EARTH TO A PATRONIZING PLANET


The Netroots Nation conference has traditionally been an occasion for mainstream media types to take a whack at the unreasonableness of the left. Michael Grunwald offered up, if not a classic, a fairly representative example of the genre on Swampland yesterday. Take this paragraph designed to dispatch left criticisms of Barack Obama with patronizing parentheticals:

It’s true that President Obama is not as liberal as some Daily Kos bloggers would like him to be. (Although he has blogged at Daily Kos.) He continued some of President Bush’s national security policies. (Although he did end the war in Iraq.) He ignored left-wing calls to nationalize troubled banks. (Which turned out to be the right call.) He’s pushed for middle-class tax cuts and public-employee wage freezes that his base dislikes, and he’s outsourced most of the Republican-bashing that his base craves. (Which may be why he’s way more popular than his party.)

Let’s take the parenthetical potshots one at a time:

It’s true that Obama has posted on Daily Kos – although the most prominent instance was when he took to Daily Kos to criticize progressives for being too hard on senators that backed John Roberts (more on that one here and here).

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WHAT IF PAUL RYAN PROPOSED A HEALTH INFLATION TAX ON SENIORS INSTEAD?

In honor of Paul Ryan, I have a thought experiment up on the Washington Monthly blog:

“My fellow Americans, it’s time for straight talk, tough decisions, and tight belts. Health care inflation is a prime driver of our long-term debt. That’s why I’m going to save Medicare with my Health Inflation Tax. It’s a simple solution: each senior will just have to pay a tax equal to the increase in the cost of their Medicare to the government beyond 2.7% a year. So if your individual Medicare costs us 10 percent more next year, your tax will cover three-quarters of the increased cost of your care (the other quarter is on us!). Here’s the best part: if you want lower taxes, you just need to use less healthcare. And you can be proud knowing that as your Health Inflation Tax goes up and up, Medicare’s net cost to the government will never increase by more than 2.7% again. Now let’s come together and get my Health Inflation Tax passed. No demagoguery allowed.”

How popular do you think this plan would be? Would it have gotten the same forty Senate votes Ryan’s plan did on Wednesday?

Read it here.

DAYENU, PAUL RYAN!


Peeling through all the layers of deception and immorality in Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan requires a modern dayenu:

If he cut taxes further on the rich but didn’t end Medicare, it would have been enough.

If he ended Medicare but didn’t end Medicaid, it would have been enough.

If he ended Medicare and Medicaid but didn’t claim he was protecting them, it would have been enough.

If he claimed he was protecting Medicare and Medicaid but didn’t claim it would boost employment, it would have been enough.

If he claimed it would boost employment but didn’t claim unemployment would fall to 2.8%, it would have been enough.

If he planned to cut taxes for rich people and end Medicare and Medicaid but didn’t call it a deficit reduction plan, it would have been enough.

WHAT’S THE PLAN?

Two weeks ago, lots of folks were predicting that Scott Brown would win the next day’s election. I don’t think as many people predicted (I didn’t) that by February it would still be left to Washington Kremlinologists to try to figure out what exactly Obama, Pelosi, and Reid want to see happen, and how quickly, on healthcare. I thought by February, the American people, let alone the American Congress, would have a clear idea what the leadership wanted to see. I definitely would not have predicted that an hour after the vote Barney Frank would be on TV talking about scuttling the bill.

It’s like a thousand-times-magnified version of the 2006 dust-up over who would chair the Intelligence Committee in the new Democratic majority. It didn’t captivate the media, but it did provide a slow burn of embarrassing stories for the Speaker-to-be speculating whether she would tap hawkish Harman or impeached-as-a-judge Hastings. In the end, she went with the 3rd most senior Democrat. In the weeks it took Pelosi to make that call, I kept wondering: Why didn’t Pelosi mull this one over ahead of time in October when it looked clear she was headed to victory?

Speaking of what Dems should do now, Jon Stewart got at something last week: “No matter what you do, the Republicans are not going to let you into the station wagon. They’re never going to let you in. And here’s the worst part: You’re the majority. It’s your car!”

If Pelosi and Reid’s folks are indeed working on how to make the reconciliation sidecar work (we can only hope), now would be a good time to be reminding the members why it’s gotta happen. Nature abhors your vacuum, but Dick Armey doesn’t.

ONE IN THREE, LEAVE HIM BE!

Contrary to the claims of conservatives trying to save the brand from an unpopular product, George W. Bush is a conservative, no qualifier necessary. He showed off his conservatism last week by vetoing health insurance for more children:

“It is estimated that if this program were to become law, one out of every three persons that would subscribe to the new expanded Schip would leave private insurance,” the president said. “The policies of the government ought to be to help poor children and to focus on poor children, and the policies of the government ought to be to help people find private insurance, not federal coverage. And that’s where the philosophical divide comes in.”

Leaving aside the speciousness of Bush’s statistics, and the spectacular problems with America’s system of private insurance, this quote is telling on another level: It’s not just that George Bush and the GOP cohort vying to replace him believe freedom is about keeping the government out of providing you insurance more so than keeping sickness away from your child.

It’s that if there are three kids, George Bush would rather one have private insurance and two be left without health care than that all three have publicly-supported health care.

That should come as no surprise from the president who presided over Hurricane Katrina.

"ANATHEMA TO FREE-MARKET SUPPORTERS"? I’M QUAKING IN MY BOOTS

From Jon Chait’s rebuttal of the aforementioned indecent proposal:

If I understand Lindsey, he is proposing the following bargain: Libertarians will give up their politically hopeless goal of eliminating two wildly popular social programs that represent the core of liberalism’s domestic achievements. Liberals, in turn, will agree to simply eviscerate these programs, leaving perhaps some rump version targeted at the poorest of the poor. To be fair, Lindsey offers these ideas only as the basis for negotiation, but the prospects of bridging this gulf seem less than promising.

It’s worth noting that even the libertarians at the Cato Institute, in a study Lindsey touts and Chait pokes some holes in, could only come up with 13% of the population to label libertarian. And half of them are already voting for Democrats, despite the “anti-nafta, Wal-Mart-bashing economic populism” that Lindsey warns will be the party’s undoing. You wouldn’t know it from visiting most elite universities, but libertarianism is not a big hit. That’s why Bill Kristol urged congressional Republicans not to go wobbly against the Clinton healthcare plan: Not because an expansion (insufficient and needlessly complex though it was) of the government’s role in the healthcare system was contrary to the will of voters, but because if it passed it would cement the popularity of the party that passed it.

ONE SIDE OF THE DEAL

An American worker who works at the current federal minimum wage – $5.15/ hour – for forty hours a week for fifty-two weeks, without interruption, would make $10,712.

The 2006 federal poverty line for the continental United States for a two-person family is $13,200 a year.

That means a family of one child and one parent who works full-time at the federal minimum wage is living at least $2,500 below the poverty line.

The reality faced by the working poor in America is somewhat different. People struggle to find consistent full-time work. People take multiple jobs adding up to well over forty hours without receiving the benefits of full-time work from any of them. People get sick.

A decade ago, conservatives in Congress – with a good many ostensible liberals in tow – inflicted a harsh revision of the American social contract, tearing away the safety net from those who utilized its support for more than three or five years of their lives – even if they were using that time to gain the skills for a better shot at living-wage work. Under the regime of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, the uncompromising message sent to every low-income woman and man in this country by our congress is that your first and immediate responsibility is to find a way into the minimum-wage workforce.

But the same leaders who have most loudly pushed that message on marginalized Americans have fought fiercely against either requiring that work pay by raising the minimum wage or facilitating workers’ freedom to demand that work pay by protecting their organizing rights.

This week, some of them floated an insulting proposal – intended to fail – which would ease the minimum wage higher for some workers while both leaving tipped workers out to dry and depleting the federal government’s resources for empowering working Americans by lavishing cash on this country’s wealthiest families.

We deserve better.

THE SILENT PRE-PRIMARY

The past few weeks, with Hillary Clinton’s formal acceptance of the Democratic party endorsement for Senate and an ensuing wave of articles about her politics and personal life, have brought speculation about the Democrats 2008 primary and the role that she will play in it. The emerging conventional wisdom consensus of today seems to be that she’s much less popular with party activists than was assumed in the conventional wisdom of yesterday, but that denying her the nomination would require an “Un-Hillary” capable of clearing the field of other viable aspirants and gathering together the disparate constituencies that don’t want to see her as the party’s standard-bearer in the next Presidential election. What the pundits seem to disagree about or, in many cases, ignore entirely, is whether that alternative candidate will come from the left or from the right of the Democratic party.

Since pundits and party hacks are likely to force the narrative of the coming primary into either a “Hillary versus the Un-Hillary” mold or a “Hillary versus a slew of guys” one – the latter of which pretty much secures her the nomination – who emerges from the primary will turn in some significant part on how the part of “Un-Hillary” is scripted. What kind of candidate the “Un-Hillary” is supposed to be will help determine who gets to seize the mantle and get the attention and the activists that make it possible to win. And what kind of candidate the “Un-Hillary” is supposed to be will depend in good part on who Hillary herself is perceived to be: the ostensible feminist firebrand committed to subversion of culture and nationalization of industries, or the hawk who’s proud to have voted for the war and wants government to regulate video game content more and credit card interest rates less. Evan Bayh and Mark Warner are running against the former; Russ Feingold and John Edwards are running against the latter.

So while the ostensibly-right-of-Hillary majority of Democratic presidential aspirants are each other’s immediate competitors for the right-of-Hillary niche, they are also allies in working to ensure that Hillary is seen as a left-winger who could be stopped by a right-of-Hillary “Un-Hillary” and not a right-winger who could be stopped by a left-of-Hillary “Un-Hillary.” The opposite is true of the minority of Democratic presidential aspirants who are gunning to run to her left.

Which camp will get the Hillary they want? The right-of-Hillary folks still have the media largely on their side, in that even the increasingly publicity around her moves to ban flag-burning and such still frames these acts as feints to the right by a unreconstructed liberal with the political savvy to disguise herself (this coverage often pivots around the myth that “Hillarycare” was a solidly left-wing proposal). The left-of-Hillary folks have Clinton herself on their side – both the conservatism of her record on the issues that divide the party and the intensity of her campaign to highlight her centrism. Judging by the approach she’s taken (with exceptions on some votes on seemingly forgone conclusions, like Bush’s nominations), as well as the comments of her advisors, she seems much more concerned with protecting herself from the right-of-Hillary competitors than from the left-of-Hillary ones.

Last month, Jonathan Chait noted the bind Clinton is in: “instead of moderates focusing on her positions while liberals focus on her persona, the opposite seems to be happening.” The logic of her circle seems to be that her gender, her rhetoric, and the relentless multi-decade assault on her from the right will be enough to secure the support of the left even as she offers policies to woo the center and beyond. If she succeeds, then progressives will be confronted not just with the comparatively conservative Clinton as frontrunner but with the comparatively conservative Clinton as the leftie of the crop of frontrunners. But given the increasing anxiety about her amongst the Democratic base, there’s reason to hope she won’t.

WAL-MART: CAST OUT THE SICK

Wal-Mart’s Vice President sends the Board a memo suggesting the company cut down on the costs of providing health insurance when employees get sick by driving away any employees who could use health insurance:

Redesign benefits and other aspects of the Associate experience, such as job design, to attract a healthier, more productive workforce…Decrease cross-subsidization of spouses through higher premiums or other charges…[life insurance] is also a high-satisfaction, low-importance benefit, which suggests an opportunity to trim the offering without substantial impact on Associate satisfaction…reducing the number of labor hours per store, increasing the percentage of part-time Associates in the stores, and increasing the number of hours per Associate…Wal-Mart should seek to attract a healthier workforce. The first recommendation in this section, moving all Associates to consumer-driven health plans, will help achieve this goal because these plans are more attractive to healthier Associates. The team is also considering additional initiatives to support this objective, including: Design all jobs to include some physical activity (e.g., all cashiers do some cart gathering…It will be far easier to attract and retain a healthier workforce than it will be to change behavior in an existing one. These moves would also dissuade unhealthy people from coming to Wal-Mart.

Put simply, Wal-Mart’s strategy is one of cost-cutting through squeezing workers out of full-time work and discrimination against qualified applicants. As Jacob Hacker writes:

what this memo makes clear is that Wal-Mart’s recently touted effort to “upgrade” its health plan ultimately amounts to a gutting of the very concept of health insurance…how to deal with these exploding costs? In a nutshell, get rid of “cross-subsidization” (yes, the memo actually uses the word) — of spouses, of the old, of the sick. Newman points out that this may be grounds for an ADA suit. But equally important, it is a view totally at odds with the concept of insurance. Insurance, after all, is all about cross-subsidies

This comes after a weekend Wal-Mart devoted to pitching itself as a progressive employer. Tough sell there.

HOW NOT TO RESPOND TO TRAGEDY: AN INCOMPLETE LIST

Steve Bell: “Do you think we’re going to be able to pass substantial Medicaid cuts and Social Security reform in the middle of this? You can’t put that much on the plate.”

Bill O’Reilly: “A lot of the people — a lot of the people who stayed wanted to do this destruction. They figured it out. And that’s — I’m not surprised.”

Rick Santorum:”There may be a need to look at tougher penalties on those who decide to ride it out and understand that there are consequences to not leaving.”

Grover Norquist: “I don’t think Republicans will be fooled into taking this necessary spending and using it to oppose pro-growth tax cuts.”

Barbara Bush: “And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them.”

George Bush: “Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott’s house–he’s lost his entire house,” cracked Bush, “there’s going to be a fantastic house. And I’m looking forward to sitting on the porch.”

THE WRONG WAY TO HONOR THE 4TH

is to narrow Americans’ constitutional freedoms by amending the first amendment to ban unpopular symbolic speech. It’s disturbing to see the Senate within a few votes of following the House in passing the abysmal “Flag Burning Amendment.” And it’s disappointing to see so many Democrats (Bob Menendez, Sherrod Brown, and Loretta Sanchez among them) joining the pandering parade.

As I said in this piece (also here), crimminalizing flag-burning is a desecration of the flag and of our freedoms. As Hendrik Hertzberg once observed, it’s impossible to burn the flag, though some may choose to burn a flag or two. Trampling the freedoms for which that flag stands, however, is all too feasible.

That’s exactly how we should recognize the criminalization of a symbol based on offense at its content. After all, if the burning of a flag can be rendered illegal on grounds of outrage at the message it signifies, why not images of burning flags? Why not incitement to burn flags? Why not Dick Durbin’s insistence that torture is more befiting a despotic regime than the United States of America? There was a moment in this country’s history before the First Amendment when representatives on the floor of Congress had a constitutional right to free speech unavailable to regular Americans. It would be shameful for us ever to enter a moment after the unamended First Amendment in which the same is the case.

A Flag-Burning Amendment would still be outrageous if flag-burning was an everyday occurence in this country. But it’s worth noting that it isn’t. Not only was the pro-amendment Citizens Flag Alliance only able to document four incidents this year (three of them last month, while the Amendment was under debate and in the news), every single one involved people burning other people’s flags. However one ranks the wrongness of setting the local Public Library’s flag on fire relative to, say, denying healthcare to returning veterans, it’s already illegal.

What’s at issue is this: Living in a society with a robust Bill of Rights means that in some rare instance, some American may exercise the freedom granted under our flag to burn a flag in hopes of dramatizing a divide between a vision for this country and its present reality. The discomfort that’s inspired by a burning flag, or a confederate flag, is a small price to pay for liberty.

CHANGE TO WIN ROUND-UP

On Thursday, the Change to Win unions released twenty resolutions they’re submitting for votes at the AFL-CIO’s convention at the end of this month. Echoing the dissidents’ May platform, these amendments would commit the Federation to rebate dues to unions prioritizing new organizing, empower it to demand accountability from unions which aren’t and facilitate strategic mergers, and strengthen the power of the most populous unions with the AFL-CIO’s decision-making structure. They would commit the federation to aggressively promote internal diversity, international solidarity, and responsible budgeting. They would commit the federation to foster cooperation and the maintenance of bargaining standards within industries and solidarity across the movement in fighting for retirement security, universal healthcare, and global justice. And in defiance of the threats Sweeney’s issued should the dissidents split off, one of their resolutions would open central labor councils to the participation of non-AFL-CIO unions.

Given that Sweeney has the votes locked down for re-election (though a few are speculating he could still be pressured into bowing out), the debate and voting over these resolutions is likely to be the greatest flashpoint for controversy at the federation’s most contentious convention in a decade. And what happens to these resolutions will be crucial to determining whether the dissidents continue to pursue their agenda for change through the federation or whether they make a break.

As the Change to Win unions consider their next move, they’ve been joined last week by the Carpenters, who formally affiliated with Change to Win four years after themselves splitting off from the AFL-CIO over similar concerns. The Change to Win dissidents have played a key role in keeping the pressure on to stop Sweeney from forcing the Carpenters out of participation in the federation’s Building and Construction Trades Department, and the Carpenters were players in the New Unity Partnership as well. Their affiliation is no surprise, but it does help to further swell the new coalition and puts front and center the model of a union which has experienced success since breaking away from the AFL-CIO. The real coup for the dissidents would be pulling in the National Education Association (NEA).

All of this friction, though certainly tense, has the potential to transform a movement and a set of organizations sorely in need of it, and turn around the decline in American union membership which has steadily pulled the efficacy of the broader left down with it. But don’t take it from me – take it from the prestigious anti-union law firm Morgan Lewis:

If the Coalition’s members follow through on their threats to disaffiliate from the Federation later this year, employers can expect an increased interest in union organizing. This could be especially true for the nation’s largest non-union employers. For employers with existing unionized workforces, this means increased pressure to execute some form of neutrality and card-check recognition agreement. For employers with unions from both competing factions at their facilities, competition for better wages, benefits and other terms and conditions of employment is likely…the raiding between AFL and CIO constituent unions that occurred prior to 1955 will now play out between Coalition’s members and those remaining loyal to the Federation. The last several years have seen a significant increase in the amount of collaboration between U.S.-based unions and their international counterparts. That collaboration could increase significantly. Finally, more union mergers should be forthcoming.