Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Hell And High Water Strikes, Media Miss The Forest For The Burning Trees

Well, at least I'm making money on the global temp markets at Intrade.--SS     

Hell And High Water Strikes, Media Miss The Forest For The Burning Trees:

Waldo Canyon Fire via twitpic

If a tree burns down in a globally-warmed forest but the media doesn’t report why, does it make a sound?
Record-setting heat waves, wildfires, and deluges  – at the same time —  just what climate scientists have been forecasting for decades. That’s why I titled my 2006 book Hell and High Water.

The scientific literature increasingly says it’s happening now goosed on by human emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases (see “Must-Read Trenberth: How To Relate Climate Extremes to Climate Change“). See also study (4/12) finds Arctic warming favors extreme, prolonged weather events “such as drought, flooding, cold spells and heat waves.” And see study (9/10) finds global warming is driving increased frequency of extreme wet or dry summer weather in southeast, so droughts and deluges are likely to get worse.

Dr. Kevin Trenberth, former head of the Climate Analysis Section of the National Center for Atmospheric Research told the NY Times, “It’s not the right question to ask if this storm or that storm is due to global warming, or is it natural variability. Nowadays, there’s always an element of both.” At the same time, the wildfires in the west, which include the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history, are being fueled by climate change.

UPDATE: After flying over the Waldo Canyon blaze, Governor John Hickenlooper said:
It was like looking at the worst movie set you could imagine. It’s almost surreal. You look at that, and it’s like nothing I’ve seen before.
But here’s the PBS story, “Tropical Storm Debby Saturates Florida, Extreme Heat Fans Fires in Colorado,” with nary a mention of global warming. Same for the ABC Evening News story last night on the Colorado fires and Midwest heatwave (“we’re rivaling some of the warmest temperatures on the planet right now”) and their morning story (“temperatures never seen before in that region”). Same for the ABC Evening News story last night on the Florida floods (over two feet of rain in places — “disaster by a million raindrops” and don’t miss the part about the snakes and balls of fire ants in the water!).

ABC now even has an “extreme weather team.” It would be great if they included some experts discussing how global warming has “juiced” the climate, as if it were on steroids, as, for instance, ClimateWire (subs. req’d) did in its story, “Minn. floods, early tropical storms fuel questions about changing climate”:

Rains ‘juiced’ by climate?

Experts observing from a greater distance say the intense rainfall and localized flooding may represent a new normal for places like northern Minnesota, where climate change is expressing itself in a variety of ways, including hotter summers, milder winters, a shift in species composition, and a general trend toward more frequent intense storm events. 
“This type of storm reminds us that climate is changing in Minnesota. Not only in terms of quantity of precipitation, but in the character of precipitation as well. In recent decades a larger fraction of our annual total precipitation is coming in the form of intense thunderstorms,” Mark Seeley, an esteemed meteorologist and climatologist at the University of Minnesota Extension Service, wrote in his weekly “WeatherTalk” newsletter last week. 
Meteorologist Paul Huttner, Minnesota Public Radio’s resident weather expert, wrote on the network’s “Updraft” weather blog that a “rearview mirror” reading of the Duluth storms allows observers “to look back and see how it fits into the overall picture of climate change in Minnesota.” 
While downplaying any cause-and-effect relationship between climate change and the Duluth storms, Huttner said, “what we can credibly say is the extreme rainfall events are increasing in frequency in Minnesota, and that climate changes favoring a warmer wetter atmosphere may have enhanced or ‘juiced’ rainfall totals in the flood.” 
Meanwhile, Paul Douglas, a well-known Twin Cities meteorologist and founder of the online publication “WeatherNation,” said in a recent blog post that he had little doubt the record rainfall in northern Minnesota last week was related to climate change. 
“The question keeps coming up — people want to know if a warmer atmosphere somehow contributed to the mega-flood that may ultimately cost Minnesota well over $100 million,” Douglas wrote. 
“My answer, after teeing this up with climate scientists I trust, is yes,” he continued. “People who say ‘you can’t link any one event with climate change’ are missing the point. Climate and weather are now hopelessly intertwined, linked — flip sides of the same coin. It’s basic physics: a warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor. If there’s more water floating overhead you increase the potential for these extreme rainfall events. You may argue over how much is ‘natural’ vs. man-made, but there’s no debating the fact that Minnesota is a warmer place than it was 30-40 years ago.”

How much rain has fallen in Florida thanks to the slow-moving Tropical Storm Debby?
The National Weather Service in Jacksonville provides these staggering totals in inches:

Debby rainfall totals

How hot has it been in the Midwest?

Capital Climate reports that “Dust Bowl Era” temperature records are now falling:

Hell and High Water. Get used to it.

Or, rather, we’ve only warmed about a degree and a half Fahrenheit in the past century.  We are on track to warm five times times that or more this century, assuming we keep listening to the do-little or do-nothing crowd.

So there will never be a normal to get used to any more. It’ll just keep getting warmer and more extreme through the century. We ain’t seen nothing yet!
Related Post:
  • Network News Coverage of Climate Change Collapsed in 2011
  • Trenberth on media miscoverage of extreme weather: “I find it systematically tends to get underplayed and it often gets underplayed by my fellow scientists. Because one of the opening statements, which I’m sure you’ve probably heard is “Well you can’t attribute a single event to climate change.” But there is a systematic influence on all of these weather events now-a-days because of the fact that there is this extra water vapor lurking around in the atmosphere than there used to be say 30 years ago. It’s about a 4% extra amount, it invigorates the storms, it provides plenty of moisture for these storms and it’s unfortunate that the public is not associating these with the fact that this is one manifestation of climate change. And the prospects are that these kinds of things will only get bigger and worse in the future.”

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Senator Jon Kyl is a liar, again

Senator Jon Kyl is a liar, again:


"I note that in his response to today's Supreme Court ruling, President Obama called on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. I also note that the bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill I helped draft in 2007 was killed -- in part -- by then-Senator Obama."--Senator Jon Kyl

I guess it's a good thing Senator Kyl is retiring, because he seems to be losing it.

Senator Obama voted for the bill.

As you can see at that same link, Senator Kyl voted to filibuster the bill.

So, not only did Obama vote for the bill Kyl says Obama voted against, but Kyl voted against the bill he says he was for.

Ergo, Senator Jon Kyl is a liar. Again.

h/t Steve Benen

Germany's Lessons for a Strong Economy

Excellent piece on avoiding the race to the bottom.--SS     

Germany's Lessons for a Strong Economy:

From the point of view of many in the United States, the current success of Germany’s economy is not far from a miracle. The export industry is strong and the International Monetary Fund forecasts a German unemployment rate of 5.6 percent for 2012. But how was the country and its manufacturing sector able to weather the economic and financial crises that hit U.S. companies and the labor market so hard?

For Michael Vassiliadis, president of Germany’s industrial union for Mine, Chemical and Energy Workers, or IG BCE, and the newly created European trade union federation IndustriAll, the answer is surprisingly simple: thanks to German unions and a culture of dialogue with business. Seifi Ghasemi, chairman and CEO of the specialty chemicals and advanced materials company Rockwood Holdings, Inc., agrees. Their statements reflected in this article are based on a panel discussion organized by the Just Jobs Network in May 2012.

Let’s start with Vassiliadis. He represents 8 million European industry and manufacturing workers. By focusing on high-value and specialized consumer products and by developing an industrial innovation network, as Vassiliadis calls it, the German export industry became highly competitive. Today the manufacturing sector adds 30 percent of value to the products it creates and the industry employs 30 percent of Germany’s workforce.

These developments did not happen overnight. German companies have been investing in research and development for decades. They also profited from the political and economic developments after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Growing demand from central and eastern European countries as well as China helped spur the economic engine. Additionally, the introduction of the euro helped lower the real exchange rate and made the German economy more competitive. In 2011 exports to the eurozone countries made up about 40 percent of Germany’s exports.

But what role did trade unions play in all of this? Some in the United States subscribe to the belief that unions are simply a cost factor, driving up unit labor costs and diminishing competitiveness. Additionally, they are often seen as inefficient organizations that stifle innovation and growth. For Vassiliadis this view of industrial relations is more a caricature than an image of reality for Germany. German unions are partners for businesses and through effective co-management in the form of legally secured co-determination, they have a say in developing long-term strategies for economic success for both businesses and workers. That leads to a sense of shared responsibility.

That does not mean that German unions do not represent the interests of their workers. They do, but they do more than that: Unions also look at the economic needs of the company understanding that a healthy private sector is also good for workers, and when workers and businesses work together, it fuels a healthy economy and society.

This cooperative approach paid off in the recent economic and financial crises, too. Thanks to close consultation between employers, employees, and political actors, German companies were able to keep their workforce. Workers accepted pay cuts and shortened working-time arrangements, but due to flexible work accounts and government co-funding, the negative effects were absorbed to a large degree. Safeguarding jobs also helped businesses save costs on rehiring and retraining. When the economy picked up again, German companies had a skilled and motivated workforce in place to take advantage of rising demand.

The conclusion that Vassiliadis draws from this might sound like a paradox to American ears: The stronger the unions, the better off the economy will be. But his argument is compelling. If you have weak organizations, they will do everything to fight for their survival. That leads to constant campaigns and conflicts. Both are costly and counterproductive. The German model of co-determination offers an alternative. Established channels of communication and trust create a win-win situation for businesses and employees.

So what are the lessons for the United States? Building up a framework of co-determination would likely be impossible in the United States because of cultural and legal differences, but Vassiliadis recommends a form of dialogue between employers and employees, such as works councils, and new tools in the form of labor rights. Changing the existing labor law will not be easy but new structures need to be built over time. There is no quick solution to strengthening U.S. unions.

But what do U.S. businesses think about the strength of German unions and their economic role? Ghasemi took a big risk when he first started investing in Germany in 2003. According to fellow American business representatives, the strong position of German unions in the chemical sector was a recipe for failure.

Ghasemi’s success proved them wrong. His company’s sales doubled to $2.7 billion over the past eight years, and the profit increased from $300 million to $700 million over the same period. Today Rockwood employs 7,700 workers and the company invested $1 billion in Germany’s economy during the past seven years. The secret of his success: Ghasemi was able to develop a dialogue with the unions.

The economic crisis did not spare Rockwood, but the company’s resilience was based on established communication structures between management and workers. German workers had to take pay cuts, but the decisions were discussed, made, and sold with the help of unions, who were trusted partners for both sides.
Ghasemi knows that collective bargaining and the role of unions are different in Germany. And the company’s relationship with unions in the United States is less cooperative. In his view this has to do with differences in the U.S. labor law and different experiences. The extreme elements become strong in disputes and he identifies “war” between management and unions as the fundamental problem.

In Ghasemi’s view the weak role of trade unions in the United States also has to do with the eroding middle class. The basis for the “old,” strong middle class were manufacturing jobs that allowed workers to build a career over several decades. What was important was not only the income and the sharing of productivity gains but also job security and economic mobility—the notion that if you work hard, you will be able to create a better life for yourself and your family.

People built their lives on secure income and jobs, something that has been lost in the past two decades. The composition of the U.S. economy and the large size of the service sector that accounts for many insecure and lower-wage jobs is part of the problem. To rebuild a strong middle class, the United States needs an advanced manufacturing sector and that sector requires strong unions. It is not employers or companies that create jobs, Ghasemi emphasized, but the consumers that ultimately drive economies. If workers don’t have jobs, they won’t consume, and if they don’t consume, this will hurt the private sector and the economy.

Another important element for building a middle class is a skilled workforce. The German apprentice system could be a model for the United States. In the absence of good vocational and skills-training opportunities, many up-and-coming workers in the United States tend to pursue an academic track, fueling a shortfall in workers that have the skills demanded by the manufacturing sector.

The stakes for the United States are high. Ghasemi worries that insecure jobs and a shrinking middle class will eventually destabilize the social order. If people have nothing to lose, they will act accordingly. Strong unions, one could argue, are beneficial not only for the economy but are also building blocks for stable democratic societies.

Knut Panknin is is a program officer in Washington for the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, a nonprofit German political foundation committed to the advancement of public policy issues in the spirit of the basic values of social democracy through education, research, and international cooperation. The foundation’s Washington office is a member of the “Just Jobs” network organized by the Center for American Progress in its Just Jobs program.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Chronicling Mitt's Mendacity, Vol. XXIII

Steve Benen's cornucopia of Willard lies.--SS   

Chronicling Mitt's Mendacity, Vol. XXIII:

Getty Images
Not everything Mitt Romney says is on the level.

For those who are watching the 2012 presidential race closely, Mitt Romney's penchant for falsehoods is hard to miss. Michael Cohen summarized the issue nicely this week in a piece for The Guardian:
Granted, presidential candidates are no strangers to disingenuous or overstated claims; it's pretty much endemic to the business. But Romney is doing something very different and far more pernicious. Quite simply, the United States has never been witness to a presidential candidate, in modern American history, who lies as frequently, as flagrantly and as brazenly as Mitt Romney.
Now, in general, those of us in the pundit class are really not supposed to accuse politicians of lying -- they mislead, they embellish, they mischaracterize, etc. Indeed, there is natural tendency for nominally objective reporters, in particular, to stay away from loaded terms such as lying. Which is precisely why Romney's repeated lies are so effective. In fact, lying is really the only appropriate word to use here, because, well, Romney lies a lot.
If there are any lingering doubts about the accuracy of this observation, consider the 23rd installment of my weekly series, chronicling Mitt's mendacity. (I've been at this for several months now, and this week's list is the longest to date.)

1. In an interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity, Romney claimed it's fiscally responsible to eliminate the entirety of the Affordable Care Act: "It saves $100 billion a year to get rid of it."

That's the opposite of the truth. According to the CBO and other nonpartisan budget estimates, killing the law would make the deficit go up, not down, and would cost, not save, the country hundreds of billions of dollars in the coming years.

2. In the same interview, Romney said, "I think a lot of people forgetting is there is only one president in history that's cut Medicare by $500 billion and that is President Obama."
Romney says this a lot. He's not telling the truth.

3. Romney also said, "I see people holding up signs, 'Don't touch my Medicare.' It's like, hey, I'm not touching your Medicare."

Romney endorsed Paul Ryan's House Republican Budget plan, which ends the Medicare program and replaces it with a private voucher scheme.

4. In the same interview, Romney said President Obama has "never had the experience of working in the private sector."

Actually, that's not true. Obama worked at a private-sector law firm before entering public service.

5. Romney also told Hannity Obama went on "an apology tour" in his first year.

As Romney surely knows by now, he's lying.

6. Romney, trying to talk about foreign policy, said Syria is Iran's "route to the sea."

Iran doesn't share a border with Syria, and Iran already borders two bodies of water.

7. At a campaign event in Stratham, New Hampshire, Romney claimed, "Bill Clinton and so many other mainstream Democrats are revolting against the backward direction President Obama is taking his party and our country."

In reality, Bill Clinton supports the president's re-election and recently said a Romney presidency would be "calamitous for our country and the world."

8. At an event in Cornwall, Pennsylvania, shared an anecdote about a local optometrist who was forced to fill out a "33-page" change-of-address form -- several times -- at the post office.

There is no such change-of-address form.

9. At the same event, Romney said Obama is "taking away" scholarships and charter schools for "kids in Washington, D.C."

This has become a line in Romney's stump speech, but it isn't in any way true.

10. Romney also claimed, "This president has put together almost as much public debt as all the prior presidents combined."

That's a lie.

Go read the whole thing!

Chronicling Mitt's Mendacity, Vol. XXIII:

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Magic Act: Making the Super Rich Disappear

Pay no attention to the Forbes 400 members behind the curtain.--SS     

Magic Act: Making the Super Rich Disappear:

The resulting data from all these interviews paint the most statistically comprehensive portrait of personal wealth in America available anywhere. But this portrait has one gaping hole. For confidentiality reasons, the Federal Reserve excludes from the Survey of Consumer Finances interview process any family that appears on the annual Forbes 400 list of America’s richest.
That exclusion means that the new Federal Reserve numbers for 2010 understate — by $1.37 trillion, the total wealth of that year’s Forbes 400 — America’s actual level of wealth concentration.

Go read the whole thing.

The Pujo Committee and today's Banker's Senate Committee

History is so much fun.--SS     

The Pujo Committee and today's Banker's Senate Committee:

Jamie Dimon
JP MorganChase CEO Jamie Dimon testifies before the
Senate Banking Committee (Larry Downing/Reuters)

When J.P. Morgan's CEO Jamie Dimon testified before the Senate Banking Committee last week, many articles reporting the hearing noted how kindly the super-banker was treated by the committee. Dimon flaunted his presidential cufflinks, presumably given to him by President Obama (who has also praised Dimon publicly). The senators heaped accolades upon Dimon while asking very little about how he blew up to $7 billion of his depositors' money. After watching what this nation has gone through with its top bankers over the last four years, the reception Mr. Dimon received could not have been made up by Kafka. It stands as a near perfect example of institutional failure of a democratically elected institution and the supremacy of financial corporations as their replacement.

But it wasn't always like this.

Prior to FDR and his reforms (during the 50 years of which there was not a single American financial panic), panics were quite common. Every few years, a massive loss of confidence in financial institutions would take place, destroying massive amounts of wealth and ruining the economy. In 1907, there was a massive financial panic much like in 2008. Prior to the crash, speculators began to make risky side bets with the assets of insurance companies (like speculators do with pension funds these days). One such company, one could say the equivalent of Lehman Brothers, was the Knickerbocker Trust Company. Knickerbocker was a high flyer, with plenty of its traders and executives enjoying lavish lifestyles much like our investment bankers today. Knickerbocker, backed up by a syndicate of the nation's top banks, engaged in an elaborate bet to corner the market on copper. A massive amount of debt was run up against bank deposits and insurance company reserves in an attempt at monopoly. This didn't work out, naturally, so the trust collapsed and took the entire banking system down with it. There were bank runs. Industrial companies that depended on credit lines were ruined. Insurance companies failed to pay claims. Nationwide panic ensued.

J.P. Morgan
J.P. Morgan (Wikimedia Commons)

Into the breach stepped one John Pierpont Morgan. Morgan had some experience with panics over his long career in finance, notably the Great Panic of 1893, a financial crisis brought about by railroad stock speculators. A massive depression followed. In the 1907 disaster, Morgan organized the response to contain the financial damage to prevent a depression.  He secured a huge deposit from the United States Treasury Secretary, as well as additional funds from John D. Rockefeller and Lord Rothschild of the famed European banking house. Morgan even pledged half his own personal fortune to guarantee the United States's credit to prevent loss of confidence in the Treasury's bonds. While Morgan contained the panic and even managed to make a slight profit for his trouble, he was not pleased with having to deal with things in such a risky way:

Even if Morgan made money after the fact in 1907, the expectation of higher default risk made the possibility of lending in future panics unattractive. Perhaps this is what was realized by the New York bankers, causing them to abandon their role as de facto lenders of last resort and setting the groundwork for the establishment of the Federal Reserve System.
After many years of study initiated by Morgan, the Federal Reserve was established to mitigate the risks of financial panic. The New York branch of the bank welcomed its first president,  a Mr. Benjamin Strong, longtime assistant to Morgan. While President Roosevelt was pleased with Morgan's intervention, he was no fan of any one person having that much power. Nor was he any friend of Morgan's after having beaten him in the Supreme Court during TR's successful breakup of Morgan's western railroad trust. Still, despite all this, Roosevelt and his hand picked successor Taft went on to give a great deal of latitude to Morgan and his allies in setting up the basic structure for the Federal Reserve.

Rep. Arsene Pujo of Louisiana circa 1913 (Wikimedia Commons)
Rep. Arsene Pujo (D-LA), c. 1919

All of this seems so familiar to us, doesn't it? We too have had a financial crisis brought about by the speculation of bankers. Our Treasury officials are cozy with the big banks just like in 1907. But last week's hearing before the Senate Banking Committee stands in stark contrast to what happened in Congress to a J.P. Morgan leader over 100 years ago. The Pujo Committee was formed as a subcommittee of the House Banking Committee and was headed by Louisiana Democratic lawyer and congressman Arsene Pujo.
The Pujo Committee was the father of the more famous Pecora Commission, which looked into the causes of the Great Depression. Needless to say, J.P. Morgan himself was not welcomed into the hearing room and heaped with praise as Dimon was. In fact, he endured a torrent of tough questioning at the hands of the Committee, and derision and scorn on the House and Senate floor. Pujo's report is absolutely scathing in its takedown of Morgan and the big banks. The committee's lawyer lit into Morgan over and over again during several brutal days of testimony. In the end, some of Morgan's friends speculated that the stress of the hearings may have killed him.

Today, we have a situation where the majority whip of the Senate famously noted, speaking of Congress, that the bankers "own the place." Which is interesting considering the largest financial contributor to that Senate committee is...whaddayaknow...JP Morgan. Perhaps there needs to be a committee to investigate how that came about. You'd think a sitting Senator who is bold enough to admit that a private group of bankers owns a democratic institution would call at least one day of public hearings into the matter. Maybe then we could get to the root cause of why we have had three financial panics since the government began dismantling FDR's reforms. Maybe some sort of congressional committee concerned with banking could investigate the matter.
Perhaps one day someone on the Senate Banking Committee Banker's Senate Committee will figure out that it is their job to supervise banks and not the other way around.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

As unions decline, inequality rises | Economic Policy Institute

Such a simple chart.--SS       

As unions decline, inequality rises | Economic Policy Institute:

"To a remarkable extent, inequality, which fell during the New Deal but has risen dramatically since the late 1970s, corresponds to the rise and fall of unionization in the United States."

Go read the whole thing.

IATSE Local 33 Stagehand Died at Gibson Amphitheater

My attempt to make a little sense out of a senseless death.--SS     

IATSE Local 33 Stagehand Died at Gibson Amphitheater:

Jose Lucero was only 22 years old. I didn't know him, as I left IATSE Local 33 before he got in. But when I heard he had fallen to his death from the "ozone" in the grid at the Gibson Amphitheater, formerly the Universal Amphitheater, I immediately remembered my great fear the one time I had to go out on one of those steel beams. I never said anything to anyone I worked with, because I really needed the work at the time, but it scared the hell out of me. Back then, we never wore safety harnesses hooked to fall-arresters, like you're supposed to now (and the investigation is underway to determine if Jose was wearing his), and it was scary as shit to go out on those beams. After that one time, I avoided rigging because I could handle working in grids from catwalks with rails, or working in grids with "ribbon" floors (meaning small gaps between steel beams that you could maybe get your foot stuck in but not fall through), but I just couldn't overcome my fear of heights when I was on one of those beams with nothing but air and floor on either side of me.

But there are guys I've worked with who, like Mohawk Indians on the high steel of sky-scrapers, would just saunter right out on those beams, like they were walking down the sidewalk. Of all the different specialist stagehands I worked with, I always had a huge respect for the riggers. They take big chances to make slightly more money than the guys on the floor, and they do it with gusto.

To put this incident in context, I was shocked to learn yesterday that more people died on the job in the US in 2009 than the total amount of Americans who died in the entire Iraq war:

...4,551 people killed on the job in America in 2009, carnage that eclipsed the total number of U.S. fatalities in the nine-year Iraq war. Combine the victims of traumatic injuries with the estimated 50,000 people who die annually of work-related diseases and it’s as if a fully loaded Boeing 737-700 crashed every day. Yet the typical fine for a worker death is about $7,900.

If you'd really like to get an idea of what a huge problem workplace safety is in this country, check out the AFL-CIO's Death on the Job Report.

In 2010, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4,690 workers were killed on the job—an average of 13 workers every day—and an estimated 50,000 died from occupational diseases. Workers suffer an additional 7.6 million to 11.4 million job injuries and illnesses each year. The cost of job injuries and illnesses is enormous—estimated at $250 billion to $300 billion a year.

We have a much higher worker fatality rate than other industrialized nations, and Republicans would like to cut OSHA and other workplace safety programs. Insanity. It reminds me of a poster we had back at Arkansas Explosives Inc, where I occasionally worked when I was in college: "OSHA is not a small town in Kansas." I guess if the GOP gets their way, it would be.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Turning Our Backs on Unions -

Go read this whole thing from Joe Nocera.--SS     

Turning Our Backs on Unions -
“Draw one line on a graph charting the decline in union membership, then superimpose a second line charting the decline in middle-class income share,” writes Noah, “and you will find that the two lines are nearly identical.” 

Union Households' Middling Support for Pro-Union Politics

Union members who vote Republican must not like their unions much.--SS    

Union Households' Middling Support for Pro-Union Politics:

Last night on Twitter, labor journalist Mike Elk brought to my attention what I think is the single most telling result from last night's Wisconsin exit polls namely that 33 percent of Wisconsin voters said someone in their household is a union member and 38 percent of those voters pulled the lever for Scott Walker. Those unionists for Walker are only 12.5 percent of the electorate, but that's still pretty big compared to the overall margin. Certainly it's much more common in Wisconsin to see a member of a union household voting Republican than to see an African-American doing the same.

And the results seem fairly typical. Walker got 37 percent of the union vote in his original 2010 election and nationally 37 percent of people in union households voted for a GOP House candidate in 2010. Again, those aren't huge numbers. But they're not tiny numbers either. And the contrast with African-Americans is telling, as is the fact that Walker espousing an explicitly anti-union agenda in a high profile way didn't really move the dial.

Over the past five years I've read more and more progressive lamentations of the decline of organized labor in the United States, but typically in narratives that seem to deny agency to the union leaders themselves. But part of what you see in Wisconsin is labor leaders paying the price for inability to deliver their own members.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Seriously, Romney Isn't a Moderate

Now if Willard would just nominate Dick "Deficits Don't Matter" Cheney to be his VP, the return of the Bushies would be complete.--SS       

Seriously, Romney Isn't a Moderate:

I try not to pay as much attention to politics over the weekend—it’s how I keep my sanity—but I couldn’t help but notice this when it popped in my inbox yesterday morning:
[Eric] Fehnrstrom, pressed by George Will on Romney’s view of House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget: ‘He’s for the Ryan plan. He believes it goes in the right direction. … At least the Paul Ryan plan puts us on a path toward a balanced budget. It gets those annual deficits down, in a way that this president has been unable to do.’
In case you missed it, Mitt Romney’s chief advisor just told a national audience that Romney is “for” the most regressive economic plan to ever come out of Congress. Remember, the actual Ryan plan—as opposed to the one described by Fehnrstrom—will reduce taxes on the wealthy Americans, add trillions to the debt, and make sharp cuts to existing social services.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, social spending accounts for nearly two-thirds of Ryan’s budget cuts. Ryan would elimiate subsidies for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, and make sharp cuts to food stamps, low-income housing, Pell Grants and aid to poor women and children. What’s more, over the next decade, he would cut more than $700 billion from Medicaid and convert the program into an underfunded block grant to the states.

Far from dealing with the debt, the “savings” from shredding the social safety net would fund further tax cuts for the rich; the Ryan plan would give millionaires an additional $265,000 in tax relief, on top of the $129,000 saved from the Bush tax cuts. Overall, the taxes would go down for those on the top, and increase for those on the botom:

The Ryan plan is a massive reduction in government—and a massive giveaway to rich people—that dwarfs anything proposed by George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan. There is no way in which you could plausibly describe this as “moderate.” Even still, pundits will continue to identify Romney as a moderate Republican, and continue to ignore the extent to which he has promised policies which would exacerbate our current economic problems.

Why? I have no idea. For whatever reason, the national media is unconcerned with Romney’s commitment to radical, right-wing economic policies. It’s completely baffling.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Krugman: Reagan Was More Keynesian Than Obama

St. Ronnie wouldn't like his GOP today.--SS      

Krugman: Reagan Was More Keynesian Than Obama:

President Reagan's policies embraced anti-austerity Keynesian economics to a greater degree than President Obama has, and that's why Obama is in trouble, argues Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman.

Appearing Sunday on ABC's "This Week," the New York Times columnist and Princeton professor argued that Reagan was able to reduce unemployment after taking office in part because he grew government jobs -- unlike Obama, who has significantly cut them.

"If you actually look at the actual track record of government spending, government employment, Reagan is the Keynesian and Obama -- mostly because of political constraints, although a little bit of lack of conviction on the part of his own people -- has been the anti-Keynesian," Krugman said. "He's been the one who's been doing what Republicans say is the right answer."

Just over three years into Reagan's first term, government jobs grew by 3.1 percent; at the same time during Obama's tenure, they've been cut by 2.7 percent. Hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs have been shed in recent years. Government jobs also grew under President George W. Bush, which helped keep unemployment down during most of his two terms.

"After there was a recession under Ronald Reagan, government employment went way up. It went up after the recessions under the first George Bush and the second George Bush," Obama said last month on the campaign trail. "So each time there was a recession with a Republican president, compensated -- we compensated by making sure that government didn't see a drastic reduction in employment. The only time government employment has gone down during a recession has been under me."

More broadly, federal spending growth under Obama has been remarkably low by historical standards. The pressure from the GOP and D.C. political elites, who have been hostile to Keynesian economics in recent years, has put the administration in a tough spot.

The Keynesian theory holds that government spending is necessary help lift the economy when it's under-performing. Data shows that Republicans tend to accept it when they're in power and that they benefit from it. But they've relentlessly attacked Obama's efforts to stimulate the economy in the wake of the Great Recession, and have led the charge against financially helping cash-strapped states avert layoffs of public employees like teachers and police.

And that has fueled economic struggles across the nation, which were confirmed by the lousy jobs report last Friday which saw the unemployment rate tick up to 8.2 percent.

The irony of the situation wasn't lost on Krugman.

"We're actually practicing government austerity on a scale that we haven't seen in 60 years. It's not the president's policy," he said Sunday. "In effect, we've already got the policies that Republicans say they will impose if they take the election, and yet, of course, it may lead to the defeat of this president."