Therefore Be It Resolved

Have you heard about those White House petitions, where if you get 25,000 signatures, they have to respond? Well you should sign this one calling on the President to address clean elections and Citizens United in his State of the Union next month. I think we all know how big money can skew elections at the state level too. Surely we can put these petitions to better use than other recent noteworthy petitions like seceding from the union or building death stars!

Here’s the text of the petition:

Our democracy is broken, flooded by money from corporations, billionaires and SuperPACs that puts their interests over those of the public. From big banks sinking our economy while blocking real reform to the NRA preventing sensible gun safety measures, big money forces are corrupting our politics. Since the US Supreme Court has ruled that corporations and wealthy donors have the right to spend unlimited money in our elections, a growing popular movement is now calling for a constitutional amendment to reclaim our democracy. Eleven states and nearly 500 cities and towns have joined this call. We petition President Obama to use the State of the Union to call for a constitutional amendment to reduce the influence of money in our political system and restore democracy to the people.

Emphasis added.  Anything we can do to keep it in the news and on folks minds leading up to the State of the Union on Feb 12th, the better. Please sign the petition, and be thinking about which cities and towns in PA might still be able to join the growing chorus of nearly 500 municipalities that already have across the nation.

Here’s a sample resolution that you can take to your local officials.

Surely there are some more cities and towns in PA that can muster a Therefore be it resolved…

SOTU 2012: Community Colleges, Workforce Development, Taxes & Infrastructure

A blog post by Mark Price, originally published at Third and State.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has a pretty good summary of the State of the Union.

Here is the full text of the President’s speech, and Wonkblog has a version of the speech with only what they define as specific policy proposals.

What follows are our favorites from the speech.

Community colleges and workforce development:

Join me in a national commitment to train two million Americans with skills that will lead directly to a job. My Administration has already lined up more companies that want to help. Model partnerships between businesses like Siemens and community colleges in places like Charlotte, Orlando, and Louisville are up and running. Now you need to give more community colleges the resources they need to become community career centers – places that teach people skills that local businesses are looking for right now, from data management to high-tech manufacturing.

I want to cut through the maze of confusing training programs, so that from now on, people like Jackie have one program, one website, and one place to go for all the information and help they need. It’s time to turn our unemployment system into a reemployment system that puts people to work.

Taxes:

But in return, we need to change our tax code so that people like me, and an awful lot of Members of Congress, pay our fair share of taxes. Tax reform should follow the Buffett rule: If you make more than $1 million a year, you should not pay less than 30 percent in taxes.

Infrastructure:

Building this new energy future should be just one part of a broader agenda to repair America’s infrastructure. So much of America needs to be rebuilt. We’ve got crumbling roads and bridges. A power grid that wastes too much energy. An incomplete high-speed broadband network that prevents a small business owner in rural America from selling her products all over the world.

During the Great Depression, America built the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge. After World War II, we connected our States with a system of highways. Democratic and Republican administrations invested in great projects that benefited everybody, from the workers who built them to the businesses that still use them today.

In the next few weeks, I will sign an Executive Order clearing away the red tape that slows down too many construction projects. But you need to fund these projects. Take the money we’re no longer spending at war, use half of it to pay down our debt, and use the rest to do some nation-building right here at home.

Must Reads: State of The Union, Stimulus and Austerity Economics PA Style

A blog post by Mark Price, originally published at Third and State.

Tonight President Obama will deliver his State of the Union Address to Congress. We are expecting the President to recommend an extension through the end of 2012 of extended unemployment insurance benefits and the payroll tax credit. It looks as though a major theme in the address – besides the catch phrase “built to last” – will be conventional policies aimed at reducing inequality, such as increased spending/tax credits for education and training.

Education and training are important and fruitful means of reducing inequality, but they fall well short of what’s needed to reduce the degree of inequality we now face.  A more forceful step in the direction of reducing inequality would include raising the minimum wage and making it easier for workers to form and join unions. We don’t expect to hear the President call for either of those changes.

The President will propose paying for his new initiatives with higher taxes on wealthy households. As with education and training, restoring some sense of fairness to the tax code is a laudable goal but longer-lasting reductions in inequality will only come from policies that allow the pre-tax wages of more Americans to rise as the size and wealth of our economy grows.

Manufacturing, energy, job training and middle-class growth will be the cornerstones of President Barack Obama’s speech tonight as he takes to the nation’s grandest political stage for the annual address on the state of the union, according to senior advisers.

We are slowly getting details of a settlement of allegations of fraud by banks during the housing bubble. Dean Baker notes this morning that the deal is said to include immunity from prosecution for banking executives in exchange for mortgage relief paid for by investors (not the banks). It’s good to be a banker.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports this morning that the association that represents construction contractors who mainly compete for work in the non-residential construction sector is expecting essentially no change in the number of workers they will employ in 2012. Non-residential construction makes up roughly two-thirds of all construction employment in Pennsylvania. Also of note in the article: 62% of Pennsylvania contractors surveyed reported relying on some stimulus-related work. Remember that factoid next time you hear someone claim stimulus spending had no effect on the economy.

Construction employment will go up – very slightly – in 2012, contractors predicted in a survey released Monday by the Associated General Contractors of America…

The survey notes that many contractors relied on stimulus-funding projects over the past years, but few expect to perform much stimulus-funded work in 2012.

In Pennsylvania, for example, 62 percent of those surveyed had stimulus work, with most of them assigning the majority of their workers to those projects. But in 2012, only one in five expects stimulus work.

More news of property tax hikes, teacher layoffs and larger class sizes – this time out of Dauphin County.

The Central Dauphin School Board Monday night approved a $155.4 million preliminary budget for 2012-13 that could mean higher taxes, larger class sizes or furloughs of as many as 50 district employees.

The Patriot-News Editorial Board notes that the asset tests for food stamps proposed by the Corbett administration are unwise and likely to punish many rural families.

Creating an asset test for food stamps in Pennsylvania is the wrong approach…

Given the economic woes many families are facing with at least one parent – sometimes both – out of a job, the car rule hardly makes sense. This is especially true in rural parts of the state. Reliable transportation is critical to achieving financial independence, and in many families that means parents having two decent cars to drive.

The other issue is the $2,000 limit in savings. Families struggling to get out of poverty are likely to be trying to save money, build up funds to help them pay off bills, make a security deposit on an apartment or catch up on mortgage payments. It makes no sense to compel people to potentially liquidate funds to be able to put food on the table.

Hunger is a problem in our state, and many people rely on food stamps to solve it.

On Done Deals, Or, Sometimes Losing Is How You Win

( – promoted by John Morgan)

We have been talking a lot about Social Security these past few weeks, even to the point where I’ve missed out on talking about things that I also wanted to bring to the table, particularly the effort to reform Senate rules.

We’ll make up for that today with a conversation that bears upon both of those issues, and a lot of others besides, by getting back to one of the fundamentals in a very real way…and today’s fundamental involves the question of whether it’s a good idea to keep pushing for what you want, even if it seems pointless at the time.

To put it another way: when it comes to this Administration and this Congress and trying to influence policy…if Elvis has already left the building, what’s the point?

Bachmann response now on CNN. Turn to SAP Channel 3 for English captions.

–A Tweet posted by pourmecoffee, immediately following the 2011 State of the Union address

If you have been in any way awake and alert over the past 18 months or so, you’ve noticed that this President is having some trouble with the most fervent of his November ’08 supporters, who feel-with some considerable justification-that they’ve either been sold short, used as a target of political convenience, or ignored altogether in their calls for a more Progressive agenda.

It has come to the point where many who gave money to Democrats in the ’08 cycle did not donate in ’10-and it’s also suggested that many of that ’08 voting coalition chose not to vote Democratic as well, exacerbating the Party’s electoral troubles in this cycle’s contests.

And there are numbers to back this up: I’ve been looking at a CAF/Greenberg poll that’s about a week old, and even as those who oppose Obama’s policies (particularly his most strident opponents) have been warming to his approach over the past six months or so, the number of voters who support him the most strongly has never been lower-and it’s stayed that way since about June of ’10.

So a long-running theme of my work is that this is the time to try to influence one thing or another; most recently that’s been an effort directed at trying to impact the discussion around what might happen with Social Security.

A long-running response to that work, in the comments that some of my friends post on the sites where these stories appear, is that there is just no purpose in trying to change the direction of this particular Ship of State, as it has already sailed. This Administration is too corrupt and too feckless to be forced into change, they will tell you, and anyone who thinks otherwise is either deluded or carrying water for the DCCC.

But I don’t agree, and I’ll tell you why:

Right off the bat, you might be surprised how often you can win, even when you did not think you would; the fights over DADT and Elizabeth Warren’s nomination are a couple of recent examples that come to mind.

Beyond that, losing a political fight, and doing it well, helps to move the conversation incrementally over the longer term; I would suggest that it took two political cycles before the tide turned on the war in Iraq, and now it’s beginning to look like the military’s plan for “Victory In Afghanistan Through Massive Force” is a proposition that’s tougher and tougher to sell every day-even within the White House.  

Conservatives know this well, and efforts to advocate for gun rights, to advance “pro-life” policies, and to radically change the form and function of government have extended over decades, with incremental changes often being the incremental goal (“let’s create these temporary tax cuts today…and let’s try to extend them forever another day…”).

Ironically, another good reason to “fight the good fight”, even in an environment where you might not see victory as possible, is one that is very familiar to the most fervent of Obama’s ’08 supporters: the very fight, in and of itself, is often a way to create political capital-even if you lose.  

How many of us have wished this very President would have stood up and fought for things that he might not have thought he would get?

Would you support this President more if he had demanded that Congress pass a single-payer plan, or if he was pushing harder to end renditions and close Guantanamo, even if Congress was blocking him? I bet you would.

And it makes sense: if you support single-payer, and you see someone out there fighting hard for the idea…that’s a good thing, and that’s someone you’re likely to come back and support later.

It worked for three Congressional Democrats who lost elections this fall: Feingold, Grayson, and Patrick Murphy are all in a great position to seek support from the very people who are the most frustrated with pretty much all the other Democrats today.

Some of those supporters aren’t even waiting for the future candidates; the “Draft Feingold for President” movement goes back to at least 2004, Grayson and Murphy also have supporters ready and willing to go.

So…if it’s true that if this President would fight like Bernie Sanders, even in a losing cause, then we would treat him with the same degree of affection and respect we feel toward Bernie Sanders…is it also true that we should, maybe, apply that lesson to ourselves?

There is an argument to be made that trying to move your opponent when you don’t think you can, and in the process showing how they appear to be either intransigent, or ignorant, or corrupt by comparison…or just plain wrong about something…can regularly end up moving voters, instead-and that the result of that movement is that your opponent sometimes has to move your way as well.

I would submit that the 2005 effort to “reform” Social Security, when we had a Republican President, House, and Senate, went exactly nowhere fast because being wrong did move a bunch of voters to say…well, to say that all those Republicans were wrong.

So there you go, folks: I’m here today to suggest that, even when we might not feel we have a good chance of winning a political fight-or even a fair chance-you still have to get out and fight the fight, if only to advance the cause for another day.

It’s also a great way to accrue political capital that can be used to your advantage later-and if the resistance from the other side is perceived as being too heavy-handed, they can suffer from a sort of “attrition”, as their own political capital is diminished.

And even if you lose, there’s still a lot to be gained in the effort, although you might not see the results until further down the road.

As we said at the top of the story, there are lots of battles left over, including what is going to happen to Social Security and the potential for reforming Senate rules; but win or lose, it’s probably a better idea to be trying to fight these fights, loudly and logically, just as we wish the President would, then to find ourselves hanging back and doing nothing at all today…and then voting for Jack Box for President 2012 as a way of expressing our frustration.

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On Contradiction, Or, Will Obama Lose An Argument With Himself?

There have been many unlikely things that have happened this past month or so: some of them appearing as legislation, some of them appearing in the form of Republicans who set new records for running away from the words they used to get elected-and some of them appearing in the markets, where, believe it or not, many Europeans finds themselves wishing for our economic situation right about now.

There are even improbable sports stories: our frequently hapless Seattle Seahawks, the only team to ever make the NFL Playoffs with a losing record, are today preparing to knock the Chicago Bears out of their bid to play in the Super Bowl, having crushed the defending holders of the Lombardi Trophy just last week before the 12th Man in Seattle.

But as improbable as all that is, the one thing I never thought I would see is Barack Obama getting into a political argument with himself over Social Security-and then losing the argument.

Even more improbably, it looks like there’s just about a week left for him to come to a decision…and it looks like you’re going to have to help him make up his mind.

“He who was prepared to help the escaping murderer or to embrace the impenitent thief, found, to the overthrow of all his logic, that he objected to the use of dynamite”

–From The Dynamiter, by Robert Louis Stevenson and Fanny Van De Grift Stevenson

So we’ll keep this all just between you and me, but I’ve been hearing a few things this past week, and I figured we’d start by filling you in on the inside dirt:

The State of the Union address is coming up fast (January 25th, in fact); obviously Social Security could become a hot topic during the speech. If it does, here’s what’s potentially going to occur:

–The President will announce a spirited defense of the program, and tell the world that he will not support any cuts in your benefits, and that we’ll clear up the funding issues by raising the cap on the payroll tax.

–He’ll announce that he has decided to support cutting your benefits by backing proposals that would again raise the retirement age and would cause the annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to go up by less than the actual cost of living…which is just another way of sneaking in a cut to your eventual benefits.

I’m told that option number one is the least likely of the two…which is something you might not expect-especially if you were paying attention to what Obama was saying about Social Security when he was out looking for our votes in 2007 and 2008.

Here’s a good example: in November of 2007 he appeared on Meet the Press

“…and when you look at, how we should approach Social Security, I believe, that, uh, cutting retire–, uh, cutting benefits, is not the right answer…I meet too many seniors all across the country who are struggling with the limited Social Security benefits that they have…that raising the retirement age is not the best option, particularly when we’ve got people who ware [sic] still in manufacturing…”

There’s more: Candidate Obama wrote an op-ed piece (Fixed-income seniors can expect a tax cut) in September of 2007 for the Quad City Times that was designed to influence the way Iowa voters thought about his chances of being President one day. Here’s what he had to say then:

“Second, I do not want to cut benefits or raise the retirement age. I believe there are a number of ways we can make Social Security solvent that do not involve placing these added burdens on our seniors. One possible option, for example, is to raise the cap on the amount of income subject to the Social Security tax. If we kept the payroll tax rate exactly the same but applied it to all earnings and not just the first $97,500, we could virtually eliminate the entire Social Security shortfall.”

This is what he told the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) on the occasion of the group’s 50th anniversary, just about two months before the ’08 election:

“…but John McCain’s campaign has gone even further, suggesting that the best answer for the growing pressures on Social Security might be to cut…cost of living adjustments or raise the retirement age. Now let me be clear: I will not do either.

…I think that’s why the best way forward is to first look to adjust the cap on the payroll tax. 97% of Americans will see absolutely no change in their taxes under my proposal. 97%. What it does allow us to do is to extend the life of Social Security without cutting benefits or raising the retirement age.”

Naturally, if you looked at all this and said: “Well, what’s the big deal, exactly?” you’d be making a reasonable point…but the problem, from what “background” conversations are suggesting, is that there is an effort afoot to get the President to agree to these cuts as part of a “Grand Bargain” that might include an extension of the debt ceiling, which is going to have to be voted on before March, and possibly other elements of dealmaking as well.  

And naturally, if you watched how the President negotiated issues like the “public option” and the tax cuts last December…well, a reasonable person might worry that the same kind of deal is about to be made right now.

To make things worse, there are stories afoot that suggest this President is looking to cement a legacy here-and a legacy that consists of “I rescued Social Security” would be a fine narrative for the ’12 campaign…as long as the “rescue” isn’t accomplished on the backs of those who can afford cuts the least.

“But what I’m going to continue to insist on is that the reason we need to fix it now is precisely to protect our senior citizens and maintain not only Social Security as a social insurance program, but also make sure that the benefits are sufficient so that we don’t have seniors in need.”

–Barack Obama, on Meet the Press, November 11, 2007

So what’s to be done?

As you can imagine, this is the time to start flooding the White House switchboard (202 456 1212) to let them know that you want the President to listen to his own best arguments and stick with raising the payroll tax cap.

This is also the time to get your Members of Congress and Senators on the phone-and whether they’re Republicans or Democrats, it’s not going to be hard to remind them that if they screw this one up…they’re going to make permanent enemies out of…millions of registered voters.

So get to it.

We have about a week-and if you want to save your own Social Security future…you better get up and make it happen.  

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