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InZane Times: Declare Independence from Corporate Rule

An American flag festooned with dollar bills and corporate logos flies in front of the Supreme Court during oral arguments in the case of McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission.  Image by JayMallin.com

An American flag festooned with dollar bills and corporate logos flies in front of the Supreme Court during oral arguments in the case of McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission.
Image by JayMallin.com

I wrote this for the Governing Under the Influence blog.

In 1776, the signers of the Declaration of Independence stated that government derives its “just powers from the consent of the governed.” But in these days of rising escalating economic inequality, unlimited campaign spending, and a multibillion-dollar lobbying industry mostly devoted to corporate interests, the consent of the governed often seems irrelevant in the corridors of power. 

“Governing under the Influence” or “GUI.”  That’s what we call the interconnected web of campaign spending, lobbying, and revolving doors between Capitol Hill, lobbying firms, think tanks, and the Pentagon that feed private interests at the expense of public good.

Governing under the Influence can be seen at work in how public officials spend our taxpayer dollars. Let’s look at U.S. military spending, for example. Since President Eisenhower coined the phrase, the “military-industrial complex” has grown to include outsourcing of government surveillance, transforming the U.S.-Mexico border into a war zone, converting police into paramilitary forces, and turning over the military’s own core functions to private contractors.  

Lockheed Martin is a prime example of corporate influence on public policy. The corporation is the Pentagon’s top contractor. It spends over $14 million a year on lobbying, and its employee PAC (political action committee) raises another $4 million for campaign contributions. Lockheed’s 71 registered lobbyists include a former US Senator and 2 former US Representatives, one of whom chaired the committee which oversees the DOE’s nuclear weapons budget.

Norman Augustine, the corporation’s former CEO, is now co-chair of a government panel on nuclear weapons that has called for relaxed oversight of weapons labs and more lucrative contracts for private companies, such as Lockheed, that run them.   (See “Nuclear Weapons Complex: Foxes Guard Chickens.”)  The current CEO, Marillyn Hewson, sits on the International Advisory Board of The Atlantic Council, a think tank with close ties to the military and foreign policy elite.    

What does Lockheed Martin get from its investment and connections? More than $25 billion in government contracts every year. Lockheed is the primary contractor on the F-35 fighter plane, the most expensive weapons system in Pentagon history, and it also runs the Sandia nuclear weapons lab in New Mexico.  According a report of the Department of Energy’s Inspector General, released last November, Lockheed has illegally used funds from nuclear weapons contracts to lobby for more contracts.  (See “Nuclear weapons lab used taxpayer funds to obtain more taxpayer funds” from the Center for Public Integrity for details.)

This may be business as usual in Washington, and sometimes it’s easier to shrug our shoulders and give in to the thinking that this system will never change.

But something is bubbling up in Iowa and New Hampshire, where the first contests for the 2016 presidential nominations will take place. There, the Governing Under the Influence (GUI) project is reminding candidates that the interests of the people must come first.

With seven months to go before the Iowa caucuses, we’ve already trained more than 500 volunteers to “bird dog” candidates about the excessive corporate influence that drives our country toward more wars, more prisons, and more violence. Our team of volunteers is at town halls, fairgrounds, living rooms, TV studios, city sidewalks—anywhere candidates appear—to ensure these issues get the attention they deserve. 

The GUI project isn’t partisan; it’s not about ranking the candidates or telling anyone how they should vote. It’s about shifting the political discourse by exposing forces that steer us in the wrong direction. And we’ve already seen results, drawing out responses from close to 20 candidates and garnering attention from media outlets like the Boston Globe, Fox News, and Huffington Post.

This Fourth of July, join us in declaring independence from corporate rule.  If “just powers” come from the consent of the governed, the GUI project may be just the thing to bring about change.

“America Out Of Whack” By Arnie Alpert of InZane Times

Writing in the New York Times, Thomas Edsall assembles an impressive array of facts that illuminate the realities of wealth inequality in America.  

Citing Federal Reserve figures, Edsall reports that household net worth, corporate profits, and the value of real estate have been going up at an impressive pace.  If you think that sounds like evidence of recovery you’d be mistaken, at least if you equate “recovery” with economic conditions that are improving for most workers.   

“The September Federal Reserve Bulletin graphically demonstrates how wealth gains since 1989 have gone to the top 3 percent of the income distribution,” he writes.  “The next 7 percent has stayed even, while the bottom 90 percent has experienced a steady decline in its share.”

It’s not just wealthy individuals getting wealthier; it’s also the corporations they own and run.    Citing statistics from Goldman Sachs, Edsall says corporate profits rose five times faster than wages last year.  And he quotes an article from Business Insider that stated,

“America’s companies and company owners — the small group of Americans who own and control America’s corporations — are hogging a record percentage of the country’s wealth for themselves.”

Edsall asks, “Why don’t we have redistributive mechanisms in place to deploy the trillions of dollars in new wealth our economy has created to shore up the standard of living of low- and moderate-income workers, to restore financial stability to Medicare and Social Security, to improve educational resources and to institute broader and more reliable forms of social insurance?”

It’s the right question. 

For answers he turns to a bunch of economists, who provide data about tax rates, labor force participation, the declining growth of well-paying jobs, globalization, and the reduction of labor’s share of profit relative to capital in a time of rising productivity.  

My answer is a bit more straightforward:  America’s companies and company owners — the small group of Americans who own and control America’s corporations — are hogging the political system.  This is nothing new, but in the legal environment created by recent Supreme Court decisions (Citizens United and McCutcheon in particular) it is becoming easier for corporate interests to wage class war and win.  Simply put, the people who make the laws and set the policies have their receptors tuned to the frequency where the corporations are broadcasting. 

Edsall notes survey data that reveal corporations are not so popular in the USA and other so-called “advanced countries.”   He asks if the legitimacy of free market capitalism in America is facing fundamental challenges.

My gut response is to say “I hope so.”  But the dynamics described by all those economists are not the workings of “the invisible hand.”  The market is operating under a set of rules established by those who already have more than their fair share of power, wealth, and privilege.  The legitimacy of our corporate-directed political system that must be challenged as well.


Fosters Editorial Board Puts Workers After The Almighty Dollar!

Workers vs greedI am sick to my stomach of this anti-union rhetoric that puts worker’s safety and financial security against a corporation’s freedom (or should I say greed).  This idea that workers should be paid the least amount possible to maximize company profits, is fed by the right wing ‘free-market’ idealists.  It is corporate greed and nothing more.

Take for example this recent editorial (Don’t just whine, compete) from Fosters Daily Democrat, one of the biggest right-wing loudmouths in a very small state.

The editorial is about how Boeing and the International Association of Machinists (IAM), are unable to come to an agreement for a new contract for building the new Boeing 777X.

The editor writes, “That term — compete — is what unions conveniently tend to overlook.”

The editor also explains a little about what the ‘deals’ Boeing is being offered by the state, and what Boeing is offering to their workers.

From the state, Boeing is looking for tax breaks and infrastructure spending.”  What Fosters is not telling you is the details of the deal with the state.  According to Reuters, the package on the table in Washington state is: $8 billion in tax incentives plus another $10 billion in transportation infrastructure.

Why would the State of Washington pony up $18 billion dollars in incentives to Boeing?  Jobs, Jobs, Jobs!  The state understands that if you have high paying jobs in your community the local economy will benefit the most.  High paid workers have more disposable income and that means more money at local shops, restaurants, and businesses.

The problem is that Boeing is trying to push their unionized workers down yet again.  They want more and more from the workers, so Boeing can put more and more in their greedy pockets.  Fosters puts it very mildly:

From the union, Boeing wants to restructure health care coverage and move from a defined-benefit pension system to a 401(k)-style defined-contribution plan.”

Workers sent a very strong message to both Boeing and their elected leaders that this type of deal is unacceptable.

You would expect this type of demand for concessions from companies that are just scrapping by or even upside down.  Boeing is not even close to that.

Boeing’s third-quarter sales increased by 13 percent to $20 billion from $17.7 billion a year earlier.” (NY Times)

Boeing reported net income of $3.9 billion for 2012, down 3% from a net profit of $4.02 billion in 2011 [due to a $2 billion dollar income tax change], on an 18.9% rise in revenue to $81.7 billion.” (Air Transport World)

Why should workers be forced to pay more for healthcare and more towards their retirement as the corporation rakes in billions in profits from an 18% increase in revenue? Who benefits from the $4 billion dollars in profits? Wall Street, and the corporate executives.  The problem is that Wall Street does not buy clothes, or go out to dinner on Main Street.  The rich get richer, while Main Street goes bankrupt from a lack of consumers.

Fosters also punches at unions by stating: “Construction of the Manchester Jobs Corp Center was held up for years due to demands the project be bid out under terms favorable to unions and which would siphon off more taxpayer money.”

I think that Fosters has conveniently forgotten the fact that the project was held up for two years by the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) and our former Republican Congressman Frank Guinta.  It is an easy mistake to make, blame the entire unionized workforce for wanting better working conditions and fair pay, or blame one Congressman for holding up the entire project.

It was Congressman Guinta who through a ‘hissy fit’ in Washington about the Project Labor Agreement (Read NHLN post). Without his objections, the project would have been completed by now, and workers would already be benefiting from their new training center.  The ABC was so happy with then Congressman Guinta’s anti-union, anti-Project Labor Agreement positions that ABC gave him their highest award of the year.

For the Fosters editors, workers do not matter, the truth does not matter, and the only thing that matters is their insatiable lust for money.

‘Made In America’ Is The Focus Of The New Movie “AMERICAN MADE MOVIE”

American_Made_Movie_RGB_no-creditsThere is no doubt that American manufacturing has suffered a significant decline in the last few decades.  This drop in our manufacturing base was a big factor leading to the current economic downturn.

What caused this reduction in American manufacturing?  Most of it can be attributed to the offshoring of jobs.  Manufacturers are taking advantage of free trade agreements and low-wage workers in foreign countries.  Vulture capitalists on Wall Street helped push manufacturers to move overseas to increase their profits.  The effect of reducing our manufacturing base is becoming increasingly obvious.

“So when you think about it, this loss in manufacturing jobs is kind of the backbone that broke that has caused this incredible unemployment in this country.”

— Gilbert Kaplan a trade lawyer with King & Spalding.

After World War II, the United States made up almost 50% of the global economy.  This number continued to grow all the way through the 1970s, with American manufacturing industries employing over 19 million people.  After 1979, offshoring pushed 8 million of those workers out of a job.   Since 2001, more than 50,000 American factories have closed their doors – leaving workers stranded.

“When you as an economy get rid of your manufacturing base, the results are very cataclysmic. You have a domino effect of decline that starts to affect everybody in every industry.”

— Chris Michalakis – Metro Detroit AFL-CIO, President

This is the basis of a new movie that will be hitting a theater near you very soon.

“The American Made Movie” focuses on the decline of our manufacturing base.  It takes an in-depth look at how we lost so many good jobs, and how companies are reviving Made in America.

“By revealing the successes of companies that have prospered without adopting the practices of their competitors, American Made Movie shows the positive impact manufacturing jobs have on national and local economies, aiding them in the face of great challenges. The livelihood of our country depends on understanding how we can maintain the American Dream while competing in a global economy.”

The film’s director and producer, Nathaniel Thomas McGill, knows this story first-hand.  Growing up, he watched as factory after factory closed their doors, costing his family members their jobs as mechanics and assembly line workers.  Co-director Vincent Vittorio has a family background in Detroit’s auto industry.

The movie focuses on what manufacturers are doing now to help expand the “Made in America” movement.  The movie highlights Boston-based New Balance.

“What the country is realizing now is that making things is important. The reason making things is important is because it employs a lot of people, it gives you expertise that other markets want, and it teaches you to innovate.”
— New Balance CEO Robert DeMartini

Some companies have realized that making products in America is beneficial in two ways:

  • It helps to rebuild our economy by employing local workers and putting much-needed funds into our local economy.
  • ”Made in the USA” is also a very profitable marketing niche.  Consumers want to support companies that are employing American workers; and the “Made in the US” logo lets people know that their money is going to fellow Americans.

“This idea that we have to make things in this country is back,” said Scott Paul, President of the Alliance for American Manufacturing.

We asked Co-director Vincent Vittorio where we could see the new movie.  He said the movie premiered in the Atlanta metro area and Chicago Labor Day weekend.  It will premiere in New York City and Los Angeles on Friday, September 6th.  Following that, it will be rolled out to several different cities coast to coast.

Title_Block_background(Below is the official trailer to ‘American Made Movie’)

American Made Movie (Trailer) from Life Is My Movie on Vimeo.

The Outrageous Truth About A $12 Minimum Wage And Your Grocery Bill

Every time I even mention the idea of raising the minimum wage, I am immediately attacked on social media.

Opponents imagine that inflation will skyrocket; some have even claimed that ‘milk will be $10.00 a gallon’ if we raise the minimum wage. Oh, the hysteria. Milk is currently around $3.50 a gallon and that is up 25% from just ten years ago. Is that 25% due to rising wages? Sadly, no – wages in America have declined during that time. Must be some other economic force at work. (Read “Even Dairy Farming has a 1%” here.)

So, what if we raised the floor to a living wage, and paid non-tipped employees a minimum wage of $12.00 per hour? Oh, more hysteria. Opponents claim that will drive our costs up so much we will be unable to eat!

Let’s look at a few facts about minimum wage.

Who gets paid minimum wage? People opposed to raising the wage claim that ‘minimum wage workers are kids in high school; adults do not make minimum wage’. The fact is 25% of minimum wage workers are below the age of 19 – which means that 75% of all minimum wage earners are above the age of 20. That means they’re adults – not high school kids. In fact, almost half of all minimum-wage earners are above the age of 25.

Another fact: under the current minimum wage, a full time worker makes only $15,500 per year – before taxes.

Another fact: 64% of all minimum wage earners are women. Of that a whopping 66% are women above the age of 20.

Another fact: More than a third of minimum wage workers (35.8 percent) are married, and over a quarter (28.0 percent) are parents. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that if Congress raised the minimum wage, it would raise the standard of living for more than 21 million children.

The UC Berkley Labor Center studied the effects of raising the minimum wage to $12.00 per hour. They specifically looked at the nation’s largest employer, Walmart.

Walmart employs about 2.2 million peoplealmost 2% of America’s workers, these days.

If the minimum wage is raised to $12.00 an hour, 37% of Walmart employees would see a raise ranging from $3,200 (part-time workers) to $6,500 (full-time workers). Another 14.6% would see a raise between $1,670-$2,640 per year.

Impact of Raises on Wal Mart WorkersOpponents claim ‘pay raises like that are unrealistic and unsustainable’. They claim ‘Walmart would go bankrupt having to pay that much for labor.’

But that’s completely wrong. According to the UC Berkeley study, increasing the minimum wage to $12.00 an hour would add only $3.21 billion to Walmart’s annual labor costs. To put that in perspective:

Giving all those workers a pay increase might cut Walmart’s profit margin by 20% – but it certainly won’t bankrupt the company.

Now, let’s assume that Walmart passed every penny of the minimum wage increase onto customers, rather than taking it out of profits or dividends. What would that mean to consumers? The average customer would see an increase of $12.49 per year – about 46 cents per visit – if Walmart executives passed the total cost along, rather than cutting their profits.

FOURTY-SIX CENTS per visit would ensure that all Walmart’s workers are paid a living wage.

Annual Cost Per Shopper

Annual Cost Per Shopper

That’s a lot less than the increase in the price of milk.

Would it be worth it, to help the nearly 4 million Americans who are currently working at or below minimum wage? Even if corporate executives pass the total cost along to consumers, rather than taking some of it out of their dividends. I think so.


A closer look at Walmart’s dividend payments: corporate “insiders” own more than half of Walmart’s stock. Once again, the people who run the company personally benefit from decisions about profits paid out as dividends.

For example, Walmart Director Jim Walton owns 10.5 million shares of the company. This year, the company paid out $1.88 per share in dividends. That means Director Walton received more than $19.7 million in dividends (which are taxed at about half the rate as executive salaries).

Walmart President and CEO Michael Duke owns about 1.2 million shares of the company – that means he personally received about $2 million in dividend income this year.

All that money to corporate executives. And some people claim Walmart can’t afford to give raises to its workers?


LTE: ‘Fox’ The Debt; Corporations Pushing For Cuts To Social Security and Medicare

NHLN Editors note: This is an LTE from Caroline French of Dover, talking about the Fix The Debt Campaign.

‘Fox’ the Debt?

To the editor:

Peter G. Peterson is a Wall Street billionaire who has been using his money for years trying to slash earned benefit programs such as Social Security and Medicare. Fix the Debt is his latest trick to attack seniors. He loves to go after Social Security and Medicare under the pretense of fixing the nation’s “debt problem.” He has spent millions of his own dollars trying to make sure that rich people stay rich.

Blowing the cover on Fix the Debt should be a goal of every senior citizen in New Hampshire. Fight back. Tell Republicans and Democrats alike who support this trick the truth about your earned benefits and the evil doers who want to take your earned benefits away.

The debt will be fixed by a strong economy, job growth and making things in this country again. The word “fox” used as a verb means to trick. These Fix the Debt people are trying to fox the debt on the backs of Social Security and Medicare.

Caroline L. French



Also published by Fosters

Great Video From Yahoo Finance On Why We Need Unions

“The pendulum has swung to far to the side of business owners.”

This is the main message of this short video from YAHOO Finance.  The commentators talk about why we need unions especially in this economy.

Companies are making more money than ever and workers are making less than ever. Sound familiar?

Please watch this video and then share it!

For-Profit Health Care – Using Every Trick In The Book To Benefit The 1%

The corporate agenda has been crushing our economy in New Hampshire and throughout the country.  Corporations have yeilded record profits and workers have been struggling to pay their bills due to flat wages.  One of the biggest expenses for NH workers is health care, and now we are finding that our local hospitals are playing the same profit games.

Yesterday’s New York Times took an in-depth look at HCA (Hospital Corporation of America), which owns Portsmouth Regional Hospital, Portsmouth Regional Ambulatory Surgery Center, Parkland Medical Center (Derry) and Salem Surgery Center.

The Times’ analysis showed that

Profits at the health care industry giant HCA, which controls 163 hospitals from New Hampshire to California, have soared, far outpacing those of most of its competitors.

The big winners have been three private equity firms — including Bain Capital, co-founded by Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate — that bought HCA in late 2006.

HCA’s robust profit growth has raised the value of the firms’ holdings to nearly three and a half times their initial investment in the $33 billion deal.

Read the story here.

Last week, the Times reported on allegations that doctors at HCA hospitals were performing unnecessary cardiac procedures – and then billing Medicare, Medicaid and private insurers for the services.  According to the article, HCA “declined to provide evidence that it had alerted Medicare, state Medicaid or private insurers of its findings, or reimbursed them for any of the procedures that the company later deemed unnecessary, as required by law.”  Read last week’s Times story here.

Unnecessary medical procedures… and “robust” profit growth.

This isn’t the first time HCA has faced questions about its medical practices.  In 2003, the corporation paid a record fine of $1.7 billion for “false claims the government alleged it submitted to Medicare and other federal health programs.”  Read more  here.

But the corporation’s CEO, Rick Scott, was never charged.

A whistleblower in the Columbia/HCA fraud case said Rick Scott should have known of billing practices at his hospitals that cheated the federal government out of millions of dollars.  “He was a fairly hands-on CEO,” said John Schilling, a former reimbursement supervisor in the Fort Myers division office. “He should have known being CEO of a multibillion-dollar company. He should have known what is on his balance sheet.”

Read the Naples Daily News story here.

And now, Rick Scott is the Governor of Florida, overseeing the state’s Medicaid program.  How does that work?  Read the Miami Herald story “Scott’s Medicaid overhaul plan benefits HCA hospitals” here.

“Robust” profits, indeed.

Governor Scott is scheduled to be one of the speakers at the Republican National Convention later this month.

Is there any chance he’ll give an “insider’s perspective” on the health care system, and what’s really wrong with it?


Washington Won’t Save The Labor Movement, It Is Up To All Of Us.

The recent Supreme Court ruling on “Citizens United” just about slams the door on free speech for those who can’t afford it. As Bill Moyers so succinctly put it “this gives ordinary citizens laryngitis”. That goes for unions too. You now need a super pac to be heard. Super pacs will drown out any other voice.

A recent example of that was a story out of California rallying against a public sector worker who retired at 62 with a $272.000 dollar a year pension. Public sector workers came under immediate attack as having had too generous a pension system when in fact the pension system was way underfunded. Unfortunately what was missed by the reporter was that this worker didn’t even belong to the union and was actually a state executive. They created a perception that union pensions were destroying our towns.  The truth was never reported. Unions will continue to be the whipping boy in this upcoming election by the right wing super pacs so hold onto your hat. Politicians cow tow to the corporate connected conservative base who, secretively, fund these pacs.

The surge of the union movement in this country was not a political movement but a social movement. There was little help from Washington. It does not appear now that we are going to be able to vote our way out of this mess we find ourselves in. There is a tiny percentage of Americans sitting at the top who are pillaging America. The unions need to identify them and go after them. They have pitted private sector workers against public sector workers by crushing private sector unions. Unions held the moral high ground when they were the champions of economic justice. When a strike occurred nobody crossed that picket line because the workers were right. Public sector unions, who are the strength of the labor movement right now, have to show that demonizing public sector workers is now the final goal for corporate America.

Washington is not going to save the labor movement. We can go out with a roar and possibly rebuild the labor movement through massive demonstrations very much like Occupy Wall Street has done to show financial irresponsibility on the part of the banking industry. People not politicians built the labor movement. I was recently in Minneapolis and participated in a spontaneous demonstration of thousands of letter carriers marching on Verizon. We were protesting Verizon for not bargaining in good faith with their workers. You did not need press coverage. Every worker in downtown Minneapolis was cheering and hooting in appreciation of outside workers supporting Verizon workers in their plight. That has to happen everywhere!

Education Votes Works To Stop Corporate Tax Loopholes

If you follow this blog regularly you know that education is one of our top priorities.  I have three children of my own and their education is very important to me. As a taxpayer funding that education is also very important to me.  One of the biggest problems facing our public education system is how do we continue to support our education system with the necessary resources.

This year we saw massive cuts in funding from the state level in an effort to be “fiscally responsible”.  This increased tuition costs at the University of NH as well as the community colleges.  Many of us also saw a noticeable increase in our property taxes that was caused by lack of funding to the town.  We need to ensure that our elected officials to stand up for the middle class.  We need to close corporate loopholes that are underfunding our national budget.

Education Votes has started a petition to bring attention to the corporate tax loopholes. So “whether you’re an educator, a parent, or a citizen concerned about building a strong middle class” you need to sign this petition.   They have also created a great video showing how these loopholes are hurting our public education.  Help spread the word by sharing this video as well.

Sign the Petition Here

Petition Reads:

Dear Elected Officials,
I urge you to stand up for the middle class and support closing corporate tax loopholes at the federal and state level, so that additional resources can be invested in public education and other services that build our communities.
Corporate tax loopholes are costing our schools and communities resources that would help the next generation achieve the American Dream. At a time when middle class Americans and small businesses are suffering, large, multi-national corporations are earning record profits and paying little to no money in taxes that are intended to support the communities where they do business.
Instead of robbing children of opportunities and services they need to succeed, corporations must invest in future generations by paying their fair share.
  • At the federal level, support revenue positive corporate tax reform by closing the seven largest corporate tax loopholes, which would provide an estimated $1.487 trillion in additional revenues over the next ten-years.
  • At the state level, support legislation that keeps corporations from shifting profits to low-tax burden states and require full disclosure of state and local incentives to corporations to ensure they pay their fair share to the states and communities where they do business.

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