OUR Walmart members speak with Karen Casey, Walmart's Head of Labor Relations, June 16, 2011. (Flickr/OUR Walmart)
Following a five-day organizing training and strategy summit in Birmingham, members of the labor group OUR Walmart will announce a plan to send civil rights movement–style caravans of workers from around country to converge at the retail giant’s June 7 annual shareholder meeting.
Walmart workers active in OUR Walmart, a non-union organization backed by the United Food & Commercial Workers union, plan to make the announcement on a video live-stream from Birmingham at 4 pm Central Time today. Several days before the shareholder gathering, caravans will leave from several cities around the country, stopping along the way to pick up workers and supporters, and to meet with community activists. OUR Walmart’s plans for the next month also include confrontations between Walmart employees and members of the company’s board of directors.
Los Angeles Walmart worker Tsehai Almaz told The Nation that after visiting the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and meeting with local clergy, she and other OUR Walmart leaders were inspired to follow the example of the 1961 freedom riders. “I feel like we’re facing many of the same issues,” said Almaz, “even though it’s not necessarily about race—this time it’s about respect. And being able to feed our families, and having good working conditions.” Almaz, a support manager who’s worked for the company for about a year, said that she was driven to join the campaign after she and several co-workers were needlessly injured in a rash of workplace accidents in her store.
OUR Walmart activists were also present at the company’s 2012 shareholder meeting. At that gathering, Walmart workers brought a petition urging the resignation of the company’s CEO and board chair, and read a shareholder resolution from the floor calling for restrictions on executive pay. Since then, Walmart retail workers followed guest workers at a Walmart shrimp supplier, and sub-contracted Walmart warehouse workers, in walking off the job—the first coordinated Walmart retail strikes within the United States.
As The Nation has reported, the current campaign has outpaced past efforts by taking advantage of vulnerabilities in Walmart’s supply chain, developing worker leadership through local shop floor showdowns, and mounting carefully crafted work stoppages designed to engage more workers, while dodging the obstacles facing modern US strikes. Still, OUR Walmart activists remain a small minority: their most significant action so far—a Black Friday strike by some 400 workers—mobilized less than one of every 1,000 direct US Walmart employees.
Today’s announcement will follow a battery of workplace delegations by Walmart employees on April 24. Organizers say workers in dozens of stores went in groups to confront local managers over erratic and insufficient working hours; the campaign said it does not yet have a count of how many workers participated in all. In a January address to the National Retail Federation, Walmart US CEO Bill Simon announced plans to improve scheduling, a long-time grievance of OUR Walmart. Worker activists claimed that announcement as a sign of momentum for their campaign, but said prior to the delegations that they’re yet to see signs of any new policy being put into action.
Asked Friday about OUR Walmart and its allegations regarding wages and scheduling, a Walmart spokesperson referred The Nation to a statement released the same day as the delegations, touting a pilot program to improve scheduling in Denver and in Fort Smith, Arkansas. According to Walmart, the program began there on February 1, will spread in July and will reach all of the company’s US stores by the end of October. A spokesperson called this “a program to provide associates greater visibility into available shifts across their store, giving them the ability to choose more hours for themselves and expand their career path.”
Historian Nelson Lichtenstein, author of The Retail Revolution: How Wal-Mart Created a Brave New World of Business, expressed doubt that OUR Walmart could force Walmart to sit across the table from its employees: “They aren’t going to say, OK let’s sit down. We know that.” However, he said, sufficient sustained pressure could establish de facto “arms-length negotiations” in which OUR Walmart members made public demands, and Walmart, without crediting the critics, made concessions in order to tamp down discontent.
Lichtenstein, who directs the Center for the Study of Work, Labor, and Democracy at the University of California Santa Barbara, said that the OUR Walmart campaign so far appears “pretty staff-driven,” and that he doubts it has developed the “kind of self-sustained, internally generated organizing momentum” that would be necessary for actions to spread to thousands of employees. But Lichtenstein said that given the risk of retaliation, the willingness of activist workers to collectively and publicly make demands of the company is a “breakthrough” which will inspire others to follow. “It opens up the sense of democratic discourse,” said Lichtenstein, “in a company that really does have an authoritarian culture.”
There may be precedent for protests changing Walmart’s employment practices. As Matt Stoller reported in Octobor, recently released 2006 Federal Reserve Open Market Committee transcripts show then–St. Louis Fed President William Poole informing his colleagues that a contact at Walmart had told him that the company was raising wages in part “because of all the controversy about Wal-Mart.” Poole’s comments suggest that the union-backed campaigns against Walmart of the mid-2000’s, which fell far short of the current effort in terms of mobilizing actual Walmart workers, may have embarrassed the company enough to shake loose some cash. But no campaign to date has yet compelled the company to cede power to its employees.
“It’s time for this generation basically to accept the baton and continue the movement,” said Almaz. “Because it didn’t end in the ’60’s. That just started the movement—it’s continuing with how Walmart is treating its associates.” “I think now is the time to make a change,” he added, “before we don’t have anything left to fight for.”
Hotel heiress Penny Pritzger is on the stand to be President Obama's new Commerce Secretary. Read Rick Perlstein's take.
A year after Johnson Wiley joined the Marines Corps in 2001, straight out of high school, he found himself on a plane to a base camp on the Kuwaiti boarder of Iraq. Almost two years later, the stench of sulfur filled the sky, marking the beginning of the “shock and awe” campaign, and the US invasion of Iraq. Today, after two long deployments, Wiley is finishing his undergraduate degree at Rutgers University in English and Philosophy, with plans to get an MFA and PhD after graduation. The Nation spoke with Wiley about his time overseas, the difference between his experience and his father’s – a Marine in Vietnam, and undergraduate life after the Marine Corps and what it's like to be a student coming out of the military. This interview has been edited and condensed.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up actually adjacent to New Brunswick [where Rutgers University is located] in Piscataway [New Jersey]. It was fairly close to the American Dream. We had a house, both my mother and father worked. My father was a truck driver, and is still, my mother at the time was a math teacher at a town called Plainfield. As far as the outward appearance of life, there was nothing bad.…There was an imbalance due, possibly, to the dynamic that was in the house. My father was often times on the road, busy, and he would come home usually every night but he was gone during most of the day, so he would come home, eat, and go to sleep. My mother was working during the day as a teacher. She would go to work, teach, come back, do her lesson plan for the next day or help us with our homework, plus make dinner, plus do laundry, plus clean, get my father’s stuff ready. Someone or something gets lost in that. I was one thing that happened to get lost in it. I had a mind of my own, so it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I wasn’t a troublemaker as a kid…. I made my own decisions. I could have done better in high school but there was some tension in the house between me and my father that made it difficult to always concentrate on my schoolwork, in light of being frustrated when he was around. He had this way of throwing everything off – throwing off the tranquility or the focus of whatever the group, the group being me my mother and my sister, was on, he just disrupted everything. And I think I took that frustration out on my schoolwork, so I ended up taking it out on myself, though I didn’t know that [at the time].
Did you always want to join the Marine Corps after high school?
It’s interesting. When I was a little kid in the ‘80s, action figures and action cartoons were the thing. If it wasn’t GI Joe it was something similar, where you have the good guys and you have the bad guys – there’s an army on earth or in space, whether in the future, present or the past. So I bit into that part of American life, that “Grow up and be a hero. Be all that you can be” — that was me as a child. And I’d say up until my teenage years I did want to join the military wholeheartedly. I was going to maybe join the Special Forces or be a Navy SEAL, like my favorite G.I. Joe character, Snake Eyes, which I still remember, to do all that cool stuff. And then once I got a little bit older and got more frustrated with the fact that I was getting more negative attention from my father, I wanted to remove myself from certain things that he was attached to, because my father was in the Marine Corps in Vietnam. I didn’t want to be like him. ...I found myself removing myself from the idea of growing up to be a part of a strict system of rules because I had that in my house. I had to deal with that with the way my father was. …What happened, what turned that around, was actually September 11. I was always patriotic…but when the World Trade Center went down it’s like the smoldering fire that was in me to want to protect the country in some way got reignited. You know, someone took the fan and blew those flames hotter. [I thought], I wouldn’t want my family to suffer in any way due to people overseas that don’t even know us but would like to kill us or destroy what we have. So I said, “I’ll join the military, we’ll see what happens from there.”
Did you talk to your father about it?
At the time that I decided, no. Once it became obvious that I was going then yes, he asked me if I wanted to join the military because I think he saw me talking to a recruiter one day at the house – I can’t even remember how I got in contact with them as a matter of fact, but I’m pretty sure that I reached out to them – and he told me that I was more or less going to have to join the Marine Corps because it has a reputation for being the toughest branch of service in the military out of the four basic branches: the Air Force, the Army, the Navy, and the Marine Corps. You have your Special Forces, you have your Navy SEALs, you have your Recon and things like that, but as far as your basic infantrymen, your basic troops, the Marine Corps has stricter guidelines, it’s harder to get in, boot camp is longer and tougher, combat training is more intense, you have to be in better shape, things like that. And because [my father] was a Marine, I knew there was no way I could live down being in the military but joining another branch of service. He’d always have some sort of a funny joke to one-up me somehow.
Did he talk about Vietnam a lot when you were growing up?
Only a little bit. He spoke about some things that he found funny. My father was a corporal when he was deployed to Vietnam, which in civilian terms could be equated with an immediate or working supervisor. One day he, a lower ranking Marine, and their lieutenant were in a tent when a poisonous snake crept in. When you’re deployed you often times live with the wildlife, and animals don’t respect boundaries. Well, when they noticed the snake, the other two guys ran out of the tent before my father had a chance to move. He was left with the snake going around and around inside of the tent trying to get out. I think someone tossed a shovel or something back into the tent and he killed it. He thought this was a funny story because of how scared everyone was, including the lieutenant, who had the highest rank.
So he mostly told you anecdotes and stories he didn’t talk as much about —?
Like the combat aspects or anything like that? No. I asked him some things because you can’t get around – being in the military – the question of whether or not you’ve at least shot at the enemy, or been shot at yourself….and he said he had been in combat but not, let’s say, not how they romanticize it on television. His specific job skill was as an anti-tank gunner… From what he said, I don’t think he had to deal with the type of combat where you have people charging at you and you see the whites of the person’s eyes and you may take his life. But he did say that his best friend, who was with him at the time, as they were getting fired upon, had a grenade thrown on his body and was blown up. So I said, “Well did you cry?” I was a kid at the time, I don’t even think I was ten years old. He said, “No.” I said, “Why not?” He said there was no time to cry. You just keep firing and that was that. And out of anything he could have told me that was the worst that he ever did tell me.
What was your daily experience in the Marines like?
It was a varied experience. I was a heavy equipment operator – that was my job skill. …So while I was on the base, there was a lot of waiting. We did combat training up until the point before and intermittently between our first deployment to Operation Iraqi Freedom 1 (OIF1) in 2003. And in between those times. We did runs [using] a forklift to move pallets of ammunition. “Down at the dump, x amount of miles away, they need pallets of ammo,” so I would do that, on the slow moving forklift, on the road bouncing all the way, cars behind me impatiently waiting for me to get where I need to go. I’d do whatever they needed me to do and then I’d go back to what we call our lot, which was just a large dusty white lot that had our equipment, container handlers, rough terrain forklifts, mobile cranes, things like that. The cranes were the most fun to use but also the most dangerous. So that was life on base…. If you were low on the totem pole like me, you usually always had somewhere to go to either move some material for someone else in a vehicle, or to assist a motor transport a truck driver and drive from point A to point B. Or delivering some type of good somewhere, or they put you on what’s called a work party, a working party, to do anything – from cleaning some office to picking up trash somewhere, you name it I’ve pretty much done it. With the exception of moving a dead body. I’ve touched things that I don’t ever want to touch again. Deployment was different. The Marine Corps was originally set up for short deployment. That changed with these recent conflicts in the Middle East, because it was a type of conflict the United States had never seen before.
And, am I right in understanding that when the war started you weren't told where you were going?
No, no, we were strictly on a need-to-know basis. Once we left the country all we needed to know was we were getting on a plane and were supposed to have this gear, and that piece of gear, and so on, and when we landed we were going to be spoken to by our superiors about what to do next. …We were very much on a need-to-know basis and that’s everybody, from officers as high as colonels, down to the lowest private. No one is told anything they do not need to know – and for good reason. But it’s very frustrating.
So you got there and weren’t doing much, you said?
Pretty much. Things were moving behind the scenes, of course, but when we got there, there was no war. There were still no weapons of mass destruction found anyway, but when I was in the country first there was not even a task force or a group of inspectors to go into Iraq to look for weapons of mass destruction, there were only rumors that Saddam had these things. But the Marine Corps is under the direct control of the President so if he says deploy, you deploy. Congress doesn’t need to get involved, he can send us where he wants to. …I don’t know what the people behind the scenes were thinking about, I was another piece on the checkerboard being moved.
And before your deployment, you’d been at the base for how long?
I’d been in the Marine Corps for about a year, a year and a month. My official time of joining was January 2002, so by the time I left in early February, I was only in the Marine Corps – including boot camp, including combat training, including skill training – I was only in the Marine corps for a total of a year. I’d only been with my platoon in the Fleet Marine Corps for about 5 months or so, so I was very new to everything. When we got there we really didn’t know what to expect. …Another thing I didn’t expect is that there was a large satellite television in this massive tent where we would eat our meals and we got BBC news channel, CNN, stuff like that, and some evening we could see, I still remember seeing Condoleezza Rice or some other inspectors coming out of the palaces in Iraq and saying [there was no discovery of] weapons of mass destruction. And I looked over to a friend of mine and asked, “What do you think is going to happen here?” And he said he didn’t think they’d move us all over hear for no reason. “I don’t think so either but look at what we’re seeing on television versus us being here as a military force? What’s going on with that?” Not too long after that we woke up, I think this was in March, and the sky was dark because of all the sulfur — they’d started the “shock and awe” campaign overnight. And again, at that time I was in a camp in Kuwait. So we didn’t know when anything was going to start. I doubt too many people at our level – E5s [sergeants] and below – knew when this was going to happen. Just wake up the next morning the sky is black, smells like sulfur, something happened. And that’s pretty much when the invasion started. From there we were split up.
Some of our platoon moved farther north, some of us stayed in that camp, and this is where my memory splits apart. I distinctly remember telling my best friend that I wanted to stay at the camp we were at because I didn’t like the tension that was being brought to the platoon because of the nervousness I felt some of the platoon commanders exhibited. …My convictions, as far as being there, were not as strong as if I had been sent to Afghanistan where I [originally] thought I was going because that was where, for those of us that joined after September 11, we were under the impression that the real enemy was: the Taliban, in Afghanistan. You want to defend the country, you go there. That’s where I thought I was going and I was wrong. So I said, you know, I don’t know how I feel about all of this. Do they have weapons of mass destruction or do they not? What are we here for? People are in danger, so on and so forth. If you tell me to do something, as a Marine I’ll do it. But if you’re giving me the choice to volunteer for what could or could not be dangerous—I think I’ll just hang back here [at the camp] and I’ll work myself like a dog until everything is finished [is what I was thinking]. And I did stay at that camp if I recall correctly, or so I thought. Now on the other hand, something happened where I was at that camp or possibly somewhere else. …what happens is I have two sets of memories. I have those, and then I have another of being convoys and getting ambushed and getting shot at, also shooting at some others. The things that people like to put in movies and stuff, it’s only cool if you don’t have to live with it. …Not knowing whether or not you’re going to survive from one second to the next, forget one day. If in a split second it’s all going to be over, it can be nerve-wracking until you learn to get used to that. These are the things nobody really wants to talk about and in trying to get to the bottom of it, some of my friends who were there with me won’t talk to me about it. It’s hard for me to find out what happened when the people who were supposed to be there with me will cut off the conversation and say, “We end here, because this is not –I’m not going down that road.” I don’t know what happened. I just know I remember things and I have gaps where there’s literally nothing but blackness between this day and another day, and I can’t place what came between.
To jump ahead from deployment, because I stayed there longer than 6 months, I was there for about 11, when I got back to the states for a month, close to December or January, I was with another guy in my platoon. We were on our way from a medical building or some other office on Camp Lejeune [the Marine Corps Base in Jacksonville, North Carolina] and another Marine stopped me. He knew me and he called me by my last name, he said “Hey Wiley how are you, how are you doing,” basic stuff you would say to a friend [but one] that you know very, very closely…. But I had no clue, still have no clue, who this person is. To me he’s as recognizable as a member of the North Korean Royal family. He said, “You don’t remember me,” do you? And he got this really sad look on his face. And I said no. “You don’t remember all these things we used to do?” he started to name, and I just shook my head and cut him off and said, I don’t remember any of that. He looked rejected. He looked very sad. And I just walked away from him. …That made it obvious to me that some things took place that I’ll never be able to remember….[I also have] problems hearing loud noises, being jumpy, being hyper-vigilant, being very irritable at the sound of babies crying or dogs barking, things like that.
Where you deployed a second time?
Yes, I was deployed twice. The second time I was deployed for 7 months and during that time I felt that was a cakewalk compared to the first deployment. That was considered OIF3 [Operation Iraqi Freedom 3], we had a better handle on the situation, I was definitely in Iraq for sure that time. This was in 2005, February until let’s say September or so. The local populace made sure to let us know more routinely that they didn’t like us by bombing the camp…. On the second deployment we had a bit more interaction with some of the locals. Also some Marines helped with the training of the [Iraqi security] forces – I was not one. My interactions were I would say more limited.
We discussed this a bit earlier [pre-interview] but what was your experience as a person of color in the Marines?
In the Marine Corps I’d say I didn’t run into any racism in boot camp, although the majority of my platoon mates in boot camp, let’s say 20 or so of 30, were from rural areas where they have a reputation for ignorant kind of racism. I didn’t experience any of it. I think the drill instructors had a good handle on it, plus they kept our brains so completely wrapped around the games we had to play in boot camp that it was almost like the mind had no time to go there. …If I were to break down the demographic I would say it was mostly white, followed by Latino, followed by black with few Asians and even less Middle Eastern, South Asian, etc.
Once I got to my platoon or what we call the Fleet Marine Corps, then I got to see some instances of racism. Once, a buddy of mine in my training platoon, when we were training to be heavy equipment operators, he asked me if it was true that all black people smoked crack. And I couldn’t believe he said it, you know, it was surprising. It was also hurtful and insulting in a how-could-you-be-so-stupid? kind of way. He was from somewhere in Texas and because I was the only person of color [he had ever met]… I simply said that was a stupid thing to say. I couldn’t think of anything else to say, and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings since he didn’t intend to hurt mine….He was upset at himself that he offended me, but didn’t really know what he had done wrong. These guys were from places where they had literally no experience talking to or seeing anyone other than white people in their daily lives. If they saw any other race it was just on television or in magazines or something. So they grew up with these preconceived notions about people of other racisms that were so deeply engrained in them that they thought they were totally natural. …I guess you can say it’s part of the American bubble and once we were in the Marines corps that bubble was forced to be popped. …At the same time it was a bit different for me as a guy that takes pride in being considered intelligent and articulate, that some of the black Marines that I met said things like I was the whitest black guy they knew. Some of the white marines also said that, so you have to ask the question: does being inarticulate and maybe responding negatively to what you aren’t familiar to, is this how all black people act to you? I guess there are also ideas of cultural norms: all black people can dance, all black guys listen to rap music, pick a stereotype I think I’ve faced it.
Did you feel it was assumed you'd be a teacher of sorts? Like it was expected you would be a representative of people of color or black people in general, for some of these fellow Marines?
Maybe if I had perceived that many [fellow Marines] were that ignorant about other peoples’ experiences I might have thought that. I’d say until I got to maybe close to around my second year or so in the Marine Corps I had no idea that people were that clueless even with the things I’d experienced. …Still after that I didn’t feel I had to teach people anything, unless somebody asked me a question. I was who I was. …I found that the black Marines that didn’t know me well, they didn’t know, I guess, how to interact with me because I wasn’t what they were used to. And at the same time, the white Marines were going through this process of figuring me out, asking questions about what I liked or didn’t like and so on, because I wasn’t what they had imagined other black men to be. So it put me in a place where I was a kind of enigma of sorts at first. And because of that I guess I just let that be … One of my last roommates was a black guy from Chicago and he had the hardest time trying to figure me out. Because I didn’t represent, aside from my skin color and some experiences that we shared growing up as black, I didn’t represent the idea socially of what other black guys are [thought to be] like. So instead of some of the white Marines, he actually had the hardest time I would say. But I guess I shouldn’t talk because there are so many different instances …There’s trying to navigate that stream between what ideas of racial and social norms are when you don’t fit those, when you are of – or mostly identify with – a certain race but certain characteristics are different, maybe physical or behavioral characteristics and mannerisms and things of that nature. You know the mind works best when it can take something and group it with something else.
After you got back to the States and started school at Rutgers University, what were some of your initial experiences and reactions?
When I first got to Rutgers I was very nervous. It was only the second time in my life that I was actually on a university campus, possibly the third time. …and it was just so nerve-racking being around so many people. I kind of got used to it at Middlesex County College [where I went before Rutgers] and when I got to Rutgers I had more of a handle on that, the difference between not just regular civilian life and being in the military but also being around the students and different activities, that Rutgers was a bigger step. …I’d figured that there [would be] more veterans [on campus], but there aren’t many, especially in the arts and sciences. It seems like [there aren’t many] former military in general. I’ve only met one other former Marine in the Arts and Sciences. He’s a Psychology major and Philosophy minor I believe. It surprised me, I expected to run into a few others but no. Just him and another student in my class that was in the Navy and she’s an English major. So yeah, few and far between.
How did you feel in relation to other students, being older, having very different pre-college experiences?
Feeling older was interesting because it didn’t feel that different. …seeing as how I look the same age if not younger than most students, I usually wouldn’t let the cat out of the bag as far as how old I am . I still don’t. I think it’s a funny surprise when I let people know my age. I guess I felt that although I was part of the student body, I was still kind of apart from those younger students who were just getting away from their parents home, who are just starting to branch out and learn things about life by themselves. I was thrust into those positions earlier so it was different. I guess I’m still trying to put a finger on that.
Do you find yourself sharing your military experiences? Does it come up in friendships? In class?
It comes up in friendships eventually, depending on the type of conversation we have…. In terms of class, it comes up in all of my creative writing classes because I’ve written poems about my feelings while deployed, or things that have happened afterward. I’m actually doing a memoiristic honors thesis about my first deployment and it comes up in the creative nonfiction class I’m in. People are interested in the story and in I guess all that entails, whether you’re an older adult or younger student, it’s something a lot of people haven’t experienced so I try to be honest. I don’t try to romanticize anything, I’m not trying to sign a movie deal.
What are your plans for the rest of your studies? Do you have post-graduation plans?
I’d like to first obtain my MFA after I graduate, which I’ll be delaying until next year because I want to finish [what was originally] my minor in Philosophy as a major, which will require two more semesters. I’d like to graduate next year and obtain my MFA in Creative Writing. I had originally wanted to make that a PhD in Creative Writing which is extremely new. Right now I definitely want to get an MFA in Creative Writing, and then a PhD in English. [Johnson Wiley is also currently working on a memoir.]
I’ve posted here previously about President Harry Truman’s getting the actor playing him in a 1947 MGM epic canned. This was drawn from my new book Hollywood Bomb, about how Truman and others gutted a planned film that would have raised alarms about nuclear weapons and the arms race and the dangers to come. Truman aides even revised the script to make his Hiroshima decision appear wiser.
Anyway, there’s more. Surely this was the only movie where actors playing two presidents both got fired.
Eleanor Roosevelt had learned that the studio planned to cast legendary actor Lionel Barrymore, a close friend of MGM chief, the arch-conservative Louis B. Mayer, as her late husband. Like FDR for much of his life, Barrymore—grand-uncle of Drew Barrymore—was confined to a wheelchair due to a hip injury. Sounded like perfect casting on paper but—the former first lady alleged that the actor had made several disparaging remarks about FDR, and he had campaigned for Dewey against him in 1944. (Barrymore was particularly incensed about the graduated income tax.)
Production on the film had started but the scenes with Roosevelt had not yet been shot, so MGM put them on hold while Barrymore wrote a conciliatory letter to Eleanor, claiming that his political views had been misinterpreted. But the former first lady still did not relent—and soon MGM announced that one Godfrey Tearle would play FDR.
Much more in my book.
A job fair in Washington, DC. (Reuters/Jason Reed)
The US economy is suffering from a nasty case of austerity.
More than 11.7 million active job seekers cannot find work. And that figure does not include millions of Americans who have given up on looking for work, or who are severely under-employed. Add them in and the real unemployment’s at 13.9 percent.
Even the jobs that are being created tend to be in sectors of the economy where wages tend to low and benefits often nonexistent. For instance, the latest report notes growth in the “temporary services” sector. But there’s zero job growth in manufacturing.
“This is a classic ‘hold-steady’ report—enough job growth to keep the unemployment rate stable but not much more,” Heidi Shierholz, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute, says of the latest news from the US Department of Labor. “In good times, this would be fine, but at a time like this, it represents an ongoing disaster.”
Why are things so slow?
In a word: austerity.
“This month’s abysmal jobs number—165,000 new jobs in April, barely enough to cover new people coming into workforce—is a self-inflicted wound. Government austerity—[misguided tax policies] and spending cuts—is suffocating the economy, just when it needs air,” explains Robert Borosage, the co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future. “And the perversity will get worse. The sequester cuts are only now beginning to hit. Austerity is driving Europe deeper into recession. China is slowing. US exports will suffer. And Washington is about to descend into new self-manufactured crises around next year’s budget and the debt ceiling. The positive signs in housing, the extraordinary measures taken by the Federal Reserve, the soaring stock market are undermined by Washington’s failure.”
Congress cannot even agree on the problem. Despite the fact that their approach has been discredited—academically and practically—there are still members of the House and Senate who buy into the fantasy that what’s holding the economy back is government spending. Typical is Senator Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, who says, “To get the economy moving and generate real, self-sustaining job creation, we need to limit spending and reject more tax increases.”
In fact, the government should be targeting investments to spur job growth. As Dean Baker, the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, says, “Unless the government takes steps to boost growth, we will be seeing millions of people needlessly denied employment for over a decade. That should be the central focus of everyone in Washington.”
The immediate threat is posed by sequester cuts—following a classic austerity model. As they are implemented, the Congressional Budget Office projects, growth will be reduced by 0.5 percent, costing as many as 700,000 jobs. Congressman Mark Pocan, a Wisconsin Democrat who has emerged as a key player in the Congressional Progressive Caucus, says the House and Senate need to “pass a budget that ends the job-killing sequester cuts for everyone—not just the well-connected—and makes investments in job-creating programs such as infrastructure, education, and research and development.”
Pocan’s got the right answers. Unfortunately, there are too many politicians in Washington who have yet to start asking the right questions about how austerity is strangling economic recovery.
The entire austerity enterprise is based on faulty math. Listen to John Nichols's take.
This week, Silicon Valley is poaching talent from Wall Street—and trying to import it, on the cheap, from abroad. Meanwhile, Canada's crown corporations are undergoing a Tory-style makeover, Texas is killing its own children (that is, its ideas for testing them) and Seattle May Dayers are on the loose. How much does your Yelp vote count?
— Alleen Brown focuses on education.
“Crash Test,” by Nate Blakeslee. Texas Monthly, May 2013.
Followers of the "education reform" movement's twists and turns would be wise to turn their attention to Texas, the state where George W. Bush's brand of ed reform was born, and the state where it is now being dismantled. Nate Blakeslee lays it all out in long piece for the Texas Monthly: from the rise of Bush advisor Sandy Kress and the "Texas Miracle" to today's uprising of Texas parents and Republican politicians' 180 degree turn against testing.
— James Cersonsky focuses on labor and education.
“Mark Zuckerberg's Self-Serving Immigration Crusade,” by Adrian Chen. Gawker, April 30, 2013.
The same Mark Zuckerberg who screwed over upstartish Ivy League comrades, and who oversees the largest extra-state fiefdom in the world, is now leading the charge to exploit the global techno-proletariat. That's the upshot of his push for streamlined Silicon Valley visas, which, wrought large, promise to make high tech labor much cheaper. Adrian Chen's gloves-off polemic makes this worth a read—but the sliminess of Zuckerberg's new lobbying group, FWD.us, speaks for itself. In one letter to supporters, they write, "We control massive distribution channels, both as companies and individuals. We saw the tip of the iceberg with SOPA/PIPA." Paging the robber barons of an earlier era.
— Catherine Defontaine focuses on war, security and peace-related issues, African and French politics, peacekeeping and the link between conflicts and natural resources.
“France's Forgotten War,” by Robert Zaretsky. Foreign Policy, April 30, 2013.
Three months after the French government launched a military intervention in Mali, it seems that the French population has all but forgotten about France’s presence in Africa—despite the death of six French soldiers in Mali and the recent attack on the French embassy in Libya. The French are more worried about France’s internal situation—rising unemployment and a stalling economy. Only one quarter of the French population is satisfied with President Hollande, who appears helpless and unable to find solutions, and nearly 90 percent of the French told pollsters that France “needed a true leader to reestablish order.” Meanwhile, though the intervention in Mali has succeeded in dispersing the Islamists, it has failed to achieve a clear victory and put an end to the rebellion. The UN and the local population fear that if French troops leave the country, it will create a political and security vacuum in Mali, destabilizing an already fragile region.
— Andrew Epstein focuses on social history, colonialism and indigenous rights.
“Wounded Knee Sale Deadline Looms,” by Vincent Schilling. Indian Country Today, April 30, 2013.
In 1890, the US military murdered between 150 and 300 Lakota men, women and children at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, the final massacre in what's euphemistically known as the "Indian Wars." (The government awarded 20 medals of honor for the "battle.") Forty years later, a white trader acquired a 40-acre parcel of land that included the massacre site as part of the government's "allotment" program. Abolishing collective land tenure, the government "granted" individual Indian men their own small plots, which they could now sell to eager and cajoling settlers; the resulting land loss was staggering. In 1968, James Czywczynski acquired the Wounded Knee parcel. Now he's hoping to cash in, putting the plot on sale this week and refusing any offer less than $5 million. “What makes them think that I should give it to them? Everything is given to the Indians anyway,” Czywczynski said.
— Luis Feliz focuses on ideas and debates within the left, social movements and culture.
“Sam Gindin on the crisis in labor,” by Doug Henwood. LBO News from Doug Henwood, June 18, 2012.
Doug Henwood interviews Sam Gindin on the crisis in labor.
— Elana Leopold focuses on the Middle East, its relations with the US and Islam.
“The 'S-Word': Egyptian Movement Takes On Islamic Rule,” by Ahmed Ateyya. Al-Monitor, April 27, 2013.
A small youth movement, representing a coalition of across-the-spectrum secular political beliefs, organizes and protests against national identity cards that legally must include religion and, more broadly, a religious state in Egypt.
— Alec Luhn focuses on East European and Eurasian affairs, especially issues of good governance, human rights and activism.
“'The Law of Politics' According to Sergei Lavrov,” interview by Susan Glasser. Foreign Policy, May/June 2013.
In this comprehensive interview, Russia's foreign minister explains why his country opposes the United States in everything from delivering arms to the Syrian government to missile defense in Europe to the Magnitsky Act and the tit-for-tat ban on American adoptions from Russia. Although he is a diplomat and carefully toes a dogmatic line, there are moments of candor and detail that provide more insight than your standard obligatory quotes in news stories.
— Leticia Miranda focuses on race, gender, telecommunications and media reform.
“Tech Poaches Wall Street Talent,” by Jessica Lessin. The Wall Street Journal, May 1, 2013.
Jessica Lessin at The Wall Street Journal unearths another kind of revolving door that is quickly accelerating as tech beats Wall Street at its own game.
— Brendan O’Connor focuses on media criticism and pop culture.
“Star Wars,” by Tom Vanderbilt. The Wilson Quarterly, Spring 2013.
"A one-star uptick in a Yelp review can lead to a nine percent improvement in revenues for independently owned restaurants." That is an incredible statistic. Vanderbilt considers how those upticks happen (or don't) and why, worrying that as websites like Yelp and Amazon democratize criticism they may also dilute it.
— Anna Simonton focuses on issues of systemic oppression perpetuated by the military and prison industrial complexes.
“Freedom Is Frustrating,” by Brendan Kiley. The Stranger, April 3, 2013.
During Seattle's May Day rally last year, some protestors smashed some windows. (Surprise!) This is supposedly why a federal grand jury subpoenaed several of my friends to answer questions about specific individuals' political beliefs and social networks. My friends, who were not present at the May Day rally, refused to cooperate. They were charged with civil contempt and incarcerated for several months, including extended periods in solitary confinement. FOIA requests have since revealed that the grand jury actually convened prior to May Day, indicating that social-mapping of activist communities, not finding out who broke some windows, was the real motivation behind the investigation. Now, thankfully, my friends are out of prison, and I recently got to hang out with two of them in DC, where they spoke about their experiences at George Washington University Law School. So I'm thinking about them this week and re-reading the articles Brendan Kiley wrote about them for The Stranger. The Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers recently announced they have chosen Kiley to receive their annual Champion of Justice Award for his coverage of the grand jury resisters.
— Cos Tollerson focuses on Latin American politics and society, and United States imperialism.
“Cuba Policy: Fruitless, Mean and Cruel,” by Saul Landau And Nelson Valdés. CounterPunch, April 26-28, 2013.
Saul Landau and Nelson Valdés tell the sad story of five Cuban intelligence officers who have spent the last 15 years unnecessarily imprisoned in the United States. In the late 90s, the agents were in Miami to monitor extremist Cuban exile groups and had developed an informal working relationship with the US government, providing the FBI and Justice department with counterterrorism intelligence. But soon the powerful Cuban exile community wielded its political capital in Florida to have the agents arrested.
— Sarah Woolf focuses on what’s happening north of the US border.
“Harper tightening the reins on CBC, Via Rail and Canada Post,” by Bill Curry and John Ibbitson. The Globe and Mail, May 1, 2013.
Happy May Day! Stephen Harper's Tories are implementing massive changes to crown corporations, including the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), Canada Post and Via Rail. The proposed changes—detailed at the end of a 111-page budget bill—will allow the government to participate in collective bargaining and to direct negotiations with unionized and non-unionized employees. Says a CBC union rep: "I don’t know how anybody looking at [the new powers] cannot see this as turning the public broadcaster into a state broadcaster."
On May 1, the Obama administration’s Justice Department appealed a court ruling directing the Food and Drug Administration to listen to the recommendations of its own scientists and make emergency contraception—otherwise known as Plan B or the morning after pill—available over-the-counter for all women and girls with no age restrictions. The science on emergency contraception is clear. It is safer than many painkillers and cough medicine already sold over the counter and there is ample evidence that young women are capable of taking it safely. While President Obama has spoken eloquently about the right to reproductive healthcare, his administration refuses to lift this clearly political impediment on the health and bodily autonomy of women and girls.
Sign our open letter to President Obama and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius imploring them to abide by the federal court ruling and to make emergency contraception available over the counter to women and girls of all ages with no restrictions.
In this post, Jessica Valenti cautions against letting our discomfort with teen sex trump young people’s right to reproductive health.
The politics of expanding access to ec are complicated by the many misconceptions people have about the drug. This video breaks it down.
I’ve got a new Think Again: A Realistic Approach to Syria. Read it.
(I wrote this earlier): Here’s an idea for Tina Brown: Fire the clownish, incompetent Howard Kurtz, replace him with Conor Simpson or Jamison Foer.
A “Howard Kurtz is a clown” sampler:
Kurtz suggests Fox News is balanced, WaPo editorial page is liberal
Howard Kurtz's double standard on double standards
Howard Kurtz's bogus conflict-of-interest defense
Howard Kurtz's wasted opportunity
or Alex Pareene here too, or one of the anchors on that website where they strip when they read the news. Really, who could be worse?
This just in. Apparently I telepathized my idea to Tina and Kurtz is “resigned” in the ignominy he has been so richly earning for the past two decades.
Isn’t this a funny comment? I read it in Tablet:
“In a characteristically candid interview, he said that, despite his patronage of arts institutions from the Metropolitan to the Israel Museum, he never thought about donating the collection.
“There’s a virtue in these things being in homes rather than on some museum shelf,” he said. By many accounts, Steinhardt’s collection, focusing on ceremonial objects for home and synagogue, is the most significant of its kind to come to market in the half century since the 1964 Sotheby’s auction of Judaica amassed by Polish émigré Michael Zagayski.”
What a humanitarian, making millions so that people can keep this stuff to themselves rather than share it with the wider world. Oh and the Met and the Israel Museum did team up to buy an illuminated Torah for over $4 million. Too bad that won’t get to be held privately so only rich folk could see it like the great humanitarian whom Tablet quotes so crazily sympathetically would have liked.
Does Steinhardt fund Tablet? I dunno...But if he does, it would esplain the above.
Alter-reviews: Catherine Russell and the Jazz@Lincoln Center Orchestra does Duke
I went to Jazz@Lincoln Center on consecutive evenings last weekend. Friday night, at the club, Dizzy’s, I caught one of my favorite female singers, Catherine Russell, with her band, doing a jazz and blues set. (Catherine is also top-tier backup singer for bands like Bowie’s and Steely Dan.) The daughter of Luis Russell, was Louis Armstrong's long-time musical director, she sure is schooled in the history of the music, and picks out chestnuts from the past which you can’t believe you’ve not heard before. She makes them her own, at least as far as I can tell, being unfamiliar with the originals, but they sure do sound great with her band (and of course, against the background of Columbus Circle at Dizzy’s). I first discovered her because Terry Gross is a big fan and then I caught her singing with the Donald Fagen/Boz Scaggs/Michael MacDonald band, where she pretty much stole the show. See the woman if you can, or at least check out her cds. I think there are two of them.
The following night, however was one for the ages. The full Jazz@LC orchestra—which strikes me as a pretty difficult get, of late, playing an all Ellington night. There’s no question that Wynton Marsalis has always modeled his adult self on Duke, but there are many other influences fighting for pride of place there as well (Miles, Louis, his dad, etc.) Bak in 1988, Wynton Marsalis put together members of his (then) septet which included Ellington alumni Jimmy Hamilton, Willie Cook, Jimmy Woode, Norris Turney, Britt Woodman, and Joe Temperley to create the first iteration of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, he and the players have always demonstrated a special relationship to the enormous Ellington oeuvre and it’s hard to imagine a group of musicians alive today who could do this body of work greater justice than this band did the night I saw them. Joe Temperley is still in the band and he played masterfully. Ditto Walter Blanding on sax and Wynton himself, letting go on solos that were written as if for him to play that way on that night. The two versions of “Mood Indigo” were the highlights, together with “Do Nothing ‘till You Hear from Me,” at least from my seat, but I can tell you, everyone in that full hall (and there were four shows) felt him or herself lucky to be there.
The Jazz@LC calendar is here. Sorry if you don’t live in New York.
Though, come to think of it., it’s the second weekend of Jazzfest in New Orleans. Teaching commitments kept from going to what I insist is the Western world’s best party, but The Nation’s Katelyn Belyus is there and has volunteered for the role of Altercation Roving Reporter. Here is her first filing (Reed appears below):
Wed night arrival: It began at the Howlin' Wolf's Megalomaniacs Ball. I rolled into a gnarly, open space filled with a mixed crowd spilling out of the open bar into the street. Not a surprise, since every place down here spills onto the street at some point or another. Marco Benevento, the brilliant indie pianist from Brooklyn, was just finishing his set. I'd had the pleasure of catching Benevento a couple of years ago at the House of Blues' Piano Night, and I marveled at his performance then-- using a guitar pick on the piano strings while he accompanied himself on the keys; the covers of Amy Winehouse and Cee Lo Green. He is a true experimentalist.
Benevento made way for the Mike Dillon Band, and Dillon's lunatic artistry crept over every inch of the stage with tentacle-like majesty. The band is a collaborative effort that sounds like a combination of punk and ska, Zappa and Sublime, with a touch of marching band and hardcore. I know that sounds crazy, but the really crazy part, is that it actually succeeds. Dillon's work on the vibes is enthralling, but perfectly in sync with Carly Meyers on trombone. A tour de force, Meyers fronts that stage with frenetic energy that lends a new interpretation of the trombone-- and of the police whistle, which she also aptly “plays.” This was not the first I'd seen her, but it was the first I'd seen her so completely absorbed with the music. Where I had detected shyness now held court for a fierce vitality and abundant energy. She practically galloped around stage before diving off into a crowd of devotees and then finishing the set. “That was intense,” breathed a lady behind me.
Dillon's band left the stage to the Stanton Moore Trio, always odd to me that the band is named for the drummer, until you watch the drummer drum. Stanton Moore shows up to the kit looking like a kid fresh out of Sunday School. Skerik on sax and Charlie Hunter on the eight-string round out the trio, and their synergy is tight. Everyone knows their place at any given moment, even if that place is to repeat a riff forty or fifty times to keep the others on track. Mike D and Benevento dropped back in, and the crowd relived their favorite Garage A Trois days. They are so striking in their shared smiles and laughs onstage. Skerik's gotta take a leak? Moore and Hunter have him covered. And though all are remarkably talented, Hunter remains my personal favorite. Eight-String Guitar: that means he's playing bass, rhythm, and his solos simultaneously, and though he's certainly not the only person to do it, he's the only one I've ever seen do it so with such grace and with seemingly little effort. I wanted to write that his fingers flow like water over the strings, but it wouldn't be accurate. They move more like gears, like watch gears, touching and pressing in on themselves to make the thing work, to give it purpose. His fingers give that guitar purpose and to elevate Moore, Skerik, and the rest of their buddies-- indeed, they act like buddies-- to a place of eclectic soul.
Thursday—I arrived at the Fair Grounds for the first day of the final weekend after multiple rainstorms had passed through. The grounds themselves function as a horse racing track for most of the year, and the place was ripe with mud, hay, and the smell of manure. In some places, the mud was four inches deep, and people were digging out their flip flops like amateur archaeologists. But no one seemed to mind, and though folks were clad in rain boots and ponchos, they could still be found dancing near the stages. There are ten music stages, and the smaller ones each feature a different genre like blues, brass band, contemporary jazz, zydeco, and gospel.
After an oyster po' boy doused in hot sauce, I got comfortable next a lady wearing full-on waders. We were checking out the Forgotten Souls Brass Band, a classic jazz brass band with over nine members. They were a solid group and gave Charlie Parker a shout-out, but once they slowed down their set, I moved on to something more upbeat.
The Hot 8 Brass Band were up on the Congo Square Stage, a traditional brass with a little more soul and funk. Like most of the New Orleans-based groups, they wore matching tee shirts and strutted with confidence. There was the obligatory roll call for members, and Big Peter matched the crowd's cheers with some riffs of his own-- on sousaphone.
I moved to higher, slightly drier grounds for Henry Butler, and was immediately sucked in. Butler is a legendary New Orleans pianist who was blinded at birth. He doesn't just know his way around the keys: he gives direction around the keys (he is also an avid photographer and has been taking pictures for nearly thirty years). Butler plays in a variety of different styles of jazz piano, but with a nod to the blues, and his voice-- equal parts soul, blues, butter, and grit-- complements the music perfectly. The thunderclouds rolled in, everyone's phones flickered Flash Flood Warnings via emergency texts, but Henry Butler and his Friends paid no heed. And towards the end, in the middle of “Big Chief,” a classic Professor Longhair piece that I'm sure to hear at least three more times before the end of the weekend, I was stunned yet pleased to hear Butler's guitarist launch into what could only be Slash's final solo in “November Rain.” “That,” I said, “was freakin' awesome.”
The flash floods had me worried, and I made my way for the exit, but not before stopping off at the gospel tent to check out the Bolton Brothers in their flashy vests singing in smooth harmony. Of all the music I don't listen to regularly, gospel is the most accessible. Even though for me it's ideologically problematic, there's something very universal about gospel's message of hope that appeals to me. The four brothers (of twenty total siblings) gave a stand-out (and stand-up) performance, and during their cover of “We are the World,” even the out-of-sync arm-waving felt right. The brothers dropped down to the audience and invited random people to sing the verses, and when a person stumbled over the lyric or skipped a line, the backing band skillfully brought them back into the fold. In the middle of the flash flood warnings and downpours, the Bolton Brothers were a fun, shining moment.
Now here’s Reed:
Why Won’t Congress Follow?
by Reed Richardson
“Why won’t Obama lead?” Posed as an innocent question, variations of this disingenuous critique can be found lurking all across op-ed pages, political blogs, and cable news shows of late. To be sure, this caricature of a cold, aloof, and distant Obama, who is uninterested in the nitty-gritty of political back-scratching, is not a new one. During the past few weeks, however, this idea that Obama is almost spitefully refusing to steer our ship of state has now achieved critical mass, becoming the leitmotif through which, many pundits believe, all of Washington’s political paralysis can be traced. But to lay the blame for the acrimony and gridlock on Capitol Hill at the feet of Obama is be guilty of intellectual malpractice. For, if all of Obama’s commonsense efforts at compromise—everything short of full capitulation—still come up empty, it’s time for the media to start honestly scrutinizing the flip side of the coin and ask the next question: “Why won’t Congress follow?”
That these pundits will likely resist any such re-orienting of their rhetorical slings and arrows is no surprise. In their estimation, the President, as the country’s chief executive, enjoys an almost superhero-level of influence over events—a viewpoint sometimes jokingly referred to as “Green Lantern Theory”—and so if he doesn’t get his way in Congress, it’s indicative that he just didn’t try hard enough. But, to be fair, the Beltway media is not alone in routinely misunderstanding the dynamics between the leader-follower relationship.
“There is no leader without at least one follower—that’s obvious,” notes author and Harvard lecturer Barbara Kellerman in this Harvard Business Review article. “Yet the modern leadership industry, now a quarter-century old, is built on the proposition that leaders matter a great deal and followers hardly at all.” In fact, Kellerman argues this kind of apportioning of power is exactly backwards. “Followers are more important to leaders than leaders are to followers,” she writes in her 2008 book, Followership. “Leaders are often incidental to the action.”
To proclaim the president as “incidental” to a legislative debate, of course, doesn’t exactly suit a pundit class that needs to cast a dramatis personae of heroes and foils in a column twice a week. But to ignore the critical role followership plays in how our government functions is to continually engage in facile, one-sided analysis. It unfairly denies the followers, in this case Congress, any agency in the decision-making process, while it conveniently relieves them of all accountability should things go wrong.
Just listen to New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, ranting about Obama’s helpless attitude after his press conference this past Tuesday. “Actually, it is his job to get them to behave,” she cavils. “The job of the former community organizer and self-styled uniter is to somehow get this dunderheaded Congress, which is mind-bendingly awful, to do the stuff he wants them to do. It’s called leadership.”
The concept that Congress has as much, if not more, of a democratic responsibility to follow as the President does to lead is anathema to the self-defeating Beltway logic on display here. Dowd’s condescending and infantilizing tone (“dunderheaded,” “behave”) effectively lets Congress off the hook while demeaning Obama, a typical Dowd two-fer. And then she, like so many other pundits, lets herself off the hook as well, by never offering up a single specific example of what this magical leadership might look like or why a Congress hell-bent on undermining the President would ever respond to it.
Indeed, if you needed any further proof that Republicans in the House and Senate will sacrifice any good idea and absorb any indignity as long as Obama does too, GOP Senator Pat Toomey from Pennsylvania offered up yet another smoking gun this past week. While revisiting the filibuster that killed an expanded gun background checks amendment he and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin had hammered out, Toomey admitted: “In the end it didn’t pass because we're so politicized. There were some on my side who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it.” It’s no surprise then, that some pundits even counseled Obama to “lead from behind” on immigration reform, warning that it he became personally involved “that is the surest way to piss off Congress, especially congressional Republicans, just as it is children and bosses.”
Put simply, this is anti-followership—whatever you’re for, I’m against, precisely and only because you’re for it. Who cares if nine out of 10 Americans support expanding gun background checks or eight out of 10 Americans want a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants? According to this zero-sum thinking, if Obama wins, then Republicans in Congress see themselves as having failed. And a myopic media plays along, never quite comfortable enough to state the obvious—that the modern day GOP’s goal is not good governance, it’s defeating the president, as it has been, literally, since his first day in the White House. Needless to say, one cannot lead followers who don’t operate in good faith and who only see incentives in opposing rather than cooperating.
And let’s be clear, this wholesale embrace of, well, not following is by no means an exaggeration. Extreme conservatives in the House and Senate are further polarizing Congress and wresting ideological control of their party away from their own caucus leaders (as we saw again this week). As a result, Congressional Republicans are increasingly drawing power from an energized base of extremists who are more than willing to engage in electoral self-immolation and punish those who dare to negotiate. For instance, when a study of Tea Partiers finds an overwhelming majority want no compromise with political opponents and, likewise, care more about their chosen candidate winning a party primary than a general election, the foundation for legitimate cross-party followership can never exist.
Nevertheless, this idea, that the President and the Republicans in Congress are not cooperating but competing, just will not compute in many pundits’ minds. Thus, we get an entire column from the National Journal’s Ron Fournier torturing an old sports canard about great players and leaders always overcoming bad breaks to win. Remarkably, in Fournier’s analogy, he acknowledges the President and Republicans in Congress are not on the same team, yet in a somewhat incredible twist of reason he still expects the latter to follow the former. You know, because whenever the Red Sox come to New York, they look to Joe Girardi for guidance on how to beat the Yankees.
Ironically, within Fournier’s hackneyed, nonpartisan critique of Obama is the real, uncomfortable truth about what it will take to break the logjam in Washington. “Mr. President, I’m not excusing the other team," he writes. "They suck. But you need to beat them, sir. That’s your job, because if you can’t stop them, we lose. And there’s no excuse to losing to such a lousy-bleeping team.”
Fournier’s right in one respect, when one party all but gives up on governing, all that’s left is lousy politics. But what he and his pundit brethren will never admit is that the most effective way to fight lousy politics in Washington right now is with more, better politics. In fact, the best thing the president could probably do for his country is spend the next 18 months campaigning for a Democratic majority in the House. Of course, the Beltway conventional wisdom would roast him alive for such a transparently partisan strategy. But at least it would be an honest attempt at creating the conditions for a functioning democracy. The fundamental problem plaguing our country isn't a shortage of leadership from Obama, in other words, it's a shortage of his followers in Congress.
Contact me directly at reedfrichardson (at) gmail dot com. Also, I’m on Twitter here—(at)reedfrich.
Las Vegas, NV
Dr. A., many thanks for a solid piece on the fraud that is MoDo (and the fraud that is Politico, while we're at it). If you read the columns for which Dowd won her Pulitzer, once you get beyond the fact that she could not even carry one of the keys from Russell Baker's typewriter, you notice that they are all about the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal and all reflect a sense of proportionality about the Republicans involved and, indeed, Clinton's failings—in other words, while they could be called well written (they certainly are more readable than whatever it is she is submitting and calling a column nowadays), they also have a serious undertone and deal with broader issues.
It also strikes me that while she may have influenced today's alleged reporters in the tendency to focus on the trivial, we also can credit or blame that on news magazines and perhaps even on Theodore H. White. The difference is, those writers at least thought about it before they wrote it.
Dear Mr. Alterman:
You are my favorite journalist. I look forward each Friday to read your (and Reed's) column. I also enjoy your Center for American Progress articles.
I must take issue, though, with your list of the worst mistakes of the 20th Century. I believe the worst mistake committed in the prior century was when Archduke Ferdinand's driver took a wrong turn down a street in Sarajevo back in June, 1914.
Eric replies: Ok, Ok. It was just the last 98 years....
Editor's note: To contact Eric Alterman, use this form.
Scene from The Office episode “Promos.” (Tyler Golden/NBC)
The Office, which ends May 16, will take with it one of a precious few vaguely realistic depictions of working life off the air. Granted, the people who write about television haven’t been watching The Office for some time now. Partly that’s because Steve Carell left and partly because, I think, the longer we were in a recession, the less appealing an extended workday got. Either you’d lost your job, and the show reminded you, in slightly funnier form, of the life you’d once been leading. Or else, at a certain point, the drudgeries of the workplace had quit seeming all that funny.
Some of you will object that your workplaces were never anywhere near as full of character as the Dunder Mifflin paper company. Or, for that matter, the Wernham Hogg paper company that preceded it in the United Kingdom. To this contention I must present this story from my own experience: I once worked with a man who, apropos of absolutely nothing, purchased a lazy-boy chair and had it put in his midtown Manhattan office. At the time of this purchase, he was at best a rather junior employee. Everyone in the office began to wonder why he had purchased this chair, which suffice to say did not match the prevailing décor. In fact, we all referred to said employee as “The Chair,” basically forever after. It used to be a kind of sport to watch people walk down the hallway, glance casually into the door of his office, and come up short, realizing that yes, that was a recliner in that tiny office.
Then there was the employee with a slightly mysterious personal life who, when asked by the firm newsletter what his favorite place was, offered this reply: “Somewhere warm and deep.” We parsed that for weeks. It passed the time.
My point is that the The Office understood this sort of everyday absurdity. Sure, sometimes the storylines got a little wacky. But I was recently rewatching an episode in which Michael Scott (Carell) is explaining that he has brought everyone on a booze cruise because the office is just like a ship, and he is the captain, and it’s all a bit like Titanic (“No, I’m Leo DiCaprio, come on!”), and the sales department is the furnace, etc. And it dawned on me, watching it, how perilously close this is to a lot of the corporate pablum that is peddled, often enough, as “training exercises” in companies across America. The humor cut rather close to the bone. You don’t need to have your boss actually getting to the point where he screams “I’m the King of the World!” from a ship’s prow to see that.
It hasn’t been news, in America, that the conditions of modern work are unfulfilling, for a good half-century now. It’s a theme of the novels of Richard Yates, the classics like Revolutionary Road and Sloan Wilson’s The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit. The deadening forces of advanced capitalism have been studied just as long, in books like The Organization Man. But the upshot tended to be doom and depression. This might explain why other classic workplace sitcoms—The Mary Tyler Moore Show, M*A*S*H, Night Court—usually had some kind of meaningful work as the backdrop, accomplishing something important on the side of all their jokes. Or else, as in sitcoms like Designing Women or Newhart, the main characters were at the very least all really good friends, engaged in some kind of collective endeavor.
This is not true of Dunder Mifflin, where the co-workers were assembled more or less only for reasons of common employment. Nor is it really altogether clear what this company does within the context of the sitcom, though NBC’s marketing people created a whole website to describe the business. Instead, the entire appeal of the show was predicated on the sharpness of the satire.
At first, in The Office’s American life, the show was rather too cutting for audience’s taste. But by the second season it was somehow managing to mix the satire with affection. It wasn’t so much that unlikable characters became likable; it was that they became recognizably human in their unlikableness. They began to look, in short, like people trying to make the best of a bad situation.
Which only amplified their resemblance to the real world of American workers. Out here no one is under the illusion that the bulk of the work they have to do to make a living is meaningful. And you have to laugh, sometimes, because you’d cry otherwise. That’s the ray of hope, the laughing. The thing that keeps you going to work, and also helps you keep a critical consciousness about the whole enterprise of paying the bills in America. In that sense, you could even say that Kelly’s doing a cheer routine about “B-A-N-A-N-A-S” or Dwight Schrute’s informing the office that he is “capable of physically dominating [it],” are small but crucial acts of rebellion. The only way you’ll ever want to change things is if you are high up enough to see the absurdity of them.
The Bangladeshi factory floor is a world apart from Dunder Mifflin. Read Elizabeth Cline’s take on last week’s disaster.
Workers march in front of a Miami-Dade courthouse under construction to protest stolen pay. (AP Photo/J. Pat Carter)
If the Florida House Republicans have their way, here is what the state’s workers would stand to lose: paid sick leave, a living wage, wage theft protections and equal opportunity benefits (for same sex couples, for example).
That’s because an assortment of bills—including one introduced by House Majority Leader Stephen Precourt that would nullify nearly all of these pro-worker policies—would pre-empt local ordinances and leave it up to the state to implement (or not) any of these measures. Miami Herald columnist Fred Grimm writes that these bills were “ghost written by special-interest lobbyists.”
It would mean the end of the fourteen-year-old Miami-Dade County living wage ordinance. A new anti-wage theft law that passed just last month in Alachua County would be nixed. The paid sick leave initiative that 52,000 Orange County residents got onto the ballot for 2014—gone.
“What makes it all even more ridiculous is that we have no state-level Department of Labor,” said Jeanette Smith, director of South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice (SFIWJ). “So even if the legislature did pass any worker protection laws—which they aren’t—who is going to enforce them? All they are doing is lessening the rights that are currently there for workers.”
The timing of this smackdown on working Floridians couldn’t be worse. A new report from the Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy at Florida International University indicates that more than 23 percent of the state’s residents live in poverty, with children 1.5 times more likely than adults to live below the poverty line of approximately $23,000 for a family of four.
How this all plays out in the legislature is still up in the air and might be determined today—the last day of the session. Bill authors have carved out exceptions to the wage theft pre-emption for Miami-Dade (which has recovered $600,000 in lost pay since 2010) and Broward counties, but not for Alachua County. This is especially strange since the companion bill in the Senate was introduced by freshman Senator Rob Bradley, who represents Alachua. Smith said that the Alachua County Commissioners and their staff have spoken out against the pre-emption—even in Senate hearings—but Bradley hasn’t backed down.
“I’m sure he’s representing someone in Alachua but it’s apparently not the county or the workers,” said Smith.
If Bradley’s bill clears the Senate, the pre-emption of local wage theft laws is a done deal—and that’s a big deal, because prior to the county ordinances, workers effectively had no place to turn for help.
“If the bill passes, we have to flood the small claims court system which would now be responsible for addressing this, and let them see the depth of the wage theft problem,” said Smith.
Majority Leader Precourt’s anti-worker bill was made a tad (but just a tad) less anti-worker in the Senate—with local ordinances for a living wage, paid sick leave and equal opportunity benefits permitted for government employees and contractors (tough luck for all other workers). Initially, Precourt insisted that the House wouldn’t pass the bill if it included the exceptions for these workers. According to Smith, the hope was that Precourt’s determination to keep the state from joining the twenty-first century might be Floridian workers’ best hope, as a number of Senate Republicans would be reluctant to follow his totally regressive path.
But late yesterday, the House passed the Senate’s version of the bill. That means, as of today, there is no possibility of local pro-worker laws for wages, paid leave and equal benefits except for government employees and contractors.
“This is a huge undermining of local control,” said Smith. “The House wanted to make it so local governments couldn’t even set standards for their own [employees and contractors], but at least we beat that. Now local governments just can’t say anything regarding the private companies in their areas—which is bad enough.”
The verdict is still out on the legislation pre-empting local wage theft laws. There is hope that the bill might be dead, but advocates won’t know for sure until the session ends today.
“No matter which way this goes, we need to band together and recognize that this is all about a voting process, and getting people in there who represent our interests,” said Smith. “Too many people still don’t recognize that, and they don’t know until the deed is done what’s been taken away from us.”
California’s Homeless Bill of Rights
Last week the California Assembly’s Judiciary Committee passed AB 5, The Homeless Bill of Rights, by a vote of 7 to 2. At a time when homelessness is increasingly criminalized, this is an important step towards helping people instead of punishing them for not having a home. Advocates overcame strong opposition to the bill, in part through a grassroots movement of homeless and poor people that mobilized hundreds of people to rally and lobby the Democratic members of the committee.
There are now approximately 160,000 men, women and children who experience homelessness in California on a daily basis, about 20 percent of the nation’s total homeless population. The state ranks second worst in the number of homeless children, and third worst in the percentage of children who are homeless, according to the National Center on Family Homelessness. A 2011 US Conference of Mayors report attributed the rise in homelessness across the nation—despite the recovering economy—primarily to unemployment and a lack of affordable housing, in that order.
Yet the response by political leaders in California and other states hasn’t been a sympathetic one—it’s largely been to prosecute those who are struggling.
A report by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty notes that criminalization of homelessness has taken many forms, including: enactment of laws that make it illegal to sleep, sit or store personal belongings in public spaces of cities without sufficient shelter or affordable housing; selective enforcement against homeless people for violating seemingly neutral laws like loitering, jaywalking or open container ordinances; sweeps to drive homeless people out of areas—which often results in the destruction of their personal property, including medications and personal documents; punishing people for begging or panhandling; and restricting groups from sharing food with homeless people in public areas.
“What cities and counties are doing right now to respond to homelessness isn’t helping, it’s making the problem worse,” said Jessica Bartholow, legislative advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty, another cosponsor of the legislation.
In contrast, some of the measures proposed in the Homeless Bill of Rights include the creation of hygiene centers with bathrooms and showers; allowing people to rest, sit or sleep in public spaces; access to counsel during civil prosecutions; and protecting people who offer food in public places. It would also instruct local governments to track laws and arrests that target homeless people and report them to the district attorney.
“This bill is really about basic justice,” said Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, who authored the bill. “People who are homeless not only have to struggle with life on the street, [but] the indignity of being treated like criminals because they have nowhere to eat, sit or sleep except in public.”
Bartholow was particularly moved by testimony from homeless people from Los Angeles who were woken up and arrested at 6:02 am due to a law against sleeping in public past 6. Another disabled woman in a wheelchair had lived on the same street corner for many years and been arrested more than a hundred times.
“Not for committing a crime, not for blocking a street or sidewalk—just for sitting there in her wheelchair,” said Bartholow.
Bartholow said that too many homeless people also end up in jail because they can’t pay the citations they receive for sitting in a public space. “So they have to spend time behind bars, because they sat peaceably in a public space, because they have no private space to sit in,” she said.
The bill now goes to the Appropriations Committee, where costs will be considered for measures such as the hygiene centers, legal representation and reporting requirements of local jurisdictions. Bartholow said that advocates will look for ways to “ameliorate costs,” but that this bill is a critical step in changing how we address homelessness and poverty as a society.
“The greatest misconception about this bill is that it somehow makes things more dangerous by allowing people to rest in public places,” she said. “But the bill in no way protects malicious or antagonistic behavior, or blocking doorways or pathways. It protects people’s right to rest—which is a human need. People who don’t have a private space to do that need to be able to do that somewhere. And sometimes the only place available is a public space.”
You can follow the campaign to pass this bill here.
Child Care and No-Win Decisions
Guest post by Carol Burnett
In a recent article in The New Republic (“The Hell of American Day Care”), reporter Jonathan Cohn investigates what he describes as the “barely regulated, unsafe business of looking after our children.” Lax regulation leading to unsafe child care is indeed a critical issue that needs to be addressed; and so is the huge unmet need for affordable child care options for low-wage working parents.
Cohn acknowledges that the tragic example used as the frame for his article—a child care fatality—is relatively rare. But what is not at all rare—and what really gets to the root of the problem—is the heartbreaking, no-win choice the mother was faced with in trying to find child care that she could afford on her low wage.
Mothers across the country face this dilemma constantly. They too often work in jobs that don’t pay enough to meet a family’s basic needs. Or they want to work, or go to college for a shot at a better career, but can’t afford child care. Or the welfare work requirement forces them into low-wage jobs where they can’t afford child care.
Mothers with young children make up our nation’s poorest families. If they earn the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, that’s roughly $15,080 per year (though minimum wage jobs rarely provide full-time work because employers restrict hours to avoid paying benefits).
Wider Opportunities for Women developed the Self-Sufficiency Standard to calculate the wage a worker would need to earn in order to afford a family’s basic needs, based on the family’s size and geographic location. The tool shows that parents need to earn far more than a minimum wage, and if the family includes a young child or infant, the wage required is significantly higher due to the high cost of child care.
Our nation does have a child care assistance program that is supposed to help low-income working parents afford child care—the federal Child Care Development Fund (CCDF) block grant to states. This program is hugely helpful for the families it serves. Unfortunately, it only serves about 18 percent of eligible children, which means that 82 percent of eligible children do not receive the subsidy. Eligibility requires a parent to be both working and low-income. Waiting lists are swelling in every state—millions of parents wait for the child care they need in order to continue working.
What makes our lack of commitment to providing affordable quality child care for all families even more frustrating is that we know what children need for successful outcomes later in life. In fact, we know more than ever before about the kind of environment, interactions and experiences children need to support their cognitive, physical, social and emotional development.
We also know what working parents need. Other countries such as France provide examples of systems that provide quality care for children so their parents can work. And we have an example in our own country: the Military Child Care Act that transformed an abysmal child care system into a system that is the best in the nation.
If the need is so great, we know what to do, and the consequences of failing are so dire as illustrated by The New Republic article, then why haven’t we created a national system of quality child care for all working parents?
Polls show that Americans believe that child care is a parent’s personal responsibility and that there is no social obligation to help parents pay for it. The result of this prevailing opinion is that mothers buy the child care that they can afford: wealthier mothers are able to buy high quality care; poor mothers—mostly single mothers and women of color—usually cannot. Thus, a vicious cycle of inequity and inequitable outcomes continues.
In this country where all child care is financed with parent fees, child care providers struggle to cobble together resources to pay for their services. Where the ability of parents to pay is limited, providers barter with them, or serve families for free, or reduce rates. For the few families lucky enough to receive subsidies, the reimbursement rate to providers is low—four-fifths of states reimburse below the 75th percentile of the current market rate. Reimbursement is also unreliable—parents have to apply and re-apply frequently through an often cumbersome process. Even worse, states are whittling away at this already inadequate assistance. Erosions in payment are occurring at the same time that quality requirements are being ramped up, which might lead to even fewer affordable options for low-income families.
The child care subsidy program that is so critical to affordable services for working parents is bemoaned as lacking quality standards. But a system starved for revenue cannot enact quality improvements without more resources: increasing staff education levels requires increasing child care wages; enhancing the learning environment means buying more books and learning materials. Some states have initiated quality-rating systems, but in doing so they are often reducing the supply of direct child care services for low-income working parents in order to fund these efforts.
President Obama is proposing significant additional investments in our nation’s early childhood system: pre-k, Early Head Start, Head Start, the federal child care block grant to states, home visiting, 21st Century Learning Centers, etc. But these pieces of our system are like pieces of a puzzle: some parents qualify for some of these services, and some of these services are only available to serve some children some of the time. Parents and providers have to navigate all these fragments and try to piece them together into a seamless system of service.
While all of these investments are sorely needed—and President Obama should be commended for his proposal—if we truly want to solve the problems faced by low-income working parents, then we need a seamless system: one that provides the secure, quality care children need for good outcomes, at an affordable cost that allows parents to remain employed.
Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, has said, “No parent should have to choose between the child they love and the job they need.”
I couldn’t agree more. Until we build a system of affordable, quality child care for all families, we will continue to force parents into making no-win decisions.
Carol Burnett is the executive director of the Mississippi Low Income Child Care Initiative, a statewide organization of parents, providers and community leaders working together to improve the quality of child care for all of Mississippi’s low-income children.
Clips and other resources (compiled with James Cersonsky)
“What Can Poverty Fighters Learn from Immigration Reform?” Deepak Bhagarva
“Rural Unemployment Surpasses Urban Rate,” Bill Bishop
“Farmworkers Dig Into the New ‘Blue Card’ Plan,” Michelle Chen
“Sequester Impact: April 26-May 2,” Coalition on Human Needs
“The Sequestration Myth,” Daily Show with Jon Stewart [VIDEO]
“Courts’ Campaign to Squeeze Poor Debtors Goes Awry,” Daniel Denvir
“Fast food walkout… in Chicago,” Josh Eidelson
“Homeless advocates seek restoration of funding,” Kate Giammarise
“The Bangladeshi Blood on America’s Hands,” William Greider
“Small donors could change imbalance of power,” Bob Herbert
“The Consequences of Long-term Unemployment for 4.6 Million Americans,” Richard Johnson
“How Pay Inequity Hurts Women of Color,” Sophia Kerby
“Hope, Love and Strategy in the Time of the Zombie Apocalypse,” Stephen Lerner
“Top 6 Policies to Help the Middle Class that Won’t Cost Taxpayers a Penny,” David Madland and Karla Walter
“Criminalization of homelessness—local impact, global issue,” National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty
“Losing Ground: A Profile of Florida’s Families in Poverty,” Research Institute on Social & Economic Policy
“City Report Shows More Were Near Poverty in 2011,” Sam Roberts
“All Work, No Pay,” Joseph Sorrentino
“The California Secure Choice Retirement Savings Program,” Aleta Sprague
“Ohio and Macalester Sit-In, Chicago and Wittenberg Walk Out,” StudentNation
“A California Town Bleeds From Sequestration’s Cuts,” Gabriel Thompson
“The Coming Revolution in Public Education,” John Tierney
“Retail and Fast Food Workers Strike in Chicago’s Magnificent Mile,” Micah Uetricht
“Governor Cuomo and the Working Families Party: Eve of Destruction?” Katrina vanden Heuvel
“School closings traumatize vulnerable children,” Julie Woestehoff
“Building Health Communities With Fresh Produce,” Brad Wong
“House GOP Plans Even Deeper Food Stamp Cuts,” George Zornick
Studies/Briefs (summaries written by James Cersonsky)
“Less Than Equal: Racial Disparities in Wealth Accumulation,” Signe-Mary McKernan, Caroline Ratcliffe, Eugene Steuerle and Sisi Zhang, Urban Institute. Just how much has the racial wealth gap grown? For one, more than race-based income inequality. In 2010, the average income for whites was twice that of blacks and Latinos—roughly the same multiple as in 1983. Over that same period, the wealth gap has gone from five to six times more for whites than blacks and Latinos. One fault line in the persistent—and growing—wealth gap is age: in their early 30s, white families have 3.5 to 4 times the wealth of black families at the same age. In addition, the recession took an uneven toll: while white wealth declined by 11 percent from 2007 to 2010, it went down 31 percent for blacks and 40 percent for Latinos. For Latinos, this loss came largely from lower home values; for blacks, from shrinking retirement accounts.
“An Uneven Recovery, 2009-2011,” Pew Research Center. Between 2009 and 2011, US Census data reveals, the mean net worth of the top 7 percent of households increased by 28 percent—while dropping 4 percent for the rest of the population. While the total sum of household wealth increased a whopping $5 trillion over this period, the entirety of that gain went to the top 7 percent. The imbalanced recovery is due, in part, to class-based differences in asset-holdings: wealthier households often have their assets concentrated in stocks and other financial holdings—which have rebounded handsomely—while others’ assets are more concentrated in their homes. To make matters worse for less wealthy households, the first two recovery years saw a drop in ownership of stocks and mutual fund shares from 16 percent to 13 percent.
“Stuck: Young America’s Persistent Jobs Crisis,” Catherine Ruetschlin and Tamara Draut, Demos. For the younger population, the economic recovery has yet to arrive. Not only are 10.3 million 18 to 34-year olds currently unemployed or underemployed, but the economy would have to add 4.1 million jobs for young adults to return to pre-recession levels of employment. Youth unemployment is even more severe for people of color: 25 percent higher for Latino workers compared to white workers, and double for blacks compared to whites. Moreover, labor force participation for young workers was at its lowest point in 2012 in more than four decades. And 18- to 24-year olds who do have work languish in some of the lowest-paying industries: retail (20 percent of this population) and food service (also 20 percent). How even to begin remedying the youth jobs crisis? The report offers four proposals: a youth jobs corps; higher minimum wages; expansion of unionization and collective bargaining rights; and investment in community college and vocational training.
“Sequestering Meals on Wheels Could Cost the Nation $489 Million per Year,” Jessica Schieder and Patrick Lester, Center for Effective Government. Under sequestration, the Meals on Wheels program is expected to lose an estimated $10 million this year. However, the net loss of this cut could be much greater. One reason is that the program allows seniors to stay at home rather than moving to nursing homes, which require greater funding from Medicaid per person. (Care funded through Medicaid is nearly three times greater for people in nursing homes than for those who stay in their own homes.) In total, the authors calculate, cutting $10 million in Meals on Wheels would hit taxpayers on the order of $479 million for the duration of this fiscal year.
“Mandatory Drug Testing of Work First Applicants and Recipients Would Be Costly, Likely Illegal, and Ineffective at Identifying and Treating Drug Abuse,” Sabine Schoenbach and Tazra Mitchell, North Carolina Justice Center. North Carolina’s Work First program was started in 1996 to provide basic services, short-term training and small cash grants to low-income families. Not only is the program falling short on enrollment—between December 2007 and March 2013, state unemployment went up 4.2 percentage point, but Work First enrollment decreased by 17 percent—it’s now under attack from a new state bill that would require recipients to pass (and pay for) drug tests as a condition of applying. This brief details the policy’s wrongheadedness: the testing could cost the state upwards of $2.3 million; it likely violates the Fourth Amendment; and limitations common to blanket drug-testing mechanisms could render it ineffectual for its intended purpose.
“Expect More: How Target Chooses to Shortchange Minnesota’s Communities of Color,” TakeAction Minnesota, Centro de Trabajadores en Lucha-CTUL, SEIU Local 26, ISAIAH and Minnesotans for a Fair Economy. Target is the fourth largest employer in Minnesota—and proud of its Minnesotan roots. As these groups argue, though, “There is a tremendous opportunity for Target to have a more diverse workforce—one that is paid a living wage with safe working conditions which would more honestly align with the company’s carefully crafted public image of giving back to the communities it serves.” Target’s problems are many: contracting abusive janitorial companies that have stolen workers’ wages; hiring discrimination; and actively shirking promises of job creation, in exchange for millions in public subsidies in the Twin Cities alone—and exemptions from Minneapolis’s municipal living wage. The report calls on Target to hire responsible, law-abiding contractors; adopt fair hiring practices; and deliver on its promises to create jobs in the metro-area Brooklyn Park, where it has fallen notably short.
“Market-oriented education reforms’ rhetoric trumps reality,” Elaine Weiss and Don Long, Broader, Bolder Approach to Education. There’s great promise for students in rating teachers according to student tests, expanding charter schools (and therefore parental “choice”) and closing “failing” or under-enrolled schools—if you believe the billionaires, politicians and so-called reformers who will booster these policies at all costs (often, to their own financial benefit). The authors of this report rip the prevailing reform logic to shreds. Analyzing reams of quantitative and qualitative data from New York, Chicago and Washington, DC, they find the following: despite reports of success, test scores have increased less in these “reform” cities than in other districts; school closures don’t funnel students to better schools—or bolster student outcomes; and the majority of students who leave district schools for charter schools land in lower-performing environments. Instead, the authors argue, school reform should revolve around initiatives that tackle poverty and inequality of opportunity head on—for example, comprehensive childhood education in DC, college financial aid counseling in Chicago, school-based health clinics in Cincinnati, and Montgomery County’s (MD) range of holistic approaches to rating teachers and developing student programs and coursework.
US poverty (less than $17,916 for a family of three): 46.2 million people, 15.1 percent.
Children in poverty: 16.1 million, 22 percent of all children, including 39 percent of African-American children and 34 percent of Latino children. Poorest age group in country.
Deep poverty (less than $11,510 for a family of four): 20.4 million people, 1 in 15 Americans, including more than 15 million women and children.
People who would have been in poverty if not for Social Security, 2011: 67.6 million (program kept 21.4 million people out of poverty).
People in the US experiencing poverty by age 65: roughly half.
Gender gap, 2011: Women 34 percent more likely to be poor than men.
Gender gap, 2010: Women 29 percent more likely to be poor than men.
Twice the poverty level (less than $46,042 for a family of four): 106 million people, more than 1 in 3 Americans.
Jobs in the US paying less than $34,000 a year: 50 percent.
Jobs in the US paying below the poverty line for a family of four, less than $23,000 annually: 25 percent.
Poverty-level wages, 2011: 28 percent of workers.
Low-income families that were working in 2011: more than 70 percent.
Families receiving cash assistance, 1996: 68 for every 100 families living in poverty.
Families receiving cash assistance, 2010: 27 for every 100 families living in poverty.
Impact of public policy, 2010: without government assistance, poverty would have been twice as high—nearly 30 percent of population.
Percentage of entitlement benefits going to elderly, disabled or working households: over 90 percent.
Food stamp recipients with no other cash income: 6.5 million people.
Number of homeless children in US public schools: 1,065,794.
Annual cost of child poverty nationwide: $550 billion.
Mothers who are homeless as a direct result of domestic violence: 1 in 4.
Homeless mothers who will experience domestic violence at some point: over 90 percent.
Federal expenditures on home ownership mortgage deductions, 2012: $131 billion.
Federal funding for low-income housing assistance programs, 2012: less than $50 billion.
James Cersonsky wrote the “Studies/Briefs” and co-wrote the “Clips and other resources” sections in this blog.
Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff once concluded that economies stall when debt reaches 90 percent of GDP. A recent paper from Amherst College points out important holes in the Harvard paper's conclusions—and, in turn, the austerity playbook. "This study, on which so much of the austerity agenda, so much of our actual politics...so much of what they've based their argument on," Nation writer John Nichols says, "as the Harvard economists acknowledge, contains significant mistakes." Nichols joins KPFA radio (about 7 minutes into the show) to discuss the nuts, bolts and implications of the new findings.
What does American trade policy have to do with the ongoing Bangladeshi factory fires? Read William Greider's analysis.