Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The (Mythic) ‘Sister Souljah Moment’

America’s ‘first black president’ confronted America’s ‘black community’ when he took the stage in front of the Rainbow Coalition and denounced the remarks of one of the ostensibly monolithic community’s leaders spokespersons, Ms. Sister Souljah. In so doing, he distanced himself from an ‘extreme element’ of the Democratic Party, offending some of its members but establishing himself as a moderate. Thus, Bill Clinton won the Democratic nomination, and eventually, the general election.

This year, though there has been much ‘Sister Souljah’ calling, there will be no such moments. Why? Because there never was such a moment. To borrow heavily from a generic meta-narrative of the blog community, the media proffered the previously articulated narrative in order to explain why a white candidate would disagree with a rapper who argued for a ‘week to kill white people’ following the 1992 LA riots. Although I wasn’t there and haven’t yet been able to contact an official representative of the ‘black community’, I can imagine that there weren’t too many in the Rainbow Alliance audience who stood up to defend Sister Souljah’s right to kill white people. I think I know why; because while the ‘black community’ is an extremely intellectually and politically (and ethnically/racially) diverse imagined ‘community’, there isn’t much of a movement within the ‘community’ for racially motivated killings. As I said, I wasn’t there, but the primary reason for objecting to Clinton’s statement was probably was more along the lines of questioning why an alleged ally of the community needed to inform a pacific group of advocates for justice that killing people was wrong. So while the media generated a historic precedent, attendees of the rally wondered what Clinton had said that distanced himself from their political beliefs. They hadn’t endorsed Sister Souljah, or even contemplated picking up arms. There was a response against Clinton; not because he denounced killing, but primarily because Clinton did not warn organisers that he would be speaking out against Sister Souljah.

Despite the dubious nature of the moniker, its memory and precedent(ial) quality hovers over the current batch of Democratic presidential candidates. Incredulously, the biggest bout of ‘Sister Souljah!’ calling that I have witnessed has been over remarks by Barack Obama to that same ‘black community’, albeit twelve years later. Apparently, a candidate telling people that parent’s should be more involved in their children’s educations distances the candidate from the listeners. As if black parents are the sole guilty ones of excessively leaning on the TV to parent children. Or that Obama, a father of two daughters, only mentions the importance of parents to people whose skin colour doesn’t look like most of the rich and powerful of the world. Perhaps it was simpler for the media (including, I might add, many left leaning bloggers) to continue the flawed narrative by making the connection over racial lines. Ostensibly, this is because the ‘community’ is monolithically out of sync with mainstream American politics, holds incredible influence, and other voters may not support a candidate too close to such a dangerous monolith. (The second is rather interesting claim against a group that has only been allowed to vote for about 40 years.)

Of course, much of this commentary may stem from caffeine enhanced paranoia about the state of our nation and the media of convenience, but don’t dismiss it. Instead, look for ways that candidates substantively distance themselves from groups (or not), rather than citing actions that seem like distancing according to racially focused narratives. For example, Obama and Edwards distancing themselves from lobbyists, especially in contrast with Clinton not creating the same distance; or Obama’s speech to automakers in Detroit. These are easy examples by a rather uninvolved observer, I’m sure that you can find more.

Just don’t reference Sister Souljah when you do.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Bush Threatens to Derail 9/11 Security Bill over Empowerment of Workers

The bill enacting many of the 9/11 Commission proposed reforms faces a possible veto from the White House because (gasp!) it would allow airport screeners to unionize!
The Senate's leaders moved closer today toward a head-on collision over using the 9/11 bill to give collective bargaining rights to Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners, a provision that already has sparked a White House veto threat. The bill is now on the floor.

Senate Republicans have followed the lead of their House counterparts, who are countering a House Democratic plan to call up another pro-union measure later today. Republicans have blasted Democrats, arguing that the bill is a giveaway to the labor interests that have given crucial political support to the new majority. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told his party's faithful at today's Conservative Political Action Conference that Republicans would stay united to sustain any presidential veto of the 9/11 bill.

While it would be a shame to see a good bill get derailed over the right's perverse fear of all things union, I kind of hope they do back Bush if he vetos this, beause I dont see any way Smith or Collins, or Coleman will be able to explain their way out of this one. What are they going to say? "Preventing workers from forming unions is more important than the Nation's security"? Let Bush veto this, and let him veto the Employee Free Choice Act, which passed the House today. 20% of the American public would join a union if they were given the opportunity, yet union membership is at an all time low 12% today and the Bush Administration and Republican Congress want to limit the right to unionize as much as possible.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Why EFCA is Necessary

There's been much talk about the Employee Free Choice Act which was recently reported out of Committee in the House. Among other things the bill would allow the formation of a union if a majority of workers sign union cards rather than requiring a secret vote after workers sign union cards. I find the arguments that opponents are using very amusing.
"What you are seeing is an unprecedented effort by organized labor to overturn years of labor law," said Ringwood, a lobbyist for Associated Builders and Contractors. Like most business officials, she argued that removing the secret ballot would diminish workers' rights.

"This is moving very quickly and people are concerned that the rights of employees would be taken away."

By signing a union card workers are already expressing their support for a union, one must wonder at this point why a secret ballot election should be required after a majority of employees have already shown their support for a union. The answer of course is that oftentimes unions fail upon a secret ballot election. But this isnt because desire for a union is any less strong, but rather because employers threaten workers and run dishonest campaigns against the union. Further, as I pointed out a year ago, NLRB regulations against campaigns that intimidate workers are inneffective.
In 1997, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union lost a unionization election at the sprawling plant, built in this rural town 75 miles south of Raleigh. But it was not until 2004 that the National Labor Relations Board upheld an administrative law judge's decision that threw out the election results.

Seven years that workers in the North Carolina Factory I referred to in that post were without a union while waiting for the NLRB to rule on what was obvious. In that case workers were getting paid a full $3 an hour less than their unionized counterparts, the company may well be saving more than enough in reduced labor costs without a union to afford NLRB punishments after a 7 year wait. As I said at the time:
Seven years to finaly rule that the company violated the workers rights to a fair vote for a union. Seven years that the company was allowed to continue abusing its workers and for which the workers had no recourse of a union. Even after the ruling, organizers fear that the company would continue to act in the same way, intimidating workers so that they still would be unable to get a fair vote. If a new vote were held today and the company engaged in the same tactics and the vote had the same result, it would take another seven years to get the same ruling from the NLRB. Another 7 years for which employees would have no way to defend themselves against company abuses.

Go back and read that original post in which I quoted a fair share of a New York Times article on the subject, it was very disturbing. Its cases like these that show why we absolutely need EFCA, because these "confidential votes" are oftentimes anything but fair and are merely a means for employers who want to prevent a union to intimidate their employees to prevent them from voting for one. As to questions of whether its going to pass, I think it will, the bill is almost certainly going to pass the House as it has 230 cosponsors, both Democrats and Republicans. It has such broad support in the Democratic caucus, and has support of some of the most conservative Democrats out there that I see no possible way that it doesnt have the votes to pass the Senate, I would expect Collins, Snowe, and Specter to support it as well. Given the fact that it seems to have some reasonable Republican support and even has several Republican cosponsors, there might be enough votes there for an override if Bush vetos this. In short, I'm very optimistic about this bill. I guess the question on a veto override is whether there is any support from faux moderates like Gordo for the bill, if there is then any Bush veto will be overridden.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Uninspired Blogging

Since the start of the new year I've felt very uninspired as I write this blog. My posts have recently been written most often because I feel like I should post something rather than any sense that I want to talk about a given issue. That all culminated almost two weeks (12 days to be exact) ago when following a post on Lt Watada I proceeded to go on a long hiatus without a single post. What all this tells me is that it is clear that this blog must change its course (much like the US in Iraq only without the bloodshed). It has been my observation that far too little attention is payed by the mainstream press and by major blogs to labor/union issues. I now hope to stake myself out against that trend dedicating the bulk of this blog to precisely those issues. I have set up google and yahoo news alerts for labor and union relevent articles and will try to extensively cover everything union to the best of my ability. If I feel compelled to write about another issue I will, but the bulk of this blog will henceforth be dedicated to labor and unions. Expect this to start sometime today.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Watada Trial and Personal Responsibility

I was struck by this collumn in the Seattle Post Intelligencer today regarding the actions of Lt. Ehren Watada. The author Robert Jamieson explores the difference between Lt. Watada and Sgt. Mickel David Garrigus who recently died in Iraq, asking which one should be treated as a hero. Before I get deeper into this I believe that Mr. Jamieson forces a false choice upon his readers, playing on every emotional connection that one can to portray Sgt. Garrigus well and Lt. Watada poorly. Undoubtedly we should mourn for Sgt. Garrigus just as we should morn for every one of the more than 3,000 American soldiers and countless Iraqis who have died in this terrible war. Jamieson acts as though one cant think highly of both at the same time, as though respecting the fight that Mr. Watada is putting up somehow diminishes the life of Sgt. Garrigus, it doesnt. The crux of Jamieson's argument however lies below.
They've talked about values they hold dear: patriotism and honor and duty.

Both have anguished over the implosion of Iraq.

But as soldiers they've long known -- or damn well should have known -- that an imperfect military machine works because men and women sign up to follow orders. They are contracted to abide by the rules. You break these rules -- even if you question, as I do, those at the top who are now enforcing them -- and you face the consequences. Period.

This is a deeply flawed moral philosophy that Jamieson presents his readers with, and one that needs to be examined. Jamieson even quotes the right source but fails to engage with the weight of its words, I refer to Martin Luther King's "Letter from a Birmingham City Jail."
"One who breaks an unjust law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law."

This is not about whether Lt. Watada will face consequences (though I was sure he would until today) this is about the responsibility that an individual holds to others. Watata feels that the war is unjust and has made the determination that if one feels the war is unjust one should not participate in it. Jamieson's argument is precisely the one that was rightly rejected at Nuremburg, that individual's following orders bears no responsibility for what he has done. The Nazi bureaucrat Adolf Eichmann merely decided to do his job rather than to stop and question the fact that he was playing an active part in the slaughter of millions of innocent people. Watada has broken the law and should be confined to prison, but that misses the point, the point is that Watada has acted in good faith with his conscious, he has made the determination that he cannot bear to live knowing that he played a part in this war. Those who say that soldiers should not question the conflicts for which they fight merely return to the nuremburg defense. Watada is as King put it "showing the highest respect for law" but refusing to participate in this war and willingly accepting the penalty for it. But recent events undermine this.
The Army court-martial of 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, which ended in a mistrial Wednesday, may have stranger turns ahead: Prohibitions against double jeopardy may keep prosecutors from having a second trial, his lawyer and another legal expert say.

The opposition of Watada and his defense team to the mistrial, declared by the military judge and eventually endorsed by prosecutors after their case fell apart, opens the door for a double-jeopardy defense, said John Junker, a University of Washington law professor.
The dramatic turn of events hinged on a stipulation of fact that Watada signed in a plea agreement more than a week ago. Under the plea deal, prosecutors dropped two charges of conduct unbecoming an officer against Watada. He was being tried this week on two other charges of conduct unbecoming an officer and one count of missing movement when his Stryker Brigade deployed to Iraq in June.

Head questioned Watada while the jury was out of the courtroom, which Seitz objected to but allowed, and legal experts such as Junker said they would consider that questioning "very unusual" in a civilian trial.

Head concluded that he could not accept Watada's statement. Although Watada had admitted to failing to deploy with his unit, it was not the same as admitting guilt, which prosecutors considered it to be, Head said.

Watada should in fact have admitted guilt, he should have said "yes! I refused to get on that plane, if that is a crime than I guess I'm guilty!" But he didnt, If Watada truly wants to take the moral high ground he should not be pleading his innocence but rather admitting his guilt. I have a deep respect for Watada's refusal to participate in more killing, he can not participate in this war if he truly believes that it is wrong. However, he should plead guilty and accept the consequences of doing so. The moral high ground rarely comes without consequences, and it seems as though Lt. Watada is trying to have it both ways, which is a shame.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Coolest Picture Ever


That looks like it should be painful but he doesnt look like he's in pain. Thank you

Friday, February 02, 2007

Diplomatic Operations

Josh Marshall asks:
Can we assume the number of billions of dollars for "diplomatic operations" is a pretty small part of the pie? And what "diplomatic operations" are they talking about exactly?

My guess is aggressive negotiations.
Anakin: When I got to them we got into aggressive negotiations.
Padme: Aggressive negotiations? What's that?
Anakin: Ah, well, it's negotiations with a lightsaber.

I've got to work Star Wars into this blog every once in a while.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

My Thoughts on the New Tax Proposal

I'm not a big fan of the bipartison tax reform bill that the Oregonian discussed this morning.
A bipartisan plan to remake Oregon's tax system -- add a 5 cent sales tax, cut income taxes by one-third, add tax credits for the poor, slash the tax on capital gains -- was formally put before the Legislature on Wednesday.

If enacted, it would represent the biggest change in state tax policy since 1929, when Oregon began a state income tax.

But the odds are steep: The plan would have to be approved by two-thirds of the House and Senate, and it would have to overcome the deep aversion of Oregon voters and politicians to a sales tax.

I guess I'm one of those with a deep aversion to a sales tax. Sales taxes are regressive, and the sponsors of the bill realized that. They were wise to attempt to balance it out for poor Oregonians by making income taxes for those very people lower.
Taxpayers in every income range could expect to pay less in taxes, except some taxpayers who earn too little to owe income taxes. For most Oregonians, sales tax payments would be more than offset by reductions in income and property taxes, Westlund says.

But Westlund acknowledges that some people will slip through the cracks in this bill paying more in sales taxes but not having enough income to get an income tax cut to balance it out. So the poorest Oregonians end up paying a disproportionate high percentage of their income to the sales tax. Aside from that practical argument, I think sales taxes are also a pain, in Oregon now when you see a price on something you know thats the price, something reassuring, when there's a sales tax you dont really know what you're paying in the end unless you're a math wizz. There is something that can be done to this bill that I believe would make it acceptable. Washington probably has the right model here, Washington has a sales tax but it exempts food, so that the basic necessities that everyone must have and cause the sales tax to burn the poor are not taxed. If the legislature wants to enact a sales tax they should exempt food so that the poorest Oregonians dont get burned as they would without such an exemption.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Problem with National Popular Vote

The electoral college is broken, States like Wyoming that have a tiny population still get three electoral votes giving them far more electoral power than they deserve based on their population. Blue Oregon pointed out that we nearly had two consecutive elections in which the winner of the popular vote lost the electoral vote. In response a group called National Popular Vote has begun a campaign to convince States to agree to send their electors to the winner of the popular vote, bypassing the Constitutional Amendment process that would be needed to get rid of the electoral college. They seem to have convinced an Oregon legislator to introduce a bill sending Oregon's electoral votes to the nationwide winner.

This is a bad idea, because it means that Oregonians get less of a voice than anyone else in the Presidential election. By agreeing to send our electors to vote for whoever won the National popular vote, Oregon's concerns will be tossed aside for the concerns of voters in all the other States. If a candidate wants to win Oregon's electoral votes, that candidate needs to be able to convince Oregonians that he's the best candidate, and that he shares Oregon's values and concerns. His policies need to reflect the policies that Oregonians want enacted. By doing this, Oregon would in essence be agreeing to throw away the votes that are cast be Oregonians.

I don't believe that the electoral college is a good idea, but in order to chance it we can't go looking for the easy way out as this does, it undermines the voting rights of the resident's of the State who get nothing in return. If its going to be changed it must be done by Constitutional Amendment. Personally I favor removing Senators from the equation to calculate electoral votes, which would mean that while some States might still be overrepresented, their overrepresentation would be minimized. If only Representatives comprised the electoral votes then Gore would have recieved 227 electoral votes (assuming I counted right) and Bush would have won 213 electoral votes. Al Gore would be the President if Senators (which every State has two of) were not included in the formula for determining electoral votes. Bush gained 19 electoral votes over Gore by winning smaller States than Gore did. This is the hard way, because it requires a Constitutional Amendment, but it is also the right way because unlike the plan being offered for Oregon it doesnt take away one State's voting rights. There are other plans that would be reasonable as well, but any of those plans would also require a Constitutional amendment.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Smith Filibusters Minimum Wage

After griping for the last three years about Democrats occassionally filibustering things, the Senate Republicans have already excersized their right to filibuster, demanding that any increase in wages for the lowest paid workers must be coupled with tax cuts for those higher up on the income ladder.
WASHINGTON, Jan. 24 (Bloomberg) — Senate Republicans rejected an effort by Democrats to pass minimum-wage legislation without breaks for small businesses on Wednesday, setting the stage for a potential impasse with the House, where lawmakers are demanding a “clean” bill.

The Senate vote of 54 to 43 was six votes short of the 60 needed to move ahead with a wage measure that does not include tax benefits for employers. Earlier this month, the Senate Finance Committee voted to add $8.3 billion in tax breaks to the bill.

And who joined this cynical Republican filibuster? None other "moderate" Republican Gordon Smith. That's your "moderate" Republican from Oregon, working hard in the Senate to stick it to workers every day. And if it takes a filibuster to make sure he can stick it workers, Gordon Smith will filibuster.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Cwechblug State of the Union Response

First, excellent Democratic rebuttal by Sen. Webb. There were a few things in the State of the Union that struck me as interesting, bad ideas, or idiotic. First, I was surprised at how little substance there was in this State of the Union. Very few coherent policy objectives, and a lot of fluffy nice sounding rhetoric. The few things that he did propose left me perplexed however. Why did Bush propose the National Guard?
A second task we can take on together is to design and establish a volunteer Civilian Reserve Corps. Such a corps would function much like our military reserve. It would ease the burden on the Armed Forces by allowing us to hire civilians with critical skills to serve on missions abroad when America needs them. And it would give people across America who do not wear the uniform a chance to serve in the defining struggle of our time.

If anyone can tell the difference between what he proposes in this section of the speech and the National Guard, please tell me, because I am still perplexed about why Bush proposed the National Guard tonight.

Moving on to Health Care. This is quite possibly one of the worst ideas I've ever heard. The following is what Bush proposed tonight in regards to health care.
For Americans who now purchase health insurance on their own, my proposal would mean a substantial tax savings — $4,500 for a family of four making $60,000 a year. And for the millions of other Americans who have no health insurance at all, this deduction would help put a basic private health insurance plan within their reach. Changing the tax code is a vital and necessary step to making health care affordable for more Americans.

My second proposal is to help the States that are coming up with innovative ways to cover the uninsured. States that make basic private health insurance available to all their citizens should receive Federal funds to help them provide this coverage to the poor and the sick. I have asked the Secretary of Health and Human Services to work with Congress to take existing Federal funds and use them to create “Affordable Choices” grants. These grants would give our Nation’s Governors more money and more flexibility to get private health insurance to those most in need.

There's been much debate about the problems with Wyden's plan, namely that it doesnt do enough to contain costs. But this is truly rediculous. If you make health care costs tax deductable and do nothing else, you merely give insurance companies the ability to charge any amount of money at public expense. Rather than contain costs as we need to do, insurance premiums would drive straight through the roof. Because once everyone has the ability to deduct health care costs from their taxes, insurance companies will have a huge market available to them for which there is no demand curve. There is nothing to contain costs of insurance. People by health care at price 1, deducting their entire premium from their income taxes, insurance companies raise prices because they can make more money, cost 2 is now far higher than cost one. Consumer purchases health care at cost 2 and deducts it from their taxes. It is a giant Federal gift to insurance companies that seems limitless. I'm also wondering about people who have so little income that they dont pay anything in taxes. Are they going to recieve money back from the government to cover their health care costs. This may be universal, but its a monumentally bad idea.

The proposal to give a Federal grant to encourage States to "find innovative ways to provide private health insurance to their citizens." This is really a way to prevent States from going single-payer on their own and stop the movement at the State level where it is beginning to take shape. This is not encouraging States to come up with innovative new policies, it is limiting them to a narrow set of policy options that are more likely to fail than single-payer. The specification of private insurance here is important.

Finally, Bush once more proposed health savings accounts, which have the fundamental flaw of assuming that health care is a normal consumer item. If I want a banana, I know that a banana is what I need and I can shop at a place in which I can get a good price for a banana. Health care isnt like this at all. If I need an MRI, the only way I know that I need an MRI is that the doctor who is going to make money through the process told me I need an MRI. I cant make the rational consumer choice that I dont really need an MRI, if I choose not to get one I run considerable personal health risks. The money in a health savings account would be limited, so if I develope a major health problem I might run out of money in the account and end up paying out of pocket. Not to mention the question of what one does if they dont have any money to put in the health savings account to begin with. So that's three bad ideas in health care by my count.

Bush also engaged in a little bit of Ron Saxton style rhetoric, claiming that we're going to keep medicare healthy, expand the war in Iraq, cut taxes, create a new National Guard (huh?), and balance the budget. A friend of mine commented "We're raiding Canada," and as near as I can tell that's the only way to do it. We're not going to cut programs, we're going to cut taxes, and balance the budget. It all sounds nice but cant be taken seriously, I guess Saxton's magic "inefficiences" have returned.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Oregon Takes a Lead on Health Care

While California gets most of the press for Health Care reform, Oregon seems to be moving forward with plans to dramatically restructure the State's health care system. And unlike in California it has a chance of passing in Oregon (California has some screwed up laws on budgetary matters allowing a minority to easily block the legislation). The debate is beginning in Oregon, and not just on the topic of whether universal health care is the best policy (it is), but rather about exactly what plan is best to do that, good serious proposals are being made and sent into committee in the Oregon Legislature, there seems to be a growing consensus that something needs to be done and that the health care system as it is today is unsustainable. Former Governor John Kitzhaber is leading this charge with the Archimedes movement.
Former Gov. John Kitzhaber rolled out a bold legislative plan for overhauling Oregon's health care system Wednesday, hoping to leverage a national debate on health care reform that will spread to the 2008 presidential race.

"The health care system today is unsustainable," he said. "It is remarkable we are utterly unable to change our direction."

The plan would pool roughly $7 billion from employer tax deductions for health care and from state and federal tax money spent on Medicare and Medicaid in Oregon. The pool then would be spent in a more efficient and rational system that would provide a "core benefit" of essential health services to every Oregonian, including the 609,000 who now have no health insurance, said Kitzhaber, a former emergency-room doctor, during a news conference in downtown Portland.
Kitzhaber's bill will go to the Senate Special Committee on Health Reform, said the Democratic co-chairs, Sen. Alan Bates of Ashland, and Sen. Ben Westlund of Bend. The committee will consider Kitzhaber's plan along with at least three other health reform plans: one developed by a Senate commission led by Bates and Westlund and others from the Oregon Business Council and the Oregon Health Policy Commission.

"What is most significant and shows the true depth of this (health care) crisis is the number of groups that have come together to propose solutions," Westlund said.
No plan will work if it does not contain costs, Kitzhaber said.

Like other plans before the Legislature, his would seek administrative efficiencies, include incentives to keep costs low and the quality of service high, and would guarantee Oregonians health care no matter where they work.

Its a shame Kitzhaber appears to have no plans to challenge Gordon Smith for the Senate seat in 2 years, but it does little good to dwell on that. What Kitzhaber recognizes that Ron Wyden doesnt is the section I put in bold from the Oregonian article. Wyden seems to think that we cant effectively control the costs but we can ensure access to health care for all. This concedes ground in the debate that doesnt need to be conceded, one of the most compelling reasons for health care reform is the runaway cost of care in the current system. Massachussetts, Vermont, and Hawaii have all drastically reformed their health care systems, if California and Oregon do it too then perhaps the US Congress will begin to really take this issue seriously and do something about a broken system. The Oregonian piece also mentioned that Kulongoski is backing a bill to guarantee coverage for all children, and if we're going to take baby steps toward this thing that's certainly admirable, but it fails to deal with the larger health care crisis in the State and the country choosing instead of focus on select social groups while ignoring the larger problems. If a universal plan cannot get through the legislature than Kulongoski's plan to cover all children would be nice, but if we can make health care in this State more efficient and change its fundamental structure we should.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Weather Griping

Ok, this is directed at everyone in western Oregon and Washington. You're all wimps. Linfield College was cancelled yesterday and the local news out of Portland acted as if all hell had broken loose when the roads were what I would describe as "clear" in both cases. Even so, lets entertain for a moment the possibility that the roads actually were dangerous. Linfield College delayed its opening today, my question is this: how can it take more than 24 hours to get the roads clear? If the roads arent clear by now someone isnt doing their job. Now back to our regularly scheduled blogging (also known as complaining about more relevent things than the weather).

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Effects of Higher Minimum Wages

The New York Times ran a good story today on the way minimum wage law acts on the Idaho-Washington border where the highest minimum wage in the country meets the lowest. They pointed to the relationship between Post Falls and Liberty Lake. But the story was the same where I grew up in Moscow Idaho/Pullman Washington.
But instead of shriveling up, small-business owners in Washington say they have prospered far beyond their expectations. In fact, as a significant increase in the national minimum wage heads toward law, businesses here at the dividing line between two economies — a real-life laboratory for the debate — have found that raising prices to compensate for higher wages does not necessarily lead to losses in jobs and profits.

Idaho teenagers cross the state line to work in fast-food restaurants in Washington, where the minimum wage is 54 percent higher. That has forced businesses in Idaho to raise their wages to compete.

With a lowball minimum wage, Idaho businesses who pay minimum wage sacrifice more committed workers who cross the State line to Washington and is stuck with the bottom of the barrel labor at least in town near the border. One of my good friends in High School who commuted to Pullman to work every day made the comment once to me "why would anyone in this town want to work in Moscow, yes you pay a little more for gas to commute but its more than made up for by the difference in wage." Idaho businesses near the border, this article pointed out excellently are at a huge disadvantage if they fail to pay close to Washington's minimum wage to their employees.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Bush Ignores Democrats

It seems that Bush is still excluding Democrats from the decision making process in spite of the fact that the Democrats now hold both Houses of Congress.
President Bush yesterday began promoting his plan to send more troops to Iraq, bringing more than 30 Republican senators to the White House as part of a major campaign to rally the American people behind another effort to stabilize the country.

So the Democrats won an election recently, largely because of anger over the Iraq war, yet the President still wont talk to Democrats? Interesting.

Congressional Diary Day at DailyKos

It seemed to be Congressional diary day at DailyKos today as I recetly noticed three different recomended diaries at the same moment by Congressmen. One by Senator Edward Kennedy, one by Senator Dick Durbin, and the third by Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer. There is one (fairly minor) piece of Rep Blumenauer's diary that I want to key in on here.
Amidst all of that churn, Thursday’s events in Washington, DC were the most uplifting and positive that I've experienced as a member of Congress. Fifty-one new members, Republican and Democratic alike, came with a sense of enthusiasm and energy. Even some of my Republican friends quietly conceded that they might have more influence with the Democrats in charge with the way that we've vowed to run the House versus the DeLay machine.

Hopefully, in spite of Kos' silly objections to bipartisonship that he has expressed recently, the Democratic Majority lives up to its rhetoric and opens up the political process to Republicans such that we can govern with fairness and deliberation. The legacy of Delay and Newt of pushing the minority Party entirely out of the political process must go. By ending that legacy we can return to some good faith legislating in which all voices are taken into consideration as policy is made. Its excellent that some Republicans are excited about the upcoming session, it shows a readiness and a desire to work together accross Party lines when reasonable to achieve shared goals. Does this mean that we should be softening good progressive legislation for the benefit of the minority party or entertaining social security "compromises" that serve to weaken the program? No, it merely means that the opposition party is given a fair chance to participate in the process. A bipartison process does not preclude a partison clash, the Democrats should not blow the positive vibe that Blumenauer described in his diary by acting like Delay and company, they should live up to their rhetoric of opening the process up again after 12 years in the darkness. We cannot be as the Republicans have been, hostile to letting the democratic process work.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Patience My Friends

The health care debate seems to have picked up steam since Ron Wyden introduced a plan for universal health care a few weeks ago. Today, Paul Krugman wayed in on what needs to be done in the short term.
Universal health care, much as we need it, won't happen until there's a change of management in the White House. In the meantime, however, Congress can take an important step toward making our health care system less wasteful, by fixing the Medicare Middleman Multiplication Act of 2003.
What should Congress do? The new Democratic majority is poised to reduce drug prices by allowing -- and, probably, requiring -- Medicare to negotiate prices on behalf of the private drug plans. But it should go further, and force Medicare to offer direct drug coverage that competes on a financially fair basis with the private plans. And it should end the subsidy to Medicare Advantage, forcing H.M.O.'s to engage in fair competition with traditional Medicare.

Conservatives will fight fiercely against these moves. They say they believe in competition -- but they're against competition that might show the public sector doing a better job than the private sector. Progressives should support these moves for the same reason. Ending the subsidies to middlemen, in addition to saving a lot of money, would point the way to broader health care reform.

It seems to me that the calls for a national single payer health care program have been getting much louder the last few weeks, which is good. I agree with Krugman however, and have articulated this before (though perhaps not on this blog). In terms of necessity the time for this is absolutely now, today in a perfect world we should institute national health insurance. However, the institutional standing of our country at this moment does not lend itself to this possibility. Before we can institute such a program, Democrats absolutely have to control the executive branch. If we push too hard, too fast for national health insurance without controlling the executive branch we risk losing the argument at a time when there was never any possibility of passage. Bush cannot hold the veto pen when we pass such a program. That's why I believe Krugman is correct here, ultimately we need national health insurance, but in the meantime we cannot possibly get it signed into law today, so we should chip arround the edges of American health care to make some good positive changes for people that we can get passed into law.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

George Will: The Working Class Arent Human

Sounds pretty rediculous eh? But I've read it twice and that clearly seems to be what George Will is saying, that low wage workers are not in fact people. In a bad article opposing the minimum wage, one of the worst such article I've read not for its position but because it isnt well written or well argued, George Will ended with the following:
But the minimum wage should be the same everywhere: $0. Labor is a commodity; governments make messes when they decree commodities' prices. Washington, which has its hands full delivering the mail and defending the shores, should let the market do well what Washington does poorly. But that is a good idea whose time will never come again.

Labor is a commodity? Now I know a lot of economists like to talk in this language, even a lot of liberal economists do it, but lets think about the assumption being made to make that statement. You don't hear Will or anyone else talking about entrepreneurs as a "commodity," in part because they arent a commodity just as labor isnt, but also because they understand that to treat a person as a commodity is to make them something non human, something that is merely bought and sold, not something to be engaged with, not something to concerned for the well being of. At best maybe the "commodity" argument contends that labor is like a dairy cow, something whose health and life need to be protected only because production stops without it.

Please Mr. Will, you wrote a shitty article to begin with, but please dont reduce your fellow human beings whose well being and general welfare need to be defended to a mere commodity. They are far more important to our country and to our economy than a mere cow. Our fellow human beings have value to us far beyond any capital good, or any good at all for that matter, please dont demean their existence by reducing them to such an unimportant social status, it just shows your readers that you're self concerned and antisocial, and I'm sure you dont want them knowing that.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Keith Ellison and the Koran Controversy

The debate over Keith Ellison's decision to take the oath of office is such a non-issue and silly discussion that I've basically ignored it up until now. The Washington Post today pointed out that Representative Ellison would be sworn in on a copy of the Koran which is an english translation that was owned by Thomas Jefferson. Washington Monthly praised the decision by Ellison saying "Good for Ellison. Sounds like he's a pretty smart cookie," but never really expalaining what about this move makes him a smart cookie. They are correct, this is a smart move, but only because it answers the criticism without actually engaging the argument (an argument that in my view isnt worth engaging).

At the heart of this discussion lies the provision in Article 6 of the Constitution which provides that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." This is one of only two places in the entire Constitution where religionis mentioned, the other of course being within the First Amendment in the establishment and free excercise clauses. The religious test provision dates back to Jefferson's Statute of Religious Freedom adopted by the State of Virginia in 1786 after James Madison introduced the provision. The major provisions of this statute (those mentioned already, religious tests and the first amendment) were included in the United States Constitution. The major proponent of these provisions was undoubtedly Jefferson, who wrote about religious tests in his autobiography:
"[the religious test] was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mohometan, the Hindoo, and the infidel of every denomination."

It seems that we're reliving the same arguments that were settled by 1791 through Mr. Ellison's obvious decision to swear in upon the Koran. Using Thomas Jefferson's copy of the Koran serves as a reminder that our country has already had this fight, and that he has an absolute right to be sworn in on the holy book of his faith, Jefferson and others who supported these provisions felt that we could not afford to become a Christian Nation, after waves of immigrants and the clear reality that the United States is a pluralistic country, now more than ever it is important to uphold Jefferson's vision of what our country would be in this regard. For as a nation of immigrants there is not even any national faith to turn to, far more than in 1786 Americans are Hindus, Muslims, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, and anything else that one can think of. If it was relevent enough to include in the Constitution then, it is far more relevent today. Keith Ellison's decision gives us a subtle reminder of this history as the religious right tries to bring back the days before the Constitution of religious tests.

Monday, January 01, 2007

General 2007 Discussion

Without looking arround very specifically I'm sure nearly every blogger in the universe is doing something similar to this, but I retired for the last week and need to get back in the game, and it strikes me as a good idea to get the first post of 2007 off my chest. This is just a general, uninsightful, semi-meaningless discussion of what awaits us in the coming year.

About 5 American soldiers a day have been dying recently, and it sure seems like every day we find a pile of 50 bodies somewhere in Iraq of the recently murdered. A recent informal panel of academics assembled at 12:10 AM today seemed only able to conclude that its a total mess. Josh Marshall has a good observation, as it seems all there are regarding Iraq are good observations and no good solutions.
If you watch the video of the moments leading up to Saddam Hussein's execution, am I wrong that it bears a certain resemblance to the terrorist snuff films we've watched out of Iraq over the last three years? A dark, dank room. The executioners wear not uniforms of any sort, either civilian or military, but street clothes and ski masks. We now learn that the executioners were apparently taken from the population of southern Iraq, the country's Shi'a heartland, where Saddam's repression was most severe. And in an apt symbolic statement on what the Iraq War is about, two of the executioners who saw Saddam off started hailing Moktada al Sadr in Saddam's face as they prepared to hang him. Remember, al Sadr's Mahdi Army is the force the 'surge' of new US troops is meant to crush next year. That's where we are.

Paul Krugman recently argued that when economists cant agree on which way the indicators are pointing we're probably shifting directions. At the very least it seems we're at risk of a significant downturn. That said, things are looking up for working people relative to how things have been for the last 6 years as Democrats seem prepared to increase the minimum wage, pass an expansion in workers rights to unionize, and to examine possible solutions to the health care crisis.

USC will defeat Michigan today. The PAC 10 will send Arizona, UCLA, UW, Oregon, and Washington State to the NCAA tournament in basketball. I have no clue who will win the World Series except to say that Detroit looks good again and that Santana and Liriano are one hell of a 1-2 punch. The Mariners will finish with roughly a 0.500 record as they produce runs and Felix Hernandez begins to look like a top pitcher, however a lack of depth in the pitching staff creates too many problems for them to be a real contender.

The Democratic Legislature will allow Kulongoski to accomplish something, a nice change from his previous term. It looks like Kulongoski is preparing an aggressive agenda on health care and gay rights, hopefully a coalition can be built to pass some meaningful legislation in these areas among others. The State will enact a plan to build a bypass road arround Dundee, they will toll both the bypass and 99W. Consequently revolution will break out in Dundee requiring the Oregon National Guard to quell the chaos. Unfortunately the Oregon National Guard is in Iraq and unavailable.

Putin will confirm the trend that Russia is currently headed on by declaring himself Czar after inviting the entire Duma to a buffet of polonium laced food. Its ok though because Bush looked into his soul.

Presidential Candidates
Barack Obama will decide not to run for President, towards the end of the year the primary campaigns for 2008 will be kicked into full gear. The Democratic field will include Kucinich, Hillary, Edwards, Biden, Vilsac, and Richardson. The Republican field will include Newt, St McCain, Huckabee, Brownback, and Romney. I wont comment in this post on who either Party will nominate because that happens in 2008.