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“Half-Time In America”: It Isn’t Political, It’s American

Many Republicans want President Obama to fail. That’s  completely understandable and defensible, if one is talking about success or  failure in his re-election campaign. It’s stunning when that’s extended to the  performance of the economy as a whole or any of the nation’s job-supplying  industries.

Thus we have uber-political operative Karl Rove  complaining about how offended he was by a Super Bowl TV ad, sponsored by  Chrysler, which  extolled the recent resurrection of the nation’s auto industry.  The ad  featured tough-guy actor Clint Eastwood talking about the remarkable   comeback of the auto industry, and underscoring the qualities which  truly  characterize the best of America—resilience, optimism, sacrifice,  and hard  work. The script of the commercial, “Halftime in America,” is  as inspiring as  any speech made by an actor in a movie or a political  candidate in a campaign:

It’s halftime in America, too. People are out of  work and they’re  hurting. And they’re all wondering what they’re going to do to  make a  comeback. And we’re all scared, because this isn’t a game.

The people of Detroit know a little something about this. They  almost  lost everything. But we all pulled together, now Motor City is fighting   again.

I’ve seen a lot of tough eras, a lot of downturns in my life. And,   times when we didn’t understand each other. It seems like we’ve lost our  heart  at times. When the fog of division, discord, and blame made it  hard to see what  lies ahead.

But after those trials, we all rallied around what was right, and   acted as one. Because that’s what we do. We find a way through tough  times, and  if we can’t find a way, then we’ll make one.

All that matters now is what’s ahead. How do we come from behind?  How do we come together? And, how do we win?

Detroit’s showing us it can be done. And, what’s true about them  is true about all of us.

This country can’t be knocked out with one punch. We get right  back  up again and when we do the world is going to hear the roar of our  engines.

Yeah, it’s halftime America. And, our second half is about to  begin.

Really, could anyone have a problem with that ad? It featured   scenes of Detroit, and of middle-class people, working hard in a  struggling  economy and trying to make their city and their lives  better.

Yes, Rove had a problem with it. He said he was “offended” by  the spot, adding on Fox News:

I’m a huge fan of Clint Eastwood, I thought it was an  extremely  well-done ad, but it is a sign of what happens when you have   Chicago-style politics, and the president of the United States and his   political minions are, in essence, using our tax dollars to buy  corporate  advertising.

Rove seems to be referring to President Obama’s bailout of the  auto  industry, and suggesting that somehow that money was used to pay for a   thinly-disguised campaign ad for the Obama re-election campaign. A lot  of  Republicans were opposed to the bailout, saying the companies should  be subject  to the rules of capitalism. GOP presidential contender Mitt  Romney famously  penned a New York Times op-ed  entitled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”

What is it about Detroit that so many conservatives despise? That   it’s a still-breathing example of the “old economy?” Is it Motown music  they  hate, or the fact that it’s full of labor union members? Is the  distaste for  struggling Detroit so pronounced that people actually want  the city to fail?

Had the auto companies indeed failed despite the bailout, Rove and   Romney would have looked brilliant. But the companies are recovering  nicely,  paying back their loans (with interest), and making profits, in  part because of  concessions made by the labor unions so despised by  conservatives.

There is surely a legitimate philosophical argument to be made  that  the government should not bailout out big businesses (an argument not   often extended to include huge tax breaks for profitable industries).  Pure  capitalism indeed stipulates that businesses should succeed or  fail on their  own. Critics can legitimately argue that government  should not prop up any  industry, no matter what the implications for  employment. They can be angry  that the auto bailouts happened, but it’s  unconscionable to be angry that the  bailouts worked. Comebacks—as the  New York Giants proved, winning the Super  Bowl after an uneven  season—are about as American as it gets.


By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, February 7, 2012

February 7, 2012 Posted by | Auto Industry | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mitt Romney And The GOP’s War On Birth Control

The  night of the Florida Republican primary, Hotline National editor Josh Kraushaar  (@HotlineJosh) Tweeted, “Romney line about religious  liberty CLEAR reference to Obama health law on contraceptives. Sleeper issue in  general.”

With  the Colorado Republican caucuses on Tuesday, I can only respond, “Oh please oh  please oh please.”

Here’s  the real question: How much will former Gov. Mitt Romney and the Republican Party’s  hostility to birth control cost them with voters, especially women voters, in the fall?

This  is not about religion. This is about a Republican party actively campaigning  against contraception, something that is  enormously popular with the electorate. I would love nothing more than  Mitt Romney going around the country telling voters he wants to take their birth control away, which he’s  pretty much doing already. Seriously dude, bring it.

According  to the Center for Disease Control, 99 percent of American women use birth control during their reproductive lifetime. According to a Reuters report on a Guttmacher Institute study, 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women use some form of birth control banned by the church. And a NPR/Thompson Reuters  poll found that 77 percent of Americans favor insurance coverage for the birth control  pill.

In  swing state Colorado, there are approximately 114,000 more women voters than men, and they vote in higher percentages than men do. Personhood measures that would ban birth control have failed repeatedly  by landslide margins, and the  2010 version probably cost Ken Buck a Senate seat. Personhood even failed in  Mississippi, the most religious-conservative state in the country.

Meanwhile  all the Republican candidates are actively  campaigning against Title X and family planning funding. A plank in the  Republican platform upholds the “life  begins at conception” foundation  of “personhood”, which would ban the most  commonly-used forms of contraception such as the Pill and IUDs. Mitt Romney has  repeatedly  embraced “personhood”, most notably in 2005 when he vetoed a bill  expanding access to emergency contraception for rape survivors “because  it  would terminate a living embryo after conception”.

For  those of you, like Mitt Romney, unsure how birth control works and why “personhood” would ban it Rachel Maddow goes into the Man Cave to explain it  all to you.

As  for the Obama administration’s decision that Catholic  institutions have a year to figure out how to include birth control in  their insurance coverage under  the Affordable Care Act, Rep. Xavier  Becerra, a Catholic, explained it beautifully on Meet the Press:  Religious employers,  like any other business that offers insurance, can’t discriminate against women by excluding reproductive healthcare.

Anyone  who doubts the power of contraception and women’s healthcare as an issue need  only see the blowback against the Komen foundation by  supporters of Planned  Parenthood. I’ve been in politics for 20 years, and I’ve never seen a public fusillade like this one. Komen badly  underestimated not only how many Americans  have used Planned  Parenthood’s services—1 in 5—but how many people support Planned Parenthood because they provide healthcare, including birth  control, without judgment.

The  pundit class piled on George Stephanopoulos for asking a  question about  contraception at the January ABC News debate. Apparently since it didn’t fit within the Cool Kids Acceptable Topics list, it wasn’t worth asking. And Romney fumbled the question badly, just as badly as he did the question on releasing  his taxes. It was the rhetorical equivalent of strapping the dog kennel to the top of his car.

But  it’s entirely worth asking for the millions of average American working families who get by on $50,000 a year and can’t afford to have another kid.  It’s entirely relevant to millions of American women whose  economic and  physical well-being is dictated by when and if they get  pregnant.  Self-determining the size of your family is a baseline economic issue.

Mitt  Romney and the Republicans are welcome to campaign against contraception all  they want, because they are on the wrong side of that issue with voters by a landslide.


By: Laura Chapin, U. S. News and World Report, February 6, 2012

February 7, 2012 Posted by | Women's Health | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The GOP’s Anti-Worker Agenda”: Arizona’s Vicious War On Workers

Gov. Jan Brewer is pushing a radical anti-union bill that makes Wisconsin’s law look lax.

Not content to let Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio’s John Kasich get all the fame (and recall elections, and ballot referenda) for their attempts to curtail union workers’ rights, a new crop of GOP governors and state legislators have jumped into the fray and proposed their own anti-union bills in recent weeks.

Along with South Carolina’s Nikki Haley and Indiana’s Mitch Daniels, Arizona’s Jan Brewer, not content with making her state the least friendly to immigrants and people of color, has decided to get in on the union-busting action as well, introducing a bill that makes Walker’s and Kasich’s attacks on public workers look mild.

Brewer, the Republican left in charge of the state after President Obama tapped Janet Napolitano to be his secretary of Homeland Security, has been planning anti-union moves since last spring with the backing of the Goldwater Institute. (Named for Barry Goldwater, the think tank pushes for “freedom” and “prosperity” — as long as it’s not the freedom or prosperity of state workers.)

It’s not just Arizona’s right-wingers who are pushing Brewer to beat up on unions – John Nichols at the Nation notes that Walker may have had a hand in helping push an anti-labor agenda, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is involved. In a speech to the right-wing policy shop behind many of these anti-union bills last year, Brewer complained about her inability to fire government employees and supervisors’ difficulty “disciplining” workers.

This week, the Republicans in the state Legislature introduced moves that would make collective bargaining for public workers completely illegal. Here, we break down what you need to know about Brewer and the GOP’s anti-worker agenda.

1. The bill would go further than Wisconsin’s, making collective bargaining completely illegal for government workers.

SB 1485, the first of the bills to take on union rights, declares that no state agency can recognize any union as a bargaining agent for any public officer or worker, collectively bargain with any union, or meet and confer with any union for the purpose of discussing bargaining.

While Wisconsin’s law bans public employees from bargaining over everything but very small wage increases, Arizona’s bill bans collective bargaining outright and refuses to recognize any union as a bargaining unit. Existing contracts with unions will be honored, but not be renewed if this bill passes.

2. Arizona includes police and firefighters in its ban.

Scott Walker famously exempted public safety workers — police officers and firefighters — from his attacks on union workers, but many of them joined the protests anyway. In Ohio, John Kasich’s bill, overturned by his constituents this past November, included the police and firefighters in its elimination of bargaining rights. Now Brewer and her legislative compatriots have decided that police and firefighters should lose their bargaining rights as well.

Arizona, as Dave Dayen at FireDogLake noted, “is changing to a purple state because of an extreme legislature which first demonized immigrants, in what could start a backlash among the Hispanic community. Now, flush with that success, the legislature will demonize police and firefighters. It’s not exactly a textbook strategy for a lasting majority.”

Walker’s attempt to divide and conquer public sector unions by attacking some and not others didn’t work; perhaps that’s why later attempts at similar bills didn’t bother giving special treatment to public safety workers. But as we saw in Ohio, the support of the traditionally conservative police and firefighters’ unions helped unite the state’s voters and bring out record numbers to vote down the bill. Arizona seems to be asking for trouble by targeting police and firefighters with this bill.

3. The state would ban government employers from deducting union dues automatically from a worker’s paycheck.

Not content with banning bargaining, the Arizona legislature is also out to make sure unions can’t collect any money for the work they do. SB 1487 inserts language into existing law that says “This state and any county, municipality, school district or other political subdivision of this state may not withhold or divert any portion of an employee’s wages to pay for labor organization dues.”

This move obviously is aimed to hit unions right in their wallets — taking away the funding they need in order to do more organizing, and carry out political activity.

4. Arizona would ban the government from allowing employees to do union work on company time.

Laura Clawson at Daily Kos notes that in addition to the other measures, Arizona’s Republicans also want to eliminate “release time,” a practice “in which union stewards and other representatives are allowed to spend work time on certain union functions, such as contract negotiations or handling grievances.”

Union stewards and representatives are full-time employees who take on additional responsibilities on top of their jobs—a move like this makes it harder for them to carry out those responsibilities to their fellow workers without fear of facing sanctions from their bosses. Specifically banned by the bill, SB 1486, are “activities that are performed by a union, union members or representatives that relate to advocating the interests of member employees in wages, benefits, terms and conditions of employment.”

5. Brewer also wants to eliminate any job protections for workers, buying them off with pay raises.

Brewer plans to offer public workers their first pay raise in years, a 5 percent increase. The tradeoff? They have to opt out of job protections some of them currently enjoy, including the right to appeal demotions and protection from being fired without cause – they have to become at-will employees.

Like most “merit pay” arrangements, this one sounds good at first — hard-working people will get raises! — but workers see right through it. Odalys Hinds, who works in the state health lab, told the Arizona Republic, “No way will I do it. I won’t take it — it basically would take away our rights. My retirement’s gone up. My insurance has gone up. There’s going to come a day when I’m going to have to pay the state to work.”

6. Arizona is already a “right-to-work” state

The kicker to all this? Arizona workers already enjoy fewer protections than those in Ohio and Wisconsin. Arizona is a so-called right-to-work state, where unions cannot collect a fair share of the direct costs of representation from workers who opt out of joining the union — even though the union is compelled to represent all workers.

This means that unlike the Midwestern states, Arizona has few union members already and that means there are fewer people who are likely to be outraged and moved to protest by attacks on collective bargaining. Yet Brewer, the Goldwater Institute and the Republicans in the Legislature aren’t content with what they have and are moving to make public sector unions all but irrelevant, by making it nearly impossible for them to do their jobs.

Arizona now has a strong Republican majority in the Legislature, and so barring a change of heart by a handful of GOPers, the anti-union measures are likely to pass. But if Brewer continues to antagonize working people in her state, John Nichols notes, Arizona does have something else in common with Wisconsin — provisions that allow for the recall of the governor and state legislators, provisions that were used just last year to remove Russell Pearce, the state senator responsible for the state’s hideous anti-immigrant law, from office.

February 7, 2012 Posted by | Arizona, Labor | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Slogan “Believe In America”: Translation, The Birthers Are Back In Town

Even after the release of his birth certificate, more Republicans than ever believe President Obama is foreign-born.

For most people, the “birther” conspiracy—centered on the belief that Barack Obama wasn’t a natural-born American citizen—ended when the president released his long-form birth certificate to the public last April. Birther claims were always bogus, but the release of the birth certificate was supposed to nail the coffin shut.

For a while, it did.

According to YouGov’s Adam Berinsky, the proportion of Americans who said that Obama was born in the United States rose from 55 percent before April 2011 to 67 percent afterward. Likewise, for Republicans—the group most likely to believe the conspiracy—the number who said Obama was born a citizen increased from 30 percent to 47 percent. Still low, but a real improvement.

Recently, Berinsky polled the question again, focusing on Republicans to see if their attitudes have changed in the ten months since the president released his birth certificate. Far from getting better, Republicans have actually doubled-down on the belief that Obama is foreign born:


Berinksy points to the durability of rumors in the face of lasting information as the culprit. As he writes, “Rumors tend to be sticky and merely repeating a rumor—even in the context of debunking that mistruth—increases its power.” Likewise, political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler have found that corrections often fail to reduce misperceptions among the target ideological group and that corrections can even backfire and strengthen false beliefs.

In addition to both factors, I wouldn’t be surprised if election-year rhetoric plays into it as well. Up until recently, the GOP hopefuls have struggled to distinguish themselves, and some candidates—like Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich—have centered their attacks on the assumed “foreignness” of President Obama. The slogan “Believe in America,” for example, doesn’t actually make sense unless you assume that the president isn’t American enough to lead the country. And claims that Obama is a “Saul Alinsky radical” who “apologizes for America” and wants to adopt “European socialism” are nods to the myth that Obama is foreign-born (and thus, untrustworthy).

As the election heats up, and this rhetoric becomes more intense, I wouldn’t be surprised if the proportion of Republican birthers increases from its current high.

February 7, 2012 Posted by | Birthers | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Does Right To Work Actually Lead to More Jobs?

A study by two economists sheds doubt on whether right-to-work laws are all they’re cracked up to be.

Most people watching the Super Bowl last night probably had no idea that only a few days before, in the same city of Indianapolis, Governor Mitch Daniels signed a law that will cripple unions. As I’ve written before, Indiana is the first Rust Belt state to pass a right-to-work law, which prohibits both mandatory union membership and collecting fees from non-members. The news, however, has hardly gotten the attention the labor-minded might have expected. Blame it on the big game or the GOP presidential primary. Or blame it on the loss of union power that allowed the law to pass in the first place.

Whatever the reason, this lack of stories has meant little discussion of the actual impact of right-to-work legislation. Daniels, along with many proponents of such measures, argues that companies choose to locate in right-to-work states rather than in states with powerful unions. And the Indiana governor says he’s already seeing the fruits of the newly passed law. Union advocates, meanwhile, say the laws decrease not only union power but also wages and workplace protections. According to conventional wisdom, it seems, the choice is between fewer good jobs and more cruddy jobs.

But according to Gordon Lafer, an economist at the University of Oregon’s Labor Education and Research Center, that’s a false choice. In fact, he says, there’s no evidence that right-to-work laws have any positive impact on employment or bringing back manufacturing jobs.

While 23 states have right-to-work legislation, Lafer says that to adequately judge the law’s impact in today’s economy, you have to look at states that passed the law after the United States embraced the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and free trade in general. “Anything before the impact of NAFTA started to be felt in the late ’90s is meaningless in terms of what it can tell us,” he says.

Because of free-trade agreements, companies can go to other countries and get their goods made for a fraction of the cost. Even in the most anti-union state in the country, there are still basic worker protections and a minimum-wage law to deal with. Such “roadblocks” to corporate profit can disappear if the business relocates overseas. “The wage difference that right to work makes … is meaningless compared to the wage savings you can have leaving the country,” Lafer says.

Only one state has passed right to work since NAFTA: Oklahoma in 2001. (Before that, the most recent was Idaho in 1985.) About a year ago, Lafer and economist Sylvia Allegretto published a report for the Economic Policy Institute* exploring just what had happened in the decade since Oklahomans got their “right to work.” The results weren’t pretty.

Rather than increasing job opportunities, the state saw companies relocate out of Oklahoma. In high-tech industries and those service industries “dependent on consumer spending in the local economy” the laws appear to have actually damaged growth. At the end of the decade, 50,000 fewer Oklahoma residents had jobs in manufacturing. Perhaps most damning, Lafer and Allegretto could find no evidence that the legislation had a positive impact on employment rates.

“It will not bring new jobs in, but it will result in less wages and benefits for everybody including non-union workers,” says Lafer.

*Full disclosure: I was a writing fellow at the Economic Policy Institute in 2008.


By: Abby Rapoport, The American Prospect, February 6, 2012

February 7, 2012 Posted by | Economy, Labor | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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