02 Apr 2014

McCutcheon Ruling Requires Americans to Reclaim Democracy

Today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission strikes a devastating blow at the very foundation of our democracy. This is truly a decision establishing plutocrat rights. The Supreme Court today holds that the purported right of a few hundred superrich individuals to spend outrageously large sums

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28 Jun 2012

We Still Need Medicare-for-All

It will take some time to digest the Supreme Court’s decision today, but it appears to have averted some terrible jurisprudence that might have very seriously restricted the government’s overall ability to regulate the economy and protect citizens. In upholding most of the Affordable Care Act, the Supreme Court lets

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01 Jun 2012

The Transparently Secretive Chamber of Commerce

Well, the Big Business guys are transparent about one thing: They can’t stand the idea of the public holding them to account for their attempts to buy elections and influence policy, or even that they be prevented from corrupting the government contracting process through campaign spending. The latest: They are

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23 May 2012

Learning from Facebook

Whether or not you’re an investor, it’s important to grasp the significance of what’s happened with the Facebook initial public offering (IPO). In the few days since its IPO, Facebook’s stock price has fallen almost 20 percent amidst news that underwriters led by Morgan Stanley and perhaps Facebook itself shared

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09 Apr 2012

Corporate Greed or Healthy Babies?

Fact Number One: Exclusive breastfeeding for at least six months is best for infants and new mothers. Fact Number Two:  Hospital giveaways of infant formula samples to new mothers reduce the amount and length of breastfeeding. Given these two facts, why would hospitals serve as marketing agents for infant formula

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13 Feb 2012

Eric Cantor’s Wall Street Insider Trading Loophole

Sometimes, public outrage bubbles up, and forces Congress to take action to advance the public interest. The Big Business interests who normally count on the legislative process operating according to plan lose control. And that’s when they really set to work. And it’s when the public interest advocates and the

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04 Jan 2012

Pity Poor Newt Gingrich

Pity poor Newt Gingrich. Alright, I admit it’s hard to muster much pity for Gingrich. Still, he now stands as not the first, but the most recent, prominent victim of the Supreme Court’s abysmal decision in Citizens United v. FEC. So if you don’t have any sympathy for Gingrich, at

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17 Jun 2011

Excessive Oil Speculation: Wall Street’s Tax on Us

Where are the anti-tax activists when you need them?

They should be protesting outside of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, denouncing the agency for failing to take action. And they should be applauding a new legislative proposal by Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Right now, Wall Street speculators are imposing an enormous tax on consumers, and the overall economy.

Where are the anti-tax activists?

There’s no question that illegal, collusive activity is far too frequent in energy markets. But the much bigger problem is legal speculation.

Wall Street speculation in oil and energy markets is jacking up the price of oil, and thereby siphoning money from the pockets and pocketbooks of consumers.

Even Goldman Sachs suggests that legal speculation may be adding 65-70 cents to the price of a gallon of gasoline. Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson says supply-and-demand fundamentals suggest the price of oil should be $65-$70 a barrel, about a third less than the current price. Experts from the home heating oil industry believe even the $65 figure is too high.

The speculation component of the price of gasoline is exactly like a tax on consumers.

Except that it is the worst kind of tax imaginable.

A government imposed-tax on oil or carbon would go to the U.S. Treasury, for use to advance public purposes, such as investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency. By contrast, the proceeds of this Wall Street-imposed tax are going to Wall Street interests, giant oil companies and foreign oil interests. Wall Street gamblers are benefiting from the higher prices in oil markets. The higher prices of oil – which have nothing to do with the cost of drilling or refining – are driving Big Oil’s profits to the stratosphere. The formula for success for Exxon, Chevron, BP and the rest is simple: keep costs constant and reap the profits from prices driven higher by oil speculators. Foreign oil interests get the same benefits – at the expense of worsening the U.S. trade deficit.

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28 Apr 2011

Corporate America’s War On Political Transparency

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Save democracy fight corporate fascism by Nney, on Flick"]Save democracy fight corporate fascism[/caption]

It’s a modest notion.

Companies that bid for government contracts should disclose their campaign spending, in order to diminish the likelihood that contracts are a payoff for political expenditures.

The Obama administration has indicated that it plans to impose such a rule, through an executive order. Ideally, the rule would prohibit contractors and lobbyists from campaign spending, but a disclosure standard is a very positive if modest step.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the trade association for big business, however, takes a somewhat different view.

“We will fight it through all available means,” Bruce Josten, the chief lobbyist for the Chamber, told the New York Times. “To quote what they say every day on Libya, all options are on the table.”

Other business lobbyists use less charged rhetoric* but echo Josten’s stridency. “The President and his administration seem to be using the executive order powers for political purposes,” says John Engler, president of the Business Roundtable, an association of major company CEOs. “The suggestion that federal procurement choices are the result of contributions is being seen as discouraging free speech by intimidating business donors.”

Gosh, is it really a stretch to suggest that contractors think political donations help them obtain contracts? Did Lockheed really spend $16 million on campaign contributions over the last two decades — divided fairly evenly between the two major parties (55-45 split for Republicans) — for any other reason? Heck, the company spent $60 million over just the last five years on lobbying, primarily to affect how the government spends money.

This is a case — there have been precious few — where the President is going head to head with the Big Business lobby. It’s up to us to help him stand strong for what’s right. Urge President Obama to ignore the business pressure and issue the executive order requiring disclosure of contractors’ election expenditures

The need for such action is directly traceable to the Supreme Court’s decision Citizens United v. FEC, which lifted restrictions on political spending by corporations, and paved the way for companies to make massive expenditures from their general treasuries to influence election outcomes. While companies are prohibited from making direct contributions to federal candidates, and while direct contributions from individual managers and employees of companies and their political action committees are publicly reported, it remains nearly impossible to trace most of the corporate political spending designed to curry favor and access with government officials. After Citizens United, corporations can now easily make secret and unlimited donations directly out of their corporate treasuries to “front” organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that then use the money for campaign expenditures.

Not only did Citizens United badly damage the functioning of our democracy, it invited a major uptick in corruption narrowly defined.

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01 Mar 2011

On Wisconsin and America

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Wisconsin State Capital by theavonne, on Flickr"]Wisconsin State Capital[/caption]

We are now having a major dispute about what kind of society America should be.

Right now, the flashpoint in this controversy is Wisconsin, where tens of thousands of people are demonstrating every day in an effort to block Governor Scott Walker’s plan to all but end collective bargaining rights for public employees.

But the debate is a national one. The Wisconsin showdown is only the first in a whole series of pending state conflicts. And, over the next 10 days, a corporate-friendly Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives may decide to shut down the federal government.

The clashes in Wisconsin and other states, and in Washington, D.C., are dressed up in the language of budget debates. But these debates have nothing to do with “fiscal responsibility.” They are about what kind of society we want.

Do we want government to provide vital services, or exacerbate inequality? Should we have strong protections for health, safety, the environment and economic stability, or should giant corporations be free to impose their rules on the rest of us? Will we protect the right of workers to join together in unions, or will we permit private and public employers to drive down wages in the interest of generating more profits or lowering taxes for corporations and the wealthy?

Corporate plutocracy or a working democracy?

The people in Wisconsin who are demonstrating to stop Governor Walker’s union-busting plans are acting not just to preserve Wisconsin’s democratic traditions, but to make the case for a better America for all of us.

The people in Wisconsin — including many Public Citizen members and friends — need our solidarity. Even more, they need us to join with them in fighting for the America we all want.

Tomorrow, people will be gathering in state capitols to do just that. Please join them. Find a rally near you.

As we engage this contest for the future of America, it’s important to understand how we got into our current circumstance, and exactly what is at stake.

How Did We Get Here?

The Republican line on state and federal budgetary shortfalls, echoed by too many in the media, and by too many Democrats, is that we are spending beyond our means and “mortgaging our future.” This is not true.

States are not suddenly spending more than they were two, three of four years ago. (This is true for the federal government as well, with the caveat that there was an addition of federal stimulus spending, now winding down.) The reason states are facing acute budget crises is because revenues have declined. The reason revenues have declined is because the economy crashed. And the reason the economy crashed is because an unregulated Wall Street enabled a housing bubble, and then built a financial bubble on top of the housing bubble.

In other words, Republican governors are blaming state employees for the budget crisis, when the blame actually rests with Wall Street. Making things even more obscene, while state employees are seeing salaries and benefits slashed and jobs cut, the Wall Street titans are paying themselves outrageous bonuses. Wall Street paid out more than $20 billion in bonuses last year, while Wall Street profits totaled more than $27 billion, the second highest total on record.

This central point can’t be emphasized enough: The story of the current state and federal budget challenges is the diminished tax revenue that has followed from the Wall Street-induced recession.

Raising Revenues

OK, you might say. Maybe Wall Street deserves the blame, but what choice do governments have?

Well, the states are under an obligation to balance their budgets. The simple solution for this problem is for the federal government — which does not need to balance its budget — to give them grants. Unfortunately, that solution is not forthcoming.

Still, the states have options. Notably, they can raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy, as some are now preparing to do.

Amazingly, however, those most vociferously demanding state and federal budget cutbacks in the name of fiscal rectitude also support tax cuts for those most able to pay. In Wisconsin, Governor Walker — who took office just this January — has pushed through $127 million in tax cuts. Meanwhile, in D.C., last December’s tax deal between President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans gives about $120 billion in benefits to the wealthy over the next two years.

Would it be unreasonable to ask for a rule that anyone supporting such tax breaks for the super-rich is prohibited from claiming they care about balancing budgets?

There are, of course, other ways to raise revenues. Cracking down on corporate welfare would be a good place to start. States have given away billions in corporate welfare deals, as Good Jobs First has documented. Walmart alone is grabbing $400 million a year in state and local tax breaks. At the federal level, there are tens of billions of dollars in corporate welfare giveaways that should be eliminated or reformed, involving everything from loan guarantees to nuclear power plants to export promotion schemes for big corporations…..

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