December 31, 2018

Crisis: Minimum Wage, Pay Freeze, Democracy Reform, Declining Insects, Maximum Wage


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from December 31, 2018

This is a Nederlog of Monday, December 31, 2018. 

1. Summary

This is a crisis log but it is a bit different from how it was until 2013:

I have been writing about the crisis since September 1, 2008 (in Dutch, but since 2010 in English) and about the enormous dangers of surveillance (by secret services and by many rich commercial entities) since June 10, 2013, and I will continue with it.

On the moment and since more than three years (!!!!) I have problems with the company that is supposed to take care that my site is visible [1] and with my health, but I am still writing a Nederlog every day and I shall continue.

2. Crisis Files

These are five crisis files that are mostly well worth reading:

A. Selections from December 31, 2018:
1. Minimum Wage Rising in 20 States and Numerous Cities
2. Amid Shutdown, Trump Freezes Pay of 2 Million Federal Workers

3. A New Playing Field for Democracy Reform

4. How Worried Should We Be About Declining Insect Populations?

5. Could a Maximum Wage Gain Traction in the United States?
The items 1 - 5 are today's selections from the 35 sites that I look at every morning. The indented text under each link is quoted from the link that starts the item. Unindented text is by me:

1. Minimum Wage Rising in 20 States and Numerous Cities

This article is by David A. Lieb on Truthdig and originally on The Associated Press. It starts as follows:

At Granny Shaffer’s restaurant in Joplin, Missouri, owner Mike Wiggins is reprinting the menus to reflect the 5, 10 or 20 cents added to each item.

A two-egg breakfast will cost an extra dime, at $7.39. The price of a three-piece fried chicken dinner will go up 20 cents, to $8.78. The reason: Missouri’s minimum wage is rising.

Wiggins said the price hikes are necessary to help offset an estimated $10,000 to $12,000 in additional annual pay to his staff as a result of a new minimum wage law taking effect Tuesday.

“For us it’s very simple. There’s no big pot of money out there to get the money out of” for the required pay raises, Wiggins said.

New minimum wage requirements will take effect in 20 states and nearly two dozen cities around the start of the new year, affecting millions of workers. The state wage hikes range from an extra nickel per hour in Alaska to a $1-an-hour bump in Maine, Massachusetts and for California employers with more than 25 workers.

Seattle’s largest employers will have to pay workers at least $16 an hour starting Tuesday. In New York City, many businesses will have to pay at least $15 an hour as of Monday. That’s more than twice the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour.

A variety of other new state laws also take effect Tuesday. Those include revisions to sexual harassment policies stemming from the #MeToo movement, restrictions on gun sales following deadly mass shootings and revamped criminal penalties as officials readjust the balance between punishment and rehabilitation.

I say, for none of this was clear to me. And while some may say that quite a few of these changes are not large, I think they are advances for those on a low income.

Here is some more:

The new state minimum wage laws could affect about 5.3 million workers who are currently earning less than the new standards, according to the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute, based in Washington, D.C. That equates to almost 8 percent of the workforce in those 20 states but doesn’t account for additional minimum wage increases in some cities.

Advocates credit the trend toward higher minimum wages to the “Fight for $15,” a national movement that has used protests and rallies to push for higher wages for workers in fast food, child care, airlines and other sectors.

And I regard this as an advance as well, and this is a recommended article.

2. Amid Shutdown, Trump Freezes Pay of 2 Million Federal Workers

This article is by Jake Johnson on Truthdig and originally on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

With hundreds of thousands of federal employees currently furloughed or working without pay due to the ongoing government shutdown, President Donald Trump delivered another blow to struggling workers on Friday by signing an executive order that will freeze the pay of around two million public employees in 2019.

“This is just pouring salt into the wound,” declared Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents around 100,000 federal workers. “It is shocking that federal employees are taking yet another financial hit. As if missed paychecks and working without pay were not enough, now they have been told that they don’t even deserve a modest pay increase.”

Yes, I completely agree with Reardon. And incidentally, I am rather sure that in Holland and Western Europe you can't force bureaucrats to work without pay (without a judge ordering you).

Here is some more:

Trump’s executive order—which largely flew under the radar of national news coverage—makes official his announcement earlier this year that he would cancel a scheduled 2.1 percent pay raise for 1.8 million non-military federal workers.

As justification for the widely denounced move, Trump cited the need to “put our nation on a fiscally sustainable course.”

The president’s sudden concern for the budget deficit came just months after he signed into law $1.5 trillion in tax cuts, which have disproportionately flowed to wealthy Americans and large corporations.

“President Trump pushed through a tax scam that gave unprecedented handouts to billionaires and corporations—but believes it’s too expensive to pay hardworking federal workers a reasonable wage,” wrote Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) following Trump’s August announcement.

And I agree completely with Barbara Lee.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article, which is about non-paid bureaucrats:

“We’re sort of being held hostage in the middle, and we have families and obligations,” Dena Ivey, a furloughed probate specialist in the Anchorage office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, told the New York Times on Friday. “I don’t know if I’m going to be able to make rent. I’m basically living on credit now.”

The Trump administration sparked outrage on Thursday by suggesting that federal workers could do odd jobs for their landlords such as “painting” or “carpentry” to help cover rent as the shutdown continues.

As Vox reported on Thursday, while many federal workers could receive back pay after the government is reopened, thousands of government contractors aren’t “going to be paid at all.”

Yes indeed, and this is a recommended article.

3. A New Playing Field for Democracy Reform

This article is by Miles Rapoport and Cecily Hines on Common Dreams and originally on The American Prospect. It starts as follows:

So, it looks like Fixing Our Democracy is officially Cool. Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats have announced that their first bill out of the box—H.R. 1—will be an omnibus democracy reform bill including voting rights, partisan gerrymandering, campaign-finance reform, and ethics reform. For many people who have worked on these issues for years, this is a significant moment. Of course, there is the Senate, and the president, so no one thinks H.R. 1 will become law in anything close to its original form. But the message is major: that putting democracy reform front and center is not just “good government”; it is good politics.

But if you want to see where democracy reform was Really Cool in 2018, let’s take a look at what happened in the states, and how the stage has been set for even further reforms.

Yes indeed. This also is the beginning of a rather long article that is too long to excerpt properly.

Here is some more:

The New Landscape

Perhaps the most amazing thing about the 2018 midterms was the turnout itself. The latest estimates are that 116 million people voted, compared with 83 million in 2014. That striking turnout clearly helped fuel the Blue Wave, both in Congress and at the state level. The turnout of constituencies voting Democratic was even enough to overcome the walls of gerrymandering in many districts, at both the congressional and state levels. In the states, the shifts in state control were not a full-scale tsunami, but they were significant enough to dramatically shift the equation on democracy issues going forward.

Well... I mostly agree, although I observe that 116 million voters is also not more than little over half of those who are allowed to vote. But I agree the Democrats won in 2018, and indeed by more than I originally thought.

Here is some more from the article:

Ballot Initiatives Rule

From the point of view of democracy advocates, the results of election-related ballot initiatives were, in a word, stunning. A remarkable element of these wins was that most of the ballot initiatives passed by more than 60 percent, meaning that they had strong bipartisan voter support.

Leading these results was the mammoth victory in Florida of Amendment 4, with almost 65 percent of the voters supporting the restoration of voting rights to 1.4 million former felons. The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition led an extraordinary campaign that received bipartisan support, including from evangelical churches that believe in redemption. This will be transformative of democracy in Florida.

I think that is a genuine advance (in Florida). Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

One encouraging development is that organizations that in the past have been focused on one primary issue, such as the environment, workers’ rights, or gun control, have now realized that none of these issues can be successful if we do not have a functioning democracy. So a growing number of them, led by organizations such as the Sierra Club and Greenpeace and unions including the AFL-CIO, have decided to raise “democracy reform” to a top priority co-equal with their other primary issues. This is an exponential boost to the power of this movement, as well as a deepening base of volunteers and resources. And it makes the much-needed trust and collaboration in the movement that much easier to create and sustain.

Yes, I think that is both quite true and quite important: You cannot enforce the changes that most people want without having something like a genuine democracy - which has in fact been whittled down in the USA for almost 40 years now. And this is a recommended article in which there is a lot more than I quoted.

4. How Worried Should We Be About Declining Insect Populations?

This article is by Mary Hoff on Truthout and originally on ENSIA. This is from near its start:

Around the globe, scientists are getting hints that all is not well in the world of insects. Increasingly, reports are trickling in of unsettling changes in populations of not only butterflies and bees, but of far less charismatic bugs and beetles as well. Most recently, a research team from the US and Mexico reported a startling decline between 1976 and 2013 in the weight of insects and other arthropods collected at select sites in Puerto Rico.

Some have called the apparent trend an insect Armageddon. Although the picture is not in crisp enough focus yet to say if that’s hyperbolic, enough is clear to compel many to call for full-scale efforts to learn more and act as appropriate.

Yes indeed, and I have written in Nederlog about this before. Also, I may be a bit more worried than Mary Hoff seems to be, and part of my reasons are these:

Many people tend to think of animals as large, furry, likeable creatures. In reality, insects are the dominant form of animal life. Close a million species have been described to date — compared with a paltry 5,416 mammals. And depending on who you ask, entomologists suspect there could be two to 30 times as many actually out there.

Not only that, but insects are linchpins of the living world, carrying out numerous functions that make life possible.

Insects pollinate a spectrum of plants, including many of those that humans rely on for food. They also are key players in other important jobs including breaking dead things down into the building blocks for new life, controlling weeds and providing raw materials for medicines. And they provide sustenance for a spectrum of other animals — in fact, the Puerto Rico study showed a decline in density of insect-eating frogs, birds and lizards that paralleled the insect nosedive.

That is: I do not know whether "the picture" that emerges is "hyperbolic", or indeed even what "hyperbolic" is supposed to mean in a world where twice to thirty times as many species that have been discovered remain to be discovered, but given that many of the known species of insects do seem to go down radically, and that insects are absolutely necessary for humans to get food, I think it is alarming enough.

Here is some more (and this is also from severak countries and a worldwide summary):

In the 1990s, reports started cropping up around the world of disappearing pollinators. In 2006, researchers reported dramatic declines in counts of moths attracted to light traps in Great Britain. A 2010 international gathering of firefly experts reported unsettling downward trends. In 2017, scientists reported a decline of more than 75 percent in insect biomass across 63 nature areas in Germany between 1989 and 2016.
Worldwide, a 2014 summary of global declines in biodiversity and abundance estimated a 45 percent drop in the abundance of invertebrates, most of which are insects. And many individual species and species groups are declining or even being threatened with extinction, from bumblebees in Europe and the United States to fungus weevils in Africa.

Quite so - and I regard a decline of "more 75% in insect biomass" throughout Germany and a global decline of 45% as quite alarming. And this is a recommended article.

5. Could a Maximum Wage Gain Traction in the United States?

This article is by Mark Engler on Truthout and originally on Dissent. It starts as follows - and in fact I think this is the most important article of today, in part because it is an idea that I myself had as early as 1960, when I was 10 years old (and those responsible are probably my parents, who were genuine and intelligent communists for 45 years of their lives):

For Republican members of Congress and cable news pundits, a cap on the earnings of the super rich might sound like a dystopian nightmare. Yet, as author Sam Pizzigati argues in his new book, The Case for a Maximum Wage, those who are not ardent free marketeers should give the idea some serious considerationnot only as a desirable policy, but also one that might be more practical than some imagine.

In 2010, trade union leaders presented elites at Davos with a proposal for a ratio-based maximum wagesomething proposed in the United States by Amalgamated Transit Union President Larry Hanley. Hanley’s version would mandate that a top executive’s pay be no more than 100 times the salary of the company’s lowest-paid worker. In other words, if the receptionist or janitor makes $35,000 per year, the CEO would take home no more than $3.5 million. To raise his or her pay further, the boss would have to bring up the bottom as well.

While a 100:1 gap comes nowhere close to rigidly enforced equality, it would break from current norms in the United States, where a CEO in one of the country’s largest 350 firms earns an average of 271 times that of a typical worker, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
Could a maximum wage gain traction more widely in the United States? I spoke with Pizzigati to discuss the nuts and bolts of the ideaand to consider whether such a seemingly radical and egalitarian economic intervention could ever take hold in American politics

As I started saying, I had the idea when I was 10, and indeed I was not original at all, for many leftist persons have argued similar ideas, indeed long before I was born. For more on this, I thibk the best article on my site is my Crisis: On Socialism from 2015, in which I discuss socialism in general, and a proposal of George Orwell (from the 1940ies) that amount to the thesis that the difference between the rich and the poor should not be more than 10:1; a proposal of myself that it should not be more than 20:1; and the fact that American workers - it seems in the 1950ies, but I am not sure of that - were in favor of (surprise!) 7:1.

I think each of these proposals is much more fair than the current 271:1 ratio that is current now.

Besides, and in much more general terms, I think that the inequalities in power and in wealth should be curbed or else soon there will be a few superrich owners of almost everything, together with their effective manipulated subhumans who earn a 250th, a 500th or a 1000th part of what the rich get in the same period.

Back to the article:

Sam Pizzigati: (..) If we let wealth concentrate at the top without limit, we’re undermining our democracy, we’re coarsening our culture, and we’re leaving our economy less stable. If you look historically, we see that the epochs where working people increased their standards of living most significantly correspond to periods where we cared about countering the concentration of wealth.

Yes, I agree to that, and in fact the same applies to power. Here is some more:

Engler: You cite Tony Blair’s Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Peter Mandelson, who said in 1998, “We are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich, as long as they pay their taxes.” This notion was part of that Blairite moment.

Pizzigati: That’s right. The corresponding Clintonian notion was that “if there are rats in the basement where poor people are, worry about that. Don’t worry about what’s happening in the penthouse.”

In fact, both the Clintons and the Blairs rapidly succeeded in becoming considerable multi- millionaires (with more than 100 million in resp. dollars and pounds) after having been president or prime minister - which are two of my reasons to despise both.

Here is more from the article:

Pizzigati: Right now we have an exploitation economy. People of great wealth and power do better, personally, by exploiting people of modest or very little means. The more they downsize and outsource and undercut working people, the more they earn. We need a society where the richest, most powerful among us have a vested interest in improving the well-being of the poorest. We can do that if we link a cap on income at the top to incomes at the bottomif we create, in a sense, a maximum wage that’s linked to the minimum wage.

This can be generalized as follows:

Without any legal regulation on power and wealth, the differences between the few rich and the many non-rich will probably increase without bounds (as is happening now and since 40 years in the USA), and therefore - if you want all persons to have somewhat equal chances to make most of their lives and their talents - the differences between the few rich and the many poor, and the differences between the few powerful and the many powerless should be somehow be legally regulated.

And in fact I think I was as far as the above in 1960. Here is more, and it is the last bit that I quote from this fine article:

Engler: The goal here would be to incentivize companies so the CEO doesn’t make more than, say, ten times the amount of the lowest paid employee?

Pizzigati: Yes. And there can be all sorts of variations on that theme. If corporate executives on average are making over 350 times what workers make, you can put the initial cap at 100 to 1 and start penalizing corporations that exceed that. Then, over time, you could start decreasing the ratio.

Back in the 1960s and 1950s, the typical CEO in the United States of a major corporation took home between twenty and thirty times the pay of the lowest paid worker in their enterprise. Last year, at least twenty-one CEOs in major corporations in the United States made over 1,000 times the income of their lowest paid employee. That means that this worker would have to work more than a millennium to make as much as the CEO makes in one year.

It’s important to note that most Americans have no idea that corporations are paying CEOs at those incredible rates. In fact, when you ask people what you think the appropriate ratio should be, they’ll talk about less than ten to one.

Precisely so - and this was already the case in the 1940ies and 1950ies. And this is a strongly recommended article.

[1] I have now been saying since the end of 2015 that is systematically ruining my site by NOT updating it within a few seconds, as it did between 1996 and 2015, but by updating it between two to seven days later, that is, if I am lucky.

They have claimed that my site was wrongly named in html: A lie. They have claimed that my operating system was out of date: A lie.

And they just don't care for my site, my interests, my values or my ideas. They have behaved now for 2 years as if they are the eagerly willing instruments of the US's secret services, which I will from now on suppose they are (for truth is dead in Holland).

The only two reasons I remain with xs4all is that my site has been there since 1996, and I have no reasons whatsoever to suppose that any other Dutch provider is any better (!!).
       home - index - summaries - mail