O'Neill the Corporate Welfare King

Recently the government advised us that in the year 2000 the average family income in America was $40,000. First thing you think of is a lot of people have been divorced so that what was a family is now two singles. Also some people are cohabitating or shacking up in an unmarried condition so the government probably did not count them as a family. Since these two groups probably constitute a third of the people I am not too sure of the significance of the family income any more.

In the year 2000 our new Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill had an income of $57 million or enough for 1,425 families at the 40K each. This makes you think that the aluminum business must be good since O'Neill was the chief stud duck at Alcoa. So let's take a look see.

There are four large aluminum companies in the Pacific Northwest. A few years ago they made the determination that they had to spend from $2 to $5 for electric power to make a pound of aluminum. Once they did this then they turned around and sold their pound of aluminum for 70 cents. This procedure was not in the Good Business Practices manual at school. Since Alcoa was the biggest they got nominated to talk to the feds. Seems there is at least a bevy and possibly goboodles of hydroelectric power plants on the Columbia River all owned by Uncle Sam. For umpteen years they been selling power -- now provide nearly half the power used in four northwestern states -- at cost, i.e. no markup. But this wasn't good enough for the aluminum industry so with the silver crossing palms thing the aluminum companies can now buy power at half cost. Uncle claims he did this to maintain all those jobs for people who wanted to smelter.

This was a help but it wasn't good enough. So in 1996 the aluminum companies asked the feds for permission to resell the dirt-cheap power they were getting from the feds. Now when you buy power from the feds for $25 per megawatt hour and sell it on the open market for anywhere from $200 to $1,000 per megawatt hour it has results. The results for the year 2000 in the form of profits from sale of electric power were: Alcoa $404 million, Kaiser Aluminum $426 million, Goldendale Northwest $344 million, and Columbia Falls $292 million. All told the aluminum companies made a profit of $1.5 trillion in 2000 by buying federally subsidized electric power and selling it on the open market. [See "Fishy Business" by Jeffrey St. Clair, 7/9/01 In These Times.]

When you can make this kind of money pushing a pencil there certainly is no incentive to go through the dirty sweaty process of smeltering aluminum so all four plants have shut down. So much for the government saving our jobs.

Yours truly,
Waco, Texas

Legendary Insecurity

I regret the need to disillusion Jerome Taub -- but the letter to the editor over his signature ["Put Congress on Social Security," 8/1-15/01 PP] is one of the most commonly encountered electronic myths. I've seen it in my e-mailbox more than once this year ... but I must admit I never expected it to grace the pages of Progressive Populist.

I am attaching the entry for it in a standard archive, the "Urban Legends Reference Pages": (www.snopes2.com/in-boxer/outrage/pensions.htm).

And it doesn't even mention one particularly glaring flaw in this story. Especially with the low turnover in the US Congress, there is no way the few members of the pension fund could have any significant impact on the finances of a pension and insurance fund which will soon qualify for a sign saying "over a billion served" -- if it hasn't already.

What's "wrong" with Social Security is that it works -- not as a pure pension fund, but in combination with insurance benefits for many other kinds of people in addition to retirees -- and with so low an overhead that profit-hungry privateers can't touch it honestly. (I'd love to know whether this World-Wide Web-spinning had its origins at the Cato Institute. Does anybody know?)

The trust fund is only projected to go broke if our economic growth is so low -- lower for the next 75 years than it's been across any decade since the Panic of 1917 -- that the stock market would be no help whatsoever.

If Social Security does need shoring up, the way to do it would be to make FICA the flat tax most people think it already is. Tax all income equally -- not just earned income alone, and not just the first dollars everybody earns. This would actually bring in enough money to boost the current fund surplus and still allow us to lower the overall tax rate.

Marshall, Mich.
Email jalp@internet1.net

Editor's Notes: The Urban Legends site, which does a good job debunking suspect stories, notes that Congress members do pay into the Social Security fund. Those elected before 1983 participated in a separate program for civil servants (the Civil Service Retirement System, or CSRS), which was closed to new federal employees, including members of Congress, although members elected before 1984 may choose to participate in both plans. It is not true that congressmen "continue to draw their same pay, until they die." The size of their pensions is determined by a number of factors and by law cannot exceed 80% of their salary at the time of their retirement. The figures given as an example for former Sen. Bradley ($7,900,000 over the course of his and his wife's lifetime, culminating in a top payout of $275,000) "are simply outrageous figures with no basis in reality." It is not true that congressmen "paid nothing in on any kind of retirement," and that their pension money "comes right out of the General Fund." Whether Congress members participate in the older Civil Service Retirement System or the newer Federal Employees' Retirement System (FERS), their pensions are funded through a combination of general tax provisions and contributions from the participants. Right now, Congress members in the FERS plan must pay 1.3% of their salary to FERS and 6.2% in Social Security taxes. As of 1998, the average annuity for retired Congress members was $50,616 for those who retired under CSRS and $46,908 for those who retired under FERS. "Not bad, but not the highway robbery this piece makes it out to be."

Who Pays for Tax Cuts?

Every week that goes by I read in our local version of Corporate McPaper about some company that receives a tax abatement or tax reduction to stay in Indiana or locate to Indiana. Professional sports teams receive millions of tax dollars every year to subsidize the mega-millionaire owners and players. The McMedia establishment hails these deals as a "good deal" for the city or state.

I have questioned elected and non-elected officials about these corporate subsidies. The response seems to fall into four categories: 1.) Everyone is doing it. 2.) I don't see the "big picture." 3.) A cowlike look of intellectual barrenness. 4.) We can't stop it.

The process of reducing or eliminating corporate taxation at all levels of government has been a steady process, like a constant drip of water. Large corporations through lobbyists and bought off politicians make sure the drip goes on.

The taxes that should be collected from corporate America are not paid. The consequence is, needed services will not be funded. Watch dog agencies in government are starved for funding. Medicaid, and Social Security funding is cut back or capped. The burden of taxation is passed back to individuals, and George Bush is seeing to it along with his Republicrat collaborators that the very wealthy have their taxes reduced.

The budget surplus was an illusion. Billions of dollars in unfunded liabilities existed. We couldn't even afford to pay for highway lane striping, let alone upgrade existing highways, bridges, more public parks or pay for better public transportation.

The tax burden will increasingly fall to the middle class and the poor. The result will be to make the middle class and poor receptive to the "tax cuts" proposed by the Republicrats. The middle and lower income people will not see much of these tax cuts as the very wealthy will garner up the vast bulk of any cut.

Indianapolis, Ind.

Death Penalty Not Progressive

How can you be called "Progressive Populist" when there are readers like Frank Kleimer of Arlington, Va., writing about "Death penalty does the job" ["Letters," 9/1/01 PP]. I can recall one Tom Watson was a famous populist in the early 1900s. He ended up a vicious racist.

I seem to recall that one Lt. William Calley was found guilty of "the premeditated murder of not less than 22 Oriental Human Beings ..." he later confessed to a live Georgia audience of 3,000 put on video tape that he had personally killed 5 of those. A witness stated at his trial that one he killed was an infant being cradled in her mother's arms. Calley approached the mother, put the weapon against the child's head and pulled the trigger splattering her brains out.

His original life sentence was reduced to 10 years by his commanding officer. He served one third of it or 40 months. That's 8 months for each murder he ACTUALLY committed.

I don't approve of what McVeigh undoubtedly did, but he should have been locked up in a cell for "natural life" with videos of the aftermaths shown on the ceiling and walls of his cell for say 15 hours a day -- from awakening to going to sleep.

Kenneth Sachs
Hopkins Minn.

Editor Replies: A reader doesn't have to agree with The Progressive Populist in order to read it, and we don't necessarily agree with writers in our "Letters" or other columns. As for Tom Watson, he was a progressive figure in the 1890s, when he tried to build coalitions between white and black farmers in the South. Unfortunately, after the Populist movement was suppressed, he switched to become an ardent segregationist.

Surrendering to Taliban

President Bush's decision to limit stem-cell research to stem-cells taken from embryos that are already dead is indeed short-sighted.

The fact that there are many surplus unused in-vitro embryos available for stem-cell research that will die anyhow seems to me a horrible waste if not used for the benefit of humanity.

How is it we can accept the idea of "collateral damage" when innocent civilians are killed in warfare when the greater good is involved but we cannot accept the concept of "collateral damage" when use of existing embryos for in-vitro-fertilization are no longer needed. Does not the concept of the "greater good" apply here.

So we don't create embryos for stem-cell research, but the federal government should fund stem-cell research on embryos that were NOT created for that purpose.

It is indeed sad that in this era of scientific and medical progress made possible by the marvelous advances in bio-technology and other fields that President Bush has chosen to sacrifice the health and future happiness of the human race on the altar of ecclesiastical superstition and ignorance.

For some reason the world's orthodox religious moralists have always supported the mass slaughter of humanity known as war.

Humans are obviously expendable while "every embryo is sacred."

Menasha, Wis.
Email nord@famvid.com

We're All Just Passing Through

As a native Texan, I'm perplexed and angered about locking up, killing and deporting illegal immigrants from Mexico. I spent most of my life in West Texas. It was not an uncommon event for me to notice the Mexicans sitting under the electrical lines in the shade of a mesquite tree after making the hot, treacherous journey north from the border. I knew they were waiting to be picked up for work. I felt sad about them risking their lives and jail just to find work.

Then we, the farmers, ranchers, construction companies, restaurants and the list goes on, want them to come and work. They will do the backbreaking work that most of us wouldn't even consider doing. It seems to me that both parties benefited then and still do today, even though the wages are still too low and the hours are long. They continue to come because the conditions here are better than in Mexico.

So, aren't we, the employers and beneficiaries of their sweat and hard work, more than a little hypocritical supporting the ongoing inhumane treatment of these migrants, immigrants, "illegals" or whatever the correct term may be? Isn't it about time, especially those of us in Texas who benefit daily from their presence, we stood up and supported our fellow men and women, our neighbors from Mexico? They have earned our respect through the years even as we came to inhabit their land. Sadly, just like the native Americans, they were here first.


McKinney, Texas

At Least Limit the Drillers' Damage

The current administration has submitted its proposal for handling our energy requirements. One of its recommendations is to drill for oil in Alaska.

I am not in favor of disrupting one of our few remaining wildlife reserves, but I am almost certain that the powers making the decision are going to approve this proposal.

The citizens of this country must demand that two binding requirements be placed on the permit to drill, before any drilling for oil in Alaska is begun.

1) All reasonable steps shall be taken to protect the environment and the wildlife therein.

2) All oil derived from drilling in the area shall be refined and used strictly in the continental United States. No oil derived from this area may be sold to foreign powers simply because the oil companies might realize a greater profit by so doing.

I believe that it is the responsibility of the administration and Congress to see to it that we, the citizens of this country, are the beneficiaries of the oil produced in Alaska as well as of that produced anywhere else within our territorial limits.


St. Thomas, Pa.

Editor Replies: It sounds reasonable, but if we could force these stipulations on the energy industry, we could go ahead and stop the drilling in the first place.

Beware Education Amendments

Two little-known and insidious amendments to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) are presently in joint-conference. Sen. Session's (R&endash;Ala.) and Rep. Norwood's (R&endash;Ga.) proposed amendments, if enacted, allow school personnel to remove children with disabilities from school and deny them a free and appropriate public education currently guaranteed to all our children. In addition, these amendments to ESEA allow students to be transferred without informed consent to a private, segregated school. Such plans would almost certainly disproportionately impact poor and already underserved people here and elsewhere. As a licensed mental health counselor and member of the Green Party of Delaware, I urge ... citizens to stand up and tell the government to stop scapegoating children with disabilities. Stand up for what is right and insist that all children have access to a free, appropriate public education. Let's work to improve our schools and learning for all our children. Let's educate our kids, not exclude them.

Newark, Del.

We Need Congressional Heroes

As we accept the fact that "last year's election was stolen from us," we need to remember that Al Gore made a brief and eloquent concession so that the real business of GOVERNMENT could proceed. The mealy mouthed reply of Mr. Bush was rescinded by his immediate flinging the nomination of John Ashcroft into our teeth.

Things have been going on from bad to worse ever since with the unequivocal embrace of the entire "military/industrial complex" agenda including even the revival of that hideous bad dream -- Star Wars.

More heroic congresspersons must arise to put responsible GOVERNING ahead of party shenanigans.

Ocean Grove, N.J.

Let's Talk About W's Military Record

With more negative information coming out about President Nixon's role during the Viet Nam War and doubt cast on President Johnson's Silver Star from WW II, can we expect President Bush's own military record to receive the same scrutiny? Might the Nixon and Johnson family and friends demand a full account of W's "leap frogging" and "missing year"? Or will the "Powers That Be" continue to keep it under the radar until any key witnesses are dead, and W is replaced by the next-in-line of the Bush Dynasty? Given what we now know about conservative pressure and intimidation on something as small as the twins arrest in Texas, is it too much to think that tremendous pressure has been put on anyone who might validate accusations about our current Commander-in-Chief?

Monticello, Ark.
Email cgray@seark.net

Hats Off to Helen

Just want to put in a plug for someone who beats the odds. If your readers ever watch the McLaughlin show on public TV they will note that the discussion ratio is 3-1/2 conservative to 1 liberal. McLaughlin (ultra conservative chairman) sits in the center with his two favorite conservatives on his left and directly to his right is a rotating seat for an invited guest who might be classed as a pleasant centrist. Then there is the lone liberal lady (Helen) that sits in the remaining seat.

Despite the thundering bellicose arguments from the chair, the constant interruptions from the other two conservatives with their rapid machine gun voices, especially when she is about to make a point, Helen refuses to be intimidated. Helen responds in an audible voice slow enough for others to understand and doesn't seem intimidated enough to yield an inch to them. I like to see Helen get under their skin after they have been rude. We should take off our hats to Helen.

I don't suppose McLaughlin would let some liberal think tank or group pick out their choice for the rotating seat. No telling how bad Helen and another liberal could trounce their conservative opposition even with a three to two disadvantage.

Yours respectfully,
Belton, Mo.

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