Wednesday, August 28, 2013

College Costs Not Just a Conservative vs Liberal Problem

I've blogged in the past about how the current high out of pocket cost associated with college is a reflection of the fact that conservatives have successfully implemented their preferred policies.  They wanted less public subsidy for school, and that's what we now have. When the subsidy declines tuition has to go up.  Media Matters complies some additional data supporting my claim that you can read here.

But conservatives in my opinion are right about one thing, and it's discussed in an article from Matt Taibbi here.  Yes, state subsidy has declined.  But the government is involved in ways that are highly destructive, particularly the easy access to loans.  This is not much of a government subsidy because the government actually makes a profit from the system.  The default rate is very low because student loans are almost impossible to discharge.  You will be paying back, even if you have no job and end up on disability. 

To a large degree this loan system is more a reflection of the policy preferences of our Democratic politicians.  They pretend they are doing students a favor by providing loans.  This helps the individual.  If you don't have a college degree your job prospects are grim.

But this is kind of like saying that if you stand in the movie theater you'll get a better view.  That's true for the individual, but causes a collective problem.  Now everyone needs to stand to have a view that will be no better than if everyone had just continued to sit.  Cut the loans off and fewer people will go to school, but this doesn't mean demand for workers will necessarily change.  These days some employers are demanding a 4 year degree even for work that in the end is simply manual labor.  If fewer people have degrees employers will settle for workers without that degree.

Unfortunately for the young they don't have powerful advocates.  Educational institutions lobby hard, especially to Democrats, and they prefer that the loan money continues to flow.  It's wrecking the lives of the young, saddling them with crushing debt to acquire a degree that doesn't do much in terms of making them productive employees.  Similarly Republicans aren't interested in doing what it takes to solve the problem (returning subsidy to it's former levels).  Yes, I understand that this incentivizes people to acquire loans that may not be necessary, but this also is a factor in the loan problem.  As with so many other issues the harm here is a bipartisan effort.  Neither the Republicans nor Democrats are representing people.  Only the wealthy interest.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

So Who Was Right About Vietnam

When I first heard of My Lai it was during the 2004 Presidential campaign.  I saw clips of the things John Kerry said about how massacres were routine.  Limbs are cut off for sport.  Women and children slaughtered in a way reminiscent of Genghis Khan.  I somehow convinced myself that he was lying.  But I did go on to discover My Lai.  It was very bizarre to me.  I wondered how this could have happened.  I chalked it up to fog of war and a few bad apples.

Around the same time I think I saw bits of an interview with Bob Kerrey where he discussed his own involvement in war crimes in Vietnam.  It might have been this interview.  I recall him looking very uncomfortable, and I wasn't quite sure if he believed what he was saying as he justified his actions.  I had a hard time processing this because it was in deep conflict with the vision of America that I had.

Fast forward to today and I've come to accept that these myths I've been fed are nonsense.  In fact what we see coming from the US is grotesque violence in service to wealth and power.  I did hear Noam Chomsky say that My Lai was a completely ordinary incident during the war.  It was so commonplace that at the time it happened the anti-war movement paid little attention to it.  Somehow later it became well known and widely discussed for reasons I won't go into, so the anti-war movement then sought to exploit it, but prior to that there was no reason to regard it as exceptional.  I always assumed Chomsky's characterization was right.  I assumed that the so called radicals, the war protestors, were telling the truth.  People like John Kerry at the Winter Soldier hearings.

But what we now have is the documentation proving that the radicals were right.  Nick Turse has the evidence complied in "Kill Anything that Moves".  Hat tip to Vinny for the heads up.  Culled from the National Archives and sworn testimony he shows that really the scorched earth wanton destruction was official policy.  The evidence comes from Pentagon research.  For an overview it's worth checking out this interview with Bill Moyers.

A couple of take aways on all this for me.  Number 1, it's bizarre that Americans don't know what Vietnam was.  Germany did some awful things during WWII.  It was terrible.  But at least they know it.  They admit it.  They have done a lot in terms of reparations.  If they didn't acknowledge it and didn't compensate the victims we'd think there was something wrong with them.

The second point is we need to recognize who knew their stuff in the past and who didn't.  Mainstream sources were totally wrong.  Radicals, particularly radical leftists, were spot on.  If we continue to listen to the "respected" authorities and mainstreamers, blithely assuming that they are right because they aren't considered radical, we'll get it wrong, with disastrous consequences.

What are these same radicals saying today about the climate, about what is happening in places like Egypt, Iraq, and Afghanistan?  What do they say about surveillance, about the corporate environmental devastation and human devastation?  It's worth listening to them even though they are portrayed as radical.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

North Carolina's Anti-Floc Anti Market Legislation

North Carolina's legislature has been taken over by the tea party contingent, and I think they continue to make clear what has been obvious for a long time.  Free markets are for the poor and weak.  The rich require a nanny state.

Floc is an organization that attempts to unionize migrant farm workers.  As you can imagine this is a bit difficult because of the transient nature of the work.  A worker may want to join a union, but he may not be back next year.  How do you develop an organization that represents changing populations?

A further problem is that you can't just get workers at a single farm to join a union because as soon as you improve the compensation for workers the farmer is probably going to need to pass those costs on to the companies that buy his products.  RJ Reynolds buying tobacco is an example.  If one farmer wants to treat his employees decent, how is he supposed to compete with others that don't?

But nobody needs a union more urgently than migrant workers.  These people are getting paid minimum wage with no benefits to live in rat infested, cockroach infested shanties.  See this report from Oxfam documenting some of the abuses in N Carolina.  To improve that situation they obviously need a stronger bargaining position in the face of their employer.  RJ Reynolds does not directly employ them, but in the end Reynolds is the key in determining the share of revenue generated that goes to capital and the share that goes to labor.

Baldemar Velasquez, President of Floc, understands this.  He understands that punishing farmers is not the answer.  His idea was pretty simple.  Go straight to Reynolds.  They must require all of the farms in their supply chain to be part of a union.  Yeah, we get it that they think they are washing their hands of responsibility when they say that they don't employ migrant workers directly.  But we're not buying it because they have the power to make this situation right.  In fact this is the only way.  If it's the only way to make it right, and they have the power to do it, they have a moral obligation to do it.  So we're just going to shame them into doing it.

I met a migrant worker this weekend that sprays his bed with Raid every night before going to sleep because of the bed bugs and cock roaches.  A man with no health care sleeps in toxic fumes, just so the roaches don't keep him awake and prevent him from harvesting crops.  And there's thousands more just like him all over the country.  We can create an organization that gives that man the power to demand something better.  It's a no brainer.

Well, suppose you're a right winger and you don't want to see a union be successful.  You should still regard it as acceptable that the market should dictate.  The free market allows us to shame Reynolds.  They don't have to listen.  The free market says they can sign a contract that compels all their farms to be under a union rubric, or they can choose to not sign that contract.  Let the market decide, right?  Floc has succeeded with this model before.  Campbells Soup and Mt. Olive Pickle.  The strategy works and involved no government compulsion.  Also, just for the record, the Wagner Act, which gives ordinary people the right to organize without reprisal, doesn't apply to the agricultural industry.  So this is really about as close as you can get a free contract.

The Tea Party should be fine with it.  But the Tea Party North Carolina legislature is not.  HB 74 will make it illegal for a corporation to compel members of it's supply chain to have workers represented by a union.  It's not enough that workers are barely organized now.  They need the nanny state to come in and prevent even the possibility of organizing.  Such is their commitment to the free market.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Who Defines What Is Legal

An interesting discussion with Noam Chomsky that questions the assumption that the state defines when an action is illegal.  Very relevant to the revelations from Snowden.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Obama Care So Far

I was glad to see Obama Care made into law and glad the Supreme Court ruled it wasn't unconstitutional because I thought on net it would be good for most people.  It wasn't ideal.  I wanted something more like single payer or a public option.  The kind of thing other first world nations have.  Half the cost, better outcomes.  The Obama Care plan is really a conservative plan.  It was conceived by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.  I think it was intended to forestall Hillary Care.  Hillary Care would have deprived the non working owners of too much profit.  They don't do anything, but it's Heritage's job to keep the money flowing into their pockets.  Obama Care/Romney Care throws the poor a bone, but still sends money to the rich.  Kind of half way towards what I want, but better than the alternative.

So I thought on net it would be good.  But I have to say that if preliminary indications hold true it's looking better than I expected it would.  Here's a rundown of some of the positive results and expectations so far.  The CBO says it's bringing the deficit down.  A lot of people spend much less, particularly vulnerable people.  Premiums are coming down.  Lifetime maximum limits have been removed for 105 million people.  Pre-existing condition restrictions are gone.  What's not to like?

There are a few things to not like.  As Krugman explains here it's a bit of affliction for the comfortable in order to comfort the afflicted.  Rich, young, and healthy carries a bit more burden while poor and elderly get a break.  But, as Krugman explains, Republicans are starting to panic.  So far it's looking good, like it would be successful.  That's the last thing Republicans want.  For them it's not about doing what's good for people.  This is about maintaining credibility.  Their free market fantasies of how government is bad at everything could be proved wrong, so they are flailing.  So they've put forward 40 futile attempts to repeal it.

But we are going to still get a chance to see if the Republican alternative is better, because in some states, like Missouri they're doing what they can to prevent Obama Care from being implemented, whereas Colorado is doing the opposite.  Seems like a pretty good test.  Place your bets.  As you do maybe keep in mind recent predictions from the conservative universe.

Update: A comment on more of the down side.  One of the groups that in tough shape under Obama Care is the working poor.  Too rich to qualify for Medicaid but too poor to afford the policy they are required to buy if they want to avoid paying the penalty.  As discussed here, what's particularly annoying about this is Obama knows it's a problem and quickly resolved it for people that are close to him.  Congressional staffers are apparently paid little so they would have been subject to this.  It's much like how the sequester impacted the powerful in Washington by making it difficult to fly.  Cuts in funding for staff at airports meant delays.  So our politicians quickly made an exception for this particular bit of federal spending.  It impacted them.  In the same way they fix the problem for friends that suffer now with Obama Care.  The rest can pound sand.