Saturday, February 28, 2015

Class War and the "Right-to-Work" Law Comes to Wisconsin

Every time I see the word “right-to-work” it brings me back to 1981 and my first academic publication “Capitalists Versus Unions: An Analysis of Anti-Union Political Mobilization” with my mentor Richard Ratcliff at Washington University. 

But enough about me.

Fast forward -- and the class war continues unabated.

It is remarkable that after the 2008 economic crisis that was fueled by inequality and a war on labor, is a demand-side crisis still painfully lingering as a result of continuing inequality and wage stagnation, the forces of darkness would continue to believe that we are in a supply-side crisis that instead requires more anti-labor legislation and a better "business climate" for capital. 

In 2012, Michigan, home of the United Auto Workers, passed a “right-to-work” law. Now Wisconsin, home to the progressive legacy of Robert LaFollette, is on the verge of passing the law.

The always reliable Economic Policy Institute has a good analysis of the issue. Here is an overview:

RTW laws have nothing to do with anyone being forced to be a member of a union, or forced to pay even a penny to political causes they do not support; that’s already illegal under federal law. What RTW laws do is to make it illegal for a group of unionized workers to negotiate a contract that requires each employee who enjoys the benefit of the contract to pay his or her share of the costs of negotiating and policing it. By making it harder for workers’ organizations to sustain themselves financially, RTW laws aim to restrict the share of employees who are able to represent themselves through collective bargaining, and to limit the effectiveness of unions in negotiating higher wages and benefits for their members.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Progressives Should Oppose Loretta Lynch Nomination

Just a couple pieces that further confirm the inability of the Democratic party to engage in some principled non-partisanship.

The first from the always on-target Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism.

The second highlighting the ever-present identity politics that clouds the central political-economic priorities by Glen Ford.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Links to Good Stuff

Too much going on to devote attention to any one issue. Here are a few links to some interesting and important stories and developments:

For further confirmation of the way US foreign policy in the Mideast is fueling the very forces we claim to oppose, a report on a talk by Human Rights Watch Kenneth Roth.

The criminalization of poverty.

Professor fired for criticizing Israel files law suit.

U.S. Senate refuses to accept human role in climate change....will revisit flat earth debate next week.

New book on the U.S. Presidency provides a badly needed perspective on the political-economic structural constraints determining policy independent of party or personality.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Fawning Obituaries for a Saudi Monarch

U.S. officials are expressing their condolences on the death of Saudi Arabia King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz and to the people of Saudi Arabia. Obama praised him for his "enduring contribution to the search for peace in the region" and the "the courage of his convictions" noting that "the closeness and strength of the partnership between our two countries is part of King Abdullah's legacy".

This is the absolute monarch who has ruled Saudi Arabia for 20 years; a country that has earned the following summary review from Human Rights Watch in 2014:

Saudi Arabia stepped up arrests, trials, and convictions of peaceful dissidents, and forcibly dispersed peaceful demonstrations by citizens in 2013. Authorities continued to violate the rights of 9 million Saudi women and girls and 9 million foreign workers. As in past years, authorities subjected thousands of people to unfair trials and arbitrary detention. In 2013, courts convicted seven human rights defenders and others for peaceful expression or assembly demanding political and human rights reforms.

In the mainstram media there was virtually no mention of his brutal dictatorship or the routine use of beheadings as part of the criminal justice apparatus. Instead he was praised as a "man of peace".

As one critical report noted:

It’s not often that the unelected leader of a country which publicly flogs dissidents and beheads people for sorcery wins such glowing praise from American officials. Even more perplexing, perhaps, have been the fawning obituaries in the mainstream press which have faithfully echoed this characterization of Abdullah as a benign and well-intentioned man of peace.

In another, there was an interesting comparison and contrast between the US obituaries for King Abdullah versus Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, the latter a democratically elected leader. It represents a powerful lesson in the priorities of US foreign policy.

Monday, January 19, 2015

What's (Fiscally) The Matter With Kansas

When Kansas governor Sam Brownback decided to take the advice of extreme conservative supply-side economists and reform the tax code to serve the interests of the few, he promised that it would generate economic growth and “lift all boats” (sound familiar). However, as the tax cutting plan was implemented, knowledgeable observers on both the right and the left predicted dire results.

And, as predicted, revenues dropped, no economic renaissance resulted, budget deficits swelled, services and public investment were slashed, the state’s credit rating was downgraded, and the population of Kansas was royally pissed off.  

Well, as it now turns out, he is prepared to raise some taxes. Would those be taxes on the wealthy? No. How about taxes on corporations? No.  Instead he will raise taxes on liquor and cigarettes. Yes, a sales tax -- the most regressive of all taxes falling most heavily on those least able to pay.  

Has Brownback learned anything from this experience? No. Why? Because the supply-side neoliberal economic theory is faith-based economics. Empirical evidence is irrelevant. They don’t call it market fundamentalism for nothing.

And so, in addition to announcing regressive sales tax increases, there was this: “We will continue our march to zero income taxes,” the governor said Thursday in his State of the State address. “States with no income tax consistently grow faster than those with high income taxes.”
There is no end to the fiscal insanity.

What Would MLK Think and Do?

If Martin Luther King were alive today I believe he would be deeply disturbed at the socio-economic condition and policy direction of the United States in both domestic and international affairs. 

More specifically, he would be appalled that our global response to 9/11 was war, invasion, and occupation; that our domestic response to 9/11 was a so-called Patriot Act curtailing civil liberties; that our current military strategy employs targeted killing using unmanned drones; that in spite of record rates of child and family poverty our “leaders” are unable to utter the p-word; that in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the great depression there is a greater concern with cutting deficits than creating jobs; that in spite of record income inequality, raising taxes on the rich is fiercely resisted while busting labor unions is embraced; that in response to the endless string of mass shootings many Americans have chosen to stock up on additional weapons;  that in response to a failing economy that systematically marginalizes racial minorities we have chosen prisonfare over welfare, the dragnet over the safety net; and that rather than deepening democracy we have established a corporate plutocracy; and so forth, ad nauseam.

But Martin Luther King would not despair; he would organize. If alive today he would have supported the Occupy movement and would mobilize citizens in peaceful, non-violent action to agitate against existing conditions while building a vision for a more humane world.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Financial Oligarchy is Winning

Despite the fact that the U.S. banking and financial sector engaged in illegal, unethical, and criminal behavior which blew up the national and global economy, the weak regulatory response known as Dodd-Frank is being systematically defanged by Congress. As reported in the New York Times,

In the span of a month, the nation’s biggest banks and investment firms have twice won passage of measures to weaken regulations intended to help lessen the risk of another financial crisis, setting their sights on narrow, arcane provisions and greasing their efforts with a surge of lobbying and campaign contributions.

The continuing assault on the 2010 Dodd-Frank law has achieved remarkable success, especially compared with the repeated failures of opponents of another 2010 law, the Affordable Care Act.

 This has been accomplished not only by Republicans but also with the support of a significant number of Democrats. And, also reported and consistent with the long-running pattern, the Obama administration has been complicit in allowing the financial sector to roll back the minimal progress
Proponents of regulation say that they are badly outgunned by an army of Wall Street lobbyists, and complain that the Obama administration has been too weak in its response.

“The president was slow in drawing the same kind of line on financial reform that he did on health care,” said Barney Frank, the retired chairman of the House Financial Services Committee who helped write Dodd-Frank.
None of this should be surprising, if distressing, since the financial sector essentially serves as a ruling elite in determining political-economic policy. Not only were campaign contributions from the financial sector among the largest supporting Obama’s election and re-election, those appointed to oversee and re-regulate the financial sector came from the institutions that contributed to the crisis.

It is worth returning to the seminal piece by the former International Monetary Fund (IMF) official Simon Johnson, who wrote in his Atlantic piece titled “The Quiet Coup” that the U.S. is ruled by a “financial oligarchy”:
… elite business interests—financiers, in the case of the U.S.—played a central role in creating the crisis, making ever-larger gambles, with the implicit backing of the government, until the inevitable collapse. More alarming, they are now using their influence to prevent precisely the sorts of reforms that are needed, and fast, to pull the economy out of its nosedive. The government seems helpless, or unwilling, to act against them.

…Of course, the U.S. is unique. And just as we have the world’s most advanced economy, military, and technology, we also have its most advanced oligarchy.
If the IMF’s staff could speak freely about the U.S., it would tell us what it tells all countries in this situation: recovery will fail unless we break the financial oligarchy that is blocking essential reform.

Unfortunately, the financial oligarchy today is more concentrated and more powerful than ever.