The Nation

Why Bobby Jindal’s Health Plan Is an Epic Fail

Bobby Jindal

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal speaks in St. Louis in 2012. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

As Christie Watch noted last month, as unlikely as it might seem, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is hoping to take advantage of Chris Christie’s troubles to emerge as a leading candidate for the GOP nomination. He’s speaking wherever he can, including in New Hampshire, and he’s putting together a group of political operatives for his pre-presidential political setup called America Next, which includes a veteran of Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign and a consulting and a media expert from the Bush-Cheney campaign.

Jindal, a wonk with long experience in healthcare policy, wants to be known as the Republican Party’s idea man—after all, he once complained that the GOP was becoming “the stupid party.” To that end, he hopes, he and his political operation have just issued a blueprint on healthcare, which he’s offering to the Republican party as “open-source code” for their its leading candidates and members of Congress to put forward as part of their own anti–Affordable Care Act health plans.

If they do, it will result in what programmers call an “epic fail,” and it can only help Democrats in both 2014 and 2016.

You can read Jindal’s entire plan, The Freedom and Empowerment Plan, but here’s the gist. It would eliminate Obamacare, replacing it with a series of proposals that rehash much of what Republicans have been advocating for two decades. These include privatizing Medicare, eliminating employer-sponsored health coverage, collapsing Medicaid and shifting much more of healthcare costs onto consumers. Even National Review criticized one of the report’s proposals, a standard tax deduction for individuals buying health insurance equal to what employers currently receive. According to the magazine, the plan is “too disruptive to existing employer-provided insurance, and it does not help enough people get coverage. Replacing Obamacare with this plan would probably result in millions of people losing their coverage, and I think that would doom it.”

That’s the conservative critique of Jindal’s plan. The liberal critique is much sharper. The Louisiana governor promotes getting rid of Medicare as it currently exists, forcing seniors to buy insurance from private carriers as they did before 1965. His report notes, without irony, that this is the answer to Medicare’s financial problems. It is in fact the privatization of Medicare. But to disguise it, Republicans call it “premium support,” since some seniors would be given a subsidy, at least initially, to help them buy the private insurance. This is old hat for Jindal, who helped develop this idea when he headed the congressionally established Medicare Commission back in the late 1990s.

Since Jindal would eliminate one of the most successful aspects of Obamacare—its requirement that insurers must cover everyone, even those with pre-existing conditions, at almost the same price—Jindal has to offer an alternative. His plan is to return to what dozens of states used to offer, namely, high-risk insurance pools overseen by state regulators. However, these were last-resort insurance packages. The problem with the risk pools is that for most people who buy them, there are exorbitant premiums and out-of-pocket cost-sharing, long waiting times before the insurance actually covers the actual pre-existing condition, and restrictive eligibility rules.

Another proposal in Jindal’s plan is one that was a favorite of the Bush family, both President George W. Bush and his brother Jeb, when he was governor of Florida. The Bush-Jindal idea involves high-deductible insurance plans with a savings account in which tax-advantaged money can be put aside to pay for healthcare not covered by the insurance. This was touted as a key way to put consumers in charge of their healthcare, with the claim that it would make them wise purchasers and bring down health spending. Ignored was the fact that most people are not informed well enough to make the right choices about which plan to buy, what it covers, what it will cost them and especially how to decide what care to seek.

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Developed by a phalanx of conservative think tanks in the 1990s, with political organizing for it orchestrated by Patrick Rooney, then-head of Golden Rule Insurance Company which pioneered the product, it made headway in Congress when George W. Bush promoted it in his first State of the Union address and pressed for tax changes and congressional action that allowed it to take shape. On the state level no one was a more ardent support of the concept than Jeb Bush. He helped enact legislation requiring all insurers in Florida to offer this insurance product and he set off on a two-month road show throughout the state to promote it.

The high-deductible insurance plans never got much traction because people with them are hit with high upfront costs to meet huge deductibles and often have large co-payments to boot. Then, too, the insurance plans usually put many restrictions on which medical providers people can use and limit what care is covered by the plan, and in other ways shift costs to individuals. And in the long run they may drive up healthcare costs because studies have shown that because of the high upfront costs, people forgo care they might otherwise have sought, ending up needing operations and other treatment that could have been prevented.

If that’s the best that Jindal can come up with, he’s hardly the Republicans’ idea man.


Read Next: Christie Watch analyzes Jindal’s 2016 chances.

McCutcheon’s Big Winner: Media Corporations… but Not Journalism

Supreme Court

Members of the Supreme Court (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)


I’ve been travelling, to Jerusalem and back, to Wayne State University in Detroit (and back) and am about to leave for Barcelona and Valencia and so I’ve not seen any music or anything but so dedicated am I to your musical education/edification that I managed to load into my IPod and DVD player, the following:

Looking Into You: A Tribute To Jackson Browne (two CDs) and A MusiCares Tribute To Bruce Springsteen (DVD)

So the Jackson tribute is sure a long time coming. It’s got too many highlights for me to list. Most are pretty much in sync with Jackson Browne-ness without too much tampering. You were not expecting surprises from the likes of longtime Brownites like Bonnie Raitt and David Lindley, Don Henley, J.D. Southerner, etc. Bruce and Patti do “Linda Paloma,” which is kind of crazy, but it works. Lucinda Williams’s “Pretender” is the standout on the CD, but I can’t make up my mind if it’s in a good way or not. Still, there is not enough Jackson Browne music in the world, so this is really nice to have. The Bruce tribute DVD is pretty wide-ranging and your favorites will depend on your tastes. It’s hosted by Jon Stewart and has a pretty amazing tracklist including:

"Atlantic City" Performed by Natalie Maines, Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite

"My City of Ruins" Performed by Mavis Staples and Zac Brown

"American Skin (41 Shots)" Performed by Jackson and Tom Morello

"My Hometown" Performed by Emmylou Harris

"Streets of Philadelphia" Performed by Elton John

"Born in the USA" Performed by Neil Young with Crazy Horse

and five songs by Bruce and the band, but no surprises. Excellent quality recording, though.

Any moderate fan will want it, I should think. Also it’s a good organization, so check them out here.

I’ve also been listening to the Legacy edition of the album No Depression, originally released in 1990 and perhaps the founding document of a movement that continues today nearly as vibrant as ever. With this release you get the original album remastered plus twenty-two extraordinary extras, including for the first time on CD, the “Not Forever, Just For Now” demo tape. 

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was listening to the audio version of “Benjamin Black’s (really John Banville’s) new Philip Marlowe novel, The Black-Eyed Blonde. It’s pretty good actually, not Chandler, but not crap either. You can read a long review of the novel here from The Guardian. This fellow thinks it’s “an entertaining, note-perfect piece of literary ventriloquism.” Well, ok, I just thought it was pretty good. (But I do agree that it is certainly not “a Robert B Parkeresque fiasco.”)

That’s all. Now here’s Reed:

McCutcheon’s Big Winner: Media Corporations…But Not Journalism
by Reed Richardson

Since last week’s McCutcheon v. FEC ruling, legal scholars and political pundits have spent untold hours examining the Roberts Court’s latest broadside into the already sinking ship of our nation’s campaign finance laws. But half the story has been missing. For all the number crunching of how many extra millions could pour into our elections and for all the strategic predictions of what political groups would enjoy more bequests from billionaires, the discourse failed to look beyond the sources of campaign money to ponder its impact at the destination. If it had, we would have been reminded that the newly attractive "super” joint fundraising committees soon to be coming to a House race near you are but the latest middleman in a political system that is increasingly converting our democracy into a cash-based transaction. What McCutcheon didn’t change, however, is the ultimate benefactor of this SCOTUS-enabled largesse: media companies.

Call it a dirty little secret or an inconvenient truth of journalism. But the fact is, whenever more money is introduced into politics, the last check written with that extra cash usually goes to a corporation that is also in the news business. Before McCutcheon effectively broadened the potential impact of large-scale donations last week, its 2010 forerunner, Citizens United, had deepened it, unleashing a colossal wave of political spending on campaign ads in its aftermath. In 2012, nowhere was this windfall more noticeable (or miserable, if you lived in a swing state) than on local TV stations. All told, $3.1 billion was spent on local TV political ads during the last election cycle, a figure nearly 50 percent higher than in 2010 and more than double the last presidential election in 2008. After having struggled for years, many regional media companies and broadcast TV conglomerates were suddenly flush with cash and enjoying healthy revenues again.

The bottom-line lesson was clearly taken to heart by the big media companies. After such a banner election year, a wave of acquisition and consolidation cascaded through the local TV market in 2013, with major corporations scooping up small and independent stations at a furious clip. According to Pew’s 2014 State of the Media report, an incredible 290 TV stations changed hands last year, in deals worth nearly $9 billion, and what might be called the Citizens United effect was clearly driving these media buying strategies, as Pew explains:

[B]roadcasters are looking to buy stations in politically competitive states. Nexstar cited ‘political advertising activity’ as a major reason it bought two Citadel stations in Des Moines and Sioux City, Iowa—a crucial caucus state where presidential campaigns spend millions on TV ads. It picked up two more Iowa stations in a separate deal.

Thanks to McCutcheon, big-spending billionaires can now widen the spectrum of their individual candidate donations far beyond just early primary and battleground states. House and Senate campaigns that might have previously flown under the radar could very well experience their own political arms races now. Raising the stakes in this way means local TV stations across the country may soon enjoy some of the same profit-taking attention from big media companies.

But what’s good for local TV’s bottom line and its parent corporation’s stock price doesn’t necessarily translate into good news for the news audience it purports to serve. Indeed, as more local stations are owned or operated by a few, far-flung major corporations, news is increasingly being rebranded, homogenized, and regionalized. While sharing news resources undoubtedly has benefits, it can also devolve into a parody of news channel independence. As of last year, nearly one-quarter of local TV stations across the country no longer produced any original news content.

To be fair, the past few years have witnessed an across-the-board resurgence in local TV news staffing. Likewise, the local TV market’s newshole now stands at near record highs (thanks mostly to an outbreak of pre-dawn morning news shows). Last year, local stations broadcast 46 percent more hours of weekday news than just a decade ago. No doubt, the flood of campaign ads coursing into local TV station coffers lately has been bankrolling a lot this larger investment in news coverage.

Upon closer inspection, however, these positive developments in TV news are merely the silver lining to a much bleaker reality. That’s because the kind of journalism these media conglomerates are tapping their campaign ad bonanza to pay for isn’t worth very much to our democracy in the long run. As Pew noted in its 2013 annual report:

When data from 2012 is compared with stations studied in 2005 and earlier, the amount of time devoted to edited story packages has decreased and average story lengths have shortened, signs that there is less in-depth journalism being produced. Traffic, weather and sports—the kind of information now available on demand in a variety of digital platforms—seems to be making up an ever-larger component of the local news menu, according to the stations studied in 2005 and 2012. Coverage of politics and government, meanwhile, was down by more than 50%.

By the end of 2012, local TV news was devoting a mere 7 percent of its newshole, on average, to covering politics and government, foreign affairs, science, and healthcare combined. For a twenty-two minute evening news broadcast that amounts to barely ninety seconds of airtime, hardly enough time to do all these issues justice. By contrast, coverage of commodified, ephemeral news topics like weather, traffic, and sports jumped to forty percent of local TV broadcasts. Though it might be tempting to dismiss these editorial decisions or to minimize local TV’s impact overall, this coverage imbalance matters, for several reasons.

For one, local TV news still reaches more Americans—71 percent—than any other platform. So, the whittling down of political coverage to a tiny nub—particularly for local and state races—sends a powerfully corrosive signal to a very large audience. The message: campaigns and elections don’t matter to our news organization, so they shouldn’t matter to you either.

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This apathy toward covering the public commons is shameful enough, but it becomes outright negligence in a post-Citizens United and McCutcheon world. By ceding their own airwaves to an onslaught of political messages from dark-money 501(c)(4) groups and supercharged party fundraising committees, local TV stations effectively abandon their own viewers, leaving them to guess what’s true and what’s not in a campaign ad as well as who’s really paying for it. Without transparency and accuracy, though, honest governance becomes practically impossible.

But the greatest danger to journalism lies in the corrosive conflicts of interest that rulings like McCutcheon create for media companies. Fearful of killing the golden goose, these large corporations—and, by extension, their affiliates—have every financial incentive to avoid fact-checking the outlandish claims and investigating the secret funders of the campaign ads their stations are being paid handsomely to run. Perhaps not surprisingly, a 2012 Free Press study, "Left in the Dark," found local TV stations reaping millions in ad revenues in five swing-state media markets were guilty of this very behavior. And the report’s conclusion, as sobering as it is prescient, speaks to the fundamental dilemma that still confronts both broadcast journalism and our country after the McCutcheon ruling:

Democracy requires an informed public. But Americans aren’t getting the news they need. Instead, we have a political system whose players are constantly chasing dollars—a system gamed to a point of dysfunction by wealthy, undisclosed donors and media corporations that are all too content to just cash their checks.

Contact me directly at reedfrichardson@gmail.com. I’m on Twitter here—@reedfrich.

Editor's note: To contact Eric Alterman, use this form.


Read Next: Katrina vanden Heuvel: It’s Time the CIA Gets Some Serious Oversight.

It’s Time the CIA Gets Some Serious Oversight

Senator Dianne Feinstein

Senator Dianne Feinstein at the US Capitol on March 11, 2014. (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

Every once in a while, the CIA’s “Because I said so” club lets loose with a bit of preposterous condescension that reminds us why, along with extraordinary rendition and drone strikes, we’re also a nation of transparency and checks and balances. In this case, the crowing comes from Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., former head of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service and the administrator of that agency’s post-9/11 enhanced interrogation (i.e., torture) program. We shouldn’t believe the “shocking” results of Senator Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation, Rodriguez says, especially those that lay bare the lies and exaggerations promulgated by the CIA and the ineffectiveness of the program itself.

Why not? Because Rodriguez was there, and you weren’t. Never mind that Rodriguez hasn’t actually read the report, or the fact that CIA-sponsored torture isn’t a yoga class, so “being present” doesn’t really count as the endeavor’s ultimate objective. And never mind the findings of the “Internal Panetta Review,” conducted by the CIA, that, according to Senator Feinstein, “documented at least some of the very same troubling matters already uncovered by the committee staff—which is not surprising, in that they were looking at the same information.”

If we ever want to know the truth about what atrocities were committed by our government in our name under the umbrella of the “Global War on Terror,” then we need to not only conduct investigations into them but also release the results—however sickening they might be—with as little redaction as possible. We need to re-establish the precedent (exemplified by the Church Committee of the 1970s) that accountability matters. Not only will we as a nation not abide torture, but we won’t stomach erstwhile torturers, either.

On April 2, Representatives Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Walter Jones (R-NC) introduced the bipartisan Targeted Lethal Force Transparency Act ,which would “require an annual report on the number of combatants and civilians killed or injured annually by strikes from remotely piloted aircraft, also known as drones.” The bill allows for an investigation into US drone strikes since 2008, building on a similar provision that had been included by Feinstein’s committee in last year’s (unpassed) Intelligence Authorization Act for 2014. Numerous human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have issued a joint statement in support of the bill.

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But if the CIA succeeds in squelching—or at least significantly redacting—the Intelligence Committee’s enhanced-interrogation report, it will cast an opaque pall on the Schiff-Jones bill in particular and on transparency in general. Indeed, what is the point of congressional oversight if the committee charged with it allows itself to be pushed around by the agency it oversees? Last month, Frederick A.O. Schwartz Jr., chief counsel for the Church Committee, wrote here, “Executive agencies and the White House—whichever party is in power—will always resist such efforts. They will stall, they will rely on secrecy, and—if Feinstein is right—they may even spy on Congress and illegally impede its lawful investigations. These obstructions must be overcome.”

And as The New Yorker’s Steve Coll has written, “Can the C.I.A., after a decade of fat budgets and swaggering prerogative, adjust to emboldened congressional oversight? Can Congress provide such oversight? And can the American people at last have the facts about the Bush Administration’s embrace of torture as national policy, carried out in their name?” Let’s hope so. If we refuse to admit, let alone acknowledge, what we’ve done, what’s to stop us from doing it again? Speaking to the Senate in a closed session in 1975, Sen. Church said, “We must remain a people who confront our mistakes and resolve not to repeat them. If we do not, we will decline. But if we do, our future will be worthy of the best of our past.”

Take Action: Demand a Senate Investigation into America’s Secret Government

Read Next: Rebecca Solnit pays tribute to Jonathan Schell.

New Surge in Death and Violence in Iraq—Eleven Years After We Took Baghdad

Baqouba, Iraq

Security forces inspect the scene of one of three suicide bombings in Baqouba, Iraq, March 3, 2010. (AP Photo)

In the wake of George W. Bush’s gaining serious treatment as an artist over the weekend, and being greeted warmly at NCAA basketball finals last night—even as we mark eleven years since the US took Baghdad (based on his lies)—there’s this today from Agence France-Presse:

Attacks in Iraq left 15 people dead Tuesday while security forces said they killed 25 militants near Baghdad amid worries insurgents are encroaching on the capital weeks ahead of elections.

The latest violence is part of a protracted surge in nationwide bloodshed that has left more than 2,400 people dead since the start of the year and sparked fears Iraq is slipping back into the all-out sectarian fighting that plagued it in 2006 and 2007.

The unrest has been driven principally by anger in the Sunni Arab community over alleged mistreatment at the hands of the Shiite-led government and security forces, as well as spillover from the civil war in neighboring Syria.

In Tuesday’s bloodiest incident, soldiers killed 25 militants in an ambush southwest of Baghdad, the capital’s security spokesman Brigadier General Saad Maan said. Elsewhere in Iraq on Tuesday, attacks north of the capital killed 15 people overall, security and medical officials said, including six members of the same family shot dead inside their home on the outskirts of the restive city of Mosul.

Near-daily bloodshed is part of a long list of voter concerns that also include lengthy power cuts, poor wastewater treatment, rampant corruption and high unemployment.

Looking through an article in The New York Times eleven years ago today (Baghdad would fall on April 9, 2003), one is struck by how many were already noting that we were not being greeted as liberators and that tough times were ahead, though none recognized the true scope of the problem (and the crime of the invasion to start with). “Chaos” and “looting” were also beginning, amid false US reports that “barrels” of chemical agents had been found, a possible “smoking gun,” as one official put it.

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Thomas Friedman, later rightly mocked for his prediction, over and over, for years, that things would be turning around there within six months, was pretty clear-eyed in a column titled ‘Hold Your Applause,” which closed with:

America broke Iraq; now America owns Iraq, and it owns the primary responsibility for normalizing it. If the water doesn’t flow, if the food doesn’t arrive, if the rains don’t come and if the sun doesn’t shine, it’s now America’s fault. We’d better get used to it, we’d better make things right, we’d better do it soon, and we’d better get all the help we can get.

Greg Mitchell’s new book on Iraq and media malpractice is So Wrong for So Long.

Read Next: Greg Mitchell: “Eleven Years Ago: Questions Arise About ‘Embedded’ Media Coverage of Our Iraq Invasion.”

Poll Finds Jury Still Out on de Blasio

Bil de Blasio

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

About half of New Yorkers approve of Bill de Blasio's performance so far in City Hall, but the new mayor has yet to prove his leadership in several areas, says a New York Times/Sienna College poll released today.

The poll found 49 percent approved of the mayor's work to date, while 31 percent disapproved and 19 percent said they didn't know. When it comes to his personal favorability, the numbers break 47/23/29 percent. Most believe he's focusing on issues that matter to people like them, and most feel he cares about their needs and problems “some” or “a lot.” Asked if they think voters made the right choice or a mistake in electing de Blasio, 59 percent said it's too early to say; among those who did weigh in, 26 percent thought they'd made a good choice and 13 percent thought the city made a mistake.

On housing, jobs, income inequality and the quality of public schools, more New Yorkers disapprove or de Blasio's work so far than approve. But when it comes to keeping New Yorkers safe, 70 percent say they approve of the job he's doing.

The glass-half-empty take on the numbers is that de Blasio's huge electoral mandate—he won 73 percent of the vote in November—has either vanished or was never there in the first place. But after the charter-school blow-up and the minor scandals of the first three months, it's not bad news that more New Yorkers like the job de Blasio's doing, like him personally, think his heart's in the right place and believe he's got crime (which was, in Joe Lhota's dark vision of the future, going to be his undoing) under control. The high numbers of undecideds are people the mayor still has a chance to convert. The city certainly hasn't turned against him.

The very fact that he has yet to measure up to people's expectations when it comes to the handling of income inequality indicates just how significant a vein of sentiment de Blasio's mayoral campaign tapped. There's always been the question of whether he raised expectations unrealistically high. But, 98 days in, he's got time to reach closer to that bar, and most New Yorkers are either on his side or withholding judgment.

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Of course, if de Blasio doesn't get better at closing the book on little scandals, doubt among some voters may harden into dissent. Yesterday the mayor—who made access to government documents a cause during his stint as public advocate—was asked about City Hall's delay in responding to a freedom of information law (FOIL) request for documents related to his contact with the police department after a prominent supporter was arrested. De Blasio's answer:

You know, the FOIL process – I am not a lawyer – but you know, the FOIL process is delineated and is pursued whenever a request comes in. You know, what we have said to our team is we’re going to process those, get the answer back. Obviously, if at any point a journalist or any other organization isn’t comfortable with the outcome of the FOIL request, there is an appeals process. So I’m not familiar with the details of it, but that’s the way it works.

The jury may be out on de Blasio in general, but when it comes to that answer, I'm going to render a bench verdict of “lame!"


Read Next: Michelle Goldberg tracks the "Rise of the Progressive City"

An Important Lesson From Right-Wing Science Dude

Tom Tomorrow

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Writing, Prestige and Other Things That Don’t Pay the Rent


(Reuters/Mark Blinch)

“Does journalism fit into capitalism?” That is “the question of the hour,” according to Manjula Martin, a freelance writer and editor, whom I interviewed last week. Martin has carved out a space for discussing the economic landscape for writers through her online database, Who Pays Writers?, and the digital magazine, Scratch, that she co-founded with Jane Friedman.

Who Pays Writers was born out of an online conversation between Martin and other writers who were commenting on publications that ask for donations or run advertisements, but don’t pay contributors. Martin herself had been frustrated recently by an experience in which she had gone through all the work of pitching an article, only to find out that the publication expected writers to work for free. “I was being very flippant, but I said, do we need a list?” she recalls.

The response was positive, and Martin set up a Tumblr, providing freelancers a space to self-report the rates they’ve received from publications ranging from The New Yorker and USA Today to Marie Clare and Pet Business. The site now contains thousands of reports, most depressingly meager, each a snapshot of the state of the industry from the point of view of freelancers. Over all, Martin says, writers can expect to earn about $100–250 for online articles at the big publications (The Atlantic, Salon, The Nation). The rates are higher for print, where many publications still pay by the word, and lower for book reviews and literary journals. (Martin emphasized that the data she collects is self-reported by writers and is not verified by publications. Salon declined to comment for this article. I reached out to The Atlantic for comment, but did not hear back before publication.)

Scratch came next. “Everyone really loved Who Pays Writers,” Martin says, “but people wanted more context.” The magazine provides that context, going deeper into the publishing economy with round-table discussions between editors, advice on negotiation techniques and contracts language, and first-person accounts of the freelancing life from successful writers. In the spirit of Martin’s commitment to transparency, each issue concludes with an accounting of the relationships between the writers and editors, the demographics of the writers and the amount of money each contributor was paid. (Full disclosure: Martin has commissioned me to write an essay for the next issue of Scratch for $200.)

For Martin, transparency is the first step to improving the situation of freelance writers. Fifteen dollars per hour has become a rallying cry for service workers, but what is a fair standard for writers? “We don’t even have a basic sort of understanding of what standards would be like for a freelance workforce, let alone what pay rates would be like,” she says. “I think we need that base first.” She points to a need for her freelance “co-workers” to be more educated: “Not understanding how the finances of our industry work—who is that bad for? It’s probably not as bad for the people cutting the checks as it is for the people receiving the checks.”

And it is bad for the people receiving the checks. The answer to Martin’s question about journalism existing in capitalism is, of course, that journalism does exist in capitalism, and capitalism is kicking journalists’ asses. The same goes for editors, and for many publications.

Last week, the Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project released its annual report on the state of the news media, which examines the continuing struggles of news outlets to hit upon a sustainable (let alone profitable) model for generating revenue. Pew’s report quantified the rapid growth of jobs in digital reporting, but also noted the continuing decline of jobs in print media. While job growth is good news for writers, the new hiring does not replace all the jobs that have been lost in the massive layoffs that have been occurring for a decade in print. Many print publications are also unionized, and very few of the writers at born-digital outlets are organized (the staff of Truthout is one of the few exceptions to this rule).  This translates into less job security, and individual instead of collective contracts for writers, making it harder to prevent the kind of downward competition that drives standards lower.

In another sign of capitalism’s effect on journalism, Digiday reported last week that Entertainment Weekly, which is owned by Time Inc., will be establishing a “contributor network” where bloggers will be “compensated in the form of prestige, access to the brand’s editors and a huge potential readership audience.” Presitge, of course, is worth even less than dogecoin when it comes to paying rent, and just one week later, Hollywood Reporter broke the news that Entertainment Weekly is laying off longtime critics and writers Owen Gleiberan, Nick Catucci and Annie Barret. If you don’t see the connection between these two moves, you’re not paying attention.

Meanwhile, media observer and journalist Jim Romenesko reported last week that the Northeast Ohio Media Group, which operates Cleveland.com, is instituting a “zero–tolerance policy for typos,” and its content chief has suggested that reporters enlist their spouses in helping them avoid mistakes. A frustrated reporter wrote to Romenesko that such a move was predictable because there are no copy editors on the digital side of the news operation, and “an entire layer of editors” has been laid off. As labor historian Jacob Remes put it on Twitter, what’s really happening here could be headlined, “Publisher demands labor that used to be done by paid copy editors be done by unpaid wives.”

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Earlier this month, writer Yasmin Nair shook up leftist academic circles in an essay arguing that “those who write for free or very little simply because they can afford to are scabs.” Nair’s statement provoked much debate among writers who are trying to navigate an industry that increasingly demands unpaid work and has been successful in getting its way. Many objected to Nair’s definition of “scab,” which seems to me both beside the point and unresolvable. (I worked for a labor union for four years and witnessed many discussions between organizers and workers with far more experience about the true definition of a scab. Some of us called anyone who crossed a picket line—worker or customer—a scab. Others reserved it for replacement workers during a strike. Some contend that it really applies only to union members who work during strikes. When in doubt, don’t cross a picket line.)

For Martin, the debate hits home. “I worry about that on a very personal level,” she says. “Every time I write something for free, somebody else gets paid less or offered less. I think that’s true, and I don’t think anyone is disputing that in this argument.” But she understands why people do it, and instead of having writers focus on one another, she wants to point the conversation back to understanding the economic system and arming writers with information. “To me the data is just the first step,” she says. “It’s always interesting to me when people really just want the numbers. But the numbers have stories around them and the stories around them are the important thing. Hopefully a group of workers who are at heart story tellers can figure out a way to talk about it.”


Read Next: Michelle Chen outlines the problems with the tipped minimum wage.

Chris Hayes on Paternity Leave: ‘Take Some Time With Your Frickin’ Kid’

Chris Hayes

New York Mets second baseman David Murphy was harshly criticized in the sports media this week. His crime? Murphy missed two games for the birth of his first child. The issue was humorously addresed on All in With Chris Hayes by guest host Joy Reid, joined via telephone by Hayes, who was himself on paternity leave. The irony of the situation was not lost on him. "There's actually a nice, tight analogy here between cable news and baseball," he said. "They play 162 games, OK? He's going to miss three games, which is, by the way, in the collective bargaining agreement that the union negotiated." Hayes had no sympathy for the "neanderthalish" views of sportscasters like Boomer Esiason and Mike Francesa. "Take some time with your frickin’ kid and take some time with the partner in your life who brought the kid into the world" he said. "That actually is part of being a man."
Dustin Christensen

Brown Students and Workers Unite to Convince the University to Boycott an Exploitative Hotel

Renaissance protest

Santa Brito and her coworkers picket outside the Providence Renaissance Hotel. (Photo courtesy of Unite Here Local 217)

Santa Brito, a housekeeper at the Renaissance Hotel in Providence, Rhode Island, was cleaning rooms the day her water broke. “I was afraid,” she said. “I kept working throughout my pregnancy because people said the company was very aggressive.” Raquel Cruz, also a housekeeper, told The Nation that managers at the Renaissance refused to give her and other pregnant women light duty, even when their doctors ordered it. “At thirty to thirty-five weeks, they still want you to do the same job, the same number of rooms. And you have to keep working because otherwise you lose your job.” A week after giving birth, Brito called the hotel. “They told me they didn’t know when I could come back to work.… They told me they couldn’t guarantee my job.” A week later she was fired.

In 2011, the Renaissance gained some unwanted notoriety when Joey DeFrancesco quit his job at the hotel with the help of his bandmates in the What Cheer? Brigade. A video of Joey’s raucous exit has 4.3 million views on YouTube. “They were stealing our tip money, paying us poverty wages, making us work double or triple shifts,” DeFrancesco told The Nation. “When I quit, I didn’t want to go quietly.” Last March, in response to this ongoing cycle of abuse, 75 percent of Renaissance workers signed a petition demanding a fair process to join a union. Since then, they’ve held informational pickets outside the hotel almost every Wednesday. The Renaissance—owned by the Procaccianti Group—has responded with an intense anti-union campaign. Raquel’s husband, Marino Cruz, who also works at the Renaissance, says that as soon as the workers went public with their demands, the managers “started attacking the leaders. Giving them more work. And looking for excuses to fire them.”

On December 4, the workers escalated their campaign by declaring a boycott. “Our bodies suffer from the work yet we live on the edge of poverty,” the workers’ statement read. “We ask all people of good conscience not to patronize the Renaissance Hotel until we are able to work and live with dignity.” The Unitarian Universalist Association, which had intended to have its convention at the Renaissance, canceled 847 reservations. Local politicians voiced their support. And last week, thanks to the combined efforts of students and hotel workers, the Brown University Community Council (BUCC) voted to discourage the Brown community from patronizing the Renaissance.

Since the fall, members of Brown’s Student Labor Alliance (SLA) had been marching with Renaissance workers on the picket lines, providing a welcome burst of energy to the weekly demonstrations. But when the boycott started, students hatched a plan to use Brown’s clout in the Providence hospitality industry—the university brings thousands of parents, alumni and visiting scholars to the city each year—to support the workers’ effort. “We have certain leverage at Brown to transform the everyday lives of working people in our community,” says Mariela Martinez, a senior SLA member who goes by the name Mar, “We have to use it.”

Moving fast, SLA members drafted a resolution in support of the boycott and secured a spot for the issue on the agenda at the next BUCC meeting in February. They invited workers from the Renaissance to attend and share their stories. It’s part of SLA’s job, Martinez says, to force the administration to confront the lived experiences of people who they might otherwise see as nothing more than the service they provide. “It’s really easy to be stuck in an office on College Hill, and not be touched by these stories,” she told The Nation. “What student labor alliance does is bring the human aspect of the workers’ lives and stories to the forefront.”

Since Procaccianti bought the hotel in late 2012, those stories have only gotten worse. For months, workers complained to managers that new cleaning chemicals were burning and irritating their hands and faces. Nothing was done. Then an OSHA investigation revealed that the hotel had been using faulty spray bottles with mismatched tops and providing poor hand protection. Noxious chemicals were spilling all over workers’ skin. When I spoke with Raquel Cruz, she showed me burn marks still visible on her hands. Her husband Marino said coworkers exposed to the chemicals were still getting rashes and nosebleeds. The hotel was fined $8000 for the OSHA violations.

At the meeting in February, the students presented their case for a resolution in support of the boycott—citing a similar measure passed in 2011 during a labor dispute at a unionized hotel. Santa Brito, who has become one of the fiercest leaders in the hotel since getting her job back (with the help of the Department of Labor), told her story. She lifted her sleeves to show the burn marks on her forearms. She talked about her child. But either because the students had gotten on the agenda too late and had already used up their time; or because the councilmembers, unable to understand Brito’s rapid Dominican Spanish, couldn’t adequately gauge the gravity of what she was saying; or because of something else, more tragic and obvious than either of those, the facilitator of the meeting—President Christina Paxson herself—interrupted Brito and said they would have to table the matter for another time. The meeting ended without a vote.

Many SLA members were outraged. They felt as though the council had deliberately marginalized Brito and her story. But they were also galvanized. “You have to go through the official channels,” Martinez explained, “Not because you believe they will work, but because when they don’t work, it shows how corrupt the system is.” That moment “when Santa was cut off,” Martinez said, “was a concrete demonstration of how workers’ stories are brushed to the side at Brown.” Over the course of the next month, SLA went outside the “official channels,” passing out hundreds of leaflets at Brown’s extravagant 250th Anniversary events, getting media coverage on campus and raising awareness. They collected hundreds of petition signatures and met with individual members of the BUCC to win their support.

In early March, there was another BUCC meeting. SLA packed the room with supporters. Once again, workers came and shared their stories, adding to the ever-growing list of grievances against the Procaccianti Group. (A pending NLRB complaint contends that the hotel’s anti-union tactics violate the NLRA.) And this time, after some nitpicking over the language, the council voted almost unanimously in support of the resolution, which “encourages the Brown community to take all appropriate measures to avoid holding any events at the Renaissance during the current labor dispute.”

The resolution does not use the words “union” or “boycott.” Marisa Quinn, Brown’s vice president for public affairs, told The Nation that the resolution merely requires the university to “provide information” so that “visitors can make individual choices regarding hotel options.” She affirmed, however, that Brown’s events services and purchasing department “will refrain from using the hotel” until the dispute is resolved. Quinn, the only person on the council who did not support the resolution, says she “would have preferred to wait until after the NLRB review” to take action.

Still, the resolution is a victory. And the workers are grateful. “The students have supported us an incredible mount,” said Marino Cruz. “They’ve really had our backs, and we’re ready to support them in whatever fight comes.” This idea of reciprocity, of fighting each other’s fights was something I heard again and again from workers at the Renaissance. It’s a labor movement thing (an injury to one…), but it has a different resonance when applied to the relationship of solidarity between low-wage service industry workers and students at an Ivy League college.

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Martinez, who comes from a working-class family in South-Central Los Angeles, was sheepish when I told her about all the gratitude expressed by Marino and Raquel Cruz. “Whenever they say stuff like that, we say, ‘No it’s actually all of you that inspire us, we’re doing the little bits that we can, but the reason we do this is that we’re already so astonished by the work that you are doing.’” Martinez feels this especially strongly about the Renaissance workers. “They are facing real intimidation on a daily basis.… We’re just going to class and going to meetings. We’re not in any real danger.”

But Marino Cruz doesn’t see it that way, “They may go to a wealthy university and live different lives than us, but they have noble hearts, they have pure hearts. They are fighters, just like us.”

For his part, DeFrancesco has sought to use his erstwhile YouTube fame to amplify the message of the Renaissance workers, maintaining a website where service workers across the country can share their stories of abuse and resistance. “The organizing my co-workers continue to do is obviously way braver and far more important than the viral stunt I pulled,” he told The Nation, “Fighting—not quitting—is what actually wins better working conditions.”


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