Archive for December, 2011

Newt Gingrich drew plenty of ire when he promoted child labor as a solution to the ‘lack of work ethic’ among America’s youth. Though it shouldn’t be too surprising as this is the same guy who believes we should put mirrors in space and colonize the moon. Gingrich may be leading in the polls for the GOP nomination but the specifics of his platform aren’t exactly mainstream. After all, what other politician would support such an anachronism as child labor?

The answer: 30 US Senators, including four Democrats. In a rare bipartisan move, this group of Senators sent a letter to the Department of Labor yesterday demanding the withdrawal of a proposed child labor regulation. The rule is meant to protect children ages 12 to 15 from performing hazardous farm jobs like demolishing barns, mixing pesticides, and climbing 20-foot ladders.

Because of a loophole in federal labor standards, child labor in agriculture is shockingly quite legal. Children as young as twelve can work on farms and are sometimes made to work unrestricted hours. Though the Department of Labor’s proposed rule wouldn’t ban child labor on farms, it would make the work a little safer. Right now, children working on farms die at a rate that is six times higher when compared with their peers who hold other jobs.

But these types of numbers don’t figure in to the push to withdraw the rule. Instead the Senators who sent the letter yesterday use the excuse that the regulation will prevent children from working on family farms and therefore undermine the rural way of life. Agribusiness lobbyists, coincidentally, have been saying the exact same thing. And an excuse is really all this is. The Senators acknowledge that there is an exemption for parent-owned farms in the law, but they say it doesn’t apply to farms that are legally corporations. Note: very few family farms are actually organized as corporations.

While the Senators want the regulation quashed entirely, if that doesn’t happen they say they’d be okay if the Department of Labor expanded the definition of “parent” to include corporations.

I guess if we already have corporate personhood, corporate parenthood is just a logical extension. We can’t wait to see them at the PTA.

photo of Rick Claypool

Rick Claypool

Like lots of Americans, I don’t really think of myself as an investor, but I am.

I’m an investor because I have a 401(k)-type retirement account. Which means that some significant part of my financial future depends, for better or for worse, on corporate profits, stock performance, and other creatures of the market.

Because I’m an investor, it’s the job of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to look out for my interests, whether or not I am aware of it. About 50 percent of U.S. households are investors of some kind or another. Some are the day-trading aficionados who follow the market as tenaciously as my father-in-law tracks his fantasy football team. Some are like me – we’re investors because that’s the kind of retirement account we were offered for our jobs.

Either way, the SEC is the agency that’s supposed to prevent corporate malefactors from abusing the money we shareholders invest in them. By law, that basically means that these corporations are required to spend shareholder money in ways that will increase profits – profits that are supposed to, among other things, boost my retirement account, since that’s where the money came from. The good folks from Occupy the SEC have a good primer on what it does, from an activist perspective.

Then, about two years ago, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission happened – and a brave new world of ways to spend investor money to influence elections was opened up.

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The holidays are almost upon us, but things here in Washington, D.C. are still buzzing. Congress is still in town, arguing about the payroll tax. Federal agencies are still doing their work.

And Public Citizen is still focusing on representing you – the public – in the halls of power.

Here’s what’s on tap this week (that we know about – things always crop up unexpectedly!):

We continue to ramp up for Jan. 21, the two-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling, which let corporations spend unlimited sums to influence elections. Sign up to host an event in your community on Jan. 21 and help build momentum to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. Or, join or host a house party!

Speaking of constitutional amendments, on Tuesday, the Oakland City Council is going to vote on whether to support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. We’ll be issuing a statement urging the Council to go forward.

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Stunning Statistics of the Week:

  • $5.6 million: Amount President Barack Obama has raised from business executives this year
  • $5.2 million: Amount GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney has raised from business executives this year
  • $272,000: Amount GOP presidential contender Next Gingrich has raised from business executives this year

The beat goes on …
This week, more than 150 people throughout the country held organizing meetings to build for nationwide days of protests in January surrounding the two-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling. In that decision, handed down on Jan. 21, 2010, the court said that corporations can spend unlimited amounts to influence elections. Next month’s organizing parties will be the week of Jan. 9. Sign up to host an event in your community on January 21 and help build momentum to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. Or, join or host a house party!

30 corporations spent more on lobbying than taxes
This will make your blood boil: Thirty large corporations analyzed by Public Campaign paid more to lobby Congress than they paid in federal income taxes between 2008 and 2010, according to a new report. What’s more, those companies received tax rebates totaling nearly $11 billion.

FEC deadlocks on disclosure rules
In its last meeting of the year, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) this week deadlocked 3-3 over new rules that would tell the public where the big money for political advertising comes from. The law requires disclosure of the names of donors who give more than $200 to support such “independent expenditures,” but FEC regulations have made the disclosure requirement meaningless by limiting it to donors who earmark their contributions to support specific ad buys, which virtually no donors actually do. Thus, many groups that make huge independent expenditures now report none of their donors.

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Flcikr by wwarby

During and after the financial crisis, the Federal Reserve acted as a lender of last resort, providing money to the financial system when no other institution could. It created a variety of facilities and programs to keep money flowing by purchasing bad assets and providing loans and guarantees.

Many details of the Fed’s actions were kept secret. According to the Fed, this was necessary to halt a panic. But because of the limited information, no one could fully dissect the precise nature and extent of the Fed’s commitments. Thanks to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act and the Freedom of Information Act, that is changing.

Recently, three calculations of the Federal Reserve’s emergency spending have been published. Each calculation has relied on a unique methodology and offers further insights into the Fed’s actions.

One recent Bloomberg calculation put the sum of fed assistance at $7.77 trillion. Bloomberg tallied how much money was committed to specific banks even if the money was never ultimately loaned out. However, because the study focused on commitments to specific bank recipients, it excluded certain lending facilities that were not directed at banks.

Another recent study by the Government Accountability Office put the figure at $16.1 trillion. They excluded money that the Fed committed but did not ultimately loan out. This approach shows a more complete figure of the Fed’s various programs. And if you’re wondering why this figure is more than twice the size of Bloomberg’s, read on…

Now brace yourself.

A new study by James Felkerson and Nicola Matthews, PhDs student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, under the direction of Levy Institute scholar L. Randall Wray, comes up with an even larger figure.

$29.6 trillion. That’s right.

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