OUR CRUCIAL SPRING CAMPAIGN IS NOW UNDERWAY
Please donate now to keep the mission and independent journalism of Common Dreams strong.
To donate by check, phone, or other method, see our More Ways to Give page.
Alan Barber, (202) 293-5380 x115
Two years into the official recovery from the Great Recession, millions of Americans are still without work. While the recession hit countries around the world, many weathered the crisis better than the United States. A new report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) looks at 21 countries at a similar level of economic development to the United States and explores why some countries fared better than others.
The report, "Labor Market Policy in the Great Recession," focuses on Denmark and Germany, countries with very different experiences before and after the recession, and considers some possible lessons for the United States.
Denmark, which was widely seen as one of the world's most successful labor markets before the downturn, has struggled in recent years.By contrast, Germany, which went through a long, difficult transition after the unification of East and West Germany in the early 1990s, has outperformed the rest of the world's rich countries since 2007.
The secret to Germany's successful market performance, the report says, was the country's ability to spread the pain of the downturn broadly. German companies cut hours rather than workers, while partially compensating the workers for the lost hours.
"Germany's job-sharing institutions were so successful that unemployment actually fell during the recession there," said CEPR economist John Schmitt, who wrote the report. "In the United States, the incentives encourage firms to lay workers off, rather than reduce hours."
Denmark is renowned for its expensive and effective system of training, education, and job placement efforts for unemployed workers. Nevertheless, since the onset of the downturn, the Danish unemployment rate has almost doubled.
"Training, education, and job placement work well when the economy is close to full employment. But, the experience of Denmark shows that these 'supply-side' approaches just don't work if there aren't jobs to place people in," said Schmitt.
The report argues that "work-sharing" could help to lower the U.S. unemployment rate, which currently hovers near nine percent. Work-sharing programs pay part-time unemployment benefits to workers who have their hours cut. Twenty states currently operate such systems, but lack of publicity and some bureaucratic problems with the available programs have meant few employers have made use of the systems during the current recovery.
The report also suggests that a temporary tax credit to employers who cut hours rather than workers could encourage firms to not only implement work-sharing, but also expand paid sick days, paid vacation, paid holidays, paid family leave, and other forms of paid leave for workers.
The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) was established in 1999 to promote democratic debate on the most important economic and social issues that affect people's lives. In order for citizens to effectively exercise their voices in a democracy, they should be informed about the problems and choices that they face. CEPR is committed to presenting issues in an accurate and understandable manner, so that the public is better prepared to choose among the various policy options.(202) 293-5380
The ACLU of Alabama's legal director said the key takeaway is the "acknowledgment that the Alabama Legislature knowingly continued its legacy of drawing illegal voting districts that disenfranchise Black voters."
In a Thursday move that shocked voting rights advocates and legal experts, two right-wing members of the U.S. Supreme Court joined the three liberal justices for a ruling that sided with Black voters challenging Alabama's latest congressional map that was racially gerrymandered by Republican legislators.
With the majority opinion—written mainly by Chief Justice John Roberts and backed by Justices Ketanji Brown Jackson, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh, and Sonia Sotomayor—the Voting Rights Act (VRA) dodges a bullet, as a pair of Politico reporters put it.
Slate's Mark Joseph Stern tweeted that "this is a HUGE surprise and a major voting rights victory," also noting that the high court's decision in Allen v. Milligan is "a boon to Democrats' chances" of retaking the U.S. House of Representatives in 2024.
"This fight was won through generations of Black leaders who refused to be silent, and while much work is left, today we can move forward with these reaffirmed protections civil rights leaders fought and died for."
Davin Rosborough, senior staff attorney with the ACLU's Voting Rights Project, declared that "the Supreme Court rejected the Orwellian idea that it's inappropriate to consider race in determining whether racial discrimination led to the creation of illegal maps. This ruling is a huge victory for Black Alabamians."
The national ACLU, its Alabama arm, the Legal Defense Fund (LDF), Hogan Lovells LLP, and Wiggins Childs LLC sued Alabama in November 2021 on behalf of four individual voters—Evan Milligan, Shalela Dowdy, Letetia Jackson, and Khadidah Stone—along with Greater Birmingham Ministries and the NAACP of Alabama, arguing that the state's new congressional map is racially discriminatory under Section 2 of the VRA and the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Although a three-judge panel granted a preliminary injunction in January 2022 and gave Alabama an opportunity to redraw the districts before last year's election, the state then obtained a stay from the Supreme Court and the contested map was used.
The high court's new ruling in the case—previously known as Merrill v. Milligan—was celebrated by the plaintiffs, who said in a joint statement:
In 2021, Alabama lawmakers targeted Black voters by packing and cracking us so we could not have a meaningful impact on the electoral process. They attempted to redefine Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and shirk their responsibility to ensure communities of color are given an equal opportunity to elect their preferred candidates. Today, the Supreme Court reminded them of that responsibility by ordering a new map be drawn that complies with federal law—one that recognizes the diversity in our state rather than erasing it. This fight was won through generations of Black leaders who refused to be silent, and while much work is left, today we can move forward with these reaffirmed protections civil rights leaders fought and died for.
LDF senior counsel Deuel Ross, who argued the case before the court in October, explained that "Alabama attempted to rewrite federal law by saying race had no place in redistricting. But because of the state's sordid and well-documented history of racial discrimination, race must be used to remedy that past and ensure communities of color are not boxed out of the electoral process."
"While the Voting Rights Act and other key protections against discriminatory voting laws have been weakened in recent years and states continue to pass provisions to disenfranchise Black voters, today's decision is a recognition of Section 2's purpose to prevent voting discrimination and the very basic right to a fair shot," Ross continued.
\u201cBREAKING: The US Supreme Court just rejected Alabama's gerrymandered congressional map, ruling the map violates the Voting Rights Act by diluting the voting strength of Black voters. \n\nCongrats to @NAACP_LDF on this major win for voters!\u201d— Common Cause (@Common Cause) 1686236228
Tish Gotell Faulks, the ACLU of Alabama's legal director, said that "the key takeaway from today's decision is the court's acknowledgment that the Alabama Legislature knowingly continued its legacy of drawing illegal voting districts that disenfranchise Black voters."
"Though we were victorious today, history shows us that lawmakers will erect many more hurdles before every Alabamian, irrespective of their race, can vote for representatives that reflect their beliefs, values, and priorities," Jones warned. "Efforts remain underway from Montgomery to Jackson to Baton Rouge, and elsewhere across the country to minimize, marginalize, and eliminate the ability of Black and Brown people to have a voice in their communities. Our communities then—as now—understand that the fight to uphold our civil rights is a daily pursuit. We will persist."
The Campaign Legal Center (CLC), which has been involved in several lawsuits challenging rigged election maps and filed a friend-of-the-court brief for this case, also welcomed the Thursday decision while highlighting ongoing attacks on voting rights.
"When self-interested politicians draw maps that suit their own needs instead of the needs of their community, our democracy becomes less inclusive and accountable," said CLC senior vice president Paul Smith. "We are heartened that the Supreme Court upheld Section 2 of the VRA, one of the most important tools available to ensure every voter, particularly Black and Brown voters who have historically been denied the freedom to vote, has an equal voice in our democracy."
"While this ruling is a step in the right direction," Smith added, "we will continue to fight tirelessly alongside our local allies in Alabama and across the country to challenge racially discriminatory voting maps in court and develop innovative policy solutions that protect and expand the freedom to vote for every American."
Pointing to Shelby v. Holder, Kareem Crayton, senior director of the Brennan Center for Justice's Democracy Program, stressed that the new decision "still leaves us with a weakened tool of enforcement. Ten years ago, this court ended the most effective part of the legislation, preclearance, and in 2021, made it very hard to use Section 2 to challenge racially discriminatory voting rules."
"Congress can and should step in to protect fair access to voting and representation for all," according to Crayton. "Our legislators must pass the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act."
"It's time for insurance companies to prioritize the safety and wellbeing of communities over profits and take a stand against these dangerous facilities," said one campaigner.
Climate justice, consumer rights, and conservation groups were among more than 140 organizations that wrote to insurance agencies on Thursday to demand they stop underwriting LNG export terminals like nearly two dozen that have been proposed on the United States' Gulf Coast, with frontline communities joining the call on the one-year anniversary of an explosion at a terminal on Quintana Island, Texas.
A year after the blast at a terminal owned by Freeport LNG which sent toxic pollution into local communities and injured several people at a nearby beach, national groups including Public Citizen and Oil Change International joined local campaigners in signing the letter, warning that continued support for liquefied natural gas facilities poses "reputational risks" to insurers while contributing to the climate emergency.
"This is a call for insurers to stop providing coverage to explosive methane gas export terminals," the letter reads. "We urge insurers to meet with communities impacted by the liquefied natural gas industry as soon as possible... If there is no response, we will move forward with a public campaign. We will address these concerns with the international media, the supporters of nonprofits, and policymakers, and we will organize protests at your offices."
Melanie Oldham of Better Brazoria: Clean Air and Clean Water, a grassroots group in coastal Brazoria County, Texas, said Thursday that she and her neighbors "live in fear of further explosions, air pollution, and the impacts of these facilities on our health."
"Many insurers underwrite projects that ignore [the right to free, prior, and informed consent], greenlighting toxic projects without the consent of impacted communities—an issue a number of shareholders have raised this year."
"I live in Texas, three miles away from a major gas export, Freeport LNG. There was an explosion and fire at Freeport LNG a year ago today—the resulting fire was an explosion that was 450 feet high. This explosion rocked our homes, spewed toxic chemicals, and sounded like thunder," said Oldham. "Insurers, drop methane gas—these projects are not worth the risks."
The letter notes that the U.S. is the largest producer of methane gas in the world and that the scale of the country's LNG expansion "is immense," with dozens of LNG pipelines, storage facilities, and import/export terminals being built across the country—particularly along the Gulf Coast.
That expansion is taking place even as the climate impacts of the extraction of fossil fuels including LNG—fracked gas which is cooled and liquefied—become increasingly apparent. Parts of the Northeast this week have been cloaked in wildfire smoke that's drifted south from Canada, where experts say planetary heating created conditions that have made recent forest fires more severe.
The letter points to other climate impacts driven by the continued expansion of LNG and other fossil fuels, including storm surges, flooding, and sea level rise, which has already affected the site of one proposed LNG terminal in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana.
"After Hurricane Ida [in 2021], Plaquemines Parish was underwater for three weeks," the groups wrote. "Plaquemines Parish is the site of the proposed methane gas export terminal, Venture Global Plaquemines LNG. Plaquemines Parish is one of many localities in the coastal U.S. south facing major sea level rise and land loss related to rising global temperatures."
By underwriting and investing in LNG projects, insurers are also contributing to "extensive property loss, erosion of beaches, damage to coastal habitats, and [the undermining of] public infrastructure such as roads, railroads, bridges, buildings, and pipelines," they added. "Floodwaters can also spread hazardous wastes and toxic chemicals released from fossil fuel and chemical plants. Storm surges dislodge storage tanks, cause equipment malfunctions leading to spills, and cause chemical fires."
The groups noted that numerous fracked gas pipelines and LNG facilities are close to sacred Indigenous sites and could violate the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Texas LNG, for example, "has already violated [the Carrizo Comecrudo tribe's] human rights by beginning construction" on an LNG project proposed at the archeological site Garcia Pasture without consulting the tribe.
"Many insurers underwrite projects that ignore [the right to free, prior, and informed consent], greenlighting toxic projects without the consent of impacted communities—an issue a number of shareholders have raised this year," said the groups.
The letter also notes that insurance companies are already making business decisions related to the effects that fossil fuel projects have on communities—but working people are suffering the consequences instead of LNG producers.
"Insurance companies are already withdrawing from communities and increasing the price of insurance coverage because of climate change," wrote the groups, referring to State Farm's recent announcement that it will no longer write new property insurance policies in California due to homeowners' risk of being affected by wildfires.
"From California's wildfires to hurricane risk in the Gulf, insurers create some of the most comprehensive risk modeling about climate change," reads the letter. "Insurers are choosing to withdraw from communities and cancel homeowners' policies, while profiting from deals that expand oil and gas infrastructure. These withdrawals result in price hikes that communities cannot afford."
Justin Guay, director of global climate strategy at The Sunrise Project, tweeted that campaigners aim "to make fossil fuels, not homes, uninsurable."
\u201cInsurers are leaving people's homes uninsurable as wildfires and climate impacts mount\n\nBut they have no problem insuring new LNG export terminals that pour fuel on those fires\n\nAll eyes on a new campaign to make fossil fuels, not homes, uninsurable \n\nhttps://t.co/gjmgnO3WBc\u201d— Justin Guay (@Justin Guay) 1686088202
"It's time for insurance companies to stop insuring LNG terminals, which are not only a major contributor to climate change, but also pose a significant risk to surrounding communities," said Roishetta Ozane, fossil fuel finance campaigner with Texas Campaign for the Environment. "It's time for insurance companies to prioritize the safety and wellbeing of communities over profits and take a stand against these dangerous facilities."
"The U.S. has a government that is largely devoted to war and militarism," finds a new analysis from Brown University's Costs of War Project.
Two separate reports published Thursday reach similar conclusions about the United States' sprawling and ever-growing military budget: It is not making the country or the world any safer, it is far too amenable to corporate lobbying, and it is drawing funding away from healthcare, clean energy, education, and other critical public goods.
The new reports from the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft and Brown University's Costs of War Project come after President Joe Biden and House Republican leaders agreed to a military budget topline of $886 billion for fiscal year 2024—a level that war hawks in both parties are already working to increase.
William Hartung, a senior research fellow at the Quincy Institute, notes in his analysis that $886 billion for the military is "a sum far higher in real terms than the peaks of the Korean or Vietnam wars or the height of the Cold War."
"These enormous sums are being marshaled in support of a flawed National Defense Strategy that attempts to go everywhere and do everything, from winning a war with Russia or China, to intervening in Iran or North Korea, to continuing to fight a global war on terror that involves military activities in at least 85 countries," Hartung writes. "Sticking to the current strategy is not only economically wasteful, but will also make America and the world less safe."
The Costs of War report echoes that assessment, noting that the continuous growth of the nation's military budget—which now makes up more than half of the federal government's total discretionary spending—"has the effect of squeezing out the resources and power of other sectors, and weakening the United States' ability to perform core functions such as healthcare, infrastructure, education, and emergency preparedness."
"Because the majority of taxpayer dollars and federal resources are devoted to the military and military industries, and most government jobs are in the defense sector, the political power of this sector has become more deeply entrenched and other alternatives have become harder to pursue," reads the Brown analysis, authored by Heidi Peltier. "Instead of having a federal government that addresses various national priorities—including the health and education of its population and the sustainability of its infrastructure and environment—the U.S. has a government that is largely devoted to war and militarism."
The budget deal reached by the Biden White House and congressional Republicans perpetuates that trend.
If approved in the appropriations process later this year, the Biden-GOP Pentagon budget deal would add $28 billion to U.S. military spending next fiscal year compared to current levels.
And some lawmakers are exploring ways to circumvent the $886 billion topline to hand even more money to the Pentagon as new caps on non-military spending threaten funding for food aid, rental assistance, and other programs.
Hartung warned Thursday that "Congress could pass an emergency military aid package for Ukraine that includes not only funds needed for that nation to defend itself, but tens of billions of dollars for Pentagon or congressional pet projects that have nothing to do with defending Ukraine."
"This is precisely what happened during the 10-year period covered by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA)," he noted. "The Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account—nominally meant to fund the Iraq and Afghan wars—was used to pay for hundreds of billions of dollars worth of items unrelated to the wars, as a way to evade the caps on the Pentagon's regular budget contained in the BCA."
"We are overspending on the Pentagon instead of providing adequate funding to address other urgent security needs, and too often favoring special interests over the national interest."
Such unchecked spending is likely to have massive benefits for the arms makers and other private contractors that aggressively lobby the federal government.
The Costs of War report points out that the five military-related companies that led their sector in lobbying spending in fiscal year 2021 also received the most contract dollars from the federal government.
"Firms such as Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, General Dynamics, and Boeing spend millions of dollars in lobbying each year and use their political capital to secure monopoly-like contracts with the Department of Defense," the report notes.
Hartung similarly highlights the "undue influence exerted by the arms industry and its allies in Congress, backed up by over $83 million in campaign contributions in the past two election cycles and the employment of 820 lobbyists, far more than one for every member of Congress."
"The industry also leverages the jobs its programs create to bring lawmakers on board to fund ever-higher budgets, despite the fact that the economic role of the arms sector has declined dramatically over the past three decades, from 3.2 million direct jobs to just one million now—six-tenths of one percent of a national labor force of over 160 million people," Hartung writes. "Last year alone, Congress added $45 billion to the Pentagon budget beyond what the department requested, much of it for systems built in the states or districts of key members, a process that puts special interests above the national interest."
Both new reports make the case for cutting U.S. military spending—which is larger than that of more than 144 nations combined—and directing the savings toward neglected public services.
"Reducing the military budget and funding other priorities such as healthcare, education, clean energy, and infrastructure," the Brown analysis argues, "will help increase other forms of security—the kinds of meaningful human security rooted in good health, good living conditions, and a productive and well-educated society—while also increasing employment nationwide."
And Hartung contends that, contrary to war hawks' claims that Pentagon cuts would compromise national security, the U.S. "could mount a robust defense for far less money if it pursued a more restrained strategy that takes a more realistic view of the military challenges posed by Russia and China, relies more heavily on allies to provide for the defense of their own regions, shifts to a deterrence–only nuclear strategy, and emphasizes diplomacy over force or threats of force to curb nuclear proliferation."
"This approach could save at least $1.3 trillion over the next decade, funds that could be invested in other areas of urgent national need," Hartung writes. "But making a shift of this magnitude will require political and budgetary reforms to reduce the immense power of the arms lobby."
To that end, Hartung suggests restrictions on the "revolving door" between the Pentagon and major military contractors. An April report assembled by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) "identified 672 cases in 2022 in which the top 20 defense contractors had former government officials, military officers, members of Congress, and senior legislative staff working for them as lobbyists, board members, or senior executives."
Hartung also calls for a ban on "major weapons contractors funding the campaigns of members of the armed services committees and defense appropriations subcommittees of each house of Congress."
"We are overspending on the Pentagon instead of providing adequate funding to address other urgent security needs, and too often favoring special interests over the national interest," Hartung said in a statement Thursday. "Rethinking America's approach to defense can make us safer at a far lower cost."