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Oceans 14

[ 175 ] March 22, 2014 |

Forget robbing casinos. The real money for Clooney and the gang to go rob in elaborate, fashionable, humorous, and fairly pointless ways is from megachurches like Joel Osteen’s.

Joel Osteen recently reported the theft of $600,000 from the safe in his church, but the theft wasn’t the only information of interest revealed. After finding out that this large chunk of money was from just one weekend of Osteen’s collected church donations, jaws dropped around the nation.

According to News Max on March 18, it didn’t take long for folks on the outside to do the math. Based on Osteen’s reported amount of money in this theft, it appears his Lakewood Church takes in $32 million a year. Calculator keys were punched around the nation taking the $600,000 for Olsteen’s weekend donation collection and timing this by the 52 weeks in a year.

Many consider this a conservative estimate of donations this church receives, as March is just an average month with no holidays for the church. The spirit of giving around the holidays has to net this church more than the average week. Then there’s Easter and other

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holidays.

And it’s not like grifters like Osteen are somehow more upright and moral than Steve Wynn.

Heads in the Sand

[ 33 ] March 21, 2014 |

Republicans are smart in cutting science funding. Because if you can cut it enough, the nation will close the institution that has longest measured carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and if you don’t measure carbon dioxide, obviously climate change can’t be happening.

The Anti-National Park Party

[ 30 ] March 20, 2014 |

Things Republicans hate: National Parks.

Talking about the Poor

[ 76 ] March 20, 2014 |

How do you talk about the poor? Are they you or are they someone else, someone who we need to enact some policy

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upon? Are they your brothers and sisters or are they objects of sympathy? My former co-blogger Sarah Jaffe has an excellent op-ed in the Washington Post about how journalists and activists talk about the poor:

It’s a particular kind of emotional labor that we ask of these workers. In addition to the strength and courage to tell the boss, to his face, that you’re walking out because you’re sick of how you’re being treated, we demand that you perform the role of the poor person for us, and we squabble over the right things to do for you. Our discourse on poverty is fed by stories of misery; it gorges itself on tales of cracked ceilings and no heat and feeding the family on a few dollars a week. But this is just another way that the poor must prove themselves “deserving” and for the better-off to feel righteous for helping them.

The right claims that raising the minimum wage will make these jobs disappear altogether and that if they don’t like jobs they’re in, they can get another one. (Perhaps they will like being a home health care or personal care aide, since according to Department of Labor statistics those are the fastest-growing career paths for most Americans, and they pay a whopping $20,000 a year.)

The left wants to raise the minimum wage, which is a good start, and perhaps even endorses fast-food workers’ demand for a union. But too often we — and I do mean to include myself here — erase the agency of the workers, debate whether they’re really demanding these things of their own volition , talk about them as though they are easily manipulated children rather than adults making a decision. We, too, talk about them as though they are not us.

Of course they are most of you (certainly me anyway) with a missed paycheck. The punditocracy, which I suppose I am part of too, values analysis over solidarity, serious sensible thinking about immediate political ends over long-term movement building, criticism over support. I guess it’s a bit easier for me to see through this because I grew up in the working class, but that hardly makes me immune from these problems or this language either. This is one reason why Sarah’s piece is so important–it’s the all-too rare calling out of how journalists actually operate. Another reason is to remind us all of the importance of seeing ourselves as workers in the same (or similar) boats as fast food or home care workers. Not only does the instability of the modern economy mean that such is quite likely our future (mine too, I have no confidence that I be able to retire as an academic and not because I think I will be denied tenure), but we need to craft meaningful alliances that prioritize solidarity with workers so that together we can build a movement to take back this nation and world from the plutocrats. Without that, you and I fall together.

The Idea of Workers “Choosing” Their Hours, Pay or Conditions is Bogus

[ 158 ] March 20, 2014 |

I have a long-running hate of the Times Room for Debate feature. Giving a bunch of people 100 words to make a case just feeds both sides do it syndrome. That’s especially true since the feature consistently combines scholars and experts with crazy people. Take last week’s subject of the 40 hour week. Plenty of good people but they had to have a conservative. And what a doozy. Amity Shales ladies and gents:

People decide to work more (or less) than 40 hours a week because of a variety of factors including family life, education, hobbies and leisure time in general. But the biggest reason may be as simple as one word: taxes.

Americans would willingly work longer hours, earn more and be more productive if their marginal tax rates were lowered.

Across nations and decades, the Nobel-winning economist Edward Prescott found, tax rates largely determined the hours that workers put in. Heavily taxed workers in Europe put in fewer hours than more lightly taxed workers in the United States, he determined.

More precisely, taxes limited the hours that Europeans work on the books. In countries like Germany, he wrote, people work just as much as Americans; they merely record less of that work for the government by working in the black or gray markets, where their earnings are untaxed or less taxed.

What does that mean for the workweek in the United States? A progressive rate structure like ours starts out alluringly low, then raises rates as you earn more, taxing the last dollar earned more heavily than the first. The more progressive a rate structure, the less attractive working that extra hour, or getting that promotion, becomes.

Though most workers aren’t taxed at the top and heaviest rates, they can still feel the load of some rate increases. And most people are aware in a general sense that harder work has limits to its rewards because of the effect of progressivity.

If we flattened the code, so that the last dollar is taxed at the same rate as the first one, people would want to work more.

The hours we work should be a matter of genuine, individual choice, not determined by government policy.

Whatever planet Shales lives on doesn’t have actual workers. Choice? Who chooses to work certain hours? Yglesias used this formulation in his classic “it’s ok for Bangladeshi workers to die on the job because their country is modernizing” response to me after the Rana Plaza collapse. It makes no sense because it is totally disconnected from how people actually act. When the choice is “work or starve” that’s not a choice. People work because they are told they are working this long, whether it is a 20 hour week or a 50 hour week. The only things that have ever gotten in the way of this are unions and governments. Today, the former doesn’t have the power and the latter increasingly lacks the inclination.

The rest of it is just bog standard flat tax idiocy, hiding corporate greed in a rhetoric of worker freedom. But people who say workers “choose” these things are showing me they have no idea what actual working class life is like.

This Day in Labor History: March 20, 1854

[ 27 ] March 20, 2014 |

On March 20, 1854, the Republican Party was founded at a meeting in Ripon, Wisconsin. Ideas of labor, both free and slave, were central to Republican Party ideology and would have massive implications for decades, not only with the end of slavery during the Civil War, but for white labor through the Gilded Age.

When Republicans organized in the wake of the Whig Party’s collapse (This was not a third party. It was filling a vacuum created by the decline of the period’s second party), it was building off of common ideas about labor in the antebellum period. Labor was seen broadly as the work done by anyone outside of the financial sector or lawyers, making most people “workers” whether they employed people or were employed. The industrial system was supposed to work for all these people, allowing them to rise and fall according to their merits, but ultimately helping most people advance. This would lead to a broadly middle-class life of individual farmers, small employers, and entrepreneurs without great wealth. All labor was noble in this ideology. What made Republicans different than Democrats was the desire to use the power of the state to create policies that would advance this goal, such as high tariffs, government support of transportation networks, etc.

This idea of intertwined personal and national advancement was at the heart of the Republican critique of the South. Most Republicans certainly did not think of black people as equals. But they did see slavery undermining American progress. They saw a North of manufacturing, of railroads, of canals and they saw a rapidly growing nation of progress. They saw a Southern elite of landed wealth who did no work for themselves, who had militaristic values and a violent culture. They saw undemocratic politics with entrenched poverty of the region’s poor whites and they indicted the entire system as a anchor upon the advancement of the union as demonstrated by northern capital investment and industrialization. The threat of slavery was its expansion because the institution only grew more powerful through the 1840s and 1850s. From not being a major part of the American political landscape, the nation had fought a war to allow its expansion by stealing half of Mexico. This threat had to be dealt with for the future of white landholders and entrepreneurs because slavery threatened the white republic. Blacks themselves were more the objects of concern than the subjects. It’s not that black labor didn’t matter. But most Republicans assumed the proper role for black labor was toiling on plantations for white overseers, as in fact we would see at the end of the Civil War when northerners would reorganize the plantation system despite ex-slaves wanting to end it entirely.

Free labor ideology was a very individualistic system and free labor ideology was from the outset strongly anti-union. Even though Republicans such as Thaddeus Stevens argued that it was bad to blame the poor for their own poverty, the idea that labor would combine against capital was anathema to Republicans. Horace Greeley referred to strikes as “industrial war” as early as 1853. Instead, Republicans believed the poor should simply move west to the safety valve of the frontier. Free labor ideology struggled to adapt to the reality of wage labor after the Civil War. The ideology assumed the natural harmony between labor and capital and when capital exploitation of labor during the early years of the Gilded Age, particularly in the aftermath of the Panic of 1873, Republican leaders assumed the problem was workers breaking this natural state. Thus when George Pullman created his company town outside of Chicago, he used free labor language to justify his paternalism and control over workers.

Although among regular people, the early Republican distrust of corporations did not go away, for those who had access to the money and power within this new system, it definitely did as the great potential for wealth under Republican rule during the Civil War became ever more apparent. The individualistic side of free labor ideology could lead to great greed, especially when combined whit the self-justification of the pseudo social Darwinism of its early days. It was no great turn for the same people we laud for their role in ending slavery to attack the white working class with a vengeance, both as businessmen and as politicians. If Jay Gould became incredibly wealthy off of cheating people, he could justify it through the language at the core of the ideology.

Leading Republicans began to fear by the 1870s that both southern blacks and northern whites were agents of disorder that threatened the smooth relations between labor and capital. They saw blacks demanding labor rights and believed they were a class that threatened the social fabric of the republic. Demands for federal assistance were just as threatening as northern white labor’s demand for the right to strike. Both white and black labor made leading Republicans fear the Paris Commune coming to the U.S., a theme Horace Greeley and others wrote about as they talked of anarchy reaching American shores every time American black or white labor complained about anything after 1871. This helps explain how Republicans were willing to end Reconstruction and condemn black labor to exploitation. In the end, for most Republicans anti-slavery politics was not about anti-racism, it was about ending a particularly institution they saw holding back the nation. Wage exploitation, that was fine. Ideal even.

The consummation of Republican free labor ideology toward unions became apparent in the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, when newly elected Republican president Rutherford B. Hayes used U.S. troops to crush the strikers. It wasn’t just Hayes–most leading Republicans wanted them crushed. The shock to the populace would lead to a number of social and labor movements intended to get things right again. The Populists, Single Taxers, Bellamyites, Chinese Exclusionists, 8 hour day organizers, unemployment marchers, Knights of Labor–all of these movements would be heavily influenced by the idea of making capitalism doing what everyone thought it was supposed to do–support the free, hardworking white male citizen who wanted to support himself. It would not be until the influx of new immigrants after 1880 that had no connection to free labor ideology that the American working class would move more realistic cures for what ailed it.

The question everyone wants to know is whether Lincoln would have been as anti-white organized labor as other Republicans. This is of course a counterfactual–who knows! And counterfactuals’ primary value come during drunken conversations. People like to cite a couple of Lincoln quotes about the primacy of labor to capital. But this ignores the context–Republicans said things like this all the time and then a few years later were calling for military intervention to crush strikes. The quote lacks the context of what Republicans meant by labor and capital. Lincoln was the consummate moderate Republican on pretty much every policy issue, including slavery. I think, like other Republicans, Lincoln could have easily reconciled his earlier statements with a later support of monopoly capitalism and fears of the dangers of unions. Sure, I’d like to think otherwise, but a few quotes from the early 1860s isn’t a lot of evidence when placed in context of Lincoln’s relationship with the ideology of his party and how that party changed over time.

The key book on Republican free labor ideology is Eric Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party before the Civil War. You should all read it. On the changing views of Republicans toward black labor after emancipation, see Heather Cox Richardson, The Death of Reconstruction: Race, Labor, and Politics in the Post-Civil War North, 1865-1901.

This is the 100th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

The Dysfunctional NLRB

[ 23 ] March 19, 2014 |

The NLRB simply does not work for private sector labor. The long appeals and lack of meaningful punishment for corporate violations means that employers can engage in open intimidation of union organizing, knowing that even if they get busted, it can be years before a case is decided and by that time the union leaders are long gone since they’ll have been canned long before. Josh Eidelson has a piece on the now slightly less ridiculous Target anti-union video it shows employees. But the real kicker in the article in this:

The Target video, “Think Hard: Protect Your Signature,” was shown to Valley Stream, N.Y., Target employees in the lead-up to a 2011 unionization vote, according to the United Food & Commercial Workers union. Target was compelled to turn over the video as part of the National Labor Relations Board’s investigation of alleged illegal union-busting prior to that election, in which employees voted against becoming Target’s first unionized employees. In a 3-0 decision last year, the NLRB found sufficient wrongdoing by Target to throw out that election result, paving the way for a new unionization vote. However, citing intimations of lost jobs (including in that now-hipper video) and an alleged purge of union activists (whom the NLRB has not ordered Target to reinstate), the UFCW union last week told Salon that it now plans not to pursue another vote there.

“The system failed the workers, as it’s going to continue to fail the workers,” said UFCW Local 1500 organizing director Aly Waddy. Before the election, she alleged, Target used a mix of legal and illegal tactics to scare and spy on workers; after the union was defeated in the vote, she charged, the company rewarded or punished employees based on their stance toward the union, and used a four-month store shutdown for renovations as a pretext to transfer or terminate 20-some pro-union activists. “None of the workers that started the campaign are there …” Waddy told Salon, “Workers have seen a company that’s gotten away with doing whatever it is that they wanted to do.”

While the UFCW filed charges with the NLRB alleging union activists were illegally targeted for termination, the union was unable to secure any rulings to that effect from the Labor Board. Instead, the NLRB decision throwing out the 2011 election results cited a company solicitation policy, which it found illegally interfered with workers’ organizing rights, as well as “a coercive interrogation, a threat of unspecified reprisals, and the distribution to employees of a leaflet that unlawfully implied a threat to close the store if employees selected the Union …”

There are ongoing serious discussions within organized labor’s inner circles over whether the NLRB is even worth salvaging and while I do generally do think it can be made useful again, right now it is not.

America, March 19, 2014

[ 174 ] March 19, 2014 |

Ever since the 1820s, Americans have used the founding fathers as a mirror to themselves. This is what we see in that mirror today.

Until I see James Madison posting up Mao, I don’t believe this country has reached its potential.

The Underemployed Generation

[ 94 ] March 19, 2014 |

Andrew Sum, et al have a powerful report on the underemployed generation that is today’s youth. Here’s the whole report in PDF form.

For young people with low levels of education, the employment situation is bad indeed and they have little hope of significant improvement going forward. It’s not that they can find no work necessarily, but it is a generation of underemployed people working low-wage jobs:

This report shows that America’s youth have faced a much more difficult time finding jobs throughout the 2000’s than official unemployment rates have indicated. In 2011, 43 percent of teens and 30 percent of young adults were struggling to find their place in the labor market, while the official unemployment rates were much lower at 25 percent and 15 percent respectively for these groups.

Here’s their fact sheet:

Employment rates showed a ‘Great Age Twist’ between 2000 and 2011. Individuals under age 54 were less likely to be working in 2011 than in 2000, while those 55 and over were more likely be working in 2011.

Employment rates among teens declined dramatically, from 44 percent in 2000 to 24 percent in 2011, but showed variation by educational attainment and household income.

‘Labor force underutilization’ reveals a bigger problem among teens than reflected in the official unemployment rate, and varies by race/ethnicity and educational attainment.

The share of teens with any paid employment throughout the year dropped from 55 percent in 2000 to 28 percent in 2011.

Teens with more work experience in the previous year are much more likely to find employment in the current year.

Teen employment rates vary widely among metropolitan areas.

The employment rate among young adults ages 20-24, fell from 72 percent in 2000 to 60 percent in 2011.

As with teens, labor force underutilization rates are much higher than the official unemployment rate, and vary by race/ethnicity and educational attainment.

The share of young adults with any paid employment in a given year dropped from 82 percent in 2000 to 69 percent in 2011.

Young adults with work experience in the previous year and higher levels of education are much more likely find employment.

Young adult employment rates vary widely among metropolitan areas, although not as much as teen employment rates.

As always, you should read the whole thing, etc.

World Cup Labor Standards

[ 29 ] March 19, 2014 |

We hardly need to cover the incredible corruption of FIFA. It’s only a matter of finding out how much money the Qatar sheiks and Russian oligarchs put in the pockets of FIFA executives to get the World Cup placed in those two nations. I love that Qatar said that “oh sure we’ll use space age cooling techniques in the stadiums so we can totally hold it in the summer” until the moment got the cup and now it’s going to have to be played in the winter. But perhaps the greatest scandal is the lack of labor standards in international sporting events. Despite the involvement of so many nations in a sporting event like this, the actual construction of the stadiums is left entirely up to the home country. If thousands of people die, who cares:

A report from the International Trade Union Confederation says 1,200 migrant workers from India and Nepal have died in Qatar since the country was awarded the 2022 World Cup.

The ITUC estimates that 4,000 migrant workers will die by the time the first game is played in 2022.

Workers at the Lusail City construction site told the Guardian that their bosses have withheld pay, forced them to work in 122-degree heat with no rest for food, and confiscated their passports to make sure they don’t leave the country.

Combine those complaints with squalid living conditions, and some are calling the situation in Qatar “modern day slavery.”

I’m sure FIFA is very, very concerned about this….

Living on $10 or Less

[ 6 ] March 19, 2014 |

Ben Casselman usefully tries to figure out just how many people are trying to survive and support themselves on less than President Obama’s proposed $10.10 minimum wage. While solid numbers are hard to nail down, it’s certainly not a bunch of teenagers working part time jobs here. Especially when you get to the $9 and $10 range, there are a lot of people trying to support themselves or even families, which is insane.

So this is useful stuff. However, I will say that if the foxes at 538 provide this much methodology in every post, it’s going to get more tiresome than those cultural anthropology methodology chapters about the author’s positionality as an observer in the community really really fast.

Federal Historic Tax Credit

[ 78 ] March 18, 2014 |

I’m generally skeptical of tax credits to businesses and I’d like to see them all eliminated were the government and everyday citizens to be empowered to fill in the gaps that these credits sometimes cover when do well. But since my utopian world is far away, it’s important to separate the useful tax credits from the corporate welfare. The Federal Historic Tax Credit is one of the former, allowing redevelopment of dying downtowns and reshaping urban cores in ways that draw back residents and businesses and reducing urban sprawl. Of course Republicans don’t like those things and so it is under attack in the House. Whether it has enough political and lobbying support to survive, I don’t know. Michael Allen provides the compelling reason to keep it, using downtown Rockford as an example of its use:

Something is visibly afoot in downtown Rockford, Ill. For years in this smaller city with a 13.4 percent unemployment rate, businesses fled to the outskirts and left the downtown quiet and neglected. Yet vacant commercial buildings have sprung back to life with street-level retail and new apartments. The historic Peacock Brewery is set to serve beer once again, its imposing redbrick exterior cleaned and tuckpointed.

Downtown Rockford is changing quickly, with some $40 million in renovations underway and $15 million in the works. All of this work involves historic buildings, and all of it uses the federal historic rehabilitation tax credit, which returns 20 percent of the cost of building restoration to developers.

“Rockford would never have had a chance without it,” says local architect Gary Anderson. “The appetite of banks is not to take a risk here, and the tax credits are a motivator to get them to lend.”

“The program is so easy,” Anderson continues. “It’s the least amount of bureaucracy for the greatest gain.” When he first started working to bring economic activity back to downtown Rockford, Anderson examined many incentive programs, including New Markets Tax Credits. Few, however, put so much of their cost back into the buildings themselves, so Anderson and his partners turned to the federal historic tax credit.

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