The short answer: a one-two punch rewriting of campaign finance law that drove legislators to heed their own parties’ extreme elements.
Former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) has blamed the 2002 McCain-Feingold reform law, calling it “the worst thing that ever happened to Congress.” By taking unlimited “soft money” away from the political parties, but especially from the Republican Party, the law empowered the nascent insurgents at the Club for Growth. MORE
But this was the latest in a string of battles in which the American economy was ultimately the loser. According to a study released this week by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, a conservative economic think tank, “crisis-driven government and the resulting fiscal policy uncertainty has directly harmed the American economy by increasing the unemployment rate by 0.6 percent, or the equivalent of 900,000 jobs.” The shutdown itself will shave a third of a point off of economic growth this quarter, concluded the study’s authors.
And the ideological struggle over the need for a functional, sufficiently funded government continues. It’s a conflict conservatives have so far won, especially with the deep cuts of the automatic sequester – the poison fruit of the 2011 debt ceiling stand-off. This week, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) told Fox News that it “has been one of the good things that has happened…in this town,” and vowed, “We’re not going to break the sequester cap.” MORE
Workers are photographed on a flywheel assembly line at the Ford Motor Company's Highland Park, Mi., plant in 1913. The use of a moving line reduced a car's assembly time from 12 hours to 93 minutes. (AP Photo/Ford Motor Company)
If you want a sense of where the nation’s job market is headed, a good place to stand is inside the half-mile-long Skechers warehouse in Moreno Valley, California, where box after box of shoes is stacked upon row after row of shelving, which soars some 40 feet in the air. Physically, the place is a wonder — quiet, sleek, and environmentally friendly (at 1.8 million square feet, it’s the largest officially certified “LEED Gold” building in the country). But what’s most remarkable about the $250 million structure, which opened in 2011, is how few people work there.
The day I visited, a clump of men and women toiled away near a series of conveyor belts, filling small specialty orders. But machines — not human beings — were handling the bulk of the chores. “As you can see, there are no more people doing the retrieving,” Iddo Benzeevi, the chief executive of Highland Fairview, the firm that developed the site, told me. “It’s the computer doing it all by itself.”
A driverless crane swung into motion nearby, delivering a box of shoes to its appointed spot in the stacks. A moment later, guided by a web of sensors and software, the mammoth contraption plucked another box and shuttled it in a different direction. Then it zipped back, red lights flashing. In this immense section of the facility, nobody lays a finger on any of the goods, all stamped “Made in China.”
About 700 people work in the Skechers warehouse, according to Benzeevi, and as many as 300 more could be added in the next few years as business expands. That, however, is about 30 percent fewer jobs than one would expect at a more traditional logistics operation of the same size. A local newspaper, The Press-Enterprise, reported last year that because Skechers transferred work to Moreno Valley from a handful of less-automated warehouses, it has meant a net loss of as many as 400 jobs across the area. (Skechers officials declined to comment.)
Benzeevi is unapologetic about any such casualties and points to a growing logistics industry, the fierce nature of global competition, the unrelenting march of technology, and the quality of jobs that are found at his cutting-edge distribution center — relatively high-skilled, high-paying ones (such as programming computers and repairing sophisticated pieces of equipment) versus the more menial variety that have been wiped out (like hauling around pallets with a forklift). “They are better jobs, which is where America should be,” he says. MORE
Azi Ebrahimi, right, demonstrates for higher wages for fast-food industry workers during a one-day strike. (AP Photo/John Amis)
From 2007 to 2011, the biggest public benefits programs spent $243 billion each year on working families who live in poverty or on the brink of it because their jobs pay so poorly, according to a study published Tuesday by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley. The research focuses on fast food workers as exemplifying the plight of low-wage workers and the costs that low wages pass along to taxpayers.
The study focused on the largest direct assistance programs to establish the cost of the “last line of defense between America’s growing low-income workforce and the want of basic necessities.” The combined cost of public health care programs, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps), the Earned Income Tax Credit that targets low-income workers, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, formerly known as welfare) for working families averaged $243 billion from 2007 to 2011. MORE
Sister Simone Campbell speaks at a rally of the faithful on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, October 15, 2013.
Yesterday in the Canon House Office Building rotunda on Capitol Hill, Rabbi David Shneyer led an interfaith group of approximately 150 clergy leaders, locked out workers and people of faith, in song.
“Of love and justice I will sing,” sang the rabbi, playing a guitar and riffing off of Psalm 101.
As the others joined in, their voices rang out powerfully and could be heard clearly a floor below.
The group had gathered to participate in an action organized by Faith in Public Life. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Unitarians and others marched on the offices of key Republican Members — including GOP Leadership — and urged a vote to immediately end the shutdown and to raise the debt ceiling without preconditions. Petitions with over 32,000 signatures were simultaneously delivered to Members’ home district offices around the country.
When the song ended, Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, offered a prayer: “It is the common good that is the way forward for our nation… And so let us pray for their courage that they can act on behalf of all of our people. And may our walking these halls, and praying with Congress, be the bridge that You need for healing and for some sanity in caring for all.”
The group then began its procession while singing “Amazing Grace” and other hymns. Police officers quickly told them to keep their volume low and stay to the sides of the corridors, or risk arrest. The group complied. It wasn’t that they feared arrest — many of these faith leaders have engaged in civil disobedience in the past — but that wasn’t their mission on Tuesday. MORE
Good morning! We’ve heard a lot about the economic costs of the shutdown and debt ceiling standoff, but what about the psychic toll? How many people are totally stressed out right now? Anyway, here’s some of the stuff we’re reading this AM…
Jonathan Strong at NRO reports that House Republicans were “stunned” when a vote on their final offer was cancelled last night. Now all the action is in the Senate, and John Boehner will probably have t0 pass whatever the upper chamber agrees to with Democratic v0tes.
In 2004, Arizona voters approved Proposition 200, a stringent anti-immigration law that included provisions requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote and government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot. Last year, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit blocked the proof of citizenship requirement, which it said violated the NVRA.
Under the 1993 act, which drastically expanded voter access by allowing registration at public facilities like the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), those using a federal form to register to vote must affirm, under penalty of perjury, that they are US citizens. Twenty-eight million people used that federal form to register to vote in 2008. Arizona’s law, the court concluded, violated the NVRA by requiring additional documentation, such as a driver’s license, birth certificate, passport or tribal forms. MORE
Tea Party activist and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin at a rally in front of the World War II Memorial in Washington Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
On Sunday, several hundred – or perhaps a couple of thousand – tea party activists, led by such luminaries of the right as Sarah Palin, Rep. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), hijacked a march organized by a non-partisan veterans’ group and held an angry demonstration at the National World War II Memorial against the shutdown that Cruz and Lee had engineered and tea partiers across the country had applauded. Anger and confusion about public parks and memorials – especially that one — closing with the rest of the government’s “nonessential services” have been staples of conservative blogs and talk-radio since the shutdown began.
Those incidents should be called out, but focusing only on those offensive displays misses a more basic truth revealed on Sunday: the utter depravity of a major political movement up in arms and rallying around meaningless symbolism (the National Park Service was already letting vets into the memorial, just not other visitors) instead of the real-world harm they themselves inflicted on American families. MORE
When the United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago issued a critical 2007 ruling defending the constitutionality of voter identification laws, Judge Richard Posner authored the decision.
The arguments Judge Posner made for upholding Indiana’s voter ID law framed out some of the essential underpinnings for the 2008 determination of the US Supreme Court – in the case of Crawford v. Marion County Election Board – that has since served as a justification for the enactment of ever harsher laws in states across the country.
Shocker! –> A study of articles in the conservative National Review found that they really care a lot about deficits… when Democrats are in power.
Rape culture –> Shocking story about a family whose daughter was raped being persecuted in a small Missouri town while the alleged rapist got off. Anonymous is threatening revenge. Emily Bazelon with the story for Slate.
Another economy is possible –> AlterNet’s Tara Lohan talks to Rob Hoskins, a visionary who’s working to make sustainable local economies work.
Watching your friends too –> NSA is collecting millions of email address books, report Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani in the WaPo.
Religious wrong –> At Salon, Elizabeth Stoker and Matt Bruenig point out that in other countries conservative Christian groups have poverty on their agendas.
Not so valorous? –> McClatchy’s Jonathan Landay continues to report on inconsistencies between a Medal of Honor winner’s story of a firefight in Afghanistan and other available evidence.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks at a rally in front of the WWII Memorial Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
The old saying that ‘you’re welcome to your own opinions but not your own facts’ seems quaint in today’s political environment. We’re a nation divided not only by partisanship and ideology, but also by wildly divergent realities.
Nowhere is that more evident than in the discourse around Obamacare. There are plenty of legitimate criticisms to be made of the Affordable Care Act, but many conservatives — including the dominant faction within today’s Republican Party — speak about Obamacare as if it were an ebola pandemic, melting the organs of the American heartland from within.
Some of the claims ostensibly respectable figures on the right make about the law are simply mind boggling. This week, Ben Carson, a conservative surgeon and activist — and the flavor-of-the-day at Fox News – told a crowd at this year’s “Values Voters Summit” that Obamacare is “the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.” Forget two world wars, the Great Depression or coming within an inch of annihilation during the Cold War.
Indiana Rep. Todd Rokita (R) reached back further in time to condemn the ACA as “one of the most insidious laws ever created by man,” which prompted Jon Stewart to point out that Rokita was, in effect, “putting Obamacare up with the Nuremberg laws, the Spanish Inquisition and prima nocta — the medieval law where on your wedding night the king gets to sleep with your wife.” MORE
Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA), center, speaks at a news conference with conservative Congressional Republicans who persuaded the House leadership to include defunding the Affordable Care Act in legislation to prevent a government shutdown, at the Capitol in September. From left to right are Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA), Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT). (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Much of the coverage of the government showdown has focused on a relatively small group of hardline conservatives within the Republican caucus who have backed their party’s leaders into a fight they didn’t want.
As Ryan Lizza noted in The New Yorker, these lawmakers mostly represent very safe, heavily Republican and disproportionately white districts that don’t look much like the rest of the country. Many of those on the front lines are recent arrivals to Capitol Hill, and they’re pushing a leadership they see as having been too willing to compromise with Democrats in the past.
It’s an important angle. Yet it also obscures what should be an obvious question: Since when do freshmen senators or one- or two-term reps push their congressional leadership around? Historically, it’s been the reverse. And since when does a newcomer to the Senate such as Ted Cruz (R-TX) have the right to tell House Republicans what to do? If there’s only a relatively small group of lawmakers who think defunding the law is a dandy idea, why has every budget resolution with such a provision won more than 200 Republican votes in the House of Representatives during the showdown? Why is this supposedly silent majority of Republicans so docile? Why don’t they push back?
The answer lies in the clout wielded by an extensive web of non-governmental conservative groups supported by mountains of dark money. Those groups see the Affordable Care Act as an existential threat to their worldview and their party and have waged a multipronged campaign to kill it in its cradle. Theirs is the ultimate inside/ outside strategy: They fund primary challenges from the right by upstart candidates against incumbents they view as insufficiently pure. When those true believers get into office, these groups promote them relentlessly to the party’s activist base – filling their re-election coffers with donations by portraying them as courageous mavericks fighting against ossified “RINOS” (Republicans in Name Only). They mount “public education” campaigns and buy ad blitzes, and they coordinate messaging among friendly voices within the conservative media.
Shortly after President Obama started his second term, a loose-knit coalition of conservative activists led by former Attorney General Edwin Meese III gathered in the capital to plot strategy. Their push to repeal Mr. Obama’s health care law was going nowhere, and they desperately needed a new plan.
Out of that session, held one morning in a location the members insist on keeping secret, came a little-noticed “blueprint to defunding Obamacare,” signed by Mr. Meese and leaders of more than three dozen conservative groups.
It articulated a take-no-prisoners legislative strategy that had long percolated in conservative circles: that Republicans could derail the health care overhaul if conservative lawmakers were willing to push fellow Republicans — including their cautious leaders — into cutting off financing for the entire federal government.
With a broad, well-funded campaign, these groups have effectively shifted the balance of power in conservative Washington away from Republican leaders on the Hill and onto a cadre of true believers who will go to any length to destroy a modest set of health care reforms that, just 20 years ago, the very same conservative movement was itself advancing.
So just looking at the rank-and-file members of the “suicide caucus” isn’t enough – it’s like focusing on the marionette rather than the puppet-master.
Chokwe Lumumba was an unlikely candidate for high office in Mississippi. But last June, the former black nationalist and onetime attorney to Tupac Shakur was elected mayor of Jackson, Mississippi. He’s now in hot pursuit, not of big box stores or the next silver bullet solution to what ails the state’s capital city. He wants to create worker-owned cooperatives and small-scale green businesses and to invest in training and infrastructure. It’s the program of change he ran on in the election: local self-reliance.
Peaches, a soul-food restaurant on Jackson's historic Farish Street. The business was started in 1961 by Wilora "Peaches" Ephram and was frequented by leaders in the Civil Rights movement. (Photo: Sheila Scarborough)
Jackson’s population is 80 percent black, 18 percent white and the rest largely immigrant, with heavy concentrations of Indians, Nigerians and Brazilians.
“Without question, the ideas of economic democracy that we want to propose come from the Southern context,” says Kali Akuno, a member of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and a coordinator of special projects for the Lumumba administration.
That Lumumba won the election came as a surprise to some, but not to Akuno: “There exists an audience in the black community that is way more willing than others to experiment with distribution.”
Self-reliance “is in our history, it had to be,” he continues. “People know about Fannie Lou Hamer organizing black voters to fight segregation but do they know she also helped to start cooperatives with retail distribution across Mississippi that are still around today?” MORE
This photograph taken Thursday, June 6, 2013 in Washington, D.C., shows a copy of the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order requiring Verizon to give the National Security Administration (NSA) information on all land-line and mobile telephone calls of Verizon Business in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries. (AP Photo)
Today the Committee to Protect Journalists unveiled a detailed, sober assessment of press freedom in the United States during President Obama’s tenure. The report concluded that far from fulfilling his campaign promise to improve transparency, the president has instead presided over an unprecedented campaign to contain leaks and to control media coverage of government operations.
The fact that the CPJ issued the report at all underscores how hostile official policy has been to journalists. While the CPJ has reported on press freedoms in countries around the world since the early 1980s, this is its first investigation focused on the United States. Leonard Downie Jr., former executive editor of The Washington Post, wrote the report, with input from several dozen Washington journalists, media advocates and former government officials. MORE
The United States is the wealthiest country in the world, in terms of GDP. But which country is the richest in terms of median wealth per person? Australia. The median wealth of adults there is $219,505, according to the Credit Suisse 2013 Global Wealth Report, which was released on Wednesday. In the US, the median wealth is only $45,000, compared to an average wealth per person of more than $250,000. Here are some other chart-tastic findings from the report.
Global wealth reached an all-time high of $241 trillion, up about five percent since last year. If all the money in the world were spread out evenly, it would amount to $51,600 per person. And here is a map of what it would look like if countries’ GDP were spread out evenly among their populations.