Saturday, May 30, 2009

Republican opposition to Supreme Court nominee reeks of hypocrisy!

Republican opposition to President Obama's Supreme Court Nominee, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, is hypocritical, based on the very racial divisiveness it claims to oppose.

Charles Blow nails it:

Someone pinch me. I must be dreaming.

Some of the same Republicans who have wielded the hot blade of racial divisiveness for years, are now calling Sonia Sotomayor, the Supreme Court nominee, a racist. Oh, the hypocrisy!

The same Newt Gingrich who once said that bilingual education was like teaching “the language of living in a ghetto” tweeted that Sotomayor is a “Latina woman racist.” The same Rush Limbaugh who once told a black caller to “take that bone out of your nose and call me back” called Sotomayor a “reverse racist.” The same Tom Tancredo, a former congressman, who once called Miami, which has a mostly Hispanic population, “a third world country” said that Sotomayor “appears to be a racist.”

This is rich.

The column is linked.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Miwaukee suburbs protect their citizens from paid sick days

Last week the New York Times noted that 60 million American workers, almost half of all private sector workers, do not have paid sick leave. This made it virtually impossible for them to stay home, as the President had advised, if they experienced flu like symptoms last week.

The Times wrote:

...more than 160 countries ensure that all their citizens receive paid sick leave and more than 110 of them guarantee paid leave from the first day of illness.

If President Obama is serious about responsible action to control infectious disease threats, he should back legislation to grant Americans at least seven paid sick days a year — long enough to stay home until an influenza infection subsides. Then virtually all Americans could heed his advice, and we would all be safer.

In November Milwaukee voters voted overwhelmingly (69% to 31%) that all Milwaukee employers should provide their employees with paid sick leave benefits.

The Metropolitan Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce (MMAC) has opposed the measure and used the courts to delay its implementation. It argued that providing employees with paid sick day benefits would be bad for business. An MMAC spokesman even called the law "a sort of terrorism."

Several Milwaukee suburbs, genuflecting to the laissez faire gods, have legislated away their citizens right to pass such laws.

Presumably the free market will protect these communities from future pandemics just as their city councils have protected the free market from one more onerous regulation.

Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Cooper will rule on the referendum's legality later today.

The New York Times editorial is linked.

Legislature should maintain its investment in technical colleges

On Friday the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel argued that "...the legislature's Joint Finance Committee should at the very least maintain its small increase in state aid for technical colleges."

The editorial board noted the critical role the Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) is playing in the Great Recession:

Milwaukee Area Technical College plays a key role in training workers for jobs during an economic downturn. This has never been clearer than during this recession. As unemployment numbers go up, students flood to MATC to sharpen current skills or learn new ones....

MATC is different from a traditional four-year college, but just as necessary. Most of the students at the school just take a class or two. But these classes may be just what they need to earn or keep a job.

In other words, MATC helps the community roll with the economic punches by helping workers and those laid off to reinvent themselves and adapt to new economic realities.

Technical college state aid has fallen from more than 30% of revenues in 1990 to a measly 13% today. This precipitous decline in state investment has shifted the burden of financing workforce education and training to property tax-paying homeowners and students, undermining the legislature's intent when it created the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) in the 1970's with a three-legged funding model of one-third state aid, one-third local property taxes, and one- third other sources.

The Joint Finance Committee restored proposed cuts to WTCS general aid (totaling $3.37 million) and approved a 1% increase in general aid (totaling $1.84 million). It was the first increase since 2001. The vote was 12-4 on party lines with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed.

The Journal Sentinel editorial in support of increased investment in technical education was its first since 1999.

Friday, May 8, 2009

539,000 jobs lost in April-furloughs and layoffs undermine stimulus spending

The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced this morning that the nation lost another 539,000 jobs in April increasing the unemployment rate to 8.9%, its highest rate since the early 1980s

It is a reflection of how bad the labor market is that some commentators are interpreting the loss of half a million jobs as a positive development.

The nation has lost 5.7 million jobs since the recession began in December 2007, with most of those coming in the last five months. The figure for March was revised upward Friday to 699,000, from 663,000.

Unemployment rates rose in April for adult men (9.4 percent) and blacks(15.0 percent). The jobless rates for adult women (7.1 percent), teenagers(21.5 percent), whites (8.0 percent), and Hispanics (11.3 percent) were little changed over the month.

In sign of continued labor market weakness, the number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) increased by 498,000 to 3.7 million over the month and has risen by 2.4 million since the start of the recession in December 2007.

The number of persons working part time for economic reasons referred to as involuntary part-time workers was essentially unchanged at 8.9 million; however, the number of such workers has risen by 3.7 million over the past 12 months.

The ranks of discouraged workers (workers who have given up looking for work) rose to 740,000 in April, more than double the 328,000 from a year earlier.

When discouraged workers, those who are part time for economic reasons, and the marginally attached are added to the officially unemployed, the unemployment/underemployment rate soars to 15.8%.

Those who see a silver lining in these numbers point to the decline in the rate of job loss and to the potential impact of federal stimulus dollars that are beginning to wash through the economy.

Losing half a million jobs hardly qualifies as good news. And the federal stimulus package was designed to save or create only 2.5 to 3 million jobs, about half of what the nation has lost since the Great Recession began.

Permanent layoffs like those at Chrysler's Kenosha engine plant and furloughs of state and city employees will undermine the impact of federal stimulus spending in Wisconsin.

Of equal concern - real hourly wages are falling. The economy cannot recovery unless there is increased demand for good and services. While stimulus spending will certainly slow the rate of decline in the next quarter, unless there is an additional stimulus bill it is hard to identify a source of demand that will lead to sustainable growth and an economic recovery.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Will MPS live up to its promise?

In response to advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett announced yesterday that all previously closed schools and childcare centers were free to reopen.

MPS spokesperson Roseann St. Aubin said that all classrooms will be equipped with hand sanitizer and tissues so that students, teachers and staff can follow good health practices. That's as it should be although I remain skeptical about the administration's following through on this.

As anyone who works in the Milwaukee public schools know, bathrooms are routinely without toilet paper and hand soap. Conscientious teachers, staff and parents often purchase these items for their schools. But that really isn't their responsibility.

Crucial to teaching children good hygiene, providing MPS students with a healthy learning environment, and protecting students, faculty and staff from diseases is providing them with these basic sanitary products.

As public attention to this latest health scare wanes it will be interesting to see if MPS lives up to its promises.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Swine Flu scare demonstrates need for paid sick days

Earlier this week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that anyone with flu-like symptoms stay home from work or school to minimize the danger of spreading the swine flu.

For millions of mainly low-wage workers this is an impossibility because they lack paid sick days.

Last November voters in Milwaukee overwhelmingly passed an ordinance that would guarantee all workers paid sick days.

Ironically Mayor Tom Barrett who joined the Milwaukee Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce in opposing this important labor and health and safety reform is now urging workers to stay home and is asking employers to honor the intent of the law he has refused to implement.

Haven't the last eight years of experimenting with voluntary regulation demonstrated the abysmal failure of this laissez faire approach?

New York Times columnist Judith Warner has written a column arguing that paid sick days is an idea whose time has come. It is linked.