Jonathan Tasini

Bernie on Immigration: Bring Undocumented People Out of the Shadows

(This article is excerpted from The Essential Bernie Sanders and His Vision for America by Jonathan Tasini (Chelsea Green Publishing, September 2015) and is published here with permission of the publisher. The book will be available nationwide on September 8th, which is Sanders’ birthday. For more information.)

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10 Ways to Make The U.S. Economy Work for Everyone, By Bernie Sanders

(This article is excerpted from The Essential Bernie Sanders and His Vision for America by Jonathan Tasini (Chelsea Green Publishing, September 2015) and is published here with permission of the publisher. The book will be available nationwide on September 8th, which is Sanders’ birthday. For more information.)

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The “Free Market” Takes Its Pound Of Flesh, But Never From The Failed CEO

I can’t let Detroit go partly because there is so much to learn from the robbery that took place in the past and is continuing to this day. Today, let’s consider for a moment the price regular workers pay when something goes bad versus the price CEOs never pay when something goes askew. It’s a telling story about the deep corruption of the system.

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A 10-Step Program For Democrats in 2007

The lesson from the 2006 election is that people want dramatic change, not poll-tested, cautious half-measures. So, let's be bold.

The threat to a progressive agenda is not the lack of hugs and soaring rhetoric. Rather, the challenge is pretty clear: Will Democrats be willing to break from the false worship of the twins gods of the so-called "free market" and so-called "free trade"? This worship has made Democrats quiver, tremble and crumble in the face of policies that have been devastating to our country and the world for the past several decades, and made them incapable of advancing ideas and proposals that people so desperately need.

"Free market" and "free trade" are both marketing phrases. There is no such thing as a "free market" because every corporation in America profits thanks to subsidized public goods like education, roads, the electric power grid, and (albeit, too permissive) regulatory management of the stock market, which imposes stability and deters dishonest behavior. So-called "free trade" is a mirage -- nothing is free about a global trading regime that has iron-clad protection for capital investment and corporate intellectual property, and thrives on controlling and suppressing wages of workers, particularly in China.

Will Democrats stand up and clearly say that the real choice is not over politically empty slogans or accusations of 'protectionism' but over what rules we want to govern how the economy operates for the benefit of our families and communities? Do we want rules that support people and their communities or rules that help powerful, global corporations? Once Democrats do so, the political road is easy because such a plea has broad support across the country, no matter how people define themselves ideologically. It comes down to this: Are you for everyone having health care, a fair wage, solid retirement, and being able to live in a democratic system that allows the people to decide how corporations behave?

Here are three things to do, pronto:

Health Care: A Universal Right -- With Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., leading the way, we can expect all sorts of half-measured, warmed-over Clinton-lite national health care plans, all of which will fail to solve the long-term moral and economic health care crisis. Most Americans who support a national health program favor a single-payer system, which keeps the private delivery of health care in the hands of physicians and hospitals, but takes away the moving of money from the insurance industry and places it under a single public agency. Sound familiar? Sure, it's called Medicare, which is why the bill by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., H.R. 676, is often referred to as "Medicare For All." Only a single-payer system will wring out the administrative savings -- as much as $300 billion per year -- that we can use to cover the current uninsured and make up the cost to provide full benefits to every American. Single-payer will increase our individual personal wealth far more than a minimum wage increase.

Energy Is Where Our Money Is Best Spent -- Lower energy costs. According to the Apollo Alliance 's plan, for a 10-year national investment of a bit more than $313 billion, we would generate $1.43 trillion in economic activity, $953.87 billion in personal income and over 3.3 million new good-paying jobs. That investment is maybe a fifth or less of what the Iraq war is likely to cost. Which would be a better return? Pass a bill now.

High-Tech And Progressive -- Spend $5 billion to set up a free wireless Internet network across the country for every American. Sociologist Joel Rogers calculates that wireless for a typical city of 150 square miles costs about $20 million to set up and, if you figure 200 such cities cover about 30,000 square miles, you cover 80 percent of the population at a total cost of $4 billion. Throw in another billion for the less populous areas and, presto, you've just lowered peoples' cost of living by hundreds of dollars a year (a whole lot more than the majority of people got from the Bush tax cuts). Now, do you think that might endear a whole lot of young people to the Democratic Party for a very long time ("Like Your Free Wireless? Thank The Democrats!")?

Once those first steps are under way, here are seven more proposals for a progressive future:

Taxes -- Let's have a field day here. It would be nothing short of scandalous if Democrats did not make a determined push to roll back the immoral Bush tax cuts for the very rich. Without the rollback, the top 1 percent -- those who pull in at least $1.3 million a year -- will pocket more than $347 billion in the next four years. Yes, the rollback would be devastating for people like the Goldman Sachs CEO, who just pulled in a $53 million bonus, and who might have to give up a smidgen more of his loot, perhaps reducing the size of his next mansion by one bathroom. Notice how that sum is just a bit higher than the Apollo Alliance's ten-year energy independence program? Let Bush veto the rollback and make it a 2008 election year issue: The Republicans want to keep giving the richest people more yachts and mansions but want you to keep paying more for gasoline, keep our country dependent on imported oil and do nothing about global warming.

Wall Street Fairness Tax -- Here's a way we could easily raise $50-$100 billion a year. We tax gambling in casinos, right? Why not tax Wall Street gambling? Every day, billions of shares are traded through financial systems that often have huge fluctuations. Rather than rewarding speculators who move hot cash in and out of investments, we should encourage what economists sometimes call "patient capital": making an investment in a company you think has potential and holding on to it. The Wall Street Fairness Tax would decrease volatility and reduce the incentive to jump in and out of investments quickly -- which is also destabilizing for U.S. companies and for other countries. The Wall Street Fairness Tax would be 0.25 percent of the value of a trade. Long-term investors would not feel the tiny tax because they are putting their money into a company for the long haul. You could even direct the revenue from the Wall Street Fairness Tax towards paying for single-payer health care or for a massive investment in public infrastructure. Let Bush veto this idea and then take the appeal to the country: Should Goldman Sachs be handing out $16 billion in bonuses to buy BMWs without a few cents going towards helping 48 million Americans get health care?

Stop the Fast Track Rolling Over American Workers -- One of the least talked about pieces of legislation coming up this year is the renewal of "fast track" trade authority. In English, this undemocratic power gives the president the right to negotiate trade agreements and present a deal to Congress for an up or down vote -- no amendments allowed. Talk about handcuffing the people who represent us. The votes probably exist to block any re-upping of fast track in the House. The Senate is the problem because so-called "free trade" has always had much broader support from Senate Democrats. It's this simple: fast-track authority is the lubricant that oils the shipping of jobs and capital abroad, and helps create misery for millions of workers around the globe. No union should support a candidate for president, or for re-election for any seat, who votes for fast-track. So, where do you stand, Sens. Biden, Clinton, Dodd and Obama?

Can You Say The Word "Union?" -- Will the Democrats fight hard to pass the Employee Free Choice Act? For at least half their waking hours, the American people live in a dictatorship. At home or in public places, Americans enjoy a measure of freedom and liberty envied by most people around the world: freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of association. But, the moment Americans walk through the doors of their workplace, they enter into a world that strips away all their basic rights. Within the walls of the workplace, the whim of the corporation is more powerful than the U.S. Constitution. The EFCA will help change that balance and allow a much fairer, more democratic process for workers who are seeking to unionize. Like "fast track," the challenge will be in the Senate, where the bill needs 60 votes to break a filibuster. Not easy -- but the party has to fight hard. And what the presidential aspirants do here should be closely watched by labor.

A New Club: Global Prosperity -- Far, far away in a land across the ocean, the forces of the Dark Side gather under the umbrella of the World Trade Organization. Led by the emperors of global corporations and their minions, the WTO enforces the global economic regime that has impoverished millions of people. We need to raze this organization and start fresh. We need Democratic Party champions who have the courage to propose a new organization called Global Prosperity. Such an organization would pay heed to the elections in South American countries like Ecuador and Bolivia where people voted largely to reject the WTO-driven economic model. Global Prosperity would be transparent, democratic and dedicated to driving wages up, fairly distributing economic wealth and encouraging development with an eye to safeguarding an environmentally groaning planet. And can we base Global Prosperity somewhere else besides bland, milquetoast Geneva? How about Asia or South America?

The Dollar And The Trade Deficit -- Most people understand that this is a big problem -- and getting worse. But, most of the solutions have focused on forcing other countries to do something, particularly China. It wouldn't be a bad thing to get China to re-evaluate its currency -- which would make imports from China more expensive. But, really, what we need is a lower dollar, which Congress can call for as a matter of national policy. Big corporations like Wal-Mart love a dollar that is high in value because they can, then, bring in goods from China and other low-wage countries at dirt cheap prices -- while exploiting people over there, too. Except if you're a tourist, regular people don't benefit from a high dollar. Sure, that Chinese-made shirt or electronic gadget might cost a few more dollars but isn't that worth it to avoid inevitably higher interest rates to pay off our foreign debt and lower living standards in the future?

Cut The Cash -- Anger over political corruption was a key reason the Republicans lost the House, and, frankly, the reason the Democrats lost the House in 1994. Repeat this mantra -- political corruption destroys a progressive agenda. A progressive agenda has no hope, long-term, without cutting off the mountains of campaign cash that keep legislators on the hook to corporate interests.

The Wal-Mart 22

Last week, I attended the screening of Robert Greenwald's new film, "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price." It is a great piece of investigative work that gives voice to the people and communities Wal-Mart has destroyed. You have to see it (or buy your own copy here). During the movie, I caught myself thinking: If you want to know why the Democratic Party will continue to be the minority party in the country, look no further than the raft of Democratic operatives and elected representatives who do the bidding of Wal-Mart.

Let's start by looking at what I call the Wal-Mart 22: The 22 Democrats who, on June 24, voted against an amendment to the 2006 fiscal year labor appropriations bill (offered by Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut). This bill barred any spending of money by the Department of Labor to implement the part of the deal the department had made with Wal-Mart calling for advance notice of inspections any time the DOL planned to investigate Wal-Mart. This is the deal that was recently heavily criticized by the department's inspector general.

That point bears repeating -- the federal government, the people who are supposed to protect citizens from corporate abuse, essentially said to perhaps the most notorious corporate law breaker in recent years, "when we come looking for wrongdoing in your company, we're going to tell you ahead of time."

Anyway, so who were the Wal-Mart 22?  Marion Berry, Ark., Sanford Bishop, Ga.; Dan Boren, Okla.; G. K. Butterfield, N.C.; James Clyburn, S.C.; Bud Cramer, Ala.; Henry Cuellar, Texas; Artur Davis, Ala., Diana DeGette, Colo.; Harold Ford, Tenn.; Charles Gonzalez, Texas; Ron Kind, Wis.; Jim Matheson, Utah; Dennis Moore, Kan.; Mike Ross, Ark.; John Salazar, Colo.; Vic Snyder, Ark.; John Tanner, Tenn.; Mike Thompson, Calif.; Bennie Thompson, Miss., Ed Towns, N.Y.; and Al Wynn, Md.

I note a few things about the Wal-Mart 22. A disturbing number of them were members of the Congressional Black Caucus (Bishop, Butterfield, Clyburn, Davis, Ford, Thompson, Town and Wynn). I know Harold Ford is running for the Senate and needs money. But why should any labor union give him a dime if he's protecting Wal-Mart, a company where not a single worker is a union member because of the company's virulently anti-union behavior?

And then up pop the names of Dennis Moore, Jim Matheson, Vic Snyder, Ed Towns, John Tanner and Henry Cuellar, six of the 15 Democrats who voted for the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Is there any more evidence needed that these six deserve to be booted from office via a challenge in the Democratic primary or, at least, not receive a dime from organized labor?

Let's tally up some other Democrats who are on the Wal-Mart dole: Matt Miller, a fellow at the Center for American Progress, is doing consulting work for Wal-Mart. Miller considers himself a Democrat and CAP, I believe, fancies itself as a rapid-response operation in opposition to the Republican idea- and-spin machine. Mia Masten, Wal-Mart's East Coast rep, is a former Clinton administration staffer (her post was special assistant to the senior adviser to the president for policy development). One of the Chicago Daley brothers, Michael, was hired by Wal-Mart to lobby for the zoning changes to clear the way for two new stores; as a local observer told me, when Daley's firm is hired, "it is a signal that his position is the one supported by the mayor, a very powerful signal." I could go on, but you get the point.

This is unconscionable, morally and politically. I think we all get the moral part -- I know many people are pretty hip to the way Wal-Mart rampages through our communities (if not, go to walmartwatch.com and get religion). But politically, this is dumb: if the Democratic Party can't be unified in opposition to the number-one economic enemy of the people, to the number-one enemy undermining any hope for a decent standard of living in the future, then, what exactly should people think the Democratic Party stands for? Why exactly should voters believe that Democrats have any more intention to challenge corporate power if the party is feeding at the Wal-Mart trough? And I do believe that, given the choice between Republicans and Republican-lite (the latter includes Democratic supporters of Wal-Mart or so-called "free trade" or both)  people will always vote for the real thing.

Labor has to ratchet up the cost of doing business for anyone cozying up to Wal-Mart. Here are my humble suggestions:

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An Embarrassment of Riches

We have a new caucus on Capitol Hill: the chazer caucus. For those of you who might not be hip, chazer is the Yiddish word for pig. As in, "Gee, that person has so much [fill in the blank], to grab for more is just being a chazer ."

Which brings me to a lead footsoldier in the chazer caucus, Republican Sen. Jon Kyl. Right after Labor Day, Kyl will attempt to bring to a vote a bill that would repeal the estate tax. When some really rich person croaks, their assets get transferred to their heirs, who, God forbid, have to pay taxes when the estate gets to a certain level.

The chazer caucus has been brilliant in framing the estate tax as a "death tax" hurting poor family farmers. But that turns out to be nonsense. As the good folks from OMB Watch point out, "An incredibly tiny number of family farms are actually impacted by the estate tax." A new report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that "if the current exemption level of $1.5 million per individual ($3 million for a couple) were in effect in 2000, then only 300 family farms would have had to pay any estate taxes. The report further estimates the number of family farms impacted would have dropped to a mere 65 farms nationwide with an exemption of $3.5 million ($7 million per couple), the level the exemption will be in 2009."

This tax hits only the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. The Coalition for America's Priorities underscores the fact that this tax hits a tiny portion of the population: "In 2001, over half of all estate taxes were paid by 3,502 people with estates larger than $5 million -- representing the top 0.14 percent of all Americans."

The estate tax stayed largely unchanged until 2001, when the current president took office. What's truly amazing is that the estate tax is supposed to disappear by 2010, and then be reinstated in 2011 -- as one of the gimmicks that was part of the Bush tax cuts.

And what's the cost of giving the richest Americans more cash? In the first 10 years, the U.S. Treasury will lose between $750 billion and one trillion dollars, forcing more cuts in education, Medicare and other key social programs -- not to mention piling on more debt for future generations. This is an unconscionable raid on the public treasury by people already benefiting from the Bush tax cuts.

It shows what a pickle we are in that the forces of light who are fighting complete repeal are suggesting one possible compromise. Instead of completely eliminating the estate tax, the compromise deal would raise the exempted estate tax to $3.5 million and $7 million for couples. But why compromise? Why shouldn't people sitting on several millions dollars be forced to pay the current tax on estates? One thing that we forget in the debate over taxes is that the wealth of the richest in our society is not a natural phenomena or due to pure skill -- society makes multi-billion dollar public investments in areas such as infrastructure and education that make it possible for the rich to pile up their wealth. Think of taxing estates as simply a modest payback for public services rendered -- the reason most people pay taxes on their paychecks.

The Republicans will probably hold all 55 of their chazer caucus supporters in line by simply demanding party loyalty, though there are some attempts being made to lean on John McCain, George Voinovich (Ohio), Lincoln Chafee (Rhode Island), Susan Collins (Maine), and Olympia Snowe (Maine) to buck Majority leader Bill Frist by arguing the fiscal insanity of letting millionaires get away with more money from the U.S. Treasury at a time of record deficits.

It's pretty certain that the Republicans also have three Democrats: Blanche Lincoln (Arkansas) and the Nelson boys. Bill Nelson (Florida) signed on as a co-sponsor of Sen. Jon Kyl's repeal bill; Lincoln has long been for full repeal and her pet policy is unlimited exemptions for farms and business, which is awful tax policy. Ben Nelson (Nebraska) gives as his excuse that he has a tough re-election next year -- but he's been off the reservation for a long time. So Frist already has 58 votes to end debate and crush a filibuster -- just two votes shy.

The other Democrats who apparently are most ripe to topple are: California's Dianne Feinstein, who is personally rich, so I guess this is her looking after her heirs; Mark Pryor, who sees this as a way to suck up to his home-state Arkansas Wal-Mart heirs; Evan Bayh, who has to court financial contributors for his presidential run; and Mary Landrieu, who won a close re-election in Louisiana thanks to the low-income black voters who will take the biggest hit from the repeal. By the way, Landrieu, Bayh and Pryor all voted for the bankruptcy bill earlier this year -- yet another bill that hurt average working families but helps the well-connected and powerful (in this case, the credit card industry).

What's striking to me is the complete inability of the Democratic side (read: Harry Reid) to demand party loyalty on this crucial issue and call for a solid vote against the repeal and for sustaining the filibuster. And if morality isn't enough of an argument, those considering joining the chazer caucus can seek solace in the public polls showing a majority of people against full repeal.

If Kyl can't get his full repeal past a filibuster, he's going to try another maneuver: a "compromise" bill, which would make permanent the exemption at $5 or $10 million but also drop the tax rate for the estates that have to pay to an effective rate of 6 percent -- similar to a sales tax. This is a back-door repeal because it would cost up to 93 percent of the full repeal proposal.

U.S. Action did an amazing chart, which shows us this: If the repeal passed, the $45 billion going back to the richest people in the country could provide health insurance for more than 22 million children. So there's the choice: more money for rich people or health coverage for children. To all the masses of people of faith, including those sanctimonious chazer caucus senators like Rick Santorum and Bill First, I ask: Wonder what Jesus would say on that?

Taking the Low Road

Big corporate mergers send the media into a frenzy, with reporters churning out copious copy ringing with talk of "synergy," battles between the CEOs and share prices. Yet, what's been left out of the recent reporting about the potential Comcast hostile takeover of Disney and Cingular's purchase of AT&T is an interesting contrast in how the mergers would affect the tens of thousands of workers of the four companies.

The short story is that, if Comcast succeeds in seizing control of Disney, Disney workers will face a far darker working future then those workers at AT&T who will come under new management at Cingular. I'm not going to argue that Disney is somehow a perfect employer. Far from it. Its unions aren't enamored with the company; for example, 1,300 workers at two Anaheim hotels are in a tussle with the company over wages and health care. And, abroad, Disney has not hesitated to use sweatshop subcontractors to churn out large quantities of merchandise, a fact well documented by the National Labor Committee.

But Disney does not pursue a knee-jerk anti-union policy. Indeed, it has agreed to so-called "card check," an important process that paves the way for fair union representation elections. As the name suggests, the workers literally sign a card that expresses support for the union; then, a neutral third party checks the cards, and, by previous agreement, if a majority indicate their support for the union, the employer recognizes the union and the parties sit down to bargain a contract over wages, benefits, job security and other issues.

Card check eliminates the campaign of intimidation that employers routinely embark upon during a union organizing drive. In the vast majority of union representation elections, pro-union workers (voters) are fired, they are threatened with the loss of their jobs, and they endure a steady stream of negative videos, forced meetings and written messages in their paychecks warning them of the dire consequences that await them if the union should win. That Disney has agreed to "card check" at unorganized worksites sets it apart from the vast majority of corporations and sends a message: As a company, we believe our workers should be able to exercise their choice about freedom of association and, if they choose a union, we will, then, respect that choice and negotiate with the union.

Comcast is the Wal-Mart of the telecommunications industry: Workers have no pensions, their wages and benefits are $16,000 lower than a comparable worker in the telecommunications industry and they have to pay more than $100 a month for family health care coverage, according to an analysis by the Communications Workers of America.

When Comcast acquired AT&T Broadband in 2001, it at first said it would abide by union contracts covering thousands of unionized employees and bargain in good faith. Instead, it embarked on a carefully orchestrated campaign to destroy the unions. For example, in Detroit, Comcast chopped off more than half the unionized workforce, moving dozens of jobs to a non-union facility. During organizing drives, Comcast has shelled out large sums of cash to high-priced union-busting law firms such as Seyfarth Shaw and Davis, Wright and Tremaine. The company has harshly disciplined unions supporters and fired some outright. They have repeatedly violated the law, drawing numerous charges filed before the National Labor Relations Board.

Cingular, on the other hand, has agreed to a broad card check provision. Its corporate philosophy sees the CWA as an important element of the company's daily existence. "The CWA is an important strategic partner for Cingular," said Lew Walker, vice president of human resources operations and labor relations for Cingular, when the company announced an expansion of the card check deal. "The agreement strengthens our current partnership-based relationship with CWA. We share mutual goals and values which will better enable us to continue to operate successfully in a very competitive environment." In a 2002 conference with telecommunications workers from around the world, then-Cingular CEO Stephen Carter said that, "One thing remains the same. The universal constant is people — people we serve and the good people who work with us and are dedicated to providing the best wireless service."

The deal has led to thousands of new Cingular workers being organized by CWA, evidence that when a company drops its relentless anti-union campaign, workers do vote in support of a union. By contrast, AT&T Wireless has had a much more traditionally hostile posture towards union organizing efforts, and has made fair elections impossible. The bottom line is that, while it is too soon to tell whether the Cingular-AT&T merger will lead to layoffs, the workers who will work for the new entity are likely to face a better environment.

So, mergers can either lead workers and management on a high-road approach, which recognizes that workers should have the right of freedom of association and that collective bargaining is an integral part of management's obligation to its workers, or it can lead to the low-road choice which reveres the wealth of executives over the collective good of workers — precisely the kind of short-sighted corporate culture that is at the heart of the doubts and fears about the economic future that are reverberating throughout the American workplace.

Jonathan Tasini is the national director of American Rights At Work.

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