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Organizing Reality TV Writers

[ 46 ] July 2, 2014 |

Life for a reality TV writer is pretty tough since they have been classified as independent contractors or overtime-exempt and thus can be exploited heavily. The Writers’ Guild is trying to step into the void and organize them.

Tricky bosses, faked timecards, excruciating hours, dangerous scrapes… It sounds like fodder for a reality TV show, perhaps “America’s Next Worst Job.”

But workers say these are the conditions in reality TV itself, known more formally as the nonfiction television industry.

“We are told to be loyal, that this is normal,” said Lauren Veloski of the long unpaid hours she worked for several production companies. “You should anticipate that your workday will be 12 hours long,” one employer informed her.

Veloski said she and her co-workers were required to fake timecards saying they worked from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. In fact, she said, she often worked past midnight, even until dawn.

The companies didn’t pay a penny of overtime. Indeed, the extra work was entirely unpaid in most cases.

Employees also said the companies, in turn, have no loyalty to their workers, sometimes putting them in dangerous situations.

“They don’t care about safety at all. People climb mountains, do things that are unsafe. If they get hurt they [the employers] don’t answer their phone calls or hire them again,” said 30-year industry veteran Helen Smith, who asked me not to use her real name for fear of retaliation.

Sam Alito: The Most Consistently Reactionary Supreme Court Justice Since James McReynolds

[ 139 ] July 2, 2014 |

This has been a long-standing hobbyhorse of mine. But (much of the ludicrously incompetent journalism surrounding his nomination notwithstanding) if you’re a progressive between Alito and Scalia you’d much prefer the latter. Ian Millhiser brings more data:

What makes Alito a partisan is that there is no similar case where his judicial philosophy drove him to a result that put him at odds with his fellow conservatives. Shortly after Hobby Lobby was handed down, ThinkProgress contacted several legal scholars and Supreme Court advocates asking if they could identify a single closely divided case where Alito broke with his fellow conservatives to join the liberals. Most replied that they could not think of any. One, Boston College Law Professor Kent Greenfield, added that “Scalia is a Roosevelt liberal in comparison” to Alito. Another, a progressive attorney who frequently practices in Alito’s Court, wrote back with just four words — “Nope. He’s the worst.”

Read the whole etc.

The Right to Discriminate

[ 59 ] July 2, 2014 |

Who could have guessed that the Hobby Lobby case would lead to religious groups citing their right to discriminate against groups they think Jesus doesn’t like? Oh yeah, pretty much everyone.

This week, in the Hobby Lobby case, the Supreme Court ruled that a religious employer could not be required to provide employees with certain types of contraception. That decision is beginning to reverberate: A group of faith leaders is urging the Obama administration to include a religious exemption in a forthcoming LGBT anti-discrimination action.

Their call, in a letter sent to the White House Tuesday, attempts to capitalize on the Supreme Court case by arguing that it shows the administration must show more deference to the prerogatives of religion.

“We are asking that an extension of protection for one group not come at the expense of faith communities whose religious identity and beliefs motivate them to serve those in need,” the letter states.

This completely fits the worldview of Alito and Thomas, where people can discriminate against whoever they want so long as the discriminators follow the policy points of the Republican Party and those discriminated against vote for Democrats.

Beyonce Voters

[ 151 ] July 2, 2014 |

I’m not sure if this is code for “black” or code for “sluts.” Probably both.

Single women are “Beyonce voters” who depend on the government in lieu of husbands to provide their birth control, according to one Fox News panelist.

Jesse Watters made the comment Tuesday on “Outnumbered” during a discussion of the Supreme Court’s ruling against the Obamacare contraception mandate. After a clip played of Hillary Clinton calling the Supreme Court’s decision “deeply disturbing,” Watters suggested that Clinton would treat access to contraception as a constitutional right in order to curry favor ahead of a potential 2016 bid.

“She needs the single ladies vote,” he observed. “I call them the ‘Beyonce voters,’ the single ladies. Obama won single ladies by 76 percent last time and they made up about a quarter of the electorate.”

“They depend on government because they’re not depending on their husbands,” he added. “They need things like contraception, health care and they love to talk about equal pay.”

Either way, these are the women the Supreme Court targeted in both of Monday’s grotesque decisions.

More Birth Control Derp

[ 157 ] July 2, 2014 |

Defending his silly post, Sean Davis comes prepared with talking points:

He’s joined by Volokh’s Jonathan Adler:

I guess we have to work through this again:

  • The FDA warning labels are an anachronism. As the Irin Carmon post I linked to yesterday explains, “the amicus brief filed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and several other medical associations, ‘there is no scientific evidence that emergency contraceptives available in the United States and approved by the FDA affect an existing pregnancy.’  Instead, they prevent ovulation, so there is no egg to fertilize. That includes the longer-acting Ella: “There is no evidence that [Ella] affects implantation.’” (I know that was all in yesterday’s post too, but apparently Davis doesn’t read very carefully.)  The FDA warning label does not reflect the current understanding of scientific experts.
  • Even if we were to assume arguendo that Ella prevents implantation, it doesn’t end a pregnancy and hence doesn’t cause abortions.
  • The fact that most people who want abortion banned don’t want birth control pills banned makes it clear that they don’t think this either, or at least shows that they understand that their views are so widely unshared that they can’t be candid about the implications of their views.
  • I also note that the scientific inaccuracy of the belief that emergency contraception is an abortifacient is not, in my view, relevant to the merits of the litigation.  I agree with all nine justices in Hobby Lobby that the courts should be extremely deferential to claims of sincere religious belief.  It’s tempting in this particular case to question the sincerity of the expressed view, but it would be unwise.  Rather, the claims of Hobby Lobby and the other litigants should have failed because 1)the requirement that insurance plans cover contraception does not substantially burden the religious beliefs of employers, and 2)accommodating the employers leads to unacceptable burdens on third parties who do not share their religious views. 

Wednesday Linkage

[ 41 ] July 2, 2014 |

Some Wednesday morning links:



Katie Surrence: The Problem With the Facebook Emotional Contagion Study

[ 41 ] July 2, 2014 |

Tal Yarkoni argues here that ethical concerns about the Facebook emotional contagion study are misplaced, for four reasons: Facebook only removed emotional content, and did not heighten or invent content, the Facebook news feed environment is highly manipulated anyway, so further contrivances are hardly a violation of what we should expect, in the scheme of reasons to experiment with our news feed, social science research is better than most, and manipulation and influence themselves are a constant part of life. He titles his post, “In Defense of Facebook.”  I find it unsatisfying as a general defense of waiving informed consent for this study.  Two researchers who were not Facebook employees participated in this study, it was approved by an IRB (according to Susan Fiske, quoted here, though of which institution is unclear), and published in PNAS. This was human subjects research, and should be subject to those standards, not only those set forth in the Facebook Terms of Service.

Later, in comments, he links to the HHS website and quotes the rules for when informed consent may be waived:

(d) An IRB may approve a consent procedure which does not include, or which alters, some or all of the elements of informed consent set forth in this section, or waive the requirements to obtain informed consent provided the IRB finds and documents that:

(1) The research involves no more than minimal risk to the subjects;

(2) The waiver or alteration will not adversely affect the rights and welfare of the subjects;

(3) The research could not practicably be carried out without the waiver or alteration; and

(4) Whenever appropriate, the subjects will be provided with additional pertinent information after participation.

I don’t believe either requirement (3) or (4) is met by this study. It would not have been impractical to get real consent for this study; the researchers could have done it via Facebook message. They could have formed the studies aims vaguely in the consent form to avoid demand characteristics (the phenomenon of research participants behaving the way they suspect they are supposed to, or reacting against what they suspect they are supposed to do). They could have offered a form of compensation—a free promoted post, or something similar.  They could have debriefed participants, thanked them for their participation, shown them the previously excluded content, and explained to them what the aims of the study were and why they thought it was important, all via Facebook message.  I think all of these actions would have made participants feel positive about their participation and encouraged them to participate in research in the future, via Facebook or other means, which is what human subjects researchers should be striving for.


The researchers themselves don’t appear to believe that the research qualified for a waiver of informed consent. Rather, they argue that the ToS was consent: “LIWC was adapted to run on the Hadoop Map/Reduce system (11) and in the News Feed filtering system, such that no text was seen by the researchers. As such, it was consistent with Facebook’s Data Use Policy, to which all users agree prior to creating an account on Facebook, constituting informed consent for this research.” But the Facebook ToS don’t contain any of the elements of informed consent as defined by HHS. This would be a terrible precedent to set.


Susan Fiske is likely right that some of the heat the reaction to this research reflects a larger sense of unease and frustration that our interactions with our friends are mediated by a corporate platform that we don’t understand and can’t control.  When people say, “If you don’t like it, just don’t use the product,” it’s a little unfairly facile.  Facebook attracts enough social energy that in some communities it’s a serious act of self-exclusion not to participate.  But whether or not there’s a problem with the role Facebook plays in our lives, it’s in no one’s interest—not social scientists’ and not research participants’—for academic researchers to be perceived as or to be the same kind of shadowy force.  Facebook exists to make us click ads.  Social science research is supposed to help us understand ourselves better, to provide some benefit to humankind.  Social scientists shouldn’t adopt corporate ethical standards as their own. (Although it is likely symptomatic of a problem that we seem not to expect businesses to have the ethical provision of real utility as a primary reason for their existence. This post from Adam Kotsko made me realize how much I’d absorbed the ideology that businesses exist to make money, as opposed to things people can use.) Even if Tal Yarkoni is right that we are in “reasonable people can disagree” territory, that an IRB wasn’t obviously wrong to approve it, the retrospective knowledge that social scientists participated in an experiment with Facebook that made people feel uncomfortable—in whatever mild sense, violated and paranoid—should be enough to tell us that something went wrong.  Corporate data sets are a rich source of information about human behavior, and it would be a shame if they were off limits to academic study. The best way to avoid a backlash about collaboration between private enterprise and academic social scientists is for researchers to conduct themselves with a high degree of transparency and respect.

Finally, a word on their claims: many others have pointed this out, but the authors’ finding that their manipulation changed the number of emotion words used by participants is very different from finding that it changed participants’ emotional experience. The authors’ findings are interesting as they stand, but they overinterpret them. If they are actually interested in emotional contagion, they should do something to measure mood. One of the advantages of asking participants for consent would have been that the researchers could have asked participants directly about their mood; that is, they could have done a better study.

Sweet Land of Liberty

[ 171 ] July 1, 2014 |

Americans at their finest here:

Three buses carrying 140 undocumented immigrants are heading back to San Diego County after being met by angry protesters at the Murrieta Border Patrol facility Tuesday afternoon.

The group was flown from Texas to San Diego Tuesday morning and quickly boarded buses bound for the facility. They arrived in Murrieta shortly after 2 p.m.

News Channel 3 and CBS Local 2 were in Murrieta for their arrival.

A group of protesters waving American Flags actually blocked the buses from entering the Border Patrol facility. Residents were lining the street early Tuesday morning with signs, one of which read, ‘Return to Sender’.

After the protesters intervened, the buses turned around and drove away from the facility. Our crew at the scene confirmed the buses are on their way back to San Diego County.

True American values are summed up by white yahoos spending the time to protest the transport of undocumented immigrants into their communities.

That Word “Science,” I Do Not Think…

[ 94 ] July 1, 2014 |

Sean Davis’s unfortunately titled essay at the Daily Domenech represents the usual combination of strawmen and failures to understand basic points, such as the fact that employer-provided health insurance is something you earn and it’s required to cover things for obvious reasons. But he also tries to defend the claim that the Hobby Lobby litigation was actually about abortion:

The truth of the matter is that the case was about abortion, specifically four types of contraception that can result in the destruction of a fertilized egg. Hobby Lobby paid for 16 different types of non-abortive contraceptive coverage for its employees. The anti-science Left, however, argues that a fertilized egg doesn’t count as human life, and therefore there’s nothing wrong with killing one. After all, nothing says “pro-Science” like comparing a human embryo to a fingernail.

On the idea that most of these forms of contraception can “result in the destruction of a fertilized egg,” sadly, no:

The baseline question here is whether potentially and intentionally preventing the implantation of a fertilized egg constitutes abortion. That’s not the medical definition of abortion, which is ending a pregnancy. But let’s say your sincerely held belief is that interfering with the implantation of a fertilized egg is tantamount to abortion, as it is for the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood owners. There is very little evidence showing that the objected-to methods – two forms of intrauterine devices and two forms of emergency contraception – even work that way, with the exception of the copper IUD.

There are two kinds of emergency contraception on the market: an over-the-counter one generally known as Plan B and a prescription-only one known as Ella. According to the amicus brief filed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and several other medical associations, “there is no scientific evidence that emergency contraceptives available in the United States and approved by the FDA affect an existing pregnancy.” Instead, they prevent ovulation, so there is no egg to fertilize. That includes the longer-acting Ella: “There is no evidence that [Ella] affects implantation.”

One form of the IUD, known on the market at the Mirena, includes hormones that prevent ovulation. The other, preferred by women who experience side effects from artificial hormones, doesn’t. “When used as emergency contraception” – i.e., after unprotected sexual activity – “the [non-hormonal IUD] could also act to prevent implantation,” according to the amicus.

If you’re keeping count, that’s one out of four that maybe does what the plaintiffs say it does, in the rare instances it’s inserted after unprotected sex – and that’s still not the medical definition of abortion.

But let’s assume that Davis actually knew what he was talking about, and that some forms of birth control that destroys a fertilized egg is killing a human life. If he actually believes this, then the exemption won by Hobby Lobby from its friends at the Supreme Court is almost comically inadequate. “You can murder — but do it on your own dime!” Davis’s boss (correctly) believes that birth control, including birth control the scientifically illiterate believe to cause abortions, should be available over-the-counter. Does Davis think that Dommenech is a supporter of legalized murder? If he believes his own rhetoric, he must.

But of course he doesn’t. There’s not much point investing significant time in rebutting this kind of “pro-life” argument, since it’s plain that almost none of the people making the arguments believe them either.

Tip Your Waitress Over

[ 105 ] July 1, 2014 |

Megan McArdle is trying her stand-up act online.


But that sounds so boring compared to War on Women! And so that’s the narrative the Internet chose. Here’s a representative tweet from my feed this morning:

So let’s all deny women birth control & get closer to harass them when they’re going in for repro health services. BECAUSE FREEDOM.

Logically, this is incoherent, unless you actually believe that it is impossible to buy birth control without a side payment from your employer. (If you are under this tragic misimpression, then be of good cheer! Generic birth control pills are available from the drugstore for about $25 a month.)

Yeah, no biggie, assuming that that’s the kind of birth control you want/need and you aren’t poor.  Also, there’s the whole principle of the thing. But this principle is just so damn SILLY. Why won’t the poor and middle class sluts just admit their family planning needs are goofy?


I like to think that I care about both the women and the religious conservatives who share this great nation of ours.

I’m sure you would. Try the veal. Something something Himilayan pink salt. I dunno. Unlike giggly Megan, I’m not much in the mood for jokes.

UPDATE: Well, I’m an idiot for not reading Scott’s post. So this post is redundant. But can the fact that Megan McArdle is a horrible human being really be said enough?

Trigger Warning

[ 32 ] July 1, 2014 |

You probably won’t see me using the phrase “trigger warning” in earnest a whole lot. But…trigger warning. The link is an account of rape. The reason it’s so important to read is because you get to get inside the mind of a victim. Plus, it shatters a lot of the stereotypes we think about when we think about who rapes and who gets raped. And, most importantly, it’s just so damn sad. I know George Will is a conservative, thus incapable of feeling of shame, but I figure if anything could make him feel it, it would be this account.

Court Commentary Roundup

[ 23 ] July 1, 2014 |

Few pieces that you should be reading about yesterday’s terrible Supreme Court decisions.

First, Sarah Jaffe on how the two cases are interlocking:

We’ve long known that low-wage workers have very few rights on the job, that their bosses are able to interfere in all sorts of personal decisions. In this case, it’s the particular nature of the benefit denied that is worth exploring for a moment. Eileen Boris, author with Jennifer Klein of Caring for America: Home Health Workers in the Shadow of the Welfare State, has noted that particular ideas of “intimacy and dirt” influence how we think about home healthcare workers and the work they do, which often involves exposure to bodily processes that are extraordinarily intimate. In the case of contraception, too, we see ideas of intimacy and dirt coming into play—sexuality is dirty, and intimate decisions can in part be influenced by one’s boss. By ruling, in theory, that the state cannot make an employer provide health insurance that covers birth control, or require that homecare workers pay the costs of their representation to the union, the court is in fact weighing in on the intimate relationships of thousands of workers.

Justice Elena Kagan, in her dissent to Harris, pointed out that the care provided by homecare workers is better when the workers are valued and paid better—things that have happened since they have had the right to union representation. In this way, she argues, the interests of the workers and the care recipients are not in opposition, as Alito’s opinion implies—they are actually aligned. The statement of Hobby Lobby’s CEO on raising wages indicates that Hobby Lobby, too, understands that workers do a better job when they are properly cared for. That includes, or should include, the right to make their own healthcare decisions, when it comes to contraception or anything else.

The conservatives pushing both of these cases would have you believe that these are cases about freedom—the freedom to avoid a union, the freedom to practice religion. And yet what they wind up being about is reducing power on the job for thousands of mostly women, mostly low-paid workers across the country.

Attacks on all workers’ rights often come first through attacks on those deemed less important workers. When we decide that birth control isn’t a pivotal issue because it only affects some workers, or that homecare workers’ loss is not a loss for us all, we leave the door open for the next attack.

And so, in a country where these feminized personal service jobs are increasingly the only jobs available, the court continues to rule that workers’ rights are less important than the bosses’, that protections on the job are a luxury working-class women can’t afford.

Second, Moshe Marvit on the implications of Harris.

In Harris, the majority implied that it was not the objecting employees that were the true free-riders, but rather the union. The decision focused on the fact that hourly rates were set by Illinois law and there were significant statutory restrictions over what the union could bargain over. It highlighted the fact that the union received dues for its representation, but questioned what negotiations or grievance representation the union could deliver to employees.

In effect, this analysis places unions in a bind: any reasonable observer would conclude that the union negotiated with the state to set the terms of compensation, benefits, and other terms of employment, which are then codified into law. However, because the Supreme Court has demarcated this activity to the realm of lobbying, which is beyond the strict scope of representation, it concluded that the union is in effect collecting dues for doing little. The majority has drawn an untenable distinction and then complains that the distinction is not tenable.

Toward the end of its peculiar analysis, the majority articulates a new and dangerous standard or test, which surely will open the doors to future problems. “The agency-fee [or fair share] provision cannot be sustained unless the cited benefits for personal assistants could not have been achieved if the union had been required to depend for funding on the dues paid by those personal assistants who chose to join.” In effect, the Court is requiring unions to prove a counterfactual, that the workers could not have achieved the same benefits it received from the union through any other means. The Court concludes that “no such showing has been made.” However, it is not clear how anyone could make such a showing. Justice Elena Kagan, writing for herself and three other dissenting justices, proclaimed that the good news with this case is that the majority did not overturn Abood. However, if the majority’s new test is a prerequisite for fair-share agreements, it may have done irreparable damage to the balance created by Abood.

Finally, I have a little piece at LaborOnline that summarizes the points I made here yesterday.

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