After Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) broke his word with organized labor (12/6) and gave the go-ahead for a union busting “right to work” bill that was rushed through the lame-duck legislative session in less than a week, Democrats threatened an all-out war.

Democrats in the state’s congressional delegation told Snyder (12/10) that if he went forward with “right to work” legislation, he would be consigning the state to years of discord and division, undermine the progress in labor-management relations and create a situation similar to Wisconsin, where an ongoing battle over collective bargaining tore the state apart for over a year. Snyder, who had said before the election that “right to work” was not on his agenda, told the Democrats he would “seriously” take into account their objections, but the following day (12/11), a few hours after it cleared the state House 58-52 on its final passage while an estimated 12,000 union supporters rallied outside, Snyder announced that he had signed the bill into law.

Earlier this year, Snyder told a US House committee, “Right-to-work is an issue that is a very divisive issue … we have many problems in Michigan that are much more pressing … I don’t believe it is appropriate in Michigan during 2012.” But on 12/6 Snyder announced he had changed his mind and, a day later, both chambers of the Republican-controlled legislature rammed through similar anti-union bills with little debate. Legislative rules required them to wait five days to finally pass the bill.

Republicans apparently moved the “right to work” bill in the special session because they lost five seats in the House in November; though the GOP would still have a 58-51 majority, it would include five Republicans who opposed the bill, so Republican leaders might not have been able to pass the bill in the next session that starts in January.

The Republican sponsors of the bill made it harder for voters to repeal the law with ballot initiative by attaching an appropriation, as spending bills cannot be overturned by a popular vote. But Greg Sargent of WashingtonPost.com noted (12/11) that union operatives think the law can be challenged by a “statutory initiative,” which could be forced by the collecting of signatures equal to at least 8% of the 3.2 mln votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. So unions and their allies need to collect about 260,000 signatures to place a repeal initiative on the ballot.

Eddie Vale, a spokesman for the labor-funded Workers’ Voice, which played a big role in the Ohio and Wisconsin labor wars, told Sargent the initiative option was being seriously considered. “The Michigan Constitution allows two other ways to let the people decide this issue on the ballot, and whether it’s one of those options or the 2014 Governor’s election itself, Michiganders will be heard loud and clear,” Vale said. (The state Constitution also allows a veto referendum triggered by collection of 5% of the votes cast.)

Sargent noted, “The idea here is this: If such a tactic can force a vote on the ‘right to work’ law, Gov. Snyder will be heading into reelection in 2014 up against a heavily energized union base, a ton of money pumped into the state by national unions — even as there’s a major pro-collective bargaining initiative on the ballot. Of course, if this happens, major money from the right will flow into the state, too.”

Industrialists who finance the Republican Party, including the Koch Brothers and Amway billionaire Richard DeVos, have long sought to defund the unions. They apparently put pressure on Snyder to clear the way for the union-busting bill, which would make Michigan the 24th “right to work” state. United Auto Workers President Bob King, who has 151,000 members and 190,000 retirees in the state, said the governor’s about-face “blind-sided” him, Detroit-based LaborNotes.org reported (12/11).

The UAW had tried to head off “right to work” with a proposed constitutional amendment, Proposal 2, in the Nov. 6 general election that would have made collective bargaining a constitutional right. That union-backed proposal was defeated 57% to 42%, falling victim to a $30 mln disinformation campaign, Jane Slaughter wrote at LaborNotes.org. Mark O’Keefe, a staffer with the Detroit Federation of Teachers, told Slaughter that pre-election polls showed that union members backing Proposal 2 by just two-thirds. “If we only get two-thirds within the unions, it’s not surprising we don’t get a majority overall,” he said.

Ed Kilgore at WashingtonMonthly.com noted that much of the anti-union propaganda framed the “right to work” law as liberating workers from an obligation to join unions and from the political activity of “union bosses.” But the AFL-CIO’s Associate General Counsel, Lawrence E. Gold, noted, “As of now in [Michigan] (i.e., before any law change), people who choose a job with union representation but don’t want to be part of the union can decline to be members. The change in [Michigan] represents an end to the bargaining option between a union and an employer to require that any non-member pay his or her fair share of the union’s costs of bargaining and representation. That requirement is usually negotiated because, by law, the union must fully represent non-members no differently from members, and non-members receive the same wages and benefits as members. In all cases, only union members pay the costs for union political and lobbying activities.”

Kilgore added, “The right-to-work law doesn’t resolve some coercion problem. It creates a free-rider problem. And lest we forget, this is a government intervention in the right of employers and employees to freely engage in a labor contract.”

The Detroit Free-Press, which endorsed Snyder in his 2010 campaign and has generally supported him since, blasted his decision to ram through a union-busting “right-to-work” law in a lame-duck legislative session. The editorial board slammed his move as a “failure of leadership” and observed that his “about-face” amounted to a betrayal of Michigan’s voters.

The paper noted that while it “trusted Snyder’s judgment,” that trust “has now been betrayed.” It expressed disappointment on behalf of independents who thought Snyder more independent and visionary “than partisan apparatchiks like Wisconsin’s Scott Walker or Florida’s Rick Scott,” adding:

“His insistence that the legislation was designed to promote the interests of unionized workers and “bring Michiganders together” was grotesquely disingenuous; even as he spoke, security personnel were locking down the capital in anticipation of protests by angry unionists.

“Snyder’s ostensible rationale for embracing right-to-work legislation — it was, he insisted, a matter of preserving workers’ freedom of association — was equally dishonest.

“The real motive of Michigan’s right-to-work champions, as former GOP legislator Bill Ballenger ruefully observed, is ‘pure greed’ — the determination to emasculate, once and for all, the Democratic Party’s most reliable source of financial and organizational support.”

While Snyder and the Republicans in the legislature claim “right-to-work” is good for the state’s economy, studies show such legislation can cost workers money. The Economic Policy Institute found that “right-to-work” laws cost all workers, union and otherwise, $1,500 a year in wages and that they make it harder for workers to obtain pensions and health coverage. “If benefits coverage in non-right-to-work states were lowered to the levels of states with these laws, 2 million fewer workers would receive health insurance and 3.8 million fewer workers would receive pensions nationwide,” David Madland and Karla Walter from the Center for American Progress wrote earlier this year.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said (12/11), “Gov. Snyder showed his true colors today: He’s a puppet of extreme donors, and he is willing to ignore and lie to his constituents. His action will undoubtedly please the Koch Brothers and corporate CEOs, but it will diminish the voice of every working man and woman in Michigan.

“To make ‘right-to-work’ a reality, Gov. Rick Snyder ignored working Michiganders, the faith and civil rights community, President Obama, people in his own party, autoworkers, nurses, teachers, firefighters, the Detroit Free Press editorial board and voters. He listened to Grover Norquist, Dick DeVos, the Koch brothers and the extremes of his party. In Gov. Snyder’s office, they might call that political reality. On Main Street, we call it a sham of democracy.

“The so-called ‘right to work’ laws have never fostered employment, but they do bring out the worst kind of divisiveness. Gov. Snyder knows this is true. He publicly acknowledged this reality for years, and yet ultimately he chose to ignore it and embrace extreme politics under the guise of a job creation agenda.

“But working people are resilient – and just like we’ve patiently worked together to rebuild after the Great Recession, we will continue to come together to say ‘no’ to overreach and to oppose this radical governor and state legislature. And we will continue to work for policies to put America back on track with good jobs and shared prosperity, because working people have always been the solution, not the problem.”

GOP READY TO HOLD DEBT CEILING HOSTAGE AGAIN. A growing number of Republicans appear to be resigned that President Obama may get higher tax rates for the richest 2% of Americans, but they say they will insist on cuts to entitlement programs, such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, as leverage in the debate over increasing the debt ceiling next year. During an appearance on Fox News Sunday (12/9), Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) explained that if Republicans “give Obama a 2% increase” [which would be less than the President could get by simply letting the Bush tax cuts expire in January] the party can then hold the debt ceiling hostage in order to secure real cuts in spending.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) noted that the debt ceiling will need to be raised in February or March and on Fox News (12/10) he predicted that Republicans won’t raise the nation’s debt ceiling unless President Obama agrees to fundamentally reform Medicare and Social Security.

Then Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell publicly confirmed that hostage negotiations were on. “I think I can speak for every single Republican that we think a request of any president to raise the debt ceiling in the future should involve a discussion with whoever the president is about what we might do about the debt,” McConnell said at a press conference (12/11) reported by Brian Beutler at TalkingPointsMemo.com. McConnell added, “We are going to insist that we have another discussion about the future of our country in connection with the request of us to raise the debt ceiling.”

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has indicated that the GOP plans to demand more spending cuts, and responded to Obama’s request for a debt ceiling hike by saying, “There is a price for everything.” Igor Volsky noted at ThinkProgress.org (12/9) that another round of debt ceiling brinkmanship will result in great economic costs. In 2011, Republican demands nearly led to a credit default and the Bipartisan Policy Center calculated that the debt ceiling fight ultimately cost taxpayers $18.9 billion over 10 years, due to elevated interest rates between January and August 2011.

Obama slammed the GOP’s strategy during a recent meeting with business leaders (12/5). “The thinking is the Republicans will have more leverage because there will be another vote on the debt ceiling, and we will try to extract more concessions with a stronger hand on the debt ceiling,” Obama told members of the Business Roundtable. “That is a bad strategy for America, it’s a bad strategy for your businesses, and it is not a game that I will play.”

DEM LEADERS BACK OFF FROM RAISING MEDICARE AGE. As rumors swirl that Democrats may consider raising the Medicare eligibility age to reach a deal before the looming “fiscal cliff,” a top Senate Democrat expressed opposition to that option. Speaking on Meet the Press (12/9), Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said raising the age at which seniors can receive Medicare from 65 to 67 would leave retired seniors with a dangerous gap in their health coverage:

The previous week, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also rejected raising the Medicare eligibility age as part of a year-end deal on spending cuts and tax increases, saying, “I am very much against it, and I think most of my members are.”

However, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the Democratic whip, said entitlement cuts should remain “on the table,” although he said he might not end up supporting them. President Obama was reportedly willing to support raising the Medicare eligibility age during 2011 debt negotiations, but has not said where he stands on the issue as part of the current deal.

A Congressional Budget Office study of the proposal to raise the Medicare age to 67 found it would have “little effect on the trajectory of Medicare’s long-term spending” because the youngest Medicare beneficiaries are the healthiest and least costly to the program. The costs, meanwhile, would include an estimated net increase of $5.6 bln in out-of-pocket health insurance costs for seniors who would have been otherwise covered by Medicare, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study. Seniors in Medicare Part B would also face a 3% premium increase, the study found, since younger and healthier enrollees would be routed out of Medicare and into private insurance. Beneficiaries in health care reform’s exchanges would see a similar spike in premiums with the addition of the older population.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, asked progressives to join him in contacting the White House to urge President Obama not to accept benefit cuts for seniors and working families. “With the so-called ‘fiscal cliff’ looming, we have to ensure that any grand bargain rejects damaging cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid beneficiaries. It must ensure that the most affluent among us pay their fair share and reduce income inequality. It must put Americans back to work and shore up the middle class. And we must be prepared to accept no deal at all in the short term to get the best deal in the long term.” (See DontCaveOnTheCliff.com.)

PROGRESSIVE REFORM CALLS FOR EXECUTIVE ORDERS ON HEALTH, SAFETY AND CLIMATE REGS. With the new House of Representatives firmly in GOP control, making legislative gridlock virtually certain, the Center for Progressive Reform has proposed that President Obama issue a series of executive orders on matters of regulatory importance that otherwise would have to wait another two years for action. They are found in “Protecting People and the Environment by the Stroke of a Presidential Pen: Seven New Executive Orders for President Obama’s Second Term” at progressivereform.org. At the top of the list, Meteor Blades noted at DailyKos.com (12/10), are orders that would attempt to mitigate climate change, “something a hefty chunk of the Republicans in the House would never take action on, except in a retrograde manner, because they still don’t think climate change is happening.”

The list includes:

• Executive Order to Take Action on Climate Change Mitigation, which would direct the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from major industrial operations under the Clean Air Act.

• Executive Order to Prioritize and Coordinate Planning for Climate Change Adaptation, requiring federal agencies “to design their actions in ways that ease, rather than exacerbate, the challenges faced by communities and ecosystems. So, for example, agencies involved in setting policy for coastal development, including federal flood insurance, should develop new rules that discourage building in areas likely to be overcome by sea-level rise.”

• Executive Order to Avoid Dangerous Imports by creating a Cabinet-level working group to address the cross-cutting problems posed by imported foods, drugs and consumer products.

• Executive Order to Protect the Health and Safety of Children and Future Generations by establishing an interagency task force to build a roster of coordinated regulatory actions “to address high priority threats to the health and safety of children and future generations.”  

• Executive Order to Protect Contingent Workers would rework the enforcement operations of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to deal better with on-the-job safety and health challenges faced by contingent, “a growing subset of the labor force, and include, for example, construction and farming day laborers, warehouse laborers hired through staffing agencies, and hotel housekeepers supplied by temp firms.”

• Executive Order to Reform Offices of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Regulatory System, to refocus on “working proactively with agencies to help them achieve their statutory missions of protecting public health, safety, and the environment.” One key element would be rescinding requirements for cost-benefit analysis.

• Executive Order to Restore the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy’s Focus on Small Businesses, that is, those with 20 or fewer employees.

Blades noted that if the President moved on these matters as CPR has proposed, “the howling from the Right would not doubt flow profusely. Let them.” CPR President Rena Steinzor, of the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, said Obama “can deliver real, tangible benefits that will improve the quality of all Americans’ lives” with these executive orders, circumventing in a perfectly legal way the greed-and-ignorance-based obstructionism imposed by the House majority and its scientific illiterates and corporate go-fers.

HOSTESS TOOK WORKERS’ PENSION MONEY TO FUND COMPANY. Hostess Brands Inc. said it diverted wages that were supposed to fund employee pensions to pay for company operations as it sank toward bankruptcy. After the company said in August 2011 that it would stop making the pension contributions that unions had bargained for instead of wages, the wages were not put toward the pensions, nor were they restored, the Wall Street Journal reported (12/10/12).

The move angered many employees, and after Hostess declared bankruptcy in January and sought to renegotiate labor contracts, the halted pension contributions were a major factor in the refusal of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco and Grain Millers International Union to make a deal with the company, the Journal reported. After a US bankruptcy judge granted Hostess’s request to impose a new contract, the union, which represented 5,600 of the company’s 18,500 employees, went on strike and Hostess then moved to liquidate the company.

“The company’s cessation of making pension contributions was a critical component of the bakers’ decision” to walk off the job, said Jeffrey Freund of Bredhoff & Kaiser PLLC, a lawyer for the union, the Journal reported.

The maneuver probably doesn’t violate federal law because the money Hostess failed to put into the pension didn’t come directly from employees, experts told the Journal. “It’s what lawyers call betrayal without remedy,” said James P. Baker, a partner at Baker & McKenzie LLP who specializes in employee benefits and isn’t involved in the Hostess case. “It’s sad, but that stuff does happen, unfortunately.”

SENATE REPORT ON CIA INTERROGATIONS MAY BE WITHHELD. A Senate committee is close to putting the final stamp on a massive report on the CIA’s detention, interrogation and rendition of terror suspects, Cora Currier reported for ProPublica (12/9). Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who heads the Select Committee on Intelligence, called the roughly 6,000-page report “the most definitive review of this CIA program to be conducted.”

But it’s unclear how much, if any, of the review might be published. The committee first needs to vote to endorse the report, which was expected in mid-December. Decisions on declassification will come “at a later time,” Feinstein said.

Republicans have been boycotting the investigation since the summer of 2009, after the Justice Department began a separate investigation into the CIA interrogations. (In August, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the investigation was being closed without bringing any criminal charges.)

According to Reuters, the Senate report focuses on whether so-called “enhanced interrogation” tactics – including waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and other techniques – actually led to critical intelligence breakthroughs. Reuters reported earlier this year that the investigation “was expected to find little evidence” that the torture was in fact crucial.

Former President George W. Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney and others have repeatedly said that such tactics produced important information. They’ve also said waterboarding was used on only a handful of high-level detainees, a claim which recently came into question. Feinstein has previously disputed claims that such interrogations led to Osama Bin Laden. (It is also still unclear what key members of Congress knew about the program, and when they knew it.)

Much about the CIA’s program to detain and interrogate terror suspects has remained officially secret, despite widespread reporting and acknowledgement by Bush.  

Obama banned torture upon taking office and released documents related to program, including a critical report from the CIA’s Inspector General. But the Obama administration has argued in courts that details about the CIA program are still classified. (As ProPublica has reported, this has led the administration to claim in some cases that Guantanamo detainees’ own accounts of their imprisonment are classified.)

POLL FINDS GOV. HALEY VULNERABLE IN S.C. While South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) weighs a replacement for departing Sen. Jim DeMint (R), who is quitting his seat to take over the leadership of the Heritage Foundation, a new poll by Public Policy Polling finds Haley in trouble for re-election in a potential remap with state Sen. Vincent Sheehan (D). Haley beat Sheehan by just 4 points two years ago and in the survey of 520 South Carolina voters (12/7-9), Sheehan led 46-44. However, Haley does not look vulnerable in a Republican primary, as 53% of Republicans said they want her to be the nominee again in 2014 and she led specific potential challengers by wider margins.

South Carolina’s other senator, Lindsey Graham, appears to be in relatively good shape for re-election, as the poll found a 66% job approval rating and he even led 51-40 against “somebody more conservative.” Graham also had substantial leads against specific potential primary challengers such as Rep. Tim Scott (54-32), Rep. Trey Gowdy (57-29), ex-Gov. Mark Sanford (64-26), Rep. Mick Mulvaney (64-20) and state Sen. Tom Davis (67-17).

POLL: KEEP FEDS’ HANDS OFF STATE POT LAWS. A slim majority of Americans oppose the legalization of marijuana, but a larger majority don’t want the federal government to interfere with Colorado and Washington state, which legalized the drug in general election referenda, a Gallup Poll found (12/10). The survey conducted 11/26-29 found 64% do not want the federal government to enforce anti-marijuana laws in those states, while 34% do. The Obama administration is considering possible legal action against Colorado and Washington to challenge the voter-approved initiatives that eliminate most civil and criminal penalties for recreational pot use, the New York Times reported (12/7). The Gallup Poll found 48% support legalization of marijuana, with 50% opposed. Since the election, polls conducted for ABC News and CBS News also have found marijuana legalization drawing just short of majority support, Kevin Robillard noted at Politico.com (12/10). Gallup found two-thirds of Republicans opposed to legalization, while 61% of Democrats support legalizing it. Three-fifths of Americans aged 18 to 29 support legalization, while 61% of those older than 65 oppose it.

TEXAS GIVES $19B IN BIZ TAX SUBSIDIES. Texas gives more tax incentives to lure businesses to move to the state — around $19 bln a year — than any other state, the New York Times reported (12/1) in a series on how state and local economies are changed by tax incentives. Louise Story reported in the Times that Texas justifies its largess by pointing out that it is home to half of all the private sector jobs created over the last decade nationwide. “Yet the raw numbers mask a more complicated reality behind the flood of incentives ... Along with the huge job growth, the state has the third-highest proportion of hourly jobs paying at or below minimum wage. And despite its low level of unemployment, Texas has the 11th-highest poverty rate among states.”

Gov. Rick Perry “acknowledged that the state’s job growth was not erasing persistent poverty, saying that ‘we are going to have people that fall through the cracks.’ He said creating jobs was the best way to help Texans, who ‘don’t want government assistance when they can do it themselves,’” Story wrote.

To help balance its budget last year, Texas cut public education spending by $5.4 bln — and it already had ranked 11th from the bottom among all states in per pupil spending. Yet highly profitable companies like Dow Chemical and Texas Instruments continue to enjoy hefty discounts on their school tax bills through one of the state’s economic development programs.

The Times also noted the industry of consultants that has grown up around state efforts to lure companies with incentives. One consultant, G. Brint Ryan, who typically gets a 30% cut of the incentive award he secures for companies, has helped companies get tax incentives in more than half the states in the country, but specializes in Texas, where he and his wife have contributed more than $4 mln to state politicians since 2000, and where more than a third of the awards from one of the state’s biggest incentive programs, more than $80 mln, has gone to Ryan clients.

Meanwhile, one in five Texans live below the poverty rate, which runs from $18,000 for a family of three to $27,000 for a family of five. Under Texas’ current rules, children can qualify for Medicaid coverage if their family of three has incomes ranging from $34,281 for newborns to $24,645 for ages 1-5 and $18,530 for ages 6-18. Their parents have tougher luck, however. Under current guidelines, 2.6 mln Texas children qualify for health care. Another 400,000 are eligible but haven’t been signed up for the coverage. A working parent can qualify for Medicaid if their annual income is less than $3,696 — which is a big reason Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the country (24%, compared with a national average of 16%). And Perry is refusing the federal government’s offer to expand Medicaid to cover more of the working poor.

While the poverty level for a family of three is $18,000, the Center for Public Policy Priorities figures it costs more like $45,000 to cover the basic expenses for a family of three in Austin, including a two-bedroom apartment, child care if both parents work and no eating out.

FAMILY PLANNING CUTS INCREASE FAMILIES. In 2011, skinflint Texas lawmakers passed a two-year budget that, in an attempt to halt the flow of taxpayer dollars to Planned Parenthood clinics (even those that don’t provide abortions), cut $73 mln from family planning services and moved the money to other programs. The state Health and Human Services Commission estimates that during the 2014-15 biennium poor women will deliver an estimated 23,760 more babies than they would have as a result of reduced access to state-subsidized birth control due to the budget cuts, Emily Ramshaw reported for TexasTribune.org (Dec. 7). The additional cost to taxpayers as a result of that “savings” of $73 mln is expected to be as much as $273 mln — with more than $100 mln of that coming from the state’s general revenue budget alone — and the bulk of that is the cost of caring for those infants under Medicaid.

Also in the Lone Star State, First Focus, a D.C.-based children’s advocacy group, reported (firstfocus.net, 12/4) that the number of Texas children who live in poverty has nearly quadrupled since 2007. The national child poverty rate is 22% but the Texas rate is 26%. “Having more than one in four kids in the state living in poverty is a deep concern, particularly since when you look at the Census Bureau data on where all the growth in the number of kids in this country are — Texas is disproportionately represented in that because Texas is such a fast-growing state,” said First Focus President Bruce Lesley, as reported by KUHF.org in Houston.

One of the most startling numbers for Texas, Lesley said, is the increase in the number of children who have an unemployed parent. “In 2007 the number of Texas children with parents who were unemployed for six months or more — so you know long-term unemployment — was around 57,000 and today in 2012 that number is over 207,000.” That’s a 263% increase in the number of kids who have parents on long-term unemployment.

While Texas ranks among the worst 15 states for child poverty, it’s not at the bottom of the list. That spot goes to Mississippi with a 34% poverty rate. New Hampshire has the best rate, with just 12% of kids living in poverty there.

REPUBS STILL BLAME ACORN. Nearly half of Republican voters — 49% — surveyed by Public Policy Polling say they think ACORN stole the 2012 election for President Obama. That’s a modest decline from the 52% of Republicans who thought that ACORN stole the election for Obama in 2008, but Tom Jensen of PPP said the decline was “perhaps smaller than might have been expected given that ACORN doesn’t exist anymore.” The community organizing group that advocated for lower- and middle-class families and did a lot of work registering voters in 2008 but it closed down in 2010.

Some GOP voters are so unhappy with the election outcome that they no longer care to be a part of the US, Jensen noted, as 25% of Republicans say they would like their state to secede from the union compared to 56% who want to stay and 19% who aren’t sure. The survey of 700 voters was conducted 11/30-12/2 and its margin of error was +/-3 points. (See publicpolicypolling.com.)

DEMAND LABOR RIGHTS IN TRADE PACT. In November, President Obama and other heads of state set a deadline of the coming year to complete their massive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP, no relation to TPP) Free Trade Agreement, which the US has been negotiating for the past 2-½ years with countries in the Asia-Pacific and Latin America. In the first week of December, Mexico and Canada took part in their first official closed-door negotiations of the TPP, which would expand the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) model to 11 Pacific Rim countries (and eventually any nation in the Pacific Rim, from China to Russia to Japan, could be included).

In mid-November, Mexican officials hosted negotiators from the 10 other TPP nations in secretive talks in Los Cabos, Baja California. In response, Mexican labor, farmer and fair trade advocates, including the National Workers’ Union (UNT), the National Council of Rural and Fisher Organizations (CONORP), and the Mexican Action Network against Free Trade (RMALC), organized a half day seminar raising concerns about Mexico’s participation in the TPP in the Mexican Senate building (11/14).

The seminar launched a regional political alliance between partners from Canada (Common Frontiers), the US (AFL-CIO and Public Citizen), and Mexico (the organizations listed above and others). The organizers presented a statement to the Mexican press at the end of the seminar: “Two decades of ‘Free Trade’ is enough: Say No to Expansion through the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).”

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn,) also has drafted a letter to President Obama demanding that the TPP include enforceable obligations to protect fundamental labor rights and safeguard against investment and service sector rules that provide incentives for offshoring. For more information, see tradewatch.org.

VA. SENATOR PROPOSES SCHEME TO RIG PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. Virginia State Senator Charles “Bill” Carrico Sr. (R) has become the latest swing state-Republican to propose a scheme to rig presidential elections for future Republican candidates. BlueVirginia.us reports his proposed SB 723 would award the state’s electors based on which candidate gets the majority of votes in each gerrymandered Congressional district — rather than based on who gets the most votes statewide.

The Carrico bill would award one of Virginia’s 13 electoral votes to the presidential candidate who gets the most votes in each of the Commonwealth’s 11 congressional districts. The remaining two electors would go to the candidate who won the majority of congressional districts. With a Republican-controlled redistricting passed earlier this year, Virginia Democrats were heavily packed into three districts. Under these maps, Obama won Virginia by almost a 4 point margin, yet he carried just four Virginia Congressional Districts. Were Carrico’s scheme in place, Mitt Romney would have received seven of Virginia’s 11 electoral votes despite receiving just 47.28% of the vote statewide.

Carrico’s proposal is part of a troubling national trend by Republican legislators in GOP-controlled states won by President Obama in the 2008 and 2012 elections. The Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader and Ohio Secretary of State have suggested similar schemes in those states. While constitutional, the scheme would make it far more likely that the popular choice for president would not be elected to that office. No such efforts have emerged in GOP-controlled states won by the Republican nominees.

Indeed, if this plan to rig the Electoral College had been law in several key Republican-controlled states that President Obama won last month, America would now be looking at a very different future. Had the Carrico plan been instituted for the 2012 elections in Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin, it is quite likely Mitt Romney would be the president-elect despite President Obama’s 51-47 majority. (Josh Israel, ThinkProgress.org, 12/10)

During an appearance on Meet The Press (12/9), MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell confronted Newt Gingrich for falsely predicting in 1993 that the economy would suffer if then-President Bill Clinton raised marginal tax rates.

Republican are making a similar argument against President Obama’s call to raise marginal tax rates on the richest Americans, even though the economy and jobs grew exponentially during the Clinton years when the top marginal tax rate was at 39.6 percent for the top income earners.

O’Donnell read off Gingrich’s false prediction and asked him to apologize to Americans:

O’DONNELL: Who said this? ‘The tax increase will kill jobs and lead to a recession, and the recession will force people out of work and onto unemployment, and actually increase the deficit.’ That’s Newt Gingrich, in 1993, on the Clinton tax increase, and those of us who were working on the other side of that tax increase, Newt, have been waiting for your apology for 20 years for being completely wrong about that.

GINGRICH: I don’t agree with you.

O’DONNELL: But the economy soared. No one lost a job because of that tax increase.

GINGRICH: Baloney.

O’DONNELL: There was no recession, you said there would be a recession. There was no recession.

GINGRICH: The fact is, if you look at all the indicators when I was elected Speaker, virtually all of the economic growth occurs after the Republicans take control. Virtually all of the increase in the stock market, in fact all of the increase in the stock market is after the Republicans take control.

O’DONNELL: You did not reduce the rates, Newt. You said the rates would cause a recession.

GINGRICH: When we balanced the budget, we balanced the budget with a tax cut, not a tax increase. Four consecutive balanced budget with a tax cut, not a tax increase.

O’DONNELL: A tiny tax cut compared to the biggest tax increase in history, which is what Bill Clinton did. You didn’t dismantle it.

Indeed, Igor Volsky noted at ThinkProgress.org (12/9) that in 1993 when President Bill Clinton raised taxes on the top income earners, Gingrich and the Republicans argued that the hikes would result in economic decline and result in huge deficits. They were proven wrong. The country experienced the longest period of economic growth in US history, increased business investment, 23 million jobs added, and, of course, budget surpluses. The same boom did not materialize after President George W. Bush enacted his tax cuts; the country experienced large deficits and the weakest job and income growth in the post-war era.

From The Progressive Populist, January 1-15, 2013



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