Breaking News: White House Speakers Join Health Care Webinar

Have you registered for the special webinar to celebrate the one year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act? The webinar is this Thursday, March 24 at 1:00 p.m. Eastern.

To celebrate the one year anniversary of the health care law, we are joining forces with other women’s advocates from across the country to discuss the parts of the new health care law that have already gone into effect and what provisions are yet to come. The webinar will feature women’s health advocates, women sharing their stories on how the law is already improving their lives, and very special guests from President Obama’s Administration —

Melody Barnes, the Director of the Domestic Policy Council and Domestic Policy Advisor to President Obama; and

Jeanne Lambrew, Deputy Assistant to President Obama for Health Policy.

Thank you for your continued commitment to improving the health of women and their families.


Judy Waxman

Vice President for Health and Reproductive Rights

National Women’s Law Center

Energy: Crude Profits

The cost of filling up a gas tank has shot up in recent weeks as oil trades at unusually high prices for this time of year. Oil prices have come down slightly since hitting a high of $106.95 a barrel two weeks ago — the highest price for a barrel since the record 2008 oil price hike — but early trading today has already pushed prices back up. The spike in the cost of oil this early in the year poses a serious threat to the fragile economic recovery, with experts saying that prolonged high gas prices could cripple economic growth at a critical time. Some economists are even warning that high oil prices could cost the economy up to 600,000 jobs. “[S]ustained rises in the prices of oil or other commodities would represent a threat [to] both to economic growth and to overall price stability, particularly if they were to cause inflation expectations to become less well anchored,” Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke warned Congress earlier this month. A new CNN poll of experts shows that “economists are most fearful of one major headwind [to recovery]: oil prices.” So what’s causing this spike in prices? One factor is Wall Street speculation. The government has new powers created by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law to deal with this problem, but as part of their war on consumer protection regulation, Republicans have so far prevented this from happening.

WHAT’S BEHIND OIL PRICES: While there are several causes that contribute to rise in oil prices, many experts point to Wall Street speculation: hedge funds, investors, and big banks trying to make money by betting on the price fluctuation of oil and other commodities. Speculation in and of itself isn’t a bad thing — in fact, it’s necessary in moderation with proper regulation to help end users like airlines hedge against price fluctuation — but excessive speculation, especially when it is based on fear about inherently unknown future events, can artificially inflate the price of oil beyond the price that natural supply and demand forces would set. Experts concluded in 2008 that that year’s spike in oil and other commodity prices couldn’t possibly be explained by supply and demand forces, and that speculation must have played a role. “[T]here is substantial evidence that the large amount of speculation in the current market has significantly increased prices,” a House Homeland Security Committee report on oil prices from 2008 concluded. The same appears to be true today. While many blame high oil prices on the crisis in Libya, the country accounts for only 2 percent of the world’s output. More importantly, Saudi Arabia has vowed to make up for any shortfall in global supply by increasing its own production. So supply issues are not likely having a significant impact on prices. And despite conservatives’ scapegoating, President Obama’s policies are clearly not to blame either. Meanwhile, a commissioner of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) — the government agency charged with policing commodity speculation — said earlier this month that speculation on energy futures, including oil, is at an all-time high, jumping 64 percent even since 2008. Speculation was blamed by both Republicans and Democrats three years ago for oil prices, and even with conservatives’ tea party embrace of Wall Street today, several Republican congressmen, and conservative leaders have acknowledged that speculation is a driver of oil prices.

A SOLUTION: Recognizing the problem of oil speculation, Congress gave the government new powers to protect consumers and help ensure market stability with the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law passed last year. The law gives the CFTC the ability to limit “excessive speculation” by limiting the bets speculators can make. The law expanded the CFTC’s authority to regulate the entire market for the first time. While futures — bets on the future prices of commodities like oil and wheat — were regulated before the law passed, traders could choose to instead purchase “look-alike” futures that were not subject to regulation. Dodd-Frank changes this by allowing the CFTC to “impose a uniform set of rules across exchanges and the over-the-counter market, replacing a patchwork of inconsistent restrictions for different venues and commodities.” Curbing regulation could help make these markets more stable and transparent, and help bring down the cost of oil.

DEFENDING WALL STREET: But the CFTC has so far failed to take up this responsibility and write the rules that would rein in oil speculators. The agency missed a January deadline to file new rules because of opposition from the commission’s Republican members and one of its Democrats, CFTC commissioner Michael Dunn. The agency’s chairman, Gary Gensler — a Democrat and former Goldman Sachs banker — has taken a lead in advocating strong new rules on speculation, but the Republican commissioners have been foot dragging to defend Wall Street’s profits, making Dunn the swing vote. Dunn has said he does not have enough information to sign off on new rules, despite the fact that the agency has received hundreds of public comments and held at least 75 meetings with experts, stakeholders, and the public on the matter. But Dunn’s term is ending this summer, giving President Obama an opportunity to appoint someone who is willing to follow the law and rein in speculation. But the CFTC faces another threat from Republicans on a different front. H.R.1, the House Republican approved spending plan for the remainder of 2011, includes a nearly one-third cut in the CFTC’s budget. Such a draconian cut would require the CFTC to lay off more than 30 percent of its staff. Moreover, House “Republicans are threatening repercussions for regulators that ignore their concerns.” “We’d have to have significant curtailment of our staff and resources,” CFTC Chairman Gensler said. “We would not be able to police…or ensure transparent markets in futures or swaps.” The Republican effort to take cops off the oil trade beat would allow speculators to continue to drive up prices, ensuring even bigger profits for oil companies.


Featured Action

A Day To Stand In Solidarity – April 4 Nationwide Actions

On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis. He had gone there to stand with AFSCME sanitation workers demanding their dream: The right to bargain collectively for a voice at work and a better life. Join us to make April 4, 2011 a day to stand in solidarity with working people in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and dozens of other states where right-wing corporate politicians are trying to take away the rights Dr. King gave his life for. It’s a day to say, “We are one.” Check out our We Are One video and go to for more details.


Standing Up For Public Service

Public service workers from coast to coast are facing attacks against their jobs, their salaries, their pensions and their basic rights as workers. View our Standing Up For Public Service website to find out how AFSCME members are fighting back.

Wisconsin: photos, videos, and recent news

Ohio: photos, videos, and recent news

Indiana: photos and news

Michigan, Florida, New York and across the nation: photos, videos, events, our blog, and news clips

Greenline, the AFSCME Blog

Iowa House Leadership Afraid to Talk to Citizens

In a show of solidarity with Iowa working families, former Speaker Pat Murphy (D-Dubuque) blasted Iowa’s Republican House Leadership Friday after they shut down the Capitol switchboard.

In Ohio, State of the Worker Address

Workers across Ohio delivered the State of the Worker Address, a rebuttal to Gov. John Kasich’s first State of the State Address.

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire’s 100-Year Anniversary Reminds Us Why Unions Are Necessary

AFSCME reflects on another historic moment in labor history, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York City.

Thousands Turn Out For “We Are Indiana” Rally Supporting Unions

Legislation that could roll back private-sector union rights and limit collective bargaining rights for teachers sparked a massive rally at the state Capitol in Indianapolis.

Origins of the So-Called Pension Crisis

Noted economist Dean Baker has written what could be best described as the definitive explanation of the state of public-sector pension plans.

AFSCME Across the Nation

AFSCME Activists Nationwide Support Wisconsin Public Service Workers

OH: Workers Protest Plan to End Collective Bargaining

NY: In this New Video, AFSCME Members Speak Out for a “Better New York for All”

WI: AFSCME Members Lobby Lawmakers to Preserve Rights


McEntee: Governor Walker Is “Tearing Wisconsin Apart”

Statement of AFSCME President McEntee in response to Gov. Walker’s anti-union rights bill that was rammed through the state senate.

AFSCME Calls on Speaker Boehner to Stop Using Violent Metaphors and Demonizing Public Employees

Citing a recent interview given by House Speaker John Boehner, AFSCME Pres. McEntee called on the Speaker to stop using violent metaphors and demonizing public employees.