The GOP is working desperately to deny the right to vote to citizens it doesn’t like. You know, poor people, black people, Hispanic people, old people, female people, especially people it believes are inclined to vote for Democrats.
Republican politicians have hatched a multitude of schemes in states across the country to accomplish this gambit, passing laws demanding specific voter identification at polling places, eliminating early voting days and purging voters from registration rolls.
The right-wingers on the U.S. Supreme Court last year gave Republicans a hand in this effort by striking down key protections in the Voting Rights Act. Joining them this month were three Republican judges on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
When their hands are pressed on a Bible in court, Republican experts admit they’ve got no evidence of the in-person voter fraud that the GOP claims these laws are intended to prevent. What they’re really intended to prevent is voting by people Republicans detest, the derided “47 percent” that GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney spit on. Republicans are robbing citizens of the fundamental right to vote. It’s criminal. It’s fraud that subverts America’s cherished democracy.
Since 2010, Republicans have passed voter-suppression laws in 22 states, and nearly half the nation’s population could be affected in November’s balloting. Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP have succeeded in postponing and overturning some. That includes the one in Pennsylvania, where the law’s Republican supporters conceded in court they had absolutely no evidence of in-person voter fraud.
The Brennan Center for Justice studied the allegations of in-person voter fraud and described it as essentially a myth, an event that almost never occurs. Justin Levitt, a Loyola Law Professor who has tracked allegations of fraud for years, has found 31 incidents since 2000 – out of more than 1 billion ballots cast nationwide. And, he says, some of the 31 have not been investigated and may, in the end, be debunked. Levitt also says voter ID does not prevent the most common types of election cheating.
Voter fraud is unacceptable. But so is disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of citizens. Particularly when disenfranchising them does not prevent voter fraud.
Federal Judge Lynn Adelman put it this way in his ruling against the Wisconsin law, “There is no way to determine exactly how many people Act 23 will prevent or deter from voting without considering the individual circumstances of each of the 300,000 plus citizens who lack an ID. But no matter how imprecise my estimate may be, it is absolutely clear that Act 23 will prevent more legitimate votes from being cast than fraudulent votes.”
Among the 300,000 are Ruthelle Frank, Shirley Brown and Eddie Lee Holloway Jr., all plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the Wisconsin statute. Though Brown has been a regular at the polls in Wisconsin for decades, the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) denied her the ID she would need to vote under the state law because she did not have a birth certificate. Born at home in Louisiana 70-some years ago, Brown never had a birth certificate. The DMV rebuffed a statement from Brown’s elementary school attesting to her birth, even though Medicare had accepted it.
The DMV denied Halloway an ID card because his birth certificate read “Eddie Junior Holloway instead of “Eddie Lee Holloway Junior.”
The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit is Ruthelle Frank, an 87-year-old woman born in Wisconsin who has voted in every election there since 1948 and who has served on the Brokaw Village Board since 1996. She does not have an acceptable ID under the law because she lacks a certified copy of her birth certificate.
Wisconsin Republican state officials told the appeals court earlier this month that they would no longer require residents without birth certificates to produce them. This was done because a state court had suggested requiring residents to purchase certificates was akin to a poll tax. Instead, the DMV will look up the information. That may not help Ruthelle Frank, however, because her maiden name is misspelled on her certificate. To correct a birth certificate could cost $200 and takes time.
And she doesn’t have much time. There’s only seven weeks until the election. For hundreds of thousands of citizens like Ruthelle Frank, what Wisconsin is demanding of them to exercise their right to vote is extremely difficult if not impossible. Even if she could pay to get her birth certificate corrected in time, she’d have to find a way to a motor vehicle office to collect an identification card.
In 48 of the state’s 72 counties, where a quarter of the state’s adult population lives, motor vehicle offices are open only two weekdays, and never during evenings. People without ID don’t have drivers’ licenses. That’s 300,000 people in Wisconsin who would have to find a way to motor vehicle offices during limited hours – 43,000 a week until Election Day.
If the three-Republican judge panel’s ruling is not reversed, hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin citizens could be disenfranchised by Republicans in a state where there has been no documented in-person voter fraud since it joined the union.
That’s exactly what Republican politicians and Republican judges want, especially when their GOP governor is running neck-and-neck with his Democratic challenger. That is defrauding voters.
Senate Republicans voted unanimously last week for elections that are competitions of cash, with candidates who amass the most money empowered to shout down opponents.
The GOP rejected elections that are contests of ideas won by candidates offering the best concepts.
Forty-two Republican Senators on Thursday opposed advancing a proposed constitutional amendment called Democracy for All. It would have ended the one percent’s control over elections and politicians. It would have reversed the democracy-destroying Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions by permitting Congress and state legislatures to once again limit campaign spending. Republicans said no because they favor the system that indentures politicians to wealthy benefactors.
As it stands now, corporations and billionaires may spend unbounded and unreported billions to buy elections. They’re likely to invest $2 billion in this fall’s contests. That’s thanks to the activist, right-wing, so-called justices on the Supreme Court who upended a century of campaign finance law with rulings like Citizens United in 2010 and McCutcheon this year.
The result is that everyone retains their free speech rights, but the wealthy and corporations, who can afford gigantic amplifiers, can now use their money to buy the loudest voice, one that overwhelms and silences those of tens of millions of working Americans. The right-wingers on the Supreme Court said it was fine for the wealthy and corporations to use their money to drown out the pleas of the non-rich. And Senate Republicans agreed last week.
This has made the majority of Americans very, very cynical about politicians and elections. The typical voter knows his or her $5 or $25 or $100 contribution to a candidate can’t compete with the $10,000 or $100,000 or $1 million gifts from corporations and billionaires.
Americans aren’t stupid. They knew what big bucks buy.
They pay for access. The Senator will make time to see the CEO whose corporation donated $250,000. The Senator won’t do the same for the worker who gave $25.
Big bucks also buy votes. Americans believe politicians’ positions on issues are the ones that the biggest benefactors told them to take. In private meetings, of course. A poll by the Opinion Research Corporation in 2012 found that 68 percent of voters, including 71 percent of Republicans, think that a corporation that spends $100,000 to help elect a Congressman could successfully pressure him to change position on proposed legislation.
Still, Senate Republicans, groomed by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, ignored the sentiments of the majority of citizens and blocked the Democracy for All amendment. McConnell, who once supported a similar constitutional amendment, now praises unlimited, unregulated, undisclosed campaign contributions. He told a group of fat cat GOP donors in June that he just didn’t know where he’d be without them.
Well, not in office, that’s for sure. He would be in far greener – as in greenbacks – pastures, cleaning up with former House GOP Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who lost his primary this year, then quickly resigned so he could grab $1.8 million as vice chairman at a Wall Street investment bank. Wealthy donors and corporations reward their indentured servants even when they lose elections.
Another Republican Presidential nominee, John McCain, whose name graced the bipartisan McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act of 2002, said after it was struck down by the Citizens United ruling: “What the Supreme Court did is a combination of arrogance, naiveté and stupidity the likes of which I have never seen."
Still, McCain joined all of the other Republicans in the Senate Thursday to obstruct a constitutional amendment to fix that problem.
Sen. Tom Udall, the New Mexico Democrat who proposed the amendment, said he’ll continue to press for its passage. He must because that limitless campaign cash is ruining the American democracy.
Voters know that money tends to corrupt, and infinite money corrupts infinitely.
House Republicans last week overwhelmingly endorsed suing President Barack Obama for delaying part of the Affordable Care Act, a law Republicans hate and condemn and voted 50 times to repeal. So, really, the president did exactly what the GOP claims it wants. But they’re suing anyway.
On the other side of the Capitol, Senate Republicans last week prevented repair of a law that 99.99 percent of Americans hate and condemn and would vote 50 times to repeal, given the chance. The GOP blocked a bill that would have ended tax breaks bestowed on corporations for offshoring factories and jobs.
Only one Senate Republican voted for the Bring Jobs Home Act – the bill that would have replaced corporate reprobate rebates with rewards for firms that move factories back to America. Americans of all political persuasions object to paying higher taxes to offset the cost of coddling corporate defectors. The GOP’s filibustering of this bill is dereliction of duty. So let’s sue. And look at it this way, even if this is a lost cause – and it is – the more time Republicans must spend in court, the less time they have to obstruct the will of the people.
It made perfect sense. Why should American workers subsidize corporations for closing American factories, killing American jobs, destroying American communities and moving overseas? For 2.9 million Americans, that is not a hypothetical annoyance. Over the past decade, that’s how many American jobs U.S. corporations cut as they created 2.4 million overseas.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney embodied the Senate GOP position. The issue smacked him in the face when workers at a Freeport, Ill., factory pleaded with him to intervene on their behalf to stop their employer, Sensata, from sending their factory and their jobs to China.
To make the desertion even easier for Sensata, the American government would allow the corporation to write off some of the cost of the move for tax purposes. It’s a little bon voyage present paid for by American taxpayers who suffer when corporations move offshore.
That’s the very practice candidate Obama said he wanted to stop and that Senate Democrats, led by Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, John Walsh of Montana and Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada tried to end with the Bring Jobs Home Act.
Romney refused to intervene with his private equity firm to help the Illinois workers. And, similarly, Republicans in the Senate, except for Susan Collins of Maine, filibustered the Bring Jobs Home Act. A comfortable majority of 54 U.S. Senators supported it, but a minority of 42 Republicans stood in the way. They should be sued for forcing U.S. workers to help bankroll corporate abandonment of America.
Some Republican Senators stomped their feet and demanded continued subsidies for offshoring of jobs unless the entire tax code was overhauled, a feat that seems, well, somewhat unlikely from this record-breaking, do-nothing, Republican-thwarted Congress.
Other Republicans protested the cost. It’s true that over a decade, the change from tax breaks for offshorers to tax breaks for onshorers was projected by the Joint Committee on Taxation to cost $214 million. That’s million, not billion. And it’s over a decade, so $21.4 million a year.
That’s not chump change, but for comparison purposes, the state of Tennessee gave Volkswagen $165.8 million this year to expand its Chattanooga assembly plant. In 2008, Tennessee gave VW $577 million to build the factory in the state. That’s more than $742 million from one state to one company over six years, or, to put it another way, $123 million a year. That’s nearly six times the annual national cost of the Bring Jobs Home Act.
So, sue him, right? Because there’s something deeply wrong with forcing Tennessee taxpayers to spend hundreds of millions to bring jobs to their state, and, at the same time, subsidize corporations moving jobs out of the state and the country.
This is a defining vote. It shows Democrats supporting American jobs, American industry, American workers and American communities. It shows Republicans indulging corporations, no matter what they do, no matter how destructive their decisions are to the country.
Send the GOP a message. A lawsuit would be one gesture. But big time election losses would work better.
Walgreens is willing to prostrate itself before Queen Elizabeth because the British corporate tax rate is lower. Anything for money, right AbbVie? These firms will still park their assets and staff and sales in America. They just won’t pay taxes on foreign income to the country that nurtured them, protected them from patent violators and unfair competitors, and provided them with educated workers, federally-sponsored research and development, and myriad other public services. Now, they can freeload instead. As a result, their U.S. competitors, as well as hardworking Americans, will pay more to cover the shirkers’ share.
This foreign address squatting is formally called inversion. A large American corporation seeking to evade its tax responsibilities hooks up with company in a low tax country. It makes sure the foreign firm ends up with at least 20 percent of the combined company’s stock, so the American corporation can legally change its address. It’s called inversion because the big buyer takes the smaller subsumed entity’s address instead of the other way around. Dozens of corporations have done it in the past couple of years.
“Is the role of leading large pharmaceutical companies to discover lifesaving drugs or to make money for shareholders through financial engineering? Does anyone believe pharmaceutical companies can create long-term shareholder value by chasing lower tax venues and cutting research and development spending?”
“The only reason they’re doing the inversion is to free up the cash overseas. . . That money today can’t be put to good use right now.” That, of course, isn’t true. It could be put to good use immediately if Medtronic paid the federal income tax the company owes on it.
When George was Medtronic CEO, he worked to lower the firm’s tax rate. And he succeeded masterfully. Like the vast majority of U.S. companies, Medtronic doesn’t pay anywhere near the official 35 percent. It pays 18 percent. That’s still too much, according to George, who told the New York Times: “The taxes are simply too high in this country.”
Too high for AbbVie as well. It paid 22.6 percent last year and projects that renouncing America will lower its rate to 13 percent by 2016.
George called for another corporate tax holiday during which multi-nationals could repatriate their foreign earnings without paying all of the taxes owed. Great for them, of course, but not for the federal budget deficit. And, frankly, unfair to working Americans never granted tax holidays.
Medtronic does plan, however, to arrange an excise tax holiday for its corporate executives and board members. To discourage inversions, Congress imposed a 15 percent excise tax on the options and restricted stock of inverting corporations’ officers and board members. Medtronic says it will pony up about $60 million to pay off those tax bills.
Partly because of shell games like that, the excise tax has failed to deter corporations from shifting their tax responsibilities to working Americans.
Last week, between the Mylan and AbbVie announcements, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew urged Congress to take new action to halt the desertions. Stopping inversions would raise $17 billion for the U.S. Treasury over a decade, according to the administration. That’s a $17 billion smaller national debt.
The administration proposes that before an American company could contend it had moved to a tax haven, the purchased company would have to get half of the new company’s stock, instead of 20 percent. U.S. Senators Carl Levin and Ron Wyden and U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, all Democrats, have proposed a two-year moratorium on inversions retroactive to May 8.
It’s ingenious. It bars inverters from getting federal contracts. It should definitely be extended to include Medtronic, which was awarded $484 million in federal contracts over the past five years.
In the case of Walgreens, it should be broadened to bar Medicare and Medicaid recipients from filling prescriptions there if the pharmacy joins shiftless corporations with sham headquarters overseas.
And the likes of Walgreens, Medtronic, Mylan and AbbVie need to keep their mouths shut as Congress debates these penalties. It has been a crime since 1966 for foreign nationals to donate money to American political campaigns. These corporations lost their freedom to buy politicians when they renounced America for money.
Americans devoted Friday to celebrating independence. Flags and fireworks, picnics and pledges of allegiance abounded.
But there’s no liberty and justice for all if Americans aren’t economically independent. Low wages, debts and dim prospects all subjugate. This is the condition of a shocking number of Americans as income inequality rises. And their economic desperation and subordination occurred by design.
CEOs and right-wing one percenters purchased legislation and court decisions that diverted the nation’s wealth to their penthouses. And despite their promises, not a dime trickles down to the workers whose labor created the wealth and whose productivity has risen even as their wages have not. The decision of the right-wing majority on the U.S. Supreme Court last week in the Harris v. Quinn case is another example of the one percent’s unrelenting erosion of the 99 percent’s economic independence.
This decision makes it harder for 28,000 home care workers in Illinois specifically, but others across the country as well, to collectively bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions.
That’s exactly what the one percent wanted. The harder it is for the 99 percent to collectively bargain, the easier it is for the one percent to take everything. In this particular case, the one percenters include some of the richest people in the world, the Koch brothers and the Walton family, who fund the National Right to Work (for less) Legal Defense Foundation (NRTW), which bankrolled the lawsuit.
Home care workers, whose lives are devoted to aiding disabled adults, were paid minimum wage in Illinois a decade ago. Job dissatisfaction was high, as was turnover. Shortages of these workers forced the state to institutionalize infirm adults, a significantly more expensive and less satisfactory living arrangement.
This solution was great for the vast majority of everyone involved, taxpayers, workers and disabled adults. Here’s what one of those adults, Rahnee Patrick, told a National Public Radio reporter:
"I had a personal assistant come to me at 5 o'clock in the morning in my house. She rode an hour in the snow, from the North Side of Chicago. Why was she so dedicated? Not because I'm lovely, but because she gets a really good wage, and the wage came from the unions being able to collectively bargain. I can actually go to work, and it's because of her being able to pay her own bills that I'm able to pay my bills.”
Workers say it was a godsend. Dorothy Glenn received $1 per hour when she began caring for her disabled sister in 1972 after taking her out of an Illinois institution where she’d been badly injured. Glenn got no health insurance and no training. She recounts that when she asked for a raise, the state told her that if she didn’t like the pay, she should put her sister back into the nursing home.
“I felt like my sister and I were living in the shadow, and we had no voices,” Glenn told Think Progress reporter Bryce Covert. She said she got a voice when she was able to join the SEIU. “It dramatically changed my life,” she said. The difference is 28,000 workers bargaining collectively with the state instead of one. “As long as we keep our numbers, we have the power,” she explained.
The pay increases and health insurance benefits secured by collective bargaining gave economic independence to tens of thousands of home care workers in Illinois and in states across the country. Their work provided them with sufficient income to pay their bills, support their children, buy an Independence Day picnic spread. Collective bargaining meant they no longer had to depend on the government for health insurance or on food banks for dinner.
Economically independent workers are less easily manipulated and mistreated. That is exactly the opposite of what right-wing one percenters want. What was good for tens of thousands of home health workers was bad for greedy one percenters. So they searched for a way to thwart the system that worked well for workers, invalid adults and the state.
They found it in a handful of home care workers who didn’t want to pay the fair share fee that was charged to those who benefitted from collective bargaining but declined to join the union.
The NRTW scheme works like this: legalize freeloading to lower revenues available for collective bargaining, and thus diminish workers’ ability to secure better wages and benefits. This robs workers of economic independence.
The right-wing majority on the Supreme Court sided with right-wing one percenters. They ruled that a state can’t require home care workers to pay a fair share. They ruled for weaker collective bargaining and less economic independence.
In the depth of the recession, some foreign countries made a simple calculation. They’d subsidize their steel industries even though that violates international trade rules. It paid off by keeping their citizens employed, paid and fed.
These countries banked on dumping their excess steel in the United States. That has cost good, family-supporting American jobs. It has wounded the American steel industry. And it has emboldened foreign countries to continue eating America’s lunch by violating international trade laws.
Last week, Mario Longhi, President and Chief Executive Officer of U.S. Steel, and I asked Congress to enforce the law. We’re not seeking special deals or subsidies or handouts. We’re asking Congress to implement American and international trade laws to level the field of competition. If the same rules apply to everyone, U.S. industry can compete and win. And American workers can retain their jobs and afford their daily bread.
A simple story explains how this works. Just as the economic crisis hit, China began dumping Oil Country Tubular Goods, the pipes used in oil and gas exploration, into the American market. Dumping occurs when foreign manufacturers export products at prices lower than they charge in their home country or at prices below the cost of production.
American steel companies would quickly go bankrupt if they set prices below the cost of production. Many foreign manufacturers can get away with it because part of their production cost is offset by government subsidies. In 2011, half of the world’s 46 top steel companies were state-owned. They don’t live by the same rules American companies do.
Government subsidies are fine if all of the beneficiary company’s products are sold in their home market. But international trade rules prohibit sale of subsidized goods to other countries because their artificially low prices would distort the market and destroy companies that aren’t propped up by their governments.
When enforcement of the rules leveled the field of competition, American companies and American workers won.
This is an important story because it involves pipe essential to natural gas drilling. Americans are reveling in the possibility that hydraulic fracturing will make them energy independent. But there’s no point in achieving energy independence if failure to enforce trade laws condemns America to steel dependency.
That subsidized steel takes bread off of American tables. Thousands of American steelworkers have been laid off. And untold additional Americans whose work depends on the steel industry have lost hours or jobs.
The cost is wide ranging. As steel production declines, so does coal, limestone and iron ore mining. Coke and iron ore pelletizing plant operations suffer. Truckers, railroad workers and barge hands who deliver supplies to mills all lose work. Scrap dealers who provide steel for recycling, as well as pump, industrial fan and valve manufacturers who supply mill replacement parts lose business. Profits shrink at restaurants, grocery stores and shops near mills. School districts, municipalities and states all lose tax revenue.
Considering all of that, it’s easy to understand why foreign countries would try to keep their steel furnaces operating, even if that meant violating international rules.
When that steel is dumped on the American market, those foreign firms receive American dough in payment, further increasing the already dangerously high U.S. trade deficit. That’s another cost of the failure to enforce trade laws. It means trade law violators are taking bread out of the mouths of Americans twice.
In addition, it is further proof that Americans can do anything. They sent a man to the moon and a rover to Mars. They discovered a way to inoculate against the scourge of polio. They invented the slinky and the Internet, jazz and baseball. They overcame a civil war and the Great Depression.
Americans have proved over two and a half centuries that they can do anything when imbued with the exhilaration of self-determination. Americans fought a revolution to secure this self-empowerment. They would control their own destinies, not some arbitrary king. That, however, is all threatened because right wingers on the Supreme Court gave a minority – the wealthy – legal sanction to buy the government. Now, democracy-loving Americans are demanding a constitutional amendment to return governing to the majority.
In a series of decisions, conservatives on the Supreme Court took power from the people and gave it to corporations and the rich. This began, oddly, in the U.S. Bicentennial year with the Buckley v. Valeo decision that asserted money was speech. Then in 2010, the court decided in the Citizens United case that corporations were people and could spend as much money on political campaigns as they wanted.
Finally, earlier this year, in the McCutcheon case, the court lifted campaign donation limits so that now the uber-wealthy may spend virtually as much as they want to influence the election of not just their own representatives in city halls and state legislatures and Congress, but also the politicians who are supposed to represent other people.
All of this has so emboldened billionaires that one of them, Tom Perkins, said earlier this year that citizens should get one vote for each tax dollar they pay. No more one person one vote. Perkins thinks the rich have the right to buy government.
His plan would kill American democracy. A Perkins Plutocracy is not what Americans sacrificed their lives and limbs for during the Revolutionary War. But Perkins doesn’t care about all that. He believes his billions entitle him to sovereignty.
Though billionaires’ tax dollars can’t buy them thrones yet, they’re using the Supreme Court decisions to secure control. For example, the billionaire Koch Brothers have promised to spend at least $125 million to purchase right wing supplicants of their choice nationwide. And that’s just the 2014 Koch budget for purchasing government.
While the conservatives on the Supreme Court contended that gifts to politicians of $125 million are fine and dandy, the majority of Americans disagree. And for good cause. They have watched as their so-called representatives pass legislation that makes it crystal clear they really represent someone else – wealthy donors and corporations.
The majority of Americans want the minimum wage raised, unemployment insurance extended, Social Security protected, and infrastructure like highways improved, but that’s not what Congress is doing. Instead, it is slashing the budget in ways that the majority hates, including cutting food stamps and preserving tax breaks for corporations.
Princeton University professor Martin Gilens writes about this phenomenon in his new book, “Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America.” After studying thousands of proposed policy changes, he determined that the rich get the legislation they want, whether the majority agrees or not. But the reverse is not true. The majority does not get what it wants if the wealthy object.
That’s not how a real democracy works. In a real democracy, all citizens, regardless of wealth or title, celebrity or status, beauty or brawn, have equal access to government officials and equal influence on government policy. Democracy is majority rule; not minority reign.
To restore democracy, America needs a constitutional amendment. One has been proposed to overturn Valeo and Citizens United and McCutcheon, to limit campaign spending by corporations and the wealthy and to return power to the people. A vote on the amendment by the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled for early next month.
Amending the Constitution sounds audacious. Particularly when a proposed amendment to guarantee women equal rights failed. But it can be done. It has been done. Recently too.
The 27th Amendment passed in 1992. Before that, the 26th Amendment was proposed in March of 1971, and four months later, 18 year olds received the right to vote. That set the record for quick approval.
Non-rich democracy lovers gave $1 million to the Mayday PAC by the middle of May. Wealthy democracy lovers matched that. Among those rich donors were conservatives, like PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, and liberals, like LinkedIn CEO Reid Hoffman.
Now Lessig is raising more, seeking $5 million in contributions of $10,000 or less from Americans who cherish a republic of one person, one vote. Again, the plan is for this to be matched by wealthy donors who believe in a government of the people, by the people, for the people that won’t be conquered by cash.
That Lessig raised $1 million in small donations for the Mayday PAC in the first two weeks shows Americans strongly support this idea.
Americans can do anything. They certainly can amend their constitution and preserve their democracy.
A dozen North Carolinians had the brazen idea that, as American citizens, they could exercise their right to express their concerns to one of their elected representatives, Thom Tillis, who is the general assembly’s Speaker of the House.
These Moral Monday protesters didn’t understand the situation as Tillis did or, for that matter, from the perspective of his fellow hardline Republicans from Wisconsin to Georgia. The way GOP hardliners see it, Tillis is the Speaker. He speaks, and everybody else shuts up and listens. These lawmakers don’t represent constituents in a constitutional democracy. They are overlords. And as rulers over the people, they’ve awarded themselves the power to muzzle and handcuff anyone who disagrees with them.
While styling themselves as defenders of the constitution and protectors of individual rights, hardline GOPers, in practice, protect their own power and position by violating the Constitution and denying individuals their rights. Just take North Carolina for example.
There, Moral Monday activists gathered at the Capitol weekly for months last year, protesting the general assembly’s voter suppression laws, cuts to unemployment benefits, denial of expanded Medicaid benefits to the working poor under the Affordable Care Act, repeal of the Racial Justice Act, and tax cuts for the rich. These demonstrations resumed this year, with 80,000 rallying at the first one in Raleigh in February. And they’ve spread across the south, to Georgia and South Carolina. In Alabama, the weekly events are called Truthful Tuesdays.
This, of course, annoyed hardline Republicans responsible for the policies the activists protested. So this year, they did something about it. No, they didn’t “repent, repeal and restore,” as the activists requested. Instead, the hardliners attempted to represss, rescind and revoke the citizens’ constitutional rights.
The Republican majority in the North Carolina legislature adopted rules making it a crime – a misdemeanor – for citizens to exercise their First Amendment rights to assembly, speech and protest in the Capitol, legislative office buildings and the grounds.
The rules forbid citizens who enter the Capitol buildings from “disturbing” lawmakers or their staff members. This includes singing, clapping, shouting and playing musical instruments. No Christmas carols in the North Carolina Capitol! Skulking lobbyists, however, are welcome.
That’s not all, though. The rule says police may arrest and criminally charge a citizen who poses an “imminent disturbance.” They didn’t define imminent disturbance, though. So, depending on the law enforcement officer, an imminent disturbance could be giving a lawmaker a dirty look. It could be carrying a hymnal. It could be walking with two hands capable of clapping.
In addition, the rules require protesters to get permits to rally on Capitol grounds from the very people who don’t want them to rally on Capitol grounds. The GOP hardliners have invested in themselves the power to determine exactly who has and does not have a First Amendment right to assemble on public property in North Carolina.
This is Republican rule, not representative governance. This is the arrogance of King George, not the behavior of a public servant. It’s unconstitutional and un-American.
In May, immediately after Republicans in the legislature imposed the new rules, 1,500 Moral Monday activists met and broke bread in the Bicentennial Mall in front of the North Carolina Legislative Building. Then they covered their mouths with duct tape and marched silently through the Capitol, distributing bread to several lawmakers.
Americans cherish the idea that they live in a country that pulls up the downtrodden, protects the weak, and provides equal opportunity for all to succeed. They believe their government should work to fulfill these ideals. When it fails, Americans know their Constitutional protections, like the rights to speak, protest and assemble, will help them get their representational democracy back on track.
The Moral Monday protesters are dissidents, defying overlords who are trying to shut them up and shut them down by denying them their most basic Constitutional rights.
As usual, the navel-gazing Chamber got it all wrong. The big business lobby whined and wailed that the regulation likely to take effect later this year was mean-spirited, that its goal was to shame overpaid CEOs.
Those poor, picked-on CEOs! Well, maybe not poor since the average Fortune 500 CEO pocketed a record $10.5 million last year.
The reporting requirement isn’t about CEOs at all. Their morbidly obese pay packages already are disclosed. Instead, the rule is about workers. And investors. Congress figured that investors have the right to know when CEOs are shoving such big hunks of the corporate profit pie into their maws that workers are starved and investors cheated. The point of the law is to change the way that pie is sliced so that workers and investors get their just desserts.
One reason this occurs is the my-dog’s-bigger-than-your-dog pathology of corporate boards. They want to brag that they’ve got the best CEO, and their measure of the man is the size of his pay package.
It’s certainly not based on performance since boards continue paying CEOs big bucks, even granting them bonuses, when stock prices fall. For example, the board of Alpha Natural Resources, one of the nation’s largest coal companies, gave its CEO a $2 million bonus after stock prices slumped and the government fined the company $27.5 million for polluting.
Unfortunately for workers, corporate boards don’t give them the same consideration. Governing boards don’t measure their corporations against competitors by saying, “My workforce is better than yours because it’s better paid.”
The requirement that corporations determine the pay ratio between CEOs and median workers could change that because a wide ratio could prove costly. In the 1950s through 1970s, the ratio was about 20-to-1. For every dollar the average worker made, the CEO got $20. Now, the AFL-CIO says that figure has skyrocketed to 331-to-1.
In some cases, however, the numbers are even more shocking. The CEOs of Tesla and Oracle, for example, got $78 million pay packages, so the ratios at their companies are more like 1,500-to-1. Exact figures can’t be calculated because the pay of median workers at specific corporations is not yet available.
When corporations disclose that information, some investors might find the discrepancies grotesque. They may figure that governing boards and CEOs who are willing to put such a disproportionate amount of corporate earnings in one person’s pocket might also be willing to stiff investors on dividends. Investors might also figure that workers in such a company are not as productive as they might be if they didn’t feel bilked every day.
Some state and local governments might find the discrepancies make the corporations worthy of similarly disparate treatment. For example, California is considering legislation that would increase the state corporate tax rate for companies with high pay ratios and would decrease the rate for those with low ratios. For lawmakers, the justification for this is that taxpayers often must subsidize corporations with high pay ratios by providing food stamps, Medicaid and welfare to those firms’ underpaid workers.
If corporate boards took the cost of compliance out of CEO pay packages, the price might drop precipitously. And to its credit, the Chamber did admit that 13 surveyed corporations said figuring the ratio would set them back less than $10,000.
Disclosing the pay ratios will interrupt the destructive pattern of corporate boards ignoring the contributions of workers while relentlessly pushing up CEO pay so they can boast “my CEO’s package is bigger than yours.”
The pay ratio information may actually create a better bragging point: My workers are better than yours.
Steelworkers and CEOs, Democrats and Republicans are rallying together this month across the country to alert their fellow Americans to a threat to independence.
These groups, often at each other’s throats, have allied to confront a surge in dumped foreign steel, an illegal practice that jeopardizes the viability of American mills. Steelworkers and steel company CEOs, red and blue politicians celebrate the energy independence achieved through shale gas drilling but condemn the dependence on foreign steel that failure to enforce trade laws will cause.
The alliance is asking the Commerce Department to sanction foreign steel producers who violate international trade law by dumping steel in the American market at prices below the cost to produce it. In the past year and a half, U.S. steelmakers and my union, the United Steelworkers (USW), have filed 40 trade cases seeking penalties against foreign producers for dumping.
That’s so many that now steel is the Commerce Department’s primary focus, according to Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, who said during an event held at a mill near Pittsburgh last week, “Roughly 75 percent of the department’s ongoing trade investigations involve steel products.”
As dumped foreign steel grabs increasing portions of the U.S. market, it threatens the American steel industry. U. S. Steel invested $100 million in its Lorain Tubular Operations in Ohio since 2010, but it was forced to lay off 73 workers there earlier this year. Plant Manager John Wilkinson said dumped steel pipe, sold at 30 percent below market value, is to blame.
For the American steel industry, that contributed to losses. It posted net losses in four of the past five years, rising from $388 million in 2012 to $1.2 billion in 2013, EPI reported. Since Jan. 1 this year, nearly 1,000 steelworkers have lost their jobs because of surging imports.
The death of the American steel industry is fine with the likes of the Wall Street Journal, Forbes and the Cato Institute. They contend cheap prices are paramount. They say Americans should thank foreign states that violate international trade laws by subsidizing their steel industries because it means Americans pay a few dollars less for cars and refrigerators. They don’t care if America would have to depend on China for the steel to make U.S. tanks and missiles.
This is the view of rabid capitalists married to money and devoid of loyalty. Made in America means nothing to them.
Not even conservative Republicans agree with them. Fourteen Senate Republicans last week joined 42 Democrats and an Independent in signing a letter to Commerce Secretary Pritzker about steel dumping. The Senators expressed concern that the Commerce Department failed to include South Korea in its preliminary ruling in February that eight countries – India, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine and Vietnam – dumped steel pipes used in gas drilling.
A Republican and a Democrat coordinated the letter. They are Ohio’s senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman. Supporting American manufacturing against illegal foreign competition is not a partisan issue. It’s an issue of patriotism.
In a conference call organized by the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) to announce the EPI report, Sen. Brown said that claiming dumped foreign steel is good because it’s cheap is contending that law breaking is acceptable when it lowers prices: “It is a little bit like arguing that it is okay to buy stolen TVs because they are cheaper. They (foreign steel producers) are breaking international law.”
It’s an issue on which Steelworkers and steel executives work closely, testifying together on Capitol Hill and rallying together in steel towns. At an event regarding training last week at U.S. Steel’s Irvin Plant southeast of Pittsburgh, I joined U.S. Steel CEO Mario Longhi in calling for trade regulation enforcement.
“We’re not asking for anything special,” Longhi said. “We’re asking for a fair playing field. If that is the case, we can compete with anybody.”
A trade case involving the steel used in shale gas drilling, called Oil Country Tubular Goods (OCTG), is an example of how enforcement can level the playing field.
In 2008, China dumped more than 2 million tons of OCTG into the U.S. market. In China, as in many countries that violate trade rules, some steel companies are owned and some supported by the government.
Under international trade rules, subsidized products may be sold within the home country. But sale overseas is forbidden because it would distort prices.
The Commerce Department determined in 2009 that China was violating those rules by selling subsidized OCTG in the United States. In cases like these, tariffs on the imported products often will eliminate the benefit of the subsidies. That evens the playing field. After that was done, Chinese export of OCTG to the United States virtually stopped.
By last July, OCTG was a problem again. Steelmakers asked Commerce to sanction nine countries. Eight were, but the primary offender, South Korea, escaped unscathed in the preliminary ruling.
It is particularly compelling for Sen. Brown, the Democrat who represents Ohio, home of U.S. Steel’s Lorain works where OCTG is manufactured, that South Korea has no internal market for the OCTG it makes. It exports all of the pipe.
What that means, said Sen. Jeff Sessions, a Republican from Alabama, is “they see us as a big fat market they can exploit when they are in trouble.” He said the unfair trade places 13,000 jobs at risk in Alabama.
“I think we need to stand up and defend ourselves,” Sessions said in the AAM conference call. “We comply with international trade rules, and we need to expect our trading partners to comply also.”
Longhi told the Congressional Steel Caucus that South Korea escaped the preliminary sanctions with “obfuscation and chicanery.”
The unlikely alliance forged to preserve America’s steelmaking independence demands that the U.S. government cut through chicanery and enforce trade law.