A Corporate Power Grab is Underway, So Where's the Media?

If you need a good, doable New Year's resolution, try this: "I resolve to do my part this year to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership."

The what? Most people never heard of the TPP, but everyone who cares about good American jobs, an unpolluted environment, food safety, and other fundamentals – especially including our basic right to be a sovereign, self-governing people – should take a peek at this big nasty of a global trade scam. You'd find that the so-called 12-nation "partnership" actually has little to do with trade and everything to do with enthroning a plutocracy of global corporations over us. Rep. Keith Ellison has warned that TPP is the "largest corporate power grab you never heard of."

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How Runaway Economic Inequality and Racism Are Linked to Police Killings

On one level the story is simple: racism. Too many police officers fear people of color in the neighborhoods they patrol, and are likely to over-react with force during encounters. The local courts also engage in discrimination by failing to indict the killers, even when captured on video, as in the brutal police slaying of Eric Garner in Staten Island, NY. Both the policing and the court system obviously reflect the polarization of our communities, and our inability to escape the legacy of slavery, more than 150 years after emancipation.

But racism only accounts for part of the story. We also must understand how judicial racism and even police violence are deeply connected to the financialization of the economy and runaway inequality.

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Middle Class Issues Need to be De-Politicized

Political scientist Harold Laswell famously defined politics as “who gets what when and how.” This definition was intended to capture the connection between politics and power. Who gets what says something about who has power. When one gets what one wants says something about how important that individual or group is, and just how much power that person or group has. How the power is obtained says something about the individual’s or group’s strength. But this observation isn’t just about the power, but the allocation of resources in an environment where resources are otherwise scarce. In today’s economy, it can refer to the economic pie.

In a political system where scarce resources are to be distributed, various groups will compete to determine who gets what, how much they get, and under what circumstances they get it. This usually means that if one group derives benefits, others bear costs. Laswell’s formulation certainly tells us much about the nature of American politics. And yet, we learn more when qualified by later political scientist Theodore Lowi’s identification of three types of politics: regulation, distribution, and redistribution.

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Labor's New Reality -- It's Easier to Raise Wages for 100,000 Than to Unionize 4,000

Haltingly, with understandable ambivalence, the American labor movement is morphing into something new. Its most prominent organizing campaigns of recent years — of fast-food workers, domestics, taxi drivers and Wal-Mart employees — have prompted states and cities to raise their minimum wage and create more worker-friendly regulations. But what these campaigns haven't done is create more than a small number of new dues-paying union members. Nor, for the foreseeable future, do unions anticipate that they will.

Blocked from unionizing workplaces by ferocious management opposition and laws that fail to keep union activists from being fired, unions have begun to focus on raising wages and benefits for many more workers than they can ever expect to claim as their own. In one sense, this is nothing new: Unions historically have supported minimum wage and occupational safety laws that benefited all workers, not just their members. But they also have recently begun investing major resources in organizing drives more likely to yield new laws than new members. Some of these campaigns seek to organize workers who, rightly or wrongly, aren't even designated as employees or lack a common employer, such as domestic workers and cab drivers.

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Worker Coalitions and Organizing around Public Transit

Alicia Williamson

Alicia Williamson Writer, Editor

I first got involved in transit-related activism in 2010 through my support for organized labor. A major public funding gap threatened the solvency of Pittsburgh’s public mass transit system, and—in line with so many recent attacks we’ve seen on public-sector unions—the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) was taking the brunt of the blame for the projected 30% cut. The myth of the “overpaid” bus driver as an excuse and scapegoat for draconian government austerity measures was hardly unique to Pittsburgh (see, for example, Oregon, Madison, and New York). The gross exaggeration in such accounts of the $100K-per-year driver is beside the point. It’s a line of classist rhetoric that depends upon invoking a sense of meritocratic rage against decent compensation for workers who are perceived to be “unskilled.” Most frustratingly, it shows how easily workers can be divided against one another in a climate where most accept neoliberal economic scarcity as a given.

Pittsburghers for Public Transit (PPT) was founded as a coalition of riders and drivers to fight rampant layoffs, service cuts, fare hikes, and privatization while building solidarity among the working people who operate and use transit. Indeed, public transit is essential to Pittsburgh’s urban labor force, and over half of all workers in the city’s major employment centers use it for their daily commute, accounting for 86% of all ridership. Service cuts were tantamount to job losses not only for drivers but also for many riders. And yet, the same riders often did not see union drivers as allies in the fight to save their service, lower their fares, and improve the system as a whole.

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Should the World’s Largest Chemical Corporations Be Allowed to Attack States’ Chemical Safety Protections?

How would you feel about the U.S. government paying foreign corporations to keep cancer-causing chemicals out of your water bottles?

That is a risk we’d face under a sweeping U.S.-EU “trade” deal under negotiation – the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA), also known as TTIP.  As proposed, TAFTA would empower thousands of European firms – including chemical giants like BASF, Bayer, and Royal Dutch Shell – to bypass U.S. courts, go before extrajudicial tribunals and demand taxpayer compensation for U.S. policies – including chemical regulations.  

We depend on such regulations every day to keep toxic chemicals out of our food, toys, rivers, and clothes.  This past July, more than 100 organizations on both sides of the Atlantic sent a letter to TAFTA negotiators to warn against TAFTA’s threats to such commonsense protections:

Stricter controls (including restrictions on some or all uses) of hazardous chemicals – including carcinogens and hormone disrupting chemicals – are vital to protecting public health…EU and U.S. trade policy should not be geared toward advancing the chemical industry’s agenda at the expense of public health and the environment – but that appears to be exactly what is currently underway with TTIP.

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China’s Currency Manipulation “Sucks Wages Out Of Our Economy”

China’s Currency Manipulation “Sucks Wages Out Of Our Economy”

China’s currency manipulation and other illegal practices “suck wages out of our economy,” Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) said during a press call Thursday, citing the figure of a direct loss of $37 billion in reduced wages in 2011 alone.

It “becomes difficult to do economic development at a local level when our country’s trade policies put us at severe disadvantage and suck wages out of our communities,” Ryan said during the release of a new report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), titled “China Trade, Outsourcing and Jobs.”

EPI’s Rob Scott, who co-authored the report with Will Kimball, explained on the call that between 2001 and 2013 the massive growth of our country’s trade deficit with China has cost us 3.2 million U.S. jobs, 2.4 million (three-fourths) of which were in manufacturing. This trade deficit with China accounted for two-thirds of all manufacturing jobs lost in this period. We had 600,000 jobs gained from exports to China and 3.8 million lost to imports.

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Bargaining Power to the People

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

Bargaining Power to the People

Earlier this month, in the sparsely populated Kentucky county that’s home to Bowling Green, officials voted to convert the place into a right-to-work (for less) sinkhole.

The county officials did it at the bidding of big corporations. They certainly didn’t do it for their Warren County constituents because employees in right-to-work (for less) states get smaller paychecks than those in states that support the right to unionize. They did it at the demand of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Heritage Foundation, both of which are corporate owned and operated.

They did it despite the fact that there’s no evidence they have any legal authority to create an anti-union bastion on the county level, which means they’ve subjected the residents of Warren County to substantial costs for a legal battle that Warren is likely to lose.

Moving right-to-work (for less) from the state to the county level is the latest tactic in the relentless campaign by CEOs and corporations to reverse gains made by workers in the 1930s New Deal.With laws like the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), President Franklin D. Roosevelt and a Democratic Congress slightly moved toward workers the lopsided balance of power that heavily favors corporations. Over the next several decades, the middle class thrived and income inequality decreased substantially. Now, however, income inequality is back up to the point where it was in the robber baron days because CEOs and corporations have stuck their fat thumbs back on the scale. 

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America’s 10 Greediest: The 2014 Edition

America’s 10 Greediest: The 2014 Edition

How has the United States become so unequal? We need to look for answers, first and foremost, in our society’s underlying economic and political realities, at the policies and practices that let wealth concentrate — at the top — so intensely.

But we also ought to look at people, the real-life flesh-and-blood characters who make decisions that privilege the few over the many. These greedy souls love the shadows. Let’s shine some light — on this year’s greediest of them all.

May the greed we spotlight here help inspire the rest of us to do as much as we can, in 2015, to make our world a much more equal place.

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Thanks to Labor Board Ruling, You Can Now Use Company Email to Organize a Union

This week, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a decision and a rule that could make organizing a union significantly easier for American workers.

First, yesterday the Board recognized that email is one of the primary ways that workers communicate, and that its case law and election rules needed to reflect this reality. The NLRB issued a landmark decision in Purple Communications which opens the door to allowing workers to use employers’ email systems for union purposes—and admitted that it had misunderstood in previous cases how email works. In doing so, it overturned a Bush-era Board decision, Register Guard, which allowed employers to prohibit use of company email for non-work related purposes, including organizing and union purposes, unless the employer can show special circumstances that justify specific restrictions.

In the 2007 decision, the Labor Board analogized email to other employer equipment—such as bulletin boards, telephones, photocopiers and televisions—and found that the employer had a “basic property right to regulate and restrict employee use of company property.” In dissent, Members Liebman and Walsh criticized the Board, stating that the decision “confirms that the NLRB has become the Rip Van Winkle of administrative agencies. Only a Board that has been asleep for the past 20 years could fail to recognize that e-mail has revolutionized communication both within and outside the workplace.”

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Trying to Teach Ethics to Congress Critters

Do you – or anyone – really need a book of rules and a three-hour briefing on ethics in order to do your job ethically?

If you're a congress critter, apparently so, for that's what newly-elected members of the new Congress that'll convene in January have just received. Nearly all of the newcomers rode to victory on a tsunami of inherently-corrupting corporate cash, but now they're being instructed in a crash course on Capitol Hill ethics – not learning how to be ethical, but how to avoid ending up being investigated, indicted, or... in jail.

You see, in the rarefied air of Washington, one can be blatantly unethical, as long as your behavior has not technically been declared illegal. It's a fine line, so this latest class of special-interest lawmakers were eager learners.

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Even With a GOP Congress, Obama Could Still Defend American Workers. Here’s How.

David Moberg

David Moberg Senior Editor, In These Times

After the Republican mid-term election victories last November, labor unions and other worker advocates can expect virtually nothing but trouble from Congress over the next two years. With their ongoing attempts to undermine the National Labor Relations Board and the strong likelihood that they will bury any effort to increase the minimum wage, the Republicans’ grand plan calls for fewer rights and no pay increase for the working poor.

But the Obama administration may be able to execute an end-run around the GOP and fix some of the big problems facing workers if it wants to—especially those in low-wage, non-union jobs. Obama can veto whatever horrible measures Congress puts on his desk, and he can use several tools such as executive orders, drafting tougher rules to implement legislation more effectively, and demanding more vigorous action on labor law enforcement. 

The president has been increasingly exercising his executive powers. In one of his first major actions after the election, for example, he issued an executive order curbing deportation of undocumented immigrants. Last July, Obama issued the “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces” executive order, which sets up a procedure to identify and screen out or reform federal contractors with serious histories of labor law violations. Earlier that month, he banned discrimination against gay workers by federal contractors, and in February 2014 he used his executive power to set a $10.10 minimum wage for all federal contract employees.

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How “Citibank Budget” Push Foreshadows “Fast Track” For Trade Deals

It is worth examining how the process was rigged to push that budget deal through Congress over the weekend that contained Citibank-written derivative deregulation and all kinds of other goodies for the rich and powerful. That’s because the “cromnibus” formula will be formalized in the next big deal, in a process called “fast track.”

Congress passed the “cromnibus” (continuing resolution for omnibus budget) right at the deadline for another government shutdown. (After they extended the deadline, actually.) The budget contained a Citibank-written provision that undoes some Dodd-Frank Wall Street regulations. It authorizes a cut in many people’s pensions by up to 60 percent, severely cuts the IRS budget and its ability to collect taxes, dramatically expanded the ability of big money to influence elections, reduced the EPA’s authority, and included many other provisions that could not have passed in the light of day. This budget “deal” was pushed through Congress using a rigged process that kept representative democracy from stopping it.

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The Flacks for Plutocrats Need a New Analogy

A rising tide lifts all boats. A growing economic pie means bigger slices for everybody. Wealth that flows to the top will always trickle down.

Cheerleaders for wealth’s concentration have over the years invoked a variety of images to justify the ever larger fortunes of our society’s most fortunate. These images all rest on a single economic assumption: that letting wealth accumulate in the pockets of a few grows an economy’s capacity for investment and ultimately, as investments create jobs, leaves everybody better off.

That assumption has dominated mainstream economics for generations. But that’s changing. Even mainline economic institutions are these days challenging the notion that good fortune for the few eventually and automatically translates into better fortune for the many. The latest of these institutions to chime in: the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), the official economic think tank for the developed world.

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