Economy

Between a Rock and a Polling Place

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Few things excite a political reporter more than polls. They're the sports statistics of the electoral grind, giving any argument that little extra oomph. For people not necessarily known for their numerical prowess, a cleverly placed percentage point is the perfect condiment for any story. Heck, polls can even be the story.

Unfortunately, our enthusiasm for those alluring little numbers can end badly. In election off-season it's not so noticeable, with polls slowing to a relative trickle and our attentions focused elsewhere—or so far in the future that the ambitious dreams of Chris Christie and Hillary Clinton dancing in our heads outweigh any margins of error. But the polls are still there. Exhibit A: presidential approval ratings.

Fruits of Republican Folly

AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite

The Republicans badly damaged themselves with their contrived government shutdown and debt crisis, but it remains for the Democrats to drive home their advantage. Will they?

Based on the cost to the Republican brand and the pressure from corporate elites not to harm the economy, the days of shutdowns and games with the debt are probably over for the foreseeable future. If the Tea Party faction tries to repeat these maneuvers, House Speaker John Boehner would likely permit a free vote again, and enough Republicans would vote with Democrats to keep the government open.

Be Our Guest Worker

A look at the uncertain existence of the legal migrant farmworkers that the agricultural industry relies on for cheap labor. 

AP Images/Eric Risberg

Luis Perez sits up on the edge of his bed, a stiff cot mattress resting on a flimsy metal bedframe a few inches above the concrete floor.

He’s in the 120-square-foot cinder block walled room that he shares with a fellow migrant worker in Angier, North Carolina.

“The television and coffee maker, that’s all his,” Perez says, pointing toward a corner where a mini-refrigerator sits. A half-empty bag of rice slouches on top.

“I know he’ll take those back to Mexico, but I don’t want to carry stuff like that with me. Or waste my money at Wal-Mart.”

He smiles broadly and laughs. With the door closed, that smile seems to be the only light in the room.

From White Collars to Pink Slips

Americans have been told that a college education will help them avoid the fate of workers whose jobs have been shipped overseas. A new report pours water on that idea.

AP Photo/Wally Santana

At first glance, Kingston Technology doesn’t appear to have much in common with big auto manufacturers like General Motors (GM). Based in sunny Southern California, the computer-technology company, which makes small memory products, primarily employs white-collar programmers and designers. But Kingston and GM have at least one thing in common: They ship jobs overseas. Kingston recently handed out pink slips to 80 employees and moved its RAM and flash-memory production operation to China. “Our company has been, and continues to shift primarily production work from the U.S. to China,” Kingston wrote in a disclosure to the Department of Labor.

Bill de Blasio's Elements of Style

AP Photo/Seth Wenig

When he wins New York City's mayoral election today, Bill de Blasio will have succeeded in branding himself the next big thing in progressive politics. But it remains to be seen which de Blasio shines through over the next four years: the former Hillary Clinton operative who admires neoliberal Governor Andrew Cuomo and is friendly with the real-estate industry, or the activist lefty who got arrested protesting the closure of a Brooklyn hospital and has promised to take on income inequality and the NYPD's sprawling anti-terrorism apparatus.

Bretton Woods Revisited

AP Images

On July 22, 1944, as allied troops were racing across Normandy to liberate Paris, representatives of 44 nations meeting at the Mount Washington resort in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, created a financial and monetary system for the postwar era. It had taken three weeks of exhausting diplomacy. At the closing banquet, the assembled delegates rose and sang “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.” The fellow in question was John Maynard Keynes, leader of the British delegation and intellectual inspiration of the Bretton Woods design.

The Next Battle at the Fed

AP Images/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

With the Administration’s stunning decision to name Janet Yellen to chair the Federal Reserve, at least one major government institution will weigh in strongly on the side of economic recovery, right?

Well, maybe.

The Other Default?

AP Images/Yves Herman

In Brussels they had a word for it: Shutdownfreude. As the standoff between the President and Congress reached its fever pitch last week, officials at the European Commission were relieved that, this time at least, it wasn’t their political system at the center of a potential global meltdown. Now that the United States won’t default on its debt due to a few dozen Tea Party radicals, things are returning to normal. Or should we say the new normal in Europe—serial crisis.

Mission Affordabled: Why Obama’s Website Problems Aren’t “His Iraq”

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Yes, the Affordable Care Act website rollout has been a fiasco. And, as always happens when political catastrophe strikes, the wave of bad analogies has rushed in its wake. One in particular that’s gaining ground: Healthcare.gov is for Barack Obama’s presidency what the invasion of Iraq was to George W. Bush’s administration, complete with outraged liberal reactions to it.

Here’s the funny thing: it’s a bad analogy, which could turn out to be accurate … but probably won’t.

Sorry, John Stuart Mill Was Not a Libertarian

Libertarianism as it exists in the United States is basically a mid-20th century American philosophy, at least in origin. Owing perhaps to a combination of bad introductory classes and an urge for a longer historical pedigree, libertarians often like to pretend that great canonical thinkers prior to that time were also libertarians. But as that is an obvious anachronism, it turns out to be untrue. There are some lesser knowns here and there along the trail who might come close, but basically none of the big old philosophical names can rightly be associated with this mid-20th century libertarianism.

The Key to the Broffordable Care Act's Success

Flickr/CNDOZ

When Barack Obama made the decision to design a universal health-care program based on the private-insurance market, he faced one key problem. If you require insurance companies to accept anyone regardless of pre-existing conditions—as everyone wanted—you face the threat of "adverse selection," in which only those who are sick (and therefore expensive) get insurance. Just as the system of car insurance needs those who go long periods without having an accident to pay premiums so there's enough money to fix the cars of those who do have accidents, the health-insurance system needs the currently healthy to keep paying to support the currently sick. The answer was the individual mandate, which pulls people into the system and expands the risk pool. And especially critical to expanding that risk pool is getting as many young, healthy people as possible to get insured.

The Hidden Indentured Class

Sex trafficking isn't our only problem—forced labor accounts for a significant number of the estimated 20,000 victims of human trafficking who enter the U.S. each year.

 

AP Images/New Mexico Attorney General's Office

Anna and her husband were supposed to be in the U.S. on their honeymoon. They arrived at Los Angeles International Airport in the spring of 2007 and found Daniel waiting for them with a sign bearing their names. Daniel was an acquaintance, someone Anna’s father-in-law—who lived in Houston—knew through church. He had offered to show them parts of Southern California before they continued on to Texas. It was an attractive detour for a Southeast Asian couple in the U.S. for the first time.

Big Bank Punishments Don't Fit Their Crimes

AP Images/Richard Drew

With the Justice Department desperate to rehabilitate its image as a diligent prosecutor of financial fraud, securing a headline like “the largest fine against a single company in history” is a lifeline. A tentative deal would force JPMorgan Chase to pay a $9 billion fine and commit $4 billion in mortgage relief, to settle multiple investigations into their mortgage-backed securities business. The bank stands accused of knowingly selling investors mortgage bonds backed by loans that didn’t meet quality control standards outlined in its investment materials. JPMorgan Chase wants to “pay for peace” in this deal, ending all civil litigation around mortgage-backed securities by state and federal law enforcement (at least one criminal case would remain open).

Four Reasons We Don’t Need to Count Down to a January Shutdown

AP Photo/ Evan Vucci

The government has re-opened, the debt limit disaster was avoided, and something resembling peace has broken out in Washington. The cynics, however, have been quick to note that all of this is only temporary, with the next shutdown deadline falling on January 15. This round of budget squabbling resolved basically … nothing, so another debacle is likely. Ted Cruz is already threatening a repeat of what he just put the nation through.

Don’t count on a sequel to the 16-day hell we just witnessed, though.

Beware a Grand Bargain

AP Photo/ Evan Vucci

Will President Obama and the Democrats win a major battle only to lose the war?

The longterm war that Republicans are fighting is a deadly serious struggle to destroy the most important and valued achievements of the New Deal-Great Society legacy, Social Security and Medicare.

Wall Street billionaires like Peter G. Peterson and Stanley Druckenmiller have been softening the ground for decades by claiming that Social Security is bankrupting the country and destroying future prospects of America’s youth.

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