Archive for January 2010

The Citizens United Supreme Court case and unions

January 24, 2010

On a Facebook thread recently, I argued that the recent Supreme Court decree on campaign finance reform benefitted corporations a lot more than unions, and implied that unions opposed the decision.

Looks like I was wrong. Mea Culpa, especially to Nathan.

That said, I think it was really, really dumb of unions – any unions – to support Citizens United in this case.  At the link, Lindsay Beyerstein does a good job offering an explanation of the thinking of the AFL-CIO, but I want to make a point or two that I’ve not seen brought up yet:

1) Unions will never, ever have as much money avilable to influence politicians as corporations do.  It just isn’t going to happen, not given the relative sources of income and nature of the two groups.  My guess is that the AFL-CIO wanted to retain or increase their own financial ability in this area, but given the massive amount by which they are outgunned, it seems like a really bad trade-off.

2) The removal of donations from politics will do more to elect pro-labor candidates than allowing unions to donate ever will.  (In other words, let’s talk full public financing.)

The second point is the one I think will be most controversial.  It stems pretty directly from the first, though.  I have two main reasons for thinking this:

A) Unions are organized groups of people – and I am operating under the assumption that the more money is removed from politics, the more volunteers will matter.  And unions, and the left in general, can turn out volunteers far more effectively than corporations.

B) The removal of corporate money from politics will do a lot to enable the election of pro-labor candidates.  Progressives tend not to have much money – or, more specifically, not a lot compared to candidates backed by corporations and corporate PACs.  Leveling the financial playing field – well, lowering the cost of running – should tilt the scales in favor of progressive candidates who might actually be responsive to the people that elect them.  (A novel idea, I know.)

In short, I think the AFL-CIO was being too shortsighted in pursuing their self-interest here, and that they should never have supported what is clearly a *very* conservative position in this case.  They would benefit more in the long run from heading in the opposite direction.

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Lebanon Express comes out against M66 & 67 with a very poorly written and reasoned editorial

January 22, 2010

This is one of the worst editorials I’ve seen in the Lebanon Express in a long time.  Consider:

Oregon already has high income taxes. Oregon is one of five states without a sales tax, instead counting on the majority of Oregon taxpayer’s 9 percent income tax to shoulder the burden.

Right – Oregon has high income taxes because it has no sales tax, which the editorial notes. So why make it sound like Oregon’s high income tax is a reason not to vote for Measures 66 & 67, or is inherently a problem* at all?  A more relevant number would be the overall tax burden of Oregon compared to other states, or better yet, the ratio of taxes to services compared to other states.

According to the Tax Foundation, a DC-based nonprofit that doesn’t particularly like taxes, Oregon’s tax burden has dropped from 10th-highest in the nation in 1977 to 26th in 2008.  In other words, Oregon’s tax burden is close to the median and has been dropping steadily for 30 years.

Thirty seconds on Google allowed me to find this information.  What was stopping the editorial writer from the doing the same?  Implying that Oregon’s high income taxes are a reason not to increase the marginal income tax rate on the highest earners is ignorant at best and disingenuous at worst.

Next, the editorial buys hook, line and sinker the line that the two measures will cost jobs:

“Which brings us to this question: How many more jobs would you like to see disappear?”

But wait!  The very next line:

The song and dance is the same for the proponents as it has been: Pass this measure or police officers, teachers, and other public servants will suffer.

Note the “song and dance” bit – I am halfway tempted to check the Voter’s Pamphlet for this line, because it’s so hackneyed and clearly designed to imply that dozens of state legislators and Oregon officials are all lying when they say that.  That’s a big claim to make, Express.  You sure you want to accuse them all of lying?

Also, you know what police officers, teachers, and public servants are?  EMPLOYEES.  With PAYCHECKS.  So which is it, Express?  Do public employee jobs count as jobs or not?

It’s not entirely clear from the editorial (another strike against it – it was almost as incoherent as some of Hering’s work) where the Express comes down on this question; however, at least it doesn’t flat-out dismiss public employees as so many opponents of the measures do.

Welders, electricians, truck drivers, mill workers and many others were laid off as unemployment topped 16 percent, just for Linn County. Our county’s unemployment levels are significantly above both state and federal levels.

True.  Including this information in this editorial only makes sense if you buy that the passage of these measures will cost more private sector jobs than they will retain public sector jobs or lead to the creation of more private sector jobs.  And for those of you out there who are shouting “A-ha!” because you’ve heard that economists estimate that 70,000 jobs will be lost if these pass, check this out:

These estimates were not subjected to peer review — at least not voluntarily. When examined by nationally recognized experts on state and local public finance at the Brookings Institution, the result was a scathing report concluding that the analyses were “without merit.”

Yup.  The 70,000 estimate is not valid, and the refusal of the people who made the estimate to subject their work to peer review suggests they knew that – which means this is a political calculation, nothing more.  Also?  I found that op-ed in another 30 seconds on Google and it’s from a local paper, the Eugene Register-Guard.

Continuing with the lousy-reasoning-and-jobs theme:

“And while the proposed Measure 66 eliminates taxes on the first $2,400 a person drew in unemployment for 2009, benefiting the person in that line, it certainly won’t help them find a job in 2010 if the measure passes.”

No shit?  Really?  Last time I checked, this wasn’t ever part of a jobs-creation package. This was a tax increase designed to keep the state from having to cut too much from the budget as part of a balanced budget package that included tax increases, tiny tax cuts, federal stimulus money, and $2 billion in cuts to state government.  These measures will *preserve* some public jobs, but aren’t designed to create private-sector jobs.  That’s not the point.   I hope the editorial writer actually understands the distinction.

That said, in Linn County, creating jobs is certainly important.  Perhaps the Express could write future editorials with ideas on how to do that rather than trash the only thing on the table that stands a chance of preserving some jobs as is? The editorial, as written, ignores the political realities of Oregon politics to an astounding degree – the Leg isn’t going to re-craft a budget in the upcoming special session if these measures fail.  Rightly or wrongly, they are not going to – and they have been saying as much for months.  Implying that some sort of protest/no-new-taxes vote will change that is really, really out of touch with reality.  Politics has never worked that way – if Oregon voters want something specific done, they need to advocate for it, not against something else.

The editorial contains one more giant, gaping lack of logic/grasp of reality:

The song was the same for the failed Measure 28 in 2003, which wove the tale of a $544.6 million deficit in the state’s budget. Measure 30 in 2004 was the follow-up to Measure 28 and it also failed with the same threats held overhead: Pass the bill to raise $802.7 million in revenue, or else.

Yet somehow, Oregon survived. Legislators can only cry wolf so many times and expect to be heard.

This is the worst part of the editorial (and that says something).  It brushes off any and all cuts and damage done as the result of previous budget shortfalls with a simple “Oregon survived.” In polite terms, this is a strawman:  No one has argued that Oregon will cease to exist as a state if Measures 66 & 67 fail.  People have argued that services will be cut and people will be severely impacted, up to and including death  – and instead of addressing those claims, which are narrow and backed up with both evidence and experts, all the Express can offer is a proverbial shrug of the shoulders.

In less polite terms, this is about the single most weasel-like thing I’ve ever seen in an Express editorial.  To casually dismiss state cuts as “crying wolf” given the overwhelming number of people who will be affected by the failure of these measures – well, I like the Express staff, so I’ll refrain from the using the words I really want to use.

There is another element to the end of the editorial that I want to draw attention to:

We are aware cuts will have to be made if the measures don’t pass. We just hope legislators use a scalpel rather than a hatchet, and start in their own offices before they head into our classrooms.

I have trouble believing this made it into print, for the following two reasons:

1) It’s incredibly naive.  Does the editorial’s author really think that state legislators either a) have $733 million left to cut in their own offices without hitting up public services, or b) would choose to do so even if they did?  Anyone who has been paying any attention to state politics will know the answers are no and no.

2) Without some evidence, on what grounds can the editorial actually claim that a “scalpel and not a hatchet” is the way to go?  We’re talking about $733 million dollars here – this is a few zeroes away from being within sight of scalpel territory.  This is a throwaway line that sounds good and makes me want to check if it was from the Voters Pamphlet again; it sounds good and means nothing constructive.

The bottom line is that while I am shocked the Express would come out against the measures, I am even more shocked they would be taken in by a bunch of crappy arguments – and then write an equally crappy editorial based on those crappy arguments.

This is one time they really needed to get it right.  It’s unfortunate they got it so wrong.

*Yeah yeah yeah – no one likes paying taxes, I get it.  That attitude is stupid and shortsighted when it goes beyond grumbling, and anyone who seriously thinks taxes are inherently problematic and doesn’t have a proposed way to replace all the public goods and services they provide can grow up, STFU, or both.  The anti-tax fervor that people seemed to be caught up in is completely juvenile.

VISA screws people, corporate exec fails to see it happening anywhere else

January 5, 2010

“What we witnessed was truly a perverse form of competition,” said Ronald Congemi, the former chief executive of Star Systems, one of the regional PIN-based networks that has struggled to compete with Visa. “They competed on the basis of raising prices. What other industry do you know that gets away with that?”

Off the top of my head?  Cable TV, Internet, and cell phone providers.  Especially cell phone companies.   I’m sure there are many others – large companies love that kind of environment, where there is a captive audience.  That’s not perverse; that’s the American Way.

Update:  Headline fixed.  Sorry about that.