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The Future of Air Travel

[ 283 ] July 19, 2014 |

This has the potential to be great, if by great you mean questioning whether to ever fly again.

The NFL’s Free Minor League

[ 23 ] July 19, 2014 |

The NFL constantly manages to show how little it cares about its players’ best-interest. When it comes to its relationship with college football, it also works hard to keep its free minor league system. Now the NFL has decided to cut back on the pre-draft evaluations it gives players, theoretically to protect them from making decisions about their own life declaring for the draft too early, but really from having to evaluate players earlier in their careers. Of course, some players are delusional about their prospects and declare too early (although a lot of these players are people already on their way out of their school for various reasons), but this has the effect of ensuring that the NFL has less of a chance of wasting resources while forcing a longer system of free labor that the NCAA relies upon.

Wingnuttia Down Under

[ 20 ] July 19, 2014 |

For awhile back in the 2000s, it looked like Australia would become a world leader on progressive legislation, especially on environmental issues. Then Tony Abbott took over and decided modeling himself on George W. Bush would be quite a bit farther to the left than he was comfortable with. Evidently, enough Australians are cool with this that he keeps on trucking:

Conservative prime minister, climate change denier, and accused misogynist Tony Abbott was elected in September. He started working as the nation’s leader almost immediately, but he had to wait until this month for newly elected senators to take their seats. Abbott’s (conservative) Liberal party still doesn’t control the Senate, but it has found Senate allies in a powerful party that was founded just last year by kooky mining magnate Clive Palmer. Palmer held a press conference with Al Gore last month to announce that he opposed some of Abbott’s climate-wrecking policies, and that he wanted a carbon-trading program to replace the carbon tax. That now seems to have been smokestacks and mirrors. When it came to repealing Australia’s $US23.50 per metric ton carbon tax, the immodestly named Palmer United Party fell into line on Thursday, helping the repeal pass the Senate by a vote of 39 to 32, without demanding the establishment of any alternative.

Play at Rumpscuttle and Clapperdepouch

[ 55 ] July 18, 2014 |

31 historical terms for sex going back to 1351. I am familiar with “getting my ashes hauled” because it comes up in old blues songs. The rest are far older and I was not familiar with.

Hobby Lobby, Harris, and Women’s Economic Security

[ 79 ] July 18, 2014 |

Kathleen Geier, Sarah Jaffe, and Sheila Bapat have a great discussion of how the Hobby Lobby and Harris decisions conspire to undermine women’s economic security. You should definitely read the entire thing, but Sarah’s piece is especially valuable. In part:

It should go without saying that the decision to have a child or not is one of the most profound economic decisions most of us will make in our lifetimes. The Supreme Court this week made it harder for lower-income women to be able to make that choice for themselves. While I support those who argue for the right of all people to enjoy sex on their own terms, we have spent far too little time elaborating the ways in which the “culture war” is a class war.

Take Hobby Lobby. The hashtag #NotMyBossBusiness gave me some hope that the discussion of this case would turn not on religion, hypocrisy or even just on corporate personhood but on the place where Americans’ freedoms are most curtailed: work. It is, after all, the boss, not the government, who has the most say over what we do and say, whether we can pay the rent or feed the kids, the boss who has increasingly sought the right to influence our political choices and what we wear and track our every move and keystroke.

Instead, I have watched photos of people going into Hobby Lobby stores to rearrange letter-blocks to read “pro-choice” flit across the Internet as if the workers who will have to put those blocks back away are unaware of their boss’s power over them. If we were more aware of this decision as one that will affect women not simply as women but as workers, we might stop and ask ourselves what it would mean to actually be in solidarity with the people who work at those stores, to help them get what they need.

The separation between abortion care and other healthcare that I commented on above plays out in Hobby Lobby, which attempts to paint birth control not as a legally required part of a worker’s compensation package, one that allows women to work on an equal footing with the men, but as something outside, different and worse. Or, in the voices of some dismissive commentators, simply less important, not a big deal, something easy enough for women to buy on their own.

If we recognized Hobby Lobby as a workplace issue, we might reply that the people who work at Hobby Lobby stores make between $9.50 and $14 an hour (and those are actually fairly good wages when it comes to retail work) and that $25 a month (if it’s actually that cheap; that depends on which form of contraceptive you’re using) is a significant extra expense if one is, say, raising children on the wages from that job.

I think the connection between the culture war and class war especially valuable since the culture war is very much a war against poor women seeking to control their own bodies and who lack options once the effects of the culture war are literally growing inside them. And the kind of activism that just makes Hobby Lobby workers have to labor harder while doing nothing to affect the company is the sort of the buying thriftshop clothes to protest sweatshops that might not be counterproductive but don’t really do anything to help the situation.

The Volkswagen Agreement

[ 47 ] July 18, 2014 |

As I stated earlier, I don’t necessarily see the UAW-Volkswagen agreement as a major victory. It’s certainly a positive thing for the workers involved, but as something to celebrate, I’m less than sure. Others however disagree (as they did in comments to the original post). Joe Atkins:

The UAW knew that withdrawing its objections to February’s tainted election, in consensus with Volkswagen, would expedite the company’s decision on the new product line,” Casteel said in a formal statement. “The fact that the new line is being announced four days after the rollout of UAW Local 42 in Chattanooga reinforces the consensus that the UAW has reached with the company.”

Casteel said “a cornerstone of Volkswagen’s business model” is the Global Groups Works Council that provides employee representation on work-related issues at Volkswagen plants around the world.

In fact, Global Works Council chairman Bernd Osterloh, a strong supporter of union representation at the Chattanooga plant, was recently appointed to the board of directors of Volkswagen’s American operations. At one point, Osterloh said he would work to prevent the new SUV line from coming to Chattanooga if workers there didn’t get union representation.

Local 42 will not collect dues for the time being, and participation is voluntary. However, the UAW hopes membership will grow to a size that gives it weight in representing workers’ concerns at the plant. No formal agreement exists with Volkswagen regarding the local, but a “consensus” exists that allows the local to work with the company in the future, Casteel said.

This non-traditional approach to worker representation is somewhat similar to other efforts across the South to help those who have no collective voice vis-à-vis management. Examples include the Farm Labor Organizing Committee in North Carolina and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida, both of which have won agreements with major corporations despite the fact that farm workers aren’t covered in the National Labor Relations Act.

The victories by FLOC and CIW are significant not only because of region but because of the type of laborers and industry involved (migrant immigrants in a heavily exploitative industry existing far from the view of most Americans). Comparing the UAW deal to those unions actually depresses me because these are workers with more power, with a long-standing powerful union backing them, with the extremely unusual arrangement of international labor unions and the company supporting them, and on a big shop floor, traditionally a relatively easy place to organize, at least compared to the fields or small shops. The innovation is definitely something I support, but I still have trouble seeing it as a big win.

Late Obituaries

[ 18 ] July 18, 2014 |

John Le Carré on Philip Seymour Hoffman as A Most Wanted Man comes close to its release date. I’m excited about it but it’s going to be hard to watch just because you know you are watching Hoffman’s last great performance (I know he’s in some Hunger Games movies yet to be released but the chances of me watching those are low so for me this is it).

Class War: Yes Please

[ 167 ] July 17, 2014 |

I mostly agree with Harold Meyerson’s essay on the Democrats reaping a huge political opportunity by refocusing itself on class-based issues. While I might quibble with a couple of points (not sure FDR’s speechmaking is relevant plus it plays into green laternism), there’s a lot to suggest real political opportunities. Polls and demographics are a big part of this.

This spring, a prominent Democratic pollster sent a memo to party leaders and Democratic elected officials advising them to speak and think differently. The nation’s economy had deteriorated so drastically, he cautioned, that they needed to abandon their references to the “middle class,” substituting for those hallowed words the phrase “working people.” “In today’s harsh economic reality,” he wrote, “many voters no longer identify as middle class.”

How many voters? In 2008, a Pew poll asked Americans to identify themselves by class. Fifty-three percent said they were middle-class; 25 percent said lower-class. When Pew asked the same question this January, it found that the number who’d called themselves middle-class had shrunk to 44 percent, while those who said they were of the lower class had grown from 25 percent to 40 percent.

This is a big deal. It’s not often that Americans don’t identify as middle class. They will again at the first opportunity, with the political conservatism that comes with it. Taking advantage of this moment to build upon class discontent with real policy ideas is a good idea. Even if they can’t pass at the national level, they can in states and cities, and of course we are already seeing this with higher minimum wage legislation.

Then of course there is this:

The new base of the Democratic Party appears primed for such a change. The share of liberals in party ranks has swelled. In 2000, Gallup reports, 44 percent of Democrats identified as moderates, and 29 percent as liberals. Today, the share of moderates has dropped to 36 percent, while that of liberals has increased to 43 percent.

And this:

As with Latinos, so with millennials. A Pew survey of those young Americans from March of this year found them to be the only age group in which the number identifying as liberals (31 percent) exceeded the number calling themselves conservative (26 percent). Fifty-three percent of millennials preferred the bigger-government-with-more-services option, and just 38 percent the smaller.

One reason millennials lean left, of course, is that each successively younger cohort of Americans contains a larger share of Latinos (not to mention Asians and secularists). White millennials preferred the smaller government option by 52 percent to 39 percent, but millennials of color supported the bigger-government alternative by a hefty 71 percent to 21 percent margin.

But millennials’ left-leaning politics is also the result of their having borne the brunt of the economy’s dysfunctions. It’s disproportionately the young who have been saddled with a trillion dollars in student-loan debt. It’s millennials who have experienced the highest levels of unemployment. Nor is their employment anything to boast about: In 2012, 44 percent of young college graduates were employed in jobs that didn’t require a college degree.

Of course the Republican minority is doing whatever it can to stop any of this from turning into progressive political change, using gerrymandering, filibustering, and judicial extremism to push their reactionary agenda, all of which leads to the war on organized labor, the most class-based institution in American history. That this is an intentional program for them is obvious, as is the disfranchising of voters of color and the anti-immigrant politics. A plutocratic white supremacist nation is what Republicans want. Democrats need to recognize this for what it is and aggressively organize the vast majority left out of Republicans’ vision. Starting by supporting policies that would take riches from the wealthy, create job programs, and expand the welfare state would move us on that road. Unfortunately, President Obama is a big believer is the centrist economic policies of the late 20th century Democratic Party. Blowing up the Trans-Pacific Partnership is necessary here. Luckily, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi get this, if Obama doesn’t.

Today in American Racism

[ 84 ] July 17, 2014 |

A little racism with your breakfast.

Some of the opposition has also bordered on the extreme. A few of the protesters who marched against a proposed shelter in Vassar, Mich., on Monday were armed with semiautomatic rifles and handguns. In Virginia, an effort to house the children at the shuttered campus of Saint Paul’s College in Lawrenceville caused such an uproar that federal officials pulled out, even though a five-month lease had been signed. Someone spray-painted anti-immigrant graffiti on a brick wall at a former Army Reserve facility in Westminster, Md., that was being considered as a shelter site.

Some cities have raised health and security concerns. Northeast of Oyster Creek, League City passed a resolution opposing any shelters from opening even though the federal government had no plans to do so. The resolution claimed that “illegal aliens suffering from diseases endemic in their countries of origin are being released into our communities.”

It’s worth noting that it’s far from clear whether anything approaching a sizable amount of the American populace hold strong beliefs opposing these child immigrants. Rather, it seems to be just a small group of racists who already hate Obama and oppose immigration anyway. Still, the fact that this small group has the entire Republican congressional delegation at their fingertips does make it a problem. But I don’t see that Obama himself has anything to lose by going all the way on this and creating his own path here. When your enemies are fireeaters who would never pass any legislation on the issue that you might propose and you don’t have to face reelection, this is literally no downside to just ignoring them. This statement pretty much applies to the rest of Obama’s policy initiatives as well.

Bottled Water

[ 173 ] July 16, 2014 |

In the best of situations, bottled water is an idiotic industry in the United States given the safety of municipal water supplies. This is not the best of situations:

Nestlé may bring smiles to the faces of children across America through cookies and chocolate milk. But when it comes to water, the company starts to look a little less wholesome. Amid California’s historically grim drought, Nestlé is sucking up an undisclosed amount of precious groundwater from a desert area near Palm Springs and carting it off in plastic bottles for its Arrowhead and Pure Life brands.

The Desert Sun reports that because Nestlé’s water plant in Millard Canyon, Calif., is located on the Morongo Band of Mission Indians’ reservation, the company is exempt from reporting things like how much groundwater it’s pumping, or the water levels in its wells.

From The Desert Sun:

The plant … has been drawing water from wells alongside a spring in Millard Canyon for more than a decade. But as California’s drought deepens, some people in the area question how much water the plant is bottling and whether it’s right to sell water for profit in a desert region where springs are rare and underground aquifers have been declining.

Obviously the particulars here are complex given that there is a deal between Nestle and the Morongo, but the broader point is that this bottled water industry exists in a space without any knowledge from consumers about where the water comes from and it often comes from unsustainable sources in drought-prone areas. There is no good reason for it.

Unvarnished Greed

[ 100 ] July 16, 2014 |

I am sure am glad NBA superstars have to accept a maximum value contract worth far less than their actual worth. After all, how could impoverished NBA owners pay them those salaries, what with only likely getting $15 billion in television rights fees?

The New Religious Exception: Unionization

[ 239 ] July 16, 2014 |

….Sorry for not including the link, I wrote this before a long and horrible day of travel and so just saw I forgot it now. Here is the original link, for what it’s worth 20 hours later.

Among the many potential impacts of the Hobby Lobby decision is for employers to claim unionization of their workforce violates their religious beliefs. This is already percolating through the court system, most famously at Duquense University, when that Catholic institution of higher education used this argument (because all know the Pope hates unions or something).

By declaring that “closely held” corporations may hold religious beliefs, the court may have provided businesses with a new tool for crushing workplace unionization drives. In addition to declaring themselves exempt from contraception mandates and non-discrimination laws, religious employers may soon be able to argue for an exemption from collective bargaining laws.

“All you need is one employer saying, ‘My religious beliefs tell me I shouldn’t collectively bargain,’” said Alex Luchenitser, associate legal director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. If an employer takes the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to court and uses that argument, it could set the table for a major court battle over the future of union rights in nominally religious workplaces.

Religious primary and secondary schools are already exempt from collective bargaining rules, thanks to the 1979 Supreme Court case NLRB v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago. In a 6-3 decision, the court ruled that the NLRB does not have jurisdiction over schools “operated by a church to teach both religious and secular subjects.” As a result, schools operated by the Catholic Bishop of Chicago were under no obligation to recognize employee unions, no matter the circumstances. Putting religious schools under the jurisdiction of the NLRB, the court reasoned, would present “a significant risk of infringement of Religion Clauses of the First Amendment.”

Other religious schools have seized on the decision over the years. Most recently, Perelman Jewish Day School in Philadelphia decided to stop recognizing its teachers’ union, citing NLRB v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago as legal justification. A March 28 article from the labor-friendly magazine In These Times suggested that the school’s actions may have earned it the title “the Hobby Lobby of Union-Busting.” But the Perelman case may wind up being less important than another legal fight brewing elsewhere in Pennsylvania. In 2012, adjunct professors at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University requested the right to hold a union election, only to have the school claim a religious exemption. The crucial difference in this case is that Duquesne is a university, not a religious day school like Perelman or the Chicago Catholic schools.

The implication of Alito’s opinion in Hobby Lobby, if fully implemented, opens the door to employers using religious exemptions to avoid every law they don’t like, which I have no reason to believe reasonable moderate Sam Alito would oppose.

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