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Keep RedState Drunk

[ 83 ] May 2, 2016 |

Yeah, I’m just gonna come out and say it: keep RedState drunk. ‘Cuz when RedState is drunk RedState writes stuff like this–“Keep Cheerleaders Hot.” And then I laugh and laugh and laugh. Then cry a little. Then laugh some more. And that’s good for my abs. And then my abs look good and I think “Hey, maybe I should try out for the squad.” So keep RedState drunk. It makes me pretty.

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Verizon Strike

[ 28 ] May 2, 2016 |

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As many of you know, Verizon’s line workers are on strike. Basically, Verizon is looking to bust its remaining unions. It has invested heavily in wireless, but still has the remains of land-line workers. Those workers have good union contracts, unlike its vast workforce of nonunionized and thus poorly paid wireless employees. Verizon wants to crush those unions. This is a good overview of the problems, from the perspective of a striker. They range from Verizon not willing to accept what concessions CWA and IBEW have already offered because the company wants more to real and important issues around work/life balance and Verizon demanding that crews be away from their families for long periods of time.

This strike has received almost no media coverage. But there is this odd New Yorker piece by Mark Gimein that seems to fall into the frequent pundit trap of “I’m uncomfortable actually seeing strikes so they don’t work and instead unions are dead and workers should just vote if they want to see change.” After a strange beginning where he compares Democratic politicians love of a picket line to evangelicals love of a revival meeting, because of course Democrats have totally been all over picket lines in the last 30 years or something, he goes on to talk about Verizon’s business model and say that the unionized workers are probably doomed. Well, maybe that’s true, I don’t know. But it’s the conclusion that is jaw-dropping.

If, nationally, this is the endgame for unions, a lot still hinges on how that endgame will be played. It’s useful to think in the brutally reductive terms of Wall Street. The gains to be made from the legacy business of picket lines are limited, but there is still plenty of capital built up for unions to spend in the legislative arena. That effort has already started. Not long ago, policy-makers talked about raising the minimum wage by a dollar or two an hour. Now New York and California have approved a fifteen-dollar hourly minimum wage, and Fight For $15 has gone national.

That’s a bigger success for the labor movement than anybody would have anticipated five years ago. The way forward now is less in getting people to join unions and more in taking seriously the question that Sanders raised: what can be done for the millions of workers who don’t have a union and never will?

Oh yeah because the recent minimum wage struggle is the first time unions have played the legislative game???? The major leftist critique of organized labor since World War II is that unions have been too comfortable in the legislature and have rejected direct action tactics that put power in the hands of workers. We certainly know the limits of unions focusing on legislatures, including, among many other things, the Employee Free Choice Act dying almost as soon as Obama took the presidency. I don’t blame unions for playing the legislative game and I largely reject those who just say “forget politics and organize!” It doesn’t make sense.

But now journalists are coming along and saying that if only unions stopped with their silly strikes and instead just lobbied in legislatures, they could win real gains! Yeah, I don’t think organized labor needs to be told by journalists how to use legislatures to their advantage. Gimein also just assumes that unions are completely dead and always will be. That leads him to two conclusions. One, evidently, is that unions should use that supposedly endless capital for gains for all workers through legislative action. Again, they already are, but also, if the unions are busted, then they don’t exist and there is no voice for any workers in American politics as all of that capital disappears. Second, since these workers will never have a union, why try to organize them? That’s not only a defeatist attitude for organized labor, it would mean that his supposed desire to see real gains for workers would never come to fruition and we would see an endless supply of exploitable labor in the United States. Maybe that’s what will happen, but it’s hardly something we should just assume and therefore stop trying to organize.

In conclusion, publications need to have people write labor articles for them who actually know something about organized labor.

Saving Small Businesses in the Cities

[ 151 ] May 2, 2016 |

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Interesting piece on one of the less discussed problems with the incredible expansion of capital in the cities and thus rapidly rising prices for residents, which is the eviction of small businesses and their replacement in new developments by chains. With every other building in New York becoming a Duane Reade and my New York friends constantly bemoaning all the great restaurants, bars, bookstores, music clubs, local joints, etc., that are closing because of huge rent increases, doing something about this is something that should be part of our vision for future cities. There are concrete responses floated about already.

One strategy is to broaden ownership. Salt Lake City is considering a fund to help local businesses purchase their spaces. Mitchell also points out that small business development groups, even those that are developing cooperative businesses, should consider including the acquisition of a business’s space as part of its business plan. Broadening ownership also includes models for cooperative or community-ownership of spaces, such as the Northeast Investment Cooperative in Minneapolis, cited in the report.

Zoning or regulating for a local business environment is another strategy. San Francisco’s formula business ordinance, first enacted in 2004, requires business with more than 11 locations worldwide to apply for a special use permit in order to locate in the city’s neighborhood commercial districts. One of the criteria for such a permit is how many businesses of that type are already in the district, and whether the applicant business would add something that the neighborhood doesn’t already have. Between 2005 and 2013, according to ISLR, San Francisco received 104 applications to open formula retail stores and restaurants, rejecting about a quarter of them.

Another strategy is to address power dynamics, which are widely overlooked. “There’s a perception that businesses somehow have relatively equal power to landlords, but really there’s this incredible power imbalance between landlords and business tenants,” says Mitchell.

In 2014, NYC Councilwoman Annabel Palma, representing parts of the Bronx, reintroduced the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA), which has been introduced to no avail multiple times by multiple council members since at least 1984, according to ISLR’s report.

SBJSA aims to balance the power dynamics between landlords and business tenants. Among other measures, it mandates binding arbitration to settle cases where landlords justifiably must up rent by a certain amount to cover higher property taxes or maintenance costs, but tenants oppose exorbitant rent increases that may reflect irrational speculation as opposed to the economics of a given location.

To say, the New York real estate lobby is outraged by the mere suggestion of such a law. But what is the answer here? More Duane Reade’s, if we don’t do something about it.

How Right-Wing Transgender Fearmongering Hurts People

[ 19 ] May 2, 2016 |

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Powerful essay by Gabrielle Bellot about being transgender and using the bathroom in the mall. Read the whole thing. But let me point out the first paragraph.

For me, it is already a new year of old fears. 2016 has scarcely begun, and there is already yet another bill, from the end of December, being proposed to criminalize transgender persons—like myself—for using the restroom that corresponds with our gender identity. Republicans have largely lost the cultural debate on same-sex marriage, and so the question of who can use what restroom has become the new site of fear-mongering rhetoric—a shift made chillingly clear after the failure of Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance. And this new law, which has been proposed by Sen. Jim Tomes in the Indiana state legislature, is as draconian as they get. Tomes’ bill would put us in jail for up to a year and charge us as much as $5,000 for using any restroom that does not correspond with the sex we were assigned at birth—regardless of whether our gender is recognized by the law, regardless of whatever gender confirmation procedures we may have had. It is a bill that binds us to our bodies from birth, a bill unwilling to imagine that transgender people truly exist, a bill born out of a fundamental lack of understanding of how demeaning—and dangerous—it is for a transgender woman—like me—not to use the women’s restroom. It is a bill that fails to recognize the fears that follow so many of us into the restroom already.

A year in prison and a $5000 fine for using the restroom. I am nearly speechless. I imagine such a bill will have real support in the Indiana legislature as well.

Pro Forma

[ 120 ] May 2, 2016 |

I really can’t not recommend Andrew Sullivan’s return to the world of letters enough. And not because it is drawn out, self-regarding and tedious. I knew what I was getting before the page finished loading and I read:

As this dystopian election campaign has unfolded, my mind keeps being tugged by a passage in Plato’s Republic.

That’s not the only thing that gets tugged during the very, very, very dense article about how mean, pushy liberals made white people flock to Trump in droves and now America is going to be destroyed.

For the white working class, having had their morals roundly mocked, their religion deemed primitive, and their economic prospects decimated, now find their very gender and race, indeed the very way they talk about reality, described as a kind of problem for the nation to overcome. This is just one aspect of what Trump has masterfully signaled as “political correctness” run amok, or what might be better described as the newly rigid progressive passion for racial and sexual equality of outcome, rather than the liberal aspiration to mere equality of opportunity.

Sound familiar? Of course it does. Sullivan is wrestling with the same damn strawliberal every member of the bigot defense league has attacked since they admitted that Trump wasn’t going to go away if everyone ignored him.

So let’s skip to some amusing bits. Like the mandatory cocktail anecdote!

And so, as I chitchatted over cocktails at a Washington office Christmas party in December, and saw, looming above our heads, the pulsating, angry televised face of Donald Trump on Fox News, I couldn’t help but feel a little nausea permeate my stomach.

As an aside, if running Fox News is standard entertainment for these soirees, I’m glad I don’t get invited to them.

And Sullivan’s solutions to Save America are a veritable LOLmine.

Step 1 – “We” should stop picking on the Republicans and enable them because the alternative is gloom and doom and things go boom.

More to the point, those Republicans desperately trying to use the long-standing rules of their own nominating process to thwart this monster deserve our passionate support, not our disdain. This is not the moment to remind them that they partly brought this on themselves. This is a moment to offer solidarity, especially as the odds are increasingly stacked against them.

For the record I have never said the Republicans partly brought Trump on themselves. I have always said it is entirely their fault. But pretending that the GOP became the clusterfuck that it is today sorta accidentally not on purpose is standard for these pieces, because addressing the real problem, or even reality, is very much not central to the point.

That brings us to Step 2 – The Republicans should offer the Democrats the Unity Ponies that must be buried under all this horse shit!

And if they fail in Indiana or Cleveland, as they likely will, they need, quite simply, to disown their party’s candidate. They should resist any temptation to loyally back the nominee or to sit this election out. They must take the fight to Trump at every opportunity, unite with Democrats and Independents against him, and be prepared to sacrifice one election in order to save their party and their country.

Likelihood of this happening in this iteration of reality? Negative any percent. But reality didn’t stop the last 5,000 people who wrote this article, so why should it have stopped Sullivan?

Today In the American Meritocracy

[ 61 ] May 2, 2016 |

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Nice work if you can etc:

Yahoo (YHOO) just disclosed the size of its executive pay packages and Marissa Mayer stands to make millions coming or going.

The CEO of the embattled online news site, currently trying to sell itself, is entitled to severance benefits valued at $54.9 million in case she is terminated without cause, according to a regulatory filing after the market closed Friday. The potential payout would also be triggered by a “change of control,” which includes the sale of the company, according to the filing.

Mayer’s potential payout includes cash severance of $3 million, $26,324 to continue her health benefits, $15,000 for outplacement, and — if that’s enough — nearly $52 million worth of accelerated restricted stock and options.

But wait. That’s just what Mayer gets if she leaves. Mayer was already paid $36 million in 2015 as her regular annual compensation. That total pay package was down nearly 15% from the prior year, but is still well above the median of roughly $12 million paid by executives in the Standard & Poor’s 500. Mayer was paid $42.1 million in 2014, making her the most highly paid female CEO in the S&P 500.

Imagine what she’d be worth if she had been successful!

Greenland Melting

[ 28 ] May 1, 2016 |

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Not good.

So much about the planet’s future will depend on processes that humans today cannot directly observe — because they are occurring hundreds of meters below the sea surface where enormous marine glaciers, in Greenland and Antarctica, simultaneously touch the ocean and the seafloor.

The more we learn about this crucial yet inscrutable place, the more worrying it seems.

The latest exhibit: New research out of Greenland conducted by Dartmouth earth sciences Ph.D. student Kristin Schild and two university colleagues — work that has just been published in the Annals of Glaciology. The study examined the 5.5-kilometer-wide Rink Glacier of West Greenland, with particular focus on how meltwater on the ice sheet’s surface actually finds its way underneath Rink, pours out in the key undersea area described above and speeds up the glacier’s melt.

It’s a feedback process that, if it plays out across many other similarly situated glaciers, could greatly worsen Greenland’s overall ice loss. “These big tidewater outlet glaciers are the ones that are contributing these huge icebergs, they’re the ones that have rapidly, rapidly sped up in the last decade,” Schild said. This makes it critically important to learn “what are the main factors…that are leading to all these fast changes,” she added.

Greenland is an enormous sheet of ice, capable of raising sea levels by some 20 feet if it were somehow to melt entirely and its waters were to pour into the ocean. Fortunately, it can’t just do that all of a sudden — the vast ice sheet only reaches the ocean at relatively narrow, finger-like glaciers that stretch out into fjords, or underwater canyons that lead out to the sea.

May Day: Three Thoughts

[ 89 ] May 1, 2016 |

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Despite it usually being Erik Loomis’ bailiwick, I wanted to wish all of you a happy May Day, and to share three thoughts with you about the slogan that was associated with May Day – “eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what we will” – and what we can learn about the meaning of this day through that slogan.

The history of the day – its links to the Haymarket Affair, the eight-hour day movement, its adoption all over the world, its subversion here at home – is well known enough that I don’t want to repeat it here. Instead, I want to focus on the three parts of the slogan:

Eight Hours for Work

To me, this part of the slogan is significant because it speaks to the eight-hour day as an example of a successful, gradualist, labor reform that was brought forward by a movement determined to limit, if not entirely prevent, the exploitation of labor by capital. Before there was an eight-hour movement, there was a ten-hour movement. The ten-hour movement, fighting against factory work schedules of 12-15 hours a day, made the same arguments about the inhumane nature of long work days, how long hours robbed workers of the fair value of their labor by giving them the same pay for more hours, how it hurt families, hurt people’s health and productivity, and created an entire class of people who lived like drones, able to do nothing more than work, eat, and sleep.  They won that fight, and it was a fight that took strikes and protests and legislation and persuation, and then they started organizing for the eight-hour day.

And at a time when the Fight for Fifteen has moved from an impossibility to something to be bargained with (remember $10.10? Remember $12?) and then to be co-opted, and now to be enacted, it’s important to remember that gradualist reform can work as long as you keep moving and keep the pressure up against the inevitable backsliding and push-back. For good and for bad, there’s nothing natural or set in stone about the forty-hour, five day work week, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t fight for better, more predictable, and more humane standards in the face of employers who thrive on a system where workers are simultaneously underemployed and overworked and want to make it even more so.

The thirty-five hour week works in France, the six-hour work day works in Sweden. We deserve no less.

Eight Hours for Sleep

This part of the slogan speaks to how work takes a toll on the human body. Erik Loomis has done sterling work pointing to the history of industrial injuries, diseases, and deaths, but there is also a growing body of research that looks at the subtler ways in which class affects our health. The poorer you are, the less likely you are to get the sleep than you need. The poorer you are, the more likely you are to experience chronic pain. The poorer you are, the more stress you experience and the harder it hits you. The poorer you are, the shorter your lifespan.

The eight-hour day movement was one of the first recognitions of this phenomenon, long before the medical or social scientific community got involved. Having eight hours sleep a night wasn’t just about making workers more productive or lowering the rate of industrial injury – those were rationales largely directed at middle class voters, although they were all true – but about trying to limit the damage that capitalism and inequality was doing to the human body, and to literally save lives.

Given what we are now learning about the way that stress affects health, and the historic and growing economic inequality’s effects on the inequality of lived experiences, this task has become all the more pressing. The adage of a new Gilded Age is quite popular today, and it should be, but in this aspect, we are seeing something more similar to the Middle Ages, when descriptions of physical health and beauty went hand-in-hand with descriptions of class.

Eight Hours for What We Will 

And this is where we get to the issue of democracy, which is appropriate for May Day of a long primary season in a presidential election year. One of the arguments made for the eight-hour day movement was that a class of drones, people who only had the time to work, eat, and sleep, could not participate in a democratic society – you needed time to read the newspaper and follow the political issues of the day, to be an active participant in the highly-mobilized party politics of the 19th century, to not just vote but get out the vote.  And all of that is true, but there is often a kind of po-faced seriousness that sometimes is attached to the idea of free time as necessary for good citizenship. I don’t mean to denigrate the working-class auto-didact – I come from a long line of them – but free time isn’t just about engaging in intellectually cultivating pastimes.

Rather, I think it’s about actually experiencing freedom on a day-to-day basis. As I wrote a long time ago, the workplace is one of the least free places in America. And the people who fought for the eight-hour day and the ten-hour day before that realized that you can’t spend every waking hour of your life in a place where you have no freedom of speech, no privacy, no right to due process, and actually know what freedom feels like, let alone develop the habits of an independent citizen. So eight hours “for what we will” is about the will – whether it’s beer or Shakespeare, the important thing is that you’re deciding how you’re going to spend your time, that for part of every day no one but you is telling you what to do.

So go enjoy your May Day, because no matter what you’re doing with the day, you’re doing it right.

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 29

[ 42 ] May 1, 2016 |

This is the grave of John D. Rockefeller.

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I hardly need to explain to you all who Rockefeller was. The wealthiest man in American history in real money, the Standard Oil monopolist took over 90% of the American oil industry using methods both legal and nefarious, as Ida Tarbell famously exposed. A Baptist prig who combined his fundamentalist Protestantism with Social Darwinism to justify his own disgusting actions, we can all take comfort in the fact that Rockefeller suffered from a condition later in life that made him lose all his hair, looking like the shriveled troll on the outside that he was on the inside. Like many of his monopolist contemporaries, Rockefeller loved to combine public statements about morality with private doings that showed no moral compass at all except the insatiable desire for ever-greater profit.

What I really love here though is that beneath the obelisk is the actual resting place of Rockefeller and various family members (though not his famous sons and grandsons). But there is nothing growing out of Rockefeller’s actual resting place.

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I am hoping that this lack of growth can be explained by one of two things. First, Rockefeller’s putrescent corpse is so filled with bile and evil that it is the equivalent of salting the Earth and nothing will ever grow above it again. The second option is that the soil is turning acidic from people leaving liquid offerings. At least we can hold on to this dream, whatever the actual circumstances.

John D. Rockefeller is buried in Lake View Cemetery, Cleveland, Ohio.

Fearmongering

[ 75 ] May 1, 2016 |

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The anti-gay, anti-transgender fearmongering never ends. It might retreat as civil rights and social acceptance is slowly achieved, but there’s always another scare campaign about scary queer people.

Such fear mongering against gays and transgender people is a time-tested strategy, despite plenty of evidence that there is nothing to fear but fear itself. In the battle for marriage equality, the nation was told time and again that marriage itself, along with the American family, would be imperiled if same-sex couples were allowed to marry. “Freedom will be taken away,” said one infamous 2009 ad titled “Gathering Storm.” Religion would be destroyed because the clergy would be forced to conduct same-sex weddings, no matter their convictions. Yet none of these doomsday scenarios has come to pass.

The particular terrors that fueled the campaigns in Houston and North Carolina have an even longer history. In the debate over “don’t ask, don’t tell,” opponents of openly gay service spent decades fanning the flames of anxiety about straight recruits sharing quarters — sharing showers! — with known gays and lesbians. At one point, senators held congressional hearings in the bowels of a nuclear submarine to infuse the news cycle with frightening images of the compromised privacy of military life. The message was clear: In such conditions, gay people were not to be trusted, unit cohesion could not be maintained and an inclusive policy would be a clear and present danger to the United States.

Again, none of this was true, as a wealth of research before and after “don’t ask, don’t tell” concluded (some of it was buried by those opposed to change).

A 2003 Palm Center study found that the experience of military and paramilitary organizations that lifted their gay bans showed that “cohesion, morale, recruitment, retention and privacy will be preserved or even enhanced” by ending policies that required gay people to lie about their identities or stay out of uniform. Other scholars noted that, all across the globe, people in various contexts that might seem erotic (especially when social conservatives insisted on eroticizing them) in fact developed an “etiquette of disregard.” In doctor’s offices, in military barracks, in locker rooms and restrooms, most people simply finished their business and ignored those around them. Those who had predicted disaster were spectacularly wrong.

But no amount of evidence seems capable of stopping the fear strategy. The Rand Corp. has completed a new study on transgender military service concluding, unsurprisingly, that ending discrimination against transgender troops will not harm military readiness. The Pentagon has neither released the study nor met its own deadline for reviewing the policy. Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), who wrongly predicted that openly gay military service would “complicate things” and “make it very difficult for us to take care of the troops,” is now opposing service by transgender troops because — guess what — he can’t understand which bathrooms they would use. And Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, who had earlier wrongly predicted that openly gay troops would drive away one-quarter of the military, is now predicting that transgender service will increase sexual assaults.

Disrupting MBAs

[ 69 ] May 1, 2016 |

If there’s one group that it’s not too easy to feel bad for, it’s the business community, but the corporate all-in to maximize profit at the top is now affecting MBAs as the Uberization of the lower and mid-range business workers is now taking place.

In a brick-and-beam former warehouse in Boston’s Fort Point Channel neighborhood, Rob Biederman and Patrick Petitti are building an online network that could change how white-collar work gets done.

In the same way Uber built a network of drivers, and Craigslist can help you find someone willing to paint your back porch tomorrow, the company that Biederman and Petitti cofounded, HourlyNerd, has attracted 22,000 independent consultants with MBA degrees from 45 top universities, all willing to do projects for clients that range from the corner clothing boutique to conglomerates like General Electric.

Business owners can understand the allure of paying someone a few thousand bucks to analyze three different locations for a new shop. But anyone who sits in front of a computer every day, analyzing data and assembling PowerPoint presentations, is probably justified in fretting about what this could mean for their job.

And these online expert networks could evolve into potent competition for some of the best-known management consulting firms, like McKinsey & Co. and Boston Consulting Group. The traditional consultants are a bit like the livery companies that were the only game in town before Uber arrived: high-touch and expensive, but don’t try to call them 10 minutes before you need them to show up.

The outsourced, temped, franchised, subcontracted, independent contractor economy is frequently justified and celebrated when it hurts working class people. Getting rid of or disempowering taxi drivers and hotel cleaners and Toyota employees and McDonald’s workers is all good when profit is at stake. But there is no reason that this can’t go far up the corporate ladder. Much of pharmacy work, legal work, and financial workers can be sent overseas. Other work can be temped or contracted in other ways. This is just one example. The emphasis on “disruption” and corporate profit over steady jobs is not only a real threat to the middle class, not to mention the working class, but it is actually destroying it as we speak.

Daniel Berrigan, RIP

[ 53 ] May 1, 2016 |

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The great anti-war priest has died at the age of 94.

The legendary anti-war priest Father Daniel Berrigan died today at 94. He was a poet, pacifist, educator, social activist, playwright and lifelong resister to what he called “American military imperialism.” Along with his late brother, Phil, Dan Berrigan played an instrumental role in inspiring the anti-war and anti-draft movement during the late 1960s as well as the anti-nuclear movement.

In 1968, Father Daniel Berrigan made headlines when he traveled to North Vietnam with Howard Zinn to bring home three U.S. prisoners of war. Later that year he and eight others took 378 draft files from the draft board in Catonsville, MD. Then in the parking lot of the draft board office, the activists set the draft records on fire using homemade napalm to protest the Vietnam War.

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