Thursday, September 19, 2019

CEOs do not work for tips. What about those who do.

Here is a teaser for what I will be posting tomorrow morning.

The Economic Policy Institute reports that CEO compensation has grown 940% since 1978. Typical worker compensation has risen only 12% during that time.

The story is grimmer if you’re working for tips or trying to get benefits granted to employees or trying to share in the gains in corporate profits since the 2008 crash. Tomorrow I will post more about life at the economic bottom of the new service (“gig”) economy and what this means for the future of work in America.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Bob Lord explains why Biden is opposed to Medicare for All

Bob Lord is a frequent contributor to Blog for Arizona. Below is a guest post at emptywheel.net, copied in full.

BIDEN’S OPPOSITION TO MEDICARE FOR ALL: IT’S ALL ABOUT THE BILLIONAIRES, BABY

September 18, 2019/18 Comments/in emptywheel /by bmaz

[Editor’s Note – this is a guest post by a friend of ours here at the Emptywheel Blog, Bob Lord. Bob is a longtime tax and finance attorney with some very salient thoughts on why the centrist Democrats are pushing back so hard on Medicare For All. One other note, we here at Emptywheel have purposefully not engaged on behalf of any particular candidate in the primary process, but the issues in play are fair game.]

By Robert J. Lord

Joe Biden has lots of reasons why he opposes the Medicare for All plan favored by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

The cost runs too high, the former vice-president tells us. People will have to give up their private health insurance. People will lose the right to choose their health insurance provider.

The list goes on, but do these reasons reflect Biden’s actual worries? Surely, he’s seen the studies that show Medicare for All would drive costs down, not up, as removing health insurance company profits and administrative costs from American health care totally changes the system’s accounting dynamics. Yes, an expanded Medicare would require administrative expenses, but nowhere close to the expenses that our current system requires.

Biden also knows Americans would welcome the chance to swap their private health insurance for Medicare. Don’t believe me? Speak to someone between the ages of 60 and 64 who’s relatively healthy. Ten to one she has her fingers crossed hoping to make it to age 65 without a major health challenge, so she can qualify for Medicare and never have to confront the insufficiency of her wonderful private insurance plan.

And very few Americans, we must keep in mind, choose their health insurance provider. Most of us get insurance through our employers. Employers choose the least expensive plan for all employees collectively, without regard to the needs and desires of individuals.

Given that Joe Biden’s stated reasons for opposing Medicare for All don’t pass the smell test, what could be the real reason for his opposition?

Could Biden simply be beholden to the health insurance industry and Big Pharma? Perhaps, but I suspect that something larger — the overall wealth of our wealthy — may be at play. After all, it’s not like health insurers and pharmaceutical companies are going to have his back come general election time.

Consider the difference between how Joe Biden, on the one hand, and Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, on the other, view the billionaires and centimillionaires who make up America’s super rich. Sanders believes the greed of America’s billionaire class threatens the social fabric of our country and has proposed a significant increase in the federal estate tax on grand fortunes. Warren has proposed a 2 percent annual wealth tax on all fortunes in excess of $50 million.

Biden’s differences with Warren and Sanders go deep. He has assured his rich donors — at big-dollar fundraising events — that their lifestyles will not change if he’s elected. Biden, whose donor list includes at least 13 ten-digit fortunes, has made it clear that he doesn’t think billionaires bear any more responsibility for America’s woes than any of the rest of us.

Just this week, he voiced his opposition to policies that would make it harder to become a billionaire.

But why would billionaires and centimillionaires particularly care whether we have Medicare for All versus the Obamacare-with-a-public-option plan Biden favors?

To answer that question, consider the fundamental difference between Obamacare and Medicare for All: who pays. Under Obamacare, individuals pay for their health care, through the insurance premiums they pay and their out-of-pocket expenses for the charges their insurance policies don’t cover. The government subsidizes insurance for lower income Americans through Medicaid, but the bulk of health insurance costs are paid by individuals or their employers.

The public option, Biden’s proposed fix to Obamacare, won’t change any of this. Even if every American healthcare consumer chose the public option, putting the private health insurance industry out of business in the process, individuals still would be responsible for their own health care costs.

Medicare works differently. Under Medicare, the government insures healthcare costs directly. Individuals don’t pay premiums or co-pays. Instead, tax dollars fund the cost of the program.

All this means that the transition from Obamacare to Medicare for All would transfer the burden of health care costs from health care consumers, who share in costs based on how sick or healthy they happen to be, to taxpayers, who would share in costs based on their respective incomes and tax rates.

The great majority of Americans live their lives as both health care consumers and taxpayers. Under Medicare for All, they would see an elimination of both insurance premiums and out-of-pocket medical costs. They would also see a tax increase, but ordinary Americans would save substantially more in health care costs than they’d pay in increased taxes.

But those billionaires and centimillionaires on Joe Biden’s donor list? Their tax increases would dwarf any savings they see in personal healthcare expense. Some could see seven figure tax increases.

Viewed through the billionaire lens, Biden’s loud opposition to Medicare for All makes distinct political sense. He needs billionaires to fund his White House aspirations, which still drive him three decades out from his first presidential run in 1988. He’s not only convinced himself that his billionaire supporters pose no threat to our social fabric, he even seems to believe that any health care reform that puts the squeeze on billionaire fortunes does pose a threat.

All in all, a classic case of why ambition often blinds us. In a 2018 speech, just a sentence or two after saying the billionaires he’s courting aren’t a problem, Biden lamented that the income gap in America is yawning.

What Biden’s ambition won’t let him see: Billionaires don’t exist in isolation. We have approximately 700 billionaires today in the United States. We have a larger number of half-billionaires and a still larger deep-pocket cohort of centimillionaires. And so on. Which leaves our top 1 percent controlling close to half the country’s wealth and the country with an income gap that Biden openly recognizes is “yawning” and, obviously, a problem.

In other words, those billionaires Biden’s won’t let himself see as a worry really are inseparable from the yawning income gap that he knows is a problem.

Sanders and Warren, by comparison, are clear-eyed. They can see that when the gap is so yawning that treatable or preventable injuries and illnesses are killing Americans who can’t afford healthcare and bankrupting millions of others, the only answer is that society — through taxation — must assume the cost of healthcare. Other countries, like Canada, recognized this reality decades ago.

And when America’s billionaires, with Joe Biden as one of their many mouthpieces, stand in the way of that process because they don’t want their taxes to increase, their greed tears at the fabric of American society.

Joe Biden can’t see that. His two leading rivals sure do.

[Robert J. Lord, a tax lawyer and former Congressional candidate, is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Bob previously served as an adjunct faculty member at the Arizona State University School of Law. Bob’s work focuses on the relationship of tax law to inequality. He contributes to both the Inequality.org website and to OtherWords, the Institute’s national syndicated editorial service. Bob also is a staff member at Blog For Arizona, the leading political blog in Arizona.]

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Charles M. Blow reports evidence for Joe Biden's 'antiquated view' on race

If you are absolutely convinced that Joe Biden is the only candidate capable of beating Donald Trump in 2020, then you will not like what follows. But spare me your ire. I am going to go all out and all in for whichever Democratic candidate emerges from the scrum (aka primary debates). But we cannot afford to hide problems with any of the candidates. So …

Former Vice President Joe Biden is known for his gaffes. Some are dismissible (as are gaffes by other presidential candidates), but others cannot be blown off so easily. Charles M. Blow at the NY Times takes Biden to task for his “antiquated” view about race as revealed in his off-hand remarks. Blow claims that Joe Biden Is Problematic. No amount of growth or good intentions will change this fact.

All five of these things are simultaneously true:

Joe Biden is the Democratic front-runner and may well be the nominee.

He is by far the favorite candidate among black voters.

He was a loyal vice president to Barack Obama, and the two men seem to have shared a deep and true friendship.

He, like the other Democratic candidates, would be a vast improvement over Donald Trump.

And, Biden’s positioning on racial issues has been problematic.

I’ll spare you all the Biden statements cited by Blow and provide some excerpts.

In the most recent Democratic debate, in his response to a question by a moderator, “he seemed to suggest that black people lack the natural capacity to be good parents:”

We bring social workers into homes and parents to help them deal with how to raise their children. It’s not that they don’t want to help. They don’t — they don’t know quite what to do. Play the radio, make sure the television — excuse me, make sure you have the record player on at night, the — the — make sure that kids hear words. A kid coming from a very poor school — a very poor background will hear four million words fewer spoken by the time they get there.

His language reveals a particular mind-set, one of a liberal of a particular vintage. On the issue of race, it is paternalistic and it pities, it sees deficiency in much the same way that the conservative does, but it responds as savior rather than with savagery. …

[Big snip]

… it’s not what Biden says in prepared remarks that’s problematic, it’s what he says off the cuff and under pressure that to me reveal an antiquated view on racial matters and racial sensitivities.

It was the way he advocated for the 1994 crime bill, a bill that contributed to America’s surging mass incarceration, which disproportionately affected black and brown people in this country.

The bill did some good, but the harm it did cannot be overlooked or understated. Rather than fully owning up to to the disastrous aspects of the bill, Biden has over the years bragged about it and defended it.

It was in the way he described then-candidate Barack Obama in 2007 as an African-American who was “articulate and bright and clean.” Clean? As opposed to what?

This critique of Biden isn’t personal. I bear no ill will for the man. But, a fact is a fact, and no amount of growth, change or well-intentioned good-heartedness has the ability to erase it.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Why Trump does not have a dog

Scriber’s Usually Unreliable Sources report on pathological fear of dogs by western autocrats. Trump notoriously worries about losing his hair piece. (wigging out, as they say). Now we have evidence, kind of, of a similar fear exhibited by British PM Boris Johnson. New Yorker satirist Andy Borowitz picks up the story: Queen Trains Corgis to Attack Boris Johnson If He Ever Comes to Palace Again.

LONDON (The Borowitz Report)—Queen Elizabeth II has trained her corgis to attack the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, if he ever comes to Buckingham Palace again, palace sources have confirmed.

For Johnson, who recently suffered another setback involving a dog, the news that the Queen was prepping her beloved canines to eviscerate him was just the latest indication of his precipitous fall.

The Queen reportedly supervised the corgis’ training herself, instructing them to lunge at Prince Charles, who wore a shaggy yellow wig for the exercise.

“When the corgis tore into Charles’s trousers, the terror in his eyes was palpable,” one observer said. “The Queen looked very happy.”

Although the Queen has been publicly tight-lipped on the subject of Johnson, a royal source indicated that she was heard muttering “that lying bastard” when the embattled Prime Minister appeared on television this week.

There’s only room for one unelected ruler in this country,” she reportedly added.

Cancelling primaries is a GOP act of desperation

Mark Sanford, Joe Walsh, and Bill Weld take a position on the GOP cancelling its own primaries. They say We are Trump’s Republican challengers. Canceling GOP primaries is a critical mistake.

You, we, have a stake in this one because our own state’s GOP has cancelled its primary - thus preserving Trump as the only Republican on the national presidential ticket. In so doing the AZ GOP has signed onto every lie, every deplorable behavior, every act of corruption, and all high crimes and misdemeanors committed daily by the sitting Pettydent. In so going, the AZ GOP is complicit in the wrecking of our democracy. Read on.

Aw, but before you do, let me digress slightly. I regard the cancellation of GOP primaries as an act of desperation. The GOPlins pushing this claim they are saving money because their anointed king is sure to win anyway. But King Donald is in trouble as Steve Benen reported: Latest polls point to real trouble for Trump’s re-election prospects.

Earlier in the summer, Donald Trump hosted a news conference with farmers and ranchers, who heard the president talk about how impressed he is with himself. “A strange thing is happening: My numbers are going up,” the Republican claimed about his standing in the polls. “Someday, you’ll explain that to me.”

It wasn’t at all difficult to explain: Trump’s numbers weren’t improving. He just made it up.

As the summer nears its end, conditions have grown worse for the troubled president. The latest Gallup poll, for example, shows Trump’s slipping from 44% to 39% since July.

[Trump] published a tweet yesterday [Sep. 10] that was nearly perfect in its encapsulation of his deeply strange worldview: “ABC/Washington Post Poll was the worst and most inaccurate poll of any taken prior to the 2016 Election. When my lawyers protested, they took a 12 point down and brought it to almost even by Election Day. It was a Fake Poll by two very bad and dangerous media outlets. Sad!”

First, shortly before the 2016 election, the final Post/ABC poll showed Trump trailing by about 3 points and Trump ended up losing the popular vote by about 2 points. That’s hardly evidence of “the worst and most inaccurate poll of any taken.”

Second, the news organizations did not receive a complaint from Trump’s lawyers.

Third, the idea that the Washington Post and ABC News deliberately altered polling data to satisfy complaints from Trump and his legal team is hopelessly bonkers.

An analysis the Post published in July continues to ring true: “Trump is incapable of accepting that most Americans don’t like him.”

His sycophants know this and the polls are scaring them sh!tless . That’s why they are engaging in this act of desperation - avoiding the competition in the marketplace of ideas, as argued below, by cancelling their own primaries. Now read on.

Mark Sanford was governor of South Carolina from 2003 to 2011. Joe Walsh represented Illinois’s 8th Congressional District in the House of Representatives from 2011 to 2013. Bill Weld was governor of Massachusetts from 1991 to 1997. All three are seeking the Republican presidential nomination.

The three of us are running for the Republican nomination for president in a race that will inevitably highlight differences among us on matters of policy, style and background. But we are brought together not by what divides us but by what unites us: a shared conviction that the United States needs a strong center-right party guided by basic values that are rooted in the best of the American spirit.

A president always defines his or her party, and today the Republican Party has taken a wrong turn, led by a serial self-promoter who has abandoned the bedrock principles of the GOP. In the Trump era, personal responsibility, fiscal sanity and rule of law have been overtaken by a preference for alienating our allies while embracing terrorists and dictators, attacking the free press and pitting everyday Americans against one another.

No surprise, then, that the latest disgrace, courtesy of Team Trump, is an effort to eliminate any threats to the president’s political power in 2020. Republicans have long held primaries and caucuses to bring out the best our party has to offer. Our political system assumes an incumbent president will make his case in front of voters to prove that he or she deserves to be nominated for a second term. But now, the Republican parties of four states — Arizona, Kansas, Nevada and South Carolina — have canceled their nominating contests. By this design, the incumbent will be crowned winner of these states’ primary delegates. There is little confusion about who has been pushing for this outcome.

What does this say about the Republican Party? If a party stands for nothing but reelection, it indeed stands for nothing. Our next nominee must compete in the marketplace of ideas, values and leadership. Each of us believes we can best lead the party. So does the incumbent. Let us each take our case to the public. The saying “may the best man win” is a quintessential value that the Republican Party must honor if we are to command the respect of the American people. Cowards run from fights. Warriors stand and fight for what they believe. The United States respects warriors. Only the weak fear competition.

Across the aisle, the Democratic primary challengers are still engaged in a heated competition of debates, caucuses and primaries to give their voters in every corner of our country a chance to select the best nominee. Do Republicans really want to be the party with a nominating process that more resembles Russia or China than our American tradition? Under this president, the meaning of truth has been challenged as never before. Under this president, the federal deficit has topped the $1 trillion mark. Do we as Republicans accept all this as inevitable? Are we to leave it to the Democrats to make the case for principles and values that, a few years ago, every Republican would have agreed formed the foundations of our party?

… They conclude:

In the United States, citizens choose their leaders. The primary nomination process is the only opportunity for Republicans to have a voice in deciding who will represent our party. Let those voices be heard.

Friday, September 13, 2019

CEOs demand Senate action on gun control

538’s significant digits morning email reported on the letter signed by CEOs of corporations, large and small, demanding Senate action on gun control.

145 CEOs
The pressure is mounting to act on gun control. The CEOs of 145 companies sent a letter to members of the Senate on Thursday stating that inaction is “simply unacceptable.” The companies represented include Uber, Twitter, TOMS and Airbnb. “Every day, 100 Americans are shot and killed and hundreds more are wounded,” the letter states. The leaders are calling for stronger background checks, in addition to a red flag law. [NPR]

145 CEOs Call On Senate To Pass ‘Common-sense, Bipartisan’ Gun Laws. Go to the NPR report and scroll down to see - and scroll through - the letter.

The Times also reported the CEO’s action charging the Senate’ inaction as ‘Simply Unacceptable’: Executives Demand Senate Action on Gun Violence. “Doing nothing about America’s gun violence crisis is simply unacceptable,” the corporate chiefs urged senators in a letter. For example:

To a certain extent, these C.E.O.s are putting their businesses on the line here, given how politically charged this is,” said Chip Bergh, chief executive of Levi Strauss, a company whose denim jeans have long been a symbol of America. Mr. Bergh spent the last several days trying to cajole his peers into joining him and gun control advocates like Everytown, which is funded in part by Michael Bloomberg. “Business leaders are not afraid to get engaged now,” he added. “C.E.O.s are wired to take action on things that are going to impact their business and gun violence is impacting everybody’s business now.”

Mr. Bergh said he was encouraged by the conversations. “The tide is turning,” he said, citing a spate of recent polls that show a majority of Americans in both parties support background checks and red flag laws. “People were starting to be much more open-minded,” he said, even when the discussion didn’t conclude with a signature.

You can get a copy of the letter in pdf form.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

US should rename FWS as Fish and Wildlife Safaris

Here’s a item from 538’s significant digits morning email.

$400,000 to kill a rhino
Some of y’all need new hobbies. A Michigan trophy hunter is planning to import the body of a rare black rhino he paid $400,000 to kill in Namibia last year. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it will issue an import permit to Chris D. Peyerk despite the U.S. Endangered Species Act restricting the import of trophies of endangered animals. There is some dispute about whether this rhino belonged to a species that is “critically endangered” or just “vulnerable.” [The Associated Press]

That was the short version. Here’s some of the AP article, US to allow trophy hunter to import body of rare black rhino.

The Trump administration says it will issue permit to a Michigan trophy hunter to import the skin, skull and horns from a rare black rhinoceros he shot in Africa.

Documents show Chris D. Peyerk of Shelby Township, Michigan, applied last year for the permit required by the Fish and Wildlife Service to import animals protected under the Endangered Species Act. Peyerk paid $400,000 to an anti-poaching program to receive permission to hunt the male rhino bull inside a Namibian national park in May 2018.

The numbers of black rhinos have been increasing in recent years with stricter conservation management, but dozens are still illegally poached each year for their horns, which are sold on the black market for use in traditional Chinese medicine and as a status symbol. The horns are composed largely of the protein keratin, also the chief component in hair and fingernails.

“Legal, well-regulated hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit the conservation of certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve the species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation,” said Laury Parramore, spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service.

So the FWS has officially bitten the apple grown by Safari International - the organization of head hunters headquartered in Tucson.

Records show Peyerk was represented in his effort to get a rhino permit by John J. Jackson III, a Louisiana attorney who provides free legal assistance to trophy hunters through a nonprofit group called Conservation Force. He is also a past president of Safari Club International, a trophy hunting group that has lobbied the Trump administration to loosen import restrictions on endangered big game animals.

Jackson was appointed in 2018 to the International Wildlife Conservation Council, an advisory board set up by then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to help promote trophy hunting. Jackson said he sees no conflict between advising the Fish and Wildlife Service on policy issues while also petitioning the agency on the behalf of his legal clients.

And that’s why I renamed USFWS to US Fish and Wildlife Safaris.