Friday, February 25, 2011

A Few Thoughts about Republican Strategy... Robert Rubin

GOP forces are trying to deflect attention from the growing wealth transfer to the richest 1 percent while the jobs and wages of everyone else languish.
The Republican strategy is to split the vast middle and working class - pitting unionized workers against non-unionized, public-sector workers against non-public, older workers within sight of Medicare and Social Security against younger workers who don't believe these programs will be there for them, and the poor against the working middle class.
By splitting working America along these lines, Republicans hope to deflect attention from the big story. That's the increasing share of total income and wealth going to the richest 1 percent while the jobs and wages of everyone else languish.
Republicans would rather no one notice their campaign to generate further tax cuts for the rich - making the Bush tax cuts permanent, further reducing the estatetax, and allowing the wealthy to shift ever more of their income into capital gains taxed at 15 percent.
The strategy has three parts.
  • The battle over the federal budget
  • The assault on public employees
  • The distortion of the Constitution
The Battle Over the Federal Budget
The first is being played out in the budget battle in Washington. As they raise the alarm over deficit spending and simultaneously squeeze popular middle-class programs, Republicans want the majority of the American public to view it all as a giant zero-sum game among average Americans that some will have to lose.
The President has already fallen into the trap by calling for budget cuts in programs the poor and working class depend on - assistance with home heating, community services, college loans, and the like.
In the coming showdown over Medicare and Social Security, House budget chair Paul Ryan will push a voucher system for Medicare and a partly-privatized plan for Social Security - both designed to attract younger middle-class voters.
The Assault on Public Employees
The second part of the Republican strategy is being played out on the state level where public employees are being blamed for state budget crises. Unions didn't cause these budget crises - state revenues dropped because of the Great Recession - but Republicans view them as opportunities to gut public employee unions, starting with teachers.
Wisconsin's Republican governor Scott Walker and his GOP legislature are seeking to end almost all union rights for teachers. Ohio's Republican governor John Kasich is pushing a similar plan in Ohio through a Republican-dominated legislature. New Jersey's Republican governor Chris Christie is attempting the same, telling a conservative conference Wednesday, "I'm attacking the leadership of the union because they're greedy, and they're selfish and they're self-interested."
The demonizing of public employees is not only based on the lie that they've caused these budget crises, but it's also premised on a second lie: that public employees earn more than private-sector workers. They don't, when you take account of their education. In fact over the last fifteen years the pay of public-sector workers, including teachers, has dropped relative to private-sector employees with the same level of education - even including health and retirement benefits. Moreover, most public employees don't have generous pensions. After a career with annual pay averaging less than $45,000, the typical newly-retired public employee receives a pension of $19,000 a year.
Bargaining rights for public employees haven't caused state deficits to explode. Some states that deny their employees bargaining rights, such as Nevada, North Carolina, and Arizona, are running big deficits of over 30 percent of spending. Many states that give employees bargaining rights - Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Montana - have small deficits of less than 10 percent.
Republicans would rather go after teachers and other public employees than have us look at the pay of Wall Street traders, private-equity managers, and heads of hedge funds - many of whom wouldn't have their jobs today were it not for the giant taxpayer-supported bailout, and most of whose lending and investing practices were the proximate cause of the Great Depression to begin with.
Last year, America's top thirteen hedge-fund managers earned an average of $1 billion each. One of them took home $5 billion. Much of their income is taxed as capital gains - at 15 percent - due to a tax loophole that Republican members of Congress have steadfastly guarded.
If the earnings of those thirteen hedge-fund managers were taxed as ordinary income, the revenues generated would pay the salaries and benefits of 300,000 teachers. Who is more valuable to our society - thirteen hedge-fund managers or 300,000 teachers? Let's make the question even simpler. Who is more valuable: One hedge fund manager or one teacher?
The Distortion of the Constitution
The third part of the Republican strategy is being played out in the Supreme Court. It has politicized the Court more than at any time in recent memory.
Last year a majority of the justices determined that corporations have a right under the First Amendment to provide unlimited amounts of money to political candidates. Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission is among the most patently political and legally grotesque decisions of our highest court - ranking right up there with Bush vs. Gore and Dred Scott.
Among those who voted in the affirmative were Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia. Both have become active strategists in the Republican party.
A month ago, for example, Antonin Scalia met in a closed-door session with Michele Bachman's Tea Party caucus - something no justice concerned about maintaining the appearance of impartiality would ever have done.
Both Thomas and Scalia have participated in political retreats organized and hosted by multi-billionaire financier Charles Koch, a major contributor to the Tea Party and other conservative organizations, and a crusader for ending all limits on money in politics. (Not incidentally, Thomas's wife is the founder of Liberty Central, a Tea Party organization that has been receiving unlimited corporate contributions due to the Citizens United decision. On his obligatory financial disclosure filings, Thomas has repeatedly failed to list her sources of income over the last twenty years, nor even to include his own four-day retreats courtesy of Charles Koch.)
Some time this year or next, the Supreme Court will be asked to consider whether the nation's new healthcare law is constitutional. Watch your wallets.
The Strategy as a Whole
These three aspects of the Republican strategy - a federal budget battle to shrink government, focused on programs the vast middle class depends on; state efforts to undermine public employees, whom the middle class depends on; and a Supreme Court dedicated to bending the Constitution to enlarge and entrench the political power of the wealthy - fit perfectly together.
They pit average working Americans against one another, distract attention from the almost unprecedented concentration of wealth and power at the top, and conceal Republican plans to further enlarge and entrench that wealth and power.
What is the Democratic strategy to counter this and reclaim America for the rest of us?
Robert Reich is Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He has written twelve books, including "The Work of Nations," "Locked in the Cabinet," "Supercapitalism" and his latest book, "AFTERSHOCK: The Next Economy and America's Future." His 'Marketplace' commentaries can be found on

Monday, February 14, 2011

Meet Kelley Williams-Bolar... and Education Reform...

I can appreciate any parent who is involved in his/her children's education.  After all, research suggests that parents who spend 15-20 minutes with their student per day... whether it is reading, writing, studying, or simply talking about school... are much more likely to have success in school.

Part of the American Dream is working hard, and putting some distance between your family and a sub-standard housing and school district. That is why I like Kelley Williams-Bolars concern for her children. I can't imagine what it would be like to be a single parent, trying to raise children in a sub-standard school district. As unfair as it sounds, Kelley as well as many other Americans, are victims of their own decisions.  Kelley is a single parent who lives in public housing. She lied about her residency to enroll her children in a school district where she did not pay taxes. She was caught, tried, convicted, and sent to jail for falsifying records.

Columnist Kevin Huffman suggested that part of the problem is school choice. That, if Kelley had a choice as where to send her children, she wouldn't have had to lie about her residency. However, Huffman seems to overlook the fundamental fact that the parents in Copley-Fairlawn schools have worked hard to buy a house in a nice school district. That these same parents pay the taxes which support those schools. That it too is very unfair to expect the hard-working citizens of one school district to foot the bill of children who do not live in the district.
If this crime were repeated on a more massive scale the school would spend valuable resources trying to determine who should, and who should not be attending their schools. Furthermore, there might be an additional financial strain by buying these students, after school activities, and maybe even a free lunch program. Meanwhile, the school district would also have less resources to educate the children who really live in the district.

At the end of the day, I applaud any parent who wants the best for her children. However, it is not the responsibility of the tax payers, or government to fix a problem that Kelley helped create for herself.

Kevin Huffman evidently is not familiar with John McWhorter's Losing the Race. This book takes an honest view of public schools in the United States. McWhorter's conclusion is that the true problem with America's Education system isn't so much unequal schools, but more importantly the perception of schools in each culture.  Maybe Huffman's comments about zip codes being the number on e indicator of school success is a complete fallacy. John McWhorter was quick to point out that Shaker Heights Schools ( a Cleveland Suburb) has gone to great lengths to improve the quality of education for all students. This includes programs to reach out to struggling students and others which close the achievement gap.

The fact of the matter is that a parent's love, attention, and modeling of appropriate behavior will generally indicate a student's success.  And that is the case in a school that is poor and Hispanic, poor and black, and poor and white.  Furthermore, the belief in the victim mentality does nothing more that to perpetuate this notion.  Kelley should start the conversation by admitting that did something wrong. Kevin Huffman should re-evaluate his stance and race bating statements. Kelley Williams-Bolar is no Rosa Parks.  The fact of the matter is there are many successful students of African-American decent in the Copley-Fairlawn district. The vast majority pay their taxes and have not falsified records..