— Dr. Jill Stein (@DrJillStein) June 18, 2016
As always, it’s odd that heighten-the-contradictions arguments seem to carry less currency with those upon whom the contradictions will be most heightened.
— Dr. Jill Stein (@DrJillStein) June 18, 2016
As always, it’s odd that heighten-the-contradictions arguments seem to carry less currency with those upon whom the contradictions will be most heightened.
Usually when I talk about unfree labor, it’s overseas in supply chains producing products for western markets. But the U.S. has several of its own systemic versions of unfree labor–widespread use of prison labor, sweatshops in Los Angeles, etc. Another is in the seafood industry where suppliers use guestworkers to provide your frozen shrimp. But this is not free labor, not with the guestworkers having no recourse.
But labor abuse in the seafood sector isn’t a problem confined to Asia. A report published Wednesday by the labor group the National Guestworker Alliance suggests that some US seafood workers also experience abusive conditions. The report focuses on the experiences of undocumented and H2-B visa guestworkers shucking, peeling, and boiling shrimp and crawfish at seafood processing plants in New Bedford, Mass. and along the Louisiana Gulf Coast. Around 69 percent of shrimp produced in the US comes from the Gulf Coast.
“Stealing wages is standard business practice. The financial incentive to underpay guestworkers is far greater than the risk of getting caught.”
According to the NGA report, the US seafood industry has relied heavily on H2-B guestworkers and undocumented immigrants to drive down labor costs to stay price competitive with international producers. A 2009 survey in New Bedford found that nearly 75 percent of the workers in its seafood processing industry were undocumented immigrants. The US Department of Labor certified over 5,700 H2-B visas for seafood related positions in 2014, a marked 15 percent increase over 2013. Because employers grant H2-B visas, those on the receiving end are particularly vulnerable. Due to threats of retaliation by employers—including firing, which can result in deportation—guestworkers are often hesitant to report mistreatment. “Hours were long, wages were bad, housing was terrible—but we were all afraid that if we spoke up, we would lose our jobs, our housing, and our ability to ever come back to the US to work,” longtime H-2B guestworker Olivia Guzman Garfias told the NGA.
Here are some more striking details from the NGA’s report:
In housing provided by processing companies in both the Louisiana Gulf and New Bedford, Mass., workers reported living with up to 20 people per trailer, without access to proper sanitation and sometimes with strict curfews.
Of the 126 seafood workers surveyed in New Bedford, 25 percent reported having been injured on the job. The majority of workers reported having to purchase their own safety equipment.
44 percent reported not being paid for overtime work.
At times, piece rates for pounds of shrimp prorated to levels well below minimum wage, as low as $2 per hour, and employers sometimes failed to pay promised rates. According to NGA Organizing Director Jacob Horwitz: “Stealing wages is standard business practice. The financial incentive to underpay guestworkers is far greater than the risk of getting caught.”
Female workers experienced sexual harassment and verbal abuse in the workplace as well as in company-provided housing. Some women spoke of unwanted sexual advances by company brass, and of being fired for rebuffing such advances.
Once again, if you are eating frozen seafood, you are eating a product made by unfree labor. Unfortunately, while we can pressure Walmart and other stores from using these suppliers, they lack the legal obligation to take responsibility for their supply chains. Until we can go after the corporate buyers of this seafood, this sort of exploitation will continue. And this is yet more evidence that guestworker programs simply do not work, at least in low-wage jobs, and there should be no place for them in whatever immigration reform bill eventually passes Congress.
Michael Simkovic is having a conniption that Noam Scheiber talked to me instead of him about whether it’s a good idea to take on $200,000+ of non-dischargeable debt to go to a law school where 60%+ of graduates don’t get legal jobs, 30% are flat-out unemployed nearly a year after graduation, and approximately 0% get good paying jobs of any kind, legal or otherwise. He claims to believe this is actually a great career choice, probably because he’s being paid to perform unnatural intellectual acts by Access Group.
Simkovic is apparently enraged because according to him he’s an expert on the economics of law school and legal practice, and I’m not. This is a curious line of argument, because it’s an implicit appeal to the authority of credentials that he doesn’t actually have: Simkovic’s CV reveals no formal training in the subject matters on which he’s opining, unless going to Harvard Law School automatically makes you an expert on everything, which I suppose may be true in a certain sense.
As to matters of substance, the inspirational quality of Simkovic’s intrepid defense of the law school status quo is captured well by this argument:
Section 108 of the Internal Revenue Code provides that debt forgiveness is only taxable as income to the extent that the taxpayer has assets greater than his debts at the time of the forgiveness. If a student borrower has unencumbered assets that exceed his debts, he can use those assets to repay his loans. If he doesn’t have unencumbered assets, then he won’t pay any taxes when his student loans are forgiven.
In other words, either he is required to pays [sic] no taxes on debt forgiveness, or he accumulates enough assets that even after paying any taxes on debt forgiveness he will still have savings left over. If it’s the latter, then it means he can afford to pay those taxes and might have been able to afford to repay his student loans in full without any student loan forgiveness.
In other words, if after 20 years of loan repayment the graduate has a net worth of zero or less, he or she won’t owe the IRS any taxes when the remainder of the loan balance is forgiven. That’s Simkovic’s argument for why it’s a fine idea to take on massive debt to attend a law school with horrendous employment outcomes: because if you’re completely broke 20 years later, Uncle Sam won’t actually stick you with an extra tax bill when he finally lets you out of (metaphorical for now) debtor’s prison.*
*Offer subject to revocation at any time by the United States government.
Fifty years ago this month, the term “Black Power” became known to Americans as the participants in the March Against Fear picked it up as their slogan. N.D.B. Connolly, whose book you should read, discusses both its implications for today and then goes onto criticize how historians of radical African-Americans have gone far to undermine the potency of radical Black Power scholarship by focusing their attention on popular figures like Stokley Carmichael, promoting trade books and liberal notions of inclusive diversity instead of what Black Power activists actually fought for themselves. The whole thing is a must read. But I want to focus on his discussion of how Black Power never really ended.
This year will no doubt see plenty of fitting and necessary commemorations of Black Power’s importance in American history. Still, 50th anniversaries seem as good a time as any to clear up enduring confusions. “Black Power” is not some dusty or even hallowed slogan trapped in the past. It resides in the here-and-now as a set of living political and civic commitments. It includes a healthy suspicion of white-run institutions and an enduring desire for black ownership and other forms of self-determination. It also includes a hope that an unapologetic love of black people can, indeed, become a site of interracial political consensus. Chicago’s Black Youth Project 100, Baltimore’s Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, and scores of #BlackLivesMatter activists and their affiliates around the country represent but a handful of the groups that sharply echo the most militant political practices of the last half-century.
Not unlike Meredith’s marchers, courageous men and women over the last 50 years have also kept alive a certain intellectual fearlessness, advancing what one could fittingly call a Black Power method. A Black Power method remains both anti-racist and, often, anti-liberal in its interpretive and archival practice. Interpretively, it refuses to caricature black radicalism as doomed for failure. It also remains attentive to racism’s class and gendered dimensions, even if, like historical Black Power, it is not uniformly, or even necessarily, “progressive” on either. Projections of black unity, as Elsa Barkley Brown recently reminded, often require silencing. Thus, it still takes real intellectual work to prioritize the stories of working-class people, queer people, and women who might otherwise be erased from the historical record, either by white supremacist history-making or black bourgeois responses to it.
I consistently tell my students that the civil rights movement has no start or end. If it has a starting point, it’s the moment the first African slave entered Virginia in 1619 and it continues to the present. We just talk about the Civil Rights Movement as a thing (with capital letters) because it’s one of only two times in U.S. history that enough white people cared about the oppression of African-Americans to pass legislation to do something about it (the other time of course being during Congressional Reconstruction). Black Power is not a thing of the past. As we see in Black Lives Matter, the Fight for $15, the anti-Confederate flag movement, and many other places, the issues driving black activism in 2016 are in many ways not that different than in 1965 or even 1865. And some of that activism has and does today reject white-dominated liberalism and unchallenging notions of diversity. That’s certainly Connolly’s position, as the rest of this essay makes clear and even if it makes white people uncomfortable, it’s a perfectly legitimate position that if anything makes actual acceptance of black people in American life more possible.
This should obviously be a violation of federal law. But of course the vile independent contractor employment status exists to shield employers from liability, responsibility, and of course, not having to give up their 5th ivory-covered backscratcher.
Getting paid to watch movies might seem like a pretty sweet gig, but two people who worked for Netflix are now suing the streaming-media giant, claiming that the company misclassified them as contractors rather than employees so it wouldn’t have to pay them time-and-a-half for the long workweeks they incurred.
The two workers, who are aiming for class-action status, were part of “Project Beetlejuice,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. These people (Netflix doesn’t say how many it works with) get paid $10 a pop to watch movies and pick out the best stills and video clips for Netflix to use.
The issue, of course, is that a movie can run two or three hours in length, which — if you do the math — means these film buffs aren’t making a lot per hour for their services. Netflix had classified them as independent contractors, but the litigation contends that they were treated more like employees, but without the benefits of regular employment. “They’re also asking for overtime, paid vacation, and holidays, health insurance, and a 401(k) plan,” Business Insider said.
$10 a pop if the the movie is 2 hours long is all of $5 an hour. Say what you will, but watching movies for a company is absolutely work and those workers need legal compensation, not to even mention fair compensation. Just another day in the New Gilded Age.
Recently, Jacobin editor Conor Kilpatrick took some time off his busy schedule being the self-appointed Moral Conscience of the American Left to provide some rigorous data:
— Connor Kilpatrick (@ckilpatrick) June 15, 2016
You don’t need Bijan-style analysis to see how beyond any possible allowance for hyperbole this risible dodge is. [UPDATE: But we got it anyway!] Indeed, even if you don’t read the blog regularly you can tell from the tweet itself. Note how Kilpatrick linked to one of the two posts of the dozens per week in the previous 30 days that was about an argument made by Freddie, rather than the front page. Doing the latter would be more relevant to his assertion, but anyone who actually clicked the link wouldn’t have to spend much time scrolling to see that Kilpatrick was full of shit.
Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. Where a certain type of online argument is concerned, he forgot to fix it for you: the first time as farce, second time as Freddie and hence beyond farce. To provide some background for the uninitiated, virtually any interaction Freddie deBoer has outside of his narrow circle follows an script with three brief acts:
To Freddie, the only worse thing than not engaging with him substantively is engaging with him substantively, and vice versa. So, during his most recent version of this routine, Freddie found the data complied by his friend the social scientician highly useful:
@LemieuxLGM 30% of posts on LGM in the past several years mention me. I think you should find a new hobby.
— HR-Compliant Freddie (@freddiedeboer) June 17, 2016
Past several years! Oh, dear.
If you think his whining routine seems rather pathetic both coming and going, well, you’re right. But there’s a logic to it. Freddie wants to be noticed and discussed. But his knowledge of American political history and political science is towards the shallow end of the pool, so when he makes longer-form arguments about electoral or legislative politics they tend to be replete with massive howlers. If given the choice between acutally defending a proposition like “it is unpossible for a national right to same-sex-marriage to have been created without the LBGT community leaving the Democratic Party en masse, because general election votes are the only possible source of political leverage” on the merits and frantically running away while asserting that you never actually wanted to argue in the first place, you can see why the latter seems like the more dignified option.
It’s instructive, however, that Kilpatrick and deBoer could think come up with such a ludicrous number and think their followers could find it plausible. They seem to spend so much time involved in an impenetrable, byzantine series of longstanding personal grudges and flamewars on Twitter that they seem to think it’s at least within the realm of probability that a prolific group blog could devote a large minority of its time writing about someone they allegedly don’t like. For that matter, it’s instructive that they think that the post under discussion was “about Freddie.” It was about Freddie’s argument. It was about how to think about electoral politics and about how major policy change has happened in American history, issues I have a longstanding interest in and know something about. On Twitter, conversely, arguments do tend to be personal, because it’s rarely possible to do good arguments 140 characters at a time. It’s therefore a perfect medium for Freddie, as it’s highly conducive to reducing arguments of any complexity to strawmen that can be easily if uselessly rebutted. He doesn’t really seem to care about the underlying argument — the point is to designate people as Not of The Left. Projection is a hell of a drug.
— lee murray (@lemurey) June 18, 2016
But, of course, writing a whole blog post making fun of the ridiculous idea that you’re “obsessed” with people you rarely and never write about, respectively, makes you the REAL obsessive. This last profound insight based on the most important work in the left theory canon, I’m Rubber and You’re Glue.
What is Donald Trump like to work for? Well:
“He was always very open about describing women by their breast size. Any time I see people in the Trump organization say how nice he is, I want to throw up. He’s been a nasty person to women for a long time,” says one crew member. “My girlfriend at the time was a production assistant on the show and he made a comment about her, knowing that he was mic’d and that we’d all hear it. He said, ‘Who’s that hot little girl running around?’ For a second I was like, Cool, Donald Trump thinks my girlfriend is hot. But then I was like, Wait, an old man said something about my 28-year-old girlfriend. Take it easy, homeboy.”
“He would talk about the female contestants’ bodies a lot from the control room,” recalls one midlevel producer. “We shot in Trump Tower, the control room was on the seventh floor, and he walked in one day and was talking about a contestant, saying, ‘Her breasts were so much bigger at the casting. Maybe she had her period then.’ He knows he’s mic’d and that 30 people are hearing this, but he didn’t care. That’s kind of him. During the campaign, when he was talking about Megyn Kelly, I thought: He’s obsessed with menstruation.”
How a party dedicated to imposing legal disabilities on women and undermining the enforcement of women’s civil rights made him their presidential nominee I’ll never understand.
I don’t dislike this new Ghostbusters movie because they’re all women, that’s silly and ridiculous. I can’t believe that’s even a question, with my history. I mean, my mom and sisters are all women and I know them, so how could I dislike other women that are not them? It doesn’t make any sense and, frankly, it’s below the belt. I mean, how dare you?
I hate the new Ghostbusters movie because my number one issue when judging a film is and has always been Hollywood finance reform. And frankly, I’m tired of all big blockbuster movies. The movie system is corrupt and I think we need to put our foot down, right now specifically in 2016, to put a stop to this new Ghostbusters movie as a signal that we’re done with all big hollywood blockbusters. And if you don’t agree with me, well, maybe you need to stop buying movie tickets with your vagina.
And the people I know, we all mostly agree, it’s either Hold That Ghost or NOTHING. We think the movie theaters should shut down if they’re not going to play Hold That Ghost. Yeah, we know some people get food and go to the bathroom at movie theaters, but if they’re going to play the new female Ghostbusters, that’s just as bad as showing Faces of Death 7 in our opinions! And those two things are so similar and interchangeable that I won’t bother showing or telling you why. That’s not good enough? Here’s a picture of a Bridesmaids DVD and a Faces of Death 7 VHS standing next to each other on the SAME SHELF.
This new movie Ghostbusters reminds me of the movie Ghost from the ‘90s and now that we’re not in the ‘90s I’ve decided I don’t like the movie Ghost. I’m going to say that Ghostbusters is the same as Ghost and hold Ghostbusters responsible for the things I don’t like about Ghost.
Now, if Elizabeth Warren and Jill Stein and Michelle Obama make a new Ghostbusters in a hypothetical four or eight years from now, I could get behind that idea. That vague notion that wouldn’t hold up under any scrutiny for a variety of reasons is CLEARLY a better option than this new Ghostbusters movie made by competent people that’s seemingly ready to be shown any minute now.
While Naím argues that what is happening is an end to power, what he aptly describes is more like a destabilization of old structures and a shifting of power. In terms of culture, Naím sees the undermining of traditional cultures in almost entirely positive terms, as an unleashing of people’s senses of possibility. But of course, along with the undermining of traditional cultures comes the spreading of capitalist forms of culture, and that can be seen as the spread of newer forms of power as much as it can be seen as the undermining of old ones.
Naím’s book can be seen as an elegy for what sociologist William Robinson calls the “transnational ruling class.” From the end of World War II until very recently, it looked to careful observers as if the Group of 5, the Group of 20, the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank were able to control the rules under which the economies of the world functioned. And their power was so great that any national government that wanted to do things according to a different set of rules would be denied access to the capital needed to keep its economy flowing, and pressured until it played the political and economic games by the rules those at the top of these institutions required. Thus, that transnational ruling class had enormous power over both economic and political systems.
Robinson argues that the last part of the 20th century was characterized by a system of polyarchy, where power came to transcend national governments, and instead rested in the hands of the transnational ruling class and its governing institutions. He argues that national elections became not as significant as they once had been as mechanisms for deciding how a group of people chose to live.
And yet, Naím is partially right. We do seem to be entering a period in which the ability of the transnational ruling class to provide an orderly atmosphere for those interests to operate is crumbling. But the system of capitalism, which those institutions work to manage, continues on its merry way. The power of capitalist processes to destroy people’s lives is as powerful as ever.
What has changed is that those capitalist processes are less able to be managed by a cohesive transnational ruling class, and they are less accountable to any particular regime of control. That is largely a result of finance capital coming to dominate over the more productive forms of capital that had previously been dominant, and a result of the neoliberal policies of those very transnational institutions that have spread an ideology of laissez faire.
The power of individuals at the heads of major corporations, or at the heads of transnational institutions, does seem to be destabilizing. The forms of power that Naím and people like him have held in the past century — the power as heads of corporations, as people in government and as people at the head of transnational organizations — is shifting, and those people can no longer feel secure in their ability make things happen.
And yet for the rest of us, it is still the case that transnational capitalist processes rule our world. They are just ruling in a less orderly fashion. And whereas Robinson, the sociologist, sees the transnational ruling class anchored in institutions such as the World Trade Organization and World Bank as the rulers of this new world order, it may be that Naím is right — that even those forms of governance over the capitalist systems are losing their grip on power.
I don’t know. There’s something here. Certainly the power of international finance capital is very strong. Arguably it is stronger than government; in any case, as with the global race to the bottom in labor standards and the tax avoidance schemes of the wealthy, the wealthy have become quite adept at playing nations against each other to give rich people the better deal. But there’s nothing particularly inevitable about this or the power of finance capital more generally. Governments can indeed tame those financial institutions or work with those institutions or shape those institutions. Moreover, my first thought when reading this argument was that the real power shift after World War II was a) the end of colonialism and b) the end of the Cold War. Maybe the rise of new forms of capitalism is third. Of course, these things are all interconnected. Neocolonialism through domination of poor nations by international financial capital is a very real thing and the choices governments can make are severely constricted by this capital. But I think we more need examples than Greece to really make this argument about the decline of the global ruling class effectively.
Figured it would make an interesting comment thread at least.
Way too often in American political rhetoric, the working class means “white people.” That’s especially true among pundits who often talk of politicians needing to appeal to “the working class,” i.e., laid off white autoworkers in Michigan with out of fashion mustaches. African-American and Latino issues are seen as completely separate. They are discussed as a different demographic and the discussion of political appeals are different in ways that equate wealthy and poor minority populations as having the same interests, which is sometimes true and sometimes not. But what does the actual working class look like? Increasingly, it is made up of people of color and they will make up a majority of the working class sooner than you think, as this new Economic Policy Institute report details.
What this report finds: People of color will become a majority of the American working class in 2032. This estimate, based on long-term labor force projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and trends in college completion by race and ethnicity, is 11 years sooner than the Census Bureau projection for the overall U.S. population, which becomes “majority-minority” in 2043.
Why this matters: As of 2013, the working class—made up of working people without a college degree—constitutes nearly two-thirds (66.1 percent) of the U.S. civilian labor force between ages 18 and 64. Thus wage stagnation and economic inequality can’t be solved without policies aimed at raising living standards for the working class. Because the working class is increasingly people of color, raising working class living standards will require bridging racial and ethnic divides.
What it means for policy: The best way to advance policies to raise living standards for working people is for diverse groups to recognize that they share more in common than not, and work together toward:
Equal pay for equal work
Universal high-quality child care and early childhood education
Strengthened collective bargaining
Higher minimum wages
Voting rights protections
Reforms to immigration and criminal justice systems
This also means we need to change how we talk about the working class immediately.
Matthew Continetti argues that it was a bad idea for his party to nominate a buffoonish demagogue as its candidate for president:
Trump and his supporters overstate his competitiveness by conflating the wishes of the Republican primary electorate with those of the general electorate. Trump will replicate his success, they say, by continuing to do the things that won him the Republican nomination: “telling it like it is,” accepting “the mantle of anger,” not being “politically correct.” This is a huge error. Not only do Trump’s utterances repel Democratic voters—a number of which any successful candidate has to win—but they also frighten Republican ones. Romney got 47 percent of the vote in 2012. To use a real-estate metaphor: How do you expect to build a skyscraper when you are demolishing the foundation?
I cannot dispute any of this. And, yet, it seems like this could use some, I dunno, historical context. “[W]hat failures of education and culture,” asks Chait, “could have left Republican voters predisposed to the propaganda of a grifter who is neither a wonk nor an orator, and who exploits their cultural resentments? Continetti does not provide any answers. Here is one:”
I believe that is what the kids five years ago would have called being “pwned.” Cf. also, Bill Kristol, who remains shocked that the members of his party would want as the presidential nominee what he gave them as the #2 on the ticket 8 years ago.