At a chemical plant called Point Pleasant in a town named Apple Grove in a state John Denver labeled almost heaven, a man known as Freel Tackett helped negotiate three collective bargaining agreements that provided raises and decent benefits for workers and retirees.

Heaven ended in 2007 for Tackett and other retired Point Pleasant workers. That’s when the corporation that now owns the plant betrayed them by refusing to continue paying the full cost of retiree health benefits. These days, it’s almost hell for retirees. For seven years they’ve lived under a dark shadow, as if Point Pleasant’s most infamous denizen, the monster Mothman, immortalized in the book and movie The Mothman Prophesies, had returned.

The United Steelworkers (USW) union told the U.S. Supreme Court last week that these workers had labored a lifetime to earn retiree health benefits. The court should forbid the company from rescinding earned benefits, the USW argued. The corporation, M&G Polymers, asked the court to validate its reneging on its pledge to workers because, it contended, the collective bargaining agreement is insufficiently specific. M&G insisted that vagueness gives it carte blanche to shift costs to workers.

M&G Polymers is Point Pleasant's new Mothman

“I think a lot of corporations these days are doing the same thing,” Tackett said.  “I am just hoping the Supreme Court will prohibit it,” added Tackett, who is one of three named plaintiffs representing the class of 492 Point Pleasant plant retirees and spouses. Workers at the West Virginia plant are members of the USW.

Tackett talked about the appeal as he prepared to go to a funeral for a friend from his days in the plant. That man will never know the ultimate outcome of the case that the retirees won at both the trial and appeals levels. The man’s widow is struggling financially and told Tackett she thinks she will be forced to sell her home to cover the cost of her husband’s unpaid medical bills. Tackett urged her to try to hold out for the high court’s decision.

Tackett told her that if the justices rule for the retirees, then M&G Polymers will likely have to reimburse her the nearly $20,000 that her husband and other retirees paid to maintain their company health insurance until the trial court ordered M&G Polymers to resume paying the full premiums.

“We have several people who passed away,” as they awaited the outcome, Tackett said. “We have several people who passed away,” as they awaited the outcome, Tackett said. “We just don’t know how many of them died as a result of not going to the doctor when needed or not getting medication they needed" because they couldn't afford the insurance, he said.

Court records show that as of Dec. 14, 2011, only 96 of the retirees were still paying the costs imposed by M&G Polymers to cover themselves and their spouses. Some retirees quit the company plan because they found less expensive insurance elsewhere. Others, the court records show, went without coverage.

The fees M&G charged retirees rose dramatically each year. For those old enough to receive Medicare, the initial cost was $144.44 a month. But for younger retirees, it was $856.22 a month. By 2011, those charges rose to $452.01 a month for the Medicare eligible and $957.92 a month for the others.

“It is a huge amount of money when you are on a fixed income,” Tackett said, “I had to spend a big part of my pension on health insurance.”

Tackett started working at the plant when Goodyear owned it. He negotiated contracts and served for four years as president of the local union in the late 1970s and early 1980s, before Goodyear sold the plant to Shell in 1992. Shell sold it to M&G in 2000.

Throughout that time, Tackett said, he believed that language in the collective bargaining agreement guaranteed the company would pay the total cost of health benefits for workers who were eligible for full pensions when they retired. The lawsuit quotes the collective bargaining agreements as saying that workers earning a full pension “will receive a full Company contribution toward the cost of [health care] benefits.”

And the collective bargaining agreement says that if a retiree dies before his or her spouse, then the spouse remains entitled to health benefits until death or remarriage.

The agreement never says the retiree loses the benefit after so many years or must pay a portion of the costs. It also doesn’t say benefits earned by retirees over their work lives end with the expiration of any given collective bargaining agreement.

Even conservative Justice Antonin Scalia seemed to agree with the retirees on that point, saying during the arguments, “It is a reasonable assumption, call it a presumption if you like, that any promise to pay those benefits continues after the termination of the union contract.”

The fact that the collective bargaining agreement never specifically says the benefits must be paid in full by the company for the retiree’s lifetime is not unusual. A law firm with no financial interest in the outcome of the case reviewed collective bargaining agreements providing health insurance for retirees and reported to the Supreme Court that only 26 percent contained at least one clause suggesting that the benefit must be paid for life, while 14 percent contained ambiguous language and 16 percent were silent on the issue.

Previous owners of the plant never questioned the obligation and paid the benefits in full until the retiree and spouse died. In addition, M&G’s demands of Shell show that it knew the obligation was not limited.

When Goodyear sold the plant to Shell, it retained responsibility for the workers who retired during its ownership. Shell did not want to do that. So M&G hired actuaries to calculate the cost of the benefits that would be owed to the workers who retired in the eight years Shell owned the plant. That would include costs for Tackett who retired in 1996.

Shell allowed M&G to subtract that amount from the price of the Point Pleasant plant. As a result, Shell paid M&G the costs for those retirees. Now M&G is trying to get paid a second time by demanding those Point Pleasant retirees pay part of their premiums. 

Tackett, who lives in Bidwell, Ohio, started work at the plant in 1966. That, coincidentally, is the year that Mothman began terrifying local residents.

As Mothman did, M&G has stricken hundreds of families in this rural West Virginia region with fear. They’re scared they won’t be able to afford health insurance they believed they’d earned. A decision by the Supreme Court affirming the lower courts’ rulings would relieve retirees like 78-year-old Tackett and restore justice in Point Pleasant. 

It’s the redding of America. Republicans spilled Democratic candidate blood across the country last week.

Scarlet covers the map. Republicans took governorships in traditionally blue states. They won U.S. Senate seats in purple states. And they secured majorities in both houses of legislatures in 29 states of all hues, the highest number since 1920.

That means in January, GOP politicians will represent even greater numbers of Americans – Republicans, Democrats, independents, Greens, Libertarians. They don’t solely represent climate-science-denying, immigrant-hating, Ebola-scare-mongering tea partiers. They represent everyone residing in their districts. And those people must speak up about what they want because it’s sure as hell not what Republicans have promised to do.

Republicans could easily – though wrongly – perceive their big victory as a mandate. But exit polls show something quite different: Voters don’t like Republicans any better than Democrats. What they mainly think is that the economy stinks. And they want Washington to fix it. Though the recession is officially over and employment up, they’re not feeling it on Main Street. They held their noses at the ballot box and gave Republicans responsibility for doing something about it.

Voters told exit pollster after exit pollster the same thing: Though they pulled the lever for Republicans, they don’t like them. Fifty-four percent of voters told National Election Pool tabulators that they had “an unfavorable opinion” of Republicans. That’s the same percentage that had an unfavorable opinion of Democrats.

That’s no mandate. That’s a pox on both parties. 

What voters want is economic revival. Repeatedly, they named the economy and jobs as their priorities. In the National Election Pool survey, 78 percent of voters said they were worried about the economy over the next year.  In the Hart Research poll, 54 percent said their income was declining, and 68 percent said “raising wages and salaries is good because it improves people’s standard of living and boosts the economy.”

Though they picked the GOP, voters harbor no hope that Republicans will improve the nation’s financial standing. Sixty-two percent of those polled by Hart said they believed Republicans in Congress have no clear plan to strengthen the economy or create jobs.

And voters are right. Republicans aren’t talking about jobs. Instead, they want to cut taxes for corporations, slash federal programs for the poor and elderly and kill the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This would hobble the economy, not heal it.

If Republicans repealed the ACA, they’d be reaching into workers’ pockets and pulling out money. That’s because the 10 million who got insurance through the law would have to buy it on their own instead – if they could afford to do that, which, of course, they couldn’t do before the ACA. In addition, since the ACA, the price of health care has risen at historically low rates. Without the ACA, those charges would spike again, costing everyone with insurance more.  

It’s not what voters want. Fifty-nine percent told the Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies that their vote had nothing to do with the ACA, and half of voters said they wanted the law retained or fixed, but not repealed.

They’re not interested in cutting taxes for the rich and corporations either. Just the opposite. Two-thirds told Hart pollsters that they support increasing taxes on corporations and the wealthy to pay for job training, education and deficit reduction.

House Speaker John A. Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, isn’t listening. He said last week that lowering corporate tax rates and the federal debt were his top priorities.  Absolving corporations of their responsibility to pay for the public services that enable them to reap huge profits while simultaneously slashing public programs that provide equal opportunity for all citizens to succeed is austerity economics. It has failed miserably in Europe. Replicating it in the United States would impose the same economy-blighting results on Americans.

That’s not what voters want from a redder America. They want economic renewal.

Like Boehner in the House, reds in the Senate are setting off in the wrong direction. Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions is expected to take over the Senate budget committee and demand cuts to programs like Medicare and Social Security.

Gutting programs that this country has pledged to its elderly would defy the wishes of voters and damage the economy. Less money in the hands of senior citizens means less money spent, which, in turn, means less economic revving.

Voters strongly oppose any attempt to balance the budget on grandma’s arthritic back. In fact, 61 percent told the Hart pollsters said they want Social Security benefits increased. Also, 76 percent opposed raising the eligibility age for Medicare and cutting Medicaid.

The exit poll results should serve as a bright red light to Republicans. Stop. Quit pushing failed economic ideas that Americans despise.

For decades, both parties boosted the economy with infrastructure spending. The condition of the nation’s roads, bridges, railroads, pipelines, locks and dams all improved, as did employment, commerce and the nation’s finances. It worked.

But then Mitch McConnell, the minority leader of the Senate and presumptive majority leader beginning in January, vowed to make President Obama a one-term president by blocking all legislation, no matter how good it would be for America. He obstructed all infrastructure spending proposals.

The 72 percent of Americans who support investment in infrastructure need to call their red representatives. Tell them to invest in America. Do something that works. Something Americans want. And stop trying to take money out of workers’ wallets.

Tell them that if they insist on trying to mangle cherished programs like Social Security, then in the next election voters will wash that red right off of that map. 

It’s the redding of America. Republicans spilled Democratic candidate blood across the country last week.

Scarlet covers the map. Republicans took governorships in traditionally blue states. They won U.S. Senate seats in purple states. And they secured majorities in both houses of legislatures in 29 states of all hues, the highest number since 1920.

That means in January, GOP politicians will represent even greater numbers of Americans – Republicans, Democrats, independents, Greens, Libertarians. They don’t solely represent climate-science-denying, immigrant-hating, Ebola-scare-mongering tea partiers. They represent everyone residing in their districts. And those people must speak up about what they want because it’s sure as hell not what Republicans have promised to do.

Republicans could easily – though wrongly – perceive their big victory as a mandate. But exit polls show something quite different: Voters don’t like Republicans any better than Democrats. What they mainly think is that the economy stinks. And they want Washington to fix it. Though the recession is officially over and employment up, they’re not feeling it on Main Street. They held their noses at the ballot box and gave Republicans responsibility for doing something about it.

Voters told exit pollster after exit pollster the same thing: Though they pulled the lever for Republicans, they don’t like them. Fifty-four percent of voters told National Election Pool tabulators that they had “an unfavorable opinion” of Republicans. That’s the same percentage that had an unfavorable opinion of Democrats.

That’s no mandate. That’s a pox on both parties. 

What voters want is economic revival. Repeatedly, they named the economy and jobs as their priorities. In the National Election Pool survey, 78 percent of voters said they were worried about the economy over the next year.  In the Hart Research poll, 54 percent said their income was declining, and 68 percent said “raising wages and salaries is good because it improves people’s standard of living and boosts the economy.”

Though they picked the GOP, voters harbor no hope that Republicans will improve the nation’s financial standing. Sixty-two percent of those polled by Hart said they believed Republicans in Congress have no clear plan to strengthen the economy or create jobs.

And voters are right. Republicans aren’t talking about jobs. Instead, they want to cut taxes for corporations, slash federal programs for the poor and elderly and kill the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This would hobble the economy, not heal it.

If Republicans repealed the ACA, they’d be reaching into workers’ pockets and pulling out money. That’s because the 10 million who got insurance through the law would have to buy it on their own instead – if they could afford to do that, which, of course, they couldn’t do before the ACA. In addition, since the ACA, the price of health care has risen at historically low rates. Without the ACA, those charges would spike again, costing everyone with insurance more.  

It’s not what voters want. Fifty-nine percent told the Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies that their vote had nothing to do with the ACA, and half of voters said they wanted the law retained or fixed, but not repealed.

They’re not interested in cutting taxes for the rich and corporations either. Just the opposite. Two-thirds told Hart pollsters that they support increasing taxes on corporations and the wealthy to pay for job training, education and deficit reduction.

House Speaker John A. Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, isn’t listening. He said last week that lowering corporate tax rates and the federal debt were his top priorities.  Absolving corporations of their responsibility to pay for the public services that enable them to reap huge profits while simultaneously slashing public programs that provide equal opportunity for all citizens to succeed is austerity economics. It has failed miserably in Europe. Replicating it in the United States would impose the same economy-blighting results on Americans.

That’s not what voters want from a redder America. They want economic renewal.

Like Boehner in the House, reds in the Senate are setting off in the wrong direction. Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions is expected to take over the Senate budget committee and demand cuts to programs like Medicare and Social Security.

Gutting programs that this country has pledged to its elderly would defy the wishes of voters and damage the economy. Less money in the hands of senior citizens means less money spent, which, in turn, means less economic revving.

Voters strongly oppose any attempt to balance the budget on grandma’s arthritic back. In fact, 61 percent told the Hart pollsters said they want Social Security benefits increased. Also, 76 percent opposed raising the eligibility age for Medicare and cutting Medicaid.

The exit poll results should serve as a bright red light to Republicans. Stop. Quit pushing failed economic ideas that Americans despise.

For decades, both parties boosted the economy with infrastructure spending. The condition of the nation’s roads, bridges, railroads, pipelines, locks and dams all improved, as did employment, commerce and the nation’s finances. It worked.

But then Mitch McConnell, the minority leader of the Senate and presumptive majority leader beginning in January, vowed to make President Obama a one-term president by blocking all legislation, no matter how good it would be for America. He obstructed all infrastructure spending proposals.

The 72 percent of Americans who support investment in infrastructure need to call their red representatives. Tell them to invest in America. Do something that works. Something Americans want. And stop trying to take money out of workers’ wallets.

Tell them that if they insist on trying to mangle cherished programs like Social Security, then in the next election voters will wash that red right off of that map. 

It’s the redding of America. Republicans spilled Democratic candidate blood across the country last week.

Scarlet covers the map. Republicans took governorships in traditionally blue states. They won U.S. Senate seats in purple states. And they secured majorities in both houses of legislatures in 29 states of all hues, the highest number since 1920.

That means in January, GOP politicians will represent even greater numbers of Americans – Republicans, Democrats, independents, Greens, Libertarians. They don’t solely represent climate-science-denying, immigrant-hating, Ebola-scare-mongering tea partiers. They represent everyone residing in their districts. And those people must speak up about what they want because it’s sure as hell not what Republicans have promised to do.

Republicans could easily – though wrongly – perceive their big victory as a mandate. But exit polls show something quite different: Voters don’t like Republicans any better than Democrats. What they mainly think is that the economy stinks. And they want Washington to fix it. Though the recession is officially over and employment up, they’re not feeling it on Main Street. They held their noses at the ballot box and gave Republicans responsibility for doing something about it.

Voters told exit pollster after exit pollster the same thing: Though they pulled the lever for Republicans, they don’t like them. Fifty-four percent of voters told National Election Pool tabulators that they had “an unfavorable opinion” of Republicans. That’s the same percentage that had an unfavorable opinion of Democrats.

That’s no mandate. That’s a pox on both parties. 

What voters want is economic revival. Repeatedly, they named the economy and jobs as their priorities. In the National Election Pool survey, 78 percent of voters said they were worried about the economy over the next year.  In the Hart Research poll, 54 percent said their income was declining, and 68 percent said “raising wages and salaries is good because it improves people’s standard of living and boosts the economy.”

Though they picked the GOP, voters harbor no hope that Republicans will improve the nation’s financial standing. Sixty-two percent of those polled by Hart said they believed Republicans in Congress have no clear plan to strengthen the economy or create jobs.

And voters are right. Republicans aren’t talking about jobs. Instead, they want to cut taxes for corporations, slash federal programs for the poor and elderly and kill the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This would hobble the economy, not heal it.

If Republicans repealed the ACA, they’d be reaching into workers’ pockets and pulling out money. That’s because the 10 million who got insurance through the law would have to buy it on their own instead – if they could afford to do that, which, of course, they couldn’t do before the ACA. In addition, since the ACA, the price of health care has risen at historically low rates. Without the ACA, those charges would spike again, costing everyone with insurance more.  

It’s not what voters want. Fifty-nine percent told the Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies that their vote had nothing to do with the ACA, and half of voters said they wanted the law retained or fixed, but not repealed.

They’re not interested in cutting taxes for the rich and corporations either. Just the opposite. Two-thirds told Hart pollsters that they support increasing taxes on corporations and the wealthy to pay for job training, education and deficit reduction.

House Speaker John A. Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, isn’t listening. He said last week that lowering corporate tax rates and the federal debt were his top priorities.  Absolving corporations of their responsibility to pay for the public services that enable them to reap huge profits while simultaneously slashing public programs that provide equal opportunity for all citizens to succeed is austerity economics. It has failed miserably in Europe. Replicating it in the United States would impose the same economy-blighting results on Americans.

That’s not what voters want from a redder America. They want economic renewal.

Like Boehner in the House, reds in the Senate are setting off in the wrong direction. Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions is expected to take over the Senate budget committee and demand cuts to programs like Medicare and Social Security.

Gutting programs that this country has pledged to its elderly would defy the wishes of voters and damage the economy. Less money in the hands of senior citizens means less money spent, which, in turn, means less economic revving.

Voters strongly oppose any attempt to balance the budget on grandma’s arthritic back. In fact, 61 percent told the Hart pollsters said they want Social Security benefits increased. Also, 76 percent opposed raising the eligibility age for Medicare and cutting Medicaid.

The exit poll results should serve as a bright red light to Republicans. Stop. Quit pushing failed economic ideas that Americans despise.

For decades, both parties boosted the economy with infrastructure spending. The condition of the nation’s roads, bridges, railroads, pipelines, locks and dams all improved, as did employment, commerce and the nation’s finances. It worked.

But then Mitch McConnell, the minority leader of the Senate and presumptive majority leader beginning in January, vowed to make President Obama a one-term president by blocking all legislation, no matter how good it would be for America. He obstructed all infrastructure spending proposals.

The 72 percent of Americans who support investment in infrastructure need to call their red representatives. Tell them to invest in America. Do something that works. Something Americans want. And stop trying to take money out of workers’ wallets.

Tell them that if they insist on trying to mangle cherished programs like Social Security, then in the next election voters will wash that red right off of that map. 

The rich always vote for themselves. They go for their self-interest, their tax breaks, their liability escapes (think Wall Street). Meanwhile, they’ve relentlessly instructed the non-rich that they too must vote for the rich.

They’ve promised for decades that if the 99 percent just comply with the wishes of the wealthy, bow down, kiss their feet, shine their shoes, then some paltry portion of the bucket-loads of dough that the rich are amassing will dribble down upon the 99 percent.

That trickle-down trick didn’t work for the vast majority of Americans. The rich got richer, all right. But the rest slid backwards. Now income inequality is worse than it was during the era of robber barons. It’s time to turn that around. Political leaders must focus on the needs of the 99 percent. For that to happen, the 99 percent must vote for themselves today. They must go for their self-interest, their wages, their health insurance, their Social Security. 

Vote for higher wages for the 99 percent.

Minimum wage workers in the United States are paid so little that taxpayers subsidize the likes of Walmart and Wendy’s through government programs such as food stamps and Medicaid. That doesn’t happen everywhere.

As the New York Times pointed out last week, McDonald’s, Burger King and Starbucks all pay their workers in Denmark at least $20 an hour and provide paid vacations and pensions. And the companies still make profits.

The one percenter CEOs of these companies, who demand millions in pay for themselves, have squashed efforts to raise the U.S minimum wage, a pittance stuck five years at $7.25. Instead of improving paychecks, McDonald’s told its workers to get second jobs, forego heat in their homes and find health insurance for $20 a month.

When the minimum wage rises, it bumps up pay for everyone else. The 99 percent benefit.  And the majority supports lifting the wage.

Voting for raises means voting for Democrats. President Obama has called for an increase, and U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez said the U.S. minimum wage is an international embarrassment.  “I mean, we suck. We really do,” he said.

Republicans have consistently blocked a raise. New Jersey’s GOP Gov. Chris Christie, the nation’s fourth highest paid governor at $175,000 a year, said last month that he is “tired of hearing about the minimum wage.”

Vote for health insurance for the 99 percent.

The majority of Americans believe that health insurance should be accessible to everyone. The Affordable Care Act moved the nation closer to that, enabling tens of millions to get covered.

It prevented insurers from dumping clients when they get sick and from denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, like diabetes. It covered millions of young people to age 26 on their parents’ plans. It protected millions with an expansion of Medicaid.

National surveys have shown that low-income Americans are obtaining health insurance at a faster rate than the rich. There are two reasons for this. The rich already were covered. And the law was designed to help the working poor. This is creating fairness in access to medical care.  

Republicans hate the law. Two dozen GOP governors refused to expand Medicaid in their states, and those places now suffer from the highest rate of uninsured residents. Republicans are so intent on denying health care to the working poor that they rejected a program that would cost them nothing for three years.  

Now, Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader in the Senate, has again pledged to repeal the Affordable Care Act if the GOP takes control of his chamber. Republicans want to regress to higher inequality in health insurance coverage.

Vote to preserve and expand Social Security and Medicare.

These programs are not priorities of the rich. The wealthy are riding high on golden parachutes, gilded pensions, tax-sheltered off-shore accounts, and the built-in security of immense salaries. Social Security wouldn’t pay their country club fees.  

For the rest, however, Social Security and Medicare mean fear relief. They’re crucial to the 99 percent.

For years now, however, Republicans have tried to privatize, cut and destroy these programs.  U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, repeatedly has issued a “roadmap” for an America in which the rich drive new Ferraris bought with tax breaks and the rest forfeit their wheels because of cuts to Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare.

The overwhelming majority of Americans oppose cuts. Among Democrats, there’s a movement to increase benefits by lifting the $117,000 cap, after which income no longer is taxed for Social Security. The cap means that the rich pay proportionately less into Social Security than the rest.

Vote for the overwhelming majority, the non-rich, to get their needs met.

The nation’s richest are more politically engaged and get easier access to high-level politicians than the 99 percent. That isn’t just obvious. It’s also according to surveys and interviews of one-percenters conducted by three university professors. They are Northwestern University’s Benjamin I. Page and Jason Seawright and Vanderbilt’s Larry M. Bartels. Their report is called Democracy and the Policy Preferences of Wealthy Americans.

The rich minority gets its way. Bartels and another researcher showed in earlier studies that federal government policy corresponds much more closely with the wishes of the rich than the needs of the rest.

Bartels, author of Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age, has noted that no other rich country came close to the United States in cutting the budget based on class preferences. It went this way: the workers lost programs; the wealthy kept perks.

This has got to change. And it could.  In states with low voter turnout inequality – that is balloting by the non-rich more closely matching participation rates by the wealthy – there are higher minimum wages, stricter anti-predatory lending laws and better health benefits for the working poor. In other words, when workers vote, they’re more likely to get what they want from politicians.

Vote for yourself today. 

Speaking just like an American Republican, the Communist Chinese-appointed leader of Hong Kong, Leung Chun-ying, said last week that if the state granted democratic rights to its poor and working class, they could dominate elections and choose leaders who would meet their needs.

If Hong Kong’s 99 percenters picked their leaders, Mr. Leung said, “Then you would end up with that kind of politics and policies.”  To ensure politics and policies favoring Hong Kong’s one percent, Mr. Leung insists that a committee appointed in Beijing approve all candidates to succeed him.  

Mr. Leung fears rule by the majority – just as U.S. Republicans do. It’s the reason the GOP has launched a massive voter suppression campaign across the country. Republicans believe in rule by and for the one percent. To accomplish that, they must do what Mr. Leung and the Chinese Communist party did: foil democracy. That’s the GOP goal when it subverts America’s precious one person-one vote equality. Every American who holds democracy dear must do whatever it takes to defy GOP attempts to deny them access to the ballot next week.  

Protesters demanding democracy in Hong Kong have thronged streets and faced down baton-wielding police for three weeks. Mr. Leung’s anti-democracy remarks further inflamed the demonstrators who live in a state with among the highest income inequality in the world. Mr. Leung said he could not allow the state’s majority – workers and the poor – to choose nominees because then those candidates would address the demands of the majority.

“If it’s entirely a numbers game and numeric representation,” Mr. Leung said, “then obviously you (candidates) would be talking to half of the people of Hong Kong who earn less than $1,800 a month.” 

That is exactly who Republicans don’t want to talk to – America’s middle class and working poor. The GOP presidential candidate, quarter-billionaire Mitt Romney, said that it was his “job not to worry about those people” who are elderly or too poor to pay federal income taxes. To make sure Republicans can focus on the rich and forget the rest, they’ve passed a multitude of laws to stop the working poor, seniors, people of color, women and students from voting. The intent is to prevent them from choosing who will run the government that, in a democracy, is supposed to represent them.

The Brennan Center for Justice calculated that if all the suppression laws passed by nearly two dozen states in the past five years took effect, 5 million citizens would confront new obstacles to exercising their right to vote. The laws would likely deny suffrage altogether to some citizens, such as those lacking birth certificates because they were born at home.

In addition to demanding specific ID, some states restricted early voting, ended same-day registration, purged voter rolls, and failed to process tens of thousands of registration forms collected by groups encouraging low-income and minority citizens to vote. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the NAACP and other voting rights groups challenged these schemes in court.

In recent weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court, dominated by Republicans, issued preliminary rulings approving voter suppression in three states for the Nov. 4 balloting.

In a fourth, Wisconsin, the court temporarily barred the voter ID mandate. The Supremes will hear the case later and may allow the state to demand specific identification. That would be ID requirements that Federal Judge Lynn Adelman determined could disenfranchise 300,000 Wisconsin voters, particularly poor and minority citizens, because they lack the requisite documents.

Judge Adelman, who ruled the law unconstitutional, concluded that in Wisconsin, there were no cases of the in-person voter fraud that Republicans claim the law is intended to prevent.

Texas was among the three states that Republicans on the Supreme Court granted permission to begin demanding specific voter identification. The court ignored the fact that Texas passed the law within hours after the Republican Supremes gutted the Voting Rights Act.

The court ignored the fact that the trial judge in that case, Nelva Gonzales Ramos, calculated that it could disenfranchise 600,000 voters, particularly black and Hispanic Texans. These are citizens who don’t have a gun permit or driver’s license allowed as voter identification by the law, but who do possess other ID, such as student cards, forbidden by the law.

The court ignored the fact that Judge Ramos found only two cases of in-person voter fraud out of 20 million ballots cast in Texas over 10 years.

Consider what red, white and blue-wearing, flag-waving, democracy-praising Republicans have said about their voter suppression campaigns.

Georgia state Rep. Fran Millar complained about a decision to allow Sunday voting in a location near a mall that, as he described it, “is dominated by African American shoppers and it is near several large African American mega churches such as New Birth Missionary Baptist.”

When accused of racism, he said, “I would prefer more educated voters than a greater increase in the number of voters.”

In other words, he only wants some people to vote, not all people.

That’s not democracy.

In Ohio, where Republicans tried to allow GOP-dominated counties to add hours for early voting but deny it in Democratic areas, Doug Priesse, the chairman of the Republican Party in Franklin County, where Columbus is located, said it was fine to make voting more difficult for black citizens:

“I guess I really feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban – read African-American – voter-turnout machine.”

That’s not democracy.

In Pennsylvania, the Republican House Majority Leader Mike Turzai shepherded voter ID through the legislature in 2012, then announced  to a GOP gathering: "Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania: done." In other words, the law would stop voting by the working poor, minorities, student and others who tend to vote for Democrats.

That’s not democracy.

The ACLU got an injunction to stop the Pennsylvania ID law. President Obama won the state. And the state Supreme Court later ruled the law unconstitutional.

The rich are represented in government, and as a result, highly profitable oil companies get tax breaks. Wall Street gets bailouts. And one percenters get tax deductions for yachts. By contrast, no one bailed out underwater homeowners. Twenty-four states refused to expand Medicaid to millions of working poor citizens. And the federal minimum wage hasn’t been raised in five years.

In a democracy, there’s nothing more important to securing representation in government than the vote.  Don’t let Republicans take it from you.

***

Photo by Stephen Melkisethian on Flickr, taken Feb. 8 at Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C. during a Moral Monday Movement rally.

Income inequality is killing the economy. Retailers, bankers and Democrats agree on that. Really.

It’s only Republicans who continue to insist that income inequality is great, so no one, least of all them, should make any effort to constrict the abyss between America’s struggling 99 percent and Americans who indulge themselves in $475,000 bottles of House of Creed Bespoke perfume.

Now that Wall Street and Main Street have endorsed Democratic economic principals to reduce inequality for the sake of the economy, voting Nov. 4 is easy. Vote Democrat. That’s the party both bankers and retailers say has the solution to economic revival. 

Admittedly, this is all a little hard to believe after Republicans have diligently depicted themselves as business and bank huggers for so long.

Turns out, though, that’s a sad, one-sided relationship. Bankers and retailers aren’t returning the love when it comes to economic policy. They’ve recognized the enemy to their bottom lines, and it is the rising costs and stagnant wages borne by workers since the dawn of the recession.

And both bankers and retailers want action. They want incomes, consumer confidence and purchases all to rise, triggering business profits to do the same. They’ve discovered that extra personal jets, mega yachts and $475,000 perfume purchased by the 1 percent have failed to stimulate the economy.

What’s essential to revival is more buying by the hulking mass of everybody else. That’s what Wall Street firms have said in recent reports. And that’s what the Center for American Progress, a think tank that supports middle-out economics, found in an analysis of the financial statements of 65 of the nation’s top retailers.

Here, for example, is what Morgan Stanley economists had to say last month in their report Inequality and Consumption:

“So, despite the roughly $25 trillion increase in wealth since the recovery from the financial crisis began, consumer spending remains anemic. Top income earners have benefited from wealth increases but middle and low income consumers continue to face structural liquidity constraints and unimpressive wage growth. To lift all boats, further increases in residential wealth and accelerating wage growth are needed.”

In other words, the prescription to cure consumer spending anemia is raises for workers. Remember, it is Republicans who have blocked raising the federal minimum wage from its poverty-level $7.25 an hour, with some party darlings, such as Michele Bachmann, a former candidate for the GOP presidential nomination, contending that the minimum wage should be abolished because no wage is too low.

Then there’s the August report from rating agency Standard & Poor’s titled: How Increasing Income Inequality Is Dampening U.S. Economic Growth, And Possible Ways To Change The Tide. It says:

“The challenge now is to find a path toward more sustainable growth, an essential part of which, in our view, is pulling more Americans out of poverty and bolstering the purchasing power of the middle class. A rising tide lifts all boats…but a lifeboat carrying a few, surrounded by many treading water, risks capsizing.”

Apparently, Wall Street economists love boat metaphors.

To haul the many out of the water and into a more stable economic ship, S&P suggests this:

“That said, some degree of rebalancing – along with spending in the areas of education, health care, and infrastructure, for example – could help bring under control an income gap that, at its current level, threatens the stability of an economy still struggling to recover.”

Remember, it is Republicans across the country that have cut spending on education and refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

It is Republicans in Congress who have repeatedly stomped on attempts by Democrats to stimulate the economy by spending on desperately needed repairs to infrastructure – that is facilities such as roads, bridges, public buildings and sewers. Numerous economists have pointed out that the cost of borrowing for these job-creating projects is so low right now that the loans are virtually free.

Wall Street and Main Street have had their disputes since the Great Recession. But they agree that for the good of the country’s economy, incomes must rise for the majority. In a report issued earlier this month, the Center for American Progress (CAP) documented retailers’ belief that stagnant wages are damaging business. It’s called Retailer Revelations: Why America’s Struggling Middle Class has Businesses Scared.

CAP tabulated the risks to business stability that the nation’s top retailers reported to the Securities and Exchange Commission. CAP found that 88 percent said weak consumer spending imperils stock prices, and 68 percent said consumers’ flat or falling incomes threaten business profits.

The CAP report lists large retailer (Kohl’s and Sears) after large retailer (Best Buy and J.C. Penney) suffering faltering sales. It quotes Container Store CEO Kip Tindell saying, “Consistent with so many of our fellow retailers, we are experiencing a retail funk.”

CAP explains the funk, “The fortunes of the retail sector and the middle class are inherently linked – when family incomes fail to rise, when the cost of living increases, or when workers cannot find jobs, retailers’ sales decline.”

Some retailers have taken action themselves. Earlier this year, for example, Gap Inc. and IKEA announced plans to raise their workers’ wages to at least $10 an hour. Costco increased wages by $1.50 an hour during the recession, so workers start at $11.50 an hour.

CEO Craig Jelinek explained: “I just think people need to make a living wage with health benefits. It also puts more money back into the economy and creates a healthier country. It’s really that simple.” Costco’s stock prices have tripled since 2009.

Still, not every retailer is going to raise wages voluntarily. The world’s largest, Walmart, for example, just cut its workers’ health benefits. That’s where government steps in. For the good of struggling Americans and the ailing economy, government can order employers to pay a living wage. To create jobs and stimulate the economy, government can invest in infrastructure. As during the Great Depression, a government of the people, by the people, for the people can act for the benefit of the majority of the people.

Republicans oppose that. They prefer the failed trickle-down economics that sunk the middle class. So on Nov. 4, vote to ship them home.  Retailers, bankers and workers across America will thank you.

Republicans have adopted a Halloween-themed campaign strategy that they hope will incite voters to run screaming from Democrats.

The GOP message: Americans should be very, very afraid because the homeland is under attack from ghouls and goblins manifest as Ebola and ISIS. Republicans even threaten boogeymen in the form of ISIS suicide agents strapping themselves with Ebola virus vests and sneaking across the southern U.S. border.

This embrace of Halloween tricks is not surprising from the party pushing voter suppression while masquerading as a democracy-loving founding father.  The GOP is warning Americans that they should be scared witless of impending government disintegration because a guy with a knife got into the White House. This “caution” comes from the political party that favors government disintegration. Republicans have, after all, repeatedly shut down government and announced their intention to drown it in a bathtub. Republicans want America to summon the GOP to save the day, like it’s the political version of Ghostbusters. Most Americans, though, see right through the GOP, like it’s a gooey glob of ectoplasm.

Halloween, with its blood and gore, witches and werewolves, is a children’s holiday because its horrors are fictional. Republicans have picked up on that theme for their Halloween fear-mongering. Fabricating characters and events to induce terror is just part of the GOP-Halloween scheme.

There is, for example, the scary story concocted by U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif. He told Fox News last week that border agents apprehended 10 Islamic State fighters in Texas. The Department of Homeland Security described this as “categorically false.” You know, like the one about border agents apprehending 10 vampires in Texas.

Unlike Hunter’s flashlight-in-the-face, camp-tent tales, ISIS and Ebola are real. ISIS has beheaded several Westerners overseas and Ebola has killed one person in the United States – a man who contracted the disease in West Africa.

Both can elicit fear. But more immediately frightening and more justifiably alarming to most Americans are other threats that Republicans have refused to help resolve.

For example, sickening, paralyzing and even killing children across America is Enterovirus D-68. It has been diagnosed in more than 600 people in 45 states and the District of Columbia, virtually all children. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) believes it may have killed five patients, and confirmed last week it caused the death of a 4-year-old New Jersey boy last month. Unlike Ebola, which is transmitted through body fluids, Enterovirus D-68 is vastly more contagious, spread through the air like common cold germs.

The “sequester” and other budget cuts demanded by Republicans reduced the CDC budget by more than $1 billion in 2013, including hundreds of millions slashed from programs intended to intervene in situations like Enterovirus D-68. Republicans aren’t offering to restore that money to help save children from paralysis and death. The parents of that New Jersey 4-year-old are living with the very real nightmare of losing him. 

Similarly, the lack of health insurance threatens the lives of thousands of Americans. Millions still don’t have coverage, partly because Republican governors and legislators have refused to expand Medicaid under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. A study by Harvard and the City University of New York found that each year between 7,115 and 17,104 people will die because their states denied them health insurance through Medicaid. That is a real horror. And it is one created by Republicans.

To distract Americans from that reality, Republicans are running around screaming, “ISIS is coming! ISIS is coming!” GOP candidates are broadcasting chilling ads warning of imminent attacks by terrorists and exploiting footage provided by ISIS of beheadings.

Even so, Americans know the GOP won’t protect them. Americans recall quite clearly that it was during the administration of Republican George W. Bush that the 9/11 attacks occurred. They know that same GOP president lied about weapons of mass destruction to terrify Americans into an unprovoked war with Iraq. And they remember that for all of Bush’s bravado about hunting down Osama bin Laden, he failed. It was Democrat Barack Obama who actually did it.

The other problem for Republicans is that Americans aren’t seeking a red elephant to cower behind. Americans aren’t a bunch of faint-hearted Chicken Littles. They’re a take charge John Wayne bunch. They’d rather solve problems themselves than rely on a bunch of Republicans costumed as superheroes.

As he took office in the depth of the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt told the American people, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life, a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.”

Republicans are urging Americans to devolve into helpless cowards fearing fear itself. While barely acceptable as a Halloween prank, it’s offensive as a national strategy. 

When Mary Grace Gainer anxiously told her master’s and doctoral advisors that she’d noticed want ads for college professors diminishing, they assured her, “Good people get good jobs.”

So she focused on being very, very good. She earned straight A’s. She presented papers at academic conferences, including at Princeton. She sweated over her instructional duties, earning rave reviews from her students. She served as an officer for academic organizations and helped plan educational events.

But then, to her horror, with $90,000 in student debt and a family to support, she discovered good people don’t always get good jobs. Against her will and her efforts, Gainer joined the world’s growing ranks of marginalized workers. They live precariously, without health insurance, without a living wage, without a schedule for duty, without a guarantee of work the next week or month. 

This mounting army of workers worries incessantly and survives only because of government and family assistance. CEOs and corporations gorge themselves on profits made on the suffering of workers trapped in this life of frightening instability called the precariat.

To reverse this dangerous trend, the International Trade Union Confederation created the World Day for Decent Work six years ago. On Oct. 7 this year, my union, the United Steelworkers (USW), as well as the IndustriALL Global Union, representing 50 million workers in 140 countries, and others around the world will demonstrate against this corporate scheme.

Mary Grace Gainer will be among those protesting. When this woman with a PhD in English discovered in February that she was pregnant, she no longer had health insurance and was unsure where she would get her next paychecks, even after years of teaching full-time at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

IUP’s English Department had cut her classes, and thus her pay and benefits, to the point where her two children qualified for the state-subsidized child health insurance program. The university did the same to a dozen other professors who had hoped, like Gainer, to soon be on the tenure track. Her partner, a military veteran, had struggled to find work until ultimately he secured a job driving a school bus for $57 a day, but no benefits. Her wages dramatically reduced, Gainer could not afford health insurance for herself.

As a result, Gainer was living without stability, like millions of restaurant and retail workers around the country. The New York Times this year has repeatedly documented the plight of these workers.

They can’t arrange childcare because the corporations employing them don’t post schedules until the last minute. They’re late paying rent because these corporations order them to leave work early during slow periods, slashing wages. They go to work ill, even at restaurants, because the corporations refuse to provide paid sick time off. They can’t see a doctor anyway because the corporations keep them at just below the number of hours per week that would qualify them for health benefits.

Shoving workers into the precariat like this is the manifestation of corporate greed. That’s clear because some retailers and restaurants including Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, and Modell’s Sporting Goods stores in Manhattan make profits while treating workers fairly. In many of these cases, the workers are represented by unions that bargain for better conditions. That includes schedules posted weeks in advance, full-time work, vacation and sick pay and health insurance coverage.

Collective bargaining gives union workers more power to resist attempts by corporations to impose insecurity. Still, corporations like Rio Tinto try.

The world’s third-largest mining company demanded in 2012 that the 780 union workers at the Alma, Quebec, aluminum smelter allow Rio Tinto to replace retirees with new hires who would be denied membership in the USW, who would receive half pay, and who would get substandard benefits.  When the union refused, Rio Tinto locked the workers out. It took six months, but Rio Tinto finally backed off.

As individuals, workers would not win such a fight. Mary Grace Gainer knows that. And that’s why she supported the ultimately successful effort by Point Park  University adjunct professors to be represented by the USW’s Adjunct Faculty Association.

When Gainer finished her PhD and taught full-time at IUP, she earned $55,000 a year, as well as full health and retirement benefits. She had to apply for this position every year, but after five consecutive full-time years, she could have sought a tenure track position, providing more job security. But IUP prevented Gainer and a dozen colleagues from getting that far.

Suddenly, in the summer of 2013, IUP’s English Department told them it would no longer assign them full teaching schedules. They would be replaced with students studying for advanced degrees.

Gainer then sought work as an adjunct professor at Point Park. Adjuncts are hired to teach a course or two, a semester at a time. Point Park told her it would pay $2,244 a semester for each class. With preparation and instruction time, grading, and meetings with students, adjuncts figure that’s less than minimum wage -- for workers with master’s and doctorate degrees. They get no benefits. They don’t know from semester to semester how many courses, or which courses, universities will assign them to teach.

While raising tuition at more than twice the rate of inflation, colleges and universities are subjecting more and more teachers to precarious lives. Now, three-quarters of university instructors are underpaid adjuncts.

Gainer feels university officials misled her about what would be possible if she got her PhD. “You do everything right and you think you are going to make it, and you don’t,” she said.

Pressing people into the precariat can’t continue, she said. “People are really, really hurting. People can’t live like this. I think it is going to collapse in some way. I see nurses and teachers and fast food workers going out on strike and unionizing. I hope we are on the track to taking the economy back somewhat from the mess it has become.”

Guy Standing, a professor at the University of London who has authored two books about precarious work, wrote recently that workers will rise up to oppose the economic forces condemning families to insecurity as they recognize “that their situation is not due to personal failings.”

Those who know it’s not their fault that good people don’t get good jobs will demonstrate on World Day for Decent Work. USW members employed at Rio Tinto facilities in Alma, Labrador and Utah, adjuncts like Gainer, workers in the precariat and their sympathizers worldwide will demand justice.  

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Mary G. Gainer is looking for a job around Indiana, Pa., that would enable her to use the writing and teaching skills she developed studying for her doctorate in English and take her family out of the precariat. Here is her professional information on LinkedIn.

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To join the IndustriAll Thunderclap against precarious work, click here.

 

The GOP is working desperately to deny the right to vote to citizens it doesn’t like. You know, poor people, black people, Hispanic people, old people, female people, especially people it believes are inclined to vote for Democrats. 

Republican politicians have hatched a multitude of schemes in states across the country to accomplish this gambit, passing laws demanding specific voter identification at polling places, eliminating early voting days and purging voters from registration rolls.

The right-wingers on the U.S. Supreme Court last year gave Republicans a hand in this effort by striking down key protections in the Voting Rights Act. Joining them this month were three Republican judges on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In a rush-job, five-paragraph order issued just hours after the trio heard testimony, the GOP panel overruled a lower court’s 70-page decision and allowed Wisconsin to demand voter ID of 300,000 residents who don’t currently have it for an election that is less than 7 weeks away.

When their hands are pressed on a Bible in court, Republican experts admit they’ve got no evidence of the in-person voter fraud that the GOP claims these laws are intended to prevent. What they’re really intended to prevent is voting by people Republicans detest, the derided “47 percent” that GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney spit on. Republicans are robbing citizens of the fundamental right to vote. It’s criminal. It’s fraud that subverts America’s cherished democracy.

Since 2010, Republicans have passed voter-suppression laws in 22 states, and nearly half the nation’s population could be affected in November’s balloting. Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP have succeeded in postponing and overturning some. That includes the one in Pennsylvania, where the law’s Republican supporters conceded in court they had absolutely no evidence of in-person voter fraud.

In Texas, the expert called to testify by Republicans supporting the law admitted when cross-examined that he was unaware of a single case of in-person voter fraud there. In Wisconsin, Republican officials acknowledged in depositions that they could not produce one example of in-person voter fraud in the entire state history.   

The Brennan Center for Justice studied the allegations of in-person voter fraud and described it as essentially a myth, an event that almost never occurs. Justin Levitt, a Loyola Law Professor who has tracked allegations of fraud for years, has found 31 incidents since 2000 – out of more than 1 billion ballots cast nationwide. And, he says, some of the 31 have not been investigated and may, in the end, be debunked. Levitt also says voter ID does not prevent the most common types of election cheating.

Voter fraud is unacceptable. But so is disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of citizens. Particularly when disenfranchising them does not prevent voter fraud.

Federal Judge Lynn Adelman put it this way in his ruling against the Wisconsin law, “There is no way to determine exactly how many people Act 23 will prevent or deter from voting without considering the individual circumstances of each of the 300,000 plus citizens who lack an ID. But no matter how imprecise my estimate may be, it is absolutely clear that Act 23 will prevent more legitimate votes from being cast than fraudulent votes.”

Among the 300,000 are Ruthelle Frank, Shirley Brown and Eddie Lee Holloway Jr., all plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the Wisconsin statute. Though Brown has been a regular at the polls in Wisconsin for decades, the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) denied her the ID she would need to vote under the state law because she did not have a birth certificate. Born at home in Louisiana 70-some years ago, Brown never had a birth certificate. The DMV rebuffed a statement from Brown’s elementary school attesting to her birth, even though Medicare had accepted it.

The DMV denied Halloway an ID card because his birth certificate read “Eddie Junior Holloway instead of “Eddie Lee Holloway Junior.”

The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit is Ruthelle Frank, an 87-year-old woman born in Wisconsin who has voted in every election there since 1948 and who has served on the Brokaw Village Board since 1996. She does not have an acceptable ID under the law because she lacks a certified copy of her birth certificate.

Wisconsin Republican state officials told the appeals court earlier this month that they would no longer require residents without birth certificates to produce them. This was done because a state court had suggested requiring residents to purchase certificates was akin to a poll tax. Instead, the DMV will look up the information. That may not help Ruthelle Frank, however, because her maiden name is misspelled on her certificate. To correct a birth certificate could cost $200 and takes time.

And she doesn’t have much time. There’s only seven weeks until the election. For hundreds of thousands of citizens like Ruthelle Frank, what Wisconsin is demanding of them to exercise their right to vote is extremely difficult if not impossible. Even if she could pay to get her birth certificate corrected in time, she’d have to find a way to a motor vehicle office to collect an identification card.

In 48 of the state’s 72 counties, where a quarter of the state’s adult population lives, motor vehicle offices are open only two weekdays, and never during evenings.  People without ID don’t have drivers’ licenses. That’s 300,000 people in Wisconsin who would have to find a way to motor vehicle offices during limited hours – 43,000 a week until Election Day.

If the three-Republican judge panel’s ruling is not reversed, hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin citizens could be disenfranchised by Republicans in a state where there has been no documented in-person voter fraud since it joined the union.

That’s exactly what Republican politicians and Republican judges want, especially when their GOP governor is running neck-and-neck with his Democratic challenger. That is defrauding voters.