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These Things Are True

[ 41 ] August 27, 2015 |

Food.... bagel  with cream cheese.

Yes, yes, yes:

I’ve puzzled over this ever since I moved to Manhattan 10 years ago for college. Weekend afternoons often found me on a bench outside the Upper West Side stalwart Absolute Bagels, awkwardly cupping my bagel in the wax paper it was served in, trying not to drop it while I scraped away globs of excess cream cheese. For a long time, I wasn’t sure if others went through the same annoying ritual, so I recently started asking around. I’ve brought it up with friends, neighbors, and strangers at bars. I’ve asked young black women and old Jewish men. While my methods are far from scientific, my research strongly suggests that most New Yorkers agree: The cream cheese is too damn much.

Just how much are we talking about? Employees at a few Manhattan shops told me they add a quarter-pound, which is insane. A representative of Ess-a-Bagel, the East Side institution, said staff there are told to give about 3 ounces—only slightly less insane. In an article for Serious Eats last year, Max Falkowitz weighed samples from six New York City stores and found a range from 0.7 ounces, at Black Seed in Brooklyn, to 3.9 ounces, at Brooklyn Bagel in Manhattan. Absolute Bagel came in at 2.5 ounces, and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s favorite, Bagel Hole, served 1.7 ounces. Even those mid-range numbers are a lot. I ordered an everything bagel with “just a little cream cheese” at Bagel Hole a few weeks ago, and still had to tell the guy to scrape some off.

Like Edelman, if I’m ordering a bagel with cream cheese I always ask for “light” or “only a little” or something, and still get far more than I want. The full amount is just gross — not just unhealthy, but ruins the texture of the bagel.

How to Save New Orleans

[ 26 ] August 27, 2015 |


This is kind of disturbing. A decade after Hurricane Katrina, three separate engineering teams have concluded that the only way to save New Orleans from future hurricane damage by building up the Mississippi Delta around the city is to let the end of the Delta die. And maybe that’s true. The declining sediment load thanks to agriculture combining with the engineering choices already made on the river plus rising sea levels probably does mean that hard choices are going to have to be made. Of course even if scientists, engineers, and urban planners had consensus that this was the best answer, it doesn’t mean the politics would allow it to happen, with the status quo having an endless amount of money behind it.

The Union Edge

[ 22 ] August 27, 2015 |


Above: Pittsburgh, 1940

I was on The Union Edge on Tuesday, the great labor radio program out of Pittsburgh, talking about Out of Sight and other labor-related matters. You can listen to it here.

My Pittsburgh visit was also highlighted by not only meeting wjts, but not getting into fisticuffs with him over condiment choices. I was proud of myself.

Joint Employers

[ 24 ] August 27, 2015 |


In a major victory against the obscuring of employers in order to disempower workers, the National Labor Relations Board has ruled that corporations who use contractors and franchises are the joint employers of those workers. This is an enormously important decision because employers like the fast food industry (the case is actually about a waste management company but fast food is the most famous user of this method) argue that if workers were to join unions, they would have to negotiate with each individual restaurant instead of with McDonald’s. The big companies control almost everything about the work, but used these obscuring methods as a way to shield themselves from liability. The NLRB just stripped a lot of that way and undermined some of the reasons for subcontracting and franchising.

In the case, the N.L.R.B. held that a company called Browning-Ferris Industries of California was a joint employer of workers hired by a contractor to help staff the company’s recycling center. But the ruling could apply well beyond companies that rely on contractors and staffing agencies, extending to companies with large numbers of franchisees.

“The decision today could be one of the more significant by the N.L.R.B. in the last 35 years,” said Marshall Babson, a lawyer who helped write the brief for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in the case and who was a Democratic appointee to the labor board in Ronald Reagan’s presidency. “ Depending on how the board applies its new ‘indirect test,’ it will likely ensnare an ever-widening circle of employers and bargaining relationships.”

Beyond Browning-Ferris, the ruling may have a significant immediate effect on a case the labor board is litigating against McDonald’s and several of its franchisees. In that case, the N.L.R.B.’s general counsel, who essentially acts as a prosecutor, asserts that the company is a joint employer along with a number of franchisees, making it potentially liable for numerous reported violations of workers’ rights, like retaliating against those who have tried to organize unions.

Thursday’s N.L.R.B. ruling, by enshrining a broader joint-employer definition into doctrine, makes it more likely to apply in the McDonald’s case as well, though experts point out that joint employer designations are typically very dependent on the circumstances of each case.

Business representatives said the ruling could make it much harder to operate franchises in the future, undermining a popular path for many entrepreneurs.

“This will clearly jeopardize small employers and the future viability of the franchise model,” said Steve Caldeira, president of the International Franchise Association, an industry group. “If I’m an existing and/or aspiring franchisee, why would I want to expand my business and/or get into franchising if I don’t have the ability to run the day-to-day operations of the business?”

The industry pretending that the franchisee controls the business is hilarious given how much control the company holds over the entire operation.

Some credit goes to the Teamsters here who brought the case before the NLRB and this demonstrates how important it could be to unionization efforts:

The Browning Ferris case grew out of an organizing effort by the Teamsters. The union sought to have the waste management company named as a joint employer for workers employed by the staffing firm Leadpoint Business Services, a subcontractor for Browning Ferris. If Browning Ferris were deemed a joint employer, it would have to join Leadpoint in bargaining with the Teamsters. Such a determination could also make it easier for the Teamsters to organize workers at other staffing agencies that do work for Browning Ferris.

A regional director for the NLRB ruled that Browning Ferris did not exert enough control over Leadpoint workers to be considered a joint employer under current standards, but the Teamsters appealed that ruling to the federal board. Thursday’s ruling will change those standards for future cases.

Heckuva Job!

[ 99 ] August 27, 2015 |


Shorter Michael Brown: If I learned anything at Oklahoma City University School of Law or that Arabian horse association I left in a hail of lawsuits, it’s that as long as you don’t bear sole responsibility for something you bear no responsibility for something. Also, my plan to provide resources based on what I hoped state and local officials would do rather than what they did was brilliant.

The Politics of Firearm Violence

[ 93 ] August 27, 2015 |

As you may have seen yesterday, I have a longer argument about admonitions that firearm violence shouldn’t be “politicized.”

Today In Hatchet Jobs, Which I Mean in the Best Sense

[ 93 ] August 27, 2015 |


In an all-too-appropriate match of author and subject, Niall Ferguson has written a biography of Henry Kissinger. It is apparently exactly as good as one would expect:

The subtitle of this volume gives some indication of what Ferguson is missing in his psychoanalysis of Kissinger’s critics: The Idealist. The author’s revisionist thesis is that Kissinger was not in fact a realist, as he is so frequently portrayed. Hence Ferguson provides lofty epigrams from his subject to begin his chapters, such as this one: “It is true that ours is an attempt to exhibit Western values, but less by what we say than by what we do.” He shows us Kissinger moralizing against the use of “small countries as pawns” in the game of global strategy. Ferguson even quotes Kissinger privately scolding the Kennedy administration (those “unscrupulous pragmatists”) for tacitly authorizing the assassination of South Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem: “The honor and the moral standing of the United States require that a relationship exists between ends and means.… Our historical role has been to identify ourselves with the ideals and deepest hopes of mankind.”

Horseshit. By reproducing these quotations with a straight face, Ferguson has made himself a hypocrite’s bullhorn. The ideals and deepest hopes of mankind? Kissinger and Nixon bombed Cambodia to pieces in a secret four-year campaign that annihilated some 100,000 civilians. “Anything that flies, on anything that moves,” were the parameters Kissinger gave to Alexander Haig. He countered African liberation movements by embracing the white supremacists of Rhodesia and South Africa, a policy known as the “Tar Baby option.” Kissinger facilitated the overthrow of the governments of Chile and Argentina by right-wing generals, and then worked tirelessly to deflect criticism of the new governments’ torture and murder. A declassified memorandum of his meeting with Augusto Pinochet in 1976 shows Kissinger in a particularly unflattering light: “We welcomed the overthrow of the Communist-inclined government here. We are not out to weaken your position.” In 1975 Kissinger and President Ford met with Indonesian strongman Suharto and authorized him to invade East Timor, which he promptly did the following day; another 100,000 lost their lives. “It is important that whatever you do succeeds quickly,” Kissinger advised.

Henry Kissinger is entitled to a defense, but outfitting him in the white robes of idealism is not the way to go about it.

Firearm Violence Is Inherently Political

[ 311 ] August 26, 2015 |


I assume you’ve heard about the on-camera killing of a Virginia reporter and her cameraman this morning.

Supporters of the USA’s unusual and very bad gun control policies will inevitably tell us not to “politicize” the shooting. But firearm violence in the United States is inherently political. The are means, common in many other countries, that would almost certainly cause a substantial reduction in firearm deaths, both homicides and suicides. Continuing to do nothing in the face of this scale of unnecessary death is political. Some things should be politicized.

UPDATE: Longer version of the argument here.

On the Ashley Madison Hack

[ 312 ] August 26, 2015 |


Heather Havrilesky is very much making sense:

And while the biggest hacks to receive attention lately — the Sony hack, the Fappening’s nude-celebrity-photo link, and Ashley Madison — may have targeted groups that are easily held at a distance, that won’t always be the case. Where’s the real harm in exposing the pubic-hair-dye kit purchased by a wealthy executive, or outing a cheating married man? we might ask ourselves. But it’s only a matter of time before regular mortals who don’t think they’ve sinned at all, beyond harshly criticizing their bosses or lamenting their meddling mothers-in-law, are exposed along with the easier targets. While the Ashley Madison hackers have set their sights on punishing cheaters, domestic or foreign extremists could resolve to punish anyone purchasing the wrong sorts of books, anyone listening to the wrong kinds of music, anyone of the wrong race or religion. Cackling when the mob goes after someone whose behavior seems suspect to you is one thing. It will be harder to laugh along when a different kind of mob decides that your sex-toy purchases, that N.W.A album you bought on iTunes, or those jokes you made about stockpiling plastic explosives in a private email make you a worthy target.

The Ashley Madison hack can’t be examined in a vacuum, because the long-term, widespread implications of how this hack is handled are enormous. Not only should we be asking just how good a job corporations, businesses, and the government are doing at keeping our information safe (answer: not so good, in fact), we should be vigorously fighting the ignorant attitude that transparency makes us better people, which is naïve to the point of being depressing. The root issue is simple: When the public is patrolled by a mob, the consequences are dire for everyone involved.

Likewise, those who blithely state “privacy is dead” as if they have no skin in the game, as if merely shrugging and accepting that we no longer have any rights as individuals, may be the most disheartening of all. Are we ready to agree that we, as citizens, have no recourse, that it’s perfectly natural that criminals and the corporate entities that fail to protect us from them would mishandle our assets and expose us all to fraud and identity theft and public attacks? Do we want our public servants targeting citizens by using information gained through criminal means?

See also Greenwald.

I know this is pointless swimming against the tide, but I would actually go farther than Amanda and Erik: I don’t think that information obtained from the hack should be publicized by the media, period. I think this is true even in cases like Duggar, where the behavior would be newsworthy enough to be worth reporting if knowledge of it wasn’t obtained by illegal and privacy-threatening means.

I would also reiterate that even when hypocrisy is arguably newsworthy isn’t not really a very big deal. Josh Duggar’s patriarchal views of marriage and attempts to negatively influence public policy through lobbying and his reality show wouldn’t be any better if he adhered to his stated principles more consistently. And let’s be frank: most of the time even when publicly relevant hypocrisy is present, it’s more an excuse than a reason. Media oulets might have started their Ashley Madison stories with Duggar, but soon enough they will move on to not-even-really-celebrities with no influence on public policy and only the most tenuous hypocrisy angle. At bottom, people are mostly in it for the thigh-rubbing even when there’s a colorable argument that the behavior revealed by a hack is newsworthy.

…and as MDrew observes in consequences, the effects of the hack on ordinary people can be horrible.

When I Am President Mondays Will Be Abolished

[ 46 ] August 26, 2015 |

And I promise a lasagna in every pan! You know I’m sincere about this because my Garfield posters say I am.

Republican voters, ladies and gentlemen…

bspencer/Garfield ’16!

American Grift

[ 86 ] August 26, 2015 |

In this instance, victims get further victimized.

Quantities are limited

[ 58 ] August 25, 2015 |


Having demonstrated that that, discounted to present value, a law degree from an American law school is worth on average just under one million dollars, Michael Simkovic has turned his attention to a genuine social crisis: the billions of dollars in lost earnings suffered every year by prospective law students, who have made the serious, and eminently preventable, mistake of not enrolling in law school

The blame for this multi-billion dollar catastrophe is easy to ascribe: ongoing bad publicity, based on a sensationalist media environment, that promotes TV shows like “Suits,” which I’ve been told is about document reviewers being paid $15 per hour to be basement-dwelling helots for law firms that use them for casual and mind-numbing labor, and Legally Blonde, a film which has been compared The Seventh Seal in regard to the existential dread in which it envelops the viewer.

Earlier this month, I charted the overwhelmingly negative press coverage of law schools and the legal profession over the last 5 years and discussed the disconnect between the news slant and economic reality. To the extent that news coverage dissuaded individuals from attending law school for financial reasons, or caused them to delay attending law school, newspapers will on average have cost each prospective law students tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. The total economic harm across all prospective law students could easily be in the low billions of dollars.

What can we learn from this?

Accurate, informed, and balanced news coverage does not happen of its own volition, particularly in a world where sensationalism and negativity attract eyeballs and sell advertising. …

Luckily, a spate of bad PR is a far from insoluble problem: Read more…

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