Harold Meyerson

Bottom Up

In 1938, Congress passed, and FDR signed into law, the Fair Labor Standards Act, which established the first federal minimum wage and overtime protections. And that, to the extent that most Americans think about the minimum wage, was that. To be sure, Congress occasionally raises the minimum wage (though they’ve got a long way to go to make it a living wage), but the national law, covering all workers, has long since been established, right? Not quite. In fact, the 1938 law only passed when Roosevelt and congressional liberals agreed to exclude some categories of workers—categories that included many millions of people—from its coverage in order to win the votes of the Southern Democrats they needed to pass it. So agricultural workers (by which Southern Democrats meant, African American sharecroppers) were excluded from its terms. They’ve since been included, but many migrant and immigrant workers are frequently and illegally short-changed. Retail workers only came under the act’s...

Legislative Legerdemain

AP Photo/Yves Logghe
So you think congressional Republicans are the only right-wingers who like to append their pet (and sometimes, wedge) issues—like the Keystone pipeline—to must-pass legislation like the payroll tax-cut extension? Guess again—it looks to be a trans-Atlantic syndrome. Turns out that David Cameron, Britain’s Tory prime minister, went to Brussels for the EU summit last week with exactly the same strategy. As the heads of government of the other 26 member states debated German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s proposal to regulate national budgets more tightly (itself a wildly irrelevant idea to the crisis of Greek, Italian and Spanish solvency, but that’s another story, which I wrote about in today’s Post ), Cameron cleared his throat and proposed a series of measures designed to protect the City—the London-based banks that dominate the British economy and helped bring about the crash of 2008. Cameron was operating under the theory that the Germans and the French so desperately needed unanimous...

No One Can Win the Republican Nomination

AP Photo/Eric Gay
With the air going out of the Newtster’s balloon—not surprisingly, as everyone who has ever worked with him (possibly, everyone who has ever met him) has declared him too unstable and egomaniacal to win—the latest smart-money bet in Iowa is Ron Paul, whose libertarian delusions render him unelectable as well. Mitt Romney, having entered that phase of the campaign where he has to campaign among actual people, is trending downward, too. That leaves Jon Huntsman, who can take votes from Romney but not likely from anyone else, and Rick Perry, who can still boast of impressive credentials but who’s still saddled with an unimpressive brain. None of these guys can win, yet one of them must, unless the gods decree that most unlikely of outcomes, a deadlocked convention. None of these candidates has been substantially damaged by his rival candidates. Their unelectability is the result of their own failings and marginalities—theirs, and their party’s, which has required of its nominees a...

The Unanointed

One law of politics (and I use that term loosely; the laws of politics are a lot more mutable than those of, say, thermodynamics or North Dakota) is that when a presidential primary process looks essentially decided, the party establishment steps in to endorse the presumptive nominee and pressures the other candidate, or candidates, to drop out of the race. It’s never in the party’s interest to drag the contest on, particularly when it means that said presumptive nominee will continue to be subjected to more criticism from his intraparty rival or rivals. That’s the law. In the light of the gray dawn of current polling, the only candidate who could wrap up the GOP presidential nomination early is Newt Gingrich, whom the Republican establishment almost universally despises and fears. But say Gingrich wins Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida by big margins and comes very close—or even wins—in New Hampshire. Confronted with almost any other candidate with that kind of win-loss record,...

Republicans' Governing Glossary

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
Agencycide noun – The effective killing of a statutorially established agency of government by legislative refusal to confirm the nominees required to lead that agency. The term dates from December 2011, when Senate Republicans killed (by exploiting Senate rules requiring a supermajority to bring up votes) President Barack Obama’s nomination of former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray for the position of director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which had been created by the Dodd-Frank Act passed by the previous Congress. Republicans stated that they had no objections to Cordray himself but didn’t wish to appoint a director so long as the agency possessed the autonomous power with which it was vested by Dodd-Frank, preferring that it be reconstituted as subordinate to other regulatory bodies charged with helping and sustaining banks. While this one episode of nominee-blocking was not sufficient to give rise to the neologism agencycide , it was to be followed in short...

The Wrong Fix

AP Photo/Bernd Kammerer
Yesterday, both Bob Kuttner, here in the Prospect , and I , in my Washington Post column , noted that the deal that German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy struck to save the Eurozone will inflict years of austerity on European nations that are already mired in depression. Spain, for instance, has an unemployment rate of about 20 percent and a youth unemployment rate that is approaching a mind-boggling 50 percent. It needs a massive Keynesian jolt to its economy, not budgetary constraints that will condemn it to a decade or quarter-century of penury. Both Bob and I also noted that the Merkel-Sarokzy solution was based on a misdiagnosis of Europe’s woes. Some of Europe’s current basket cases were actually running budget surpluses in the years before the Lehman meltdown. Ireland and Spain weren’t overspending at all—but the banks and investors speculating on their housing markets most certainly were. When their banks went under, their economies collapsed,...

The Journal vs. Fox (Huh?)

Hard though it be to believe, a Wall Street Journal editorial Monday actually had the temerity to criticize Fox News. Not by name, of course—Murdoch editorialists are nothing if not discreet when going after other parts of the Murdoch empire—but the criticism was directed at some unnamed organization that puts Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly on television every night. The criticism came in an editorial on the late, lamented Herman Cain campaign. After noting that Cain was in no way ready for prime time, the editorial asserted that Cain had too many flaws to take on President Barack Obama. At that point, the Journal dipped its toe, gingerly, into criticism of the right-wing media. Cain’s unelectability, it said, is the weakness that the talk-radio establishment overlooked when it dismissed the sexual-harassment accusations against Mr. Cain as one more left-wing conspiracy. Whether true or not, the accusations resulted in settlements by the National Restaurant Association, where he had...

GOP vs. Job Creators

In the ongoing battle over extending the payroll tax cuts that currently save the median American household about $1,000 a year, one salient point is commonly overlooked: The proposal that the Obama administration and congressional Democrats are championing also cuts in half the payroll tax for employers. Currently, employers are subjected to a payroll tax of 6.2 percent on every paycheck they write. The Democratic proposal would reduce that to 3.1 percent on the first $5 million in taxable payroll—that is, it would chiefly benefit small and middle-sized businesses. Yet every Senate Republican but one (Maine’s Susan Collins) voted against this proposal when it came to a vote on Thursday, complaining that it taxed job creators by proposing to off set the tax cut by raising taxes on individuals and couples for that portion of their annual income in excess of $1 million. Never mind that that the Treasury Department has concluded that only 1 percent of those taxpayers are small businesses...

Back from China?

A s in hundreds of cities and towns in the once-industrial Midwest, a ghost not only haunts but dominates North Canton, Ohio. It’s a ghost of brick and mortar, glass and steel, of a smokestack that rises directly across the street from the City Hall and the Chamber of Commerce. The ghost’s name is still painted on the smokestack, four years after the factory beneath it clanged to a halt. “Hoover,” it says—as in Hoover Vacuum Cleaner, a company founded in North Canton in 1908 that was the town’s largest employer, and leading citizen, for one year short of a century. At its height, Hoover’s North Canton empire spread over 17 factories and buildings, one of them a private hospital for local Hoover workers (as many as 7,000 during the company’s flush decades) who took sick or were injured on the job. “This was Hooverville—our own version, not Herbert-Hooverville—a company town,” says Doug Lane, a former city councilor who now heads the Chamber of Commerce. “If the city needed a fire truck...

Republicans Deep-Six the NLRB

Doing filibustering Senate Republicans one better, the one Republican member on the (currently) three-member National Labor Relations Board appears to have decided to bring the board to a screeching halt by refusing to vote and thus denying it a quorum. In a letter made public yesterday, Republican Brian Hayes wrote fellow GOP-er John Kline, chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, that he might well not participate in the Board’s scheduled November 30 vote on changing the rules for union certification elections. The proposed rule change essentially would shorten the period between the time that workers file for a union-representation election and the election itself from the current time period, which is as long as management can delay a vote (sometimes, for years) to roughly three or four weeks. In his letter, Kline complained that he was not privy to some of the deliberations of the board (that is, of the two Democratic members) and thus might fail to show up for...

Busted in 'Bama

Last Wednesday night, a cop in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, pulled over a rental car that didn’t have the right tag on it. He asked the driver for his license, and the driver instead produced his German identification card. Before Alabama’s new immigration law took effect this fall, the driver would have been ticketed, but under the terms of the new law, the cop arrested the driver and hauled him off to the police station for the crime of lacking proper identification. In fairly short order, a colleague of the arrestee showed up with the driver’s passport, visa, and German driver’s license. At that point, the driver was released—but the story had just begun. Turns out the driver was a Mercedes executive in town to visit a Mercedes SUV plant about 20 miles outside Tuscaloosa, which employs roughly 2,800 Alabamians. And his arrest drew the immediate attention of Robert Bentley, the state’s Republican governor, who had signed the immigration bill into law. Bentley called his homeland security...

Occupy Wall Street: Seattle Redux?

AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
As in the anti-WTO demonstrations in Seattle in 1999, today’s nationwide Occupy Wall Street actions come in many shapes and sizes. There’s the enraged confrontations we’ve seen around Wall Street itself. There are the pre-arranged arrests we’ve seen in the banking district of downtown Los Angeles. There are permitted rallies sponsored by unions, which, as evening falls, will shift their locales to bridges around the nation in an attempt to loop the rebuild-the-decaying-infrastructure issue into the mélange of progressive causes that OWS champions. There’s an action for every mood and strategy –- though some strategies make a lot more sense than others. This afternoon, activists from unions (most particularly, SEIU) will march across bridges in Chicago, D.C., Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Miami, Baltimore, Detroit, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, L.A., New York (the granddaddy of all urban bridges, the one-and-only Brooklyn), and damn-near any American city that has a creek, an overpass,...

The Robots Are Coming!

Google, we learn from Monday’s New York Times , has a secret lab in an undisclosed location in the Bay Area where it is developing robots. We don’t know what the Google-oids are working on there, but we do know that the company has developed and built a driverless car that has already traversed 100,000 miles on California roads without getting either a ticket or a scratch. Surely, though, there are innumerable now-human activities that could be performed efficiently, and eventually more cheaply, by robots. On Tuesday, the Robot Report (“Tracking the business of robotics”) ran a story that Foxconn, the Taiwan-based manufacturer that employs roughly one million Chinese workers who assemble all of Apple’s products (and many of Dell’s and other high-tech companies) has broken ground on a factory in Taiwan to manufacture robots. Foxconn hopes to replace 500,000 of its Chinese workers, the Report says, with 1 million robots. If Foxconn succeeds at this venture, it will be yet another...

Why We Need Occupy Wall Street

AP Photo/John Minchillo
Today—the same day that New York’s Mayor Bloomberg had his cops clear Zuccotti Park—Richard Fisher, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, called for breaking up America’s biggest banks, calling them “too dangerous to permit.” Also today, Warren Buffett, in an interview posted on the Business Wire of Berkshire Hathaway, his company, continued his criticism of American plutocracy. “Through the tax code, there has been class warfare waged, and my class has won,” Buffett said. “It’s been a rout. You have seen a period where American workers generally have gone no place, and where the really super rich as a group increased their incomes five for one in this rarified atmosphere.” All of which suggests that Occupy Wall Street has already been a stunning success in changing the nation’s public discourse. Not that Fisher and Buffett hadn’t criticized our economic policies well before OWS set up shop in Zuccotti Park, but they are now not just rich and powerful voices crying out...

The Court Will Rule—and Then?

AP Photo/Alex Brandon
The Supreme Court’s decision today to take up the constitutionality of President Obama’s health-care reform in this session—they’ll hear oral arguments in March and rule by session’s end in June— means that the issue will be revived for voters just a few month before next November’s presidential election. This is probably good for Republicans no matter which way the justices rule. And, no matter which way the justices rule, I can’t see how this helps the Democrats. There are basically three ways the court could go. They could uphold the individual mandate; they could strike it down, which would essentially negate the rest of the law; or they could rule the issue can’t be litigated until 2015, when the federal government would levy the first penalties on persons who refuse to purchase insurance. Additionally, the court will rule on the important but still subsidiary issue of whether the feds can require the states to pick up additional Medicaid expenditures starting in 2016—but the...

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