"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Better Pay Now”: Let’s Give It A Try For The Person On The Other Side Of The Cash Register

’Tis the season to be jolly — or, at any rate, to spend a lot of time in shopping malls. It is also, traditionally, a time to reflect on the plight of those less fortunate than oneself — for example, the person on the other side of that cash register.

The last few decades have been tough for many American workers, but especially hard on those employed in retail trade — a category that includes both the sales clerks at your local Walmart and the staff at your local McDonald’s. Despite the lingering effects of the financial crisis, America is a much richer country than it was 40 years ago. But the inflation-adjusted wages of nonsupervisory workers in retail trade — who weren’t particularly well paid to begin with — have fallen almost 30 percent since 1973.

So can anything be done to help these workers, many of whom depend on food stamps — if they can get them — to feed their families, and who depend on Medicaid — again, if they can get it — to provide essential health care? Yes. We can preserve and expand food stamps, not slash the program the way Republicans want. We can make health reform work, despite right-wing efforts to undermine the program.

And we can raise the minimum wage.

First, a few facts. Although the national minimum wage was raised a few years ago, it’s still very low by historical standards, having consistently lagged behind both inflation and average wage levels. Who gets paid this low minimum? By and large, it’s the man or woman behind the cash register: almost 60 percent of U.S. minimum-wage workers are in either food service or sales. This means, by the way, that one argument often invoked against any attempt to raise wages — the threat of foreign competition — won’t wash here: Americans won’t drive to China to pick up their burgers and fries.

Still, even if international competition isn’t an issue, can we really help workers simply by legislating a higher wage? Doesn’t that violate the law of supply and demand? Won’t the market gods smite us with their invisible hand? The answer is that we have a lot of evidence on what happens when you raise the minimum wage. And the evidence is overwhelmingly positive: hiking the minimum wage has little or no adverse effect on employment, while significantly increasing workers’ earnings.

It’s important to understand how good this evidence is. Normally, economic analysis is handicapped by the absence of controlled experiments. For example, we can look at what happened to the U.S. economy after the Obama stimulus went into effect, but we can’t observe an alternative universe in which there was no stimulus, and compare the results.

When it comes to the minimum wage, however, we have a number of cases in which a state raised its own minimum wage while a neighboring state did not. If there were anything to the notion that minimum wage increases have big negative effects on employment, that result should show up in state-to-state comparisons. It doesn’t.

So a minimum-wage increase would help low-paid workers, with few adverse side effects. And we’re talking about a lot of people. Early this year the Economic Policy Institute estimated that an increase in the national minimum wage to $10.10 from its current $7.25 would benefit 30 million workers. Most would benefit directly, because they are currently earning less than $10.10 an hour, but others would benefit indirectly, because their pay is in effect pegged to the minimum — for example, fast-food store managers who are paid slightly (but only slightly) more than the workers they manage.

Now, many economists have a visceral dislike of anything that sounds like price-fixing, even if the evidence strongly indicates that it would have positive effects. Some of these skeptics oppose doing anything to help low-wage workers. Others argue that we should subsidize, not regulate — in particular, that we should expand the Earned Income Tax Credit (E.I.T.C.), an existing program that does indeed provide significant aid to low-income working families. And for the record, I’m all for an expanded E.I.T.C.

But there are, it turns out, good technical reasons to regard the minimum wage and the E.I.T.C. as complements — mutually supportive policies, not substitutes. Both should be increased. Unfortunately, given the political realities, there is no chance whatsoever that a bill increasing aid to the working poor would pass Congress.

An increase in the minimum wage, on the other hand, just might happen, thanks to overwhelming public support. This support doesn’t come just from Democrats or even independents; strong majorities of Republicans (57 percent) and self-identified conservatives (59 percent) favor an increase.

In short, raising the minimum wage would help many Americans, and might actually be politically possible. Let’s give it a try.

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, December 1, 2013

December 2, 2013 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Minimum Wage | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No Sense Of Irony”: Don’t Be Fooled, Scott Walker Is No Reformer

Could there be irony greater than that of a career politician appearing before a gathering of political donors in a city far from his home state to declare that he is an outsider and a “reformer”?

Not likely.

Indeed, it would take a mighty tone-deaf politician to miss the surreal moment in which he found himself.

Meet Scott Walker.

The Wisconsin governor has spent much of the month of November scrambling around the television studios, luxury hotel suites and corporate-funded “think tanks” of Washington and New York, desperately attempting to position himself as a Republican presidential prospect. And he has done so without any sense of irony.

And an expectation that the national media will be gullible enough to believe that the most divisive governor in the modern history of Wisconsin—polls show that his classic swing state is almost evenly divided between those who approve and disapprove of the governor—can somehow run for the presidency as a consensus builder. Walker is now being pitched by the co-writer of the governor’s 2016 campaign book—Unintimidated: A Governor’s Story and a Nation’s Challenge—as the ideal GOP candidate for the presidency.

Of all the “compelling potential standard-bearers” for the party, argues Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen, “none is better positioned to energize the conservative grassroots while winning the center than Scott Walker.”

Thiessen imagines Walker “as an across-the-board, unflinching, full-spectrum conservative” with an ability to appeal “to persuadable, reform-minded, results-oriented independents.”

That may be what Walker says. But that’s not the assessment of state Senator Dale Schultz, a Republican who has worked with Walker for two decades and who enthusiastically backed Walker in 2010.

This year, Schultz opposed Walker’s approach to a state budget process that the senator said veered—on everything from school funding to academic freedom to tax policy to local control—into territory that was “way too extreme.”

Schultz, a veteran legislator from rural western Wisconsin, criticized Walker for “passing up an opportunity to show independent leadership.”

“No amount of rhetoric or sloganeering will cover up the influence of an out of state billionaire funded and driven agenda,” declared Schultz. “This is not the Wisconsin agenda I’ve fought for over 30 years, and it’s not the Wisconsin agenda I hear from people as I travel around my district and across the state.”

Walker and his allies are doing everything they can to foster the fantasy that the governor as an outsider, a reformer, the antithesis of poilitics as usual. That was certainly the agenda last week, when Walker appeared in New York City before a November 18 gathering of top check writers for Republican candidates, Walker ripped the Democrat he hopes to run against in 2016—Hillary Clinton—for her long record of public service. Hillary Clinton “wasn’t just secretary of state, wasn’t just a U.S. senator, wasn’t just the first lady. She’s been a product of Washington for decades.”

Always at the ready for some self-promotion, Walker told the Republican crowd in New York that “if we’re going to beat somebody like Hillary Clinton, we’ve got to have somebody from outside of Washington, who’s got a proven record of reform.”

So, let’s review: Clinton’s the insider and Walker’s the outsider, right?

Not so fast.

Though she spent many years in Arkansas, Clinton has certainly done her time in Washington. And she is certainly no innocent when it comes to the maneuverings and manipulations that take place in the capitals of states and nations. So even if she is not a “product” of Washington, she is certainly no newcomer to the political game.

And what of Walker?

The governor conveniently forgot to mention that he began his own political career at age 22 and has, since then, run twenty-three years primary and general election campaigns in twenty-three years—making him one of the most determined careerists in American politics. And even before he finishes his first term as one of the nation’s most embattled governors, Walker is bidding for the presidency—so much so that he did not bother to correct a questioner in New York who began: “Since you’re clearly running for president…

The problem with careerists is that they are often more interested in their careers than in challenging power.

In a word, they are: intimidated.

But Walker says that’s not him.

The governor’s new book seeks to portray this would-be presidential contender as an fearless political warrior, ever at the ready to advance his ideals.

That, like Walker’s suggestion that his austerity agenda has been successful, is a fantasy grounded in his ambition rather than reality.

In fact, Walker is one of the most intimidated politicians in America.

When Walker ran for governor in 2006, he framed a reform message that talked about ending crony capitalism and addressing the influence of special-interest campaign money and lobbying on the state budget process. In meetings with the state’s newspaper editorial boards, he pitched himself as a different kind of Republican who would not play insider political games. Walker earned some high marks when he “vowed to run as an underdog battling party insiders”—except from party insiders, who were unimpressed with his campaign.

In March 2006, just days after Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman visited Wisconsin, and barely a week after a visit to the state by Vice President Dick Cheney, Walker folded his gubernatorial campaign.

No “unintimidated” stand against the Washington power brokers. No fight to the end on behalf of his ideals. No faith that a grass-roots campaign could beat the money power.

Four years later Walker was back, with a better fundraising operation. This time, he had all the right connections. National donors, like Charles and David Koch, made maximum contributions to his campaign, and then gave even more money to groups making “independent” expenditures on Walker’s behalf.

He won, and in February 2011, when he got a call from someone he thought was David Koch, Walker played along with the caller’s talk about “planting some troublemakers” to disrupt peaceful protests against the governor’s anti-labor policies. Walker writes in his book that “we never—never—considered putting ‘troublemakers’ in the crowd to discredit the protesters.” Yet, when he was talking to someone he thought was a billionaire campaign donor, the governor said: “We thought about that.” If we take Walker at his word—that he never considered using agents provocateurs—then why didn’t he say so at the time? Was he intimidated by someone he thought was a major campaign donor?

The same question arises regarding Walker’s conversation with Beloit billionaire Diane Hendricks, who gave $500,000 to his 2012 campaign. Walker has said he has “no interest in pursuing right-to-work legislation” to weaken private-sector unions. Yet, when Hendricks asked him about right-to-work legislation, Walker did not say, “We’re not going to do that.” Rather, he told Hendricks his “first step” would be to attack public-sector unions as part of a “divide-and-conquer” strategy.

Walker wants a frequently obtuse national media and grassroots Republicans to imagine that he is “unintimidated.” And perhaps that is the case when he is picking on teachers and nurses and anyone who might dare to join a public-employee union. But when the party bosses and billionaire donors come calling, he’s just another politician telling the money power what it wants to hear.


By: John Nichols, The Nation, November 26, 2013

December 2, 2013 Posted by | Politics, Scott Walker | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“If Preventing Hospital Layoffs Is So Important”: Maybe Republicans Should Stop Blocking Obamacare Medicaid Expansion

If you received an email this week from your angry uncle who watches Fox News all day, outraged by reports that “Obamacare” is causing layoffs at the Cleveland Clinic, let him know he can relax.

On November 25, The Daily Caller published an article titled, “Top U.S. hospital laying off staff due to Obamacare.” On Fox Business’ Markets Now, host Connell McShane reported on the “massive layoffs.” America’s Newsroom host Bill Hemmer claimed that the Cleveland Clinic was going to “shed workers.” Later, during the America’s News HQ, Fox reporter Chris Stirewalt claimed that the layoffs “rocked the community there in northeastern Ohio.”

But there’s one problem: the Cleveland Clinic is not laying off any employees.

Imagine that. After conservative media ran with this, Media Matters talked to Eileen Sheil, the Cleveland Clinic’s Executive Director of Corporate Communications, who said, “There have been several mis-reports and they keep mentioning that we’re laying off 3,000 employees. We’re not.” The medical facility is offering voluntary retirement to 3,000 eligible employees, but those aren’t “massive layoffs,” and blaming the Affordable Care Act for staffing decisions that have happened elsewhere for years is a stretch.

Indeed, Sheil added that the Clinic supports the law conservative media is so eager to denigrate: “We believe reform is necessary because the current state is unsustainable. The ACA is a step toward that change and we believe more changes will come/evolve as there are still many uncertainties. Hospitals must be responsible and do what we can to prepare and support the law.”

And while this incident offers another reminder about the reliability of conservative media outlets, there’s another angle to keep in mind. Though it doesn’t get as much attention as it should, Medicaid expansion is incredibly important to state hospitals, which will struggle badly in Republican-led states that reject the policy. Indeed, in some states, hospitals may end up closing their doors altogether, at least in part due to the political decision.

And when state hospitals close, there are actual “massive layoffs,” which affect the employees and the economy. It’s one of the reasons so many hospitals lobby Republican officials in “red” states to be more responsible on Medicaid expansion, though their appeals are generally ignored.

So here’s the question for conservative media: when hospital staffs are laid off because Republicans blocked Medicaid expansion, and it’s “Obamacare” that could have saved those jobs, how many reports will we see chastising GOP officials for their callousness and economic recklessness?

Probably not too many. Call it a hunch.

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 27, 2013

December 2, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Jobs, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Exploiting Consumers”: Republican Obamacare “Fix” Is Junk, Just Like The Junk Insurance Plans It Protects

In an effort to cynically score political points, the Republicans have taken up the cause of people who have received health insurance “cancellation” notices. The problem is that the Republicans aren’t helping these people, they are exploiting them. They’re peddling a “fix” that will stick consumers with lousy insurance policies, put the insurance companies back in charge of our health care and deceive people who deserve a straight answer about what’s going on with their health coverage.

If you’re one of the people who received a notice, it’s unsettling and confusing to say the least — and you don’t need a political party to play politics with your life. You need to know the truth and learn the available options.

People are receiving cancellation notices because they were sold health insurance policies that provide bare-bones coverage and expose them to financial ruin if they get sick or injured. Insurance companies sold these plans knowing full well that consumers could not keep them after the Affordable Care Act (ACA) standards are fully implemented on Jan. 1. The insurance companies didn’t tell their clients that they couldn’t keep the plans they sold them, and they certainly didn’t tell them that the plans were junk. Now the Republicans want to allow the industry to continue to sell these policies for another year in the name of letting people keep the plans “they like.” This is hypocrisy and politics at its worst, not to mention terrible policy.

There are roughly 15 million Americans who buy health plans in the individual market, and they represent 5 percent of people with private insurance. About half of them got cancellation notices, which naturally leaves people anxious to find out what they’ll do next year.

Instead of passing a law allowing insurers to keep selling bad policies that provide little for their premium money, we should tell people what their coverage options are and how much better they’ll do under the ACA. Because the enrollment web site has yet to work properly, most folks don’t realize they will save money and get better insurance if they shop in the new insurance marketplaces and take advantage of generous instant tax credits that will drastically cut their premiums.

People can save a lot of money when they buy their insurance through the online marketplaces: Seventeen million people will qualify for tax credits to reduce the cost of their insurance. As many as 7 million people may have no premium costs at all. Six of 10 uninsured Americans will pay $100 or less in monthly premiums. While it sucks to get canceled, the vast majority of those folks will see that getting coverage through the ACA marketplaces is a better deal.

The GOP-led legislation is bad public policy. It will disrupt the insurance market and make things worse now and in the future. You can’t mend our broken health insurance system if millions of people can opt out of participating in it. That’s how we got into this mess in the first place.

Allowing inferior insurance plans to exist alongside quality ACA policies will destroy the economic foundation of the law — the idea that financial risk must be spread and shared — and give our health care back to the insurance companies. Nothing could be worse for the health and the pocketbooks of everyday Americans.

For example, the Republican proposal would prompt younger, healthier people to opt out of enrolling in the marketplace plans, meaning the ACA policies will cover mostly older and sicker people who are more costly to insure. As a result, marketplace premiums would spike and millions of Americans would lose out on health coverage they can afford. People would be denied insurance or charged sharply higher premiums because of their medical history. Consumers would be at the mercy of the health insurance companies. That’s not why we enacted health reform. America reformed our health insurance system so everyone could have insurance with real benefits — not benefits that are only revealed to be phony in the middle of a medical crisis. We did it based on the simple principle that we all do better when we all do better.

The Republican bill would be a disaster for consumers. As we learned during the drive to pass the ACA, junk policies cause nothing but trouble. There are millions of stories of bankruptcy filings, homes and jobs lost, college educations abandoned and dreams deferred because someone with fake insurance got sick and was overwhelmed by medical bills. We can’t go back to those days.

The GOP is using overhyped cancellation stories as a pretext to destroy the ACA, a law they have attacked with a single-minded fervor never before seen in American politics. When the Republicans’ bill, H.R. 3350, reaches the floor, it will be the House GOP’s 46th vote to repeal Obamacare.

Any fixes to the Affordable Care Act should be judged by whether they help people and improve the law. The Republican-led proposal does neither.


By: Ethan Rome, HCAN Blog, November 14, 2013

December 2, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Still Relying On Their Race-Baiting Playbook”: The GOP’s Massive 2013 Mistake, How The Party Ignored Its Terminal Illness

We did a whole “Hardball” hour Friday on how the GOP ratcheted up the crazy this year. Chris Matthews made me break down Rep. Steve King’s crazy anti-Mexican “calves the size of cantaloupes” slur, and I was forced to wonder why he’s thinking with such a sculpter’s eye for detail about another man’s calves, while otherizing him into a beast of burden, not quite human. Way to go for that Latino vote in 2014, GOP.

But the long list of crazy made me realize that despite the RNC autopsy that kicked off 2013, looking at ways to make sure it wasn’t merely the party of “stuffy old men,” the GOP apparently learned nothing from its 2012 drubbing. With the stumbles of the Affordable Care Act, that might seem OK, and there will be no penalty for their year of dithering and race-baiting. Rep. Michele Bachmann says the ACA’s problems make Republicans “look like geniuses,” and while it’s easy to mock her non-genius, her party looks better politically than it did a month ago. Polls show a dizzying swing from October, when the GOP’s not-genius government shutdown put Democrats ahead in generic 2014 balloting. Now some polls have Republicans in the lead.

Still, it may turn out that the ACA troubles were a brilliant Democratic plot to distract Republicans from their demographic terminal illness, and convince them that the Kill Obamacare playbook is all they need for 2014. Republicans have made absolutely zero progress in reaching out to any of the demographic groups – women, young people or Latinos – that the RNC’s autopsy agreed they had to, in order to stay alive as their older white base ages into that great Tea Party rally in the sky.

I know, Oprah got in trouble for suggesting that racism will ease when this generation of racists, well, dies. I wrote in my book that it makes me uncomfortable to hear allies suggest we just need to wait for old white Republicans to die off – they’re talking about a lot of people in my family. Yet it’s striking to me how comfortable Republicans seem relying on their ancient race-baiting playbook, and ignoring the country we’re becoming.

It’s easy to mock Steve “calves the size of cantaloupes” King. He’s a doofus. But Sen. Ted “I won’t study with people from the minor Ivies” Cruz is just as bad, and arguably worse.

National reporters and pundits collude in the GOP’s denialism. The National Journal’s Alex Seitz-Wald, a Salon alum, wrote a piece I wish I had, showing how many times Republicans and their media enablers have asked “can Obama recover” from this or that real or imagined catastrophe. From the BP oil spill to this seeming “dithering” over Syria, Obama’s presidency has been written off as terminally ill before, only to recover, again and again. (Actually, the first use of “Can Obama recover?” Seitz-Wald finds was on CNN’s Larry King after the Jeremiah Wright mess blew up in May 2008. Needless to say, he recovered that time too.)

Now if only his colleagues Josh Kraushaar and Ron Fournier would read Seitz-Wald, because they are making the National Journal the hub of breathless  “Can Obama recover?” reporting.

Certainly Obamacare seems to be recovering, albeit slowly. Ezra Klein, who kicked off liberal wonk panic about the ACA in October, thinks Obamacare is “turning the corner,” and will gradually ramp up, perhaps a month behind schedule but not too late for a successful Jan. 1 rollout of new insurance plans. And this amazing Washington Post story, about Kentuckians, many of them presumably Republicans, lining up for ACA coverage shows that when a state wants the program to work, it can work. A 35-year-old father of five with diabetes, who’d never had health insurance and had racked up $23,000 in hospital bills, rejoiced when he got enrolled.  “Well, thank God,” he said, laughing. “I believe I’m going to be a Democrat.”

I don’t think Democrats should be celebrating just yet. A lot can still go wrong, and there’s an industry devoted to finding and surfacing (or exaggerating or even concocting) scary Obamacare stories. Still, listening once again to Sen. Ted Cruz (on “Hardball”) warning that people will become “addicted to the sugar” of ACA subsidies is a reminder of how the Tea Party leaders actually hate the Tea Party base. They’d privatize Medicare and Social Security and deny Mitch McConnell’s constituents health insurance. It’s amazing that Oprah gets grief for talking about when the Tea Party’s racist base will die, when leaders like Cruz are the ones who would literally hasten that day.


By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, December 1, 2013

December 2, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Racism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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