Daily Archive: 03/31/2014

Mar 31 2014

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

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Paul Krugman: Jobs and Skills and Zombies

A few months ago, Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, and Marlene Seltzer, the chief executive of Jobs for the Future, published an article in Politico titled “Closing the Skills Gap.” They began portentously: “Today, nearly 11 million Americans are unemployed. Yet, at the same time, 4 million jobs sit unfilled” – supposedly demonstrating “the gulf between the skills job seekers currently have and the skills employers need.”

Actually, in an ever-changing economy there are always some positions unfilled even while some workers are unemployed, and the current ratio of vacancies to unemployed workers is far below normal. Meanwhile, multiple careful studies have found no support for claims that inadequate worker skills explain high unemployment.

But the belief that America suffers from a severe “skills gap” is one of those things that everyone important knows must be true, because everyone they know says it’s true. It’s a prime example of a zombie idea – an idea that should have been killed by evidence, but refuses to die.

And it does a lot of harm. Before we get there, however, what do we actually know about skills and jobs?

New York Times Editorial Board: The Senate’s Discourtesy to Judges

The job of federal judge for the Eastern District of North Carolina has been vacant for more than eight years, one of the longest vacancies of 83 on the federal bench around the country. Last June, President Obama nominated Jennifer May-Parker, a federal prosecutor, for the position, but she hasn’t even received a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee because Richard Burr, the state’s Republican senator, is blocking her. [..]

Senators with real complaints should state them on the floor and hope to persuade a majority. At the moment, unfortunately, Republicans believe they have a serious chance of regaining the Senate in November, and they seem to have no interest in approving any of Mr. Obama’s judicial nominations through the end of his term. That’s an abuse of the system, and Mr. Leahy is running out of time to stop it.

David Cay Johnston: Do corporations have religious beliefs?

The Hobby Lobby case has raised questions that the founders would find absurd

The Supreme Court appears to be on the verge of opening a Pandora’s box, spilling forth all sorts of travails by inventing another new right for corporations, this time for religious worship. The founders would surely be astounded.

At issue in a March 25 Supreme Court hearing on Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby was whether two corporations with thousands of employees could refuse to pay for some forms of birth control under the Affordable Care Act because it violates the religious beliefs of the corporations. [..]

Can a corporation hold religious beliefs? It cannot.

Can a corporation engage in the free exercise of religion? It cannot.

Indeed, a corporation cannot exercise religion or have any beliefs because it is merely an inanimate vessel, a box, as it were, to contain liability for debts, for misconduct and even for criminality, thus shielding its owners. [..]

The framers were skeptical of corporations, few of which existed in the 18th century. They disliked their limits on personal responsibility and their history of abuses. The framers also made sure that America would be a secular nation, protecting equally the beliefs of the faithful and atheists while prohibiting any test of religious belief for those seeking office.

And if we could resurrect the framers, they would surely find the idea that a corporation has First Amendment religious rights laughable. We should too.

John Nichols: Serious coverage of trade issues is essential – but all too rare

President Obama used his European tour to make another pitch for sweeping new free-trade agreements such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Recognizing that there is mass opposition to these sorts of deals in the U.S. and abroad – based on the profound concerns about job security, wages, the circumstance of working farmers, environmental protection and democracy raised by the North American Free Trade Agreement, the permanent normalization of trade relations with China, and more recent trade arrangements – Obama urged critics of race-to-the-bottom trade policies to trust that he would negotiate better deals. [..]

Unfortunately, once agreements of this sort are reached – using the fast track authority sought by the administration – they are almost impossible to alter. And the pressure on Congress to approve them “as is” becomes immense. This is why the overwhelming majority of House Democrats and many Republicans, as well as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., have expressed opposition to granting the fast track authority.

It’s not just that corporate lobbyists and their political allies have learned how to rush these deals through Congress. It is also that the media, for the most part, do a lousy job of covering trade debates and trade policy.

Arun Kundnani: No NSA reform can fix the American Islamophobic surveillance complex

Muslim Americans likely make up the bulk of US domestic spy targets. This is what it’s like for innocent citizens to live in fear

Better oversight of the sprawling American national security apparatus may finally be coming: President Obama and the House Intelligence Committee unveiled plans this week to reduce bulk collection of telephone records. The debate opened up by Edward Snowden’s whistle-blowing is about to get even more legalistic than all the parsing of hops and stores and metadata.

These reforms may be reassuring, if sketchy. But for those living in so-called “suspect communities” – Muslim Americans, left-wing campaigners, “radical” journalists – the days of living on the receiving end of excessive spying won’t end there.

Mar 31 2014

Voter suppression efforts by Republicans still ongoing

It’s happening so often it’s like we’re getting used to it. A voter ID law here, reduced voting hours there. Ho-hum, “nothing to see here” says Mainstream Cable News.

A New York Times article highlights ongoing efforts by swing states with GOP-controlled legislatures to make it more difficult for people to vote.

In my state, Ohio, one of the biggest changes will be in early voting. For 2014, people will no longer be allowed to vote the Sunday before election day. This may sound like small change, but it’s a big deal. Some churches have done “souls to the polls” efforts to transport their members to the polls, and they do it on the Sunday before election day. The Sunday vote is important to low-wage workers forced to work 6-day weeks to make ends meet. Sunday may be the only day they have to vote. In 2012, I voted the Sunday before Election Day, and waited 2 and a half hours for the privilege.

Republicans, of course, know this. “They know when they are taking away early voting exactly who it’s affecting,”, says Democratic candidate for Governor, Ed Fitzgerald. It affects black voters, low-income voters, urban voters, groups that trend Democratic.

Recently, a group of officials in the Cincinnati area took part in a 90-minute bus ride and walk to a proposed early voting site as a protest over how long the trip took from one inner-city neighborhood.

Another dirty trick is to require documents that are harder to obtain.

Other states are considering mandating proof of citizenship, like a birth certificate or a passport,

Low income voters are more likely to lack the time and money to obatin these documents. But that’s the point isn’t it?

Of course, in a classic mainstream media fair-and-balanced moment, the NYT article infers that by fighting against voter suppression, Democrats are somehow the badguys too.

Richard L. Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine, said Democrats had their own partisan agendas for doing so since an expanded electorate would benefit mostly Democrats.

“It’s not just out of the goodness of their own hearts they are doing this,” he said….

…”The case has not been made that these things so far have had a huge effect on turnout,”

But it has had an effect. Anecdotally, I didn’t wait in line at all in 2000 and 2004, but in 2012 I waited 2 and a half hours. My wife was forced to vote provisionally because her name was purged from the voter rolls, something mainstream media and blogs say isn’t happening. But it is. I used to just be able to show up, state my name, and exercise my right to vote. Now I need an ID and to make sure beforehand my name is still registered.

Even if mainstream polls and studies say there’s no decrease in turnout, voting is more difficult than it once was. Fact. It’s simple logic that if something is more difficult, people are less likely to do it. Waits are longer. There’s more hoops to jump through.

OK, so fighting against voter suppression does help Democrats, but it is also the right thing to do. For all their talk about being “pro-American” or whatever, Republicans have made it a priority to make it more difficult for Americans to vote. Their assault on voting rights is an assault on one of the most American of values: that everyone gets to vote, everyone has a say.

Voter suppression has been talked about before, but it’s not “old news”. It’s happening now. Republicans are getting away with it. It’s a dirty trick. By not talking about voter suppression, or even discouraging talk about voter suppression, we are enabling it. Not  only does it hurt Democrats’ chances in November, it’s fundamentally wrong.

Some of us in Ohio get annoyed at the Election Day circus that envelops us every four years. It seems like national politicians only care about us every four years, then return to Washington forgetting the people who helped them get there. We’re not stupid. We know it’s getting harder to vote, and if Democrats halfheartedly oppose voter suppression or wait until 2016 to care about it, we will remember. There needs to be a sustained, long-term pushback against the Republican agenda to Block the Vote.

Mar 31 2014

On This Day In History March 31

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

March 31 is the 90th day of the year (91st in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 275 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1776, future first lady Abigail Adams writes to her husband urging him to “remember the ladies” when drafting a new “code of laws” for the fledgling nation.

While John Adams participated in the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Abigail remained at their home in Braintree, Massachusetts, managing their daily affairs in his absence. At the same time that Adams was preparing to publish his “Thoughts on Government” essay, which outlined proposed political philosophy and structures for the new nation, Abigail pondered if and how the rights of women would be addressed in an American constitution.

Women’s rights

Adams was an advocate of married women’s property rights and more opportunities for women, particularly in the field of education. Women, she believed, should not submit to laws not made in their interest, nor should they be content with the simple role of being companions to their husbands. They should educate themselves and thus be recognized for their intellectual capabilities, so they could guide and influence the lives of their children and husbands. She is known for her March 1776 letter to John and the Continental Congress, requesting that they, “…remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.

John declined Abigail’s “extraordinary code of laws,” but acknowledged to Abigail, “We have only the name of masters, and rather than give up this, which would completely subject us to the despotism of the petticoat, I hope General Washington and all our brave heroes would fight.”

Braintree March 31, 1776

   Tho we felicitate ourselves, we sympathize with those who are trembling least the Lot of Boston should be theirs. But they cannot be in similar circumstances unless pusilanimity and cowardise should take possession of them. They have time and warning given them to see the Evil and shun it. I long to hear that you have declared an independancy and by the way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.

   That your Sex are Naturally Tyrannical is a Truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute, but such of you as wish to be happy willingly give up the harsh title of Master for the more tender and endearing one of Friend. Why then, not put it out of the power of the vicious and the Lawless to use us with cruelty and indignity with impunity. Men of Sense in all Ages abhor those customs which treat us only as the vassals of your Sex. Regard us then as Beings placed by providence under your protection and in immitation of the Supreem Being make use of that power only for our happiness.

Mar 31 2014

Sunday Train: Our Trebly Broken Highway Funding System

Over the balance of this year, you are likely to hear more and more about our broken Highway Funding system. For instance, William Moore, of the consultancy group Vianovo and member of the Transportation Transformation Group, wrote at Infra Insight this last 13 March that:

Absent swift action by Congress, state departments of transportation will begin to have cash flow problems that could delay payments to vendors and slow projects.  Without action by the fall, new projects may have to be shelved until Congress can resolve the funding crisis that confronts the Highway Trust Fund.

However, this is just the most visible layer of pending crisis in our highway funding system. Even if we were to fix the threat to engage in spending at status quo levels,status quo spending has been falling behind the damage done by cars and trucks to our roads for decades, and even if we were to fund our transportation to address the massive shortfall in maintaining our current highway system, we have not seriously begun in addressing the fact that our current transport system is one of our principle contributor’s to our economy’s present climate change suicide course.

We have a trebly broken highway funding system, and there is no guarantee that we will actually address the simplest of the problems.

The good news is that we do not need massive technological breakthroughs to fix this triple layer cake of crisis. The bad news is that what we do need is a political movement with both the focus and the clout to push the existing available solutions onto the table, in the face of determined status quo resistance … and those who have at least glanced at our political system over the past decade would be aware that building such a movement is a “to be solved by reader” kind of problem.