In President Obama’s own words, too many American workplaces resemble scenes from Mad Men. Many employers’ attitudes toward family-friendly reforms seem to stem from the same unenlightened era—that is, at least, until they see the bottom-line results that these reforms can inspire. For a nation that claims to value family, the United States has an abysmal record on family-friendly workplace policies. Without access to maternity and paternity leave, affordable childcare and paid sick leave, working parents have almost no flexibility to balance the needs of their families with the requirements of their jobs. In short, when it comes to family-friendly labor policies, America is, indeed, exceptional—exceptionally backward.
Take paid sick days. As I’ve written previously, more than 40 million Americans, mostly low-income workers, lack access to paid sick leave. No matter how ill they are, they must clock in—and they could lose their jobs if they stay home to care for a sick child or aging parent. Meanwhile, childcare remains prohibitively expensive, and the United States has yet to enact universal pre-K, all of which leave even middle-class working parents with few affordable options for their little ones.
Paid sick days are overwhelmingly popular across ideological lines. Ninety-six percent of Democrats, 87 percent of independents and 73 percent of Republicans support the policy. Moreover, this popularity is supported by the data. Five years after the 2004 implementation of California’s Paid Family Leave program, for example, employers reported a neutral or positive affect on employee productivity, profitability and turnover. New Jersey’s program saved businesses money by improving employee retention, decreasing turnover and boosting productivity. Also, it’s simply common sense. The chief lobbyist against the paid sick leave bill in San Francisco told Businessweek that, among various workplace reforms, paid sick leave offers “the best public policy for the least cost. Do you want your server coughing over your food?”
Then there’s maternity and paternity leave. Today, around 2 million men stay at home to raise their children. Beyond that, even the masses of men who aren’t primary caregivers are increasingly involved in the details of childrearing. But while men are more hands-on than ever before, they are nevertheless experiencing more conflict between their work and family roles than they did thirty years ago.
Under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, many, but not all, employees are allowed to take up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave for things like illness and the birth of a child, without the risk of losing their jobs. However, up to 40 percent of workers do not meet the law’s strict eligibility requirements. The United States is the only Western country that does not mandate paid maternity leave—and just 14 percent of employers offer paid leave for new fathers. Moreover, while new mothers physically have no choice but to take at least some time off—even at the risk of losing pay or even their jobs—one study found that 86 percent of working fathers would not use paternity leave unless they were paid at least 70 percent of their salaries. The same study revealed that fathers generally take a meager two weeks off from work after the birth of a new child.
Many business groups complain that offering flexibility to their employees will hurt the bottom line, but this is short-sighted. As the data in California and New Jersey show, workplace flexibility makes economic sense, and it allows companies to attract and retain talent. In fact, cities that have implemented paid leave have seen improved worker morale, increased productivity, and small and large business growth.
But businesses can’t act alone. That’s why on June 9, the White House convened a group of fathers, researchers and business leaders—including New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy, who missed Opening Day this season to be present for the birth of his son—to discuss the challenges working dads face. The event was a precursor to the White House Working Families Summit on June 23, which is bringing together parents, employers and elected officials to discuss how to make the workplace more fair for working families. While Murphy, who is taking paternity leave, may be the exception to the rule, high-profile fathers like him can help elevate the issue and generate support for smart, sane policies.
There’s no shortage of ideas. Cities and states across the country—Mayor Bill de Blasio’s New York City, in particular—are enacting laws like paid sick leave and universal pre-K. Several bills are in fact circulating at the federal level, including the FAMILY Act, sponsored by Democrats Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (CT). The bill would provide partial income for up to twelve weeks of leave for new parents and to care for a sick family member or a worker’s own medical condition. And research from Demos shows that President Obama could help 8 million workers—70 percent of whom are women—by issuing an executive order to raise the minimum wage for employees working for federal contractors. It’s a good start, but it’s still a long way from where we need to go.
While Republicans traffic in the self-righteous language of family values, they have, without a hint of irony, long opposed pro-family policies like paid maternity leave and affordable childcare. And as long as workplace flexibility is seen as a women’s issue, it will continue to be easy for them to obstruct progress. But now, as more fathers—including those, like MLB’s Daniel Murphy, engaged in those most American of pursuits—struggle to balance the competing demands of work and family, the political winds may shift in favor of humane, commonsense workplace flexibility laws for all Americans. That’s how we can really translate “family values” into valuing families.
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On The John Batchelor Show, Russian historian and Nation contributing editor Stephen Cohen discussed two recent and unsettling events in Ukraine: a spontaneous gas pipeline explosion in central Ukraine and a Ukrainian-led civilian assault on the Russian embassy. Because the explosion, argues Cohen, would benefit neither the Russian government nor the Kiev government, Cohen predicted that “extreme ultranationalists” are responsible. “Assuming it wasn’t an accident,” Cohen says, “I would have to say it was one of these groups.” Later in the show, Cohen critiqued the mob attack on the Russian embassy, where cars where overturned, windows smashed and the Russian flag torn in two. Asserting that all embassies are entitled to full safety and sanctuary, Cohen voiced extreme disappointment that neither the Kiev government nor any other Western states had issued a strong disapproval of this attack.
— Alana de Hinojosa
Back in 2012, Texas Governor Rick Perry provided political junkies with the equivalent of a nonstop laff-athon, punctuating his campaign with bumbles, clunkers, oops!es, and other classic gaffes. Well, get your popcorn ready. He’s back.
It’s hard to dismiss out of hand the governor of one of America’s biggest states, especially when that state is Texas, the very anchor of the Republican party’s presidential coalition. And Perry, with his corn-pone style and self-deprecating humor, is hard to pin down ideologically: Is he part of the Tea Party–aligned, anti-establishment movement that may or may not topple Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran tomorrow? Well, no, not quite. Is he part of the GOP’s Chamber of Commerce–loving, Wall Street–backed business wing that took advantage of Eric Cantor’s defeat to elevate another center-right, pro-business Republican in his place in the House of Representatives? Not exactly. Theoretically, at least, Perry might be considered capable of appealing to both sides in the Republican civil war. Unfortunately for Perry and for the GOP, however, Perry is a goofball who isn’t likely to get much traction.
Still, with new, “hip” intellectual glasses perched on his nose, Perry is making news. Perhaps it’s because Perry’s sheer goofiness makes him a good story, and perhaps it’s because the Republican field for 2016 has no clear front-runner, but consider Perry’s headline-making week and it’s clear that the Texas governor is on a roll, at least in the media. In Time: “Rick Perry Getting Ready for a 2016 Presidential Campaign.” In The Daily Beast: “Rick Perry, Humbled by His ‘Oops,’ May Be Ready This Time.” In Commentary: “Erasing the ‘Oops’: Perry Mulls a 2016 Bid.” And The Washington Post: “Rick Perry Says He’ll Be ‘Better Prepared’ to Run in 2016.”
Let’s be clear: Perry has no national political base, no apparent network for fundraising, no clear ties to any major GOP faction—except for his weirdly close relationship with Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana—and no evident plan to run for president. But he says he’s ready. During his comments at a Christian Science Monitor–sponsored breakfast last week in Washington, the event that generated all the Perry-is-ready headlines, he said:
Preparation is the single most important lesson that I learned out of that process [in 2012], and over the last 18 months, I have focused on being substantially better prepared.
But being ready doesn’t mean being gaffe-free, at least if you’re Perry. The week before, speaking in San Francisco at the Commonwealth Club of California, soon after the Ted Cruz–dominated Texas Republican party officially lent its support to “reparative therapy” for gays, Perry blundered head-first into an issue he’s stumbled around for many years, namely, homosexuality:
Whether or not you feel compelled to follow a particular lifestyle or not, you have the ability to decide not to do that.… I may have the genetic coding that I’m inclined to be an alcoholic, but I have the desire not to do that, and I look at the homosexual issue the same way.
Oops! At the Monitor breakfast, Perry allowed as how he had “stepped right in it” with those remarks. Instead of saying “oops,” he said:
“I got asked about an issue, and instead of saying, ‘You know what, we need to be a really respectful and tolerant country, and get back to talking about, whether you’re gay or straight you need to be having a job, and those are the focuses I want to be involved with,’ instead of getting—which I did, I readily admit, I stepped right in it.”
Still, appearing on CNN’s Crossfire, Perry didn’t take back his remarks, standing by them but noting that he wished he’d focused instead on Texas’ economic record. But Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor, took the opportunity to say that he strongly disagrees with Perry, and Perry’s remark was ridiculed by Jon Stewart and by Funny or Die, among countless others.
InThe New York Times magazine, Perry was given an apparently serious treatment (“In person, Perry is commanding and confident and hardly comes off as a YouTube buffoon”), but in the end he still came across as, well, quirky—especially for someone the The Daily Caller describes as a “nondenominational Christian who was baptized at an evangelical megachurch in Austin”:
“I’m more Jewish than you think I am. I read the part of the Bible that said the Jews are God’s chosen people.”
And some of the piece made Perry appear just plain comical in his sheer earnestness:
He is clearly in a self-improvement phase—doing things like attending the World Economic Forum in Davos and meeting with conservative economists and foreign-policy experts like John Taylor and George Shultz at Hoover. “All of that makes me a better person,” Perry said.
Aside from all that, Perry has views that will attract Republican support: he denies climate change (“scientists have manipulated data to kee the money rolling in”), hates Obamacare (“a criminal act”), doesn’t want immigrants, despises government regulations (“a moratorium on all regulations”) and wants to abolish lots of government agencies. (If he runs again, this time it will be even more than three, taxing his memory cells even further.)
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There isn’t much to see driving south on Evangeline Throughway through Lafayette, Louisiana, besides a few dilapidated houses and, at the intersection with 10th Street, a bright red billboard. A photo of Senator Mary Landrieu in a red jacket, her blond hair swept across her forehead, fills its right side. “100% pro-abortion voting record,” the billboard reads, and directs passerby to a website titled “Too Extreme for Louisiana.”
Landrieu’s campaign is one of the closest and most closely watched contests of the midterm elections, as it could decide which party controls the Senate. Louisiana has no primaries, so Landrieu is in a four-way scrum to avoid a runoff. Her main competition is Bill Cassidy, a Republican congressman and doctor. Conventional wisdom says that Obamacare and energy are the key issues for voters in Louisiana, where Barack Obama is deeply unpopular and petrochemical interests have a stranglehold on state politics.
There’s little daylight between Landrieu and Cassidy in their stance on energy and business—so little that many of the industry groups known for supporting establishment Republicans are betting on Landrieu and the weight she pulls as chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The politics around Obamacare are shifting in Landrieu’s favor, too. Just last week the state’s Republican senator David Vitter passed on an opportunity to hit for Cassidy—whom he supports—when he said he might be open to expanding Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act.
In this heavily Catholic state, women’s health could prove a more meaningful point of divergence between the candidates. Cassidy is deeply conservative when it comes to abortion; he opposes it even in cases of rape and incest. On Sunday, members of his staff attended an annual breakfast in Baton Rouge sponsored by Right to Life, the group responsible for the anti-Landrieu billboard in Lafayette as well as several others in Shreveport and on the interstate that runs through Southern Louisiana. The Susan B. Anthony List plans to spend more than $1 million against Landrieu on a ground campaign and its own ads, which describe Landrieu’s vote for the Affordable Care Act as a vote for “taxpayer-funded abortion.”
Access to abortion has become increasingly restricted in Louisiana, as it has in other midterm battlegrounds like North Carolina. In early June, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal stood in front of a Baptist church in the city of Monroe and signed a bill that could shutter most of the state’s abortion clinics, in an echo of provisions passed in Texas, Mississippi and Alabama in recent years. The law, which requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, emerged in a legislative session that failed to advance several measures intended to support women’s health and economic security, including the Medicaid expansion, a minimum-wage increase and an equal pay act.
Democrats in other swing states are highlighting these kinds of attacks on women as an illustration of the GOP’s extremism, but so far Landrieu has not made gender an issue in her campaign. In North Carolina, Kay Hagan is targeting female voters in her race against Tom Tillis, the speaker of the North Carolina House whose accomplishments include the infamous “motorcycle abortion bill.” Colorado senator Mark Udall has a new ad out highlighting his opponent’s anti-choice record. In Kentucky, Alison Lundergan Grimes hammered Mitch McConnell for being “on the wrong side of every woman’s issue out there.” In turn, the Democrats’ bid to keep the Senate is getting a boost from liberal women’s groups like Planned Parenthood Action Fund and EMILY’s LIST, who are putting millions behind female candidates, Hagan in particular.
The political landscape is very different for Landrieu. “In other circumstances, she could make inroads with conservative women who care about women’s issues. But if she can be construed as part of establishment that is pro-choice, that trumps everything,” said Pearson Cross, a political scientist at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette.
Cross credits Louisiana’s sharp rightward turn in the last decade not only to anti-Obama sentiment but also to the GOP’s leveraging of religion to flip voters in the heavily Catholic south- and central-western parishes known as French Acadiana, formerly a blue stronghold.
“The Republican Party picked that lock by appealing to voters on the basis of abortion,” said Cross. “Catholics [in Louisiana] are now voting in majorities for Republicans, which is something they had never done before.” That switch was evident in the 2008 presidential election, in which 70 percent of Louisiana Catholics voted for John McCain.
In this context, it makes sense that Landrieu would try to avoid a conversation about abortion. She describes her own stance as centrist; she supported a late-term abortion ban, but otherwise has defended abortion rights on the principle of separation of church and state. It was on that basis that she called the new restrictions signed by Jindal “very troubling,” arguing that “the last place the government needs to be is in the church, in the doctor’s office or in the bedroom.”
Still, given that Democrats see women as being key to the control of the Senate, it’s notable that Landrieu isn’t yet aggressively courting female voters via her record on less controversial issues like equal pay legislation, which she has pushed for. So far she’s chosen instead to paint herself strictly as a gender-neutral champion of the oil and gas industry, and the black sheep of the Democratic Party. As a result, she is not drawing on the support of the liberal groups playing heavily in other states. She is the only female Democratic incumbent in the Senate who has not been endorsed by EMILY’s list. Planned Parenthood Action is also not supporting her campaign at this point, though a spokesperson said the group is “keeping an eye” on the race.
Meanwhile, conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity are trying to speak to Louisiana’s women via targeted ads, and Cassidy has indicated that he’ll put abortion front and center. One recent poll showed Landrieu losing ground among white female Democrats. As the race picks up, it will be interesting to see whether Landrieu engages in a fiercer fight for this constituency.
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As the joint civil war in Iraq and Syria expands—and now Israel has joined the fight—Secretary of State John Kerry has visited Baghdad to do, well, what exactly?
Let’s give Dick Cheney credit for saying the obvious: that by sending 300 American special forces to Iraq, nearly three years after the United States pulled the last of its forces out, Washington is trying to do long-distance with a handful of troops what it had initially thought to do with 20,000-plus residual forces. (That was the level proposed by the US military in 2011, far beyond what President Obama would accept and, in any case, 20,000-plus more than the number that Maliki might accept, which was zero.)
So now the United States proposes “intense and sustained” help for Iraq, says Kerry—maybe including airstrikes. But can the Iraqi armed forces, which suffered a breathtaking collapse after the start of the offensive by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), be saved? Maybe not. In today’s newspapers, all three major US dailies—The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, take long, sad looks at the state of Iraq’s hollowed-out, politicized and demoralized security forces. It’s not a pretty picture.
The Times calls Iraq’s army a “defeated force.” It quotes US officials who say that five of Iraq’s fourteen army divisions—including the two overrun in days in Mosul—are “combat ineffective,” and it cites a thinktank official who says that sixty of the 243 Iraqi combat battalions “cannot be accounted for, and all their equipment is lost.” (Much of the materiel, of course, is now in the hands of ISIS.) Adds the Times, “morale among troops is low and its leadership suffers from widespread corruption.” Much of the corruption, of course, starts with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who replaced semi-competent commanders, many US-trained, with loyal but wildly corrupt and incompetent Shiite officers.
The Post, in a deeply pessimistic story, says that the Iraqi army faces “psychological collapse.” Quoting former US Ambassador James Jeffrey—who cites “sycophantic generals,” low morale and a sectarian Shiite volunteer force as key problems—the Post adds:
The crisis in the armed forces is a result of corruption, poor leadership and intelligence, and severe inattention to training, said a former US adviser to the Iraqi armed forces who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation. Those problems have turned what was a functioning military when US troops withdrew in 2011 into an “empty shell that is resorting to a call to arms of men and boys off the street,” he said. He added that the scale of the reverses this month has been “catastrophic.”
Says the Post, the Iraqi army is “bleak,” “in shambles” and “will take years to restructure.”
Meanwhile, a pair of articles in The Wall Street Journal build on this theme. The first, titled, “Iraq Army’s Ability to Fight Raises Worry,” reports:
Across the military US military personnel found the Iraqis were failing to properly maintain equipment. Training standards have declined sharply from 2011, when US military forces advised Iraqi units.
And it says that the Iraqi armed forces in Mosul fled so quickly in part because they believed that the city would have risen up against them, in support of ISIS and its allies—including Sunni tribal militias and the forces led by the Baath party. Like many other sources, the Journal also suggests that the commanding officers of the Iraqi forces in Mosul and other parts of the north and west either sold the territory to ISIS and its allies or were otherwise complicit in the takeover. (Maliki, while recruiting thousands of Shiite-sectarian volunteers now, is planning show trials of commanders.)
A second Journal piece, recounting a secret 2013 US effort to aid Iraq’s military, says that the United States tried to build a “fusion intelligence” center in Iraq last year, but it failed in part because of Iraqi resistance to the idea. And the article reports shock at the highest levels of the US government when the scope of Iraq’s military crisis emerged months ago:
Administration and congressional officials say the US also miscalculated the readiness of Iraqi forces: The White House’s limited investment in the intelligence center was driven at least in part by the assumption that Iraqi forces would be more competent, the official said. Then, at the end of April, the Pentagon dispatched a team of special-operations personnel to assess the capabilities of Iraq’s security forces, a defense official said. The assessment they brought back was bleak: Sunni Army officers had been forced out, overall leadership had declined, the Iraqi military wasn’t maintaining its equipment and had stopped conducting rigorous training. The response in Washington, summed up by a senior US official, was: “Whoa, what the hell happened here?”
That phrase—“whoa, what the hell happened here?”—could be the mantra for the entire US involvement in Iraq. The utter collapse of the Iraqi armed forces is so bad that it raises serious questions about Obama’s supposed option of launching drone attacks and other airstrikes against ISIS forces in the north. It’s obvious that Iraq’s problem is political, not military, and so Kerry’s haphazard effort to reconstitute a new Iraqi government may be the only (long-term) way out of the crisis. Building a new Iraqi government that is inclusive of Sunnis, rather than launching a political war against them, and which negotiates a new accord with the Kurds in the northeast, is the only way to stabilize Iraq. But Kerry—who’s been meeting with a wide range of Iraqi politicians—can’t do it himself, and he’ll need to get buy-in from Iran and other neighbors of Iraq. Meanwhile, Maliki’s effort to recruit Shiite militiamen for his shattered army will only create more sympathy for ISIS and its Sunni allies across Anbar and other parts of Iraq. (The same goes for American airstrikes, which will be seen as using US firepower on behalf of the Shiites, not Iraq.)
It’ll get a lot worse before it gets better.
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This piece originally appeared in The Daily Pennsylvanian and is reposted here with permission.
There’s a joke that goes like this. A man walks into a bar in Georgia. Mistaking a man at the counter for the bartender, he asks him repeatedly for a shot. The man he’s asking finally turns to him and asks, “You sure you want it, man?” And the first man says, “Yeah, and make it a double.”
So the man at the counter raises his gun and shoots him twice.
There’s another joke that goes like this: since 2009, there have been, on average, two mass shootings in the United States every month (with mass shootings referring to the murder of four or more people by firearm in a single incident). According to the FBI, those shootings account for less than 1 percent of all firearm murders in the country.
Despite President Obama’s poor record on gun control, an area in which he has made little to no significant progress, his administration has been continuously charged with assaulting gun owners’ Second Amendment right to bear arms since he took office. Those accusations, though fictitious, have caused gun sales to skyrocket in recent years.
And, while the administration has done little to regulate gun use, the gun lobby and its supporters have pushed through a preponderance of legislation slackening those same regulations. Perhaps the most frightening of these efforts culminated on April 23, 2014, when Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed the “Safe Carry Protection Act,” referred to by critics as the “guns everywhere bill.” The bill allows licensed gun owners in Georgia to bring firearms into a number of public buildings, including bars, churches and, at the discretion of individual districts, even schools.
The punch line for this joke is unclear. Maybe it’s the fear I often feel walking down the street at night, wondering which of the people walking past might suddenly draw a gun from a purse or coat pocket. Maybe it’s the fact that for the first—and hopefully last—time in my life, I woke up in my dorm bed two months ago to the sound of gunshots and then drifted back to sleep as a man died in front of Copabanana, less than a block away.
Maybe it’s the fact that soon, that fear won’t abate at all for Georgians walking into crowded, well-lit buildings, where a drunken debate or charged comment might translate into gunfire as suddenly as a confrontation in a dark alley. Maybe it’s the way the extreme, prejudiced opinions of certain citizens no longer abstractly threaten my liberty via their access to the voting booth but now more concretely threaten my life via their access to high-powered weapons.
Whatever the punch line is, I’m still waiting for it. Waiting for gun laws like this to start making sense, as yet another young man with a legally purchased firearm is carted off to prison or the cemetery, leaving behind him an unthinkable number of dead bodies and grieving families and gun rights advocates stepping forward to say, “It’s a shame, but crimes like this are unpreventable,” insisting that the only solution is to arm more people in hopes that next time someone will turn the gun on the shooter rather than another innocent.
I think the real punch line is our failure to grasp the simple truth that doing the same thing over and over will never produce a different result. Until we make a real move toward restricting firearm access, we’ll keep reading about these shootings in the morning news. We’ll continue crying over deaths we might have been able to prevent. We’ll continue fearing the next person to pick up a gun and punctuate his hatred and depression with a slug in the head of a coed, a secretary or a first grader.
The real punch line is that more than 11,000 people are murdered with a gun every year in the United States, and we have yet to close the loopholes that currently allow 40 percent of firearms to be sold without background checks.
I want to make it very clear: when I say gun control in this country is a joke, I don’t mean it’s funny.
It isn’t funny at all.
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Life’s about to get a little better for about 67,000 nannies, housekeepers and other in-home workers in the Commonwealth. Massachusetts is on track to become one of just four states to pass a Bill of Rights for the workers who are closest to us, yet often the least visible.
The legislation, which passed the House overwhelmingly last week and awaits the governor’s signature, establishes basic rules on working hours, rest breaks and dealing with work-related complaints. Similar to and building upon comparable laws in New York, California and Hawaii, the bill grants domestic workers 24 hours of consecutive rest weekly for 40 hours of work per week, plus overtime for each excess hour worked. Bosses who employ a worker for more than sixteen hours per week must provide the terms of employment, including wages and working conditions, in writing up-front. Workers have formal civil rights protections through the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, giving them recourse against common problems in this sector like sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination. Workers are also protected from retaliation for complaining about wage violations.
The law extends regulations on the private home as a workplace—preventing them from being unfairly charged for food and lodging, for example, and providing advance notice of termination for live-in workers, so they don’t wind up homeless. And domestic workers would gain novel privacy protections, which bar employers from monitoring or restricting phone calls and other communications, or confiscating identification documents.
The coalition behind the legislation included community groups representing immigrant women, the National Domestic Workers Alliance and local affiliates, and numerous unions, as well as religious groups and academic and campus activist organizations.
In addition to the broad political support, personal stories of exploitation helped stir lawmakers to act. Sonia Soares, who had worked in private homes as an elder-care giver and housekeeper for nearly thirty years, testified at a hearing last November: “My colleagues and I clean up to 14 houses a day and still struggle to make ends meet.… I personally have been slapped in the face, pushed, yelled at and sexually harassed.” Stories of round-the-clock shifts, being denied time off when ill and rampant underpayment of wages are not uncommon in this industry, where the walls of a private home render a workplace a lawless zone.
For Nalva Pinto, a caregiver who says she was just unfairly dismissed after seven years, the legislation comes too late. “If the Bill of Rights were in place,” she says via e-mail, “they could not have thrown me in the streets just like that. After seven years and four months, I got nothing.” She suspects her termination was because she complained about her harsh working conditions. “I am a living example of how important this bill is.”
For Natalicia Tracy, executive director of the Brazilian Immigrant Center, the bill is an overdue victory and payback for years of thankless labor. She came to this country as a nanny when she was in her teens and, over the years, has endured work weeks of up to eighty to ninety hours, wages as low as $25 per week, sleeping on a porch and having identification documents taken from her. “It’s been quite a rise for me,” she says, “going from practically living in slave conditions here…[to] actually being in position of working with women to create change.”
Yet the most radical change for these workers is simply access to protections that the “mainstream” workforce has had for decades. The exclusion of domestic work from core federal and state labor protections—including in many cases minimum wage, overtime and safety and health regulations—reflects a long history of marginalizing “women’s work,” which by extension has tracked poor women of color and immigrant women into a casualized, virtually unregulated servant class, rife with labor abuse, gender discrimination and poverty. The modern-day domestic workers’ movement has been driven by the changing role of immigrants, people of color and women who are dominating, as well as organizing in, low-wage, largely non-unionized industries in the service, agriculture and manual labor sectors. Regulatory attention on in-home service work has also intensified as the demand for elder and disability care rises nationwide, as do in-home childcare needs for working parents. Globally, domestic workers have mobilized across borders to develop the International Labour Organization’s Domestic Workers Convention, which has established broad guidelines for regulating and protecting domestic workers with wage and hour protections and health standards. Fourteen countries have ratified it, including South Africa, Germany, Italy and Colombia (not the United States).
The Massachusetts legislation complements existing protections for a subset of the domestic work sector, the homecare aides who provide senior and disability care through the statewide health insurance system. Those workers are already unionized—enjoying another layer of protection so far largely denied to other workers in this decentralized and fluid service industry. On the federal level, the White House just recently moved to include homecare workers under minimum wage laws.
So domestic workers are still pushing, not just not just to pass protective legislation state by state but also develop an organizational base for enforcement and give workers the institutional muscle to negotiate their labor conditions. The roll-out of domestic workers’ legislation in New York shows that even well-intentioned employers may have trouble complying with the regulatory requirements. And workers often lack the legal savvy or the resources to challenge exploitative bosses. The movement is now in a position to develop a sector-wide regulatory and collective bargaining infrastructure.
“Workers are stronger together,” says Tracy, “and they have job security through unions. And there’s no reason why, [in] a job that’s so important as domestic work—why shouldn’t we have the same protections that other workers are enjoying.”
To that end, Massachusetts legislators proposed setting up a commission that will, in collaboration with unions and workers’ groups, create “a framework within the unique domestic work context for the collective bargaining rights of domestic workers,” and examine other potential reforms, including “a state supported mediation program” to resolve labor disputes, and healthcare and retirement benefits. Some possible organizing models include formal unionization, “hiring hall” structures to regularize employment and support workers, or a statewide benefits system that would guarantee insurance coverage and other supports, independent of individual employers.
Though these developments may be a long way off, the domestic workers’ movement is a patient one. Household workers have been organizing since the Reconstruction Era. Today, in an era of nanny cams and vacuum cleaners, there is still always work around the home to be done, while the tendency to exploit this labor remains powerful. And the workers’ demand remains unchanged: respect.
Editor’s Note: This article has been revised to reflect the updated provisions related to the domestic work industry, and to correct the description of provisions for rest time in the bill. It is 24 hours of consecutive rest per 40-hour work week.
There’s been a rising tide of criticism of mainstream media coverage of the US response (real or desired) to the new crisis in Iraq, from Maddow to Maher and with even Megyn Kelly joining in. The reliance on officials and journalists who were so wrong back in 2003, and often for years after, has been decried, culminating in a segment this morning on one of the networks that has joined in the disgraceful resurrection of ye olde Iraq hawks.
Brian Stelter hosted a segment on his Reliable Sources today, introducing it with a reference to my recently updated book and ebook on Iraq and the media, So Wrong for So Long. Then he introduced one of the heroes of that book (one of the few in the press who was not “wrong”), Jonathan Landay, of McClatchy; and Peter Beinert, who favored the war but has repeatedly attempted to repent.
There seems to be this historical habit of the American media to rehabilitate people… On the Iraq invasion, I mean, you have people on CNN who were mouthpieces for the Bush administration and were handing out misleading and inaccurate information to the American public and the world—who are treated as legitimate, credible political commentators. I think that is a very serious problem for the media that it needs to get a grip on.
I think it’s definitely true that the media’s foreign policy conversation has an instinct towards kind of Beltway insiders who share basic assumptions. And some of the people who had the intellectual foresight and creativity to question the assumptions that led us to Iraq still don’t get on the air, which is a big problem…
But I don’t have a problem putting on people who were architects of the Iraq war on to talk today—as long as they have to reckon with what happened in the past. We shouldn’t treat the past as if it’s irrelevant. It’s not irrelevant. It’s highly relevant.
David Carr at The New York Times joins in today with a column on the media and the war—and Micheal Hastings' new novel, set at the beginning.
Here’s video of the full CNN segment:
Greg Mtichell’s book, So Wrong for So Long, which covers ten years of media malfeasance, starting with the run-up to the Iraq war, features a preface by Bruce Springsteen. This is his final week at The Nation. His popular personal blog is Pressing Issues.
Read Next: Obama sets us a on a slippery slope to war in Iraq.
A thirteen-year-old boy from Brazil’s Guarani tribe makes a political stand in front of 70,000 soccer fans and what he thinks is an international audience. A movement led by indigenous women in the United States beats a billion-dollar brand of the big, bad NFL. These two stories share more than the fact that they took place during the same week. They have in common the ways that people in power have been reduced to combatting their courage by trying to render them invisible. They both demonstrate how if you are an indigenous person, you can be on the highest possible cultural platform practically surrounded by fireworks, sparkles and neon signs blaring “LOOK AT ME” and your very presence can still be denied.
Before the opening game of the World Cup, FIFA, the organization that oversees international soccer, thought it would be a good idea to have three Brazilian children each release a “dove of peace”. One of those children was a 13-year-old from the Guarani tribe, Jeguaká Mirim. The Guarani are Brazil’s largest tribal group. They have also been subject to incredible levels violence by ranchers who occupy their land for cattle and sugar production. Forcibly herded onto reservations where disease and malnutrition are rife, their situation may actually be getting worse. The ruling Workers Party is attempting to take away even more of their land, which led to violent confrontations—and dramatic images—on the eve of the World Cup in the capital city of Brasilia.
The effects on the tribe are brutal. There is poverty, there is infant mortality, and in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul, the Guarani-Kaiowá suffer the highest suicide rate on earth. Jeguaká Mirim wasn’t going to allow himself to be feel-good FIFA scenery while his people suffered. After releasing the dove, he unfurled a banner that read, “Demarcação,” or “Demarcation Now!” This is the highly charged slogan used by indigenous groups attempting to retain their land rights.
Jeguaká’s father, Olívio Jekupe, said he had no idea that his son was going to do such a thing. Olívio did say that the action “showed the world that we are not standing still.… My son showed the world what we need the most: the demarcation of our lands.” There was only one problem however with this brave display; the cameras quickly cut away. His actions went undiscussed by broadcasters and analysts on the scene. They also met with a series of non-comments by FIFA itself as to who made the decision to cut the cameras. Whoever was responsible for censoring Jeguaká Mirim, the end result was that the only politics that FIFA allowed to be on display would be the banality of doves.
There is a similar dynamic happening in Washington, DC, where federal trademark court made legal what was obvious: that the name Washington Redskins is racist as all hell. For now, the team has no trademark protection because the name, it was ruled, “disparages” an entire group of people. This effort to recognize the moral bankruptcy of the name has been led by powerful indigenous women such as Suzan Harjo, Jacqueline Keeler and the person whose name was on the trademark lawsuit, Amanda Blackhorse. It is a movement that stretches back decades but in recent years, the tribal councils of the Oneida Nation, the Seminole Nation, the Choctaw Nation, and the oldest Native American civil rights organization the National Congress of American Indians have all called upon the team to change the name. A commercial funded by the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation that aired during the NBA Finals has been viewed on YouTube more than 3 million times.
And yet, the response to the victory by DC sports radio host Steve Czaban was that this was really a win for guilt-ridden white liberal sportswriters.” Czaban said, “Go ahead, dance around and do whatever it does that assuages your white liberal guilt, but nothing has changed.… Maybe we can get therapy for [them], chip in, get to the core of their guilt and understand what is it that’s nagging you.”
In response to Czaban and his broadcast partner, Chris Cooley, who made similar statements, the NCAI put it perfectly. They said that these comments “represent a sadly typical attempt to dehumanize Native Americans by pretending we do not exist. In this case, Mr. Cooley insultingly pretends that the Native American groups representing hundreds of thousands of Native Americans haven’t been leading the fight to end the Washington team’s use of a racial slur”
One has to wonder if the Czabans, Cooleys and Chris “Mad Dog” Russos of the world realize how racist it comes off to just willingly ignore the very existence of those who have been “leading the fight.” This gets to the heart of the connective tissue between Brazil and the United States—two nations who share a conjoined, horrific history in their treatment of indigenous people—as well as between Jeguaká Mirim and Amanda Blackhorse. The battle by indigenous groups across the hemisphere is for land, recognition, respect and, most of all their own humanity. It is an unassailable argument. Their opponents increasingly realize that they have lost the debate, so they are reduced to pretending their opponents do not exist. But by branding Natives with invisibility, they have provided the most damning possible evidence of both the persistence of anti-Native racism and the power of a new hemispheric-wide movement for indigenous rights.
Read Next: Dave Zirin on Brazilian Government's Ousting of Favela Residents to Make Room for the World Cup
The Obama administration on Friday announced a plan to open new detention facilities to house families apprehended while crossing the southwest border, drawing criticism from congressional Democrats and immigrant rights groups who say there are more humane ways to handle migrants.
“Human rights require that detention be the last resort, not the first,” said ACLU Legislative Counsel Joanne Lin in a statement. “Families should be moved out of detention as soon as possible and be released under humane and reasonable supervision, including community-based alternatives to detention which have proven to be cost-effective and efficient.”
The push for ramped-up detention is the federal government’s response to an unprecedented surge of migrant children crossing the US-Mexico border, which both Democrats and Republicans are calling a humanitarian crisis. The plan also calls for more judges and immigration officials in the area to expedite deportation proceedings. While the majority of children detained near the border are traveling alone, the new detention centers will specifically house children who came with families.
Clara Long, an immigration policy researcher at Human Rights Watch told The Nation, “We’re really concerned that, especially where children are detained, that these centers will not be under compliance with international law.”
“The underlying approach to such a program should be ‘care’ and not ‘detention,’” Long said, stressing that children under detention are entitled to education, legal aid, counseling and recreation. Alternatives to detention, such as electronic monitoring via ankle bracelets, should be considered, Long added.
US Border Patrol says it has captured 47,000 unaccompanied minors since October 1 and estimates say that number could reach 90,000 by the end of this fiscal year. Most of the minors arrived from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, countries plagued by rampant gang violence. Researchers for the UN human rights commissioner for refugees found that many of the children crossing the border are fleeing threats of violence in their home countries. Fifty-eight percent of 400 unaccompanied minors interviewed by researchers “raise potential international protection needs.” UNHCR guidelines minors who are seeking asylum “should not, as a general rule, be detained.”
“As a human rights organization, it bothers us that they see detention as the only option. It doesn’t matter how many more beds they have, this will continue to happen,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Texas-based Border Network For Human Rights. “We need policy solutions, not just infrastructure.”
Garcia told The Nation that the federal government should find a way to grant asylum to migrants fleeing violence in their home countries. There should also be legal path for migrants to reunite with families are already living in the US, he added.
Congressional Democrats, including Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Representative Luiz Guiterrez (D-IL), also spoke out against the detention plan. In a statement offered to BuzzFeed, Senator Menendez said, “Using up our nation’s resources to jail families will not be a deterrent—these kids are fleeing violence and are willing to risk their lives to cross the border. The threat of a jail will not stop these families from coming here. Instead, we need to fully address the root causes of the crisis.”
On Thursday, Senator Menendez released a twenty-point plan to address the border crisis. The plan recommends Obama administration to continue cracking down on human smugglers and traffickers taking advantage of the surge. It also calls for increased efforts to provide detainee children with legal representation.
Read Next: This Is what an overcrowded holding center for migrant children looks like