Monday, July 31, 2017

TAX REFORM MY ASS RANT



      The Republican effort to deprive 20 million Americans of health care having failed, the Grand Old Party is turning to what they’ve decided to call Tax Reform. I use caps here only to draw the reader’s attention to the basic fraud.  Republicans are actually proposing enormous tax cuts that will, inevitably, accrue to the richest and most powerful American families.

       So, what would these tax cuts look like? At present, the various proposals are sketchy, but they include some common elements.

      The corporate tax rate would be reduced from 35% to 20% (congressional plan) or 15% (Trump plan).

      The estate tax, only applicable to individuals with estates above 5.45 million dollars, less than 1% of all estates, would be eliminated.

      The alternative minimum tax, applicable only to those with so many deductions, through so many loopholes, they would otherwise pay little or no taxes, would be repealed.

      Taxes on business conducted overseas by American companies would be reduced to zero.

      The current high-end tax on income, now 39.5%, would drop to 33%.


      Rather than cite estimates of who gets the dough, I invite readers to re-scan the above items while asking themselves a simple question: Does this benefit me? If you answer in the negative, don’t fret. There’s a bone for the doggy. Standard deductions for individuals and married couples will double. That accounts for about 3% of the total. As for the rest? Hey, Bill Gates hasn’t had a tax cut in years. Give the poor guy a break.

      How to pay for this, or at least pay for enough to cover the bill’s private parts with a fig leaf? Well, the original plan called for the money saved by repealing the ACA - a claimed 250 billion through tax cuts and reduced Medicaid spending over ten years – to be applied to the Republican tax plan. That’s out the window now, which reduces Republican options to exactly one. Slash spending. Thus, Trump’s proposed budget includes savage cuts – ten-year cuts - to social spending programs.


      Medicaid and children’s health programs: 616 billion.

      Food stamps and block grants designated for needy families: 272 billion.

      Disability: 72 billion

      Federal employee retirement benefits: 63 billion

      Financial regulation (by changes to Dodd-Frank): 35 billion

      Aid to education: 9.2 billion

      Once again, I invite readers to examine the above list. How many of these items are likely to affect you or someone you know? How many on the first list? Who wins? Who loses?


      One final note. Trump’s tax cuts will add 7 trillion dollars to the deficit over the next decade, even with the budget cuts, most of which he won’t get. That’s 700 billion per year, considerably more than 100% of our current deficit. But have no fear. According to our leader, Don the Con, we can deduct 2 trillion from the bottom line because an inspired growth fairy will show up to expand the economy. This is the same growth fairy conjured up by Ronald Reagan, George H. Bush and George W. Bush. All three invoked the growth fairy’s holy name again and again, but she never responded and deficits ballooned, a fact that can be verified by a one-minute search for “federal deficit spending in constant dollars”.


      It’s sad, taken all in all, but the saddest part is still to be named. The deficits produced by the long-planned Republican tax cuts will, of course, add to the national debt, providing Republicans with cover when they propose ever more savage cuts to social spending. Before we go over that pesky fiscal cliff.

Friday, July 28, 2017

QUICK HIT #8



      The Mystery:

      Russia’s desire to repeal the Magnitsky Act and its sanctions has become pretty obvious, as it’s becoming more and more apparent that repeal of those sanctions is Putin’s price for helping Trump win the presidency. But if repeal is the aim, you’d think Putin would be trying to appease the United States and its allies, not antagonize them.

      Make no mistake, Putin and the Oligarchs are ripping their country off to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars and they want to stash the loot outside the country. Why? Because they fear sharing the fate of Ukraine’s former, pro-Russian President, Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych fled his country in the face of a popular uprising, running, if not for his life, at least for his liberty. If there’s anything crooked oligarchs hate, its imprisonment by their victims.

       Yanukovych is currently residing in Russia. Perhaps he and Puttin have met from time to time, reminiscing on the good old days when they sucked the Ukrainian economy dry. But even if they haven’t, even if Yanukovych has fallen too far to be accorded a royal audience, Putin can’t help but think, “If it can happen next door, why not here?”

       Right now, despite a high poverty rate and falling wages, the Russian people continue to support Putin. That comes as no surprise, what with the murders of journalists and political competitors, the suppression of anti-Putin demonstrators, and state-control of almost all elements of the media. But the future is cloudier. The Russian economy, after nine quarters of recession is finally moving forward, but at an anemic rate, a mere .5%. And with the United States expected to become among the world’s largest exporters of oil by 2020, Russia’s economy isn’t likely to boom anytime in the near future. You have to sell a lot of caviar and vodka to compensate for $50 per barrel oil prices.

      For dictators the world over, moving a substantial portion of your loot into a safe harbor, in case you have to make a run for it, is a priority. Losing power is one thing, going broke another, serving years and years in an eastern-European jail still a third.

      Given the need to protect his ill-gotten gains, you'd think Putin would do everything he could to maintain prosperity and stability in the West. But Putin’s effort to destabilize the very countries he counts on to protect his money is virtually undisputed. Now these countries are biting back and biting hard. Russian oligarchs wake up these days to find their laundered money frozen, themselves banned from travel to the West and their pet banks unwilling to do business with Russian crooks.

       To my beloved wife, Putin’s actions are no mystery at all. Putin’s sense of his own greatness, in her opinion, far exceeds any rational measure of his abilities, just like Trump’s. We’re looking at grandiosity, pure and simple, and Vladimir Putin’s just another deluded psychopath who thinks he’s too smart to get caught. Jails around the world are full of people exactly like him.

      I’m not crazy about comparisons between Trump and Putin. That because I’m pretty sure that Trump, if he wasn’t born rich, would be driving a truck. Putin, on the other hand, made his way up the ladder, one claw-hold at a time. I have to think, what with all the pundits who talk about him playing three-dimensional chess to Trump’s checkers, that Putin’s too smart to destabilize the economies of countries that hold and protect his money. Then why….


       But that’s the mystery part, and if I had an answer that passes the stink test, it would’ve started this posting. As it is, I’m resisting the obvious, that Vladimir Putin, like Don the Con, is simply irrational. That one’s just a bit too frightening. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

QUICK HIT #7



      Jared Kushner gave his much-awaited public statement earlier this afternoon. If true in all its details, I’d have to say it looks pretty good for Jared. That’s one of those really-big ifs, however, and only time will tell. But one sentence did tickle at the edges of my bullshit-detector. Not the part about not colluding with the Russians, or knowing of anyone who colluded. Rather, following that disclaimer, Jared (or, more likely, his lawyers) wrote: “I have not relied on Russian funds to finance my business activities in the private sector.”

    The word “relied” is a weasel word if there ever was one. For example, even though the mortgage on my house is entirely held by Citibank, I can always claim that I never relied on Citibank because I submitted mortgage applications to Chase and Wells Fargo. Kushner never denies taking money from Russia, whether through a bank or an oligarch. He simply claims not to have relied on Russian largesse.


     Not good enough, folks, and just now, reading through his statement again, I’d eagerly take an even-money bet that Russian money found its way into the Kushner business empire. Anybody out there want the other side?

SECOND AMENDMENT REMEDIES MY ASS RANT



      In January of 1787, just a few months before the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, four thousand armed men, led by several revolutionary war officers, including Daniel Shays, marched on the federal armory in Springfield, Massachusetts. Their purpose, clearly stated, was to overthrow the government in Boston and write a new constitution. These same men had been active throughout the winter of 1786-1787, shutting down courthouses in six, widely-separated counties.

      Farmers all, they had grievances aplenty, though whether an outright rebellion was justified is a matter of debate among historians. But justification isn’t the point of this posting. We don’t have to root for one side or the other to admit that this was a Second Amendment remedy and every bit as purposeful (if not as effective) as the Revolution that ousted King George. Most of the rebels – and each of their leaders – were battle-tested Revolutionary War veterans and they knew how to fight.

      The State of Massachusetts initially called out its various militias, only to discover that many of them were already under arms. They were marching alongside Daniel Shays. The State then petitioned the federal government, formed at that time under the Articles of Confederation. Though sympathetic, the Congress took a pass. It had neither an army, nor the taxing power to raise an army. So sorry.

      The mercenary force that eventually rode out to confront the rebels was hired by a small group of Boston bankers, the same bankers who’d been preying on the farmers now in revolt. General William Shepherd commanded this army as it headed off to battle, forty-five hundred strong. No fool, Shepherd knew that if Shays took the Springfield Armory, the rebels would be the best-armed force in the region, more than a match for anything the state could throw at them. He had to get there first and he did.

      Shepherd found what he needed inside, several cannons, one of which he filled with grapeshot and fired waist-high into a rebel charge. And that was that, at least as far as the revolt was concerned.

      Shays and his cohorts weren’t the first to rebel, even in Massachusetts, only the most famous. In 1782, five years before, a preacher named Samuel Ely organized a Second Amendment solution of his own. The muster form for his ragtag, and ultimately unsuccessful, army included the following pledge: “We do Each of us acknowledge our Selves to be Inlisted… for the Suppressing of the tyrannical government in the Massachusetts State.”

       Other states experienced similar uprisings as courts were shut down by angry farmers in one state after another. Shays’s Rebellion was special because it caught the attention of a relatively small group of men who wanted a more powerful central government, men like George Washington, James Madison Alexander Hamilton, Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, James Wilson of Pennsylvania and Charles Pinkney of South Carolina. One and all, they were outspoken nationalists who wished to transform what amounted to an alliance of nation-states into a single nation.

      Writing as an observer of Shays’s Rebellion, General Henry Knox, Washington’s Artillery Commander during the Revolution, described the rebels as “levelers”, equivalent in that era to the 20th Century charge of Communist. “Their creed is that the property of the United States has been protected from the confiscation of Britain by the joint exercise of all, and therefore ought to be the common property of all….”

      Writing back, Washington told Knox that he expected the nation to be “much tumbled and tossed, and possibly wrecked altogether.” Later, he explained, “I could not resist the call to a convention of the States which is to determine whether we are to have a Government of respectability… or are to submit to one which may be the result of chance or the moment, springing perhaps from anarchy and Confusion….”

      Others chimed in. According to James Madison, “The insurrection in Massachusetts admonished all the States of the danger to which they were exposed.” James Wilson, later a Justice of the Supreme Court, echoed Madison’s and Washington’s opinions. “The flames of insurrection,” he declared, “were ready to burst out in every quarter….” Wilson wasn’t describing the situation in Massachusetts, but conditions in western Pennsylvania.

     Charles Coatesworth Pinckney of South Carolina committed the obvious remedy to paper. “There must be a real military force,” he wrote. “The United States has been making an Experiment without it, and we see the consequences in their rapid approach to anarchy.”


      On May 25, 1787, representatives from every State except Rhode Island met to form a new, far more powerful, truly national government. These men (all, of course, were male) were among the richest and most powerful in the country. They represented many interests, including men with large agricultural holdings, like the Livingstons who owned 160,000 acres spread out along the Hudson, and George Washington who owned 317 slaves. One agricultural interest, however, went virtually unrepresented, the interest of small farmers like Daniel Shays, who comprised 70% of the population. No, the delegates in Philadelphia were determined to put this class of Americans in its place. And they did.

      Five Examples, all found in Article 1:

      Article 1, section 10, clause one: No state shall “impair the obligation of contracts.” One form of relief certain states allowed hard-pressed farmers was a postponement of the due date for payments on mortgages and loans. These were called “stay laws” and states would no longer have the power to write them.

      Article 1, section 8, clause 5: “No state shall… make Anything but gold and silver Coin a Tender in payment of debts.” Some states had issued paper money because gold was so scarce. In rural areas, where these small farmers raised their families, gold was literally not to be found, which made it impossible to pay taxes and debt obligations. Paper money, under these circumstances, was a blessing when it was handled properly, but it would be a blessing no more. Once the Constitution was ratified, the federal government would control the supply of money.

      Article 1, section 8, clause one: “The Congress shall have the Power to lay and collect Taxes….”

      Article 1, section 8, clause 12: “The Congress shall have the power to… raise and support armies.”

      Article 1, section 8, clause fifteen: Congress is given the power, “To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions.”

      Article 1, section 9, clause 2: The privilege of the writ of habeus corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.”


      OK, so I stuck in my own italics. The obvious nevertheless remains the obvious. The framers of our founding legal document  (the Declaration of Independence is not a legal document) provided the delegates with the means to confront and contain a problem, not in the distant past or the far future, but a problem at hand, an ongoing problem as events would prove.

      Beginning in 1791, two years after George Washington became our first President, farmers in western Pennsylvania, incensed by an excise tax on whiskey, started what has come to be called the Whiskey Rebellion. Again leaving aside the merits of their grievances, they initially enjoyed enough success for them to be declared, by Supreme Court Justice James Wilson, to be in a state of rebellion. That allowed Washington to call up the militia which he promptly did, eventually assembling an army of 13,000 men from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland. With Washington in the lead (the only time in American History when a President rode into war at the head of an army), they proudly marched off. True, the rebellion was pretty much over by then, but a point had to be made. Never again would the United States of America tolerate a Second Amendment solution for any grievance, no matter how just.


      Second Amendment solution advocates commonly turn to Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence for justification. So, I’m going to close with a passage Jefferson included in a letter to C. W. F. Dumas shortly after the Constitution was signed.
      “Happy for us, that when we find our constitution defective and insufficient to secure the happiness of our people, we can assemble with all the coolness of philosophies and set it to rights, while every other nation on earth must have recourse to arms to amend or to restore their constitutions.”

       Sorry, but I can’t resist on more jibe. In 2014, Clivon Bundy, assisted by a few hundred Second Amendment remedy types, stood off the Bureau of Land Management for a couple of months. I’m sure they were very proud of themselves, what with the cammo gear, the cartridge belts, the side arms, the AR-15’s, the K-Bar knives, the MRE’s. But I particularly recall video of perhaps fifty of them stretched out along a highway overpass. Though I’ve never been to war, even I had the good sense to pose an obvious question.
      “What exactly do they plan to do when the helicopter gunships come over the hill?”


      Credit where credit is due. I drew the facts in this piece from a number of sources, but I owe a special debt to a book by Leonard L. Richards: Shays’s Rebellion. It’s impossible to come away from reading the book and still believe the founding fathers supported Second Amendment remedies.

Friday, July 21, 2017

QUICK HIT #6



      I’ve just finished watching OJ’s parole hearing, the hearing and the small army of talking heads chosen by MSNBC to comment. Curiously, all agreed on one item. The State of Nevada chose to punish O.J. Simpson for the California murders when it sentenced him to 33 years for an armed robbery, first offense. Supporters of the Goldman and Brown families pronounced the state’s actions righteous. Experienced defense lawyers, by contrast, cited the dangers of allowing the government to punish a defendant after an acquittal. But each acknowledged the excessive nature of the sentence.

      For some reason, as I followed the very predictable chatter, I found myself thinking of James Comey. Despite the FBI Agents and Assistant AG’s from the Justice Department agreeing unanimously that no case against Hillary Clinton existed, Comey decided to punish her anyway. His press conference was bogus from the beginning. I invite readers to do a Google-Image search for “classified documents”. You will find hundreds of examples, each with a header on the first page identifying the document as classified, secret, top secret, etc. Comey, in examining roughly 60,000 emails, did not find a single email containing a document so-marked. Instead, he told us, the investigation had turned up 20 (out of 60,000) emails that discussed a classified matter somewhere in the body of the document. In his opinion.

     Was Comey’s opinion shared by each of the FBI Agents assigned to the case? How about the Assistant AG’s who examined the FBI’s findings? And then there’s Hillary’s staffers and Hillary, herself. Did she or any of her staffers challenge Comey’s determinations?

     This is why we have trials, folks. This is why we place the facts before neutral bodies called juries. This why we allow defendants to challenge the evidence. This why we don’t allow cops to punish. And make no mistake, James Comey, as Director of the FBI, was a cop and no more than a cop. He was not a prosecutor, or a juror, or a judge – he just played all those parts on TV. For the benefit of Donald Trump.

     There are countries (including Russia) all over the world that allow cops to punish. Cops are freely able to detain individuals without charge, to inflict physical abuse, including torture, to finally release or murder their victims. No messy prosecutors, no judge, no jury. And this isn’t about a left-right, progressive-reactionary divide. This is about tyrannical regimes where dictators guard their power with brute force. Mess with me and I’ll kill you.


      Sabotage the Democrat? Help elect a man whose every instinct is totalitarian? Thanks, James.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

READ IT AND WEEP




      "Democratic congressmen on the House Judiciary Committee want to know why Attorney General Jeff Sessions abruptly settled a money laundering case in May involving the same Russian attorney who met with Donald Trump Jr. during the presidential election to offer “dirt” on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

      "The civil forfeiture case was filed in 2013 by Preet Bharara, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York — who was fired by Trump in March. The case alleged that 11 companies were involved in a tax fraud in Russia and then laundered a portion of the $230 million they got into Manhattan real estate.

      "The forfeiture case was heralded at the time as “a significant step towards uncovering and unwinding a complex money laundering scheme arising from a notorious foreign fraud,” Bharara said. “As alleged, a Russian criminal enterprise sought to launder some of its billions in ill-gotten rubles through the purchase of pricey Manhattan real estate.”
But Instead of proceeding with the trial as scheduled, the Trump Justice Department settled the case two days before it was due to begin. By then, Bharara had already been axed by the president. Bharara’s assistant did not immediately respond to request for comment.

      "In May, the Justice Department settled the case for $6 million instead of $230 million and did not demand any admission of wrongdoing. According to the lawmakers’ letter to Sessions, Veslnitskaya was surprised by how generous the settlement was, telling one Russian news outlet the penalty appeared like `an apology from the government.'”


    Quoniam res ipsa loquitor. The thing speaks for itself

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

QUICK HIT #5




      Today the Republicans finally gave up the ghost on the repeal-and-replace of Obamacare, an especially craven capitulation, even by political standards. After all, they did vote a straight repeal many times before they had the power to carry through. I guess the thought of 20,000,000 people losing health insurance had them more concerned with their political health than with revealing their punk-ass propensities.

      Although my wife (I’m insured by Medicare) is one of those people who’s seen their premiums rise by 50% over the past two years, I’m happy for all those Americans who got access to health care for the first time through the Affordable Care Act. Now they get to keep it… unless, of course, the Republicans settle for quietly sabotaging Obamacare. But that won’t happen, right? The Republicans can’t be that spiteful, that mean-spirited? Right? Right?

      Funny, but I fail to hear an echoing chorus here.


      Anyway, I’m going to close with a really depressing thought, but one that won’t stop running through whatever neurons still survive in my forebrain. The United States isn’t the only country struggling with the ever-increasing cost of providing health care to its citizens. Every industrialized nation on the planet struggles with the same problem, despite almost all spending less, as a percentage of their GDP, than we do. This reality leads - inexorably, in my opinion - to a question that must be asked. Is it possible that modern medicine is reaching the point where it can provide more healthcare than human beings can afford?

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

QUICK HIT #4



      OK, so I’m doing it again, banging my head into that oh-so-painful wall. This morning I watched C-SPAN’s call-in show, National Journal. Callers were asked to comment on the latest scandal surrounding Paul Manafort, Donald II, and Jared Kushner. As usual, conservatives dominated the Republican and Independent lines, offering various excuses for the trio’s meeting with a Russian lawyer, despite being told in advance that she was acting as an agent of the Russian government. Collusion, several insisted, is no crime. Others fell back on the fake-news saw. I’ve heard both excuses a million times over the past months, even (and maybe especially,) from Fox News. But one caller did catch my attention, significantly darkening my already-depressed state.

      How come they don’t investigate Obama? he wanted to know. Obama won 100% of the vote in 51 Philadelphia districts. That’s impossible, except if it was fixed. The same thing happened in Woods County, Ohio. Obama got 100% of the vote. So, why don’t they investigate Obama?

     What did I do? What any red-blooded American would do. I reverted to the Google, that supreme arbiter of truth and falsehood. Twenty seconds later, I was reading FactCheck’s thorough debunking of what began as an anonymous email dispatched to names listed in some conservative’s databank. FactCheck’s debunking was followed by Snopes, followed by the New York Times, followed by….

      Barack Obama did not receive 100% of the vote in Woods County. He received 51%. The lie didn’t upset me. No, what irked me was the caller’s apparent unwillingness to spend twenty seconds uncovering the truth. I don’t know what universe he lived in, but his tone, as he presented his case, was sure and certain. He had us lousy liberals. He would obliterate us with the truth.


     People (sincere, people, and well-meaning, too) who believes the Trumpians will come home if we just promise to walk away from a few trade deals are kidding themselves. They’re far more likely, when the time comes, to pick up a gun. Give me delusion or give me death.

Monday, July 10, 2017

FRAMING RANT



      Here’s the issue: free tuition for post-high school education at public universities. I think most Democrats favor taxpayers footing the bill, but how do we sell it to reluctant Dems and enough Republicans to see it enacted into law? Two possibilities follow.

FIRST FRAMING:

      Raised by her mom, a single parent who struggled every month to pay the bills, Rose Wentworth, from her earliest days in school, was told that education was the gateway to opportunity, the only gateway. Study hard, keep your grades up, stay out of trouble, don’t get pregnant… the list continued on, but the goal line never moved. Good grades, a decent SAT score, admission to one of Ohio State University’s many campuses and eventual graduation. That was the price of the only ticket to a middle-class lifestyle.

      The odds were stacked against Rose. She moved six times during her twelve years in the Cleveland School System, changing schools on four occasions. Worse, she passed one seven-month period in the foster care system, always a crap shoot played with loaded dice. Yet Rose persevered, at times faltering, but always rallying, until finally, with the help of a few sympathetic teachers, Rose applied to Ohio State toward the end of her junior year. She was initially overjoyed when she received an acceptance letter, but her mood darkened after she met with an admissions councilor at the University who ticked off the costs. Tuition and fees: $10,037. Room and board: $11,666. Books and supplies: $1,234. Other expenses, some as simple as toothpaste, $2,602.

      Add it up: $25,539, none of which her mother could afford to pay.

      Financial aid? Rose certainly qualified, but due to federal cutbacks, along with cutbacks in support from the government of Ohio under John Kasich… well, there just wasn’t that much help available. No, if Rose was to graduate, she’d have to fall back on student loans. Loan money, the interviewer assured her, was easily secured, enough to leave her approximately $50,000 in debt when she graduated. With no guarantee of a job at the end.

      After long and careful consideration, Rose settled for a one-year nursing program. She is now a Licensed Practical Nurse making $16.00 an hour at a Cleveland nursing home.

      Is this right? We told this girl, born into poverty, that a pathway existed, a pathway that would lead to a middle-class life. Rose followed that path, maintaining good faith, passing twelve years in mostly-failing public schools, only to discover a gap, a chasm too deep to cross, yet close enough for her to see her goal on the other side.

      Any chart of U. S. GDP in constant dealers, from any source, reveals that America is richer than it’s ever been. Our GDP, again in constant dollars, is three times what it was in 1968, at the height of the War on Poverty. Yet the nation cannot keep its promises to kids like Rose. And make no mistake, the individuals who defined the sacred pathway were mostly teachers, employees of government. Bottom line, the moral debt we owe to students like Rose compels us to make sure that she can afford the college education we insist that she acquire. Thus, tuition should be eliminated at public universities for low-income students who qualify for admission. Justice demands it.


SECOND FRAMING:

      For a long time, America, with a few exceptions, rejected taxpayer-financed education at any level. Most Americans, after all, were simple farmers living out in the boondocks. Following a plow, pulling stumps, milking cows… did they really need an education? Wasn’t a strong back, a stronger work ethic and a deep commitment to family, church and country enough to get you through life? But then the steam engine came along and suddenly farmers were confronted with plows and threshers and harvesters that made hand-farming unprofitable. Call them advances if you like, but these advances required money and financing and a host of new skills that, in turn, required education. At the same time, the country began to industrialize, again requiring workers to master new skills.

      Initially, public education was limited to the primary grades. Reading, writing and arithmetic. That was enough for the time. If parents wanted more for their children, they had to foot the bill. Only later, as the new technology (and the businesses they gave rise to) grew more complex did it become necessary to add high school to the mix. Today, most employers demand a high school diploma as a condition of employment. There may be some jobs available to dropouts, but they won’t put a roof over your head and clothes on your back and food in your belly.

     Technological advances have always required new skills. Steam engines worked well, but not perfectly, and not indefinitely. Maintaining them required skills that could not be acquired on the farm. The same might be said for electricity, the internal combustion engine and a host of advances. In fact, right now, as I write this, 3,000,000 jobs in the United States remain unfilled because employers cannot find workers with the necessary skills. These are the good jobs, the high-wage jobs so many working people long for. They are also jobs that require more knowledge than a high school education can deliver.

      The monthly jobs report will be released in an hour or so. The Trump administration is hoping for a number above 200,000, though most forecasters expect a lower number, around 170,000. But even if the administration is right, it will take this nation 15 months to produce 3,000,000 jobs. And yet, according to Forbes, 62% of high school students admitted to colleges around the country decided not to attend their first-choice school because they could not afford the costs. In another poll, reported on ThinkAdvisor, 83% of Americans declared that their children cannot not afford to go to college.

      While 3,000,000 jobs go unfilled? While the tax dollars those 3,000,000 jobs would generate go uncollected? While the goods and services that would have been purchased with the salaries from those jobs go unsold?

       Simply stated, it’s time to bite the bullet, because this situation will not improve on its own. First: the technology continues to develop at a pace that’s almost disconcerting and we are fast approaching the point where poorly educated children will inevitably become dependent – or worse, delinquent. Second: the cost of a college education continues to rise. Third: under these conditions, 3,000,000 jobs must inevitably become four and five and six million.

      This is a challenge our competitors in Europe and Asia have already met. Post-high school education is guaranteed to qualified students as a matter of course. Even in France, the tuition charged at a public university comes to $400 per school year, a far cry from, for example, from Ohio State’s $10,000. And while many negative stories have been written about the competitive nature of the admission process at Chinese universities, once students are finally admitted, they don’t reject the opportunity because they can’t afford the costs.

       Again, it’s time we take our heads out of the sand. The challenges America will face over the next fifty years require that we educate our children beyond high school. We cannot have millions of well-qualified students turning away from college because they can’t afford the costs. Keep in mind, a college graduate earns, on average, $830,000 (also according to Forbes) more than a high school graduate during his/her working life. Merely in terms of economic stimulus and taxes paid, the nation will get its money back and show a handsome profit. So, let’s not be fools. Let’s not be afraid to invest tax dollars in the future. Let’s not put ourselves in a position where jobs are routinely outsourced because there are no qualified Americans to fill them.


      Personally, I like the first framing better. That’s because I’m a progressive Democrat and sympathetic to the trials and tribulations or other human beings, unlike most Republicans who view poverty as resulting from a character flaw. But I’m already a Democrat who has never voted Republican and never will. I’m the choir.

      The second framing offer more promise as a lure to Republican voters. Not the Trumpians, of course. At present, they’re unreachable, as poll after poll has demonstrated. These working-class, white voters won’t come home until they’re driven home by some Republican atrocity. There are, however, other Republicans who are very uncomfortable with a President whose misogyny, racism and xenophobia are perpetually on display. I’m talking about well-educated professionals and small business owners who don’t care to explain Trump to their daughters. The second framing, an appeal to American pragmatism, to our “can do” spirit, to the attitude that made American great, might well attract them, essentially giving them an excuse to switch parties.


      Will this approach, extended to a wide range of issues, attract country-club Republicans? Not being a prophet, I won’t speculate, but I can’t come up with another approach that passes the smell test. Affluent Republicans hate taxes. Locked away in their isolated (if not actually gated) communities, they also view poverty as resulting from a character flaw. It may well prove that their obsession with lower taxes will offset their distaste and they’ll work with any group that promises to save them a few dollars at the end of the year. Nevertheless, we can be certain of one thing. Neither framing will attract the Trumpians. It’s moderate Republicans or continuing to lose elections, local, state and federal. 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

THE SIMPLE SOLUTION RANT #2




      Your name is Karen Harper and you live in Granville, Ohio. You’re thirty-six years old, married with two children, and you’ve been working at the Kingstown Widget factory for a total of eight years. Although you twice left the factory (without pay) for a year following the births of your children, you always came back. The factory accepted your return because the evaluations done every six months by your various supervisors were uniformly good. You showed up on time, week after week, ready willing and able to give a day’s work for a day’s pay.

    And there’s the rub.

     Kingstown Widget’s pay scale was significantly below the standard for assembly line workers in Ohio. What’s more, the firm offered no sick leave, no pension plan and no health insurance. Conditions inside the factory were poor, as demonstrated by the many fines imposed by government agencies, state and federal. Yet conditions never seemed to improve. The overhead lighting was dim enough to make accidents more likely; fumes from the paint room leaked onto the factory floor; the break rooms were haphazardly cleaned and the bathrooms so filthy employees used them only when desperate.

      Enough being enough, you decided, along with the Doyle twins, Bob and Jimmy, to seek advice from the Widget Workers of America (WWA). When the union offered to sponsor an organizing drive, you eagerly accepted. At first, you and the Doyle brothers contacted only your most trusted co-workers, urging them to sign cards indicating their desire to form a union affiliated with the WWA. The process was slow because you wanted to gather momentum before management discovered what you were doing.

      Despite your caution, someone alerted the company about six months into the drive and you had to go public. By that time, you’d convinced 30% of the workers to sign union cards, enough to force the company to hold an election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). But the experienced organizers at WWA advised against this strategy. If you hold the election now, they explained, workers who didn’t sign cards will feel left out and coerced.

      So, you persevered, promoting the union in the only places you were, by law, allowed, the break rooms and the parking lots. Management countered by posting supervisors in both places. They stood against the wall or leaned against company trucks, occasionally writing names on the small pads they carried in their back pockets. You weren’t surprised. Intimidation was a technical violation of the labor laws, but the only remedy was an appeal to the NLRB where your complaint would sit for eighteen months on average. In addition, Kingstown Widget hired Haverman, Brown and Sherman, a well-established consulting firm, to advise them on union-busting tactics. HBS charged, rumor had it, a thousand dollars an hour for its advice.

      You (and by now a dozen activists) countered these moves by shifting your activities outside the plant, contacting your fellow workers in bars, churches, PTA meetings and high school football games, until you registered 65% of the plant’s workers. At that point, you requested union recognition. This formula worked for many decades after the Wagner Act was signed into law, but Kingstown Widget, urged on by HBS, demanded an election by secret ballot, a standard ploy for businesses committed to an anti-union strategy.

       A week later, you and the Doyle brothers, in full view of other workers at the plant, were summarily fired. Supervisors approached you while you worked – this was an object lesson, after all – and escorted you to your locker, then out of the building, then into your cars. They watched you drive away, watched the factory gates close behind you.

       You knew this might be coming because the tactic, though another gross violation of labor law, was commonplace. Kingstown Widget, your advisers at WWA had explained early on, suffered no risk by firing you. Your only recourse was a complaint to the NLRB, which you made. But even if the agency eventually ruled in your favor, Kingstown Widget, with plants in four states, would at most pay a fine in the thousands of dollars. As for you, Karen Harper, you would receive back pay, but only if you didn’t work somewhere else in the meantime.

      The news didn’t get any better when your WWA advisors told you that an appeal to the NLRB doesn’t end with their ruling, which will almost certainly be in your favor. Any decision on the part of the agency can be appealed to the federal court system, first to a district court, then to a circuit court and finally to the Supreme Court. Depending on how much money Kingstown Widget is prepared to spend, it could be many years before your case is resolved.

      Things were no better at the plant. Management called mass meeting on the factory floor, attendance compulsory, where the perils of unionization were enumerated by carefully chosen executives. Who knows what might happen, they told workers, if the drive succeeded? Profit margins at the plant were small and the competition, much of it located in China, was relentless. Decisions would have to be made. Moving overseas? Expanding Kingstown’s Wisconsin plant? Massive layoffs? No remedy was off the table.

      That wasn’t the worst of it, though. Throughout the workday, employees were called into one-on-one meetings with their immediate supervisors. Identical threats were made, along with demands to know if the workers planned to vote for the union. These supervisors were the same men and women who evaluated the workers every six months. They could – and sometimes did – recommend termination. But the supervisors were more interested in who opposed unionization than who supported it. Some anti-union employees were turned into company spies who attended meetings held outside the factory and reported back. Others were groomed to disrupt the meetings by raising the possibility that all would lose their jobs. And there would be no immediate replacements in the community. The county was shedding jobs, not adding them.

      The months dragged by, the battle going on for more than a year, but in the end a majority of Kingstown Widget’s employees voted to affiliate with the Widget Workers of America. A great victory… except for one detail. Yes, the company was forced to recognize the union as the bargaining agent for its employees. But that didn’t mean Kingstown Widget had to bargain in good faith. The company managed to postpone the first bargaining session for almost three months, then demanded a wage rollback, that a third of current employees have their hours reduced, that break times in the morning and afternoon be eliminated, that employees pay for a parking space during work hours, that cell phones be left in employee lockers during the workday, that no allowance be made for parents leaving early to pick up their children….

     The list went on, but that didn’t matter, since it was designed to be unacceptable. And yet it remained unchanged over time, all pretense at “bargaining” out the window. A WWA complaint to the NLRB, now chaired by Trump appointee Philip Miscimarra, went unaddressed. Weeks turned into months, then the months to a year, whereupon Kingstown Widget demanded that the union be decertified and a second election held. Collective bargaining was suspended at that point, pending a ruling by the NLRB. The ruling never came. Discouraged workers lost all faith in the WWA’s ability to effect change and dropped their support. Union rallies went virtually unattended. Game over.

      And as for you, Karen Harper? You now work at Chipotle for $9.00 an hour. Without benefits.

      Every element of the scenario described above is a commonplace occurrence in union organizing drives. The right of the company to force employees into mass meetings and/or one-on-one conferences with supervisors has been blessed by the Supreme Court, as has the right of the company to force an election even if every worker has signed a card indicating her/his desire for a union. Meanwhile, an underfunded NLRB – which, now that Trump has been elected will have three of its five members chosen from anti-union Republican ranks – takes eighteen months to generate rulings that can be stayed pending appeals to the various federal courts. Finally, the penalties issued by the NLRB are so small as to be laughable.

       The deck is stacked against unionization, that much is obvious. The rules of game leave workers with no effective way to determine their own fate. At the same time, poll after poll demonstrates that an absolute majority of Americans approve of unions.

      The Employee Free Choice Act discussed in a prior post addresses every one of the abuses described here. Businesses are effectively unionized when the union gathers more than fifty percent of workers’ signatures. And any attempt on the part of the company to stall contract negotiations first results in compulsory mediation, then arbitration should mediation fail. The real questions are why Democrats haven’t pushed for the legislation, and why the party allowed a few Senators, led by the execrable Ben Nelson, doom the effort in 2009 without paying a price?


      And maybe there’s one more question to be answered. The Republican attack on trade unions over the past forty years has been relentless. But can Dems claim that their defense of unions has been equally relentless? I think not.