Supreme Court Moving Left? Not Yet!

US_Supreme_Court_3_CNA_4_17_15Madison   The Supreme Court ended its term at the end of June, so we can stop holding our breath, but we can hardly celebrate. The Martin-Quinn scores are named after a professors at the University of Michigan and University of California at Berkeley and attempt to use the Justices voting patterns to determine ideology. They claim that the recent term showed an ongoing pattern of the Roberts Court towards the left. Perhaps we’ve become so desperate for good news that we’re now willing to grasp at any straws?

This so-called drift does not include the decisions in the widely heralded Texas abortion case where the court by a 5-3 decision threw out the specious decision by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upholding the Texas legislatures transparent attempt to roll boulders in the way of women attempting to gain an abortion in that state using the veneer of adding additional health safety requirements. The court saw through that attempt, now widely copied by many other states. In a simple fact-based decision, they noted that there was no proof that the additional health standards were about protecting women and noted that many other procedures that were much more dangerous did not have to meet these burdensome hospital privilege and surgical operating room standards. There was no poetry in the decision, just the facts, ma’am. Roberts and Alito dissented on procedural grounds without contesting the facts, further locking the door on these conservative efforts to control women. Was this a liberal-left decision or simply the majority crying “gotcha” at such obvious overreaching?

The Court also drew a finer line around what accounts for corruption from political figures versus a wink-and-nod, all part of the game exchange at the favor bank of political commerce by vacating a conviction of the former governor of Virginia. He and his wife had taken a boatload of gifts from a contractor, but at the time there was no law in Virginia forbidding it, no matter how unseemly. The Court in an opinion written by the Chief Justice said, essentially, let the good times roll, if someone has money and power, that’s the point of politics and they can ask and receive favors and assistance without it being a bribe as long as the politician didn’t directly interfere with the governmental process in offering such help. Is this a liberal-left decision or just a free pass for the one-percenters to get-and-grab at politics along the Trump transactional model while someone down the line can get life in prison for five-fingering a bag of candy?

Meanwhile we have the split decisions without a full Court like the one that left union-shop dues provisions alive on one hand and re-criminalized more than four million immigrants on the other. Those were cases of dodging a bullet and taking one on pretty fierce ideological lines. No movement there. Four-on-four hard-court, no fouls game on the biggest court we have. And, how about the erosion of Fourth Amendment rights on search and seizure by police which ignores everything we are learning in modern society about an institution well-armed and out of control. Yikes!

Speculation about the current nominee-in-waiting, Judge Merrick Garland, puts him as slightly left of Justice Stephen Breyer and right of Justice Elena Kagan. Hardly a move to open the envelope wider or go out of the box. None of this seems like a move towards real justice, but just more middle-of-the-road, keep the peace and let the establishment rest easy. It seems clear we have less the rule of law and equal justice and just more pure politics covered in a black robe.

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Private Equity Sabotaging Working Communities

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the map is a few years old

Madison   Auction off tens of thousands of homes during the housing crisis to private equity companies without rules or wherefores other than to offload the problems, despite knowing that private equity operations only care about their bottom line, what could go wrong? Not surprisingly, it turns out, just about everything, and nowhere is this truer than when the private equity bunch is led by Lone Star and the robber baron of our time, John Grayken, the American-born pirate who renounced his citizenship in order to pay less taxes, and now pretends to live in Ireland.

The New York Times is finally taking a look at the disaster that has followed the government’s policy of cut-and-run on the housing crisis and found the biggest culprits were Lone Star and its servicer, Caliber, Nationstar, also with Texas roots, and of course Blackstone, which has come out of this bottom feeding crisis as the largest private landlord in the country. Private equity firms are money machines and make it clear that if they make more money foreclosing, they won’t hesitate. Most hardly participated in the HAMP, housing modification program, to try to allow families to keep their homes, and because the government turned the whole modification process over to banks and financiers, there was no requirement that they do so.

Neither of course was there any obligation under the Community Reinvestment Act to benefit lower income, racially diverse communities and not discriminate in lending. As the Times reports:

But much of this investment has not benefited poor neighborhoods. Banks are expected, under the Community Reinvestment Act, to help meet the credit needs of low-income neighborhoods in areas they serve. Private equity has no such obligation. The idea is that banks should follow an implicit social contract: In return for government loans and other support, they are expected to serve a community’s needs. Private equity, which unlike the banks does not borrow money from the government, is answerable to its investors. Those investors include some of the nation’s largest pension plans, whose members — teachers and police officers among them — may support improvements to such lower-income areas.

And, that’s putting it mildly.

Private equity makes no bones about any of this either.

 

Lone Star explains to investors one way it profits from delinquent loans. Lone Star’s mortgage subsidiary will lower a borrower’s monthly payment if “the net present value of a modification is greater than the net present value of a foreclosure, loan sale or short sale.” Translation: If foreclosing on a homeowner is the most profitable option, Lone Star is likely to foreclose.

Not surprisingly, the new bosses for the housing market are much like the old bosses, except worse. Paperwork is misplaced or disappears. Homeowners can’t get responses or assistance. Modifications come too late to prevent foreclosures, and the beat goes on.

Pretty simply when you turn over the chicken house to the fox, you don’t just have a problem, you have no chickens, and in this case all of us, especially in low-and-moderate income communities are the chickens, clucking all the way to the slaughter.

Think I’m exaggerating? Here’s a perfect example from the Times on the vicious circle of predatory exploitation that Nationstar is able to practice directly and through its subsidiaries:

The whirl of transactions illustrates how Nationstar can control nearly every stage of the mortgage process, posing potential conflicts of interest as it earns fees along the way. Nationstar collects bills and, when people don’t pay, can foreclose on homes. Nationstar earns fees auctioning those homes through Homesearch. Ads on Homesearch, which is now known online as Xome.com, direct bidders to Greenlight. Nationstar can then collect on the new mortgage, bringing the process full circle.

As banks have pulled out of housing and private equity has swooped in, low and moderate communities are also being starved of needed investment, which also feeds into yet another cycle or deteriorating conditions for our communities. What’s the government doing about all of this? Not much. There’s talk of some new regulations by HUD, but who knows at this point, that may be too little and it’s definitely too late. Some Congressmen are moaning about their folks and foreclosures, but most of this is wishing-and-a-hoping. Looks like we’re headed for the wall again, unless there’s big change in the relationships between Washington and Wall Street, and that’s not looking so good this minute either.

Source: The New York Times

Source: The New York Times

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Leaders Talk Politics and the Need to Hunker Down

DSCN1367-1Baton Rouge   The last session of the Local 100 annual leadership conference looked at politics. The Local 100 leadership from Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas is largely African-American and Hispanic and numbers more women than men. Eleven of the more than thirty in attendance were over sixty-years old. Talking to members about how they had voted in their state primaries, there weren’t any Trumpeteers in this bunch. The vast majority had ended up pulling the lever for Hillary Clinton, but Bernie Sanders had significant support as well, and the Clinton voters were sympathetic to those voters and tended to argue a more realpolitik rationale in troubled times. There was little enthusiasm or passion. Most saw it as a job to be done, and they had done their duty.

On the other hand, as the conversation tilted to November and showdown, there was deep conviction and some real excitement, not so much about Hillary, as about beating Donald Trump. They thought there was work to do and the task was unambiguous. There was no talk of “sitting it out,” but only commitments that they were “all in.” Trump had put the fear of God in the union leaders, and it translated into battle cries.

Admittedly, this is hardly a random survey. These are all leaders with long experience fighting for their rights on the job, so none hesitate when faced with another fight in another forum.

It was interesting how closely people were already following the race and the polls. Part of their motivation was to see if there was a way to pile up the score sufficiently around the country to flip the Senate and provide some margin for getting some real work done and some change from the Supreme Court to the Congress. One impact of the Senate’s refusal to hold hearings on the nomination particularly, as judged by these African-America union leaders, is that it was seen as unprecedented and therefore arguably just the latest example of a racial insult only happening because there was a black President. Who could say otherwise? The outcome of the Senate Republicans’ refusal seems to be labeling the Supreme Court as partisan as Congress, rather than a neutral administration of justice. The legacy of these actions will cast deep shadows over the future.

A chance to flip some seats in the Senate in the telling of most was less about payback and more about the chance to actually make change. In looking at the intersection of worker and community issues, the leaders had discussed their campaigns to eliminate lead in the schools and pry loose more dollars from tax exempt hospitals to fill the gap that has been created by Texas refusal to expand Medicaid and tight-fisted employers providing insurance with deductibles ranging in Local 100 companies from $3500 to $6500. A different Senate might mean real relief, and that’s also a big incentive for hard work on big turnout for November.

Not than any of the candidates are campaigning on these kinds of fundamental meat-and-potatoes issues, but people have had enough of the gridlock and stalemate. They’re swallowing hard to see if they can send a message in November and make a difference, regardless of the candidates.

workshops for stewards involved spirited participation

workshops for stewards involved spirited participation

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Leaders Assess Progress and Map Out Plans

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reports and campaign discussions in Baton Rouge Local 100 Union Hall

Baton Rouge   Thirty Local 100 United Labor Union leaders gathered together for the 36th annual leadership conference for the union, this time in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Leaders were there from Little Rock and Warren, Arkansas, Dallas and Houston, Lafayette and New Orleans, and points near and far in the three-state areas. We met in Local 100’s big 5000 plus foot union hall in Baton Rouge, so that the members could see first had what had been done to improve the space, and what still needed to be done. It was a hot, mid-90’s June day, but the 10-foot ceilings and thick cinderblock walls made the large meeting room pleasant with five fans running. That is not to say the leadership won’t take a harder look at the thousands needed to repair the air conditioner, but it was a lot better than people had any reason to expect. They were surprised, and I felt lucky, or as I reminded many of them, “tell me you can’t remember visiting your grandmother in the country and hearing the ceiling and attic fans humming?”

A lot of time in the morning was spent reviewing our progress on living wage campaigns or more accurately moving the minimum wages up. In Houston, we had success in both our Head Start unit as well as moving the ages up past $10 per hour for our cafeteria workers. The lesson we had learned, according to Houston office director, Orell Fitzsimmons, was to not try to grab all 30,000 workers in the district at once, but to concentrate on one segment after another. Having raised the hourly wage in the cafeteria, the union is now hunkering down to try to extend the hours from seven to eight to move people up more solidly. In Arkansas, the union with our allies are trying to push a statewide petition of workers and supporters to set the floor above $10 per hour. Winning an election could be difficult, but having our members who are state workers living in poverty is even harder. In Dallas and New Orleans there have been efforts that have met with some success at establishing levels past $10 per hour for subcontracted workers, but in those cities, especially New Orleans, the issue is enforcement. One cleaning contract we organized recently is now six-months overdue on paying the new city standard of $10.55 per hour. I can remember years ago a hotel union in San Jose-Monterrey saying they didn’t want to support our living wage fight because then why would workers need a union? It turns out part of the answer is: they would still need a union to actually get it!

On other fronts, the union is preparing campaigns to advocate to get lead tested and removed from schools and workplaces to protect our workers, children and clients. We are also going after nonprofit hospitals to hold them accountable for providing charity care, especially in Texas where there is no expanded Medicaid and elsewhere in our private sector contracts where the deductibles are pricing our members out of the company-sponsored plans and into the penalties for not having Obamacare.

Will we come up with the money to fix the air conditioner? I don’t know, but we’ll win some big campaigns because of leadership meetings just like this!

reports and campaign discussions in Baton Rouge Local 100 Union Hall

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Hating Immigrants is the Wild Card in the Electoral Deck

immigration_2280507bNew Orleans   Wow! It must have suddenly become hate-on-an-immigrant day and Hallmark didn’t prepare any condolence cards for the rest of us. In one day the lives of immigrant millions of families were cast into limbo with the split, no-decision 4-4 polling of the Supreme Court and the 52-48 so-called Brexit vote for Great Britain to leave the European Union. President Obama called the Supreme Court split decision, “heartbreaking,” and said the upcoming election would determine “what kind of people we are.”

Meanwhile the United Kingdom showed what kind of people they were, and it was a bit brutish and left little doubt that immigration and the attendant freedom of mobility within the European Union was the wedge issue driving them out of the EU. As reported in the Times,

With net migration to Britain of 330,000 people in 2015, more than half of them from the European Union, Mr. Cameron had no effective response to how he could limit the influx. And there was no question that while the immigrants contributed more to the economy and to tax receipts than they cost, parts of Britain felt that its national identity was under assault and that the influx was putting substantial pressure on schools, health care and housing.

The campaign run by one of the loudest proponents of leaving, the U.K. Independence Party, flirted with xenophobia, nativism and what some of its critics considered racism. But the official, more mainstream Leave campaign also invoked immigration as an issue, and its slogan, “Take control,” resonated with voters who feel that the government is failing to regulate the inflow of people from Europe and beyond.

Prime Minister David Cameron will pay for the misjudgment and shortsightedness in calling the vote and the rejection at the polls with his job, offering his resignation after a couple of month’s transition to sort out the mess. There is pulling of hair and rending of clothes throughout Europe in trying to understand the “turning point,” the vote represents, but it is hard to see it as anything other than backwards. Scotland which voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU, is likely to press again for independence from the United Kingdom given this debacle.

Meanwhile in the United States the same mess is brewing. Trump of course said, “good for them,” joining the nativist on both sides of the Atlantic. Speaker Ryan who is becoming expert at the convoluted logic of politics claimed the no-decision was somehow a rejection by the Supreme Court of Obama’s executive authority around immigration, knowing that all of this awaits the appointment of a tie-breaking Justice in the hands of the next President. The Republicans once again proved how quickly tragedy can be converted into farce.

But what about the people, the immigrants themselves? The five million or more who were living on the bubble of this decision who were parents of citizens or children raised here, all of whom were hoping for some security and a path to the future? Advocates promised to mobilize, voter registration efforts were highlighted, but in the meantime, the “kind of people we are” will be the kind of people who break up families and deport record numbers of people from the United States, because our politics lacks both a heart and a backbone willing to make hard political decisions even when they are so clearly morally correct.

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Hillary Says, “If it’s Broke, I’ll Fix it”

51Wc+ZfNTSLNew Orleans    Hillary Clinton in a one-two punch has now laid out her prescription for the United States economy. She says it’s not about one-liners or fancy slogans, but her slogan seems to be: “If it’s broke, I’ll fix it.” She is positioning herself not exactly as the leader-of-the-free world but as the Maytag repairman, a modern day Rosie Riveter with a tool belt strapped around her waist.

She’s not making the mistake of over promising in her campaign pledges, and in fact it was hard to pick through the reports of her economic speech and find many promises at all.

Reportedly, she might try to get more people overtime, but that’s an Obama policy and DOL rule that is still being absorbed by workers and businesses. What would that be exactly? Something over $50,000 rather than the current mid-$40000 number? No revolution there. Another bone she threw out to workers is that she will do more to police and enforce wage and hour rules to curtail wage theft. Sounds good, but I’m pretty sure that would involve some serious beefing up of the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour division and its personnel, and given how badly this area has atrophied over the last 30 odd years, amen to that. I’m also pretty sure it would take a Congressional appropriation that would actually give the DOL money to finally do that job, and I’m not sure there are many Republican Congressman in the majority that are looking to muscle up on small and medium sized businesses.

She says she’ll renegotiate some of the trade pacts. As most of us know by now anything that has to do with trade negotiations takes forever, so she might be messing with that assignment deep into a second term, if she were able to win one. No holding our breath on that either.

She says there are fix-it-quick deals she can make that would perk up the economy with massive infrastructure investments. That’s a well-traveled road from the Obama Administration as well, and sounds good, but it’s hard to believe there’s a real deal there with Congress either, other than the usual, “when we say, infrastructure, they say, pork.” Oh, she also says she’ll get something going on immigration reform. I’m hearing Trump’s hateration as the soundtrack on this one which, win or lose, is likely to continue to make a lot of conservative Congressmen timid here on real reform, unless this is just a sop she’s throwing to Silicon Valley and its special pleading to bring in more foreign engineers to play with computers and code.

Ok, so this is thin soup so far. She’s saying she’s “feeling your pain” and grabbing her tool belt, but she’s still talking about fulfilling pretty small work orders. She adds, according to the New York Times, that’s not a problem though because, “… she will campaign and govern with a five-point plan, drawn up by subject-area experts, incorporating the full range of potential legislative and administrative tools available to the next president.”

Wow! I’d like to meet the person who takes either comfort or inspiration from a future “five-point plan, drawn up by subject-area experts.” There’s leading from behind, but I’m not sure that American workers and wannabe workers are ready to be happy with her being this far behind.

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