Right to Continue

No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country.

 — President Franklin Roosevelt
Statement on the National Industrial Recovery Act (1933)

This week everybody was talking about the State of the Union

It was a good speech (text and video here) that has been well covered elsewhere. Immigration reform and gun control were already on the national agenda, but President Obama also made some new proposals:

Do something about climate change. Ideally, Congress would pass something like the old McCain-Lieberman cap-and-trade bill. “But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.” Grist suggests that threat/promise is empty, but David Roberts lists things Obama could do.

Preschool available to all. The research behind early education is impressive. In the Perry Preschool study, “123 African Americans born in poverty and at high risk of failing in school” were randomly divided into two groups; one got an intensive pre-kindergarten program at ages 3 and 4, and the other didn’t. The groups have been followed (so far) until age 40.

(More details in this Chris Hayes segment.) If that’s any measure of what can be accomplished, then making the program available to anybody who wants it — especially at-risk kids from poor families — is a no-brainer. Independent of any improvements to the kids’ life experience, the government might ultimately save money by spending less on them (for prisons, welfare, unemployment …) over their lifetimes.

Raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 and index it to inflation. Obama framed this as a moral issue:

a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line. That’s wrong.

Republicans mostly responded with economic arguments: Raising the minimum wage would kill jobs and cause inflation. The inflation claim effect isn’t that worrisome, because minimum-wage work is a vanishingly small part of the cost of production of most products, and the price of many products has little to do with the cost of production anyway.

Whether the proposal would kill jobs depends on why people are making minimum wage. If it’s because an hour of their labor adds only $7.25 to their employer’s output, then employers will fire them rather raise them to $9. On the other hand, if they produce more than $9 of value, but they make $7.25 because they are powerless people competing against a large pool of other powerless people for whatever jobs they can get, then businesses will just suck it up and pay them more.

The fact that wages in general haven’t been keeping pace with productivity for two decades tells me we’re probably in the non-job-killing situation, and economists (at least the ones driven by data rather than ideology) mostly agree. (BTW, this either/or analysis also answers the snarky comment: If it’s that easy, why not raise the minimum wage to $50? The reason people don’t make $50 is probably different than the reason they don’t make $9.)

Even at $9, the purchasing power of the minimum wage would still be lower than it has been many times in the past. Tennessee Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn embarrassed herself by saying that Obama’s proposal would keep teen-agers out of the workforce, and then reminiscing about working for $2.15 when she was a teen. Of course, that was “somewhere between $12.72 and $14.18 an hour in today’s dollars.”

A nonpartisan commission to improve the voting experience in America. This was either a too-timid response to a serious problem or an attack on the sovereignty of the states (who have a God-given right to make people in minority neighborhoods wait as long they want) depending on who you listen to.

and the unresponsive responses …

Tea Party Republican Marco Rubio gave the Republican response (text, video), and Tea Party Republican Rand Paul gave the Tea Party response (text, video). The main thing I learned was that Republican still live in a bubble.

Instead of responding to the President’s actual speech, Rubio and Paul continued the Clint Eastwood tradition of debating an Obama only Republicans can see. Apparently, the invisible President Obama denounced the free enterprise system and called for government to take over the economy, so Republicans were proud of Rubio’s and Paul’s able defense of the American way of life. But if you live outside the Republican bubble and watched the visible President, you had to wonder what the hell they were talking about.

Marco, I can’t let this lie pass:

In fact, a major cause of our recent downturn was a housing crisis created by reckless government policies.

In actual fact, no, unless you mean reckless de-regulation of Wall Street, which I think is the opposite of what you’re trying to imply. The Barney-Frank-did-it version of the financial collapse is some of that “math you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better.” No one can stop Republicans from blaming regulation for a crisis brought on by de-regulation, but they can’t make it true no matter how many times they repeat it.

And that’s what’s really wrong in GOP-land: They’ve never come to terms with the failures of the Bush administration. (Also they haven’t understood the young voter or embraced 21st-century technology, as Robert Draper pointed out in the NYT Magazine this week.)

When Democrats got clobbered in 1980, 1984, and 1988, they did some genuine soul-searching and decided they had to overcome the big-government mindset of LBJ’s Great Society. They had to own up to the stagflation of the Carter years and get past the Vietnam Syndrome that made the electorate unwilling to trust a Democrat as commander-in-chief. The result was President Clinton’s move to the center in the 1990s, his announcement that “the era of big government is over“, welfare reform, fiscal seriousness that eventually led to a budget surplus, and Senators Kerry, Clinton, and Biden voting to authorize the Iraq War.

Whether you agree with that shift or not, it was real and had consequences. So far, GOP reform isn’t and doesn’t. Nothing in Rubio’s speech (or Romney’s campaign) would have been out of place in the Bush administration. Hell, Republicans still listen to Dick Cheney.

Voters can’t forgive them if they won’t repent.

but I want to talk about evolution …

In honor of Charles Darwin’s birthday (last Tuesday), I thought I’d address the swing voters to whom creationist arguments sound sort of reasonable. Evolution/Creation for Non-Eggheads.

and food …

Fascinating Supreme Court case about Monsanto’s ability to control its seeds. Legally, genetically engineered seeds are treated like software. They’re sold with a licensing agreement that prevents farmers from using their harvest for next year’s seeds. Growing one seed into many seeds — as farmers have done since dawn of agriculture — is like making your own copies of copyrighted software.

But Monsanto’s Roundup-ready soybeans now dominate the market to such an extent that if you buy a random truckload of soybeans from a grain elevator, chances are most of them are Roundup-ready. A 300-acre farmer did that, and planted the beans he bought. Monsanto is suing him.

As I’ve occasionally pointed out before, our food system has gotten really crazy. A new book Foodopoly describes it as an hourglass: lots of farmers at one end and lots of eaters at the other, but between them a narrow bottleneck controlled by a few big corporations. Increasingly, corporations make the major decisions and people are powerless.

Genetic engineering is a good case in point. Chances are you never decided to start eating Monsanto’s genetically engineered grains; maybe you don’t even realize you do. But most corn seed is Monsanto’s now, which means most high-fructose corn syrup is GE. And HFCS is in everything.

Farmers are controlled on one side by seed corporations, who are closing off all other ways to get seeds. On the other side, the market for farm crops is controlled by big suppliers who serve big retailers like WalMart and McDonalds. They impose their standards on the farmers, who have no alternative buyers. This is a detailed example of the general monopsony problem described in Barry Lynn’s Cornered.

and you might also find this interesting …

Hubris: Selling the Iraq War — tonight at 9 on MSNBC. Rachel Maddow hosts.

This kind of thing was just what I was hoping for when Elizabeth Warren ran for the Senate. She’s not rude or abusive. She’s not a Joe McCarthy-like bully. But she’s got a good question to ask and she’s going to stick with it.

You’ve got to wonder if the NRA is even trying to win elections any more. Maybe the whole point is to pander to the tiny slice of the population that buys lots and lots of guns. In an op-ed for the Daily Caller (fact-checked by Joe Nocera), Wayne LaPierre presents a personal arsenal as the only rational response to the looming collapse of America into post-apocalyptic barbarism.

Nobody knows if or when the fiscal collapse will come, but if the country is broke, there likely won’t be enough money to pay for police protection. And the American people know it.

Hurricanes. Tornadoes. Riots. Terrorists. Gangs. Lone criminals. These are perils we are sure to face—not just maybe. It’s not paranoia to buy a gun. It’s survival.

Don’t forget the zombies, Wayne.

Slate explains why pro-gun people keep saying that bats and hammers kill more people than guns (as a Georgia congressman did after the State of the Union). A long time ago someone made the true point that in America bats and hammers kill more people than AK-47s. (That would probably change if every Little Leaguer carried an AK-47 or they became a standard part of every home toolkit, but never mind.) Exaggeration took over from there, and since fact-checking is a liberal conspiracy, this absurd claim is now a permanent part of the public discussion.

But some guns really are cool, like this supersonic ping-pong-ball gun.

The folks at Saturday Morning Breakfast Comics understand that S&M might be a little different after you’ve had ten years to figure out what really tortures your spouse.

During Winter Storm Nemo, Brian Maffitt pointed a movie projector out the window and projected “The Lorax” onto the falling snow. He added music and got something that isn’t recognizable as Dr. Seuss, but it’s beautiful and peaceful in that log-burning-in-the-fireplace way.

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