Archive for September 29th, 2013

Tester’s Populist Trifecta

by lizard

I remain agnostic about the alleged betrayals that went down behind the scenes of the Baucus/Tester/Schweitzer open senate seat fight.

That said, I have been giving James Conner’s allegation that Jon Tester is playing a Machiavellian long-game for reelection some extra thought. For a refresher, you can read the whole post here. This excerpt lays out the allegation:

Tester and his top political operatives, my sources report, both like and fear Steve Daines; like him for support on some environmental matters, fear him as the Republican nominee for the senate in 2018. Therefore, Tester’s top objective is preventing Daines from accumulating seniority, power, and experience, in the U.S. House of Representatives. The best way of doing that? Ensuring that Daines is the GOP nominee for the senate next year. If Daines won a senate seat, he wouldn’t challenge Tester in 2018. That’s probably the best scenario for Tester. But if Daines lost, he’d be an unemployed politician and much less a threat to Tester in 2018.

But Daines wasn’t going to give up his house seat to run against Brian Schweitzer, the only Democrat he feared (and rightly so). Therefore, Tester’s plans for Daines required knocking Schweitzer out of the campaign, which he apparently proceeded to do with a Machiavellian efficiency that must have sent an icy shudder down Karl Rove’s spine. There are people who admire that kind of cold-bloodedness, but I’m not one of them.

2018 is a long ways down the road, but if Tester wants to stay in power, then it certainly wouldn’t hurt to do some things for the base to help rehab his rocky relationship with them, a relationship that nearly cost him his seat last November.

First, Tester came out against the Syrian intervention. That decision was made easier by the collapse of an actual vote, and the surprising diplomatic solution suggested by Russia, but Tester should still get credit for finally stating publicly how he would vote.

Second, Tester came out against Larry Summers, and because Tester is seen as a moderate Democrat with “close ties” to the banking industry, Tester’s public opposition probably did more to tank Summers than, say, Elizabeth Warren. From the link:

Tester has close ties to the bank lobby and is generally viewed as a moderate Democrat. His opposition suggests division within the banking community over a Summers pick, a scenario that would hamper Obama’s ability to win over reluctant lawmakers.

And third, Tester killed the Protect Monsanto Rider, saying:

Stripping the Monsanto Protection Act is a victory for American consumers and family farm agriculture. Corporate giveaways have no business in a bill to fund the government, and I’m pleased that the Senate stood up for accountability and transparency and against special interests.

The cynic in me is skeptical, but there is room for a little cautious optimism that public pressure aligned with self-interest has produced some good results.

If America hasn’t descended into a lawless Mad Max struggle for survival by 2018, then Tester will have some decent examples of smart, populist decisions for his reelection bid.

by lizard

While the American people are getting economically pummeled, it’s nice to know that the overpaid administrators of our publicly funded University system will be getting more money for doing whatever the hell it is they do over there. Again, the justification, as always, is the need to entice quality candidates, because I guess it would be impossible to find competent people willing to work for less than a hundred thousand dollars:

Provost Perry Brown will remain the second highest paid employee at UM, earning $196,570 – an increase of 2.38 percent over last year. Provost Martha Potvin at MSU will earn $209,852 – a raise of 2.37 percent.

Raises for other top-level UM administrators included Michael Ried, the vice president of administration and finance, who will make $173,053, and Scott Whittenburg, vice president of research and creative scholarship, who will earn $189,413.

Peggy Kuhr, vice president of integrated communications, received a $3,558 raise, bringing her salary to $150,558, while Theresa Branch, vice president of student affairs, will earn $153,812 after Oct. 1.

“Probably 60 percent of the hires we make in the university system are truly national and international hires,” McRae said. “We know that living in Montana, we’re always going to make less than the average. But the university system has to compete nationally, and we do balance the administrative salaries with those concerns.”

This is reminiscent of the outcry that happened at the beginning of this year when MCPS Superintendent, Alex Apostle, received a whopping 13% pay raise after teachers were told there’s no money for them:

The tension has been rising ever since the Missoula County Public Schools Board of Trustees approved a 13 percent raise for the district’s superintendent, Alex Apostle, on Jan. 14, said Charlson, president of the Missoula Education Association, the district’s teachers union.

“There’s a lot of outcry,” Charlson said. “When we negotiated last year and when the board adopted the budget in August, we were told there was no money, and in that budget there was nothing there about Dr. Apostle’s increase.

“I’ve received hundreds of letters and phone calls, and teachers are questioning what will be cut, because something will have to give and be moved around to accommodate the superintendent’s salary increase and have the budget balance.”

The reason this stings so badly for so many is the economic recovery we are constantly being told is happening, isn’t happening for most Americans. And you know it’s bad when Walmart does this:

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) is cutting orders it places with suppliers this quarter and next to address rising inventory the company flagged in last month’s earnings report.

Last week, an ordering manager at the company’s Bentonville, Arkansas, headquarters described the pullback in an e-mail to a supplier, who said others got similar messages. “We are looking at reducing inventory for Q3 and Q4,” said the Sept. 17 e-mail, which was reviewed by Bloomberg News.

U.S. inventory growth at Wal-Mart outstripped sales gains in the second quarter at a faster rate than at the retailer’s biggest rivals. Merchandise has been piling up because consumers have been spending less freely than Wal-Mart projected, and the company has forfeited some sales because it doesn’t have enough workers in stores to keep shelves adequately stocked.

Hmmm, I wonder why consumers are “spending less freely” in this wonderful, recovering economy the Obama administration has been steering for Wall Street these last five years?

Citing that Walmart story and some poll results, Michael Whitney describes why American Workers are hanging on by the skin of their teeth:

After five years of Obama’s economic recovery, the American people are as gloomy as ever. According to a Bloomberg National Poll that was released this week, fewer people “are optimistic about the job market” or “the housing market” or “anticipate improvement in the economy’s strength over the next year.” Also, only 38 percent think that President Obama is doing enough “to make people feel more economically secure.” Worst of all, Bloomberg pollsters found that 68 percent of interviewees thought the country was “headed in the wrong direction”.

So why is everyone so miserable? Are things really that bad or have we turned into a nation of crybabies?

The reason people are so pessimistic is because the economy is still in the doldrums and no one’s doing anything about it. That’s it in a nutshell. Survey after survey have shown that what people really care about is jobs, but no one in Washington is listening. In fact, jobs aren’t even on Obama’s radar. Just look at his record. He’s worse than any president in modern times. Take a look at this graph.

More than 600,000 good-paying public sector jobs have been slashed during Obama’s tenure as president. That’s worse than Bush, worse than Clinton, worse than Reagan, worse than anyone, except maybe Hoover. Is that Obama’s goal, to one-up Herbert Hoover?

Obama has done everything he could to make the lives of working people as wretched as possible. Do you remember the Card Check sellout or the Wisconsin “flyover” when Governor Scott Walker was eviscerating collective bargaining rights for public sector unions and Obama blew kisses from Airforce One on his way to a campaign speech in Minnesota? Nice touch, Barry. Or what about the “Job’s Czar” fiasco, when Obama appointed GE’s outsourcing mandarin Jeffrey Immelt to the new position just in time for GE to lay off another 950 workers at their locomotive plant in Pennsylvania. That’s tells you what Obama really thinks about labor.

What Obama cares about is trimming the deficits and keeping Wall Street happy. That’s it. But the people who elected him don’t want him to cut the deficits, because cutting the deficits prolongs the slump and costs jobs. What they want is more stimulus, so people can find work, feed their families, and have some basic security. That’s what they want, but they’re not going to get it from Obama because he doesn’t work for them. He works for the stuffed shirts who flank him on the golf course at Martha’s Vineyard or the big shots who chow down with him at his $100,000-per-plate campaign jamborees. That’s his real constituency. Everyone else can take a flying fu** for all he cares.

This is the consequence of the Democrat sell-out to Wall Street two decades ago, average people have no recourse to the disastrous policies that are being enacted to keep the top percent insulated from the misery they are creating.

While retailers are trying to gauge how tapped-out consumers will be for the holiday shopping season, health insurance consumers are trying to gauge how affordable the affordable care act will be. In this Missoulian article, a personal narrative exemplifies the dynamics at play. Here is a lengthy excerpt:

People must purchase health insurance by Dec. 15 for it to become effective Jan. 1 – a date Brooke Barnett is eagerly anticipating. It could be the first time her family has health insurance since she was laid off from her medical writer job with a marketing and communications firm in March and lost health insurance benefits in June.

“Being uninsured is really scary. My eye is twitching,” Barnett said Thursday from the Alberton home she shares with her husband and two young children.

“It feels like we’re holding out until January,” she added.

Fisher, Barnett’s 1 1/2-year-old son, didn’t wait for January, and the family is struggling to figure out how to pay off a roughly $1,000 bill from a trip to the emergency room for stitches.

Because her husband, Todd Skibbe, works part-time for Alberton, he’s not eligible for benefits, and Barnett’s freelance writing and photography doesn’t bring in enough money to purchase insurance and still pay the mortgage, student loans and other household expenses.

“We’re month to month,” she said. “There’s no padding in the budget.”

Insurance through her previous employer wasn’t great, she said, but at least it was something in case catastrophe struck.

“It was like I was just throwing money into a black hole,” she said, adding she’s hopeful the new system will be more about practical, affordable health care than about affordable insurance.

The idea of being able to purchase insurance, made affordable with subsidies and tax credits, is promising, although she would like to see something more like a single-payer system.

However, if an insurance plan costs more than $200 a month, Barnett said she’s still not sure how the family will be able to afford the extra cost without skimping on essentials, like the grocery budget.

“I don’t know; it just seems like a paradox,” she said.

If the ACA continues to be unaffordable, I guess people will have to look at other options, like maybe dancing around with rattlesnakes and speaking in tongues, or how about colloidal silver?

Instead of being totally pessimistic, I’m going to try and conclude this post on a positive note: if it wasn’t for our health care crisis, I’m not sure the tv series Breaking Bad would have been created. People think that show is about meth, but it’s not. It’s about the failure of the American health care system.

I know, kind of pathetic for a silver lining, but at least I tried, right? Right???

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