mykeystrokes.com

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

“Aggressive, Progressive Governance”: The New Populism Begins At The Local And State Level

As Republican obstruction keeps anything from moving in Washington (except, of course, the package of corporate tax dodges known as “extenders” that are likely to glide through with bipartisan support), populist movements and leaders are moving at the local and state level, from New York City to Seattle, Maine to Minnesota.

“Fate loves the fearless.” Quoting the fierce 19th-century abolitionist James Russell Lowell, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio summarized his first 100 days in office in a speech last week at New York’s historic Cooper Union. Embattled but unbowed, the mayor detailed what he’d been able to move of the populist agenda that he ran on.

De Blasio, no one’s fool, began with the good news on the nuts and bolts vital to running any city: Crime is down, pedestrian deaths are down, potholes are being filled faster and the winter’s record snowfalls got cleaned up.

He then announced success in gaining the most state funding in history for his pledge of universal pre-K. De Blasio’s previous call to pay for this by raising taxes on those making over $500,000 a year was sabotaged by Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, a stalwart of the Wall Street wing of the party, but de Blasio still got much of the money he sought. Beyond this success, after-school programs are being made available to ever more students. The mayor announced a move away from high-stakes testing, with educators empowered to make more comprehensive assessments as to a child’s progress. Paid sick leave has been extended to half a million more New Yorkers. More affordable housing is being built, as the city made it a requirement for luxury developers.

Unfortunately for New Yorkers, Cuomo swatted away de Blasio’s effort to get authority to raise the city’s minimum wage. But across the country, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray is championing a $15-an-hour minimum wage, with a commission set up to work out the details. Murray, considered a moderate in a city that just elected a socialist city councilperson, quotes Franklin Roosevelt on the need for “bold, persistent experimentation.” In addition to pay, he is pushing on public housing, renewable energy and universal pre-K.

San Francisco now has a minimum wage of $10.55, indexed to Bay Area inflation, and a working families tax credit to supplement the federal one. The city requires employers to provide paid sick leave, and has a Healthy San Francisco plan, that essentially offers universal health care with a public option to city residents.

And while Republicans refuse even to allow a vote on raising the minimum wage in Congress, Minnesota, Maryland and Connecticut have all recently passed minimum wage increases, with more states likely to follow.

Congress has blocked any major effort to capture a lead in the green industrial revolution, but cities are filling the gap. Seattle, blessed by plentiful dams, is carbon neutral. Portland gets half of its energy from renewable sources. Austin aims to be carbon neutral by 2020 and has devoted 10 percent of the city’s land to parks.

While national leaders continue to bolster the banks at the same time as they abandon underwater homeowners, in Richmond, Calif., a Green Party mayor is pushing to use eminent domain to take over underwater mortgages, refinance them at current value and allow families to keep their homes. The city has fined banks for not maintaining the homes that they’ve foreclosed on. Wall Street has retaliated, essentially boycotting the city’s last bond offering.

While efforts to shut down the offshore tax dodges used by multinationals have been blocked in Washington, Oregon just enacted a bill to tax the state’s share of profits stashed in 39 countries and territories; Maine’s state legislature just approved similar legislation and several other states are considering the same.

In his Cooper Union speech, De Blasio noted the “resistance from some powerful interests . . . people who have a stake in the status quo and don’t want to see these changes.” But he noted, “This administration is a product of movement politics. . . . A movement of people who share a vision . . . We believe we are at our best when everyone gets a shot at fulfilling their dreams.”

And the only vehicle for that is aggressive, progressive governance. De Blasio closed by quoting one of his heroes, Robert F. Kennedy, “Everything that makes our lives worthwhile — family, work, education, a place to raise one’s children and a place to rest one’s head — all this depends on the decisions of government. Therefore, our essential humanity can be protected and preserved only where government must answer — not just to the wealthy, not just to those of a particular religion or a particular race, but to all its people.”

The new populism is just beginning to form. In cities and states across the country, people are beginning to be heard and beginning to find leaders who will stand with them. And that offers some promise for the future.

 

By: Katrina vanden Heuvel, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 15, 2014

 

April 21, 2014 Posted by | Populism, Progressives | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Champion Of The Poor?”: Paul Ryan’s Post-Epiphany Agenda Is Likely To Be Awfully Similar To His Pre-Epiphany Agenda

Just last month, the Washington Post ran a surprisingly uncritical, front-page article on House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), celebrating the congressman for his efforts “fighting poverty and winning minds.” The gist of the piece was that the far-right congressman is entirely sincere about using conservative ideas – both economic and spiritual – to combat poverty.

BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins is thinking along similar lines.

Until recently, Paul Ryan would have seemed like an improbable pick to lead the restoration of compassionate conservatism with a heartfelt mission to the poor. Of all the caricatures he has inspired – from heroic budget warrior to black-hearted Scrooge – “champion of the poor” has never been among them. And yet, Ryan has spent the past year quietly touring impoverished communities across the country with Woodson, while his staff digs through center-right think tank papers in search of conservative policy proposals aimed at aiding the poor. Next spring, Ryan plans to introduce a new battle plan for the war on poverty – one he hopes will launch a renewed national debate on the issue. […]

[T]hose closest to him say Ryan’s new mission is the result of a genuine spiritual epiphany – sparked, in part, by the prayer in Cleveland, and sustained by the emergence of a new pope who has lit the world on fire with bold indictments of the “culture of prosperity” and a challenge to reach out to the weak and disadvantaged.

Well, if those closest to Paul Ryan think we should see his concern for the poor as heartfelt, who am I to argue?

All kidding aside, I don’t know the congressman personally, and can’t speak to his sincerity. But ultimately, whether or not Ryan had a “genuine spiritual epiphany” doesn’t much matter – either the Wisconsinite has a policy agenda that will make a difference in the lives of those in poverty or he doesn’t.

And at least for now, he doesn’t. Though we have not yet seen the agenda Ryan intends to unveil in the spring, we’ve seen reports that his vision “relies heavily on promoting volunteerism and encouraging work through existing federal programs, including the tax code.” He’s also reportedly focused on “giving poor parents vouchers or tax credits” for private education.

In other words, Ryan’s post-epiphany agenda is likely to be awfully similar to his pre-epiphany agenda.

What’s more, we’ve also seen plenty of other policy measures from the congressman. As we talked about in November, this is the same congressman whose original budget plan was simply brutal towards families in poverty, the same congressman who supports deep cuts to food stamps, the same congressman who wants to scrap Social Security and Medicare; and the same congressman who’s balked at raising the minimum wage and extending federal unemployment benefits.

If Paul Ryan is the new model for the Republican Party’s anti-poverty crusader, struggling families should be terrified.

Jared Bernstein recently said of Ryan, “the emperor in the empty suit has no clothes,” adding:

Ryan Poverty Plan

1. Cut spending on the poor, cut taxes on the wealthy

2. Shred safety net through block granting federal programs

3. Encourage entrepreneurism, sprinkle around some vouchers and tax credits

4. ???

5. Poverty falls

If Ryan is in the midst of a personal transition from Ayn Rand to Scripture, more power to him. But I hope the political establishment, which has always taken the congressman a bit too seriously and accepted his radical vision with far too much credulity, will be duly skeptical as he slaps a fresh coat of paint on his old ideas.

Postscript: Peter Flaherty, a devout Catholic and former Romney adviser, told BuzzFeed, “What Pope Francis is doing is, instead of changing Catholicism, he’s changing the way the world views Catholicism… And I think Paul has the opportunity to do something similar for conservatism.”

Oh my.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 20, 2013

December 21, 2013 Posted by | Paul Ryan, Poverty | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Nothing To Lose But Power”: Wal-Mart Plays Hardball In The District of Columbia

There’s a power struggle going on in Washington right now, not between Republicans and Democrats but between Wal-Mart—which is supposed to open six stores in the District—and the city council, which has a bill pending to require big-box retailers to pay a living wage. As you surely know, Wal-Mart was built on keeping costs as low as possible, particularly labor costs. The model Wal-Mart recruit is someone who has no other employment options and will take whatever they can get. The retail colossus isn’t going to let some uppity city council tell it how much it can pay its employees:

The world’s largest retailer delivered an ultimatum to District lawmakers Tuesday, telling them less than 24 hours before a decisive vote that at least three planned Wal-Marts will not open in the city if a super-minimum-wage proposal becomes law.

A team of Wal-Mart officials and lobbyists, including a high-level executive from the mega-retailer’s Arkansas headquarters, walked the halls of the John A. Wilson Building on Tuesday afternoon, delivering the news to D.C. Council members.

The company’s hardball tactics come out of a well-worn playbook that involves successfully using Wal-Mart’s leverage in the form of jobs and low-priced goods to fend off legislation and regulation that could cut into its profits and set precedent in other potential markets. In the Wilson Building, elected officials have found their reliable liberal, pro-union political sentiments in conflict with their desire to bring amenities to underserved neighborhoods.

For Wal-Mart, this isn’t just about these particular stores. They can make money even if they pay a higher wage at these stores, and with over 10,000 stores around the world, the D.C. locations are a drop in their enormous bucket anyway. It’s about their relationship both to the people they employ and to the communities they locate in. It’s about power, and as far as they’re concerned, power has to reside with Wal-Mart. Their employees do what they’re told and get paid what they’re told, and if they don’t like it they can go find another job. By the same token, the city council gives Wal-Mart what it wants, and if it doesn’t they can try to find somebody else to open a store there.

My guess is that in the end, either the city council will cave or Mayor Vincent Gray will veto the bill (he says he’s considering it). Why? Because Wal-Mart can walk away from the D.C. stores without a second thought, while the council desperately wants both the jobs the stores will bring and the ability for their constituents to have a convenient place to shop. One side has virtually nothing to lose, while the other side has a great deal to lose.

Would Wal-Mart make less money if they paid their employees a little more? Not necessarily. There are other models out there, most notably Costco and Trader Joe’s, which believe that by giving their employees higher wages and good benefits, they can reduce turnover and provide better service, which lowers costs and increases sales. And it works: they’ve achieved steady growth and excellent profits by making their employees happy.

But the idea that the way to deal with employees is to basically treat them like the enemy, which includes not just paying them as little as possible but also reacting to any hint of solidarity among the employees like an outbreak of the Ebola virus, is bred into Wal-Mart’s DNA. Think I exaggerate? Back in 2000, 11 meat-cutters at a Wal-Mart in Texas voted to join a union. The company responded by announcing that it was immediately eliminating the meat-cutting departments at 180 stores and switching to pre-packaged meat, and would eventually eliminate the meat-cutting departments at every store in the country. They don’t screw around, as the D.C. Council has just discovered.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, July 10, 2013

July 11, 2013 Posted by | Corporations | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

%d bloggers like this: