Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Class, Race and Political Strategy in the Rust Belt


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Bernstein: The ACA, the myths and flaws of Republican reforms, and single payer [feedly]

The ACA, the myths and flaws of Republican reforms, and single payer

Over at WaPo.

The piece was already too long so, while I didn't have time to get into another germane point: the role of single-payer coverage in this debate.

A key point of my analysis is that the problem facing private insurers in the exchanges was that they initially underpriced premium costs, leading to high medical-loss ratios and thin to non-existent profit margins. They've since been recalibrating and are in the process of returning to profitability, though now they're in a race with team Trump's sabotage.

A reasonable response from progressives would be: the problem isn't price calibration. The problem is this part of the ACA depends on profitable private insurers in the delivery of a partially non-market good (see my "fundamental flaw" point in the WaPo post). A single-payer plan would obviate such concerns.

[Note that I do mention the salient lack of a public option in the exchanges, and stress this irony:

Let's pause on the irony here for a moment. Conservatives' flawed ideology (explained below) that the private sector is the most efficient delivery mechanism for health coverage kept a public option out of the ACA. But the private insurers themselves said at the time, and maintain to this day, that they can't serve the exchanges without government subsidies. Now, Republicans want to block those subsidies, because … you guessed it … the private market blah, blah, yada, yada.]

On one level, that's a strong point–that a single-payer plan, by taking insurer profitability out of the picture, would ease a major constraint in the ACA–one which I support. The exchanges, though they cover a relatively small share of the population, have consistently been the most problematic part of the ACA.

But once again, I'm plagued by my adherence to path dependency, a point I often raise here and one which often raises the ire of the leap-froggers who are much less constrained by the challenge of getting from where we are to where we need to go.

But there are political constraints between here and there–big ones, protected by entrenched lobbies–and when we were crafting the ACA, it seemed clear to us that they needed to be brought on board. And there are economic constraints as well, including the disruption engendered by replacing a major, private insurance industry.

Thus, the path to single payer probably is an incremental one. Start with a public option in the exchanges, greater regulation of the industry, including cost controls (I also like Henry Aaron's policy tweak: if an insurer offers coverage in a state, they must also offer it in that state's exchange), and perhaps a slow reduction in the eligibility age for Medicare.

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Jared Bernstein, a former chief economist to Vice President Biden, is a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and author of the new book 'The Reconnection Agenda: Reuniting Growth and Prosperity.'

Senate Republicans appear to be solidly rejecting their House colleagues' health-care plan. That shouldn't be a close call, given the Congressional Budget Office's findings that the American Health Care Act would increase the ranks of the uninsured by 23 million, while raising the cost of coverage for older and sicker people. Compared with current law — the Affordable Care Act — the out-of-pocket cost of coverage for an older, low-income person would rise by a factor of eight to nine under the AHCA.

So, drop-kicking the House plan is a no-brainer. But we then have Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declaring that "the Obamacare status quo is unsustainable" and "indefensible." Thus, Republicans have no choice but to craft an alternative.

They've made these negative claims about the ACA since its inception, and far too often, they are uncritically repeated in the media. But they're false. Obamacare is not collapsing. There are problems in parts of the nongroup markets — the ACA health-care exchanges — but these problems were in the process of getting worked out as insurers figured out how to profitably set prices. That progress is actively being undermined by the Trump administration.

Still, here are a few reasons to discount Republicans' claims of collapse and implosion:

Coverage gains remain the clearest evidence of the ACA's success: The number and share of the uninsured fell to historically low levels — from about 15 percent to 9 percent of the population — thanks to the ACA. But, as the figure below reveals, both the old and new versions of the AHCA would reverse those gains.

Source: The Washington Post

The individual marketplace is stabilizing: The most common motivation for claims of collapse is the individual market. Importantly, most Americans get coverage through their employer or the government (Medicare, Medicaid). The Kaiser Family Foundation notes that the "individual market is where just 7% of the U.S. population gets their insurance (and thus also represents a small share of most health insurers' business)," but it also correctly notes that "the stability of the market and willingness of insurers to continue to participate is essential to the ACA's success."

The problem in this part of the market is that too many private insurers have pulled out of the exchanges, leaving some parts of the country with too few coverage options. However, this problem, initially caused by the insurers pricing coverage too low to maintain profitability, is improving. Metrics of their profitability that showed earlier deterioration, including medical loss ratios (the share of premiums insurers are paying out in claims) and profit margins, are correcting, thanks in part to premium increases for 2017. One careful analysis of major insurers finds that they "… have now largely recovered from initial underpricing for the ACA marketplaces, and their individual-market premiums are now generally in line with costs."

After a few years of the experience with the ACA, private insurers are figuring out how to profitably price coverage. But many moving parts make this process an ongoing challenge for them. Some of that was expected, like the phaseout of reinsurance subsidies. But others, like the Trump administration's flirting with the loss of cost-sharing subsidies that private insurers depend on to hold down premium charges, are pure sabotage.

These payments reduce deductibles and copays for low- and moderate-income people, and their loss could lead the average premium for a benchmark plan to go up almost 20 percent. Just as they're getting the pricing calibrated, the uncertainty around whether the government will continue to make these payments has surfaced as one of the main reasons that private insurers are asking themselves whether it makes sense to continue to offer coverage in the exchanges.

Let's pause on the irony here for a moment. Conservatives' flawed ideology (explained below) that the private sector is the most efficient delivery mechanism for health coverage kept a public option out of the ACA. But the private insurers themselves said at the time, and maintain to this day, that they can't serve the exchanges without government subsidies. Now, Republicans want to block those subsidies, because … you guessed it … the private market blah, blah, yada, yada.

There is no death spiral, and that's part of the ACAs design: Above, I noted how private insurers have raised their premium charges to achieve profitability. Well, good for them, but what about their customers? How can the ACA maintain affordable coverage amid these increases, many of which were in the double digits this year? Death spiral, right??!!

Wrong. An essential part of the ACA's architecture is subsidies for the majority (85 percent) of purchasers in the exchanges, of whom about two-thirds, according to health economist Matt Fiedler, "are eligible for tax credits that rise dollar-for-dollar when premiums in their area rise."

Aviva Aron-Dine finds that among enrollees eligible for tax credits, "premiums after accounting for premium tax credits increased by just $4 per month between 2015 and 2017, from $102 to $106." Such magnitudes are grounds for neither collapses nor implosions.

Finally, here's the CBO's most recent assessment (my bold):

"Although premiums have been rising under current law, most subsidized enrollees purchasing health insurance coverage in the nongroup market are largely insulated from increases in premiums because their out-of-pocket payments for premiums are based on a percentage of their income. … The subsidies to purchase coverage, combined with the effects of the individual mandate, which requires most individuals to obtain insurance or pay a penalty, are anticipated to cause sufficient demand for insurance by enough people, including people with low health care expenditures, for the market to be stable in most areas.

Bottom line, there is as yet no collapsing, imploding or death-spiraling.

But through repealing the Medicaid expansion and undermining private insurers in the exchanges, the Trump administration and the congressional majority are fully capable of engendering those very outcomes. Why would they do that?

To answer that question, you must understand the fundamental myth and the fundamental flaw of conservative "health-care reform."

The Fundamental Myth: Republicans are not interested in actual reform of the health-care system, one that would control costs and promote affordable, quality coverage. They want to cut taxes for wealthy people, for which "health-care reform" is a mere stalking horse.

The Fundamental Flaw: Because hospitals must treat the sick, regardless of their ability to pay, health care is not a normal market good. Thus, market solutions alone cannot solve the health-care problem. Comprehensive coverage implies risk-pooling, which implies mandates, which implies subsidies and/or controls on market costs. International comparisons show that no system achieves full coverage without some combination of these components.

We can either shore up the ACA or give the resources needed to do so to the wealthy in the form of tax cuts. In the meantime, let's hear less phony rhetoric about implosion and more straight talk about what's really going on.

John Case
Harpers Ferry, WV

The Winners and Losers Radio Show
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Links for 05-30-17 [feedly]

Summers: Trump’s “China deal” is only a good deal for China [feedly]

Trump's "China deal" is only a good deal for China

The events of the last week have crowded out reflection on economic policy.  But things have been happening. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross described the trade deal reached with China earlier this month as "pretty much a herculean accomplishment….This is more than has been done in the history of U.S.-China relations on trade."

Past a certain point, exaggeration and hype become dishonesty and deception. In economic policy, as in almost everything else, the Trump Administration is way past that point.

The trade deal is a "nothing burger" that a serious Administration committed to helping American workers would likely not have accepted, and surely would not have hyped.

On agriculture, China reiterated a promise that it has broken in the past to let in more beef. Previously, we, as reciprocity, had been withholding publication of a permissive rule on Chinese poultry, but we have now relented. Advantage China.

Nothing else we "achieved" has any meaningful nexus with U.S. jobs. China will review product applications for 8 biotech products. It promises to offer increased scope for U.S. credit rating agencies, and electronic payment platforms. But it is far from clear that U.S. firms will in fact be able to compete in China — and it is clear that if they do, it will be by hiring Chinese workers in China, not American workers in America. And finally, two U.S. firms will get some enhanced ability to do bond and stock underwriting—again a benefit to shareholders and local staff rather than to U.S. employment.

What did we give up? In addition to the leverage we sacrificed by committing to issue the poultry rule, we made other meaningful concessions. First, we agreed to allow exports of liquefied natural gas from the US to China. To at least a small extent that would mean higher heating costs for U.S. consumers and higher energy costs for U.S. producers.

Second, in the context of a trade negotiation, we made concessions regarding how U.S. commodities regulators would view derivatives traded in Shanghai and how U.S. bank regulators would treat Chinese banks doing business in the U.S. While I suspect the concessions were not major, this is reinforcing the valid concern that trade agreements may undercut the ability of regulators to protect American financial stability and more generally challenge regulatory sovereignty.

Third, we agreed to embrace — by sending high level representatives – China's One Belt One Road initiative. It is almost certainly better to be in than out of this tent, but we should be getting something in return for the legitimacy we are conferring.

Now it is true that a ludicrously hyped squib of a deal is much better than a trade war. So perhaps we should be pleased that the President and his commerce secretary are so easily manipulated. Perhaps our officials know how bad a deal they got and are just hyping for political reasons.

It is an irony of our times that those who most frequently denounce "fake news" seem to

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Summers: Trump’s budget is simply ludicrous [feedly]

Trump's budget is simply ludicrous

Details of President Trump's first budget have now been released.  Much can and will be said about the dire social consequences about what is in it and the ludicrously optimistic economic assumptions it embodies.  My observation is that there appears to be a logical error of the kind that would justify failing a student in an introductory economics course.

Apparently, the budget forecasts that US growth will rise to 3.0 percent because of the Administration's policies—largely its tax cuts and perhaps also its regulatory policies.  Fair enough if you believe in tooth-fairies and ludicrous supply-side economics.

Then the Administration asserts that it will propose revenue neutral tax cuts with the revenue neutrality coming in part because the tax cuts stimulate growth! This is an elementary double count.  You can't use the growth benefits of tax cuts once to justify an optimistic baseline and then again to claim that the tax cuts do not cost revenue.  At least you cannot do so in a world of logic.

The Trump team prides itself on its business background.  This error is akin to buying a company assuming that you can make investments that will raise profits, but then, in calculating the increased profits, counting the higher revenues while failing to account for the fact that the investments would actually cost some money to make. The revenue generated by the investments might exceed their cost (though the same is almost never true of tax cuts), but that doesn't change the fact that the investment has a cost that must be included in the accounting.

This is a mistake no serious business person would make. It appears to be the most egregious accounting error in a Presidential budget in the nearly 40 years I have been tracking them.

Who knew what when?   I have no doubt that there are civil servants in OMB, Treasury and CEA who do know better than this mistake.  Were they cowed, ignored or shut out?   How could the Secretary of Treasury, Director of OMB and Director of the NEC allow such an elementary error? I hope the press will ferret all this out.

The President's personal failings are now not just center stage but whole stage.  They should not blind us to the manifest failures of his economic team.  Whether it is Secretary Mnuchin's absurd claims about tax cuts not favoring the rich, Secretary Ross's claim that the small squib of a deal negotiated last week with China was the greatest trade result with China in history, NEC Director Cohn's ludicrous estimate of the costs of Dodd Frank, or today's budget, the Trump administration has not yet made a significant economic pronouncement that meets a minimal standard of competence and honesty.

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Under new bill’s election standard, unions would never win an election—and neither would the bill’s cosponsors [feedly]

Under new bill's election standard, unions would never win an election—and neither would the bill's cosponsors

Before leaving for recess last week, congressional Republicans introduced a bill that would make it more difficult for workers to form a union and collectively bargain. The misleadingly named Employee Rights Act has been introduced in prior Congresses as well. The legislation would strip workers of many rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). For example, it would prohibit voluntary employer recognition of a union. (Under existing law, an employer is free to recognize a union and bargain with its workforce when workers show majority support for the union.) The bill also reinstitutes unnecessary delay in the union election process, mandating that parties litigate issues likely to be resolved in the election.

Perhaps most ridiculous is the bill's requirement that a union win the support of the majority of all workers eligible to vote in the union election—not just those workers who vote. Imagine if the bill's sponsor, Congressman Phil Roe (R–Tenn.), had had the same requirement in his own election. He would have lost, and so would all of his Republican colleagues who cosponsored the bill.

Table 1

The Employee Rights Act is a clear example of Republican contempt for workers' rights to organize and bargain collectively. The legislation rigs the union election system, instituting standards for unions that no elected official could survive.

On the same day that Rep. Roe and his colleagues introduced their anti-worker legislation, Democrats introduced a bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2024. The proposal would lift pay for 41 million workers—nearly 30 percent of the U.S. workforce. Raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour would begin to reverse decades of growing pay inequality.

Read more

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Enlighten Radio:Wednesday: Do we need a revolution? The Love Doc, Resistance Radio, Are You Crazy

John Case has sent you a link to a blog:

Blog: Enlighten Radio
Post: Wednesday: Do we need a revolution? The Love Doc, Resistance Radio, Are You Crazy
Link: http://www.enlightenradio.org/2017/05/wednesday-do-we-need-revolution-love.html

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Enlighten Radio Podcasts:Tuesday: The Winners and Losers Radio Program, Rockpile, Best of the Left

John Case has sent you a link to a blog:

Blog: Enlighten Radio Podcasts
Post: Tuesday: The Winners and Losers Radio Program, Rockpile, Best of the Left
Link: http://podcasts.enlightenradio.org/2017/05/tuesday-winners-and-losers-radio.html

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Monday, May 29, 2017

The Addicts Next Door


West Virginia has the highest overdose death rate in the country. Locals are fighting to save their neighbors—and their towns—from destruction. 

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Sunday, May 28, 2017

Enlighten Radio:Neruda odes, storytelling, Jane Austen on Monday

John Case has sent you a link to a blog:

Blog: Enlighten Radio
Post: Neruda odes, storytelling, Jane Austen on Monday
Link: http://www.enlightenradio.org/2017/05/neruda-odes-storytelling-jane-austen-on.html

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Saturday, May 27, 2017

Democracy and the politics of intolerance [feedly]

Democracy and the politics of intolerance

A democracy allows government to reflect the will of the people. Or does it? Here I would like to understand a bit better the dynamics through which radical right populism has come to have influence, even dominance, in a number of western democracies -- even when the percentage of citizens with radical right populist attitudes generally falls below the range of 35% of the electorate.

There are well known bugs in the ways that real democracies work, leading to discrepancies between policy outcomes and public preferences. In the United States, for example, we find:
  • Gerrymandered Congressional districts that favor Republican incumbents
  • Over-representation of rural voters in the composition of the Senate (Utah has as many senators as California)
  • Organized efforts to suppress voting by poor and minority voters
  • The vast influence of corporate and private money in shaping elections and public attitudes
  • An electoral-college system that easily permits the candidate winning fewer votes to nonetheless win the Presidency
So it is evident that the system of electoral democracy institutionalized in the United States is far from a neutral, formal system conveying citizen preferences onto outcomes in a fair and equal way. The rules as well as the choices are objects of contention.

But to understand the ascendancy of the far right in US politics we need to go beyond these defects. We need to understand the processes through which citizens acquire their political attitudes -- thereby explaining their likelihood of mobilization for one party or candidate or another. And we need to understand the mechanisms through which elected representatives are pushed to the extreme positions that are favored by only a minority of their own supporters.

First, what are the mechanisms that lead to the formation of political attitudes and beliefs in individual citizens? That is, of course, a huge question. People have religious values, civic values, family values, personal aspirations, bits of historical knowledge, and so on, all of which come into play in a wide range of settings through personal development. And all of these value tags may serve as a basis for mobilization by candidates and parties. That is the rationale for "dog-whistle" politics -- to craft messages that resonate with small groups of voters without being noticed by larger groups with different values. So let's narrow it a bit: what mechanisms exist through which activist organizations and leaders can promote specific hateful beliefs and attitudes within a population with a range of existing attitudes, beliefs, and values? In particular, how can radical-right populist organizations and parties increase the appeal of their programs of intolerance to voters who are not otherwise pre-disposed to the extremes of populism?

Here the potency of appeals to division, intolerance, and hate is of particular relevance. Populism has almost always depended on a simplistic division between "us" and "them". The rhetoric and themes of nationalism and racism represent powerful tools in the arsenal of populist mobilization, preying upon suspicion, resentment, and mistrust of "others" in order to gain adherents to a party that promises to take advantages away from those others. The right-wing media play an enormous role in promulgating these messages of division and intolerance in many countries. The conspiracy theories and false narratives conveyed by right-wing media and commentators are powerfully persuasive in setting the terms of political consciousness for millions of people. Fox News set the agenda for a large piece of the American electorate. And the experience of having been left out of a fair share of economic advantages leaves some segments of the population particularly vulnerable to these kinds of appeals. Finally, the under-currents of racism and prejudice are of continuing importance in the political and social identities of many citizens -- again leaving them vulnerable to appeals that cater to these prejudices. This is how Breitbart News works. (An earlier post treated this factor; link.)

Let's next consider the institutional mechanisms through which activist advocacy can be turned into disproportionate effects in legislation. Suppose Representative Smith has been elected on the Republican ticket in a close contest over his Democrat opponent with 51% of the vote. And suppose his constituency includes 15% extreme right voters, 20% moderate right voters, and 16% conservative-leaning independents. Why does Smith go on to support the agenda of the far right, who are after all only less than a third of his own supporters in his district? This results from a mechanism that political scientists seem to understand; it involves the dynamics of the primary system. The extreme right is highly activated, while the center is significantly less so. A candidate who moves to the center is in danger of losing his seat in the next primary to a far-right candidate who can depend upon the support of his or her activist base to defeat Smith. So the 15% of extreme-right voters determine the behavior of the representative. (McAdam and Kloos consider these dynamics in Deeply Divided: Racial Politics and Social Movements in Postwar Americalink.)

Gerrymandering plays an important role in these dynamics as well. Smith doesn't have to moderate his policy choices out of concern that he will lose the general election to a more moderate Democrat, because the Republican legislature in his state has ensured that this is a safe seat for the candidate chosen by the party. 

So here we are -- in a nation governed by an extreme-right party in control of both House and Senate, with a President espousing xenophobic and anti-immigrant intentions and a budget that severely cuts back on the social safety net, and dozens of state governments dominated by the same forces. And yet the President is profoundly unpopular, confidence in Congress is at an abysmal low point, and the majority of Americans favor a more progressive set of policies on women's health, health policy, immigration, and international security than the governing party is proposing. How did democratic processes bring us to this paradoxical point?

In 1991 political scientist Sam Popkin published a short book called The Reasoning Voter: Communication and Persuasion in Presidential Campaigns. The title captures Popkin's central hypothesis: that voters make choices on the basis of rational assessment of available evidence. What he adds to this old theory of democratic behavior is the proviso that often the principle of reasoning in question is what he calls "low-information rationality". Unlike traditional rational-choice theories of political behavior, Popkin proposes to make use of empirical results from cognitive psychology -- insights into how real people make practical decisions of importance. It is striking how much the environment of political behavior has changed since Popkin's reflections in the 1980s and 1990s. "Most Americans watch some network television news and scan newspapers several times every week" (25). In a 2015 New Yorker piece on the populism of Donald Trump Evan Osnos quotes Popkin again -- but this time in a way that emphasizes emotions rather than evidence-based rationality (link). The passage is worth quoting:
"The more complicated the problem, the simpler the demands become," Samuel Popkin, a political scientist at the University of California in San Diego, told me. "When people get frustrated and irritated, they want to cut the Gordian knot." 
Trump has succeeded in unleashing an old gene in American politics—the crude tribalism that Richard Hofstadter named "the paranoid style"—and, over the summer, it replicated like a runaway mutation. Whenever Americans have confronted the reshuffling of status and influence—the Great Migration, the end of Jim Crow, the end of a white majority—we succumb to the anti-democratic politics of absolutism, of a "conflict between absolute good and absolute evil," in which, Hofstadter wrote, "the quality needed is not a willingness to compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish. Nothing but complete victory will do." Trump was born to the part. "I'll do nearly anything within legal bounds to win," he wrote, in "The Art of the Deal." "Sometimes, part of making a deal is denigrating your competition." Trump, who long ago mastered the behavioral nudges that could herd the public into his casinos and onto his golf courses, looked so playful when he gave out Lindsey Graham's cell-phone number that it was easy to miss just how malicious a gesture it truly was. It expressed the knowledge that, with a single utterance, he could subject an enemy to that most savage weapon of all: us. (link)
The gist is pretty clear: populism is not primarily about rational consideration of costs and benefits, but rather the political emotions of mistrust, intolerance, and fear.

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The Right to Strike [feedly]

The only problem with the Big Strike theory (from at least two authors that know something about big, lost, strikes) is that nothing other than political struggle, including illegal political strikes, wins that "right".

The Right to Strike

For half a century, the loss of the right to strike has moved in lock step with the increase in income inequality. According to an International Monetary Fund study of twenty advanced economies, union decline accounted for about half of the increase in net income inequality from 1980 to 2012. The following is the start of a Boston Review discussion on US workers' right to strike.

James Gray Pope, Ed Bruno, Peter Kellman

Boston Review

May 22, 2017

In December 2005 more than 30,000 New York City transit workers walked out over economic issues despite the state of New York's Taylor Law, which prohibits all public sector strikes. Not only did the workers face the loss of two days' pay for each day on strike, but a court ordered that the union be fined $1 million per day. Union president Roger Toussaint held firm, likening the strikers to Rosa Parks. "There is a higher calling than the law," he declared. "That is justice and equality."

The transit strike exemplified labor civil disobedience at its most effective. The workers were not staging a symbolic event; they brought the city's transit system to a halt. They claimed their fundamental right to collective action despite a statute that outlawed it. For a precious moment, public attention was riveted on the drama of workers defying a draconian strike ban.

How did national labor leaders react?

AFL-CIO president John Sweeney issued a routine statement of support, while most others did nothing at all. To anybody watching the drama unfold, the message was clear: there is no right to strike, even in the House of Labor.

About a decade earlier in 1996, Stephen Lerner, fresh from a successful campaign to organize Los Angeles janitors, had warned in Boston Review that private sector unions faced an existential crisis: density could soon drop from 10.3 percent to 5 percent if unions did not expand their activity beyond the limits imposed by American law. He called for unions to develop broad organizing strategies—industry-wide and regional—and to engage in civil disobedience. Few embraced these radical strategies. Today private sector union density is about 6.5 percent, not quite as low as Lerner predicted, but down from a high of over 30 percent in the mid-1950s.

Union decline matters. For half a century, it has moved in lock step with the increase in income inequality. According to an International Monetary Fund study of twenty advanced economies, union decline accounted for about half of the increase in net…

Peaceful disobedience and political action would be two key components of a rights-centered strategy. When people think of civil disobedience today, most think of symbolic protests or brief disruptions designed to attract public attention. Unions have conducted some important actions of this type, for example during the San Francisco hotel strike of 2010 and the more recent Fight for Fifteen.

For the rest of the article and for responses to this article please go to Boston Review 

Reposted from Portside.  We were unable to create a link from the Boston Review to WordPress.

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Two Movements, One Goal: The Working People Weekly List [feedly]

Two Movements, One Goal: The Working People Weekly List

Two Movements, One Goal: The Working People Weekly List

Every week, we bring you a roundup of the top news and commentary about issues and events important to working families. Here's this week's Working People Weekly List.

Civil Rights and Labor: Two Movements, One Goal: "A community is democratic only when the humblest and weakest person can enjoy the highest civil, economic and social rights that the biggest and most powerful possess." —A. Philip Randolph

UFCW Members Make Safety a Priority at Tyson Poultry Plant: "On a typical day at the Tyson Foods processing plant in Glen Allen, Virginia, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400 shop steward Aleta Johnsons was operating the Packmat bagging machine. All of a sudden, she heard a co-worker yelling, 'Stop, stop, stop! Please help—stop the line!'"

23 Million People Lose Health Insurance Under the House Republican Plan: "Three weeks after members of Congress voted 217-213 to pass the so-called American Health Care Act, they—and we—finally know how much damage it will do, and it is not pretty. Congress' own experts in the Congressional Budget Office said that the Republican health plan will cut 23 million people off of health insurance within a decade, while cutting taxes by $992 billion, overwhelming for the wealthy few and corporations. Remember, this is the plan then-presidential candidate Donald Trump promised would provide 'insurance for everybody.'"

8 Things You Need to Know About a New Bill to Raise the Federal Minimum Wage: "Working people continue to lead the fight for living wages. We support the Wage Act of 2017, introduced today, to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour, index it to median wages and increase the minimum wage for tipped workers. Here are the key details of the legislation, introduced by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Reps. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.)."

The President's Broken Promises on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid: "Donald Trump made a straightforward promise to the American people when he asked for their votes: He would not cut Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. Unlike the way many politicians talk, he did not qualify or hedge this promise to give him an out if he changed his mind later, and many Americans took his promise at face value."

6 Reasons Curtis Ellis Is a Terrible Pick for Trade Post: "News has emerged that Curtis Ellis is being considered by President Donald Trump as one of the finalists to run the Department of Labor's Bureau of International Labor Affairs. The job is considered to be a key part of any effort to boost U.S. manufacturing jobs while cracking down on labor abuses overseas. Here are six reasons why this move is a bad idea and will harm working people."

Working People at AT&T End Three-Day Strike: "On Friday, 40,000 AT&T workers, members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), walked off the job on a three-day strike to protest the company's failure to invest in good jobs with a future at AT&T wireless, wireline and DIRECTV. The groups striking represent working people in 36 states and the District of Columbia. This is the first time AT&T wireless employees have gone on strike."

Shuler Joins Graduate Teachers Seeking Recognition of Their Union at Yale's Commencement: "Thousands of supporters rallied today at Yale University's commencement in solidarity with the graduate teachers who formed a union with UNITE HERE Local 33. The university has refused to recognize the union and come to the negotiating table."

Kenneth Quinnell Fri, 05/26/2017 - 10:51

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Latest Budget Bill Makes More Cuts, Revenue Still Needed from Legislature [feedly]

Latest Budget Bill Makes More Cuts, Revenue Still Needed from Legislature

During this week's special session, the Governor introduced HB 115, the latest version of the budget bill. Way back in February, the governor introduced his original budget plan, which called for $450 million in new revenue. During the regular session, the legislature failed to agree on any revenue measures, and at the end of the session passed a budget that was balanced with a $90 million withdrawal from the Rainy Day Fund and major cuts to higher education and Medicaid. That budget was vetoed by the governor. Since then, the Governor, Senate, and House have entered into a stand-off over personal income tax cuts and sales tax increases, with little attention to the actual budget.

Now with HB 115, we can see what the governor's plan is once there is some revenue agreement with the Legislature. Total General Revenue spending in HB 115 totals $4.35 billion, which is $155.7 million below the governor's original proposal. The latest revenue projections show available General Revenue funds for FY 2018 to be $4.09 billion, which means that the legislature would need to raise about $260 million in new revenue for this budget proposal to balance. Current revenue proposals fall far short of that mark, and create bigger budget problems in the future.

Here are a list of major changed in HB 115 from the Governor's original proposal:

  • The Save our State Fund in the Department of Commerce is reduced from $105.5 million to $15 million. Other cuts to the Department of Commerce total $629,448.
  • In the Department of Education, $1 million is cut from 21st Century Assessment and Professional Development. The "smoothing" of payments to the Teacher's Retirement System's unfunded liability is also included, saving $44.7 million.
  • Funding for the Education Broadcasting Authority is restored, but still cut by $85,813 from FY 2017 level. Other cuts in the Department of Education and the Arts total $493,403 below the governor's original proposal.
  • In DHHR, funding for the Center for End of Life, Office of Healthy Lifestyles, Osteoporosis and Arthritis Prevention, and the Tobacco Education Program are eliminated, while General Revenue Funding for Medicaid is cut by $9.9 million below the governor's original proposal.
  • The Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety is cut by $5.1 million below the governor's original proposal, including $3.8 million cut from the Division of Corrections.
  • Community and Technical Colleges are cut by $1.3 million below the governor's proposal.
  • Funding for HEPC and 4 year colleges and universities is cut by  $5.4 million below the governor's original proposal, while $1.6 million in funding is restored for WVNET. Overall funding for Higher Education would be $13.8 million below FY 2017 funding levels.
  • Cuts in other areas of the budget, including DEP, Department of Revenue, and Executive Branch agencies, total $1.4 million

 -- via my feedly newsfeed

Catching up on some links… [feedly]

Catching up on some links…

…to stuff in faraway lands.

EG, here's a piece in the NY Daily News wherein I argue that for all the voices proclaiming that Trump's really nasty and thoroughly mathematically challenged first budget is "dead-on-arrival" in the Congress, that's unfortunately not quite accurate. Why not? Because "virtually every priority in Trump's budget is one that Republicans have been trying to legislate for years. That by itself should tell you that this budget, though it won't become law, is far from dead."

Second, in today's WaPo, I argue that no question, progressive must play defense to preserve what we've got, but it's walk-and-chew-gum time. We also must craft and elevate a true, progressive alternative.

That's going to involve higher minimum wages, more labor protections (especially increasing the number of people eligible for overtime pay), a big expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (which the Trump budget proposes to cut), direct job creation in places where even at full employment there are not enough jobs, child allowances for families raising kids (an idea that's gaining traction beyond progressive circles), a gradual phase-in of Medicare for All by gradually lowering the eligibility age, deep investments in human capital starting with preschool and going through college, and progressive tax changes to help finance the agenda.

I mean, it may be wishful thinking, but what if people wake up to Trump's bait-and-switch and starting looking around? I'd like them to be able to turn to an actual progressive agenda vs. the faux one they've been sold heretofore.

 -- via my feedly newsfeed

Bernstein: Trump, trade, and Germany [feedly]

Trump, trade, and Germany

So, at a meeting in Brussels yesterday, President Trump appears to have told leaders of the European Union that "the Germans are bad, very bad." I'll let those with foreign diplomatic chops figure out how to clean that up—and good luck: When I plug the Spiegel Online headline—"Die Deutschen sind böse, sehr böse"—into Google translator, it spits back: "The Germans are evil, very evil."

I'll handle the economics, which actually are interesting. When Trump talks about trade, he sometimes gets a piece of it right, and it's often a piece about which establishment politicians and the economists that support them are in denial: Germany's trade surplus of over 8 percent of GDP really is a problem for the other countries with whom they trade.

That's not just my view. Both Ben Bernanke and more recently, Lord Mervyn King, former governor of the Central Bank of England, have expressed serious concerns about the impact of Germany's large trade surplus on other countries.

But here are two things that I'm sure Trump misunderstands. First, Germany is not manipulating its currency to build its surplus. Instead, it's the single currency of the Eurozone that's the culprit. Germany is the economic powerhouse of the region, with stronger growth and production practices than its Eurozone partners. Thus, if it's currency could float, it would surely appreciate, but it can't, so its goods are underpriced in export markets relative to those countries' exports.

Second, as I'll get to in a moment, it's not clear what Germany should do about it.

In many posts, I've explained that, contrary to conventional wisdom, including the pushback I've already heard from German EU ministers, trade imbalances are not always benign, nor do they represent efficient markets at work. King stresses the damage of currency misalignments, as well as the fundamental arithmetic of global trade. Since trade must balance on a global scale, one country's trade surplus must show up as other countries' deficits. When a country like Germany produces so much more than it consumes (runs a trade surplus), other countries must consume more than they produce (run trade deficits). And when the magnitudes get this large as a share of GDP—Germany's surplus hit a record 8.6 percent of GDP last year—the damage to other nations can be severe.

Bernanke in 2015:

"The fact that Germany is selling so much more than it is buying redirects demand from its neighbors (as well as from other countries around the world), reducing output and employment outside Germany at a time at which monetary policy in many countries is reaching its limits."

Bernanke's last point is key. When economies are percolating along at full employment, trade deficits can, in fact, be benign. But unemployment in the Eurozone is still 9.5 percent, which combines Germany's 3.9 percent with Spain's 18.2 percent, Greece's 23.5 percent, Italy's 11.7 percent, and so on. Germany's massive surplus has cribbed labor demand from those high unemployment countries, but neither the fiscal nor monetary authorities in these nations have undertaken adequate counter-cyclical policies ("why not?" is a good question having to do with constraints of the monetary union and austerity economics).

To be clear, even at full employment, large, persistent trade deficits—which again, are the flipside of large, persistent surpluses—can be problematic. Here in the US, they've hurt our manufacturers and their communities, a fact that Trump exploited in the election. And one can, of course, see similar political dynamics in the weaker parts of European economies.

Trade deficits have also contributed to asset bubbles. They must be financed with borrowed capital, and such flows from surplus countries were clearly associated with our housing bubble in the 2000s, as well as the longer-term "secular stagnation" economist Larry Summers talks about (weak demand, even in mature recoveries).

At this point, the growing group of economists who recognize the importance of these international imbalances are pointing towards the capital flows themselves as the force behind persistent trade deficits. This is an important insight because it belies the simple solution we tend to hear from the mainstream: if only you'd save more, your trade deficit would shrink. But if other countries persist in exporting their savings to us, short of capital controls to block those flows, our trade deficit will also persist.

What could/should Germany do to be more of team player, spreading demand to others instead of hoarding it? The usual recommendation, made by Bernanke, is to take their excess savings and invest them at home, say through more public infrastructure or some other sort of fiscal stimulus. But King makes the good point that since Germany is already pretty much at full employment—recall their 3.9 percent unemployment rate–they may be disinclined to take this advice.

King suggests that they should instead do something to raise the value of their exchange rate (appreciate their currency), but here again, it's not obvious how, as a member of the currency union, they're supposed to go about that.

Surely, the solution Trump intimated—a big tariff on German exports into the US—wouldn't work. For one, such actions invite retaliation, and not only do many of us want to tap the consumer benefits of our robust global supply chains, but Germany has factories here that employ a lot of people making cars and other equipment. That's welcome investment.

Moreover, team Trump is consistently misguided with their unilateral approach to this problem of trade imbalances. As long as foreign capital continues to flow freely into the US from surplus countries, absorbing less from Germany simply implies absorbing more excess savings from somewhere else.

King suggests that the best solution is for deficit countries to get together with surplus countries and, a la Bretton Woods, figure out a "mutually advantageous path to restore growth." That sounds a bit pie-in-the-sky until you consider the economic shampoo cycle ("bubble, bust, repeat") that's been so repeatedly damaging to countries across the globe. Perhaps that would be a motivator for our trading-partner countries, though the longer Trump's out there on the road, the harder it's getting to imagine such forward-looking international coordination.

I too have suggested that President Trump should convene such a commission, but sadly, I'm not the Jared he listens to. In the meantime, he should check out Google Translator before he mouths off.

 -- via my feedly newsfeed

Links for 05-27-17 [feedly]

Dan Little (Understanding Society): Proliferation of hate and intolerance

Friday, May 26, 2017

Proliferation of hate and intolerance

Paul Brass provides a wealth of ethnographic and historical evidence on the causes of Hindu-Muslim violence in India in The Production of Hindu-Muslim Violence in Contemporary India. His analysis here centers on the city of Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh, and he believes that his findings have broad relevance in many parts of India. His key conclusion is worth quoting:

It is a principal argument of this book that the whole political order in post-Independence north India and many, if not most of its leading as well as local actors -- more markedly so since the death of Nehru -- have become implicated in the persistence of Hindu-Muslim riots. These riots have had concrete benefits for particular political organizations as well as larger political uses. Hindu-Muslim opposition, tensions, and violence have provided the principal justification and the primary source of strength for the political existence of some local political organizations in many cities and towns in north India linked to a family of militant Hindu nationalist organizations whose core is an organization founded in 1925, known as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Included in this family, generally called the Sangh Parivar, are an array of organizations devoted to different tasks: mass mobilization, political organization, recruitment of students, women, and workers, and paramilitary training. The leading political organization in this family, originally called the Jan Sangh, is now the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), currently (2001) the predominant party in India's governing coalition. All the organizations in the RSS family of militant Hindu organizations adhere to a broader ideology of Hindutva, of Hindu nationalism that theoretically exists independently of Hindu-Muslim antagonisms, but in practice has thrived only when that opposition is explicitly or implicitly present. (6-7)

Brass provides extensive evidence, that is, for the idea that a key cause and stimulant to ethnic and religious conflict derives from the political entrepreneurs and organizations who have a political interest in furthering conflict among groups.

Let's think about the mechanics of the spread of attitudes of intolerance, distrust, and hate throughout a population. What kinds of factors and interactions lead individuals to increase the intensity of their negative beliefs and attitudes towards other groups? What drives the spread of hate and intolerance through a population? (Donatella della Porta, Manuela Caiani and Claudius Wagemann's Mobilizing on the Extreme Right: Germany, Italy, and the United States is a valuable recent effort at formulating a political sociology of right-wing extremism in Italy, Germany, and the United States. Here is an earlier post that also considers this topic; link.)

Here are several mechanisms that recur in many instances of extremist mobilization.

Exposure to inciting media. Since the Rwandan genocide the role of radio, television, and now the internet has been recognized in the proliferation and intensification of hate. The use of fake news, incendiary language, and unfounded conspiracy theories seems to have accelerated the formation of constituencies for the beliefs and attitudes of hate. Breitbart News is a powerful example of a media channel specifically organized around conveying suspicion, mistrust, disrespect, and alienation among groups. ("Propaganda and conflict: Evidence from the Rwandan genocide" is a finegrained study of Rwandan villages that attempts to estimate the impact of a radio station on violent participation by villagers; link.)

Incidents. People who have studied the occurrence of ethnic violence in India have emphasized the role played by various incidents, real or fictitious, that have elevated emotions and antagonisms in one community or another. An assault or a rape, a house or shop being burned, even an auto accident can lead to a cascade of heightened emotions and blame within a community, communicated by news media and word of mouth. These sorts of incidents play an important role in many of the conflicts Brass describes.

Organizations and leaders. Organizations like white supremacist clubs and their leaders make deliberate attempts to persuade outsiders to join their beliefs. Leaders make concerted and intelligent attempts to craft messages that will appeal to potential followers, deliberately cultivating the themes of hate and racism that they advocate. Young people are recruited at the street level into groups and clubs that convey hateful symbols and rhetoric. Political entrepreneurs take advantage of the persuasive power of mobilization efforts based on divisiveness and intolerance. In Brass's account of Hindu-Muslim conflict, that role is played by RSS, BJP, and many local organizations motivated by this ideology.

Music, comics, and video games. Anti-hate organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center have documented the role played by racist and anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim themes in popular music and other forms of entertainment (link). These creations help to create a sense of shared identity among members as they enjoy the music or immerse themselves in the comics and games. Blee and Creasap emphasize the importance of the use of popular culture forms in mobilization strategies of the extreme right in "Conservative and right-wing movements"; link.

The presence of a small number of "hot connectors". It appears to be the case that attitudes of intolerance are infectious to some degree. So the presence of a few outspoken bigots in a small community may spread their attitudes to others, and the density of local social networks appears to be an important factor in the spread of hateful attitudes. The broader the social network of these individuals, the more potent the infective effects of their behavior are likely to be. (Here is a recent post on social-network effects on mobilization; link.)

There is a substantial degree of orchestration in most of these mechanisms -- deliberate efforts by organizations and political entrepreneurs to incite and channel the emotions of fear, hostility, and hate among their followers and potential followers. Strategies of recruitment for extremist and hate-based parties deliberately cultivate the mindset of hate among young people and disaffected older people (link). And the motivations seem to be a mix of ideological commitment to a worldview of hate and more prosaic self-interest -- power, income, resources, publicity, and influence.

But the hard questions remaining are these: how does intolerance become mainstream? Is this a "tipping point" phenomenon? And what mechanisms and forces exist to act as counter-pressures against these mechanisms, and promulgate attitudes of mutual respect and tolerance as affirmative social values?

*          *          *

Here is a nice graphic from Arcand and Chakraborty, "What Explains Ethnic Violence? Evidence from Hindu-Muslim Riots in India"; link. Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Uttar Pradesh show the largest concentration of riots over the period 1960-1995. There appears to be no correlation by time in the occurrence of riots in the three states.

And here is a 1996 report on the incidence of religious violence in India by Human Rights Watch; link.
John Case
Harpers Ferry, WV

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Poets and Mechanics Friends Worship Group:Call to Meeting for Worship: May 28, 2017

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Blog: Poets and Mechanics Friends Worship Group
Post: Call to Meeting for Worship: May 28, 2017
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Friday, May 26, 2017

Enlighten Radio:Winners and Losers Solves All the Problems Today -- 6 AM

John Case has sent you a link to a blog:

Blog: Enlighten Radio
Post: Winners and Losers Solves All the Problems Today -- 6 AM
Link: http://www.enlightenradio.org/2017/05/winners-and-losers-solves-all-problems.html

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

American workers lose $1.2 billion in 2017 due to delay in update of overtime rules [feedly]

American workers lose $1.2 billion in 2017 due to delay in update of overtime rules

One year ago, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a final rule to update the Fair Labor Standards Act's overtime rules. The old rules—written by the Bush administration in 2004—have a loophole that leaves millions of salaried employees without the right to overtime pay (and even without the right to be paid the minimum wage). An employer may legally require salaried employees earning as little as $23,660 a year to work 70 or 80 hours a week with no additional pay. If an employer determines that a salaried employee works in an "executive, professional, or administrative capacity" the employee's effective hourly pay could fall below $6.00 an hour.

If the new rule had taken effect on December 1, 2016, as planned, 4 million employees would have become entitled to overtime pay and another 9 million would have had their right to overtime pay strengthened and clarified. In 2017 alone, workers would have gotten $1.2 billion in extra pay.

But Republican politicians and big business groups sued to block the rule, and a U.S. District Court judge in Texas blocked the rule from taking effect, not just in Texas, but nationwide. Obama's Department of Labor appealed the case, but the Trump administration has repeatedly delayed the appeal while it figures out whether to side with the employees or with big business.

Read more

 -- via my feedly newsfeed