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Obama’s ‘Raise’ for Federal Workers is a Bad Joke

By Dave Lindorff | This Can’t Be Happening | January 30, 2014

President Obama, five years late, in his fifth State of the Union speech, decried the terrible income gap in the US, a gap which has worsened during his years in the White House. Saying he was tired of the obstruction of his policies by Republicans in Congress, he said he would take action on his own, and as evidence offered up the puny “fix” of raising the minimum wage paid to employees working on federal projects from its current $7.25 to $10.10 per hour. This executive order, which could have been done when he took office in the depths of the Great Recession back in 2009, would be not immediate but would be phased in over the next three years.

What a pathetic joke!

As the New York Times pointed out the next day in its report on the president’s speech, the “raise” he was offering would only apply to “a few hundred thousand” workers. If we assume that “few” to be 300,000 people, and that each of those people works a 40-hour week 50 weeks per year, that would mean that in the first year, when the incremental increase will be 95 cents/hour, each worker currently earning $7.25 per hour will earn an extra $1900, for a total gain by all the impacted workers of $570 million.

Just to give a sense of how little that $570 million is, it works out to just over one-third of the unit cost of one F-35 Joint Strike Fighter [1]. That’s the Pentagon’s latest new fighter jet, designed and built by Lockheed-Martin, the one that has no enemy to fight and that is probably too flawed and too costly to ever risk in battle anyhow.

What is really obscene about the president’s token wage-increase gesture is that the $10.10 wage that he is saying the federal government will ultimately pay to its contract workers in three years would, in constant dollars, still be less than what the federal minimum wage was back in 1968, almost half a century ago! Heck, if the president had really wanted to show the obstructive Republicans and the American people that he meant business about going it alone, he could have used that same executive authority to grant those impoverished workers an immediate raise to $15 per hour — the rate that voters approved as a minimum wage last November in Seattle, Washington, and that labor activists say would actually go a ways towards alleviating rampant US poverty.

Even worse is the reality that we wouldn’t even be talking about this pathetic offer, or about a current federal hourly wage of $7.25, if Obama, back in 2009, fresh off a huge election win and with Democratic Party control of both houses of Congress, had honored his campaign pledge to re-establish fairness in the National Labor Relations Act by passing “card check” legislation, making it possible for workers to unionize their workplaces by simply having a majority of workers sign cards saying they wanted a union. As things stand, and as the Obama the candidate denounced on the stump, employers are able to use the NLRA to delay union elections for years, during which time they typically engage in a campaign of lawless intimidation, illegally fire union organizers and end up defeating union drives, suffering no penalty afterwards (labor law limits employers found guilty of violations to having to pay back lost wages. There is no provision in the law to hit violators with penalties.)

Had Obama not reneged on his promise to the workers who voted him into office, dropping, right after his oath of office was taken, all efforts to reform the labor laws relating to union organizing, and had he instead, back when he had a Congress that, as a (then) popular new president he could have pressed for passage of the needed legislation, we would not today have only 11.3 percent of Americans in unions (and only 6.7% of workers in private-sector businesses!).

The reality is that even as the percentage of unionized American workers has continued to decline from over 30 percent in the 1950s to 11.8 percent in 2011 and 11.3 percent today, Bloomberg News reports [2] that the percentage of those workers who tell pollsters they would prefer to be in a union has continued to grow, with a majority of workers saying they would prefer to be working in a unionized workplace. In fact, the percentage of workers saying they would prefer to be unionized is higher than it has been since 1980. (As for those right-wing claims that unionized workers don’t like their unions, the same polling shows that 90 percent of union members would vote for their union if given the chance.)

Obama screwed his worker supporters from day one, when he decided to “delay” reforming the labor laws to make the unionization process fairer and illegal anti-union tactics by employers more difficult. Now he’s down to insulting them with his latest pathetic offer of a puny “raise” for the lowest paid federal contract employees.

Meanwhile, it is in his power to take another action which would, albeit indirectly, profoundly impact the wage and wealth gap currently afflicting this country. He could reverse his 2009 instructions to his lickspittle Attorney General Eric Holder not to criminally prosecute the executives of the giant financial corporations that robbed the American people and trashed the US economy, throwing it into what continues to be the greatest economic collapse since the Great Depression. Prosecuting the financial tycoon/crooks and clawing back their hundreds of billions of dollars in ill-gotten gains would not only dramatically level the wealth divide by hacking away the high incomes; it would also send a message to the whole corrupt capitalist class that ill-gotten gains would no longer be ignored.

Sadly, though, instead of prosecution of the criminal syndicate that is the banking industry, the Obama administration, when it has even bothered to prosecute larger institutions, has only levied fines on these companies — always without even requiring them to admit to guilt — fines that barely even dent the banks’ record profits, and that usually can be deducted from income, thus making them effectively subsidized by the very taxpayers who have been injured by the industries crimes.

The latest such outrage was the non-prosecution settlement reached by the Attorney General’s office with JPMorgan Chase, the nation’s largest bank. Under that settlement, JPMorgan Chase pays $20.5 billion in fines for its conscious and deliberate role in enabling the $65-billion ponzi scheme of Bernie Madoff, all of which was conducted through an account at JPMorgan Chase. There was no effort to prosecute JPMorgan Chase Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon, who headed the bank through years of the entire Madoff scam, and AG Holder didn’t even insist, as he could have, that the bank dump Dimon as Chair and CEO. So Dimon continues in his role as head of the bank despite what has to be seen as either his complicity in an unprecedentedly huge criminal conspiracy, or his incomprehensively inept leadership.

And just to show how little the banking industry fears the Obama administration and its “Justice” Department, within less than two weeks of this outrageous “settlement,” the JPMorgan Chase Board of Directors voted to raise Dimon’s salary and bonus package by 75% to $20 million. No doubt the board members voting for this raise think Dimon earned the extra $8 million for keeping them all out of jail, along with himself.

It used to be that Democratic presidents would coddle and enrich the wealthy and powerful, while tossing crumbs to working people. Obama has taken this favor-the-rich tradition further. He openly serves the rich and powerful and then insults the intelligence of the working people who voted him into office.

January 31, 2014 Posted by | Deception, Economics, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , , | 1 Comment

US, biggest warmonger in the world

By Dave Lindorff | Press TV | September 23, 2012

There is a massive deception campaign in the US and in its global propaganda, which seeks to portray the United States as a poor set-upon nation that would like world peace, but just has to keep a military stationed around the globe to “police” all the world’s “trouble spots.”

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

That truth is that the US is the biggest warmonger the world has ever known.

Let’s start with its budget. The US, in fiscal year 2012, budgeted a total of $673 billion for the military, plus another $166 billion for military activities of other government departments, such as the nuclear weapons program, much of which is handled by the Department of Energy, or the Veterans Program, which pays for the care and benefits of former military personnel. There’s also roughly another $440 billion in interest paid on the debt from prior wars and military expenditures. All together, that comes to $1.3 trillion, which represents close to 50% of the general budget of the United States — the highest percentage of a government budget devoted to the military of any modern nation in the world — and perhaps of any government of any nation in world history.

That spending also represents the world’s biggest percentage of national gross domestic product (GDP), a measure of all economic activity in a nation, devoted to the military. Looking at the other countries with big militaries — China, Russia, Britain and France, not only does one not even come close in terms of the percent of GDP spent on its military, but taken together, all of their military expenditures combined total less than half what the US spends by itself.

Since the late 1960s, the US government has engaged in a sleight-of-hand to hide the scale of its military spending from the American people. It has done this by adding to the federal budget the amount of money spent on Social Security and Medicare, the health insurance program for the elderly and disabled. This is not a correct accounting however, because both of those programs are actually funded by a separate payroll tax paid by employees and employers which are accounted for as trust funds with the money actually allocated to the accounts of the individual citizens who receive or will receive benefits from the programs. Using that fraud, the government and the politicians are able to claim that the US “only” spends 24% of the budget on military. Even that would be far above what is spent by any other nation in the world, but it is actually only half of what the US really spends as a share of its general budget.

One reason the US military budget is so huge is that the US operates some 900 bases abroad, in what amounts to a program of global empire. It is estimated that the cost of keeping those bases operating is about $250 billion. Empire costs a lot more than that though. There’s also the cost of operating a global fleet of ships, including incredibly costly aircraft carrier battle groups. That cost, surely in excess of $100 billion when the cost of the ships is factored in, doesn’t get broken out by the Pentagon.

Then, there is another way the US is the world’s biggest warmonger. This is in its role as the world’s biggest arms merchant. In 2011, the US sold more than $66 billion in arms to the rest of the world, often, as in the case of India and Pakistan, or India and China, or Israel and Egypt and Saudi Arabia, selling weapons to countries that are mutually hostile to each other or even, as in the case of India and Pakistan, in a state of active conflict along their border. That $66 billion — an all-time record for the US — was an astonishing and depressing 78% of the global arms market for the year. Russia was the second biggest arms dealer, selling only a paltry $4.8 billion in weapons to the rest of the world.

None of these weapons the US is selling makes either the US or the world any safer.

Indeed, two of the biggest recipients of US military “aid” and weapons sales are Saudi Arabia and Israel. The Saudi regime last year purchased $30 billion in arms from the US. Meanwhile the US has been providing Israel with $3 billion in outright military aid each year for years. Israel also buys billions of dollars in weapons from the US each year. Saudi Arabia is a dictatorship and a promoter of instability within Syria, while it also props up dictatorships in countries like Yemen and Bahrain. In other countries, like Israel or Colombia, US aid encourages military actions which could lead to conflicts that would inevitably draw the US in as a participant.

The truth is that none of America’s military spending makes the US safer.

One doesn’t see fanatics traveling to Brazil or China or New Zealand to blow things up. One reason is almost certainly that those countries aren’t stationing their troops within other countries’ borders, and aren’t selling weapons to countries that threaten their neighbors.

The US government tells Americans that all that money they are spending on the military is designed to “protect” them from harm. In fact, the evidence over the years is that it is making Americans more vulnerable and less safe. Not only that, but the wars that the US has started over the years — in Indochina, in Iraq, in Afghanistan and elsewhere — have led to the deaths of tens of thousands of young Americans (and of course to the deaths of millions of people in those countries, most of them civilians).

The truth is that a country that spends half of every tax dollar collected from its citizens on its military cannot hope to prosper. As President Dwight Eisenhower, a former top general in the US military who led US forces in World War II, once famously stated in a 1953 address to a group of newspaper editors:

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

Most of the rest of the world isn’t fooled by American government accounting tricks. Being at the barrel end of the gun, people of other countries know how US military spending is a primary cause of war and terror in the world. But we Americans ourselves need to wake up to the massive damage that our military-obsessed political system is doing to our country, lest it ultimately destroys us. There is a clear reason that social programs in the US are threatened, that the economy is in a prolonged depression, that our education system is collapsing, and that our standing in the world has plummeted. It is our militarism, and the incredible amount of the national wealth that is being spent on it.

September 23, 2012 Posted by | Economics, Militarism | , | 3 Comments