On TAP: Kuttner + Meyerson

Kuttner

Yes, Virginia, There is a Double Standard. For the past several decades, Republican state governments have systematically targeted black citizens to deny them the right to vote. Republican courts have colluded. 

We have a new Republican supreme court justice, Brett Kavanaugh, who sure as hell looked as if he flat out lied under oath in the face of persuasive evidence by a credible woman that he had sexually assaulted her. Not to mention a Republican president who brags about his serial sexual predations of women.

The common element is disgraceful conduct, coupled with cynical shamelessness. So who takes it on the chin for somewhat less systematic racial blunders and alleged sexual assaults? 

The Democrats, of course.

I am not making light of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam dressing in blackface and allowing minstrelsy and a Klan photo to grace his yearbook page. Nor am I excusing Attorney General Mark Herring’s blackening his face in a college party stunt. Even less do I condone Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax’s alleged episode turning consensual kissing into what his accuser says was an assault.

This kind of stuff was all too normal a generation ago. No longer. There is no statute of moral or political limitations for racist symbols or sexual assault.

All of these Democrats have expressed degrees of remorse, while the Republican style is to do far worse, and to piously stonewall. In Virginia, this will likely end with at least one resignation, and some serious political damage to the Democrats. Yet the Republicans manage to engage in far more systematic racism and serial offenses against women and the rights of women—and to an appalling degree they get away with it.

Something is wrong here. If the Democrats are going to devour their own in the name of racial and gender justice, they owe it to themselves and to their country to hold the Republicans to at least as high a standard. 

Meyerson

De-Fissuring the Workplace. Last year, the California Supreme Court came out with a ruling that could prove of huge benefit to many—perhaps more than a million—California workers. In a if-it-walks-like-a-duck-and-quacks-like-a-duck-it’s-a-duck decision, the Court ruled that delivery drivers for Dynamex were not, as the company claimed, independent contractors, but actually employees.

To reach that decision, the Court said it applied a three-part test – and only if workers met all three of these criteria could they be legally classified as independent contractors: First, the company hiring them doesn’t direct how their work is performed; second, their work is in a field different from the company’s business; and, third, the worker runs a business doing the same kind of work performed for the hiring company. By these three criteria, which are known as the ABC test, Dynamex’s delivery drivers were plainly employees, not independent contractors. And accordingly, the Court ruled that the drivers were covered by minimum wage and overtime laws.

Since last April, when the Court make its ruling, the Dynamex decision has been ticking away, like an unexploded time bomb, under the underside of the California economy—where at least hundreds of thousands of delivery drivers, port truckers, the workers at car washes and nail salons, the drivers for Uber and Lyft, and who knows how many others are routinely misclassified as independent contractors so their employers don’t have to pay them the minimum wage or overtime pay or provide them with the paid family leave that state law requires employers to give their employees. Nor do the companies have to pay into the unemployment insurance or worker comp funds that employers are required to support.

Now, Democrats in the California legislature, where they hold three-quarters of the seats in both houses, are developing bills that could apply the Dynamex ruling to all the state’s employers who’ve been misclassifying their workers. Not surprisingly, the businesses that rely on that model, most prominently Uber and Lyft, are mounting a vociferous and well-funded opposition, while labor is pushing for legislation that would cover the largest possible share of the misclassified precariat. It’s possible that some compromise legislation might ultimately emerge—possibly along the lines of a proposal that Nick Hanauer and David Rolf made in a 2017 Prospect article that would require such companies to pay into a portable benefit fund for their contractors. As the state’s new governor, Gavin Newsom, was backed by both labor and the tech companies, some kind of compromise might well be required to win his signature.

The California Court’s decision, by the way, runs almost exactly counter to a recent decision by the National Labor Relations Board, whose Republican majority ruled in January that SuperShuttle drivers were independent contractors, not employees, as Moshe Marvit reported last week in the Prospect. Not all methodologies, it turns out, are created equal. The California Supremes opted for empiricism, while the NLRB Trumpistas preferred the comforts of ideology.

Kuttner

State of the Union. Trump doesn’t appreciate it, but Nancy Pelosi did him a big favor when she put off his State of the Union address. And now, Trump has blundered once again when he decided to go ahead with it tomorrow, before the issue of reopening the government is resolved.

Trump has two challenges—tone and content—and he is playing a very weak hand on both.

On tone, he can either be defiant and belligerent, his default setting; or he can be conciliatory. In recent public statements and tweets, he has insisted that there is nothing to negotiate about as long as Congress doesn’t give him his wall. If Trump sticks to that tone, he only continues to poison the negotiations—only this time he doesn’t have the Republicans with him. 

As The Washington Post has reported, if he threatens again to use emergency presidential powers to build the wall despite an absence of appropriated funds, that takes a resolution of Congressional concurrence. If the House passes a resolution denying approval, it would put the Senate Republicans in an excruciating jam. That’s one of the reasons why Mitch McConnell and the gang have warned Trump not to raise that threat. 

Conversely, if Trump strikes a more conciliatory tone, he contradicts himself and demonstrates even more weakness. Given that it’s Trump, he could well try to be both belligerent and conciliatory, which is to say incoherent. 

The worst nightmare of his handlers is that a speech is carefully drafted and agreed to, and then Trump wanders off script and ad-libs God knows what.

As for content, a classic Trump tactic is to change the subject. Only this time, there is just about no good news to change the subject to. 

His Syria policy is a shambles, Republican leaders are objecting to his foreign policy on several fronts, leaders of intelligence agencies are calling out his lies on North Korea and Iran, he is about to be taken to the cleaners by the Chinese, and Robert Mueller keeps tightening the noose. A buoyant stock market only takes you do far.

And just to add to his self-confidence, Trump will have Nancy Pelosi looking over his shoulder. If Trump begins with the usual line that “The State of the Union is strong,” it will be the best laugh line of the night.

Kuttner

Race, Economics, Identity, and the Democrats’ 2020 Nightmare. When I had my 15 minutes of fame in the summer of 2017 and managed to help Steve Bannon get himself fired, Bannon told me this: “The Democrats—the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”

Well, brother Bannon may get his wish. I’ve been arguing for as long as I can remember that progressive pocketbook economics is needed to bridge over schisms of race—to remind non-rich citizens of all classes that their common foe is the 1 percent, not each other.  

The likely candidates who do that best happen to be white—Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, and maybe Jeff Merkley. Of the two African American or mixed-heritage candidates in the contest so far, Kamala Harris is more center-leftish, and Cory Booker is pure corporate Democrat.

Both, of course, talk a lot about race. Booker’s opening line, in his announcement today, talked about black-white bridge-building, but in a context that was about race, and not class. In Booker’s emailed announcement, he said: 

Robert,

We are better when we help each other. I learned that early in my life.

When I was a baby, my parents tried to move us into a neighborhood with great public schools, but no realtors would sell us a home because of the color of our skin. A group of white volunteer lawyers, who had seen the news of civil rights activists marching in Selma on Bloody Sunday, were inspired to help black families in their own community, including mine.

They didn’t know me or my parents. They helped a family they had never met—and it changed the course of my entire life.

That’s Booker’s life experience and if that’s how he plans to use it in his campaign, I have no right to challenge it. At the same time, if race is front and center to the exclusion of pocketbook populist and anti-corporate themes, it’s a gift to Bannon. 

It’s also the case that Booker and Harris are looking to the early Southern primaries, especially South Carolina, to certify themselves as front runners. Most of the Democratic primary voters in those primaries are African American. 

That dynamic will also bring race to the fore. It will take a very brave African American leader in South Carolina to support, say, a Sherrod Brown or an Elizabeth Warren, both of whom have superb records on civil rights, over a Kamala Harris or a Cory Booker.

Look, it’s a free country (just barely since Trump.) I can’t tell people whether to run, or how to campaign. It’s also the case that America has a great deal of disgraceful unfinished business on the subject of race that is long overdue for remedy, and white people need to recognize that. And we do need to talk about race and racism.

I also know that if race, rather the common economic screwing of both blacks and whites by America’s plutocrats. becomes the defining issue of the 2020 election, Steve Bannon will be laughing all the way to the bank.

This will be a majority-minority country by mid-century. It isn’t that yet. To defeat Trump, we need the broadest possible multiracial coalition around progressive pocketbook issues.

Meyerson

Steve Schmidt: Bad Judgment or Bad Faith? Moderate Republican and campaign guru Steve Schmidt has spent the last couple of years on cable news, quite rightly decrying and disparaging Donald Trump and the Republican Party which has fallen in line behind him.

Now, however, he’s emerged in a more sinister guise, as a leading adviser to Starbuck’s Howard Schultz, whose projected independent presidential candidacy may well provide the only way that Trump can win re-election in 2020.

Schultz’s bid is premised on several whopping delusions: First, that there’s a silent majority of independents in the electorate who will outvote both Democrats and Republicans when presented with an independent option; second, that that silent majority will back a candidate who says, as Schultz has, that we need to scale back entitlements; and third, that the threat to American democracy that Trump presents with each passing day is no greater than whatever threat his Democratic successor would pose.

As to the first delusion, the share of independents in the electorate who don’t lean either to the Democrats or Republicans is at most 8 percent, and most of that group remains firmly anchored in the nonvoting portion of our electorate. To the second, there is overwhelming support in every poll for preserving and expanding Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and increasing publicly funded access to health care, parental leave, and such. As to the third, no mainstream political scientist, once she’s checked the data, believes that the extremism of the Republicans, much less of Trump, has been matched by the Democrats, or that, for instance, the Democrats’ efforts to ensure voting rights is somehow comparable to Trump and the Republicans’ efforts to curtail them.

Steve Schmidt, who’s clearly a very bright guy, certainly isn’t taken in by Schultz’s three delusions, or any other that would lead one to conclude that an independent presidential candidacy could succeed. He has to know that it would only enable Trump—whom Schmidt has repeatedly and roundly condemned—to squeak through to an Electoral College or House-vote victory in 2020.

Then again, Schmidt may be best known for one epic failure of judgment—his 2008 recommendation to Republican presidential nominee John McCain, whom Schmidt served as chief campaign strategist, to take an obscure governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, as his running mate.

The question, then, is whether Schmidt has entered one of his apparently periodic moments of inexplicably bad judgment, or whether he has merely succumbed to what must be the huge paychecks that Schultz has dangled before him. Inquiring minds want to know. 

Kuttner

Fox Con Job. Remember Foxconn? Then-governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin lured the Chinese company to create “up to” 13,000 jobs in his state, with tax subsidies paid by Wisconsin taxpayers that could to as high as $3 billion. Foxconn was going to build a $10 billion factory complex to produce liquid crystal displays and other tech equipment that it now makes in Asia. 

As the Prospect reported in an investigative piece last September, the taxpayer cost per new employee was estimated at $230,000, or five or six times the normal figure in such deals. 

Though the 13,000 jobs were an estimate, not a formal commitment, President Trump touted that number at a ground-breaking ceremony last year with Walker, then-House Speaker Paul Ryan, and Foxconn CEO Terry Gou.

Well, that was then. 

It now turns out that Foxconn will hire a maximum of 1,000 Wisconsinites, and is not building a factory at all. The company now describes its Wisconsin facility as an R&D center, combined with the possibility of some low-skill final assembly jobs. 

There are several morals of this story. One, which we already knew, is never to trust Scott Walker or Donald Trump, either separately or together. Moral two is to keep your hand on your wallet whenever corporate execs hold you up for tax subsidies.

But the more important moral is that if the U.S. is to have a real industrial policy to reclaim U.S. manufacturing jobs, it is utter folly to rely on white knights on the form of Chinese companies. Making American manufacturing great again is not at the top of their national agenda. 

Better to spend the money directly, on industrial strategies that benefit companies that are committed to producing in the U.S. It remains to be seen how much of the tax breaks were already squandered and what might be recouped.

Meyerson

Bash Your Billionaire! It’s been one of those weeks when billionaires have been much in the news. Herewith, three varieties of the follies and delusions of the super-rich.

 

Billionaire Bilgewater. In Davos, the world’s priciest echo chamber, the billionaires assembled for the annual World Economic Forum turned their attention to economic inequality. “We’re living in a Gilded Age,” Scott Minerd, the chief investment officer of Guggenheim Partners, told The Washington Post’s Heather Long.

But what do Wall Street’s whizzes prescribe as a solution to the growing disappearance of the middle class? “Upskilling.” Workers can become more productive, in more remunerative jobs, if they learn how to code. “The lack of education in those areas in digital is absolutely shocking,” said Stephen Schwartzman, CEO of Blackstone, the private-equity behemoth that has presided over the destruction of many thousands of jobs.

Not surprisingly, the Post’s Long also discovered that very few Davosites supported raising taxes on the rich—even to fund any government efforts to “upskill” our workers.

 

Billionaire Bushwah. Michael Bloomberg has rightly condemned Howard Schultz’s pronouncements that he’ll probably run for president as an independent, noting, even more rightly, that the only effect such a campaign could conceivably have would be to split the anti-Trump vote and thereby possibly re-elect our deranged president. But Bloomberg is still gearing up for his own presidential run in 2020’s Democratic primaries. According to a New York Times account of a Bloomberg talk last week in Virginia, the former New York mayor “says he can unite Democrats” around policies of pro-business economics and highly selective social liberalism: He strongly supports gun controls, but has ridiculed legalizing marijuana and hasn’t repudiated the stop-and-frisk operations of the NYPD when he was mayor, which understandably outraged the targeted (black and brown) communities and civil libertarians. This can unite Democrats?

 

Billionaire Bullshit. Which brings us, of course, to Howard Schultz, who proposes to run on a platform fundamentally indistinguishable from Bloomberg’s, but in such a way that he could give Donald Trump four more years. By so doing, Schultz would ensure that he would be remembered with as much respect as is being accorded to the near-billionaire who died last Friday—Chainsaw Al Dunlap, who won his moniker for his habit of boosting short-term profits at the companies he ran by firing half their work forces, until he himself was ousted for cooking those companies’ books.

Schultz should read the Dunlap obits and other assessments of his career. They’re kind compared to those he’d get should he choose to run as an independent.

Meyerson

AOC’s Achievement: Making Americans’ Progressive Beliefs Politically Acceptable. Of all the reasons that Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is driving the right crazy, one of the most important is this: She’s advancing presumably radical ideas (by the right’s standards, anyway) that actually have massive public support.

Green New Deal? Fuzzy though its meanings may be, it brings together regional development policies for the huge region of the country that private capital has long since abandoned, climate change policies in a nation where climate-change apprehension is at an all-time high, full employment and decent wage policies for a nation where even voters in Republican states are casting ballots for higher wages and better jobs. Before AOC, whose radar was a Green New Deal even on? Since she joined the protestors in Nancy Pelosi’s office, a far-flung majority of Americans now see it as a way to address all manner of problems.

Likewise with taxing the rich. When AOC made the case for a 70 percent tax rate on annual income over the $10 million threshold, CNN’s Anderson Cooper responded as if she’d just called for collective farms. Now that Senator Elizabeth Warren is proposing a wealth tax that would compel the rich to pay an even fairer share of their bounty to support the common good, pundits are beginning to notice that the public has been supporting much higher taxes on the rich for a very long time. Since 2003, Gallup has annually asked the public whether they believe the level of taxes the rich pay is too high, too low or just right. The percentage saying “too low” has been in the 60-percent-to-70-percent range every year.

So it’s not hard to see why AOC is driving the right crazy. Forget the dancing, not to mention the racism and sexism that underpins many of the right’s complaints. It’s that she’s giving voice to progressive ideas that the public actually supports but that have long gone unvoiced by nearly everyone in power who has a megaphone they could use. She’s game-changingly brilliant at promoting progressive public policy. To the right, if I may steal from the Bard, such women are dangerous.

Kuttner

Wall Street Journal Follies. I could write an entire blog just on the intellectual dishonesty of The Wall Street Journal. Just when I think they can’t get sink any lower, they top their old record.

Over the weekend, their lead editorial was titled “Harvesting Democratic Votes.” 

The Journal is mightily aggrieved that California has actually made it easier for citizens to vote—things like same day registration, automatic registration, expanded use of provisional ballots and mail in ballots.  

The Journal is doubly offended that so many Californians apparently choose to vote for Democrats. Imagine that! And worse, the Democrats, in the federal voting reform bill HR 1 “are trying to do for the country what they’ve done for California.”

This from a publication that did not say boo about gross forms of voter suppression throughout the country that threw millions of qualified voters off the rolls. Indeed, for all of the Republican stated concern about supposed voter fraud, the prime case of ballot fraud in the 2018 midterms was in North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District, where Republican operatives used fake mail-in ballots to stuff ballot boxes for the GOP candidate. 

The fraud was so extreme that the state's bipartisan state board of elections refused to certify Mark Harris, who had ostensibly won by 905 votes. Yesterday, a federal judge refused Harris’s petition to have him declared the winner.

The Journal’s professed concern for democracy is situational, to put it politely. Fraud and suppression are excused when the beneficiaries are Republicans. Alarm is expressed when expanded democracy proves good for Democrats. 

I know I should not be shocked, shocked, that there is sophistry going on around here. But where Fox, Limbaugh, et al, are totally bogus, the rest of the Journal is a serious paper.

Meyerson

Trump’s Shutdown Strategy: Democrats Respond to Suffering. I Don’t. To whatever extent rational calculation plays a part in Donald Trump’s thinking on the shutdown, it would have to be premised on his belief that the Democrats will finally end it lest the toll of the human suffering it causes grow too great. Consider the numbers: The shutdown is not only causing major economic distress for the roughly 800,000 federal workers not being paid, and their families, and the good-deal-more-than-800,000 contract workers who are also not being paid, and their families, too. Add all those up and they have to come to perhaps five million, maybe more, Americans.

But as our Kalena Thomhave points out in her story on the nation’s roughly 40 million food-stamp recipients, who may not be getting their March payment (their still-funded February payment went out early), the human toll of the shutdown could radically worsen if Trump insists on keeping it going.

And the Trump thought process, such as it is, would have to go something like this:

At some point—particularly if those 40 million begin to go really hungry—won’t the Democrats be compelled to cave? Because they actually care if people go hungry, and I (Hizzoner President Trump) do not?

Of course, some of my fellow Republicans may wuss out on this. It will be up to my friends at Fox and on talk radio to demonize the food-stampers, but they’re up to the task. I may not have my Roy Cohn, but I sure got my Doctor Goebbels.

Despite such calculations—and it’s hard to see anything resembling calculations in the White House’s strategy other than a version of the above—the public is clearly blaming Trump and the Republicans for the shutdown, and they’re likely to blame Trump and the Republicans for mass hunger, too, should it come to that. Even the intransigent Mitch McConnell has lots of SNAP recipients among his voters, as do other Republican senators. Such an impasse would be the clearest test yet of whether anything can make them break from the sociopath in the Oval Office. 

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