Wages Up but How High is Fair?

Chicago-Raise-the-Min-Wage-Rally-300x189New Orleans       Walmart has announced that over a half-million of its workers will get a raise to $9 now and up to $10 sometime in 2016 at the cost of one-billion dollars.  This is good news, so I won’t remind people of the Pinocchio stories the company has told for years about its so-called average wages.  The company is joining Gap, Target and others that have already said they are raising wages.  Aetna Insurance several weeks ago raised all of its workers to $16 per hour to lead the way.  Economists speculate that the labor market is finally beginning to tighten and that Walmart is recognizing the inevitability of wage increases, so wanted to jump ahead of the pack, embrace reality, and try to change its reputation as one of the country’s worst employers.

All of this is happening as President Obama tries to breathe some new life into his proposal to raise the minimum wage in various steps to $10.10 per hour which has been dead-on-arrival in Congress since it moved from his mind to his mouth.  Not to rain on the parade, but Congress will no doubt use the announcement by Walmart as the nation’s largest private sector employer as evidence that there is no need for new federal minimum wage legislation.

All of this is happening as many of us have been in lengthy conversations in recent months about how to move forward on a different “living wage” strategy.  The “fight for fifteen” has won huge publicity, but aside from Aetna, very little take-up, and, practically speaking, the notion that minimum wage fast food workers might suddenly find their wages doubling from the $7.25 they are earning now ranks somewhere next to Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny on the reality scale.

What is fair and practicable?  Our brothers and sisters in Canada have tried to navigate their campaigns around figures produced by respected nonprofits that include day care cost and other facts that live for many of us only in our dreams.  A recently released poll in the States though found that there is 75% support among Americans for a $12.50 minimum wage achieved by the year 2020.  The same poll found that even in the South that number was supported by 74% including over 50% of Republicans.

We tried to reverse engineer the math using statistics based on the average housing cost in our cities for a single person to rent an apartment and assuming that would represent one-third of their income.  The results were interesting and would seem to resonate with people.  Using this formula a “living wage” now would look like the following:

Little Rock      $11.53

Baton Rouge   $11.59

Houston          $13.00

New Orleans   $13.24

Dallas              $13.56

The wage train is starting to rumble forward finally.  These numbers seem fair and make sense.  It’s campaign time!


Please enjoy Green Day singing Working Class Hero

Immigration Wedging Politics in United Kingdom Too

BNP-ImageNew Orleans    In the contentious midterm elections in the USA there were huge issues that were simply not core issues for the candidates. After all of the sound and fury about the Affordable Care Act, blah, blah, blah, the actual candidates seem to have come to grips with the fact that 11 million enrollees just might be on to something, so let’s tone it down. Where immigration has been a wedge issue for years and presidential candidates are still beating the drums, the story line on the midterm elections was more about the disaffection of Latinos with both parties because of the limited progress on any permanent immigration reform, than any sense that any candidates for either party were moving forward on the issue. President Obama reacted a bit to the news of Latino alienation by leaking more plans to maybe do something to ease the legalization process, but it just wasn’t much of an election issue.

Meanwhile immigration seems to be pushing the economy as a wedge issue in Europe.  The story line is confusing there as well.  On one hand there are regularly tragic stories of African immigrants trying to virtually swim their way to France and Spain.

And, then there is the United Kingdom where immigration is driving parties and people crazy left and right. The explanation is easy to grasp, but the party policies are impossible to understand. The weak economy has left too many finger pointing at new immigrants as job jumpers. The United Kingdom as a member of the European Union is part of the open borders program allowing anyone within the EU the ability to work in any of the member countries, and that’s the hot button that is being pressed in Britain. Conservative Party Prime Minister David Cameron has been trying to play footsie with the issue in a dangerous game by vowing to put membership in the EU to a 2015 referendum, the same year his government is up again on the ballot. The United Kingdom Independence Party, known as UKIP, has played the Tea Party, hardcore anti-immigrant hater role and eaten away deeply at the Conservative’s right flank.

Cameron has some slow learning problems in understanding the position of the other EU countries, betting the long shot that they will grant Britain concessions for fear of losing them from the EU. Meanwhile Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose robust economy and deep pockets, pretty much puts her and Germany in the drivers’ seat in really calling the shots there, and has toughened her stand on the issue saying that the UK position is near a “point of no return” and holding that freedom of movement is one of the cardinal principles of the European Union.

Even Britain’s Labour Party seems to be buckling on the issue, as its leader Ed Milliband is taking fire from the right in his party worried about the defection of more of their white working class voting core to the UKIPpers as well. In recent weeks he has enraged the left by arguing that he would insist that new immigrants be subjected to tougher standards barring them social benefits and requiring more English language skills before allowing them to enter the job market.

What a mess!

With yet another National Football League game heading to London, as the NFL tries to branch out to England and all of this anti-immigrant blurting from politicians and Tea Party wannabes, it’s becoming clear where this is really going. What we can expect next it seems is that the UK will drop out of the EU, and start lobbying to become the 51st state in the United States of America, realizing that being anti-immigrant is the perfect approach to getting the nod to come in. If the EU is too liberal for them, the US is just far enough to the right to feel like home.

Too Much Data in Too Many Hands for Both Good and Evil

Word Cloud "Big Data"New Orleans      An observation decades ago always stuck with me. It was a comparison of Americans and people who live elsewhere. The point made by the author, whose name fittingly has long ago left me, is that we have too much information at hand and too little ability to process it. Ironically, that was then, and the observer would have been dumbstruck by the exponential increase of information now available to us and just about everyone else on the other end of hands pounding the keyboards, but some people have the ability to process it. What’s out there and who has the capacity to understand it though, still might leave us at the same point as a generation ago without the ability to use the tools effectively. Too many of us are at the Stone Age, while a few others are flying to the moon.

A case in point can be found with the new data on doctors and their paymasters, including and especially drug companies and others who would interfere with good judgment. Part of the Obamacare reforms are already tracking what various hospitals now charge for specific procedures, and starting in September, we will all have this information if we have access to a website. Excellent news! How many will be able to effectively access that data to make the choices that it promises and within the ACA, how many of the doctors a patient might want to avoid will be in or out of the network allowing the power of such information to give rise to voice and the threat of exit? Well, that’s a whole different question entirely, but today it’s safe to say, the information is more powerful as a selective threat from the government than a promise useful to many people.

More disturbingly is the availability of what some called “hyper-specific” community data. As the Times posed the question, if you…”Want to find a ‘family-friendly’ community within 20 miles of Boston with a high Asian population, a low poverty rate and a median home value of $400,000…” then there’s a bunch of websites for you! With some simple key strokes and a semi-passive real estate database and an agent steering you into its use, then you can effectively violate the Fair Housing Act and racially discriminate all day long. It’s not so much “redlining” anymore but it is a kind of data-mining discrimination that eviscerates Fair Housing, the CRA, and a host of other public policies.

We have police looking at broken windows in our cities as a deterrent, but no one should be able to look at personal computer screens due to privacy restrictions. Well not exactly, since a federal appeals judge just allowed federal prosecutors access to email and data records for a customer whose info was held at a Microsoft data farm in Ireland. We already knew there were no boundaries for the NSA, and it appears there are no foreign borders either.

It seems clear that the level of data now on everyone and everything and the ability of some, but not all, to access and process that data has outstripped our ability to regulate, legislate, protect privacy, establish and maintain rights and entitlements, and of course hold us safe and sound. We may not all be planning a trip to the moon, but we’re living on a planet and in an age that none of us truly understands anymore.

Just saying.

IRS and the Tea Party

Edinburgh   The Internal Revenue Service apologized for batching up 300 applications for 501c4 tax exempt status when groups had Tea Party or Patriot in their names, claiming they were flooded with 2600 applications and their lower level pencil pushers were just trying to figure out a short cut.  Conservatives and their Congressional allies screamed like stuck pigs demanding assurances that this kind of thing never happens again.  Public Citizen, the old Ralph Nadar campaign finance watchdog, tried to get a word in edgewise demanding more investigations of the abuse of tax exempt status being awarded without any viable claims to benefiting “social welfare” as required by the regulations.  They believe, as do many others, that c4 status is becoming a signpost for creating a tax haven to serve as a political slush fund on the Karl Rove Crossroads model of no holds barred campaign spending in the last US Presidential election.

What should we make of all of this this?  Worth the worry or a tempest in a tea party…I mean tea pot?

Next to the military and the CIA, there are few more inscrutable and opaque government outfits than the IRS, making it pretty easy to believe both Kentucky Senator Mitch O’Connell’s accusations about their “thuggish” practice and the Tea people’s lawyer’s cry about McCarthyism.  The Republicans  don’t much like the IRS or anyone involved in tax collection given their project of dismantling the government dollar by dollar, so it’s not like they are going to budget more money for better supervision of nonprofits or anyone else, so it will be even easier to believe the IRS apologists that they were sorry because they were incompetent and didn’t supervise their agents well in sort of a “guys gone wild in Cincinnati” storyline.

And, of course we all have our own stories on this side of the divide as well.  This year I’ve had to pay for a tax certificate requested by nonprofits in Japan to pay for speaking over there.  Six months, no word, and no way to track it down.  In another incident this year, I had to pay for a new copy of an exemption letter sent to me at the wrong address and lost without me knowing it was sent for several years, and suddenly got a call from an IRS investigator saying my letter and the results of an audit were held up because filing and paying for the letter as instructed by Cincinnati had confused them in Fort Worth into thinking someone else was trying to file for a new exemption under the ACORN International c3 number.  One the other hand I had a great conversation with the IRS several weeks ago about waiving penalties and fines for KABF in Little Rock, and thanks for that guys!  My point is simply that there is no way to figure the IRS out.  And, I don’t want to get into how long it took them to start paying attention to the predatory nature of refund anticipation loans or the way they handle volunteer or VITA sites and their so-called “partnerships” there.  They move at their own chosen speed without explanation or transparency, and it’s luck of the draw every time Joe Citizen ends up dealing with them, so basically the only good strategy is avoiding them completely and hoping they lose your name in the files somewhere.  In short, we should all feel lucky it’s not worse.

As for the Tea people and Public Citizen’s positions, most of the Tea groups will shrivel and die anyway so it hardly matters at some level, and Karl Rove and his lawyers could tie the IRS up for years and might argue that stopping Obama from being elected is their definition of contributing to the public’s “social welfare.”  Both sides are no doubt right even for both right and wrong reasons, all of which adds up to the likelihood that with less staff and less funding and no improvements in supervision or transparency, the only sure bet is that our experiences with the IRS will get a lot worse before they get any better.

IRS & Tea Party Audio Blog

What we get from the Victory: Immigration, Wage Action, Student Loans, Infrastructure, Etc

New Orleans     We had this, and I’m with Nate Silver of the 538 column and blog of the Times: this was not “too close to call” unless we got rid of the Electoral College and didn’t tell anyone. Watching Obama win every single battleground state except North Carolina, pretty much cheek and jowl with all of the state by state poll predictions over recent weeks, should say something about analysis versus hucksterism. One gets the feeling that the television news commentators and news people are basically just an arm for the marketing division and trying to sell as many ads as possible regardless of the effect. It’s the ground game, stupid!

So what do we get from this win? Most of what I’ve had to hear and read far says we get nada, nothing, goose egg, but that’s not true in my view. We may not get what we want and four years with Obama have taught us that, but you can look at the base that delivered the win, and I’ll guarantee that we can predict some key wins, even if not in the unadulterated versions we might want.

Count on the fact that Obama will finally embrace immigration reform in the way he gave the half-hug for healthcare to hold the 70-30 margin he got from Latino voters for the future of his party and legacy. Senator Rubio and most Republicans who want to be re-elected are going to have to make some concessions here. At the least, it would be that we get a version of the DREAM Act and not just the existing, confusing executive order. Voters going to the ballot in Maryland and affirming this notion should be enough to put the icing on this cake. We need to figure how much is enough to make the deal, but Rubio is our new partner on the right, replacing McCain, and his nose is wide open for the future, so this is a deal we can make.

We will get a minimum wage increase.  Since the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act, every Democratic Administration has delivered an increase, as have many Republican Administrations.  It took Clinton until his 8th year, and it may take Obama the same, but we will get an increase before the 2nd term is over. Obama’s majorities on income groups came heavily from families making less than $50,000 per year and even higher from families making less than $30,000 per year.  We also will get “wage theft” enforcement. That doesn’t require Congress, but does require a shakeup at the Department of Labor. We will get a better deal for home health workers on minimum wages. Almost none of this is because of any union payback. Density for workers in families making less than $50,000 is not that high…those are service workers and their rates of unionization is in single-digits. Union’s get to keep Obamacare, along with the rest of us, and that maybe the only thing unions can claim other than having the Senate and the President as a goal line stand against continued corporate attacks.

We should get some voting and election reform. Surely Obama and the President have woken up now to realize that there are few victories in the future if they continue to allow the right to shrink and suppress the electorate.

We will get a better deal on student loans and it will include some forgiveness. The under-30 base for Obama is crying for this, as are Asian-Americans who voted more solidly for Obama even than Latinos did.  Something big is going to happen here.

We will get a new appointee over mortgage regulation and a new Secretary of Treasury so we will finally get some relief on mortgages and some rightsizing of loans to market values. The President hopefully will finally realize that his legacy is not in the Wall Street bailout and there is no hope for their support, so it is time to finally erase one of the darkest marks of his presidency and deal with foreclosures by sweeping away these two dudes who are blocking progress.

We will get infrastructure investment, which will help with jobs, unions, and communities; especially around the coasts even if it has to be masked as hurricane and climate change expenditures, rather than stimulus. We will also get more tax justice for upper incomes, even if not what we need, just because the Republicans can’t have it both ways.

We will get soldiers home and I have heard Obama talk about a peace dividend, and peace is important, even if that’s all we get there.

Something modest is going to happen around drug policy. You can’t just let California and Washington go wild out there and young people do vote!  Same for gay marriage and women’s rights, including on reproduction. Republicans can’t continue to deny that the country has gone the other way from them on all of these issues. They may not embrace any of them, but with the right strategy and tactics, they will no longer be able to stand in the way. So, yes, the country is divided, blah, blah, blah, but government has to actually govern and even if there are no slam come our way, we will once again put some important points on the scoreboard as Obama pays back over the coming year.

Obama: He’s Got This!

New Orleans  After Romney’s 47% comments went viral, I thought the campaign was done, and you could put a stick in it.  I still think he may have lost the race there by showing both his disregard for huge parts of the electorate and coupling that with his choice of Paul Ryan, pushing seniors and others with a stake in entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicaid the final distance towards Obama.

It’s a mystery to me how Obama allowed Romney to get back into the race with the first debate.  I thought talking was Obama’s forte?  The debate once again exposed his tentativeness around conflict, which has been a consistent vulnerability throughout his first term, exploited continually by the hardcore, ideological Republican opposition.  Obama does dial down the enthusiasm everywhere when he says, “I’ll fight for you,” and it becomes so obvious that he just plain doesn’t like to fight.

Anything can happen in an election, but having come back in-country, caught up on a lot of the papers and studied the polls, I think Obama’s got this one locked down for this Tuesday, all except the shouting.

No small reason for me finally feeling confident about the race lies in what looks like insurmountable leads in the key battlegrounds of Ohio and Florida that are now trending more than 5 points ahead for the President, comfortably past the margin of error.  Additionally, it appears that based on known Democratic registrations, Obama is leading comfortably ahead of Romney on what has become the critical early voting numbers, which are key tests of organization and have people finally “voting with their feet.”  The hard facts that 23,000,000 voters have already cast ballots and Obama is likely significantly ahead, I take is important.

Governing is a whole different problem.  Looking at a map in my local paper showing where Obama is leading or leaning versus Romney, it is startling how similar the overlay of a map of the residual labor union strength would be.  Not that Obama is going to do much for unions even though they are critical to any Democratic victory now or in the future.

On the other side I read the column by the former solid sports reporter in my hometown paper, who now writes op-eds for them from a hard right, whack perspective and I tried to puzzle out his absurd argument that we should vote against Obama because he was a “collectivist.”  Huh?  “By the people, of the people, for the people” is now a bad thing, so anarchy hooray, I guess.  Obama and the Democrats got lucky that the conservative wing is so whack now that they are pushing away as many votes as they are holding.  Eventually the conservatives in the Republican Party are going to hose them down or force them out so that they have a chance again at the White House.

Until then, we’ll win with Obama on Tuesday, and it won’t necessarily decide much of anything other than how bad the alternatives might have been.