Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Congratulations to new St. Johns County Administrator Joy Q. Andrews!

Autoworkers Strike a Blow for Equality. (Paul Krugman, New York Times)

What's next? How about PUBLIX?  Here's Nobel Prize winning New York Times columnist Paul Krugman's column on the UAW autoworkers' strike victory: 


Autoworkers Strike a Blow for Equality

A group of people march down the street with signs that read UAW and UAW stand up, record profits, record contracts, and on strike. their faces are largely out of focus.
Credit...Patrick T. Fallon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
A group of people march down the street with signs that read UAW and UAW stand up, record profits, record contracts, and on strike. their faces are largely out of focus.

Opinion Columnist

It’s not officially over yet, but the United Auto Workers appear to have won a significant victory. The union, which began rolling strikes on Sept. 15, now has tentative agreements with Ford, Stellantis (which I still think of as Chrysler) and, finally, General Motors.

All three agreements involve a roughly 25 percent wage increase over the next four and a half years, plus other significant concessions. Autoworkers are a much smaller share of the work force than they were in Detroit’s heyday, but they’re still a significant part of the economy.

Furthermore, this apparent union victory follows on significant organized-labor wins in other industries in recent months, notably a big settlement with United Parcel Service, where the Teamsters represent more than 300,000 employees.

And maybe, just maybe, union victories in 2023 will prove to be a milestone on the way back to a less unequal nation.

Some history you should know: Baby boomers like me grew up in a nation that was far less polarized economically than the one we live in today. We weren’t as much of a middle-class society as we liked to imagine, but in the 1960s we were a country in which many blue-collar workers had incomes they considered middle class, while extremes of wealth were far less than they have since become. For example, chief executives of major corporations were paid “only” 15 times as much as their average workers, compared with more than 200 times as much as their average workers now.

Most people, I suspect, believed — if they thought about it at all — that a relatively middle-class society had evolved gradually from the excesses of the Gilded Age, and that it was the natural end state of a mature market economy.

However, a revelatory 1991 paper by Claudia Goldin (who just won a richly deserved Nobel) and Robert Margo showed that a relatively equal America emerged not gradually but suddenly, with an abrupt narrowing of income differentials in the 1940s — what the authors called the Great Compression. The initial compression no doubt had a lot to do with wartime economic controls. But income gaps remained narrow for decades after these controls were lifted; overall income inequality didn’t really take off again until around 1980.

Why did a fairly flat income distribution persist? No doubt there were multiple reasons, but surely one important factor was that the combination of war and a favorable political environment led to a huge surge in unionization. Unions are a force for greater wage equality; they also help enforce the “outrage constraint” that used to limit executive compensation.

Conversely, the decline of unions, which now represent less than 7 percent of private-sector workers, must have played a role in the coming of the Second Gilded Age we live in now.

The great decline of unions wasn’t a necessary consequence of globalization and technological progress. Unions remain strong in some nations; in Scandinavia, the great majority of workers are still union members. What happened in America was that workers’ bargaining power was held back by the combination of a persistently slack labor market, with sluggish recoveries from recessions and an unfavorable political environment — let’s not forget that early in his presidency, Ronald Reagan crushed the air traffic controllers’ union, and his administration was consistently hostile to union organizing.

But this time is different. Research by David Autor, Arindrajit Dube and Annie McGrew shows that a rapid recovery that has brought unemployment near to a 50-year low seems to have empowered lower-wage workers, producing an “unexpected compression” in wage gaps that has eliminated around a quarter of the rise in inequality over the previous four decades. The strong job market has probably encouraged unions to stake out more aggressive bargaining positions, a stance that so far seems to be working.

By the way, I constantly encounter people who believe that the recent economic recovery has disproportionately benefited the affluent. The truth is exactly the opposite.

The political ground also seems to be shifting. Public approval of unions is at its highest point since 1965, and Joe Biden, in a presidential first, joined an autoworker picket line in Michigan in September to show support.

None of what’s happening now seems remotely big enough to produce a second Great Compression. It might, however, be enough to produce a Lesser Compression — a partial reversal of the great rise in inequality since 1980.    Of course, this doesn’t have to happen. A recession could undermine workers’ bargaining power. If Donald Trump, who also visited Michigan but spoke at a nonunion shop, returns to the White House, you can be sure that his policies will be anti-union and anti-worker. And Mike Johnson, the new speaker of the House, has an almost perfect record of opposing policies supported by unions.

So the future is, as always, uncertain. But we might, just might, be seeing America finally turn back toward the kind of widely shared prosperity we used to take for granted.

Democrats plan to subpoena wealthy benefactors of Supreme Court justices (WaPo)

Thank God that the Senate Judiciary Committee is issuing subpoenas. So HARLAN ROGERS CROW calls this a "stunt?" Another formidable force of fascism, apparently infecting our court system with bribes, ululates that it would somehow "destroy" the Supreme Court if we knew who was bribing it, and now?  

Louche LEONARD ANTHONY LEO doth protest too much, and sounds like a paranoid KKK-adjacent kook when he declaimed to the Washington Post: "Leo struck a defiant tone in a statement Monday night, saying he would not “bow (sic) to the vile (sic) and disgusting (sic) liberal McCarthyism (sic) that seeks to destroy (sic) the Supreme Court simply because it follows the Constitution rather than their political agenda.” 

What a maniacal jerk. The insolent and intellectually lazy LEONARD LEO doth "protest too much." 

Several United States Supreme Court Justices' putative billionaire "friends" have for some 25 years been paying for lavish secret vacations for Supreme Court Justices. Thanks to Senators Sheldon Whitebouse (D-R.I.) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) for doing their job, without fear or favor, to expose the unethical secret "friends" and their generosity. Our federal judiciary's independence is an essential part of our federal system and our democratic republic. With "friends" like these, who needs anemones?

From The Washington Post:

Democrats plan to subpoena wealthy benefactors of Supreme Court justices 

Senate Democrats announced plans to vote to subpoena Harlan Crow, a close friend and benefactor of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Also on the list are conservative judicial activist Leonard Leo and conservative donor Robin Arkley II. (Chris Goodney/Bloomberg)
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Senate Democrats announced plans Monday to vote to subpoena a pair of wealthy conservatives and a judicial activist who have underwritten or organized lavish travel for some Supreme Court justices, a move that adds to the pressure on the high court to strengthen its ethics policies.

Senate Judiciary Committee leaders said they would vote as soon as Nov. 9 to authorize subpoenas for information from Texas billionaire Harlan Crow, a close friend and benefactor of Justice Clarence Thomas, and from Leonard Leo, the conservative judicial activist. Senate Democrats do not need the vote of any Republican on the committee to authorize the subpoenas. No separate vote by the full Senate is necessary.

Democratic lawmakers are seeking detailed information about the full extent of Crow’s gifts to Thomas. News reports about the justice’s failure over many years to report private jet travel, real estate deals and other gifts from Crow have prompted calls for the court to strengthen its ethics rules and for greater transparency about the justices’ potential conflicts and recusal decisions.

“By accepting these lavish, undisclosed gifts, the justices have enabled their wealthy benefactors and other individuals with business before the Court to gain private access to the justices while preventing public scrutiny of this conduct,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said in the joint announcement. “It is imperative that we understand the full extent of how people with interests before the Court are able to use undisclosed gifts to gain private access to the justices.”

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Senate Democrats have backed legislation that would impose disclosure rules on the court that are as strict as those that apply to members of the House and the Senate. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. has suggested the court would act on its own as an independent branch of government to demonstrate to the public that it adheres to the “highest standards of conduct.”

Three other justices — Elena Kagan, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett — have publicly stated in recent months that the court should or would adopt a formal ethics policy.

In May, Senate committee leaders asked Crow for an itemized list of gifts he has made to Thomas that are worth more than $415which is the maximum value allowed for gifts to federal judges — including the justices — that are not disclosed. The lawmakers also sought a full accounting of the lodging and transportation Crow has provided to the justice and his wife, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas. In response, Crow’s attorney sent a letter saying the committee had not identified a “valid legislative purpose” for its investigation and did not have the power to probe his personal friendship with the justice.

Through negotiations, Crow subsequently offered to provide the committee with responses to a subset of its requests, and only for the past five years, which the senators called inadequate.

Clarence Thomas’s RV loan was forgiven, Senate committee report says

Crow has said he never tried to influence Thomas’s decision-making on the court. Thomas has said he thought he did not need to disclose the free trips from a personal friend.

n a statement Monday, Crow’s office said he offered the committee extensive information “despite the serious constitutional and privacy concerns presented to the Committee, which were ignored and remain unaddressed.” Crow’s office asserted that the committee has already passed the legislation for which lawmakers say they need the requested information.

“It’s clear this is nothing more than a stunt aimed at undermining a sitting Supreme Court Justice for ideological and political purposes,” Crow’s office said.

Leo struck a defiant tone in a statement Monday night, saying he would not “bow to the vile and disgusting liberal McCarthyism that seeks to destroy the Supreme Court simply because it follows the Constitution rather than their political agenda.”

The committee said Monday that it would also vote to issue a subpoena to conservative donor Robin Arkley II. ProPublica reported that Arkley provided Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. with a free fishing trip to Alaska in 2008 that was organized by Leo. Alito has defended his decision not to disclose the trip in his annual financial report.

Federal ethics law requires top officials from all branches of government, including Supreme Court justices, to file annual disclosures listing investments, gifts and outside income. The justices are facing intense pressure from Democratic lawmakers and transparency advocates because they do not have an ethics policy that applies specifically to the nine justices.

“The Chief Justice could fix this problem today and adopt a binding code of conduct,” Durbin and Whitehouse added in their statement. “As long as he refuses to act, the Judiciary Committee will.”

Separately, the Senate Finance Committee released a report last week after an investigation into a loan Thomas received from a friend to buy a luxury Prevost Marathon motor coach in 1999, a transaction that was first reported by the New York Times. The committee’s Democratic staff said in the report that Thomas made some interest payments on the $267,230 loan, but that it was declared settled by his friend, Anthony Welters, in 2008 without Thomas repaying a substantial portion — or perhaps any — of the principal.

Ann Marimow covers legal affairs for The Washington Post. She joined The Post in 2005 and has covered state government and politics in California, New Hampshire and Maryland. Twitter