Economics

What’s The Matter With Eastern Washington?

Catherine Umbridge-Rogers

I don’t know about you, but I found the “official” Republican Party response to Pres. Obama’s State of the Union address by Representative Catherine McMorris Rodgers more than a little creepy.  As I listened, patiently waiting for anything resembling either a response to the President’s speech, or, as unlikely as it might be, a new idea to emerge from the party of “just say no”, I had an unsettling feeling that she reminded me of someone.

Finally it hit me, Representative McMorris Rodgers has all the malevolent mannerisms of Harry Potter’s Delores Umbrage. I am guessing that many would find this characterization a bit harsh. Most of the national commentators, while critical of McMorris Rodgers “speech”, saw it as a combination of vacuous, benign platitudes along with a sanitized “rags to riches” story. Charlie Pierce, for example, dismissed it with the following comment:

And then there was Cathy McMorris Rogers, who was not nutty, but who, I believe, was attempting to sell me a dinette set. Also, can I just say to the nice furniture lady that I’m happy that she and her retired Naval commander husband both had that sweet government health-care so that their newborn son’s pre-existing condition wasn’t the kind of hardship it is for parents who are only now, through the Affordable Care Act, able to stave off financial disaster in similar circumstances.

I guess I saw her speech as more malevolent because I’m aware of where she’s from and who her constituents are. She represents Eastern Washington, the poorer side of the state. Her home is in Stevens County which had an unemployment rate 30% higher than the national average last year. One in six people live below the poverty level and 20% are on food stamps. The leading employer is government, providing 3,023 of the 9,580 non-agricultural payroll jobs last year.

So, what is McMorris Rodgers legislative record? She voted to drastically cut food aid last year, and led her party in rejecting emergency benefits to the unemployed. And, of course, she has been in the forefront of the Republican attempt to kill the Affordable Care Act. And yet, as Timothy Egan points out,

…in her district, people are flocking to Obamacare — well beyond the national average. Though she has been screening town hall meetings to highlight only critics of the new law, her constituents are doing something entirely different in making their personal health decisions.

McMorris Rodgers clearly votes against the welfare of her constituents, so why is it that she continues to get re-elected? Egan suggests that it is the “What’s the Matter With Kansas” premise, based on the Thomas Frank book documenting how poor whites choose cultural and social issues over economic ones at the ballot box. It is true that McMorris Rogers beats the anti-abortion drum incessantly. As was the case in her Republican response, her unrelenting message is to blame the “liberal elite” for attempting to limit our freedoms. In the logic of this “frame” Progressives/Democrats/Liberals are “Un-American”.

Thomas Frank claims:

In order to explain to the “Cons” why no progress gets made on these issues, politicians and pundits point their fingers to a “liberal elite,” a straw man representing everything that conservatism is not. When reasons are given, they eschew economic reasons in favor of accusing this elite of simply hating America, or having a desire to harm “average” Americans.

This gambit of the Republican Party is not new and certainly pre-dates the time frame Frank identifies. The Republican hypocrisy was solidified when it became obvious their “answers” to the Great Depression were bankrupt compared to the New Deal. They became the party of the wealthy who pretended to side with the working class.  For example, Harry Truman said of them in 1948,

Republicans approve of the American farmer, but they are willing to help him go broke. They stand four-square for the American home–but not for housing. They are strong for labor–but they are stronger for restricting labor’s rights. They favor minimum wage–the smaller the minimum wage the better. They endorse educational opportunity for all–but they won’t spend money for teachers or for schools. They think modern medical care and hospitals are fine–for people who can afford them. They consider electrical power a great blessing–but only when the private power companies get their rake-off. They think American standard of living is a fine thing–so long as it doesn’t spread to all the people. And they admire the Government of the United States so much that they would like to buy it.

For some reason, many average Americans continue to fall for the same Deloris Umbrage double speak. And so it goes….

UPDATE Here is the lowdown on “Bette in Spokane” who was the one example McMorris Rodgers cited of the ACA not working.

Scott “Boy in the Bubble” Bedke

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A few days before the legislative session started, House Speaker Scott Bedke of Oakley, talked to reporters about Idaho’s 50th rank in family wages:

It doesn’t feel to me like, as an Idaho citizen, that that is the case,” said Bedke. He shook his head, perplexed.”It doesn’t feel like that to me here. … It doesn’t feel like we are in the 50th position here.

Just this week, Speaker Bedke proposed taking away Idaho’s grocery tax credit—that’s $80 million—to give to the rich and well-connected. He says it is to attract business—even though that exact strategy has failed Idahoan’s again and again.

According to the Associated Press:

Idaho’s former chief economist says families of four earning more than $117,750 would see lower taxes, should lawmakers adopt House Speaker Scott Bedke’s proposal to shift money from a grocery tax credit to individual and corporate income tax cuts.  Mike Ferguson, chief economist for six governors including Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, said Thursday families earning less would likely see a higher tax burden, according to his calculations.

For instance, Ferguson said somebody earning $50,000 would see their tax liability increased $305, based on his analysis of Bedke’s proposal, which Otter says he’d at least consider. Bedke’s plan would leave the grocery credit intact for families earning 138 percent of the federal poverty line, or $32,499. Ferguson now heads the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy, which analyzes budget and tax policy.

Bedke would do well to get out of his wealthy Republican bubble and talk to some actual “Idaho Citizens”.

Ups and Downs and Ups

The economy gained 236,000 jobs in February, well above what had been expected, while the unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent, its lowest level since December 2008.

Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 236,000 in February, with  job gains in professional and business services, construction, and health care.

Professional and business services added 73,000 jobs in February; employment in the industry had changed little (+16,000) in January. In February, employment in administrative and support services, which includes employment services and services to buildings, rose by 44,000. Accounting and bookkeeping services added 11,000 jobs, and growth continued in computer systems design and in management and technical consulting services.

In February, employment in construction increased by 48,000. Since September, construction employment has risen by 151,000. In February, job growth occurred in specialty trade contractors, with this gain about equally split between residential (+17,000) and nonresidential specialty trade contractors (+15,000). Nonresidential building construction also added jobs (+6,000).

The health care industry continued to add jobs in February (+32,000). Within health care, there was a job gain of 14,000 in ambulatory health care services, which includes doctors’ offices and outpatient care centers. Employment also increased over the month in nursing and residential care facilities (+9,000) and hospitals (+9,000).

Employment in the information industry increased over the month (+20,000), lifted by a large job gain in the motion picture and sound recording industry. Employment continued to trend up in retail trade in February (+24,000). Retail trade has added 252,000 jobs over the past 12 months. Employment also continued to trend up over the month in food services and drinking places and in wholesale trade. Employment in other major industries showed little change over the month.

The numbers would have been even better if not for the continuing cuts in public sector jobs.

Public-sector employment continued to shrink, however, as the number of government employees nationwide fell by 10,000.

Unfortunately, something else has gone up at an unprecedented rate, average global temperature. Unlike it’s obsession with business numbers, the main stream media doesn’t seem to be overly concerned with this much scarier statistic.

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According to Tim McDonnell, the real concern is not just that the average global temperature is higher than any time in the last 11,300 years; it is the amazing current rate of change.

Back in 1999, Penn State University climate scientist Michael Mann released the climate change movement’s most potent symbol: The “hockey stick,” a line graph of global temperature over the last 1,500 years that shows an unmistakable, massive uptick in the 20th century, when humans began to dump large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It’s among the most compelling bits of proof out there that human beings are behind global warming, and as such has become a target on Mann’s back for climate denialists looking to draw a bead on scientists.

Today, it’s getting a makeover: A study published in Science reconstructs global temperatures further back than ever before—a full 11,300 years. The new analysis finds that the only problem with Mann’s hockey stick was that its handle was about 9,000 years too short. The rate of warming over the last 100 years hasn’t been seen for as far back as the advent of agriculture.

“Under all plausible greenhouse gas emission scenarios,” the world is on track to surpass temperatures not seen since the dawn of civilization, according to the study. In 100 years, we’ve gone from the cold end of the spectrum to the warm end of the spectrum,” said climatologist Shaun Marcott, lead author of the study. “We’ve never seen something this rapid. Even in the ice age the global temperature never changed this quickly.”

Marcott said that current “global temperatures are warmer than about 75 percent of anything we’ve seen over the last 11,000 years or so.” By 2100, he said, global temperatures will be “well above anything we’ve ever seen in the last 11,000 years.”

Is the Sequester a Kabuki Dance?

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For the last few weeks conventional wisdom has said that the sequester is not going to happen.  After all, the whole point of the sequester was to make cuts so onerous both sides would come to the conclusion that compromise was a necessity.

Beltway pundits have assured us both sides were involved in political posturing, another example of a political kabuki dance. Well, here we are one day away from the sequester going into effect, and there won’t even be meetings until Friday. Is there really any doubt that we are going over the sequester cliff?  And,  is there really any doubt which party is to blame?  The Republican Party has stated time and time again that they are unwilling to compromise. They have stated time and time again that they will not accept any revenue increases.  They have been trying to deflect the blame towards President Obama with a laughable claims that he has not shown “leadership” on the issue.

So, hang onto your hats as we dive into the unknown and make sure you are placing blame squarely where it belongs.

The State of the Union

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The take away for me was the call for a $9.00 minimum wage.

We know our economy is stronger when we reward an honest day’s work with honest wages.  But today, a full-time worker making the minimum wage earns $14,500 a year.  Even with the tax relief we’ve put in place, a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line.  That’s wrong.  That’s why, since the last time this Congress raised the minimum wage, nineteen states have chosen to bump theirs even higher.

Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour.  This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families.  It could mean the difference between groceries or the food bank; rent or eviction; scraping by or finally getting ahead.  For businesses across the country, it would mean customers with more money in their pockets.  In fact, working folks shouldn’t have to wait year after year for the minimum wage to go up while CEO pay has never been higher.  So here’s an idea that Governor Romney and I actually agreed on last year: let’s tie the minimum wage to the cost of living, so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on.

Senator Goedde Go Galt- Please!

Goedde The Idaho Legislature is filled with fools. Fortunately most have little or no power. Not true when it comes to the Chair of the Senate Education Committee, John Goedde. Education is the biggest item in the state budget and Goedde is sure he knows how to spend that money. Like Tom Luna, Goedde believes that Public Education ought to be privatized. Short of that, he favors “market solutions” when it comes to education reform.

It should surprise no one that Goedde is a big fan of Tea Party ideology. In fact, he has a great idea- force every high school student to read Ayn Rand’s Tea Party bible, Atlas Shrugged.

 

According to The Spokesman Review:

Coeur d’Alene Sen. John Goedde, chairman of the Idaho Senate’s Education Committee, introduced legislation Tuesday to require every Idaho high school student to read Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” and pass a test on it to graduate from high school.

When Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, asked Goedde why he chose that particular book, Goedde said to laughter, “That book made my son a Republican.”

Goedde said he doesn’t plan to press forward with the bill, but it was formally introduced in his committee Tuesday on a voice vote. He said he was sending a message to the State Board of Education, because he’s unhappy with its recent move to repeal a rule requiring two online courses to graduate from high school, and with its decision to back off on another planned rule regarding principal evaluations.

“It was a shot over their bow just to let them know that there’s another way to adopt high school graduation requirements,” Goedde said after the meeting. “I don’t intend to schedule a hearing on it.”

Ed Kilgore points out an awkward fact about Rand that Goedde’s constituents might not be entirely happy with,

I don’t normally think it useful to focus on the random utterances or actions of random wingnuts, particularly at the state legislative level. But occasionally you just have to call them on distinctive forms of folly or hypocrisy.

Idaho solon allowed as how he wasn’t serious about pursuing this legislation. But he needs to be held accountable for it, anyway, and by that I mean his constituents should be abundantly aware their senator is robustly endorsing for consumption by children a book that preaches atheism as relentlessly (and no one in the history of literature has been more relentless than Ayn Rand) as capitalism—indeed, the author thought the two were indivisible.

I don’t have a copy of Atlas handy (like most people, I read it as an adolescent, though not as a school requirement), but here’s one quote from John Galt’s famous radio address:

[I]f devotion to truth is the hallmark of morality, then there is no greater, nobler, more heroic form of devotion than the act of a man who assumes the responsibility of thinking…. the alleged short-cut to knowledge, which is faith, is only a short-circuit destroying the mind.

“Faith is a short-circuit destroying the mind” is probably not a motto Goedde’s going to put on his bumper stickers next time he runs for re-election. But if you know any God-fearing conservative folk in Coeur d’Alene, be sure to share with them the news their senator thinks that’s an important lesson for their kids.

As knowledge of Goedde’s bill spread throughout the internet, blog comments grew increasingly entertaining. Here are a couple from Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire.

drzaius says,

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life:
The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy
that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes,
leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable
to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

Northcountry gives us the lowdown on Ms Rand.

Why are we still calling Alice (or Alicia) Rosenbaum by that ridiculous name? Rosenbaum was the only child of upper middle class Jewish Muscuvites who were rabid backers of the Czar. When all was lost they sent little Alice off to America where, like Jethro in the Beverly Hillbillies not being able to decide whether to become a neurosurgeon or a fry cook, she couldn’t decide between a future as a Hollywood movie star or a famous philosopher. Her ‘philosophy’ was her love of the Russion Czar and a burning hatred for communism. She grew up on the silent movies of German actress Leni Reivenstahl. Reivenstahl went on to be an inner circle member Hitler’s party and director of Triumph of the Will. Alice Rosenbaum loved the Fascist movement and those adorable black uniforms worn by the Italian military. These are the roots from which her novels sprung. The writing itself is just plain awful and the plots are worse than silly. She was put into play by the panicked one percenters of the day when Wall Street crashed during the Great Depression and their successors over at the Rand Institute have kept this cult barely alive ever since.

No surprise the GOP teaparty bunch would think she represents intellectual maturity.

Wonkette points out the hypocrisy of the bill.

Goedde also explained that he doesn’t really intend to move the bill forward through the Senate; rather, he wanted to send a message to the State Board of Education that he was very, very displeased with the board’s decision to repeal a rule requiring students to take two online classes in order to graduate.

“It was a shot over their bow just to let them know that there’s another way to adopt high school graduation requirements,” Goedde said after the meeting. “I don’t intend to schedule a hearing on it.”

So if the board doesn’t keep an arbitrary graduation rule that was widely opposed by voters, the legislature can respond by passing arbitrary graduation requirements of its own. That’s a heck of a good message, and an excellent lesson to students about how state government really works.

Goedde, who is just a middle initial away from having a wicked cool name (we checked — it’s W, not B), responded to another senator’s concern that Atlas Shrugged might be a poor choice to impose on all students by saying, “I don’t plan on moving this forward – it was a statement.” He did, however, praise the novel for its influence on his own worldview:

“When I read Atlas Shrugged, and it’s been probably 30 years since I read it, but it certainly gives one a sense of personal responsibility,” Goedde said.

Efforts to tease out whether “personal responsibility” normally includes introducing dickish bills to make a passive-aggressive “statement,” or whether proposing a state mandate to read a novel about the evils of “statism” might irreparably harm kids’ sense of irony, were ultimately unsuccessful. We will keep Sen. Goedde in mind for Wonkette’s coveted Legislative Shitmuffin of the Year Award, but must point out that several other state legislators have already been far bigger assholes this year, so he’ll need to step up his game.

Goedde has already won my Dim Bulb award, but in the running for the “Legislative Shitmuffin of the Year Award”? That is a whole different league. I am impressed.

Now if only Goedde would follow John Galt’s advice and drop out of society. At least he could go back to the only occupation he is actually trained for, Hotel & Restaurant Administration.

Stagnating Reporting at the Idaho Statesman

Over a month ago, in a post entitled The Right to Work for Low Wages, I discussed the impact the 1986 “right to work” legislation had on Idaho workers. Rather than spread myths about how RTW legislation would bring high paying jobs to Idaho, I cited evidence from Elise Gould and Heidi Shierholz, researchers at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), showing the opposite:

[O]ur findings — that “right-to-work” laws are associated with significantly lower wages and reduced chances of receiving employer-sponsored health insurance and pensions — are based on the most rigorous statistical analysis currently possible. These findings should discourage right-to-work policy initiatives. The fact is, while RTW legislation misleadingly sounds like a positive change in this weak economy, in reality the opportunity it gives workers is only that to work for lower wages and fewer benefits. For legislators dedicated to making policy on the basis of economic fact rather than ideological passion, our findings indicate that, contrary to the rhetoric of RTW proponents, the data show that workers in “right-to-work” states have lower compensation — both union and nonunion workers alike.

Today’s Idaho Statesman features a cover story in their Business Insider section entitled:   Idaho’s Wages Have Stagnated for Three Decades.  Here’s Why

The author of the story, Bill Roberts drags out the usual suspects to answer the “here’s why”. Jobs in the “extraction” industries, mining, forestry have disappeared. High paying tech jobs have left to be replaced by low paying service jobs. Idahoans refuse to go to college.

What factor is conspicuous by it’s absence? There is no mention of the passage of right to work legislation. Over at Fort Boise, Tom von Alten makes an addition to the Statesman graph to make the point.

HowIdahoFellBehind

When a flood of comments pointed out that the story made no mention of RTW legislation, here is what Roberts said:

Roberts

That’s right- “Regarding comments on right to work ‘s affect on wages. We talked to people about it and the sense was that it may have had some effect, but it was hard to measure how much”. I wonder who those “people” were? There were lots of direct quotes in the article, but none about the impact of RTW. And, of course, the article doesn’t attempt to “measure how much” effect any of the other “causes” had on wage stagnation.

This is just lazy journalism on Robert’s part. He lives in the Republican echo chamber and is unwilling or unable to do any real research. If I were an Editor at the Statesman, I would demand that Roberts (and Rocky Barker) follow Dan Popkey around for a month or two so they might be able to figure out what it means to be a reporter.

Why We Know the Republicans Don’t Care About the Deficit

The mainstream media refuses to point out the obvious- the Republicans don’t really care about lowering the deficit. They are ideologically committed to two things, lowering taxes on the wealthy and eliminating government programs, particularly those that help those who need help the most. If they were really interested in lowering the deficit, they would tackle the most important problem facing the economy, unemployment. Because, as the chart below shows (red line=budget deficit as % of GDP; blue line=unemployment), since WWII there is a strong positive correlation between the deficit and unemployment. As unemployment goes up, so does the deficit. As employment goes up, the deficit goes down. The reasons are pretty obvious. To a large extent, the deficit is a function of government’s inability to collect tax revenue from people without jobs. If you put people back to work, the government gets more revenue and the deficit lowers. Government spending that helps people survive while unemployed, helps them train for new jobs, and provides jobs through stimulus spending, shrinks the deficit. As the chart makes clear, since Obama became President in 2008, unemployment has fallen and the deficit has shrunk.

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So, although Obama’s policies have led to a slow lowering of unemployment and of the deficit, Republicans continue to argue that simply cutting government spending is guaranteed to lower the deficit and improve the economy. Again, there is plenty of empirical evidence that they are wrong. Consider the chart below. Subsequent to the 2008 crisis, David Cameron and the Conservatives have implemented an austerity program in the UK similar to what the Republicans advocate. As a result, they are in the midst of a double-dip recession while the Obama economy has been growing steadily.

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We are going to hear a good deal of evidence-free ideology from Republicans over the next few months. It would be nice if the media would counter with some fact-based reporting.

Send Out the Clowns

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So, at around 9:00 PM, January 1st, 2013 the House passed the Senate bill to avoid the fiscal cliff. John Boehner, House Speaker, voted for the bill, as did Paul Ryan. 23 hours into the new year the Republican House clowns bowed to the inevitable.

In my view, the bill is deeply flawed. I have concerns similar to those expressed by Senator Tom Harkin (see below). Nevertheless, the compromise, negotiated by Biden and Obama, finessed the Republicans and left the far right Tea Party Republicans out of the conversation.

Tomorrow we send out these clowns and usher in a new congress. Unfortunately, the new group of clowns will not be much different from this group. Gird your loins for more of these Republican obstructive circuses. Happy New Year!