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Culinary Modernism

[ 138 ] May 23, 2015 |

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Image from The Florentine Codex, the 16th century study of Aztec customs by Bernadino de Sahagún

Although I cringe at the term “Culinary Luddites,” you really need this Rachel Laudan article, originally published in the wonderful Gastronomica, on the need to embrace culinary modernism and reject a romanticized food past that is completely ahistorical, colonialist, and classist. Laudan shows how people around the world from the beginning of their ability to do so have sought to create processed foods that are tasty and digest well. The idea that there is this wonderful past of pure food simply is wrong. In the U.S. case, read Harvey Leverstein’s Revolution at the Table: The Transformation of the American Diet, for a history of American food. You’ll discover that basically American food was terrible, then became slightly less terrible, and over time has improved. That means that the food we might well make fun of today from fifty years ago was actually significantly better than what came before. The idea that our grandparents or great-grandparents or some faraway ancestors had this great food tradition of delicious healthy food is pure mythology. They were baking possums though. Creating a food regime that assumes hard culinary labor also means that we will be assuming that the poor, probably women, will be happy spending their entire lives cooking for families. For most women, that’s not how they want to spend their lives. An excerpt:

Meanwhile, most men were born to a life of labor in the fields, most women to a life of grinding, chopping, and cooking. “Servitude,” said my mother as she prepared home­cooked breakfast, dinner, and tea for eight to ten people three hundred and sixty five days a year.

She was right. Churning butter and skinning and cleaning hares, without the option of picking up the phone for a pizza if something goes wrong, is unremitting, unforgiving toil. Perhaps, though, my mother did not realize how much worse her lot might have been.

She could at least buy our bread from the bakery. In Mexico, at the same time, women without servants could expect to spend five hours a day — one third of their waking hours — kneeling at the grindstone preparing the dough for the family’s tortillas. Not until the 1950s did the invention of the tortilla machine release them from the drudgery.

If we urge the Mexican to stay at her metate, the farmer to stay at his olive press, the housewife to stay at her stove instead of going to McDonald’s, all so that we may eat handmade tortillas, traditionally pressed olive oil, and home-cooked meals, we are assuming the mantle of the aristocrats of old. We are reducing the options of others as we attempt to impose our elite culinary preferences on the rest of the population.

If we fail to understand how scant and monotonous most traditional diets were, we can misunderstand the “ethnic foods” we encounter in cookbooks, restaurants, or on our travels. We let our eyes glide over the occasional references to servants, to travel and education abroad in so-called ethnic cookbooks, references that otherwise would clue us in to the fact that the recipes are those of monied Italians, Indians, or Chinese with maids to do the donkey work of preparing elaborate dishes.

We may mistake the meals of today’s European, Asian, or Mexican middle class (many of them benefiting from industrialization and contemporary tourism) for peasant food or for the daily fare of our ancestors. We can represent the peoples of the Mediterranean, Southeast Asia, India, or Mexico as pawns at the mercy of multinational corporations bent on selling trashy modem products — failing to appreciate that, like us, they enjoy a choice of goods in the market, foreign restaurants to eat at, and new recipes to try.

We always want to believe in a simpler, purer past. That past does not exist. That’s certainly true for food. This doesn’t mean that the modern food regime of heavily processed, high-sodium foods is great. We can do better. But better doesn’t mean relegating women to the kitchen 12 hours a day (“cough” Michael Pollan), bemoaning the world’s poor from having choices, or fetishizing kale (or açai 5 years ago or rice cakes or whatever it is tomorrow). I’m not a historian of food per se, but I write about a food a lot and read about it a good deal. At this point it’s very hard for me to take any sort of food movement as anything other than the fad of the moment. After two centuries of American food faddism, I simply do not believe that gluten-free diets will still exist as a major food movement in twenty years. Too many “real medical conditions” have come and gone over the history of medicine. That probably makes me sound like a jerk, but I don’t see how we read food history and come to a radically different conclusion. I’m not saying people don’t feel discomfort. I am saying a huge percentage of the world’s rich people have not become allergic overnight to the same foods people have eaten for thousands of years. Whether it’s yogurt enemas, graham crackers, Atkins diet, veganism, locally sourced, or gluten free, this stuff comes and goes with the seasons.

Also, just because I like it, here’s another great old Gastronomica essay, “Why Michael Pollan Makes Me Want to Eat Cheetos.”

Boycott Driscoll’s Berries

[ 42 ] May 23, 2015 |

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The global berry industry is probably not one you think about much but you should. The terrible conditions of food production around the world is something that I cover quite a bit both here at in Out of Sight. The food production system is as hidden from you as apparel or plastics or oil, but with the difference that because food affects our bodies so profoundly, there is more interest by consumers to act when they find out about exploitation. One thing consumers can do is to boycott Driscoll’s berries.

While Driscoll’s is a family-owned company, it’s no mom-and-pop operation. According to its website, over 40,000 people are involved in its berry production worldwide. The company has a code of conduct for its suppliers, called the “Promise for Workforce Welfare,” which includes obeying minimum legal requirements and avoiding egregious labor violations like human trafficking and conditions “posing immediate risk to life or limb.” Driscoll’s says it is committed to hiring suppliers that “show a sincere commitment” to such principles.

But Bonifacio Martinez questions whether those requirements are enough. Martinez picked strawberries and blackberries destined for Driscoll’s boxes for 10 years. Now he’s a leader in the farmworker movement that erupted last month in the fields of San Quintin, in the Mexican state of Baja California. Thousands of farm laborers picking multiple crops stopped work for nearly two weeks, demanding higher wages and legally required benefits, among other protections.

“The principal demand is for [growers] to actually respect the workers’ rights,” says Martinez. He wants them to honor labor laws that are, at the moment, he says, just “dead words.” Those include health benefits and freedom from sexual harassment.

Many of the San Quintin protesters are indigenous people from some of Mexico’s poorest states, like Oaxaca and Guerrero. Indigenous people make up more than half of Mexico’s agricultural workers.

The striking pickers initially wanted wages increased to 300 pesos a day, then lowered the demand to 200 pesos, about $13. Most of them earned $7 to $8 a day before the strike.

Protests turned acrimonious when demonstrators threw rocks at government vehicles and police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets, reported the Los Angeles Times. Workers also blocked 56 miles of the Trans-Peninsular Highway. By April, the strike had effectively ended after growers signed agreements raising wages 15 percent—far less than the pickers demanded.

The leaders of the movement rejected the meager increase, saying the unions that signed those agreements, which are affiliated with the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), which held power for nearly three-quarters of the 20th century and has strong connections to many unions throughout the country, do not represent workers. The workers continue protesting even as many have returned to the fields.

A note here: PRI-associated unions are not real unions that have actual worker voices. They are fully part of the party structure and serve the party, not workers. A major issue within the Mexican labor movement is trying to undermine these “unions,” which often are part and parcel of the same grotesque corruption that flows throughout the whole PRI. So to some extent this is a matter of convincing workers that they can get more by defying the agreements, which is possible.

There’s a U.S. side to this as well.

Driscoll’s responded swiftly to the BerryMex fracas. But it was not as quick to act to resolve a dispute that escalated while the San Quintin protests raged: a bitter labor fight in Burlington, Washington.

Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ), which says it represents over 400 berry pickers, has been locked in a labor struggle with Driscoll’s supplier Sakuma Brothers Farms since 2013. FUJ has long held a boycott against Sakuma berries and its largest customers, Driscoll’s and Häagen-Dazs. On March 24, it doubled down on the boycott when the fair trade advocacy organization Fair World Project sent a letter to Driscoll’s, signed by nearly 10,000 consumers, asking it to suspend buying from Sakuma Brothers until the dispute is resolved. The signatories pledged not to buy Driscoll’s berries until then.

FUJ’s list of complaints is long: poor wages, squalid labor camps, firing and retaliating against workers for organizing and hiring guestworkers from Mexico to replace FUJ’s members. The H-2A guestworker program Sakuma Brothers participated in is meant to be used only when there aren’t enough workers domestically. FUJ says it had plenty of willing workers, but that Sakuma Brothers used guestworkers to avoid hiring back FUJ’s members.

“The only thing we want is a fair contract for both of us,” says FUJ president Ramon Torres.

Sakuma Brothers denies that FUJ represents the berry pickers, calling them “outside agitators” who “have attempted to fabricate the impression that this is a worker movement.” Danny Weeden began his tenure as the company’s CEO just this year and says FUJ’s campaign is hard to understand.

Outside agitators. Can we just assume that anyone who uses that term has just declared themselves a bad human being? And hard to understand? Workers are poor, live in terrible camps, and don’t like being fired for organizing. This does not seem hard to understand.

Notably, these workers in both Washington and Baja California are largely indigenous people from southern Mexico. We usually think of Mexicans as a homogenous group of people, but that’s really untrue. Indigenous people are routinely exploited within Mexico including at the workplace, where they are paid less and toil at the hardest and most dangerous jobs. That gets repeated in the United States, as large number of poorly paid field workers are not only not native English speakers but also not native Spanish speakers. There are cases of indigenous Mexican children in U.S. schools being labeled as developmentally disabled because they don’t respond to their Spanish speaking teachers. But they don’t speak Spanish so why would they? They speak Zapotec or Mixtec or languages with even smaller number of speakers.

This also passes my boycott test, which is that it is called by workers and their representatives (in both Mexico and the U.S.) as opposed to consumers personally boycotting to feel good about themselves by, say, buying second-hand clothing and then saying they have done something about sweatshops (a position rejected by the Bangladeshi workers movement among others). Driscoll needs to take responsibility for its suppliers. Like we need to hold Walmart and Gap responsible for its suppliers in the apparel industry (as well as food for the former), we need to hold Driscoll responsible as well. Ultimately that has to happen by a number of ways, including reforms to U.S. labor law making unionization easier, greater inspections of farms in the U.S., and international labor standards that would not allow berries produced under the awful labor conditions so common for fruit and vegetables for the American market. Oaxacan indigenous peoples in Baja California and Washington, Bangladeshi workers in sweatshops, slave labor on shrimp boats in southeast Asia–all of these workers are part of a system of global exploitation for western companies, all of which happens far away from the eyes of consumers. And that’s how the companies want to keep it.

Less Than Compelling Arguments For McDonald’s Labor Practices

[ 69 ] May 23, 2015 |

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How could the nation have survived such a horrible outcome?

It’s a good thing for pop music, honky-tonk feminism, and Canadian tax collectors that McDonald’s pays lousy wages. If the food stores paid their frontline workers enough to survive on, Shania Twain would still be working there, a shareholder claimed at the company’s annual meeting this week.

The unidentified man, who said he’d been a McDonald’s investor since 1990 according to BuzzFeed News, used a Q&A session to rattle off a list of successful celebrities like Twain, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, and Hollywood star Sharon Stone who had worked in a McDonald’s earlier in their lives. “I’m sure if they were making $15 an hour, they’d still be working at McDonald’s,” he said, as thousands of current McDonald’s workers protested outside.

No Shania Twain? Where would horrible country radio have been in the late 90s without her? Nashville would have had to find some other cookie cutter to sing vapid songs that make a mockery of a once great tradition of music (and one that is still great on the margins).

God, we should force McDonald’s to raise its wages to $15 just to prevent future Shania Twains from reaching country music stardom.

Ireland

[ 82 ] May 23, 2015 |

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Good job America. The Irish have now passed you in civil rights.

Ireland appeared poised on Saturday to become the world’s first nation to approve same-sex marriage by a popular vote, with early vote counts showing strong and broad support for a measure that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago in what traditionally had been a Roman Catholic stronghold.

Not long after counting began at Dublin Castle, a government complex that was once the epicenter of British rule, the leader of the opposition, David Quinn, the director of the Iona Institute, conceded the outcome in a tweet: “Congratulations to the Yes side. Well done.”

Both proponents and opponents said the only remaining question was the size of the victory for approval. Ronan Mullen, an Irish senator and one of only a few politicians to oppose the measure, predicted the win would be “substantial.” The official results will be announced Saturday afternoon.

The referendum changes Ireland’s Constitution so that marriages between two people would be legal “without distinction as to their sex.”

The Quiet Humor of “The Comedians”

[ 35 ] May 23, 2015 |

What is quiet humor? I don’t know, exactly. It’s not the easiest concept to explain. It’s not easy to explain why I really really like “The Comedians” though I mostly don’t find it laugh-out-loud funny. I find it compelling. I find it poignant. At times I find it extraordinarily clever. But its humor is quiet. Don’t get me wrong. It’s funny; it’s really funny. It’s just not loud funny.

“The Comedians” is a show within a show–a mockumentary about Billy Chrystal and Josh Gad (former “Daily Show” correspondent and OLAF) trying to get their new FX sketch show off the ground. They’re not quite gelling as comedy partners and they’re unsure about the fate of this rather risky endeavor.

I love watching Billy Crystal do subtle. Please forget everything you know his about imitations of Sammy Davis Jr. and the catchphrase “You look mahvelous.” This is not the Crystal you were looking for. The Crystal you’ll find in “The Comedians” is a low-key guy who’s in the twilight of his career sharing the stage with a guy who’s at dawn of his. There’s a little bit of bittersweet flavoring just about everything he does and every line he utters, and it’s lovely.

Josh Gad, meanwhile, is  perfection as an up-and-coming actor who’s caught between wanting to compete with or openly worship the comedy icon he’s been paired with. Watching that tension at work in Gad is gobs of fun.

I feel like “The Comedians” cribs a lot from its sister show, “Louie,” but, geez, if you’re gonna crib…why not crib from the show that’s mastered the art of wringing humor from the deeply uncomfortable situations? Let’s put it this way, if you like “Louie,” you probably won’t hate “The Comedians.” And if you like the idea of two comedians getting baked, hanging out in a grocery store and fighting with blow-up sea mammals, you’ll probably like “The Comedians.” And if you like the idea of grainy security camera footage capturing Billy Chrystal trying to steal a blow-up sea mammal by simply running out of the store with it, you may, like me,  love “The Comedians.” I didn’t know what to make of the show the first couple of times I saw it, but I’ve decided it’s a surreal and hilarious. Quietly hilarious.

Are there any shows/movies  you think are “quietly” funny?

Maybe Time to Just Go With It

[ 8 ] May 23, 2015 |

The mobile site is down again.  Perhaps this is the universe telling us that we just need to embrace reality and make LGM a full-on adult entertainment blog? I know Loomis would be cool with that…

We’re working on it, and looking for permanent fixes.

…looks like we’re back up!

I Am But A Simple Caveman

[ 207 ] May 22, 2015 |
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Freddie deBoer, totally not upset about something somebody wrote about him on this blog

And Freddie writes 1016 words about how he totally doesn’t care about anything LGM writers say about his work, and he basically just ignores it all, and he would certainly never, ever, in a million years, leave 75 comments at LGM on 26 different posts, 24 of which he hasn’t read, because he’s only ever read but two posts at the blog. And despite the time he complained on his blog that his comments weren’t being posted to our site (as if this was bloody unusual on WordPress) he would really, really like you to know that we just aren’t worth his time. And also, we’re all lame because none of us have been cited approvingly by the National Review.

Freddie would also like you to know that if you’re considering commenting on this post, you’re probably objectively despicable, not to mention “middle age,” “dad jean models,” “tenured,” “sweaty palmed,” “sweaty and cantankerous,” and “neckbeards.” Not that he reads the comments, or ruminates about them at night when no one is there to hear him cry.

If Freddie didn’t exist, we’d have to invent him.

Money For Nothing. Chicks For Free.

[ 80 ] May 22, 2015 |

This calls for a more complete response:

Oh for crying out loud. Loomis, I get and enjoy your belligerent whimsy, but this is just silly. This is the Sarah Palin School of Law definition of freedom of speech.

If you don’t get that what Loomis was doing with this post was 90% belligerent whimsy, then you’ve dreadfully missed the point. The other 10% of what Loomis was doing was a coherent and quite correct argument that Google’s policy was being badly misapplied in this particular case.

Why the fuck are you guys running adsense anyway? You’re making what, 50-100 bucks a month from that? Get rid of the stupid ads (which are irrelevant at best to your readers’ interests, completely contrary to their political and moral beliefs at worst (no, I do not want to purchase a Russian bride or see Newsmax’s “one weird cure for diabetes”), frequently crash or redirect their browsers, and make the site slower. Choosing this as your hill to die on is pretty absurd given that I can’t even load this site half the time with my adblocker off.

Adsense returns about 50% of LGM’s monthly revenue. The estimate in this comment (of Adsense alone) is off by more than an order of magnitude; I don’t feel like opening up the books for the world to see, but Four Krustys either had little understanding of the traffic the site enjoys, or of how that traffic translates into revenue.

Moreover, Adsense (and Sovrn, the other provider you see in the right sidebars) has only rarely been the problem. The recent redirects to gogarden were caused by Sitemeter (now eliminated); the mobile redirects to porn sites have been due to problems with WordPress updates. The slowness of the site is much more often caused by the social media tabs (which clearly remain a problem), than with the ads on the right sidebars.

Bleg for money. We’ll pay. OK? Do a dildos-in-dead-horses-in-American-history series or something. I’ll be the first to donate.

We do. Donations last year (which I considered *extraordinarily* generous) constituted roughly 13% of site revenue. Thus, LGM readers would need to become approximately 7.7 times as generous as they have been in their most generous year on record in order to replace the revenue lost from advertising. It’s possible that we could approach *something* along these lines, if we turned the site into a semi-permanent pledge drive, but to my mind this is considerably more annoying than any problems created by the ads. If an angel donor decided to effectively bankroll the site for a year, we certainly consider reducing advertising, but barring that it’s difficult to replace.

Frankly, if your concern is Google deciding what is appropriate or inappropriate for people to see, why have you *chosen* to be part of that system? The same system that has basically destroyed journalism because sites are just trying to get clicks rather than do actual reporting? Don’t be a part of that. Don’t put your labor towards perpetuating a shitty system. There are a lot of other ad networks, and there are a lot of other ways to make money that don’t piss off your readers and sell out your values.

Right. Most of the other ad networks that can produce revenue as reliably as Google have similar effects on side readability. Most of them (Google Adsense included) place limitations on the extent of advertising allowed, meaning that you need to use more than one in order to generate the revenue you need. And many of them have similar restrictions on content.

It’s also worth pointing out that the internet advertising provision industry, as it were, has a bit of the fly by night to it. LGM has, over its history, lost *thousands* of dollars to vendors who ceased to exist between advertisement and payment. Say what you will about Google, they pay in American dollars, they pay on time, and I have reason to expect that they’ll be around for a while. This doesn’t mean that we give up our right to complain about their most annoying (or poorly applied) policies.

I should also note that LGM turns down most of the ad requests that it receives from vendors. These vendors are normally looking for three things; sponsored posts, pop-up ads, and in-post image ads. We could make a *lot* more money if we embraced a full revenue maximization model and allowed these three kinds of ads, but we decided a long time ago that there were limits to how much readability we’d sacrifice. LGM receives 3-5 requests of this sort every day; most of them go straight into the trash.

BUT WHERE DOES ALL THE MONEY GO? Several places. Our server fees have recently gone up, partially as a response to all of the problems we’ve suffered from hacks and redirects and what nots. The site, like any complex machine, requires maintenance now and again from professionals who like to be paid.

Once a site has been monetized, a variety of complications ensue. We pay taxes to a variety of different Caesars. We pay licensing fees to the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and public school fees to Fayette County. We have legal representation (thank you, Goldberg Simpson!), and a Certified Public Accountant (Jesse at Fister, Williams and Oberlander, you’re a hero to me).

But most of all, we pay our writers. Since we’ve had enough money to actually spread it around, Scott and I have been committed to ensuring that everyone who writes for LGM receives some (usually meager) compensation. This includes guest posters. Regular posters receive more, based on an ill-defined formula involving magnitude of recent contribution, and long-term tenure at the site. Part of the reason for compensation is a principled belief that we shouldn’t profit off of people working for free. A bigger part is that everyone who regularly posts at LGM could write, for money, somewhere else. LGM usually can’t compete with the cash that other outlets can offer, but the combination of near-complete editorial freedom, an outstanding commentariat, and beer money is apparently enough to inspire consistently outstanding work.

And the term “writers” really short-changes the work that LGM front-pagers do. The administrative work isn’t evenly distributed, but most of the contributors do their share of behind-the-scenes work necessary to keep the site going. This includes sharing on social media, sharing on listservs, hunting and expunging trolls in the comment section, managing site hacks, keeping the twitter feed and Facebook page updated and functional, responding to e-mail requests, putting together ESPN groups, and a host of other activities too numerous to mention. None of that is easy to see on the site, but would be badly missed if the work wasn’t done.

And since we’re all already here, let’s take this one on, too:

OK, that’s a surprising amount. I still think you could do better. (Or you know, just go whole hog and become a mesothelioma blog)

Yep.  It’s entirely possible that we could do better, and we’re trying to do better all the time.  Unfortunately, none of us have the ability to commit full time to the site in a 40-hour-per-week, professional sense of the term.  This kind of commitment is necessary to fully work out the implications of different ad strategies, and different providers.  In the absence of this sort of commitment, we default to reliable, easy to use advertisers such as Google Adsense.

I’m referring to the Cracker Barrel/Chik fil A/Mozila/etc. definition of censorship. What I’m equating is you saying that a private company making a business decision is a violation of your freedom of speech. You entered into a voluntary contract with Google AdSense. If you want to violate the agreed-upon terms of that contract (even if they’re silly!) and they don’t want to do business with you as a result of that, that’s not a violation of your freedom of speech.

And there is nothing whatsoever in Erik’s post that could even faintly be interpreted as an argument along these lines.  Rather, he’s complaining (in pointed language!) about the silly implementation of the terms of the contract. And once we grasp this, the next three paragraphs of the comment are nonsense.

When you load a page on LGM, over 3MB of bandwidth is used. 2.7MB of that bandwidth is advertising bullshit, add this, twitter widgets, etc. That sucks, especially if you’re on mobile and paying by the MB.

If you’re on a mobile phone, you’re using the mobile site, which demands far less bandwidth. And I think we can all agree that the social media buttons and the twitter feed are categorically different than the advertising that has formed the core of the complaint in these comments.

Looking Forward to the Weekend, Weekend

[ 22 ] May 22, 2015 |

Starting mine out right by taking in a Jason Isbell gig. Don’t tell ‘em you’re bigger than Jesus and give it away while I’m gone…

Unionization and Income Inequality

[ 18 ] May 22, 2015 |

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The Maoists at the International Monetary Fund are out with more evidence that lower unionization rates lead to greater income inequality.

We examine the causes of the rise in inequality and focus on the relationship between labor market institutions and the distribution of incomes, by analyzing the experience of advanced economies since the early 1980s. The widely held view is that changes in unionization or the minimum wage affect low- and middle-wage workers but are unlikely to have a direct impact on top income earners.

While our findings are consistent with prior views about the effects of the minimum wage, we find strong evidence that lower unionization is associated with an increase in top income shares in advanced economies during the period 1980–2010 (for example, see Chart 2), thus challenging preconceptions about the channels through which union density affects income distribution. This is the most novel aspect of our analysis, which sets the stage for further research on the link between the erosion of unions and the rise of inequality at the top.

You can read the whole report. There’s really no reason for anyone to deny the connection. Greater income inequality is the open goal of the Republican Party and that’s why they attack unions. Higher unionization rates are necessary to reduce income inequality, which is why there is a war to eliminate the last of them in the United States.

Blarg

[ 3 ] May 22, 2015 |

Still having trouble with the mobile site.  Once again, I blame Loomis.  Thanks for being patient.

Management

This Is What’s the Matter With Kansas

[ 70 ] May 22, 2015 |

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I mentioned this briefly in my recent column about Kansas, but the $25 — i.e. de facto $20 — limit on daily withdrawals for TANF recipients merits more sustained attention. Max Ehrenfreund does so:

It’s hard to overstate the significance of this action. Many households without enough money to maintain a minimum balance in a conventional checking account will pay their rent and their utility bills in cash. A single mother with two children seeking to withdraw just $200 in cash could incur $30 or more in fees, which is a big chunk of the roughly $400 such a family would receive under the program in Kansas.

“The complexity of functioning in that cash economy as a very poor family is just not a reality that most of us experience day to day,” said Shannon Cotsoradis, the president of Kansas Action for Children in Topeka. “I pay my bills online.”

Since most banking machines are stocked only with $20 bills, the $25 limit is effectively a $20 limit. A family seeking to withdraw even $200 in cash would have to visit an ATM 10 times a month, a real burden for a parent who might not have a car and might not live in a neighborhood where ATMs are easy to find.

“Banks have traditionally not located themselves in neighborhoods that they perceive either to be unsafe, or where there’s no customer base,” said Kristin Seefeldt, a professor at the University of Michigan who studies the lives of low-income Americans. “If that’s the way they’re getting cash, that can be a real chore and a challenge.”

Reading the random anecdotes the lawmakers relied on underscores the last point. The fact that lawmakers seem to think that if a poor person uses an ATM at a given location they must be using the cash there as an illustration of one problem that arises from a legislature consisting exclusively of affluent people. But this one time someone allegedly took out $102 at Coors Field so all poor people in the state should pay a huge tax to banks! Can’t argue with that logic!

The welfare reform bill Clinton signed in 1996 is bad, and at the core of its badness is that it gave much more discretion to our glorious laboratories of democracy. Controls were not entirely absent, however, and in this case the policy change is illegal. HHS needs to step up here.

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