Today on The BradCast, some help for voters in California trying to make sense of some of those confusing propositions on this year's midterm ballot, and some new worries for the entire nation when it comes to the GOP's vow to destroy the so-called "administrative state". [Audio link to full show is posted below this summary.]
We're joined today by DAVID DAYEN, investigative financial journalist, Executive Editor of The American Prospect and author of (most recently), Monopolized: Life in the Age of Corporate Power. We've got quite a bit to discuss with him today.
First, ride-share companies Lyft and Uber scammed California voters two years ago with the landslide passage of Prop 22, which the companies spent nearly $250 million to put on the ballot and misrepresent to voters. They claimed that their workers in the state should not be treated as employees under CA law --- with all the benefits that come with it --- but as a new type of independent contractor. The companies told voters that, under Prop 22, their drivers would make at least 20% above minimum wage (currently $15/hour in the state) and would receive other increased benefits for healthcare, etc.
Now, two years in, it turns out that Uber and Lyft drivers in CA are averaging just $6.20/hour. Dayen explains how that can possibly be, adding: "When you allow a corporation to set the terms of employment and to opt out of, in this case, the state system that governs employment arrangements, they're probably going to take advantage of it for their devices. And that's exactly what happened here."
This year, Lyft is supporting another CA ballot initiative, Prop 30, that would tax millionaires to help subsidize elective vehicles for their drivers and to fund CA firefighting efforts. The state's Democratic Party seems to believe them. The state's Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom, on the other hand, doesn't. What explains that? We try to figure it out.
But, more importantly, Dayen argues the entire matter is symptomatic of what he now sees as CA's "failed experiment with direct democracy" in its ballot initiative process. Can it be reformed to make it work for the people as intended? Or has it been irreversibly taken over by corporate interests who have learned how to purchase their interests into state law?
Also today, Dayen breaks down last week's stunning ruling by a three-judge panel on the hard-right 5th Circuit Court of Appeals (all three were Trump appointees), finding that the way Congress chose to fund the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is, somehow, unconstitutional. The CFPB was created during the Obama Administration to protect consumers after the 2008 global banking crisis and subsequent Great Recession. It was the brainchild of Elizabeth Warren before she became a Senator. The Bureau is the only federal agency built and devoted specifically to protecting consumers, as opposed to corporations.
As Dayen explains, the court's ruling, if allowed to stand, would not only make the CFPB go away entirely (long a goal of Republicans), but also hundreds of regulations and consumer protections that the Bureau oversees. Moreover, if the judges are right about the funding mechanism for CFPB being unconstitutional, well then so is the funding for dozens of other critical federal agencies and programs!
"The logic of the 5th Circuit's ruling is that all of those other agencies [including the FDA] are also unconstitutional," says Dayen. "There are also a number of mandatory spending items in America that are not funded through the appropriations process. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps. The logic of the 5th Circuit's ruling is that all those things are all unconstitutional."
In addition to "this ruling defunding the police --- the consumer protection police" in a case brought by the rapacious payday lending industry, he details how this is the very definition of the GOP's years-long vow to "destroy the administrative state". In this case, as Dayen argues, there are also a bunch of protections for big banks that would be wiped out as well unless the ruling is overturned. So, maybe that little glitch will --- ironically enough --- help to save the CFPB.
One more matter we touch on with the author of Monopolized: Life in the Age of Corporate Power, the recently announced takeover of Albertsons by Kroger, which already owns Ralph's, Food For less, and many others as the nation's largest grocery store conglomerate. Albertsons is the second largest. They own Vons, Safeway and many others. In short, Kroger's takeover, if it goes through, would result in one company owning --- and having near monopolistic pricing power over --- more than 60% of the nation's grocery stores. As you might imagine, Dayen has a few warnings about this "very, very disturbing merger," but adds that he's pretty sure that Biden's Federal Trade Commission (FTC) "is going to take a healthy look at it."
Finally today, one more thought on one more initiative on this November's CA ballot, one which is likely to spread like a deadly virus to much of the rest of the country if successful here. Prop 31 would ban the sale of flavored e-juice for vaping and e-cigs in the state. The disingenuous claim by supporters is that flavors --- like the one that I used, espresso, to finally successfully quit smoking --- are attractive to kids. Prop 31 proponents argue this ban on flavored vape juice is needed to keep kids from vaping. But the fact is that kids are already banned from buying these products in CA! Instead, the ban would serve only to kill actual smokers by preventing them from switching to vaping, which scientists universally find to be far safer than smoking. More details in support of "NO" on CA's Prop 31 --- a maddening and deadly scam --- on today's BradCast...
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)