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Barry Goldwater explains: why Chained-CPI is such a big, hairy deal

Camel by Just_Chaos via flikr

Bactrian Camel by Just_Chaos via flikrBack in 1958, Barry Goldwater explained his opposition to a bill this way:   “If the camel once gets his nose in the tent, his body will soon follow.”

In other words: a tremendous – unwanted – change can be started by a little tiny encroachment… and then the rest of the change will come right along behind it.

Those of us in the union movement have seen this strategy in action, too many times to count.

Recognize this scenario?  Workers used to have fully-paid health insurance.  Then management insisted on a small “contribution” toward the cost.  Then premiums were “shared”.  Now, in too many workplaces, there is no health insurance at all.

How about this one?  Workers used to have employer-sponsored pension plans.  Then employers insisted on moving to 401(k) plans.  Now, very few jobs (other than at the CEO level) offer any type of retirement plan at all.

Or this one?  Union workers used to have job security.  Then employers insisted on contract amendments so they could hire part-timers or contractors “in emergencies”.  Now, some worksites are staffed entirely by part-timers or contract employees, and job security is very, very hard to find.

As Barry Goldwater described things: It’s the camel’s nose, creeping in… and the rest of the camel soon follows.

And that’s why union leaders are reacting so strongly to proposals that would change Social Security benefits by tying Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs) to “chained CPI” (rather than the usual Consumer Price Index).

Union members have had enough experience with this strategy; by now, we recognize a camel’s nose when we see one.

The idea of “privatizing” Social Security has been rattling around the Republican Party since Barry Goldwater ran for President.

But it hasn’t happened yet – despite the recent best efforts of George W. Bush and Paul Ryan.

So during debt limit negotiations in the summer of 2011, the Republicans took a different tack.  Rather than trying to get the camel in through the tent door… they just asked for a little, tiny change to the way that Social Security COLAs are calculated.  Just one little, tiny change.

That debt limit crisis was resolved – with the camel’s nose still outside the tent – by the deal we all know as “sequestration”.  And since that time, the Fiscal Cliff has passed and a possible government shutdown has been avoided.  But that one little tiny change to Social Security has remained a Republican priority.

The White House held a press briefing the day before President Obama’s budget was filed.  One important point from that briefing was never covered by the mainstream press:

[S]enior administration officials characterized the official adoption of Chained CPI as both a recognition that rounding out a grand bargain will require making concessions to the GOP, and as a final gesture of good faith to Republicans in Congress… But the officials also stressed that Chained CPI will never become law unless Republicans respond (in unlikely fashion) by agreeing to limit tax expenditures benefiting high-income earners.  If they don’t, it will mark the end of Obama’s two-year quest to secure trillions of dollars in deficit reduction on a bipartisan basis.

In other words, don’t believe new National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden when he talks about chained CPI as “a shocking attack on seniors.”

How can it possibly be “shocking”, Rep. Walden?

Republicans have been trying to “reform” Social Security since Barry Goldwater ran for President, almost half a century ago.

And Barry Goldwater knew full well how to get a camel into the tent.

 

Why Are GOP Politicians Agreeing With Al Gore?

voting

elephantCan someone explain this to me? Why are GOP politicians suddenly agreeing with Al Gore? 

Last August, Al Gore called for an end to the electoral college.  That’s our system of indirect elections for President.  When we go to the polls and vote, we vote for a group of electors, not the actual candidates. Members of the “electoral college” are chosen state-by-state, and the presidential candidate who wins the most electors wins the election.

In 2000, George W. Bush won the election by winning a majority of the electors, even though Al Gore had a half-million more popular votes.  In 2012, the Republican party saw the system as so important to their election strategy that their Party Platform included “Protecting the Electoral College” as item #6.

Except, whoops, the 2012 election didn’t exactly turn out the way the GOP expected it to.  (Remember Karl Rove’s election-night meltdown?)  President Obama won re-election by more than three million votes.  And so now some GOP politicians are following Al Gore’s lead and proposing reforms to the electoral college system.

Last week, the Los Angeles Times reported on GOP proposals to change the winner-take-all system “in half a dozen states, including Pennsylvania, Virginia and Michigan.  All were presidential battlegrounds that President Obama carried last fall. But their state governments remain under Republican control, and some GOP lawmakers are pushing changes that would make it harder for Democrats to prevail in future contests.”

Whoa, that was a quick turn-around.

voting“Make it harder for Democrats to prevail” seems to be the key phrase here.  Last summer, Bloomberg News warned that

“Across the country, the Republicans’ carefully orchestrated plan to make voting harder — let’s call it the Voter Suppression Project — may keep just enough young people and minorities from the polls that Republicans will soon be in charge of all three branches of the federal government.”

That didn’t quite happen, but not for lack of trying.  By election day 2012, we had seen

Read the NY Times editorial, tallying all the various ways Republican officials tried to affect the vote, here.

“Make it harder for Democrats to prevail.”  These days, it doesn’t seem to matter to the GOP what route they take to that goal.  Hire questionable consultants? Agree with Al Gore?  Maybe even technological dirty tricks, as alleged by the group Anonymous?

The GOP is trying to win elections by manipulating the election system, rather than by earning votes. And that speaks volumes about how little faith they have in their policies and politicians.

If the party doesn’t have faith it its policies and politicians, why should we?

Another thing that went wrong in the Bush Economy

AZ Correctional Industries

Watch this employer-recruitment video produced back in 2004 by the National Corrections Industry Association in partnership with the US Department of Justice:

Yep, if you’re a business, that’s certainly one way to “control labor costs”.  You don’t have to pay health benefits; you don’t have to pay overtime; you don’t even have to pay minimum wage.

If you’ve been watching the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) closely, this probably isn’t a big surprise.  ALEC has been pushing “prison industry enhancement” (PIE) laws at the state level for about 20 years.   Read “The Hidden History of ALEC and Prison Labor” in The Nation here.

Industry spokesmen describe the program as a “win-win” – but that’s from their perspective.

“I asked an NCIA spokesperson how private companies can get away with what could reasonably be described as forced labor. He explained that the PIE program classifies certain work functions as a ‘service’ rather than an actual ‘job’, and therefore is not subject to [restrictions in a 1979 federal law]. Conveniently, then, the backbreaking work of picking crops in the blistering sun counts as a ‘service’, so prisoners can be paid even less than the immigrants who have traditionally performed this work.”

(Yes, of course there’s a Wal-Mart connection.  Read about it in the British newspaper The Guardian, here.)

Here’s how the prison labor system works in Arizona: 

  • State law requires all able-bodied prisoners to work.
  • “Arizona statute requires that all inmates that are making $2 per hour will have deductions of 30% to offset the cost of their incarceration. In addition, thirty percent of the prisoner’s wages will be deducted for court ordered restitution.”  (Are you doing the math here?  Sounds like the inmates actually receive 80 cents an hour for their work.)
  • Nevermind the recession, the prison labor business is growing.  The number of inmate hours worked during FY12 was up 8.5% over FY11.  Room and board “contributions” were up by 9.8%.  Sales were up.  Profits were up.  Arizona Correctional Industries added new products and new customers, and “are currently working on finalizing contracts that will help grow our telemarketing and service business.”  (ACI helpfully explainsHow we do it: We provide a positive learning experience for all of our workers.  We balance our home and business life.  We continually strive to improve our quality focusing on Lean Continuous improvement.  We are passionately involved in making the customer happy.”)
  • Arizona is now leading the nation in efforts to crack down on those same immigrants who used to pick crops.  Read National Public Radio’s “Prison Economics Help Drive Arizona Immigration Law” here.

Think about that employer-recruitment video that was funded by the Bush Administration in 2004:

“I have a workforce that doesn’t have car problems, or baby sitter problems et cetera.  They’re always here, and they’re always willing to come to work.”

“The situation here allows us to be able to control costs far more than we could in the past.”

“Partnerships between correctional industries and private business are a rapidly growing segment of a multi-billion dollar industry in America.”

“Bring us your business challenge.  Chances are, there’s a nearby correctional facility that can supply dependable labor, enhance your competitiveness, and increase your profitability.”

Now, think about the growth in the non-violent inmate population.

  • As of 2008, non-violent offenders made up over 60 percent of the prison and jail population.
  • If incarceration rates had tracked violent crime rates, the incarceration rate would have fallen to less than one third of the actual 2008 level.

Don’t you think something went terribly, terribly wrong?


Related Article

New Hampshire is considering privatizing the NH correctional facilities. We cannot let that happen. 

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