Jobs and the stimulus

February 27, 2010

Early this week, in an exchange of letters to the editor in the West Chester Daily Local, a regular (as in often) conservative writer named Anthony Oleck responds to praise for the stimulus bill with this letter:

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There’s a big difference

Stephanie Markstein, in her letter to the editor, wrongly asserts that the stimulus package was supported by “the greatest economists in the nation (and) all agree that, not only was it the right thing to do, but the only thing that has kept us out of a full-blown depression.”

You are confusing TARP with the boondoggle stimulus package. Economists mostly agreed that TARP, the bailout for the banks, was necessary to avert a full-fledged financial collapse.

Stimulus is nothing but a piggy bank for pork … plus it has not worked.

Obama said we needed it to keep unemployment below 8 percent, he passed it and unemployment immediately went to over 10 percent.

As far as the “saved jobs” he keeps touting … the stimulus may have saved and certainly did add government jobs, with big benefits and big pensions that we and our children will pay for from here to eternity … those are just the jobs we should be losing to help stimulate our economy and reduce our taxes.

Stimulus is a huge slush fund for Democrats to pay back their union friends.

Anthony J Oleck

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I wrote a response that the Daily Local (understandably) declined to publish, and I want to post a revised version of it here because I think the discussion is worth continuing.

A version very similar to what I sent the DL:

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Only somebody who hates the Democratic Party as much as Anthony Oleck does could believe that: (1) the stimulus is bad because it’s creating good jobs with good benefits; and (2) the cost of private sector versions of those jobs wouldn’t be passed along to consumers anyway.

Oleck’s argument is a strawman at its worst.  At a time when what we need most is to put people to work at decent wages and with decent benefits, complaining about who actually hires them reveals his true agenda–to attack Democrats no matter what they do.

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To be more explicit (since I’m no longer bound by the DL’s length limits…

Stephanie Markstein, to whom Oleck is replying, is actually correct.  The huge majority of economists supported the stimulus.  Those who didn’t were universally conservatives who reject any form of government intervention in anything besides abortion/birth control, and/or prayer/creationism in schools, and/or …  Most critiques of the stimulus from economists without neoconservative axes to grind critiqued it for being too SMALL, not too big, a critique I agree with.

The evidence is clear, and getting clearer every day, that stimulus has in fact kept unemployment from getting worse.  Yes, the number of unemployed has gone up during the Obama presidency, but to pin that on the stimulus is short-sighted at best, disingenuous (read, a lie) at worst.  There was no doubt that the economy hadn’t bottomed out yet (in fact probably still hasn’t).

As I note in my original letter, Oleck reveals his real agenda in his letter.  He doesn’t care the least bit about people; he wants only to attack Democrats.  The simple facts of the matter are that more jobs are better than fewer, and more jobs that pay reasonable salaries and benefits are better than fewer.  The “free market” (read, unregulated orgy of exploitation) has had plenty of chances to hire and pay workers.  Instead, corporations have downsized and off-shored, leaving millions of capable workers in this country in the lurch.  These are the people Oleck trusts to fix the very problem they’ve created, out of the goodness of their hearts?  Ridiculous. How could anybody who cares about people decry the creation of good jobs?

Oleck’s claim that the stimulus was a payoff to labor unions is just a gratuitous cheapshot at unions and the President.  Given the President’s unwillingness to push EFCA; to use recess appointments to put capable members on the NLRB; to push for taxing the very health plans that unions have fought hard to earn; it’s very clear that Obama is no friend of organized labor.  He’s not as hostile to it as most Republicans are, but his track record shows, without question, that he’s the last person who would “pay off” the unions.

After years of neo-conservative babble and hostility towards labor and laborers, Oleck’s position shouldn’t surprise me, and it doesn’t.  However, it’s incumbent upon those of us who actually give a sh*t about anybody but ourselves to lay bare the truth behind these arguments.  I don’t think Oleck is malicious in his intentions, but he (and people like him who articulate these kinds of positions) show without a doubt that they don’t much care about what happens to the huge majority of their fellow citizens.  They don’t much care about people who can’t get work because the “free market” has ruined the job market for its own profit.  They don’t much care about people who have to choose between rent, food, and medical treatment.  They don’t much care about anything except attacking a President whose positions, when seen through the lens of reality, are much closer to their own then they’d ever want to admit.

[UPDATED SUN, 2/28]

WordPress’ “related posts” links sent me to this entry on somebody else’s blog.  It’s an excellent compendium of all the Republicans who voted against the stimulus but then asked for stimulus money.  Across the board, they argue that it’s appropriate to accept money they voted against, without recognizing that their own “principled stands” get compromised in the process.

http://thegreatspot.wordpress.com/2010/02/10/you-lie/

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Obama and Socialism redux

February 10, 2010

Dear Tea Party Activists:

When are you going to get this?  I’m not talking about the Republicans in Washington, DC, or the ones who write the talking points memos.  I’m talking to you, the “activists,” the ones who believe you’re the vanguard of a revolution.

It’s hard to be the vanguard of revolution when you’re such buffoons.  Here’s a simple example of how flagrantly wrong you are–

Barack Obama is not a socialist.  He’s not anti-capitalist.  He doesn’t advocate workers’ controlling the means of production.  He doesn’t advocate government control of much of anything.

Your leadership keeps telling you contradictory things, both of which you continue to repeat willy-nilly.  On the one hand, they tell you Obama is a socialist.  On the other, they tell you he’s in bed with the banks, financial planners, pharmaceutical companies, and insurers.  If your IQ is above 20 or so, you ought to see the problem with that.  It’s NOT POSSIBLE to be both anti-corporate and in bed with corporations at the same time.

I would agree, without a second’s hesitation, that the second claim is true.  Obama is as or more pro-corporate than George W. Bush or any Republican has ever been.

So, before you hit the streets with signs accusing Barack Obama of taking two contradictory positions, open your damn eyes.  This isn’t complicated at all.

UPDATED 3:26 PM 2/10/2010:

As if you needed more evidence showing how pro-corporate Obama is (which obviously you do, or you’d quit calling him a Socialist)–

http://www.alternet.org/economy/145628/is_obama_committing_political_suicide_president_calls_obscene_wall_st._bonuses_%27part_of_the_free_market_system%27

In this article, Obama equates high salaries for talented professional athletes with large bonuses for “savvy” bankers.


Working and hungry: a challenge to conservative dogma

November 29, 2009

In this morning’s (Sunday) NYT, the following article runs–

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/29/us/29foodstamps.html?_r=1&hp

Full of pathos appeals, coupled with some interesting statistics, the article tracks increasing use of food stamps across the country.  In and of itself, that’s not terribly surprising.  In a difficult economy, people need help buying food.

What I found surprising and worth mulling over are a couple of facts–

1.  Growth in food stamp use is about the same in the 600 counties where it’s historically been highest, and the 600 counties where it’s historically been lowest.  That is, use of foodstamps is increasing rapidly in places where it hasn’t before.  The article isn’t terribly precise about this next point, but suggests a couple of times that the second batch of counties tend to more conservative than the first, which means that reliance on government support is (again) penetrating into places where conservative dogma says it shouldn’t.

2.  It’s not just poor people who are using food stamps.  The article makes very clear that working people and families at many levels of the economic hierarchy need support–job losses, housing bust, medical expenses, etc, are all contributing to hunger.  At the very least, the data challenges the conservative wisdom that only lazy people rely on government support.  Of course, anybody who’s paid a lick of attention for the last 30 years has known that’s crap, a fabrication of the Reagan campaign in order to fan poor white people’s indignation, while at the same time keeping them from doing much to help themselves.

3.  Notable are a couple of interviews with self-identified conservatives who are accepting government support for (what sounds like) the first time, although depending on how you define “government support,” you could argue that they’ve been accepting it their entire lives.  It’s good to see at least one of the interviewees acknowledge that food stamps aren’t just for poor, lazy people.  One of them says something like, “These are people I could be having lunch with.”  The classism of that aside, at least she recognizes something of value.  Somebody makes the point that poor people are often just as resistant to government aid as others, which was helpful to see.  But the one that really gets me is the guy who, with one hand reaches out to grab the money, and with the other slaps people who take it.  Hypocrite.  And the guy from the Heritage Foundation who (shockingly) pulls out the example of the person who lives in an expensive home and drives a Mercedez, and generalizes from her to the entire world.

If one person abusing a system were enough to call for the destruction of the system, then the Bush administration would be responsible for having smoked the Constitution; Blackwater’s rapes and murders in Iraq would be enough to destroy the US military.  And on and on.  The double-standard here is so Orwellian that it’s hard to address (thank you, John Birch, for legitimizing this kind of political discourse).

At the end of the day, what this article demonstrates is that everything conservatives say about government aid is wrong.  The system isn’t fraught with people abusing it–that’s nothing but a lie.  The system doesn’t enable laziness–it feeds working people who can’t feed themselves because our pro-corporate, anti-worker economic policies have utterly failed them.  Self-righteousness shouldn’t dictate accepting hunger as a condition of living in the wealthiest nation in the world. And conservatives who scream bloody murder about government support at the same time they accept it need to think a little harder about what they’re screaming.  I won’t argue, as some others do, that they should refuse to accept help.  It’s not the government’s job to decide who’s worthy of care based on how they exercise their First Amendment rights.  It is, however, deeply troubling that some of these folks really seem not to understand the problem here–that if they win their arguments at Tea Parties, the very support they rely on for survival will go away.


The truth about EFCA

March 25, 2009

Again and again (and again and again) and again…

People who oppose unions and pro-labor forces argue against the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act on the grounds that EFCA is “undemocratic.”  Their contention, in simplest terms, is that EFCA erases secret ballots from the unionizing process, thus allowing union organizers to intimidate workers into supporting unionizing efforts.

This claim, and all its variations, is simply wrong.  I won’t go so far as to say the people who make it are lying, although some of them clearly are.

What’s wrong with it?

1.  EFCA does NOT eliminate secret ballots.  It offers an alternative to secret ballots.  Workers who prefer a secret ballot process can have one.  If a group of workers indicate they’d rather have a secret ballot, so be it.  What’s hard about that?  Nothing, except that it inconveniences anti-labor people who want to pretend like they care about democracy.

2.  EFCA does NOT make workers more vulnerable to intimidation.  Under the current system, when management gets wind of an organizing effort, they can harass and intimidate workers with impunity.  Managers can fire people, change their hours and benefits, redesign job descriptions and expectations…  In some cases (Starbucks and Walmart are notorious for this), companies have SHUT DOWN stores and fired EVERYBODY because the organizing effort was going too well.

EFCA would make workers safer from this kind of intimidation in two ways.  The obvious one is that, along with allowing card-checks as an alternative secret ballots, it immensely strengthens anti-intimidation enforcement.  If nothing else, putting an end to the horrific intimidation that happens under the current system is utterly and completely essential to workplace democracy.

The less obvious reason is that it’s actually easier for management to intimidate and harass workers when they can be shadowy about it.  Because the current system doesn’t leave much of a paper trail–even when workers cast secret ballots because they’re anonymous–it’s difficult to prove that management is harassing individuals because of their union support.  The card-check, by making union support visible and public, would actually protect workers because any harassment of a card-signer would obviously be a result of their support.

I have yet to see a single union member or organizer oppose EFCA.  Given how fractious the US Labor movement is in this era, you’d expect some opposition within the movement if anybody actually thought it was a bad idea.

Instead, the only opposition comes from groups who either are managers, or are bought and sold by managers.  Every argument I’ve seen against EFCA begins with the claim that the new system would be undemocratic, but quickly shifts into an argument about why unions are bad.  All of which adds up to one simple fact–the opposition to EFCA isn’t about democracy.  It’s about stopping unions from forming.  If the people who make these arguments actually cared about workers and working conditions, they’d AT LEAST support the part of the law that strengthens anti-intimidation laws.  But I haven’t seen a single one of them discuss that part of the bill either.  They hide behind an empty notion of democracy in order to fight against unionization.

I’ve changed my mind.  They are lying.  Every last one of them.  Perhaps some people simply don’t understand either the law or anything about unions, but that’s no excuse.

Contact your legislators and demand their vote for EFCA.


More on “class warfare”

March 4, 2009

Asking people who have more money and/or more wealth (not the same thing, technically) to pay more taxes isn’t class warfare.  It’s not even “redistribution” of wealth, which is much less violent than class warfare.

Class warfare isn’t increasing taxes on the rich.  Class warfare is forcibly taking wealth away from the wealthy, violently.  It might even entail forcing them from homes and opulent offices into the street; it might even entail killing and injuring.  Warfare is warfare, after all, and one of the problems with this debate is that it trivializes the notion of war.  If the poor and middle class really wanted to conduct class warfare, you’d see blood in the streets.  Instead, what President Obama proposes is a slight increase in tax rates.  How that qualifies as “warfare” is beyond me.

Asking people with more wealth to shoulder more of the social burden is, at its core, a call for people who have more to do more.  Most people with wealth already, at least they would say, do this anyway in the form of charitable contributions, philanthropy, etc.  So why is paying more taxes such anathema to them, if they’re already willing to spend the money anyway?  The answer to that (and yes, I’m speculating wildly here since I’m not a wealthy person) is that they currently get to write off charitable contributions from their taxes, and find other ways to mask their financial interests as charity.  There’s no other explanation that makes much sense.  If the wealthy want to help the less fortunate, then they should be willing to do so even if it costs them more of their wealth.

So let’s take this “class warfare” rhetoric and put it where it belongs–nowhere.  There’s no revolution happening here.  Barack Obama supports hegemonic global corporate capitalism as much as George W. Bush and his gang did.  George W. Bush, misguided as he and his cabal were, would likely have wanted to alleviate suffering as much as Barack Obama does–at least in some sense of the term “suffering.”  The stances just aren’t that different, and I’m sick of hearing conservatives go completely haywire trying to argue that Obama is some kind of radical.

I wish.