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“Obama Moves On Paid Sick Leave”: What Exactly Do Republicans Want To Do For Workers?

It’s Labor Day, but some of us are still working, like yours truly and the president:

President Obama rallied union workers here Monday, announcing a new executive order that will require federal contractors to offer employees up to seven paid sick days a year, a move that the White House said could benefit more than 300,000 workers.

Obama made the announcement during a Labor Day speech as he continues a year-long effort to pressure Congress to approve legislation that would provide similar benefits for millions of private-sector workers. The president highlighted a Massachusetts law, approved by voters in November, that provides employees with up to 40 hours of sick leave per year. That law went into effect in July.

My guess is that Republicans will just ignore this latest action, not because they aren’t opposed to it but because there’s little they have to gain by making a fuss about it. Because it’s limited to federal contractors, most of whom do quite well suckling at government’s teat, they aren’t going to hear a whole lot of complaining from employers about it. And mandating paid sick leave is spectacularly popular: in a recent CBS News/New York Times poll, 85 percent of those surveyed said they supported it, including 77 percent of Republicans.

Like other actions Obama has taken on labor rules, this is a limited version of a policy he’d like to see adopted nationally. Obama has advocated a national law mandating that workers get paid sick leave, and there is such a bill in Congress that Democrats have introduced, called the Healthy Families Act. But Republicans have no intention of allowing it to come to a vote. While there’s nothing much Obama can do about that, he is allowed to set rules for federal contractors, a power he has employed before. Because these are executive orders, a future Republican president could undo them, though there’s no guarantee he or she would; on one hand, the GOP is opposed to pretty much any expansion of worker rights, while on the other hand, they might decide rolling these rules back isn’t worth the bad publicity.

There are two basic questions at play here, one more philosophical and one more practical. The first is whether government has any role at all to play in setting the terms of the relationship between employers and employees. While few conservatives would say outright that the answer to that question is no, in practice they oppose almost every regulation of that relationship that exists. For instance, many conservatives don’t just oppose raising the minimum wage; they also say there should be no minimum wage at all, because the free market should set wage levels. If there’s an employer who wants to pay somebody a dollar an hour to do some job, and there’s someone willing to do it for that little, why should government get in their way?

You might think I’m caricaturing conservative views, but there is an entire movement in conservative legal circles seeking to return to a turn-of-the-century conception of government’s ability to regulate the workplace, one that prevailed before we had laws on things such as overtime, workplace safety and child labor (Brian Beutler recently profiled this movement).

The second question is, if we accept that government can set some work rules, what should they be? Even the most liberal advocate wouldn’t argue that any expansion of worker rights is necessarily a good idea; nobody’s suggesting that we set the minimum wage at $100 an hour or force all employers to wash their employees’ cars. But the kind of thing that’s on the table now, like paid sick leave, would only bring us in line with the rest of the industrialized world, where basic worker protections aren’t so controversial. As Democrats always mention, the United States is the only developed country with no legally mandated paid sick leave.

And just like on the minimum wage, where there’s little or no action at the federal level, states and cities are stepping in. As of now there are four states that mandate some form of paid sick leave — California, Massachusetts, Oregon and Connecticut — in addition to a number of big and small cities, including New York, Philadelphia, the District of Columbia and Seattle. As long as there’s no federal sick leave law, activists and liberal legislators will keep pushing for it in more and more places, and given its popularity, they’ll probably succeed more often than they’ll fail.

Most everything on the Democratic agenda for workplaces — a higher minimum wage, expanded overtime, paid sick leave — is extremely popular, which is one of the reasons Republicans would rather focus on something else. And they’re smart enough to know that if they don’t come out in thunderous opposition, the proposals will get a lot less media attention, which means they’re less likely to play a significant role in voters’ decision-making. But when the question “What exactly do you want to do for workers?” gets asked in the presidential campaign, as it surely will, at least the Democrats have an answer.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, September 7, 2015

September 7, 2015 Posted by | Labor Day, Paid Sick Leave, Workers | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“More Socialism For White People”: Why Donald Trump Will Defeat The Koch Brothers For The Soul Of The GOP

In order to understand how Donald Trump continues to dominate the Republican field despite openly promoting tax hikes on wealth hedge fund managers, hedging support for universal healthcare and other wildly iconoclastic positions hostile to decades of Republican dogma, it’s important to note that the Republican Party was teetering on the edge of a dramatic change no matter whether Trump had entered the race or not.

Demographers and political scientists have long been predicting that the Republican Party is due for a realignment–the sort of tectonic political shift that occurs when one of the two parties either take a courageous political stand or falls into danger of becoming a permanent minority, shifting the demographics and constituencies that sort each party. The last big realignment in American politics is generally considered to to have occurred in the wake of the Civil Rights Act, when Democratic support for civil rights legislation moved racially resentful, mostly Southern whites into the arms of the Republicans while picking up support from women and minorities. Republicans, of course, hastened this process through their use of the Southern strategy to maximize conservative white fears and resentments. It is arguable that the Democratic shift toward the conservative and neoliberal economics beginning the late 1970s as a response to the increasing power of money in elections and the rise of Reagan was also a minor realignment that moved many wealthy social liberals out of the Republican fold at the expense of blue-collar Democratic workers.

Conventional wisdom has argued that demographic trends showing the rise of Latino and Asian voters would spell the need for another GOP realignment–this time away from minority-bashing Southern Strategy politics, toward a more ecumenical, corporate-friendly fiscal libertarianism and militaristic foreign policy that would in theory attract conservative-leaning voters across the racial spectrum who had previously felt unwelcome in the Republican fold due to its racial politics. Republican leaders are well aware that every election year the voting public becomes more diverse, and that permanently losing the Latino and Asian votes the way Republicans have the African-American vote would mean a permanent disaster for their party. The Blue Wall becomes more formidable for the GOP with every presidential election cycle, largely due to demographic change.

At no point did this become more clear than after the 2012 election. Most Republicans insiders had expected an easy Romney victory based on the standard indicators. But when the strength of the Democratic constituency became apparent, GOP leaders knew they had to act to pass immigration reform and begin the hard work of appealing to minority voters. This is the Koch Brothers agenda: the corporate agenda with a diverse, smiling face.

But then something interesting happened: base Republican voters said no. Tea Partiers continued to sweep establishment Republicans out of office. Eric Cantor, once considered heir apparent to Speaker John Boehner, suddenly found himself toss out of Congress on the strength of an anti-immigrant intra-party challenge. Immigration reform stalled due to a near revolt by the conservative base. Meanwhile, the continued ability of Republicans to make gains in midterm elections due to weak Democratic turnout, and to lock down the House of Representatives due to the Big Sort and intentional gerrymandering, meant that Republican legislators saw no upside in enraging their base.

The rise of Donald Trump should come as no surprise in this context: it was presaged well in advance. Pundits who assumed Trump would flame out quickly were as misguided as those who assumed that Eric Cantor would safely hold his seat. After decades of stirring up their primary voters into a froth of paranoia and hatred of various “others” in society, Republican voters were not about to be led by the nose to a multi-racial corporatist utopia. After telling the religious right for decades that they would ban abortion and force women back into traditional gender roles, it’s no surprise that those voters continued to chose candidates like Todd Akin who could not stop themselves from angering most women voters.

But the Republican Party does have to change. After all, it cannot continue to survive on its present course. Presidential elections are only getting tougher, and the GOP lock on the House will not survive the 2020 census if all else remains unchanged.

That’s where Donald Trump’s brand of politics comes in. Reminiscent of European far right parties that meld anti-immigrant furor with a broader anti-elite sentiment and greater favor to the welfare state, Donald Trump does away with sops to diversity and polite niceties in the service of unfaltering plutocratic agenda. He does the exact opposite–openly bashing women and minorities in the sort of rude way that millions of Republican voters do behind closed doors but not in polite society, while also giving them hope that they can keep their healthcare and social security in the bargain.

After all, it’s important to remember that hardcore conservative Republican voters of today are only a generation removed from the coalition that supported FDR. These are voters who, despite having been hardened against socialist appeals by decades of Fox News style propaganda, nevertheless supported FDR and other Democrats well into the Reagan era. These are voters who don’t actually hate the welfare state and social spending, so much as they hate the idea that their tax dollars are going to social spending for the wrong people. It’s not so much that they don’t like government heatlhcare: after all, in many poor Republican counties most conservative voters are being taken care of by Medicaid, Medicare and the VA. It’s that they don’t like the idea that poor minorities and “loose” women might be getting free healthcare “on their backs.” And as for Wall Street, most Republican voters can’t stand them: they see them as crony capitalist, corrupt liberal New Yorkers who got a bailout. Most GOP voters won’t shed a tear if Trump raises taxes on the hedge fund crowd.

Donald Trump reassures these voters that the “wrong kind of people” won’t be getting any freebies on his watch. That’s all they really care about–so if Trump supports universal healthcare it’s simply not that big a deal.

And this ultimately is what the real GOP realignment is going to look like: less racially diverse corporatism, and more socialism for white people. It stands to reason. Blue-collar white GOP voters aren’t about to forget decades of fear-based propaganda, and their economic position remains precarious enough that they still need the welfare state help.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, September 5, 2015

September 7, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Koch Brothers, Socialism | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“The Way Of The Gun”: The National Rifle Association Deserves History’s Strongest Contempt And Damnation

It’s generally recognized that the National Rifle Association has no decency, no shame and no class. We now have proof that this obnoxious organization has no sense, either:

Colion Noir, a commentator and web series host for the National Rifle Association (NRA), warned the parents of slain journalists Alison Parker and Adam Ward against becoming “so emotional” in response to the fatal shooting of their children that they channel their “grief-inspired advocacy” to the wrong effect.

The NRA and other opponents of stronger gun laws consistently argue that calls for new gun laws in the wake of a shooting tragedy are based on emotion rather than logic. Just hours after his daughter was killed, Andy Parker announced on national television that he would make it his “mission in life” to get stronger gun laws passed.

Parker’s mother, Barbara Parker, said during an interview on CNN, “We cannot be intimidated, we cannot be pushed aside, we cannot be told that this fight has been fought before and that we’re just one more grieving family trying to do something.”

On August 30, the NRA’s Noir posted a video response to the shocking August 26 murder of Parker and Ward, which happened while they were filming a live news report. The two journalists worked for Roanoke, Virginia ABC affiliate station WDBJ and were killed by a disgruntled former co-worker.

Noir, who is the face of an NRA effort to influence a younger demographic, said in his video post that while he has “no right to tell any parent how to grieve for the loss of their child,” “sometimes in a fight we can become so emotional everyone and thing starts looking like the enemy, even if they’re there to help us“…

Noir wasn’t as diplomatic throughout the rest of the video, saying at one point, “Turning this murder into a gun control dog-and-pony show minutes after the shooting because you can’t make sense of what just happened is ridiculous.

Sick.

In the days before the GOP lost all vestiges of integrity, some Republicans would have pushed back against this sort of rancid rhetoric. It was only two decades ago that former President George H. W. Bush walked away from the NRA after the group demonized federal agents:

Former President George Bush has quit the National Rifle Assn. to protest a fund-raising letter sent out by the organization that labeled federal agents as “jackbooted thugs” and could roil the waters of the Republican presidential race.

Bush described himself as “outraged” by the organization’s failure to repudiate the letter, which points up the NRA’s vulnerability in the wake of the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building. In a letter to NRA President Thomas Washington dated May 3 and made available by his office in Houston, the former GOP chief executive added: “To attack Secret Service agents or ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) people or any government law enforcement people as ‘wearing Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms’ wanting to ‘attack law-abiding citizens’ is a vicious slander on good people.”

Bush was particularly irate because Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s chief lobbyist, defended the attack contained in the letter even after the Oklahoma City bombing. Asked if his language was excessive in view of the tragedy, LaPierre said: “That’s like saying the weather report in Florida on the hurricane caused the damage rather than the hurricane.”

These days, you’d probably find a Republican willing to defend Planned Parenthood before you’d find a Republican willing to condemn the NRA for this sleazy rhetorical assault on the Parker family. I guess it’s up to the rest of us to declare that the National Rifle Association deserves history’s strongest contempt and damnation.

 

By: D. R. Tucker, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, September 5, 2015

September 7, 2015 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Right Question To Ask About Government”: What Steps Does Government Take To Empower Citizens And Expand Their Rights?

Many conservatives and most libertarians argue that every new law or regulation means that government is adding to the sum total of oppression and reducing the freedom of individuals.

This way of looking at things greatly simplifies the political debate. Domestic issues are boiled down to the question of whether someone is “pro-government” or “anti-government.”

Alas for the over-simplifiers, it’s an approach that misreads the nature of the choices that regulators, politicians and citizens regularly face. It ignores that the market system itself could not exist without the rules that government establishes, beginning with statutes protecting private property and also the various measures against the use of force and fraud in business and individual transactions.

More important, it overlooks the ways in which the steps government takes often empower citizens and expand their rights. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the realm of work.

The run-up to Labor Day this year brought a spate of news articles and commentaries on the actions of the National Labor Relations Board and other government agencies to strengthen the rights of workers and enhance their bargaining power relative to employers.

Last week, Noam Scheiber offered an important account in the New York Times of how the Obama administration has been “pursuing an aggressive campaign to restore protections for workers that have been eroded by business activism, conservative governance and the evolution of the economy in recent decades.”

Among the milestones Scheiber cited was a recent U.S. Court of Appeals decision upholding an Obama-era rule providing minimum-wage and overtime protections to nearly 2 million home health-care workers. They certainly felt empowered by government, not oppressed. So did the employees of contractors and franchises who were granted collective bargaining rights by the National Labor Relations Board.

Fast-food chains provide the obvious example of how loopholes related to new work arrangements and franchise agreements can let employers out of their traditional obligations. In the case of purveyors of hamburgers and chicken tenders, the parent companies set all sorts of detailed requirements for how these businesses should operate — and then turn around and claim that when it comes to workers’ rights, their franchises are utterly independent.

One of the most fascinating struggles, still ongoing, is over new regulations that the Labor Department is trying to establish to ensure that those who give investment advice to people with 401(k)s and individual retirement accounts base their judgments on the best interests of their clients. Along with defined-contribution retirement plans, they involve some $13 trillion in investments.

The Labor Department proposal would require investment advisers to abide by a “fiduciary” standard — meaning that the best-interest-of-the-client yardstick should be their sole criterion in offering counsel to clients. If this seems obvious, that’s not what the current law requires. As Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said in an interview, the standard now is only that an investment be suitable. “What the hell is ‘suitable’?” Perez asked, noting that he would hope for more than just “suitable” advice from his doctor.

The issue is whether some investment advisers might offer conflicted guidance influenced by “backdoor payments and hidden fees often buried in fine print,” as the Labor Department put it in a document explaining why change is needed.

“I don’t believe that folks who provide advice wake up with malice in their hearts,” Perez said. But he added that it is only natural that advisers might lean toward investments from which they can also benefit. “Surprise, surprise, if you have four or five products that are suitable and one gives you a commission, guess where you will go?” The new rules, which are being heavily contested by parts of the financial industry, are an attempt to realign the incentives, Perez argued.

The investment-rule battle is a near-perfect example of how the government is plainly promoting free markets — what’s more market-oriented than building an investment portfolio? — but is also trying to make sure that the rules regulating the investments tilt toward the interests of the individual putting money at risk.

As long as there are markets, government will have to establish rules determining how they operate. These necessarily affect the interests of market participants. Many of the choices are not between more or less government. They are about whether what government does provides greater benefit to workers or employers, management or unions, individual investors or investment firms.

“Which side are you on?” This question from the old union song is the right question to ask about government.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 6, 2015

September 7, 2015 Posted by | Government, Labor Day, Workers Rights | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Now Operating Entirely From A Position Of Strength”: Donald Trump Has The Republican Party In The Palm Of His Hand

On Thursday, Donald Trump signed a loyalty pledge to the Republican Party, stipulating that he would support whoever becomes the GOP’s presidential nominee and foreclose the option of mounting an independent or write-in or third-party candidacy. The purpose of the pledge was to bring Trump to heel. By announcing his decision publicly, and holding the signed pledge up to a thousand cameras, Trump gave the Republican party readymade and provocative attack ad material: In the event that he shirks the agreement, and mounts an independent candidacy at some point, Republicans can air footage that proves Trump broke his word.

There may be some solace in that, but the fact that he was willing to sign the pledge at all should alarm Republicans more than it soothes them. Trump wasn’t communicating to the party that its knock against him for threatening an independent run has been effective. To the contrary, it’s that he doesn’t think the threat is necessary anymore—that he’s now genuinely well-positioned to win the primary, rather than an insurgent threat who can be neutralized by party heavyweights.

This isn’t just a matter of polling—though the polling is consistent with it—but of the way Trump speaks about the pledge itself. He clearly doesn’t see it as an inviolable agreement, but rather as a way to keep the Republican Party from organizing to sabotage his candidacy.

“I really got nothing,” Trump said at a Thursday press conference in New York, speaking about his meeting with Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. “Absolutely nothing other than the assurance that I would be treated fairly…. I have no intention of changing my mind.”

He got nothing, in other words, aside from an all-purpose and unchallengeable exception, which will force party officials to constantly police one another to make sure they don’t give Trump the excuse he’ll need to launch an independent campaign.

Trump is now operating entirely from a position of strength.

As Slate’s Josh Voorhees noted, over the course of three months, the percentage of likely Iowa caucus goers who told survey takers for Bloomberg and the Des Moines Register that they would “never” support Trump collapsed, from 58 down to 29 percent. A nationwide Monmouth poll of Republican voters conducted a few days later found that Trump has completely reversed his dangerously low net favorables, from 20-55 in June to 59-29 today.

In head-to-head matches with nine other Republican candidates, Trump beats everybody except for Ben Carson. He trounces Jeb Bush 56-37, Marco Rubio, 52-38, and Scott Walker, 53-38, suggesting that as the field winnows, dark horse backers are more likely to migrate to Trump than to any of the establishment-friendly candidates.

This is in some ways no surprise. The right-wing vote has been a majority share of the primary electorate since the campaign began. But building a majority for an anti-establishment candidate seems easier than ever before. It can now be achieved, per Matt Bruenig, by combining the support of just three candidates: Trump, Carson, and Ted Cruz.

A few weeks ago, the best argument that Trump couldn’t win the nomination rested on the premise that his maximum support was too low, and that the party would array against him aggressively as the field narrowed. Trump has spoiled both premises. It is now easy to imagine Trump eclipsing 40 percent of the vote before the primaries begin, and ripping up that pledge if a panicky Republican Party responds by erecting obstacles to his victory. Right now, in the GOP primary campaign, the most pressing question has nothing to do with Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio or any of the people who were supposed to win. It’s whether Ben Carson can keep up the fight, or Donald Trump runs away with it.

 

By: Brian Beutler, Senior Editor, The New Republic, September 4, 2015

September 7, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Reince Priebus, Republican National Committee | , , , , , | 1 Comment

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