Saturday, April 26, 2014

Editorial: Open College To All

The Supreme Court, in another split verdict, on April 22 ruled 6-2 that it’s OK if The People decide that they no longer need to take positive steps to make their universities look like the population at large.

“There is no authority in the Constitution of the United States or in this Court’s precedents for the Judiciary to set aside Michigan laws that commit this policy determination to the voters,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the controlling plurality opinion in the case of Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action. Kennedy added, “This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved. It is about who may resolve it.”

Kennedy was joined by Justice Sam Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts, who previously wrote glibly, in a 2007 case striking down school integration efforts in Washington and Kentucky, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a concurring opinion, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, but suggested that they’d rather throw out racial preferences altogether.

Justice Steven Breyer crossed over from the liberal side to concur with the conservative majority, although he didn’t adopt their reasoning. He said “the Constitution foresees the ballot box, not the courts, as the normal instrument for resolving differences and debates about the merits of these programs.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a vigorous dissent, joined by Justice Ruth Ginsburg, that said the Constitution requires special vigilance in light of the history of slavery, Jim Crow laws and “recent examples of discriminatory changes to state voting laws.” She said the Michigan ban actually gives minorities less power to affect the political process than others, rolling back the impact of previous US Supreme Court rulings protecting the right specifically of Michigan universities to use affirmative action. (Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from the case.)

In 2003, the Supreme Court had ruled that the University of Michigan could implement an affirmative action policy. That helped the university get black enrollment up to 6.4% of the freshman class in 2006, compared with 14.3% of the state’s population. That same year, Michigan voters approved a ballot initiative that banned the university from basing its admissions considerations on race or sex. In the following six years, black enrollment fell 30% at the undergraduate and law schools, according to Bloomberg News. In 2012, black enrollment was down to 4.6%.

If conservatives truly were interested in a race-neutral admissions program that would give the same opportunities to black and other minority students that they give to whites, the policy could be crafted, but we see very little good faith in their opposition to affirmative action programs.

The University of Texas also is being sued for its affirmative action policy that grants admission to applicants who graduated in the top 10% of their high school class but also considers race for students who aren’t in the top 10%. Its 2013 freshmen class included 5% blacks (compared with 11.6% of the state’s population), 20% Asian (4.1% statewide), 23% Hispanic (38.2% statewide) and 46% white (44.4% statewide). In UT’s law school, which gives points to minority applicants for diversity, enrollment is 4.7% black, 5.6% Asian, 15.7% Hispanic and 60.8% white. The Supreme Court in June 2013 sent the Fisher case back to the Fifth Circuit US Court of Appeals for a rehearing on whether the university’s admissions program is “narrowly tailored to obtain the educational benefits of diversity.”

White resentment of affirmative action for minorities is one of the main wedge issues that the plutocrats use to split the working class, who ought to recognize their common cause: A bigger barrier to minorities as well as working-class whites who aspire to a college degree is the rising cost of a college education.

Until about two decades ago, a commitment to higher education at the state level ensured that college tuition remained within reach for most middle-class families, and financial aid helped lower-income students afford the costs of college.

Texans used to be proud that university costs were kept low enough that the children of working-class parents could pursue a college education. In 1970, when Rick Perry attended Texas A&M, the state paid 85% of the cost of running the college. Tuition and fees for the regular workload of 15 hours was $104 per semester for Texas residents in 1970. (A student could work that off in just 65 hours at the minimum wage of $1.60 per hour.)

After Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, he targeted higher education funding and ended up cutting Pell grants and excluded middle-class students from the program. He limited the grants to lower-income families, which made it easier for Congress to cut the program further. Reagan also cut low-interest student loans and restricted eligibility for them. He phased out Social Security survivors’ education benefits, which provided one-fifth of student aid in 1981. Republicans at the state level also reduced their commitment to keeping higher education affordable for the working class.

Now Texas pays less than 15% of college costs and in 2012 the average cost for a semester was $7,533 (the equivalent of 1,039 hours at the minimum wage of $7.25). Today it costs more than $25,000 a year for a Texas resident to attend the University of Texas and it can easily cost more than $100,000 to earn a degree — and it costs more in graduate school.

Robert Hiltonsmith and Tamara Draut reported for in March that tuition paid 44% of operating expenses for colleges and universities in 2012. That’s up from 20% 25 years earlier. Federal Pell grants once covered $7 of every $10 in college costs, today it covers only $3 of every $10 needed to attend a public college or university. More than seven out of 10 college seniors now borrow to pay for college and graduate with an average of $29,400 in debt. Student loan debt is now more than $1.2 trillion, twice as much as in 2007 and substantial enough to affect the economy as indebted graduates find it harder to buy a home or car.

States should restore their appropriations so that college once again is affordable to students working no more than 20 hours a week. At the current minimum wage, that means tuition should be no more than $3,625 a semester (or $7.250 a year).

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has proposed that the government lend money to university students at the same rate that the Federal Reserve offers the nation’s banks — currently less than 1%. The federal government should not be making a profit off our college students — as it does under the current student loan rate of 3.86% for undergraduates and 5.4% for graduate students, which generated $41.3 billion in profits last year and is expected to generate $127 billion over the next 11 years, the Congressional Budget Office reported in April. Congress last year reduced the federal unsubsidized loan interest rate to 3.86% for undergraduates, but older loans are at higher rates. Warren wants students with loans at higher rates to be able to refinance them at the lower rates.

Warren would pay for the difference by enacting the “Buffett rule,” named after billionaire Warren Buffett, a minimum tax on income in excess of $1 million, which would raise $50 billion in revenue and ensure that millionaires do not pay lower tax rates than middle-class families, as is often the case today.

On the other side, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s latest budget, which passed the House on a party-line vote, would cut another $90 billion from Pell grants and start charging students interest while they’re still in school.

Congress should adopt Sen. Warren’s proposal to offer student loans at cost and adopt the Buffett rule to establish a minimum tax on millionaires to help restore Pell grants for middle-class families. Congress also should increase the minimum wage so that students can pay for their college education with a part-time job. — JMC
From The Progressive Populist, May 15, 2014
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Selections from the May 15, 2014 issue

IRS targeted left groups more aggressively than teabaggers;
Bundy’s ‘rights’ aren’t that ancestral;
Texas A.G. wants his own range war with BLM;
Senate still a tossup;
Landrieu aims at ‘Jindal gap’;
Right-wing talkers get payments from con groups;
Controversial Alaska initiatives pushed to general election ballot;
CBO: Medicaid better deal for states than originally predicted;
GOP will block Medicaid expansion to the last man;
GOP govs attack criminal defense lawyers — except their own;
Sickened family awarded $3M in fracking case;
Windmills relatively safe for birds;
Plenty of blame, no action in fertilizer blast probe;
Strike wins UAW recognition;
Gas exports drive higher US prices;
GOP mum on Earth Day;
Superfund site now home to solar farm;
Oklahoma will penalize solar panel installers;
Marijuana goes from poison to medicine;
No, Obama couldn't have been LBJ;
Left challenge could complicate Cuomo re-election

What’s wrong with General Motors?

War on democracy: SCOTUS weighs in

Friday, April 25, 2014

Latest right-wing hero little more than a scofflaw—& now it turns out he’s also a racist

By Marc Jampole 

How Cliven Bundy became a hero to the right-wing is beyond me.

Bundy is the rancher who has refused to pay fees to graze his cattle on public lands for more than 20 years. As the New York Times noted, 16,000 other ranchers pay the fees, which are considered fairly cheap. But even the typical corporate giveaway involving federal government assets isn’t good enough for Bundy. Not only did he refuse to pay the nominal fees; when the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rangers recently tried to confiscate 500 head of his cattle, he organized 50 supporters, some armed with handguns and rifles, to chase off them off. No one from the feds has come calling since then. Right-wing commentators and elected officials, including Rand Paul, have praised Bundy and his gumption to stand up to the evil federal government. 

My question is why?

There is no doubt that Bundy has the appropriate atmospherics to be a right-wing cause célèbre: He’s a gun-toting cowboy who is defying the federal government and his views on abortion and minorities are in line with other conservatives.

But strip away the theatre and you are left with a long-term scofflaw with no redeeming case to make for himself.

He broke the law and right-wingers are supposed to support law and order.

Part of the right-wing program has always been to replace taxes on wealth and income with usage taxes. For decades conservatives have mouthed pieties about closing loopholes as opposed to raising taxes.  All the expression “closing loopholes” means is to make people pay their fair share. Clearly, Bundy is not paying his fair share of the fees that clearly substitute for taxes on others.

And let’s not forget about the issue of property. Right-wingers place property above life itself.  Right-wingers want to remove constraints on private property such as environmental and safety regulations.  They uphold the right of someone to use a firearm to injure others in defense of property every time some trigger happy George Zimmerman or Michael Dunn kills a young black male.

Respect for the property of others and the cardinal importance of property rights are foundations of right-wing political theory. And yet they ignore the fact that Bundy is not respecting the property of others. That the property belongs to all of us shouldn’t matter, except to those who believe that the collective entry known as government should not hold property.  These folks should imagine that the grazing lands were private. Bundy and the 16,000 other ranchers who haven’t defied the government would all be paying grazing fees—likely much higher than now—to an individual or a corporation. Right-wingers would clearly not rise in defense of someone who was poaching on the private property of another. In fact, the right wing would support the idea that the property owners could shoot Bundy and his ranchers as soon as they trespassed onto the land in question. 

So how can the right-wing support him?

After the retreat of the BLM rangers, Good ol’ boy Cliven (or is that Cloven?) must have been feeling his oats, because in a Times interview, he came out against abortion and made some very obnoxious comments about African-Americans. He said that he remembers driving by a public-housing project in Las Vegas and seeing “at least a half-dozen (black) people sitting on the porch, they didn’t have nothing to do. Because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?  They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton….And I've often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn't get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”

As to be expected, the same Republican Senators who supported Bundy are backing away now that he is expressing overt racism.

The Obama Administration has come away looking craven again, just as it does in all its negotiations with Republicans over budget issues.  Once again Obama appears to be capitulating to the right wing.

Instead of backing off, BLM should have notified the Department of Justice and gotten some help and a lot of firepower. President Obama should have made sure that the BLM returned to the site with hundreds of armed agents, helicopters in the air and tanks. It should have given Bundy’s supporters amply time to stand down and leave with their guns. Then they should have taken the cattle by force.  

There is no doubt that an assault on Bundy’s position would create a lot of negative publicity for the President, especially in the very unlikely event that someone were killed or injured; it’s far more likely that faced with a superior force, the ragtag army Bundy put together would dissipate. No matter, the right would excoriate Obama.  Some would point out that the president is more willing to take arms against his own countrymen than Russia—a scurrilous and unpatriotic accusation since there is absolutely no support for putting U.S. troops into Ukraine. There is no doubt that some votes would be lost in the fall, especially since it’s likely the news media would jump on the forcible taking of Bundy’s cattle as another reason why the Democrats can’t win in November.

But I say, so what! The job of the President of the United States is not to get reelected or to help his party‘s nominees get elected. The president’s job is to uphold the laws of the United States. Giving into Bundy will just embolden others who have no respect of the laws of the United States to try similar stunts. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

WSJ opinion page is the hot spot for intellectuals who sell out to right-wing money

By Marc Jampole

Michael A. Carvin, Yaakov M. Roth and Michael Saltsman have a lot in common.  All three are highly educated and learned white males who work for professional services firms as knowledge workers dedicated to both written and unwritten sets of ethics and professional conduct. All three generally serve corporate clients with right-wing interests.  All have written articles that appeared on the same opinion page on the same day in the Wall Street Journal. Both of their articles (Carvin and Roth work as a team) propose public policies that while, disastrous for the country, would help their clients.

One more thing they have in common: Their articles depend upon fallacious reasoning.

Saltsman is no newcomer to the opinion pages of right-wing media. He is rapidly becoming notorious for his specious reasoning and empty rhetoric in a slew of articles arguing against the minimum wage. He identifies himself as research director at the Employment Policies Institute, but an on-line biography lists him as an employee of Richard Berman, whose public relations agency specializes in creating pseudo think tanks to spew out white papers favorable to his clients—generally large businesses.  But Carvin and Roth, both lawyers at the mega-enormous international law firm Jones Day, are new to the game of misrepresenting facts and using fallacious reasoning in the news media to support their client’s position. They may do it in the court room and during negotiations all the time—I’m not in a position to comment.

Let’s take a look at what these intellectual sell-outs are proposing:

In “Courts Should Stay Out of Political Fact-Checking,” Carvin and Roth want to declare unconstitutional all state laws that prohibit lying in political advertising; currently there are 15 states that make it a crime. Carvin and Roth, by the way, are part of the legal team that Jones Day has put together to represent the plaintiffs in the case before the Supreme Court that is considering the matter.  The client wants to invalidate laws prohibiting lying in political ads. 

Here’s the reason Carvin and Roth give for not wanting laws against lying in political ads: the voters and not judges should decide what is and is not a lie.  By letting the people decide, they of course mean by voting on Election Day.

There are three problems with this view:
·         The voters have no standing and are incapable of deciding if a commercial has told an out-and-out lie. They aren’t experts in gathering and weighing evidence.
·         People vote for certain candidates for a variety of reasons. A vote is not a mandate for whether an ad contained an overt lie. It is an endorsement of one candidate over another. I can imagine many scenarios in which someone might vote for someone whose campaign was caught is a lie.
·         There is no recourse, i.e., punishment when there is no law with penalties.

To Carvin and Roth every statement made in a political campaign is both true and untrue, depending upon what candidate you are supporting. But in the real world, many statements are incontrovertibly true and false. And when a candidate delivers provable falsities in an ad, that ad should be taken off the air and the campaign penalized. 

Right below the Carvin and Roth article on the printed page sits “Why Subway Doesn’t Serve a $14 Reuben Sandwich, “another hyperventilating screed from Saltsman against raising the minimum wage.  He thinks the economy will plummet if the minimum wage is raised so that it has the purchasing power that it once had. Over the past few decades, minimum wage workers have lost 40% of their purchasing power, while most goods and services had felt the effects of inflation.  The 40% rise in the minimum wage that President Obama is advocating is Saltsman’s “bête noire.” 

Near the end of the article he notes that a double cheeseburger at Shake Shack, which starts employees at more than the minimum wage, costs in excess of 40% more than a McDonald’s Double Quarter Pounder. He goes on to postulate that McDonald’s would lose a ton of customers if a higher minimum wage raised its starting salaries by 40%. 

There are two problems with this conflation of the Shake Shack and the McDonald’s version of the double cheese burger:

First of all, the two food products aren’t the same thing: Shake Shack uses hormone- and antibiotic-free meat which costs much more than the fatty, chemical-infused stuff McDonald’s processes. Other Shake Shack ingredients also cost more than those at McDonald’s, plus the preparation process is more staff-intensive. Finally, not only do people pay for the higher quality ingredients at Shake Shack, they also pay for the perception of quality, which is integral to the Shake Shack brand, just as the perception of cheapness is integral to the McDonald’s brand.  So you can’t compare the Shake Shack and McDonald’s products and say the only reason that one is so much more expensive than the other is because the workers make more money.

The second fallacious part of Saltsman’s reasoning is that he assumes that if the minimum wage went up 40%, MacDonald’s costs would go up 40%. Wages are only one part of cost to operate a McDonald’s franchise, which also includes rent, utilities, raw materials, payments to the corporation and marketing. Let’s not forget, too, that the price also includes profit to the franchisee. We know that labor constitutes 20% of franchisees’ cost of operation.  Even assuming that the franchisees make no profit, figuring in all these factors means that if labor costs went up 40%, the price of the double cheese burger would have to go from $3.99 to $4.31, which is 8%, not the 40% upon which Saltsman based his argument.

Seeing these two articles on the same page made me think of Julian Benda’s important 1927 essay, The Betrayal of the Intellectuals (Le Trahison des clercs in the original French) Benda argues that European intellectuals of the preceding hundred years often ceased to follow their professional dictates to reason dispassionately about political, economic and military matters, instead becoming apologists for nationalism, warmongering and racism. In going to any lengths to support the interests of their clients, Saltsman, Carvin and Roth have abandoned the principles of good reasoning, clear thought and factually based arguments that stand as the foundation stones of their professions. They are intellectuals who have betrayed the public. They have sold out to right-wing money.