Besting Bernie

1920px-Bernie_Sanders_-_Rally_at_San_Jose,_CA_-_2I have been paying attention to presidential elections since 1988. I know that is not all that long compared to some who may be reading this, but it is long enough for it to mean something when I say I do not think I have ever seen anything like what has happened among the Democratic candidates for president over the past few days.

Last Saturday, Nevada held its caucus. Bernie Sanders won, with nearly half of the vote. The remaining half went to Joe Biden (20%), Pete Buttigieg (14.3%), Elizabeth Warren (9.7%), Tom Steyer (4.7%) and Amy Klobuchar (4.2%). Sanders essentially tied Buttigieg in the first caucuses, held in Iowa on February 3, with only 0.1% separating them. Following them were Warren (18%), Biden (15.5%) and Klobuchar (12.3%). About a week later Sanders and Buttigieg switched places in New Hampshire, with Sanders winning with 1.3% more of the vote than Buttigieg received. But there Amy Klobuchar finished third. A strong third, with 19.8%. After her it was Warren (9.2%), Biden (8.4%), Steyer (3.6%) and Tulsi Gabbard (3.3%). At that point it was clear that Bernie Sanders was a force to be reckoned with, that Pete Buttigieg had managed to drum up more support than most anyone would have thought possible when the crowded Democratic field was taking shape…and that Joe Biden was in trouble. Ahead of the New Hampshire vote, USA Today said, “the former vice president is battling for his political future in a state that has a history of determining who the nominee will be.” Biden had told a gathering in New Hampshire, “Excuse my language, but I’ll be damned if I stand by and watch us lose this country to Donald Trump a second time.” And then he went on to finish fifth. Of course, it did not help Biden any that when a young woman asked him about his unimpressive finish in Iowa, and said in response to Biden’s question that she had been to a caucus, Biden called her a “lying dog-faced pony soldier” in a Q and A that then went viral. The USA Today article also quoted Quinnipiac University Poll analyst Tim Malloy as saying that Iowa had hurt Biden’s perception of electability, which was what many had considered his biggest asset.

So, what happened after New Hampshire? Nevada had its caucus eleven days after New Hampshire’s primary and then, on February 29, South Carolina held its primary. Note that in the first three contests Biden had finished fourth, fifth and second, with his 20% second-place finish in Nevada his best showing of the three. Many called South Carolina a must-win for Biden, and no doubt it was. He touted the fact that he had “worked like the devil” to win the state and his popularity among African American voters figured to be a factor in the outcome. In the South Carolina Democratic debate, though, the tenth one of the campaign season already, Biden did not acquit himself all that well. CNN said that Biden “turned his outrage meter WAY up” in the debate and made some points, but also observed, “Biden is still not a terribly good debater, however. He repeatedly stumbled as he tried to make his points.” Not only is not a terribly good debater, he looked old and weary during the debate. All of that pales, though, when considering that Biden also asserted that “150 million people have been killed since 2007 when Bernie [Sanders] voted to exempt the gun manufacturers from liability, more than all the wars, including Vietnam from that point on.” Jeffery Martin was being polite when he wrote for Newsweek that Biden had “misquoted statistics” about gun violence. Biden did not misquote—he seemingly made them up. According to the Center for American Progress, the number of gun deaths from 2007 to 2017, whether violent or accidental, was 373,663. In other words, Vandana Rambaran was not as kind but was much more accurate when she wrote on FOXNews.com that Biden had “grossly overstated the numbers.”

What about the others in the debate? Pete Buttigieg was “at his absolute best” CNN said, and Amy Klobuchar “did more with fewer opportunities than almost any other candidate on stage.” Elizabeth Warren was “totally fine” CNN claimed, though it also acknowledged that that was likely to make much difference for her. Michael Bloomberg was participating in his second debate. It would have been tough for him to do worse than he did in his first, so when CNN said that he “was better in this debate than in the last one” it could not help but quickly follow up with “but he wasn’t good.” When even CNN points out that Bloomberg “committed a near-Freudian slip early in the debate when he started to say he ‘bought’ a Democratic House majority before re-calibrating…” you know it wasn’t a good night for him.

That debate was held on February 25. The day before, Biden spoke at a Democratic Party dinner in South Carolina and said, during his comments, “My name’s Joe Biden. I’m a Democratic candidate for the United States Senate.” Yikes. Biden left the Senate twelve years ago. So common have such Biden blunders become that Ken Pittman, who hosts a radio show in Massachusetts, wrote, “I’ve tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, but it is now time to consider whether or not former Vice President Biden is showing early signs of senility, dementia, Alzheimer’s or some other affliction of one’s mental capacity and predominantly in our senior citizens.” I couldn’t agree more.

Still, on March 29, Joe Biden did something he had never done before, despite this being his third presidential run. He won a primary. He did what Sanders had done in Nevada, winning nearly half of the vote (48.4%) and Sanders did what Biden had done in Nevada, coming in second with about 20%. Tom Steyer had his best showing yet, with 11.3% and a third place finish, followed by Buttigieg (8.2%), Warren (7.1%), Klobuchar (3.2%) and Gabbard (1.3%). (It should be noted that Gabbard has not qualified for the last several Democratic debates).

This is when the craziness began. Tom Steyer “suspended his campaign” (which is political speak for “dropped out”). He had achieved, by far, his best performance, but he decided it was not good enough. “I said if I didn’t see a path to winning, that I’d suspend my campaign. And honestly, I can’t see a path where I can win the presidency,” he said. He had banked on South Carolina, too, having spent more time and money there than anyone else. And, despite his third place finish, he received no delegates from South Carolina, leaving him still sitting on zero after the first four contests.

On Sunday, March 1, Pete Buttigieg dropped out. That morning he went on “Meet the Press” and indicated that he was staying in the race, saying, “every day we’re in this campaign is a day that we’ve reached the conclusion that pushing forward is the best thing that we can do for the country and for the party.” Suddenly, that evening, he had changed his mind. Buttigieg went back to South Bend, Indiana, and announced that he was finished. Elena Schneider wrote on Politico.com that the result of his decision was “opening up a wider path for former Vice President Joe Biden to become the moderate alternative to Bernie Sanders.”

Monday it was Amy Klobuchar’s turn. Despite the fact that her home state of Minnesota will vote today, Super Tuesday, Klobuchar called it quits. And what did Elena Schneider say of that decision? It “pav[es] the way for Biden to capture a greater share of moderate Democratic votes against Bernie Sanders.” I assume you are noticing a theme here….

Tom Steyer had no delegates, and because of the way the system works it is not likely he was going to gain any…at least not anytime soon. But Buttigieg had 26 delegates and Klobuchar had 7. Sure, those are small numbers, but remember…it’s still early! Right now Sanders has 60 and Biden has 54. Today is what will make a significant impact, as Super Tuesday awards over 1,300 delegates. So why drop out days—or, in Klobuchar’s case, a day—before Super Tuesday? How much money would one really have to spend, after all, to see how it went for another day or two? Well, the Democrats just are not willing to risk it, and for two reasons.

The first reason is Bernie Sanders. Andy Kroll wrote an article for Rolling Stone headlined, “Operation Bernie Block Is in Full Effect.” Indeed it is. “That sound you hear is the collective exhale of the Democratic establishment after Joe Biden’s landslide victory in South Carolina,” Kroll began.

Biden’s victory unleashed a flood of endorsements by party fixtures and card-carrying members of the old guard — former Virginia governor and DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe, former DNC chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, former Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, along with dozens of mayors, state legislators, and sitting members of Congress. The New York Times reported Monday night that former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke would also endorse Biden less than 24 hours before voting began in the Texas primary.

Beto O’Rourke? He dropped out as a presidential candidate himself back in November. His campaign slogan was Beto For America, Beto For All, but he made it quite clear that it was really Beto for people who think like Beto…and that included commitment to policies such as the confiscation of guns and the elimination of tax-exempt status for any church or school that opposes same-sex marriage. In other words, you know you’re desperate—especially if you paint yourself as a moderate, which Biden usually does—if you are asking Beto for help.

The second reason is Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg formally entered the race not too long after Beto O’Rourke dropped out, but he then decided to skip the first four states and pour all of his attention, and his considerable personal wealth, into Super Tuesday. The DNC manipulated its debate rules to let Bloomberg into the last two debates, but that’s only part of their Beat Bernie strategy. At this point, though, the fear is that if Steyer, Buttigieg and Klobuchar had remained in the race, and picked up some of those 1,300+ delegates at stake today, the race would drag on and even possibly run the risk of producing a contested convention. There hasn’t really been a contested convention since the Republican Convention in 1976 when Ronald Reagan almost swiped the nomination from Gerald Ford. But if a contested convention really did occur Bloomberg might find himself getting some traction. He even went so far today as to admit that that’s exactly what he needs. According to the AP, he told reporters today in Miami, “It’s the only way I can win.” Bloomberg says he is the only candidate that can beat Donald Trump, but show me a candidate who hasn’t said the same thing about themselves. The Democrats do not really want Bloomberg, either. In many ways he would be another Donald Trump. He brings plenty of his own baggage, and he has a knack for inserting his foot in his mouth, too. See the above reference to buying congressional seats, for one, and his recently resurfaced assertion that farming is so easy that he could teach anyone to do it for one of plenty of others.

The bottom line is simply this: the Democratic National Committee is absolutely determined to run the candidate it wants, and it doesn’t want Bernie Sanders. Not that it should, mind you. He is a committed socialist and he has gone so far recently as to praise Fidel Castro. But that is no excuse for manipulating the process. Sure, right now there can be no definitive proof of manipulation. Steyer, Buttigieg and Klobuchar really might have all decided to drop out over the last three days. Of course, the Astros might have just been banging out a rally rhythm on their dugout trash can, too. But there is a reason that people are skeptical of someone overly objecting to something, and when it comes to Donna Brazile’s comments earlier today on FOX News, Shakespeare’s line, “the lady doth protest too much, methinks,” could not be more fitting. Sandra Smith asked Brazile about RNC’s chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel suggesting that a brokered, or contested, convention is looming and that the DNC would manipulate it to make sure Bernie Sanders is not the candidate. Brazile started her response by attacking the Republicans for canceling primaries (there is really no one opposing Donald Trump for the nomination) and then brought in the Russians before finally shouting, “Ronna, go to hell! This is not about — No, go to hell! I’m tired of it!” McDaniel saw through the smokescreen, too, tweeting, “It’s ok, @donnabrazile, I’d be having a bad day too if my party was still hopelessly divided. Talk of a brokered convention and the DNC trying to stop Bernie obviously hit a little close to home.”

Yes, it did. We’ll have to see what the DNC has up its sleeve after today’s results come in. Who knows, they might even have to let Tulsi Gabbard back on the debate stage!

 

Photo credit: By Σ – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=87818665

The Reality of Minimum Wage

Rally_demanding_$15-hr_minimum_wage_(31326059165)There simply are not enough hours in the day to address every foolish thing you see posted on social media, but there are some things that I just cannot let go. In the words of Christian comedian Ken Davis, “You can’t let people fall in the stupid pit” without out at least trying to help them. The push for an increased minimum wage is one of those things that I have to address. Lately, it has gotten even worse. Ever since it passed in Seattle, the magic number for many proponents of a minimum wage increase seems to be $15 an hour. According to the Washington Post’s questionnaires sent to Democratic candidates for president, all eight candidates still in the race favor an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. (That includes Tulsi Gabbard, despite her exclusion from the debates and the DNC doing its best to shut her out. Of course, Gabbard is also the only one still in the race to favor a universal basic income, an idea most prominently supported by former candidate Andrew Yang). Tom Steyer actually favors a minimum wage of $22/hour.

Sure, a $15/hour minimum wage sounds like a great idea. But in reality it is no better than just printing more money. Does an increased minimum wage put more money in the hands of the people? Yes. Will they spend it? Yes, they will have to, because prices will go up.

Let’s use fast food restaurant employees as an example. The web site fightfor15.org features this statement on its homepage: “McDonald’s: Fast-food workers deserve $15 an hour and a union so we can pay our rent and support our families. Agree? Add your name now.”

If McDonald’s workers get a pay increase to $15 an hour, what will that do? Well, my understanding is that McDonald’s franchises employ about 750,000 people in the U.S. and that there about 14,150 McDonald’s restaurants in the U.S. That works out to an average of 53 workers per McDonald’s. Let’s narrow it down even more and look specifically at McDonald’s workers in Illinois, since Illinois has passed a law increasing their minimum wage. There are about 650 McDonald’s in Illinois. That would equate to 34,450 McDonald’s workers if we use the average. Let’s suppose only 60% of them are earning minimum wage, though I imagine that is exceedingly low. That would be more than 20,000 people just at McDonald’s restaurants earning minimum wage, and in Illinois this year the minimum wage went up by $1.00 per hour in January and will go up by another 75 cents per hour in July.

So, imagine 20,000 workers working, for the purposes of this illustration, 20 hours per week, and, come July, making $1.75 per hour more than they were in July 2019. That equates to $700,000 per week in wages that have to be paid by Illinois McDonald’s, or more than $36 million over the course of a year. Are the various owners of McDonald’s restaurants on Illinois going to collectively eat that increase (pun intended)? Of course not. They will raise prices. And every industry that has minimum wage workers will raise prices. So, costs will go up and that nice minimum wage increase will be negated. Various studies project that the cost of a Big Mac would increase by 4.3% if McDonald’s workers were paid $15 an hour. The rate of inflation in the U.S. hasn’t been that high since 1990. And that’s just a Big Mac!

In Seattle, where the $15/hour minimum wage push all began, housing values have increased by an average of 5.49% annually since 2000. The median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Seattle is more than $1,600 a month–about $500 per month higher than the national median. The median for a one-bedroom in Seattle is $1,332 a month. The recommended food spending per month for a Seattle resident is 23% above the national average. The cost of a dozen eggs in Seattle is 68 cents above the national average. On average, the price of gas in Seattle is the highest for all major cities in Washington. Oh, and Seattle also has a sales tax of 10.1%! True, Washington has no state income tax, but I doubt you’ll notice any benefit by the time you absorb all those other high rates.

The minimum wage is not necessarily beneficial. When the first minimum wage in America was implemented in 1938 it was twenty-five cents an hour. Had it been increased at the rate of inflation, it would be somewhere between $4.50 and $4.80 an hour today. Instead, it is $7.25 an hour, more than 50% higher than it should be if it was only intended to keep pace with inflation.

When the minimum wage was implemented it was one part of a sweeping piece of legislation, the Fair Labor Standards Act, designed to address a number of Depression-era workforce issues. Other elements of the law addressed overtime pay and child labor. According to the Legal Information Institute of Cornell Law School, “The minimum wage was designed to create a minimum standard of living to protect the health and well-being of employees.” Franklin Roosevelt, in his statement after signing the National Industrial Recovery Act in 1933, said of wages, “It seems to me to be equally plain that no business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country” and that “by living wages I mean more than a bare subsistence level—I mean the wages of decent living.” That statement has been used by many to argue that the minimum wage was always intended to be at least a living wage.

There is room to debate that assertion too, but let’s suppose for a moment that that has been the intent all along. The current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour would pay a worker who works 40 hours a week for fifty weeks a year and annual pre-tax income of $14,500. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the 2019 Poverty Guideline for the 48 Contiguous States and the District of Columbia was $12,490 for an individual. The 2020 guideline was just released in January 17, and it is $12,760. (And, in case you are wondering, the Census Bureau and programs based on poverty level, such as SNAP, are based on gross income).

Maybe you don’t like the notion of basing the minimum wage’s relation to a “living wage” on a single individual. Fair enough. Let us suppose, then, that there is a family with two wage earners, both working 40 hours a week, fifty weeks a year, for minimum wage. The income for that family would be $29,000. That exceeds the poverty level for a two-person, three-person and four-person family. (The 2020 Poverty Guideline for a four-person family is $26,200). And, in case you are still uncomfortable, there is government assistance available for those families, since eligibility for programs based on poverty level requires that a family’s income be at or below 130% of the poverty line.

According to the Census Bureau’s 2018 report, the official poverty rate was 11.8%, which was the fourth consecutive annual decline and the first since 2007 that the poverty rate was significantly lower than it was that year, which was the year before the last major recession. Another interesting fact: the drop in poverty rate from 2017 to 2018 was highest among African Americans and second-highest among Hispanics. The was a bigger drop for females than males. And when considering educational attainment, the biggest drop was among those with “some college” while the only area where the poverty rate went up was among those age 25 and older who had no high school diploma. The interesting facts are abundant, in fact. The lowest poverty rate when considering family characteristics was among married couples, who had a poverty rate of only 4.7% in 2018. The highest percentage of poverty was among female householders with no spouse present, but that demographic also had the largest drop in poverty percentage.

If you consider the three-year average (2016-2018) of percentage of people in poverty by state, the state with the lowest percentage was New Hampshire, at 6.4%–and New Hampshire uses the federal minimum wage of $7.25. The five states with the next lowest percentages of poverty were Maryland (7.1%), Utah (7.9%), Minnesota (8.7%), Colorado (8.9%) and New Jersey (9.1%). Among those five states only Utah has the $7.25 minimum wage, but the minimum wages of the other states are still modest, and the average minimum wage of those five states is $9.31/hour. The states with the highest minimum wages were New York ($13), California ($12), Washington ($11.50), Oregon ($11.25) and Colorado ($11.10). We already saw that Colorado was among the states with the lowest poverty rates, but the other four states on this list did not fare so well. New York (11.8%), California (12.5%), Washington (10.3%) and Oregon (10.6%) were not the worst by any means, but even with Colorado included the average percentage of poverty was 10.82%. That put those states at 1.5% below the U.S. average that year of 12.3%, but still well above the average percentage of 8.34% for states 2-6 on the list. In other words, the five states with an average minimum wage of $9.31 had a poverty percentage two and a half percentage points below the five states with an average minimum wage of $11.77. I don’t know about you, but I do find it at least noteworthy that the states with an average minimum wage that was $2.46 higher led to a poverty percentage that was 2.48 percentage points higher. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but you just can’t get much closer than that.

 

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https://www.census.gov

https://www.raisetheminimumwage.com

https://smartasset.com/mortgage/what-is-the-cost-of-living-in-seattle

 

Photo credit: By Fibonacci Blue from Minnesota, USA – Rally demanding $15/hr minimum wage, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53672511