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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Time to Pass Jobs Bill!

In Great Recession, inequality, Politics, Social Change, Worker's Rights on September 9, 2011 at 12:17 pm

I just had a conversation with a young African American man* that illuminates why we need bold action on jobs, and now! The man asked me for bus fare, and we started chatting. He asked if I was in school and I said yes, law school. Turns out he at one point was pursuing a degree in criminal justice with hopes of becoming a policeman or attorney. He couldn’t afford to finish his degree.** Today he had the unpleasant job of having to ask a stranger for a few quarters so he could ride a bus.

Our country can do better.

*I highlight his race because our country is failing black males the most. Of all racial groups, they face highest rates of unemployment as well as highest incarceration rates.

**I never used to understand why people could not afford college. You can get loans, right? Turns out financial aid policies hurt low income students in disproportionate ways. I will write a post soon about why this is and how we might better support those who don’t have the means to attend college.

Ohio’s History Repeats Itself: A Return to Plunder Laws

In inequality, Midwest, Politics on August 30, 2011 at 11:47 am

courtesy flickr creative commons - http://www.flickr.com/photos/calliope/

I just started my third year of law school (hence the slowdown in posting to the blog), and I am in the midst of finalizing a comment* on the (un)constitutionality of the Kasich administration’s JobsOhio initiative. For those of you not familiar with JobsOhio, last spring the Ohio General Assembly enacted and Kasich signed into law  a bill privatizing the state’s Economic Development department. What this means is that Kasich can appoint private industry executives to a board of directors (which was initially going to be headed by Kasich, until they realized it was blatantly unconstitutional) and channel funds to private corporations (and it just happens they all were campaign donors or are people he is fairly friendly with), all under the guise of “creating more jobs”.

In my opinion, JobsOhio is pretty horrible. And I believe it is certainly unconstitutional. But as I have done research on this, what has really struck me is how much the more things change the more they stay the same. We have been here before. History repeats itself. Insert your favorite cliche.

The reason why the Ohio constitution prohibits using public finds for private enterprise in the first place is because we went down this road before, and it ended with corruption and waste. The pertinent constitutional provisions came about because of some not-so-different laws passed in the early- to mid-1800s. At that time Ohio was a young state and very much in need of greater transportation to get goods to market. There was a boom in industry, with the need for trains, canals, and better roads. The public wanted them all built, and in the flurry of activity, allowed their legislative representatives to enact laws that would channel state funds to private companies willing to build the infrastructure.

Unfortunately, while some train tracks and canals were built, the state took on huge amounts of debt. Much of the debt was never repaid by the corporations (many of which took the money and ran); train tracks were never built, or if they were built, they were often duplicate routes and were an efficient use of tax dollars.  Money was channeled to cronies. And areas of the state in need of infrastructure were not served. In sum, huge amounts of public funds led to a whole lot of nothing. A backlash ensued, and the public demanded accountability for the use of their money. The result was a new state constitution that placed huge limits on public financing of private enterprise.  And in the end, after the new constitution went into effect, the railroads were still built and canals dug, all without use of the public coffers. 

The moral of the story is this: taking the public money and giving it to private corporations leads to a whole lot of BAD. It leads to corruption and waste. Ohioans of the 19th century called laws that funded these acts “plunder laws”. It seems plunder laws have returned, this time with promises of jobs and new industry rather than new roads and canals.

My prediction: we will see fraud, we will see money channeled to cronies, and we will see an uneven use of funds benefiting some state regions more than others.

Let’s heed the wisdom of those who went down this road before. Let’s follow our constitution, and rather than repeat mistakes of the past, prevent them from happening all over again.

* For those sane individuals who have wisely steered clear of legal education, a “comment” is a short academic legal article

Frances Kissling’s Thoughts on Social Change

In Great Recession, inequality, Politics, Poverty, Social Change, Worker's Rights on August 18, 2011 at 1:00 pm

I just listened to a fantastic interview with Frances Kissling on American Public Radio’s “On Being” program.  The interview concerned Kissling’s work as a pro-choice activist, and in particular her experiences sitting down at the table with those who think very differently than her about reproductive choice issues. Kissling’s viewpoint on this issue was a breath of fresh air. She talked about how it may not be possible for Catholic bishops and pro-choice feminists to find common ground, per se, but that does not mean we should not understand where the other is coming from.

Many moons ago I was a political organizer with NARAL Ohio, and while I’m familiar with the work of Catholics for Choice (which Kissling used to lead), I was not particularly familiar with Kissling. Needless to say, I was very impressed by her.

The interview is worth a listen if this is an issue you care about. While I won’t rehash it all here, I was struck by her response to the question posed about what she has learned over the years about working for social change. Kippling said there are two main lessons: Change begins at the margins, and you must see the good in the other.

I wholeheartedly agree. I’ve been thinking a lot about social change in general, not just with reproductive choice issues. We cannot expect our leaders in the moderate-mushy-middle to suddenly wake up one day and say, “Wow this economy is really not working for most people; let’s stick it to the man!” We need to pressure our government to change, and that might start small and at the margins. But you gotta start somewhere, right?

Oh, and that part about seeing the good in the other? That part I have to work on. I will admit: I have a hard time seeing the good in Bachman or Perry. Patience, grasshopper. Maybe someday soon.

Little Known Facts About the Affordable Care Act

In Politics on August 4, 2011 at 4:23 pm

While there has been plenty of media coverage about the backlash against the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”), what hasn’t been communicated to the American public are the many provisions that will likely be met with popular support. According to a recent Kasier Health Tracking Poll, public opinion is divided, with “42 percent of Americans holding a favorable view and 43 percent an unfavorable view” of the Affordable Care Act.  Kaiser also notes that while consumer protection provisions were initially popular, recent polling shows that “just one in five Americans think the law will lead to improvements in consumer protections for the average person with health insurance.”

I did some research on the Act and was surprised by how many provisions I was unfamiliar with. So here, to educate myself and my readers, is the first in a series of little known facts about the Affordable Care Act.

FACT:  The Federal Government will subsidize the purchase of health insurance for many individuals and families who won’t be covered by an employer. Effective 2014, the government will subsidize the cost of health insurance for low and moderate income individuals/families who must purchase health insurance. Tax credits will support folks who are at 400% of the federal poverty level– which is $43,320 for an individual or $88,200 for a family of four in 2009. Source: Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation Health Reform Source.Will you be eligible for a subsidy? Check out this nifty subsidy calculator.


Two Reasons Why the Bush Tax Cuts Should Expire

In Great Recession, inequality, Politics, Social Change on August 3, 2011 at 10:49 pm

Photo courtesy flickr user Great Beyond

Two Reasons Why the Bush Tax Cuts Should Expire:

  1. The ultra-rich can afford to send their children to summer camp–aboard private jets.
  2. The ultra-rich can afford quarter-million-dollar houses–playhouses for their children, that is.

Kudos to Kasich: Governor Gets it Right in Vetoing Water Bill

In Midwest, Politics on July 20, 2011 at 10:16 am

While I am not a huge fan of Kasich (understatement?) I applaud him for taking the bold step of vetoing  House Bill 231, which would have dramatically increased industrial access to Lake Erie water, without any safeguards such as permits or scientific review.

Seems that Kasich has angered his friends. But perhaps their loyalties are to their pocketbooks–rather than to the people’s lake. In today’s Columbus Dispatch, an editorial states:

“[bill] sponsor Lynn R. Wachtmann, R-Napoleon, [] sniped at Kasich, “I think he’s tired of getting beat up and thought he’d screw the business community and look popular.” Consider also that Wachtmann is president of a bottled-water company, an obvious conflict that should loom large whenever he talks about what’s best for Lake Erie.” (Columbus Dispatch)

President of a bottled-water company?! You can’t make this stuff up.

(Of course, Wachtmann’s name might sound familiar; he is one of the sponsor’s of Ohio’s horrific “heartbeat bill” which would ban abortion after a heartbeat is detected.  Lovely eh?)

Again, kudos to the Governor to standing up to special interests who have dollar signs in their eyes rather than a desire to protect our valuable natural resources.

Cut spending to 18 percent of GDP = time travel to 1966

In Debt Ceiling, Politics on July 18, 2011 at 3:04 pm

I love this chart from Center for American Progress:

charticle graphic

Still Wanted: Left-of-Obama Voice on Budget

In Politics on July 16, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Brookings said it so well I had to re-post:

Help Wanted: A Left-of-Obama Voice on the Federal Budget

Isabel V. Sawhill, Senior Fellow, Economic Studies
The Brookings Institution

President Obama has a habit of arriving at an event a little bit late in the game. Whether on health care reform, Deepwater Horizon, Libya, the Bowles-Simpson plan, or the government shutdown, his style is to hang back, position himself above the fray, and then be the Great Compromiser. Now he has just done it again, finally responding to the Republicans 2012 budget plan with one of his own. But it’s not only a little late; it’s also so middle-of-the road that it risks a compromise that is well to the right-of-center.

Read more.

Ohio is Broke…So Why are We Forfeiting $176.3 Million in Federal Funds?

In Great Recession, Politics on July 14, 2011 at 10:03 am

From (full disclosure: my employer) Policy Matters Ohio:

Ohio now has less than two months to take steps to modernize its unemployment compensation system, or it will forfeit $176.3 million in federal funds.

Call me crazy, but it seems kind of irresponsible for lawmakers to forfeit this money at a time when the state is so broke.

update: the issue is featured on the Columbus Dispatch.

Out of Touch

In Debt Ceiling, Great Recession, inequality, Politics, Poverty, Uncategorized on July 8, 2011 at 4:09 pm
Update (7/26/11): I posted this July 8th and Congress still has not reached a deal. For the record, still angry.

I am angry. So angry that I spent the entire evening furiously weeding the garden and muttering under my breath.

Letter to FDR asking for his support of "old age pension"

Why am I so upset?

I’m angry because Washington is seriously out of touch. No, not the normal “hey we’re a bunch of millionaires, but we’ll still throw you a bone” out-of-touch.  More like the, “Hey, let’s punch people while they are down! Whee isn’t this fun!”out-of-touch.

Of course I’m referring to the reports that Obama is putting Social Security and Medicare on the table for negotiations regarding this deficit bruhaha. Ok, before you’re all like, “Hey Sarah, get off your liberal high horse and admit these programs are broken/bloated/unsustainable and can afford to be trimmed a bit” you need to know that I probably (somewhat) agreed with you two months ago.  I’ve heard the reports about how unsustainable social security is. I’ve seen the news coverage about Medicare waste and fraud.

But I’ve also spent time at my summer job researching and writing on a report about our country’s safety net programs. While I am no expert by any means, I have done a ton of reading about social security, Medicare, etc. What I’ve learned is that these programs have already been cut beyond belief and are all that stand between someone just getting by and someone living in poverty.

Would you believe me if I told you that without social security, nearly fifty percent of the elderly would be living in poverty? (Last time poverty was that bad among the elderly was  in 1935, before the Social Security was enacted.)

Know what else? These social programs are not the source of our troubles. All that fuss about how the “sky is falling” with social security?  Entitlement programs are not in a dire crisis. To quote Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

“Social Security can pay full benefits through 2037 without any changes, and relatively modest changes would place the program on a sound financial footing for 75 years and beyond.” (CBPP)

I am old enough to know better than to expect politicians to do the right thing just for the heck of it. However, I was under the mistaken belief that the Democrat party was wise enough to understand that a) the public (presumably the Democrat’s base + moderates + swing voters–basically everyone but tea party) overwhelmingly support Medicare and Social Security and b) many of them rely upon it, especially during the Great Recession. (Currently One in six Ohioans receive some form of Social Security benefit.)

Politically, Democrats are fools to ignore these facts.  But more than that, what exactly is it that you are standing up for when you throw low and moderate income folks under the bus? Does our government simply exist to channel the people’s funds to benefit for-profit companies, or does it exist to promote the public good and provide for the safety and well-being of it citizens?

Washington, it is time you wake up. The rest of us non-millionaires are not surprised by June’s employment numbers.  If you stepped outside of the beltway, you might realize that a lot of people are barely getting by, and even then mostly on crumbs.  And you want to take those crumbs away, so you can keep your corporate jet tax loopholes?

That is a disgrace.