Economics, Politics and Folly

Let’s be blunt, shall we? The Republicans are committed to winning elections and regaining the majority no matter how much harm they do to the country making that happen. When in power, the republicans govern like drunken sailors. We get unfunded wars, tax cuts, corporate social programs like Medicare Part D and deregulation that allows for the possibility of one economic bubble after another. Bubble economies (think the dot.com frenzy, followed by the home refi and ownership society craziness) allow for the appearance of wealth generation and create annual bonuses for bankers that are only slightly taxed.

Not that the Democrats are much better. They get an opportunity once in a blue moon when the country manages to overcome the propaganda of Fox, Comcast, Clear Channel et al and the vagaries of vote-counting systems that have no mandated papertrail to assure integrity. The Clinton era of 1992-1994 and the Obama era 2008-2010 are the two times that has happened and look how those two year stints turned out.

When they are out of power (which is most of the time) the Democrats do better than Republicans do when they are out of power. They do not seize every opportunity to make things go wrong for country for political gains in the next election, they appear to function somewhat responsibly, working with the party in power to negotiate legislation and policy toward the mainstream, but the upshot is the political situation we have today, where US citizens and soldiers who have been convicted of no crime are tortured in the brig by deprivation of contact, by systematic humiliation, and more in the hope of breaking the mind and spirit of an individual. This will break most of us. Human beings are social animals. Where State governments work to strip unions of collective bargaining power.

All of this negotiating and compromising creates a meek Democratic party that cannot remember its own principles when the stars align to give them a majority. The party is so unfamiliar with governing from a majority position that it can’t figure out that the solution to an economic downturn of the scale of the great depression or the great recession is keynesian economics directed at job creation and infrastructure, not the stabilization of the economic status quo. Nothing is too big to fail as the Democrats have proven in 2008-2010 as they governed themselves and the country further into the ditch as they protected financial institutions that are the fount of electoral politics. They were completely inept in their understanding and response to the ultimate SCOTUS corporate decision – Citizens United. There were legislative fixes that should have been in place even before the Supreme Corp announced its unsurprising decision.

And health care? Yes, health care needs fixing. The system we have is a private enterprise mess. The health care fix is in moving to single payor. This isn’t rocket science. In the absence of the fortitude and votes to go to single payor, you have to keep it on the table in the form of a public option or you might as well not waste the time and effort on the reform battle. Sure, it’s a good thing to have new rules that allow “children” up to age 26 to remain on their parents’ insurance policies and to reduce corporate profit-taking by rescission and pre-existing condition sleight of hand, but 2008-2010 screamed for a job program, for the bankruptcy court cramdown solution to the housing mortgage crisis, for an all-out push to reduce our energy dependence on foreign oil and look what we got instead.

It’s not too late for the Democratic party to learn how to lead, even from a minority position, but they have to be ready next time to speak the truth. We need to raise taxes and regulate the economy and industry. We have to be true to our founding principles regarding human rights instead of bending to the pull of commerce and profit.

Set Bradley Manning free. Put Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld in jail (and ct scan to determine once and for all if they are human or reptile). Stop the wars. Bring the troops home, close down at least half of our foreign bases. Reinstate the tax structure that existed under President Nixon, if not the one that existed under President Eisenhower.

Johnson, Sanders, McKenna: Blacks Commit More Crimes

Since we are on the subject of Rob McKenna, there is something that has been weighing on me for a while that I’d like to get off my chest.

Last fall, Washington Supreme Court Justice James Johnson and former Justice Richard Sanders caused quite a stir when they denied racial discrimination was a factor in prison population race disparity.

Earlier in the year, during a KZOK radio interview, Attorney General Rob McKenna appeared to be on the same page with Johnson and Sanders when, in response to a direct question about prison race disparity, he answered: “unfortunately, our prison population is disproportionate based on race, but disproportionality isn’t in and of itself an indication of racial discrimination.” That was all he had to say on the matter.

The comment was particularly troubling in light of the context of the interview. The subject was Farrakhan v. Gregoire, a case in which the 9th Circuit Appeals Court ruled that systemic racial bias within the criminal justice system caused our State’s felony disenfranchisement law to be in conflict with the Voting Rights Act. That ruling, which was overturned on appeal, temporarily granted voting rights to incarcerated felons.

During the trial, plaintiffs relied heavily on two University of Washington studies that found that racial discrimination was evident throughout our criminal justice system. Specifically, they found that blacks are more likely to be investigated, searched, charged, held over for trial, convicted, and given harsher sentences.

These studies were not in dispute. Defense accepted the conclusions and presented no evidence to the contrary. Instead they argued that even though systemic racial discrimination exists, the Voting Rights Act is nevertheless inapplicable to the State’s felony disenfranchisement provision. McKenna won that argument on appeal. (The court ruled that inmates would individually have to prove they were victims of racial bias in order for the VRA to apply and their voting rights restored.)

Armed with the facts that racial discrimination plagues our criminal justice system at all levels, and asked a specific question about racial disparity in prison, Attorney General McKenna not only failed to acknowledge the problem, he implied it does not exist.

Which means we can forget about making much progress towards ending racial discrimination in the criminal justice system so long as Rob McKenna is Attorney General. Or Governor.

Goldy on the REAL Rob McKenna and progressive media

At the 41st LD Dems’ meeting, Goldy (David Goldstein) spoke about the REAL Rob McKenna and about how progressives can win.

State Attorney General Rob McKenna is a personable guy who presents himself as a moderate and who attends civic events everywhere. But his speeches and actions show that McKenna is deeply anti-union and anti-choice. McKenna’s first Supreme Court case was against the teacher’s union. In a speech obtained by FUSE, McKenna is heard telling Snohomish County Republicans that he wants to break the unions. He called public employee unions “dangerous.”

The biggest bogeymen for Republicans are unions and trial lawyers because they fund the Democratic Party.

The media are in love with McKenna — “big, sloppy wet kiss in love with him.” And though his likely opponent, Jay Inslee, is a good speaker and campaigner, McKenna will have advantages, including the probable endorsement of every major newspaper, including the Seattle Times, whose libertarian editorial board has moved increasingly to the right in recent years. They believe deeply in their hearts that we need Republicans in the governor’s mansion and legislature. But they sometimes will endorse Democrats (e.g., Suzan Del Bene) when the Republicans say and do things that make the press look bad.

Of course, McKenna opposed the Affordable Health Care for America Act, and was, in fact, one of the first state attorney generals to oppose it. In interviews he says he opposes only two provisions, but, in fact, the petition that he helped write (and that a US judge agreed with) declared the entire bill unconstitutional.

McKenna would end up being another Governor Walker (of Wisconsin).

Winning King County is key to winning state wide races, since it has 1/3 of the states population and since the 1/3 of the population east of the mountains is solidly Republican. Goldy thinks we have to hold McKenna to 42% of the vote in King County. That won’t be easy.

See Goldy’s article

Could Washington Be the Next Wisconsin?

A Sneak Peek into the Anti-Labor Administration of Governor Rob McKenna

Goldy said: no matter how disappointed Democrats may be with President Obama, it’s important to support him (or not oppose him) in 2012, so that down ticket Dems can win via his coattails. (This generated some commotion and finger-pointing in the crowd.) He acknowledged that in the state legislature there are some Democrats in name only — I won’t name names — but his emphasis is still on electing Democrats.

Goldy is working at the The Stranger/slog, where he’s given freedom. He spoke about Horse’s Ass in the past tense (I suggested it would have succeeded better if there had been more people controlling it). He said the Stranger could possibly be sold. Who knows?

During the question-and-answer period I asked about how to build a successful progressive media. His response was amazingly similar to my analysis in the proposal. He mentioned “competition” between advocacy groups. I asked him about the WA Liberals initiative to build a lefty online blog/website. He said that it’s hard to make a blog succeed — witness what happened to WashBlog. For a blog to succeed you need strong editorial leadership and a distinctive voice. You need writers with pizazz and chutzpah: snarkiness, like David Goldstein.  Still, I said that OpEdNews could be a model of a successful blog, one whose success is due less to a guiding voice than to cooperation from multiple individuals.

It takes only a few good, committed people to succeed.

Goldy wants to build not a blog but a REAL (online) newspaper, with hired professional staff. He figures it would cost a couple million dollars — not a lot of money, really, given the money available from, say, unions and lawyers and some rich benefactors. But getting various lefty advocacy groups and unions and constituents to cooperate and share power is tough.

Goldy says there’s not much left of a media anymore and people have pretty much given on pretending that a news source can be fair and balanced. That is, people expect partisan news and views. So, it’s OK to build a partisan lefty online newspaper. But most people want to read the sports page; only weirdos like us political activists read the editorial page first. So how can it work?

As I said, I just want the left to build, first, a blog and opinion site for its internal consumption.

With redistricting and with the addition of a 10th Congressional district, the boundaries of the 41st legislative district may change. Mercer Island may move to the 37th LD — which may affect local political races.

The topic came up of Bill Gates, Sr. and Jr. Though Bill Gates, Sr. is a good progressive, his son seems interested mostly in making money and  in giving it away (though not always with selfless motives).   Someone said that they once sat near Bill Gates, Jr. at a dinner, and Gates rocked forward and backward in his chair, like an autistic kid.   Does Gates have Asperger’s?  A lot of programmers do, I believe. (I’m a programmer myself, and it’s true: many programmers are lacking in social skills, and many are libertarians, as discussed here.)   Goldy asked: could Microsoft have succeeded without the foundation and help of government services and protections?   As discussed here, government is like the operating system of a computer: without it things don’t run.

 

Overexertion: 27% of the Cost of Workers Compensation

Washington SB5566, passed in the State Senate on March 5,  has implications far beyond the actual benefits paid to injured individuals.  In a previous column in this forum I discussed how this bill could scam unsuspecting workers with inadequate legal representation out of receiving benefits they deserve.  This report reveals the enormous costs being run up because workers are under pressure to a degree that leads to the filing of injury claims.

The data on the costs to workers compensation based on accident type is located in this spreadsheet:

http://lni.wa.gov/claimsins/files/datastatistics/dataanalysis/inetsfclaimssoc2kaccidenttype.xls

Sorting this data by accident type and summing for the overexertion accident type, the result is $178,166,040.  The sum for all accident types is $658,060,979.  Overexertion represented 27% of the cost of workers compensation.

Employees are either forced to do more than they can handle or motivated by fear of losing their jobs or competition for performance review to overexert themselves to the point of injury. Weakening workers compensation will only allow this type of abuse to continue.

Reducing workers compensation benefits will allow the problem of workplace injuries to persist.  It will provide a disincentive to design work assignments in a manner that is protective of health and safety.

It seems that the shorter work week and longer vacation allotments common in Europe provide the dual benefits of spreading employment throughout the population and lowering unemployment while
avoiding the workers compensation costs resulting from overexertion.

In order to lower the costs in the state workers compensation system it is necessary to address the problem of the pressure placed on employees to overwork to the point where they ruin their health and have to file injury claims.

Remembering Rachel Corrie

It’s March 16th and my life takes place in Olympia to a large degree. Rachel was an Olympia kid. I think she was a remarkable kid who grew up to be a remarkable young woman. I run into so many remarkable people around Olympia, so many wonderful kids, adults. I hope you have a similar experience wherever you spend your days.

But it’s March 16th and today, more than some days, Rachel is on my mind. Sending my love and support to Craig and Cindy today. The death of a child is a devastation.

from the Rachel Corrie Foundation:

March 16th, the 8th Anniversary of

Rachel Corrie’s Stand in Gaza

Wednesday, March 16th, we mark the eighth anniversary of Rachel Corrie’s stand in Rafah to protect the home of a Gazan family and for the right of all Palestinians to be free of occupation.

Here in Rachel’s hometown, we will mark the day with an event emphasizing community-building, education, and action – all key to Rachel’s organizing here and beyond. We will continue a tradition of sharing a potluck meal, music, and spoken word and will hear from Cindy and Craig Corrie about the continuing civil trial in Israel in Rachel’s case. We will focus on our friends in Gaza who, according to the The UN Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) continue to suffer death, injury, and severe restriction on imports, exports, and freedom of movement. We will continue our demands for an end to the collective punishment of the 1.7 million residents of Gaza and to the blockade and siege.

See the OCHA Report Here.

Are libertarians sociopaths?

There’s a discussion on the Washington Liberals yahoo group about the heartlessness of libertarian philosophy.

The question came up: are libertarians sociopaths? Or are they just confused?

I too have called libertarianism “sociopathic.” Some of them probably have a deficit of empathy. But I’m sure most of them are pretty regular people, loving parents, more or less kind to their neighbors, etc. So, while the ideology is sociopathic, I’m not sure the followers are sociopaths.

In “The Banality of Evil” Hannah Arendt blamed the Nazi atrocities on bureaucratic thinking and mob psychology, more than on outright sadism and heartlessness. Evil lurks in all our hearts, kinda. And most sins are sins of omission, not commission.

In the American Prospect, E.J. Dionne, Jr wrote, “In 2010, Democrats lost white working-class voters by 30 points. In 2006 and 2008, they lost them by only 10 points.” This shows the success of conservative anti-government propaganda, as well as the success of their emphasis on wedge issues like guns, gays, and religion.

I think the libertarians get stuck on a couple of ideas that make some sense: people should mostly take care of themselves, and government is often corrupt and inefficient.

My response to the first idea is: some people can’t take care of themselves, and, besides, by banding together for certain services and protections, everyone can benefit (the “common good”, the tragedy of the commons), as I discussed in several of my articles.

My response to the second idea is that if government is corrupt, then fix it: make it less corrupt. Also, private entities (corporations and individuals) are the ones who corrupt government,; and corporations (e.g., health insurance companies) are often more inefficient than the government. Government-run health care systems in Europe provide higher quality care than America’s market based system, at a fraction of the cost. Without government, there’d be other sorts of corruption and inefficiency.

Ayn Rand is partly to blame, with her seductive idea that selfishness benefits everyone and her glorification of success.

A libertarian acquaintance said that Governor Gregoire’s altruistic hope to help the poor people does more harm than good. “When Christie tries to save the unproductive people of the world she drags down the productive people.” Pure, hard-nosed conserva-think.

I notice that a lot of young professionals are libertarians. I work as a programmer and I know that many software developers, self-made (so they think) men in their 20s and 30s, are libertarians.

I once was attending a meeting of King County Democrats in a coffee shop in Seattle. In another room there was a gathering of young people. The average age of that group was maybe 30. The average age of our Democratic group was maybe 60. I asked the younger group what the meeting was about. “We’re supporters of Ron Paul,” they said. My heart sank.

One libertarian said that the government has no more business educating our kids than they do forcing a religion on them. Wow, such hostility to cooperation!

Libertarians get SOME things right. The same libertarian guy who criticized Gregoire for her altruism went on to say: “Now if you want to identify true evil in govt, that is easy, look into the eyes of Bush, Gore, Rumsfeld, Kissenger [sic], etc.”

Driving is like smoking

Hey Drivers, Your filth fouls my lungs. Take a bus or carpool.

Twenty years ago, smoking was permitted in most restaurants and public buildings. Nowadays, smokers have accepted that they have no right to force nonsmokers to put up with secondhand smoke.

In a similar way, society needs to make the transition to a mindset in which driving a single-occupancy, non-electric passenger car is viewed as selfish, anti-social behavior.

Driving causes traffic congestion and noise. It contributes to global warming. It worsens the trade deficit. It makes America dependent on Middle Eastern oil kingdoms that have been breeding grounds for terrorists. It corrupts our foreign policy. And it pollutes the air, harming people’s health.

Recent medical studies show that people living within several hundred meters of major freeways, like I-405 and I-90, have reduced lung function and increased risk of cardiovascular disease. (See for example,  Auto Pollution’s Carbon Particulates Harm Kids’ Lung Function.) So, if you drive a car, you are harming people’s health.

We need to take drastic steps to encourage the use of public transportation, bicycles, carpooling and telecommuting and to discourage our harmful dependence on passenger cars.

Report on the 41st LD Town Hall meeting: budget cuts bite

Saturday afternoon I attended the 41st Legislative District  Town Hall meeting at Mercer Island High School.  State Sen. Steve Litzow (R),  Rep. Judy Clibborn (D), and Rep. Marcie Maxwell (D) spoke.  There was a huge turnout, despite the rain.

Most of the time was sent on questions and answers.  Almost all the questions concerned the painful budget cuts, especially with regard to education and social services.   Most of the questioners asked the legislators to preserve funding for education. A few mentioned social services (for example, programs for disabled people).  But one angry old guy complained about being “taxed to death” and about waste in government programs.  A few people made pleas for construction projects (jobs bills) or other special interest legislation.

Photo of Mercer Island Town Hall meeting for the 41st LD
Mercer Island Town Hall meeting for the 41st LD

The legislators repeatedly acknowledged that the cuts are severe and painful (“cutting bone, not just fat”). They acknowledged, when asked, that some of the cuts will cost more in the long run (“penny wise, pound foolish”).  They acknowledged that the state constitution says education is the paramount duty of the state (a fact that I’m sure angers conservatives, who are eager to defund public education).  But their hands are tied,  they say, due to the voters’ rejection of I-1098 (the high-earner’s income tax initiative) and due to their approval of I-1053 (Tim Eyman’s initiative requiring a 2/3 super-majority  for legislators to raise revenue).

One of the legislators — I forget who — said that most voters were surely unaware, when they voted for I-1053, that it makes it very difficult to eliminate tax breaks from the tax code.  There are over 500 of them, some maybe worthy, most special interest giveaways to entities like Boeing, out-of-state banks, and owners of private aircraft.

Organizations like Economic Opportunity Institute have valuable papers explaining the desirability of eliminating tax breaks.

In response to the angry old guy’s rant about waste in the state budget, Republican  Steve Litzow said that there’s very little left that can be cut.  This from a Republican!  Republican Congressman Dave Reichert too admitted, during a forum in Newcastle, that the Bush tax cuts were bad. But when Republicans campaign and vote, they favor regressive views.  Maybe it’s the system. Litzow also mentioned the regressiveness of the current tax system in Washington State.

The issue came up whether state workers are over-compensated (benefits). A legislator pointed out that their staff got pay cuts and furloughs, so it’s not true that only private sector workers have sacrificed.

Rep. Clibborn recommended that everyone not succumb to a doom-and-gloom mentality. Despite the budget problems, Washington State’s vibrant economy is still the envy of the nation, she said.

There were so many questions from the crowd that many people, including me, didn’t get a chance to speak. I wanted to ask about I-1053, which is almost certainly unconstitutional, since the state constitution says that a majority of legislators is sufficient to pass a bill.  And I wanted to counter the angry old anti-tax guy by pointing out that taxes are lower than they’ve been in decades; Washington State has perhaps the most regressive tax system in the country; the concentration of wealth has been increasing; rich get bailouts and subsidies while they ship jobs and profits overseas; you pay more in taxes than some huge corporations; etc, etc.

After the event, I chatted with one of the legislative aides (who are generally very knowledgeable about how things work).  I asked about the prospects for getting I-1053 declared unconstitutional. He said that both the state House and the Senate would have to pass the bill, then it would be challenged in court.  But Lieutenant Governor Brad Owen is a stumbling block.  He would almost certainly refuse to approve of the bill. Though he’s a Democrat, he’s a centrist Democrat.

Sigh.

This Sightline Daily article BP & Eyman’s I-1053: Unconstitutional has an excellent analysis of I-1053:

Unfortunately, the state Supreme Court is wary about ruling on such measures, because they concern the operating procedures of the legislature. The Supreme Court tries to keeps its nose out of the legislative branch’s affairs, as state constitutional law scholar Hugh Spitzer explained to Crosscut. The justices have twice dismissed on technical grounds challenges to minority rule initiatives. Most recently, they regarded a case brought by the Senate Majority Leader as a procedural dispute with the state Lieutenant Governor (the senate’s presiding officer, who chose to enforce I-960). Whether the Lieutenant Governor will continue to disregard the constitution, and whether the Supreme Court will allow him to do so, is anyone’s guess.

On the merits, the central legal issue is straightforward: Even in conservative Alaska, the state supreme court rejected a minority-rule ballot measure as unconstitutional, because it tried to change the constitution without going through the required steps.

In fact, Washington is the only state in the nation where minority rule has been imposed through a regular law. (In 16 states, citizens have voted to amend their constitutions to enact minority rule on votes that increase (certain) taxes. These constitutional amendments were undemocratic and ill-conceived, but at least they were legally enacted.)

The article Will the Courts Overturn I-1053 explains how to overturn I-1053. “But Lieutenant Governor Brad Owen, who has presided in the state senate since 1996, has consistently enforced minority rule, under each variation that voters have approved… Mr. Spitzer says that if and when the members of the court finally have the question squarely before them, they will almost certainly rule I-1053 unconstitutional.”

But this seems unlikely to happen, due to the voters’ near 2 to 1 rejection of tax increases and due to the legislators’ and governor’s desire to follow the will of the voters, however misguided. One of the 41st LD legislators mentioned that Governor Gregoire asked the legislators not to raise taxes — something I’ve heard that she said earlier too.

I asked the angry old anti-tax guy, “Excuse me. Do you mind telling me whether you consider yourself middle class?”  He said yes. I described the regressiveness of the tax system here. He retorted that real estate taxes especially are high. “But I-1098 would have shifted some of the tax burden to the rich.”  He replied by describing how government spends $25 million on art — it’s a requirement that construction projects devote 1/2 of 1 percent of funding on art. He said that even the garbage dump has art.

A fundamental problem is that, due to disinformation and marketing, the middle class continues to vote against their own self-interest.