Friday, August 12, 2011
Thursday, August 11, 2011
Five months after Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin pushed through a law stripping public unions of their bargaining rights, the Republican Party has paid a price. Two of the state senators who backed the law were thrown out of office by voters on Tuesday and replaced with Democrats. Mr. Walker’s opponents did not succeed in turning over the Senate, but it was still an impressive response to the governor’s arrogant overreach.
[...] Mr. Walker and his colleagues tried to paint the unions as unwilling to sacrifice a bit of their pensions and health benefits in rough fiscal times. It was heartening to see more than 160,000 Wisconsin voters reject that false notion. The unions had already agreed to significant concessions on both; what the Republicans really wanted was to break their organizing ability by ending bargaining on anything except wages and limiting raises to inflation.
Here's the thing: civil servants surrender the opportunity to make a market wage when they accept a civil service job. They are, de facto, austerity measures that governments avail themselves of.
In consideration of this surrender of this opportunity, the government provides two things: 1) job security, and 2) awesome benefits. The job security is a reward for the past consideration of having worked at lesser wages in the same position that the private sector would pay a premium for. The benefits, like healthcare, is a prophylactic measure to entice civil servants to not look elsewhere for employment. Necessarily, these have to be juicier than the benefits available to a private sector worker, else what's the point in paying a lower wage? People will simply leave for better jobs.
It's kind of a win-win: the government gets a budget savings. The employee gets a job for life, free dental and eyecare, and a nice pension at the end of it all.
Until conservative asshats liek Governor Walker decide to get greedy. This is where unions step in. A municipal union serves many functions, but primary among these is a bulwark against the political tides that threaten to disrupt good governance. The idea behind lifetime employment, the lower wage/bigger benefit scenario, is to foster stability on the part of the staff.
Implicit in that is the need to protect that staff from the political vagaries of different political views overseeing their work. Note, this is not a policy decision, which can and should be appropriately changed with new administrations. No, it's about keeping the people in place who will provide continuity to those changes.
Also implicit in this "contract" is the need for the staff to know that they are being treated fairly. Clearly, Walker missed this lesson in B-school (if he ever bothered to attend one.) If you want good work, don't screw your workers.
Walker screwed his workers. He's going to now pay a price. Moreover, so will Winsonsinites, which is why so many of them, maybe even most of them, are so pissed off at him.
The riots and fires consuming London are a story about senseless violence and crime. They are also a story about urban politics, race relations, education inequality, and British culture and society. But underneath all of that, they are part of an economic story that is universal.
For the last year, Great Britain has embraced austerity to a degree that would make some American conservatives blush. The purpose of shrinking government was to reduce debt. But the effect has been to kill the economy. With the UK tottering on the razor's edge of recession, consumer confidence is at a record low, unemployment is rising, and even the most optimistic economists predict one-percent expansion for the rest of the year.
The scourge of young restlessness growing in this noxious petri dish is potent enough to have a nickname. The British call them the NEETs, as in "Not in Education, Employment, or Training." Last year, British Employment Minister Chris Grayling called chronic youth unemployment a "ticking time bomb." That bomb is way past ticking.
Imagine you're twenty (and if you are, I envy you, and don't envy you, all at once). You're sat at home, watching the tube, and seeing news reports about corporation after corporation making money hand over fist. Banks and auto companies getting bailouts. Nations completely unrelated to your situation getting emergency loans from your country, among others, to tide them over.
And you wonder, "Why am I not getting some of that?" (or words to that effect)
You get a little angry. You go out to get some air and run into your mates. You walk downtown to the high street, and see the shops lined with fine jewelry, and computers, and phones, and you wonder when you'll ever be able to afford any of that. Sure, you'd love a job, you've looked hard but there just aren't any to be had. Companies aren't hiring. But they're pocketing gobs of money. Why? Why are corporations trying to tear the very fabric of life apart out of greed?
You head down to pub because you have a few quid in your pocket left over from the dole you got and carefully parceled out last week, and get a pint. The lads join you, one or two sipping your beer when you're not looking because they can't afford one themselves. The barkeep takes pity and buys a round for his loyal customers who are having a go at long term unemployment.
And the conversation turns to work. Or not work, rather. Someone, Ginger maybe, makes a joke about how Greece would be out of work if it lived in Brixton. You laugh, but you feel angry.
The anger swells as you boys take the piss on each other, have some fun, horse around, blow off some steam. It's late now, shops are closing. You slip out of pub and start heading home, crossing the high street again. The windows look so inviting. So very inviting.
A stranger, someone you've not seen around, staggers past, and stumbles into you. He mutters "'Scuse me," but your trigger just's been fired...
It's not hard to write the script of the riot. Sure, there was a killing involved, the macroeconomic version of the stranger bumping you, but in truth, it could have been anything. Another wave of layoffs. Another hacking scandal. Anything to remind people that we've become small cogs in a machine that grinds us up until it's time to replace us with a younger, faster model.
And those younger faster models have tempers.
There's a racial aspect of this, to be sure:
"Educated youth have been in the vanguard of rebellions against authority certainly since the French Revolution and in some cases even earlier," Jack A. Goldstone, a sociologist at George Mason University School of Public Policy, told journalist Peter Coy in February. If that's true, we are only in the first chapter of a worldwide rebellion against lost opportunities for the young. In North Africa and the Middle East, people aged 15-29 make up the largest share of the population ever. In Iran, they account for a third of the country. In Jordan, Egypt and Morocco, they make up 30 percent.
What about us? One in five Americans are between 15 and 29-years old. And one in five of those Americans are unemployed. For minorities and the under-educated, the picture is much worse. Black teenagers have an unemployment rate of 44 percent, twice the rate for white teens.
Minority populations tend to be undereducated, is the takeaway, which means underemployed, and underserviced by governments. That's just a fact. Civil unrest can start anywhere, but it usually starts with the educated (who know what's going on and start talking about it earlier) and moves onto the populace.
Ironically, crime has dropped since 2008 in the United States, but it would be premature to say we will be immune to the troubles in England (and soon, Spain, France and Italy). One big reason crime hasn't been an issue yet is Barack Obama and the youth vote he garnered. His presence in the White House has been a bulwark. People believe (perhaps wrongly, perhaps not) that he is sensitive to the needs of the young and unemployed.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
In the first of what will be a closely watched selection process for a powerful new deficit panel, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced he will appoint Democratic Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.), Max Baucus (Mont.) and John Kerry (Mass.) as his three choices for a super committee charged with finding more than $1 trillion in spending cuts by the end of this year.
Baucus is disturbingly pro-business for a Democrat. He was in favor of the citizen rape that was the bankruptcy reform bill, opposed single-payer healthcare, voted against the repeal of tax credits for companies that outsource American jobs, and has among the most former staffers working as lobbyists in DC of any member of the Senate.
This is the guy we want to help secure our financial future?
On the other hand, Mr. Walker carried the six districts on Tuesday’s recall ballot by an average of 13 percentage points in 2010 — better than his statewide margin of 6 percentage points. If Democrats were to split the vote across these districts about evenly, that would be a reasonably troubling sign for Mr. Walker, however many of the seats Democrats actually win.
The Results? (incumbents listed first)
Alberta Darling 54% Sandra Pasch 46%
Sheila Harsdorf 58% Shelly Moore 42%
Luther Olsen 52% Fred Clarke 48%
Randy Hopper 49% Jessica King 51%
Dan Kapanke 45% Jennifer Shilling 55%
Robert Cowles 60% Nancy Nusbaum 40%
Mixed bag, I'd say, but if I was Walker, I'd be a little alarmed. Lost two, almost lost a third, in districts he won pretty handily (except Kapanke's, in which he barely had a plurality.)
Tuesday, August 09, 2011
Her points were these: She is deeply dissatisfied with the debt deal and the deficit-reducing supercommittee it creates. She believes Republicans are essentially political nihilists, and she has plans to prevent them from winning again. And she is intensely focused on jobs and growth.
On Thursday, Republican Senator Dale Schultz leveled a shocking allegation that Governor Walker had dry-gulched him into missing the vote on the budget bill that eliminated collective bargaining, where, Schultz claims, he had planned to offer a compromise amendment. Schultz, a moderate, avoided recall earlier this year, even though he faced an outraged constituency.
That came just a week or so after a Green Bay business leader came forward with a tale of other Walker shenanigans. The businessman told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that recalled Republican Senator Robert Cowles had confided that the only reason he voted for the bill was because "the governor's office told us if we didn't give them our support, they would run a tea party candidate against us." Cowles immediately shot back against the claims, but the two senators' allegations together suggest the GOP hardline may be cracking. Indeed, none of the Republican senators facing recall have featured Walker in their campaign ads. A comedic demonstration of this distancing come froms GOP Senator Randy Hopper, whose recall campaign website features the legislator standing beside former Republican governor Tommy Thompson instead of Walker.
And naturally, the races have evolved past the original recall anger to include national issues. Part of the GOP strategy, no doubt, since the goddamned state legislature has no say in things like health insurance, the deficit, or Afghanistan. And yes, the challenger Democrats have all been led down that path like sheeple.
One can only hope they're a bright, articulate bunch who can mirror the gambit and reflect it back to local issues. Like why in the hell the idiots voted with Walker in the first place!
Now, here's where it gets interesting: six of nine races are being finalized today, with Democrats likely to capture six Republican seats. It's conceivable that, after the dust settles on these six, that control of the state Senate will be a toss-up, leaving two elections that might decide which party controls the Senate (and repeals Walker's egregious fuck up). The one real contest left is one where the Democrat is being recalled by Teabaggers.
This would be state Senator Jim Holperin's second recall election. Last time, he spent a grand total of $40,000. He has already spent ten times that, and should the race be the key to Democratic control of the state Senate, Katie, bar the door, because PAC money will flow into Wisconsin like milk for cheese.
Monday, August 08, 2011
If America does manage to avoid recession and slowly begins to pull out of this mire, it will be testimony to its underlying strengths. It still has huge advantages over other rich countries: a younger, less-taxed population, a more innovative economy and, for now at least, the dollar as the global reserve currency. If only it had the political leaders to match, its chance of avoiding recession would be far better than one in two.
[Early 20th century] Progressives offered a clear diagnosis of what ailed the body politic: corrupt politicians. They had been captured by party machines and powerful businesses, and labored on behalf of their patrons and themselves instead of the people. Advancing the public interest, it followed, would first require radical, structural reforms of government. [...]
The current progressive movement has, by contrast, tended to promise better policies and improved implementation, while rallying to the defense of government from its critics. It insists that government should do better, but not that we need a better government. Whatever its intellectual merits, this approach has a fatal political flaw: most Americans number themselves among government's critics. They don't think government works terribly well, and they are disinclined to support politicians who do. Voters are increasingly eager to hear accounts of our present crises that offer comprehensive explanations and systematic solutions. Conservatives contend that government itself is the problem, and that the solution is to slash its size and role. That appeals to voters who want narratives that seem scaled to the enormity of the challenges that we face. Progressives offer no equivalently broad diagnosis of government dysfunction, much less an equally compelling remedy. [...]
In strictly political terms, the particular reforms may matter less than the narrative they support. Most Americans are convinced that their government is fundamentally broken. And if progressives want to sell the public on the idea that government can solve our problems, they first need to identify, and explain how they will fix, the problems with our government.
“I know you’re scared and angry. Many of you have lost your jobs, your homes, your hope. This was a disaster, but it was not a natural disaster. It was made by Wall Street gamblers who speculated with your lives and futures. It was made by conservative extremists who told us that if we just eliminated regulations and rewarded greed and recklessness, it would all work out. But it didn’t work out. And it didn’t work out 80 years ago, when the same people sold our grandparents the same bill of goods, with the same results. But we learned something from our grandparents about how to fix it, and we will draw on their wisdom. We will restore business confidence the old-fashioned way: by putting money back in the pockets of working Americans by putting them back to work, and by restoring integrity to our financial markets and demanding it of those who want to run them. I can’t promise that we won’t make mistakes along the way. But I can promise you that they will be honest mistakes, and that your government has your back again.”-- Barack Obama, January 20, 2009 (via)
Greenspan said he expected more turmoil on Wall Street.
“Considering the momentum in which the market went down over the last week, it's very unlikely — if history is any guide — that this isn't going to take a while to bottom out. So the initial reaction, in my judgment, is going to be negative,” Greenspan said of S&P’s downgrade.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner tried to reassure investors in a Sunday night interview but conceded he could not predict the reaction.
“It’s hard to know what’ll happen in this context,” Geithner said on CNBC. “But, again, I think that everyone can be confident, both here and around the world, that treasuries are the most — these days — the most liquid — the strongest place to put your money at a time like this.”
He said S&P “has shown really terrible judgment” and “a stunning lack of knowledge about basic U.S. fiscal budget math.”
Actually, Mr. Secretary, I think the S&P has this just right. After all, it's a temporary arrangement that will have to be revisited sooner than you expect, since the Federal tax on gasoline expires next month and budget projections included that in the debt ceiling agreement. It is very likely that tax will be at least scaled back if not eliminated, thanks to the Teabaggers. You can't say this. S&P can.
We get the government we deserve. We are officially a banana republic.
A lot of fingerpointing went on this weekend, but ultimately, the blame rests in two places: The Bush administration and the Teabaggers.
After all, the only significant spending the Obama administration passed was the $787 billion stimulus package, a thickly-wrongheaded attempt to shore up the banking system when that banking system was responsible for the mess we found ourselves in AND will suffer now from the debt ceiling debacle, as interest rates will ratchet up.
Better he should have spent the money here, at home, on works projects designed to get people permanent jobs. There's so much we can use idle labor for, from replacing the national grid to upgrading bridges and tunnels, to just cleaning the damned streets. Jobs = income = spending = more jobs. It's not a hard calculation to make, and given how the banks rebounded better than expected...
How the Bush administration fits into all this? Well, the national debt in 2001 was somewhere around $6 trillion. It's now $14 trillion. Obama can rightly be blamed for $1 trillion or so (let's credit-- debit?-- him with the unnecessary extension of the Bush tax cuts, too,) leaving...carry the one...$7 trillion dollars that Bush spent without the income to show for it.
Republicans: they do spend big.
The Teabagger mantra with respect to the debt ceiling was basically nihilist from the get-go: burn it down, let God sort it out.
All we have ever had to do was to roll back the Bush tax cuts, restore the Clinton tax rates (proven job creator, that) and history would have been happy and marked this as a remarkable time when the US yet again ducked a bullet. The idea of minimalist government is so ludicrous, so stupid, so moronic, that I seriously believe the "libertarians" who propose this ought to be locked away in a cage and put on display in the Coney Island freak show.