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For Labor Day, Trump Attacks Workers And Social Security

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Labor Day is a holiday designed to honor America’s workers. Instead, Donald Trump continues to attack them. Indeed, his administration is in the midst of a stealth effort that not only attacks workers but also our earned Social Security benefits and our federal government. The long-term goals of Trump and his Congressional allies are to destroy the labor movement, wreck the federal government, and end Social Security.

That may sound hyperbolic, but it is not. Trump’s latest stealth attack is not only anti-union, it will eventually make it so difficult to access Social Security benefits that some beneficiaries (particularly those attempting to qualify for their earned Social Security disability benefits) never receive them at all. Others will eventually claim their benefits, but only after an unnecessarily burdensome process of visiting field offices that are rarely open and have hours-long lines when they are.

For Republicans, that’s all according to plan. Trump and his Congressional allies are intentionally breaking our government so they can turn around and say that it doesn’t work.

Trump’s war on workers is extremely well documented. It is perhaps best illustrated by his anti-worker nominees to be Secretary of Labor, a pack of wolves in the hen house. The first nominee was guilty of scores of labor law violations and forced to pay millions of dollars in settlements to workers he cheated. He was ultimately rejected because even many Republicans decided that they couldn’t vote for an ethically challenged nominee who was also an accused domestic abuser.

Trump’s second anti-worker nominee was Alex Acosta, best known for his sweetheart deal with the billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. His current acting Secretary of Labor is, if anything, more anti-worker than the first two. And his newest nominee for the job has spent his career defending businesses seeking to roll back labor protections.

Trump’s war on the federal government is also well-documented. His administration is upending the lives of career civil servants by telling those based in Washington to move to the Midwest and those based around the country to relocate to Washington. Just before the beginning of the school year, these workers have been given virtually no time to decide if they will relocate or resign. This is having the desired effect: Most are quitting.

The Trump Administration’s actions are intended to shrink government to the size where they can, in the words of Republican activist Grover Norquist, “drown it in the bathtub.”

Trump’s hostility to Social Security and Medicare is equally clear. He recently floated a proposal to reduce Social Security’s funding. Days later, he gloated over his intentions to cut Medicare as a “fun second-term project.”

The American people did not vote for these benefit cuts. In fact, Trump ran on a promise to protect Social Security and Medicare. This was a shrewd political strategy, given that voters of all political stripes strongly value our Social Security and strongly oppose cutting its modest but vital benefits. They strongly value our Medicare, as well. But as with his promise to raise taxes on the rich, to provide quality health care for everyone, even to act presidential, Trump has done the exact opposite now that he’s in the White House.

Despite their claims, the GOP elite’s hostility to Social Security and Medicare — indeed, to anything the government does to help us improve our lives — doesn’t have anything to do with the debt or deficit. It has everything to do with the donor class trying to avoid paying their fair share toward the common good.

Yet because Social Security and Medicare are so popular, Republicans know that direct benefit cuts will be impossible to pass into law, as long as all of us pay attention. That is why Trump and his Congressional allies are conducting a stealth war, using guerilla warfare tactics against our earned benefits.

One of their most nefarious tactics is undercutting the Social Security Administration (SSA), the agency charged with ensuring that workers receive their earned Social Security benefits in a timely and stress-free manner. SSA has suffered nearly a decade of budget cuts from Congressional Republicans. These cuts have resulted in office closures, staff reductions, and a years-long wait for disability hearings.

Attacks on SSA don’t just hurt the agency and its 60,000 workers. They hurt all Americans by making it increasingly difficult to collect the Social Security benefits we earn with every paycheck. That’s why all of us should fight to defend it.

At SSA and across the federal government, the Trump Administration is playing hardball. It has issued anti-worker executive orders. It has failed to negotiate in good faith with those representing federal workers. And recently, the Trump administration launched a new assault. It arbitrarily and unilaterally sought to impose a new contract on SSA workers. That imposed contract would effectively destroy the ability of the workers’ union to represent them.

The Trump Administration’s goal is to make conditions at SSA so intolerable that demoralized workers will quit in droves, taking essential institutional knowledge with them. This will directly affect the hundreds of millions of us who call SSA or visit a local field office regarding our earned Social Security benefits.

Federal workers are fighting back in the courts. Their Democratic allies in Congress are seeking to come to their aid, but they do not control the White House and Senate. The only way to protect the hard-working civil servants at the Social Security Administration, and thereby protect our Social Security and Medicare, is to make Donald Trump a one-term president.

 

Nancy J. Altman is a writing fellow for Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute. She has a 40-year background in the areas of Social Security and private pensions. She is president of Social Security Works and chair of the Strengthen Social Security coalition. Her latest book is The Truth About Social Security. She is also the author of The Battle for Social Security and co-author of Social Security Works!

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

States That Voted Against Obama Receive The Most Funding From His Administration

Published with permission from AlterNet.

The cognitive dissonance and brazen hypocrisy that permeates the Republican Party appears to be the only thing that trickles down to the people.

The Pew Charitable Trusts recently found that states which voted against President Obama twice are actually big-gumint takers. While the elected governments of red states perpetually tout austerity measures and use bumper-sticker platitudes like “pull yourselves up by the bootstraps” (or eat them for sustenance), the attitudes of voters at the voting booth and their state legislatures don’t actually reflect this sentiment.

Synthesizing the report, the Hill pointed out that, “the average state that voted against Obama twice relied on federal funding for an average of 33.8 percent of its budget.” Conversely, it seems states that voted twice for President Obama made up “29.9 percent of the average state budget,” according to the report.

The states that sucked off Uncle Sugar the most just so happen to be the most virulently anti-Obama. Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, and Georgia all received more than 30 percent of their budgets from federal grants in 2014. Not surprisingly, all of these states voted for Sen. John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012. Said the Hill: “Republican states rely more heavily on federal dollars as a share of their budgets than do more Democratic states, largely because Southern states, especially, are more likely to have a higher percentage of residents living in poverty.”

In an effort to make hypocrisy an Olympic sport, it seems that one-third of federal dollars went to Social Security. Republicans have been trying to gut the program for years. Yet the states that voted for Obama, including Virginia, Connecticut, Hawaii, and Nevada, all rely on government money the least, with less than a quarter of their state revenue coming from the federal government.

Michael Hayne is a progressive comedian, writer and voice artist. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook or visit ImpressionsGuy.com.

The cognitive dissonance and brazen hypocrisy that permeates the Republican Party appears to be the only thing that trickles down to the people.

The Pew Charitable Trusts recently found that states which voted against President Obama twice are actually big-gumint takers. While the elected governments of red states perpetually tout austerity measures and use bumper-sticker platitudes like “pull yourselves up by the bootstraps” (or eat them for sustenance), the attitudes of voters at the voting booth and their state legislatures don’t actually reflect this sentiment.

Synthesizing the report, the Hill pointed out that, “the average state that voted against Obama twice relied on federal funding for an average of 33.8 percent of its budget.” Conversely, it seems states that voted twice for President Obama made up “29.9 percent of the average state budget,” according to the report.

The states that sucked off Uncle Sugar the most just so happen to be the most virulently anti-Obama. Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, and Georgia all received more than 30 percent of their budgets from federal grants in 2014. Not surprisingly, all of these states voted for Sen. John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012. Said the Hill: “Republican states rely more heavily on federal dollars as a share of their budgets than do more Democratic states, largely because Southern states, especially, are more likely to have a higher percentage of residents living in poverty.”

In an effort to make hypocrisy an Olympic sport, it seems that one-third of federal dollars went to Social Security. Republicans have been trying to gut the program for years. Yet the states that voted for Obama, including Virginia, Connecticut, Hawaii, and Nevada, all rely on government money the least, with less than a quarter of their state revenue coming from the federal government.

Photo: U.S. currency notes are seen in a counting machine at a moneychanger in Jakarta, March 17, 2015. REUTERS/Beawiharta 

Government Keeps Rural West Going

The 187,000 acres on which sits the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge never belonged to the state of Oregon, much less the band of cowboy exhibitionists who’d taken it over. This and other federal lands were acquired through conquest over, purchases from or treaties with Mexico, Russia, Spain, England, France and Native Americans.

The federal government lets loggers, ranchers and other businesses make a subsidized living off public land, courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer. The fees ranchers pay for grazing on federal land are considerably below those charged by private landowners. The government loses money on nearly all timber sales on public land.

Now that we’ve gotten this off our chests, let’s sympathize with the hardworking people of the rural West, losing a beautiful way of life to harsh economic realities. The growing poverty in the sparsely populated high desert of south central Oregon is shared by communities far from the region’s booming cities.

The good folks of Harney County certainly did not deserve this invasion by outsiders. They are entitled to resent the closing of the refuge along with threats against neighbors working there. The disruption spread through the community.

It’s true that the federal government owns massive amounts of Western land. It’s true that tighter environmental restrictions have curtailed some economic activity on this property. And we must recognize that many local complaints about federal management of the land have merit.

But a federal retreat from the rural West would spell economic disaster. Thinking people throughout the West understand this. In Harney County, government paychecks account for 60 percent of earned income.

Consider this headline in The Missoulian newspaper: “Rural western Montana counties struggling mightily with loss of federal funds.” This happened during the 2014 budget wars, when Congress failed to renew the Secure Rural Schools Act and Community Self-Determination Act. Gone was $300 million in subsidies for roads, schools, government jobs and other programs.

Rural Westerners might ask themselves why so many of them buy into the “government is evil” philosophy. The conservatives they send to Washington have made common cause with Easterners eager to save their taxpayers some dollars.

Ronald Reagan famously said, “Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases.” One was “if it stops moving, subsidize it.”

You don’t have to be a small-government conservative to question the trainload of subsidies that keep many rural economies moving. If a shoe factory in Massachusetts can’t make a profit, it closes. Why are the rules so different for Western agricultural businesses?

It’s easy to blame environmentalists and ignore the biggest killer of logging jobs: automation and a large forested landmass called Canada.

Rural areas benefit from the federal Payment in Lieu of Taxes program — whereby Washington sends money to counties with large tracts of federal land that local governments can’t tax. (The fairest of subsidies, the funding was cut under sequestration.) Some suggest changing the program to direct more money toward the poorer communities.

A wildlife refuge is itself an economic asset. The federal government pays salaries and other costs of maintaining an amenity that also brings in tourists.

Do the state and local taxpayers care to bear these costs? Or would the plan be to let industry pay for the right to savage the land, except for the nicest vistas, which would be sold to billionaire “ranchers”?

An estimated 47 million bird watchers in America spend $40 billion a year on their passion. Having a federal wildlife refuge in your community seems not a bad deal at all.

As Reagan said, “Government does not solve problems; it subsidizes them.”

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com.

Photo: Occupier Duane Ehmer rides his horse Hellboy at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon, January 7, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

Pot Legalization Spreads Through The West And Into D.C.

By Evan Halper, Tribune Washington Bureau

Joints, pot brownies, cannabis–dosed sodas, and other marijuana products will soon be sold in retail shops to any adult who wants them throughout a large chunk of the West, after voters in Oregon and Alaska approved legalization measures Tuesday.

And an initiative approved overwhelmingly by Washington, D.C., voters legalizes the use and cultivation of marijuana there, but stops short of allowing retail sales.

The states join Colorado and Washington, which legalized recreational pot sales only two years ago, in a remarkable change of fortune for legalization advocates who had been toiling for decades to lift the prohibition on the drug. Proponents this week overcame voter concerns surrounding the bumpy roll out of the taxing and regulatory plans for cannabis in the states where it was legalized in 2012 – as well as many unwelcome headlines – in a sign that voter unease with the drug is rapidly fading.

The outcome also was a clear sign that opinions on marijuana no longer fall neatly along partisan lines. The narrow passage of legalization in GOP-dominated Alaska, where 52 percent of voters cast ballots in favor, was considered a symbolic victory among cannabis advocates.

The vote in the capital also had political significance, playing out in the backyard of federal government as advocates try to persuade Congress to soften drug laws. The Washington, D.C., measure was driven in large part by racial justice concerns, in a city where African-Americans accounted for 91 percent of those arrested for drug possession, even though statistics show they are no more likely to use the drug than whites.

Organizers are now setting their sights on California for 2016, where they are confident the state’s liberal-leaning electorate will opt to legalize sales for recreational use. Such an outcome would create a bulwark for marijuana permissiveness in the West, which proponents hope to buffet by targeting other large states to the east for legalization measures in 2016 and shortly thereafter.

“This Election Day was an extraordinary one for the marijuana and criminal justice reform movements,” Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement. The alliance, a nonprofit bankrolled by billionaire George Soros, invested heavily in the Oregon measure through its political action affiliate, and it also provided advice and financial support to the Alaska initiative.

“These victories are even more notable for having happened in a year when Democrats were trounced at the polls,” Nadelmann wrote. “Reform of marijuana and criminal justice policies is no longer just a liberal cause but a conservative and bipartisan one as well. On these issues at least, the nation is at last coming to its senses.”

This election season was also notable for the opposition the marijuana movement attracted. Billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson stepped up with $5 million to help defeat a fairly routine measure in Florida to legalize marijuana for medical use only. It was done in by a Florida state law that requires 60 percent approval for constitutional measures to pass. It fell just a few percentage points short.

Still, Adelson’s involvement in the campaign marked the first time a mega-donor has gotten so deeply involved in fighting such a measure. Opponents of pot said they had never before been able to afford television time, and in Florida they had the resources to mount a sophisticated multimedia effort. Adelson’s political adviser said the billionaire will be looking for other opportunities to fight legalization.

Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a national anti-pot group, is vowing to step up its efforts.

“This was not the complete slam-dunk the legalization groups expected,” said a statement from Kevin Sabet, president of the group. “Alaska barely voted to legalize, and several cities rejected marijuana retail stores outright. We are confident the more people know the truth about marijuana and the Big Tobacco-like marijuana industry, the more opposition to marijuana legalization will continue to grow.”

AFP Photo/Frederic J. Brown

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