By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 10. 2012
We hear a lot of talk from politicians in Lansing about creating jobs and making education a top priority, but Michigan’s middle class families know talk is cheap.
Last year our elected officials cut more than $1 billion from our K-12 schools, community colleges and universities so they could provide a $1.7 billion tax cut for businesses. These cuts won’t reduce class size, they won’t address barriers to student success, and they won’t put people back to work.
Now a small group of anti-union politicians and corporate special interests like the Mackinac Center for Public Policy are trying to make Michigan a so-called right-to-work state.
Let’s be clear. This is nothing more than a blatant power grab that will weaken the middle class and won’t create jobs.
As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights.”
A right-to-work law in Michigan would give even more profits to CEOs at the expense of our jobs, our retirement security and our kids’ future.
In states with right-to-work laws, employees earn an average of $1,500 less per year, have a lower standard of living and no job security. Currently, six of the 10 states with the highest unemployment rates in the nation have right-to-work laws on the books.
Of course, we all know this isn’t really about rebuilding Michigan’s economy. If it were, middle class families in states that have passed right-to-work laws would be better off, but that’s simply not the case.
In fact, in right-to-work states like Mississippi, Texas and Idaho, workers’ pensions were gutted. Thousands of workers who had been contributing to their pensions for decades were left with broken promises and no retirement security.
The politicians and corporate special interests who are pushing this unfair legislation know that unions are a check on corporate greed, and they are working overtime to silence the collective voice of our teachers, nurses and firefighters.
Corporate CEOs spent more than $1 billion to elect politicians who are willing to do their bidding and give them free rein over our economy.
If these attacks succeed in weakening unions, what will be left to check corporate power and fight outsourcing? CEOs will be able to rob workers of their voice, to lower wages and to ship even more jobs to China.
Gov. Rick Snyder has said he doesn’t want Michigan to become a right-to-work state, and I couldn’t agree more.
This issue is far too divisive, and will tear Michigan apart at a time when we should be focused on creating jobs and investing in public education to give our kids a better future.
When it comes to rebuilding our economy, talk is cheap. And since right-to-work is all about shortchanging workers, it’s clear this flawed proposal is wrong for Michigan.
By: David Hecker, Guest Columnist, Detroit Free Press, February 12, 2012
“How many of you,” Scott Rasmussen asked the crowd at this week’s Conservative Political Action Conference, “have ever mocked or made fun of the president’s call for hope and change? Raise your hands.”
Most people in the Marriott Wardman Park hotel ballroom raised their hands. There were cheers and whoops.
“With all due respect,” the conservative pollster and commentator told them, “I’d like to say that’s really stupid.”
This time, there was uncomfortable laughter. “Voters are looking for hope and change as much today as they were in 2008,” Rasmussen explained, and “you ought to be encouraging Republican candidates, people you support, to offer that positive step forward.”
Rasmussen had put his finger on a major problem for Republicans in 2012, and conservatives in particular: At a time when the national mood has begun to improve, they remain nattering nabobs of negativism. At CPAC, any hint of a “positive step” was buried in vitriol.
This worked well for Republicans in 2010, because it matched the sour mood of the electorate. But now, with optimism and confidence finally on the rise, Republicans are left with an anger management problem. They risk leaving the impression that they are rooting against an economic recovery.
Take, for example, the speech to CPAC by Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader. Among his criticisms of the Obama administration: It “made an art form out of the orchestrated attack”; it will “go after anybody or any organization they think is standing in their way”; it releases “the liberal thugs” on opponents; it “used the resources of the government itself to intimidate or silence those who question or oppose it”; it engages in “attacking private citizens or groups for the supposed crime of turning a profit”; it takes it on itself to “dig through other people’s tax returns”; and it has no higher priority “than picking on Fox News.”
“The president seems to have forgotten . . . that he was elected to be president of the United States, not the Occupy Wall Street fan club,” McConnell lectured, spitting out the words.
The unrelenting anger in the ballroom was an extension of what’s been happening on the campaign trail. In the week preceding the Florida Republican primary, 92 percent of the political ads were negative, according to the Campaign Media Analysis Group. There was only one positive ad for Mitt Romney — and it was in Spanish.
The Republican candidates for president visited CPAC on Friday to deliver more of the same: “We’re going to win by making Barack Obama and his failed policies the issue in this race” (Rick Santorum); “History will record the Obama presidency as the last gasp of liberalism’s great failure” (Romney); and “My goal, with your help, is that by the time President Obama lands in Chicago, we will have repudiated at least 40 percent of his government on the opening day” (Newt Gingrich).
The dour message has contributed to low voter turnout and an enthusiasm gap among GOP voters — a worrisome development that the Washington Times’ Ralph Hallow tried to warn the CPAC participants about. “None of these things I see are particularly good,” he said during one of the conference panels. “Intensity and enthusiasm about voting is now with the Democrats.”
On the same CPAC panel, conservative activist Ralph Reed argued that “it isn’t going to be enough to be anti-Obama. . . . We have to have a forward-leaning, positive conservative reform agenda.”
But at the moment, the message remains backward-looking and negative. At CPAC, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) used his speech to decry a “totalitarian state that’s descending upon us” and to assert the existence of the administration’s “Stasi troops” — a reference to the East German secret police.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) claimed, “Our country has never been in as much trouble as we’re in today, and I’m not exaggerating.” Speaker John Boehner recalled his defiant stand against Obamacare on the House floor: “Hell no, you can’t!” And former presidential candidate Herman Cain argued that “stupid people are ruining America.”
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) even dismissed the significance of the death of Osama bin Laden, the fall of Moammar Gaddafi and the birth of the Arab Spring. They are “tactical successes” that pale against the “mess that Barack Obama has created,” she said.
On another CPAC panel, conservative commentators were asked to respond to conservative columnist David Brooks’s argument that Romney needs “to actually have some big policies” rather than “cruising on a bad economy.”
Radio host Roger Hedgecock disagreed. “We know that this economy is not recovering,” he said.
McConnell was similarly grim. “Last week’s jobs report happened in spite of the president’s policies, not because of them,” he told the gathering. “It’s the Obama economy now. And we’re not going to let people forget it.”
Such nattering is exactly what Obama needs.
Lately inequality has re-entered the national conversation. Occupy Wall Street gave the issue visibility, while the Congressional Budget Office supplied hard data on the widening income gap. And the myth of a classless society has been exposed: Among rich countries, America stands out as the place where economic and social status is most likely to be inherited.
So you knew what was going to happen next. Suddenly, conservatives are telling us that it’s not really about money; it’s about morals. Never mind wage stagnation and all that, the real problem is the collapse of working-class family values, which is somehow the fault of liberals.
But is it really all about morals? No, it’s mainly about money.
To be fair, the new book at the heart of the conservative pushback, Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010,” does highlight some striking trends. Among white Americans with a high school education or less, marriage rates and male labor force participation are down, while births out of wedlock are up. Clearly, white working-class society has changed in ways that don’t sound good.
But the first question one should ask is: Are things really that bad on the values front?
Mr. Murray and other conservatives often seem to assume that the decline of the traditional family has terrible implications for society as a whole. This is, of course, a longstanding position. Reading Mr. Murray, I found myself thinking about an earlier diatribe, Gertrude Himmelfarb’s 1996 book, “The De-Moralization of Society: From Victorian Virtues to Modern Values,” which covered much of the same ground, claimed that our society was unraveling and predicted further unraveling as the Victorian virtues continued to erode.
Yet the truth is that some indicators of social dysfunction have improved dramatically even as traditional families continue to lose ground. As far as I can tell, Mr. Murray never mentions either the plunge in teenage pregnancies among all racial groups since 1990 or the 60 percent decline in violent crime since the mid-90s. Could it be that traditional families aren’t as crucial to social cohesion as advertised?
Still, something is clearly happening to the traditional working-class family. The question is what. And it is, frankly, amazing how quickly and blithely conservatives dismiss the seemingly obvious answer: A drastic reduction in the work opportunities available to less-educated men.
Most of the numbers you see about income trends in America focus on households rather than individuals, which makes sense for some purposes. But when you see a modest rise in incomes for the lower tiers of the income distribution, you have to realize that all — yes, all — of this rise comes from the women, both because more women are in the paid labor force and because women’s wages aren’t as much below male wages as they used to be.
For lower-education working men, however, it has been all negative. Adjusted for inflation, entry-level wages of male high school graduates have fallen 23 percent since 1973. Meanwhile, employment benefits have collapsed. In 1980, 65 percent of recent high-school graduates working in the private sector had health benefits, but, by 2009, that was down to 29 percent.
So we have become a society in which less-educated men have great difficulty finding jobs with decent wages and good benefits. Yet somehow we’re supposed to be surprised that such men have become less likely to participate in the work force or get married, and conclude that there must have been some mysterious moral collapse caused by snooty liberals. And Mr. Murray also tells us that working-class marriages, when they do happen, have become less happy; strange to say, money problems will do that.
One more thought: The real winner in this controversy is the distinguished sociologist William Julius Wilson.
Back in 1996, the same year Ms. Himmelfarb was lamenting our moral collapse, Mr. Wilson published “When Work Disappears: The New World of the Urban Poor,” in which he argued that much of the social disruption among African-Americans popularly attributed to collapsing values was actually caused by a lack of blue-collar jobs in urban areas. If he was right, you would expect something similar to happen if another social group — say, working-class whites — experienced a comparable loss of economic opportunity. And so it has.
So we should reject the attempt to divert the national conversation away from soaring inequality toward the alleged moral failings of those Americans being left behind. Traditional values aren’t as crucial as social conservatives would have you believe — and, in any case, the social changes taking place in America’s working class are overwhelmingly the consequence of sharply rising inequality, not its cause.
By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, February 9, 2012
I may not be as theologically sophisticated as American bishops, but I had thought that Jesus talked more about helping the poor than about banning contraceptives.
The debates about pelvic politics over the last week sometimes had a patronizing tone, as if birth control amounted to a chivalrous handout to women of dubious morals. On the contrary, few areas have more impact on more people than birth control — and few are more central to efforts to chip away at poverty.
My well-heeled readers will be furrowing their brows at this point. Birth control is cheap, you’re thinking, and far less expensive than a baby (or an abortion). But for many Americans living on the edge, it’s a borderline luxury.
A 2009 study looked at sexually active American women of modest means, ages 18 to 34, whose economic circumstances had deteriorated. Three-quarters said that they could not afford a baby then. Yet 30 percent had put off a gynecological or family-planning visit to save money. More horrifying, of those using the pill, one-quarter said that they economized by not taking it every day. (My data is from the Guttmacher Institute, a nonpartisan research organization on issues of sexual health.)
One-third of women in another survey said they would switch birth control methods if not for the cost. Nearly half of those women were relying on condoms, and others on nothing more than withdrawal.
The cost of birth control is one reason poor women are more than three times as likely to end up pregnant unintentionally as middle-class women.
In short, birth control is not a frill that can be lightly dropped to avoid offending bishops. Coverage for contraception should be a pillar of our public health policy — and, it seems to me, of any faith-based effort to be our brother’s keeper, or our sister’s.
To understand the centrality of birth control, consider that every dollar that the United States government spends on family planning reduces Medicaid expenditures by $3.74, according to Guttmacher. Likewise, the National Business Group on Health estimated that it costs employers at least an extra 15 percent if they don’t cover contraception in their health plans.
And of course birth control isn’t just a women’s issue: men can use contraceptives too, and unwanted pregnancies affect not only mothers but also fathers.
This is the backdrop for the uproar over President Obama’s requirement that Catholic universities and hospitals include birth control in their health insurance plans. On Friday, the White House backed off a bit — forging a compromise so that unwilling religious employers would not pay for contraception, while women would still get the coverage — but many administration critics weren’t mollified.
Look, there’s a genuine conflict here. Many religious believers were sincerely offended that Catholic institutions would have to provide coverage for health interventions that the church hierarchy opposed. That counts in my book: it’s best to avoid forcing people to do things that breach their ethical standards.
Then again, it’s not clear how many people actually are offended. A national survey found that 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women use birth control at some point in their lives. Moreover, a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute reported that even among Catholics, 52 percent back the Obama policy: they believe that religiously affiliated universities and hospitals should be obliged to include birth control coverage in insurance plans.
So, does America’s national health policy really need to make a far-reaching exception for Catholic institutions when a majority of Catholics oppose that exception?
I wondered what other religiously affiliated organizations do in this situation. Christian Science traditionally opposed medical care. Does The Christian Science Monitor deny health insurance to employees?
“We offer a standard health insurance package,” John Yemma, the editor, told me.
That makes sense. After all, do we really want to make accommodations across the range of faith? What if organizations affiliated with Jehovah’s Witnesses insisted on health insurance that did not cover blood transfusions? What if ultraconservative Muslim or Jewish organizations objected to health care except at sex-segregated clinics?
The basic principle of American life is that we try to respect religious beliefs, and accommodate them where we can. But we ban polygamy, for example, even for the pious. Your freedom to believe does not always give you a freedom to act.
In this case, we should make a good-faith effort to avoid offending Catholic bishops who passionately oppose birth control. I’m glad that Obama sought a compromise. But let’s remember that there are also other interests at stake. If we have to choose between bishops’ sensibilities and women’s health, our national priority must be the female half of our population.
By: Nicholas Kristof, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, February 11, 2012