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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.

Republicans Want to Send Your Job Overseas

[ 14 ] October 12, 2014 |

In July, Republicans filibustered a bill that would take away tax breaks that encourage jobs to be outsourced overseas.

The bill would have cost U.S. companies that move overseas $143 million in additional taxes over the next decade, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, which analyzes tax legislation for Congress. Companies moving into the U.S. would have seen their tax bills drop by $357 million over the same period.

The difference — $214 million — would have been added to the budget deficit.

The White House and some Democrats in Congress have been making the case that a growing number of U.S. corporations are using international tax loopholes to avoid paying U.S. taxes.

On Wednesday, Obama criticized U.S. companies that reincorporate overseas as a way to lower their U.S. tax bills. Many of these companies keep most of their operations in the U.S., including their headquarters.

The process, called an inversion, allows firms to shield more of their foreign earnings from being taxed in the U.S.

“You know, they are renouncing their citizenship even though they’re keeping most of their business here,” Obama said in a speech in Kanas City, Missouri.

“They shouldn’t turn their back on the country that made their success possible,” Obama added.

Turning their back on America is central to 21st century corporate philosophy!

I have no doubt the Denver Post is correct–Republicans winning the Senate will moderate the party and sensible legislation to end this obscene practice will result quickly. And I’m sure likely new senator from Georgia David Perdue will lead the charge:

During a July 2005 deposition, a transcript of which was provided to POLITICO, Perdue spoke at length about his role in Pillowtex’s collapse, which led to the loss of more than 7,600 jobs. Perdue was asked about his “experience with outsourcing,” and his response was blunt.

“Yeah, I spent most of my career doing that,” Perdue said, according to the 186-page transcript of his sworn testimony.

Perdue’s response to this was the best:

Georgia Republican Senate candidate and ex-CEO David Perdue isn’t shrinking from any part of his business record, even when it comes to outsourcing. During a stop on Monday Perdue said he was “proud of” his record on outsourcing.

His comments came after a scathing Politico article reported Perdue saying that he was hired as the CEO of the failed Pillowtex Corp. in large part, to outsource much of the company’s manufacturing.

“Defend it? I’m proud of it,” Perdue said during a press stop in Buckhead, Georgia on Monday according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “This is a part of American business, part of any business. Outsourcing is the procurement of products and services to help your business run. People do that all day.”

Now that’s the kind of moderation we can expect from a Republican Senate!

Latinos Dying on the Job

[ 3 ] October 12, 2014 |

On the whole, American work has become significantly safer since the establishment of OSHA in 1970. There are two basic reasons for this. First, OSHA made American work safer. Second, and probably more important, most dangerous labor in the United States has either been mechanized or outsourced. This has the advantage of saving American workers’ lives. It has the disadvantage of both undermining the economic stability of the American working class and exposing people of the world’s poorer nations to working conditions that are no longer legal in the United States and should not be legal for any corporation seeking to do business in the United States.

What this means as far as workplace death numbers is that they have continued to decline with one important exception–among Latinos. Recent growing death rates among Latinos have two root causes. The first is an OSHA enforcement arm weakened by decades of corporate capture and legislative underfunding. The work that is still in the U.S. is not properly monitored. The second reason is that the remaining dangerous work in the U.S.–agriculture, natural resource extraction, and construction especially–is both hard to mechanize and heavily Latino-based.

At the same time, however, Latinos are increasingly overrepresented in the dangerous industries that remain, according to a 2013 analysis by the BLS. Take construction, which has added 636,000 jobs since the industry’s post-recession low point in January 2011. It also accounted for the largest number of fatalities in 2013, 18 percent. Latinos make up 15.6 percent of the population over 16 years old, but their representation in construction is high and growing: Nearly one in three workers in construction and natural resource extraction occupations were Latino in 2013, up from 23.7 percent in 2003.

Immigrants are especially vulnerable if they can’t read safety instructions or communicate with supervisors. OSHA has ramped up its outreach to Spanish-speakers in recent years, visiting worker centers all over the country to conduct trainings.

Sometimes, though, it’s harder to reach the smaller employers. And the number of deaths of people working for contractors has jumped just since OSHA started measuring them in 2011, from 542 in 2011 to 734 in 2013. Hispanics are overrepresented there, too, making up 28.3 percent of contractor deaths in 2013 (compared to 18 percent of total deaths).

“A lot of these smaller companies are just trying to get the job done quickly and cost-effectively, and a lot of times the worker safety is sacrificed in all of that,” says Andrew Hass, a lawyer with D.C.’s Employment Justice Center who represents many immigrant workers.

Nearly every workplace death is an avoidable death. If there are fewer industrial jobs in the U.S., that should mean more ability for OSHA to monitor the nation’s remaining dangerous worksites. But that is not the case.

The Stupidest Newspaper Endorsement of the 2014 Cycle

[ 54 ] October 11, 2014 |

The Denver Post wins the day for idiocy. It decided to change its endorsement for the Colorado senate race from Mark Udall to Cory Gardner. Part of its reasoning:

The newspaper explained that it believed Republicans would “temper their policies” with control of the Senate.

“If Gardner wins, of course, it could mean the Senate has flipped to Republicans. However, that doesn’t mean it will simply butt heads with President Obama as the Republican House has done,” it wrote. “As The Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Seib recently pointed out, ‘A look back shows that eras of evenly divided power — Congress fully controlled by one party, the presidency by the other — have turned out to be among the most productive” because both sides temper their policies.”

Ha ha ha ha. I for one can’t wait until Mitch McConnell and Ted Cruz decide to come together with Obama in 2015 to pass immigration reform and other common sense legislation. The only way to make that happen is to elect people like Tom Cotton and Cory Gardner! That’s the kind of moderation this country needs!!!

David Broder approves from the grave.

Chinese Emissions and American Consumption

[ 10 ] October 11, 2014 |

Too often, we, even liberals, create politically convenient artificial barriers between the globalized economy and national boundaries. Specifically, we have outsourced the vast majority of our industrial production overseas while absconding responsibility for its outcomes. This might mean saying that we American consumers have no responsibility for factory conditions in Bangladesh and Vietnam because “those people should demand change from their government.” This common formulation ignores the power structure behind the present apparel industry situation, where American clothing companies will simply move production abroad if “those people” do demand that change.

The same goes for carbon emissions. We note the growth of Chinese carbon emissions and sometimes use it as an excuse why it isn’t worth the U.S. doing anything about if the Chinese don’t care. But again, a lot of that Chinese production is for the American market and our companies choosing to export production to China make those emissions as much American responsibility as Chinese.

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And while China does lead the world in carbon emissions, the U.S. still far outpaces the rest of the world in carbon emissions per person:

GCP per capita consumption emissions

This all does not mean we should not be concerned about Chinese emissions, but it does mean that a) a lot of those emissions are in fact the responsibility of the United States and b) the United States still produces vastly more emissions per capita and needs to take care of its own house before blaming the Chinese for why we can’t do anything about climate change.

More broadly, it reinforces my very strong belief that in a globalized economy, national law is a hindrance that helps corporations take advantage of hundreds of different jurisdictions, many of which are easily bought off, in order to avoid responsibility. Short of a global legal framework that would actually hold corporations accountable, which is a pipe dream, we have to demand that the U.S. government regulate corporate behavior wherever they operate if they want the advantages of working, living, and trading in the U.S.

The Vitagraph Smokestack

[ 8 ] October 11, 2014 |

midwood_vitagraph00

I rarely put forth or publicize online petitions but I will make an exception here
. The oldest standing monument to the film industry is falling apart and needs preservation before it is torn down. Vitagraph Studios was a leading maker of silent film from its studio in Brooklyn. Warner Brothers bought the company in 1925 and of course the film industry had already moved out of its New York original home to Hollywood.

Personally, I’d like to see a government-sponsored early film museum created in the area around the smokestack. It’s an incredibly valuable piece of the nation’s cultural heritage and is worth the investment.

Can Apparel Factories Treat Workers With Dignity?

[ 19 ] October 10, 2014 |

No industry has engaged in such a lengthy period of consistent exploitation as apparel, which has basically ran sweatshops around the world for 200 years, moving whenever workers successfully win decent conditions. The apparel industry claims such conditions are a must in order for them to profit. This is absurd on a number of levels. The system needs to be radically reformed in order to force the western apparel companies to have legally responsibility for everything that goes on in the factories where they contract clothing. If they don’t like it, they can build their own factories, like other industries. Hardly a shocking idea.

But even within the current system, is overt exploitation necessary? This experimental factory in the Dominican Republic is showing the answer to that question is no:

Maritza Vargas, a 49-year-old union leader with 25 years of experience working in local factories, works a variety of jobs at the Alta Gracia factory, including sewing seams on sweatshirts and putting on labels. A regular day at the factory is nothing like what she’s experienced before, she told HuffPost. Vargas and her 150 or so colleagues are unionized. They’re not forced to work absurd hours, her overtime paychecks don’t disappear into the ether and she gets frequent breaks.

“It’s as simple as understanding that we’re human beings, not machines,” Vargas said through a translator.

In free-trade zones of the Dominican Republic, the minimum monthly wage is set at RD $7,200, or about $165 in U.S. dollars. Alta Gracia factory workers earn a monthly wage of RD $22,342, or about $514 U.S., according to numbers provided by the company’s plant manager.

36-year-old Sobeida Fortuna, who has worked in free-trade-zone garment factories for about 18 years, said she’s finally being treated with “respect” and “dignity” after getting her job at Alta Gracia.

“They would force me to work mandatory overtime hours,” she said of previous employers. “I’d work in uncomfortable chairs and positions. They would control my every movement, even monitor the times I used the bathroom or drink water.”

Still, these people need somewhere to work. Fortuna paused to think when asked what she’d be doing if she didn’t have her Alta Gracia factory job.

“We’d maybe be unemployed,” she said. “We’d maybe be working three hours away from home. We’d maybe be working at another factory with the same conditions as the previous factories. We work in those conditions because it’s all that’s around and we have a family. We have no other choice.”

Now, I would never trust anything the apparel industry says, even if the Workers Rights Consortium is approving it. After all, this is an industry designed around taking every penny in profit through suppressing labor costs. But this is a unionized operation and while the article doesn’t get into how independent this union really is, it’s obviously a vast improvement over the average Dominican sweatshop.

Green Card Marriages

[ 104 ] October 10, 2014 |

I have to say that while, yes, marrying someone so they can get a green card probably should be technically illegal because it should be discouraged, that I have trouble seeing it as a real crime I should care much about. Moreover, I certainly don’t see why this should necessarily be the kind of information journalists are hunting down and publicizing, such as the case of the finance of Oregon governor John Kitzhaber, who did this when she needed money for college. She hadn’t even told Kitzhaber because she was so ashamed by it. And now, even outside the political implications of this, did Willamette Week destroy their relationship? I mean, it’s easy to talk about honesty in relationships, but everyone has shame and things they don’t want to talk about. So I don’t think anyone should be all that high and mighty about this thing. Now admittedly, it’s hardly the job of a journalist to care about how their story about a public figure will affect that person’s lives–although it’s equally hard to find the fault in journalists hiding the fact that FDR couldn’t walk. But it’s not like the woman was robbing people or heading a violent cocaine smuggling operation. She made a decision that helped her out, helped this Ethiopian immigrant out, and hurt no one. So who really cares. This seems far less a crime than lobbying for policies that kill thousands of people a year, standard fare in the political realm.

More here.

Way Too Close to the Oval Office

[ 87 ] October 10, 2014 |

John McCain’s judgment cannot be questioned.

America’s Patriotic Singing Highway

[ 83 ] October 9, 2014 |

Oh America:

Sounds emanating from 1,300 feet of roadway just west of Tijeras have been listened to around the world, and it’s more than just tires on pavement catching international attention.

The Singing Road, installed last week, uses rumble strips to play “America the Beautiful” for drivers who obey the speed limit as they cruise down Route 66.

The National Geographic Channel approached the New Mexico Department of Transportation about the project last June, asking if they could construct the road for an upcoming series. The project was privately funded by National Geographic and NMDOT didn’t make – or spend – any money on it. Since the road was finished last week, Melissa Dosher, the public information officer for NMDOT, said she’s fielded questions from television stations as far away as Australia.

“My boss thought it was a really cool idea,” Dosher said.”It promotes public safety because the goal is to have people drive the speed limit. Plus it can be an attraction along Route 66.”

In addition to encouraging cars to slow down to hear the tune, Dosher said the rumble strips can help keep sleepy drivers awake as they wind their way through the Tijeras Canyon. The attraction is expected to draw visitors from Albuquerque to the East Mountains for tourism.

I think this would encourage me to speed. If you go too fast, do the rumble strips play The Internationale instead?

Southern California Bleg

[ 166 ] October 9, 2014 |

Next week, I have to attend a conference in Newport Beach, California. This is pretty much the only area of the West I have never been to. In fact, I haven’t been to the LA area at all except a quick trip to Pasadena in 1995 to watch Oregon play in the Rose Bowl. I have scheduled a bit of time to do some sightseeing. What should I do?

The one thing I am definitely absolutely going to visit is the Nixon Library. That’s going to be awesome. I hope there’s a bronze statue of Nixon shaking hands with Pinochet.

Other than that, I am pretty open. So what do you recommend in the general vicinity, which could extend as far as LA I guess. I’ll have a car. Favorite restaurants? Hiking trail? Museum? Brewery? Random weird thing? Won’t be able to do everything or most things, but I will be able to do a couple of things.

I suppose I’m supposed to be excited about the beach and yeah, I’m sure that’s cool. But I not much of a beach guy and I live near the water as is. If there’s good people watching, that could be cool though.

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