Tag Archives: fud

Can Politics ever really reach Bottom?

As the results trickle in from Connecticut’s 2014 midterm election I can’t help but wonder if the process can get any worse. It was impossible to find substantive discussion on either side. Republican candidate Tom Foley apparently spent the past four years in cryogenic suspension because he was less informed about every issue that he was when he ran four years ago. He either refused to answer questions about actual state policies, or admitted ignorance but made references to his problem solving skills, and gave no example of them but trust him they are impressive. Incumbent Democrat Dannel Malloy fell into a trap of taking the bait on nonsense issues. His record might not be the kind of thing that voters are thrilled about (sheparding a state back from a global economic meltdown without making things worse) but it is his record. His approach has worked, but it required state tax increases and a slower pace of deficit reduction in exchange for shielding the state’s 169 towns and cities from funding cuts. Since all property taxes are assessed locally this means that the citizens of Connecticut were spared mil rate increases that impact the poor and working poor especially hard.

Asleep yet? I wouldn’t be surprised. Malloy has stayed true to his “good government” blue collar roots. In return he has been largely tuned out by the electorate.

Foley had one pitch: “that stuff you don’t like, I wouldn’t have done that”. See. Easy to digest. No policy angle. You can go on with your day unencumbered by facts, figures, data, policy details, or anything else that can vaguely be pulled under the heading of “reality”. His track record is either sketchy, hazy, or negative. Six months heading the Provisional Authority in Iraq, where U.S. lucre was hauled away by the wheelbarrow load by… well, nobody knows who. But billions of dollars were unaccounted for. This was also over a decade ago, and the entire venture was largely undocumented. And he is a corporate guy. A business guy. All we really know about his corporate ventures is that he made millions upon millions of dollars and played hardball with labor.

But they had debates.That should have proved edutaining! Errrrr, No. The debates were like mud wrestling without the charm, and the voters found out nothing the really needed to know to make an informed decision. Nobody seemed to care. They were too busy staking out some imaginary high ground. There is no high ground. There is only swamp land.

So you have a showdown between a sitting Governor who was not that able to frame his policies in a way that appeals to voters, and a guy who has never held any elected office and who couldn’t remember his running mate’s name with three weeks to go before election day. Surprised that the election will be a nail-biter?

Good Night. Good Luck. Good Grief.

FUD for Thought

There is an obvious rationale behind the GOP’s refusal to raise taxes on the wealthy:

If they allow it to happen, and it is successful in bringing the country’s accounts into balance, the GOP goes down in history as the flat-earthers they are. As long as they can keep the question open, and stick to debunked top-down economic policies, they can wait for some other force to come to the rescue and then claim victory. Either way, their base can keep the siphon of profiteering flowing, and that = Endless Super Pac Buffet.

FWIW I find it ironic that not only is the GOP sticking to their losing platform from the 2012 electons, but they are basically asking the president to accept their positions and inflict their damage on his base. It would be funny if it wasn’t true. They talk a lot of shit about treating the 2012 Election like a war, including their cabal to strangle the political process for four years to weaken the President, but when they lose they want the victor to accept their terms. Meanwhile in the major US media, “the band played on”.

Have a Nice Day.

The “cliff” matters, but for other reasons

Really great post by Robert Reich on FB today:

I can think of at least three cliffs that pose larger dangers to America than the fiscal one:

(1) The child poverty cliff. Between 2007 and 2011, the percentage of American school-age children living in poor households grew from 17 to 21%. Unless we focus on better schools, better health, and improved conditions for these poor kids and their families, we’ll have a significant population of undereducated and desperate adults.

(2) The baby-boomer healthcare cliff. Healthcare costs are already 18% of GDP, and between now and 2030, when 76 million boomers join the ranks of the elderly, those costs will soar unless we adopt a single-payer system that focuses on healthy outcomes rather than fee-for-services.

(3) The environmental cliff. Carbon levels in the atmosphere are increasing at a rate of 3 percent this year. Unless we adopt a carbon tax and/or cap and trade system (and get China and India to join us) we’ll be very soon at the point of no-return when ice caps irretrievably melt, sea-levels rise, and amount of available cropland in the world becomes dangerously small.

I think we should stop obsessing about the fiscal cliff and get working on these others. Do you agree?

I agree, and it also frames my distaste for the current brand of “cliffonomics” that plagues the major media coverage we are inundated with.  The biggest problem I see with the “fiscal cliff” drama is that the failure of Congress to find a solution to this issue is a bad omen for actually fixing anything of significance over the next four years. It seems that the GOP has figured that they can kick the can for another four years if they have to. That would include everything from health care and immigration to infrastructure and manufacturing.

There are much bigger issues in play than revenue and spending.  Basically the current argument is a marginal debate over which revenue and spending measures each party finds acceptable.  The debate takes place over the status-quo chessboard (maybe checkers is more apt… yep… checkers), whereas the real game should be played is in fixing the system to eliminate the source of the problem.  Massive public costs of healthcare due to a broken system are the number one savings vector, and they are being discussed in terms of weakening the already shaky net of healthcare options.  That is, to be blunt, insane.

Both sides in this dreadfully boring and childish “cliff” exercise are playing a game based on vote grubbing and base-preservation, which in the end will succeed at neither.  It is arguable that both conservative and liberal leadership have marginalized the center, and I believe it is because the center in America is rapidly asking “why can’t we have a better system, not just a rule change?” and neither party is willing to take that gamble.  What you have in Medicare and Medicaid is a proven revenue stream and a broken service delivery system.  The appropriations don’t need more than a tweak, but the delivery need a major upgrade.  That could involve means-testing, sliding scale reimbursement, cost controls, and possibly a subsidy/education system where you could get a break on say med school if you agreed to a commitment to serve.  That is tried and true policy strategy that has worked in the military for ages.  My fear is that a simple and rational pkan like that would be laughed off the table on day one because it doesn’t offer a clear political advantage.  The public benefit will never get to the discussion phase, because here in America, the public is well and truly fucked.

To close, a short list of major undertakings that have the potential to deliver jobs, GDP growth, straightline economic growth, and economic benefit:

  • Transportation infrastructure improvement project – WPA scale, bridges, roads, rail, and multi-user
  • Carbon Reduction Act with a jobs-based mechanism in addition or lieu of penalties/tax
  • Outright disincentives for offshoring capital and jobs.  Currently there is none, and we are paying the price on a national basis.
  • Dip toes into consumption-based tax, gaining a lever on the imbalance between profit and pure profit-taking that is ripping fuel out of our economy at an alarming rate.
  • STFU about immigration half-measures and put a true “move the line” system whereby immigrants can attain citizenship through normal means of work, paying taxes, lack of criminal activity, etc…

And so on.  Those issues have bigger up-front paybacks and yield larger benefits over the long haul than making seniors gap-fill for even more years before getting access to Medicaid or some other scenario where the least-able are punished for the inability of the wealthy to act responsibly.

In the words of the great Bootsy Collins: “Kirk Out”

Call it what it is

Everybody having fun with yet another round of fiscal shenanigans? I love nothing more than watching millionaires throw themselves in front of a bus to save billionaires.

First, the GOP: They are ever so thankful that their bullshit about “job creators” hasn’t been completely debunked. What they are protecting is actually “wealth extractors” but that doesn’t sound quite so defensible. See, in a fair system you would tax progressively more as income rose, possibly with a slightly different rate for investment income vs. salary income. That would create incentive for the wealthiest to keep their wealth active and circulating, you know… creating the jobs and GDP growth that the GOP can’t wrap their minds around…. as opposed to hoarding it, which is what they are doing with it now. The current argument from the GOP is between the current state of unbelievably unfair taxation, and a system that ever so slightly levels the system. And they like it that way. They likes it just fine, thanks you very much.

Next, Everyone Else: The President, Pelosi, Reed, and so on…. they are making a major mistake by engaging on the GOP’s terms. Good job on trying to cull out Social Security, since it is outside of the current scope of revenue/spending. Bad job on getting all squishy on Medicare and Medicaid when everyone knows that it is income qualification not age qualification that needs to be adjusted (just like Soc Sec). That said, they are doing a better job of giving coherent answers on their positions, while they still refuse to commit publicly on specifics. There is a reason: Just as in the presidential race, the GOP has created an unbalanced game board, where they are asking for concrete cuts to programs that they percieve as helpful to people that vote Democrat, while offering a hazy promise about maybe asking something from what they percieve as their base in return. In a reasonable world they could be ignored, but we don’t live in one of those. But call it what it is: The GOP pushing all the remaining chips from their failed policies and campaign planks to the center of the table.

In other News:
If you listen to NPR you may have caught a few whoppers last night (11/28/12): One GOP nitwit wondered aloud why they should support citizenship for people that are unlikely to vote Republican… which I applaud for at least being honest about their vote grubbing and bigotry; And another mentalist stated that “this is a bad time to be wealthy”… then joked that it is never a bad time to be wealthy, but Obama wants the rich to pay their share and that is a problem. Whew… when you start from the sub basement, you have a long way to go just to reach the sidewalk. Apparently there are people being taken seriously for thinking that the lowest tax rates in modern American history are bad for millionaires because they aren’t being given an even better deal without any debate, and that it is beyond comprehension that people you demonize won’t vote for you and additionally that stopping whipping their ass in public is out of the question. I actually wish NPR would go back to their old classical music and fact-based journalism format.

The sound of the OTHER shoe dropping…

How many damn shoes does SEBAC have to drop, anyhow?  Apparently a lot of them.  This week we were treated to a major bylaws revision, along with a waiver for a 30-day notification requirement for bylaw changes.  As I reminded my friendly union chapter president today, I predicted that SEBAC would do whatever the needed to do to get the outcome they wanted.  If it means rolling in shit, then by gosh, roll in shit.  I mean, once you are covered in shit it can’t get much worse.  The main debate seems to be over the “why” question.  On the face of it, one could come to the conclusion that this is a way of telling the members “the deal was fine, the problem is with YOU”.  Those of a right-wing anti-union bent feel that this is a monument to political backscratching, giving Governor Malloy the “win” at all costs.  The SEBAC mantra of “save jobs, protect public services” just doesn’t have the cache it used to.

What we are awaiting now is news of how SEBAC will approach ratification of an agreement.  Will they pursue a revote on the old agreement, a vote on a newer “clarified” agreement, or just sweep in the old agreement under the new rules using the previous voting results?  Or some completely unpredictable approach?!?!

Stay tuned…

P.S. if SEBAC doesn’t mind a little more “mud” in their eye, they should vote to restore the old voting rules after this debacle is resolved.

SEBAC Power!

20110628-110154.jpg

The throngs of SEBAC 2011 “NO” Voters amassing on the lawn of the CT State Capitol! Rawr!

But seriously, if SEBAC pulls some kind of hokey bylaw change they will have lost my support entirely. I know “dirty pool” when I see it. The “outdated bylaws” whining was disgraceful when it was trotted out at Chapter 24 of CSEA P4, and again when the same union busting thugs ran that sorry game on P4, but to hear that crap from “the good guys” is beyond belief.

Dear SEBAC: Move on, cool off, and get your ass in gear for SEBAC 2012. Bargaining under one set of bylaws and voting under another sounds like fertile ground for a successful legal challenge, probably of the class-action variety. Don’t make a bad situation worse.

SEBAC Wrap

I have avoided any blogging since the SEBAC 2011 agreement firmed up.  I certainly didn’t want to be in the group that was stirring shit up before the vote.  In what some are calling a “shocking” turn of events, the tentative agreement (TA), also known as a concessions package, was rejected under the bylaws of SEBAC.  The reason it was rejected is complicated because the media reporting is consistent in erroneously describing the voting process and requirements.  Simply: Each Union is comprised of Bargaining Units, Each Bargaining Unit represents a separate contract, and is comprised of Chapters.  Each chapter votes on the agreement, and the aggregate votes of the chapter determine how the Bargaining Unit votes.  All the votes from all Bargaining Units determine how that particular Union votes.  Each Union represents a portion of the employees within SEBAC.  For this vote there are two simultaneous standards: 14 of the 15 SEBAC Unions have to vote for it, and those unions have to represent 80% of the SEBAC mambership.  AFSCME represents over 30% of SEBAC, so if they vote “no”, the deal fails. They did, and it did… but three smaller unions also voted “no”.

We know a few things now that we suspected:

  • There were a lot of reasons to vote “no” if you were intent on voting “no”, ranging from immediate pocketbook issues to political gamesmanship
  • We had a lot of people running scare tactic games to swing that “no” vote, mostly political gamesmanship arguments
  • The unions who have always played their own game did it again… they are “special”, they believe they are above layoffs.  Time will tell if they are right.

We also had a few surprises, mainly CEUI voting “no”, and how close some of the bargaining-unit “yes” votes were.

I’ll come right out with what I think made this deal so hard for many to swallow:  Most CT state employees were working under a concession package from 2009, and that had two years of furlough days, two years of zero-increases, and a 2.5% pay increase in year 3, starting July 1, 2011.  The 2011 SEBAC deal took that 2.5% increase back (yoink!), set up another “charlie brown” 3% raise in 2015, and on top of the “concession of a concession” there were long term pension and health restructuring terms.  I think the weight of the cumulative “ask” was higher than SEBAC and OLR calculated, against the 4-year job protection “give”.  Also, despite the weird calculus of the hard-right, state employees are also paying the tax increases passed by the legislature, so some felt doubly dipped-upon.

Even with that analysis, I think the stability outweighed the drawbacks and voted “yes”.  I see not only my own tenure with the State as a public investment, but also that of my coworkers.  As a taxpayer and a state employee I know that the payroll savings are often/always offset by the cost of retraining/rebooting a program.  In some cases the “brain drain” is fatal.  Unfortunately, many people, both within and without state service, don’t see these programs as an investment.  That is a major failing of organized labor, and State government in general.

The idea that the modifications to the 1997 SEBAC collective bargaining health and pension package needed to be addressed now, and were so very urgent and essential to this concession package, is baffling.  SEBAC really fucked this up, along with the helpful folks at OLR.  Filling a 2-year budget gap, with a $1-billion per year price on the head of state employees, was how this stampede got started.  Putting long-term concessions into the deal in exchange for a slightly smaller than $1-billion per year ask by the Governor, was the grease on the rails.  The deal might have passed if it had been just a hard to swallow 5-year wage concession package.  But this lash-up of arrogance and optimism was doomed.  Reworking the SEBAC 1997 agreement (master agreement) would have been a cracking idea for a Malloy second term.  But we are seeing that Malloy doesn’t have that kind of vision.  Everything now, everything his way, or else.

That said, I also consider this entire debacle a massive failure for the credentials and effectiveness of Governor Dannel Malloy.  Yes, we have a budget deficit.  Yes we have 9.1% unemployment.  But balancing the budget doesn’t create jobs: job creation balances the budget.  Dan is in serious danger of failing Econ 101 as his first major act as Governor.  “See Me After Class” stickie, free of charge.  But job creation is hard, and manipulating budget items is easier, so Dan took the easier route (not to mention one in line with the “powers” of the Governor’s office).  What that means to me is that any economic turnaround will be coincidental with his budget balancing act, not a result of it.

But the SEBAC 2011 vote was not about the finer points of economic policy, a revote on the 2010 Governor’s race, ObamaScare, Sustinet boogeymen, or “sending a message”.  It was a ratification vote on a concession package.  I think that message got lost in the month between the announcement of the deal and the actual voting.  Add in the week-long delay between early and late voting unions (AKA Operation ClusterFuck), and it was a perfect storm of “how to miss the forest for the trees”.

Now… I fully expect the “no” voters to get out there and storm the LOB with their ideas that are going to solve the mess they created…  or, will they sit on their entitled asses and bitch?  Wanna piece of that action?!?!  It is looking like the “no” votes were made with no concept of an alternative, but a strong sense of “status quo” and a desire to keep it.  Sure, some people felt that they were burdened more than others.  But another thing lost in the discussion is that both the retirement age bump in 2022, and the health care revamp, came with options.  Want to keep your current retirement age past 2022?  Pay a max of 0.78% between now and your retirement.  Want out of the health maintenance plan?  Pay $100/month and one annual deductible.  That health care deal is, FWIW, something that most of the private sector employees would jump through a burning wall to get.

But wait!

[THIS JUST IN: SEBAC has tabled their vote to accept the results of the voting on the SEBAC 2011 tentative agreement.  “After reporting on their union’s balloting, a motion was taken for coalition leaders to cast a final official vote to accept or reject the agreement. A second motion was then raised to table the vote for 30 days, which was passed by consent.” Sweet Christ On A Crutch… what next?]