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Alberta votes for change, NDP, Rachel Notley

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This column courtesy of CanadianCrossing.com runs here with complete permission.

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Rachel Notley is the new premier-elect for Alberta in the first NDP government in the history of the province.

The New Democratic Party started the day with 4 seats of 87 seats in the Alberta legislature; the party won 53 seats in the election.

Notley was one of 2 members of legislative assembly (MLA) for the NDP elected in the 2008 election.

The Progressive Conservatives had been wobbly in recent elections, even if the number of seats was still rather high. For the first time in 44 years, the PCs will not be in power.

The last 4 years have seen 4 different PC premiers.

The NDP were predicted to do well in Edmonton and swept the capital ridings, but also won the majority of the Calgary ridings. Calgary hadn’t elected a NDP MLA since 1993; the party won a number of Calgary area seats.

The party had a high of 16 seats in the 1986 and 1989 elections; now the NDP has more than 3x the previous all-time high.

Rachel Notley is the 3rd female premier among Canadian provinces, joining Christy Clark in western neighbor British Columbia and Kathleen Wynne in Ontario. 2014 saw 3 female premiers leave office: Kathy Dunderdale (Newfoundland and Labrador), Alison Redford (Alberta), and Pauline Marois (Quebec). Notley is the first female premier elected since the 2014 negative wave.

Danielle Smith spent Election Day on the sidelines. Last fall, Smith was the leader of the opposition Wildrose Party as the majority of the Wildrose MLAs crossed over to the PC Party.

Smith lost her bid to run for the PCs and had to sit out this election. Alberta has its 2nd ever female premier and her name is not Danielle Smith.

A number of the NDP candidates were slated as federal candidates. Well, those candidates will be in Edmonton instead of running for seats in Ottawa in the federal election this fall.

Then again, the NDP will have momentum to recruit federal MP candidates, something the Alberta Liberals do not have.

Notley said during the campaign that she will not lobby for the Keystone XL pipeline or support the Northern Gateway pipeline, though she is in favor of other pipeline projects. Energy diversity will be more than just a buzzword in a Notley government.

Jim Prentice, the now outgoing premier and PC leader, brought in a poorly received budget. Prentice had been a Conservative MP in Ottawa until 2010. Prentice won the PC leadership battle last fall.

The PC Party went from 70 seats to a 3rd place finish with 10 seats. Prentice, in his concession speech, resigned as party leader and MLA. Since Prentice won his seat, there will be a by-election and you can almost count on the PCs losing that seat.

The PC and NDP literally tied in the Calgary-Glenmore riding.

Brian Jean is the new opposition leader for the Wildrose Party. Jean won a seat in the Alberta legislature after serving as a federal Conservative MP and retiring from politics last year. The Wildrose Party went from 5 seats before the election to 21 seats.

The Wildrose had 17 seats in the last election in 2012 under Danielle Smith.

Interim Liberal Party leader David Swann will go to Edmonton as the only Liberal Party MLA. The Liberals had 5 seats, one more seat than the NDP before the election.

Greg Clark won a seat for the Alberta Party, a more progressive party. This was the first seat ever in the history of the party.

Calgary celebrated its #CofRed last night with the Flames OT win, but the red of the Liberals have as many seats as the Alberta Party.

Alberta’s pattern is to give a different party a chance to establish a dynasty and not go back to that party one they’ve lost.

The Progressive Conservatives won its first election in Alberta in 1971. The PCs took over from the Social Credit Party that was in charge for the previous 36 years.

The Liberal Party won Alberta’s first 4 elections, ranging from 1905 to 1921. The United Farmers Party was in charge from 1921-1935.

Before last night, 4 parties have had a chance to rule in Alberta, and 2 of them don’t exist anymore.

photo credit: CBC Calgary

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2014 Three Amigos preview

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Three Amigos summits are rare and brief, not a combination you want from three side-by-side countries that have a lot to say.

Mexico President Enrique Pena Nieto welcomes Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama for the latest Three Amigos summit in Toluca, Mexico.

Technically, the name is the North American Leaders Summit but the Three Amigos nickname has stuck for this event.

Despite what you might think based on the U.S. media, agenda items other than the Keystone XL pipeline will come up in the discussions.

For more on what we might see during the brief summit, check out our analysis from our sister blog, CanadianCrossing.com.

Senate passes Farm Bill with yet more food stamps cuts

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The following column ran on BalanceofFood.com and runs here with complete permission.

“Our political system is basically evil versus spineless now,” former Clinton USDA official Joel Berg.

As someone who has worked well with words over the years, I couldn’t sum up how I felt about the savage attack on food stamps in the new Farm Bill soon to reach the desk of President Barack Obama. The quote above was as close as I could get.

The Farm Bill cuts $8 billion in food stamps in the next 10 years. In practical terms, this means an average cut of $90 per month.

Those cuts are on top of $11 billion over the next 2 years that came a few weeks ago — benefits that expired from the 2009 stimulus bill. The average cut works out to $38/month.

The $8 billion is presumably a “compromise” especially since Senate Dems opened the bidding at $4 billion in cuts. This would be the spineless portion of the negotiations.

Berg is on the frontline of this battle as the executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger and author of “All You Can Eat: How Hungry Is America?”

The politician who has received the most criticism on the food stamps cuts is Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

Sen. Stabenow points out that the new Farm Bill gets rid of direct payment subsidies. The senator also points out changes for those who want more support for local and organic foods.

“Our agriculture economy is increasingly based on rising consumer demand for healthy, locally grown foods. We’re investing more in programs to promote fruits and vegetables. We provide over four times more funding for farmers’ markets and strong support for growers who want to transition to organics. We create local food hubs to help institutions like hospitals, restaurants and schools buy more local foods.”

Specifically, the senator states that the new Farm Bill “doubles SNAP benefits for low-income families when they buy healthy produce at farmer’s markets, increases funding for food banks, and provides financing for new grocery stores in underserved areas.”

As for the food stamps cuts, Sen. Stabenow says the bill is designed to reduce fraud and misuse. The “heat and eat” programs — where states can get extra SNAP money for signing up people for home heating assistance — is the primary focus. The senator says any SNAP recipient getting more than $20/year in home heating assistance won’t get SNAP cuts, and those getting less assistance have to show a heating bill to keep their SNAP benefits at the status quo mark.

Even if the bill does address direct payments, the bill still has plenty of crop subsidies and expensive crop insurance. The louder Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN) screams, the better the bill will be. Fincher is in the dubious position of taking huge payments to not grow crops while calling for radical cuts in food stamps.

If people are choosing between heating their homes and eating, then we are shortchanging those people.

And if we are saving this much money from payments to those who don’t need the money, then we should be able to afford a boost for those who still need help.

The truth likely rests somewhere in between. The sad part is that we may not learn about whether people are suffering from the food stamps cuts since those stories go underreported. And in a struggling economy, especially without a subsequent raise in the minimum wage, it looks bad to cut food assistance, no matter how that might be done.

I love reforms to make sure those who need help are getting help. But those that need help aren’t getting enough help.

President Obama will be under significant pressure to sign the bill into law. Fights over the Farm Bill have weighed down Congress, but then again, this is part of the GOP strategy. Unfortunately, for Americans who struggle in real life with putting food on the table, the politicians in Washington have other priorities.

Barack Obama calls for infrastructure fixes 4 years too late

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In 2009, Barack Obama inherited a situation with crumbling infrastructure and a lot of people out of work. In a 2+2=4 world, the logical step would be to take the people out of work and have them build up infrastructure. Even if everyone couldn’t do those skills, there were enough people who could, and if they had jobs, other jobs and businesses wouldn’t have fallen in 2009 and 2010.

In 2009, if CBS or any other broadcast network came out with a show idea about giving someone a job, that could have turned into the next “American Idol” or “The Voice” or “So you think your smart 5th grader has talent.”

In 2013, President Barack Obama, having been elected to a second term, has proposed a “Fix it First” to help rebuild infrastructure. Obama said 70,000 bridges were in need of repair, among countless problems. Jon Stewart thought the bridges were a rather immediate concern.

In 2013, CBS is running a show called “The Job” where they make people go through humiliation for a “dream job” such as being an editorial assistant at Cosmopolitan magazine. As the promo notes — “the employer has all the power” — a rather depressing and not altogether accurate statement.

This feels more about humiliation than help; Stephen Colbert put it best when he labeled the program despertainment.

“And with one hire per show, ‘The Job’ should run for 12.3 million episodes.”

In both cases, the feeling is “too little, way too late.” The difference is that Obama is being sincere and CBS, well, doesn’t look like they really want to help.

Our infrastructure still needs fixing as does our job market. So we can certainly use the help. One bridge and one job at a time is too little, but better than we have had lately.

Getting infrastructure improved and a jobs program requires help from the GOP, and that party isn’t interested. Nor are Republicans game for raising the minimum wage.

Republicans preach about the value of work, yet they aren’t willing to pay for it. The proposed raise to $9/hour wouldn’t be immediate. The minimum wage would go up incrementally over three years to $9. Even then, the minimum wage will be undervalued, worse if someone is a tipped employee.

Liberals joke that the GOP wants the world of “Leave It to Beaver” brought to life. If the minimum wage reflected buying power in 1957, the wage would be well beyond $9 right now.

The United States needs rebuilding, but the GOP doesn’t want to pay for it. Poor people need a raise, but the GOP doesn’t want to pay for it. The GOP wants people to get jobs, but won’t submit any plan to get those jobs.

The good news for the Republicans is that Barack Obama can’t run for president in 2016. So they might as well give Obama the chance to succeed or fail based on his requests. Don’t worry, Obama won’t get as much horrible stuff as you think he will, or anyone else for that matter.

We need help, but the GOP doesn’t want us to get that help. The GOP House controls the House. So as the saying goes, “Lead or get out of the way.”

President Obama takes the ‘Bush tax cuts’ and makes them his own

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The Bush tax cuts are dead. Long live the Obama tax cuts?

Even if the Obama tax cuts are retroactive, the millisecond(s) in between mean that the deficit-running, economy-collapsing Bush tax cuts are finally done and gone. And they are replaced by the deficit-running, economy-collapsing Obama tax cuts.

When Sen. Barack Obama ran for president in 2008, he ran against the Bush tax cuts. Sen. Obama had a convenient record in that he wasn’t in the Senate when the tax cuts came down. Obama ran against the tax cuts, even before the economic collapse in September.

Obama was elected with a Democratic-controlled House and Senate, though the Senate was bogged down by the insistence that bills needed 60 votes. Yet, the Bush tax cuts remained. The Obama team extended the tax cuts when they were set to expire.

In running for re-election in 2012, Obama set a threshold of keeping said tax cuts for the “middle class,” putting that at $200,000 (single filers) and $250,000 (joint filers). Even if you believed in extending some of the tax cuts, those figures were significantly higher than were necessary to protect the middle class.

In December 2012, after winning a convincing electoral victory, President Obama negotiated with himself to set a more ridiculous level of $400,000 (single filers) and $450,000 (joint filers).

So as we go into the second term of Barack Obama as president, the tax cuts will live on at least two more years if not more for 99% of the country.

And how are we getting that prosperity back?

Obama’s opponents aren’t just trying to make him look bad. They don’t want job growth; they want the legacy of Barack Obama to be ineffectual economic leader. They want to compare him to Jimmy Carter. And Obama is helping them every chance he gets.

The middle class that Obama and the Dems were trying to protect got hit with a “tax hike” in that the payroll tax cut expired. While that should disappear at some point, the cruel irony is that once you reach about $109,000, you don’t pay any more into Social Security and Medicare.

Obama should have set the threshold of the tax cuts with the payroll tax cut. Either raise the level where people contribute to Social Security and Medicare or lower the level for the new Obama tax cuts.

Obama “protecting the middle class” at $200,000 was far-fetched given that in the words of Barack Obama in May 2008, 94% of Americans make under $100,000 a year. This was before the economic crash. $400,000 is even more incredible.

Obama had the momentum on his side, and he gave away part of the store. He could have waited for a better Congress with fewer teabaggers and more Dem senators — and had a much better deal. If compromise was that important, then start low. Obama never said, “Hey let’s get rid of the Bush tax cuts entirely.”

What is it about Democratic presidents and their insatiable desire to compromise with Republicans? Those on the left grew frustrated in watching Bill Clinton would take Republican ideas and use them as his own. Obama has taken a page or two from Clinton.

When Dems wanted single-payer, Obama brought out Obamacare. When Dems wanted no Bush tax cuts, Obama kept them and has now made them his own.

The best way to help the debt is to raise tax revenues from the people who did well in the last four years and the eight years before that. The threshold of $400,000 and $450,000 fails that mission. Even if somehow the Dems get back the House in 2014 and keep the Senate, President Obama isn’t eager to get these rates back to the Clinton era, the talking point Obama pounded into our heads during the campaign.

If those rates were so great, and they were, Obama wanting an exception for approximately 96% of the country never made any sense.

President Obama has proven to be a strong leader in many cases and has shown puzzling leadership on economic issues. He almost lost the election in 2012 because of the economy. Obama’s response was to blame Bush, which was true to a point. But President Obama took one of Bush’s signature moves and made it permanent. That is failed leadership and sells short his base and those who are suffering as a result of the failed economic policies.

Ontario is better destination for jobs thanks to Michigan’s ‘right to work’ status

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Ontario isn’t in the best shape these days. Huge debt, teacher problems, and a premier with a minority government who is still in office but not for long.

Compared to the folks across the border in Michigan, Canada’s most populous province is singing Hallelujahs.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has been signing bills right and right (not left and right) taking away worker rights, access to birth control, overriding voters insistence on getting rid of the takeover-a-city law. Snyder would have signed a bill allowing for guns in schools and day care centers, but the Sandy Hook school shooting made that virtually impossible to do right now.

Snyder was worried about competing for jobs with Indiana. He should have worried about Ontario.

For more on this story, check out this column from our sister blog, CanadianCrossing.com.

Michigan needs jobs, ‘right to work’ won’t even bring in crappy jobs

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We’re trained with a cynical mind not to believe what politicians have to say, Even in that world, Rick Snyder sunk himself to a new low, and dragged down the state of Michigan with him.

In lightning fast speed, the Republicans in Michigan put together and Snyder signed legislation making Michigan the 24th state to be “right to work.’ Or as the liberals have put it so well, “right to work for less.”

The statistics are consistent: “right to work” (RTW) states consistently have lower wages, more poverty, and less access to healthcare. Why wouldn’t Michigan be any different? The state may not even get the crappy jobs other RTW states get.

One of the proposals on the Michigan ballot in November tried to strengthen the resolve of unions, and voters rejected that proposal. For having the “audacity” to try and strengthen unions — this is one of the reasons why Snyder and his GOP cronies pushed through the RTW legislation so quickly. Except that this was in the planning stages for some time. Why let facts stand in the way of a good story.

We know this is about politics, about Michigan once again voting for a Democratic president. The last Republican to win Michigan? George H.W. Bush in 1988.

Like most legislation where Republicans claim is about jobs, let’s pretend this is about jobs. Someone has to care about jobs, especially in Michigan, even if much of that hasn’t happened in Lansing in the last couple of years.

State Senator John Proos, a Republican who backed the RTW bill, predicted that the public anger would subside because jobs would be coming to Michigan.

“As they say in sports, the atmosphere in the locker room gets a lot better when the team’s winning,” Mr. Proos told The Associated Press.

This gets to the crux of the legislation. “Unions are the reason why Michigan has failed to generate jobs,” goes the argument. As soon as jobs come, regardless of the wages and conditions to follow, they will shut up and be glad they have a job.

This isn’t Alabama, this is Michigan.

As it turns out, I sort of know Proos. I went to the same high school as Proos — he was a few years back. He might remember me, I might remember him. Others that we know know him and me better than we know each other.

The idea that a crappy job is better than a good job is an attitude that plays well in the South, the dominant region of RTW states. Michigan has a stronger tradition that Proos and his fellow colleagues will find more difficult to switch over.

Proos should have learned in school, though I can’t remember if we learned it there, the words of Henry Ford. He was smart enough to realize that if his employees were going to buy his cars, they needed to earn enough to buy them. With the escalating costs of college education, parents need to be able to save money to help put their kids through school. Of course, since costs have skyrocketed, they can’t afford to repay their loans, even if they could find good wages. Since lower wages are coming to Michigan, if those magical jobs suddenly appear, a whole new generation can’t afford to live, buy a house, or reproduce.

The salaries of Snyder, Proos, and the other GOP politicians aren’t shrinking, so they don’t have to worry. And they’ll get plenty contributions from business that suddenly have more money because they won’t have to pay that cash to the workers.

Why hasn’t Michigan generated jobs?

Let’s started by quoting from a Salon article by someone I know better than Proos: Edward McClelland, a Michigan native now based in Chicago.

Fifty percent of Michigan State students now leave the state immediately after graduation. That ratio doubled in the 2000s, which is known in Michigan as “The Lost Decade.” In those 10 years, Michigan dropped from 30th to 35th in the percentage of college graduates, and from 18th to 37th in per capita income. (Michigan was also the only state to lose population in the last census.)

Brain drain is definitely a factor. And through my own experience, Michigan State isn’t the only university being affected. Chicago is filled with graduates of many Michigan universities. Go to a Red Wings or Tigers game in Chicago to get a sense of the love for the Michigan teams.

Even if you think Michigan made a wise choice by becoming a “right to work” state, ask yourself this simple question, “Why would a company pick Michigan over the other RTW states?”

This is a state where its citizens get upset if you are seen driving a “foreign” car, as in not a car with a stamp of a “U.S. company.” They don’t care if the car was “made in America” — the make has to be USA.

In the other 23 states, their attitudes toward unions and union labor aren’t as strong or intense. Most of these states, the majority of them in the South and West, have better weather, better kept roads, worse education, and an attitude that accepts lower wages as “God’s will.”

Even those who are vehemently against the concept of RTW can understand objectively why Southern states would go that route. Lower wages plays along with the anti-establishment mood.

Michigan has generations of people who had middle-class jobs with just a high school education. This may seem long ago to some Michiganders, but having that memory makes people less likely to settle. Employers might break that down in a generation or two, but that won’t help Michigan residents who want a job.

We’ve heard that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder wasn’t that bad before this RTW vote. Consider, though, that Snyder pushed through and signed legislation limiting unemployment insurance from 26 weeks, the standard minimum, to 20 weeks. In good times, this action is cruel, but in a state that has suffered economically, even in good times, the cruelty is downright unconscionable.

Even though all this legislation is about “jobs,” the GOP and Snyder got around to passing a bill that severely restricts abortion and access to women’s healthcare in the state.

The voters said no to Snyder’s ridiculous notion of seizing control from local officials. Funny how Snyder only picked cities with predominantly African-American populations. And if Snyder did that in cities with mostly white populations, the same people who voted for Snyder would scream for his head.

Voters took that power away from Snyder. Snyder got that power back with a bill passed by his GOP buddies. And like the RTW legislation, Snyder put a provision that makes it impossible for the voters to rescind the law.

Style does say something about a politician. If you deliberately pass a law with a provision that voters can’t turn around that law, you don’t have much faith that what you passed has any legitimacy or usefulness.