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Has Social Media Numbed Us to Images of War?

Russian Ukraine Border

Russian Soldier near Ukranian border. (Reuters/Baz Ratner)

With so many wars and crises now exploding across the globe, New York Times media columnist David Carr looks at how social media are changing how the public and journalists themselves experience violence and tragedy. How is news digested when it’s new down to the second? Does the immediacy of the reporting from Gaza or Ukraine or Syria make us more involved, or does the onslaught of information result in more war fatigue, disaster fatigue, or any of the other fatigues rampant in a busy consumer society like ours?

“Bearing witness is the oldest and perhaps most valuable tool in the journalist’s arsenal,” Carr writes,

but it becomes something different delivered in the crucible of real time, without pause for reflection. It is unedited, distributed rapidly and globally, and immediately responded to by the people formerly known as the audience .

It has made for a more visceral, more emotional approach to reporting. War correspondents arriving in a hot zone now provide an on-the-spot moral and physical inventory that seems different from times past. That emotional content, so noticeable when Anderson Cooper was reporting from the Gulf Coast during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, has now become routine, part of the real-time picture all over the web. …

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The public has developed an expectation that it will know exactly what a reporter knows every single second, and news organizations are increasingly urging their correspondents to use social media to tell their stories—and to extend their brand. (Unless the reporter says something dumb. Then, not so much.)

Carr quotes Susan Sontag from a 2002 New Yorker essay on “the perennial seductiveness of war.”

“Making suffering loom larger, by globalizing it, may spur people to feel they ought to ‘care’ more,” she wrote. “It also invites them to feel that the sufferings and misfortunes are too vast, too irrevocable, too epic to be much changed by any local, political intervention.”

So now that war comes to us in real time, do we feel helpless or empowered? Do we care more, or will the ubiquity of images and information desensitize us to the point where human suffering loses meaning when it is part of a scroll that includes a video of your niece twerking ? Oh, we say as our index finger navigates to the next item, another one of those .

Of course, it’s not an either/or. One person can both care and be emotionally numb within a day or a second. Either way, as Carr writes, “When a trigger gets pulled or bombs explode, real people are often on the wrong end of it. And bearing witness to the consequences gives meaning to what we see.”

 

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A Bill to Get the Labor Movement Back on Offense

Workers Protest

Public sector workers rallying in solidarity with Wisconsin workers outside Los Angeles City Hall (AP Photo/Jason Redmond)

For years, the American labor movement has been on the defensive as it has become harder and harder for workers to join or maintain a union. But some House Democrats are planning a dramatic counter-offensive: a bill that would make union organizing a civil right.

Representatives Keith Ellison and John Lewis plan to introduce a bill Wednesday that would make labor organizing a basic freedom no different than freedom from racial discrimination. That sounds like a nice talking point—but this isn’t just another messaging bill.

The Ellison-Lewis legislation would amend the National Labor Relations Act to include protections found under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to include labor organizing as a fundamental right. That would give workers a broader range of legal options if they feel discriminated against for trying to form a union.

Currently, their only redress is through a grievance with the National Labor Relations Board—an important process, but one that workers and labor analysts frequently criticize as both too slow and often too lenient on offending employers.

If the NLRA were amended, however, after 180 days a worker could take his or her labor complaint from the NLRB to a federal court. This is how the law works now for civil rights complaints, which gives workers the option, after 180 days, to step outside the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission process.

Then, workers would have sole discretion on whether to push a complaint, as opposed to relying on a decision by the NLRB on whether to forge ahead. Workers could also move the process along much faster than the NLRB handles complaints, which can often take years.

Ellison told The Nation that the legislation would also help workers recover more money—the NLRB will award back pay to a grieved worker minus whatever they earned while awaiting a decision, which can often amount to basically nothing. “[The NLRB] remedy, though useful and very important, and nothing in our legislation changes that, that remedy is considered slow and somewhat inadequate. For some of these union-busting law firms, [they] will say ‘so do it and we’ll just pay.’”

Ellison said he believes the labor movement needs to get back on the offensive. “With the Supreme Court in here, and what they just did in Harris v. Quinn and all the things they wrote about Abood, it’s insane to hope for the best,” he said, referring to the recent decision involving non-union public workers and their fee arrangements with unions. “I mean this Supreme Court is openly hostile to racial justice and worker justice simultaneously. So we better be moving out on both fronts.”

Ellison told MSNBC, which first reported the bill, that he got the idea from a book by Century Foundation fellows Richard Kahlenberg and Moshe Marvit, titled Why Union Organizing Should Be a Civil Right. They argue that the First Amendment’s right to free association should clearly include one of the most crucial forms of association—banding together to push back against unfair treatment from employers.

Marvit told The Nation he thinks treating labor organizing as a civil right is not only constitutionally appropriate but also much more appealing to the general public. “Civil rights is something that Americans really understand, and has a legitimacy that is sort of beyond reproach,” he said. “So when you put it in civil rights terms, it’s something that really speaks to people.” (In the interest of full disclosure, Marvit has written for The Nation in the past.)

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“Frankly, I think Republicans have been saying it on the other side. That’s been the message of the National Right to Work Committee for sixty years, that workers have a civil right not to join a union,” Marvit continued. “And I think that’s been a successful argument for them. It taps into this notion of your freedom to choose.”

The Nation has learned that when Ellison and Lewis introduce the bill on Wednesday morning, they will boast eleven other original co-sponsors: Representatives Jerrold Nadler, John Conyers, Marcia Fudge, Barbara Lee, Mark Takano, Rush Holt, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Karen Bass, Danny Davis, Albio Sires and Janice Hahn. All of the co-sponsors are Democrats.

Major unions will also be on board. Both the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win coalition will back the bill, along with The United Food and Commercial Workers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Joseph Geevarghese, deputy director of Change to Win, told The Nation that his union was joining the push “because union organizing has been maligned. Unions have been maligned in our society. There is a value in re-defining what all of these tens of thousands of brave workers are doing as, “We have a fundamental right to stand up and speak out about injustice in this country.’”

 

Read Next: Why are postal workers boycotting Staples?

Why Are Postal Workers Boycotting Staples?

Office Superstore Staples

(Mike Mozart, cc 2.0)

You might not consider your local post office to be a hotbed of political foment. But last Tuesday, the nation’s window clerks and other mail service staff assembled in Chicago to declare that, despite efforts in Washington to privatize and downsize the Postal Service, nothing would keep these workers from their appointed rounds.

Rallying with the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) under the banner of “The US Mail is Not For Sale,” post office workers marched to protest recent moves by the office superstore Staples. The chain is at the center of a highly controversial “public-private partnership” deal to turn its store counters into quasi-post offices. At the APWU convention, the union amped up its call for a nationwide boycott of Staples to oppose plans to pilot the so-called “Retail Expansion Plan” at eighty-two stores in California, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, and potentially expand nationwide.

Following weeks of postal workers’ campaigning, with support from the AFL-CIO and numerous public and private service-worker unions, Staples has apparently pulled back and announced that the expansion plan would be ended and incorporated into the existing “Approved Shipper” program, which more generally allows private retailers to market certain postal products. In an e-mail to The Nation, Staples states the company has ended the pilot for now, but “will continue to explore and test products and services that meet our customers’ needs.”

Calling the move a “ruse”—merely a name-change to deflect bad publicity—union leaders vowed to keep up the resistance. They remain wary of the potential expansion of the Approved Shipper program, seeing it as part of the USPS administration’s agenda of selling out postal infrastructure and union jobs to the Big Box retail industry.

In theory, the union supports making postal services more available—just not when those services come at the cost of the postal workforce. In analysis of the Staples plan published in April, APWU President Mark Dimondstein stated, “The APWU favors expanding service. But postal services must be provided by highly-trained uniformed employees of the U.S. Postal Service—whether it’s at the Post Office or Staples.”

Though many details of the plan were not disclosed publicly, internal and business documents indicate that the Retail Expansion Plan extended a trend toward commercialization by expanding privately managed postal access points and using Staples employees to take on traditional “window duties.” This would go far beyond offering products like stamps and boxes over the counter—a service that is already available at tens of thousands of private businesses nationwide—to actually replace postal jobs.

The USPS has already privatized a chunk of its retail and delivery infrastructure. Thousands of privately contracted postal outlets nationwide currently work under a special public-private revenue sharing arrangement. The USPS’s corporate delivery deals have gained more public attention, ceding critical market share through partnerships with logistics giants like Fed Ex, UPS and, recently, Amazon.

The potential impact of the Staples retail partnership was illustrated in San Francisco, where, according to the APWU, service cuts have coincided with the expansion of services at nearby Staples stores. In a May statement, following cuts to customer service hours at over half of local post office stations, San Francisco Local president Geoffray Dumaguit said, “They’re shutting the doors at 5pm and posting signs sending people to private locations—including Staples—to conduct postal business. This will inconvenience and irritate our customers, who often need to visit a post office after work.”

Postal workers raise concerns about both job and service quality. The APWU cites information on the deal revealed in a recent National Labor Relations Board hearing (along with a heavily redacted agreement) showing that “packages dropped off at Staples stores will be placed in unsecured containers” and not “considered ‘mail’” until received by the USPS, meaning that it lacks a level of federal protection. It also notes that the Staples employees would receive only a fraction of the amount of training that official postal clerks undergo, without completing the same background checks and would not be bound by a postal oath of duty. Staples retail associates might make as little as $9 per hour, compared to $25 per hour for a typical postal worker. The company could also purchase USPS products at a discount and resell them retail at full price, for a hefty profit.

Advocates have also challenged the USPS’s argument that expanding access to postal services via Staples would improve overall access. According to an analysis on Savethepostoffice.org by Steve Hutkins, “There are over 1,200 post offices within two miles of a Staples store”—a sign that additional outlets at Staples could be redundant. Unless, of course, the clandestine aim was to close “redundant” post office branches and allow Staples to corporatize postal retail work.

Hutkins tells The Nation via e-mail: “The fact [is] that the leadership of the Postal Service—along with many in Congress and the mailing industry—would like the USPS to get out of the retail end of the postal business. The Staples idea was just the latest attempt.”

In light of past public statements by the USPS suggesting parallels between the Retail Expansion Plan and the more explicitly privatized Contract Postal Units, the program appears to reflect the agenda laid out in a 2012 internal memo describing an “Approved Shipper Plus” program: that plan’s stated purpose was to help “determine if lower costs can be realized with retail partner labor instead of the labor traditionally associated with retail windows at Post Office.”

The Staples initiative grew out of a longstanding push for postal privatization that began in the 1970s and intensified in the Reagan edddra, as Washington pushed to replace government functions with “free enterprise” solutions. In recent years, the USPS’s financial turmoil—driven in large part by pension funding gaps that many see as the artificial product of budget manipulation—postal officials have schemed of programs to consolidate postal outlets and incrementally shrink the (allegedly overpaid and bloated) workforce.

In its 2013 report to Congress, the USPS boasted, “To improve efficiency and reduce costs, we consolidated 143 mail-processing facilities, eliminated 1,847 delivery routes, and…reduced the size of our career workforce by more than 37,400 employees during the year” through attrition, and at the same time, “the Approved Shipper program increased its annual revenue by 57 percent.” Closures of government-run post offices have numbered about 100 annually in the past four decades.

Mark Jamison, a former postmaster and now postal labor activist, says via e-mail about a combination of eroding retail operations and contracting out critical functions, “Privatization is coming through a thousand little nudges and cuts, not through a grand gesture—it will sneak in, is sneaking in through the back door.”

The response to creeping privatization has been clamorous labor mobilization. The Staples boycott campaign draws on the USPS’s legacy of providing a relatively equitable, meritocratic labor structure to marginalized groups, particularly black workers, due to early adoption of non-discrimination employment practices. The APWU also appealed to customers who see their post offices as pillars of their communities. As an institution and civil service, postal labor still holds considerable political leverage.

The American Federation of Teachers, representing another embattled public professional workforce, also recently voted to join the boycott. So educators across the country could potentially deny Staples of a major chunk of its back-to-school supply business.

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Meanwhile, Staples faces financial troubles as well, even shuttering an estimated 225 of its own stores. Perhaps from a business standpoint, the corporation’s recent walkback on the partnership points to growing fear that, with a boycott, the program might hurt its bottom line more than it helps.

So, even if free-market forces threaten to ravage the postal service, your neighborhood postal clerk can still compete on brand. “The postal network is useful and essential infrastructure,” Jamison argues, and in the long run, “the current efforts are akin to privatizing the highway system, or eliminating any oversight over utilities.”

In recent years, communities have turned out to defend their local post offices from closures, with grassroots petitions and protests to preserve one of the last pillars of our communications infrastructure that truly belongs to the public. The solidarity between community and labor suggests that, on top of concerns about losing the social services of a highly trusted institution, both customers and workers see value in a public organization that offers a living wage and a strong union. The civic investment embodied in the postal seal still delivers a moral dividend that no corporation can match.

 

Read Next: Poor parents need work-life balance too

Did Hillary Clinton Just Join the Neocons on Iran Policy?

Hillary Clinton

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

Did Hillary Clinton just throw in with the neoconservatives and the Israel lobby on the key sticking point in the Iran-P5+1 talks—namely, whether and how much Iran may enrich uranium on its own soil? In her appearance yesterday on Fareed Zakaria’s GPS program on CNN, it sure looks like it. Unless she misspoke, she said explicitly that she favors the idea of “so little enrichment or no enrichment,” a view that outright contradicts the position of the White House and the State Department, who’ve long ago agreed that Iran can maintain a civilian enrichment program to produce fuel for its current nuclear reactors and for a planned expansion of its nuclear program in the future.

In the interview, Zakaria notes that Iran argues that it has “the right to enrich just like every country that has a peaceful nuclear program,” and he then adds: “The Israeli position, as I understand it, is no, zero enrichment.” (Unfortunately, Zakaria doesn’t make clear that Iran, the United States and the P5+1 have all agreed that Iran may indeed continue to enrich uranium under the terms of whatever final accord is reached.) Clinton responds that she “worked very hard and led our efforts to get the sanctions” on Iran, and she adds:

I believe strongly that it’s really important for there to be so little enrichment or no enrichment, at least for a long period of time.

Since the talks have long ago passed the point at which “no enrichment” is part of the discussion, Clinton’s comments are confusing at best, besides being provocative and counterproductive. The main sticking point in the talks, whose first round concluded on July 20 and which have now been extended for four more months, concerns Iran’s civilian program and how many centrifuges, of what kind, with what capacity and producing how great a stockpile of low-enriched, non-weapons-grade uranium Iran may produce. By all accounts, concluding an agreement that satisfied both Iran and all of the P5+1’s members (the five members of the UN Security Council, including United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and the plus-one, Germany) is within reach.

On July 22, the State Department released a detailed summary of what’s been agreed to so far and what’s been accomplished already in the talks. In it, the State Department notes that already Iran “has carried out the very significant commitments it made, and has taken steps to address the international community’s greatest concerns.” In case you haven’t been following the talks closely, here’s the lengthy list of what’s already occurred as part of the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) agreed to in January. Iran, says the State Department, has already:

Halted production of near-20 percent enriched uranium and disabled the configuration of the centrifuge cascades Iran had been using to produce it; completed the dilution of half of its near-20 percent enriched uranium stockpile that was in hexafluoride form, and the conversion of the rest to an oxide form not suitable for further enrichment; capped its stockpile of 5 percent enriched uranium; has not enriched uranium in roughly half of installed centrifuges at Natanz, including all next generation centrifuges, and three-quarters of installed centrifuges at Fordow; limited its centrifuge production to those needed to replace damaged machines, so Iran was not able to use the six-month JPOA period to stockpile centrifuges; did not construct additional enrichment facilities; did not go beyond its enrichment R&D practices that were in place at the start of the JPOA.

In addition, says the State Department, Iran has taken significant steps to resolve the conflict over its light-water reactor at Arak, and it has avoided taking steps to build facilities for reconverting neutralized, 20 percent enriched uranium back into a form that might be further enriched. All of this represents positive accomplishments and signs of good will for the future talks.

Clinton’s unfortunate decision to associate herself with the no-enrichment idea is likely pure politics, designed to insulate herself from criticism from Republican and neoconservative hawks in preparation for her presidential bid. Needless to say, by the time she’s inaugurated in 2017, the Iran-P5+1 talks will be long concluded, and barring an unexpected reversal Iran and the United States may have reached a parallel accord to re-establish diplomatic relations and reopen embassies in Washington and Tehran. And the onerous sanctions on Iran will be in the process of gradually being phased out in concert with Iran’s implementation of whatever final accord is struck. However, by parroting the hawks and, as Zakaria notes, Israel’s view, Clinton will only strengthen the clamor in Congress and elsewhere in opposition to the Obama administration’s deal-making.

On Capitol Hill, various members of Congress are competing with each other to design monkey wrenches to throw into the machinery of the talks. None are likely to be successful. None of these measures is likely to get though the Senate, and were one to do so, President Obama will certainly veto it. But that’s not stopping the hawks, including several Democrats, from posturing. As reported by Al Monitor, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) is one of several senators demanding that Congress get the right to approve (read: vote down) a final agreement, while Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) is backing legislation that would make it difficult or impossible for the United States to relax its sanctions regime as part of a deal. And Mr. Shutdown, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), has a bill requiring “immediate re-implementation of sanctions, additional enforcement mechanisms, and an end to the failed negotiations.”

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Despite trumpeting from the elephants in the peanut gallery, virtually the entire American establishment and nearly all media outlets (such as USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and even The Washington Post) support the extension of the talks, although The Wall Street Journal predictably joins the hawks.

But, as Secretary of State John Kerry said last week in announcing the extension of the talks:

We do so mindful not just of where we hope to arrive, but of how far we have come. One year ago, few would have predicted that Iran would have kept all its commitments under a first step nuclear agreement, and that we would be actively negotiating a long-term comprehensive agreement. Now we have four additional months to determine the next miles of this difficult diplomatic journey. Let’s all commit to seize this moment, and to use the additional time to make the fundamental choices necessary to conclude a comprehensive agreement that makes the entire world a safer place.

 

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Great War: The Insane and Familiar ‘War Madness’ of 1914

Citizens of Budapest

Citizens of Budapest read about the Austro-Hungarian mobilization just after the declaration of war in late July 1914. (Imperial War Museum)

After noting the assassination of Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and declaring that it was concern for the emperor which, as a consequence of the crime, “first makes appeal,” The Nation allowed several weeks to pass without comment about the political fallout of the deed. Lead editorials instead focused on the situations in Mexico, Haiti and Albania (ultimately connected to broader European conflict, but perhaps not obviously so just yet). With what now appears mordant irony, a scholar named H.W. Horwill—later known for his Dictionary of Modern American Usage—mused, in a laconic dispatch from London dated July 10, on the difficulties of prediction in politics. “Wars and rumors of wars,” Horwill wrote, “afford abundant opportunity for lucky and unlucky shots, metaphorically as well as literally.”

By the issue dated July 30, however, prediction was no longer the name of the game, and The Nation could no longer ignore the conflict already threatening to tear Europe apart—disturbingly suddenly, if along predictable seams.

On July 23 the Austrian ambassador to Serbia submitted the Dual Monarchy’s ultimatum: Serbia must crack down on the nationalist networks responsible for the archduke’s assassination, as well as allow an unprecedented level of meddling by Austria in Serbia’s internal affairs. The terms were impossible for Serbia to accept, and were designed to be so; militaristic elements in the Austrian government had long desired a conflict with Serbia, and the primary proponent of peace in that government, the archduke, was now dead. Serbia rejected the ultimatum. Austria rejected British offers to negotiate a resolution and, on July 28, declared war.

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“A crisis of extreme gravity has developed in the European situation,” the first sentence of The Nation’s July 30 issue solemnly observed. A subsequent note picked up the thread:

A few pages later readers found the magazine’s full editorial on the subject, written (without a byline, as most articles were then) by Rollo Ogden, the same editor of The Nation’s then-parent publication, The New York Evening-Post, who had previously written about Franz Ferdinand’s assassination. The editorial gives an incredible sense of Americans in July 1914 looking in horror at the precipitate escalation of tensions on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

(Bishop Joseph Butler, for the record, was a widely read eighteenth-century English theologian and philosopher who influenced David Hume and Adam Smith. In a late essay, Matthew Arnold praised Butler’s “sacred horror at men’s frivolity.”)

As if in apology for having not kept its readers updated on the developing story for the last four weeks, The Nation’s editorial continued:

The editorial concludes with an unmistakable allusion to the first sentence of the Declaration of Independence:

Back Issues is following this magazine’s coverage of the “Great War”—in real time, a century later.

Curious about how we covered something? E-mail me at rkreitner@thenation.com. Subscribers to The Nation can access our fully searchable digital archive, which contains thousands of historic articles, essays and reviews, letters to the editor and editorials dating back to July 6, 1865.

 

Read Next: Is Ukraine the anvil of the new Cold War?

Poor Parents Need Work-Life Balance Too

Tiffany Beroid

Tiffany Beroid, a member of OUR Walmart, maintains Walmart retaliated against her by cutting hours after she requested a schedule change. (Courtesy of OUR Walmart)

The recent reports of moms getting arrested for leaving their kids unattended while they work or go to a job interview shows the reality of “work-life balance” when you’re living paycheck to paycheck. The burden for many low-wage hourly workers isn’t seeking balance, it’s walking a tightrope. Millions of workers have nonstandard schedules, irregular shifts or on-call jobs without set hours, so they scramble from shift to shift, from daycare to night classes, or anxiously call in each day in hopes of getting a few hours of work. Having no control over your work schedule means your boss controls not only how much you’re paid but how much time you spend with your kids.

Labor advocates are calling for workplace policies that give workers more stable schedules and more control over their hours. Now Washington may step in with legislation to check the volatility of the daily grind.

The “Schedules that Work” bill (introduced by Representatives George Miller and Rosa DeLauro and Senators Tom Harkin and Elizabeth Warren) is the proletarian answer to the workplace “flex” policies that are common in corporate offices. After all, poor parents need flexibility more than anyone, as they cope with the chaos of economic hardship and work unstable jobs with few benefits..

The bill provides workers a so-called “right to request,” or the ability to engage in a dialogue with their boss about a schedule change ahead of time, without fear of retaliation. In some cases, the employer would be mandated to accommodate a family or medical issue. Shift and on-call workers in some low-wage industries would also gain protections against arbitrary schedule changes.

Middle-class professionals may regularly negotiate work time through flexible work arrangements, generous paid leave time and telecommuting options. But in industries like retail chains or fast food, where “just in time” production systems require round-the-clock processing and sales, part-time and shift workers struggle between not getting enough hours to earn a living wage, and having to work whatever shift their manager dumps on them at any hour. Survey data shows that about half of hourly wage workers lack control over their work schedules.

Unless they can persuade their boss to accommodate their needs, a volatile schedule can destabilize their family lives. Parents struggle to find last-minute babysitting arrangements to take a shift, or they may be unable to enroll in a regular daycare that requires up-front monthly payments, since their income varies week to week.

A punishing work schedule derailed Tiffany Beroid’s whole career path. She was trying to hold down a full-time position as a customer service manager at a Walmart in Maryland, while studying to be a nurse. But when she asked for a schedule change to allow her to juggle her school and work duties, she tells The Nation, the management was less than family friendly: “[Walmart] retaliated by cutting my hours. So even though I was full-time in the system, I was receiving nineteen or twenty-five hours some weeks, maybe forty hours if I was lucky, once a month.”

Her situation was further complicated by her pregnancy, which caused blood pressure problems that prompted her to request light duty at work—on her doctor’s advice. Then, she says, the management abruptly forced her to take unpaid leave, and the strain on her family eventually forced her to drop out of school.

Under the Schedules that Work Act, workers like Beroid would be entitled to a schedule change if their request related to health, family caregiving duties, another job they are working or an educational or training program. The employer could refuse for “bona fide business reasons,” according to an analysis by think tank Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), but they would in any case have to consult with the employee “in a timely, interactive process.”

Workers in certain industries where shift work is prevalent—restaurants, retail and building cleaning—would be entitled to least two weeks advance notice of their schedule. Employers would pay an hour’s wages for each shift change without twenty-four hours’ notice. If a worker shows up for a shift and is sent home early—say, because business is slow—she can get compensated for at least four hours of wages. On-call workers, who are required to check in to confirm their schedules, also get an hour’s pay if they call-in but get no work.

But as with many labor protections geared toward low-wage workers, enforcement is a sticking point. Labor advocates say workers may face retaliation for merely requesting a schedule change.

After Beroid dropped out of school, for example, Walmart dropped her. She had become involved with OUR Walmart, a national union-backed organization that advocates for a fairer and more family-focused scheduling policies. Following months of campaigning, the company reformed its workplace policies in March to provide greater accommodations, including light duty, to women with pregnancy complications. But Beroid barely had a chance to savor the victory before she suddenly lost her job—she suspects, because of her activism. (Beroid says she has filed a complaint of unlawful dismissal with the National Labor Relations Board. Walmart, which has denied previous charges of retaliation against activist employees, states via e-mail that she “was dismissed from the company because she didn’t always show up for work when she was scheduled”).

Beyond Walmart, Beroid says, the federal legislation would give workers a mechanism so employers can be held to account. “Even though Walmart has made these changes for the public’s eyes, if they’re not enforcing them, I know if the bill was actually to take effect, then they would have to follow these rules and enforce these policies.”

CLASP policy analyst Liz Ben-Ishai says via e-mail that since enforcement is generally driven by individual workers’ complaints, taking legal action against a boss would be hard for “low-wage workers without support or resources, who fear retaliation.” But the Labor Department could “proactively enforce” fair-scheduling policies, by undertaking “targeted investigations of companies that are, for example, known to violate other laws and therefore more likely to be in violation of this one.”

The legislation parallels “right to request” policies that have already passed in San Francisco and Vermont. San Francisco workers. And several states, including New York and California, have “reporting time” laws that guarantee a certain minimum pay for shift workers if their hours are suddenly cut. Some companies have individually instituted flexible scheduling practices, as studies have shown this can improve workplace productivity and limit turnover.

Research by Susan Lambert of the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration shows that among early-career workers, aged 26 to 32, overall nearly 40 percent “know their work schedule one week or less in advance.” Workers of color are more likely to work on such short notice. About three in four hourly workers reported experiencing unstable schedules in the past month, and “[p]art-time employees, skilled tradesmen, and workers in low-status occupations are particularly likely to know their schedule at most a week in advance.” And lost time is lost income: hourly workers with unstable schedules reported that “their hours vary by what amounts to about 50 percent on average of their usual work hours.”

There are many other legislative solutions that advocates are pushing to make wage work more family friendly and sustainable for poor households. Paid sick days policies, which have been introduced or enacted in several states and cities, allow workers to attend to medical needs without losing wages. Stronger social support programs, such as public childcare and pre-kindergarten, along with a higher minimum wage, would also provide more financial bandwidth to cope with precarious jobs.

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But regardless of how much they make per hour, scheduling stability is key to economic stability, especially for the growing number workers who work insecure jobs, lack basic benefits like healthcare or do not have a union to represent them.

Beroid still campaigns with OUR Walmart to make sure it upholds its new policies. “There’s a lot of associates in the store who are afraid to speak out,” she says, despite the reforms. “So there’s a lot of women, whether they’re single or married, that are trying to provide for their children, trying to work with the way Walmart gives them schedules, of going to work late at night, being back to work early in the morning, not able to provide childcare.”

As her daughter nears her second birthday, Beroid plans to go back to school. And she’d like to return to Walmart, too, once her boss is ready to offer a real work-life balance—one that lets her set her own priorities.

 

Read Next: “We’re Arresting Poor Mother’s for Our Own Failures.”

Paul Ryan Has Some Big (Mostly Bad) Ideas for America’s Working Poor

Paul Ryan

Representative Paul Ryan speaks at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research Alexander Hamilton Award Dinner on May 12, 2014, in midtown Manhattan, where he courted some of Wall Street’s most powerful political donors and tuxedoed hedge fund executives. (AP/John Minchillo)

Like Marco Rubio—who, earlier this year, put forward a much-criticized “anti-poverty plan”—Paul Ryan doesn’t like poverty, either. (And neither does Rand Paul, as explained in a Wall Street Journal analysis of Ryan’s, Rubio’s, and Paul’s poverty ideas.) And like Rubio and Paul, Ryan might like to run for president in 2016, in a Republican candidate field that so far lacks anything like a front-runner. So that’s the context for Ryan’s speech on July 24 at the American Enterprise Institute to release a 73-page plan called “Expanding Opportunity in America.” Among progressives, the left, most Democrats, and people who actually know something about poverty and inequality, Ryan’s plan has been widely panned, too, and for good reason.

The release of Ryan’s plan, clearly an opening salvo in what Ryan hopes will be his 2016 presidential bid, comes amid a growing realization among Republicans that the GOP has utterly lost any ability to appeal to poor, working-class and lower-middle-class voters, in part thanks to the lasting impression left by Mitt Romney’s elitist, country-club, 47 percent-bashing 2012 campaign. In that context, as Christie Watch detailed last week in a special, three-part series on “reform conservatism” (see Part I, Part II and Part III), Ryan’s plan ought to be seen as part of the GOP’s fits-and-starts effort to recast its appeal to people who don’t own businesses or clip investment coupons. As the Christie Watch series detailed, however, the “reformicons” of the GOP—like George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism”—don’t really signal a break with Republican orthodoxy, nor is Ryan’s repackaging of traditional Republican views on the social safety net. But he’s already won major plaudits from one of the leading lights of the reform-conservative movement, Ross Douthat of The New York Times, who says that Ryan’s blueprint “synthesizes ‘reformicon’ ideas with proposals that fit pretty easily under the other possible rubric for a renovated conservative domestic policy.”

We’ll get to the details of Ryan’s plan in a minute, but at first it’s useful to point out that Douthat is absolutely right when he contrasts Ryan’s allegedly “big” ideas with the fact that among Democrats—and that would include President Obama—there is virtually no sign that they’re planning to put forward anything that remotely resembles a big idea. There is, says Douthat, a “growing contrast between the policy ferment on the Republican side of the aisle and the staleness and or small-ball quality of the Democratic Party’s ‘what comes after Obama?’ agenda,” such as “an expansion of Social Security to a guaranteed income.” True, that.

Amid the widespread disparagement of Ryan’s plans by even moderate liberals, who recognize that it’s mostly yet another Republican plan to wrap any and all anti-poverty program into one big, unregulated block-grant ball of wax for the states, there is at least some grudging respect for one part of Ryan’s plan, namely, his scheme to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit. The EITC, which had its origins as a conservative, Milton Friedman-backed idea, has since earned strong support on both sides of the aisle. The Washington Post says in an editorial:

Mr. Ryan’s best idea is a substantial expansion of the earned-income tax credit, a wage supplement for low-income workers administered through the tax code. Currently the third-largest federal poverty-fighting program at $59 billion per year, the EITC has a proven track record of lifting families out of poverty and stimulating work effort. But it offers only skimpy assistance to childless adult workers, which Mr. Ryan would remedy by doubling the maximum annual credit for such workers to $1,005 and lowering the eligibility age from 25 to 21. It’s nearly identical to a proposal in President Obama’s 2015 budget that would have cost roughly $60 billion over 10 years.

And there’s something to be said about what the Ryan plan signals as a change in tone in what has been a long-running GOP message. That message, which reached an ear-splitting crescendo in 2012, was that a huge cross-section of America’s working poor and working and middle classes don’t pay any federal income taxes. As Neil Irwin points out in an analysis in The New York Times, conservatives and outlets such as The Wall Street Journal have long argued that forcing low-income workers to pay taxes would cause them to have some “skin in the game” and make them resistant to increased government spending. As Irwin writes:

“Workers who pay little or no taxes can hardly be expected to care about tax relief for everybody else,” wrote The Wall Street Journal in 2002, in an editorial notable for calling those low-income Americans “lucky duckies” for their low tax bills. “They are also that much more detached from recognizing the costs of government.” This is also the nub of Mr. Romney’s polarizing comments to donors in advance of the 2012 election. “These are people who pay no income tax,” he said, referring to people who were set to vote for President Obama. “Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect.”

So at least give Ryan credit for refusing to refer to the poor as “lucky duckies.” But his proposal to block-grant money to the states is an old, worn-out GOP idea, and a piece in The New York Times succinctly describes why the block grant idea isn’t anything new:

But the lack of seriousness in the plan is demonstrated by its supposedly big idea: It would combine 11 of the most important federal poverty programs into something called an “opportunity grant” that would be given to the states to spend as they see fit. The eliminated programs would include food stamps, what remains of the welfare system (known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families), Section 8 housing vouchers, and low-income heating assistance, among others. This technique should sound familiar. Members of Mr. Ryan’s party have spent years promoting the idea that states can do things better than Washington. As Rick Santorum repeated endlessly in 2012, “Cap it, cut it, freeze it, and block-grant it to the states.”

Writing for Reuters, and via Wonkblog, David Lawder describes how Ryan’s plan would (and wouldn’t) work:

A 24-year-old single mother of two…could go to a local social services provider for help. Instead of applying for food stamps, housing vouchers and welfare checks, she would meet with a case manager and draft an ‘opportunity plan’ to achieve her goals, targeting money where it is needed most…. The catch: she would have to sign a contract and meet certain benchmarks for success…. Failure would mean a cut in aid while exceeding expectations would earn her a bonus. There would be a time limit on assistance, and Ryan said the plan would need to show strong evidence of positive outcomes and poverty reduction.

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Flaws aside, clearly Ryan hopes that his plan will catapult him into the ranks of the serious, and seriously wonky, 2016 contenders. It won’t win the Ayn Rand–loving Wisconsin any support on the left, but Ryan—who’s often not considered in presidential polls that focus on Rubio, Paul, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and others—is starting to get presidential traction. As Hot Air tells us:

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the Republican Party’s bookish former vice presidential nominee, is starting to look like a candidate for the presidency in 2016. In August, Ryan will publish a book with a distinctly campaign-themed title, The Way Forward. On Tuesday, the Federal Election Commission approved of a nationwide book tour sponsored by Ryan’s publisher and the Political Action Committee the Wisconsin congressman founded, Prosperity Action PAC.

Back in May, as Politico reports, Ryan met with some big-money Republicans:

Rep. Paul Ryan told a group of business elites and donors at a New York City fundraiser that he’s asking friends and supporters “to keep their powder dry” as he mulls a 2016 presidential bid, two attendees told POLITICO.

And a recent Gallup Poll found Ryan clustered with Paul, Huckabee and Rick Perry as the would-be candidates with the highest “favorability” rating.

 

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Will Putin Go All-In on Ukraine if Rebels Are Near Defeat?

Putin

Vladimir Putin (Reuters)

Russia’s Vladimir Putin is at a fateful crossroads. He can go all-in on Ukraine, upping the ante by increasing military supplies to the retreating rebel separatists in Ukraine’s southeast, providing open military backing to their cause, and as a last resort ordering an invasion by Russian troops. Or, on the other hand, he can relinquish his would-be stranglehold over Ukraine and accept Ukraine as a unitary state, probably oriented toward Western Europe and the European Union, while establishing normal relations with Ukraine on the lines of, well, Poland. Whatever legitimacy and moral authority that Putin had left, shredded as it was by the annexation of Crimea and the massive covert operation that Russia has set into motion in Ukraine’s southeast, disappeared entirely with the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 by half-drunk, incompetent rebel forces.

In recent weeks, the separatists have suffered defeat after defeat in the face of an offensive by Ukraine’s army, at significant cost in destruction and lives lost, but without far more overt Russian aid it’s not likely that they can hold out much longer. As The New York Times reports today:

Although fierce fighting continues, particularly near the Russian border, the Ukrainian military has made major advances in recent days, and Mr. Poroshenko’s aides have told allies that they believe the military operation can be completed in up to three weeks, provided there is no invasion by Russia or a large new influx of weapons and fighters across the border.

Not that Putin has to worry about either US or European military action. Even if Russia were to invade Ukraine, the chances that the United States or NATO would engage Russian forces is close to zero. The United States has little or no strategic interest in Ukraine, and despite its penchant for bluster and tough talk NATO has no significant military capacity to speak of without the United States. According to a poll conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Americans have no interest whatsoever in the United States’ getting involved militarily in Ukraine, although the percentage of Americans holding a “favorable” view of Russia has fallen to an all-time, post–Cold War low of just 36 percent. Even if Russia invades Ukraine, the poll reveals that Americans oppose sending troops, by a hefty margin of 68 to 30 percent. According to the Chicago CFR, that’s “because Americans do not see Russian ambitions as a threat to US vital interests.”

Nor, barring a major escalation, does Putin have to worry much about economic sanctions, in part because Russia’s economy is far too integrated into the world economy—unlike, say, Iran’s or North Korea’s—and in part because Western Europe’s trade and financial ties to Russia are so interwoven that, short of an outright invasion of Ukraine, Putin probably doesn’t have to be concerned with stiff EU sanctions. As an analysis in today’s New York Times makes clear, President Obama’s pro-forma pressure on the EU isn’t likely to have much of an effect, as Britain, France and Germany all insist on maintaining the primary of their financial, arms trade, and energy ties, respectively, what one analyst calls the “triple lockout.” (A story in The Washington Post goes so far as to point out that Holland’s trade in flowers with Russia could be a factor in that country’s response to the shootdown of Flight 17, although the overwhelming tie between Holland and Russia is natural gas, not flowers.) As The Moscow Times notes, “For all the tough talk, Europe is not likely to punish Russia over last week’s downing of an airliner over Ukraine.”

Despite his sometimes-soothing rhetoric about diplomacy and negotiations, however, there’s little sign yet that Putin is concerned about either a NATO military response, economic sanctions by the United States or the EU, or Russia’s drastic fall in world public opinion. According to US officials, some of the artillery directed at advancing Ukrainian forces is coming from within Russia itself. As Michael McFaul, the just-retired former American ambassador to Russia, told The Wall Street Journal:

If true, this represents a serious escalation on Putin’s part. … Instead of using last week’s tragedy as a pretext for ending this war, he seems to be doing the opposite, doubling down.

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By many accounts, Russia hasn’t halted the supply of heavy weapons to the beleaguered separatist fighters, including tanks, artillery and anti-aircraft weapons systems. But, according to General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Russia’s military is a reluctant and cautious participant in the Ukraine war, a view that contradicts the oft-stated belief that Putin is under pressure from “hawks” within Russia, including its military. Dempsey, who said he’s been in touch with senior Russian military officers during the crisis, doesn’t believe that the military is driving the issue—which means it’s Putin, not the generals, behind it. According to Reuters:

Russia’s military is likely a reluctant participant in Ukraine’s conflict, the top US military officer said on Thursday, adding that although he had not spoken to his Moscow counterpart in about two months he was keeping an open line of communication. “I think the Russian military and its leaders that I know are probably somewhat reluctant participants in this form of warfare,” General Martin Dempsey said, noting Russia’s use of both conventional forces along the border and of proxies inside the country.… Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, voiced concerns about the implications of Russia’s actions on its ties with the United States and with Europe. “My real concern is that having lit this fire in an isolated part of eastern Europe, it may not stay in eastern Europe. And I think that’s a real risk,” Dempsey said. “I’m keeping an open line of communication with my counterpart and he’s doing the same with me.”

 

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Leading Civil Rights Group Just Sold Out on Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality Protest

Net Neutrality protest (Courtesy: Flickr user Steve Rhodes, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This post was originally published at RepublicReport.org.

Last Friday, just before the Federal Communication Commission closed its comment period for its upcoming rule on “network neutrality,” a massive coalition of Asian, Latino and black civil rights groups filed letters arguing that regulators should lay off of Internet Service Providers regarding Title II reclassification and accept FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s original plan. In other words, something close to half of the entire civil rights establishment just sold out the Internet.

The civil rights groups letters argue that Title II reclassification of broadband services as a public utility—the only path forward for real net neutrality after a federal court ruling in January—would somehow “harm communities of color.” The groups wrote to the FCC to tell them that “we do not believe that the door to Title II should be opened.” Simply put, these groups, many of which claim to carry the mantle of Martin Luther King Jr., are saying that Comcast and Verizon should be able to create Internet slow lanes and fast lanes, and such a change would magically improve the lives of non-white Americans.

The filings reveal a who’s who of civil rights groups willing to shill on behalf of the telecom industry. One filing lists prominent civil rights groups NAACP, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Urban League, the National Council on Black Civil Participation and the National Action Network. The other features the Council of Korean Americans, the Japanese American Citizens League, the National Black Farmers Association, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, OCA, Asian Pacific American Advocates, the National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce, the Latino Coalition and many more.

Of course, the groups listed on these filings do not speak for all communities of color on telecom policy, and there are civil rights groups out there that actually support net neutrality, including Color of Change and Asian Americans Advancing Justice. Joseph Torres with Free Press told Vice that communities of color believe a free and open Internet is essential in the digital age, especially when most non-whites do not own radio stations, broadcast outlets or other forms of mass media. “Protecting real net neutrality is critical for people of color because an open Internet gives us the opportunity to speak for ourselves without having to ask corporate gatekeepers for permission,” Torres says.

A number of K Street consultants have helped make this epic sell-out possible.

The Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC) coordinated many of the participants in the anti–net neutrality filings sent to the FCC last week. Last year, the Center for Public Integrity published an investigation of MMTC, showing that the group has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from Verizon, Comcast, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and other telecom sources while reliably peddling the pro-telecom industry positions. For instance, the group attacked the Obama administration’s first attempt at net neutrality, while celebrating the proposed (and eventually successful) merger between Comcast and NBC.

Martin Chavez, the former mayor of Albuquerque, now works with a group called the Hispanic Technology and Telecommunications Partnership (HTTP) to corral Latino civil rights groups into opposing net neutrality. Last month, Chavez hosted a net neutrality event on Capitol Hill to call on legislators to oppose Title II reclassification. As Time recently reported, Chavez is on the staff of one of Verizon’s lobbying firms, the Ibarra Strategy Group.

“HTTP is nothing more than an industry front-group that is at best misinformed and at worst intentionally distorting facts as it actively opposes efforts to better serve the communications needs of Latinos,” says Alex Nogales of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, which strongly supports net neutrality. His group has filed its own letter to the FCC.

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Still, telecom cash has become a vital source of funding for cash-starved nonprofits. OCA, the Asian-American civil rights nonprofit formerly known as the Organization of Chinese Americans, counts Comcast as a major donor and sponsor for its events and galas. Not only did OCA go on to sign the anti–net neutrality letter last Friday, the group wrote a similar filing to the FCC in 2010, claiming absurdly that Asian-American entrepreneurs would benefit from having ISPs able to discriminate based on content. Similarly, League of United Latin American Citizens, better known simply as LULAC, has been a dependable ally of the telecom industry while partnering with Comcast for a $5 million civic engagement campaign. Here’s a picture of LULAC proudly accepting a jumbo-sized check from AT&T.

As Vice first reported, telecoms are desperate for third-party approval, and have even resorted to fabricating community support for their anti–net neutrality lobbying campaign.

Perhaps the bigger picture here is how so many of the old civil rights establishments have become comfortable with trading endorsements for cash. Verizon, Comcast, AT&T and other telecom companies have donated, either directly or through a company foundation, to nearly every group listed on the anti–net neutrality letters filed last week. We saw a similar dynamic play out with Walmart when the retailer handed out cash to civil rights groups in order to buy support for opening stores in urban areas.

Times have changed. Just as Martin Luther King Jr.’s children have embarrassingly descended into fighting bitterly over what’s left of his estate, the civil rights groups formed to advance Dr. King’s legacy seem willing to sell out their own members for a buck.

 

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