Economic inequality

  • April 9, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Pushing back against Republican-led efforts in Congress to greatly hobble the National Labor Relations Board, President Obama is urging swift confirmation of three individuals to the five-member board.

    Senate Republicans have strived to keep the president from filling vacancies on the NLRB, which is charged with protecting workers’ rights. The NLRB must have three members to take any action and two of the current members were appointed via the recess appointments process, which a federal appeals court earlier this year said was done in an unconstitutional manner. This week the Republican-led House of Representatives is considering a measure that would shutter the NLRB until it has three members it considers legitimate. Republican senators have sought to keep a pro-corporate tilt to the NLRB or make it inoperative.

    In January 2012, Obama appointed Richard Griffin and Sharon Block to the NLRB during a congressional break. But then the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that the president’s recess appointments violated the Appointments Clause of the Constitution. The ruling in Canning v. NLRB has been widely blasted as running counter to federal court precedent upholding recess appointments and more than a century of recess appointments made by other presidents. The NLRB has said it will appeal the D.C. Circuit’s opinion to the Supreme Court. Harvard Law School Professor Laurence Tribe in a column for The New York Times argued that Obama’s recess appointments passed constitutional muster, saying the Constitution clearly reserves “the authority the president needs to carry out his basic duties ….”

    The president, however, is seeking to keep the NLRB alive during the appeals process. Obama re-nominated NLRB Chairman Mark Pearce, a Democrat, and two Republicans, Harry I. Johnson III and Philip A. Miscimarra, The Associated Press reports. Earlier this year, Obama nominated Democrats Block and Griffin to full terms on the NLRB.

    In announcing today’s nominees, Obama noted that the NLRB “plays a vital role in our efforts to grow the economy and strengthen the middle class. With these nominations there will be five nominees to the NLRB, both Republicans and Democrats, awaiting Senate confirmation. I urge the Senate to confirm them swiftly so that this bipartisan board can continue its important work on behalf of the American people.”  

    AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka lauded the president’s action saying, “For America’s workers, business and the promotion of healthy commerce, putting forward a full, bipartisan package of nominees to the NLRB is the right thing to do.”

    Although the nominees include two who do not share the AFL-CIO’s staunch support of workers’ rights, Trumka said the “labor movement understands that when the NLRB is not at full strength and cannot enforce its orders, America’s economy falls out of balance, as it is today with record inequality and a shrinking middle class.”

  • April 1, 2013

    by E. Sebastian Arduengo

    NPR recently aired a sobering account of the state of Social Security Disability Insurance (Disability) a government program that provides 14 million Americans with a sustenance income,while providing them no real means of addressing their physical or mental affliction or economic poverty. In fact, less than one percent of people ever transition from Disability into the world of work with all of its attendant benefits, like raises, meaningfulness, social contact, etc., meager as those may be with some jobs. Most people simply die while on Disability or lurch onto regular Social Security, the government social insurance program that provides benefits to the elderly.

    In the severely depressed labor market of the Great Recession, which itself greatly favors information-centric skills, many older workers with little education who have been laid off from manufacturing jobs feel that going on to disability is a better choice for making it to retirement than spending their last few years in a menial job where they have to stand all day. But, it’s not just former blue collar workers in the Mississippi valley and Pacific Northwest that are going on disability. In cities across the country, entire families subsist off of the disability check they receive because they have a child with a learning disability.

    It’s a system that is riddled with perverse incentives. If a child on disability starts to succeed in school that actually threatens the family’s livelihood. So, it’s actually in the best interests of the family financially if a child continues to struggle in school. Unlike Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (welfare), if a beneficiary starts to work, they aren’t eased off of the program – they face a real risk of immediately losing all of their benefits.

  • March 18, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Stephen B. Bright and Sia M. Sanneh. Bright teaches at Yale Law School and is President and Senior Counsel of The Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta. Sanneh is the Senior Liman Fellow at Yale Law School and an attorney with the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama. 

    Exactly 50 years ago, in Gideon v. Wainwright, the Supreme Court declared the right to a lawyer “fundamental and essential” to fairness in the criminal courts and held that lawyers must be provided for people who could not afford them so that every person “stands equal before the law.” In later decisions, the Court ruled that a poor person facing any loss of liberty must have a lawyer “so that the accused may know precisely what he is doing, so that he is fully aware of the prospect of going to jail or prison, and so that he is treated fairly by the prosecution.”And yet, a half century later this right is violated every day in thousands of courts across the nation, at every stage of the process.

    In our forthcoming essay, Fifty Years of Defiance and Resistance After Gideon v. Wainwright, to be published in the Yale Law Journal, we chronicle the day-to-day denial of counsel in counties throughout the country; the refusal of governments to provide adequate funding for lawyers for the people they seek to convict, fine, imprison and execute; the complicity of judges in the denial of counsel; the enormous and unchecked power of prosecutors to decide cases, including sentences, often with little or no input from defense counsel; and the Supreme Court’s decision to paper over and ignore violations of the right to counsel instead of correcting them.

    As we argue in our essay:

    The cost of this one-sided system is enormous. Innocent people are convicted and sent to prison while the perpetrators remain at large. Important issues, such as the system’s pervasive racism—from stops by law enforcement officers to disparate sentencing—are ignored. People are sentenced without consideration of their individual characteristics, allowing race, politics, and other improper factors to influence sentences. Over 2.2 million people—a grossly disproportionate number of them African Americans and Latinos—are in prisons and jails at a cost of $75 billion a year. Nearly an additional five million people are on probation, parole, or supervised release. Over seventy thousand children are held in juvenile facilities. Even those who have completed their sentences may be deported, denied the right to vote, dishonorably discharged from the Armed Forces, denied public benefits, and denied business or professional licenses. Reentry into society is extremely difficult, extending the costs to the families and communities of those who have been imprisoned.

    There are expressive costs as well. A system in which all of the key actors routinely ignore one of its most fundamental constitutional requirements is not a system based on the rule of law, no matter what it claims to be. When those actors shirk their constitutional obligations and bring the immense power of the state down most heavily on African Americans and Latinos, people cease to have confidence in the courts. The system lacks legitimacy and credibility and is undeserving of respect. For this to change, courts, legislatures, executives, and members of the legal profession will need to respond with a sense of urgency and commitment to justice that has been missing in most places during the last fifty years.

  • March 7, 2013
    Lawless Capitalism
    The Subprime Crisis and the Case for an Economic Rule of Law
    Steven A. Ramirez

    by Steven A. Ramirez, Professor of Law, Loyola University Chicago, School of Law

    Too much power in too few hands presents dangers of despotism.

    Americans traditionally deemed concentrated and unaccountable political power suspect. The United States Constitution reflects this suspicion by splitting sovereign power among state and federal governments, and then dividing it again between three co-equal branches that provide checks and balances against overreaching by any government official.

    Yet, the Constitution fails to splinter concentrated economic power. While Congress may act to check economic concentration, in the end, brakes on economic concentration rise or fall based upon political negotiation. Congress cannot legislate a King; it may, however, permit financial consolidation to such an extent that big finance holds an unlimited claim on government resources.

    Since 1978, bipartisan legislation created unprecedented economic concentration.  Tax cuts led to the highest income inequality on record. Financial deregulation birthed the largest financial behemoths ever. Restraints governing managers of public corporations vanished, and CEO compensation soared. Predictably, as more wealth became concentrated in fewer hands, costs to organize to lobby lawmakers plunged.

  • February 4, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Shortly after Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced so-called filibuster reform, TPM reported that the chamber’s chief ringleader of obstruction, Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-K.Y.) “bragged” about killing the serious reforms that would have undermined obstructionists’ ability to so effectively wield the tool.

    In this post not long before the “filibuster reform,” was announced I noted that it appeared Reid was prepared to suffer even more obstructionism. (TPM had reported that Reid was ready to forgo a simple-majority vote to make real changes to the filibuster that would require senators to actually mount and sustain a filibuster, instead of relying on an easy and stealthy manner of deploying the filibuster.)

    Then late last week, as reported by TPM’s Brian Beutler, McConnell and 40 of his Republican colleagues promised try again to block the confirmation of Richard Cordray to permanently head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau “unless Democrats agree to pass legislation dramatically weakening the agency.”

    President Obama overcame the first Republican blockade of his choice to the head the CFPB via a recess appointment that will leave him on the job until the end of the year. A recent, though widely attacked, opinion by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, found that Obama’s recess appointment of Cordray and three nominees to fill vacant seats on the five-member National Labor Relations Board were unconstitutional. The Obama administration has signaled it will appeal the opinion, with White House Press Secretary Jay Carney calling it “novel and unprecedented.”