Economy

The Problem with Right to Work

One of the things to pay attention to in Mitt Romney’s latest South Carolina ad is his implicit defense of the state’s “right to work” law, which makes it more difficult for unions to organize. “The National Labor Relations Board, now stacked with union stooges selected by the president, says to a free enterprise like Boeing, ‘You can’t build a factory in South Carolina because South Carolina is a Right to Work state,’” Romney says in the ad. “That is simply un-American. It is political payback of the worst kind.” Combine this with his attack on President Obama as a “crony capitalist,” and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Romney tout right-to-work laws as part of his strategy for reviving the economy. The problem, of course, is that said laws do nothing of the sort. The Economic Policy Institute has a great primer on the actual effect of right-to-work laws on workers, wages, and employment. On the whole, RTW laws “reduce wages by $1,500 a year, for both union and nonunion workers”; “...

You're One of the Richest People in the World. You.

CNN Money delivered some startling news yesterday. Reporting on World Bank economist Branko Milanovic's book, "The Haves and the Have-Nots," you are one of the haves. Here's the deal: It only takes $34,000 a year, after taxes, to be among the richest 1% in the world. That's for each person living under the same roof, including children. (So a family of four, for example, needs to make $136,000.) ... In the grand scheme of things, even the poorest 5% of Americans are better off financially than two thirds of the entire world. Do check out the chart : I could be wrong, but I'm guessing that you're in the global one percent, or close to it.

Earning Their Hatred

Thank God for elections and election years. An election gives our president, who must face the voters in November, permission to think and act like a partisan. It’s long overdue. President Obama has boldly made key recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The Republican strategy has been to destroy these agencies by failing to confirm appointees. In the case of the new CFPB, that meant nobody in charge to make key decisions to make the new bureau operational. In the case of the NLRB, it meant the lack of a quorum would paralyze the agency altogether. In naming Richard Cordray to head the CFPB, the president has called the Republicans’ bluff. This was the agency that Elizabeth Warren invented and dearly hoped to lead. Republicans made clear they would block her appointment. When Obama passed her over in favor of the less-well-known Cordray, former Ohio Attorney General and also a strong consumer advocate,...

Bye Bye Bachmann

AP Photo/Chris Carlson
WEST DES MOINES, IOWA —Less than 12 hours ago, Michele Bachmann seemed determined to prove all the haters wrong and vowed to waste the next several weeks of her life in South Carolina. Turns out it was all a ruse to gather the media for one last headline-grabbing event. Bachmann announced that she would suspend her presidential campaign this morning at the Marriott in west Des Moines. For the first time in her career, Bachmann seemed to have landed on planet Earth. "Last night, the people of Iowa spoke with a very clear voice, so I have decided to stand aside," she said. Boy, they sure were clear. She came in second to last, just ahead of Jon Huntsman, who drew 5 percent of the vote. That equals 6,073 votes, only a slight increase from the 4,823 people who supported her at the Ames Straw Poll in early August. Back then it looked as if Bachmann could threaten Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination. But the entry of Rick Perry into the race stole her momentum, and she never recovered. Her...

Calling for a Convention

Amending the Constitution is our best bet for fixing Congress.

To keep money from corrupting our democratic politics, we need constitutional change. No doubt lots can be done by statute alone—meaningful transparency rules, such as the Disclose Act, and small-dollar public funding, such as the Fair Elections Now Act. The Supreme Court, however, has all but guaranteed that these won’t be enough. Transparency by itself won’t build trust; public funding can only be voluntary; and independent expenditures are all but certain to swamp even the best reforms tolerated by the Court. If we’re ever going to get a Congress “dependent,” as James Madison put it in Federalist Paper No. 52, “upon the People alone,” and not “the Funders,” it is clear that Congress will need new constitutional authority. Yet it is also clear that Congress won’t ask for this authority itself. The chance that this Congress, or any Congress elected in the current environment, could muster 67 votes in the Senate to alter Washington’s economy of influence is zero. Congress is the...

Toppling the Money Empire

Grassroots movements can lead the way in taking big money out of politics.

Election Day 2012 looks like it is going to be Groundhog Day 2012. Another election dominated by money. Another series of promises made on the campaign trail, broken as soon as donors and lobbyists come calling when legislatures convene. For the public and most lawmakers, the problem is clear. Our present system has long rewarded politicians who rely on deep-pocketed supporters to provide massive amounts of cash to pay for increasingly costly campaigns. A string of recent Supreme Court decisions has exacerbated the problem, allowing corporations nearly free rein to attack candidates who present a threat to their bottom line, pushing officeholders to seek even more money. This adds to the pervasive sentiment that our elected officials’ primary function is to raise money. Large numbers of voters have disengaged from a system in which they don’t seem to matter. With no end in sight and increasing frustration driven by a stagnant economy, American democracy is in peril. The good news is...

Stephen Lerner's 2011

“We must expand from one-day marches and demonstrations to weeks of creative direct action and activities,” wrote Stephen Lerner in New Labor Forum , a quarterly left-labor journal, several weeks before Occupy Wall Street took shape. One way to do that, he continued, “is to build these kinds of longer and more involved protests around students and community groups that have the energy and willingness to take time off from their day-to-day lives to engage in more intense activity (which includes the risk of getting arrested.)” Lerner wasn’t volunteering activists to do anything that he hadn’t already done. As the primary architect of the Service Employees International Union’s Justice for Janitors campaign, which remains the most successful (and against-the-odds) private-sector organizing campaign of the past quarter-century, Lerner had planned and participated in dozens, if not hundreds, of disruptive demonstrations over the years to dramatize the janitors’ cause. At the same time, he...

The SEC Does Wall Street's Bidding

The SEC Doing Wall Street’s Bidding Robert Kuttner In the right-wing revisionism of what caused the financial collapse, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are leading villains with the federal Community Reinvestment Act in a supporting role. Supposedly, Fannie and Freddie lowered their standards, purchased lots of subprime mortgages, and were major contributors to the housing bubble and crash. In this fable, government pressured banks to make unsound mortgage loans to meet the goals of CRA. Just about everything in this story is wrong. For starters, subprime was invented on Wall Street, by private investment bankers. Fannie and Freddie did buy some of the paper, but only very late in the game in 2005 and 2006, when the bubble was already about to burst. As for CRA, most of the lenders that originated sub-prime loans were unregulated mortgage companies, not subject to CRA. But the fable is very useful to the right, on three counts. It shifts the blame from Wall Street banks and the culture of...

Loveable Extremist

CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA —Adoring crowds packed rooms to capacity across Iowa the last two days to hear the leader of their revolution. Dr. Ron Paul, as he his loving referred to by his supporters, went on an eight-stop jaunt through eastern Iowa to rile up his supporters two weeks before they vote in the caucuses. He is poised to win the 2012 Iowa caucuses: He leads in the latest polls, has a developed campaign infrastructure, and can count on true believers to show up to vote on January 3. Now seems like a good time to remind people that Paul is, in most ways, the most extreme of the Republican candidates. Many liberals have developed a soft spot in their hearts for the libertarian over the course of the campaign. On civil liberties and foreign policy, Paul provides the lone bright spot during debates, rebuking the other candidates for supporting the Patriot Act and advocating bombing every country that glances askew at the United States to the high heavens. His Iowa events have featured...

What? We Won?

If there's one thing liberals know about their representatives in Washington, it's that those Democrats are a bunch of wimps. All Republicans have to do is draw back their fists, and Democrats will flinch. "What if they criticize us???" they whine, as they cave in on progressive principles again and again. That's the story liberals tell, and much of the time it's true. But nothing is true in politics one hundred percent of the time, and so yesterday we saw Republicans cave in on the payroll tax cut extension. There's a lot of technical parliamentary hoop-jumping involved, but basically the House is going to pass the two-month extension, and in exchange there will be a conference committee that attempts to work out a one-year extension. So we get to go through this all over again in two months. Which is probably just fine with Democrats. After all, they finally found an issue on which they could make Republicans knuckle under. Republicans don't seem to like this tax cut, and it's hard...

House GOP's White House Stocking Stuffer: The Payroll Tax Cut

The cave-in by the House Republicans on the payroll tax is on terms that keeps this conflict going well into the election year--and on terms very favorable to Barack Obama and the Democrats. For the GOP, the two-month extension of the payroll tax cut is the worst possible politics. First, they look weak (because they are weak); and second, the same drama will be replayed next year with the same outcome. Raising taxes on millionaires rather than cutting Social Security or Medicare, or hiking payroll taxes, wins every time. As Republicans keep re-fighting this losing battle, the message will be reinforced over and over again that Democrats are for the working person while Republicans defend the richest. The fact that key Republicans in the Senate and House can't get their act together is frosting on the cake. Likewise, the sheer extremism of Tea Party caucus members who'd rather lose their seats than compromise. They are likely to get their wish. Barack Obama won his Senate seat after...

It's a Wonderful Lie

Bank of America and J.P. Morgan Chase's ad campaigns portray the institutions as your friendly neighborhood credit union.

At a time when legislators, consumer advocates and the Occupy movement batter big banks for their questionable business practices, J.P. Morgan Chase and Bank of America have gone soft and fuzzy. The nation’s two largest banks are running saccharine television commercials that portray the massive multinationals as the Bailey Building and Loan Association. Bank of America recently rolled out its “Opportunity” campaign to highlight the company's nationwide bid to lend a hand— i.e. , money— to small businesses. (Ironically, It’s A Wonderful Life director Frank Capra modeled the Bailey's bank on BoA.) In Brooklyn, tenants of a green affordable housing project partly funded by BoA gush over their sleek new apartments, replete with AC and electric keys. “No one can pick the lock,” notes a tenant in a web version of the ad. Another tenant, a formerly homeless girl about ten, says of her new digs: “I feel smarter." In Los...

Governing on Empty

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci) House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio walks of the floor of the House chamber on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011, in Washington. The House rejected legislation to extend a payroll tax cut and jobless benefits for two months, drawing a swift rebuke from President Barack Obama that Republicans were threatening higher taxes on 160 million workers on Jan. 1. T he Senate, having struck its compromise, has gone home. The House, controlled by delusional Republicans, has gone home. Payroll taxes are slated to rise, and unemployment insurance is set to expire before they return in January. The compromise wasn’t just between the two parties in the Senate, apparently. According to Wednesday’s Washington Post , House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor met with Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell on Friday and told him they’d get the votes to pass the two-month extension deal he’d worked out with Harry Reid. Boehner and Cantor now say they made no promises, but...

Showdown at the Docks

Occupy Wall Street protesters celebrated the movement's three-month anniversary by taking the fight to major ports.

Protesters at the Port of Oakland Monday. Photo/Aaron Bady
On Monday, occupiers set out to shut down ports across the West Coast. Targets included SSA, which is largely owned by Goldman Sachs, and the Port of Longview, which multinational EGT is trying to operate as the West Coast’s only port without members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). The actions, which shut down operations at Longview, Oakland, and Portland, were opposed by ILWU leadership. They led to intense debate among and between occupiers and unionists over tactics—who the blockades hurt, whether they’re worth the legal risks—and democracy, namely, how democratic the ILWU and the Occupy movement each are, and whether workers should have a veto over actions where they work. This week saw the continuation of two hunger strikes, one by occupiers in New York demanding an occupation space, and another by occupiers in DC demanding full congressional representation for the district. Activists continued taking foreclosed homes, including a “Home for the Holidays...

Double Standards Galore

I happened to be flying on American Airlines the morning after the company declared bankruptcy. Exactly nothing bad happened to my flight. Nobody passed the hat to buy aviation fuel. The flight attendants offered the same dismal snacks. It was business as usual. American will get to stiff its creditors, its employees, its pensioners, and sail happily onward, not even required to replace its managers. Chapter 11 filings are standard operating procedure when necessary in corporate America. In its full-page ads promising no disruption of service, American managed to avoid even the word "bankruptcy." Meanwhile, millions of underwater homeowners are denied the protections of bankruptcy laws. Like American Airlines, they would love to get out from under crushing debts and begin again. But the law is much tougher on them. If only homeowners were airlines. Welcome to the age of the double standard. After more than a decade of business lobbying, in 2005 bankruptcy laws were revised to tilt...

Pages