Conservatives Use Flawed Logic to Argue Against Extending Unemployment Benefits

Long Term Unemployment
Chart: Center for American Progress

Congress allowed federal long-term unemployment benefits to expire in December, causing 1.6 million Americans to lose this vital lifeline. The share of unemployed workers who have been out of work for six months or more has now reached 38 percent, higher than at any previous time when Congress allowed emergency benefits to expire. After Congress failed to renew the benefits earlier in January, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said that a vote will be held this week.

Unemployment benefits help job-seekers survive in hard times, and they strengthen the economy by putting money into the hands of people who are likely to spend it quickly, thus creating the sales that allow businesses to expand and hire more workers. These are straightforward observations, well-supported by data. So commentators who wish to show otherwise must engage in some remarkable leaps of logic. In order to combat the conservative talking points that result, it is sometimes necessary to examine the flawed logic in detail. Continue reading Conservatives Use Flawed Logic to Argue Against Extending Unemployment Benefits

Coalition Unites to Stop Trans-Pacific Partnership

The TPP Is the Wrong Direction for Democracy

Photo: Rainforest Action Network

A broad coalition of labor unions, environmental organizations, and groups working for Internet freedom has formed to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a secret “free trade” agreement that would increase corporate power at the expense of workers, consumers and the environment.

StopFastTrack.com provides an easy way to see which groups are on board and why, and to contact your Congressional representatives to urge them to oppose “fast track” authority for the TPP. Fast track authority means that the TPP could be completed and signed before Congress votes on it. Then it would be presented for an up or down vote with no amendments and limited debate.

In today’s Orwellian world, not only could the TPP be signed before it is voted on, but the public does not know what is in it. The only information we have about the TPP is from Wikileaks, but it is enough to indicate that it will be, as many have said, “NAFTA on steroids,” resulting in jobs moving overseas and environmental protections being weakened.

Richest One Percent Own Nearly Half of the World’s Wealth

Oxfam Inequality
Chart: Oxfam

According to a new Oxfam report, global inequality has reached enormous proportions, with the richest one percent owning 46 percent of the world’s wealth. In fact, just 85 individuals now own more than the poorest half of the world’s population.

The issue of economic inequality is becoming hard to ignore, with world leaders acknowledging the problem and the World Economic Forum calling it the biggest threat to the global economy.

What is sometimes obscured in the debate is the fact that inequality is a problem with political causes and political solutions. The Oxfam report makes clear that economic inequality is directly correlated with both financial deregulation and reduction of the top marginal tax rates, while it is inversely proportional to factors such as the strength of unions.

Media Matters for America has published an excellent analysis of media myths regarding economic inequality. Among the oft-repeated myths: the poor need economic growth more than equality; inequality does not cause poverty; government can’t do anything about inequality; and reducing inequality is bad for the economy. The Media Matters report counters these myths with the facts: inequality causes poverty, and government can address it by raising taxes on the rich, increasing financial regulation, and investing in education and health care, all measures that are likely to increase economic growth.

Airport Workers Honor MLK Day with Civil Disobedience

New York airport workers honored Martin Luther King, Jr. Day by engaging in the same type of work he was doing before he died: demanding better wages and conditions for workers. The airport workers blocked the bridge leading to LaGuardia Airport in an act of civil disobedience. Several protesters were arrested.

About 12,000 workers at New York-area airports are employees of private contractors who bid for contracts for security, cleaning and other work. The result of the bidding system is low wages and few benefits. Michael Carey, a 47-year-old security guard at Kennedy Airport, is the father of three children. At an earlier rally, he said he is paid $8.50 per hour and cannot support his family on that salary.

The workers said they are also shortchanged on benefits. Among other injustices, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is not a paid holiday for the workers. The protesters said that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees area airports, should mandate a living wage and health benefits for workers.

Obama’s Proposed NSA Reforms Fall Short

President Obama today addressed privacy concerns over NSA surveillance, proposing modest reforms in some areas and failing to address other important issues.

The Freedom of the Press Foundation, of which both Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden are board members, published an analysis of the speech, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation released a scorecard, reproduced below, evaluating Obama’s reform promises.

Two important points are prominent here. First, the Fourth Amendment protects citizens against unreasonable search and seizure. The mere collection of phone call metadata violates the Constitution, even if judicial approval is required to query it. Second, none of these reforms would even be considered if not for the information Edward Snowden released about NSA spying. He should be protected as a whistleblower, not threatened with prison.

NSA Scorecard

Victory for Farmworkers: Walmart Joins Fair Food Program

CIW Walmart
Walmart and CIW representatives sign an agreement bringing Walmart into the Fair Food Program. Photo: CIW.

Florida farmworkers have won a major victory.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has signed an agreement with Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, to join the CIW’s Fair Food Program, which has brought higher wages and better working conditions to workers in Florida’s $650 million tomato industry. As part of the agreement, Walmart committed to helping spread the Fair Food Program beyond the state of Florida and beyond the tomato industry.

The CIW has worked since 2001 to improve wages and working conditions for Florida farmworkers. In addition to Walmart, the organization has succeeded in persuading McDonald’s, Burger King, Trader Joe’s Whole Foods Market and others to join the Fair Food Program. Now that Walmart is on board, attention turns to Publix, the popular Florida-based grocer that has refused for more than four years to sign an agreement with the CIW.

U.S. Special Forces Deployed in 134 Countries

Special Forces
U.S. Army Special Forces in Afghanistan, 2008. Photo: U.S. Army.

U.S. Special Operations forces were deployed in 134 countries in 2013, more than twice as many as during the George W. Bush administration. This is a dramatic increase in the global projection of U.S. military power. Nick Turse of TomDispatch.com reported on the increase in The Nation.

Funding for Special Operations Command was at least $6.9 billion in 2013, up from $2.3 billion in 2001. The number of Special Operations personnel is expected to reach 72,000 in 2014, an increase from 33,000 in 2001.

The increase has mirrored the steady climb in U.S. military spending since 2001. According to the  the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, in 2012 the U.S. approved $645.7 billion in military spending, more than the next 15 biggest-spending countries combined.

California Police Officers Acquitted in Fatal Beating of Mentally Ill Homeless Man

Two former Fullerton, California police officers were acquitted January 13 in the fatal beating of a mentally ill homeless man in 2011.

The former officers, Jay Cicinelli and Manuel Ramos, were charged over the death of Kelly Thomas. Surveillance video, embedded above, shows police officers beating and tasing the man, minutes after Ramos says, “See these fists? … They’re getting ready to fuck you up.” Thomas died of his injuries five days later.

The Orange County jury found Ramos not guilty of second degree murder or involuntary manslaughter, and Cicinelli not guilty of involuntary manslaughter or excessive use of force. After the verdict, the FBI announced that it would examine evidence in the case to determine whether further investigation is warranted.

Ron Thomas, Kelly’s father, told the Associated Press, “Police officers everywhere can beat us, kill us, whatever they want, but it has been proven right here today they’ll get away with it.”

Secret “Free Trade” Agreement Threatens Workers, Consumers

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) before it, is a “free trade” agreement in name only. The secret pact currently being negotiated between the U.S., Canada, Japan and other nations would increase the power of corporations and investors at the expense of protections for workers, consumers and the environment. An interview with Noam Chomsky about the TPP is embedded above.

While more than 600 corporate “trade advisors” help set the terms of the agreement, the public and even Congress are not allowed to know what is in it. What little we do know about the agreement is the result of leaks, including a draft chapter on intellectual property published in November by Wikileaks. Analysts have said that chapter indicated that the pact would increase corporate power by, among other things, making it more difficult for generic drugs to make it to market.

A first step in taking action on the TPP is fighting for our right to know what is in the agreement. Public Citizen is petitioning U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to do just that.

Mass Incarceration: Why Marijuana Laws Matter

Incarcerated Americans
Chart: Wikimedia Commons

Recreational marijuana use became legal in Colorado on January 1, which activists hailed as a landmark event in the movement to end the drug war. Most media stories on the change have either made light of it or taken a mildly disapproving tone. Few have focused on the issue looming behind the drug policy debate: mass incarceration.

As the Drug Policy Alliance points out in “A Brief History of the Drug War,” in the 1970s, there was recognition on the part of the public and the government that pot is not a particularly dangerous drug, even as President Nixon had had it classified as a Schedule I substance. However, during the 1980s and 1990s, the drug war intensified, with the primary result being an astronomical increase in the number of Americans imprisoned for nonviolent crimes.  Between 1970 and 2005, the U.S. prison population grew by 700 percent during a time when violent crime was stable or declining. Today there are more than 2 million Americans behind bars, and about 3 percent of the population is under correctional supervision. In 2011, nearly half of federal prisoners were serving time for drug offenses, according to Bureau of Justice statistics.

Politicians knew 40 years ago that marijuana was not very dangerous: Nixon’s own commission recommended decriminalization. Treatment is known to be a more effective approach to drug abuse than incarceration. But the drug war was never about protecting the population from danger.

“Look, we understood we couldn’t make it illegal to be young or poor or black in the United States, but we could criminalize their common pleasure. We understood that drugs were not the health problem we were making them out to be, but it was such a perfect issue for the Nixon White House that we couldn’t resist it.”

-John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s White House counsel

“[Nixon] emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.”
-H. R. Haldeman, Nixon’s Chief of Staff, on the war on drugs