Still Waiting for That GOP Fever to Break

Photo of Bay Bridge construction courtesy of Caltrans
Word is that in tomorrow's State of the Union address, Barack Obama is going to propose some new infrastructure spending. Not only as a way of boosting the economy in the short term by creating jobs in areas like construction, steel, concrete, those little plastic anchors you put around screws when you're putting them in brick, and so on, but also as an investment that pays long-term dividends in the form of bridges that work and sewer pipes that don't burst. As Neil Irwin points out , given the large number of construction workers sitting idle and the incredible fact that the United States can now borrow money at negative interest—something that won't be true forever—it would be crazy for us not to take advantage of this moment and start doing some long-overdue repairs. "One can easily imagine a deal," Irwin writes. "Democrats get their new infrastructure spending, and Republicans insist on a structure that requires private sector lenders to be co-investors in any projects, deploying...

Austerity's Unintended Consequences

AP Photo/Mauro Scrobogna, LaPresse
AP Photo/Mauro Scrobogna, LaPresse Italian media mogul and former ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi during a television appearance last week. The latest political polls suggest he is gaining ground on center-left candidate Pier Luigi Bersani ahead of Italy's elections. I s the worst of the Eurozone crisis over? The optimists—out of conviction or calculation—say “yes.” The European Central Bank’s promise to purchase an unlimited amount of government bonds from member-states who find their credibility questioned by the capital markets has brought the borrowing rates of the European periphery down to manageable levels without spending a single euro. Ireland, the second Eurozone country to require an international bailout in November 2010, has already made a partial return to the markets for long-term borrowing, while Portugal, which was bailed out in May 2011, hopes to do so later this year. Even Greece seems to be making headway with reforms and fiscal consolidation, the result of which has...

Mass Joblessness Is Still a Problem—Someone Tell Washington

kanu101 / Flickr
The unemployment rate is a decent measure of where the economy stands, but it doesn’t provide a full picture of joblessness—it only measures the employment status of people looking for a job. For a broader sense of unemployment—and its affect on everyday life—you have to dig deeper. A recent study from Rutgers University, for example, provides a sobering look at the broad impact of persistent joblessness. In “ Diminished Lives and Futures: A Portrait of America in the Great-Recession Era ,” researchers Mark Szeltner, Carl Van Horn, and Cliff Zukin find that “nearly one-quarter (23%) of all survey respondents report being laid off from either a full-time or part-time job.” There’s a stark racial divide, 31 percent of blacks and Hispanics report losing a job, versus 22 percent of whites, and a large gender gap—27 percent of men have lost employment since the recession began, versus 19 percent of women. What’s staggering is the number of people who have been touched by joblessness...

Jobs and Growth, Not Deficit Reduction

Flickr/Andreas Klinke Johannsen
C an we just keep things in perspective? On Tuesday, the President asked Republicans to join him in finding more spending cuts and revenues before the next fiscal cliff whacks the economy at the end of the month. Yet that same day, the Congressional Budget Office projected that the federal budget deficit will drop to 5.3 percent of the nation’s total output by the end of this year. This is roughly half what the deficit was relative to the size of the economy in 2009. It’s about the same share of the economy as it was when Bill Clinton became president in 1992. The deficit wasn’t a problem then, and it’s not an immediate problem now. Yes, the deficit becomes larger later in the decade. But that’s mainly due to the last-ditch fiscal cliff deal in December. By extending the Bush tax cuts for all but the top 2 percent of Americans and repealing the alternative minimum tax, that deal increased budget deficits by about $3 trillion above what the budget office projected last August. The real...

Debt Reduction Is Hurting the Economy

Wall Street Journal
For left-leaning writers, at least, it’s almost cliché to note the extent to which the press defers to deficit hawks, despite clear evidence that deficits are not a pressing problem for the United States. Even still, it’s worth noting when reporters pass along received wisdom, especially when we have fresh data to show the folly of Washington’s obsession with deficit reduction. To wit, here’s The Wall Street Journal with a piece that just cedes the idea there’s a deficit problem and it requires further “belt tightening” from the federal government: A slowly improving economy and recently enacted tax increases will help bring down the federal deficit for the next few years, the Congressional Budget Office said Tuesday, but it will take another $2 trillion in belt-tightening over the next decade to begin to move the federal debt closer to historic levels. […] CBO projects that if Congress leaves current laws unchanged, the debt will be 77% by 2023, and it will be higher if across-the-...

Wonder Warren

AP Photo/Win McNamee
AP Photo/Win McNamee Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat from Massachusetts, at the presidential inauguration S ince the start of the new Congress, liberal Democrats have anxiously awaited senior Senator from Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren’s initial moves. Celebrity entrants into the Senate—from Hillary Clinton to Al Franken—have tended to take a modest approach, immersing themselves in committee work and issues of local importance, building relationships with their colleagues, and operating as a “workhorse, not a show horse.” By contrast, Warren said during the campaign that she wanted to use her new position as a platform for her ideas . And one of her first actions suggests she will spend her time as Senator much the way she did as chair of the TARP oversight panel and at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: shedding light on the harm caused by unscrupulous financial interests. (Editor's note: Warren's daughter, Amelia Warren Tyagi, is a member of the Prospect 's governing...

Going Back Too Soon

Without pay, many new parents can’t take the time off granted them by the FMLA.

AP Photo/Greg Gibson
Rex Features via AP Images P erla Saenz went back sore and exhausted just four weeks after giving birth—and two weeks after the incision from her C-section reopened. (She had heard her older child cough in the night and instinctively tried to pick him up, forgetting for a moment her doctor’s warning against lifting anything heavier than ten pounds.) Weak and sometimes feverish, she often found herself clutching the counter for support. Bernadette Cano was back on the job five weeks after giving birth. Though she was in better physical shape, she wasn’t ready to be apart from her son. “I was thinking about the baby all the time,” she told me tearfully from the break room of Walmart, where she worked in the dressing room. Under normal circumstances, she enjoyed the job tidying up the dressing rooms and returning clothes to the racks. But with her newborn son at home, she couldn’t think of anything else and even broke the company policy against texting so she could check in with her...

Labor Wins—in China

Is China moving ahead of the United States on worker rights? According to a report on Monday’s Financial Times , it may be doing just that. The FT reports that Foxconn, which employs 1.2 million Chinese workers who make the bulk of Apple’s products, along with those of Nokia, Dell, and other tech companies, has decided to allow its workers to hold elections to select their union leaders. This is a radical departure from past practice in China, where unions are run by the government—that is, the Communist Party—which customarily selects the union leaders. Often, the leaders selected under this system are actually the plant managers. Under Foxconn’s new plan, workers will cast secret ballots for their union leaders, and no managers will be eligible to run. The company’s proposal, writes the FT , is viewed as a “response to frequent worker protests, riots and strikes and soaring labor costs.” In other words, just as employers in Western Europe and the U.S. once came to prefer dealing...

What Would Jack Lew Do?

AP Photo/Win McNamee
AP Photo/Win McNamee Current White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, whom President Barack Obama has nominated to be the new Treasury secretary, at the president's swearing-in ceremony during the 57th Presidential Inauguration. S ometime this month, the Senate is expected to grill President Obama’s pick for Treasury secretary, Jack Lew, who if confirmed will replace outgoing secretary Timothy Geithner. As the president’s chief of staff, Lew has been influential in the budget battles President Obama fought with House Republicans in the past year and has a deep knowledge of how government spending works. Conventional wisdom is that the president chose Lew to have a strong ally as the White House battles with congressional Republicans over spending and taxes. But with only a short stint at Citigroup amid a life of public service, there isn’t a deep record on what he thinks about financial reform. Nevertheless, the Treasury secretary will be responsible for the overhaul of the legal and...

The First Progressive Revolution

Flickr/Mike Chaput
Exactly a century ago, on February 3, 1913, the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, authorizing a federal income tax. Congress turned it into a graduated tax, based on “capacity to pay.” It was among the signal victories of the progressive movement—the first constitutional amendment in 40 years (the first 10 had been included in the Bill of Rights, the 11th and 12th in 1789 and 1804, and three others in consequence of the Civil War), reflecting a great political transformation in America. The 1880s and 1890s had been the Gilded Age, the time of robber barons, when a small number controlled almost all the nation’s wealth as well as our democracy, when poverty had risen to record levels, and when it looked as though the country was destined to become a moneyed aristocracy. But almost without warning, progressives reversed the tide. Teddy Roosevelt became president in 1901, pledging to break up the giant trusts and end the reign of the “malefactors of great wealth.”...

Jobs on Jobs on Jobs on Jobs

Steve Benen, Maddow Blog
According to the latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the economy created 157,000 jobs in January, a solid number, though behind what we need to see a robust recovery. More important, as always, are the revisions. November’s job growth was revised to 247,000 (up from 161,000) and December’s was revised to 196,000 (up from 155,000). These are big revisions, and when analyzed as part of a trend, it’s clear that the government was been underestimating job growth for most of 2012, to the tune of 28,000 jobs a month. It should be said that this makes Barack Obama’s re-election victory even easier to explain. If the president’s standing was higher than expected, it’s because economic conditions were much better than we thought. And if Obama’s approval rating has seen a big, post-election bump—and it has—it might have something to do with the fact that employment growth broke the 200,000 barrier in November. Mitt Romney has received a huge amount of opprobrium for the tenor of...

The Geography of Abortion Access

Mapping the national decline in abortion providers

As a collective unit, Americans are pretty keen on the civics-class idea that life in the 6,106,012 square miles of God’s green earth that is the USA is more or less equitable for the 313,847,465 people who have hunkered down to live on the craggy coasts, fruited plains, and purple mountains filled with majesty. We’ve got proportional representation in Congress, a legal system that presumes innocence before guilt, and the ability to walk into any 7-Eleven to get a Slurpee and slice of pizza that will cost you $4 and a year of your life, which has to say something about the level playing field we’ve got going, right? But as we mark the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade , the truth is that access to abortion isn’t anywhere close to equitable for women around the country. In fact, things are worse in certain parts of the U.S. than they were in the 1970s and 1980s. In nearly every state, the total number of abortion providers has dropped since 1978—even in traditionally liberal havens like...

The Wrong Kind of Immigration Spending

AP Photo/Tuscaloosa News, Robert Sutton
The Republican party's abysmal performance among Latino voters in the 2012 election, and the ensuing realization among many in the GOP that they need to change their stance on immigration or risk more defeats, have made it a real possibility that passage of the first comprehensive immigration reform bill in over a quarter-century could happen soon. The debate will no doubt be intense, so as it begins, some facts about the recent and not-so-recent history of immigration in America will be important to keep in mind. Immigration had its first peak in the first decade of the 20th century, when over 8 million people from other countries became legal permanent residents of the United States, a number that wasn't exceeded again until the 1990s. By the 1960s, however, immigrants from North America (mostly Mexico) exceeded those from Europe; Asian immigrants exceeded Europeans in the 1970s. (These data, and many more, can be found in the Department of Homeland Security's annual yearbook of...

New Marijuana Laws: Just a Smokescreen

Flickr/Rupert Ganzer
Flickr/Rupert Ganzer A medical marijuana dispensary across the border in Portland, Oregon. B efore Washington state voters legalized marijuana in the 2012 election, pot was easy enough to access on the black market. Five percent of state residents have used the drug in one form or another while burning through a remarkable 187,000 pounds per year, according to estimates by Washington’s Office of Financial Management. Getting high without getting arrested wasn’t much of a problem, either. Washington decriminalized medical marijuana 15 years ago, and today dozens of dispensaries are operating under protection of state law. In addition, Washington’s biggest city, Seattle, had instructed its police force to treat personal possession of marijuana as the lowest law-enforcement priority. So what’s the big deal about legalization in this already weed-friendly state? The new law doesn’t end the legal battle over marijuana so much as it changes the rules of engagement: Growers and dealers can...

A More Perfect European Union

David Cameron's speech has its fair share of detractors, but it should be embraced as an impetus to take Europe's governance to the next level.

As President Barack Obama embarks on his second term, he and many other global leaders hoping for economic recovery paid close attention to the recent speech given by British Prime Minister David Cameron about whether he would lead the UK out of the European Union. Europe is the largest trading partner with both the United States and China, so the continent’s recession and the restructuring of its basic institutions is no academic matter. What happens there affects the rest of the world. Cameron's speech was disappointing for most, including no doubt the White House which had lobbied Cameron to maintain Britain's place at Europe's center. The pugnaciousness at the core of Cameron's position—"The UK should stay in the European Union, but we want to cherry pick the conditions"—poses an obvious problem. No union can survive if its members agree to terms in such an à la carte manner, and the speech resulted in negative reactions from most quarters, including many of Cameron's allies...