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Daily Clips: May 22, 2017

After Piketty—video and transcript of panel including Paul Krugman

Bernie Sanders raises the stakes in tight Montana race

Trump’s budget is a joke

Medicaid cuts coming in Trump’s budget

How Can Democrats Form an Agenda When Trump Looms Over Everything?

Monopoly in Australia: what can we learn from the land down under?

The decline of established American retailing threatens jobs

Daily Clips: May 19, 2017

In the US, voting is way harder for poor people

Humans aren’t built to be in the moment

Americans are paying $38 to gather $1 of student debt

The share of student debt that’s severely delinquent (at least 90 days late) is more than triple the overall serious delinquency rate on all household debt, according to the New York Fed.

It’s time for the government to give everyone a job

Delusional and patriarchal American headline of the day: Trump can remake the Middle East

China is the future of the sharing economy

The Trump administration’s plans to crack down on Wall Street are being called into question

This Is What Positive Political Change Looks Like

The words “gridlock” and “politicians” have seemingly been grafted together over the last twenty years. This is a rare, bipartisan complaint among voters: “those bums in [insert ‘Washington DC’ or the state capitol of your choice here] can never get anything done.” No matter the topic—revenue, infrastructure, education—people love to grumble about the supposed unyielding stalemate of their elected leaders.

Gun violence has particularly frustrated us. As wave after wave of highly publicized mass shootings swept across the nation, Americans responded to political inaction with anger, and then disgust, and finally hopelessness. By the time the Sandy Hook massacre happened, most Americans felt as though their leaders weren’t leading, and with the national Republican Party under the sway of the National Rifle Association, it seemed unlikely that anything would ever change.

But if you’re paying attention, you’ll find clear signs of hope all around us. Though we usually recall political change arriving in moments of great, sweeping victory, the truth is that norms and laws change over time, through immense amounts of planning and work. Everyone remembers the day that the Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal across the United States. It was such a dramatic, cathartic moment that it’s easy to forget the years of work volunteered by the millions of people who made that moment possible.

It’s happening again. Slowly and steadily, Washington state is transforming the debate on gun responsibility. If you look back over the years since Sandy Hook, you’ll notice a clear and deliberate course of action against gun violence and toward commonsense gun laws that make life in the state better for everyone.

Like any great political movement, this story begins with the people. In November of 2014, the voters of Washington state overwhelmingly approved Initiative 594, a measure that required background checks for every person buying a gun in Washington state. The successful campaign for 594—it passed with nearly 60 percent of the vote—represented the first significant defeat of the NRA’s moneyed interests in a generation.

Two years later, initiative 1491, which made it possible for courts to issue “extreme risk protection orders” preventing dangerous people from gaining access to firearms, passed in Washington by an even higher margin, nearly topping out at 70 percent of the popular vote. These were two clear-cut victories for common sense, addressing some of the most permissive, unsafe loopholes in our laws.

Some cynics might roll their eyes at the initiative process as a way to confront gun violence. “Of course the people want safer and saner gun laws,” they might say. “But not every state has an initiative process, and you can’t resolve the larger issues by taking a vote to the people every time.” And here’s where we traditionally start to hear those fused-together words I mentioned earlier: “politicians” and “gridlock.” Why even bother fighting, the most defeatist of us might say, when our leaders won’t lead?

Here’s the good news: our leaders have gotten the message.

Last week, surrounded by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, law enforcement officials, and survivors of gun violence, Governor Jay Inslee signed House Bill 1501 into law. Also known as the Law Enforcement and Victims Safety Bill, 1501 notifies law enforcement and victims—particularly domestic violence victims—if someone with a history of violent incidents tries to buy a gun.

As it stands now, if a domestic violence abuser attempts to buy a gun, the existing background check structure would deny him from buying that gun. But that information—the fact that someone with a proven history of violence tried to buy a deadly weapon—previously went nowhere. That lack of communication put the lives of police officers and survivors of abuse at risk.

With 1501 in place, violence survivors and law enforcement personnel—those most at risk of gun violence—will be safer. And furthermore, the bill requires that the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs annually produce a report on the number of prohibited people who try to buy firearms, the categories those attempted purchasers fall into (for instance, if they didn’t realize they were prohibited from purchase) and any information on law enforcement followup to the notification. This will enable us to see the benefits of the law and to better understand stress points on the background check system.

The passage of 1501 is the kind of action that just three years ago people were saying would never happen in America. But it happened, and it happened with surprisingly little fanfare or conflict. Earlier this week, I talked with Alliance for Gun Responsibility CEO Renée Hopkins about the work that went into taking 1501 from concept to reality in a single year—breakneck speed in Washington state.

“What was really important about this particular policy,” Hopkins explains, “is that we had such broad support for our coalition.” The bill was spearheaded by Republican state representative Dave Hayes and Democratic state representative Drew Hansen, and Hopkins credits them for bringing together a team including the Alliance, domestic violence advocates, domestic violence survivors, and the law enforcement community to get the bill passed.

So how do you break through the dreaded partisan gridlock? Hopkins cites the groundswell of popular support for initiatives 594 and 1491, which she says “provided the momentum and the cover for our legislative champions to really take things to the next level.” When the people send such a clear message to their leaders, that message is impossible to ignore. In this legislative session, she says, “the climate has changed in terms of gun violence prevention because of all the things that have been done over the last few years. It’s no longer the third rail in politics.” She says representatives are “finally seeing that they have to do something—that their constituents are requiring them to do something.”

Politicians are one thing. How do you build a bipartisan coalition of cops, prosecutors, domestic abuse advocates, and a gun responsibility organization to help pass legislation that a few years ago would have died before it was even written? “Drew Hansen was really, really proactive about developing a policy that would be appealing to people across the aisle,” Hopkins says, calling 1501 “the most common sense policy you could possibly imagine.” Hansen worked closely with Alliance lobbyist and “policy development guru” Rebecca Johnson, who Hopkins describes as “one of the leaders of the entire country in policy development in gun violence prevention.”

A lot of effort went into the crafting of the bill to make it as smart and as effective as possible. Hopkins says that laws like 1501 which alert law enforcement when dangerous people try to buy guns are often discussed in gun violence prevention circles. But it was important to everyone that the bill included provisions to alert survivors and to collect and publish the data. “In Washington—in this Washington,” Hopkins jokes, “we like to go the extra mile.”

“One of the things that we know is often laws are passed and it takes some time for implementation to occur,” Hopkins explains. She says the annual report aspect of the law “will also provide some accountability to the public for ensuring that when dangerous people are trying to access firearms that something’s done.” That appealed to everyone in the coalition, and reminded them of the urgency of their work.

Hopkins says the Alliance has worked for years to show law enforcement—by which she means a broad coalition including police, judges, and prosecutors—that they’re listening and responding to their concerns. It’s important for organizations like the Alliance, Hopkins says, to show that “we don’t care about just getting laws passed—we also care about supporting the stakeholders that actually have to implement the laws.” By having law enforcement at the table from the outset, they drafted a better, more useful bill.

So what does the work of passing a bill entail? The secret weapon, Hopkins says, is connecting “constituents that care” with their lawmakers. “We brought 387 constituents to the legislature for nearly 8000 in-person contacts [with their representatives], which is amazing,” she explains. “The Alliance made 6200 volunteer calls during the session and then we delivered more than 24,000 email contacts.”

And “beyond the numbers,” Hopkins says the most important part is that “we had at least one in-person contact to every single legislator from one of their constituents. So they’re not just hearing from random Washingtonians, they’re hearing from people in their districts that this issue matters.”

So now that the bill passed the legislature and has been signed into law by Governor Inslee, what’s next for this coalition? Hopkins says her efforts are focused on maintaining the relationships that have been forged in the efforts to pass 1501. Additionally, “we’re really starting to build out our chapters in each area of the state,” eventually covering all of Washington in nine chapters of the Alliance. Each of those chapters will be staffed with engaged and energized volunteers who she says are “turning their efforts to municipal action as well as to some of the legislative races and local races” for 2017 and beyond.

Perhaps most importantly, Hopkins says, the Alliance must continue to develop policies that make sense “whether you consider yourself a conservative or a progressive, a Democrat or a Republican.” Washington’s steady battle against gun violence demonstrates how you get things done in a time of extreme political gridlock: you move one mountain at a time. If you hold tight to your principles and you listen to the people, it gets a little easier with every step.

Daily Clips: May 18, 2017

US jobless claims fall

New applications for U.S. jobless benefits unexpectedly fell last week and the number of Americans on unemployment rolls tumbled to a 28-1/2-year low, pointing to rapidly shrinking labor market slack.

Trump to propose scrapping beleaguered student loan forgiveness program

Household debt in USA surpasses its peak reached during the recession in 2008

The best replacement for Obamacare is Medicaid

The poor die younger

The investigator America needs

Even before the stunning events of the past week, Mr. Mueller would have had plenty to work with. But after the president’s abrupt firing of Mr. Comey on May 9 — followed by his apparent admission that he did so with the Russia investigation in mind, followed by reports that he previously pressed Mr. Comey to pledge his loyalty and asked him to drop a related inquiry into Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser — it became clear that the investigation needed to be kept alive at all costs, and as far from Mr. Trump as possible.

Daily Clips: May 17, 2017

Trump is above the law, for now–but not the people

More Republicans back independent probe

Welcome to the ‘War On Drugs,’ Redux

The broken promise of higher education

That millions of students have dropped out of college, often unable to pay back their student loans, is more than just a college-completion crisis. It is also an upending of the promise of higher education: to students, that they can educate their way into economic stability, and to citizens, that higher education will spur economic growth and a stronger nation. Instead, voters see students left to go it alone, navigating an unfamiliar and challenging world while forgoing a paycheck, taking on thousands in debt to cover the costs, and often moving back in with their parents to survive.

Hannity and Fox News are in full meltdown over Trump’s Comey scandal

No more holding that phone while driving under new law in Washington

Seattle could be first city to give heroin users ‘safe spaces’

Daily Clips: May 16, 2017

The tech sector is leaving the rest of the US economy in its dust

Exclusive: Democrats in U.S. Senate try to slow Republican deregulation

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat, on Tuesday will introduce legislation to kill the Congressional Review Act (CRA), a law Republicans used over the span of three months this year to repeal 14 regulations enacted by former President Barack Obama, also a Democrat, according to documents seen by Reuters.

McConnell’s Plea: ‘Less Drama’ From the White House

Extreme Gerrymandering Complicates 2018 Congressional Map for Democrats

Center for American Progress wonders what went wrong in 2016:

We do not yet know the exact reasons for the drop in turnout among young people and black voters. But with President Obama not on the ticket to drive voter enthusiasm, it is quite possible that lingering job and wage pressures in more urban areas with lots of young people, and in areas with large populations of African-Americans, yielded similar, if distinct, economic anxiety in ways that may have depressed voter turnout among base progressives. The combined effect of economic anxiety may have been to drive white noncollege voters toward Trump and to drive down voter engagement and participation among base progressives.

Daily Clips: May 15, 2017

Report: Michigan employers steal $429 million in pay from low-wage workers each year

Pramila Jayapal highlighted and interviewed by The Nation

For New York’s free-tuition plan, lessons from Tennessee

Enrollment is up by a third and federal student loan debt is down in the first state to offer free tuition at its community colleges.

Kansas’ economy is a cautionary tale for the rest of the country

We need to challenge the myth that the rich are specially-talented wealth creators

Daily Clips: May 12, 2017

To cut taxes on the rich Mitch McConnell is ok w/ Trump cover-up of Russia probe

Trump lawyer: Tax returns from past 10 years show no “income of any type from Russian sources,” with few exceptions

Why Trumponomics (see trickle down) won’t make America great again

The economist who helped write Trump’s tax plan in five Days

Quantitative easing, stock buybacks and other stuff

So, while stock buybacks and QE aren’t exactly the same they are similar in the sense that their efficacy is contingent on the specific environment and the implementation. There will be times when this is a good idea and times when there’s just better ways to implement policies that try to move the private sector needle in one direction or another.

Trickle Downer of the Week: The American CEO

The average S&P 500 CEO pulled in $13.1 million last year, a 5.6 percent increase from 2015. Meanwhile, the average employee only made $37,362. Think about that: Your typical head honcho makes nearly as much in one day as his typical employee makes in a year.

Daily Clips: May 10, 2017

Today is a genuinely sad day in American history. The worst part? If you would have told me in 2012 this was how the Republican Party would end up…I would have believed you.

They have become an awful group of legislators, so interested in their own power that they have sold out at nearly every key point in the last forty years. Democrats aren’t completely angelic, but the Republican Party stands alone in its utter betrayal of the American people.

James Comey’s firing is the moment of truth for the GOP

Calls for Independent Investigator, even from (a few) G.O.P.

Michael Flynn targeted by grand jury subpoenas, sources confirm

Mitch McConnell: Any new Russia investigations would derail current ones

Meaning without work?

In any case, the end of work will not necessarily mean the end of meaning, because meaning is generated by imagining rather than by working. Work is essential for meaning only according to some ideologies and lifestyles. Eighteenth-century English country squires, present-day ultra-orthodox Jews, and children in all cultures and eras have found a lot of interest and meaning in life even without working.

Leftist critique of Kristen Gillibrand

If Hillary Clinton’s closeness to Wall Street torpedoed her campaign — and more importantly, made her a poor agent of change — then Gillibrand has the same problem in spades.

And the rest of her record isn’t any better. Her unyielding, at-all-costs loyalty to Israel, her expedient shape-shifting, her questionable links to certain political figures — all make Gillibrand a suspect tribune for anti-Trump resistance.


The Case of the Missing Middle Class Wages

Hey, where’s that rich guy running with our paychecks?

Nobody reads Politico to discover something new. Campaign staff and their consultants read Politico in order to gauge how their latest spin played out in the DC Beltway. Celebrity politicians check Politico to make sure they’re mentioned. The media reads Politico to see what the dominant narrative for the day will be.

Every so often, Politico will break some news, or publish an editorial that reframes a debate. But the day-to-day grind of Politico—its bread and butter—is regurgitating known knowns for the DC crowd. It’s the outlet for pushers of conventional wisdom to promote and bolster conventional wisdom for other pushers of conventional wisdom.

All this brings us to a story by Danny Vinik titled “The economy keeps improving. Why aren’t wages?” Here’s the nut of the problem, as Vinik sees it:

Wages have grown just 2.5 percent over the past year, only slightly higher than inflation. Since 2010, nominal wages have grown about 2.5 percent each year, while inflation has averaged 2 percent. Perhaps most concerning, as the labor market has tightened, wage growth hasn’t accelerated.

Vinik talks to some economists who have “a few theories” about why wage growth hasn’t happened, and he boils their theories down to three main hypotheses:

  1. The economy still isn’t at full employment”
  2. Workers aren’t becoming more productive”
  3. Industries are too concentrated”

Let’s just say up front here: the conventional wisdom isn’t really interested in solving this problem. The conventional wisdom is interested in paying lip service to the problem while ensuring the status quo. And so of these three theories, two are completely wrong and one barely lands a glancing blow on the real problem. So let’s talk about the wrong theories first.

Full employment” is an economic term that gets pointed to a whole lot at moments like this where unemployment stats sink to a fairly low point. Basically what Vinik is arguing here is that the market should raise wages naturally when enough workers enter the job market.

So if this theory is correct, why isn’t the Invisible Hand—hallowed be its name—raising wages? Well, mainstream economists argue, it’s because there still aren’t enough workers in the job market. How many workers need to be in the job market for wages to start climbing? Unclear! And what could coerce the Invisible Hand into action? Tax cuts are one theory that Vinik floats, and we’ll come back to that after we look at the second and third items on his list.

So moving on: are workers not productive enough? “Traditional economic theory holds that workers’ wages will rise in line with productivity growth,” Vinik writes. He says that “as they become more productive, workers become more valuable to companies and can demand a raise.” Again, presumably, the Invisible Hand—praise be unto it!—would make this happen.

Except worker productivity has risen dramatically since the 1970s, and wages have stayed flat. A 2012 study showed that the minimum wage would have hit over 21 dollars per hour in 2012, had wages and productivity stayed tied together. They did not, and our national minimum wage is still $7.25, just as it was in 2012.

So that brings us to the third and final option on Vinik’s list. Are monopolies to blame? “In a world where workers can’t simply switch to a new industry — gaining new skills takes time, for instance — workers have little power to demand a pay raise,” he warns.

Which, okay. Yes, that’s a valid point. But throughout this post, Vinik ignores the easiest explanation for all this: Workers aren’t earning more because employers aren’t paying them more.

Simple? Yes. True? Also yes. And here’s another condition that Vinik doesn’t really examine: Union membership in the United States has precipitously declined since an all-time high in the 1950s, and without that collective bargaining power, individual Americans can’t successfully negotiate for better wages. Here’s a fun fact: the word “union” doesn’t appear in the piece at all.

You know what other word doesn’t appear in the piece? “Profits.” Here’s the St. Louis Fed’s chart of after-tax corporate profits:

That money is not going to wages. No mythical Invisible Hand is sweeping down from the heavens to redirect those profits into worker paychecks. That’s where the money has gone. That’s money that should belong in the pockets of workers. Instead, it’s going toward the top one percent.

Vinik should get credit for at least asking the right questions in his piece. Even promoters of the conventional wisdom can’t ignore the fact that wages are artificially low. But the simplest explanation is right in front of them. Those wages didn’t disappear. They aren’t being withheld by a mysterious Invisible Hand. They’ve just been funneled into the top one percent.

Yet corporate interests keep urging reporters like Vinik and politicians like President Trump and Speaker Ryan to promote tax cuts for the wealthy and deregulation for corporations as solutions to this problem. This is almost exactly like asking fire departments to put out house fires with gasoline. So many of America’s current problems—the sluggish recovery, the stagnation of rural areas, the lack of revenue to fund education and other essential government funds—can be traced directly to the inequality created by the working class’s missing wages.

If we were to raise the wage and ensure that middle class policies like a decent overtime threshold were in place, those profits would go to the middle class. Those people would then spend those profits on goods and services in their community, they’d invest them in education and nonprofits, they’d start their own small businesses. Everyone would be better off.

But as long as the conventional wisdom continues to serve the interests of the wealthy at the expense of ordinary Americans, you’re not going to see the obvious truth in Politico. What happens if this situation continues—if the wealthy continue to keep a grossly disproportionate share of profits that belong to 99 percent of all Americans? The answer to that question, funnily enough, can be found in an essay written by Nick Hanauer that was published in Politico about three years ago: “The Pitchforks Are Coming…for Us Plutocrats.”