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“Is That A Rhetorical Question?”: The Obvious Answer To The “Better Off” Question

Much of the Sunday shows were dominated by a simple question: asking Democrats whether Americans are better off than they were four years ago. Dems inexplicably seemed to be caught off guard by the question, and struggled with the answer. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) even felt compelled to clarify his “no” answer from yesterday.

This morning, Democrats tried to get back on message.

With a definitive “absolutely,” Obama campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said the country was moving in the right direction by pointing to job growth and the auto industry.

“By any measure the country has moved forward over the last four years,” she said on NBC’s Today. “It might not be as fast as people hoped. The president agrees with that. He knows we need to do more. That’s what this week is about, laying out a road map of how we can continue this progress, how we can continue moving the country forward.” […]

This attack was echoed by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the Democratic National Convention chairman…. “[T]he answer is yes, we are better off. But we’ve got to keep on working harder.”

While Dems struggled with this yesterday, I think they may be missing the importance of this opportunity. If Republicans and many in the media are going to be focused on the “are you better off” question, it’s a chance for Democrats to remind the public of something much of the country has forgotten — just how cataclysmically terrible things were before.

Indeed, I’m at a loss to explain how this is even a debate. Whether you love the president or hate him is irrelevant — four years ago the economy was shrinking, now it’s growing; four years ago the nation was hemorrhaging jobs, now it’s adding jobs. The auto industry, the stock market, American manufacturing, the deficit — they’re all better now than when Obama took office.

Put it this way: Mitt Romney thinks the American economy has improved under Obama.

Consider this gem.

In his remarks [Friday], Romney also acknowledged the economy was getting better — something he has said before….

“And [President Obama]’s going to say the economy is getting better,” Romney said. “Thank heavens it’s getting better. It’s getting better not because of him, it’s in spite of him and what he’s done.”

Notice, in this quote from earlier in the year, Romney said twice in three sentences that he believes the economy is “getting better.”

Or how about this stunning exchange between Romney and conservative radio host Laura Ingraham:

INGRAHAM: You’ve also noted that there are signs of improvement on the horizon in the economy. How do you answer the president’s argument that the economy is getting better in a general election campaign if you yourself are saying it’s getting better?

ROMNEY: Well, of course, it’s getting better. The economy always gets better after a recession. There is always a recovery.

INGRAHAM: Isn’t that a hard argument to make, if you’re saying, like, OK, he inherited this recession, and he took a bunch of steps and tried to turn the economy around. And now, we’re seeing more jobs, but vote against him anyway? Isn’t that a hard argument to make? Is that a stark enough contrast?

ROMNEY: Have you got a better one, Laura? This happens to be the truth.

If the president’s critics want to argue that conditions haven’t improved enough, fine. If they want to argue that conditions have improved, but Obama shouldn’t get credit, fine. If they want to say conditions would be even better if we’d tried a different course, we can at least have the debate.

But to say a growing economy that’s adding jobs is worse than a shrinking economy that’s losing jobs is demonstrably ridiculous. Is the country better off than it was in the midst of a global crash four years ago? Is that a rhetorical question?


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 3, 2012

September 3, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A World Without Labor Day”: The GOP “Union Free Paradise” Of The Future

I’ve mentioned here before that I spent most of my childhood in LaGrange, Georgia, a town that was dominated in a profoundly feudal sense by Callaway Mills, one of the stalwarts in the fight against unionization of the southern textile industry. In the public schools there, we began classes each year on Labor Day, an impressive gesture of contempt for the American labor tradition.

We are not that far from a major lurch in that direction on a national level. It received little national attention during the Republican National Convention, but South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s speech presenting her backward, poverty-stricken state as a union-free paradise of happy workers seemed very much the wave of the GOP future. With the exception of a handful of self-styled “progressives” or “liberals”–or such savvy pols as Richard Nixon who cut deals for political support with particular unions–Republicans have always been considered the “anti-labor” party. But they use to pay automatic respect to the basic legitimacy of unions and collective bargaining, certainly in the private sector. Not any more. Republicans used to hide their anti-union bias and when in power sought to roll back labor rights quietly through control of regulatory bodies like the National Labor Relations Board. There is every indication that if Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan win on November 6, the kind of loud-and-proud in-your-face hostility to unions that I grew up with will become national policy instantly.

Does that matter to Americans who aren’t union members, or are working in industries with little or no union presence to begin with? Of course it does. Unions greatly affect labor markets, and act to create upward pressure on wages and benefits–not to mention public safety net programs–affecting conditions of employment far from their specific bargaining units. And as Harold Meyerson points out in his Labor Day column today, the weakening of union power has played a big role in steadily eroding ability of wage earners to secure improvement in living standards despite rising skill levels and productivity:

Are American workers becoming less productive? On the contrary, a Wall Street Journal survey of the Standard & Poor’s 500, the nation’s largest publicly traded companies, found that their revenue per worker increased from $378,000 in 2007 to $420,000 in 2010. The problem is that workers get none of that increase. As economists Ian Dew-Becker and Robert Gordon have shown, all productivity gains in recent decades have gone to the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans, in sharp contrast to the three decades following World War II, when Americans at all income levels shared in the productivity increases.

The primary plight of U.S. workers isn’t their lack of skills. It’s their lack of power. With the collapse of unions, which represented a third of the private-sector workforce in the mid-20th century but just 7 percent today, workers simply have no capacity to bargain for their share of the revenue they produce.

The implicit message of some business leaders and their political allies these days seems to be: you should count yourselves lucky for having any jobs at all, so shut up about your eroding wages and disappearing benefits and non-existent job security and under-seige public safety net!

And an even more offensive implicit message is coming from the “we built that” rhetoric of the GOP, which doesn’t just deny government’s role in making individual business success possible, but that of workers as well, who are viewed as interchangeable, expendable material shaped and deployed by heroic “job creator” capitalists, to whom all glory, laud, honor and profits must accrue to keep the American economy moving.

It’s a way of thinking and living that takes me back to the LaGrange, Georgia of the early 1960s. Better take advantage of this and every ensuing Labor Day. There’s no guarantee it won’t be, in some respect or another, the last. 


BY: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, September 3, 2012

September 3, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, Labor | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Parallel Republican Universe”: How Mitt Romney Keeps Lying Through His Big White Teeth

“We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers,” says Neil Newhouse, a Romney pollster.

A half dozen fact-checking organizations and websites have refuted Romney’s claims that Obama removed the work requirement from the welfare law and will cut Medicare benefits by $716 billion.

Last Sunday’s New York Times even reported on its front page that Romney has been “falsely charging” President Obama with removing the work requirement. Those are strong words from the venerable Times. Yet Romney is still making the false charge. Ads containing it continue to be aired.

Presumably the Romney campaign continues its false claims because they’re effective. But this raises a more basic question: How can they remain effective when they’ve been so overwhelmingly discredited by the media?

The answer is the Republican Party has developed three means of bypassing the mainstream media and its fact-checkers.

The first is by repeating big lies so often in TV spots – financed by a mountain of campaign money – that the public can no longer recall (if it ever knew) that the mainstream media and its fact-checkers have found them to be lies.

A series of court decisions and regulatory changes, beginning with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizen’s United vs. Federal Election Commission, opened the floodgates to big money. Fully a quarter of the $350 million amassed by Super PACs through the end of July came from just ten donors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan group that tracks such spending.

And through political front groups masquerading as nonprofits charitable, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, corporations and Wall Street banks are making secret contributions — without even their own shareholders knowing.

The second means the GOP has developed to protect its lies is by discrediting the mainstream media – asserting it’s run by “liberal elites” that can’t be trusted to tell the truth. “I am tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans,” Newt Gingrich charged at a Republican debate last January, in what’s become a standard GOP attack line.

To be sure, the mainstream media hasn’t always called it correctly. Initially it bought the Bush administration’s claim there were “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq. But the mainstream media is at least committed to professional standards that separate truth from fiction, seek objective facts, correct errors, and disseminate the truth.

The third mechanism is by using its own misinformation outlets – led by Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and his yell-radio imitators, book publisher Regnery, and the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, along with a right-wing blogosphere – to spread the lies, or at least spread doubt about what’s true.

Together, these three mechanisms are creating a parallel Republican universe of Orwellian dimension – where anything can be asserted, where pollsters and political advisers are free to create whatever concoction of lies will help elect their candidate, and where “fact-checkers” are as irrelevant and intrusive as is the truth.

Democracy cannot thrive in such a place. To the contrary, history teaches that this is where demagogues take root.

The Romney campaign has decided it won’t be dictated by fact-checkers. But a society without trusted arbiters of what is true and what is false is vulnerable to every lie imaginable.


By: Robert Reich, Robert Reich Blog, August 28, 2012

September 3, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Tokenism And Condescending Rhetoric”: The RNC’s Final Insult To Women

On Thursday, from both inside and outside the Republican National Convention, Republicans simultaneously tried to woo women voters while opposing essential women’s rights.

The RNC largely ignored social issues, but socially conservative organizations held many events outside of the RNC security perimeter. On Thursday afternoon, two such groups that are composed solely of women—Concerned Women for America and the Susan B. Anthony List—honored anti–abortion rights female politicians in a restaurant upstairs from the Hooters just past the RNC security gate.

The common theme of the various politicians’ remarks was that the truly feminist position is to oppose reproductive freedom. Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) called President Obama, “the most anti-woman, anti-life president in history.” In essence, the argument is that women are mothers and fetuses are babies, so legalized abortion leads to widespread infanticide, and that is disrespectful to women.

But those were just some of the provocative statements made. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) claimed that, “the president is doing everything in his power to radically expand abortions in this country.”

Another persistent theme was that society must protect the defenseless. But the interest in doing so only lasts until they exit the womb. “How we treat the most vulnerable among us is a reflection of who we are,” said Ayotte. She did not mean that we should feed the hungry or house the homeless, only that we should not allow abortions. Similarly, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, said that her newborn niece’s Down Syndrome has reified her commitment to opposing abortion. “It breaks my heart to think how many people would not have chosen to keep that precious angel,” said Bondi.

Bondi gave a speech with Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens at the RNC on the evils of healthcare reform that was widely panned for its awkward, flat delivery. After the event on Thursday I buttonholed Bondi and asked her how she responds to disability rights groups that all support healthcare reform. If she does not believe in preventing insurers from excluding people with prior conditions and expanding Medicaid, I wondered, how does she propose to provide healthcare for disabled people who may be less fortunate than her niece? The answer? She doesn’t. “Our insurance system isn’t perfect,” conceded Bondi. “But my niece has incredible insurance. I haven’t experienced [inadequate coverage] at all.” That, of course, is no answer at all.

In his acceptance speech on Thursday night, Romney followed up on the RNC’s week-long theme of appealing to women through tokenism and condescending rhetoric. Here is what he had to say about his mother and how her foray into electoral politics shaped his own behavior:

My mom and dad were true partners, a life lesson that shaped me by everyday example. When my mom ran for the Senate, my dad was there for her every step of the way. I can still hear her saying in her beautiful voice, “Why should women have any less say than men, about the great decisions facing our nation?”

I wish she could have been here at the convention and heard leaders like Governor Mary Fallin, Governor Nikki Haley, Governor Susana Martinez, Senator Kelly Ayotte and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

As governor of Massachusetts, I chose a woman lieutenant governor, a woman chief of staff, half of my cabinet and senior officials were women, and in business, I mentored and supported great women leaders who went on to run great companies.

That’s the tokenism. Everything Romney said about appointing women is good, but none of it is a substitute for policy. The number of women Romney appointed in Massachusetts would be a rounding error on the total workforce in the state. The question is whether Romney supports policies that would help all women obtain equal treatment in the workplace. His record on that is mixed at best. Although his campaign said he would not appeal the the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, they initially waffled on it. And he refuses to say whether he would support the Paycheck Fairness Act, a Democratic bill in Congress that would crack down on pay disparities between men and women. Compared to President Obama, Romney is simply not a leader on gender equality. Planning your pregnancies is also essential to women’s ability to manage their careers, and Romney’s policies would create obstacles to that as well. He opposes abortion rights and requiring hospitals and health insurance companies to provide access to contraception.

Romney’s efforts to substitute hiring women for supporting their legal equality is reminiscent of his misleading answer to a debate question on gay rights. He said he opposes discrimination and hired openly gay employees. Hiring gay employees means you do not practice discrimination, but it does not mean you actually oppose discrimination. To do so would require pledging to sign into a law bill that would protect them from being discriminated against by employers who are not inclined to be as kind as Romney. And that is something Romney opposes.

Then there was Romney’s grossly patronizing paean to stay-at-home mothers, in the person of his privileged wife. Recalling their early years of marriage, Romney said:

Those days were toughest on Ann, of course. She was heroic. Five boys, with our families a long way away. I had to travel a lot for my job then and I’d call and try to offer support. But every mom knows that doesn’t help get the homework done or the kids out the door to school.

I knew that her job as a mom was harder than mine. And I knew without question, that her job as a mom was a lot more important than mine. And as America saw Tuesday night, Ann would have succeeded at anything she wanted to.

As Matthew Yglesias pointed out in Slate, this makes no sense. If Ann’s job was harder and more important than Mitt’s, why is Mitt the one running for president? And if raising kids is more important than working in a job, why did Romney earlier tout his record of appointing women to high office?

His comments also raise a number of unpleasant questions. Are women who work outside of the home engaged in less important work than stay-at-home moms? If so, Romney is denigrating the majority of American mothers. And why does he create this false dichotomy of more and less important jobs? Families need money and they need childcare. Some, such as the Romneys, are fortunate to get enough of the former from one parent that the other can focus full-time on providing the latter. As is typical of the Romneys, they seem blissfully unaware of their own class privilege. And since Romney also blasted Obama for supposedly undermining the work requirements in welfare reform, he is contradicting himself. If the best thing for Ann to do was to stay at home with her children, why is that not the case for single mothers on welfare? If Mitt believes that Ann’s child-rearing was harder and more important than his job in private equity, then why does he not believe that unemployed single mothers are also engaged in harder, more important work than he? Why does he want them to abandon that work for, say, menial jobs in the service economy? And why is he running for president instead of finding the welfare recipient with the most children and nominating her?

Romney’s appeals to women make no sense because his positions are not good for women. Therefore, he, like Republican women, tries to spin policies that would limit women’s rights as being in their best interest. It’s an impressive feat of mental dexterity, but it’s a far less honest approach than making the more straightforward “traditional family values” argument that Republicans used to rely upon. They’ve realized that won’t work, but this probably won’t either.


By: Ben Adler, The Nation, September 3, 2012

September 3, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Combating Concentrated Wealth And Power”: The Right To Form A Union Should Be A Civil Right

In 1961, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to the United Auto Workers about what the civil rights movement had learned from the labor movement. He said that, in the 1930s, “you creatively stood up for your rights by sitting down at your machines, just as our courageous students are sitting down at lunch counters across the South.”

When King was describing the “kinship” between the two movements, organized labor was strong, representing about a third of the non-agricultural private-sector workforce. The civil rights movement was still a fledgling campaign, not yet having won passage of the Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act.

This Labor Day, the roles have reversed. The civil rights movement is the nation’s iconic cause. The gay rights movement, hardly a blip on the radar screen a half-century ago, is winning meaningful victories in the courts and in legislatures. But unions are on the road to virtual extinction.

Even public-sector unions, now a majority of the labor movement, are on the defensive. A new movie, “Won’t Back Down,” unfairly paints teachers unions as impediments to quality education for students of color. One character asks, “When did Norma Rae get to be the bad guy?”

To revive itself, labor must rediscover its roots as an early civil rights movement for workers. In some places, this is already starting to happen. On Aug. 11, the AFL-CIO held a massive rally in Philadelphia demanding a “Second Bill of Rights,” including the right to organize and bargain collectively. This summer, the UAW has been trying to organize a Nissan plant in Canton, Miss., where 70 percent of the workforce is African American, using a civil rights frame.

“The civil rights experience was fought on that very ground,” the UAW’s Gary Casteel told Reuters. “We’ve been saying that worker rights is the civil rights battle of the 21st century.”

In particular, unions should emulate three strategies of the civil rights movement.

First, labor must make clear, in word and deed, that it is part of a broader movement for social justice and against concentrated wealth and power, not just a special interest concerned only with its membership. The civil rights movement has succeeded when it has made a pitch for ending discrimination universally, and it has struggled when focusing on narrow, race-specific preferences. Labor has a good case to make: When union wages increase, nonunion employers respond by raising pay, too, to attract workers. And each percentage-point decline in the U.S. unionization rate has been accompanied by a comparable fall in the proportion of income going to the middle class.

Second, unions need to show that they are a vehicle for vindicating the individual rights that Americans hold dear against the power of large employers and the government. Just as King fought for individual civil rights as a fulfillment of the Declaration of Independence’s promise of equal opportunity, so the labor movement should fight for individuals’ First Amendment right to engage in the freedom of association, including the right to form a union.

Third, like the civil rights movement, labor needs to codify its notion of rights through strong federal legislation. The crowning glory of the civil rights movement is the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which through the force of law and sanctions helped delegitimize racial bias. Organized labor has the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, which institutionalizes the right to organize, but its sanctions are so weak that employers routinely flout the law and pay the penalties. In part because employers frequently fire or demote employees for trying to unionize, the watchdog group Freedom House rates the United States as less free for labor than 41 other nations.

The Civil Rights Act should be amended to outlaw employment discrimination not only on the basis of race and sex, but also for exercising the right to join a union. Doing so would allow employees to sue in federal court and to receive compensatory and punitive damages from employers. It would stigmatize employers who broke the law as civil rights violators. Without employers trying to block organization, polls suggest that many American workers would join unions, if given a free choice.

Organized labor has been written off before. But if a civil rights approach succeeds in strengthening the movement, more people will join it. And if part of the reason the gay rights movement is succeeding is that more people know someone who is gay, the growth of the labor movement could generate a similar virtuous cycle for American unions.

By: Richard D. Kahlenberg and Moshe Z. Marvit

September 3, 2012 Posted by | Civil Rights, Unions | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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