News for the common man because the elite already know
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A deluge of articles have been quickly put into circulation defending France’s military intervention in the African nation of Mali. TIME’s article, “The Crisis in Mali: Will French Intervention Stop the Islamist Advance?” decides that old tricks are the best tricks, and elects the tiresome “War on Terror” narrative.TIME claims the intervention seeks to stop “Islamist” terrorists from overrunning both Africa and all of Europe. Specifically, the article states:
“…there is a (probably well-founded) fear in France that a radical Islamist Mali threatens France most of all, since most of the Islamists are French speakers and many have relatives in France. (Intelligence sources in Paris have told TIME that they’ve identified aspiring jihadis leaving France for northern Mali to train and fight.) Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), one of the three groups that make up the Malian Islamist alliance and which provides much of the leadership, has also designated France — the representative of Western power in the region — as a prime target for attack.”
What TIME elects not to tell readers is that Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is closely allied to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG whom France intervened on behalf of during NATO’s 2011 proxy-invasion of Libya – providing weapons, training, special forces and even aircraft to support them in the overthrow of Libya’s government.
As far back as August of 2011, Bruce Riedel out of the corporate-financier funded think-tank, the Brookings Institution, wrote “Algeria will be next to fall,” where he gleefully predicted success in Libya would embolden radical elements in Algeria, in particular AQIM. Between extremist violence and the prospect of French airstrikes, Riedel hoped to see the fall of the Algerian government. Ironically Riedel noted:
Algeria has expressed particular concern that the unrest in Libya could lead to the development of a major safe haven and sanctuary for al-Qaeda and other extremist jihadis.
“Crucially, still in 2007, then al-Qaeda’s number two, Zawahiri, officially announced the merger between the LIFG and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb (AQIM). So, for all practical purposes, since then, LIFG/AQIM have been one and the same – and Belhaj was/is itsemir. “
“Belhaj,” referring to Hakim Abdul Belhaj, leader of LIFG in Libya, led with NATO support, arms, funding, and diplomatic recognition, the overthrowing of Muammar Qaddafi and has now plunged the nation into unending racist and tribal, genocidal infighting. This intervention has also seen the rebellion’s epicenter of Benghazi peeling off from Tripolias a semi-autonomous “Terror-Emirate.” Belhaj’s latest campaign has shifted to Syriawhere he was admittedly on the Turkish-Syrian borderpledging weapons, money, and fighters to the so-called “Free Syrian Army,” again, under the auspices of NATO support.
Image: NATO’s intervention in Libya has resurrected listed-terrorist organization and Al Qaeda affiliate, LIFG. It had previously fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now has fighters, cash and weapons, all courtesy of NATO, spreading as far west as Mali, and as far east as Syria. The feared “global Caliphate” Neo-Cons have been scaring Western children with for a decade is now taking shape via US-Saudi, Israeli, and Qatari machinations, not “Islam.” In fact, real Muslims have paid the highest price in fighting this real “war against Western-funded terrorism.”
LIFG, which with French arms, cash, and diplomatic support, isnow invading northern Syriaon behalf of NATO’s attempted regime change there, officially merged with Al Qaeda in 2007 according to the US Army’s West PointCombating Terrorism Center (CTC). According to the CTC, AQIM and LIFG share not only ideological goals, but strategic and even tactical objectives. The weapons LIFG received most certainly made their way into the hands of AQIM on their way through the porous borders of the Sahara Desert and into northern Mali.
A leading member of an al Qaeda-affiliated terror group indicated the organization may have acquired some of the thousands of powerful weapons that went missing in the chaos of the Libyan uprising, stoking long-held fears of Western officials.”We have been one of the main beneficiaries of the revolutions in the Arab world,” Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a leader of the north Africa-based al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb [AQIM], told the Mauritanian news agency ANI Wednesday. “As for our benefiting from the [Libyan] weapons, this is a natural thing in these kinds of circumstances.”
It is no coincidence that as the Libyan conflict was drawing to a conclusion, conflict erupted in northern Mali. It is part of a premeditated geopolitical reordering that began with toppling Libya, and since then, using it as a springboard for invading other targeted nations, including Mali, Algeria, and Syria with heavily armed, NATO-funded and aided terrorists.
French involvement may drive AQIM and its affiliates out of northern Mali, but they are almost sure to end up in Algeria, most likely by design.
Algeria was able to balk subversion during the early phases of theUS-engineered “Arab Spring” in 2011, but it surely has not escaped the attention of the West who is in the midst of transforming a region stretching from Africa to Beijing and Moscow’s doorsteps – and in a fit of geopolitical schizophrenia – using terrorists both as a casus belli to invade and as an inexhaustible mercenary force to do it.
Many center-left political analysts tout Barack Obama’s re-election as affirmation that the unfolding demographic changes in the United States will inevitably vanquish the Republican Party as we know it. But before progressives sit back on their heels and wait for history’s just rewards, a deeper look at the 2012 election results is in order.
Obama’s victory overshadowed the fact that Republicans maintain control of the House of Representatives and won dramatic victories at the state level that seem almost mathematically miraculous in how they flout majority rule. Most strikingly, Republican congressional candidates were able to convert their national 49 percent of the major-party House vote into 54 percent of seats. (Democrats received 51 percent of the major-party House vote and 46 percent of seats.)
Republicans also increased the number of states over which they have monopoly control, securing the governorship and both legislative bodies of 26 states. This has national implications. The fact that Republicans have firm control over 13 Southern legislatures that make up more than one-quarter of states gives them veto power over any proposed constitutional amendment. Consequently, those seeking to overturnCitizens Unitedby amending the constitution will need the support of at least one Republican-run legislature in the South.
Republicans also control government in most of the presidential battleground states, such as Florida and Ohio, which creates opportunities to exploit the vulnerabilities of our centuries-old voting rules. Democrats may have been thrilled that, despite the troubled economy, Obama won a landslide of electoral votes. But for Republicans such as party chairReince Priebus, the apparent lesson is this: Rather than cater to an increasingly diverse and progressive America, they should rig the Electoral College in 2016. States have wide latitude to pass voting laws such as ID requirements, as well as the power to allocate Electoral College votes. That yields numerous opportunities for deck-stacking.
In addition to fending off vote-rigging efforts, Democrats must ultimately address a more fundamental flaw of the antiquated voting system—the one that gives Republicans their popular-vote-defying chokehold on the House of Representatives and many state legislatures. The GOP will continue to dominate the House, even when the Democrats win more votes, as long as we rely on a geographically defined, single-member district system to elect our legislators.
Electoral College cheat sheet
One of the U.S. Constitution’s quirks is that presidential elections are governed by the Electoral College, not the popular vote. Within this system, state legislatures have broad leeway to administer the presidential race, including the allocation of electoral votes and the mechanics of elections.
Both major parties have sad records of manipulating state election laws for partisan gain. While 48 states and the District of Columbia award all theirelectoral votesto the statewide popular vote winner, that wasn’t the norm initially. Many states either divided electoral votes or let state legislators appoint electors. Over the opposition of James Madison, the winner-take-all rule was adopted by most states by the time of Andrew Jackson’s presidency. Instructively, it was not driven by calculation of the public good, but by political leaders’ partisan desires to give as many votes as possible to their candidates.
The most glaring flaw of this approach is that candidates can lose the presidency despite earning the most votes. The popular vote was overturned by the Electoral College in four out of our 28 most competitive presidential races, including in 2000.
Republicans in key states are considering changes to the allocation of electoral votes that would virtually guarantee their party a presidential victory. Republicans are better-positioned than Democrats to try this approach: Of the 12 states that were considered “battlegrounds” in the 2012 campaigns—the ones deemed important enough to draw a major-party candidate for a general-election event—Republicans have monopoly control of seven: Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. Democrats control only Colorado and Minnesota.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi and Michigan elections committee chair Pete Lund are among the Republicans in key swing states backing or expressing interest in replacing winner-take-all rules with methods that would guarantee electoral votes to the Republican nominee.
First introduced by Bill Carrico, a Virginia Republican lawmaker, the most nefarious proposal is to award one electoral vote based on the presidential vote in each congressional district, and then give the state’s two remaining votes to the candidate who wins the most congressional districts. Here’s how vastly this would skew the popular vote: Had such a plan been enacted in 2012 in all seven swing states now under Republican control, Mitt Romney’s 126-vote defeat in the Electoral College would have been transformed into a16-vote victory. To win under these circumstances, Obama would have needed to win a Romney stronghold such as Georgia or Arizona by increasing his national popular-vote margin to some 12 percentage points.
There are ominous signs that Republicans are willing to take this plunge into a whole new level of electoral-law manipulation. TheNational Journal’s Reid Wilson reported in December that, according to senior Republican officials, such proposals “are likely to come up in each state’s legislative session in 2013. Bills have been drafted, and legislators are talking to party bosses to craft strategy.” RNC Chair Priebus told theMilwaukee Journalon January 13 that "it's something that a lot of states that have been consistently blue that are fully controlled red ought to be looking at."
Alternately, Republicans may decide only to try to allocate electoral votes by district in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. That won’t ensure them the presidency, but would provide a big boost in close elections. Republican presidential candidates haven’t won any of these states since the 1980s, but Mitt Romney won 27 of their 40 congressional districts in 2012. Securing those 27 electoral votes (and six more under the Carrico plan) would shift more electoral votes to a Republicans than could be earned by sweeping the swing states of Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada—and all without changing a single voter’s mind.
Legal vote fraud
Another insidious problem related to the Electoral College is the importance it places on a few swing states. Obama campaigned in only eight states in the final post-convention stretch of the 2012 race, every one of which was among the15 battleground statesof 2008. Absent reform, not a single new state is expected to be a 2016 battleground.
In short, the Electoral College rules have marginalized two-thirds of Americans in election after election—including a disproportionate share of racial minorities. The rules also invite partisan manipulation because of the growing ease in predicting where a small shift of votes could decide the White House. In 2000 and 2004, George W. Bush’s election hinged on a single state—Florida and Ohio, respectively. And in both states, Republican secretaries of state were widely criticized for changes to voting laws and election administration that may have tipped the outcome by suppressing the Democratic vote.
Grounded in that history, battles over voting laws raged in swing states in 2011 and 2012. Republicans in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida passed laws reducing early voting, requiring photo identification to vote and making it harder to register new voters. In testimony to Congress, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) called these laws “politically motivated and clearly designed to disenfranchise likely Democratic voters.”
Although the Department of Justice, civil rights groups and Democrats relied onSection 5 of the Voting Rights Actand other legal tactics to block implementation of manyvoting changes, most remain set to go into effect. Challenges will run their course in courts at the state level, and Congress is unlikely to intercede. As to the federal courts, the majority on the Supreme Court has already upheld voter identification requirements in Indiana, even without being presented with evidence of a single act of voter impersonation fraud.
And this year the Court is now expected to strike down or weaken Section 5 pre-clearance provisions, which empower the Department of Justice to block any laws diluting the voting rights of racial minorities in places with a history of discrimination at the polls. Without Section 5, several swing states, such as Florida, Virginia and North Carolina, will have wider latitude to pass legislation affecting suffrage.
Consequently, in 2016 we can anticipate more states implementing laws designed to limit voting rights of Democratic-leaning constituencies. And given the allure of the presidency potentially hanging by relatively few votes, we can also anticipate huge amounts of money freed by Citizens United to once again be dumped into swing states.
The winner-take-all problem
Republicans have a ready model for earning power with a minority of the vote: the House of Representatives. Despite winning the popular vote, Democratic candidates for Congress didn’t come close to winning a majority of House seats. To have earned even a one-seat majority in 2012, congressional Democrats would have needed another7 million votesand an overall margin of some 8 percentage points. They’ll face the exact same distorted playing field in 2014, but with the added barrier of low turnout for midterm elections.
The culprit for this imbalance is a seemingly innocuous, even fair, one: single-member districts, in which each individual congressional district elects one individual representative. Many Americans assume that single-member districts are enshrined in our Constitution. That is not the case; they’re the product of federal statutes. Many states once elected House members statewide, but always bywinner-take-all, in which 51 percent of votes could win 100 percent of seats. As the parties grew stronger, statewide elections made it easier for one party to sweep all seats. After more states began adopting statewide elections for clear partisan reasons, Congress in 1842 passed a law requiring single-member districts. That mandate has come and gone, most recently re-established in 1967 in the wake of the Voting Rights Act, when Congress acted to avoid Southern states adopting statewide elections to dilute the votes of newly empowered racial minorities.
But while often adopted for laudable purposes, single-member districts rarely provide voters with real choices and fair representation. Because of rigid voter preference, a majority of House seats are simply impregnable. Ninety-five percent of incumbents have won their races for re-election since 1994, with the average House race won by a2-to-1 margin. Most seats are fixedly red or blue:In 2012, not a single Republican gained a seat in one of the 177 House districts where Barack Obama ran best in 2008—and not a single Democrat gained a seat in one of the 177 districts where John McCain ran best. This increasingly partisan straitjacket on representation creates a problem for Democrats because Republicans have a strong partisan advantage in 241 districts and Democrats have an advantage in 194.
The Republican bias has existed for decades, and it has contributed to liberal Democrats never running for the House with the same boldness as shown by conservative Republicans. Any Democratic majority always depended on victories by more conservative Democrats who could win in right-leaning districts where their presidential standard-bearer would likely lose.
This reality has forced Democratic presidents and progressive Democrats in Congress to only craft policies that would appease their more conservative colleagues. With fewer votes splitting tickets as the identities become more distinct, “Blue Dog” Democrats have been decimated in Republican-leaning districts, dropping from 54 members in 2010 to just 15 today.
Republicans, on the other hand, can be more responsive to their base since their House majorities can depend entirely on candidates running in districts firmly aligned with their party.
Because of the increasing concentration of Democratic voters in cites, more than two-thirds of the 68 most overwhelmingly partisan districts are Democratic, with Republican voters more efficiently distributed in a system where geography matters. Tellingly, Mitt Romney was able to win 21 more congressional districts than Barack Obama—despite losing the popular vote by a 4-percent margin. With a majority of House seats held by Republicans in districts that went for Romney, it should be no surprise that the White House faces ongoing obstacles even after Obama’s convincing win.
Winner-take-all casts a pall over elections at all levels. Consider:
The Senate, made up of 90 percent white-majority states, has only five people of color.
Two out of every five state legislative races in 2012 were uncontested.
At least 118 (out of 120) winners in North Carolina’s 2012 state house elections ran in districts that favored their party.
Democrats in Georgia and South Carolina ran candidates in fewer than half of house seats in 2012.
Some believe that partisan control ofredistrictingis at the root of these problems. Indeed, it’s true that Republican-drawn maps in 2011 contributed to their candidates winning more than two-thirds of the collective House seats in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin despite losing the popular vote in each of these states to Democratic candidates.
But the problem isn’t really redistricting, so much as districting itself. Having one person represent 100 percent of people creates fundamental distortions that take on a harsh partisan character in modern America. The expanding Democratic coalition that boosted Obama—which includes racial minorities, working women, young people and socially liberal professionals—is heavily geographically concentrated. Even while easily winning the popular vote in 2012, Barack Obama carried only 22 percent of counties—far fewer than were carried by Michael Dukakis when he was trounced in 1988. Because every vote counts the same, that concentration evens out in the statewide presidential race. But in the House, which slices voters into districts, Democrats’ uneven dispersion of votes takes on great consequences—creating a natural partisan skew that commissions won’t erase and Republicans can easily exploit.
Winner-take-all also marginalizes voters. Not only do fewer than one in 3 Americans live in a battleground state in presidential elections, fewer than one in 10 will live in a meaningfully competitive congressional district in 2014. Moreover, few of these competitive districts represent the kind of voters who have played such a key role in Democratic electoral successes. To free voters from the shackles of geography, Congress and states should pass statutes enacting proportional representation based on voting for individuals, which already have been proven in local elections. In such a system, single-member districts would be replaced with larger “super-districts” where like-minded voters would elect representatives in numbers reflecting their voting strength. When Illinois used such a fair voting system for more than a century for elections to its state house, a quarter of voters in each district had the power to elect a candidate to represent them. As a result, nearly every district in every election chose a reflective balance of the Left, Right and center of its voters.
The path forward
For all the billions spent on winning campaigns and developing messages, center-left leaders have no agenda to adapt to the modern electorate by replacing our 18th-century electoral laws that marginalize and exclude most Americans with new approaches grounded in inclusion, participation and voter choice. When in power, Democrats in fact have generally embraced current laws as convenient means to protect incumbents, dominate opponents and shut down potential challenges from the Left. That failure of vision and abdication of principle has been a colossal mistake. It dilutes the potential of the changing American electorate and hands the power to block change to an angry, fearful Republican Party.
Going forward, Democrats should work with fair-minded Republicans to take the principled stand that they should have done years ago: enacting electoral reforms that maximize voter participation, voter choice and voter representation. Yes, their congressional incumbents from safe districts and state legislative leaders who enjoy monopoly control may complain, but parochial resistance from the status quo didn’t stop apartheid from collapsing or the Berlin Wall from falling. Movements for change can be compelling, particularly when the alternative is entrenched power that is willing to deny fair elections in order to suppress human progress.
The changes needed are many, including decreasing the influence of money in politics, but here is a package of reforms that would be fair for everyone and fully empower our changing electorate. It includes changes that Congress, states and cities can enact.
A National Popular Vote Plan for the Presidency: If Republicans decide to manipulate the Electoral College, Democrats—and all fair-minded Americans—have all the more reason to back theNational Popular Vote(NPV) plan. NPV is an inter-state compact designed to guarantee the presidency to the candidate who wins the popular vote. Acting under powers granted to them under the Constitution, eight states and Washington, D.C. have passed the compact. Collectively, they represent nearly half of the 270 votes necessary to trigger a national popular vote in 2016. Each new legislative win at the state level will trigger more attention and bring us closer to the 270-vote threshold.
Once enacted by states with a majority of electoral votes, it will be activated and ensure that every vote will matter in every presidential election—freeing those orphan voters in the two-thirds of states that are now ignored and rendering moot any scheme to steal the Electoral College. Securing NPV by 2016 is tantalizingly close—and urgently needed.
Cities and States Shining a Beacon for a Constitutional Right to Vote: Recent state assaults on voting rights,potentiallyabetted by the Supreme Court striking down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, demand an aggressive response. It’s time for a clear call for an affirmative right to vote in the Constitution and immediate action to expand voting rights. States can use new technology and existing databases to automatically register voters in a drive for universal voter registration. They can also invest in voter guides, better poll-worker training, and “public interest” voting machines that run on open-source software and are managed by nonprofits. Cities can take action to uphold voting rights and boost participation as well, particularly in states where new laws could disenfranchise voters.PromoteOurVote.org—a website run by my voting-rights organization,FairVote—has model resolutions detailing the full range of steps cities and states can take.
Ranked Choice Voting to End the Duopoly: The emerging majority doesn’t neatly fit into the simple partisan label “Democrat.” A growing number of young people are unaffiliated, and third parties remain attractive alternatives that are able to take principled positions and inspire the Occupy activists who want more than what Democrats are ready to deliver.
We can end the sectarian fight over the value of third parties through adopting the instant runoff system of ranked-choice voting (RCV) that allows voters to rank candidates in order of choice, then simulates a series of runoffs to determine the majority winner—thereby eliminating all talk of “spoilers.” Adopted by more than a dozen U.S. cities, RCV has a particularly strong base of support in Maine and Minnesota, which have strong third parties. In each of those states, RCV has proven successful in electing the mayors of major cities, while the lack of RCV in statewide elections has led to controversial outcomes and a string of victories by candidates who earned less than 50 percent of the vote.
Fair Voting for Legislatures, From Councils to Congress: Replacing winner-take-all, single-member districts may be the hardest lift, but is essential for representative democracy in today’s America. Super-districts with proportional representation provide a neat solution that can be established without a constitutional amendment. The question is how to get there.
In local and state governments, forward-looking leaders can simply move to fair voting plans. An interim step would be the Citizens’ Assembly plan pioneered by British Columbia. A randomly chosen citizen group was tasked with developing a proportional representation proposal that was then put before voters—where it won 58 percent, just shy of the arbitrary 60 percent threshold established for its enactment. Just as term limits swept the United States in 1992, a reform idea can be won far more quickly than many believe possible.
The Voting Rights Act creates another reform avenue. It has forced many jurisdictions with unfair winner-take-all plans to draw districts where racial or ethnic minorities can elect a candidate of choice. But the winner-take-all rules also mean that the majority of our nation’s African Americans live in Southern states with legislatures almost certain to be dominated by white, Republican conservatives for decades. It’s time for more state and local jurisdictions to use the Voting Rights Act to empower voters to win shared representation.
Winning fair voting for Congress requires overcoming the current Republican stranglehold and potential resistance from Democrats in safe seats. But sometimes the greatest need inspires the greatest movement for change, and congressional elections are more broken than ever. A diverse coalition outside Congress can push Congress members toward reform. Within both major parties, visionaries will see the value of having candidates be able to meaningfully contest every corner of every state. This is particularly true for those Republicans who see the need for their party to evolve with the changing electorate—and those who see that their party is increasingly captive to representatives from its strongholds.
Other likely allies include frustrated centrists who would earn a voice with plans that represent the Left, Right and center. Stalled at less than 18 percent of the House, women can embrace new systems likely to result in far more viable women candidates. Environmentalists would gain from having representation of a richer mix of voices from the rural West. Tea Party believers are just as interested in competing in Democratic areas as liberal Democrats are in Republican areas. And the list goes on.
For more than two decades, I’ve been told that fundamental electoral reform isn’t possible here. But I’ve seen exciting progress at the local level, and we can be closest to change when the times seem most desperate. Urgent needs create new allies and new openings. It’s time to expand our vision, embrace a true democracy movement and discover the new political world that awaits us.
The set-up for the big battle was the Fiscal Cliff charade. That
hyped drama in the last days of December was a moment of truth for the
Democratic Party and for President Barack Obama to make it clear whether
they were still defenders of the New Deal legacy, or whether they were
ready to toss Social Security overboard on behalf of the party’s new
constituency: the Wall Street gang.
The president and the Democrats in House and Senate could have said
there would be no deal on the artificial Fiscal Cliff that was created
by Congress back in August 2011 unless Congressional Republicans agreed
not to hold the nation hostage again this February over the issue of
raising the national debt ceiling. Republicans were in a weak position,
since if the “cliff” deadline were allowed to pass, the Bush tax cuts
would have expired. They would have been put in the position of being
unable to pass new legislation restoring tax cuts for the wealthy, while
Democrats could have forced them to pass tax cuts for those in the
middle and lower classes.
Instead of doing that, the president and his vice president, former
Senator from the über-corporate headquarters state of Delaware, Joe
Biden, offered a “compromise” that give tax breaks to the 1% of
Americans who earn between $250,000 and $400,000 a year, protected up to
$5 million in estate value from inheritance taxes, and left the GOP
free to hold Congress and the Country hostage in February and March when
Congress has to pass a new increase in the debt ceiling.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has already said that
the Republicans in that house will not agree to any tax increases in a
debt ceiling deal, and the Republicans who control the House have
already made the same thing clear.
President Roosevelt signs the Social Security Act in 1935, providing retirement security for the next 77 years and beyond
The Republicans have also said that they want significant cuts in
“entitlements” (the term that has been successfully attached to both
Social Security and Medicare, though actually both programs are earned
benefits paid for by workers and their employers over a lifetime of
employment). And with the government held hostage in February, and
unable to borrow further without a rise in the debt ceiling, Democrats
will have an excuse to go along with their demands, claiming that they
had “no choice.”
The New York Times on Sunday weighed in with its own artillery in this attack on Social Security, with an article in its Sunday Review
opinion section by two academics who claim that the program is facing a
“huge cliff” and will run out of money two years sooner than the Social
Security Administration has been claiming, which would mean 2031.
Technically, of course, Social Security is not going to run out of money
even in 2033. It is only expected to exhaust the Trust Fund, leaving
current workers’ contributions still funding 75% of benefits,
indefinitely. But the authors of this Times scare story fail to mention that point.
No surprise there. The same article also suggested that maybe people
shouldn’t be encouraged to retire, since retirement, they claim, leads
to shorter life expectancy. Easy to say if you are an academic at a
private Ivy League school earning a big six-figure salary to write
articles, but not so easy to buy into if you’re a working stiff. They
also suggest that maybe there should be lower benefits for those
retirees earning more than the lordly sum of $43,000 a year in
retirement. Unmentioned in the article’s biographies of the two authors
is that one, Samir S. Soneji, is a professor with the Dartmouth
Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, a conservative
industry-funded “institute” that is dedicated to cutting the cost of
health care through “market-based” solutions.
The truth about Social Security is that it is not in crisis. After
all, 2033, or even 2031, is a long way off from 2013. Two decades off in
fact. What other crisis facing the US can you think of that Congress is
preparing for two decades in advance? The answer is none. I can, in
fact, think of a real crisis that is two decades off that Congress is
blithely ignoring, and that is the global climate crisis. In two
decades, if there is no major action to reverse the pace of carbon
emissions into the atmosphere, it will be too late to do anything to
stop runaway heating of the seas and the atmosphere, which will be a
much more serious disaster than exhausting the Social Security Trust
Fund! Yet Congress and the president are doing nothing about climate
change. Why? Because corporate interests, which only care about making
profits over the next quarter or at most the next year, don’t want to be
burdened by regulations and taxes designed to force them to reduce
their carbon emissions. Those same corporations, and especially the
financial interests on Wall Street, happen to want to destroy Social
Security in order to force workers to invest in the stock and bond
markets that they now thoroughly manipulate, instead of relying on a
retirement system that has worked well for over three quarters of a
How could Social Security be fixed so that the Trust Fund would not
run out? Actually the solution is surprisingly easy. All it would take
would be to eliminate the cap on income subject to the FICA tax, which
is currently set at $113,000, and to levy a small FICA tax either on
investment income (not including retirement savings accounts), or on
stock and bond trades that are not held in retirement accounts. In other
words, if the wealthy and their employers were required to pay the full
FICA tax on all their earned income, and to pay FICA taxes on their
so-called “unearned” income, there would be no shortfall at all, right
through the retirement years of the Baby Boom generation and beyond.
How on earth is that a “crisis”?
Only because raising those taxes is outside the realm of permissible discussion in Congress, and because the media, like the New York Times in its article, do not discuss it. Okay, the Times
authors of the article in question did mention raising the income cap
subject to the FICA tax, but they only discuss that option in terms of
solving what they said was the shortfall that would lead the Trust Fund
to run out two years sooner than already expected. They don’t mention
that simply eliminating the cap, as opposed to raising it, together with
taxing investment income, would solve the problem of a shortfall in
So the battle is on.
The next phase of that battle will be an effort by Wall Street’s
handmaidens in Congress and the White House to start trying to split the
generations by saying that they will “protect” Social Security for
those at or nearing retirement age, while weakening the program (they’ll
call it “preserving” the program) for younger workers. This is what is
known as divide-and-conquer. It is critical for retirees and
near-retirees to resist this cynical tactic and to unite with younger
workers to protect benefits for all. If the divide-and-conquer strategy
were to succeed, younger workers would immediately start to lose
interest in Social Security, and pressure would build among them to
start cutting benefits for current retirees, since they would see their
own FICA taxes as going to subsidize benefits for the retired that they
themselves would never receive.
The only way to protect Social Security is for all workers to be in
it together defending the same system of benefits. And the only way to
do that is to demand and insist on raising taxes on the rich to support
And the key point to make in that battle is that the rich are not
being asked to pay more. They -- and their employers -- are just being
asked to pay the same tax rate that the rest of us pay on their income,
and to finally start paying FICA taxes on their investment income, which
to date has been exempt from Social Security taxation.
Make no mistake: the war against Social Security has been launched,
and a key battle is coming in February. The broad mass of workers in the
US who are depending upon Social Security for their old age or in the
event of disability and an inability to work need to unite and engage in
that battle now or it will be lost.
Americans have completely lost any sense of why a country, a
society, and a government exist.
Politicians, lobbyists and corporate media talking heads,
and far too many ordinary people, have accepted and are
promoting as gospel the circular notion that it’s important
to encourage business to grow so that people will be hired
and the economy can grow. This specious argument is used to
justify the weakening labor unions, the raising of taxes on
workers while they are cut for companies and the rich, the
cutting of earned benefit programs like Social Security and
Medicare, the gutting worker safety and environmental safety
regulations, and the elimination of regulation of activities
like banking, corporate mergers and takeovers,
pharmaceutical companies etc. In fact every government
action that results in making life harder or more dangerous
for ordinary working people or for the poor is defended on
the basis that it is necessary so that business can make
more profit and help the economy to grow.
Growing the economy, however, is not, or certainly should
not, be the reason we have government, the reason we are a
country, or the reason we are a society.
Constitution had it right when the country was founded. It’s
about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Period.
growth today poses a direct threat to all three of those
in all its aspects -- economic growth, growth in profits,
growth in sales, growth of population, growth in income - is
a threat to life. It has become clear that the imperative of
ever more growth, the ethos and driving force of modern
corporate capitalism, is leading to the destruction of the
very biosphere that sustains life on this planet. It is a
threat to liberty, too, because one country’s growth --
America’s -- requires the constant assault on those weaker
countries that threaten us. The globe is a finite place, and
at this point, with seven billion people crowded upon it,
for one group -- that is to say 313 million Americans -- to
prosper and grow, requires that 6.7 billion others give up
something. In other words, for America to grow, it must be
in a constant state of imperial domination and war, which
also means a state of war at home, with all the concomitant
restrictions on freedom, not to mention expropriation of
revenue from the public (53 cents out of every tax dollar),
that such a state inevitably entails.
decades or longer even, there has been a carefully
maintained American myth that the growth of global
capitalism in general and of this country’s capitalist
system in particular has been only beneficial to mankind,
really with no downside. But that myth has been a lie.
Capitalism in Europe grew at the expense of the colonies in
Africa, Asia and Latin America that were exploited for their
virtually free stolen resources and their cheap labor, as
well as their captive markets. In the US, expansion into and
theft of the Indian Territories and their resources as well
as the free labor of a vast slave population until 1865 and
continued exploitation of black and Latino workers since
then allowed for dramatic economic growth, a small portion
of which was shared with white workers for a time when they
grew restive during the middle of the 20th century.
because it is no longer possible for American capitalism to
grow simply by exploiting other nations, while buying the
passivity and acquiescence of the American masses at home by
minimally allowing them to have some small part of the gains
(the old trickle-down idea), economic growth now inevitably
requires the impoverishment and progressive disempowerment
of most Americans. Vastly more powerful corporate interests,
having implanted the ideology of “growth is good,” are now
demanding that we accept lower wages, less freedom and
empowerment on the job, less safety, more environmental
degradation, less health care, less quality education, less
security in our old age. Our ability to pursue happiness, in
other words, has also fallen victim to the unbridled pursuit
is of course absurd. For tens of thousands of years human
beings lived, built families, laughed, loved, created music
and dance and art and found happiness in their lives. They
did this with no growth, or at least with growth so slow
that no one would have noticed it happening. It is only in
the last perhaps few hundred years that growth has become an
all-encompassing obsession of the rich and powerful -- to be
had at any cost. And happiness, liberty, and in the end
life, are all being lost in that mad pursuit of ever more
profit and wealth. In many countries these three values
simply don’t exist. In the US we still have life, a little
liberty, and some shot at happiness, but it’s all under
the ideologues of growth will argue that mankind is much
better of thanks to all that growth, but the truth is that
of the world’s seven billion people, some two billion
currently live in brutal, abject poverty. As Clive Hamilton,
author of the book Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist
the Truth about Climate Change,
recently told journalist Chris Hedges, that number of
immiserated people is greater than the entire population of
the earth in 1900.
hard to believe that hordes of Americans were mindlessly
chanting “drill baby drill!” even as the oil from the
leaking BP rig in the Gulf of Mexico was spewing into that
vital body of water, that millions just voted for members of
Congress who are committed to undermining Social Security
and destroying it as a guarantor of a basic survival level
of income for hundreds of millions of retirees, that
Americans overwhelmingly voted for the re-election of a
president who has for four years refused to do anything
meaningful to stop the rampant production and release into
the atmosphere of ever greater amounts of carbon dioxide,
even to the point of pushing for more production of oil and
expanded use of coal as a fuel. And yet sadly, most
Americans have swallowed the propaganda that growth is a
unquestionable good in and of itself, and that they must be
willing to sacrifice their rights, their health and safety
and their future security, not to mention in many cases
their young sons and daughters, in pursuit of it.
assault on these three crucial rights must be stopped. We
Americans must wake up to the reality that growth in a
finite world, far from being a good thing, inevitably means
less life and liberty, and a very reduced
opportunity to pursue happiness.
Consumer advocates have complained that U.S. mortgage lenders are getting off easy in a deal to settle charges that they wrongfully foreclosed on many homeowners.
Now it turns out the deal is even sweeter for the lenders than it appears: Taxpayers will subsidize them for the money they're ponying up.
The Internal Revenue Service regards the lenders' compensation to homeowners as a cost incurred in the course of doing business. Result: It's fully tax-deductible.
Critics argue that big banks that were bailed out by taxpayers during the financial crisis are again being favored over the victims of their mortgage abuses.
"The government is abetting the behavior by not preventing the deduction," said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. "The taxpayers end up subsidizing the Wall Street banks after the headlines of a big-dollar settlement die down. That's unfair to taxpayers."
Under the deal, 12 mortgage lenders will pay more than $9 billion to compensate hundreds of thousands of people whose homes were seized improperly, a result of abuses such as "robo-signing." That's when banks automatically approved foreclosures without properly reviewing documents.
Regulators reached agreement this week with Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. Last week, the regulators settled with 10 other lenders: Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, MetLife Bank, PNC Financial Services, Sovereign, SunTrust, U.S. Bank and Aurora. The settlements will help eliminate huge potential liabilities for the banks.
Many consumer advocates argued that regulators settled for too low a price by letting banks avoid full responsibility for wrongful foreclosures that victimized families.
That price the banks will pay will be further eased by the tax-deductibility of their settlement costs. Companies can deduct those costs against federal taxes as long as they are compensating private individuals to remedy a wrong. By contrast, a fine or other financial penalty is not tax-deductible.
Taxpayers "should not be subsidizing or in any way paying for these corporations' wrongdoing," said Phineas Baxandall, a senior tax and budget analyst at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a consumer advocate.
Spokesmen for several of the banks in the mortgage settlement didn't immediately respond to requests for comment. Bank of America declined to comment.
In some rare cases, federal regulators that have reached financial settlements with companies have barred them from writing off any costs against their taxes, even if they might be legally entitled to do so. The Securities and Exchange Commission did so, for example, in 2010 in a $550 million settlement with Goldman. That case involved civil fraud charges over the sale of risky mortgage bonds before the financial crisis erupted.
It was the largest amount ever paid by a Wall Street bank in an SEC case. But the SEC defined nearly all the $550 million as a civil penalty. That meant it couldn't serve as a tax deduction for Goldman. The agency cited "the deterrent effect of the civil penalty."
In that case, the SEC appeared to want to send a message at a time of public anger over Wall Street excess, said James Cox, a Duke University law professor and expert on the SEC. Cox noted that when they negotiate financial settlements, companies consider whether they can deduct some of their costs.
Similarly, when BP agreed in November to plead guilty and pay a record $4.5 billion in the 2010 Gulf oil spill disaster, the Justice Department got BP to agree not to deduct the cost of the settlement against its U.S. taxes.
The total BP will pay includes about $1.3 billion in fines. But it also includes payments of $2.4 billion to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and $350 million to the National Academy of Sciences. Normally, those payment would have been tax-deductible.
The banks that just settled with regulators over their mortgage abuses are getting off lightly, Cox suggested. When the amount companies must pay in a settlement "is just the cost of doing business, there's not very much deterrence value there," he said.
At least one lawmaker, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, wants regulators to bar the tax deductibility of the lenders' costs. Brown made his argument in a letter to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, U.S. Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry and other top regulators. The Fed and the comptroller's office, a Treasury Department agency, negotiated the foreclosure abuse settlements with the banks.
"It is simply unfair for taxpayers to foot the bill for Wall Street's wrongdoing," Brown wrote in the letter dated Thursday. "Breaking the law should not be a business expense."
Unfair, too, in the eyes of Charles Wanless, a homeowner in the Florida Panhandle who is fighting his lender over foreclosure proceedings. As Wanless sees it, the government is giving help to banks that it refuses to give to troubled homeowners, who still must pay their full share of taxes.
"The government comes after us for every little bit of money we have," Wanless said.