How Much Do Auto Workers Make?

Go read The media myth: Detroit’s $70-an-hour autoworker.
Auto workers make $28 an hour on average. No auto assembly-line worker makes $70 an hour, even if the media repeats that figure over and over. The $70 figure includes the “labor costs” of health care and pensions for retired and injured workers and the cost of management for that worker/hour, as if it was added to the number of labor hours that goes into a car today.
Yes, GM and the others have a high cost to cover the benefits to their workers. That was the point of our laws that set up corporations — to benefit US. Japanese and German and other car companies have many of these costs paid by the government. They did it with taxes and had the government provide the benefits, we tried to do it throught the corporations themselves, and our model hasn’t worked.
The point is that we need health care reform and decent pensions for all Americans, through We, the People — the government. It certainly doesn’t mean that we should just get rid of the last major manufacturers we have. Sheesh.

Are Bailouts Funding Lobbying?

In the discussions of the bailouts progressives have talked about protecting the taxpayers through compensation limits, equity positions instead of just handing over funds, etc. But I don’t think we have asked for what I think could be one of the most effective ideas for restoring and protecting democracy — and thereby preventing disasters like the one we are experiencing.
Let’s start demanding that companies receiving bailout funds stop lobbying and stop the other things they do to influence public opinion and policy decisions! This includes funding right-wing “think tanks,” PR firms, etc.
My own preference would be to ban *all* use of corporate funds for any purposes of influencing public opinion or government policy. I am of the opinion that corporate money should be used to run the corporation, period. Lobbying, etc. does not benefit the interests of the corporations — because corporations do not have interests. They are supposed to just operate within the rules WE set. What we are seeing is corporate resources wrongly being used for the personal interests of executives and a few wealthy shareholders, not to promote the broader interests of all the shareholders, the long-term well-being of the company, and our society. I believe that We, the People should be making the laws, telling corporations how they can operate, not the other way around. We are the boss of them.
So demanding that companies receiving bailout funds must cease all lobbying is a way to introduce this idea that the people should be in control of decision-making in general. It is an Overton Window tactic to start getting the public talking about the idea that corporations should be out of our politics, leaving the decision-making to We, the People.

Voter Fraud

Do you remember the pre-election Republican hissy-fit about the threat of “voter fraud?” it got to the point where John McCain said during one of the debates,

“ACORN … is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.”

Just in Ohio Republicans tried to purge more than 650,000 registered voters from the registration rolls to prevent “voter fraud.” This was just in Ohio! Other massive-scale efforts were tried in Colorado, Georgia, Florida and other states.
So … what was the result of all that hysteria about “voter fraud”? How many voter fraud cases turned up? Let’s look at Ohio again.
Vote fraud worries called overblown | Cincinnati Enquirer,

Despite widespread concerns about voter fraud before the Nov. 4 election, Hamilton County elections officials declared today there were only two problem votes out of more than 400,000 votes cast.
. . . The two situations causing the concern are:
— A man voted absentee in Hamilton County, then called the board later to withdraw his ballot because he actually lives in Connecticut.
— An inmate voted twice from jail.

TWO problem votes, one of them called to say he had made a mistake.
That was the sum total of this massive effort to “destroy the fabric of Democracy.”
They just lie. It’s what they do.

Democracy or Corporate Rule. Choose One.

Why are We, the People allowing big corporations to use OUR broadcast frequencies to spread anti-democracy propaganda with no ability to respond with different viewpoints?
When is the last time you saw a representative of labor on TV talking about why people should join unions?
WE own the radio and television frequencies. WE license the use of these to private companies, and then they use them to push policies that harm us, without allowing anyone to come on and tell the other side.
It used to be different. Before Ronald Reagan came in and changed these (and so many other) rules to favor big corporations over the public’s interests broadcasters were not allowed to use our airwaves for propaganda, and were not allowed to overcommercialize their programming. Reagan overturned decades of precedent, and when Congress responded by overwhelmingly passing a law to restore control by democracy Reagan vetoed it. Since then Republicans have vetoed or filibustered every attempt to restore democracy’s control over our own resources.
Why do we allow big corporations to use OUR resources against us, for the benefit of a wealthy few? It is either democracy or corporate rule. Choose one.

Sustainabilty Is The Key To The Next Economy

There is an old saying: If something is unsustainable it can’t be sustained. Our economy is starting, just starting to show us what happens when you continue unsustainable practices to their conclusion.
The day will come when instead of habitually saying, “How can I make money off of this” as things happen, they will say, “Is this really sustainable?” Unfortunately we are only at the very beginning of the kind of pain that is going to teach us as a society that this is the correct way to evaluate what appear to be opportunities.
Let me explain:
We have learned that it is a good idea to store explosives in special bunkers with thick, concrete walls. Think about how we learned that it is important to require this.
We have learned about clean, safe drinking water. Think about how we learned that this is a good practice. We have learned to build sewer systems instead of dumping bedpans into the street. Yes, we used to do that and now we don’t. Think about how we learned not to. Along the same lines we have largely learned to wash our hands after we go to the bathroom and before we eat. Think about how we learned that this is a good practice.
We have set up building codes that prevent fires and collapses from earthquakes. At least in California we have. In other parts of the country they don’t require buildings to be earthquake-safe. We do, they will. Think about why we do and they don’t but will. Think about why we have fire codes for buildings across the country.
Are you getting my drift? These are things that people didn’t know to do, but now they do know. But people seem to have to go through terrible, devastating, tragic shocks before they learn. And finally we learn, and routinize safe practices. We had been through severe economic shocks and then the Great Depression and there were some things we as a people thought we had learned. Think about how bad the depression was and the things that we set up to try to prevent it from happening again: regulations, oversight, a strengthened democracy with citizen control of public resources, strong unions to serve as a counterbalance to corporate power, high taxes on the rich and corporations so income would be more fairly redistributed and the benefits of our system shared widely — only to gradually let most of that slip away. So the control of our country’s decision-making had reverted back to the wealthy and predatory capitalism was reinstated. We, the People were harvested for every last dollar and hour of labor and when we were finally tapped out the economy had to collapse.
There is every sign that this economic collapse could be worse that any before it.
So, like I said, the day will come when people look at events and instead of saying, “How can I make money off of this” they will say, “Is this really sustainable?” But I fear that we are going to have to reach the bottom before we learn this.

Coleman / Franken Recount Overview: Republicans Are Doing What Republicans Do

Story Number One: It’s an amazingly close election
The Franken-Coleman election is freakishly close. The first semi-official report showed a spread of 700 votes out of 2.9 million (less than three hundredths of a percent). One of my imaginary internet friends has calculated that flipping 2.9 million coins would come up with a heads-tails difference bigger than that 90% of the time. Un coup de des jamais n’abolira le hasard, they say, but apparently the disseminated intelligence of Minnesota has succeeded in defeating the law of averages.
And the gap has been narrowing. The first official report (before the recount) reduced the spread to a little over 200 votes, and the recount so far has reduced the spread still further. It’s quite possible that when the dust settles, the difference will be fewer than 100 votes one way or the other. (My imaginary friend hasn’t done the math on that one yet.)
Story Number Two: Everything’s going fine so far
Except for the closeness of the election, nothing unusual has happened yet. The corrections that were made in the first few days were in the normal range. The corrections that have been made in the first half of the recount have been in the normal range. Routine honest mistakes were routinely and honestly corrected. The Coleman and Franken campaigns have filed two quite ordinary lawsuits. The Secretary of State and the various election officials have all done their jobs in a correct, routine, businesslike way.
Minnesota’s election law regarding recounts is carefully written and unambiguous, Minnesota has a well-earned reputation for efficient, honest elections, and nothing has happened so far to damage that reputation.
Story Number Three: The Republicans are stinking up the place
Coleman still has to be the favorite, but the Republicans are doing whatever they can to cast a shadow in the process, so Coleman could end up representing a state whose reputation for honesty he’d just dragged through the mud. They just can’t help themselves. That’s the only way they work.
Not all of the Republicans are acting badly. Former U. S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger was originally slated to head the Coleman recount campaign, but he made some polite excuse and backed out. (You have to believe that he just didn’t want to be involved with the sleazy operation the Coleman team was planning.) And after a little slip on national TV (which he corrected the next week) Republican Governor Pawlenty has generally affirmed the integrity of his state’s recount process — though still he might relapse, and definitely needs watching.
But Coleman is a Rovian. Even though he hasn’t won yet, legally speaking, he’s already declared victory three times. He’s proposed that Franken waive the “unnecessary” recount. He’s blamed Franken for the cost of the recount required by law. He’s smeared Secretary of State Ritchie. He’s smeared several local election boards. He’s made a stink about the 32 votes (which were never lost and were never in the trunk of a car), and about the routine correction of a hundred-vote mistranscription, and about the next-morning report of one county’s votes, and so on ad nauseum. Whenever the count has turned against him, he has immediately, without checking, insinuated the possibility of fraud. (In this he has been joined by Minnesota’s labile, amnesiac Congresswoman Michele Bachmann . Michele may not bother to get her facts right, but “she knows her heart is right”).
The Coleman allegations have been refuted in Minnesota, but they’re still alive and well nationally. The Wall Street Journal, Fox News, MSNBC, and other outlets have succeeded in convincing millions of people that Franken is trying to steal the election. Even the New York Times has relayed erroneous Coleman charges. Some Republicans — and many media people — are even hinting that Minnesota is Florida all over again, with Secretary of State Ritchie as the Katherine Harris figure. (Are the Republicans really finally admitting that the 2000 election was stolen?)
It’s hard to be sure what the Republicans have been trying to accomplish. The voting is finished, so public opinion is pretty much irrelevant. The recount process is spelled out in detail and not really susceptible to public pressure, and neither is the legal process. The most it seems that they can accomplish by their methods is to inflame their demented base, discredit Franken a bit, and generally poison the atmosphere, but by doing that they risk ending up even more despised than they already are. My guess is that they’re acting like stinkers because that’s what Republicans do. They’ve been playing that game for so long that they don’t know how to do anything else.
(Link from Digby, who describes a stolen election in Alabama. It’s my hope and expectation that Minnesota will perform better than Alabama did.)

The Election Process:

The night of the election, preliminary unofficial results are reported. Usually these results are decisive, but not this time. An automatic spot check is then done to find gross errors. (None were found.) After a week or so of adjustments and corrections, mostly at the local level, the corrected preliminary results are certified. The recount then begins, if necessary. Every ballot is recounted by hand, ballots challenged by one side out the other are separated out, and the new counts are recorded. (As of Nov. 22 we’re in the middle of this part). The challenged ballots are then evaluated by the recount panel, and the final result is reported.

Legal challenges can follow, though Minnesota law makes them difficult. (That’s presumably why the Franken camp is already suing about the rejected absentee ballots.) And finally, the Senate decides. Maybe they should skip to this right now, because I really doubt that the earlier phases are going to be decisive.

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How To Fix The Economy

A while ago I wrote, “Like the answer to Iraq: don’t invade Iraq.”
Here is how to fix the economy:
In 1981 don’t start cutting taxes for the rich and corporations, resulting in massive borrowing.
Don’t destroy the labor movement, resulting in decades of falling wages.
Don’t replace pensions, where the company puts money into a fund that will pay for workers’ retirements, with 401ks which are nothing more than telling workers whose standards of living are already declining to “save your own money and good luck with that.”


See a revised (better) version of this post at Speak Out California
I want to caution about the use of the word “they” in current policy debates. How we understand a problem has huge implications for how we decide to solve those problems. This use of “they” leads to a kind of understanding in our brains that might just be short-circuiting our ability to make rational decisions.
Let me use the auto companies as an example. “They” did bad things. “They” opposed higher CAFE standards. “They” pushed SUVs because SUV sales led to higher profits in the short term. Therefore “they” deserve what they get.
But who is the “they” here? What happens to your thinking about policy solutions if you instead understand that SOME executives were able to get their hands on the resources of the company, and did things that increased their own personal fortunes, even as their actions harmed the long-term profitability of the companies? THOSE executives might have already fled with the loot they got for themselves.
See what I mean? The first use of “they,” where you think of a company as a sentient being, a monolithic entity that makes decisions by itself, you are led toward one kind of solution. Let “them” fail. Let “them” deal with the consequences of “their” decisions.
But if you think about it the other way, that certain individual bad actors were allowed to make personal fortunes off of their access to company resources and their control of company decision-making (and lobbying), that leads to very, very different conclusions about how to fix the mess we and our economy are in.