Robert Polin on minimum wage increases

Lost jobs because of modest — and thus inadequate — minimum wage increases? Not according to Robert Polin:

Austerity kills

It is always worth making the effort to recognize that an unnecessary but not pointless austerity politics creates adverse and, sometimes, existential problems for those individuals without the means or power to solve their personal problems. These individuals can only suffer what they cannot avoid. Scot Rosenzweig of Allentown, PA confronted Pennsylvania Governor Corbett with this issue, forcing him to defend his support for his Healthy Pennsylvania project, derided by its critics as CorbettCare. Corbett notoriously refused to accept the greater Medicaid monies authorized by the Affordable Care Act. Corbett eventually proposed a plan that would limit the scope and efficacy of the health care provided by the state of Pennsylvania to its poorest citizens. Currently, thanks to Corbett’s ideologically motivated scheming, Pennsylvania has neither an expanded Medicaid program nor even the lesser CorbettCare. At least one death can be attributed to this lack:

Her death did not faze Corbett, however.

First Black President© to open Plantations!

A White House press release announced the good news:

For decades before the economic crisis, local communities were transformed as jobs were sent overseas and middle class Americans worked harder and harder but found it more difficult to get ahead.  Announced in last year’s State of the Union Address, the Promise Zone Initiative is part of the President’s plan to create a better bargain for the middle-class by partnering with local communities and businesses to create jobs, increase economic security, expand educational opportunities, increase access to quality, affordable housing and improve public safety.  Today, the President announced the next step in those efforts by naming the first five “Promise Zones”.

The first five Zones, located in San Antonio, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Southeastern Kentucky, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, have each put forward a plan on how they will partner with local business and community leaders to make investments that reward hard work and expand opportunity.  In exchange, these designees will receive the resources and flexibility they need to achieve their goals.

Each of these designees knows and has demonstrated that it takes a collaborative effort – between private business and federal, state, tribal and local officials; faith-based and non-profit organizations; children and parents – to ensure that hard work leads to a decent living for every American, in every community.

Good jobs for everyone? Well, no. The program is limited in scope (it does not include everyone in need) and lacks a living wage requirement (wages and benefits will reflect the labor market for unskilled labor). Is this welfare for the common man and woman? Again, no. The program will be formed around tax breaks, regulation suspensions and similar corporate welfare programs. The tacit goal is to create a government sponsored low-wage, low-regulation labor market in areas which suffer from a labor market surplus. The program is, in fact, a rehash of what were once called Urban Enterprise Zones. The Promise Zones are, plainly put, plantations, as Mike Whitney pointed out:

Plantations were a familiar feature of the antebellum South, but were abandoned following the Civil War. Now a new generation of corporate kleptocrats want to revive the tradition. They think that weakening consumer demand and persistent stagnation can only be overcome by skirting vital labor protections and shifting more of the cost of production onto workers. Obama’s promise zones provide a way for big business to slip the chains of “onerous” regulations and restore, what many CEO’s believe to be, the Natural Order, that is, a Darwinian, dog-eat-dog world where only the strongest and most cunning survive.

I wonder if Foxconnthe “we drive our employees to commit suicide” people — will open an Arbeitslager in the United States? They surely are the kind of company Obama wants to attract.

The PRC — A worker’s paradise

 

Quote of the day

The Guardian reports that:

The White House is stepping up pressure on Congress to approve emergency measures that would reinstate payments to more than 1.3 million long-term unemployed Americans who saw their benefits cut three days after Christmas.

President Barack Obama’s chief internal economics adviser appeared on two Sunday talkshows to warn against failing to reintroduce payments for those who have been out of work for more than six months – while also indicating that the benefits programme could legitimately end when unemployment rates return to “normal”.

But, what if a 7% U-3 rate reflects a new norm? What if an austerity politics combines with long-term stagnation to produce a high-unemployment economy? Will America’s natural aristocrats move to secure the well-being of those Americans less fortunate than they are? Will they reinvigorate America’s welfare state?

I would not recommend holding one’s breath waiting for the aristocrats to move on this matter.

Capitalism and US Oil Geo-Politics » CounterPunch

Rob Urie has provided us with a concisely written essay which identifies the predicaments generated by the capitalist democracies in the West as well as by the global empire governed by power elites located in Washington, DC and Wall Street. Reading Urie’s essay is worth the effort.

With October first approaching

Let us recall a Kathleen Sebelius (Health and Human Services Secretary) interview which dates to 2009:

Asked if the administration’s program will be drafted specifically to prevent it from evolving into a single-payer plan, Sebelius says: “I think that’s very much the case, and again, if you want anybody to convince people of that, talk to the single-payer proponents who are furious that the single-payer idea is not part of the discussion.”

Sebelius says such concerns are unfounded because a single-payer plan is not under consideration, and these “draconian” scenarios have muddled the conversation over the president’s proposal for a public option.

“The whole idea of the public option has been difficult, in part, because some of the opposition has described it as a potential for a, you know, draconian scenario that was never part of the discussion in the first place,” Sebelius says. “So, disabusing people of what is not going to happen is often difficult, because there’s no tangible way to do that.”

Let us also recall that Obamacare (The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) will be neither universal nor affordable for many. Nor will it impose adequate controls on the costs generated by health care providers and drug companies. It might have mildly disinflationary effects on these costs. But it will not reduce them to a degree that they would approach the costs of care typical of a more rational health care system. Finally, Obamacare will make Uncle Sam the bagman for the health insurance industry.

America could have adopted a single-payer system that was universal, controlled costs, eliminated oligopoly profits, etc. But Obama and his party did and does not want that.

I wonder if the Democratic Party awards style points for exceptionally smarmy legislation?

Solidarity during the austere age

Aditya Chakrabortty, writing for the Guardian, considered Sweden’s recent and surprising troubles:

More than 20 cars torched in one night. School classrooms gutted by fire. Fifty far-right extremists chasing immigrants around a suburb.

You probably haven’t seen much about it in the papers, but for the past week Sweden has been racked by rioting. The violence began in a suburb of Stockholm, Husby, and spread around the capital’s edge before other cities went up in flames. Police have been pelted with stones; neighbourhoods have turned into no-go areas, even for ambulances. Such prolonged unrest is remarkable for Stockholm, as those few reporters sent to cover it have observed. Naturally enough, each article has wound up asking: why here?

It’s a good question. Don’t surveys repeatedly show Sweden as one of the happiest countries (certainly a damn sight cheerier than Britain)? Isn’t it famous for its equality, its warm welcome to immigrants? Whatever happened to Stockholm, capital of progressivism, the Mecca towards which Guardianistas face for their daily five minutes of mindfulness?

We all know the cliches, but the reality is they no longer fit the country so well. Whether it’s on the wealth gap, or welfare, or public services, Sweden is less “Swedish” than it has ever been. As in other continental capitals, the Stockholm version of the “European social model” is an increasingly tattered thing, albeit still appealed to by the political elites and still resonant in the popular culture. But the country seized by turbulence last week is becoming polarised, and is surrendering more of its public services over to private businesses (sometimes with disastrous effects). Those riot-scene correspondents ought not to be asking: why here? A better question, surely, is: if such instability can happen here, what might unfold elsewhere — including Britain?

Rioting has occurred in other OECD countries. Most notably, they took place in Austria, Britain, France, Germany, Greece, Spain and Turkey since the onset of the Great Recession. The United States also produced the peaceful Occupy Movement, which the various governmental bodies suppressed with rioting police forces. The causes of unrest are the same across Europe and in the United States: Growing inequality, social polarization, austerity and, in some instances, economic stagnation. Sweden is a special case, as Chakrabortty avers. Its welfare state was notable for its commitment to collective security and to economic growth. The Swedish economy continues to grow. But the Swedes are slowly jettisoning their commitment to collective security, to solidarity. This is when the authorities need the police to keep order. This is when the democratic class struggle becomes class warfare.

Ain’t that America

An I-5 bride falls into the Skagit River

Quote of the day

Serge Halimi, editor of Le Monde Diplomatique, wrote:

Some revelations come as little surprise. It’s not really news that some politicians love money and like to spend time with those who have lots of it. Or that they sometimes behave like a caste that is above the law. Or that the tax system favours the affluent, and that the free circulation of capital enables them to stash their cash in tax havens.

The disclosure of individual transgressions should lead to scrutiny of the system that created them. But in recent decades, the world has been changing at such a pace that it has outstripped our analytical capacity. With each new event — the fall of the Berlin Wall, the emergence of the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), technological advances, financial crises, Arab revolutions, European decline — experts have fallen over themselves to announce the end of history or the birth of a new world order.

Beyond these premature birth and death notices, three main, more or less universal, tendencies have emerged which warrant initial exploration: the marked rise in social inequality, the disintegration of political democracy and the decline of national sovereignty. Every new scandal is like a pustule on a sickly body: it allows us to see each element of this trio re-emerge separately and operate together. The overall situation could be summed up thus: governments allow their political systems to drift towards oligarchy because they are so dependent on the mediation of an affluent minority (who invest, speculate, hire, fire and lend). If governments balk at this abandonment of the popular mandate, international pressure from concerted financial interest ensures they topple.

Oligarchy, Halimi suggests, is scarcely incompatible with a modern democracy. Both can coexist within a social system. This point, the uncomplicated compatibility of oligarchy and democracy, has slowly moved to the forefront since December, 1991, the moment at which Bush the Elder’s New World Order emerged in its purest form. Our modern oligarchs rule indirectly, by capturing a political elite which, although elected by the demos, depends on the former for resources and guidance. The oligarchs thus rule because of the political power generated by their enormous wealth.

The United States, of course, provides a special case of this general condition. Today it is the only global empire, an unmatched military colossus and a country which sits beyond the rule of law, according to its self-understanding. It also remains exceptionally wealthy and provides the world with its commonly used reserve currency. Sheldon Wolin depicted it as having an inverted totalitarian system, that is, as an ‘as if’ democracy embedded within an empire and a stagnant economy. Democracy in America today produces results that mostly affirm oligarchic demands, a system of markets strongly distorted by finance capital and the prerogative powers of the security-surveillance apparatus. A political commitment to economic austerity and massive wealth inequality, to the imprisonment of the poor as a means of social control and to imperial domination at home and abroad makes the United States a leader among the many countries committed to this kind of democracy. Democratic elections remain in effect. They are, however, ineffective mechanisms for holding the powerful accountable. They are, instead, noisy spectacles which generate a weak kind of political legitimacy for the governed and a politically effective legitimacy for the social system as a whole. This system legitimating originates in the common realization that little to nothing can be done to successfully resist the irresistible force which is society.

Americans ought to consider these points before they vote, whenever they listen to their political leaders and when they wonder how they can make it through the year.

Quote of the day

As a response to the post-Boston Lockdown euphoria, Andrew Levine writes:

For anyone who watched the World Trade Center collapse on television in the days after September 11, 2001, the repetitive display of pictures of the terror attack on the Boston Marathon was déja vu all over again.

Not having been there, I can’t judge the mood, but reports of the demonstrations after the capture of nineteen year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were disturbingly familiar too. The chant — “USA, USA” — recalled the reaction to the news that Barack Obama’s assassins had finally gotten to Osama Bin Laden and dumped his body into the sea — in time for the upcoming elections.

Perhaps the comparison is unfair. As in New York and Washington after 9/11, the crowd was surely expressing solidarity with the victims and also relief that the ordeal was finally over. Civic pride, an estimable virtue, was on display too.

And even if the demonstrations had a jingoistic tinge, people cooped up inside all day watching Wolff Blitzer can justifiably plead mitigating circumstances. It requires fortitude to endure mindless commentary masquerading as journalism — cable news, in other words — and not run amok.

Greek tragedies, those of Aeschylus especially, recount the (fragile) triumph of civilization over primitive longings for revenge. This is the basis for the rule of law and the monumental advances that follow from it.

Too bad for us, and for the world, that, under the leadership of our two twenty-first century Presidents, the Lesser Evil one especially, we Americans seem to be abandoning lessons learned nearly two and a half millennia ago.

It isn’t just the rule of law that George W. Bush and Barack Obama have put in jeopardy. Under their leadership, ours is becoming a “civilization” that, without shame, uses revenge as a pretext for war.

It would be wrong to claim that war-making is the only project at which the United States excels. The United States mostly loses the wars it fights. To be sure, the Pentagon can destroy states and societies. But it leaves wastelands ruled by militaristic kleptocracies in its wake.

And what of Boston today? Levine continues:

An entire metropolis in lockdown? Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of militarized police arrayed against a lone wounded kid who, it turns out, was bleeding almost to death under a tarp covering a boat in someone’s driveway?

Austerity got left behind. Millions for the illusion of “homeland security,” not one penny for anything that actually makes people better off!

Events like the Boston Marathon Bombing and its aftermath are as significant as they are bizarre. They point to a future wherein the security-surveillance apparatus often and openly impinges on America’s somewhat civil everyday life, that is, to a future moment when our inverted totalitarian system becomes an obvious dictatorship. This is one implication that can be identified in the massive official response to the wounded fugitive, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The Tsarnaev brothers were considered members of Boogey Man’s legion. Uncle Sam — Superpower! — had to take the revenge in order to cleanse himself of the stain generated by the bombing. The prodigious waste of money involved was as necessary as the initial dénouement, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s capture. There is always money ready at hand for such projects, even in an age of planned deprivation.

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