Lots of news this week, so let's get right into it.
This Week in the Minimum Wage
An expansive new study by the Economic Policy Institute supports many of the economic arguments that TWiA has made over the course of its existence. Policy decisions, not the free hand of the market or the natural order of the universe, have increased income/wealth/opportunity inequality. That growing inequality is a drag on the American economy, slowing growth and widening the gap between the rich and everyone else. A national minimum wage increase would be a net plus for the country, particularly for the working poor and the middle class. The study is detailed, with a lot of facts and figures backing up its conclusions, but it's worth looking over. Some of the report's key findings include:
"In short, the rise in inequality is by far the most important determinant of the slowdown in living standards growth over the past generation, and it has been enormously costly for the broad middle class. The rapid increase in inequality that began (roughly) in 1979 has not just kept incomes for the vast majority from growing as fast as the overall average, it also is the dominant explanation for why income growth for the vast majority since 1979 lags so far behind income growth in the preceding generation."
"The minimum wage is currently more than 25 percent below its real value in the late 1960s. An increase in the minimum wage to $10.10, as proposed by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) in their Fair Minimum Wage Act, would provide an additional $35 billion in wage income to affected workers, most of whom are concentrated in low-income households (Cooper 2013a). Other academic research finds that the same bill would lift about 2.4 million people out of poverty (Dube forthcoming). Among those who would see a raise from the Harkin–Miller bill, 55 percent are women and 25 percent are women of color, and nearly one-in-five children would see at least one parent receive a raise (Cooper 2013)."
"The stagnation of hourly wages is the most important economic issue facing most American families, and most of our key economic challenges hinge on whether or not hourly wages for the vast majority will grow. Further, the policy roots of hourly wage trends are deep, but too often downplayed or even ignored. This is particularly true when it comes to labor market policies and business practices; reversing the deteriorating state of labor market standards and protections for low- and moderate-wage workers would be an ideal place to start rebuilding their ability to share in overall economic gains. Recent momentum to raise the federal minimum wage and restore some of the overtime protections lost in recent decades is a very encouraging beginning."
This Week in Food Insecurity
It's probably not a surprise that the rich eat a healthier diet than the poor. It is, however, a tragedy. Nutritional deficits play a big role in educational outcomes and job prospects; a poor diet helps keep people poor.
This Week in Good News
A couple of key points from a Census Bureau release this week (covering only 2013, not the sustained economic improvement of 2014 thus far):
"The overall poverty rate declined to 14.5 percent in 2013 due to the largest one-year drop in child poverty since 1966." And that's using numbers that don't account for the poverty-lessening impact of social service programs like food stamps or the Earned Income Tax Credit that lessen the effects of poverty.
"While still too wide, the gender pay gap narrowed slightly in 2013, with the female-to-male earnings ratio climbing above 78 percent for the first time on record."
In not-so-good news, though, median household income in the US only went up by $180 in 2013.
5 ways to curb domestic violence, according to the experts.
Also, some men continue to support Ray Rice and blame Janay Palmer (now Rice). We hope we don't know any of them.
Finally, with regard to one of the many other NFL players in the news this week for reasons they'd rather not be, here's a professor of psychiatry and behavioral science, specializing in early childhood development, on why corporal punishment of children doesn't work and can cause serious issues later in life.
This Week in Homelessnes
Utah, that notorious bastion of socialism, has figured out how to solve the problem of chronic homelessness--give people homes. It works, and it saves the taxpayers money. The idea, initiated during the George W. Bush administration by President Bush's homelessness czar, i spreading around the country. Now we're seeing that the theory really does pan out in practice.
This Week in Health Care
A lot of numbers came out this week from the National Health Insurance Survey and the Census Bureau. Count on the right wing to flip out over them, to declare that the administration was lying when it reported how many people had signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Something to keep in mind is that the cutoff for these statistics was before the late enrollment surge, which is when the ACA numbers really spiked up. Both the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Center on Budget and Priorities offer tips on how to understand what these surveys are showing. Whatever the right-wing media claims, it's likely to be untrue, since honesty is not a prized virtue among those sources. And that dishonesty sometimes pays political benefits, as with this voter who finally has the health insurance she needs, and likes it, but plans to vote for a senator who'd like to take it away.
Side Note: We've moved from a "pay more, get less" era of health care spending to a "pay less, get more" era, thanks in large part to the ACA. That is undeniably good news.
This Week in Cynical
In one of the most egregiously transparent bits of election-season political theater to come along in ages, the Republican-led House Select Committee on Beghazi launched this week, just in time to rile the conservative base by exploiting the deaths of four Americans for partisan advantage. Given the fact that seven congressional committees have already conducted investigations, as has an Independent Accountability Review Board, the members of this new committee--were they genuinely interested in answers, rather than votes--could simply consult an exhaustively detailed and sourced new website built by House Democrats that answers the questions this new committee's leadership says it wants to ask. Again. The fact that we taxpayers are paying legislators' salaries to engage in such an obviously political stunt--rather than demanding that House Republicans' campaign funds finance it--is shameful.
Side Note 1: Expect the propaganda wing of the Republican party, often referred to as Fox "News," to ramp up its Benghazi-obsessed "reporting," adding to the almost 1100 stories it has run on the tragedy thus far, without adding anything to the public understanding, but furthering dishonest talking points like the "stand-down order" that we know was never issued. (The latest conspiracy theory is so ridiculous, even Fox personalities like Bill O'Reilly dismiss it.)
Side Note 2: It took some impressive pretzel logic, but a Fox host has managed to link Benghazi to domestic violence. Points for creativity, if not decency.
This Week in Climate Lies
Speaking of dishonesty, Texas conservatives are pushing textbooks (which could be adopted nationwide) contained passages like this: "Scientists agree that Earth's climate is changing. They do not agree on what is causing the change. Is it just another natural warming cycle like so many cycles that have occurred in the past? Scientists who support this position cite thousands of years' worth of natural climatic change as evidence. Or is climate change anthropogenic—caused by human activity? Scientists who support this position cite the warming effect of rapidly increasing amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere."
In point of fact, scientists do agree. There's no serious debate among the scientific community any more, and it's despicable to lie to our children in support of a political agenda.
This Week in Voting
You go, Wisconsin. Tell all those fraudulent voters--well, okay, that one conservative guy whose multiple votes wouldn't have been caught by any of your abitrary, discriminatory new laws--that you just won't put up with them. Err, him. Whatever.
This Week in Pandering
TWiA has very little respect for self-certified ophthalmologist and ineffective US Senator Rand Paul (R/KY), whose mental prowess appears to be about equivalent to that of a pile of lumber. Despite his ignorance on nearly every issue facing the country today, some people have stood by him because he was "principled." We would point out that Charles Manson is also "principled;" his principles are just different from most people's.
In Paul's case, though, apparently his principles are no more closely held than his intellect is developed, which is to say, hardly at all. On issue after issue, as the Washington Post reports, the closer we get to the 2016 campaign season, the faster he shifts from his former "principles" to new ones, designed to be more popular to Republican primary voters. In the unlikely event that he should win the nomination, we have no doubt that his "principles" would shift once again, this time toward the center. In the even more unlikely--and horrific--event that he should win the White House, who knows where he would stand on anything? Paul's deeply held principles are as nonexistent as his grasp of policy.
Paul ably demonstrated that last point recently, saying, "I think the first executive order that I would issue [if he were elected president] would be to repeal all previous executive orders."
Since Paul knows virtually nothing about anything, it is possible that he is not genuinely opposed to the Emancipation Proclamation (though his long-standing relationships with prominent white supremacists call that into question), President Truman desegretating the military, and President Roosevelt's New Deal, which helped to end the Great Depression and bring about the longest period of prosperity and growth in American history, It's also possible that he believes the practice of issuing executive orders started with President Obama, rather than where it really began--with President Washington. It's almost certain that he doesn't know that President Obama has issued fewer than all but a tiny handful of presidents in the last century or so.
Paul's office rushed to clarify that Paul didn't mean his statement literally. Good to know. But he keeps repeating it, so we can only assume it's yet another of those "principles" that vary depending on who he's talking to. And he doubled down on the point even after his office denied that he meant it, saying, “You would obviously have to look at all of the executive orders to see that there’s not something in there. But the thing is, you could sunset them all and really repeal them all, and then you could start over. And if there are any ones that are good, you could reinstitute things or ask Congress to reinstitute things that need to be done.”
So under Paul's plan, slavery would be legal again until Congress--which can barely pass a law naming a post office--managed to once again outlaw it. The armed forces would have to quickly separate servicemen and women by race and provide separate barracks and other facilities, until Congress got around to fixing that. Or until he--the man who has already expressed his disgust with the entire concept of executive orders (his misunderstanding of the concept, anyway)--issued some executive orders that are as comprehensive as those he overturned.
We've said it before and we'll no doubt have to say it again in the future: Rand Paul is intellectually unfit for public service, or for any occupation more complex than sweeping up the lint in a laundromat. We've studied American politics for a long time, and can't think of a United States senator with a weaker understanding of... well, virtually everything. Paul might go down in history as the dumbest senator of them all.
We're glad that Kentuckians don't want to change their laws forbidding a candidate from running for two jobs at once. We very much hope Paul gives up his Senate chances for a shot at the White House, then fails miserably at that. An unemployed Rand Paul would be a gift to the nation.
(Thanks to TWiA special flip-flops correspondent Marcy Rockwell for the tip.)
This Week in Politics
Can Republicans and Democrats really talk to each other? Here's an intriguing look at why they often seem to be speaking different languages--because they're coming at issues from completely different perspectives, Democrats seeking compromise and legislative accomplishment, Republicans seeking ideological purity, which necessarily resists compromise (of course, we're generalizing here).
We'd add one interest group to the Republican side that the article doesn't mention, although they allude to it by referencing the Chamber of Commerce: the very rich. For the wealthy--who got that way under whatever the laws were at the time (or, often, inherited it from others who did so)--changes in law appear threatening. The status quo worked just fine for them, so why mess with it? If they run businesses, they oppose new regulations not because regulation is always bad, as many small-government conservatives seem to believe, but because new regulation, if it applies to them, typically adds new layers of complexity to their operations, and again, if their business is currently successful, why upset the apple cart? Often the answer is that because they own the apple cart, they think everything's great, but the hungry people who can't afford their apples have a different outlook.
Side Note 1: Speaker of the House John Boehner (R/OH), who understands that the American system of governance was designed by its founders to require compromise, calls those in his own party who resist it "knuckleheads." Our language might be stronger, but we're inclined to agree with the sentiment.
Side Note 2: Those who don't want Congress to do any legislating must love the 113th Congress. The House took off the entire month of August and the first week of September. When they went back to work, they put in two 4-day work weeks. Now they've canceled next week's planned 4-day work week, and won't come back to Washington until after the November elections. Unless they get really busy between those elections and the swearing in of the next Congress, they will be far and away the least productive Congress since people started keeping track.
Of course, we taxpayers pay rank-and-file members of Congress $174,000 a year, whether they work 300 days or 30. It's not all fun and games--they're supposed to spend some time in their districts. But from now through the election, the vast majority of that time will be spent campaigning, not legislating. It's not the same, and we shouldn't pay for it.
This Week in Fearmongering
Here's a summary of some of the ISIS-based insanity running around the right wing, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R/SC) claiming the president has to send in an invading army "before we all get killed here at home;" and Sen. Jim Inhofe (R/OK) claiming "They're crazy out there and they're rapidly developing a method of blowing up a major U.S. city and people just can't believe that's happening." Right, Senator. We can't believe it's happening, because it's not. (Subscription might be required; if so, it's free.)
This week, fearmongering Republicans gained a new ally in their effort to terrify Americans--ISIS itself, which released a video that threatens attacks within our borders. Were they encouraged to take this action by the antics of American politicians trying to stir up anxiety? Or did they think of it all on their own? We'll probably never know--but we devoutly hope those American politicians will think better of repeating bogus threats now that ISIS is doing the job for them.
Side Note: What does ISIS have in common with American evangelical Christians and Republican politicians? Answer: They don't believe in evolution, and they don't want it taught in school. Even Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (R), not known as an evangelical, won't reveal whether he believes in it, saying, "The reality is I'm not an evolutionary biologist." Jindal was, however, a biology major at Ivy League Brown University and a Rhodes scholar, so he's most likely familiar with the concept. You're not a physicist, Governor, but are you floating off into space? No? Then gravity probably works.
This Week in Representation
89% of House Republicans are Caucasian men. 31% of Americans are Caucasian men. What's wrong with this picture?
This Week in Arizona
TWiA's home state is electing a new governor in November to replace Jan Brewer, the accidental governor who took office when President Obama appointed then-governor Janet Napolitano as Secretary of Homeland Security. Brewer is abrasive and can barely speak coherent English, but we have to admit that in some ways she grew into the job, fighting back against some of the more absurd actions taken by the far-right legislature (while embracing others, to the state's detriment).
Both of the major party candidates, Democrat Fred DuVal and and Republican Doug Ducey, recognize that her tenure has made the state a national punchline. While the nation as a whole is now recovering nicely from the recession, Arizona lags behind nearly every other southwestern state. Our educational system is a mess, and businesses don't want to move into a state with substandard schools and a reputation as uninclusive and full of crazy militia members. But they have very different approaches to reaching that goal.
DuVal's prescription is basically to keep going in the direction we are, only more so. Specifics, in part, include restoring funding to the state's schools, in accordance with court orders. Ducey would spend taxpayer money to go back to court and fight those orders--fighting, in other words, to keep substandard schools substandard. Then he would make the situation worse by reducing "taxes every year, with the goal of pushing income tax rates as close to zero as possible."
Ducey may not understand economics--or math--but pushing income taxes anywhere near zero automatically, by necessity, increases income/wealth/opportunity inequality, punishing the poor and the middle class for not being rich. It makes schools worse, it increases poverty, and it kills job growth. What it doesn't do--as history shows us time and again--is improve the economy. Ducey hasn't said yet what he would replace that lost revenue with, if anything, but the alternatives are all worse than a progressive income tax.
DuVal, on the other hand, argues for making our schools better and for increasing funding for research and development (you know, like what developed this here internet on which you're reading TWiA, not to mention GPS, most of the aerospace industry, much of the pharmaceutical industry, and on and on). That sort of thing does attract business, and doesn't wreck the economy.
Ducey is a successful businessman. But government isn't a business. It isn't a profit-making entity, so the tactics of cutting costs wherever possible and doing a lot of advertising (another Ducey plan) don't work. His ideas prove that he doesn't understand that. Would he, too, grow into the job? Maybe. But Arizona's on a long downhill slide, thanks to a lunatic legislature and a governor who sided with them far too often. We need to change course, not double down on it.
Side Note 1: Speaking of Arizona lunatics, Rep. Trent Franks (R) fits the bill perfectly. Speaking on a far-right fringe radio show, he said, "It is true, that we know that ISIS is present in Ciudad Juarez or they were within the last few weeks. So there’s no question that they have designs on trying to come into Arizona. The comment that I’ve made is that if unaccompanied minors can cross the border then certainly trained terrorists probably can to. It is something that is real.”
Yeah, no. Franks is only correct if his working definition of "true" is "false." Or maybe "b***s***.
Side Note 2: Although we think of the elections as happening in November, and we won't know the results until then, votes will start being cast this week in several states, and others will be joining in over the weeks to come. That's a large part of why you're already seeing so many political ads--because people are already voting.
Side Note 3: The ever-excellent SCOTUSblog explains why it looks like a federal court will soon throw out Arizona's same-sex marriage ban.
This Week in Valor
TWiA salutes Command Sergeant Bennie G. Adkins (Ret.) and the late Spec. Donald P. Sloat, Vietnam veterans who were awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama this week.
This Week in How You Can Help
Ordinarily this feature focuses on US-based charitable efforts. This week, though, with Ebola ravaging West Africa in an epidemic that could last a year or more, potentially infecting 20,000 people and cratering local economies, the moment's biggest crisis is overseas. Here's a short piece on aid groups working to help stem the outbreak, and how you can donate to the effort.
This Week in Bears
If you're afraid of bears, you might need a miniature poodle.
And even bears have to escape Southern California's heat wave somehow.
(Thanks to TWiA special relaxation correspondent Jo Perry for the tip.)