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If Only…

[ 112 ] June 19, 2016 |


Exciting if true!

Justice Clarence Thomas, a reliable conservative vote on the Supreme Court, is mulling retirement after the presidential election, according to court watchers.

Thomas, appointed by former President George H.W. Bush and approved by the Senate after a bitter confirmation, has been considering retirement for a while and never planned to stay until he died, they said. He likes to spend summers in his RV with his wife.

But…unnamed “court watchers,” “mulling” retirement, suggestions that he would like to retire to do something the job allows him to do anyway…let’s just say that barring force majeure if the next president nominates Thomas’s replacement I’ll be shocked.


Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 36

[ 14 ] June 19, 2016 |

This is the grave of William Marcy.

2016-06-04 17.26.36

An early doughface, or northern politician who served southern masters, Marcy was a big wig in the New York Democratic Party during the antebellum era. Born in Southbridge, Massachusetts in 1786, he graduated from Brown in 1806 and went into the law, moving to Troy, New York. He was a leader in the Albany Regency, which was a group of Democrats who controlled New York politics in the 1820s and 1830s. He was elected to the Senate in 1831 as a major supporter of Andrew Jackson’s policies. He resigned that position in 1833 to serve as governor of New York. He soon came under attack from Whigs for his doughface policies, which were not necessarily unpopular in New York because New York City was a major center of southern support in the North, thanks to its many business connections with the region. But in 1838, he was defeated for reelection by William Seward and the Regency was finished.

Marcy then went to the national stage, serving in the Cabinet for various presidents who wanted his expertise to expand the United States in order to acquire more land for slavery. James K. Polk named him Secretary of War, placing him effectively in charge of a war that stole half of Mexico for the interests of the slave power. He really wanted the 1852 presidential nomination and was a leading candidate, but because of the labyrinthine infighting of party politics of that era, instead it went to a nobody alcoholic named Franklin Pierce. Marcy then served as Secretary of State under Pierce. There, he worked closely with Secretary of War Jefferson Davis to force Mexico to sell more land to the United States in order that a transcontinental railroad could be built connecting the South to San Diego and thus strengthen American slavery even more. He also came up with the idea the Ostend Manifesto, which was a document basically demanding that Spain cede Cuba to the United States. Again, the rationale for this was the expansion of slavery, the cause to which Marcy dedicated his public service. He died in 1857, three months after leaving the Cabinet.

William Marcy is buried in Albany Rural Cemetery, Menands, New York.

Women and the Draft

[ 130 ] June 19, 2016 |


The Senate passed a bill requiring women to register for the draft.

In the latest and perhaps decisive battle over the role of women in the military, Congress is embroiled in an increasingly intense debate over whether they should have to register for the draft when they turn 18.

On Tuesday, the Senate approved an expansive military policy bill that would for the first time require young women to register for the draft. The shift, while fiercely opposed by some conservative lawmakers and interest groups, had surprisingly broad support among Republican leaders and women in both parties.

The United States has not used the draft since 1973 during the Vietnam War. But the impact of such a shift, reflecting the evolving role of women in the armed services, would likely be profound.

Under the Senate bill passed on Tuesday, women turning 18 on or after Jan. 1, 2018, would be forced to register for Selective Service, as men must do now. Failure to register could result in the loss of various forms of federal aid, including Pell grants, a penalty that men already face. Because the policy would not apply to women who turned 18 before 2018, it would not affect current aid arrangements.

“The fact is,” said Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona and the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, “every single leader in this country, both men and women, members of the military leadership, believe that it’s fair since we opened up all aspects of the military to women that they would also be registering for Selective Services.”

Although I’d prefer to get rid of the draft entirely, it seems that what this should be connected to is the revival of the Equal Rights Amendment. It’s still amazing to me that a revived ERA is nowhere to be found in progressive policy goals. On the other hand, I’ve done a lot of reading in the last few months on issues around women’s work and protective legislation and it’s eye-opening to learn what a horrible right wing organization Alice Paul created with the National Women’s Party to push for the ERA after 1920. As Nancy Woloch lays out in her recent book, A Class By Herself: Protective Laws for Women Workers, 1890s-1990s, Paul and the NWP openly worked with the Chamber of Commerce to oppose all protective labor legislation. At first, the opposition was for any protective laws for women, since ensuring that women work only 8 hours a day was seen as the kind of discrimination that would actually hurt women. Paul was wrong about that because protective labor legislation women did far more to open the door for broader labor legislation than hurt women’s ability to make a living, although it did in some industries. But then Paul and the NWP went ahead and also opposed all labor legislation during the New Deal. Frances Perkins hated the NWP and Eleanor Roosevelt would have nothing to do with the ERA. Even after World War II, when protective labor legislation had passed and those battles were no longer so salient, Roosevelt still would not endorse the Equal Rights Amendment. It was really only in the 1970s that the ERA became a relatively progressive movement and even then largely ignored concerns of poor women or women of color in favor of an abstract constitutional amendment.

One of the arguments against something like the ERA was that women could in fact be drafted (others included, for instance, the potential loss of alimony and child support). Of course, women have reached greater equality in the military, so the draft exemption no longer makes sense. Perhaps now is the time for the ERA to be revived.

Maximum Family Grant Dead in California

[ 20 ] June 19, 2016 |

President Clinton prepares to sign legislation in the Rose Garden of the White House Thursday, Aug. 22, 1996, overhauling America's welfare system. Visible, from left, are former welfare recipients Lillie Harden, of Little Rock, Ark., and Janet Ferrel, of West Virginia, Vice President Gore, West Virginia Gov. Gaston Caperton, Sen. John Breaux, D-La., and former welfare recipient Penelope Howard, of Delaware. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The welfare reform movement of the 1990s really was the political peak of the white backlash that began having political success in the mid-1960s, when the civil rights movement came to the north and west, outraging whites in those regions with demands for the end of de facto segregation, the end of police violence against African-Americans, equal pay for equal work. Politically, this went far to drive the rise of the conservative movement that elected Reagan in 1980 and the Republican Congress of 1994. By that time, reading the political tea leaves, many Democrats, most importantly Bill Clinton, came to support some of their political goals, primarily the terrible welfare reform bill that makes so many on the left so angry at Hillary Clinton today. Of course the times have changed, the conservative movement is throwing itself on the rocks of unhinged violence, and radicalism, and horrific governance in the states it controls. But nationally and in blue states, there is increased space to roll back some of the terrible parts of the welfare reform bills.

This takes us to California, which just eliminated a truly terrible law as part of its recent budget bill.

The “maximum family grant” was a key feature in the welfare reforms adopted by California and other states in the mid-1990s. The idea was that welfare recipients should not be given an incentive to give birth while on the dole, so the amount of aid they received would be tied to the size their family was when they started receiving benefits. If another baby came along, well, too bad. Unless mom was raped, a victim of incest or could prove that the birth control didn’t work, there would be no benefit increase.

It was a repugnant policy and, furthermore, it didn’t seem to work. Studies have found little evidence of a link between caps in benefits and reproduction. What we do know, however, is that the maximum family grant rule punished poor kids for the choices of their parents.

Good riddance to this bad policy. It should have been repealed it long ago. Like, the minute it was adopted. The cap on benefits was based on the apocryphal story of the “welfare queen” — a term popularized by Ronald Reagan as he was campaigning for president — describing women who gamed the welfare system by popping out babies and amassing a fortune at the expense of gullible taxpayers.

There were no doubt cases of welfare fraud; you can’t have a government assistance program without someone breaking the rules. But it would take a criminal mastermind to figure out how to get rich from CalWORKs, California’s welfare-to-work program. The average grant for a family of three is about $700 a month, with a lifetime limit on benefits of four years. Most beneficiaries also have to work or develop job skills.

These arguments never made the first bit of sense. Who would get pregnant just to have a slight increase in their welfare check? The cost of a baby is so much more than that covered. But middle-class Americans ate that up, believing there were cadres of black people in the cities who were overpopulating the world with their spawn so they could drive in their Cadillac to fancy restaurants and order a huge t-bone steak, paid for with the dollars of hard-working white people.

Good on California for getting rid of one law that oppressed the poor. There are so many more from that era in California and nationally, and of course new ones appearing everyday in such lovely and well-run conservative states as Louisiana, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

Is “Steve Diamond” a mole for the law school reform movement?

[ 28 ] June 19, 2016 |


This hypothesis would explain why he keeps putting forth defenses of the legal academic status quo that are so laughably wrongheaded that they can only serve to nudge fence-sitters toward the shining path.

The alternative explanation is that he’s both delusional and none too bright.

In his latest missive, Diamond claims that lawyers and law students are doing great, in fact better than ever:

BLS data show that legal employment and incomes have comfortably recovered from the decline that set in after the crisis. In fact, nationally incomes and jobs for lawyers have increased steadily for at least two decades.

[L]aw students today are better off than those of a generation ago.

Let’s go to the numbers. Diamond cites Bureau of Labor Statistics occupational employment stats for his claim that incomes for lawyers “have increased steadily for at least two decades.” That’s a very misleading statement, for two reasons, one relatively minor, and the other not minor at all. The relatively minor reason is that, adjusted for inflation, median salaries (a crucial term, as we’ll see shortly) for lawyers have been essentially flat since the mid-1990s, which is as far back as the BLS stats go: adjusted for inflation, the median salary for lawyers has increased by less than 5%, from $110,000 to $115,00. That’s approximately half the wage growth experienced by the average American worker over the past two decades — which, needless to say, have hardly compromised a banner era for American workers in general.

But, misleading as that part of Diamond’s statement is in context, that’s a minor point in comparison to another one, which is that the BLS wage statistics Diamond cites don’t include self-employed workers. How important is this omission when calculating the actual compensation of lawyers? (Let alone law school graduates, which is a very different category).

Consider that 75% of American lawyers are in private practice, and the large majority of those people are self-employed, either as individuals or in partnerships, meaning that they’re not salaried or hourly workers, and thus not included in the BLS wage stats. Diamond is aware of this, and thinks it means lawyers are making even more money than the BLS stats suggest:

Now, these numbers are “employed” lawyers so they do not include solo practitioners or partners who qualify as employers. But the first number is relatively small, approximately 4% on average of all practicing lawyers over that time period. And the second number is likely to skew income higher not lower, so excluding that number does not help the critics case that much. Arguably solos do less well financially (though we don’t know for sure based on the BLS data) so perhaps they cancel each other out.

Factor in higher paid partners and [it’s] likely they [lawyers] have stayed comfortably ahead of inflation.

Steve Diamond, a man who pontificates regularly on the economic status of lawyers, thinks that 4% of practicing lawyers are in solo practice. He produces this estimate by citing NALP data on the employment status of law graduates nine months after graduation. But many lawyers — perhaps most — graduated from law school more than nine months ago. How many of them are in solo practice? According to the ABA, the answer is roughly two out of every five, i.e., approximately ten times as many as the learned professor estimated. And what’s happened to their wages?

Fortunately, we don’t have to guess: the mean earnings (the median is certainly much lower) of solo practitioners have declined by 30% in real terms over the past 25 years, from $71,000 to $49,000 per year, inflation-adjusted.

In other words, if we combine the BLS data on median lawyer salaries with tax data on the earnings of self-employed lawyers, we find that the median real compensation for lawyers – again, not law school graduates, but actual employed lawyers — is surely a good deal lower than it was a generation ago (Of course a small minority of lawyers — those who are equity partners at large firms — have seen their incomes soar, but this fact has no relevance to the average lawyer). Meanwhile, private law school tuition has nearly tripled in real terms over that time, while resident tuition at public law schools has increased by a factor of five, which makes the claim that law students today are better off than those of a generation ago somewhat problematic.

And again, we’re talking about lawyers here, not law school graduates. The gist of Noam Scheiber’s Times article that set Diamond off was that, at law schools such as Valparaiso, a very large percentage of graduates will never actually be lawyers, if being a lawyer means having some sort of sustained career in the legal profession.

Law School Transparency provides a simple way to compare the employment outcomes for graduates of ABA law schools, by compiling, respectively, employment and underemployment scores for each one. The employment score counts how many graduates have full-time bar passage required jobs, excluding putative solo practitioners. The underemployment score reflects the percentage of grads who don’t have full-time professional employment of any type, not merely those who fail to get jobs as lawyers.

These scores are not perfect metrics, since for example Yale’s and Harvard’s relatively low (84% and 89%) employment scores are a product of the fact that some graduates of hyper-elite law schools get unicorn-type non-law employment outcomes. Still, they are good rough and ready guides, especially at the extremes. Speaking of which:

Valparaiso, Class of 2015 ten months after graduation:

Employment Score: 38.2%

Underemployment Score: 37.4%

More than three out of every five Valpo graduates aren’t managing to get any legal job, even though this category includes such dubious employment as the eat what you kill arrangements described in the Times article (such grads are counted as being “employed” by firms, even though the firms don’t actually pay them anything). Valpo also features a catastrophically high under-employment figure, indicating that nearly 40% of the class is either flat-out unemployed, or working retail, like the unfortunate young woman profiled in the piece.

Those are horrendous statistics, but perhaps we shouldn’t expect Professor Diamond, working as he does at a much more exalted institution, to be aware of how badly graduates of schools like Valparaiso are struggling.

Santa Clara, Class of 2015 ten months after graduation:

Employment score: 38.8%

Underemployment score: 39.3%

Three-year loan-financed cost of attendance:

Valparaiso: $194,477

Santa Clara: $269,978

I think we’re done here.

Sunday Brexitology Blogging

[ 21 ] June 19, 2016 |

BFOn Friday afternoon, I was interviewed by BBC Radio Devon about calls for increased security for MPs in the wake of the Jo Cox murder. It can be found here just after 38 minutes in. I tried to place this in a comparative context with the United States. In my lifetime, only five sitting members of Congress have been shot or killed while serving. Gabrielle Giffords in 2011 and John Stennis in 1973 (a mugging) survived. Those that didn’t include RFK in 1968 (but as I point out in the interview, he was running for president, so it’s a little different), Leo Ryan in 1978 (Jonestown), and Larry McDonald in 1983 (KAL 007).

I have two thoughts on this list. First (again as I point out in the interview) I’m surprised the number is that low given the gun culture in the US. Second, there’s not much commonality tying all five together. The only two that bear any sort of resemblance to what happened here on Thursday are Kennedy and Giffords, and that’s tenuous.

My broader point in the interview, moving beyond the comparisons with the US, is that we shouldn’t over-react. I enjoy the degree of approachability that MPs here have, which isn’t surprising considering that the average size of constituencies in the UK (as measured by ‘electorate’) ranges from 57,044 in Wales to 72,676 in England (for the 2015 General Election). They’re known to those in the community who want to get to meet them, not only as faces on TV or billboards, but as human beings. This past academic year, I launched a new seminar series for the students at the university where I invited in a number of politicians and others who are politically active to discuss their own politicisation and how students can take such a course if they so desire. Included in these presentations were four MPs (three Conservative, one Labour) and an MEP (Green). In going for partisan balance, I also had among the list of speakers a UKIP city councillor, but I had a difficult time finding a Liberal Democrat who wanted to show their face. I managed this at, lets face it, a regional university. Adding a security detail to this mix might have reduced the approachability and availability of these serving politicians. (For something of a counter-point, read Paul Goodman, an ex-MP, writing in Conservative Home).

Side note: the presenter on BBC Radio Devon Friday afternoon was Gordon Sparks, who did a guest piece for LGM a bit over two years ago.

Returning to the murder of Jo Cox, I now feel safe in using the word “assassination”. On the day, Paul quoted Alex Massie’s discussion of the rhetorical context in which this murder took place. We now know that the SPLC has a file on Thomas Mair’s hard-right / neo-Nazi proclivities. The evidence is overwhelming enough now such that The Telegraph is calling it as it is: an act of far-Right terrorism. When Mair appeared in court yesterday and was asked to confirm his name, he said “My name is death to traitors, freedom for Britain.”

I think we understand his motivations. The photo above circulated on social media yesterday, originally (I believe) attributable to David Neiwert of the SPLC. While Britain First immediately (indeed, before the suspect was even named, I think) distanced themselves from the shooting, the photo (if it is him, which has not been confirmed to my knowledge) calls this into question.

Finally, there have been several new polls released in the past 24 hours, and one of which had a significant chunk of its field work conducted following the murder of Jo Cox. If you don’t want to pore over the numbers at UKPR, this Observer piece has a nice assessment. Upshot: the numbers are tightening, with a notable shift towards the remain side. We can expect this as polling day approaches; it’s typical in a referendum / initiative campaign. Encouraging for those of us on the remain side, remain is (barely) ahead in all but one of the polls, and there’s a large number of undecideds. On Thursday (while not freaking out), I pointed out that the greater the number of undecideds, the better the chances for remain, so I’m taking some solace in this. For additional solace, one can read this:

Given the extraordinarily low response rate, there is a good chance the highly excited leave supporters in every demographic by which Pollsters weight their samples: age, education, socioeconomic class, party affiliation etc, are significantly more likely to respond. The Be.Leavers are enjoying this referendum. The Bremainers are thoroughly sick of the whole referendum and cannot wait until it’s over. I cannot see how this can be captured in their methodologies.

Basically, I think there’s a good chance the polls are at least as wrong as the General election, which would be nearly enough to get Remain over the winning post.

There are 13% undecided in the last Survation poll. These people will break for the status quo, as they have in most referendums in the past.

The ground game: where one side has access to all the party machines, and the other, leave has access to UKIP’s chaotic machine alone, and no national footprint or experience in national ‘Get Out The Vote’ operations.

While he (I’m assuming the author is a he given the title of the blog) acknowledges that his argument can be written off to some degree as the typical “the polls must be wrong!” response to being behind, two good points are made (in addition to the undecideds discussion): the leave camp are significantly more motivated and mobilised, which might have an impact on the makeup of the response rate (especially to on-line polls). Second, which I haven’t considered, is the ground game. That said, speaking from several years of experience in the Labour Party ground machine, whereas in a local or general election we have data, for this, we’ll have a lot less data, especially given how the referendum crosses party lines.

One final note. Commentators and, dare I say, lazy assessments of the recent shift in the polling numbers will look to the murder of Jo Cox as a pivotal event. It very well might be. However, in the current batch of polls, most of the fieldwork was done before the murder; in short, there was already a shift to remain underway. Additionally, even once fresh numbers are released in the coming days, we’ll likely never know with any certainty if this had any effect at all on support for the referendum, or the final result. Early reports this morning do indicate that it has had the effect of softening the rhetorical tone of the campaign, which is a good thing.

Mergers and Microbrews

[ 123 ] June 18, 2016 |


The likely merger between Anheuser-Busch InBev and SABMiller to create what should be called Omnibrewery is making some worried that the macros will effectively drive the small microbreweries out of the market by controlling shelf space for the microbreweries like Elysian and Goose Island they buy up.

The problem is that, along with being the world’s largest brewer, Anheuser-Busch InBev is also the biggest beer distributor in the United States. And in several states, the law allows the company to distribute its own beer — and most markets have only one or two distributors. The company has also recently increased its control over the beer-distribution industry by purchasing five independent distributors (acquisitions that prompted a Department of Justice inquiry last fall). That means that Anheuser-Busch InBev can focus on building its own brands while effectively, and legally, shutting out competing craft brands.

The company, which already controls 45 percent of the domestic beer market, also encourages independent distributors to focus on selling its brands over craft brands. The company recently introduced its Voluntary Anheuser-Busch Incentive for Performance program, which pays distributors on a sliding scale based on the share of its beers they sell — which means that if they sell craft beers, they lose money (the Department of Justice is examining this program as well).

Distribution isn’t the only front in Anheuser-Busch InBev’s war on the small brewers represented by my organization. Since its merger with SABMiller was announced, the company has bought several well-regarded craft brewers around the country, including California’s Golden Road, Arizona’s Four Peaks, Colorado’s Breckenridge and Virginia’s Devil’s Backbone. These takeovers were preceded by the acquisition of Chicago’s Goose Island, Oregon’s Ten Barrel, Washington’s Elysian and Michigan’s Virtue Cider.

A merger between the world’s two largest brewers would give the new global corporation, with an estimated $64 billion in annual revenue and control over an astounding 29 percent of the global beer market, an even greater ability to hobble its competitors, at both the production and distribution levels. The enlarged Anheuser-Busch InBev will have more influence over which brands distributors carry, making it harder for smaller companies to get their products onto store shelves. It will have even more power to strong-arm independent distributors not to carry rival brands and exert pressure on retailers to cut back on, or even refuse to carry, competitive brands. And it will have more resources to buy up smaller breweries as they start to feel squeezed out of the marketplace.

I have conflicted feelings here but in the end I’m not freaking out about this. Ultimately, the goal is to have good beer available to consumers. To some extent, the microbrewery purchases will help that happen. I like Elysian and 10 Barrel and I would like it available to me here in Rhode Island. Elysian is just entering the market. Given that Rhode Island breweries are uniformly mediocre to awful except for tiny Proclamation, this improves my life. On the other, local experimentation and production is a great thing and we want to encourage this, right? Part of the microbrew culture is about trying new things and as much as they macros want to monopolize the market, they can’t kill this spirit. It’s true they could easily convince the average beer buyer who has just started getting interested in microbreweries to try some Goose Island 312 instead of something local, but that person is likely to move on from the 312 if they really enjoy microbreweries and if they don’t, they probably wouldn’t have experimented that much anyway. Don’t get me wrong. Monopoly is a bad thing. But beer is just about the nation’s only industry where thousands of local products have threatened to upend a previously nearly iron-clad monopoly. It’s hardly surprising that a new round of consolidation would happen to try and retake control. I just don’t think it will work, at least not that effectively. The Kroger and Safeway might not have local products, but the local liquor store sure will.

In related beer news, New Belgium is finally coming to Rhode Island this week. Mostly that improves my life. On the other hand, every bar will now have Fat Tire on tap and everyone will claim it’s the greatest beer in the world for the next five years until everyone realizes it is terrible.

Green Party Presidential Campaigns, In One Tweet

[ 169 ] 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.

Unfree Labor in American Seafood

[ 17 ] June 18, 2016 |


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.

Ask the expert

[ 75 ] June 18, 2016 |


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 of Black Power

[ 51 ] June 18, 2016 |


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.

How Netflix Uses Independent Contractor Classifications to Avoid Paying Minimum Wage

[ 54 ] June 18, 2016 |


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.

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