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Guy Clark, RIP

[ 30 ] May 17, 2016 |

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The great Guy Clark has died. One of the finest country-folk singers ever and a foundational figure in the alt-country genre, Clark had been sick for some time. He was not only good friends with Townes Van Zandt, but his partner in crazy living, as you can read about in this great late-life profile. Clark was a lot more emotionally stable than Van Zandt so he lived a lot longer, but he did not live a life that was going to reach 90 (although Ramblin’ Jack Elliott still lives so sometimes you can do that). Clark had the songwriting skills to become wealthy if he played the Nashville game. On the other hand, he was pure Texas. He split the difference, moving to Nashville in the early 70s (sort of the opposite of Willie Nelson here) to keep a hand in the business but remained fiercely independent his entire career. This plus his generous nature made him a mentor to a whole generation of young Texas musicians such as Steve Earle and Rodney Crowell.

Guy Clark’s albums themselves are something of a mixed bag. His first album, Old No. 1, contains a number of classics that were often covered by others. This includes the wonderful “L.A. Freeway,” “Desperadoes Waiting for a Train,” “She Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” and “Texas, 1947.”

A lot of people love his second album, Texas Cookin’. I’m a bit more mixed on it, although it does have “The Last Gunfighter Ballad.”

The South Coast of Texas is one of the most underrated albums in all of music. This is basically a perfect country album, with each song revolving around some Texas story, from the Kentuckians getting ready to move to Texas in the 19th century in “New Cut Road” to the shrimpers and their ladies in “The South Coast of Texas” to the young man falling in love with an older waitress in the great closing track “Lone Star Motel.” I love this album tremendously.

He had a series of decent albums in the 80s and 90s, culminating in the pretty excellent 1999 album Cold Dog Soup. But probably the place I would start is with his live greatest hits plus some new ones album Keepers, from 1997. Good band, fun performances.

In the end, anyone who can write a song like “The Randall Knife” is worth remembering.

I only saw Guy Clark play once. It was in Santa Fe, maybe around 2004, a show with just him and his long-time guitarist Verlon Thompson. It showed the delicate nature of live performing. Mostly, it was great. But some drunk guy started shouting during the set and Clark walked off until someone kicked him out. Then, right in the middle of the powerful song “Let Him Roll” about a bum who dies still loving the prostitute he knew decades ago, someone’s damn cell phone rang. Totally ruined the moment. Such things happen in a live setting. In recent years, by most accounts, his shows had taken a turn for the worse with his physical health.

Guy Clark will be badly missed. He maybe wasn’t quite the level of titanic talent as people like Merle Haggard, David Bowie, and Prince, but in a regular year, the loss of Guy Clark would just about be the worst musical loss we could imagine.

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Airplanes!

[ 8 ] May 17, 2016 |
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“J-7I fighter at the Beijing Military Museum from above” by Max Smith – Own work (Own photo). Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Some thoughts on plane-counting in the Asia Pacific:

One of the more headline-grabbing takeaways of the 2016 Defense Department report on Chinese military strength involves the size of the Chinese air forces, which now approach 3,000 aircraft.  This number puts China ahead of any country in the world, other than the United States and Russia. However, the numbers bear more scrutiny.

Flight Global 2016 puts overall Chinese strength at 2,942 aircraft, including the PLAAF (1977) PLA ground forces (556) and the PLAN (409). U.S. overall strength, by contrast, sits at 13,717 aircraft across the four services (including the U.S. Marine Corps). U.S. numbers are weighted less heavily towards the Air Force, as the Army and Navy (including the USMC) have nearly as many planes as the USAF.

Amazon and Unions

[ 12 ] May 17, 2016 |

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If Uber is proving fertile ground for labor organizing, for Amazon, it’s been a lot harder, thanks in no small part to an already revved-up anti-union campaign that includes managers openly lying to workers and intimidating them in one-on-one meetings.

Work and “work”

[ 82 ] May 17, 2016 |

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Robert Samuelson thinks Americans should work longer and retire later:

For most of the last century, Americans’ health has slowly improved. Mortality rates — the share of the population that dies at a given age — have dropped. The result is, for example, that the mortality rates for today’s 55-year-old men equal rates for men who were 49 in 1977. Suppose, ask the economists, today’s 55-year-olds worked in the same proportion as the 49-year-olds in 1977. Eighty-nine percent would be working now, as opposed to the 72 percent of 55-year-old men who actually work.

The study performs similar estimates along the 55-to-69-year-old age spectrum. In 2010, 37 percent of 65-year-old men worked; the rate would have been 77 percent if the 65-year-olds had worked in similar proportions as men in 1977 with the same death rates. The assumption is that people with the same death rates have roughly the same health and are equally capable of working.

“Americans” make up a pretty broad category. Let’s engage in a bit of class warfare, statistically speaking:

Wealthy and middle-class baby boomers can expect to live substantially longer than their parents’ generation. Meanwhile, life expectancy for the poor hasn’t increased and may even be declining, according to a report published Thursday by several leading economists.

Call it a growing inequality of death — and it means that the poor ultimately may collect less in money from some of the government’s safety net programs than the rich.

As of 2010, the average, upper-income 50-year-old man was expected to live to 89. But the same man, if he’s lower income, would live to just 76, according to the report. . .

Peter Orszag, one of the chairmen of the committee that wrote the report and a former senior official in the Obama administration, said he was surprised by the differences among this group by income.

“The bottom of the socioeconomic distribution isn’t experiencing any material increase in life expectancy,” he told Wonkblog.

A more accurate description of the situation would be: in recent decades, the health of upper income older Americans has improved drastically, while that of low-income older Americans hasn’t improved at all. Combining these two trends leads to Samuelson’s overall moderate improvement. (The old statistics joke is that if you have one foot in a campfire and the other in a bucket of ice water then you must be comfortable, because the average temperature of your two feet is quite pleasant).

Samuelson gestures vaguely at these facts, by acknowledging that “even a gradual increase in Social Security’s eligibility age would fall hardest on the poor, who have shorter life expectancies.” But the real story isn’t that the poor (broadly defined) have shorter life expectancies than the upper class. This has always been true. The real story, in regard to debates about old age entitlements in contemporary America, is that this gap is much larger than it used to be and is growing rapidly.

Samuelson’s crusade to raise the social security retirement age (which has already been raised from 65 to 67 for everyone born after the 1950s) also ignores a couple of other awkward issues:

(1) Less than half of adult Americans have full-time jobs, and only about 57% are working for money period. Now this may be because our overly generous social welfare system is handing out T-bone steaks to strapping young bucks etc., or it may because surplus labor is an endemic issue in a technologically-advanced economy, and will become even more so as robots are designed to do everything from drive cars to assemble Washington Post op-ed word collations. A social structure that expects 69-year-olds to get along without social security benefits will only exacerbate this issue, driving down wages even further (needless to say from the perspective of capital this is a feature, not a bug).

(2) Speaking of Washington Post op-eds, it’s remarkable (this is a rhetorical gesture; it isn’t) that Samuelson doesn’t even gesture at the difference between expecting 69-year-olds to keep cranking out the same stupid opinion pieces year after year and expecting them to do real jobs, as opposed to bullshit jobs.

Even when you watch the process of coal-extraction you probably only watch it for a short time, and it is not until you begin making a few calculations that you realize what a stupendous task the ‘fillers’ are performing. Normally each man has to clear a space four or five yards wide. The cutter has undermined the coal to the depth of five feet, so that if the seam of coal is three or four feet high, each man has to cutout, break up and load on to the belt something between seven and twelve cubic yards of coal. This is to say, taking a cubic yard as weighing twenty-seven hundred-weight, that each man is shifting coal at a speed approaching two tons an hour. I have just enough experience of pick and shovel work to be able to grasp what this means. When I am digging
trenches in my garden, if I shift two tons of earth during the afternoon, I feel that I have earned my tea. But earth is tractable stuff compared with coal, and I don’t have to work kneeling down, a thousand feet underground, in suffocating heat and swallowing coal dust with every breath I take; nor do I have to walk a mile bent double
before I begin. The miner’s job would be as much beyond my power as it would be to perform on a flying trapeze or to win the Grand National. I am not a manual labourer and please God I never shall be one, but there are some kinds of manual work that I could do if I had to. At a pitch I could be a tolerable road-sweeper or an inefficient gardener or even a tenth-rate farm hand. But by no conceivable amount of effort or training could I become a coal-miner, the work would kill me in a few weeks. . .

Watching coal-miners at work, you realize momentarily what different universes people inhabit. Down there where coal is dug is a sort of world apart which one can quite easily go through life without ever hearing about. Probably majority of people would even prefer not to hear about it. Yet it is the absolutely necessary counterpart of our world above. Practically everything we do, from eating an ice to crossing the Atlantic, and from baking a loaf to writing a novel, involves the use of coal, directly or indirectly. . .

It is not long since conditions in the mines were worse than they are now. There are still living a few very old women who in their youth have worked underground, with the harness round their waists, and a chain that passed between their legs, crawling on all fours and dragging tubs of coal. They used to go on doing this even when they were pregnant. And even now, if coal could not be produced without pregnant women dragging it to and fro, I fancy we should let them do it rather than deprive ourselves of coal. But-most of the time, of course, we should prefer to
forget that they were doing it. It is so with all types of manual work;it keeps us alive, and we are oblivious of its existence. More than anyone else, perhaps, the miner can stand as the type of the manual worker, not only because his work is so exaggeratedly awful, but also because it is so vitally necessary and yet so remote from our
experience, so invisible, as it were, that we are capable of forgetting it as we forget the blood in our veins. In a way it is even humiliating to watch coal-miners working. It raises in you a momentary doubt about your own status as an ‘intellectual’ and a superior person generally.

Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier (1936)

Coal mining is not as awful work today as it was in 1936, just as it was far “easier” in 1936 than it had been in 1856. But it is still awful work in comparison to what the knowledge class gets paid to do, or not do. And of course the reason it’s less awful is that it has been mechanized and automated, which in turn has eliminated the vast majority of the jobs in the industry.

Which gets us back to the whole issue of surplus labor, not that Samuelson ever got there in the first place.

Deciding Not to Decide

[ 45 ] May 17, 2016 |

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As the oral arguments suggested, none of the Republican nominees were willing to endorse the latest round of accommodations the Obama administration made to religious employers so that their employees would receive the contraceptive coverage to which they’re entitled, so they just punted back to the lower courts without deciding anything:

The cases have come to the Court as a result of its 2014 opinion Hobby Lobby v. Burwell. In that case, the Court (unpersuasively) held that the contraceptive mandate constituted a “substantial burden” on the religious freedom of religious employers and that therefore the federal government had to find a less burdensome way of ensuring that women were provided with contraceptive coverage as part of their employer-provided health insurance packages. As the dissenters predicted, the opinion created a mess in which religious employers continued to find accommodations inadequate. Most, but not all, of the federal circuit courts to have heard this latest round of challenges have held that the new accommodations are consistent with the freedoms guaranteed to employers by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Resolving this kind of split among circuit courts is the Supreme Court’s job. But, thanks to Senate Republicans who refuse to give a hearing to Merrick Garland, President Obama’s pick to replace Scalia, in many cases the Court is unable to perform it. The result is opinions like Zubik, in which the nation’s top appellate court does not so much decide a case as beg litigants and lower courts to resolve the disputes so that they don’t have to.

Rather than just uphold the opinions of the lower courts — which would have allowed affected women in most of the country to immediately start receiving the coverage to which they’re legally entitled — the Supreme Court vacated these opinions. In the next round of litigation, “the parties on remand should be afforded an opportunity to arrive at an approach going forward that accommodates petitioners’ religious exercise while at the same time ensuring that women covered by petitioners’ health plans ‘receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage.'”

In theory, this sounds reasonable. But, in practice, it is unlikely to work. These cases came to the Supreme Court in the first place precisely because the employers and the government fundamentally disagree about what constitutes a reasonable compromise between the religious freedom of employers and the right of employees to “receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage.” It seems unlikely that the Supreme Court begging them to try again will solve the problem. And indeed, one suspects the point is not so much to facilitate a compromise as to punt the issue until after the presidential election in November.

[…]

The ongoing uncertainty is far from ideal. The fact that even Justice Anthony Kennedy was unwilling to accept the reasonable compromises offered by the government, however, makes it clear that things could have been even worse. Had Antonin Scalia been alive to hear the case, it seems clear that there would have been a 5-4 vote against the government. Postponement is better for people who believe that religious employers should not be able to obstruct the rights of their employees than an outright loss.

Ultimately, then, the placement of this dispute over contraceptive coverage into ongoing legal purgatory is yet another reminder of what’s at stake in the upcoming elections. If Hillary Clinton wins with a Democratic Senate majority, the right of female employees to receive equal health insurance coverage in these cases will be upheld. If Donald Trump wins, this is one of the many ways in which the reproductive freedom of American women will be diminished. And if Hillary Clinton wins but Republicans hold the Senate, expect a lot more cases in which the Supreme Court is unwilling or unable to decide.

With respect to Tony Kennedy and his crying-while-eating-the-oysters “no, really I don’t hate women and support their right to contraceptive access despite having held here that a trivial burden on employers justifies them imposing their religious beliefs on their employees and obstructing their statutory rights because surely there’s another way the government can do this” concurrence in Hobby Lobbyover to you, Prof. Tushnet. I mean, how many of these shell games does AMK have running right now? “There is theoretically a way that employees can maintain their right to contraceptive coverage from religious employers, even if I can never find one in practice, no matter how insubstantial the burden on employers is.” “There is theoretically a way in which local governments can take race into account to integrate their schools, but not even using it as a tiebreaker when giving scarce slots to equally qualified students.” “Searching for a regulation that is actually an “undue burden” on abortion since 1992.” At least with Alito or Thomas, you don’t get the pretense.

Nineteenth-Century Maritime Art

[ 24 ] May 17, 2016 |

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Being a big fan of both scrimshaw and of the New Bedford Whaling Museum (even though I was visiting that museum when the Great House Robbery of 2014 led to the theft of years of research that made up the primary sources of Empire of Timber), I thought this was extremely cool:

During the 19th century, travelers on whaling ships used art to record dramatic and sometimes gory events. In official logbooks and personal journals, sailors and passengers listed sea routes, weather conditions, whale-oil harvests, ship repairs and stops for provisions. In pen, pencil and watercolor, they added drawings of heaving whales in their death throes dragging boats, bleeding whale carcasses being torn apart and seamen’s coffins lowered into the ocean.

Michael P. Dyer, the senior maritime historian at the New Bedford Whaling Museum in Massachusetts, is tracking down these illustrations for a book, “The Art of the Yankee Whale Hunt: Manuscript Illustration in the Age of Sail.” Some journals contain just one meticulously detailed image because, Mr. Dyer said, “in the middle of the voyage, something extraordinary happened.”

The last major study of the subject appeared in the 1980s. Illustrated whaling journals are now on display in the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s exhibition “Mapping Ahab’s ‘Storied Waves’ — Whaling and the Geography of ‘Moby-Dick,’” about cartographic resources that Herman Melville’s vengeful main character would have used to find the white behemoth that bit off his lower leg.

The New Bedford Whaling Museum owns 2,300 logbooks. About 100 are digitized and online, and more digitizing is in progress. The museum has been acquiring them, as gifts and purchases, for more than a century. (Heavily illustrated volumes can sell for tens of thousands of dollars each.) One-third of the collection’s logbooks contain some kind of drawing, including simple outlines of whales in the margins or tableaus detailed with ship rigging; portraits of particular American Indian and African-American crewmen; marine creatures’ fin and fluke silhouettes; and the animals’ wounds from gunshots, lances and harpoons.

The drawings at times reveal mishaps: broken tools and ropes, escaped whales and the untethered bodies of whales that sank. Each logbook could cover several trips around the world and contain writings and images from numerous shipmates. Sailors would share drawings onboard, they critiqued one another’s art, and they sometimes worked on commission for officers. A number of the identifiable artists, including Joseph Bogart Hersey and Joseph Washington Tuck, were based in Provincetown, Mass., where a culture of maritime sketching seems to have arisen. “To this day, Provincetown is an artists’ colony,” Mr. Dyer observed.

It’s of course not surprising that you’d have cool drawings like this, not to mention scrimshaw. After all, what else are you going to do on endless ocean voyages?

The Past Few Days in the Special Relationship

[ 79 ] May 17, 2016 |

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Donald Trump, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and the newly elected Mayor of London have gotten themselves into a spot of bother.  In an interview with Piers Morgan, Trump assailed the clearly less-intelligent office-holders in the UK. To prove his assessment of their relative intellects, he’s challenged Sadiq Khan to an IQ test because . . . well I guess that approach to trans-Atlantic diplomacy hasn’t been tried recently.  This received some play in the media over here yesterday, prompting one of the regional BBC radio stations to interview me about the fate of the special relationship (my ten minute interview could be summed up as “don’t worry, it’s no big deal, on several levels”).

My question to my fellow Americans actually living in, you know, America is did this story get any play in the US?  I couldn’t find it on the NYT at all, which was an observation that elicited surprise from the presenter on Radio Berkshire yesterday morning.

In other more local news, even though the Labour Party secured the most votes citywide in the recent city council elections, the Conservatives have officially gone into coalition with UKIP in order to run the city for the next two years. I was asked for a react quote from the local paper when the story broke, but given I was teaching American politics for two hours, it had to wait until this morning. There should be something out there by now. I’m sure it’s made everybody involved very happy.

Non-Compete Agreements

[ 73 ] May 17, 2016 |

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I’ve talked about the injustice of non-compete agreements at the lower end of the labor market a few times before. It’s worth revisiting the point once again to note its ubiquity and the utter injustice of it.

A recent White House report found that 18% of American workers are currently restricted by non-compete clauses. If you’ve never signed one–or even if you have and had no idea what it was–a non-compete is a legal agreement that prevents an employee from leaving a job at one company and taking a similar one with a competing company, for a specified period of time.

Of the workers who have signed non-competes, fewer than half say they had access to trade secrets that a potential rival company could take advantage of. What’s more, 37% of workers say they have signed non-compete agreements at some point in their careers.

While engineering and computer/mathematical occupations have the highest prevalence of non-competes, the agreements aren’t exclusive to highly-skilled professions. For instance, 15% of workers without four-year college degrees are subject to non-competes, while 14% of employees earning less than $40,000 a year have signed a non-compete. That’s despite the fact that employees in both sectors are about half as likely to possess trade secrets than more highly educated and higher-earning counterparts in the work force.

Of course the most famous example of this is Jimmy John’s, which clearly is concerned about it’s $7.50 an hour employees revealing deep secrets when they go work for Subway later. Or, as is certainly the case, the point is to control workers and nothing more.

Tofu Power!

[ 71 ] May 16, 2016 |

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Tofu, is there anything you can’t do?

In a dark and steamy room in Indonesia’s tofu heartland three men sweat over bubbling cauldrons, churning creamy beancurd with wooden paddles before draining it by hand and slicing it into silky cubes.

Tofu has been cooked this way for generations but today, innovative villagers on Java island are producing something extra from the simple soybean – cheap, renewable energy, piped directly into their homes.

Around 150 small tofu businesses in Kalisari village, many run from the family home, are benefiting from a pioneering green scheme that converts wastewater from their production floors into a clean-burning biogas.

Where families once relied on sporadic deliveries of tanked gas or wood for stoves, tofu producers like Waroh can access this cleaner fuel anytime with the flick of a switch.

“The advantages are huge, because we produce the gas with waste,” Waroh, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, told AFP as he boiled tea over a steady blue flame coming from his kitchen stove.

Experts say harnessing power from unconventional sources like tofu holds enormous potential in Indonesia, a vast energy-hungry nation heavily reliant on fossil fuels.

There’s another benefit too because large-scale tofu production is pretty gross:

The Kalisari project has also helped to reduce damage caused to the local environment from tofu production.

Thousands of litres of waste water drained from raw tofu was once pumped daily from factories around the village into nearby rivers, befouling waterways and contaminating rice fields downstream.

“The environment here was very polluted,” Kalisari local government head Aziz Masruri told AFP, gesturing to a river fringed by wooden tofu workshops. “It stank, and it was affecting our agriculture.”

Things have steadily improved since the cloudy, foul-smelling liquid was diverted from rivers to large blue tanks, where it’s transformed into biogas. Farmers have reported better rice yields, while the river is clearer and less smelly, Masruri said.

I suppose this doesn’t really deal with the long-term water depletion, but is certainly better in the short-term.

Also, tofu is just a great food. I swear, people who don’t like it think that it is just eaten plain. Do you eat plain pasta or rice? Unlikely. It’s really at its best paired with pork, but obviously it’s a great meat substitute too, though I think ideally paired with something else kind of meaty like eggplants or a hearty mushroom.

Chicago and the Civil War

[ 41 ] May 16, 2016 |

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It’s worth remembering that the Civil War transformed the entire nation, not just the South. From the tribes living in Montana to the slaves in Mississippi to Yankees in Vermont, no one in this nation was the same after 1865. That includes Chicago:

Some impacts, courtesy of Chicago History Museum and the Encyclopedia of Chicago:

• Boosted commerce: “The opening of the Union Stock Yard on Christmas Day, 1865, is symbolic of the Civil War’s impact on Chicago. The war directed the flow of vital food commodities away from Chicago’s most persistent urban rivals, which were too close to the front lines during the first two years of the war and were hurt by stoppages of trade on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.”

• Helped banking: “The Civil War also helped spur industrialization by bringing stable banking to Chicago for the first time. The First National Bank of Chicago was founded in July 1863, and by war’s end the city boasted 13 national banks, more than any other city in America.”

• Race riot: “In 1862 the city suffered its first race riot when white teamsters tried to prevent African-Americans from using the omnibus system. The Chicago City Council voted to segregate the public schools.”

• POW camp: Chicago was home to one of the largest Union Army prisoner-of-war camps for Confederate soldiers: Camp Douglas, near 35th Street and Martin Luther King Drive. Of the 10,000-plus Confederate soldiers at the camp, 4,457 died, mostly due to poor sanitary and medical facilities. The Chicago History Museum has several artifacts from the camp, including the bell that rang out to signify the end of the Civil War.

• Death toll: There were 22,436 soldiers from Cook County, and most came from Chicago. Almost 4,000 soldiers from the city died, and there are memorials in Grant Park, Lincoln Park and some city cemeteries.

“Thousands of Confederate soldiers are buried in Lincoln Park [formerly the city cemetery] and in Oak Wood Cemetery, which has a significant monument memorializing the rebel soldiers who perished at Camp Douglas,” Lewis said.

Wait, there’s a Confederate monument in Chicago?

Anyway, this is a nice overview of the basics.

This is a Pretty Good Fifth Columnist Effort to Undermine America

[ 122 ] May 16, 2016 |

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Above: Anheuser Busch-InBev CEO Carlos Brito

If you wanted to destroy young people’s idealistic vision of America, could you do a better job than Budweiser renaming itself “America” for the election season?

Budweiser has one-upped Donald Trump’s promise to make America great again by making America beer. Beginning later this month, the script that usually reads “Budweiser” on the brewing company’s cans and bottle labels will read “America”. The label change will stay in effect through to the election in November.

Budweiser regularly redesigns its logo along patriotic themes to coincide with major sporting events, often around Olympic Games hosted stateside, but this is the first time the company has effectively changed the name of its flagship product. In a press release, the brewery mentioned several upcoming events, notably the Olympics taking place elsewhere in the Americas this summer – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – and of course the deeply contentious US election itself.

The change is US-centric to the core, though. The label’s typeface will stay the same, but the words will change: “America” for “Budweiser,” “e pluribus unum” (out of many, one, the motto of the US) for “The King of Beers,” and where the lager’s label usually contains boilerplate extolling the virtues of its “exclusive Beechwood Aging”, the lyrics to The Star-Spangled Banner.

Lyrics to Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land and text from the Pledge of Allegiance also appear on the can.

Will the Guthrie lines about ignoring private property be on the can? One can only hope.

Maybe this is some sort of long game by the Kaiser and his forces to win World War I a century on. It’s the best reason I can think of. Talk about a good plan to destroy American patriotism. Kultur indeed.

First Step toward Unionizing Uber?

[ 18 ] May 16, 2016 |

George, 35, protests with other commercial drivers with the app-based, ride-sharing company Uber against working conditions outside the company's office in Santa Monica, California June 24, 2014. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS EMPLOYMENT TRANSPORT CIVIL UNREST) - RTR3VKJ9

Since we’ve been talking about SEIU’s now failed deal with Airbnb, this is also very interesting:

Uber announced an agreement on Tuesday with a prominent union to create an association for drivers in New York that would establish a forum for regular dialogue and afford them some limited benefits and protections — but that would stop short of unionization.

The association, which will be known as the Independent Drivers Guild and will be affiliated with a regional branch of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union, is the first of its kind that Uber has officially blessed, although Uber drivers have formed a number of unsanctioned groups in cities across the country.

“We’re happy to announce that we’ve successfully come to agreement with Uber to represent the 35,000 drivers using Uber in New York City to enhance their earning ability and benefits,” said James Conigliaro Jr., the guild founder and assistant director and general counsel at the International Association of Machinists District 15, which represents workers in the Northeast.

The agreement is Uber’s latest attempt to assuage mounting concerns from regulators and drivers’ groups about the company’s labor model, which treats drivers as independent contractors. That model helps Uber keep its labor costs low, but it excludes drivers from coverage by most labor and employment laws, such as those that require a minimum wage and overtime.

That has spurred public disagreements, and many drivers have organized in unofficial groups to gain more rights. The prospect of unionization has loomed at times; lawmakers in Seattle voted last year to approve a bill allowing drivers for Uber and other ride-hailing apps to form unions.

In response, Uber, which is based in San Francisco, has been striking deals to tamp down the problems — with the proviso that the company be able to continue classifying its drivers as contractors and stop short of allowing drivers to unionize.

No doubt some will accuse the Machinists of selling workers short:

The machinists union has also indicated that for the duration of the five-year agreement, it will refrain from trying to unionize drivers, from encouraging them to strike and from waging campaigns to have them recognized as employees rather than independent contractors.

“It’s important to have immediate assistance in the industry and this is the structure that provides that,” said Mr. Conigliaro.

He emphasized, however, that drivers did not waive any labor rights by joining the guild, and that if Uber drivers were found to be employees at any point during the agreement, the union could try to unionize the drivers at their request.

Sounds pretty unstable to me. I think this is probably a good first step toward eventual unionization, even if it takes 5 years. In any case, the sharing economy is not going to go away. I’d rather move toward unionizing those workers than not.

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