News & Notes September 29, 2010

Things got a bit crazy there last week between preparing for my trip, changing the plans to drive instead of flying, having the lightning strike then spending four days on the road all the while campaigns and events were happening.  There’s tons of stuff to get to so I might do more than one News & Notes today catching up.

While I’m here in New Mexico’s state capitol I might mosey over to the Roundhouse and rustle up some information on this state’s experience with shale gas drilling.  The energy companies have been in some New Mexican areas fracking for gas for several years.  I’ll see what I can dig up.

Meanwhile the Pennsylvania Budget & Policy Center has their latest report on Marcellus Shale severance tax rates and its interesting.  The industry, through its bought and paid for mouths in the legislature, is claiming falsely that SB 1155 calls for a severance tax rate of 7.3% which puts it below that of western states which include property taxes on top of the gas tax to bring an effective rate of 7.9%  The gas drillers haven’t left any of these states for “greener pastures” and New Mexico’s shale gas is a fraction of that in the Marcellus formation.  These are scare tactics designed to let them exploit a non renewable resource belonging to Pennsylvanians.

President Obama was in Albuquerque yesterday before traveling to Wisconsin trying to motivate liberal Democrats to vote.  He and VP Biden, who was at Penn State, are criticizing us for being “whiners.”  The White House is so f*cking tone deaf it is beyond comprehension.  Instead of castigating those it betrayed they should be apologizing and begging for understanding.  I’m simply astounded by their cluelessness.

polls seem to be all the place this fall.  I’m not sure, going forward, how accurate any polling is.  More and more of us are going to cell phone only, especially the youth, and are outside the scope of traditional polling.  I also think these samples are highly sensitive to whomever happened to be contacted and show a divergent electorate.  I think anything can and will happen in November.  For example last week an F&M poll showed Mike Fitzpatrick leading Patrick Murphy by double digits in PA-10, something I found hard to comprehend.  Yesterday another poll puts Murphy ahead by 3.  The only poll which counts will be the one on election day.

Veterans and labor are joining other groups to do canvassing and phone banking at a feverish pace.  While organizations such as Karl Rove’s American Crossroads are pumping $50 million into ads this year the work on the ground remains the focal point of voter contact.  The Citizens United decision is having a serious impact on this race as billionaires are dumping millions into anonymous contributions.  You, the voter have a right to know who is funding these ads.

Manan Trivedi has a very effective ad attacking Jim Gerlach for his giant faux pas attacking his opponent for being out of the district for eight years.  Manan explains why to the voters with this ad:

Commonwealth Court went after Big Pharma Bristol-Myers Squibb for gouging Pennsylvania taxpayers last week.  They caught the company cheating us for drugs for the senior prescription program.  Businesses are constantly crying about all the regulations they are forced to endure but if they weren’t all crooks these wouldn’t be necessary.  Honest people don’t need someone holding them accountable, crooked ones do.  This is but one more example.  I’m fed up with Chamber of Commerces crying and whining about this through their elected representatives.

On my drive west through Pennsylvania Saturday I heard a radio ad by Pat Toomey touting his experience as a small business owner.  Toomey’s family owned and operated several restaurants in the Lehigh Valley, presumably with the funds he earned on Wall Street.  Pat co-owned the business but never managed or operated it, his brothers did that work.  Pat Toomey was in Hong Kong then working for an Enron investor who was caught defrauding shareholders:

I’ve nailed down what Toomey did during that year: His campaign confirms to me that he did research on capital market formation in southeast Asia for a company owned by the billionaire Chan brothers, one of whom, Ronnie Chan, was a former Enron director who settled a massive $168 million lawsuit brought against the company by shareholders.

Toomey’s boss has been fighting democratic progress in China and is tied to China’s refusal to float their currency.  That policy is costing millions of American jobs.

House Passes Immigration Bill

The State House passed two new laws today regulating construction companies hiring undocumented workers.  HB 502 would crack down on businesses exploiting these immigrants by preventing them from entering into state contracts after violating the law.  HB 1503 would strip such a company of its license to do business in Pennsylvania.  Essentially these laws would impose a business death penalty on any business hiring illegal workers.  

The best effective way of dealing with undocumented immigrants is dealing with those who hire them, pay them substandard wages, no benefits, dangerous working conditions, no overtime and engage in other employment abuses.  These people take good jobs from qualified legal workers.  It is expected that the Chamber of Commerce will lobby Republicans heavily to oppose these bills in the Senate.  That would set up an interesting battle and a complicated political conundrum for the GOP:  pander to their corporate bosses interested in the almighty buck at the expense of the people or satisfy the Tea Party racists screaming for an end to “illegal aliens.”  This is a no win for Republicans but a definite one for workers.  We’ll see exactly what their priorities are:  dealing with immigrants or making money.

How Health Insurers Hid Their Contributions to Kill Reform

Claims that competition exists in health insurance markets is a fiction.  Most markets have but one of seven giant insurance companies competing for the business.  Aetna, Cigna, Humana, Kaiser, United Health and Wellpoint together form America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) which has funded the seemingly thousands of attack ads paid for by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  The Chamber is a powerful organization whose purpose is to protect corporations from consumers and the public.  AHIp gave them between $10-20 million to fund the ads.

Isn’t this called money laundering?  It’s definitely a concerted, conscious move to hide from the public who actually paid for this brainwashing.  National Journal is reporting this deception today.  Wendell Potter said as much in his many appearances as a whistle blower on the industry.  Potter told audiences the health insurance industry was fighting reform with many of the same lies and myths he helped perpetuate as VP of Communications for Cigna.  He also explained how difficult it is for any of these companies to penetrate markets dominated by another giant.  I wonder if they even try.  When you have seven giant corporations controlling the entire nation’s market for what will soon be a required product I have to ask whether there has been collusion in dividing the markets.

If this was Major League Baseball the Justice Department would be investigating on anti trust grounds and prosecuting collusion.  The health insurance industry is immune from anti trust laws and this must be repealed.  Now that corporate Democrats have colluded with corporate Republicans to remove the public option from health insurance reform and craft a bill as friendly to the corporations as humanly possible we have to demand accountability.  We must demand an investigation for violation of laws requiring the disclosure of funds spent to influence legislation, the public airing of conference committee deliberations on CSPAN as repeatedly promised by candidate Obama, and repeal of anti trust exemptions for these crooked companies.

The reneging by President Obama of his oft stated promise to insure all negotiations and deliberations be public and televised is outrageous.  Robert Gibbs appeared pathetic last week as he refused to answer queries as to why the President has screwed the American people on a campaign promise he repeated ad nauseum.  Now the nausea is ours.

This Senate health insurance bill is terrible.  Though they claim it outlaws discrimination against those with pre-existing conditions that claim is spurious.  The bill still allows these firms to charge those people up to three times more than others.  Therefore with average family insurance costs at $1200/month they must now buy insurance and pay up to $3600/month or be fined.  If they are union members with a “cadillac” plan they will also face a 40% tax on these benefits.

The AFL-CIO seems ready to compromise on their position of just a few weeks ago and swallow a bitter pill from Democrats they supported so steadfastly on this issue.  Union rank and file sacrificed significant wage gains in return for better health coverage and now Democrats are screwing them with this new tax.  Candidate Barack Obama promised he’d repeal the Bush tax cuts on the rich to fund his reform but, instead, is enacting John McCain’s plan to tax working people instead.  This is a double cross.  Will labor take this lying down?  Why would any working person elect to join a union in the future if their leadership lies down on this issue?  It’s time for labor to draw a line in the sand against corporate Democrats.

This entire health reform effort is doomed due to the tax on union health plans.  These funds are expected to pay the subsidies for those unable to pay that $3600/month.  However companies will gut these plans instead.  The result of this will be the further crippling of a broken system.  Now millions more Americans will be under insured leading to even more medical bankruptcies and foreclosures.  The argument for this “reform’ is fatally flawed and a huge lie.  It is a huge trap for Democrats to whom Republicans will gleefully blame for the coming catastrophe.  Of course Democrats tend to be woefully stupid and fail to see the future.  They’ll get exactly what they deserve while the rest of us get screwed once again.

If the U.S. Chamber Had Their Way, Pennsylvanians Would Suffer

When CEOs in Washington decide the agenda of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, they seem to forget all about real workers and business owners throughout America. For decades, they have fought legislation that would have a real impact on working families right here in Pennsylvania. With more than 530,000 Pennsylvanians out of work, now is the time to do everything we can to stand up to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – and stand up for working families.

The U.S. Chamber opposed wage hikes that not only benefited hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians but also pump more than $132 million into the state economy. They opposed a children’s health care that will not only cover 129,000 more children in Pennsylvania, but also will create nearly 8,500 jobs in the state. The U.S. Chamber doesn’t speak for working families in Pennsylvania.

IMPACT OF MINIMUM WAGE HIKES ON PENNSYLVANIA:

The U.S. Chamber “Has Consistently Opposed Increasing the Federal Minimum Wage.” In July 2007, Marc Freedman, the labor law policy director at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, wrote, “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has consistently opposed increasing the federal minimum wage.” He added, “Increasing the minimum wage does not even help those it is intended to benefit.” [Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 7/17/07]

U.S. Chamber Official on Wage Hike: “We Have Taken The Hell No Attitude.” “We have taken the ‘hell, no’ attitude,” said the U.S. Chamber’s Randel Johnson discussing a proposed minimum wage increase in 1999. “I don’t care what the 20-second sound bites say. This move hurts lower-income, lower-skilled workers.”[Akron Beacon Journal, 6/21/99]

U.S. Chamber Official: “We Don’t Think Government Ought to Be in the Business of Setting Wages.” In 2002, U.S. Chamber spokesman Randy Johnson said, “We don’t think the government ought to be in the business of setting wages.” [Washington Times, 5/6/02]

U.S. Chamber: “Wage Mandates Ignore the Principles of Free Market Economies.” In an amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court of Louisiana, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wrote, “Wage mandates ignore the principles of free market economies; they prevent businesses from making profits, growing and hiring more workers; and they base wages on what the worker wants instead of on the value of work performed.” [The Pantagraph, 11/21/04]

2007 Minimum Wage Hike Could Pump $132.2 MILLION Into Pennsylvania’s Economy. The average American works 1,916 hours every year. In 2007, 69,000 Pennsylvanians earned at or below the federal minimum wage. With an increase from $6.25 an hour to $7.25 an hour by July 2009, the 2007 wage increase passed by Congress could pump $132.2 million into Pennsylvania’s economy. [Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Work Schedules in the National Compensation Survey,” 7/28/08; Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Characteristics of Minimum Wage Workers: 2007,” 5/7/08; EPI, “What a new federal minimum wage means for the states,” 5/25/07]

Study Found That 808,000 Pennsylvanians Would Benefit From the 2007 Minimum Wage Hike. The Economic Policy Institute found that approximately 808,000 people in Pennsylvania alone would benefit from a federal minimum wage increase to $7.25 an hour. This include those workers that were earning less than $7.25 as well as workers that would benefit indirectly as other wages increase proportionately. EPI explained, “While a raise is not legally mandated for these workers, empirical evidence shows that many employers raise the wages of workers earning above the new minimum wage in order to preserve internal wage structures, an occurrence known as the ‘spillover effect.'” [EPI, “Issue Guide on Minimum Wage, 8/1/08]

IMPACT OF FAIR PAY LAWS ON PENNSYLVANIA:

U.S. Chamber Opposed Equal Pay Bill, Saying it Would “Undermine America’s Civil Rights Laws.” In a January 2009 letter to Congress, R. Bruce Josten of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wrote that the U.S. Chamber opposed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a bill to protect workers who receive unfair pay for equal work, “on both substantive and procedural grounds.” Discussing another fair pay bill this year, the Chamber’s Randel Johnson said, “further increasing the opportunity for frivolous litigation would only further serve to undermine America’s civil rights laws.” [Chamber Letter, 1/14/09; Chamber Press Release, 1/9/09]

U.S. Chamber Opposed 1998 Equal Pay Law for Women. In 1998, the U.S. Chamber opposed President Clinton’s call for legislation to strengthen laws reducing disparities in men and women’s earning power. Randel Johnson, vice president of labor policy at the chamber, said that wage disparities are due mainly to the interruption of many women’s job careers to raise families. “Work experience does tend to translate to greater wages,” Johnson said. [AP, 6/10/98]

Women in Pennsylvania Earn Only 75% Of What Their Male Counterparts Make, Below the National Average. According to a study released by the National Women’s Law Center, “In 2007, on average, women in Pennsylvania working full-time, year-round earned only 75% of what men working full-time, year-round earned — three percentage points below the nationwide average of 78%. The wage gap is even more substantial when race and gender are considered together. White, non-Hispanic women working full-time, year-round in Pennsylvania earned only 74% of the wages of White, non-Hispanic men. However, Black women working full- time, year-round in Pennsylvania earned only 69%, and Hispanic women only 55%, of the wages of White, non-Hispanic men.” [National Women’s Law Center, April 2009]

IMPACT OF OUTSOURCING ON PENNSYLVANIA:

U.S. Chamber President Defended Outsourcing of U.S. Jobs, Arguing That Americans Are “Short of Skills.” Defending outsourcing in 2004, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue said, “The big fundamental issue that we need to understand is we are short of skills in this country. Five years from now we’ll have 10 million skilled jobs and we haven’t got the people to fill.” [CNNFN, 5/3/04]

U.S. Chamber President: “There Are Legitimate Values in Outsourcing.” In 2004, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue said, “there are legitimate values in outsourcing — not only jobs, but work — to gain technical experience and benefit we don’t have here, to lower the price of products, which means more and more of them are brought into the United States, used, for example, I.T., much broader use than it was 10 years ago, create more and more jobs. But the bottom line is that we outsource very few jobs in relation to the size of our economy. We employ — American companies employ 140 million Americans. They provide health care for 160 million Americans. They provide training in terms of 40 billion a year. The outsourcing deal over three or four or five years and the two or three sets of numbers are only going to be, you know, maybe two, maybe three million jobs, maybe four.” [CNNFN, 2/10/04]

U.S. Chamber President Suggested More Jobs Were Brought In to the U.S. Than Outsourced to Other Countries. In 2004, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue said, “nobody knows where Lou got 2.2 [million] outsourced jobs. Maybe we’ve got 300,000 in the last couple of years. The most interesting thing is that if you take an annual basis, we insource in the very same categories of work $16 billion more than we outsourced, which is 2 million jobs.” [CNNFN, 9/2/04]

In 2007 Alone, Pennsylvania Lost 228,900 jobs to Outsourcing. According to a study from the Economic Policy Institute, Pennsylvania lost 228,900 jobs as a result of the U.S. non-oil trade deficit in 2007 alone, making Pennsylvania the 8th biggest loser in numeric terms. Nationwide, 5.6 million jobs were lost. 70% of these jobs were in the manufacturing sector. [EPI, 10/2/08]

Pennsylvania Has Lost Nearly 350,000 Manufacturing Jobs Since 2000. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in April 2009, there were 582,600 manufacturing jobs in Pennsylvania. In January 2000, 931,100 Pennsylvanians worked in the manufacturing sector.  [BLS, 5/22/09; 3/28/00]

IMPACT OF CHILDREN’S HEALTH CARE ON PENNSYLVANIA:

Chamber Opposed 2009 Bill to Expand Children’s Health Care. In a January 2009 letter to Congress, R. Bruce Josten of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce urged members to vote against the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009, writing that the bill “raises taxes on a narrow sector of the U.S. economy with the aim of funding a broad-based entitlement program, which is grossly unfair and burdensome to American businesses and consumers.” [Chamber Letter, 1/14/09]

Chamber Opposed 2007 Bill to Expand Children’s Health Care. In September 2007, the Phoenix Business Journal reported, “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is opposing a federal plan to raise tobacco taxes to fund government-provided health services for uninsured children. That puts the U.S. Chamber on the same side of the issue as the Bush administration.” “To prejudice a narrow sector of the U.S. economy with the aim of funding a broad-based entitlement program is grossly unfair and burdensome to American businesses and consumers,” said the chamber in a letter to congressional leaders on the issue. [Phoenix Business Journal, 9/26/07; Chamber Letter, 7/17/07]

129,000 Pennsylvania Children Could Gain Coverage Under the 2009 SCHIP Expansion. A 2009 report from Families USA found that 129,000 Pennsylvania children could be covered under the 2009 bill to expand and reauthorize the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. [Families USA, January 2009]

Children’s Health Care Reauthorization Will Bring $1.8 Billion Into Pennsylvania, Creating 8,498 Jobs.  In 2007, a Families USA study found: “With $50 billion in additional federal funding for SCHIP and Medicaid, SCHIP reauthorization could bring Pennsylvania approximately $1.82 billion in new federal funding for children’s health coverage over the next five years. This would result in the state getting three times the amount it would have otherwise gotten for SCHIP… Over the next five years, $1.82 billion in new federal funding will create: $820.6 million in increased business activity, $287.7 million in increased wages, and 8,498 additional jobs for Pennsylvania.” [Families USA, May 2007]

IMPACT OF MEDICARE ON PENNSYLVANIA:

Chamber Opposed 2008 Bill to Prevent Medicare Cuts. In June 2008, R. Bruce Josten of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wrote that the Chamber opposed the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008, S. 3101, because it would cut the Medicare Advantage program. Referring to the bill, and the cuts to the private insurance Medicare Advantage program, the American Medical Association aired an ad saying “A group of U.S. senators voted to protect the powerful insurance companies at the expense of Medicare patients’ access to doctors.” [Chamber Letter, 6/12/08; AP, 7/2/08]

2 Million Medicare Beneficiaries, Along With 161,653 Military Members and Their Families, Would Have Been Affected If 2008 Medicare Cuts Had Gone Through. In 2008, the Chamber opposed a bill that prevented a 10.6% cut in Medicare payments to doctors. According to the American Medical Association, 2,005,670 Medicare patients and 161,653 TRICARE patients in Pennsylvania would have been affected by these cuts. [American Medical Association, February 2009]

IMPACT OF SOCIAL SECURITY ON PENNSYLVANIA:

U.S. Chamber Opposed the 1935 Social Security Act. According to an official history of Social Security, “In 1935, while there were long debate and votes on many amendments, the Congress passed the Social Security Act by an overwhelming majority.  In the House, the vote was 372 yeas, 33 nays and 25 not voting.  The vote in the Senate was equally positive, with 77 yeas, 6 nays and 12 not voting.  President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Act into law on August 14, 1935.  Despite the strong support, there was vocal opposition to the Act, both in the Congress and externally.  The minority members of the House Ways and Means Committee said it would impose a crushing burden upon industry and upon labor.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers opposed the bill.” [SSA History: History of SSA 1993-2000]

U.S. Chamber Wanted to Postpone 1935 Social Security Act. In June 1935, the New York Times reported on a “broad program for recovery and re-employment” adopted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. On Social Security, they reported, “The chamber will continue to advocate that enactment of the major features of the pending social security legislation be postponed until there can be further examination by a Congressional committee. If a study of this character is made, the chamber will present to such a committee its views as to the constitutionality of the legislation as proposed and will emphasize the fact that the proposals now pending would double the entire present volume of Federal taxes.” [New York Times, 6/16/35]

U.S. Chamber President: Any Social Security Reform “Must” Include Privatization. In June 2005, Thomas J. Donohue, President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, co-wrote an op-ed that stated, “any Social Security reform must meet four core principles,” including “Giving younger workers the option of investing part of their payroll taxes in personal retirement accounts.” In January 2005, Donohue  “said a Social Security overhaul is ‘doable’ this year and said the Chamber believes ‘individual investment accounts must be an important component of reform.’ [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 6/7/05; National Journal’s CongressDaily, 1/5/05]

If Social Security Were Privatized, Pennsylvania Would Lose At Least $10.9 BILLION Every Year. According to a 2005 report by the National Women’s Law Center, “In 2002, $24.2 billion flowed into the Pennsylvania economy through Social Security benefits.”  If the cuts expected under President Bush’s plan were to take effect currently, “Pennsylvania would lose $10.9 billion per year, even including the proceeds from private accounts. This amount is equivalent to 25% of state government expenditures in fiscal year 2002 (state government expenditures include money generated from state funds, federal funds, and the sale of state bonds). [National Women’s Law Center, February 2005]

Privatizing Social Security Would Impose a $42.4 BILLION Unfunded Mandate on Pennsylvania. According to the Institute for America’s Future in 2005, the Bush Social Security privatization plan would create a new $42.4 billion unfunded federal mandate on the state of Pennsylvania and would plunge at least 244,000 Pennsylvania seniors into poverty. [Institute for America’s Future, April 2005]

Women in Pennsylvania Would Be Hard Hit If Social Security Were Privatized, With Widow’s Benefit Dropping $4,884 Per Year. According to a 2005 report by the National Women’s Law Center, “The typical recipient of a Social Security widow’s benefit in Pennsylvania receives $904 per month ($10,848 per year).  According to the Congressional Budget Office, under Plan 2 of the President’s Commission to Strengthen Social Security, today’s kindergarteners are projected to receive 45% less than they are promised under current law, even when the proceeds from their private accounts are included in the total.  If such a benefit cut were to take effect currently, the typical widow in Pennsylvania would receive only $497 per month ($5,964 per year), an amount equal to only 69% of the poverty line. [National Women’s Law Center, February 2005]

IMPACT OF WORKER SAFETY ON PENNSYLVANIA:

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Vigorously Opposed Occupational Safety Regulations. In an article written between the initial bill supported by President Johnson and the second bill, that passed, supported by President Nixon, the New York Times reported: “The first legislation providing for a comprehensive nationwide system of health and safety standards was proposed last year by President Johnson.  Strongly supported by labor, the bill ran into immediate and vigorous opposition from industry, led by the Chamber of Commerce of the United States.” [New York Times, 12/10/69]

   * The U.S. Chamber of Commerce “led the fight to defeat the 1968 bill.” [New York Times, 3/19/70]

U.S. Chamber Argued That OSHA Was a Failure. In 1979, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce charged “that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration had failed to reduce worker injuries and illnesses significantly since its inception in 1970.” Mark De Bernardo of the Chamber wrote, “In the wake of piles of more O.S.H.A. rules and paperwork, fatal injuries on the job soared by more than 24 percent from 1976 to 1977.” [New York Times, 8/27/79]

U.S. Chamber Spokesman Said OSHA Is a “Blatant Denial of Fundamental Fairness.” When describing the structure of the Labor Department within the Executive Branch rather than the Judicial Branch of the government, Richard Berman, then director of labor law for the United States Chamber of Commerce, said “This has a chilling effect on an employer’s exercise of his right to appeal and is thus a blatant denial of fundamental fairness.” Berman now runs the Center for Union Facts, a corporate front group trying to defeat the Employee Free Choice Act. [U.S. News & World Report, 11/24/75; New York Times, 1/9/09]

In 2007, 220 Workplace Fatalities Were Reported in Pennsylvania. In 2007, 220 Pennsylvanians reportedly died as a result of workplace injuries. [BLS Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, 2007]