Andrew Puzder: the Anti- Labor Secretary

Linda Greenhouse, the long-time Supreme Court reporter for The New York Times, has a vision
of the first meeting of the Trump cabinet: seated around the table are Cabinet officers who have been chosen because they oppose the missions or long-term policies of the agencies that they have been picked to run. She writes,” They will have been placed in their positions and handed the reins of power not to govern, but to destroy.”

The competition is difficult, but Andrew Puzder is certainly a top contender for the title of “Chief Agency Destroyer.” In an appointment that is absurd even by the low standards of Donald Trump, Puzder, a fast-food executive, has been selected to preside over the Department of Labor, a department whose mission is:” To foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers, and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.” Judging by his announced views, Puzder, whom AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka has called “a man whose business record is defined by fighting against working people,” will not be a Secretary whose aspirations are guided by the Department’s mission statement. He will be the Anti-Labor Secretary.

Some of his positions are predictable. He is, of course, opposed to any serious increase in the minimum wage; the “$15 and a union” poverty-stricken fast food workers should not look to him for any sympathy, much less help. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees says that his company is a regular violator of wage and hour laws, so don’t expect an aggressive enforcement of fair labor standards. On the other hand, do expect an early attack against the Obama Executive Order that requires Federal contractors to grant up to 7 days of paid sick leave in a year, an order that affects more than a million workers. Certain to draw his ire is the Executive Order that sets a ceiling of $47,476, below which salaried workers must be paid time and a half for overtime. This order, making an estimated 4.2 million workers eligible for overtime pay, is now being held up by a Texas court. To kill the order, Puzder need only stop the appeal from going forward.

Then there are his own eccentric, individual opinions. Like any respectable Trumpist, he wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Beyond the usual arguments, however, he maintains that the high premiums of the ACA have created a restaurant recession because they have left people little money to dine out. His attitude toward workers is unique in the history of Labor Secretaries: on the whole, he prefers machines. He observes that they are never late for work, never take vacations and never sue because of age, sex or race discrimination. We could add that they never whine about poverty wages, need time off because of a sick child,
or want to join a union. They are, in short, the ideal workers by this Secretary’s lights.

Andrew Puzder will harm the working conditions of millions of laboring people; he will destroy the opportunities for a better life of millions. The Senate should protect America’s workers by refusing to confirm him.

Trump Discovers New Jobs Weapon: Sweet Talk and Arm Twisting

Move over, John Maynard Keynes. The Donald isn’t even President yet, and he has already discovered a new tool to end unemployment– in his spare time, between interviews with Mitt Romney, rounds of golf and meetings with his lawyers about how he can appear to divest his business and still run it. The new weapon that will end the problems of America’s workers is Sweet Talk and Arm Twisting, and it’s sure a lot easier to understand than those charts I struggled over in my three tries at macroeconomics. Basically it is a CEO (United States) to CEO (private corporation moving jobs to Mexico) telephone conversation in which POTUS
declares his deep affection for the decamping corporation and its CEO, asks him not to move jobs, tells him about some financial incentives for the company that will sweeten the deal, and then tells him- to the penny- the exact amount of business the company did with the United States Government in the last fiscal year. Given his deep affection, etc. for the company, POTUS would be grieved if anything disrupted that mutually profitable relationship,
and, of course, there might be some public relations cost if the jobs were moved. Just when would the company guy like a photo opp to announce that the jobs were staying in the good ole USA? Now that puts the bully in bully pulpit!

The best part is that Trump has already demonstrated that this tool works. Carrier Corporation had announced that it was going to move 2,000 jobs from Indiana (bad idea:Pence country) to Mexico. Trump chewed on them during the campaign, and then, after the election,
unleashed Sweet Talk and Arm Twisting. It worked- to a point. Trump and Carrier announced that 1,000 jobs would stay in Indiana and the other 1,000 would go over the still unwalled border. Trump declared victory and went home (jeez, if we had had this guy in Vietnam, we would have been out in 1963).

Now that the micro model has worked, we can anticipate a national roll out of the new tool.
The only drawback to Sweet Talk and Arm Twisting is that it is very labor intensive: it requires the personal efforts of the bully himself. Let’s see how it will work. Say POTUS can spend 1,000 hours a year on the telephone dealing with unemployment issues- moves to Mexico, just plain factory closings and reductions in force, etc.(hey, he can’t do this full time; he needs to spend some time dealing with pesky foreigners, working on his swing, and telling Ivanka, et al., how to run the business– he’s not going to be President forever and you know what kids are like these days). Say he saves 1,000 jobs per hour. That’s 1,000,000 jobs per year (get out your calculator). Not bad, huh?

Well, not so good, really. Using the broadest official unemployment measure, we now have about 15 million people unemployed (9.3% of the labor force). Assuming that 2% of the labor force is unemployed because they are moving between jobs, the number of “real” unemployed is about 12 million. Based on our assumptions, your calculator will tell you that it will take Trump 12 years to reach full employment using Sweet Talk and Arm Twisting (that’s four years beyond his constitutional limit).

But wait- he has other tricks in his bag. He’s going to reduce taxes on rich folks, and they are going to invest in creating jobs. Trickle down! How’s that been working for us?

Then the Deal Maker is going to renegotiate NAFTA with Mexico- just as soon as he figures out a reason for Mexico to want to renegotiate. Unless The Donald thinks he can pick up where we left off with Mexico in 1847, when we stole California, it’s hard to come up with a compelling reason why Mexico should want a new treaty. More likely the Mexican government will borrow a phrase from my three year old granddaughter: no way, Jose.

Maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to throw out Keynes and whatever edition of Samuelson we have around!

We’ve Realigned; Now What?- Part 1

In 1960 the Socialist Party-Social Democratic Federation, the predecessor of SDUSA, issued a political statement in which it announced two decisions: that, for the first time in its history, it would not run a presidential candidate, and that it would work for the realignment of the political party system so that a programmatic liberal-labor party would be created. The SP-SDF promised to work within such a party as a “loyal and honest democratic socialist wing,” with the expectation that a socialist program would eventually prevail in the party. Those who supported the “realignment position” had a definite idea of what the party and its antagonist would look like: “Let labor, the farmers, the Negro people and other minorities, the liberal and peace forces, come together in a party of our own; and let the forces of conservatism and big business, the militarists and nationalists, the stand-patters come together in a party of their own.” (The full statement is available on this site at “Various Writings.”)

More than fifty years later we can see that the model they projected for a liberal-labor party has come about– more or less. The Democratic Party has largely shed its racist wing and become not a Left but a center-left party. The Republicans have acquired
that racist wing (not so open today but still there) and become a center-right party. Again, the SP-SDF foresaw this development: the critical lever to push the Dixiecrats from the Democratic Party was the movement for equal rights for American Negroes, they predicted. If the Socialists of 1960 were so farseeing, why don’t we have at least a vigorous social
democratic party today in the form of the Democratic Party?

It’s tempting to try to answer this question by rehearsing the sad history of the Democratic Party since 1960, a history that includes the catastrophic split in the sixties between labor and liberals over the Vietnam war, the cultural tension between these groups that continues until this day, and the rise to intellectual and political power of the neoliberals. However, I want to answer more hopefully by saying: within the Democratic Party today we do have a strong and vigorous multitude holding social democratic opinions (unlike, by the way, the DP in 1960). This multitude is not yet organized into a movement, but when it does organize, it can take power in the Democratic Party and turn it into the political instrument envisioned in 1960. This social Democratic Party will then have a reasonable chance to win the presidency.

Such a statement seems incredible, as President-Elect Trump is picking a cabinet of breathtaking reactionaries, and as we are hoping that they inflict limited damage on our country in the next four years. However, we need to examine some important trends:

First, there is the strength of the Sanders movement within the Democratic Party. Bernie
(crotchety, not the best orator, a largely unknown Senator from a small state) won 23 primaries and caucuses and 43% of the pledged delegates against the vaunted and well-financed Clinton machine. Although he calls himself a democratic socialist, in fact he ran on a social democratic program and defines his socialism as the kind they have in Scandinavia. Much of his program ended up in the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party, as the Clinton forces recognized the strength of his supporters and the attraction of his program. These accomplishments occurred despite the near-total lack
of an organized movement when he began his campaign.

We are far from having such an unorganized movement today. It is estimated that 400,000 activists watched the rollout of Our Revolution, and while national OR will do little with them beyond soliciting donations, local organizations of grass-roots Bernie supporters are forming in my state and, I suspect, in many others. An example occurred last Sunday, when a spontaneous local group of more than 100 met in Cambridge, MA. In addition, a statewide group is forming in Massachusetts. It is likely that this group has a potential membership of 10,000; with the right organizing moves, it will swing great weight in the Massachusetts
Democratic Party. With the right candidate, a national organization growing out of the Bernie campaign can carry a majority of delegates to the Democratic convention in 2020. This is an opportunity for social democrats that never came after 1960.

We have also come to a point when the neoliberalism that dominated the Democratic Party has been smashed. The working class of this country, having had virtually flat wages for 40 years, finally handed the Democratic elites their heads. Make no mistake: the election was not a defeat for progressives and progressive policies. It was a defeat for the Clintons and their political machine, a defeat for obscene privilege masquerading as “practical progressivism.” The fundamental strategic task of progressives is to force the Democratic Party to go to the people in 2018 and 2020 with a program and candidates that address the real hurt that the people are feeling. Such a program and such a party will be social democratic. Victory after 6 decades!

Blood and Teeth: a review of Bill Press, Buyer’s Remorse: How Obama Let Progressives Down

Probably many of us are getting urgent e-mails asking us to express our approval of President Obama on the eve of his departure and, not so incidentally, back up sentiment with a generous donation to the sponsoring organization. Generally, I am heartily glad to see the back of a leader who has led a failed administration. On the other hand, considering who will replace him, I would rather he stay in the White House and keep Trump out.

Bill Press, reporter, broadcaster and former Chair of the California Democratic Party, probably also has mixed feelings. It’s safe to say, I think, that he wrote this book with the expectation of a different outcome to the election. Perhaps he would have pulled some punches had he expected that any of his words would have helped Trump. However, the book he
did write is a useful cautionary tale for progressives in the future.

The most important take-away from the book is the overwhelming importance of the person who
occupies the Presidency. He or she sets the priorities and strategy. He/she hires the chief advisors and administrators who will help set policies and supervise their execution.
The choice of assistants, however, is not a value-free process. As Elizabeth Warren has said, personnel is policy. People who are eligible for high government positions typically have histories and agendas. Thus the President knew, or should have known, what he was getting when he chose Larry Summers and Tim Geithner for the chief economic positions in his administration. Summers had bounced around Harvard, government and Wall Street, picking up
animosity and several million dollars along the way. Geithner was head of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, and it would have been difficult, geographically and ideologically, for him to be closer to Wall Street. As the President wrestled with greatest economic disaster since the Great Depression, he chose how he would address that disaster when he chose Summers and Geithner.

Their first concern was to restore “confidence” on Wall Street. This was done by massive bailouts and friendly sympathy, extending even to allowing bailed out companies to pay bonuses to the executives who had presided over the actions that had led to financial collapse. Understandably, as millions of houses went into foreclosure and entire communities cratered, the average American understood that “Socialism for the rich” was alive and well.

Not so healthy was concern for the millions of workers who lost their jobs. Of course, capitalism was trying to solve the problems it had created by throwing its burden on the backs of the working class. There were two broad ways put forward to alleviate the problem of unemployment: government austerity, which meant cutting expenditures for social services,
and the Keynesian method of large, pump-priming government expenditure on public works and social services. Obama more or less chose the second method, whose planning exemplified the process that would characterize many other decisions over the next eight years. First, the
Council of Econmic Advisers estimated the bare minimum of government expenditure necessary
to maintain employment at its previous level (not at full employment, of course; that would have been socialism for the poor). Summers, et al., were aghast at the political naïveté of
the economists. Congress would never approve such an outrageous number, said they, so they cut the proposed appropriation approximately in half (Congress was still in Democratic hands), meaning that it was bound to fail to restore adequate employment. When the already compromised measure got to Congress, it was met with further demands for compromise. The result was a bill that was a mixture of tax cuts and public works projects, one that was totally inadequate to stem the avalanche of unemployment

Press observes that Obama and his appointees did not seem to know the first rule of bargaining: you never present your final offer first. Everyone in government understands that the first offer is just the beginning of negotiations. Repeatedly Obama’s positions had been compromised within his administration before they reached Congress, where they were further whittled down. Look at the Affordable Care Act, the President’s signature achievement, as an example of this model, and it’s apparent why it has been at best a modest success.

A related part of the Obama failures was his apparent unwillingness to follow a basic rule in negotiations with others and especially negotiations with opponents: you have to fight your corner. You have to believe in your own case and,as Elizabeth Warren has said, be prepared to leave blood and teeth on the floor. Certainly compromise is probably necessary in the end, but the other side has to know that it has been in a fight. Otherwise, the President will be in Obama’s position: the Republicans sized him up as a wimp and would not bargain with him; and, after all, they didn’t have to negotiate. After 2010 and 2012 the Republicans took the House and then the Senate. A courageous, progressive President- the kind that Obama told us he would be in 2008- might well have held the Congress.

So I think I will skip signing the sorry-to-see-you-go card.

Was it Comey or the Middle Finger?

Hillary Clinton has given us her analysis of the Democratic catastrophe to which she led us: it did not happen because of her sense of privilege regarding the use of e-mails; it had nothing to do with her cozy, secret and lucrative speeches to Goldman Sachs; the failure of the Obama administration to build a full employment economy was not relevant; in brief, her personal greed and secretiveness and the self-satisfied greed of the elite that has run the Democratic Party for almost fifty years were beside the point. The problem was the last minute announcement by FBI Director Comey of the re-opening of the investigation into her e-mails as a result of examining the computer of Anthony Weiner (as Marx said, history always repeats itself: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce). This announcement blunted her momentum, says she, and cost the election.

Certainly none of us would approve Director Comey’s timing, and he has raised the specter of Illegal FBI interference in the electoral process. However, it is altogether too much for Ms. Clinton to focus on a more or less technical glitch to explain her defeat. This is a convenient explanation for her and her friends because it implies that there were no political reasons for losing a race that, given the incredible Trump, was hers to lose. If there were no political reasons, then the Democratic Party can go back to the policies and practices that have enriched its elite and alienated them from the American working class.

The overwhelming political fact is that millions of people in this country are hurting. They have not had a real increase in wages in decades. Millions do not have jobs, and those who do are worrying about the future. They cannot afford to help educate their children and give them chances to survive in an economy that has no use for high school graduates. Hillary Clinton missed this pain, and remarkably, Donald Trump, in his skyscraper pleasure dome, did not. To be sure, Ms. Clinton, as a result of pressure from the Left, had a progressive platform to run on, a platform that addressed many of the problems of the middle and working classes. She largely ignored this platform and failed to convince the middle and working classes that she understood their hurt on a personal, human level. An understanding that FDR, the Hudson Valley aristocrat, managed was beyond her.

Massachusetts Representative Jim McGovern sees this election as a middle finger salute from the working class to a Democratic Party that has abused its loyalty for so long. I think he is right. The working class has been slipping away from the Democratic Party since the Reagan
years because working people have ceased to believe the party understands or supports their needs. The task of social democrats and other progressives is to take back the party and regain the trust of its traditional base. We made a good trial run with the Sanders campaign, and we have four years to build on that beginning. We have lost an election but the democratic revolution is not yet lost!