| July 30, 2015
McConnell and Hatch Voted for Fetal Tissue Research
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) pledged this week to fast-track a bill defunding Planned Parenthood. But the move to strip the organization of some $528 million in annual funding from the federal and state governments is more than a little ironic.
It was about Planned Parenthood, after all, that the then number two ranking Senate Republican Jon Kyl of Arizona acknowledged his 30-fold error that "well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does" is related to abortion introduced the "not intended to be a factual statement" defense into the GOP lexicon. As Texas Governor Rick Perry learned the hard way in 2012, defunding the women's health care group would have tripled expenses for his state. (As the Guttmacher Institute explained, "every dollar spent on publicly funded family planning services saves $7.09 in public expenditures.) And Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee for President, hadn't just previously been pro-choice and a donor to Planned Parenthood; his company Bain Capital profited from investments in a medical waste firm that, among other things, disposed of fetal tissue.
Oh, and one other thing. In 1993, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell and current Planned Parenthood foes like Orrin Hatch (R-UT) voted for the bill which legalized the use of fetal tissue for medical research.
As Huffington Post reported:
In 1988, the Reagan administration began a moratorium on fetal tissue from elective abortions being used in scientific research. But Congress lifted that ban in 1993 when it passed the National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act, which allowed research on human fetal tissue regardless of whether the tissue came from a voluntary abortion. McConnell voted for that bill, as did Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.), all of whom have condemned Planned Parenthood in the past two weeks for its involvement in the practice.
That bill, which passed the House by 283 to 131 and the Senate by a whopping 93 to 4, also included the backing of Orrin Hatch. But Hatch, among the first in the Senate to call for an investigation of Planned Parenthood in the wake of the doctored videos released by anti-abortion foes, has a good reason for supporting research using fetal tissue. That rare commodity among Congressional Republicans, Senator Orrin Hatch supports stem cell research.
That's right. As Hatch explained to Rachel Gotbaum in the New England Journal of Medicine in March 2007, the issue of stem cell research was a very personal one:
RACHEL GOTBAUM: You're a pro-life Republican.
ORRIN HATCH: That's right.
RG: Did something happen? Did a case come up? What was the turning point?
OH: Well, there was a case. I can't say that it was the only reason why my mind was changed, but there was a little Utah boy - he was 4 years of age - who was brought to me. His name was Cody Anderson. He was 4 years of age, and you can imagine the horror his family had when they found out that he had exactly the same virulent diabetic condition that his grandfather had, who died at the premature age of 47 due to complications of diabetes after a series of something like 27 painful and debilitating and ultimately unsuccessful operations. I can still remember that little exhausted boy falling peacefully asleep in his father's arms in my office as his family visited me in support of more funding for diabetes research. It dawned on me that we owe the best we can to these kids.
The next month, Hatch described the possible life-saving cures that could be made possible by stem cell research from the availability of by the donation of fetal tissue he helped legalize:
"When I think about embryonic stem cell research, I imagine diabetics without insulin pumps. I imagine patients with Parkinson's disease who sprint rather than shuffle. I conceive of patients with spinal cord disease or injuries who stand up and walk again."
Of course, that was then and this is now. And now, men like Orrin Hatch and Mitch McConnell won't stand up to the right-wing activists enraged by the legal and routine practice by Planned Parenthood and others of preserving and providing fetal tissue as requested by their patients. If the anti-abortion forces succeed in blocking the Title X and Medicaid funds that constitute 40 percent of Planned Parenthood's budget, millions of women will lose access to contraception, cancer screening and STD tests. As a result, both Uncle Sam's overall spending and the body count of American women will go up.
| July 28, 2015
For Mike Huckabee, Everything is the Holocaust
Mike Huckabee shocked many with his slander that with the Iranian nuclear deal President Obama will "take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven." But while Americans should be disgusted, they shouldn't be surprised. After all, like so many other Republicans, for years Mike Huckabee has been comparing abortion, the national debt and so much else he detests to the Holocaust.
First, Ronald Reagan came to the U.S. Treasury and tripled the national debt, but Mike Huckabee did not speak out. Then George W. Bush came and nearly the doubled the debt again, but Mike Huckabee said nothing. But when Barack Obama inherited the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression, the Fox News host said never again:
Huckabee gave a speech to the National Rifle Association. He spoke of how, at Israel's Holocaust museum, he looked over his 11-year-old daughter's shoulder as she wrote in the guest book, "Why didn't somebody do something?" Then he said, "We cannot afford to be a generation that leaves our children with nothing but a huge debt and the very erosion of the freedoms that our founders and our fathers died and gave us so valiantly. And that's why I say, 'Let there never be a time in this country where some father has to look over his daughter's shoulder and see her ask this haunting question: Why didn't somebody do something?'"
Then as now, Jewish organizations like the Anti-Defamation League were horrified. When Abraham Foxman of Anti-Defamation League decried his grotesque analogy as "highly inappropriate," Huckabee lashed out:
"Foxman's remarks are not only factually wrong, but they are hurtful to me personally in light of my unequalled friendship with members of the Jewish community, and I ask Foxman to retract his statement as publicly as he issued it, and apologize for his lack of accuracy in issuing it and for the harm done by attacking the very strongest advocates for the Jewish people and Israel."
(Of course, with friends like Mike Huckabee, the Jewish people don't need enemies. After all, Mike Huckabee didn't merely vow to "take this nation back for Christ" and call for a faith-based Constitution that is "in God's standards." As it turns out, the former Baptist minister is at the forefront of the Christian Zionist movement dedicated to the mass conversion--and much larger slaughter--of world Jewry at Armageddon.)
Deficit spending isn't the only Shoah Mike Huckabee is worried about. Abortion, too, is YAH ("yet another Holocaust").
In 2011, Governor Huckabee joined the people behind Mississippi's failed "personhood" initiative which, among other things, distributed 600,000 DVDs declaring, "Saying it's OK to choose is the same thing as saying it's OK for Hitler to choose." Again, as Salon reported that year, the Holocaust analogy was one happily shared by some of the leading lights in the Republican Party:
Mike Huckabee, who supported Personhood USA's failed efforts in Mississippi, has often compared the Holocaust and abortion, saying of Nazi extermination, "educated scientists, sophisticated and cultured people looked the other way because they thought it didn't touch them." The day before Phil Bryant was elected governor of Mississippi -- at the same time the state's voters rejected the Personhood amendment -- he evoked the Jews of Nazi Germany "being marched into the oven," because of "the people who were in charge of the government at that time" as an argument to vote for it.
Now, Mike Huckabee has plenty of company among the Shoah salesmen of the right. When it comes to Obamacare, the IRS, regulation of for-profit education companies, raising taxes on the wealthy, marriage equality and almost any policy they oppose, there is shortage of Republicans warning of Kristallnacht, box cars, Auschwitz and the ovens. As President Obama lamented:
"The particular comments of Mr. Huckabee are I think part of just a general pattern we've seen ... that would be considered ridiculous if it weren't so sad."
Sad, and counterproductive. While Mike Huckabee and his Republican fellow travelers are comparing Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler, surveys show that most American Jews, like the American people overall, support the Iran nuclear deal. And with their cheapening of the greatest conflagration ever visited upon any people in history, Mike Huckabee and his right-wing ilk are helping ensure that Jewish voters remain Democratic.
| July 27, 2015
The Next Uber for Republicans?
Over the last few weeks, the U.S. media have hyped the growing love affair between Republicans and the ride-hailing service, Uber. The reasons why are no mystery. Extolling the virtue of Uber and its ilk in the "sharing economy" lets the GOP seem hip, offer the façade of a future looking economic vision and accelerate the shift of workers from jobs into no-benefits "gigs," all while supposedly showcasing "the unfettered market leading to economic prosperity without the intrusive hand of government regulation." As Jeb Bush recently charged after getting his first Uber ride to visit a San Francisco start-up:
Now, these kinds of companies cause mental dissonance for people who think they can plan the future of the economy from Washington D.C. -- people like Hillary Clinton...
We have to challenge the assumptions, regulations and laws that protect most of Washington from true digital disruption - and that means the liberal ideology which would squash so much innovation if it could.
Big government liberals fundamentally can't embrace digital innovation because it threatens the way they govern.
In that case, Bush and his fellow Republican White House wannabes must be thrilled about the coming wave of digital services for the sharing economy.*
Take, for example, Borshun. The abortion services platform now in development enables women and physicians to meet anonymously for reproductive health care procedures which may be otherwise inaccessible due to draconian local government regulation. Using the convenient mobile app, women can find abortion providers in their area. Built-in crowdfunding technology lets low-income patients raise funds to offset the cost of the procedure and even replace pay lost due to time off for the often lengthy trips involved. And thanks to its tight integration with Uber, women can hail "Freedom Rides" to take them to the care-givers and facilities that may be in another county or even another state.
Thanks to the Supreme Court, all states must now perform and recognize same-sex marriages. But if your justice of the peace refuses to recognize marriage equality, don't get mad. Get even with Nupshill. Just tap the Nupshill app for your iOS, Android or Windows phone and find someone qualified to perform your vows just minutes away. With Nupshill's MinisterMaker, you can become an ordained minister in minutes and start making extra cash to help pay tuition, the rent or even your own wedding. And with its breakthrough DivineRetribution technology, Nupshill can initiate termination proceedings and a civil suit against any government clerk or official who on "religious liberty" ground who refuses to do their job as a public servant.
Now, almost any medical procedure, like any product or service, can needlessly go horribly wrong. That's where Jaqqpott comes in. The new personal injury platform (or "PIP") provides a one-stop online marketplace where potential plaintiffs and trial lawyers can meet for some "jackpot justice." Whether you're hit by a car, had the wrong leg amputated, poisoned by fracking fluid or had a loved-one killed by out-of-control police, the Jaqqpott app lets hundreds of attorneys bid for your business. Hourly, retainer or contingency fee, you choose your preferred method of payment. And to make sure you get the maximum cash award you're due, Jaqqpott's patented "Class Action Algorithm" automatically finds you fellow plaintiffs and the friendliest jurisdiction for your case.
If the Koch Brothers are strong in your jurisdiction, getting your local power utility to buy back the energy you created with your solar panels or wind turbine can be a big problem. Unless, that is, you use MiGryd. Under development now with partners including Tesla, SolarCity, GE, 3M and IBM, MiGryd lets home owners, property managers and small businesses store and resell the power they've generated to fellow "Grydders." With its disruptive BatteryXchange app, MiGryd lets users (called "Youtilities") sell extra juice for extra cash. Potentially the killer app for Tesla's Powerwall, MiGryd plans to deliver on its slogan, "Power to the People."
People, it turns out, don't just need power. The people--all of them-- need someplace to live, too. And as recent decisions by the Supreme Court and the Obama administration show, the goals of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 remain elusive. Legally sanctioned racial segregation in housing may be over, Justice Kennedy wrote, but "its vestiges remain today, intertwined with the country's economic and social life." DeeSeg wants to do its part to help erase those vestiges. An open-source platform tightly integrated with Airbnb and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD's) grant-making and Section 8 voucher databases, DeeSeg empowers lower-income Americans to find rental housing regardless of their ZIP code. As cities like Portland and San Francisco encourage home owners to become landlords by building "accessory dwelling units" (ADU's) on their property, DeeSeg will bring them a whole new class of tenants they previously overlooked.
In a recent study reported by Emily Badger of the Washington Post, NYU's Samuel Fraiberger and Arun Sundararajan argue that in the long-run, "The people who stand to benefit the most from new peer-to-peer rental marketplaces for everything from cars to gadgets are low-income consumers." The "true promise of the sharing economy," Fraiberger and Sundararajan explain, may eventually be "as a force that democratizes access to a higher standard of living."
Soon enough, we'll find out if that's what Republicans really want.
* Borshun, Nupshill, JaqqPott, MiGryd and DeeSeg are entirely fictional, as are any of their partnerships with any company, real or imagined. Any resemblance to start-ups living or dead is purely coincidental.
| July 26, 2015
Will Obama Try to Appease Israel by Releasing Spy Jonathan Pollard?
Just days after revelations that the United States may increase its $3 billion in annual military aid to Israel by as much as 50 percent, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday that the Obama administration is preparing to release imprisoned spy Jonathan Pollard. If true, the President would be giving yet another reward to the unappeasable Netanyahu government committed to sabotaging the Iranian nuclear deal vital to American national security.
As the Journal detailed, Pollard's release is in the works, at least "according to U.S. officials, some of whom hope the move will smooth relations with Israel in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal":
Such a move would end a decades-long fight over Mr. Pollard, who was arrested on charges of spying for Israel in 1985 and later sentenced to life in prison. The case has long been a source of tension between the U.S. and Israel, which has argued that a life sentence for spying on behalf of a close U.S. partner is too harsh. For decades, Israel has sought Mr. Pollard's early release only to be rejected by the U.S.
Now, some U.S. officials are pushing for Mr. Pollard's release in a matter of weeks. Others expect it could take months, possibly until his parole consideration date in November. Some U.S. officials strongly denied Friday there was any link between the Iran deal and Mr. Pollard's prospective release, saying that any release decision would be made by the U.S. Parole Commission.
Now, rumors of Pollard's release have become a regular feature of U.S.-Israeli relations, as the 2014 outbreak showed. But the CIA and many in the American national security establishment always moved to put the brakes on freeing Israel's former man in the Pentagon for a very simple reason. His crimes against the United States were very serious and very dangerous. As M.E. Bowen, former deputy general counsel for national security law at the F.B.I. and a former deputy of the U.S. Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive, warned last year in response to those calling for his release:
[T]hey argue that a similar conviction today would be punished with no more than a 10-year sentence. It's true that most espionage convictions do fall under a statute that provides for 10-year sentences. Mr. Pollard, however, pleaded guilty to a far more serious offense under a different statute, which provides for punishment "by death or by imprisonment for any term of years or for life." This statute deals with the disclosure of information that might result in the death of an agent of the United States or that "directly concerned nuclear weaponry, military spacecraft or satellites, early warning systems, or other means of defense or retaliation against large-scale attack; war plans; communications intelligence or cryptographic information."
On the merits, Jonathan Pollard, a traitor to his country, should not be released. (Officials from the National Security Council denied his release was imminent, instead stating that Pollard would face the parole board in November as previously scheduled.) But to release him now would be the worst of all worlds for the United States. The United States and its close allies France, Germany and the UK are facing a withering assault from the Israeli government and its supporters designed to kill the Iranian nuclear deal at all costs. As Defense Secretary Ashton Carter experienced first-hand in Israel last week, no sweetener will deter Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from his crusade to stop the agreement in Congress. There is no spy, no amount of weaponry and not even a mutual defense pact will budge Bibi from his campaign. Instead of payback for the unprecedented interference by our ungrateful friend in the Holy Land, Barack Obama is purportedly willing to hand over the whole store to the only government he's tried to appease, the unappeasable Benjamin Netanyahu.
| July 22, 2015
JFK Pledged Cuban Isolation Would End with Soviet Threat
After a half-century in mothballs, the Cuban embassy in Washington and the U.S. embassy in Havana reopened on Monday.
But while the restoration of relations is popular with the American people, the usual suspects among the GOP White House hopefuls expressed outrage. Ted Cruz (R-TX), whose father fought alongside Castro, protested that to "have an embassy in Havana before one in Jerusalem" was "a slap in the face" of Israel. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who used to champion his ersatz "Cuban exile" story until forced to acknowledge that his parents fled the previous dictator Fulgencio Batista, wrongly described Cuba as "a country controlled by a despotic regime that provides a safe haven and base of forward operations to Russia and China in our own hemisphere." And Jeb Bush, who leads Rubio among Cuban voters in Miami, complained, "This embassy will only serve to further legitimize repressive regime."
Unfortunately for all of the irredentists and revisionists of recent Cuban-American history, the man who began Washington's diplomatic isolation and embargo of Havana made clear he would have ended both long ago. One year after the Cuban Missile Crisis and just four days before his assassination in Dallas, President John F. Kennedy told the Inter-American Press Association meeting in Miami on November 18, 1963 that the Soviet threat--not the Castro regime per se---was the cause of the U.S. economic and diplomatic quarantine of Cuba:
It is important to restate what now divides Cuba from my country and from the other countries of this hemisphere. It is the fact that a small band of conspirators has stripped the Cuban people of their freedom and handed over the independence and sovereignty of the Cuban nation to forces beyond the hemisphere. They have made Cuba a victim of foreign imperialism, an instrument of the policy of others, a weapon in an effort dictated by external powers to subvert the other American Republics. This, and this alone, divides us. As long as this is true, nothing is possible. Without it, everything is possible. Once this barrier is removed, we will be ready and anxious to work with the Cuban people in pursuit of those progressive goals which a few short years ago stirred their hopes and the sympathy of many people throughout the hemisphere. [Emphasis mine.]
Fifty two years late, that U.S. policy long outlived the threat the brought it into existence. America's regional and global allies, including the Organization of American States (OAS), the EU and Canada, long ago noticed the disappearance of the USSR. It's time the Republicans pandering to the old generation in Little Havana did so, too. After all, it was the Soviet missiles, Soviet troops and Soviet proxies in our hemisphere and Cuban forces in theirs that was the source of the stand-off between Havana and Washington.
As JFK might have said, that, and that alone, divided us.
| July 21, 2015
GOP's Uber Men Tout the "Secondhand Economy"
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Republican nominee John McCain traveled to Ynez, Kentucky to announce his economic vision in the place where LBJ launched the War on Poverty back in 1965. His solution for Americans struggling to make ends meet? Ebay:
"Today, for example, 1.3 million people in the world make a living off eBay, most of those are in the United State of America."
McCain's ringing endorsement of the online auction giant came as no surprise. After all, among his top economic advisers was eBay CEO Meg Whitman. (Whitman had touted her company as an engine of growth in almost identical terms, telling Leslie Stahl of CBS News, "We have about - around the world, about 1.3 million people make most, if not all, of their living selling on eBay.") And for McCain, who previously admitted that "the issue of economics is not something I've understood as well as I should" and that when it came to computers "I'm an illiterate," eBay provided the populist façade for an economic plan that would have produced a massive tax cut windfall for the wealthy.
As it turned out, few were convinced that America should become a nation of auctioneers selling electronic equipment, antique thimbles or Barbie dolls to each other. Nevertheless, much of the 2016 GOP presidential field is trying to update John McCain's failed strategy by embracing the promise of the "sharing economy." In what many also call the "on-demand economy" or the "gig economy," Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and others proclaim, companies like Airbnb, TaskRabbit, Postmates and, above all, Uber show "the unfettered market leading to economic prosperity without the intrusive hand of government regulation."
But that's not the only benefit Republicans see in what they believe is a winning message. They hope to capture more of the votes--and campaign contributions--of the Silicon Valley liberals and libertarians who build the apps, run the services and reap the profits of the sharing economy. Just as important, the GOP is wooing hip, young Millennials who are both the cutting-edge consumers and a large chunk of the part-time workforce that share their cars, apartments and so much else. Perhaps best of all, the Uber Menschen of the GOP have their future-sounding, forward-looking misdirection to distract voters from the Treasury-draining, gilded-class tax cuts they have once again promised.
But there is a major risk to the GOP's foray for freelancers beyond Bush family gaffes like "people need to work longer hours" or working three jobs is "uniquely American." Sometimes, dramatic market disruptions and rapid technological innovations don't produce widely shared improvements in the standard of living, but instead accelerate existing problems and create new ones. A growing, free agent workforce working multiple gigs in a week--or even in a day--without benefits or a safety net cannot be the future of the American Dream. Without the public investments in 21st century education, infrastructure and economic security, the sharing economy could become simply the Second-Hand Economy. Which is why Republicans are confusing their cure for what ails the American economy for a symptom of the disease.
For almost five decades, the United States has failed to address its number one domestic priority. In a nutshell, jobs--good paying, often unionized jobs that once enabled millions of working Americans to join the middle class--have disappeared. The cities that once powered the "arsenal of democracy" to victory in World War II and fueled the prosperity of the 1950's and 1960's were battered by global competition and technological change. In Detroit and Cleveland, St. Louis and Buffalo, Baltimore and Pittsburgh, the pattern is eerily similar. After reaching their peaks in 1950, the cities generally enjoyed a post-war boom that lasted into the early 1960's. But as recovering competition from Europe and Japan was joined by manufacturing losses to developing economies, the 1970's saw the dramatic contraction of America's manufacturing powerhouses.
That tragedy is reflected in the list of the companies with the largest American workforces in 1955 and today. In the 1950's, the Big Three automakers represented two of the top five employers in the country. But sixty years later, GM, Chrysler and the other industrial heavyweights were a shell of their former selves. U.S. Steel had 268,000 workers in 1955; by 2014 the number was down to 43,000. In their place, low-paying retail giants, national grocery store chains and fast food brands like Wal-Mart, Target, McDonald's and Kroger top the list:
Even a glance at the top revenue producing companies in each of the 50 states doesn't provide a true picture of the transformation of the American economy. As The Atlantic showed in "Where Did All the Workers Go? 60 Years of Economic Change in 1 Graph":
Manufacturing and agriculture employed one in three workers just after World War II. Today, those sectors employ only one in eight.
As a result, after Wal-Mart the top employers in each state are dominated by government, education and health care institutions. As Time summed it up:
Wal-Mart is the only company to claim the top employer spot in more than one state. In fact, the nation's largest retailer employed the most people in 20 states.
Educational and medical institutions also frequently top a state's list of employers. The most common largest employer across the 50 states, after Wal-Mart, was the state's university system. Educational services dominated statewide employment in 13 of the states. The largest employer in 11 states was health care and social assistance institutions.
The staggering contraction of the American manufacturing sector, which accounted for almost 30 percent of GDP in 1950 but just 11 percent by 2009, brought with it the collapse of private sector union membership. As the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in January:
In 2014, public-sector workers had a union membership rate of 35.7 percent. That was more than five times the rate for private-sector workers, 6.6 percent. Ten years earlier, the union membership rate for public-sector workers was 36.4 percent, and the rate for private-sector workers was 7.9 percent.
Overall union membership, which topped 30 percent in 1950 and 20 percent in 1983, now barely tops 10 percent. Combined with the decline in collective bargaining and the reduction in effective tax rates for the wealthy, these trends have had a dramatic impact on wages and total compensation for American workers. Since 1973, hourly wages have stagnated while the well-to-do captured almost all of the benefits from four decades of productivity gains. And the Economic Policy Institute reported, since 2007 only those in the 90th percentile and above have enjoyed any gains in wages and total compensation.
Compounding workers' woes is the transformation from "guaranteed benefit" to "defined contribution" compensation. The days of worker pensions have been replaced by 401k retirement plans to which employers may-or may not--make a matching contribution. At the same time, for years employers have dramatically shifted health care costs to their workers, or dropped coverage altogether. (The rising rates of uninsurance and underinsurance were, after all, the most important reasons why Democrats pursued the Affordable Care Act in the first place.)
Making matters worse, young college graduates--especially women--earn a lower hourly wage now than they did 25 years ago. Even in the age of high-profile startups gone big like Facebook and Twitter, the Millennials have the lowest rate of entrepreneurship in decades despite being the best educated generation in American history. Their staggering college debt load, lower pay and entry-level job opportunities battered by the Great Recession have left the "Post-Ownership Generation" without the capital, experience and contacts to start businesses of their own.
That's why the "Gig Economy" of Airbnb, Lyft and ZipCar represent more of an evolution than a transformation of work in the United States. Uber, whose own employees number only 4,000 compared to its 160,000 drivers, provides a new platform and novel distribution network for outsourcing and contracting trends underway for years. As the New York Times explained:
Even before the founding of the company in 2009, the United States economy was rapidly becoming an Uber economy writ large, with tens of millions of Americans involved in some form of freelancing, contracting, temping or outsourcing...
The number for the category of jobs mostly performed by part-time freelancers or part-time independent contractors, according to Economic Modeling Specialists Intl., a labor market analytics firm, grew to 32 million from just over 20 million between 2001 and 2014, rising to almost 18 percent of all jobs. Surveys, including one by the advisory firm Staffing Industry Analysts of nearly 200 large companies, point to similar changes.
But in the new sharing economy, workers are capitalists without profits, using their computers, their cars, their apartments--their assets--to provide services from which the mobile app vendors will profit. And in this new world of work, their compensation has evolved from "guaranteed benefits" to "defined benefits" to "no benefits."
That the sharing economy provides hundreds of thousands of Americans with the freedom to work when and at what they want is unquestioned. That many earn badly needed income as virtual taxi drivers, delivery persons and hoteliers goes without saying. That millions benefit from competition with the traditional taxi, lodging, dining and other industries is a huge benefit to consumers, if not the "legacy" companies with huge sunk costs in facilities, licenses and capital equipment. (Studies over the past two years have shown that Airbnb is cutting into hoteliers' revenue, and making the San Francisco housing crisis worse.) That's why Republican pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson crowed:
"[Uber] created this poster child example of what happens when the status quo uses government regulation to keep competition out of the market. It doesn't feel ideological, but it creates this example for what Republicans have been saying all along."
But that's only part of the story. In a major economic address this week, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton provided the rest:
Meanwhile, many Americans are making extra money renting out a spare room, designing websites, selling products they design themselves at home, or even driving their own car. This 'on demand' or so-called 'gig economy' is creating exciting opportunities and unleashing innovation but it's also raising hard questions about workplace protections and what a good job will look like in the future.
In their recent Democracy Journal article "Shared Security, Shared Growth," Nick Hanauer and David Rolf offered a blueprint for reconciling the potential and the pitfalls of the sharing economy. In it, they shine a spotlight on the "hard questions" Clinton cited, using the example of Zoe, a woman in her late 20's who has worked at a Denver hotel for five years. Nevertheless, she has no choice but to supplement her income in the gig economy. Her career, they explain, looks nothing like the lifetime job and solid benefits her parents could take for granted:
But for Zoe's generation, this contract no longer exists. The hotel that employs her views her paycheck as just another operating expense to manage and to trim, while the clients she services via UberX and TaskRabbit and Airbnb do not view her as an employee at all. Zoe works longer hours than her parents ever did, but she earns no time-and-a-half overtime pay, accrues no sick days or vacation days, and accumulates no pension or 401(k). And in the "sharing economy" that is frequently proclaimed to be the future of work--an economy of work, but not "jobs"--Zoe and her cohort are even denied the unemployment and workers' compensation insurance that have composed the barest threads of our social safety net for the last hundred years.
In response to that increasing anxiety and uncertainty for America's shrinking middle class, Hanaeur and Rolf propose a "21st century social contract." At the heart of that new American bargain are two pillars supporting the workforce of the new sharing economy:
We propose a new Shared Security System that endows every American worker with, first, a "Shared Security Account" in which to accrue the basic employment benefits necessary for a thriving middle class, and second, a new set of "Shared Security Standards" that complement and reinforce that account.
One can think of the Shared Security Account as analogous to Social Security, but encompassing all of the employment benefits traditionally provided by a full-time salaried job. Shared Security benefits would be earned and accrued via automatic payroll deductions, regardless of the employment relationship, and, like Social Security, these benefits would be fully prorated, portable, and universal.
In their proposal, workers would earn both mandatory benefits (sick days, paid vacation leave, health insurance contribution, matching 401k contribution, etc.) from their employers on an hourly or piecework basis. Workers would also be eligible for workman's compensation, unemployment insurance and family leave. (Whether the Shared Security Accounts are managed by the government or non-profit organizations akin to the old Blue Cross or some other mechanism is TBD.) In addition, Hanauer and Rold call for increasing the minimum wage and adjusting (as President Obama just did by executive order) the threshold for overtime pay.
For Democrats, of course, this kind of updating of the American social contract to meet the needs of workers in the new sharing economy. Just as the first Progressive era was required to rein in the excesses of the robber barons of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, so too will a new Progressive response be needed to head off the looming dangers of this new Gilded Age. Candidates like Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley shouldn't limit themselves to investing in the sectors, infrastructure and education for the 21st century American economy. As with Obamacare, Democrats should lead in reversing the "Great Risk Shift" that has moved more and more of the burden--and uncertainty-- for education, health care and retirement fully onto the shoulders of lower and middle class Americans. As Catherine Rampell explained the challenge back in January:
It's easy, but probably unproductive, to feel nostalgic about the good ol' days of welfare capitalism. The disintegration of the corporation-centered safety net looks likely to continue. The challenge is to develop policies that mitigate some of the greater risks and sources of instability facing workers, whether as Lyft drivers or temps, especially since we know from behavioral economics that individuals tend to be really bad at managing risk on their own.
As for the Republican field, they certainly don't feel nostalgic or anything else about the dangers of the sharing economy. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul tweeted that "@HillaryClinton's ideas about Uber and Lyft are out of touch. We need more innovation, not less." Texas Senator Ted Cruz has even compared himself to Uber, proclaiming "What I'm trying to do more than anything else is to bring a disruptive app to politics." Jeb Bush, who is now running "Hillary vs, Uber" ads on Google, turned his first Uber ride into a photo-op on Friday. He probably wishes he never used the app, and not just because his 35 year-old driver Munir Algazaly said he would probably support Secretary Clinton for President. As the New York Times reported:
Vladimir Kravets, 24, from Ukraine, who was been driving for Uber for three months, said he likes the extra money, which supplements his other job at a roofing company, but "it's not so easy, because Uber charges like 30 percent."
"If you want to make good money, you need to spend a lot of time driving here," he said.
And Luis Luna, 48, who has been driving Uber for about four months, said he hoped "in the future that we might have some benefits, instead of just being contractors."
"It would be great to have regular benefits, basic benefits," he said. "Pretty much regular benefits, like health care."
There's no chance of that happening if the Republicans win the White House in 2016. (In cases in Florida and California, state labor commissions disagreed in ruling that an Uber driver is an employee, not an independent contractor.) The GOP White House wannabes have already shared their message. Tax rates for the rich are going to come down and, if possible, disappear altogether for the capital gains, dividends and estates that ensure dynastic wealth--inequality. And if the on-demand workers of the sharing economy want things like sick days or health insurance, they'll just have to "work longer hours" using their own cars or by renting out their own apartments. Or, if worse comes to worst, they can always sell their old second hand shit on eBay.
Just like John McCain said.
| July 19, 2015
Obama May Boost Military Aid to Israel by Up to 50 Percent
With the ink barely dry on the Iranian nuclear deal, the Israeli government and its allies in the U.S. are mounting an all-out effort to stop the agreement in Congress. Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's rival Isaac Herzog of the Zionist Union, will be coming to the United States to press Congress. As the Washington Post reported, "The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is funding a new 501(c)4 group, Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, that is expected to spend $20 million to $40 million on advertising and campaigns in 30 to 40 states to mobilize opponents of the deal to write or call their members of Congress." Meanwhile, Netanyahu and his current and past ambassadors to Washington are flooding American airwaves and op-ed pages to undermine the President of the United States.
So what price will Israel pay for its betrayal of its last, best friend on earth? In a nutshell, nothing. Instead, President Obama is willing to massively increase American military aid to Israel to as much as $4.5 billion dollars a year.
That's right. While American diplomats and arms control experts praise the P5+1 deal as a strong agreement to prevent an otherwise unconstrained Iran from building nuclear weapons, Bibi insists it is a "historic mistake." And for that, Fox News reported, he will be rewarded:
The Times reports that under a memorandum of understanding that runs until 2018, the U.S. provides Israel with $3 billion per year in aid, most of which is used to buy military hardware, such as jets. An official familiar with ongoing negotiations told the paper that Israel has asked for between $4.2 and $4.5 billion per year for 10 years in a new aid agreement. According to The Times, negotiations on the agreement began long before the Iran talks ramped up.
But those negotiations, long underway, were shut down by Prime Minister Netanyahu. As the New York Times explained, the Israeli leader doesn't want the appearance of a consolation prize now. When President Obama raised the prospect of even sweeter deal than the $3.6 to $3.7 billion annual windfall many analysts expected, Bibi brushed him off:
As in previous talks with Mr. Obama, Mr. Netanyahu refused to engage in such talk "at this juncture," the officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to detail the private discussions. And on Tuesday, as administration officials fanned out to make the case for the Iran agreement, one aide suggested in a phone call to Jewish and pro-Israel groups that Mr. Netanyahu had rebuffed their overtures because he believes accepting them now would be tantamount to blessing the nuclear deal, say people involved in the call who did not want to be quoted by name in describing it.
Under no illusions about the Israeli gambit, President Obama explained to Times' columnist Thomas Friedman Bibi's attempt for a two-fer. Obama claimed that Netanyahu "perhaps thinks he can further influence the congressional debate, and I'm confident we're going to be able to uphold this deal and implement it without Congress preventing that." He continued:
"But after that's done, if that's what he thinks is appropriate, then I will sit down, as we have consistently throughout my administration, and then ask some very practical questions: How do we prevent Hezbollah from acquiring more sophisticated weapons? How do we build on the success of Iron Dome, which the United States worked with Israel to develop and has saved Israeli lives?"
The process of rewarding Israel's bad behavior could begin as soon as next week, when Defense Secretary Ashton Carter visits the region. Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (the same Ya'alon who previously accused Secretary of State John Kerry of having "misplaced obsession and messianic fervor" about Palestinian peace talks) told the Jerusalem Post that his government will have to "talk about the trade-offs that Israel has coming to it in order to preserve a qualitative edge." And what Israel "has coming to it" apparently will now have a bigger price tag:
Before Netanyahu's suspension of aid talks, the two sides were close to a new package of grants starting in 2017 and worth $3.6 billion-$3.7 billion. US and Israeli officials said.
That sum would likely rise once talks resumed, they said.
As one Israeli official told Sheldon Adelson's Israel Hayom, "How can anything compensate for an arsenal of nuclear weapons held by a terrorist regime that intends to destroy you?"
That attitude is more than a little ironic. After all, killing the P5+1 deal would leave an unmonitored Tehran unconstrained in seeking nuclear weapons, especially as the international sanctions regime inevitably crumbled. Short of a full-scale war, launching preemptive strikes against the Iranian nuclear program could only delay (and , in fact would encourage) the nuclear break-out Israel and the U.S. both seek to prevent. More ironic still, Israel has enjoyed a Middle East nuclear monopoly for decades precisely because it deceived the United States about both its capabilities and its intentions. Meanwhile, some neoconservatives have proposed ending U.S. military aid to a now very wealthy Israel precisely to limit the leverage of any American president. Nevertheless, Israel's military will soon receive a huge booster shot courtesy of its American patron.
"Israel has no better friend than the U.S," Benjamin Netanyahu is fond of saying, always adding, "and the U.S. has no better friend than Israel." Bibi's half-right. America's real best friends--France, Germany and the UK--are standing side-by-side with the United States on the Iran nuclear agreement, just as they did in Afghanistan after September 11, 2001. Now, just months after addressing Congress to sabotage the policy of the sitting President of the United States, Netanyahu is once again demonstrating that America is his friend without benefits.
As his battle over the Iran nuclear deal is joined, Benjamin Netanyahu has emerged as the anti-Churchill in the relationship between Americans and Israelis: Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so few to so many. Apparently, the debt that Israelis can never repay is about to get a lot bigger.