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Democrats’ $15 minimum wage would drive a nail in the economy’s coffin

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Democrats' $15 minimum wage would drive a nail in the economy's coffin

If you think Gov. Cuomo’s lockdowns were hard on restaurant workers, watch what happens if President Biden and fellow Democrats more than double the federal minimum wage to $15, as they’re pushing to do.

Senate moderates got a guarantee that the hike wouldn’t come while the pandemic rages, but Biden’s $1.9 trillion “relief” bill can still include a slightly delayed increase, with all its job-killing impact.

Sure, hiking wages sounds great: Who doesn’t want a raise? But not if more pay actually costs you your employment.

Fact is, many restaurant owners, and others who employ low-wage workers, will find such a hike simply unaffordable, particularly as they struggle to recover from the pandemic. The federal minimum now is just $7.25; even after adjusting for inflation, the $15 rate would be off the charts — a full 20 percent higher than the previous record, set a half-century ago.

Upshot? Many businesses will wind up closing for good, plain and simple. Others will stay open but only by laying off employees and raising prices. And keep in mind: Even workers who hang on to their jobs will have to pay those steeper prices, which will eat into much of their raise. Great plan.

Meanwhile, more pink slips would be catastrophic right now: Restaurants, hotels and some retailers have already trimmed headcounts by as much as 30 percent, thanks to the pandemic. The leisure and hospitality sector saw 3.8 million jobs vanish last year. Yet the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects the $15 minimum would lead to another 1.3 million jobs lost.

Places with relatively low costs of living would suffer most. States like New York, California and Massachusetts, after all, already have $15 wage floors, or are approaching that level, so they won’t feel such a big punch. (Notably, all three of those states also face unemployment rates far above most of the others.)

Yet in states with lower costs of living — and lower average pay — far more workers earn much less than $15, so more jobs would be subject to the bump, even as the increase delivers a sharper blow to their bosses.

All of which spells Trouble with a capital T: In places like Arkansas, West Virginia, Mississippi and Louisiana, as much as half of all workers earn $15 or less.

Worst of all, many of those affected will be minorities and others who need their jobs desperately. Why don’t Democrats, and the labor groups that have long pushed for higher minimums, care about that?

There’s more: The CBO predicts the $15 wage would fuel inflation and slow overall economic growth — just as vaccines offer a way out of the COVID-shattered economy. If only there were vaccines for Democrats’ ideas . . .

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Opinion

‘Fiscally conservative’ war hawks are trying to defraud GOP voters — again

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‘Fiscally conservative’ war hawks are trying to defraud GOP voters — again

With the Republican loss in the 2020 election, there is a great deal of debate on where the party and the wider conservative movement are headed. According to betting markets, the 2024 field is wide open. The odds-on favorite is former President Donald Trump, but even he only has around a 20 percent chance as of this writing. In second place is Nikki Haley.

The former South Carolina governor and UN ambassador is an object of Beltway fascination, as can be seen in a recent feature profile in Politico. But what would a candidate or President Haley stand for? Would her views jibe with those of the working-class voters who propelled her ex-boss’ unlikely journey to the Oval Office?

If her new organization, Stand for America, is any indication, the answer is no. Instead, it looks Haley will offer the old and tired combination that GOP primary voters decisively rejected in 2016: fiscal conservatism married with a hawkish foreign policy. Whether or not this fusion has a chance politically, basic arithmetic shows that what are likely to be the two pillars of the Haley 2024 campaign are in contradiction.

Not long ago, Haley complained about Democrats wanting to bring back earmarks, highlighting a $50 million project for an indoor rainforest in Iowa. But Americans who believe that Washington should live within its means must see through what is a transparent fraud: Haley frets about a $50 million indoor rainforest — while supporting a foreign policy that costs trillions.

Fact is, pork-barrel projects are a drop in the feds’ sea of red ink. In 2019, the US government spent $4.4 trillion. While tens of millions of dollars may seem like a lot of money, projects in that range shouldn’t be the focus of true budget hawks.

Where does most of the budget go? About half to entitlements, which are politically untouchable. The next category, however, is the military, which amounted to 3.4 percent of gross domestic product in 2019. At the height of the War on Terror, the numbers were higher; in 2010, the armed forces consumed 4.5 percent of GDP, and we could easily return to such numbers under the budgets preferred by many Republicans.

To see how meaningless pork-barrel projects are in the grand scheme of things, we should return to the indoor rainforest that so upset Haley. According to the Costs of War Project at Brown University, as of 2019, the post-9/11 wars had a long-term cost to the United States of around $6.4 trillion. About $2 trillion of that was wasted on Afghanistan alone, with the Taliban now controlling more land than it did in the years immediately after the 2001 invasion.

If the price of an indoor rainforest is $50 million, then the Afghan War has cost taxpayers 40,000 times as much. No, that isn’t a typo: For the price of being in Afghanistan, the federal government could have built an indoor rainforest every 80 square miles across the entire continental United States, or, if it preferred, 13 in each US county.

Perhaps that wouldn’t be the best use of government money. But the point is this: It’s undeniable that foreign wars have been a massive drain on the nation’s resources. Trumpian Populists and progressives would like to see the government invest money at home. But even those who think budgetary restraint is important shouldn’t be manipulated by mathematically ignorant arguments made by those who seek power.

War hawks can’t honestly claim the mantle of fiscal conservatism while only attacking relatively minuscule pork-barrel projects. If American dollars are better spent in places like Afghanistan and the South China Sea than at home, fine. But politicians should make that case directly to the American voter, not try to burnish their fiscal reputations by attacking puny projects while leaving untouched far heftier expenditures.

Republican strategists and activists beware: The combination of opposition to indoor rainforests and support for more pointless war isn’t the path to either electoral success or fiscal responsibility.

Richard Hanania is president of the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology and a research fellow at Defense Priorities.

Twitter: @RichardHanania

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NY parents desperate for more school choice: Lift the charter cap!

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NY parents desperate for more school choice: Lift the charter cap!

Parents fed up with the city Department of Education’s disastrous performance this last year are desperate for better choices. Better-off families can pay for alternatives such as private and parochial schools. To give low-income New Yorkers the same opportunity, state lawmakers have a clear duty to lift the cap on public charter schools.

In the city, charter-school enrollment was 138,000 across 267 schools in the 2019-2020 school year. Expansion of existing schools will let that grow some, but not enough.

The DOE’s timidity in reopening schools, its open-close-and-repeat approach to those that aren’t shuttered and its utter failure to make remote learning more than a sad joke frustrate parents across the city. A major exodus from public schools is inevitable — unless the state allows for more high-quality, well-managed charters.

As the pandemic raged, Mayor de Blasio and outgoing Chancellor Richard Carranza took no break from their war on charters. Recently, a state judge ordered the DOE to include charters in the same weekly COVID-19 testing program used at regular schools — and the city is appealing the decision.

Some charters, such as Success Academy, were forced to go all-remote because the DOE wouldn’t let them reopen classes in spaces shared with traditional public schools — lest they make those schools look bad. Yet Success and others at least made remote classes work. KIPP Infinity in Harlem recorded 98 percent attendance because every kid received devices and those with connectivity issues got hotspots.

The flexibility enjoyed by charters allows for out-of-the-box thinking not just in responding to challenges like a pandemic, but also in providing a quality public education for mostly low-income, minority student bodies. They’ve proved to be the laboratories of innovation and achievement that then-Gov. George Pataki envisioned when he pushed charter-school legislation through the Legislature over two decades ago.

In that time, a total of 397 charters have been issued statewide, with 325 schools now serving students, plus 26 approved but not yet open. The 2015 law that raised the state charter cap to 460 allowed only a few dozen more for the city — all which have now been used.

There remain about 25 so-called “zombie” charters — ones that were revoked or approved but never opened. Those licenses should be re-assigned, but it still wouldn’t be enough to satisfy the huge demand for charter seats, grades K-12.

Families need new legislation to lift or eliminate the cap. The progressive lawmakers who now dominate the Legislature should ignore the teachers unions, which despise charters, and do right by inner-city kids. It’s a matter of fundamental fairness to give low-income children the same chance to escape bad schools that the wealthy enjoy.  

A million city kids have essentially lost over a year of education. Public charters can lead the way in bringing thousands back up to speed via a quality, rigorous instruction.

Save public education and increase basic equity: Raise the cap!

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Alzheimer’s took my mom, but her dignity and love shone to the end

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Alzheimer's took my mom, but her dignity and love shone to the end

There are a hundred things I could tell you about my late mother that are more important than the disease that caught her in its grip the last few years of her life.

I could tell you about her relationship with my older bother, who has autism, and her deep, lifelong friendship with him. 

I could tell you how she took her experience fighting the schools to educate and treat my brother decently and went into social work as a career, helping countless other disabled and mentally ill people. 

I could tell you about her accomplished painting, her love of cats or her civic involvement. 

After losing her last week, though, I want to share something about the worst, about the end, about the Alzheimer’s disease that took this vibrant woman, who made friends and plans wherever she went, and confined her to a wheelchair and rendered her nearly mute and inert. 

Because I’ve come to believe that this crushing disease doesn’t, during almost all its progression, achieve as complete a victory as it might seem. It takes away so much. The ability to live independently. The ability to talk. And in the end, the ability, or will, to eat. There are no heartening stories of Alzheimer’s survivors. 

But our personhood is so strong that the disease, even in its late stages, can’t fully extinguish the human personality. No, the spark is still there, flickering, very difficult to detect at times, but there. 

I acknowledge that some families have worse experiences than mine, wrenching though it was, and Alzheimer’s forces you constantly to ratchet your expectations downward. First, you’re glad of conversation, even if it doesn’t make much sense. Then, you’re glad of any words. Finally, you are glad of, well, anything. 

Still, there are little gems of surprises. Once, I was wheeling my mom from the cafeteria area in her nursing home, hoping to get her from Point A to Point B without incident, when she reached out and got a death grip on the chair of another resident. 

This other resident was a notably stately woman. “Hello, gorgeous!” said my Mom. Where did that come from?

Toward the end, when things were bleakest, my Mom would still shine through the shroud of the disease. If she talked, it was always incoherently, but I could see her making points the way she always had. She might chuckle softly at a mention of my brother. Even when I couldn’t get anything else out of her, she’d hum, to patriotic songs, to hymns, to “Ode to Joy.” 

No matter how bad it got, you’d see grace notes in the incredible love showered on her and others by the staff of the facility caring for her. Or another resident would do something amusing or touching. 

I remember an otherwise despairing visit, when another lady sat down randomly besides us. I said I liked the stuffed dog she had in a basket on her walker. She said he was a good boy, began to pet him and then kissed him a couple times lovingly on the snout. It was so sweet, I was moved to tears. 

The last time I visited my Mom, days before she took to her death bed, I badgered her, as I often did, to try to get a reaction out of her: “Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?”

Sometimes she wouldn’t say anything. Sometimes you might notice her trying to reply. This time, she got out an unmistakable, “Yep.” 

I played the “1812 Overture” on my phone, loud. Again, to get a reaction, I swung my arms in exaggerated, mock conductor movements, especially toward the finale, with Tchaikovsky’s chimes ringing and the cannons firing in a crashing crescendo of victory and resolve. 

And right at the end, my Mom briefly raised and twisted her hand in a conductor motion of her own. 

Take that, you merciless, godawful disease. 

Twitter: @RichLowry

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