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Postmortems That Make No Sense

[ 102 ] June 12, 2014 |

Eric Cantor, moderate.

Also here.

Long Hours and Unequal Wages

[ 25 ] June 12, 2014 |

Why do women get paid less for the same work? Many reasons, but among them for women in the professional class seems to be that with the pressure on salaried workers to labor for longer and longer hours, men are more willing to put in insane workweeks than women, leading to promotions and higher wages. Of course, these decisions are gendered as mothers usually face significant pressure to not do this while fathers often do regardless of the effect upon their families.

The proportion of Americans who work long hours has increased substantially over the past thirty years. In the early 1980s, fewer than 9 percent of workers (13 percent of men, 3 percent of women) worked fifty hours per week or more. By 2000, over 14 percent of workers (19 percent of men and 7 percent of women) worked fifty hours per week or more. Overwork began to decline in the mid-2000s, but it remains widespread today.

The slowdown in women’s wage gains was especially notable in professional and managerial careers, just the ones where women’s educational advantages should have paid off, but where the stall in pay equality was most evident.

Expansion in “overwork”—net of other changes since 1979—could have affected the gender gap in two ways: Men could be overworking increasingly more often than women, or the financial payoff to overworking could have increased, or both. In their statistical analysis, Cha and Weeden identify the second factor as critical. In 1979, workers who put in long hours tended to make less per each hour than those who worked full-time; by 2009, that had reversed. Putting in the extra hours now pays off more. Or phrased another way, working “only” full-time now pays off relatively less.

Women remain less likely than men to put in those long hours, even though the payoff for doing so grew, which means that men disproportionately brought in the rising wages paid to overworkers. This explains part of the reason why gender equalization in pay slowed down. The authors estimate that the higher payoff for overwork was large enough to cancel out the gains in wage equality women had made from their growing edge in college graduation and the growing importance of college. The consequences of overwork now paying so well were especially strong among professional and managerial employees (Sandberg’s “lean in” targets).

In sum, Cha and Weeden argue, the American workplace increasingly rewards—and probably expects—overwork; men overwork a lot more often than women; this development helped stall pay equality.

Of course, overwork is a terrible thing but with sexism still endemic in our society, women are forced into overwork without getting paid for it while men too often just stay at the office.

The Worst State Democratic Party in the Country

[ 92 ] June 12, 2014 |

The Rhode Island Democratic Party does not deserve the name. In this one-party state, where Democrats outnumber Republicans in the state legislature by a 10:1 margin, anyone who wants to become powerful is a Democrat. What does it mean to be a Democrat here? Nothing. Could mean you are a progressive of the Elizabeth Warren stripe. Could mean that you have the same politics as John Boehner. Some examples from our lovely state:

The amendment, which passed through the finance committee last Thursday, would prohibit municipalities in Rhode Island from establishing their own minimum wage laws. The Providence city council is currently considering an ordinance that would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for employees at large hotels. Other cities around the country like Seattle, San Francisco, and Santa Fe have passed or are considering minimum wage hikes.

Among those assembled to protest the measure was Carmen Castillo, a hotel worker, union leader and Providence city councilwoman, who has been organizing for months to pass the minimum wage ordinance. “This proposal attacks all Rhode Island cities and towns,” she said. “It would strip us of our power to represent our communities. What power will they try to take from us next?”

In Rhode Island, however, where Democratic legislators outnumber Republicans ten to one, the story is a little more complicated—involving a likely collusion between conservative Democratic leaders and the business interests most staunchly opposed to the wage ordinance. Though it was Democratic Representative Raymond Gallison, chair of the house Finance Committee, who slipped in the budget amendment, many suspect House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello—who took over the top spot in March after state and federal investigators derailed the career of his predecessor—played a heavy hand in pushing the measure.

Mattiello, a lawyer from Cranston, is also a Democrat. But like his senate counterpart, President Teresa Paiva-Weed, he enjoys a full endorsement from Rhode Island Right to Life and the National Rifle Association. In 2012, He voted for Rhode Island’s voter ID law—the only one to pass in a Democrat-controlled legislature. Tea Party Republican Rep. Michael Chippendale once declared that Nick Mattiello is “on our side.”

And the legislative budget:

Sam Bell (no relation), State Coordinator of the RI Progressive Democrats, has ceased to be surprised when top state Democrats betray the left flank of the party to side with big business conservatism. “This is not an aberration. It is part of a bigger picture,” he said. The $8.7-billion budget also cuts corporate taxes from 9 to 7 percent, and raises the estate tax exemption from $922,000 to $1.5 million.

“Progressives and Democrats around the country are talking about raising the minimum wage right now,” Bell said. “But in Rhode Island, we’re fighting our own party over gun control and abortion.”

In other words, the Rhode Island Democratic Party is Andrew Cuomo’s dream. It’s an embarrassment. And it shows the perils of the one-party state. A functioning Republican Party is needed to keep Democrats relatively honest.

Feminism’s Class Problem

[ 229 ] June 12, 2014 |

I am very excited about the new project at The Nation Kathleen Geier is heading up. The Curve will bring together experts twice a month to talk about the intersection of economics and feminism. That’s a concept long overdue in progressive media, where white men still dominate discussions of economic issues.

The series starts off great too, discussing the class divide within feminism, particularly in the aftermath of Sheryl Sandberg. Geier:

Whatever you think of Sheryl Sandberg, her chirpy self-help book Lean In achieved at least one very important objective: it exposed the deep class divide within American feminism. Sandberg, the centimillionaire Facebook executive, wrote a book arguing that individual empowerment was the way forward for the women’s movement and ignited a raging debate among feminists. Sandberg’s frank acknowledgement that her message was pitched to professional elites rather than the masses, her enthusiasm for capitalism and her advocacy of a depoliticized strategy that focused on self-improvement rather collective action troubled many feminists on the left. If feminism is defined down as the right of elite women to enjoy equality with men of their class, is that really feminism—which at least in theory advocates the liberation of all women—in any meaningful sense?

Of course, Sandberg’s rationale was that if more women advanced into leadership positions, all women would gain. But there is little reason to have faith that Sandberg-style “trickle-down” feminism will benefit the masses any more than its economic equivalent has.

Focusing on the rich is always easier than the poor because it allows one to isolate a single issue as a problem rather than deal with the endemic disease of poverty. Female executives of course should make the same money as male executives, but that doesn’t really help most women.

Did Cantor’s Loss Inspire Extra Crazy Time Today?

[ 179 ] June 11, 2014 |

Who is today’s worst person?

1. Oklahoma state House candidate Scott Esk, for being “OK” with stoning gay people to death.

2. Rep. Louie Gohmert for using a Congressional hearing to speculate about whether non-Christians go to Hell.

3. Pat Robertson for telling kids not to turn their father in to the police when he threatens their mother with a gun.

What the hell is wrong with this country?

Sexual Harassment in the Construction Industry

[ 50 ] June 11, 2014 |

Sexual harassment of female workers in construction is so endemic that most who enter the field quit. It is a problem that nobody takes even close to seriously enough, including the unions. Given that it is one of the best-paying types of work for workers without college degrees, the institutionalization of this sexism means that wage disparities between genders are reinforced as well. It’s a major problem.


[ 301 ] June 11, 2014 |

Klein is fundamentally correct about the lessons from Cantor’s loss (side note: ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha). This is especially important:

If Republicans hadn’t scared Senator Arlen Specter into the Democratic Party and if Democrats hadn’t kept Senator Joe Lieberman on their side Obamacare would never have passed. If the Tea Party didn’t keep knocking off viable Republicans Mitch McConnell would have been Senate Majority Leader since 2010. If Mitt Romney could have run as the Massachusetts moderate he once was Obama might well have lost in 2012. It’s possible Republicans will now lose in Virginia’s 7th District. The Tea Party is good at policing purity but they’re terrible at winning power.

Of course for the Teahaddis, anything short of a violent coup to institute Jim Crow, er, overthrow Obama, er, restore Constitutional rights is unacceptable. So a sellout compromiser like Cantor needs to be eliminated to save the nation for real Americans.

I hope Eric Cantor likes making millions of dollars as a lobbyist. Because that’s his sad future.

Cash for Votes

[ 6 ] June 11, 2014 |

In the New Gilded Age, politicians don’t have to pretend hiding that corporations are buying their votes.

Public Opinion of the Past

[ 60 ] June 10, 2014 |

Why don’t we pass more social programs today? Maybe because the priorities of Americans aren’t the same as in the 1960s.

2/3 of Americans supporting retraining for the unemployed. Far and away the most popular political program. It’s no wonder that the Great Society would be soon to come. When Americans’ biggest desire is to fight economic inequality again, we will again see politicians prioritize it. Not before.

The Decline of Meatpacking Wages

[ 115 ] June 10, 2014 |

This is a great graph on the decline of meatpacking wages compared to industrial work as a whole. All industrial work has stagnate for 35 years (real wage decline of 1.5% since 1979). Meatpacking–real wage decline by a mere 28.3%.

How did this happen?

Meatpacking has a somewhat unique position in the American economy. Like many other industries, it found capital mobility a great way to cut wages and increase profits. It discovered this early on, busting unions by the 1960s through transition production out of the cities and into small Midwestern towns. But unlike other industries like textiles, the vast majority of the work has remained in the United States. Over 99 percent of our chickens, 92 percent of beef, and 97 percent of pork are produced domestically. This means it has basically found ways to create as exploitative conditions as possible within the U.S. The history of union-busting (which I discussed in detail here) in the meat industry (a phenomenon in fact closely related to the exploitation of truckers since trucking companies played a leading role in this new economy) led to plummeting wages, making it a dangerous and low-paid job in 2014.

Monarch Butterfly Decline and Ever More Intensive U.S. Farming

[ 14 ] June 10, 2014 |

The decline of the monarch butterfly results from multiple causes. The one that gets the most play is logging (often illegal and done by the cartel) in its wintering ground in Mexico. Brad Plumer’s piece suggests a bigger reason is the rapid growth in intensive farming in the U.S. that has plowed under the small pieces of semi-wild land around the edges of farms that allowed monarchs (and many other species) to thrive.

Now a new study in the Journal of Animal Ecology suggests that the decline of milkweed is, in fact, the main factor here. The study, by a team of researchers from the University of Guelph, modeled the variations in butterfly populations. They found that habitat destruction in Mexico was no longer driving the decline — possibly because the country has put new conservation measures in place to protect those forests.

But butterfly populations were very sensitive to changes in milkweed. The study noted that milkweed plants had declined 21 percent between 1995 and 2013. These losses were concentrated in areas where monarchs breed — and 70 percent of the milkweed loss was located in agricultural areas. (The rest of the decline was on conservation lands or public areas such as the medians of roadways.)

And the outlook here is pretty bleak — the authors predicted that the monarch population would decline another 14 percent if milkweed loss continues.

Still, not everyone’s convinced that herbicides are the only reason for the decline of native plants near agricultural fields. Another recent study by scientists at the US Department of Agriculture and Penn State found that herbicide-tolerant native plants around farmland in Pennsylvania were declining at the same rate as less-tolerant plants. That study suggests that other factors may be at work here.

The Penn State researchers pointed out that farmers have made a lot of changes in recent decades besides rising herbicide use — they’ve simplified their crop rotations, segregated crops and livestock, and employed new mechanical farming methods. What’s more, woodlots, hedgerows, pastures, and wetlands have all been cleared to make way for bigger fields. So there may be more going on than just GMOs and herbicides.

Much of this intensification of farming is the production of corn for high fructose corn syrup and the ever-growing corn-based industrial products. It’s not really to feed ourselves that we need to do this. We could mandate a certain amount of wild land per 100 acres or whatever in agricultural zones, but instead, we grow more corn to burn it in our cars.

Wal-Mart Trucking Abuses Kill

[ 170 ] June 10, 2014 |

The man who fell asleep at the wheel of his truck and rammed the back of Tracy Morgan’s limousine of course worked for Wal-Mart and had not slept for 24 hours.

This is not surprising at all. Wal-Mart has long been accused of pushing truckers to the limit. All the companies push drivers to the limit for profit, endangering not only the drivers but also everyday drivers on the road.

Of course, Republicans think that drivers falling asleep at the wheel is OK:

Days before Morgan’s accident thrust trucking safety into the news, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved legislation that would undo rules that only went into effect last year that mandated certain rest periods for truck drivers. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) added an amendment to the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development bill that would suspend a regulation that truck drivers rest for 34 consecutive hours, including two nights from 1:00 AM to 5:00 AM, before driving again.

“With one amendment, we’re doing away with rules we worked years to develop,” Izer said Monday.

Another reminder that “moderate Republicans” are only moderate on social policy; on labor issues they are as bad as any Tea Partier.

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