Saturday, June 30, 2012
Friday, June 29, 2012
The larger reason why health-care reform will remain a driving force in politics is the necessities of our new economic condition as a nation. The free-spending days of easy credit and lopsided inequalities are squeezing folks from every side. Libertarians have no answer except to say, get over it. Politicians, however, will be driven to find answers, even half-baked answers, or else cash out their careers. It is not that “big government” has found the answers for the national scandal of health care. It is that “small government” doesn’t even want to look.
And how about that mandate that’s at the center of the frothing Tea Party rage? This “radical” initiative was introduced in 1993 by Republican Senator John Chaffey of Rhode Island as a means to undercut the employer mandate central to Hillary Clinton’s infamous health care proposal. Shifting the burden of responsibility from business to individuals proved to be such a popular conservative position that Mitt Romney made it the centerpiece of his Massachusetts healthcare reform bill. Rationally, Democrats assumed that Republicans would never attack their own idea. However, ever attuned to the power of language, Republicans made the "mandate" sound even scarier than a small tax applied to a few bad seeds.
Now that that the Court has ruled that mandate is the semantic equivalent to tax, the questions seem endless. Can we expect “no-tax Norquist” to withdraw support from the Republican presidential candidate who effectively raised taxes on Massachusetts residents when he signed RomenyCare into law? And was Romney lying to his constituents then, as Sarah Palin claimed that Obama is now in her tweeted responseto the ruling?
@SarahPalinUSA: Obama lied to the American people. Again. He said it wasn’t a tax. Obama lies; freedom dies.
It’s worth noting here that what their side lacks in originality, they make up for in brevity, lyricism and consistency. Truth comes in a distant fourth in the Republican message hierarchy.
But this whole linguistic rabbit hole we find ourselves at the bottom of raises the question: why not just call the whole thing what it is? Given how much Americans tend to love tax breaks and how relatively few “free-riders” there are who would incur unsubsidized new taxes under Obamacare, what political cost calculation led to all the talk of a mandate and a commerce clause in the first place?
The answer lies in a decades-long war on taxes that has left Democrats paralyzed when faced with an advantageous opportunity to reclaim the term. Conservatives, well aware of their victory in this strategic front of the language war, use the weaponized word prodigiously. In 2009, a Democratic-backed (but really quite conservative) market mechanism to put a price on carbon and begin the slow process of mitigating the disastrous impacts of climate change was killed in Congress after being labelled “cap-and-tax.” Never mind that even more taxpayer dollars are going to fight unprecedented forest fires in Colorado or biblical-scale floods in Minnesota, both obvious effects of record heat and shifting weather patterns.
The full frontal assault on taxes was birthed by conservatives with an agenda to squeeze the life out of popular social spending initiatives in the latter part of the last century. Given how normative taxes were in American culture, the intellectual architects of the “Starve the Beast” strategy saw no way to force spending cuts without a high-profile campaign to destroy the funding mechanism. The fact that the Federal Treasury would be collateral damage was of no concern to these men, and any political consequence for an incoming Democratic administration was icing on the cake. George W. Bush’s deficit spending and casino style regulatory approach drove the American economy straight off a cliff after systematically dismantling the rescue squads. The subsequent mess is one that Republicans have delighted in watching Obama try to clean up, a task made even more impossible by Republicans who would rather see the economy destroyed than vote for an increase in tax revenue, even—or especially—on the country’s wealthy.
But the impacts of this scorched-earth campaign are ominously visible not only in a policy agenda skewed towards the 1 percent but also in newly embedded cultural norms. When fire services were rendered optional in rural Tennessee as a way to curb spending in 2011, many residents opted out. After all, who ever believes that their house will burn until the sparks start flying? But in at least two heart-breaking instances, firefighters were forced to sit by and watch as peoples’ homes burned to the ground because of unpaid fees. The parallels are strikingly similar to the conservative outcry against the healthcare mandate, without which we would be forced to sit idly by while people suffer. As I wrote last week here, Justice Scalia’s endorsement of the “let them die” faction of the tea party in the healthcare hearings gave judicial credibility to a fundamentally anti-American posture of indifference—a position reinforced by his dissenting opinion this morning. Do we really want to embrace an America where we watch our neighbors’ lives go up in flames?
Given all of this, the irony of this much-reviled three letter word offering a parachute for a plummeting healthcare initiative is not lost on this progressive. As millions sleep easier tonight as a result of this ruling, it’s important to remember a few lessons as we forge ahead: Obama didn’t kill your granny, freedom is not actually dead and constitutionally protected taxes can—and often do— create a stronger America. That may be language actually worth fighting for.
The NYT had an article on the surge in the number of people who are traveling to Mexico for medical care. This is hardly ideal, but since our political system is too corrupted by the insurers, the doctors, the drug companies and others who benefit from the waste in the health care system, this is likely to be the way in which the system is eventually reformed. People will vote with their feet and take advantage of the more efficient health care systems in other countries.
It's too bad that the economics profession is so corrupt that almost none of them ever discuss the barriers to trade in health care services and how they can be eliminated. A small protectionist barrier that might boost the pay of a steelworker drives economists up the wall, but huge barriers that cost U.S. consumers hundreds of billions annually -- and jeopardize their health -- do not seem to bother economists.
Thursday, June 28, 2012
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Monday, June 18, 2012
Since 2000, unions have given over $700 million to Democrats—$45 million of it this year alone (Labor: Long-Term Contribution Trends). What do they have to show for it? Imagine if they’d spent that sort of money, say, lobbying for single-payer day-in, day-out, everywhere.
Sunday, June 17, 2012
Who is saying electoral strategies per se are always wrong? I think anyone who says that is wrong.
In the days following the Wisconsin election, a number of progressive journalists responded to the heartbreaking defeat by venting their anger at a surprising target: the very unions that Scott Walker waged war on. Doug Henwood in Left Business Observer, Matt Rothschild in The Progressive and Andy Kroll ofMother Jones each have different analyses of what went wrong, but all agree that unions were guilty of what Henwood terms the “horrible mistake of channeling a popular uprising into electoral politics.”
The Wisconsin movement “began to disintegrate the moment the leaders decided to pour everything into the Democratic Party,” Rothschild explains. That decision, he argues, “destroyed the lesson that you can exercise power outside the electoral arena.” Indeed, Kroll insists that the electoral strategy would have been a “loss” even if Walker had been defeated, since “the Madison movement would have found themselves in… the same broken system, with … little hope.”
Really? The limitations of electoral politics are obvious, but the assumption that electoral strategies per seare always wrong is hard to fathom.
Personally I think one perk from the loss was over-reach from GOP and the donors. I guess it was my Kung Fu training but my sifu always told me you wanted your attacker lashing out at you so that you could use his force again him. I wasn't in Wisconsin, a part of the efforts, had no decsision making or invovlement so I'm not really going to judge wether "we" should or shouldn't have done the recall.
The loss in Wisconsin is very serious.
Was the fall referendum a recall? Again who aside from some anarchist occupiers are saying no to electoral strategies?
But that loss would be the same if unions had forsworn the recall. Around 175,000 employees would still be stripped of union rights, with all that entails for them personally and for the material and organizational basis for progressive mobilization. And while the electoral loss no doubt emboldened anti-union conservatives, not challenging the governor would have conveyed much the same message: It’s politically safe to follow Walker’s example—after all, the unions didn’t even have the guts to take him on! Labor leaders confronted a genuinely hard choice: roll the dice on the recall, which everyone knew would be an expensive and uphill battle, or give up.
For that matter, how should we account for last fall’s referendum in Ohio, where voters overturned a copycat law modeled on Wisconsin’s? The Ohio labor movement chose an electoral strategy—and won big. Was that also a “horrible mistake”? If not, what—besides the outcome—makes the Wisconsin choice obviously wrong, a crime instead of a tragedy?
Aren't these critics speaking more broadly about the labor movement? Why the hell are working class in Georgia going to call about labor rights in Wisconsin? This is a right to work state--most of them are "saying welcome to the club"; if they are even engaged enough to know what we are talking about right now.
Critics insist that union leaders should have chosen a more radical path, overturning the Walker regime by harnessing the people-power of the capitol occupation. Rothschild calls for mass civil disobedience, slow downs and strikes; Kroll for consumer boycotts and a new political party; Henwood for grassroots education and lobbying.
But none of these offers a realistic alternative for restoring labor rights in Wisconsin.
At their core, these prescriptions fundamentally misunderstand the reality of how unions generate mass action.
Both the tremendous strength and real limitation of the labor movement is that, alone among “left” organizations, it is not a vanguard movement. Unlike the Sierra Club or Occupy, its members do not join based on preexisting ideological beliefs. Overwhelmingly, they become members because they get a job someplace that happens to have a union. Union members are, almost entirely, exactly the same as any other working-class Americans.
Aren't they saying unions need to put more of a focus on these efforts BECAUSE they are so hard? And believe me they are hard.
Pundits sometimes write as if all that’s needed is for a union leader to make the right decision in order to generate radical action (thus Rothschild suggests that “unions could have told their members simply to ‘work to rule’,” assuming that hundreds of thousands of employees would risked their jobs to answer this call.) This imagines an institutional discipline that doesn’t exist. The work of organizing is slow and incremental. The task of building a serious workplace or political organization entails taking normal, apolitical, non-confrontational people and moving them to a clearer understanding of the economy and a fiercer will to confront those who rule it. For any reader to sense what this is like, just go into work tomorrow and start asking co-workers to put their jobs at risk by striking over a demand for single-payer or taxing Wall Street. How long would it take to get your fifty closest co-workers to strike? How many would stay out after their personal supervisor calls them at home telling them to come back?
How do employees go from being mild-mannered workers to fighting the power? Many get transformed through struggles in their workplace. Workplace fights are where the hypocrisy of management is unmasked; where the injustice of budget priorities becomes apparent; where people experience the capriciousness of elites and the potential power of collective action in a very visceral way; where people who are personally conservative and not activists end up doing things that require bravery (in most jobs even signing a petition creates some risk of retaliation) and emerge from it feeling more powerful and more ready to do the next thing. In a less transformative way, many more people are educated through conversations with stewards who are carrying out union education program. Generally, these conversations are short and few—so union members end up thinking and voting more progressively than otherwise similar people, but not hugely so.
I'm not far removed and I think the critics he mentions have a lot of valid points to make.
Radical actions remain possible. But we have to be realistic. The notion that the path to victory is clear if only dim-witted union leaders would listen to progressive bloggers reflects not just magical thinking about organizing, but also the hubris of being far enough removed from the action to believe you’re the only one to have thought of a new idea.
uh, yes, do more of this! Give Obama a tweet on election day and do more of this!
In fact, hundreds of union leaders and activists have been working for years to build a broader movement—stronger, more militant, with a broader reach into the community and a more expansive vision. Apart from Occupy, the main organization running big public actions to tax the 1 Percent is the nurses’ union. SEIU sent hundreds of field organizers to working-class neighborhoods in seventeen cities, knocking on doors of non-union families, seeking to build a progressive political movement to the left of the Democrats. The Laborers’ union launched efforts in multiple cities to team up with immigrant day-labor centers in order to reorganize parts of the residential construction industry. The UFCW is organizing Wal-Mart employees to fight store- and community-level battles over back wages long before there’s any plan for a union contract. The AFL-CIO itself has devoted significant resources to Working America, a program of political and educational outreach to non-union workers.
But it does have something to do with those choices as well.
My point is not that everything is already being done that should be done. We’ve been losing, so obviously the current strategy can’t be sufficient. But the problem is much more serious, and more difficult, than just the strategic choices of union leaders.
The depth of the attack?
Many unions can do a lot of things better, and should. But the depth of the attacks from the left—and the choice to launch them at this particular moment—is curious.
Unions aren't popular. Unions do have to shift their focus (if you look at the efforts of Teamsters 728 is doing a lot along these lines.
Henwood sees Wisconsin as evidence that the American public has turned against unions—and for good reason. “Unions just aren’t very popular,” he explains, because people correctly perceive that “unions … are too interested in their own wages and benefits and not the needs of the broader working class.” The core problem, apparently, is that unions are too focused on organizing workers and negotiating contracts, activities no longer viable in the 21st century. “Unions have to shift their focus from the workplace to the community,” he says, proposing a popular campaign to “agitate on behalf of the entire working class and not just a privileged subset with membership cards.”
I actually think the fedual framework might be fruitful one and help build the movement as it more accurately explains modern corporate capitalism. I don't see feudal as pejorative though I think its meant to be (and is taken by most to be so).
But unions are supposed to be organizations of workers who improve their own conditions in their workplace. The problem is not that the model is bad, but the opposite: the best thing that could happen in our economy is for more people to have the right to bargain with their employers in exactly this way.
Here too, Henwood blames unions. American workers don’t join unions, he says, in large part because they’re controlled by cronies who enrich themselves at the expense of their members; he approvingly quotes Bob Fitch’s equation of elected union officials with “feudal vassals” living off “serfs who pay compulsory dues.”
Well spending some of that money that they are spending getting Obama elected and redirecting towards grassroots campaigns might help?
At this point we’ve left real economic analysis. Polls show that 40 million non-union American workers wish they had a union in their workplace. This is unsurprising—all other things being equal, workers with a union make 15 percent more and have a 20-25 percent better chance of getting healthcare or pensions than similar workers who have no union. The top reason that more Americans aren’t union members is not because they’re alienated; it’s because the anti-union industry is so aggressive (almost 20,000 Americans a year are economically punished for supporting unions in their workplace), and the law is so toothless that workers correctly fear for their jobs if they try to organize. After all, if the real problem was overpaid union bureaucrats, then radical unions like the Wobblies or United Electrical workers—unburdened by highly paid staff or Democratic politics—should be meeting greater success in organizing. But, of course, they are not. The problem is not what unions are doing; it’s the coercive power of employers.
Furthermore, even while workers mostly focus on improving their own conditions, unions are by far the biggest force working to protect the interests of working people in general. Even as unions have been under such ferocious attack in state legislatures and struggling to repel those assaults, they’ve also been at the forefront of fights to protect minimum wage, child labor laws, unemployment insurance, pay equity, class size, immigrant rights and tax fairness—none of them union-specific issues. That, indeed, is why Walker and his corporate backers are so intent on dismantling them. The past two years have seen some of the country’s biggest private corporations devote millions of dollars to attacking public sector unions. This is not primarily because of ideological beliefs or a desire to pay less taxes. They see what some critics apparently miss—that unions remain the only serious counterweight to the unbridled power of the corporate elite.
Most employees naturally want their dues money to be mainly devoted to caring for themselves and their co-workers. Every time a campaign is undertaken to preserve class size or fight free trade agreements, people are making a decision to spend their dues money on something other than themselves. So, while more could be done, the criticism of union members and leaders for being too selfish is not based in reality.
Here’s the hard truth. We’re living in a dark time, and it’s gotten very hard for normal working Americans to win either at the workplace or in politics. We are massively outspent, and people are so scared of losing their jobs that it’s hard to fight back on a large scale. We have not figured out a reliable way to win. But the fundamental dynamics of power are the same as they ever were. We need to fight as smartly and as powerfully as we can, understanding that the game has not changed but simply gotten a lot harder. Of course there are things unions can do to be better and more effective, and those matter.
I don't think they are. I don't know who is saying they are completely a thing of the past.
But declaring organizing and contracts a thing of the past is not part of that.
The only serious choices we have are to keep fighting even though times are hard, or to give up, or to enjoy the momentary rush of being on the same side as power and join in the anti-union attack.
Saturday, June 16, 2012
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
War, educating kids, fighting fires, and our choice to not "afford" to live in a sustainable society...
Romney has called for a cap of federal spending at 20 percent of GDP while increasing defense spending to 4 percent of GDP. CBPP has concluded that this would, of necessity, require cuts of at least 29 percent in non-defense spending other than Social Security in 2016, and deeper cuts in later years.How would that impact cops, firefighters, and teachers?It isn’t easy to calculate this, for two reasons. First, Romney’s plan doesn’t specify cuts. And second, of all the federal cash that does go to programs that pay first responders and teachers, you can’t be certain how much goes directly into their pockets. But CBPP analyst Richard Kogan took a stab at trying to figure it out.Kogan estimates, a total of around $40 billion per year goes to the aforementioned federal programs funding those jobs. If you apply that 29 percent cut the Romney plan necessitates, evenly across the board, Kogan calculates, that comes to nearly $12 billion in cuts to those programs. How many jobs are we talking about? Unknown.Again, this is a rough calculation — one that’s necessitated by the fact that Romney’s plan doesn’t specify cuts. But the simple fact is that Romney’s plans would almost certainly cut deeply in those areas. If it didn’t, it would have to cut even more deeply elsewhere, such as Medicare, veterans benefits or the FBI.
All of which is to say that this isn’t just an academic disagreement or a matter of political positioning or rhetoric. It is a real world contrast. A reasonable analysis suggests that Romney’s plan really would cut very deeply into federal money funding jobs of cops, firefighters, and teachers. Obama’s plan would add billions for those jobs.
Monday, June 11, 2012
Here is Krugman on the Obama--"private sector is fine" flub...
Also its important to keep in mind that Romney is already responding to Obama's clarifications, saying the that our economic woes have nothing to do with the failure of the public sector to keep up with growth. Anyone who looks at the data can tell it's had a huge impact.
I can't believe he actually said it but Romney thinks the message of Wisconsin was that we don't need more firemen, more policemen, or more teachers. What that has to do with the recall, or why people opposed recall of Walker is beyond me.
Which means conservatives I know are jumping all over Obama's statement, yet ignoring the fact that Romney is saying we should be INCREASING unemployment levels as a solution. Got to love that kind of chrystal clear logic on why they are against Obama (since under Obama we've seen a record decline in Government jobs which is supposed to be a top priority of most "end big Government" Republicans I know)
Yet all the political drama is covering over the crux of the problem which Dean Baker did a good job breaking down a week ago:
The discussions of the economy have lost sight of the basic score. The U.S. economy is operating at close to 6 percent below its potential with employment down by almost 10 million compared with its trend level. This is an incredible waste of resources. It is also devastating to the unemployed workers and their families.
The basic story of this downturn remains incredibly simple. We lost close to $1.4 trillion in annual demand when the housing bubble collapsed. The construction boom that was fueled by the bubble went into reverse with new construction falling to its lowest levels in more than 50 years. The consumption boom fueled by bubble-generated equity collapsed when that equity disappeared.
We cannot return to full employment until we have something to replace the demand that had been generated by the housing bubble. This is simple arithmetic.
Unfortunately, both parties in the United States refuse to talk about filling the hole created by the collapse of the housing bubble in a serious way. The Republicans talk about giving everything to “job creators,” with the idea that if we are generous enough to the rich they will show their gratitude by creating jobs.
There is zero evidence to support this view. Are we supposed to believe that investment will somehow increase by 50 percent as a share of GDP just because we are nice to rich people? The world doesn’t work that way. Firms create jobs when they have more demand, not because we are nice to their rich owners.
President Obama and the Democratic leadership have refused to put forward a serious alternative path. While they have been willing to argue that rich people should have to pay some taxes, they have not come to grips with the nature of this downturn, as if hoping that somehow the economy will just jump back to its pre-recession level of output through some magical process.
There is no black magic that will allow the economy to over-ride arithmetic. In the short-term only the government can provide the boost necessary to support the economy. Over the longer term we will need to get the trade deficit down through a more competitive dollar.
Friday, June 8, 2012
Thursday, June 7, 2012
The "John Galts" of the world are just a more prosperous example of the "self-interested cattle and mob" Nietzsche derided.
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Saturday, June 2, 2012
Neal Boortz was schlepping a lot of nonsense this morning on the radio. It was a little annoying. So it was refreshing to catch this interview with Bruce Bartlett later on in the day.
To my Republican friends: Please listen to Bruce Bartlett, and then please please start demanding that your political leaders (not to mention your facebook friends) start sounding more like him...
The other day I came across a great blog post Reagan’s gone. You’re old. Get over it which hit on a major challenge we face at the local, state, and natonal levels--the intellectual bankruptcy of the GOP:
Basically, supply-side policies work best when there is pent-up private sector demand. By lowering the cost of investment, you can unleash a self-reinforcing cycle. The bigger the pent-up demand, the bigger the payoff to an improvement in expectations. Without that pent-up demand, resources freed from supply-side measures and austerity get saved, not spent, and no self-reinforcing cycle is triggered.
The world of 1980 had tons of pent-up demand and gale-force tailwinds. Inflation and interest rates were coming down from high levels, household leverage was very, very low, financial innovation non-existent, consumption had been deferred, and demography was coiled as the baby boomers were just coming on line. On the government side, unions were powerful, price and wage controls were a reality, and tax rates were high. This was the ideal set up for supply side reforms.
Fast-forward to post-2008. Whatever the opposite of pent-up demand is, that’s what we have. Inflation and interest rates are already low, household leverage is a major burden, consumption was pulled forward during the boom, and demography is no longer our friend. Plus, we have globalization acting like a supply shock to our labor pool, holding down wages. In short, the tailwinds are now headwinds. On the government side, unions are far less powerful today, there are no price and wage controls, and tax rates are low. It seems next to impossible to make the case that supply-side policies can have anywhere near the effect today that they had in the 80s.
Yet, so many still do. Much of our body politic is stuck—along with the bulk of the baby boomers—in the 1980s, still trying to relive those old battles in the rear-view mirror. The US has changed. The world has changed. The problems have changed. The emerging world is rapidly plugging into the grid, hungrier and willing to work for less. We need to be pragmatic. Adjust and compete. Look around the globe and without preconceived notions and see what we can learn from others. Being stuck in the same old big government/small government debate keeps us from doing this. Sometimes supply-side policies are right and sometimes they’re not. Sometimes Keynesian polices are right, sometimes they’re not. Until we approach policies as tools in a toolkit and not as divine scriptures, we are going to be stuck in an ideological logjam, wasting precious time. Time to get off the ideological paradigm.
The inability of GOP elected officials to engage on actual economics rather than Grover Norquist pledged indoctrination is a major political hurdle.
The paradigms of small government vs. big government, taxes are bad, Obama and the Democrats are Socialists, et al (not to mention the Keynes hobgoblin) that every single GOP politician and activists trots out day in and day out is destroying the policy discourse in this nation and running the state of Georgia into the ground.
Basically, as Mak Dow in the post above argues, the GOP rank and file are stuck using talking points based on economists debates of the 1980's. I think he has a point.
Democrats runnning around and saying, "nun uh..." to all of this will never change the political landscape because people won't believe them. Until those who vote GOP start openly calling out their friends, neighbors, and local politicians on this bullshit we will have a broken democratic process.
To my Republican friends, you don't have to start liking everything that (center-right friend to the 1%) Obama is doing and saying. But when you critique him, ignore all the bogus platitudes of @TalkMaster and his legion of redneck reactionaries and start listening to the likes of Bruce Bartlett, Mark Dow, or the smart folks over at Bleeding Heart Libertarian.
We will all be better for it.