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Windy City Gulag

[ 176 ] February 24, 2015 |

Remarkable reporting by Spencer Ackerman that you should read:

The Chicago police department operates an off-the-books interrogation compound, rendering Americans unable to be found by family or attorneys while locked inside what lawyers say is the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site.

The facility, a nondescript warehouse on Chicago’s west side known as Homan Square, has long been the scene of secretive work by special police units. Interviews with local attorneys and one protester who spent the better part of a day shackled in Homan Square describe operations that deny access to basic constitutional rights.

Alleged police practices at Homan Square, according to those familiar with the facility who spoke out to the Guardian after its investigation into Chicago police abuse, include:

  • Keeping arrestees out of official booking databases.
  • Beating by police, resulting in head wounds.
  • Shackling for prolonged periods.
  • Denying attorneys access to the “secure” facility.
  • Holding people without legal counsel for between 12 and 24 hours, including people as young as 15.

At least one man was found unresponsive in a Homan Square “interview room” and later pronounced dead.


Victory on the Tipped Minimum Wage!

[ 29 ] February 24, 2015 |

A couple weeks ago, I asked for your help on trying to end the tipped (sub) minimum wage in New York State, so that more than 200,000 workers could get a raise. And lo and behold:

Acting state Labor Commissioner Mario Musolino accepted a state wage board’s recommendation to raise the cash wage for tipped workers to $7.50 per hour beginning Dec. 31, marking tipped workers’ first minimum wage raise since 2011.

Musolino accepted four of the five recommendations made by the wage board. He said he is in favor of putting all tipped workers under one class, allowing New York City to raise its minimum for tipped workers by one dollar if and when the Legislature approves a separate minimum wage for the metropolis, and reviewing whether to eliminate the cash wages and tip credits system…

For those of you who remember the original form email, that’s recommendations A-D, and rejecting E. It’s rare that you win a victory across the board, so celebrate!

(And just for added schadenfreude,”the restaurant industry called Musolino’s decisions troubling.”)


ACA Trooferism Roundup

[ 21 ] February 24, 2015 |

One MEELLION Dollars

[ 43 ] February 24, 2015 |

Questions on Raising an Evil Child

hr_0581_934_164__0581934164028 Read more…

This Day in Labor History: February 24, 1908

[ 21 ] February 24, 2015 |

On February 24, 1908, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Muller v. Oregon. This landmark decision upheld the idea that, at least for women, laws restricting the hours of work were constitutional. This would be a major victory in the long fight to bring working hours down to eight hours nationally, a dream that had already extended for more than two decades and would not be realized for another thirty years. It also created gender inequities in labor law with implications that continue today.

In 1903, Oregon had passed a law limiting the hours of women to ten hours a day and sixty hours a week. Curt Muller, a laundry business owner in Portland, sued the state. Muller believed, for good reason given the predominant legal climate of the time, that he signed legal contracts with individual workers when he hired them and that those workers freely agreed to the terms of hours and wages when they took the job. Yet, these ideas were increasingly challenged during the Progressive Era, as activists sought to create a more fair America that protected basic rights of workers to a decent life. This was especially true for women workers, who many Progressives saw as both uniquely exploited and mothers responsible for raising the next generation of Americans. Progressives argued that whatever the merits of the freedom of contract interpretation of labor legislation, the state had a unique interest in excepting women from that principle. Progressives were especially prominent in states like Oregon, as well as Wisconsin and Washington, which would see the first workers’ compensation legislation a few years later. The Oregon Supreme Court upheld the the state’s law and Muller then appealed to the Supreme Court.


Laundry workers

Supporting Oregon’s case was Louis Brandeis, who filed a lengthy brief, mostly created by his sister-in-law, Josephine Goldmark, an activist with the National Consumers League, about women’s working conditions and lives, helping to sway the case. Brandeis employed this paternalistic ideal of women as mothers to justify upholding the law because the state had an interest in the health of future generations of Americans. He used four specific arguments. First, women were physically different and weaker than men. Second, damage to women’s health on the job might affect their reproductive capacity. Third, the health of children might be damaged if the mother was overworked. Fourth, long workdays deprived family members of their wife and mother.


Louis Brandeis

The Court ruled unanimously in favor of the law’s constitutionality. David Brewer wrote the opinion. Part of the reason this was such a landmark decision was its partial repeal of Lochner v. New York , decided just three years before. Lochner invalidated state laws on the hours of bakers and thus hours legislation nationwide based on the idea of the liberty of contract that it read into the 14th Amendment. But Brewer was clear that this was no rejection of Lochner. Rather women were different than men and thus deserved protection:

That woman’s physical structure and the performance of maternal functions place her at a disadvantage in the struggle for subsistence is obvious. This is especially true when the burdens of motherhood are upon her. Even when they are not, by abundant testimony of the medical fraternity continuance for a long time on her feet at work, repeating this from day to day, tends to injurious effects upon the body, and as healthy mothers are essential to vigorous offspring, the physical well-being of woman becomes an object of public interest and care in order to preserve the strength and vigor of the race.

In short, the justices had a gendered construction of freedom of contract. They held to the Gilded Age belief that individual male workers freely signed agreements with employers (thus making labor legislation unconstitutional because it would violate that freedom of contract) but for women workers the state’s interest was greater than this freedom. This was not completely unprecedented however, for as early as 1876, the Massachusetts Supreme Court had founded similarly, as had several additional states between then and 1908, although Illinois had overturned a law restricting women’s hours that applied freedom of contract to women as well as men.

The legacy of Muller is complicated because of the paternalism at its core. It fit the ideals of many Progressive reformers, who used ideas of femininity and motherhood to protect women and children in a number of ways, but especially at the workplace. For people like Jane Addams and Florence Kelley, these sorts of decisions were validations of their larger campaigns to protect poor women from the ravages of industrial life. But the small more explicitly feminist movement disliked the decision because it created artificial differences between the sexes.

Still, placing Muller in the context of the time, we should see it as an important victory because of its precedent setting approval of hours laws for anyone. Lochner reinforced the idea so prevalent in American business that corporations had no responsibility to anyone and that the halls of Congress and federal courtrooms would reinforce this if necessary. Even if Muller was sexist, for a lot of labor activists getting these principles applied to women laid the groundwork for all workers, which may not have been the goal of all Progressives, but was for labor activists. Establishing this principle did indeed start chipping away at the freedom of contract idea and within a decade, many industries would have 8-hour days.

States followed up on Mueller by passing night work laws for women to ensure they were not laboring during hours deemed by the state to be hours when they should be taking care of their children. Between 1909 and 1917, 19 states passed new legislation limiting the hours of women’s work, leaving only 9 states in 1917 that lacked any restrictions at all, a number that decreased to 5 by the mid-1920s. However, in most if not all of these states, the laws did not cover domestic or agricultural workers. The decision itself was rendered irrelevant by the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938 since it provided equal coverage for men and women. Yet gender inequities on the job have never fully been overcome, not even though Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The struggle for real equality on the job continues today.

I relied on Andrea Tone, The Business of Benevolence: Industrial Paternalism in Progressive America and Nancy S. Jackson, “Muller v. Oregon Reconsidered: The Origins of a Sex-Based Doctrine of Liberty of Contract” in Labor History, September 1989.

This is the 133th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

The IRS Issued Tax Credits to Cover Up BENGHAZI!!!!!!!

[ 13 ] February 24, 2015 |

If the facts are on your side, pound the facts into the table. If the law is on your side, pound the law into the table. If neither the facts nor the law are on your side, pound the Fox News talking points into the ground:

That Cannon is defending his case by nodding like a Fox News bobblehead to an unrelated pseudo scandal is not anomalous. In both the media and in their briefs to the Supreme Court, the law’s challengers have papered over weaknesses in their historical and legal arguments with conservative bromides familiar to talk radio consumers, Fox News viewers, and recipients of anti-Obamacare talking points.

This kind of conservative argumentum ad reptilis, has a successful track record with at least one conservative justice on the Supreme Court. During oral arguments in the constitutional challenge to the Affordable Care Act three years ago, Antonin Scalia made reference sua sponte to the “Cornhusker Kickback”a short-lived special deal for Nebraska in the Senate health care bill that became a metaphor on Fox News for the ACA’s corrupted legislative process, and was thus made national.

But to those of us outside the conservative information bubble, it speaks to two themes that define challenge itself: that it is built on a fabricated history, and that it poses a de facto test to the cohesiveness of conservative movement infrastructure. Can a case built on an informational foundation that’s rejected everywhere outside the movement stand on the strength of the right’s intellectual and professional networks? Is the apparent internal consistency of a story and argument that only conservatives believe enough to carry the day in the Supreme Court, when the stakes are this high?

Cannon’s argument use of Pelosi’s argument that passing the bill will show that conservative descriptions of it were a lie in order to defend making up additional lies about it is my favorite example.

Ongoing Notes On the Death of Satire

[ 71 ] February 23, 2015 |

Today’s reminder that if we were living in a satirical novel, Aaron Sorkin would consider the Republican public officials in it to be a little on-the-nose:

An Idaho lawmaker received a brief lesson on female anatomy after asking if a woman can swallow a small camera for doctors to conduct a remote gynecological exam.

The question Monday from Republican state Rep. Vito Barbieri came as the House State Affairs Committee heard nearly three hours of testimony on a bill that would ban doctors from prescribing abortion-inducing medication through telemedicine.

Dr. Julie Madsen was testifying in opposition to the bill when Barbieri asked the question. Madsen replied that would be impossible because swallowed pills do not end up in the vagina.

“Fascinating. That makes sense,” Barbieri said, amid the crowd’s laughter.

Women — the eternal mystery. The only certainty to Republicans is that their reproductive freedom needs to be curtailed to the maximum extent possible.

War Zone!

[ 44 ] February 23, 2015 |

In response to charges that my claims to having served honorably during the Iraq War are “incorrect” or “made up,” I would like to point out that there is copious documentary evidence to indicate that I worked in a variety of different capacities, during the Iraq War, within the territorial confines of one of the major combatants.  There may even have been a time or two when I was mildly concerned about my safety.

Should be good enough for Dylan Byers.

I would like to know more

[ 298 ] February 23, 2015 |

Scott references Glenn Harlan Reynolds’ column in which GHR cites Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers for the proposition that some sort of altruistic public service ought to be a prerequisite for the right to vote:

Science fiction writer Robert Heinlein, in his famous novel Starship Troopers, envisioned a society where voters, too, had to demonstrate their patriotism before being allowed to vote. In his fictional society, the right to vote came only after some kind of dangerous public service — in the military, as a volunteer in dangerous medical experiments, or in other ways that demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice personally for the common good. The thought was that such voters would be more careful, and less selfish, in their voting.

So when the five-day wonder of questioning Barack Obama’s patriotism is over, perhaps we should address another question: How patriotic is the electorate? And how long can we survive as a nation if the answer is “not very”? And we should proceed from there.

I’ve never read Heinlein’s novel, and ever since I saw Paul Verhoeven’s film version I’ve wondered if the book itself is a satire on the fascistic values at the psychological core of nationalism, or a celebration of those values, or something else. I enjoyed the film, because I took it to be the former, although it would be pretty disgusting if taken straight, as some reviewers did at the time.

Anyway, I’ve thought and written about the relationship between authorial intention and textual meaning in the context of legal and literary works, but I’ve never really considered that question in regard to films. Films, especially big budget major studio productions, seem like especially complex texts, because their authorship is so complex.

What does it mean to say that Starship Troopers is “really” a satire, and not a campy glorification of fascist politics and aesthetics? That Verhoeven, if he is understood to be the film’s primary author, intended to the taken as the former? That, without regard to what Verhoeven or anyone else involved in the film’s creation may have intended, this interpretation makes it a much better film, aesthetically and/or politically?

And what about Heinlein’s novel? Can it be read as a satire, or is it too obvious that Heinlein intends the ideas in it to be understood unironically, which certainly seems to be Reynolds’ interpretation?

For a Bigger, Better Mezzanine [GUEST POST BY CARRIE SHANAFELT]

[ 62 ] February 23, 2015 |

As part of our ongoing discussion of issues of equity in contemporary academia, LGM is proud to present this guest post from longtime friend of the blog Carrie Shanafelt, a scholar of 18th century literature currently teaching at Grinnell College. Enjoy!

I began teaching college courses 14 years ago, which, considering I’m only 35, might sound impressive to anyone unfamiliar with 21st-century academic employment practices. Those first classes were a supervised part of my MA. But in 2003, when I moved to New York City for a doctoral program (in which fellowships were at that time reserved for second-years and above), I found employment as a genuine adjunct instructor, making $2500 per course. I was 23 years old, without a day of PhD coursework, and little more than a 100-page thesis to my name. The hiring process consisted of a walking conversation with an associate professor as she grabbed a coffee between classes. While many of the people who are hired this way might be perfectly qualified to teach college, I certainly wasn’t.

Compare this to the process by which tenure-track hires are made. Hundreds of applicants, most with PhD in hand and many with multiple publications, send extensive dossiers to committees who agonize for months over long lists and short lists, interviewing and re-interviewing at conferences and on campus, making offers, negotiating terms, and, finally, hopefully, creating a professional home for this person in whom they have already invested a year of work and imagination. Committees and applicants alike keep Tums in business as they make and announce heartbreaking, life-altering decisions.

For the freshman composition student, though, the outcome of both of these methods is the same. Her transcript will not indicate which of her instructors is finishing a third book, and which one scavenges for food on the way home. She will go from one classroom to the next mostly unaware of the difference, calling everyone “professor” no matter how they introduce themselves. Instructors are distinguishable to her because they are boring, funny, intimidating, helpful, or demanding—not because of the conditions under which they were hired.

It is tempting to chalk the adjunctification of college and university faculty up to money alone. That is, of course, what administrations always offer as the reason, so there can be no more discussion about it. Since that first adjunct position of mine in 2003, I began to feel that something didn’t add up. None of my new colleagues spoke to me as if I were a junior professional working my way through the tough lean days of youth. Most of them spoke to me, if at all, like I was a dog.

It wasn’t true at every college, or in the same amount from every colleague, but the harassment I experienced as an adjunct wouldn’t have been tolerated in any other workplace. I was mocked for my lack of familiarity with upper-class New York life, quizzed about my sexuality, sneered at that I must be wasting my students’ time. I learned to regret reporting academic dishonesty or threats of violence. My students called me “professor” out of habit, though I begged them to call me “Carrie,” because I knew how much it irritated my colleagues to hear that title conferred on someone like me.

The first possibility I considered, in tears on the subway, was that I was obviously and unusually stupid. I asked around, and discovered that other first-year adjuncts at certain schools were enduring similar harassment from senior colleagues. I heard about blatant racism, sexism, and transphobia, but mostly just a fog of contempt that seemed to follow adjuncts everywhere. If we’re so underqualified to participate in this glorious career for elegant intellectuals, I thought, then why did they hire us? You could throw a rock in Park Slope and hit five PhDs with publications. Why hire starving MAs and then mock them for being hungry?

Whenever one encounters a pack of sadists, it’s a good idea to back up and look at the institution that encases them. There they always are, right in the middle, squeezed by increasing demands from above, shoved sweatily down onto an underclass of hopeless, helpless, undignified workers. That underclass is not just the product of administrative corner-cutting or fiscal belt-tightening; it’s a management strategy to keep the faculty divided against one another.

When I was an adjunct, I had to suppress my rage whenever an assistant professor complained about assembling a tenure file, revising an article, or applying for conference reimbursement. I was sick to my stomach to hear associate professors complain about having to serve on curriculum committee or meet with advisees. My academic aspirations were not limited to mere survival. I was desperately jealous of my senior colleagues’ worst problems.

I didn’t realize at the time that their joylessness wasn’t just bourgeois ennui; it was as surprisingly bitter to them as it was to me. They really had once been young, and had fantasized about how great it would be to one day do the job of a college professor. But, at colleges and universities that heavily depend on adjunct labor for long-term teaching needs, the job of the tenure-track or tenured professor becomes ridiculously hard. Someone has to advise all of the students, sit on committees, chair the departments, review the curriculum, report to administrators, and—most time-consuming of all—hire, train, and supervise those always-already-fired adjuncts, some of whom are bumptious naifs (just me?) who seem to think an MA qualifies them to the same title as a career scholar. But what scholarship can get done with all those adjuncts to supervise?

I don’t want to excuse or explain away unprofessional sadism in academia. What I’m arguing is that sadism is not an accident or a byproduct; it is what perpetuates the two-tier system that is destroying colleges and universities. In this excellent Chronicle essay, Jordan Schneider urges tenured and tenure-track faculty to join adjuncts in the fight for bigger, longer contracts—not out of altruism or even solidarity, but out of self-interest. A larger, more secure, better-fed faculty has more power in shared governance. They attract more qualified colleagues who don’t require constant supervision. They confidently share advisement responsibilities and collaborate on research and teaching. And best of all, they might, on good days, wake up feeling glad to be professors.

Currently, I’m in what might be considered the growing middle tier of academic employment, something like the role Schneider suggests for non-tenure-track faculty. I was hired in an open, national call, and gave a formal talk on my current research during a campus visit. My contract is renewed, with review, a few years at a time, as the need is not predictable or permanent, but I have a decent salary with benefits, the same course load as my tenure-track colleagues, and support for my conference travel and research. I don’t have advisory responsibilities, but I also don’t get a research leave. I sit on committees and support extracurricular activities as I have time and interest. But most importantly, I have a vote and I have dignity, because my colleagues see me as a peer.

The creation of the vast academic underclass is so often blamed on too many people going to graduate school, as if we are expected to reenact the climax of Jude the Obscure, and leave a note behind: “Done because we are too menny.” It is absurd to declare that there is no demand for college instruction when we have 23-year-old MAs teaching ten huge courses in a year. The problem is that many colleges and universities have ceased to treat the instruction of college courses as a profession worth supporting with a living wage. Fixing that might even help senior colleagues to remember who they dreamed of becoming when they applied to graduate school.

Well, That And His Attempts to Impose Sharia Law

[ 119 ] February 23, 2015 |

Shorter Byron York: Many people think Barack Obama is a Muslim? Don’t look at hacks who intentionally try to mislead the public — we didn’t do it!

Maybe after Glenn Reynolds gets his “national service” restrictions on the franchise — as Atrios observes, presumably service in the 101st fighting keyboarders would count — we could impose a religious test on voting too, because patriotism.

The education dodge

[ 190 ] February 23, 2015 |

Paul Krugman points out how arguments that claim not enough Americans have college degrees work as smokescreens to obscure the real drivers of social and economic inequality:

[M]y sense is that there’s a new form of issue-dodging packaged as seriousness on the rise. This time, the evasion involves trying to divert our national discourse about inequality into a discussion of alleged problems with education.

And the reason this is an evasion is that whatever serious people may want to believe, soaring inequality isn’t about education; it’s about power. . .

The education-centric story of our problems runs like this: We live in a period of unprecedented technological change, and too many American workers lack the skills to cope with that change. This “skills gap” is holding back growth, because businesses can’t find the workers they need. It also feeds inequality, as wages soar for workers with the right skills but stagnate or decline for the less educated. So what we need is more and better education.

My guess is that this sounds familiar — it’s what you hear from the talking heads on Sunday morning TV, in opinion articles from business leaders like Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, in “framing papers” from the Brookings Institution’s centrist Hamilton Project. It’s repeated so widely that many people probably assume it’s unquestionably true. But it isn’t. . .

[T]here’s no evidence that a skills gap is holding back employment. After all, if businesses were desperate for workers with certain skills, they would presumably be offering premium wages to attract such workers. So where are these fortunate professions? . . .

While the education/inequality story may once have seemed plausible, it hasn’t tracked reality for a long time. “The wages of the highest-skilled and highest-paid individuals have continued to increase steadily,” the Hamilton Project says. Actually, the inflation-adjusted earnings of highly educated Americans have gone nowhere since the late 1990s.

So what is really going on? Corporate profits have soared as a share of national income, but there is no sign of a rise in the rate of return on investment. How is that possible? Well, it’s what you would expect if rising profits reflect monopoly power rather than returns to capital.

As for wages and salaries, never mind college degrees — all the big gains are going to a tiny group of individuals holding strategic positions in corporate suites or astride the crossroads of finance. Rising inequality isn’t about who has the knowledge; it’s about who has the power.

It’s always suspicious when “everyone” is in favor of something. For a couple of generations now, almost all opinion-makers across the ideological spectrum have held the view that more formal education is an almost magical panacea for fundamental social and economic problems. On the glibertarian/corporatist right, this view dovetails nicely with a commitment to individual achievement as opposed to structural changes: as long as there’s a poor black kid going to Princeton (there probably is at least one) then Land of Opportunity, Shining City on a Hill, Bootstraps — you know the drill.

In other words, as long as the educational system helps make the class structure something less than completely rigid, then it’s A-OK for the top .01% percenters to pay a lower effective tax rate than the average American, while unions are wrecked and median wages fall, corporate profits soar, etc., because after all this poor black kid got a full ride to Princeton, got into HBS, and now he’s got Jamie Dimon’s job. (OK this didn’t actually happen, but the point is that it could happen, which is all that counts in glibertarian land).

On the liberal left, the commitment to higher ed as a magic bullet is based on a less morally obnoxious but even more economically dubious belief, to wit the theory that sending more people to college ameliorates structural unemployment via enhancement of human capital. As Krugman points out, the problem with this theory is that it doesn’t appear to be true, or at least not any more.

Who benefits from the ubiquity of these beliefs among all right-thinking people? One obvious group of beneficiaries consists, as Krugman notes, of the current Lords of Capital. There’s another group he doesn’t mention, which includes those atop our ever-growing Educational Industrial Complex, who benefit from a system that has quasi-socialized of the cost of higher ed (in the form of more than $1.2 trillion in educational loans, only 37% of which are currently in timely repayment), and quasi-privatized the immense profits it generates.

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