"My Brilliant Friend" by Elena Ferrante is the first of the mysterious Italian author's Neapolitan novels. The series tells the story of a life-long friendship between two working class girls in Naples. Critics have called Ferrante “one of the greatest novelists of our time.” Yet nobody knows her true identity. Join Diane and her guests for a discussion of “My Brilliant Friend.”
Healthcare.gov sees an enrollment jump after repairs are made to the troubled website. Fast food workers across the country protest the federal minimum wage. And the Labor Department releases the November jobs report. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Sheryl Gay Stolberg Washington correspondent, The New York Times.
- Jerry Seib Washington bureau chief, The Wall Street Journal.
- Robert Costa political analyst for CNBC, former Washington editor for National Review. He will begin as national political reporter for the Washington Post later this month.
Nelson Mandela, former South African president and global icon for peace, died Thursday at age 95. The panel discussed Mandela’s influence on the United States, particularly the similarities between him and President Barack Obama. “Nelson Mandela was more than just an inspiration to South Africans or even to black Americans. I really think that he was an inspiration to all Americans. And not only for his forbearance and for his dignity, but also for his generosity of spirit,” said Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. President Obama remembers former South African President Nelson Mandela. The unemployment rate drops to 7 percent. And House and Senate negotiators are closer to a budget deal. Joining us for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup: Jerry Seib, Washington bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Washington correspondent for The New York Times, and Robert Costa, political analyst for CNBC.
MS. DIANE REHMAnd throughout the hour, we invite you to weigh in with your comments, questions, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And welcome to all of you.
MS. SHERYL GAY STOLBERGGood morning.
MR. JERRY SEIBHello.
MR. ROBERT COSTAGood morning.
REHMGood to have you all here. Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Michael Scherer wrote in The New York Times today, without Nelson Mandela, there might never had been a President Obama. And President Obama made reference to that fact in his speeches about Nelson Mandela.
STOLBERGNow, that is absolutely true. You know, President Obama came of age in this country at a time when there was a great movement toward anti-apartheid. There was a movement on the campuses of American universities to force businesses to divest from South Africa. And President Obama was really inspired by Nelson Mandela and by that movement.
STOLBERGThe first political speech he ever gave, in 1979, when he was 18 years old at Occidental College in California, was an anti-apartheid speech. And he went on to try to recruit leaders from the African National Congress to speak on campus there. He made this his cause. And I think, you know, the comparisons between Mandela and Obama are inevitable, even though the president has shied away from them.
STOLBERGBut, of course, both were the first black presidents of their country. Both have been Nobel Prize winners. Both are lawyers. Nelson Mandela was among the first black lawyers in South Africa, President Obama, of course, the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. As I said, the president always shied away from those comparisons, but it is clear that Nelson Mandela has truly been his inspiration. And you could see it when he came and spoke last night at the White House about Mandela's death.
REHMGive us a little history, Jerry Seib. That was during the Reagan Administration. 1979 was the first year I took over this microphone. President Reagan did not want to have the U.S. participate in anti-apartheid activities.
SEIBNo. And I think it's easy to forget now how completely the South African debate here was wrapped up with the Cold War environment. I mean, there was a sense -- and the Reagan Administration embraced this -- that the South African government of the time, the apartheid government, as distasteful as it may be, was a bulwark against communism in Africa.
SEIBAnd stopping the march of communism through Africa in the early to mid-1980s was a very big deal for National Security hawks in this country. And that was the debate. Do you push for desegregation and end to apartheid? Or do you look at South Africa as a bulwark against communism? And in 1984, when -- in this city -- Washington protests against apartheid at the South African embassy really hit kind of a fever pitch -- they went on for months and months, every day, hundreds and sometimes thousands of people out there.
SEIBIt was in the context of this debate. Is South Africa a bulwark against communism? Or is it an odious regime that needs to be thrown out no matter what the cost?
REHMAnd, Robert Costa, how economically effective were those protests?
COSTAI think you see the protests did have a major part in changing the perception, especially here in the United States in the 1980s. But we've seen a lot of discussion about the anti-apartheid movement this year. A lot of people saw Lee Butler's film "The Butler," and you see Ronald Reagan confronted about apartheid in South Africa. But when you go back to Reagan's own diaries, his entries from 1983, he talks about the sanctions.
COSTAHe talks about how he "detests apartheid." But he just was never able to move against sanctions and break with Botha's government. And so Reagan had a complicated relationship, I think. And I think Jerry's right. A lot of it was wrapped up in that Cold War strategy.
STOLBERGYou know, I think that's absolutely true. But, you know, getting back to the anti-apartheid movement and Obama and Nelson Mandela's influence in this country, you know, we -- I think Nelson Mandela was more than just an inspiration to South Africans or even to black Americans. I really think that he has inspired in a way all Americans, and not only for his forbearance and for his dignity but also for his generosity of spirit.
STOLBERGYou know, after he became president in South Africa, I was so struck by the way he embraced his white predecessor, F.W. de Klerk. He reached out. He didn't turn around and visit upon the white minority, the injustices that had been visited upon black people in South Africa for centuries. And, truly, I can't really think of a greater man walking on the face of this Earth. I think President Obama said it very well last night when he said he no longer belongs to us. He belongs to the ages.
REHMAnd, indeed, we will hear from President Obama and that speech a little later on in the program. He -- President Obama wanted to visit President Mandela on his last trip. He was -- Mandela was too ill. President wanted to respect that, so instead he went to Robben's Island and the cell where Mandela dwelled for 27 years.
SEIBRight. And very, very striking pictures from that visit. I think one of them that I remember is President Obama standing near the window just staring out of the window of that cell, very much like a picture of Nelson Mandela himself a few years earlier when he revisited that cell. And as I recall the trip, the president made a point of saying, I want to go there. It's not exactly convenient to get to. And he made a point of going, much as he is making a point now saying he's going to go to the funeral, which is, you know, going to be a fairly chaotic scene and not necessarily something a president often does.
SEIBFunerals are supposed to be the vice president's job, but I think this was one there was never much doubt that the president -- this president -- was going to go to the funeral. And he will next week.
REHMYou know, when President Mandela was here in Washington, back when President Clinton was in office and gave a state dinner for him, we had dear friends at the South African embassy who invited us to meet President Mandela and pushed me forward, so I was standing right outside the elevator as he got off on the second floor. And I shook hands with him. What a moment I shall never, ever forget. And I think a great many Americans share the grief that others around the world are feeling.
REHMOne of the issues about which President Mandela felt very strongly was equality. And, Jerry, that's something that now President Obama has said that income inequality is going to be his work for the next three years. What's the economic outlook as of this morning?
SEIBWell, as of this morning, it's better than it was yesterday morning. It's an interesting week on that front because a couple of days ago, as you suggest, President Obama gave that speech, a very big speech, saying income inequality is the mission of my last three years in office, talked about raising the minimum wage, talking about making it easier for unions to organize, talking about spending less of the budget debate, trying to reduce the deficit and more trying to stimulate the economy to address this.
SEIBAnd then today, and in fact the last couple days, really good economic numbers have emerged. The jobless rate in the last month fell to 7 percent, the lowest it's been in five years. Two hundred and three-thousand jobs were added to the payrolls around the country in November. And a couple really good parts of that, one is that manufacturing employment picked up.
SEIBAnd the second thing is -- and this doesn't get much attention -- but one of the things that's been dragging down the employment picture for months and last couple of years actually, the fact that the federal government has been shedding jobs and shedding jobs, that ended. The federal government added -- only lost a few jobs, and state and local governments added some jobs. So the government employment picture got a little better. So across the board, it was a much better employment report than people expected.
REHMRobert Costa, what is this likely to mean for the Fed's ongoing stimulus program?
COSTAI think the economy is steadily improving. And you see that there's -- I wonder if the Fed and especially in 2014 is going to be as active. Is there a need for stimulus? I think there's going to be a question on Capitol Hill about stimulus, about unemployment benefits, about how much more the government should be funding. And I think Republicans are going to continue to raise questions, especially as job numbers improve.
STOLBERGYou know, this speech that the president gave this week was very interesting. It harks back really to themes that he began developing when he was a state senator in Illinois, talking about income inequality, talking about, as he said this week, the relentless decades-long trend that is dangerous to the basic middle class bargain that if you work hard, you have a chance to get ahead. He harked back to Teddy Roosevelt and his call for -- Roosevelt's call for a new nationalism.
STOLBERGAnd he sort of articulated this vision that if we invest in our country -- and he invoked the memory of land grant colleges, for instance, or highway investment -- that we can sort of partner the government with the people to make life better for everyone. I think that's a vision that will clearly run into roadblocks with Republicans. I also wonder, frankly, if these new jobs numbers, in some way, might make it more difficult for him to make this case that things are difficult, especially with respect to his call for increasing the minimum wage. I don't know. I'd love to hear Jerry on that.
SEIBWell, I think it is going to be a political problem on that front. It's harder to make the case for extended unemployment when unemployment seems to be going down. However, the caveats in these good numbers that we've been talking about are two-fold. One is the number of people who are long-term unemployed continues to be astonishingly high, millions and millions of people who are not just out of work for a long time. And, secondly, the number of people that are in the work force is still down from where it was just a couple of months ago. So there are weak spots there still.
REHMJerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal. Short break here. Your calls when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back to the National Hour of our Friday News Roundup this week with Robert Costa. He's currently political analyst for CNBC, former Washington editor for National Review. He begins as national political reporter for the Washington post later this month. Also here, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Washington correspondent for the New York Times, Jerry Seib, Washington bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal. Sheryl, you had been writing and writing and writing about the troubled healthcare.gov website. Did you see signs of progress this week?
STOLBERGI think we are clearly seeing signs of progress, at least for consumers. Now, when the government set about repairing this site, really they focused their efforts on consumers. So we are seeing that consumers are having an easier time navigating the site. About 29,000 people enrolled on Sunday and Monday. That is more than the number of people who enrolled through the federal healthcare.gov exchange in the first month of its operation in October.
STOLBERGTotal enrollment in October was 106,000, but three-fourths of that was through the state-run exchanges. So, yes, consumers are having a better experience. Big questions remain, though, Diane. The back end of the site, the site that -- the part that connects the enrollment process to the insurers and to the IRS, which authorizes subsidies, remains unbuilt or big chunks of it remain unbuilt.
STOLBERGAnd insurers are very, very worried about whether or not they're going to get accurate enrollment information so that on Jan. 1, when people go to the doctor and think they have insurance, you know, the question is, will they really have it? Will the information that's transmitted to insurers be correct? Will insurers have an easy time getting the subsidy payments that they're due from the government? All these are unanswered questions.
SEIBThere's another back end problem -- excuse me -- that could prove to be more significant than people realize now, which is the other -- the parallel problem the site is having is getting information to states about people who've signed up for Medicaid through healthcare.gov. You know, a lot of the expansion of coverage is going to come by expanding the roles of Medicaid.
SEIBAnd that involves people in the state governments taking on those people. Well, one of the problems that has been explored this week is whether the information from the website that says to people, you should -- you qualify for Medicaid enrollment, whether that's getting to the states who actually have to take on those patients.
SEIBAnd so there may be some problems -- and this is, I think, one of the Democrats' nightmares at the moment. The website may be fixed on the front end, but the back end problems could come back to haunt them early next year. And that's, I think, what's keeping Democrats away at night right now.
REHMAnd, Robert, there's still legal challenges out there.
COSTAOh, very much so. You see many states are still challenging Obamacare. Many attorney generals out there are challenging it. But the Republicans really have had a difficult year in 2013. And there's a sense of gloom within the ranks. But I think Obamacare, not only the challenges in the states and the legal challenges, but the political climate in Washington, it's given Republicans a sense of optimism heading into 2014, perhaps unwarranted. But you definitely see Republicans looking at Obamacare as a way to perhaps keep the House in 2014 and maybe pick up a couple Senate seats.
STOLBERGYeah, I think this is part of a long term strategy with Republicans that really began actually last spring. When Republicans very concerned about divisions within their party and their own kind of inability to pass legislation or to make policy, began to focus on oversight. And what we're seeing right now is a spade of hearings in the House, all kinds of oversight hearings trying to bring to life problems with Obamacare, as they call it.
STOLBERGWe've also seen a very systematic Republican effort to use personal stories, personal experiences to their advantages. So at the end of October the House Republicans put out a playbook, walking Republican lawmakers through a variety of tactics, through social media, Twitter posts, all kinds of messaging tools, newspaper op-eds about -- with the -- under the rubric of because of Obamacare I lost my insurance. That's been their main thrust.
REHMBut at the same time, haven't Democrats been able to use the opposite of the same kind of playbook?
COSTAWell, the problem for a few weeks was that there were no success stories for Democrats to point...
COSTANow there are. And so you're actually moving into a phase of dueling anecdotes, you know, success stories and horror stories. And you're going to have a lot of that, I think, over the next few weeks.
STOLBERGBut what you're seeing now, so now that we're in this phase of dueling anecdotes, Republicans are now shifting. They're talking about things like changes in Medicare advantage programs for the elderly. They're going to be talking about the small business exchange, which has been delayed by the Obama Administration so that small businesses can't go on and shop the way consumers have.
STOLBERGSo the Republican tactic, I think, is to keep one step ahead of the Democratic narrative. Now we'll see if they can do it, but if you look at the hearings that we've had this week alone, a hearing in the Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday on implementation of the law, also Wednesday, the Small Business Committee, a hearing on whether or not businesses could be considered single or multiple entities under the law.
STOLBERGWednesday also, changes in Medicare advantage programs in the Energy and Commerce Committee. A hearing today, a field hearing in Arizona to get a closer look at what Republicans call the "broken promise," the idea that people did lose their plans.
REHMCan't keep their own...
STOLBERGSo you're seeing just a hammering away, if you will...
REHMBut despite the hammering away, as more and more people sign on, Jerry, doesn't that change the outlook?
SEIBWell, I think we are in an inflection point this week. I don't think the debate is over the websites. I think that's ending.
SEIBI mean, because everybody's going to say, OK, OK, fine. For two months, it was a disaster, but that's going to work. So now you're on to the question of whether the law will work, now whether the website will work. And that's going to go on all through next year. And it's going to be difficult because, you know, the success of the law will include displacement of some people and some disruption. And everybody now recognizes that.
SEIBAnd so I think that the question of whether the economics of the healthcare system are changed by this law over time and whether that's visible enough by 2014. That's going to be the crucial question, not the glitches that we've been talking about for two months.
REHMAnd, politically, will Republicans continue to vote to totally throw out Obamacare?
COSTAOf course. You're going to still see political feeder from Republicans, but there has been an important shift in that in 2013 there's still a rally cry for appeal and for defunding of the law. But, as Sheryl said, now Republicans are adjusting. They're focusing on oversight. The one thing I'm looking at is, January and February, you have another government funding deadline approaching and another debt ceiling deadline in February.
COSTARepublicans, especially the leadership, do not want to have another standoff. There's not an appetite for that politically but you're still going to see conservative elements in the party push to get some kind of concession on Obamacare early next year.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about these budget negotiations, Jerry, and what you see going on.
SEIBWell, we're close to what everybody will universally refer to as a modest budget deal that will split the difference for the next two years between the amount of money Republicans wanted to spend and the amount of money Democrats wanted to spend on domestic discretionary programs, those programs that Congress has to approve every year different from, you know, the automatic entitlement programs.
SEIBAnd that will ease some of the sequester restrictions, some of the kind of mindless cuts that were put into place last year and that everybody agrees are not a very smart way to do it. It won't address many problems. It won't really address the long term question of what's the adequate level of taxation and spending for the country. That's kind of all being kicked into the 2014 election.
REHMWhat about sequester?
SEIBWell, sequester will still live on in a kind of a sort of reduced or kind of shrunken state because you're still -- the debate is still around the level of spending that the sequester required. So in a sense that's a Republican victory.
SEIBThe sequester has taken hold the idea that the level that we're going to start the debate at is the sequester level for domestic discretionary spending. And now that's going to be adjusted a little bit. And they're essentially going to split the difference between what Republicans wanted and Democrats wanted. But the sequester in that sense kind of lives on just in modified form.
REHMAnd what about Nancy Pelosi's argument that federal unemployment insurance needs to be extended?
SEIBYeah, well, this goes back to the point Sheryl raised earlier. That seems to be the big outstanding issue here.
STOLBERGYes. I mistakenly said minimum wage, but I meant unemployment extension.
SEIBIt's unemployment benefits, yeah. It will -- extended unemployment benefits be continued for people who've been out of work for a long time. That seems to be the last sticking point. I've always had the feeling -- and Robert may have a better sense of this than I do -- that the Republicans knew that at the end that was going to be the last bargaining chip to be used here and that they have resisted it.
SEIBBut yesterday or earlier in the week, House Speaker Boehner sort of moved off a little bit and said, well, if you have an idea about extending long-term unemployment benefits, I'd like to hear about it. So I think that's the last issue, and I think it's going to be hashed out in the next couple of days.
COSTAI think Jerry's right on the unemployment benefits. Boehner, in his typical way, said, if the Senate and the White House could come up with their own plan, the House will likely consider to bring it to the floor at the end of the year.
SEIBIn a part, because, you know, I don't think Republicans want to do a government shutdown, you know, debate.
SEIBThey don't want to have a big crisis again. That didn't work for anybody. So what's striking to me is that not only is this an attempt to get it done, it's an attempt to get it done before Christmas...
SEIB...and for the next two years. Let's not do this again.
REHMAnd what about how does the minimum wage discussion fit into this overall picture, Sheryl?
STOLBERGWell, I think the minimum wage discussion certainly fits into the overall picture of what business wants, right. And so, you know, I think we're going to see a clash between President Obama who has now aligned himself with Democrats who want to increase the minimum wage. Republicans, who say, it's bad for business. So you have the Chamber of Commerce coming out saying, you know, this is not a good thing. House Speaker John Boehner said it will just depress the ability of business to hire low-wage workers.
REHMSame arguments we've heard every single time.
STOLBERGRight. But, you know, back to this deal, I wanted to raise an interesting point -- or a point that I found interesting. This deal doesn't really include anything that can be described as a tax. It includes fees like having the airlines pay more to Transportation Safety Administration. And it includes raising revenue by other means, like having federal workers contribute more to their pensions.
STOLBERGSo Republicans can sign off on this deal without saying they signed off on new taxes. And Democrats can sign off on the deal without saying that they agreed only to spending cuts. And I think that's why we're seeing kind of what I would call a mini bargain. This isn't the grand bargain that everybody's been hoping for.
STOLBERGBut it's a mini bargain, and maybe it's some kind of budgetary sleight of hand. But I think it's interesting, and we'll see if it works.
REHMAnd, meantime, you saw fast food workers across the country staging rallies yesterday, Robert.
COSTAOh, the movement for minimum wage in this country is an important one, and it seems to be gaining speed. But when you look at the Republican House, they're not interested in this kind of legislation to increase the minimum wage. There's no energy there. They can barely get together to pass funding for the government.
COSTAAnd even this deal, which has been brokered by Paul Ryan and blessed by Boehner, in a sense, privately, it faces many hurdles because Republicans are unwilling to -- many Republicans are unwilling to consider fees. And so if it's so difficult to pass fees in the U.S. House, passing a minimum wage bill would be even more difficult.
REHMIs there any evidence that raising the minimum wage would help income inequality, Jerry?
SEIBWell, you know, this is a -- we've written a lot about this, as you'd expect. And this is a classic case in which you can get your stack of economic studies that prove your point, and I can get my stack of economic studies that prove my point. There isn't really a consensus.
SEIBAnd one of the things that might happen here actually -- this is not anybody's intention -- but because congress, as Robert said, is unlikely to do anything in the short term to raise the minimum wage, not right now, but lots of states and localities are raising the minimum wage. You may have an interesting real-life experiment in which there's a higher minimum wage here and next door there's a lower minimum wage. We'll see what happens in the real world.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." But I gather Senate Democrats are already considering moving on minimum wage.
SEIBThey are. I think that this is -- this is the one area where I think the kind of mini outbreak of bipartisanship and cooperation between the House and the Senate probably falls apart. I just don't think there's a consensus there.
STOLBERGI do. And I think Jerry made a smart point about, you know, disparities in the minimum wage. Already 10 states in the District of Columbia have minimum wages that are higher than the federal minimum wage for most workers, which is $7.25 an hour.
COSTAWhen you look at Republicans, they know they have a political problem with the president looking at minimum wage income inequality. And you see Paul Ryan giving major speeches on poverty, Mike Lee in the Senate from Utah giving major poverty speeches, and so Rand Paul this week, senator from Kentucky, going to Detroit. And so Republicans know this is going to be the -- one of the issues in 2014. They're not willing to really seat any ground but they're trying to talk about it in their own way.
STOLBERGYou know, we keep mentioning Paul Ryan. I said earlier, about a month or so ago on this program, that he was a Republican that Democrats could trust. And a reader actually wrote to me and said, that's not true. Back in his home state, no Democrats trust him. But I think he's an interesting character. Maybe Democrats feel about him trust but verify but this is his first attempt to really cut a deal with Democrats. And if he can pull this off, I think this really positions him very nicely for 2016.
REHMAnd, Robert, this week a federal judge cleared the way for Detroit to declare bankruptcy. I wonder if this could be a new start for that city.
COSTAI hope so. I love Detroit. I've been there many times with family and friends. Detroit, you go there though, there is a lot of small business on the ground, a lot of young people moving there. As much as it's had problems and it's facing bankruptcy, there's a lot of green areas in the city. I think there's a lot of potential for growth. And when you're there you see it, you smell it and you can appreciate it. But I think this may be a turning point for the city.
REHMBut what about the public pensions on the table?
SEIBWell, look, I mean, Detroit is the laboratory case for an issue that just about every city and almost every state has to figure out a way to deal with in the next few years, which is how do you get your arms around pensions costs? Now Detroit's got lots of bond obligations that are actually even a bigger burden than the pension costs, but the thing that's right there front and center is pension costs.
SEIBAnd most large cities have significant problems. And there has to be some model created in which the burden of pension costs, which, you know, cities frankly overpromised for years and years, has to be dealt with. What's the civilized way in which everybody can get together and deal with it? That's the most interesting thing about Detroit to me.
STOLBERGYou know, one thing that art lovers around the country are watching is the fate of the beautiful art collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts. It has a world class art collection that the Detroit Free Press has valued it at as much as 2.5 billion. Christy's, (sp?) looking at only those works that were bought with public funds, valued the collection at between 452 million and 866 million.
STOLBERGAnd the question is whether or not these works, which include a Matisse, a Van Gogh, a Bruegel, should be sold in order to pay Detroit's debt. And, of course, the museum officials there say this would really result in the dissolution of the museum. Others may say, well, is art a luxury that the City of Detroit simply can't afford? Should we be taking money away from pensioners and keeping our art collection?
REHMJerry, how do you resolve that issue?
SEIBI'm not going to. But I do think there is embedded in that a broader question here, which is if you have to make tough decisions, who bears the burden? Do you go -- do you sacrifice other things to make good on your promises to pensioners? Do you keep those people whole but make current workers pay a price? Do you sacrifice the benefits for young people so that you can take care of old people? These are really painful, social choices. And Detroit is just the most extreme example of it.
REHMAnd do you see California, other states, looking at these pension issues?
SEIBSure, and you can start in Illinois right next door. You know, you've got both the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois that have pension problems that are enormous. They're not quite -- in the overall scheme of things they're not in as bad of shape as Detroit obviously. But their pension programs are, if anything, worse.
REHMJerry Seib, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Robert Costa, they're all here to respond to your questions, your comments after a very short break.
REHMAnd welcome back. Time to open the phones and take your calls. First, to Grand Haven, Mich. Hello, Asia, you're on the air.
ASIAHi. I was calling because I know that with the Affordable Care Act as an incentive for employers to give their employees healthcare, they lowered the bar for minimum wage to 30 hours instead of 40. So I work at Pizza Hut, and that whole branch of the Young Corporation has knocked our hours. Now, instead of getting 35 hours, I get 25. And I was wondering if that could have to do with the job numbers going up.
REHMThe job numbers or the Affordable Care Act?
STOLBERGYeah. Well, I don't know if it has to do with the job numbers going up because what you're saying is that basically companies are hiring more 'cause they're giving each worker fewer hours. But you are correct, the caller is correct that under the Affordable Care Act, the work week was redefined, the average work week was redefined to be set at 30 hours.
STOLBERGThat is the threshold that employers have to meet and if they have a certain number of workers, they have to provide health insurance and a full-time worker is now defined at being a worker who works 30 hours a week. So I gather from this caller, that Pizza Hut has now bumped her hours down, so it doesn't have to meet the threshold for buying her insurance because she's not considered a full-time worker at 25 hours a week.
SEIBWell, that's correct, and that's actually been a phenomenon that has been spreading out around the economy. And I think it's going to be one of the issues that if people decide they need to tweak Obamacare over the next couple of years, it's going to have to be addressed. I don't think, though, that this was a factor in the new jobs report because actually the average work week in the last month in November increases slightly.
SEIBSo this was not a case of people who work fewer hours piling into the system, although that has been happening slowly along the way. I think the numbers were good last month for other reasons.
REHMAll right. To Palm Coast, Fla., hello, Elizabeth.
ELIZABETHYes. Good morning. Mandela was an extraordinary man, but it's not surprising that Reagan sided with the corporate interests over apartheid. For many decades, Africa's been ravaged by foreign interests who robbed the resources while its people starved under willing corrupt leaders.
ELIZABETHBut I find the timing ironic, that the movie about Nelson Mandela's life coincides with another documentary film called, "Mission Congo" about TV evangelist Pat Robinson who, in the 1990s, used his TV program to raise money for medical aid for the war-torn people of Rwanda, but most of those donations went to Robinson's diamond and gold mine in Africa. I'm looking forward to seeing both of these films.
REHMThat's interesting. I certainly hadn't heard that. Had you, Robert?
COSTANo. And I've not seen the trailer. Interested to see the film.
REHMI should say. Any other comment? All right. Let's go to -- I'm not sure. Here is an email from Ellen in Baltimore who says, "You might mention U.S. support for the Apartheid regime including putting Nelson Mandela on a terror watch list where he remained until 2008," she says. His visits to the U.S. required a waiver until then. Jerry?
SEIBThat may be. I'm simply not aware of that. I mean, there was a reality, there was a legacy that had to do with the ANC, the African National Congress, which was classified as a terrorist group and it may be that that just lingered on. That was the way the South African government wanted to view the ANC. That's the way it viewed the ANC.
SEIBThat became the South Africa government's argument about why the ANC shouldn't be recognized as a legitimate political party. Obviously, that fell apart along with the apartheid regime. I don't know if there was a legacy of that kind or not.
REHMAll right. Let's see. I've got so many emails here. "Your guests are talking about the decrease in the unemployment, but what are the wages for these new jobs? If we lose 100,000 jobs with decent pay, then replace with 100,000 jobs with minimum wage, how does that help?" Jerry?
SEIBWell, again, if we're talking about last month, actually the average earnings rose four cents an hour to $24.15, so it's -- look, there is a -- and this goes back to the income inequality conversation we've been having. There is a problem that wages, at the low end of the economic scale, have been suppressed, and that's the reason for the income inequality gap we're discussing.
SEIBRight now, though, I think the picture of the economy suggests that jobs are being created across the board, including in manufacturing which are almost by definition reasonable well-paying jobs. So that's a long-term issue. The short-term picture is good in spite of that, I would say.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Danny in Louisville, Ky. You're on the air.
DANNYOK. This is very light-hearted to Sheryl. But I think she drank the Kool-Aid when she says that they can vote for the new laws that raise fees, but they're not taxes. I mean, when you charge companies and so forth, basically that's a tax. And the other thing is that I wish that everyone would put a whole lot more focus on putting pressure on lobbyists, getting rid of lobbyists because I think they are the number one issue with this country right now in our government.
STOLBERGWell, I don't think I drank the Kool-Aid. I think the caller and I were making exactly the same point, which was that Republicans have, you know, sort of couched this as a fee so that they don't have to vote for something that they don't like, which is a tax, but, you know, you can -- I don’t know. You say tomato. I say tomato.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Jackson, Mississippi. Hi there, Scott.
SCOTTWell, I noticed that in giving the green light to the Detroit bankruptcy, the judge was dismissive of Michigan's constitutional guarantee of pensions. Now, as people seem to love to say, federal law supersedes state law. But there actually has to be a conflict between the federal law and the state law. And so I don't see how this constitutional guarantee of pensions is structurally in conflict with federal law.
SCOTTIn fact, if I was a bankruptcy judge, I would be delighted to have this at my disposal because it means the judge can take a huge chunk of Detroit's debt and pass it off to somebody else, basically the state of Michigan. So you've got, obviously, you know, a large number of creditors who were competing for this dwindling pool of resources and tax revenue in Detroit and probably the biggest part of it is this pension debt.
SCOTTWell, they could just say, OK, here, state of Michigan, this belongs to you. You're liable for this. So, actually, I'm puzzled, you know, about the judges attitude and actually I don't think that he can actually not follow the constitutional amendment guaranteeing pensions unless there -- he says it's unconstitutional or something like that and I don't see that they've made any substantive argument that it's structurally in conflict with federal law.
STOLBERGWell, I think what the caller raises is what is actually going to work its way through the courts on appeal, which is that this judge said that even though the Michigan constitution expressly protects the pensions, that these pensions are, in the view of this federal district court judge, not protected under Chapter 9 of the federal bankruptcy laws. So, of course, unions are aghast over this and will immediately seeing appeals and it is quite possible that this kind of thing could work its way up ultimately to the United States Supreme Court.
REHMHere's an email from Christopher in St. Louis, Miss., who says, "On Tuesday, I met with a certified application counselor here in St. Louis and signed up for affordable care. It was easy. It was painless. It was timely. The counselor verified with me my new plan covers my same doctor, all my medications and my pharmacy, which delivers free to me. Don't understand the controversy at all. Is this all media hype? No one I know really talks about the ACA." What do you think?
REHMHow many of these people who have had absolutely no problem at all are there out there and we're hearing and publicizing an awful lot of the other folks?
STOLBERGWell, I think the White House will be calling Christopher in St. Louis very soon.
REHMI think so. I think so.
STOLBERGAnd we are going to see this counteroffensive of stories just like Christopher's and it will become easier for Democrats and the White House to spotlight those stories now that the consumer end of the website has been fixed. That said, I think, on Jan. 1, we may see a spade of a different kind of story of people going to their doctor and saying I had to wait in a long line to be seen. I thought I had insurance and it wasn't quite right. So we will see.
REHMTo Greensboro, N.C., hi there, Solomon.
SOLOMONGood morning, Diane. How are you doing?
SOLOMONGood. Yeah, we're using the wrong metric to measure the minimum wage and how it should be raised or not raised because the prices go up all the time. In the last 10 years, we all know the difference between -- 10 years ago and what it would cost you today. And the minimum wage is basically the same (unintelligible).
REHMWhat do you think, Jerry?
SEIBWell, look, I mean, the gaps were probably even bigger 10 years ago than they are now. There has been some change. I think the debate really goes to whether a job at minimum wage is better than no job at all and that's really the argument that people who are against raising make. Not that you can live and raise a family on the minimum wage, but that for a lot of people who are on the border, particularly younger people, that's not the choice.
SEIBThe choice is between having a job at this wage or not job at all. Not that the minimum wage job is likely to be the kind of job that you can raise a family on. So that -- it really becomes a debate about kind of what tradeoffs you're going to make in the economy. I think that one of the things that's happening, we talked about this before, is there's a lot of movement on the ground to raise minimum wages.
SEIBI think states and localities are going to move past the federal government here and then there'll be an interesting question, probably not this year, probably after the 2014 elections about whether Washington does or doesn't want to catch up with some states and localities out there.
REHMBrian has emailed to ask, "How many of the jobs that were added are temporary holiday jobs?" Do we know? Bob.
COSTAWhen we look at the report, we do see -- I'm sure some of them are getting ready for the holiday season, the retail season. Jerry, do you have any better numbers on that from the Journal?
SEIBYeah, there's some, but that's really not the bulk of what happened here. These are mostly full-time jobs and there is some error in the numbers, as I said earlier that has to do with people who got laid off because of the government shutdown being pulled back in. So there's a little bit of artificial sort of lift in these numbers for that reason, but I think these jobs, particularly because there's a big increase in manufacturing jobs, are not sort of just holiday temporary jobs.
REHMAnd how many jobs are government jobs that came back online after the government shutdown?
SEIBRight. And that's, as I said earlier, that's one of the big and, I think, long-term significant things here is that state and local governments seem to have hit bottom. And they're starting to come back a little bit in terms of hiring.
REHMJerry Seib of the Wall Street Journal, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go now to William in Oakridge, Tenn. Go right ahead, William.
WILLIAMGood morning. It's so nice to talk to a rational and fair voice.
WILLIAMI was curious, is there a particular enmity between the Cuban American community and Nelson Mandela? A friend of mine brought up that she didn't appreciate him because he didn't visit or he didn't recognize someone in the community. I was just wondering...
REHMJerry, what's the story?
SEIBWell, look, there is a little bit of tension there, always was for the following reason, that Nelson Mandela basically was a friend of Fidel Castro because he felt, throughout his life, that Fidel Castro had been -- befriended him and the ANC when he was in prison. And he said -- and I think he said this multiple times -- who am I to abandon somebody who stood with me when I was in prison for 27 years?
SEIBSo he was, by inclination and sort of by personal decision, friendly toward Fidel Castro and by definition his regime in Cuba and I think that was the cause of some tension over time. But I think Mandela addressed this and explained it in exactly those terms more than once.
REHMAll right. And one last call from Ben in Washington, D.C. You're on the air.
BENYes. Thank you very much for taking my call.
BENI find that this is a very interesting conversation about, you know, capitalism versus morality and sometimes, you know, looking at the influence that capitalists pursuits have on, you know, morality when it comes to, you know, people's equal justice rights and human rights, I kind of wanted to get the speakers thoughts on, you know, as we talk about equal wages versus corporate profits, as well as the influence that Catholicism has on foreign governments, you know, how do we figure out a way forward that kind of stays true to our Constitution as well as, like, people's rights to human life?
REHMAll right. Ben, thanks for you call. Bob Costa.
COSTAIt's an interesting question, and I think, when I talk to lawmakers on Capitol Hill, there's a sense that the president's focus on income inequality is an important moment, but what's almost weighing on top of this entire discussion is Pope Francis and his commentary this year about capitalism and about reaching out to the poor. I think there's just an undercurrent, not only here in the U.S., but around the world, about these issues, about how to consider them.
REHMWe began this hour's conversation regarding Nelson Mandela and his legacy. I love this quote from President Obama.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMAHe achieved more than can be expected of any man. And today, he's gone home, and we've lost one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth. He no longer belongs to us. He belongs to the ages.
REHMAnd here's an email from Nancy who says, "I just wanted to mention that the president's quote, now he belongs to the ages, is emblazoned on Lincoln's tomb in Springfield, Ill., something that Mr. Obama would know. It's particularly appropriate for him to juxtapose that quote to describe Mr. Mandela's passing."
REHMReally a passing that I know will be felt all over the world. I thank you all for being here to share these comments this morning. Jerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal, Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times and Robert Costa of CNBC, thank you all.
ASIAThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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