You’ve got to hand it to Charles Koch: The man doesn’t want for self-confidence. The Kochs and their allies are taking a page from Sen. Rand Paul and trying to dress up their free-market, anti-union, welfare-slashing 21st century feudalism as the answer to persistent African-American unemployment even as the economy recovers under President Obama.
Unbelievably, Koch invokes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as an ally in a stunning USA Today Op-Ed, “How to really turn the economy around,” which is essentially an argument for deregulating business, slashing welfare programs and forcing low-wage work on the poor in the name of the ennobling power of employment.
With laughable Koch paternalism, he shares life lessons from his father, Fred, an oil industry magnate and John Birch Society founder: “When I was growing up, my father had me spend my free time working at unpleasant jobs,” Koch tells us. “Most Americans understand that taking a job and sticking with it, no matter how unpleasant or low-paying, is a vital step toward the American dream.”
Not only does Koch fail to mention that he was the son of a very wealthy man when he worked those “unpleasant jobs,” he cites Dr. King as someone who agrees with him that “there are no dead end jobs.” (The Kochs, by the way, also fund “educational” groups that oppose the minimum wage.)
“If a man is called to be a street sweeper,” Koch quotes King, “he should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’”
This from a man who himself joined the John Birch Society in the mid-1960s, while it was targeting King as a “communist.”
Koch is right about one thing: King was indeed a great admirer of street sweepers. In fact, he was murdered visiting Memphis to fight for the right of city sanitation workers to join a union. Invoking King on behalf of his low-wage, union-busting, anti-minimum wage agenda is despicable, but Koch apparently thinks his money can buy him anything, including the right to claim King’s legacy.
He’s wrong. King died, by the way, while supporting AFSCME, the union representing the Memphis sanitation workers. AFSCME honored Dr. King by making the painful yet correct decision to end a partnership with the United Negro College Fund after UNCF accepted $25 million from the Kochs to establish a “Koch Scholars” program for black students. UNCF head Dr. Michael Lomax also dignified the annual Koch Summit, which plots its right-wing, free-market strategy, in June, alongside Republican senators and right-wing think tankers.
Along with their UNCF donation, which the Kochs widely publicized, Charles Koch’s Op-Ed represents a new front in their public relations battle. Neither their billions in wealth nor their trademark political stealth have served to insulate them from criticism and scorn. When asked about the Koch brothers, a recent George Washington University poll found that most people surveyed hadn’t heard of them, but 25 percent had negative feelings vs. 13 percent who had positive feelings. That’s bad news for a duo who have tried to keep their political activities undercover.
They apparently believe that funding African-American Koch scholars and invoking Dr. King can convince black voters they’re not the enemy. But quoting King on the dignity of street sweepers while forgetting – or never knowing – that he died while fighting for their right to unionize is at best boneheaded, at worst disrespectful. It won’t convince many Koch doubters.
Charles Koch’s billions can’t buy King’s legacy or King’s blessing for his radical far-right agenda, which opposes everything King stood for. But he probably can afford better ghostwriters.
By: Joan Walsh, Editor in Chief, Salon, August 7, 2014
“24 Health-Care Scandals”: Legislators Who Block Medicaid Expansion Are Stiffing Veterans Out Of Health Care, And Stiffing Workers Out Of Jobs
The scandal over long wait times for veterans in the Department of Veterans Affairs health system has grabbed a lot of headlines and elicited a lot of righteous anger — as it should. America’s veterans deserve so much better.
But as Ezra Klein pointed out in a piece in Vox, there’s another health care scandal that also deserves its share of righteous anger, and it also has a big impact on veterans with health care needs: the self-destructive refusal of lawmakers in 20-plus states to accept federal funds to expand their Medicaid programs.
Klein cataloged “24 health-care scandals that critics of the VA should also be furious about” (that is, the 24 states that have rejected the Medicaid expansion). Thanks to lawmakers’ knee-jerk opposition to expanding health coverage in those states, there are huge numbers of uninsured veterans who should be eligible for coverage, but aren’t: 41,200 veterans in Florida, 24,900 in Georgia, 48,900 in Texas… and the list goes on.
All in all, about 250,000 uninsured veterans are getting stiffed out of eligibility for health coverage by lawmakers who have blocked Medicaid expansion, according to Pew’s Stateline. As it turns out, those lawmakers are also stiffing their own states out of economy-boosting jobs — health care jobs that are overwhelmingly good-paying jobs. Medicaid expansion would create thousands more of these jobs.
Virginia, where Medicaid expansion still hangs in limbo, is a perfect example. According to a report from Chmura Economics & Analytics, Medicaid expansion would create an average of over 30,000 jobs annually in Virginia, including more than 15,000 jobs in the state’s health care sector. An analysis of data on projected job openings and wage levels underscores that these will be good-paying, economy-boosting jobs.
For a single adult in Virginia, less than half of all projected job openings statewide pay above a living wage ($18.59/hour, according to the 2013 Virginia Job Gap Study). However, three out of five health care job openings and close to nine out of 10 health practitioner and technical job openings do.
For a household with two working adults and two children, while less than two out of five projected job openings in Virginia pay median wages above a living wage ($21.99/hour per worker), half of health care job openings and more than seven out of 10 health practitioner and technical job openings do.
Or look at Maine, where Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bipartisan Medicaid expansion plan passed by the Maine Legislature earlier this year, and too few Republican legislators were willing to break ranks with the Governor to override his veto. There, Medicaid expansion would create over 4,000 jobs by 2016, including more than 2,000 jobs in Maine’s health care sector. As with Virginia, health care jobs beat statewide wage levels in Maine by wide margins.
For a single adult, less than half of all projected job openings in Maine pay above a living wage ($15.18/hour, according to the 2013 Maine Job Gap Study). But two-thirds of health care job openings and almost nine out of 10 health practitioner and technical job openings do. For a household with two working adults and two children, while barely one-third of projected job openings in Maine pay above a living wage ($18.87/hour per worker), almost three-fifths of health care job openings and more than four out of five health practitioner and technical job openings do.
Health care jobs are also overwhelmingly higher-wage jobs in states like Montana and Idaho. But all these states, along with 20 others, have been missing out on these economy-boosting jobs because their legislatures or governors have rejected Medicaid expansion.
State lawmakers who continue to block Medicaid expansion do so at their own peril — both morally and electorally. Because you can only stiff your own constituents — including low-income, uninsured veterans — out of both access to health care and good-paying, economy-boosting jobs for so long before it catches up with you.
Want to really do something to help veterans get access to the health care they need and create good-paying jobs for your constituents at the same time? Two words: expand Medicaid.
By: LeeAnn Hall, Executive Director, The Alliance For A Just Society; The Huffington Post Blog, August 6, 2014
Call it doomsday prepper economics. For more than five years, many Republicans and conservatives have warned that catastrophe is nigh. Washington’s deficit spending and the Federal Reserve’s excessive money printing will lead to a financial crisis worse than the Great Recession, they prophesied. Inflation will skyrocket, the dollar will collapse, and the Chinese will dump treasuries, they swore. As Ron Paul, the libertarian former GOP congressman and presidential candidate, said back in 2009: “More inflation is absolutely the wrong way to go. We’re taking a recession and trying to turn it into a depression. We’re going to see a real calamity.”
Many GOP politicians have since echoed Paul’s prediction. But the Next Great Inflation never happened. The Consumer Price Index, including food and energy, has risen by an annual average of just 1.6 percent since 2008, below the Fed’s 2 percent inflation target. During the Great Inflation of the 1970s and early 1980s, by contrast, prices rose five times faster.
This information isn’t a secret. The Labor Department releases inflation data monthly on its website. Yet inflation fears still rage on the right. Those concerns are a big reason why Republicans continue to push for a balanced budget ASAP. They’re why the GOP wants to saddle the Fed with restrictive new rules.
Regardless of the potential merits of those policy ideas, the inflation alarmism driving them is taking a weird turn. Some Republicans and conservatives now argue that Washington is figuring inflation all wrong, maybe even intentionally. Better, they say, to trust independent outside sources such as the website ShadowStats, which “exposes and analyzes flaws” in government economic data. According to one set of ShadowStats calculations, the true inflation rate is nearly 10 percent today. The inflation truth is out there.
In a recent National Review Online article, conservative author Amity Shlaes approvingly cites ShadowStats as supporting her thesis that “inflation is higher than what the official data suggest.” Others fans include conservative intellectual Niall Ferguson, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), and a good chunk of the conservative blogosphere.
ShadowStats’ popularity on the right is crazy — because the site’s methodology has been roundly ridiculed by both economists and business journalists. Critics also note that the subscription price for the ShadowStats newsletter has remained unchanged for years. Inflation for thee, but not for me. Beyond that, MIT’s Billion Price Project, which tracks prices from online retailers every day, puts U.S. inflation at just over 2 percent. And consider this: If inflation were really 10 percent, that would mean the real economy, adjusted for inflation, has been sharply shrinking — yet somehow still adding 2 million net new jobs a year.
If GOP inflationistas had their way, the weak U.S. recovery would almost surely be even weaker. Just look at Europe. Unlike the Fed, the inflation-phobic European Central Bank sat on its hands despite weak growth. The result has been an unemployment rate nearly twice America’s and a nasty double-dip recession. Of course, inflation is lower than in America — so low, in fact, that the region risks a dangerous deflationary spiral of falling prices and falling wages.
Why this GOP inflation obsession? Maybe it’s a legacy of how rapidly rising prices in the 1970s swept conservatives into power in both America and Great Britain. Maybe it’s how many conservative talk radio shows are sponsored by gold companies who stand to benefit from inflation hysteria. Maybe it’s a belief that every single economic metric must be a nightmare under President Obama.
But whatever the reason, the GOP’s preoccupation with phantom price increases is distracting it from the actual problems afflicting the U.S. economy — such as low social mobility, stagnant wages, and the decline of middle-class work. The price of not addressing those issues is rising every year. And that is the kind of inflation worth obsessing over.
By: James Pethokoukis, DeWitt Wallace Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute: The Week, July 23, 2014
No one seems quite as happy about House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) anti-Obama lawsuit as President Obama himself. For the West Wing, the Republican litigation helps prove to the public, in a rather definitive way, that Obama’s governing while GOP lawmakers in Congress sit around and complain. Indeed, the frivolous case is effectively a bold announcement that the Republican-led House wants the federal government to be paralyzed indefinitely – which is hardly a winning message in an election year.
And so the president has ended up talking more about Boehner’s prospective lawsuit than Boehner has. “I told [the House Speaker], ‘I’d rather do things with you, pass some laws, make sure the Highway Trust Fund is funded so we don’t lay off hundreds of thousands of workers.’ It’s not that hard,” Obama said last week. “Middle-class families can’t wait for Republicans in Congress to do stuff. So sue me. As long as they’re doing nothing, I’m not going to apologize for trying to do something.”
Yesterday, Boehner responded with a CNN op-ed, defending the litigation he has not yet filed. It’s worth scrutinizing in detail.
[T]oo often over the past five years, the President has circumvented the American people and their elected representatives through executive action, changing and creating his own laws.
First, the Speaker needs to understand, in a “Schoolhouse Rock” sort of way, that the White House cannot create its own laws. That’s gibberish. Obama can create policies through executive orders and executive actions, but those aren’t literally new laws. Second, to help bolster his case about Obama abuses, Boehner referenced exactly zero specific examples.
What’s disappointing is the President’s flippant dismissal of the Constitution we are both sworn to defend.
No, holding the debt ceiling hostage, vowing to crash the global economy on purpose while ignoring the “Full Faith and Credit” of the United States is a “flippant dismissal of the Constitution.” Obama’s use of executive authority, on the other hand, is fairly routine.
I know the President is frustrated. I’m frustrated. The American people are frustrated, too. After years of slow economic growth and high unemployment under President Obama, they are still asking, ‘where are the jobs?’
Boehner may not remember this – 2008 seems like a long time ago – but Obama inherited the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression. The president proceeded to turn the economy around, no thanks to Boehner, who demanded a five-year spending freeze at the height of the crisis, and has fought ever since for fewer investments, less capital, less demand, and higher unemployment through laid off public-sector workers.
As for where the jobs are, the United States is currently on track for the best year for job creation since the 1990s and June was the 52nd consecutive month in which we’ve seen private-sector job growth – the longest streak on record. Why didn’t Boehner read the jobs report?
The House has passed more than 40 jobs bills that would help.
No, not really.
Washington taxes and regulations always make it harder for private sector employers to meet payrolls, invest in new initiatives and create jobs – but how can those employers plan, invest and grow when the laws are changing on the President’s whim at any moment?
First, if presidential whims periodically change American law outside the constitutional system, then Congress would have a responsibility to impeach the president. Since this allegation is imaginary, however, there’s no need. Second, if Boehner is concerned about employers’ confidence in economic stability, the Speaker can approve resources for the Highway Trust Fund and stop playing games with the economy (again).
If House Republicans have a legitimate complaint, shouldn’t it be easier for Boehner to make his case?
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 7, 2014