Go Ahead and Fly in March

You won’t have to wait longer in line because there will be as many TSA agents on duty.  The sequester begins on March 1, union rules require that federal workers get 30 days’ notice of furloughs, so nobody gets furloughed until April.

And the GOP plan for the continuing resolution to keep the government open that needs to happen by March 27 is to give department heads flexibility to deal with the cuts — so they can cancel conferences rather than furlough employees.

And that talk about teachers getting laid off?  It can’t happen until the next school year because this school year has already been funded, and I’m betting next year will be too.

This isn’t a crisis, this is a lot of BS.   The cuts are small, too small to send us back into recession, and once you give managers discretion over exactly where to cut, instead of forcing mindless across-the-board cuts, the main argument against the sequester disappears.


Enough Is Enough

Virginia Sen. Mark Warner and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, both of whom have A ratings from the NRA, are saying that we need new gun laws after Newtown.

Warner says, “Enough is enough.  … [T]here are ways to get to rational gun control.”

Manchin says, “This awful massacre has changed where we go from here.”

It means a lot more having folks like Warner and Manchin on board than just those you’d expect like California Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

Yesterday I posted that this felt like a Sputnik moment to me.  This morning I’m thinking that another, and maybe better, analogy is the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City in 1911.

146 garment workers, almost all of them young Italian and Jewish immigrant women in their teens or early 20’s, died when a fire broke out in their factory, and they were locked in because the factory owners feared theft of materials.  Many jumped to their deaths to escape the heat and flames.

Within two years, New York had passed 60 new labor reform laws, and the horrific Triangle fire was instrumental in the development of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union.

The final six victims of the fire were positively identified only last year, the centennial of the tragedy.

Beware the Robots and Robber Barons

While Washington obsesses about what high-thirties number will be our top tax rate come January 1, I worry about what jobs will be available come the next few decades and what incomes they will provide.  Our American prescription for success — get more education than your parents — may not work anymore.

From “Robots And Robber Barons,” Paul Krugman, NYT:

[T]he wage gap between workers with a college education and those without, which grew a lot in the 1980s and early 1990s, hasn’t changed much since then.  Indeed, recent college graduates had stagnant incomes even before the financial crisis struck.  Increasingly, profits have been rising at the expense of workers in general, including workers with the skills that were supposed to lead to success in today’s economy.

“[T[here are two plausible explanations, both of which could be true to some extent.  One is that technology has taken a turn that places labor at a disadvantage; the other is that we’re looking at the effects of a sharp increase in monopoly power.  Think of these two stories as emphasizing robots on one side, robber barons on the other.

[M]any of the jobs being displaced [by robots] are high-skill and high-wage; the downside of technology isn’t limited to menial workers.

What about robber barons? …  [I]ncreasing business concentration could be an important factor in stagnating demand for labor, as corporations use their growing monopoly power to raise prices without passing the gains on to their employees.”  Emphasis added.

We may be heading for a jobs cliff much scarier than the fiscal cliff. 

If You Tell A Big Lie…

During the campaign, Mitt was a robot trying to be a human.  During his concession speech, he was a human trying to be a robot, to hide his raging feelings and just get through the damn thing and get off the stage.

Meanwhile, I was trying to feel sorry for him, but I just couldn’t do it.

I kept thinking of all the lies he’d told during the campaign, from his very first ad where he showed Obama quoting McCain, but making it look as if they were Obama’s own words, not a quote.  Then we had lies like saying Obama’s welfare reforms eliminated the work requirement and all the “You didn’t build it” crap.  Finally, he ended with the false claim that Jeep was shipping American jobs to China, intended to help Mitt win Ohio.

Mitt’s campaign clearly believed that if you tell a big lie often enough, people will come to believe it.   But Mitt’s big loss shows that if you tell a big lie often enough, people will come to believe you are a liar.

Arrogant Over-Reach of Walker and Kasich Doom Mitt

“The fights picked with organized labor by the Republican governors of Wisconsin and Ohio are coming back to haunt Mitt Romney in the final days of the presidential race, unions say.

“Labor groups say their internal polling shows labor support for President Obama in the all-important battleground state of Ohio and the electoral vote cash cow of Wisconsin is as high or higher than it was in 2008. They attribute the numbers to residual fallout from the 2011 SB5 collective bargaining fight in Ohio and the Wisconsin battle between labor unions and Gov. Scott Walker.

“The biggest effect may be in Ohio, where Democrats and labor beat back SB 5 at the ballot box following the anti-collective bargaining law’s passage by the Republican-controlled state legislature and Gov. John Kasich.”

Kasich and Walker really behaved like petty tyrants.  I can’t wait to see their lost swagger and chastened punims tomorrow night.

Our Kids Deserve Better, Our Country Needs Better

From “The Real Problems In Schools,” Nicholas Kristof, NYT:

The most important civil rights battleground today is education, and, likewise, the most crucial struggle against poverty is the one fought in school

Inner-city urban schools today echo the “separate but equal” system of the early 1950s. In the Chicago public schools where teachers are now on strike, 86 percent of children are black or Hispanic, and 87 percent come from low-income families.

Chicago’s high school graduation rates have been improving but are still about 60 percent. Just 3 percent of black boys in the ninth grade end up earning a degree from a four-year college…

In fairness, it’s true that the main reason inner-city schools do poorly isn’t teachers’ unions, but poverty.

Still, some Chicago teachers seem to think that they shouldn’t be held accountable until poverty is solved. There are steps we can take that would make some difference, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel is trying some of them — yet the union is resisting.

I’d be sympathetic if the union focused solely on higher compensation. Teachers need to be much better paid to attract the best college graduates to the nation’s worst schools. But, instead, the Chicago union seems to be using its political capital primarily to protect weak performers.

There’s now solid evidence that there are huge differences in the effectiveness of teachers, even within high-poverty schools.

How does one figure out who is a weak teacher? Yes, that’s a challenge. But researchers are improving systems to measure “value added” from beginning to end of the year, and, with three years of data, it’s usually possible to tell which teachers are failing.

Unfortunately, the union is insisting that teachers who are laid off — often for being ineffective — should get priority in new hiring. That’s an insult to students.

Teaching is so important that it should be like other professions, with high pay and good working conditions but few job protections for bottom performers.

This isn’t a battle between garment workers and greedy corporate barons. The central figures in the Chicago schools strike are neither strikers nor managers but 350,000 children. Protecting elements of a broken and unaccountable school system — the union demand — sacrifices those students, in effect turning a blind eye to a “separate but equal” education system.

Emphasis added.

The Worse Political Advice, Ever

David Brooks argues (“The Elevator Speech,” NYT) that Obama has to “define America’s most pressing challenge” on Thursday, and says he has “three clear options.”

The first option is global warming:

“But if this is really where Obama’s passion lies, he should go for it.

“He should vow to double down on green energy and green technology.  He could revive cap-and-trade legislation that would creat incentives for clean innovation.  He could propose a tax reform package that would substitute gasoline and energy consumption taxes for a piece of our current income taxes.  He could say that his No. 1 international priority will be to get a global warming treaty ratified by all the major nations.”

He could say all these things and then proceed to replicate George McGovern’s 1972 defeat.  Hell, Obama probably wouldn’t even carry Massachusetts.  Mitt could safely spend the rest of the campaign on his boat in New Hampshire while Ryan is off bow- and- arrow hunting.

So here is Brooks’ door number two, broken capitalism:

“Obama could go before the convention and say that there has been a giant failure at the heart of modern capitalism.  Even in good times,the wealth that modern capitalism generates is not being shared equitably.  Workers are not seeing the benefits of their own productivity gains.

“Obama could offer policies broad enough to address this monumental problem.  He could vow to strengthen unions.  He could vow to use federal funds to pay for 500,000 more teachers and two million more infrastructure jobs.  He could cap the mortgage interest deduction, cap social security benefits, raise taxes on the rich, raise taxes on capital gains and embrace other measures to redistribute money from those who are prospering tho those who are not.  He could crack down on out-sourcing and regulate trade.  He could throw himself behind a new industrial policy to create manufacturing jobs.

This agenda wouldn’t appeal to moderates, or people like me, but it’s huge, it’s serious and it would highlight a real problem.”  Emphasis added.

So Brooks is supposedly giving Obama sincere advice for a speech that’s intended to attract moderates and admitting that his advice would repel moderates.  This speech would feed the socialist, anti-capitalist GOP smear.  Again, he’d lose, maybe not as big as with the global warming speech, but he’d lose.

Brooks’ third option is to embrace Simpson Bowles.  That’s the least suicidal of the three, but you can’t offer honest, real numbers when the other side is committed to lying, imaginary numbers.

Brooks concludes, “If Obama can’t tells us the big policy thing he wants to do, he doesn’t deserve a second term.”

If Obama were to listen to Brooks, deserving or not, he wouldn’t get a second term.  And I can state unequivocally that David Brooks no longer deserves a NYT op-ed column.


Must Read on Wisconsin

From “Why Walker Won,” Bruce Murphy, Urban Milwaukee:

“Back in the fall, when the Democrats first launched their recall effort, the problems with their approach became obvious.  They justified the recall by talking about Walker’s poor record on jobs and cuts in education funding.  But did they really expect voters would recall a governor just 18 months after his election for not increasing jobs enough, or over a policy disagreement on spending?

“Everyone in the state knew the party had targeted Walker because he effectively eliminated collective bargaining for public workers.  The only way to win the recall was to convince voters Walker not only took the wrong action, but did this in a way that was flagrantly anti-Democratic [sic] and therefore worthy of a recall.

“Instead the party tip-toed around the issue.

“But as Walker noted, Barrett’s suggested course of action — to reverse Act 10 — would simply recharge the same arguments and reopen the same civic wounds.  Why do this unless Barrett could suggest a middle ground:  some way to compromise that would reform the system or limit bargaining rights in some way?

“There’s no doubt conservatives exaggerated what the average government worker or teacher earns.  Most public employees in Wisconsin are not unreasonably compensated.  But there have been abuses, which laid the groundwork for an attack on all public workers, and for Walker’s sweeping reforms.  And as the months rolled on, and no Democrat came forward with a counter-proposal, voters began to move more toward Walker’s position.”

I encourage you to read the whole piece.

The recall has left Democrats in disarray in Wisconsin and created an opening for Mitt.  Obama will probably still carry Wisconsin, but he’ll have to fight harder for it and expend more resources there.