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A General Strike in Philadelphia?

[ 10 ] October 15, 2014 |

One story I was unable to talk about after my computer theft earlier this month was the Philadelphia School Reform Commission cancelling the contract with the city’s teachers unilaterally. It was a classic move by the anti-union appointees of Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett and part of the reason he is on the way out.

What’s interesting is that the city’s labor leaders evidently talked about a rather extreme action in response:

Outraged by the School Reform Commission’s decision to cancel its collective bargaining agreement with Philadelphia public school teachers, city labor leaders contemplated calling for a general strike.

In two meetings, last Thursday and Sunday, labor leaders debated the wisdom of asking members of all area unions – laborers, electricians, communications workers, janitors, nurses, bus drivers, city employees – to walk off their jobs to protest the SRC’s decision.

“If there is going to be a fight, we have to fight about the future, and the kids are the future,” said Henry Nicholas, president of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees, headquartered in Philadelphia.

They chose not to do so, for complex and I think understandable reasons:

Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, told the group that he wanted to exhaust legal remedies first.

And the leaders decided to await the outcome of the Nov. 4 gubernatorial election. Democratic candidate Tom Wolf has said he supports returning Philadelphia’s schools to local control. The SRC is a state board.

“After a thorough vetting, we decided to go out and get Tom Wolf elected” governor, Dougherty said.

Despite the desire of a lot of lefties to see labor take radical actions and forget the political game, I think this decision makes a lot of sense.

First, labor leaders don’t really have the power to dictate worker action for something like this. In other words, were the rank and file of these other unions willing to go on strike for teachers? If so, how long? What would a 1-day general strike have accomplished? Probably nothing. We can even ask whether labor leaders can really lead this kind of action or whether it has to come from the rank and file itself? While I tend to downplay the romanticized idea of rank and file action that so many on the left love to talk about, this is one circumstance where I think everyday workers have to lead unless the union structure itself is a real democratic voice for the workers, which it usually isn’t. So I’m not sure what the labor leaders themselves really could have done here unless their workers were also motivated, which they almost certainly weren’t.

Second, while I doubt Tom Wolf is a panacea, he’s almost certainly better than Corbett on every issue and may actually reverse this action. So here the political arena makes sense. This is publc-sector labor after all, making the electoral game vital. On the other hand, mayor Michael Nutter supports the action and will Wolf really reverse it?

I’m not a labor lawyer so I can speak less fluently about the legal remedies might fix the problem. I can say that relying on the courts to enforce labor law is a problematic situation in 2014. But still, I think it is worth asking what a general strike would have accomplished here. The answer is almost certainly not much–but who knows. Just doing so might have sparked a broader-based protest, i.e., an Occupy-type movement, that would have made it worth doing. I absolutely makes sense for labor leaders to not call for such a thing. But it’s hard to not wonder what would have happened had they gone with their first instinct.


What Stand Your Ground Really Means

[ 40 ] October 15, 2014 |

Stand Your Ground laws are horrible by themselves. But the idea that these laws are meant to allow citizens to defend themselves is laughable. The laws’ real meaning is to allow white men to reassert their authority over non-white men in whatever way they choose. South Carolina has effectively affirmed this:

South Carolina is one of more than 20 states that has passed an expansive Stand Your Ground law authorizing individuals to use deadly force in self-defense. The law has been used to protect a man who killed an innocent bystander while pointing his gun at several teens he called “women thugs.” But prosecutors in Charleston are drawing the line at domestic violence.

In the cases of women who claim they feared for their lives when confronted with violent intimate abusers, prosecutors say the Stand Your Ground law shouldn’t apply.

“(The Legislature’s) intent … was to provide law-abiding citizens greater protections from external threats in the form of intruders and attackers,” prosecutor Culver Kidd told the Post and Courier. “We believe that applying the statute so that its reach into our homes and personal relationships is inconsistent with (its) wording and intent.”

In other words, a woman using armed force to defend herself against a home invading man she had a relationship with doesn’t apply because, again, these laws are about white dudes. And South Carolina refuses to take domestic violence seriously even thought it is an epidemic:

The Post and Courier, which originally reported prosecutors’ position, has been doing a series on domestic violence over the past few months, in which it found that women are dying at a rate of one every 12 days from domestic abuse in South Carolina, a state “awash in guns, saddled with ineffective laws and lacking enough shelters for the battered … a state where the deck is stacked against women trapped in the cycle of abuse.” More than 70 percent of those who kill their spouse had “multiple prior arrests on those charges” and the majority spent just days in jail.

It is in that context that the Post and Courier gave front page treatment to another strike against domestic victims in Stand Your Ground laws, even as those who engage in what many consider vigilante killings are protected by the law. The man granted immunity for killing an innocent bystander, Shannon Anthony Scott, reportedly had a sign posted in his window that read, “Fight Crime – Shoot First.”

Orange County

[ 46 ] October 15, 2014 |

Upon arriving at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, this is what greets you. It is the most Orange County thing ever.


Yet this cannot even compare to what I will post tomorrow, the most epic photo ever posted on LGM and Orange County’s truest tourist attraction. None of you will guess what it is but you will all agree once I post it.

Today in Hacktackular Business Reporting

[ 8 ] October 14, 2014 |

I suppose it’s too much to ask major newspapers to write stories about corporations that are more than fawning portrayals of brilliant CEOs. But this Washington Post piece on departing Gap CEO Glenn Murphy is gross. Jena McGregor, who writes a column on “leadership,” a category that inevitably reinforces the power of the elite, lauds Murphy for raising wages to a grandiose $10 by next year. Yes, yes, Gap floor workers will now be flying to Ibiza for vacation. And the article says how he great Murphy is for women at the workplace.

What this piece sort of leaves out, except for a throwaway at the end, is that no CEO has done more to make sure workers in Bangladesh labor in dangerous factories while American retailers hold no responsibility than Glenn Murphy. Murphy refuses to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, which would legally bind his company to improving conditions in factories where Gap clothing is made. European companies have led on this but most American companies have refused, led by Gap. People have tried to shame Murphy but he has no shame. I guess that’s part of the reason the WaPo thinks he so brilliant.

Noncompete Clauses for Fast Food Workers?

[ 124 ] October 14, 2014 |

Even by the standards of the fast food industry, this is a gratuitous way to treat workers:

If you’re considering working at a Jimmy John’s sandwich shop, you may want to read the fine print on your job application.

A Jimmy John’s employment agreement provided to The Huffington Post includes a “non-competition” clause that’s surprising in its breadth. Noncompete agreements are typically reserved for managers or employees who could clearly exploit a business’s inside information by jumping to a competitor. But at Jimmy John’s, the agreement apparently applies to low-wage sandwich makers and delivery drivers, too.

By signing the covenant, the worker agrees not to work at one of the sandwich chain’s competitors for a period of two years following employment at Jimmy John’s. But the company’s definition of a “competitor” goes far beyond the Subways and Potbellys of the world. It encompasses any business that’s near a Jimmy John’s location and that derives a mere 10 percent of its revenue from sandwiches.

Since there are obviously no trade secrets at stake here, this is clearly just punching employees. Let’s take the one thing we have trained this low-skill, low-wage workers at and make sure she can’t use it if she leaves it at one of our equally low-skill, low-wage competitors!

The Worst Thing Ever

[ 23 ] October 14, 2014 |

Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis was all geared up to run for mayor against the odious Rahm Emanuel. She had a huge lead in the polls and it could have been an amazing victory. Unfortunately, pretty much the worst thing possible has happened:

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, who just pulled out of mayoral contention, is suffering from a cancerous brain tumor that was diagnosed shortly after she experienced a severe headache on Oct. 5.

As a result, Lewis underwent a five-hour surgery at Northwestern Hospital, where she is scheduled to undergo a regimen of chemotherapy and radiation. The tumor had nothing to do with her weight loss surgery in Mexico.

Lewis has wanted Mayor Rahm Emanuel gone practically since he took office, but she will not be the one to unseat him in February, the head of her mayoral exploratory committee said Monday.

The feisty 61-year-old CTU leader will not run for mayor, Jay Travis, he head of her mayoral exploratory committee said in a statement Monday.

I just have no words.

Thom Tillis: The Welfare State = Slave Reparations

[ 47 ] October 13, 2014 |

In 2007, North Carolina state House speaker Thom Tillis voted for a state resolution apologizing for slavery. Of course, in conservative land this is controversial. So he explained his vote by saying he needed to undermine the reparations movement, which had already basically succeeded anyway because the welfare state is pretty much the same thing:

“This measure does not obligate legislative members to provide reparations. A subset of the democrat [sic] majority has never ceased to propose legislation that is de facto reparations and they will continue to do so as long as they are in the majority,” Tillis said. “Federal and State [sic] governments have redistributed trillions of dollars of wealth over the years by funding programs that are at least in part driven by their belief that we should provide additional reparations.”

“I believe there are several conservative democrats who are prepared join Republican in OPPOSITION to measures that propose new entitlements and reparations,” Tillis added. “However, a vote against the resolution would most likely eliminate any chance that we would get support from more conservative members of the democrat party members to oppose such measures.”

Tillis is now in a tight campaign to defeat Kay Hagan as senator from North Carolina. He is obviously the kind of voice the Senate needs to moderate American politics.

Allure of Antebellum

[ 140 ] October 13, 2014 |


You’d like to think that Gone With the Wind influenced fashion themes that romanticize plantation life would be dead in the fashion industry. This new fashion spread titled “Allure of Antebellum” suggest not. This is a brutal takedown of this incredibly offensive campaign.

The L.A. Cudgel

[ 43 ] October 13, 2014 |

The NFL says it wants a team in Los Angeles. And maybe it does. But it may well not because if it puts one there, it loses its favorite tool to beat cities over the head until they cough up money for new stadiums. If a team does go to Los Angeles, I guess teams can still threaten to move to San Antonio, but that may not have quite the same power.

Of course, opposing the stadium ripoffs is a LGM staple. But even within the world of publicly funded stadiums, NFL stadiums are a spectacularly stupid investment. A baseball stadium gets a minimum of 81 days of use a year. An NBA stadium gets at least 41. An NFL stadium gets 10. Even if it hosts the occasional outside event, no one is in this stadium the vast majority of the year.

Happy Genocide Day!

[ 151 ] October 13, 2014 |


Everyone have a Happy Genocide Day (observed) today. 522 years ago, Christopher Columbus arrived in Hispanola. The terrible treatment of Native Americans began almost immediately.

On Christmas night, his biggest ship, the Santa Maria sank on a harbor of the island. With its remnants, Columbus built the fortress of the Navidad. He left thirty-nine men at the fortress and sailed to Spain on January 16, 1493 taking with him six Taino captives and a cargo of parrots, plants and gold. The purpose of Columbus’s second voyage was to colonize, control and exploit the island. His goal was to bring to the Spaniards “as much gold as they need…and as many slaves as they ask.” His fleet thus comprised 17 ships and 1,300 men as well as 20 horsemen to terrorize the native people.

When Columbus returned to Española, he found that the thirty men he had left on the Navidad were all dead, killed by the Indians after they had invaded the kingdom of the Maguana governed by the intrepid Caonabo. Guillermo Coma who had accompanied Columbus wrote that “bad feeling had arisen and had broken out in warfare because of the licentious conduct of our men towards the Indian women, for each Spaniard had five women to minister to his pleasure.” Columbus then built a new town, Isabella, forty leagues east of Navidad, near the river where Pinzon had found gold in the Cibao. After Isabella was built, Columbus set out for the gold mines of Cibao with his horsemen and infantry. Several forts were built on the way, especially in the plains of the Yaque River, which he named Vega Real. During their invasion of the interior of the island, thousands of Indians were killed. By the end of 1494 the Taino were in open revolt. Columbus had hoped to put down the resistance by kidnapping Caonabo the chief of the Cibao region and making an exemplary spectacle of him.

Columbus sent troops to occupy the north east of the island and had more forts built in the Cibao region. He immediately instituted a system requiring a quarterly tribute in gold from the Taino, which was calculated according to the number of people over the age of fourteen. He introduced Indian slavery suggesting that it would be lucrative enough to compensate for the meager supply of gold found. In 1495, he and his men went on a raid in the interior of Española capturing as many as fifteen hundred Taino, men, women and children. Columbus picked the 500 best specimens and sent them to Spain. Two hundred of these five hundreds Taino died en route to Spain. Columbus’s reaction was to exclaim: “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.”

Columbus and his brother Bartholomew as well as Alonso de Hojeda undertook a series of military expeditions all over the island. Villages that could not pay the tribute imposed on the Taino were brutally repressed. Las Casas charged that two thirds of the population was thus wiped out. On July 22, 1497 the Crown authorized the distribution of lands to the Spanish colonists (Repartimiento) to sow grain and plant gardens. This land was designed to encourage permanent Spanish settlers in Espanola who were expected to establish small farms with Spanish labor. Columbus on the contrary instituted a Repartimiento where native communities were allocated to Spaniards for their own use. This system was the first concrete measure to colonize and annihilate the Taino population of Española.

Highlights of European-indigenous interactions in what became the United States include Juan de Oñate chopping off the feet of the Acoma, the Puritans committing genocide against the Pequot in 1637, Nathaniel Bacon massacring friendly Indians in his campaign against William Berkeley in 1676, the Trail of Tears, the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864, the Dawes Act in 1887, Wounded Knee in 1890, the repression of indigenous languages and cultures at the Indian Schools, termination in the 1950s, and well, the list could go on and on and on.

But it’s Columbus Day because that guy was awesome.

Keep Cell Phones Banned on Planes

[ 200 ] October 12, 2014 |

There are several reasons to keep talking on cell phones banned on planes. Among them is that it is rude to other passengers. Those who don’t care about the passengers around them evidently don’t care how they affect other people, a sad statement. Yet even in airplane mode, having the phones on during take off and landing causes problems. For one, it can be a safety issue. Another reason is that it makes the job of flight attendants much more difficult. The flight attendants union has sued the FAA to reverse the ban of their use in airplane mode during take off. And I think that even in airplane mode, the ban does make sense when explained:

The flight attendants union, however, believes that not only was the ban removed without going through the proper channels, it also decreases airline safety. The union argued the devices could become projectiles during turbulent takeoffs and landings, and that they distract from the safety demonstration at the beginning of the flight.

George Hobica, an air travel expert, explained that the flight attendants make their strongest point when it comes to safety. “If you asked 100 fliers about the demo, where their life vest is, they wouldn’t know. When the plane landed in the Hudson, people left without their life vest—of all planes to leave without your life vest! It is bad enough when people are reading their newspapers, and it is rude for one thing, but it is also dangerous,” he said. Cell phones just make their jobs even harder.

One lawyer on the case, addressing the union’s concern that the devices can become projectiles, said it was no different than if a book began to fly around, however, Hobica is unconvinced, “It is not the same as reading books. You can read a book and not distract other passengers.”

The flight attendants are having a hard time making their case in court, however, as a judge on the case noted, the FAA is simply allowing the use of these devices during takeoff and landing as an option. They are not making a demand of the airlines.

If the flight attendants are not successful in their appeal, they will have essentially no choice but to perform a safety demonstration in front of a group of passengers who are entirely distracted and possibly talking over them. “They don’t have any legal standing, they can’t even tell people to listen to the safety demonstration,” Hobica told me, referring to FAA regulations, “They can say to put down something but they can’t enforce it.”

I know that flying is an unpleasant experience for most of us. That is not the fault of the flight attendants and treating them poorly is helping no one’s experience. Staying off the phones for 5 extra minutes really doesn’t hurt anyone.

A Reaction to the Excesses of the Cocktail Revolution?

[ 108 ] October 12, 2014 |

By and large, the cocktail revolution of the early 21st century has been welcome. A lot of great historical drinks have been uncovered, many people have moved beyond the chocolate vodka martini bar days of a decade ago, and an expanded range of ingredients have made for some awfully interesting drinks. But like any revolution, there is excess and a necessary backlash. I thought Pete Wells’ essay the bad, over-fancy drinks served at so many bars and restaurants pretty much right on. A brief excerpt.

Several forces conspire against restaurants that try to serve knockout drinks. The demand for talented bartenders far exceeds the supply these days. The few who are on the job market are often more tempted by offers from high-minded bars where they can focus on their ice-pebble techniques without having to go back to the kitchen to tell an intemperate cook that the man at the end of the bar thinks the tuna tartare is undercooked.

Those bartenders who don’t mind the extra hassles of restaurant work may be asked, for the first time in their lives, to write a cocktail menu. “And they are being influenced by others telling them what to put on there, a sommelier or wine director or a chef,” Mr. Freeman said. “Those things can be very positive, but it can also be very confusing to be told, ‘I want you to make this drink I had at Death & Co.’ ”

To make life more complicated for these bartenders, the cocktail menu is supposed to reflect the restaurant’s point of view, which may be obvious (Havana in the ’50s) or more abstract (the Weimar Republic filtered through contemporary Bushwick). Oh, and all the recipes need to be original. Almost every restaurant with a liquor license now insists on a menu of proprietary drinks, not classics.

Do the math on this, and you quickly run into thousands of new cocktails being cranked up solely to fill these menus. What are the chances that every single one rolling off the factory line is going to deserve a place on the fireplace mantle next to the Hemingway daiquiri and the Negroni?

This is logical. Basically, people are demanding fancy drinks and bartenders aren’t competent enough to make them. Nor are most drinkers evidently competent enough at drinking them to care. Although if customers are happy with it, who cares. A fairly straightforward supply and demand situation. Still, a return to just making a really great Manhattan or Negroni would also be a wonderful thing. In fact, I find that these are often the cocktails I go to at a bar with a cocktail list because unless the place has a preexisting reputation for making great drinks (like this place in Providence), it’s a good way to test whether they know what they are doing.

On the other hand, the excess also often takes an awful form. Exhibit A: artisnal ice.

A Manhattan will set you back $14 at forthcoming downtown restaurant and bar Second State. Want it on the rocks? That will be a dollar more—for a total of $15.

The Pennsylvania-themed spot, which is set to open in the former Mighty Pint space at 1831 M St. NW on Oct. 21, will be the first place in D.C. with an ice surcharge listed on its cocktail menu. (Most bars eat the cost or build it into the price of the drink.) Granted, these are no freezer-burned, generic tray cubes. This is the fancy, unclouded artisanal stuff from D.C.’s boutique ice company, Favourite Ice, founded by local bartenders Owen Thomson and Joseph Ambrose. Second State bartenders will chip off the eight corners for a more spherical shape that sits in the glass like an iceberg.

“It’s worth it,” says bar manager Phil Clark. “When it goes into a cocktail, it’s crystal clear. It’s purified water, so there’s no minerally taste.”

Bring your own pitchforks and torches.

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