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“Minimum-Wage Increases; The Justice Of Redistribution”: To Not Be Victims, Workers Must Be Compensated For Value Of Their Work

As we enter the new year, 3 million low-wage workers in 21 states will gain a small increase in their wages, thanks to increases in state minimum wages. People you know will see a wage increase — your neighbor, your teenage kid, the person who serves you coffee and donuts.

The minimum-wage increase is a good thing because it increases income in a small way to the workers on the low rungs of our economy. A stagnant minimum wage redistributes income from workers to owners and managers and, ultimately, shareholders and customers. As the minimum wage has failed to keep up with inflation and productivity increases, our political economy has redistributed significant income from low-wage workers to owners over the past 40 years. One reason this happened is that workers have no leverage vis-à-vis corporations. They are price takers for their labor.

Minimum-wage increases reverse this redistribution so that workers win back a little bit of what they have lost. Minimum wages should be associated with value added instead of the powerlessness of workers to demand higher wages. But minimum-wage workers are not compensated for the value of their work for their employers. Raising the wage begins to remedy that undercompensation. If the wage goes too high, then employers will not hire workers, because their compensation exceeds the value of their work. But as we have seen, this is not the case with minimum-wage increases, which simply means that for the past decades workers have been paid less than the value of their work for employers.

How does increasing the minimum wage redistribute income? An increase in the wage results in a decrease in the payments to managers and profits for the establishment. That’s redistribution. We can argue that this might not happen because of productivity increases by the worker, but that merely means that the productivity increases (or a portion thereof) that might have gone to the employer instead go to the employee — hence redistribution from owners to workers. Redistribution also can occur between worker and customer. If a restaurant increases prices due to an increase in the minimum wage, in an attempt to avoid a decrease in profits, then the customers pay more. These customers have the disposable income to patronize restaurants. We can make the assumption that the customers have greater incomes than the people who wait on them. Thus, an increase is again redistributive, with the increase coming from increased prices paid by customers. Imagine: In Seattle an Amazon IT person goes out to lunch. (It feels like they all do.) Instead of paying $15 at the Skillet truck, they pay $17. They have lost $2, and the Skillet truck workers will have seen an increase in their wages. Redistribution to minimum-wage workers is good for them and pushes up the floor for the bottom half of all wages.

We too often equate increasing the minimum wage with living standards and poverty levels. This is dangerous for several reasons, including the fact that it sets a precedent for slicing and dicing the minimum wage: Do you have dependents? Do you pay for your own health insurance? How old are you? Are you paying for tuition yourself? All these are important questions, but taken to their logical conclusion, they move the minimum wage into welfare policy, so that an 18-year-old student could get paid less than a 25-year-old who is on her parents’ health insurance, and she might get paid less than a single mom with one kid, who could get paid less than a spouse in a household with three kids, etc. These are life situations best handled by social policy, social insurance and the appropriate provisions of public goods and services. But a focus on the minimum wage as welfare policy debases the fact that we should be raising the minimum wage because we should be insuring that workers are paid the value of their work. That is, such a focus disrespects workers as workers.

A lot of liberals don’t want to call increases in the minimum wage “redistributive.” It brings the reality of class conflict too close to the surface, apparently, and portrays workers as workers, not as victims. But in order for workers to not be victims, they must be compensated for the value of their work. That is not happening now, not in these United States. These state minimum-wage increases begin to reverse the damage, precisely because they are redistributive, from the owners of capital to the workers they employ. That is a good thing — and an excellent beginning for the new year!

 

By: John R. Burbank, Executive Director, Economic Opportunity Institute; The Blog, The Huffington Post, December 31, 2014

January 3, 2015 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Minimum Wage, Workers | , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Escalating Confrontations That Go Beyond The Black Panthers”: Texas Gun Slingers Police The Police—With A Black Panthers Tactic

On any given night in Arlington, Texas, a group of open-carry activists turned self-appointed cop-watchers can be found walking by the side of the road, in safety-yellow reflector vests with cameras pointed at police. They carry “FILM THE POLICE” signs, and sometimes, in a habit that’s become of increasing concern to the officers being watched, they’re carrying guns of their own.

These armed activists’ mission—ostensibly to hold the police accountable by recording every interaction—has found new meaning in light of recent deaths of unarmed citizens like Mike Brown and Eric Garner. Indeed, members of the Texas group have adopted the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” cry popularized during protests of the men’s deaths.

The group is led in part by Kory Watkins, an Olive Garden bartender trainer and a bandwagon activist who also presides over Open Carry Tarrant County (OCTC). (He’s also the host of Open Carry Cop Watch, an Internet radio show that’s launching this week.) Chasing leads from police scanners, members of OCTC and a local faction known as Cop Block—another loosely organized group of anti-law enforcement libertarian-leaners—have been gathering in the approach to DUI checkpoints and speed traps to warn motorists of the police presence, responding in real time with cops to 911 calls, making impromptu stops to film strangers’ traffic violations, all while trolling the police they observe. (During the heckling, bacon references abound, and some cop-watchers even wear police hats with pig ears attached as they follow officers.) According to Watkins, who often carries his AK-47 while cop-watching, the group makes as many as 20 stops a session, depending on the night.

Cop-watching—the practice of observing and documenting police interactions to try to reduce brutality and civil-rights violations—was started by the Black Panther Party in Oakland in the 1960s. Panthers carrying shotguns or wearing pistols on their hips would hit the streets with law books and watch the police to demand accountability. The open carrying of guns was perfectly legal then, though laws were soon enacted to restrict the practice, due in large part to the Panthers’ enthusiastic exercising of their rights.

Today, cop-watching is back, mostly in response to killings of unarmed citizens by police and controversial policies like New York City’s stop-and-frisk. Many cop-watch organizations like to tout the Black Panthers’ origin story, but due to laws or common sense, no longer arm themselves. “Today, our cameras are our weapons,” New York City’s People’s Justice says on its site.

Not so much in Texas.

According to the Arlington Police Department, cop-watching has been going on in that city for about a year. Though early interactions were uneventful—Sgt. Jeffrey Houston told The Daily Beast both the filming of police and the open carry of firearms are “a constitutional right that the department supports”—recently, the cop-watches have been escalating in hostility and frequency and several members have been arrested.

“The police department in Arlington is out of control and keeps wrongfully arresting people for doing things that are well within their rights,” Watkins said in part of a statement provided to The Daily Beast. “It’s wasting taxpayer money and it’s violating the rights of the people.”

Jacob Cordova, 27, is the latest activist to be jailed for their activities. Cordova, an Air Force veteran who sports a Ron Paul “rEVOLution” tattoo on his right arm and flashes a peace sign in his Facebook photos, was on patrol last Saturday as a part of the Tarrant County Peaceful Streets Project when, according a two-minute video of the event, he was arrested. “[For] a pre-1899 black powder pistol, which isn’t against the law. I want them to,” he says as two cops approach. The arresting officer says, “You’re not allowed to have a firearm. I’ve asked you to put it up.” Though the gun is actually legal in Texas, which allows the open carry of long guns and certain antique revolvers, Cordova was taken into custody and charged with the misdemeanor of interfering with public duties.

According to police, Cordova drove up to a traffic stop, got out of his car, and began yelling at officers and pulling up his vest to show them he was armed.

“When you see somebody being aggressive, interfering with a stop, and armed with a deadly weapon, the officer can’t just ignore that,” Sgt. Houston said.

Open-carry activists are known for baiting cops into on-camera arguments about the Second Amendment and state laws. And Cordova has had his share of run-ins with authorities, including an ill-advised attempt to issue a citizen’s arrest for a police officer for double parking.

Arlington police say they’re gotten used to open-carry activists, and even the biggest firebrands among the cop-watch crowd. “It’s the combination that creates an enhanced threat to officer safety,” said Tiara Richard, a spokeswoman for the Arlington Police Department.

Cordova refused to comment on the officer’s allegations—he and others in the group are reluctant to talk with reporters about Cordova’s arrest or their cop-watching activities—but wrote in a Facebook chat with me, “What you see on the video is what you get.” The posted video, however, starts conveniently just before the officers arrest him and leaves out any possible inciting incident by Cordova.

Cordova’s arrest was the second of the night for the cop-watch gang. The first was 26-year-old Pablo Frias, who showed up to record as police responded to a 911 call for a woman had been threatened with a rifle. According to police, Frias got into a disagreement with a bystander at the scene. “Officers had to go stop an elderly lady from being assaulted,” Sgt. Houston said. Frias—who was arrested in 2013 for interfering with public duties and public intoxication—was not carrying a gun at the time.

In September, Watkins; his wife, Janie Lucero; and Joseph Tye, a leader of Texas Cop Block, were arrested on charges related to interfering with a traffic stop. Later, Lucero posted photos online of bruises to her arms, alleging she’d been manhandled by police.

The ratcheting cop-watches and arrests come at a time of anti-police sentiment and heightened concern over officers’ safety. An Arlington PD spokesman noted that in the last fortnight, two New York officers were shot dead in their car, two Los Angeles officers were shot at as they responded to a call, and an officer in Florida was shot and killed responding to a noise complaint.

“It’s a real threat,” Sgt. Houston said.

“We don’t mind them cop-watching. Just leave your guns in the car. Leave your guns at home,” Lt. Christopher Cook told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

But such a bargain seems unlikely. Certified letters from the Arlington Police Department requesting a meeting with the cop-watch and open-carry groups have been denied and ignored. Responding to Cordova’s arrest, cop-watch leader Watkins posted a video doubling down: “You disobey the oath that you took and you kidnap and harass citizens who are well within their rights and this is what you get: pissed off patriots. And it ain’t going anywhere.”

 

By: Brandy Zadrozny, The Daily Beast, January 2, 2015

January 3, 2015 Posted by | Cop Watching, Open Carry Laws, Police Abuse | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Are Police Stealing People’s Property?”: Policing For Profit, An Unconstitutional Cash Cow For Law Enforcement

“Don’t even bother getting a lawyer. The money always stays here.”

That’s what the Tenaha Police Department told 27-year-old Arkansan James Morrow after they confiscated $3,900 from his car for “driving too close to the white line.” The police reported the “odor of burned marijuana,” though no drugs were found in the car. Morrow was carted off to jail, while the car was impounded.

Eventually Morrow was released with no money, vehicle, or phone. “I had to go to Wal-Mart and borrow someone’s phone to call my mama,” he told The New Yorker. “She had to take out a rental car to come pick me up.”

Law-enforcement agencies at all levels of government provide a valuable and often thankless public service in their communities. There are, however, systemic problems that must be addressed. Perhaps one of the most egregious examples is the abuse of civil asset forfeiture laws.

The Fifth Amendment makes it abundantly clear that “[n]o person shall… be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” But for far too long, some law-enforcement agencies have used the law for their own benefit, seizing property suspected of use in a crime often without ever charging or convicting the owner of any wrongdoing.

The burden of proof, unfortunately, falls on the owner, ostensibly rendering his or her property guilty until proven innocent in the eyes of the law, with little concern for the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process. And since most people don’t have the financial means to fight a lengthy legal battle, the confiscated property often remains in the possession of the law-enforcement agencies that seized it.

What was originally intended to be an effort to combat organized crime has sadly morphed into an unconstitutional cash cow for local law enforcement and the federal government.

The New York Times recently reported that there are seminars that law-enforcement officers can attend that provide “useful tips on seizing property from suspected criminals.” A video shown in one seminar quotes the city attorney of Las Cruces, New Mexico, who called items that could be seized “little goodies.”

“A guy drives up in a 2008 Mercedes, brand new,” Harry S. Connelly Jr. says in the video, according to the Times. “Just so beautiful, I mean, the cops were undercover and they were just like ‘Ahhhh.’ And he gets out and he’s just reeking of alcohol. And it’s like, ‘Oh, my goodness, we can hardly wait.’

While law-enforcement agencies may have their wish lists of “little goodies” they covet, essentially “policing for profit,” civil asset forfeiture has serious ramifications for those whose property is taken from them.

As the co-founder of MoveOn.org and president and CEO of FreedomWorks, we don’t agree on many things, but this issue is one that should move progressives, conservatives, libertarians, and frankly any citizen who is offended by abuse of power to take action. Thanks to Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), there is an opportunity before us to put our ideological differences aside to stop this blatant abuse of police power that erodes our civil liberties and our trust in police.

Earlier this year, Paul started a national conversation about civil asset forfeiture when he introduced the Fifth Amendment Restoration Act, or FAIR Act. This proposal would require federal law enforcement agencies to present “clear and convincing evidence” connecting seized property to a crime.

Though many states have reformed their civil asset forfeiture laws, some state and local law enforcement agencies still use federal statutes to seize property. The FAIR Act puts a stop to this loophole by requiring these agencies to abide by laws of the states in which they’re based.

The FAIR Act also removes the incentive that law-enforcement agencies have to police for profit by redirecting seized assets from the Justice Department’s Asset Forfeiture Fund, the value of which has swelled from some $500 million in fiscal year 2001 to nearly $4.3 billion in fiscal year 2012 (PDF).

While some may attempt to spin efforts to reform civil asset forfeiture laws as a “soft on crime” position, law-enforcement agencies don’t exist for the purpose of enriching themselves by taking property of the very people they are charged with serving.

When our elected representatives assume their respective offices, they take an oath to “protect and defend the Constitution.” This isn’t some feel-good suggestion; it’s an obligation, one that has been ignored by too many on Capitol Hill for far too long.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle must show the American people that their civil liberties matter, and they can send a crystal clear, bipartisan message by ending this pernicious practice of law-enforcement agencies through the restoration the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process.

 

By: Joan Blades, Co-Founder of MoveOn.org and Matt Kibbe, President of FreedomWorks for America; The Daily Beast, January 2, 2014

 

January 3, 2015 Posted by | Civil Rights, Law Enforcement, Police Abuse | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Lion Of Liberalism”: Remembering Mario Cuomo, 1932-2015

When I met Mario Cuomo in the summer of 1978, he was already a celebrated public figure, if not yet a political powerhouse. We were at the Democratic state convention in Albany, where I was reporting for the Village Voice, and he was pondering an offer from New York governor Hugh Carey, then seeking re-election, to join the ticket as lieutenant governor. Mario frankly didn’t much trust Carey, who needed him more than he needed a largely ceremonial promotion from his then-position as secretary of state.

But in the end he accepted the deal, both because he believed that New York needed a Democratic administration, regardless of his personal feelings toward the governor — and because he knew that this step would advance his own political career.

That was my introduction to the Cuomo style of “progressive pragmatism” – and to a charming, thoughtful, highly literate, and occasionally volatile figure who became one of the most compelling orators of the late 20th century.

His speech at the 1984 Democratic convention, delivered at the zenith of Ronald Reagan’s reign, remains a remarkably inspirational assertion of progressive values against conservative complacency and cruelty. His address at Notre Dame on religious belief and public morality that same year courageously defended the independence of Catholic elected officials from subservience to church doctrine on reproductive rights.

In recent years, it has been fashionable to draw contrasts between Mario, who passed away yesterday at the age of 82, and his older son Andrew, who was sworn in for a second term as governor of New York only hours earlier. According to the conventional wisdom, Mario was liberal while Andrew is conservative; Mario was too self-doubting to run for president, while Andrew is too self-confident not to run, someday.

Whatever the differences in personality between father and son, however, Mario’s reputation as the conscience of the Democrats grew more from what he said than what he did. “We campaign in poetry but we govern in prose,” he famously remarked – and much of his governance was prosaic indeed.

He spoke out bravely against capital punishment, for instance, yet built more prison cells than any governor in state history. He approved tax cuts, held down spending, and was proud of his balanced budgets – even while the number of homeless on New York’s streets swelled during his administrations. But he borrowed billions to stimulate spending and create jobs with major public works in environmental protection, education, roads, bridges, and mass transit.

As a columnist for the Voice, I didn’t always agree with his priorities, to put it mildly, and wrote many columns criticizing his policies. More than once I picked up a jangling telephone to hear an angry, argumentative Governor Cuomo railing on the line, without the pleasantry of a “hello.” It was an experience that other reporters shared from time to time. But I have met very few elected officials who were as kind or as genuine.

And I’ve known few politicians as engaging in conversation, or as erudite without pretension. He wrote wonderful diaries of his first campaign for governor, published by Random House in 1984, and could speak as cogently about the history of Lincoln’s presidency as the philosophy of the Jesuit visionary Teilhard de Chardin. But he was still a tough lawyer who went to public schools and grew up on the streets of Queens.

Among the most amusing Cuomo anecdotes is one from the 1977 New York City mayoral campaign, when he is supposed to have confronted Michael Long, the unsavory chairman of the state’s Conservative Party, on a street corner – and knocked him out with a single punch. (Long later claimed this report was an “embellishment,” but I heard it straight from an impeccable source.)

Exaggerated or not, that little legend captures the feisty essence of Mario Cuomo – a man of passionate intellect and spirit, who sought to make his values real in this world. He worked diligently and spoke powerfully, reminding millions of Americans about values we ought to cherish. I have no doubt he will rest in peace.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, The National Memo, January 2, 2015

January 3, 2015 Posted by | Democrats, Mario Cuomo, Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“American Society’s Real Moochers; CEOs”: It’s Not The Working Poor Who Deserve Public Scorn For Dependence On Government Handouts

Holiday bells are silent in the homes of America’s struggling working poor, even with gasoline prices at their lowest levels in years. These are people derided as moochers because their starvation wages force them to accept food stamps to feed their children.

On the other side of town, inside gated communities where guards demand photo ID even from Santa, CEOs’ Christmas plums are super-sugared with record-breaking corporate profits.

These are people somehow not derided as moochers, even though their million-dollar pay packages are propped up by tax breaks.

The parable of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol springs to mind as Wall Street banks and law firms hand out six- and seven-figure year-end bonuses while Wal-Mart and fast food workers protest wages so low that their holiday meals are food pantry dregs. It is CEOs, not the working poor, who deserve public scorn for their dependence on government handouts.

The Institute for Policy Studies issued a report last month that details the mooching of the nation’s top corporations and CEOs. It’s called “Fleecing Uncle Sam.” The findings are pretty galling.

Of America’s 100 top-paid CEOs, 29 worked schemes that enabled them to collect more in compensation than their corporations paid in income taxes. The average pay for these 29: $32 million. For one year. And corporations mangle tax the code to deduct that too.

Though their corporations reported combined pre-tax profits of $24 billion, they wrangled $238 million in tax refunds out of the federal government. That’s refunds — the government gave money to highly profitable corporations.

That’s an effective tax rate of negative 1 percent.

That means middle class taxpayers helped cover the cost of million-dollar pay packages for CEOs. Middle class taxpayers, whose median family income is $51,324 and whose federal income taxes are withdrawn directly from their checks before they see a cent of pay, support CEOs who pull down $32 million a year.

That qualifies CEOs as first-class fleecers!

Their corporations pay nothing for essential government services that middle class taxpayers provide. That includes patent protection, the Commerce Department’s sanctions against foreign trade rule violations and federal court dispute resolution.

Some corporations haven’t developed schemes enabling them to tax the federal government. Instead, they pay, but not at that 35 percent rate they’re always whining about. Between 2008 and 2012, the average large corporation, according to Fleecing Uncle Sam, paid just 19.4 percent. Individuals earning $50,000 a year pay 25 percent. Clearly, corporations are not paying a fair share at 19 percent.

There’s this wacky theory that if governments excuse corporations from paying their share, then they’ll expand and create jobs. It’s wacky because it’s fiction. Highly profitable corporations aren’t expanding and creating jobs; they’re buying back their own stock.

A study by University of Massachusetts professor William Lazonick, president of the Academic-Industry Research Network, showed that between 2003 and 2012, S&P 500 corporations used 54 percent of their earnings – $2.4 trillion – to buy their own stock.

This isn’t creating jobs. This isn’t investing in a corporation’s future. This is adding to CEO wealth. It works like this: Stock buybacks push up stock prices. Forty-two percent of compensation for S&P 500 CEOs comes from stock options. Thus, as Lazonick points out, stock increases equal CEO pay raises.

Corporations don’t expand just because untaxed profits are sitting around anyway. They expand to meet demand. And corporate practices have deflated demand.

Part of the problem is that CEOs and top executives are taking an increasing portion while doling out less to workers. As the New York Times reported in January, wages have fallen to a record low as a share of gross domestic product, dropping to 43.5 percent last year. It was 50 percent in 1975. The decline means less demand.

But there’s more. Just last week, The New York Times noted two other trends that contribute to weak demand. One is wage theft. The U.S. Department of Labor found that more than 300,000 workers in New York and California are victims of minimum wage violations each month, costing them between $20 million and $29 million each week. If corporations didn’t cheat them out of those earnings, their spending would generate greater demand.

The other trend is insecure income. Millions of Americans are unsure week to week how much money will be coming into their households. This occurs for many reasons, but among the most prominent is the refusal of employers to provide workers with steady weekly hours and practices like sending workers home when retail or restaurant traffic is light. A survey by the Federal Reserve suggests the problem of unreliable income may have worsened as Wall Street has strengthened. Families that can’t pay their bills reduce demand.

Instead of giving workers raises and steady hours, corporations have rewarded only those at the top. The Fleecing Uncle Sam study found that companies that paid their CEOs more than they paid in federal income taxes gave those CEOs fat raises. The average pay of these CEOs rose from $16.7 million in 2010 to $32 million in 2013.

They’ve got trillions for CEOs and stock buy-backs, but nothing for workers or the federal government. This isn’t an accident. It’s not some invisible hand of the market. It’s CEOs freeloading.

No ghosts are going to show up to convert these Scrooges into humans. Instead, the first step in that process is recognizing that the moochers are the CEOs, not the hapless food stamp recipients who desperately want steady, full-time, decently-paid work. The second step is to demand that corporations pay their fair share of taxes and provide steady, full-time, decently-paid work.

 

By: Leo Gerard, President of the United Steelworkers International Union; In These Times, January 1, 2015

January 3, 2015 Posted by | Corporate Welfare, Wall Street, Workers | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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