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.  

***

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.

***

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. 

Senate Republicans voted unanimously last week for elections that are competitions of cash, with candidates who amass the most money empowered to shout down opponents.

The GOP rejected elections that are contests of ideas won by candidates offering the best concepts.

Forty-two Republican Senators on Thursday opposed advancing a proposed constitutional amendment called Democracy for All. It would have ended the one percent’s control over elections and politicians. It would have reversed the democracy-destroying Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions by permitting Congress and state legislatures to once again limit campaign spending. Republicans said no because they favor the system that indentures politicians to wealthy benefactors.

As it stands now, corporations and billionaires may spend unbounded and unreported billions to buy elections. They’re likely to invest $2 billion in this fall’s contests. That’s thanks to the activist, right-wing, so-called justices on the Supreme Court who upended a century of campaign finance law with rulings like Citizens United in 2010 and McCutcheon this year.

The result is that everyone retains their free speech rights, but the wealthy and corporations, who can afford gigantic amplifiers, can now use their money to buy the loudest voice, one that overwhelms and silences those of tens of millions of working Americans. The right-wingers on the Supreme Court said it was fine for the wealthy and corporations to use their money to drown out the pleas of the non-rich. And Senate Republicans agreed last week.

This has made the majority of Americans very, very cynical about politicians and elections. The typical voter knows his or her $5 or $25 or $100 contribution to a candidate can’t compete with the $10,000 or $100,000 or $1 million gifts from corporations and billionaires.

Americans aren’t stupid. They knew what big bucks buy.

They pay for access. The Senator will make time to see the CEO whose corporation donated $250,000. The Senator won’t do the same for the worker who gave $25.

Big bucks also buy votes. Americans believe politicians’ positions on issues are the ones that the biggest benefactors told them to take. In private meetings, of course. A poll by the Opinion Research Corporation in 2012 found that 68 percent of voters, including 71 percent of Republicans, think that a corporation that spends $100,000 to help elect a Congressman could successfully pressure him to change position on proposed legislation.

While Republican politicians celebrate that outcome, most Americans do not. And that includes Republican voters. A poll in July by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research found 73 percent of voters in the 12 most competitive Senate battleground states want the Citizens United ruling reversed, including significant majorities of Republicans.

In 2012, Montana voters passed a referendum by 74 percent telling the red state’s congressional delegation to support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. In purple Colorado, voters passed a similar referendum by 73.8 percent. Fourteen other states, the District of Columbia and 600 communities have called for reversal of Citizens United.

Still, Senate Republicans, groomed by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, ignored the sentiments of the majority of citizens and blocked the Democracy for All amendment. McConnell, who once supported a similar constitutional amendment, now praises unlimited, unregulated, undisclosed campaign contributions. He told a group of fat cat GOP donors in June that he just didn’t know where he’d be without them.

Well, not in office, that’s for sure. He would be in far greener – as in greenbacks – pastures, cleaning up with former House GOP Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who lost his primary this year, then quickly resigned so he could grab $1.8 million as vice chairman at a Wall Street investment bank. Wealthy donors and corporations reward their indentured servants even when they lose elections.

Republicans didn’t always endorse this corruption. Conservative GOP Sen. Barry Goldwater, the party’s nominee for President in 1964, supported campaign finance reform in 1983, saying: “Our nation is facing a crisis of liberty if we do not control campaign expenditures. We must prove that elective office is not for sale. We must convince the public that elected officials are what James Madison intended us to be, agents of the sovereign people, not the hired hands of rich givers.”

Former Sen. Warren Rudman, a Republican from New Hampshire who campaigned for reform, wrote after the Citizens United ruling, which he called rash and immoderate: “Supreme Court opinion notwithstanding, corporations are not defined as people under the Constitution, and free speech can hardly be called free when only the rich are heard.”

Another Republican Presidential nominee, John McCain, whose name graced the bipartisan McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act of 2002, said after it was struck down by the Citizens United ruling: “What the Supreme Court did is a combination of arrogance, naiveté and stupidity the likes of which I have never seen."

Still, McCain joined all of the other Republicans in the Senate Thursday to obstruct a constitutional amendment to fix that problem. 

Sen. Tom Udall, the New Mexico Democrat who proposed the amendment, said he’ll continue to press for its passage. He must because that limitless campaign cash is ruining the American democracy.

Voters know that money tends to corrupt, and infinite money corrupts infinitely. 

House Republicans last week overwhelmingly endorsed suing President Barack Obama for delaying part of the Affordable Care Act, a law Republicans hate and condemn and voted 50 times to repeal. So, really, the president did exactly what the GOP claims it wants. But they’re suing anyway.

On the other side of the Capitol, Senate Republicans last week prevented repair of a law that 99.99 percent of Americans hate and condemn and would vote 50 times to repeal, given the chance. The GOP blocked a bill that would have ended tax breaks bestowed on corporations for offshoring factories and jobs.

Only one Senate Republican voted for the Bring Jobs Home Act – the bill that would have replaced corporate reprobate rebates with rewards for firms that move factories back to America. Americans of all political persuasions object to paying higher taxes to offset the cost of coddling corporate defectors. The GOP’s filibustering of this bill is dereliction of duty. So let’s sue. And look at it this way, even if this is a lost cause – and it is – the more time Republicans must spend in court, the less time they have to obstruct the will of the people.

In his very first campaign, President Obama promised to end tax gifts presented to corporations that abandon America and take up with foreign countries. He said he wanted to provide instead incentives to corporations that re-embraced America, returning home. 

It made perfect sense. Why should American workers subsidize corporations for closing American factories, killing American jobs, destroying American communities and moving overseas? For 2.9 million Americans, that is not a hypothetical annoyance. Over the past decade, that’s how many American jobs U.S. corporations cut as they created 2.4 million overseas.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney embodied the Senate GOP position. The issue smacked him in the face when workers at a Freeport, Ill., factory pleaded with him to intervene on their behalf to stop their employer, Sensata, from sending their factory and their jobs to China.

The workers turned to Romney because the private equity firm he founded, Bain Capital, owned Sensata. It bought the Illinois facility in 2010 and immediately told the 170 workers there that it planned to close the factory and move the auto sensor-manufacturing equipment to China by the end of 2012.

As Romney campaigned in 2012, Sensata ferried Chinese nationals to Freeport and ordered the Illinois workers to train them on equipment that the company was preparing to transport to a new plant constructed for it by the Chinese government in Jiangsu Province.

To make the desertion even easier for Sensata, the American government would allow the corporation to write off some of the cost of the move for tax purposes. It’s a little bon voyage present paid for by American taxpayers who suffer when corporations move offshore.

That’s the very practice candidate Obama said he wanted to stop and that Senate Democrats, led by Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, John Walsh of Montana and Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada tried to end with the Bring Jobs Home Act.

Romney refused to intervene with his private equity firm to help the Illinois workers. And, similarly, Republicans in the Senate, except for Susan Collins of Maine, filibustered the Bring Jobs Home Act. A comfortable majority of 54 U.S. Senators supported it, but a minority of 42 Republicans stood in the way. They should be sued for forcing U.S. workers to help bankroll corporate abandonment of America.

Some Republican Senators stomped their feet and demanded continued subsidies for offshoring of jobs unless the entire tax code was overhauled, a feat that seems, well, somewhat unlikely from this record-breaking, do-nothing, Republican-thwarted Congress.

Other Republicans protested the cost. It’s true that over a decade, the change from tax breaks for offshorers to tax breaks for onshorers was projected by the Joint Committee on Taxation to cost $214 million. That’s million, not billion. And it’s over a decade, so $21.4 million a year.

That’s not chump change, but for comparison purposes, the state of Tennessee gave Volkswagen $165.8 million this year to expand its Chattanooga assembly plant. In 2008, Tennessee gave VW $577 million to build the factory in the state. That’s more than $742 million from one state to one company over six years, or, to put it another way, $123 million a year. That’s nearly six times the annual national cost of the Bring Jobs Home Act.

Still, Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, who was so instrumental in rounding up and handing over all of that Tennessee tax money to VW, voted against the Bring Jobs Home Act.

So, sue him, right? Because there’s something deeply wrong with forcing Tennessee taxpayers to spend hundreds of millions to bring jobs to their state, and, at the same time, subsidize corporations moving jobs out of the state and the country.

This is a defining vote. It shows Democrats supporting American jobs, American industry, American workers and American communities. It shows Republicans indulging corporations, no matter what they do, no matter how destructive their decisions are to the country.

Send the GOP a message. A lawsuit would be one gesture. But big time election losses would work better.

Early last week, the drug firm Mylan stomped on the Stars and Stripes as it ditched America for the Netherlands. Then, on Friday, the drug company AbbVie similarly renounced America. For 30 pieces of silver, it will become Irish.

Medical device maker Medtronic deserted America for Ireland last month. The pharmacy chain Walgreens recently announced it may be next. It plans to dump the land of the free for the bows and scrapes of royal subjects.

Walgreens is willing to prostrate itself before Queen Elizabeth because the British corporate tax rate is lower. Anything for money, right AbbVie? These firms will still park their assets and staff and sales in America. They just won’t pay taxes on foreign income to the country that nurtured them, protected them from patent violators and unfair competitors, and provided them with educated workers, federally-sponsored research and development, and myriad other public services. Now, they can freeload instead. As a result, their U.S. competitors, as well as hardworking Americans, will pay more to cover the shirkers’ share.

This foreign address squatting is formally called inversion. A large American corporation seeking to evade its tax responsibilities hooks up with company in a low tax country. It makes sure the foreign firm ends up with at least 20 percent of the combined company’s stock, so the American corporation can legally change its address. It’s called inversion because the big buyer takes the smaller subsumed entity’s address instead of the other way around. Dozens of corporations have done it in the past couple of years.

At least one former chief executive officer condemned the practice. That would be Bill George, who wrote in the New York Times about an inversion proposed by Pfizer:

“Is the role of leading large pharmaceutical companies to discover lifesaving drugs or to make money for shareholders through financial engineering? Does anyone believe pharmaceutical companies can create long-term shareholder value by chasing lower tax venues and cutting research and development spending?”

But a month later when George’s alma mater Medtronic launched the same tax dodge maneuver, well, then it was a completely different story. For Medtronic, George said, tax evasion was hunky-dory:  

“The only reason they’re doing the inversion is to free up the cash overseas. . . That money today can’t be put to good use right now.” That, of course, isn’t true. It could be put to good use immediately if Medtronic paid the federal income tax the company owes on it. 

Medtronic has about $14 billion squirrelled away offshore. It would have to pay between $3.5 and $4.2 billion in federal taxes to bring the money back for use at its headquarters in Minnesota. That’s the difference between the official U.S. tax rate of 35 percent and the 5 to 10 percent rate Medtronic already has paid to other countries where the money was made. Instead of paying its American taxes, Medtronic will spend $43 billion to buy an Irish firm.

When George was Medtronic CEO, he worked to lower the firm’s tax rate. And he succeeded masterfully. Like the vast majority of U.S. companies, Medtronic doesn’t pay anywhere near the official 35 percent. It pays 18 percent. That’s still too much, according to George, who told the New York Times: “The taxes are simply too high in this country.”

Too high for AbbVie as well. It paid 22.6 percent last year and projects that renouncing America will lower its rate to 13 percent by 2016.

George called for another corporate tax holiday during which multi-nationals could repatriate their foreign earnings without paying all of the taxes owed. Great for them, of course, but not for the federal budget deficit. And, frankly, unfair to working Americans never granted tax holidays.

Medtronic does plan, however, to arrange an excise tax holiday for its corporate executives and board members. To discourage inversions, Congress imposed a 15 percent excise tax on the options and restricted stock of inverting corporations’ officers and board members.  Medtronic says it will pony up about $60 million to pay off those tax bills.

Partly because of shell games like that, the excise tax has failed to deter corporations from shifting their tax responsibilities to working Americans.

Last week, between the Mylan and AbbVie announcements, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew urged Congress to take new action to halt the desertions. Stopping inversions would raise $17 billion for the U.S. Treasury over a decade, according to the administration. That’s a $17 billion smaller national debt.

The administration proposes that before an American company could contend it had moved to a tax haven, the purchased company would have to get half of the new company’s stock, instead of 20 percent. U.S. Senators Carl Levin and Ron Wyden and U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, all Democrats, have proposed a two-year moratorium on inversions retroactive to May 8.

U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, got anti-inversion legislation passed earlier this month with the help of libertarian-leaning Republicans. It’s limited to companies that move to the tax haven islands of Bermuda and the Caymans, but she’s working on expanding it.

It’s ingenious. It bars inverters from getting federal contracts. It should definitely be extended to include Medtronic, which was awarded $484 million in federal contracts over the past five years.

In the case of Walgreens, it should be broadened to bar Medicare and Medicaid recipients from filling prescriptions there if the pharmacy joins shiftless corporations with sham headquarters overseas.

And the likes of Walgreens, Medtronic, Mylan and AbbVie need to keep their mouths shut as Congress debates these penalties. It has been a crime since 1966 for foreign nationals to donate money to American political campaigns. These corporations lost their freedom to buy politicians when they renounced America for money. 

***

Flag Photo by Mark Sardella on Flickr.

 

Americans devoted Friday to celebrating independence. Flags and fireworks, picnics and pledges of allegiance abounded.

But there’s no liberty and justice for all if Americans aren’t economically independent.  Low wages, debts and dim prospects all subjugate. This is the condition of a shocking number of Americans as income inequality rises. And their economic desperation and subordination occurred by design.

CEOs and right-wing one percenters purchased legislation and court decisions that diverted the nation’s wealth to their penthouses. And despite their promises, not a dime trickles down to the workers whose labor created the wealth and whose productivity has risen even as their wages have not. The decision of the right-wing majority on the U.S. Supreme Court last week in the Harris v. Quinn case is another example of the one percent’s unrelenting erosion of the 99 percent’s economic independence.

This decision makes it harder for 28,000 home care workers in Illinois specifically, but others across the country as well, to collectively bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions.

That’s exactly what the one percent wanted. The harder it is for the 99 percent to collectively bargain, the easier it is for the one percent to take everything. In this particular case, the one percenters include some of the richest people in the world, the Koch brothers and the Walton family, who fund the National Right to Work (for less) Legal Defense Foundation (NRTW), which bankrolled the lawsuit.

Home care workers, whose lives are devoted to aiding disabled adults, were paid minimum wage in Illinois a decade ago. Job dissatisfaction was high, as was turnover. Shortages of these workers forced the state to institutionalize infirm adults, a significantly more expensive and less satisfactory living arrangement.

Then in 2003, the state took steps that enabled home care workers to join the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and collectively bargain. Their wages rose to $12.25 an hour. They got health benefits and training. Turnover declined. The state estimates it has saved $632 million because fewer adults went to institutions.

The same was true in Washington state, where home care workers joined SEIU in 2002. Collective bargaining provided them with wage increases of 40 percent, health insurance, paid time off and mileage reimbursement. And like Illinois, Washington saved money because fewer disabled adults ended up in nursing homes.

This solution was great for the vast majority of everyone involved, taxpayers, workers and disabled adults. Here’s what one of those adults, Rahnee Patrick, told a National Public Radio reporter:

"I had a personal assistant come to me at 5 o'clock in the morning in my house. She rode an hour in the snow, from the North Side of Chicago. Why was she so dedicated? Not because I'm lovely, but because she gets a really good wage, and the wage came from the unions being able to collectively bargain. I can actually go to work, and it's because of her being able to pay her own bills that I'm able to pay my bills.”

Workers say it was a godsend. Dorothy Glenn received $1 per hour when she began caring for her disabled sister in 1972 after taking her out of an Illinois institution where she’d been badly injured. Glenn got no health insurance and no training. She recounts that when she asked for a raise, the state told her that if she didn’t like the pay, she should put her sister back into the nursing home.

“I felt like my sister and I were living in the shadow, and we had no voices,” Glenn told Think Progress reporter Bryce Covert. She said she got a voice when she was able to join the SEIU. “It dramatically changed my life,” she said. The difference is 28,000 workers bargaining collectively with the state instead of one. “As long as we keep our numbers, we have the power,” she explained.

The pay increases and health insurance benefits secured by collective bargaining gave economic independence to tens of thousands of home care workers in Illinois and in states across the country. Their work provided them with sufficient income to pay their bills, support their children, buy an Independence Day picnic spread. Collective bargaining meant they no longer had to depend on the government for health insurance or on food banks for dinner.

Economically independent workers are less easily manipulated and mistreated. That is exactly the opposite of what right-wing one percenters want. What was good for tens of thousands of home health workers was bad for greedy one percenters. So they searched for a way to thwart the system that worked well for workers, invalid adults and the state.

They found it in a handful of home care workers who didn’t want to pay the fair share fee that  was charged to those who benefitted from collective bargaining but declined to join the union.

The NRTW group volunteered to use Koch brothers and Walton family money to pay for a lawsuit seeking legal sanction for these workers to freeload, to reap the benefits of collective bargaining but shirk paying any part of its costs. That’s the genesis of the Harris v. Quinn case.

The NRTW scheme works like this: legalize freeloading to lower revenues available for collective bargaining, and thus diminish workers’ ability to secure better wages and benefits. This robs workers of economic independence.

The right-wing majority on the Supreme Court sided with right-wing one percenters. They ruled that a state can’t require home care workers to pay a fair share. They ruled for weaker collective bargaining and less economic independence.

And they ruled for higher income inequality. That is exactly how it has played out for the past century. As collective bargaining rose in the United States from 1918 to 1958, income inequality declined. And as collective bargaining declined from 1958 to 2008, income inequality skyrocketed.

Illinois home care worker Dorothy Glenn said there’s power in numbers. For many workers, only that power can achieve for them liberty and justice for all. 

In the depth of the recession, some foreign countries made a simple calculation. They’d subsidize their steel industries even though that violates international trade rules. It paid off by keeping their citizens employed, paid and fed.

These countries banked on dumping their excess steel in the United States. That has cost good, family-supporting American jobs. It has wounded the American steel industry. And it has emboldened foreign countries to continue eating America’s lunch by violating international trade laws.

Last week, Mario Longhi, President and Chief Executive Officer of U.S. Steel, and I asked Congress to enforce the law. We’re not seeking special deals or subsidies or handouts. We’re asking Congress to implement American and international trade laws to level the field of competition. If the same rules apply to everyone, U.S. industry can compete and win. And American workers can retain their jobs and afford their daily bread.

A simple story explains how this works. Just as the economic crisis hit, China began dumping Oil Country Tubular Goods, the pipes used in oil and gas exploration, into the American market. Dumping occurs when foreign manufacturers export products at prices lower than they charge in their home country or at prices below the cost of production.

American steel companies would quickly go bankrupt if they set prices below the cost of production. Many foreign manufacturers can get away with it because part of their production cost is offset by government subsidies. In 2011, half of the world’s 46 top steel companies were state-owned. They don’t live by the same rules American companies do.

Government subsidies are fine if all of the beneficiary company’s products are sold in their home market. But international trade rules prohibit sale of subsidized goods to other countries because their artificially low prices would distort the market and destroy companies that aren’t propped up by their governments.

To keep their citizens employed and sustain vital industries like steel, lots of countries ignore the rules. That’s what China was doing in 2008 with Oil Country Tubular Goods. A half dozen steel companies and my union, the United Steelworkers (USW), won a dumping case against them in 2009. Tariffs were placed on China’s Oil Country Tubular Goods to offset the value of the illegal subsidies. After that, Chinese shipments of the pipe to the United States virtually stopped.

When enforcement of the rules leveled the field of competition, American companies and American workers won.

This is an important story because it involves pipe essential to natural gas drilling. Americans are reveling in the possibility that hydraulic fracturing will make them energy independent. But there’s no point in achieving energy independence if failure to enforce trade laws condemns America to steel dependency.

Here’s what Longhi told the Senate Finance Committee last week: “It is not enough to open new markets for American goods and services; I submit to you that the greater economic and national security, and, indeed, moral imperative is to ensure that the rules governing trade in our own market are respected.”

In the past 18 months, American steel producers and the USW have issued demands for that respect 40 times, filing 40 antidumping and countervailing duty petitions. That’s the largest number of steel cases since 2001.

Among them is yet another Oil Country Tubular Goods case, this one against South Korea and eight other nations. In February, the International Trade Administration announced preliminary duties against the eight: India, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine and Vietnam. But it exempted South Korea.

The International Trade Administration’s final determination is expected in July. It should include South Korea, which exports 98 percent of the pipe it produces to the United States. Fearing the effect of sanctions, South Korea has stepped up exports. Last year, it shipped to the United States an average of 27,000 tons a month. In May, it sent eight times that amount -- 214,000 tons.

That subsidized steel takes bread off of American tables. Thousands of American steelworkers have been laid off. And untold additional Americans whose work depends on the steel industry have lost hours or jobs.

The cost is wide ranging. As steel production declines, so does coal, limestone and iron ore mining. Coke and iron ore pelletizing plant operations suffer. Truckers, railroad workers and barge hands who deliver supplies to mills all lose work. Scrap dealers who provide steel for recycling, as well as pump, industrial fan and valve manufacturers who supply mill replacement parts lose business. Profits shrink at restaurants, grocery stores and shops near mills. School districts, municipalities and states all lose tax revenue.

Considering all of that, it’s easy to understand why foreign countries would try to keep their steel furnaces operating, even if that meant violating international rules.

With all those mills running, there’s too much steel available. The global excess steel capacity now is more than twice what it was a decade ago. The European and U.S. steel industries responded to the excess by reducing production over the past 30 years. But Asian countries, including India and South Korea, ramped up. China, for example, forged 20 times more steel last year than it did in 1980.

When that steel is dumped on the American market, those foreign firms receive American dough in payment, further increasing the already dangerously high U.S. trade deficit. That’s another cost of the failure to enforce trade laws. It means trade law violators are taking bread out of the mouths of Americans twice. 

Ketchup king H.J. Heinz Co. announced last week that it’s working with Ford to convert tomato waste into auto parts. Now that’s an innovative Fusion!

In addition, it is further proof that Americans can do anything. They sent a man to the moon and a rover to Mars. They discovered a way to inoculate against the scourge of polio. They invented the slinky and the Internet, jazz and baseball. They overcame a civil war and the Great Depression.

Americans have proved over two and a half centuries that they can do anything when imbued with the exhilaration of self-determination. Americans fought a revolution to secure this self-empowerment. They would control their own destinies, not some arbitrary king. That, however, is all threatened because right wingers on the Supreme Court gave a minority – the wealthy – legal sanction to buy the government. Now, democracy-loving Americans are demanding a constitutional amendment to return governing to the majority.  

In a series of decisions, conservatives on the Supreme Court took power from the people and gave it to corporations and the rich. This began, oddly, in the U.S. Bicentennial year with the Buckley v. Valeo decision that asserted money was speech. Then in 2010, the court decided in the Citizens United case that corporations were people and could spend as much money on political campaigns as they wanted.

Finally, earlier this year, in the McCutcheon case, the court lifted campaign donation limits so that now the uber-wealthy may spend virtually as much as they want to influence the election of not just their own representatives in city halls and state legislatures and Congress, but also the politicians who are supposed to represent other people.

All of this has so emboldened billionaires that one of them, Tom Perkins, said earlier this year that citizens should get one vote for each tax dollar they pay. No more one person one vote. Perkins thinks the rich have the right to buy government.

His plan would kill American democracy. A Perkins Plutocracy is not what Americans sacrificed their lives and limbs for during the Revolutionary War. But Perkins doesn’t care about all that. He believes his billions entitle him to sovereignty.

Though billionaires’ tax dollars can’t buy them thrones yet, they’re using the Supreme Court decisions to secure control. For example, the billionaire Koch Brothers have promised to spend at least $125 million to purchase right wing supplicants of their choice nationwide.  And that’s just the 2014 Koch budget for purchasing government.

While the conservatives on the Supreme Court contended that gifts to politicians of $125 million are fine and dandy, the majority of Americans disagree. And for good cause. They have watched as their so-called representatives pass legislation that makes it crystal clear they really represent someone else – wealthy donors and corporations.

The majority of Americans want the minimum wage raised, unemployment insurance extended, Social Security protected, and infrastructure like highways improved, but that’s not what Congress is doing. Instead, it is slashing the budget in ways that the majority hates, including cutting food stamps and preserving tax breaks for corporations.

Princeton University professor Martin Gilens writes about this phenomenon in his new book, “Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America.” After studying thousands of proposed policy changes, he determined that the rich get the legislation they want, whether the majority agrees or not. But the reverse is not true. The majority does not get what it wants if the wealthy object. 

That’s not how a real democracy works. In a real democracy, all citizens, regardless of wealth or title, celebrity or status, beauty or brawn, have equal access to government officials and equal influence on government policy. Democracy is majority rule; not minority reign.

To restore democracy, America needs a constitutional amendment. One has been proposed to overturn Valeo and Citizens United and McCutcheon, to limit campaign spending by corporations and the wealthy and to return power to the people. A vote on the amendment by the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled for early next month. 

Amending the Constitution sounds audacious. Particularly when a proposed amendment to guarantee women equal rights failed. But it can be done. It has been done. Recently too.

The 27th Amendment passed in 1992. Before that, the 26th Amendment was proposed in March of 1971, and four months later, 18 year olds received the right to vote. That set the record for quick approval.

Working to get this done are groups like Move to Amend, People for the American Way, Common Cause and Public Citizen. They are joined by U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

They’ve got 43 co-signers in the Senate, more than 2 million names on petitions, and the endorsement of 16 states, 500 communities and retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.

And more. They’ve even got the backing of some rich people. On May 1, Lawrence Lessig, director of the Edmond J. Safra Center on Ethics at Harvard, launched the Mayday PAC, which is a super PAC to end all super PACs.

Non-rich democracy lovers gave $1 million to the Mayday PAC by the middle of May. Wealthy democracy lovers matched that. Among those rich donors were conservatives, like PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, and liberals, like LinkedIn CEO Reid Hoffman.

Now Lessig is raising more, seeking $5 million in contributions of $10,000 or less from Americans who cherish a republic of one person, one vote. Again, the plan is for this to be matched by wealthy donors who believe in a government of the people, by the people, for the people that won’t be conquered by cash.

That Lessig raised $1 million in small donations for the Mayday PAC in the first two weeks shows Americans strongly support this idea.

Americans can do anything. They certainly can amend their constitution and preserve their democracy.