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The Best Response

[ 104 ] November 14, 2015 |


Child Performers

[ 61 ] November 12, 2015 |


Child models and performers are workers too and they deserve protection, often from their own parents. Glad to see legislation introduced into Congress to given them those protections.


[ 48 ] November 12, 2015 |


Your long read of the day should be David Dayen’s essay on the need for a new era of antitrust enforcement and perhaps new legislation. After all, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act did not anticipate much about the present. You may not be surprised to find out that Robert Bork plays a huge role in the shift away from aggressive antitrust legislation. And many of the problems we see in the New Gilded Age are partially or wholly caused by monopoly, that feature of the first Gilded Age. An excerpt:

In 1964, historian Richard Hofstadter gave a speech at the University of California, Berkeley, titled “What Happened to the Antitrust Movement?” He wondered why anti-monopoly sentiment ceased to become the subject of public agitation. “Once the United States had an antitrust movement without antitrust prosecutions,” Hofstadter said. “In our time, there have been antitrust prosecutions without an antitrust movement.”

Now we have lost both the movement and the prosecutions. When we talk about banks that are too big to fail, we’re talking about antitrust. When we talk about the high cost of health care, we’re talking about antitrust. So many of our key domestic issues are fundamentally questions about whether we should tolerate monopolies, or dismantle them. But this formulation—a centerpiece of public debate in the last robber-baron era between the 1880s and 1910s—has all but disappeared from popular discourse.

Can anti-monopoly sentiment be revived? When New York’s Working Families Party first recruited Zephyr Teachout to run for governor, she said she would only do it if she could talk about monopolies. “They polled it, and they were correct that nobody knew what I was talking about,” Teachout says. But when she eventually ran an insurgent campaign against incumbent Andrew Cuomo, she was determined to talk about it anyway.

“The minute you got past the sound-bite level, people responded to the concentration of power,” Teachout says. They did campaign events at places where people paid their cable bills, using the pending Comcast–Time Warner merger, eventually abandoned, as the hook. She engaged farmers in upstate New York about monopsony power, and discussed Amazon and big banks on the stump. And it resonated. After only one month of campaigning, Teachout won 35 percent of the vote, with particular strength in upstate counties where farming issues were prominent.

“The Tea Party talks to people and says, ‘You’re out of power because government is taking it away from you,’” Teachout says. “Far too often, Democrats say, ‘You’re wrong, you’re not out of power.’ That’s dissonant with our lived experience. You’re out of power … because your priorities don’t matter and JPMorgan’s do.”

Building a New Left?

[ 107 ] November 12, 2015 |


Harold Meyerson asks whether Bernie Sanders’ “historic” campaign can build a new New Left?

The shorter answer is no. The longer answer though I think is necessary. First, Meyerson’s framing seems to not recognize that we are actually in a period of an upsurge in activism. Starting with Occupy (or maybe the Obama 08 campaign), going through Black Lives Matter, the Fight for $15, and the campus protests of the last 2 weeks, this is a period where a lot of people are fed up with poverty and racism and are standing up against it. The Sanders campaign isn’t creating that. It’s simply tapping into it, or at least a certain sector of it that is primarily white and well-educated. Of course, in that sense it’s no different from the previous New Left.

I also think we need to stop burdening every little political or social movement with the giants of the 1960s and 1970s. Those movements weren’t nearly as well-organized then as they are in our memory today. By comparing every movement to the past, we, whether accidentally or intentionally, view them as coming up short. It’s unfair to those working on these movements today. Is something the new Civil Rights Movement, new mass-organizing labor movement, new Women’s Liberation movement, etc., is a useless question. These movements are what they are and they are shifting and morphing daily.

In addition, I don’t think Sanders’ run is “historic” in any meaningful way. Bernie Sanders is basically a liberal lion senator of the past 40 years who likes to call himself a socialist. That’s cool and is a useful addition to our political debates. He’s pulled Hillary Clinton to the left and marginalized the Mark Penn-types from her campaign. That’s great. But it’s not some great social movement he’s developing here. It’s another manifestation of the broader dissatisfaction with inequality that is causing all sorts of change, one of which includes supporting Bernie Sanders.

As for the creation of an active Left that Meyerson rightfully says we need, we are actually seeing that I think to some extent, but that left is going to include a huge number of people of color, groups in which Sanders has almost no play. That’s another reason he’s not going to be the creator of this movement.

Finally, and I will be expanding on this point in a piece at another publication soon, I don’t actually think the difference between a Bernie Sanders presidency and a Hillary Clinton presidency is all that great, not with the structures of American politics limiting what presidents can do. This is why I have really not written about the Democratic primary much at all. I also think it’s a fallacy to look at presidential candidates as saviors and think that if we just elect the right person, our problems will be fixed. It doesn’t happen that way. We’ll never elect “the right person.” We will influence politics by organizing, as is happening right now in the 2016 election on both race and class-based inequality.

Why Conservatives Support Israel

[ 92 ] November 11, 2015 |


Support for Israel on the right has many strands that have increasingly come together–U.S. geopolitical interests for some, Israelis seen as an island of whites in a sea of scary Arabs for others. But at its core, right-wing support for Israel comes down to biblical prophecy that at its core is about the elimination of Judaism entirely. Usually this is more or less kept under wraps in the respectable political world but sometimes it slips out. Such as for Michelle Bachmann.

“Almost every article in the paper” has to do with conflicts in Israel, Bachmann said, “and it ties with so much biblical prophecy. This week really was about biblical prophecy in many ways. And we’re seeing as events are speeding up, events are speeding up so quickly right now, and we see how relevant the Bible is, and we’re reading our newspaper, at the same time we’re learning about these biblical events, and it’s literally day by day by day, we’re seeing the fulfillment of scripture right in front of our eyes, even while we’re on the ground.”

“We recognize the shortness of the hour,” she said, “and that’s why we as a remnant want to be faithful in these days and do what it is that the Holy Spirit is speaking to each one of us, to be faithful in the Kingdom and to help bring in as many as we can — even among the Jews — share Jesus Christ with everyone that we possibly can because, again, He’s coming soon.”

Once that giant biblical Israel is created, Christ is totally coming back to judge us all, so convert you filthy Jews! But steal some more Muslim land first!

John Adams: Wine Connoisseur

[ 11 ] November 11, 2015 |


And here I thought it was just Thomas Jefferson who bought into those effete Europeans and their wine. But no, it turns out that both sides do it! I was going to vote Federalist based on this issue, but now I am going to have find a Third Way of corn whiskey and hard cider drinkers, preferably consumed with a baked possum and taters, like a good manly American such as William Howard Taft.

Once abroad, dining in Paris and Amsterdam, Adams came to savor the heartiness of a robust red, or the exotic delight of a white Bordeaux. He was new to the world of wine, and his wine habits tell us how American taste changed as revolution segued into republic. There were fits and starts of grape-growing in Pennsylvania and California between 1740 and 1770, but America’s first commercial vineyard did not flourish until 1798. Under the guidance of John Dufour, it had mostly withered away by 1809. In the antebellum period, Adam’s sometimes-friend Thomas Jefferson and others grew fascinated in the agricultural improvements and industrial techniques of wine-making, a popular interest that coexisted in the early republic with the onset of the temperance movement. By 1830, Nicholas Longworth had set the American wine business back in motion, using the Catawba grape to produce a range of popular sparkling wines.

The time he spent in France, reunited with wife Abigail and family, marked one of the happier parts of his diplomatic career, and even the prickly Adams celebrated—in moderation. At Auteuil and later, at the Grosvenor Square legation that doubled as the American minister’s residence and headquarters, John and Abigail served a range of wines that complemented the likes of turtle soup and apple pan dowdy. Good claret also gave Adams a much-needed respite from the coffee-and-tobacco, tea-and-cards-fueled meetings that comprised his diplomatic mission there.

Wine merchants like Anthony Garvey and Jonathan Williams came to know Adams’s tastes.“I have ordered your Bordeaux, so you will soon have some excellent wine to give your friends,” Williams wrote in 1780. “I have been so particular in this, that if you only say, it is as good as any body has, I shall be disappointed, I mean it to be better.” Adams was taken with Bordeaux wines, red and white, and generous in discussing them in his letters. Correspondence shows that he was especially familiar with wines from Château Canon. From a close friend, the Comte de Sarsfield, Adams learned of the nearby St. Emilion Bordeaux: “Mr. Adams knows the wine from Canon and the white wine that Mr. Sarsfield orders for him,” the aspiring philosophe wrote to the American revolutionary. “The Saint-Emilion wine is not as well known as the Canon, but it is less expensive and quite good.”

Lessons of the New Gilded Age

[ 41 ] November 11, 2015 |

king bill gates microsoft

Never question the rich. They are better than you. Because they are rich. So if you question anything about them, including why they are allowed to make enormous decisions around social problems that have nothing to do with their core industries solely because they are rich, you are the problem comrade and you need to be dealt with appropriately.

 Geoffrey Lamb is the foundation’s chief economic and policy adviser. His response to the attack by William Easterly, in The Tyranny of Experts, on Gates’s “technocratic illusion” suggests that neither Gates nor the senior staff at the foundation take such criticism seriously. In a breezy dismissal of Easterly published on the foundation’s “Impatient Optimists” blog in 2014, Lamb referred to the US Agency for International Development’s “support for democratic movements” as an undeniable fact—one that obviated any need on his part to address a core element in Easterly’s argument, which was that supporting democratic movements was precisely what USAID was not doing in Ethiopia.

Lamb’s blithe confusion speaks to the confidence of the new status quo. Garry W. Jenkins, a professor of law at Ohio State University, has written: “With its emphasis on superrich hyperagents solving social problems, philanthrocapitalism” has amplified “the voice of those who already wield substantial influence, access, and power.” What this means is that, for the first time in modern history, it has become the conventional wisdom that private business—the most politically influential, undertaxed, and underregulated sector among those groups that dispose of real power and wealth in the world, as well as the least democratically accountable—should be entrusted with the welfare and fate of the powerless and the hungry. No revolution, not even Fidel’s, could be more radical, and no expectation, no matter how much it was the product of ceaseless promotion in both old and new media, could be more counterintuitive, more antihistorical, or require a greater leap of faith.

On-Call Scheduling

[ 30 ] November 10, 2015 |


One of the worst things about many American employers is on-call scheduling. Mercifully, several chains have backed away from it under pressure over the increased exploitation of department store workers.

J. Crew recently joined a group of several other top retail chains in dropping on-call scheduling—the system that requires workers to make themselves available for a shift with no guarantee of actually getting any clocked hours. Under on-call scheduling, workers generally must be ready to be called in for a shift just a few hours beforehand, and often that meant wasting valuable time by not being called in at all. In addition to J. Crew, Urban Outfitters, Gap, Bath & Body Works, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Victoria’s Secret, and various affiliated brands, have announced that they’re phasing out on-call nationwide.

The abandonment of on-call at these high-profile chains—affecting roughly 239,000 retail sales workers, according to the Fair Workweek Initiative (FWI)—represents growing backlash against the erosion of workers’ autonomy in low-wage service sectors. The pressure for reform has been stoked by media scrutiny, labor protests, and litigation, and an investigation into on-call scheduling in New York retail stores by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

This is only a nice first step. The exploitation of these workers can morph into one of any number of forms:

 But the fight for fair labor practices isn’t over in retail. Carrie Gleason, director of the FWI, a project of the advocacy group Center for Popular Democracy, says nominally phasing out on-call at a workplace may simply lead to a “whack-a-mole situation,” pushing managers to find other ways to drive workers into erratic and unstable schedules. Your supervisor might not call you in two hours before a shift starts, but might still abruptly cancel your pre-scheduled shift, or text on an “off” day to pressure you to sub for a coworker. Some workplaces might have a set start time for shifts, but then pile on on-call extended hours, so the workday expands unexpectedly. Across the service sectors, Gleason says, “there’s not a real commitment around standards around what workers experience as a predictable schedule.”

The entire system of unstable scheduling in the service sector is totally unacceptable and means that workers, many of whom are juggling multiple jobs and children, can have no stability in their lives. Fighting against this needs to be a major progressive goal. We are seeing a few victories here. There’s a long way to go. We need legislative solutions to this problem. Voluntary programs won’t work because they never work without a stick of enforcement. Moreover, there’s no actual reason for this form of scheduling to exist except that corporations simply don’t value their workers as people who deserve basic dignity.

The Central American Counterexample

[ 14 ] November 10, 2015 |


One of the things that drives me most crazy about the self-congratulatory rhetoric promoters of trade deals routinely use is that free trade is awesome because of the Asian economies and so we should embrace more, more, more unrestricted free trade! There are a number of problems with this. First, this narrative totally leaves out the actual workers in Asia and their own demands on the system. Second, they serve as apologies for exploitative American corporations. Even if the ultimate claim is true, that doesn’t mean that corporations should be able to recreate the American Gilded Age in Bangladesh. 1138 workers don’t actually have to die. Quit apologizing for that.

But the other obvious problem with this rhetoric is that it totally leaves Central America out of the analysis. To say the least, trade agreements have not raised living standards or created stability in Central America. In fact, they’ve been pretty bloody disastrous. Cole Stangler and Maria Gallucci on the failure of trade agreements in Guatemala:

Things were supposed to be different in Guatemala. When the country joined the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement in 2006, proponents of the deal said it would improve conditions for workers, raise wages and make it easier for laborers to organize. Seven years later, Guatemala was named the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists. Critics say basic rights of workers to form unions and speak out without facing discrimination are not enforced.

Supporters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are making many of the same promises. As they aim to shore up support in the U.S. Congress, proponents of the hotly contested trade deal say it will improve labor standards across signatory nations — especially in those countries known for mistreating workers and failing to enforce employment laws. According to U.S. officials the TPP “has the strongest protections for workers of any trade agreement in history.”

Cafta supporters struck a similar tone a decade ago. Seeking support from Congress, then-United States Trade Representative Rob Portman said the deal had the “strongest labor and environmental provisions of any trade agreement ever negotiated by the United States.”

Since the deal was signed, violence and intimidation of labor activists in Guatemala has spiked.

“Despite many years of promises by successive governments to take the steps necessary to respond to this crisis, the situation has only worsened with each passing year,” found a 2013 report from the International Trade Union Confederation, the world’s largest trade union federation.

Murder is a constant problem for workers who organize unions in Guatemala. Since 2007, more than 70 labor activists have been killed, according to the nonprofit Solidarity Center, which is affiliated with the AFL-CIO. Kidnappings, break-ins and death threats are fairly common as well.

Export-oriented factories, or maquiladoras, have thrived under Cafta. While the facilities are supposed to respect labor law to receive generous tax breaks, Guatemalan authorities rarely enforce this requirement. Bosses regularly block efforts to organize unions, use subcontractors to avoid legal liabilities, demand uncompensated overtime and oversee hazardous working conditions.

At hospitals, workers can go weeks or months without a paycheck from their employer: the Guatemalan government. In Santa Elena, many of the nearly 500 people who work at the San Benito Hospital — from doctors and surgical assistants to janitors and administrative personnel — are awaiting two months’ pay. “It’s demoralizing,” said a surgeon, who asked not to be named for fear of repercussions.

Cathy Feingold, director of international affairs with the AFL-CIO, said the structure of Cafta left little incentive for the Guatemalan government to monitor and improve labor standards. It allowed Guatemala to start reaping the rewards of the trade pact without first showing evidence it was complying with the deal’s labor standards.

Critics say TPP commits the same error. Without immediately demanding that countries comply with its labor provisions, it extends benefits to countries like Malaysia, where a recent report found nearly a third of all migrant workers in the nation’s booming electronics industry are working under forced labor conditions, and to Vietnam, which bans all unions that are independent of a top-down labor federation tied to the Communist Party dictatorship.

Guatemala also suffers from the ravages of the inter-American drug trade, sends tens of thousands of migrants north a year to try and make a better life in the United States, has enormous problems with gang violence and political corruption, etc., etc. Trade agreements like CAFTA have done nothing to protect workers or union organizers, haven’t led to a better standard of living, or done anything at all they promise. Some of these problems, like the murder of union organizers, are definitely issues in Asia as well and almost certainly will be under the TPP as well. Others may be worse in Guatemala than Bangladesh. But then again, maybe not. In any case, if promoters of free trade agreements are going to make an honest argument about their benefits, they have to take Central America as seriously as they do Asia.

The reality of course is that for different reasons depending on country that different groups benefit from these agreements and that other groups do not benefit or even suffer. And certainly said trade agreements could be applied much more fairly to help people lived dignified lives. But that’s a level of complexity you rarely see from free trade prophets who would just prefer to forget that Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras exist when making their public arguments while being very happy to remember them when seeking to move factories around for the cheapest possible labor.

Hot Times in Poughkeepsie Tonight

[ 21 ] November 10, 2015 |


If you are in the Hudson Valley, remember to come see me at Marist College in Poughkeepsie tonight. Talking about Out of Sight, the global race to the bottom, and the destruction of the American working and middle classes. Light-hearted times for all!

Speaking of such things, here’s an interview of me talking for 16 minutes about the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Reconstruction and Government

[ 26 ] November 9, 2015 |


David Blight makes an important point about Reconstruction–that among other things, the Radical Republicans were spurred by a fervent belief in the efficacy of the federal government to write wrongs and effectively administer programs, something that scared the defenders of white supremacy who wanted to oppress African-Americans.

Reconstruction statesmen did not have ready-made constitutional blueprints to implement in the devastated and chaotic former Confederacy. What they did have is what political leaders still possess to this day—historical experience as well as fundamentally different views of constitutional authority and practice. The radical Republicans, who were ascendant and dominated the process in 1866-1868, believed in activist-interventionist government, in unionism, and for its time, the revolutionary strides for racial equality embodied in the Civil Rights Act of 1866, and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. Their experience profoundly infused their actions. These men and their party had overseen an unprecedented centralization of power in the federal government as a means of fighting and winning the Civil War. It is worth remembering, especially in America’s current political circumstances in the early 21st century, that these men of the first Republican Party vehemently believed in government.

Among the many measures they enacted during the war as they invented America’s first “big government” were the first federal income tax, the Homestead Act, subsidies to build the transcontinental railroads, military conscription, U.S. bonds and the greenback dollar as ways of financing the unprecedented challenge of fighting all-out war. Other measures included the Quartermaster Corps (the largest employer in the U.S. other than the Union army), an agency that employed more than 100,000 people by 1864 and became the means by which the North produced the material to defeat the Confederacy, and perhaps above all the emancipation of 4 million slaves and therefore the confiscation of $3.5 billion in property by executive order and military might. The men who forged early Reconstruction policies were the same men who found revolutionary ways to pay for and arm Grant’s and Sherman’s forces, to crush the Confederacy, free slaves, and save the U.S. from dissolution and extinction. They had reason to claim the powers they assumed.

As Reconstruction began, the other side—which included surviving white Southerners who would rebuild the Democratic Party as a white supremacist crusade, and northern Democrats who opposed black rights, an enlarged government, and federal intervention in the South—chose a very different constitutional vision. This persuasion infused by white supremacy, a withering sense of defeat and desperate economic hardship, but also by a profoundly conservative view of federalism, promoted state sovereignty over federal power. They believed that despite the results of the war, the federal government had no authority to keep ex-Confederate states out of the Union, under military rule, and with many whites temporarily disfranchised and black men provided the right to vote and hold office. In this great political-constitutional struggle, one side enacted a revolution none could have fully envisioned in 1860. The other side hunkered down, forged a lethal sense of grievance, employed political organizing, racial solidarity, powerful and lasting myth-making, and terrorist violence to forge a counter-revolution.

This is such an important point as the Party of Lincoln has become the Party of Calhoun and worked for over three decades to drown government in a bathtub while using its police power to again oppress African-Americans into a permanent underclass and use white solidarity to undermine any sense that the government can work for all. I would argue Blight’s point is one we do not make enough. Like the New Deal and the Great Society, the Radical Republicans and Congressional Reconstruction were an early sign that government can be effective and can improve the lives of all. Yet it will always be challenged, at least if our history is any guide, by powerful forces who wish to institute white supremacy, a task much easier of the government is weak outside of its police powers decentralized enough that they are in the hands of local authorities and not those who would use them to increase racial equality.

Is Education Reform the Solution to Poverty?

[ 129 ] November 9, 2015 |



Robert Mann speaks some truth:

Arguing that education is the key to curing poverty is like saying swimming will prevent drowning. Of course, but could the best instructor in the world teach a child to swim if the student showed up for lessons wearing 20-pound weights on each arm?

That weight – the onerous burden of poverty – is what holds back many Louisiana children. It’s what makes the efforts of even the best teachers so challenging. When a child arrives at school unprepared or unable to learn because of circumstances beyond the school’s or its teachers’ control, why would we blame the school and its teachers?

Surely, those seeking public office, especially many now running for governor and the Legislature, understand this. They know that (on average) a sick child, an emotionally or physically battered child or a hungry child cannot learn, in the same way, at the same pace, as a child without those enormous challenges. So, why do so many of our leaders respond to questions about poverty by tossing off mindless, simplistic answers like, “The solution to poverty is a good education”?

I suspect they know it’s evasive and naive, but what else can the average politician tell you? The truth? Imagine a candidate with the courage to say the following:

“Look, I could give you the usual boilerplate answer about poverty. I could blame it on substandard schools and lazy teachers, and you’d nod your heads in agreement. That’s what you want to hear. You want to believe that if our teachers would just work harder, all our problems would disappear.

“Blaming poverty on our teachers and the schools is a cop out. It absolves us of our collective responsibility for the scandal of poverty. We’re scapegoating teachers, which is very much like blaming doctors for an outbreak of the common cold. They are only dealing with symptoms of a problem that existed before the patient arrived.

You know what the primary solution for poverty is? Good jobs in the places where people live. Of course saying that we need well-paid jobs in this country is the equivalent to being a moral monster if you are a centrist Democrat. It’s a lot easier to just bust teachers’ unions and send idealistic 22 year old recent college graduates into impoverished schools without any training. That will solve our problems!

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