Thursday, June 30, 2011

More Work for Less Pay

A look at the unspoken reality behind the so-called "jobless recovery." From MoJo:
Webster's defines speedup as "an employer's demand for accelerated output without increased pay," and it used to be a household word. Bosses would speed up the line to fill a big order, to goose profits, or to punish a restive workforce. Workers recognized it, unions (remember those?) watched for and negotiated over it—and, if necessary, walked out over it.

But now we no longer even acknowledge it—not in blue-collar work, not in white-collar or pink-collar work, not in economics texts, and certainly not in the media (except when journalists gripe about the staff-compacted-job-expanded newsroom). Now the word we use is "productivity," a term insidious in both its usage and creep. The not-so-subtle implication is always: Don't you want to be a productive member of society? Pundits across the political spectrum revel in the fact that US productivity (a.k.a. economic output per hour worked) consistently leads the world. Yes, year after year, Americans wring even more value out of each minute on the job than we did the year before. U-S-A! U-S-A!

Productivity creep is right. US workers are under pressure to do more in less time, and to thrive on it. Worker productivity is constantly touted in economic reports. Many of those who have jobs, are working longer hours with an expanded workload - without getting a raise. Merely being allowed to keep their jobs is enough of a reward. The question that is never asked is simple: who benefits?

In all the chatter about our "jobless recovery," how often does someone explain the simple feat by which this is actually accomplished? US productivity increased twice as fast in 2009 as it had in 2008, and twice as fast again in 2010: workforce down, output up, and voilá! No wonder corporate profits are up 22 percent since 2007, according to a new report by the Economic Policy Institute. To repeat: Up. Twenty-two. Percent.


Meanwhile, what's passed off as the growing pains of a modern economy is—not to go all Marxist on you—simply about redistribution. For 90 percent of American workers, incomes have stagnated or fallen for the past three decades, while they've ballooned at the top, and exploded at the very tippy-top: By 2008, the wealthiest 0.1 percent were making 6.4 times as much as they did in 1980 (adjusted for inflation). And just to further fuel your outrage, that 22 percent increase in profits? Most of it accrued to a single industry: finance.

All of that hard work isn't benefitting the worker, who isn't even getting a raise. It's going straight to the top. But, the lucky worker is allowed to keep their job. For now.

A year ago I wrote a piece here at Main St that included this statement:

This could be a frightening new US reality – companies holding workers hostage, in exchange for jobs.

The frightening new reality seems to have arrived.

cross- posted at MainSt/

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

NH Governor Vetoes Voter ID Bill

NH Governor John Lynch has vetoed a bill that would force voters to show photo ID at the polls, before being allowed to cast their vote. From Reuters:
"An eligible voter who goes to the polls to vote on Election Day should be able to have his or her vote count on Election Day," said Lynch, a Democrat, in his veto message.
"SB 129 creates a real risk that New Hampshire voters will be denied their right to vote," he said, adding the state has consistently high voter turnout, no voter fraud problem and strong election laws already in place.

One of the bill's sponsors, state Senator Jack Barnes had this to say:
"I feel that there are people up here (in New Hampshire) voting that don't belong up here," said Barnes, adding that his phone rang "off the hook" with constituent support for the measure.

Therein lies the problem. Senator Barnes may "feel" that there are people voting in NH who shouldn't be, but his feelings aren't facts. The last documented case of voter fraud in NH involved a teenaged boy using his father's ID to vote Republican. Despite the myth of "busloads of people coming to vote in NH elections," there are no photos of these buses. There are no videos of these voters. There are no complaints to the Secretary of State.

The photo identification must be issued by the United States or by New Hampshire or be a valid state driver's license, according to the bill.
Voters could get a voucher to cover the $10 cost of a non-drivers identification under the legislation.

No word on who will be paying for these ID vouchers. For some people who live in rural counties, a visit to the DMV for a non-driver ID would mean taking a day off from work, because of the distance.

Voters who did not have proper ID, could cast a provisional ballot, and come back to a government official within 2.5 days to show photo ID. Of course by then, the votes will have been counted and the election decided, so that provisional vote is meaningless.

A rather pointed editorial about what's behind this legislation, from the Nashua Telegraph:

We should be wary of enacting any law that makes it more difficult for some people to exercise their right to vote. And until we have some actual proof that voter fraud exists at any measurable level in New Hampshire, let’s call this bill what it is: a solution that is far worse than the problem.

Either way, we can’t help but wonder: Are some legislators using baseless allegations of fraud to make voting difficult enough that some people won’t even try?

It seems clear that the bill is aimed at disenfranchising low income, student, and elderly voters. NH learned earlier this year what Speaker O'Brien thinks about college students voting:

New Hampshire's new Republican state House speaker is pretty clear about what he thinks of college kids and how they vote. They're "foolish," Speaker William O'Brien said in a recent speech to a tea party group.

'Foolish' college kids 'just vote their feelings,' New Hampshire speaker says
"Voting as a liberal. That's what kids do," he added, his comments taped by a state Democratic Party staffer and posted on YouTube. Students lack "life experience," and "they just vote their feelings."

Governor Lynch's entire statement on the veto makes the case:

Seniors, students, those who are disabled or do not drive, and those who do not already have a state-issued or federal-issued photo ID, may not be able to arrange to obtain a valid photo ID within the tight 2 ½ day timeframe. Many town offices are closed or have only limited hours on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, when those voters who received a provisional ballot would be expected to return to produce a photo ID and have their vote counted. Voters in areas of the state where DMV offices have been consolidated will also be disadvantaged. Traveling to Concord or Manchester is not an option for everyone. These circumstances will present real hardships, especially for our seniors and disabled voters.

The New Hampshire City and Town Clerks Association, AARP, the League of Women Voters, and the Secretary of State have all opposed provisions of this bill. The bill's provisions for the length of time to produce a valid photo ID after an election and the types of photo IDs allowed are among the most restrictive voter identification provisions in the nation despite any evidence that current law is insufficient protection against voter fraud.

The NH legislature is solving a non-existant problem, in order to ensure fewer voters participate in our elections. The pressure to override the veto is high, but it may not be enough. A number of legislators are quite aware that this will cost their municipalities plenty, and further reduce their chances of reelection.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Pigs at the Trough

Anti-union NH legislators load up their plates at an invitation only BBQ, sponsored by NH unions to thank the legislators who opposed the right to work bill. These freeloaders don't hesitate to chow down on food bought and cooked by "union thugs."

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Impulse Control and Pledge Politics

It has become increasingly obvious that the current NH legislature is not just trying to turn the state into a Randian/Dickensian paradise, but they’re also intent on repealing any law they can, just because.

A case in point would be the recent repeal of the NH minimum wage law. NH has had it’s own minimum wage law since 1949. The party that claims to be all about “states rights” just passed a bill that repealed a law that gave us the right to set the state’s minimum wage, rather than just abide by the federal minimum. Governor Lynch vetoed the repeal, and the Freebaglicans decided that it was so important to thumb their nose at the Governor (who was defending the actual right of the state) that they overturned the veto. This is the kind of brilliant thinking that’s been going on in Concord this year, in a legislature overrun with Tea Partiers, Free Staters, and John Birchers.

The current crop of Republicans is badly behaved. You’d see better impulse control in the ape house at the zoo. House Majority Leader D J Bettencourt calling Bishop McCormick “a pedophile and a pimp” comes to mind as an example. NH GOP Chairman Jack Kimball had this to say about the re-election of President Obama: ‘‘look at who we put in the White House. You think about that and we realize the profound responsibility that we have this time. In my view, if we re-elect this man, all that all of the people fought and died for is completely in vain.” In other words: if you die in the service of your country when the president is a dark skinned Democrat whom we like to pretend was born in Kenya; you’ve died in vain. A number of veterans groups are rightly unhappy with this statement. Those of us who remember being called traitors for questioning the invasion of Iraq are unsurprised by the level of hypocrisy shown by the leader of the NH GOP or his NH media stenographers.

Another badly behaved Republican recently in the news is our very own Ray Shakir, whose lack of impulse control has been on display for a number of years in the op-ed section of this newspaper. Ray achieved national fame for his brand of commentary in Mother Jones magazine, in a piece on his support for presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty. Writer Andy Kroll quotes Shakir’s description of President Obama: "a jungle alien. Because that's what he is—he's not an American. You can call me a birther if you want." A “jungle alien.” I’m sure old T-Paw is thrilled to have his association with a racist go national, especially given that Pawlenty himself has tried to avoid rolling in the stench of the birther cesspool.

The Freebaglican legislature passed their budget this week. As legislature discussed the bill, prior to the vote, the Republicans in the House got up and walked out when former Speaker Terrie Norelli spoke in opposition to the bill. The GOP majority has shown repeatedly that not only do they lack impulse control; they are incapable of common courtesy.

This budget makes drastic cuts in the few safety net programs our state has. NH will be returning to the GOP glory days of the wait list for services for people with developmental disabilities, always a source of pride for our state. There are further cuts to domestic violence programs, to mental health programs, and to substance abuse treatment programs. It’s hard to imagine that a state that uses alcohol as a source of revenue could spend any less than we have been on treatment, but we will be. Prison and jail will be the increasing source of treatment for addicts and the mentally ill. Despite the recent heap of baloney served up by DJ Bettencourt and Gene Chandler on the op-ed pages of this paper, be prepared for cost shifting to the counties and towns. Expect your property taxes to rise as a direct result of this reckless budget.

Another area of concern is NH’s failing infrastructure. The annual infrastructure report card gives NH a barely passing grade. NH has 142 bridges on the red list. Our roads, bridges, dams, schools, public water, and public sewer systems are all in need of attention. Pledge politics mean we’ve kicked that can down the road for decades. Pledge politics guarantee that we’ll continue to, and that we’ll pay the pound of cure when some kind of disaster occurs.

When the recent unemployment numbers came out for NH, showing that our state has among the lowest numbers in the country, the NH GOP took credit for it, saying it was their policies – even though those policies had yet to be enacted. When those numbers rise, as a direct result of the budget cuts, one wonders if they’ll be so eager to take credit for the increase.

This legislature has slashed programs carelessly, and has worked hard to cut revenue sources. This week, as Speaker O’Brien returned from meeting with special interest groups (including one funded by Big Tobacco) the House cut the NH tobacco tax. NH is the first state to decrease the tobacco tax in 50 years. This is expected to result in a $15 million loss in revenue over the next two years.

At the same time, the new budget slashes state aid to higher education by 45%. NH already has the dubious distinction of ranking dead last amongst the 50 states in spending on post-secondary education. NH was firmly in 50th place – well behind states like Mississippi and Arkansas. We’re in 70th place now, behind the other 50 states. This means that sending a NH kid to a NH college is now going to be even more cost-prohibitive. In-state tuition at UNH is going to increase by 8.7 percent. If this budget becomes law, it’s going to be cheaper for NH kids to go to college in other states. When they do, the likelihood of their returning to NH is small. They’ll be helping to build the economy and the future of other states, while NH remains a hostage of the past.

Pledge politics combined with a tax system that designed in the 1800’s, but fails in the 21st century will continue to conspire to keep our state moving backwards. Businesses considering moving to our state will not find our property taxes and our negative attitude about education to be an enticement. The real NH advantage is being slowly destroyed by pledge politics.

“New Hampshire is not a poor state, NH is a cheap state.” Blue Hampshire blogger tchair.

© sbruce 2011
This was published as an op-ed in the July 1 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper.

ht/ to NEA NH for the picture.

Privatizing and/or Arresting Charity

Senator Bernie Sanders, chair of a Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, held a hearing this week on senior hunger. One would think that in a country like the US, our senators would be deeply concerned about hungry senior citizens. One would be wrong. From The Nation/Notion:

Kathy Greenlee, the Assistant Secretary for the Administration on Aging, began by assessing the problem. Of the millions of hungry senior citizens assisted by the federal government, 24 percent simply do not have enough money or food stamps to purchase enough food. Beyond poverty, millions of other seniors have trouble getting meals because they are either functionally impaired or live alone. Seniors in rural areas, far from grocery stores and perhaps family members, are particularly vulnerable. For around 60 percent of the seniors assisted by the government, the meals they are provided make up half or more of their daily food intake.


“From a moral perspective, it is clear to me that in this great nation, no one should go hungry, especially those that are old and frail and unable to take care of themselves,” Sanders said.

Thanks Senator. But there's more:

Mary Jane Koren, a geriatrician and vice-president of the Commonwealth Fund, noted that seniors often suffer health problems and are put in nursing homes after falling down. Poor nutrition leads to decreased muscle strength, meaning a higher chance of falling—and weaker seniors are more likely to be gravely injured in such a fall. Koren noted that by 2020, the annual cost of medical care for seniors who fall is expected to reach $54.9 billion—many magnitudes more than the approximately $2 billion per year the federal government spends on nutrition assistance for senior citizens.

Senator Paul, however, explicitly rejected this logic. “It’s curious that only in Washington can you spend $2 billion and claim that you’re saving money,” he said. “The idea or notion that spending money in Washington somehow is saving money really flies past most of the taxpayers.” Instead, Paul touted the “nobility of private charity” as opposed to government-funded “transfer programs.” He suggested privatizing Meals on Wheels and other government assistance for hungry seniors.

So, poor nutrition for seniors can lead to falls and broken bones which mean increased medical costs. That makes sense to me, and I expect to most of us. It does not make sense to Senator Rand Paul, who believes we should let the seniors eat charity. A privatized Meals on Wheels program will be in it for a profit, which means they'll be charging for their service, which defeats the entire purpose.

Charities are already stretched to their limits and beyond by the demand created by this economy. Non-profits, churches, and other charities aren't getting the kind of donations they need to deal with the demands, because people don't have the money to donate because of the economy. It's a neat little circle that is easy to understand, unless you're living in some Dickensian fantasy land. Just don't ask him for a refill of your bowl of gruel.

On the topic of hunger, the group known as Food Not Bombs has been in the news lately, because members of their group have been arrested on several occasions for feeding homeless and hungry people at Lake Eola Park in Orlando, FL. The city has a homeless feeding area: a cage under a bridge, that they would prefer the folks of Food Not Bombs use as a location. Nothing says dignity like eating in a cage under a bridge. The city of Orlando would prefer not to afflict the comfortable residents with the sight of homeless and hungry folks eating in the sunlight.

Food Not Bombs has been engaging in peaceful food activism, by feeding vegan meals to the hungry, and handing out literature on the costs of militarism and war, for over 30 years.

Keith McHenry, one of the founders of Food Not Bombs has an essay at the Tikkun Daily website:

The Mayor of Orlando is telling the media that all is under control. Everyone in Orlando has food and Food Not Bombs can move to the feeding cage if we “really want to feed the homeless.” While many of those eating with us are not homeless, they make a mockery of their own arrest warrants which accuse our volunteers of sharing meals with over 24 people. Many of the people that come to Food Not Bombs have jobs but need a free meal so they have enough to pay for their housing. Second Harvest in Orlando reported that over 55,000 people required food through their central Florida program. They also reported that 20.7% of the pantries, 10.1% of the kitchens and 33.0% of the shelters responded that they turned away clients during the past year. Their website also shows that 49% of the Central Florida Second Harvest clients had to choose between paying for food and paying for their rent or mortgage. The Orlando Regional Realtor Association announced that housing sales for May 2011 were 14.99 percent below May 2010. Housing foreclosures are also on the increase. The people eating with Food Not Bombs eat with us because they need food. Many must choose between food or housing. Mayor Buddy Dyer and other officials must come to terms with the fact that we are in a crisis and hiding the problem of hunger is not a solution.

A recent CNN poll reported that nearly half of all Americans they questioned believed the country will collapse into an economic depression within the next twelve months. For many the depression is already here. Nearly 1 billion people go without food every day world wide even though there is enough to feed everyone. Over 25,000 people die each day because they do not have enough to eat. Many of those going hungry live right here in cities like Orlando. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that over 15 percent of Americans were going with out food each month in 2009. That number has increased. Federal authorities also report that 387,849 new recipients were added to the food stamps program in March 2011. Over 44 million Americans rely on food stamps to feed their families and the number continues to grow. Efforts to end hunger and poverty should be supported by the City of Orlando. These staggering and painful statistics reflect the failure of priorities. No one should go hungry in the world’s wealthiest country. Arresting volunteers for doing all they can to encourage solutions to this crisis is criminal.

The whole essay is well worth reading.

The irony, of course, is inescapable. At one end of the spectrum, we have Kentucky Senator Rand Paul suggesting that we should let seniors eat charity, and at the other end, we have folks working for a charity getting arrested for feeding the hungry.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Felony for Health Care

James Verone drove a truck for Coca-Cola for 17 years. When his job ended three years ago, he had a hard time finding work. Eventually he would up working in a convenience store. The bending, lifting, and standing took a toll on him. Back trouble, foot trouble, arthritis in his hands, and carpal tunnel were all making his life painful. He found a something sticking out of his chest, and tried to get financial help to deal with his medical situation. He didn't qualify. Verone chose not to ask his siblings for help. He chose a different direction. He decided to rob a bank.

From the Gaston Gazette in Gaston County, North Carolina:

He handed the teller a note demanding one dollar, and medical attention.
“I didn’t have any fears,” said Verone. “I told the teller that I would sit over here and wait for police.”


Verone expected to be charged with bank robbery.

Because he only demanded $1, he was charged with larceny from a person. Still a felony, the count doesn’t carry as much jail time as bank robbery.

The bearded, gray-haired man plans to represent himself in court. He’s trying not to get too confident about his knowledge of the legal system. He just wants to prepare a statement for the judge and then take whatever active sentence he is given.

Verone is considering an ultimatum if the penalty isn’t great enough, he said.

The crime will happen again.

It's impossible to read this story and not think about different choices that James Verone might have made. The real story here is the desperation that he was feeling; desperation shared by increasing numbers of people in the United States - the only industrialized nation in the world that does not provide universal health care to every citizen.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The US Economy

From - former US Labor Secretary Robert Reich explains what is wrong with the US economy in under 2 minutes.

Pass it on.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

5 Progressive Congressional Bills

Five smart, progressive bills in Congress; bills you've probably never heard of. These aren't bills that are getting any media attention at all. Good ideas, going nowhere. From The Nation:

The Fairness in Taxation Act [H.R.1124]

Sponsored by Illinois Democrat Jan Schakowsky and co-sponsored by 20 other Democratic House members, the Fairness in Taxation Act [FTA] would create additional tax brackets at the top of the income ladder, starting with $1 million and ending at $1 billion. As things stand, the highest tax bracket is set at $373,000, meaning the top 20 hedge fund managers with an average annual income of over $1 billion pay the same marginal tax rate as those who make 2,500 times less than they do.

This would raise federal tax revenue by more than $78.9 billion in this year alone, and would cover some of the ugliest budget cuts the GOP wants to make, like cuts to Pell Grants.

The Foundations for Success Act [S.294]

This would address the crisis in affordable day care for families, while simultaneously addressing the fact that the US is falling behind in early childhood education.

Sanders’ plan establishes a grant program providing “universal, full day, full week, and full year programs” available to households with children age 6 weeks until Kindergarten. The program would initially serve 10 geographically diverse states across the country that fall significantly behind others in providing viable care services, but would ultimately expand to all 50 states in a long-term initiative to build upon existing efforts to improve the quality and affordability of early care.

The Federal Reserve Transparency Act [H.R.459]

Sponsored by Ron Paul in the House, with a similar bill [S. 202] sponsored by his son Rand Paul in the Senate, the Federal Reserve Transparency Act (FRTA) lifts restrictions placed on the Government Accountability Office and mandates an external audit of the Fed’s books by the end of 2012.

Because their procedures, reasoning, and internal processes should be more transparent.

The Shortening Hours and Retaining Employees (SHARE) Credit Act [H.R.4179]

Michigan Congressman John Conyers has taken up the initiative by sponsoring the SHARE Act, a job-creation program that offers a tax credit of up to $3,000 to employers who shorten workers’ hours in the form of “paid sick days, paid family leave, shorter workweeks or longer vacations.

Workers would have more leisure time - and that translates into consumer spending. This is working well in Germany, where they're maintaining the pre-economic downturn unemployment rate during the recession.

The 21st Century Civilian Conservation Corps Act [H.R.494]

Sponsored by Ohio Representative Marcy Kaptur, the 21st Century Civilian Conservation Corps Act (CCCA) is a job creation program that re-establishes a Civilian Conservation Corp that puts to work unemployed and underemployed civilians to advance useful public works projects aimed at safeguarding natural resources and developing new transportation and infrastructure.

This is the best idea of all. There are so many public works and conservation projects that need attention across the country. Soil erosion, flooding in the midwest, repairs to levees and dams, maintenance projects in parks - the possibilities are endless. At a time when so many are out of work, this would be the best investment we could possibly make. Putting people to work solving America's infrastructure problems? That's something we could all be proud of.

cross posted at MainSt/

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Guinta, Bass, and the Ryan Plan

Republican Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin came up with a budget plan that was applauded by his Teabaglican pals in the US House. NH Congressman Charlie Bass got behind it. Congressman Frank Guinta first complained that it didn’t cut enough – but then he got behind it, too. Senator Kelly Ayotte announced that if the Ryan plan came for a vote before the Senate, she’d support it. Then everything started to unravel, as more and more detail about the Ryan budget surfaced.

Republican economist Mark Zandi found that the Ryan budget would eliminate 1.7 million jobs in the first two years. Economists across the political spectrum warned that the Ryan plan would set back the long-term growth and competitiveness of the US economy. The Ryan plan makes deep cuts to education, training, science and technology R&D, and transportation infrastructure investment. One can see how this would further the “American exceptionalism” that these folks love to get all weepy about. A country with crumbling infrastructure, falling behind in science and technology, while cutting over a million jobs could only be described as exceptional.

Oh, but wait! There’s more. The Ryan plan also calls for turning Medicare into a voucher program. Those folks currently aged 55 or older would continue to get Medicare, as we know it. Everyone else would get a voucher from Medicare to buy private insurance from the many companies who are just dying to get in on insuring senior citizens. As insurance costs continue to rise, seniors would be paying the difference themselves, from their Social Security pension, which would also be privatized under the Ryan Plan. The vouchers would not increase to meet rising health costs. None of the doughty Republicans are using the term “rationing” or even “death panels,” though certainly both would apply.

Charlie Bass supports this plan to eliminate Medicare. He’s awfully upset though, that his support for a voucher program is being called support for a voucher program. A couple of groups paid for a TV ad that criticizes Bass’s support for the voucher program. In the ad, a former Bass supporter talks about what the changes in Medicare would mean to her family. The National Republican Congressional Committee tried to get the ad pulled off the airwaves, claiming it was a misrepresentation of the truth. The ad stayed. It’s the truth that Charlie Bass wishes to conceal. He’s not brave enough to stand up and tell the truth about what he’s supporting. His favorability ratings in NH CD-2 are at 29%.

Frank Guinta also supports this plan. At his recent town hall meetings, he’s pointed out that this won’t apply to anyone over the age of 55, as if that makes him some sort of hero. There is no thought given to those who lost their savings when the economy tanked, no thought given to those older folks who lost their jobs, and still can’t find work, or are still underemployed. It would at least be honest if Frank and Charlie suggested rebuilding the poor houses we once had for the state’s future senior citizens.

Meanwhile, the US House continues to run much the same way the NH House is running, on the premise that cutting spending and revenue will magically restore our economy. Even though those spending cuts are eliminating jobs, the magic GOP budgets will make everything okay. All we need to do is destroy Medicare and Social Security and that will fix everything. Just don’t ask them to stop borrowing money to fund tax cuts for billionaires, or to stop borrowing to fund the many wars we’re currently embroiled in.

The Pentagon is the biggest entitlement program and none of the budget peacocks have any intention of doing anything about it. As I’ve pointed out before, the Pentagon can’t pass an audit, and can’t account for trillions of dollars. One would think that our deficit talkers would find that unconscionable. One would be wrong. There is no talk of making the Pentagon accountable. The only talk is of shoveling more money at them, and continuing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Every dollar we spend on war is a dollar we aren’t investing in the future of the nation. It’s a borrowed dollar at that – so it’s part of the debt we’ll be leaving our children. These Teabaglicans would further impoverish senior citizens, and rob them of health care to line the pockets of their friends in the insurance industry and Wall St. At the same time, they are desperate to keep on funding the tax cuts for the wealthy, since they themselves benefit from them of course, as do their donors.

Charlie Bass voted for every bloated Bush defense budget. He voted for every bloated military appropriations bill. He also voted seven times to increase the debt ceiling. Now, suddenly, he wishes to be seen as Mr. Fiscal Responsibility? The Republican facility for rewriting history is truly a wonder to behold. Or, as Sarah Palin might say, “Ring, Ring, Kaboom!”

© 2011 sbruce

This was published as an op-ed in the 6-10-11 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Fake Eviction Notices, Slums, Bridges and a Detroit Billionaire

A number of people who live in the Delray district of Detroit found eviction notices on their houses when they got home yesterday. They were fake eviction notices, designed to scare homeowners in the Delray neighborhood. The notices came from the conservative group Americans for Prosperity:

From theDetroit Free Press:

Bearing the words “Eviction Notice” in large type, the bogus notices told homeowners their properties could be taken by the Michigan Department of Transportation to make way for the New International Trade Crossing bridge project. The NITC is the subject of debate in Lansing, and Americans for Prosperity is lobbying heavily against it.

“It was meant to startle people,” Scott Hagerstrom, the group’s state director, said today. “We really wanted people to take notice. This is the time that their opinions need to be heard. We wanted people to read it.”

Somehow scaring the heck out of folks with a fake eviction notice might not be the best tactic for winning people over to your side. The residents were not amused.

This is all about bridges. The Ambassador Bridge runs between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario. The bridge is privately owned, by billionaire Matty Moroun, who purchased this border crossing thirty years ago. The bridge is now 81 years old, and needs to be replaced.


Two months ago, Canadian officials took matters into their own hands and offered to loan Michigan $550 million to start construction on a new bridge a couple of miles downriver from the Ambassador to be called the Detroit River International Crossing (or DRIC). Such a plan did not sit well with Moroun who argues that a new bridge would unfairly compete with the Ambassador and could potentially burden taxpayers.

Yes, compete with.

But Moroun estimates that the state's bridge could take up to 75% of his commercial traffic, the biggest money maker for any bridge. The Ambassador is currently estimated to generate about $60 million a year in toll revenue, according to Crain's Detroit.

The Ambassador is a privately owned toll bridge. Mr. Moroun doesn't want to lose this very lucrative cash cow.

From Alternet:

Meet the proposed new Detroit River International River Crossing, DRIC for short, to be built two miles downriver from the Ambassador. DRIC would be jointly owned by the United States and Canada, funded partly by private investors, and enable us to meet the trade, transportation and security issues of this century.

The United States wants this bridge. The government of Canada needs it. Republicans like Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson are behind it. So are the Ford Motor Co. and the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce. In Ohio, where the economy is closely linked to Michigan and Canada, the GOP-controlled state Senate passed a resolution supporting DRIC — unanimously.

The new bridge is desperately needed. The US and the Canadians agree. It's a cooperatively financed project, which makes sense for both sides. So what's the problem?

Matty Moroun has spend millions lobbying the Michigan House and Senate. The DRIC bill passed the House, barely, last week. The GOP has control of the Michigan Senate, so far, they're supporting their buddy Matt. So are his buddies at the oxymoronically named Americans for Prosperity. That's why they're trying to scare people with fake eviction notices.

It's not as if the Detroit area doesn't desperately need the 10,000+ jobs that would be created.

It seems that Mr. Moroun is a less than stellar corporate citizen. In fact, he's widely regarded as a negligent slumlord. A report from a recent rally in Detroit, from People's World:

They believe that if a negligent slumlord did what he was supposed to do some of the worst urban blight in America could be used to generate good jobs.

People who love this economically battered city rallied last Friday in front of one of the nation's largest symbols of urban decay - the long-abandoned Michigan Central Train Depot - to demand that its billionaire owner fork up money for its rehabilitation. The rally was organized by the AFL-CIO "Good Jobs Now" committee, the Service Employees International Union, and religious and community organizations.

Moroun bought the train depot, promising to rehabilitate it. He's reneged on that promise. In fact he owns at least 500 decaying properties in Detroit.

Rev. Charles Williams, pastor of the historic King Solomon Baptist Church, said rehabilitation of the train depot and Moroun's homes would create many jobs. At the Detroit depot alone there could be jobs for maintenance workers, carpenters, laborers, and iron workers, he said.

Williams said it is wrong to blame problems faced by Detroit on its residents. He noted that right-wing talk radio personality Glen Beck recently smeared city residents by comparing Detroit to Hiroshima and said its residents and unions were to blame.

The Detroit coalition group Good Jobs Now has put together a slideshow called Matty Moroun's Parade of Slums

It is truly amazing that the Michigan Legislature would turn their backs on the future of their state, and the creation of badly needed jobs, in order to allow an 83 year old billionaire to keep his stranglehold on border transportation and the tolls his bridge generates.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Ten Years of Tax Cuts

From MoJo:
You probably didn't realize it, but June 7, 2011, is a momentous day in US history. It marks the 10-year anniversary of the signing into law of the Bush tax cuts, a day when President George W. Bush helped replace an unprecedented federal budget surplus with a mountain of debt in order to slash taxes for rich people (including dead ones).


Big debt: Between 2001 and 2010, the Bush tax cuts added $2.6 trillion to the public debt, 50 percent of the total debt accrued during that time. Over the past 10 years, the country has spent more than $400 billion just servicing the debt created by the cuts.

Yet when the deficit peacocks began to preen about the deficit, they weren't willing to eliminate those tax cuts, which is in itself the ultimate illustration of the depth of their concern for the deficit. They said these cuts were important, because they CREATE JOBS. Except, as we all know: they don't. They haven't, and they aren't going to.

No jobs: Between 2002 and 2007, employment increased by less than 1 percent when the economy was supposed to be expanding. Employment growth barely kept pace with population growth. Between the end of 2001, when the country was in a recession, and the peak of the real estate bubble, er, economic expansion in 2007, the US economy performed worse than at any time since the end of World War II.

Essentially, the Bush tax cuts made the rich richer, and helped empty our treasury and build the very deficit that we hear so much about. Ending the tax cuts isn't an option. The options all seem to involve cutting existing jobs, social programs, and slashing education spending: 2001, before the tax cuts went into effect, the federal government invested $8,634 in inflation-adjusted dollars for every four-year-old in Head Start, the Great Society-era early childhood program designed to help prepare poor kids to do well in school. In 2011, that investment declined to $7,824 per child. Funding for the Social Services Block Grant, which funds programs that combat child abuse and neglect, among other things, has dropped more than 20 percent in real dollars.

Not only are we leaving the next generation a dismal legacy, we're not doing even a decent job of providing them with the kind of tools they're going to need to fix this mess.

Cross-posted at MainSt/

Thursday, June 02, 2011

The Economic Recovery that Wasn't

From the WaPo
Two bright spots over the past few months — manufacturing and job creation by private companies — both slowed in May, according to new reports this week. The data come amid other reports of falling home prices, declining auto sales, weaker consumer spending and a rising pace of layoffs.

Instead of accelerating, the U.S. economy is puttering along at a growth rate of 2 to 3 percent — barely enough to bring down joblessness, if at all.

Despite the talk of economic recovery, it seems that not enough jobs are being created to bring down the unemployment numbers.
On Thursday the Labor Department reported that fewer Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, falling by 6,000 to 422,000.
But that level is still too high to sustain job creation, which slowed sharply last month at private businesses, according to ADP, the payroll processing company. Firms added 38,000 jobs, ADP estimated, compared with 179,000 jobs added in April.

On Friday, the Labor Department will release its report on May job growth and the unemployment rate. Economists expect that about 180,000 jobs were created last month, dropping from 244,000 in April, and that the unemployment rate has edged down to 8.9 percent from 9 percent.

This doesn't begin to employ the numbers of already unemployed, never mind the new college grads and the about to be unemployed.

Speaking of the about to be unemployed:

The government and non-profit sector continues to dominate monthly job-cut announcements, the firm's monthly report said.
Government and non-profits firms announced 14,755 layoffs in May, about 40 percent of the month's total.

The budget cuts we've seen on the state and national level are going to mean higher unemployment numbers - something that the peppy economic forecasters would like to ignore. It's difficult to imagine how we can claim an economic recovery when so many are still out of work, and so many are about to be.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

New College Grads

The grim realities being faced by new college graduates. From Alternet:
Young people between the ages of 16 and 24 face an unemployment rate nearly twice that of the rest of the population, according to data from the Economic Policy Institute. 2010's 18.4 percent rate for youth was the worst in the 60 years that economists have collected such data. ColorLines notes that in 2010, 8.4 percent of white college graduates were unemployed, 13.8 percent of Latino graduates, and a dismal 19 percent of black graduates.

Then came this startling statement (emphasis mine):
The cost of a college degree is up some 3,400 percent since 1972, but as we all know too well, household incomes haven't increased by anything close to that number -- not for the bottom 99 percent of us, anyway.

Pell Grants have been steadily cut, and the Ryan budget in the US House would cut them even further. This means more students will get loans from private companies that have little in the way of accountability. As it stands now, those private and government issued loans will stick with a graduate even in the event of a bankruptcy. New legislation would allow those debts to be discharged during a bankruptcy proceeding.

In other words, a new college graduate may be facing bankruptcy and destroyed credit before finding a job.

cross-posted at MainSt/