives on the line for the likes of you and me and 325 million other Americans? About 1.5 million – or less than 0.50% of our total population. The list goes on and on.

Just as “One swallow does not a summer make” (Aristotle: one of the top one percent thinkers of all time), neither should one percent of anything be viewed with undue suspicion or fear. Instead of vilifying the 1% let’s be thinking of ways to persuade them to stand with us.  Please vote on November 6th.  One hundred percent of America will be affected by it.

- Editor

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