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“After more than five years of negotiations under conditions of extreme secrecy, on March 25, 2015, a leaked copy of the investment chapter for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was posted. Public Citizen has verified that the text is authentic. Trade officials from the United States and 11 Pacific Rim nations – Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam – are in intensive, closed-door negotiations to finish the TPP in the next few months.”The leaked text provides stark warnings about the dangers of ‘trade’ negotiations occurring without press, public or policymaker oversight. It reveals that TPP negotiators already have agreed to many radical terms that would give foreign investors expansive new substantive and procedural rights and privileges not available to domestic firms under domestic law.”
Obama is as guilty as the rest of them.
As part of the Guardian newspaper’s recently launched “keep it in the ground” campaign, Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein appears in a new video on Wednesday in which she argues the current moment is ripe for the world to take advantage of the dramatic drop in global oil prices by kicking the fossil fuel industry “while it’s down.”
Calling on themes from her two most recent books — The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster in 2007 and the more recently published This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate — Klein says the fall in oil prices since last year should be seen as an opportunity for those concerned about both the prevailing economic order and the dangers of climate change. “Let’s turn this shock,” she says in the nearly five-minute video essay, “into the shift we need.”
Her list of demands include: “No drilling in the arctic… No expansion of the tar sands… more fracking bans like the ones in New York state and Scotland,” and a call to support and broaden the calls for fossil fuel divestment worldwide while ramping up the needed and available solutions to the climate crisis.
“Sometimes capitalism gives us a gift, the sudden drop in oil prices is one.”
Dave Lindorff: With Republicans now in control of both houses of Congress, the current president already on record as supported cuts in Social Security and Medicare, and all signs pointing to the likelihood that the 2016 election could bring us either a neo-liberal or a neo-conservative president, and an increasingly Republican-dominated Congress, it’s time for an aggressive mass movement built around defending and expanding both those critical public funding programs.
The first step is getting out the truth that Social Security is not broke or doomed, but simply needs to be better funded by ending the free pass given to the wealthy. Simply eliminating the cap on income subject to the FICA tax, currently set at the first $118,500 of earned income, would make the system fully able to pay all promised benefits for the next century or more. Extending the tax to cover unearned income — basically capital gains (a tax that only impacts the wealthy) would allow for an expansion of benefits.
There is today $2.8 trillion in the Social Security Trust Fund, a fund that was created by a compromise reform reached by President Ronald Reagan and a Democratic Congress led by House Speaker Tip O’Neill back in 1983. The idea at the time was to have Baby Boomers and their employers pay more into the system ahead of the time they would be retiring, when their numbers would place a burden on current workers (the Boomers’ kids and grandkids), since the system has always since its inception financed current retirees’ benefits through current workers’ FICA payroll tax payments. (The reform also raised the full retirement gradually from 65 to 66 and later to 67 for people born after 1964.)
That advance funding of Boomer retiree benefits is now starting to be tapped but that is what was supposed to happen to it, a point the doom-sayers and political scare-mongers fail to mention. It turns out, though, that the advance funding was not large enough for several reasons. One, very positive, is that people are living longer than projected because of improved nutrition and medical advances. Another is that a series of recessions and market collapses, especially during the “lost decade” of 2000-2010, caused in large part by corrupt investment banks in 2001 and by Wall Street’s mega-banks turned casinos in 2007-9, cut severely into FICA contributions, as well as into workers’ personal savings and net worth.
Right-wing and corporate propaganda to the effect that the Trust Fund is smoke and mirrors or just “IOU” scrips, is absurd…
Your Bimbo Bottle-Blond Bobble-Head Multi-Millionaire Mainstream Media: Rich people paying rich people to tell middle class people to blame poor people.
That means you Greg Walden, trust-funder punk who’s never done a day’s work in your life and don’t even live in Oregon… you don’t represent Oregon.
The differences between the four budget proposals recently put forth by President Barack Obama, both Republican-majority houses of the U.S. Congress, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus are “stark,” according to a new analysis—while some provisions in the GOP blueprints “completely miss the mark in responding to what Americans say they want.”
The National Priorities Project (NPP), a non-profit, non-partisan research organization dedicated to making the federal budget process transparent, released Competing Visions on Friday.
The report compares how each budget proposal responds (or not) to the stated policy priorities of the American people, on key issues including jobs, education, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, food assistance, and military spending, as well as proposed strategies for tax reform and deficit reduction.
“Our analysis shows that, in most spending categories, the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the president would do the most to address the priorities voiced by the majority of Americans,” said Jasmine Tucker, research analyst for NPP and author of the report. “In some areas, the House and Senate budget proposals completely miss the mark in responding to what Americans say they want.”
For example, on the issue of taxing the wealthy, according to the NPP analysis:
- 68 percent of Americans think wealthy households don’t pay enough in taxes.
- The Obama budget proposal raises top capital gains tax rate to 28 percent and closes the “trust fund loophole” that allows heirs to avoid taxation, raising $208 billion over 10 years. Places limits on tax deductions for top income earners and implements the Buffett Rule ensuring a minimum tax rate for the wealthy. Places limits on tax deductions for top income earners and ends the “carried interest” loophole that benefits hedge fund managers to raise $17.6 billion over 10 years.
- The House budget calls for comprehensive tax reform that would lower tax rates for individuals and families. Closes some special interest tax loopholes but does not specify which ones. Eliminates the Alternative Minimum Tax that sets a minimum tax for the wealthy.
- The Senate budget contains no proposed changes to the status quo.
- The CPC proposal raises tax rates for richest 2 percent (earning more than $250,000 per year) to Clinton-era levels, and taxes capital gains investment earnings at higher rates, yielding $1.4 trillion in additional revenue over 10 years. Places a cap on the value of itemized deductions that mostly benefit the wealthy (raising $566 billion over 10 years) and limits other tax deductions for top income earners.
Similar discrepancies exist on almost every issue.
As Tucker put it: “The differences between the four budget proposals are stark, and all signs indicate a difficult budget battle ahead as lawmakers try to resolve widely different approaches despite clear public opinion in favor of certain policies.”
While 70 percent of Americans oppose cuts to food stamps, the House and Senate budget plans would both cut the program.
While 67 percent say improving the education system in the U.S. should be a top priority for the president and Congress this year, the House and Senate allocate no new funding for education—and in fact the House proposal “freezes the maximum Pell grant award at the same level for the next 10 years, provides financial aid to fewer families, and makes substantial cuts to domestic discretionary spending, including education.”
Overall, the House Republican budget would cut $5 trillion in government spending over the next decade, mostly out of programs that low- and moderate-income Americans need and depend on—and say they support. At the same time, it adds $400 million in defense spending—not in line with public opinion polls—and promises to lower tax rates for wealthy Americans and corporations.
The Senate version follows the same basic outlines.
At a Senate Budget Committee hearing on Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) alsonoted the divergence between GOP policies and the priorities of the general public.
“[T]he rich get much richer, and the Republicans think they need more help,” he said. “The middle class and working families of this country become poorer, and the Republicans think we need to cut programs they desperately need. Frankly, those may be the priorities of some of my Republican colleagues in this room, but I do not believe that these are the priorities of the American people.”
McClatchy: For years, American politicians have waxed poetic about the “shared values” of the United States and Israel – ideals that typically aren’t spelled out but usually are taken to mean the basic tenets of Western democracy.
That time-worn phrase came under scrutiny this week in the aftermath of a particularly ugly Israeli election. Some Americans, both Jews and non-Jews, have questioned what the common threads are as Israeli provocations force the Obama administration into the uncomfortable role of having to publicly rebuke an ironclad ally.
In the past several weeks, Americans have seen Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu undermine their president before Congress over differences on Iran, use anti-Arab language about his own citizens, and jettison the two-state framework that international powers have agreed for years is the best way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Meanwhile, the Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, made headlines this month by saying that any Arab Israeli who isn’t sufficiently loyal to Israel should take an ax to the head.
“Can you imagine a foreign minister anywhere else in the world saying that his citizens should be beheaded? We’ve gotten to this environment of complete impunity,” said Diana Buttu, a former legal adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian negotiators. “It’s not just that Netanyahu won – it’s that the entire country has shifted to the right.”
Analysts said that such inflammatory conduct by top Israeli officials runs the risk of fueling what they described as a glacial, grass-roots shift in American public opinion from unconditional support for Israel to greater skepticism about policies such as the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza or settlement construction. And while the United States is no stranger to racial politics, the overt anti-Arab sentiment coming from Israel’s highest offices probably isn’t what American politicians have in mind when they talk of shared values.
Israel is a Terrorist State. The Mother of All terrorist States. An utterly foreign occupier perpetrating an “American” Taxpayer conceived, financed and morally sanctioned genocide upon the indigenous descendants of the “biblical” hebrew. It has no “right” to exist and this world will never know Peace until it does not.
A proposal to seize and sell off America’s national forests and other public lands could make its way into the House GOP’s budget resolution when it is announced this week.
In a recent memo to the House Budget Committee, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, proposed that America’s public lands be transferred to state control. He then requested $50 million of taxpayer money to be spent to enable transfers to “start immediately.” The memo states that public lands “create a burden for the surrounding states and communities,” and “the solution is to convey land without strings to state, local, and tribal governments.”
Bishop’s plan and similar proposals to give away America’s public lands are controversial. A majority of voters in those regions believe the proposals would likely result in states having to raise taxes, open prized recreation areas to drilling and mining, or sell lands to private interests to cover the substantial costs of management.
Despite these concerns — and despite the fact that these proposals are extremely expensive, unpopular, and most importantly, unconstitutional — there is a strong likelihood that Rep. Bishop’s request will be included in the House GOP’s budget, thanks to intensive lobbying efforts by a handful of right-wing politicians and special interest groups.
Politicians in nine other states are also developing and advancing similar legislative proposals, supported by expensive taxpayer-funded studies. According to a CWP analysis, Western states have spent a total of $816,000of taxpayer funds on such studies in recent years.
Whether Rep. Bishop’s proposal makes it into the House GOP budget or not, the Congressman has made it clear that disposing of national forests and public lands will be one of his top priorities as chair. The House Republican majority is expected to release its 2016 budget resolution this week.
House Republicans gear up for another round of massive cuts to Medicare, Medicaid while eliminating Obamacare with their budget proposal.
Republicans say their plan would balance the federal budget and create a surplus by 2024. By contrast, they say, Obama’s proposed budget would generate more than $700 billion in annual deficits by that year. The GOP budget would save over $5 trillion over the next 10 years.
The GOP plan would replace Medicaid expansion through State Flexibility Funds, which would put Medicaid coverage plans in the hands of state governments. It would leave in place some alternatives to traditional Medicaid expansion plans proposed by Republican governors in states like Indiana, where Gov. Mike Pence (R) won federal support for a program that is similar, but not identical, to expansion envisioned under the ACA.
The budget repeals several parts of the Dodd-Frank legislation, including an end to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s authority to bail out creditors of institutions deemed too big to fail. It would require Congress to appropriate funding for the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, which currently generates its revenue from the Federal Reserve.And it would privatize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the semi-public lending institutions.
The budget also curtails some programs implemented through the 2009 stimulus bill, which spent about $800 billion trying to drag the United States out of an economic recession. The bill proposes limiting Energy Department programs that have invested in emerging technologies by requiring the department leave application and commercialization of those technologies to the private sector. It also rescinds money that hasn’t yet been spent on green energy programs.
Republicans said their bill would simplify the tax code through comprehensive reform, repealing the Alternative Minimum Tax and lowering rates for both individuals and corporations. It would create a reserve fund to spur a new surface transportation bill that would keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent.
A Raise For America
Offering a sustainable alternative to regressive federal budget proposals put forth this week by the Republican majorities on Capitol Hill, the Congressional Progressive Caucus on Wednesday released The People’s Budget: A Raise for America, which aims to “level the playing field” for low- and middle-income Americans.
Surrounded by constituents the proposal is designed to help, leaders of the CPC unveiled the budget blueprint at a Washington, D.C. press conference at noon EST:
“The People’s Budget fixes an economy that, for too long, has failed to provide the opportunities American families need to get ahead,” the document reads. “Despite their skills and work ethic, most American workers workers and families are so financially strapped from increasing income inequality that their paychecks barely cover basic necessities. They earn less and less as corporations and the wealthy continue amassing record profits. It has become clear to American workers that the system is rigged.”
The CPC budget (pdf), in turn, attempts to un-rig that system by:
- creating new jobs
- increasing the minimum wage
- reversing harmful cuts to safety net programs (and then bolstering those same supports)
- implementing new tax brackets for those who earn more than $1 million annually
- providing debt-free college to every student
- enacting a price on carbon pollution and investing in renewable energy
- allowing states to transition to single-payer health care systems
- funding public financing of campaigns to curb special interest influence in politics.
Among other things, the proposal would allocate $820 billion for infrastructure and transportation improvements and enact short-term economic stimulus measures that would create 4.7 million jobs in 2015.
“And the CPC insists that the rich and corporations pay their fair share of taxes,” writes Robert Borosage, of the Campaign for America’s Future, in an op-ed published Wednesday. “It would create new tax brackets for those making a million or more. The People’s Budgetraises the estate tax for the super-wealthy. It taxes the income of investors at the same rates as the income of workers. It terminates deferral, which allows multinationals to avoid taxes on money they report as earned abroad.”
Overall, the provisions included in the CPC budget contrast sharply with the austerity policies embraced by the right-wing.
“The People’s Budget reverses the past few years of extraordinarily sharp cuts to federal spending, which have held us back from a full recovery,” said Thomas Hungerford, an economist who analyzed the proposal for the Economic Policy Institute. “It is a forward-looking, evidence-based document that would set us on track to a full, durable recovery from the Great Recession.”
In comparison with GOP budget plans, the CPC’s ambitious proposal is “about as close to common sense as Congress gets,” declared
“With few exceptions, Republicans are committed to slashing the basic functions of government and programs that support education, food stamps, energy and R&D to avoid asking corporations or the wealthy to contribute even one more dime in taxes,” she wrote.
However, she continued: “What the CPC budget shows is what Washington too often suppresses: There is an alternative. We can afford to build a society that reflects the values and priorities of most Americans. We only have to choose to do so.”
The United Nations body charged with guiding and implementing international climate policy has thrown its weight behind the growing fossil fuel divestment movement, lending “moral authority” to a campaign aimed at stemming global warming, the Guardian reported on Sunday.
“We support divestment as it sends a signal to companies, especially coal companies, that the age of ‘burn what you like, when you like’ cannot continue,” said Nick Nuttall, spokesman for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
World leaders are meeting this December in Paris to hammer out a sweeping, international climate agreement.
“Everything we do is based on science and the science is pretty clear that we need a world with a lot less fossil fuels,” Nuttall told the Guardian. “We have lent our own moral authority as the UN to those groups or organizations who are divesting. We are saying ‘we support your aims and ambitions because they are fairly and squarely our ambition,’ which is to get a good deal in Paris.”
As last month’s Global Divestment Day demonstrated, the call to divest from the fossil fuel industry is spreading.
According to Bloomberg, Oxford University will consider on Monday “whether to become the most prominent academic institution to join a growing movement in favor of divesting from publicly traded fossil fuel companies.”
And Divest Harvard is gearing up for a week of divestment actions in April, calling on Harvard University to:
- immediately freeze any new investments in fossil fuel companies;
- immediately divest direct holdings (currently $19.6 million) from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies;
- divest indirect holdings in the top 200 fossil fuel companies within 5 years, and reinvest in socially responsible funds.