Showing posts with label us regression. Show all posts
Showing posts with label us regression. Show all posts

10.31.2018

something you can do with your shock and outrage: support military resistance to u.s. concentration camps

As the outrages pour out of the US daily, or seemingly hourly, good people's shock and horror are often accompanied by feelings of frustration and helplessness.

Far too many well-intentioned organizations are lining up around the midterm elections, as if the answer lies only at the ballot box. Many people are organizing locally to support rallies, demonstrations, letter writing, and the like. Still, the frustration is palpable -- and understandable. These actions, although important, feel so insufficient. The current US government shows no sign of respecting the rule of law or popular opinion, and certainly not morality.

One concrete action we can take to resist the Trump agenda is to support military resistance. Whenever and wherever fascist governments have perpetrated crimes against individuals and against humanity, they have been enabled by the loyalty of the militaries at their commands.

"We were just following orders." This was the answer famously given by Nazi officers on trial for war crimes in Nuremberg, Germany after World War II. The civilized world rejected that answer, and the Nuremberg Principles were created to enshrine that rejection in international law.

Unfortunately -- the most unfortunate thing in the world -- most military personnel the world over do not resist. But some do. And those courageous soldiers are fighting on the frontline for peace and justice.

Military resistance is the most direct blow to the outrages perpetrated by immoral governments the world over. Resistance is a lonely road, and one that comes at a very high price. Ask Chelsea Manning. Ask Kim Rivera, who -- deported by the Canadian government -- gave birth to her youngest child in a military jail.

War resisters need financial support, and they need moral and emotional support. And other soldiers need to know that resistance is possible. As with any groupthink, it's easier to speak out when others have gone before you.

Courage to Resist, which supports the brave and principled soldiers who refuse or resist illegal orders, has launched a new campaign: Do Not Collaborate
This summer, what might have been the defining low point of previous administrations, was simply the outrage of the moment: A plan to have the military host massive concentration camps of upward of 200,000 immigrant detainees across the United States, as we reported to you in July.

These camps do not appear to be going up as quickly nor on such a massive scale as first announced (quite possibly due to the resistance on many levels), but they do appear to be moving forward. On the Texas border at Tornillo Port of Entry, a tent city that first detained a couple hundred children a few months ago will hold nearly 4,000 kids by the end of the year.

Few people actually join the military to travel to distant lands to kill people. Fewer still join to help run concentration camps. Under both US and international law, military personnel have a moral and legal obligation to refuse to comply with any order that involves collaboration with these camps, but unfortunately few are aware of this fact.

That’s why we need your help. Together, we’re going to launch a strategically targeted communications project to reach service members across the country with this message:

These camps are illegal and immoral.

You have a responsibility to refuse and expose these orders.

Direct military resistance is powerful.


Our initial goal is to raise $20,000 to spend approximately one penny per member of the US military with this challenge. Of course, we believe that service members deserve two cents worth of encouragement if we can raise $40,000!

Just the idea of these massive military-hosted immigrant detention camps brings back memories of the forced relocation and incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. Many of us thought something like that could never happen again, and yet, here we are. Along with everything else you can do to resist this affront to humanity, please support our challenge to military personnel to refuse these illegal orders. Your tax-deductible donation of $50 or $100 will make a huge difference.

Click here to learn more, or to donate to the Do Not Collaborate campaign.

7.08.2018

kevin baker in harper's: "the death of a once great city -- the fall of new york and the urban crisis of affluence"

Everyone who cares about cities, about privatization, and frankly, about humans and our ability to live on our planet, should make time to read the July cover story in Harper's magazine. New York writer Kevin Baker unpacks "The Death of a Once Great City -- The fall of New York and the urban crisis of affluence".
As New York enters the third decade of the twenty-first century, it is in imminent danger of becoming something it has never been before: unremarkable. It is approaching a state where it is no longer a significant cultural entity but the world’s largest gated community, with a few cupcake shops here and there. For the first time in its history, New York is, well, boring.

This is not some new phenomenon but a cancer that’s been metastasizing on the city for decades now. And what’s happening to New York now—what’s already happened to most of Manhattan, its core—is happening in every affluent American city. San Francisco is overrun by tech conjurers who are rapidly annihilating its remarkable diversity; they swarm in and out of the metropolis in specially chartered buses to work in Silicon Valley, using the city itself as a gigantic bed-and-breakfast. Boston, which used to be a city of a thousand nooks and crannies, back-alley restaurants and shops, dive bars and ice cream parlors hidden under its elevated, is now one long, monotonous wall of modern skyscraper. In Washington, an army of cranes has transformed the city in recent years, smoothing out all that was real and organic into a town of mausoleums for the Trump crowd to revel in.

By trying to improve our cities, we have only succeeded in making them empty simulacra of what was. To bring this about we have signed on to political scams and mindless development schemes that are so exclusive they are more destructive than all they were supposed to improve. The urban crisis of affluence exemplifies our wider crisis: we now live in an America where we believe that we no longer have any ability to control the systems we live under.
The article unpacks the trend I was lamenting in the 1990s, worsening each passing year, until it finally drove us out in 2005 -- the City paying diminishing returns on the "why live in NYC" equation, finally allowing me to defect from the whole mess of the United States. Since then, of course, it's only gotten worse. But no longer seeing the City on a day-to-day, boots-on-the-ground level, I had no idea how much worse.

This is not nostalgia. And it's not an inevitable act of nature. It's the result of deliberate choices by the ruling class. And it's happening all over North America.

I'm still reading the story. With every paragraph, my heart breaks a little more. It's a long, depressing, essential read.

If you can't access it through the Harper's website, try using your library card to get it through rbgdigital or hoopla.

7.01.2018

happy canada day: a wish for a pledge

One unfortunate result of the current ascendancy of white supremacy in the US is the increase in Canadians' nationalism and self-love -- the strengthening of Canadians' conviction that our society is peaceful and democratic, our institutions benevolent, our kindness manifest in law.

We pat ourselves on the back while Trudeau spends our money trampling Indigenous rights, poisoning our water, and hastening climate catastrophe. We say "We're the greatest country in the world," while our most populous province has elected a false-majority, white supremacist government of our own.

So often, if Canadians can believe that it's better here than in the US, they are happy enough to stop there.

We can do better.

We must do better.

This Canada Day, let's pledge to push our governments -- and to educate our friends, family, co-workers, and ourselves -- so that Canada can live up to its reputation, a little more every day.

magazine covers presented without comment, because what is there to say






6.30.2018

from the archives: for millions of american women, roe is already history

With the resignation of US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, it is very likely that Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, will be overturned. I'm getting frustrated by the spate of stories about how abortion will now be illegal -- with no mention of how Roe has become meaningless for so many women.

I wrote this (below) on Common Dreams in 2005. I was off on the chronology -- it took longer to get to this point than I thought it would -- and the lack of access has undoubtedly gotten worse since then. This piece in The Guardian will bring you up to date.

* * * * *

January 23, 2005

For Millions of American Women, Roe Is Already History
By Laura Kaminker

Thirty-two years ago yesterday, American women gained greater control over their bodies - and therefore, over their lives - when Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, became the law of the land.

The choice community celebrates the Roe anniversary as a kind of emancipation day, but it is unlikely we will see too many more of those celebrations. Roe will almost certainly be reversed soon. Abortion will be legal in some states and not others. State laws will vary widely in the circumstances under which a pregnancy may be terminated - as is now the case, only more so.

However, those of us involved in abortion access know that for millions of American women, Roe is already irrelevant.

Money. For a few years after the Roe decision, Medicaid paid for abortions; anyone could get an abortion regardless of her age or ability to pay. Only four years later, Congress passed the Hyde Amendment, which banned payment for abortions unless the woman's life was endangered. (In 1993, after much struggle, those exceptions were broadened to include cases of rape and incest.)

In most states, Medicaid rarely covers abortion. Yet the cost of a first-trimester abortion can be more than a family on public assistance receives in a month. In our Walmart economy, many working women can't afford a procedure.

Low-income women and girls delay termination as they try to scrape together the money they need. These delays often force them to have second-trimester procedures, which are more complicated medically, more risky - and much more expensive. It is not uncommon for women to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term because they cannot afford a simple medical procedure.

Laws. Then there are the legal obstacles. With the Webster (1989) and Casey (1992) decisions, the Supreme Court upheld states' rights to restrict access to abortion in myriad ways. Women must jump through hoops and over hurdles before they can terminate a pregnancy. These laws run the gamut of idiocy, from 48-hour waiting periods, to parental consent and notification for minors, to mandatory "counseling," which often involves coercion.

These laws assume women are incompetent, irresponsible, and unable to make their own decisions. They also expose the anti-choice "abortion is murder" argument for the smokescreen that it is. If abortion was murder, these types of laws would be anathema to the anti-choice crowd: what good is delaying murder? However, if one's goal is to control women and punish them for having sex and getting pregnant, then these laws make perfect sense.

And then there's availability. In addition to the financial and legal barriers, there is one last, often insurmountable obstacle: availability.

Because of anti-choice terrorism and political action, thousands of doctors have stopped providing abortions and thousands of towns have stopped leasing space to abortion providers. Right now, nearly 80% of American women live in a county with no abortion provider. Obtaining an abortion often means traveling long distances, which in turn means finding child care and transportation, and even more funds. Imagine if the state also has a mandatory waiting period, so the entire trip has to be made twice. A baby should not be born because a woman could not afford the price of a bus ticket or had no one to watch her children.

When Roe is overturned, I will mourn. But in a very real sense, Roe is already history and has been for a long time. Without access, legal abortion is meaningless.

10.31.2017

the worst part of trump is not trump

The freak show that is the Donald Trump presidency gives us so many things to lament, and mourn, and goggle at. But for one organization, it is a singular gift, valuable beyond all measure: that is the Democratic National Committee.

For me, the worst part of the Trump presidency is not Trump. It is the enormous setback to -- maybe the death of, in my lifetime -- building a progressive alternative in the United States.

Four decades of deindustrialization, job loss, corporate welfare, and ever-widening income inequality has brought progressive economic ideas to the forefront in the US, and has rejuvenated the appetite for making them a reality. คาสิโนออนไลน์ แจกเครดิตฟรี 2019The evidence is plentiful, from the fight for a $15/hour minimum wage to the jubilant crowds that greeted Bernie Sanders at every campaign stop. People are hungry for change, and many people are hungry for change from the left.

Fill in the blanks. A vote for ____ is a vote for ____.

And now we have Trump.

Hillary Clinton supporters -- and of course Clinton herself -- blame Sanders and Sanders' supporters for the election of Donald Trump.

While not surprising, this is as misguided as those who blamed Ralph Nader and his supporters for George W. Bush's installation in the White House in 2004. It has been proven beyond any reasonable doubt that both the 2000 and 2004 elections were riddled with fraud and vote-fixing. Florida alone was the product of massive fraud, and the Supreme Court (not the voters) decided the results, something at least one Supreme Court justice regrets. Yet loyal Democrat voters blame Nader -- and they vowed never to let it happen again.

This time, there is plenty of blame to go around, beginning with the corruption and arrogance of the DNC, insisting on running the candidate who was anointed by the party, rather than one who was chosen, you know, by the voters. They did everything they could do rig the results, and when that didn't work, invoked arcane rules that were designed to thwart democracy. When they were caught, the DNC defended their actions. (The lawsuit against the DNC was not dismissed because it lacked merit, but because the judge ruled it was not a matter for the judiciary.)

In the DNC's bubble of unchallenged power, they overlooked one crucial variable: people loathe Hillary Clinton. It doesn't matter why. It doesn't matter if it's based on fact or fiction or how much sexism is or isn't mixed in. Millions of people detest her and would never vote for her, no matter what the choices.

If Sanders supporters chose Trump over Clinton, that's not Sanders' fault. It's Clinton's, and it's the DNC's. But like Homer Simpson, the DNC cannot accept responsibility for any outcome. It's Sanders' fault. It's the fault of you people for wanting to build a movement for economic justice.

Learning all the wrong lessons

Now that we're witnessing the debacle of the Trump White House, the lesson could not be clearer: don't ever dare vote for a third party, or this is what will happen. You must vote Democrat, no matter what. If you dare to start building a viable party on the left, you will move the country even further to the right (even if only in appearance). Millions of anti-Trump voters now believe more strongly than ever that it is their sworn duty to Always Vote Democrat, no matter what. This must be an especially powerful lesson for the young voters who rallied around Sanders.

For decades, Allan and I have referred to "the circus coming to town" as a shorthand for the theatre of  US election campaigns, lending a thin (and getting ever thinner!) veneer of democracy to a corrupt, undemocratic system. This time, the circus never ended. The threat of real change on the left was more feasible than it had been in a long time, so the distraction had to be even bigger and more lurid.

As I was writing this, as if on cue, an Economist/YouGov poll found that 51 percent of Democrat voters now have a favourable opinion of George W. Bush. If Democrat voters feel that way about Bush, any Democrat candidate who can put a sentence together -- anyone who waves the words "woman's right to choose" and "the rights of all families" around -- will get their vote.

The worst part of Trump is not Trump.

The worst part of Trump is the lost hope of building a new party.

* Personal disclosure, to avoid assumptions. Although I am a dual citizen (Canada-US) and am eligible to vote with an absentee ballot, I do not vote in US elections. While I agree with Bernie Sanders' ideas and his platform, I did not support him. Sanders played the role historically assigned to the most left-leaning Democrat in the primaries, used by the party to bring in the progressive vote. There's one in every election. They do their job and are never heard from again. In Congress, Sanders voted with the Democrats 98% of the time.

10.04.2017

thoughts on the latest u.s. gun massacre

As part of my continuing efforts to post here rather than -- or at least in addition to -- Facebook, here are some thoughts on the latest horrific massacre in the US, the country music festival in Las Vegas.

First, the inevitability of recurrence. When hearing about mass shootings in the United States, the worst part -- the most tragic, the most outrageous part -- is the certainty of knowing that nothing will change. That it will happen again, and again, and again.

A solution is known, of course. We won't end the culture of violence that permeates the US, but we can end access to large numbers of deadly weapons. The fact that the vice grip of a deadly special interest group outweighs the basic human rights of life and safety speaks volumes about the US political system. The congressmembers and senators who are bought and paid for by the NRA can never wash the blood off their hands.

Second, the true body count. Allan and I were talking about what it might have been like to be there. I admit I don't usually do this. I usually think about these massacres on a social and political level, somewhat removed from true empathy. But thinking a lot about the survivors, I know that every one of them will have PTSD. Many of them may never recover a fully healthy mental state.

Given the cost of mental health resources, the lack or absence of public mental health support, the survivors may or may not find help for this condition.

However high the final number of dead and wounded, the true numbers will never be known.

5.27.2017

what i'm reading: the new jim crow by michelle alexander

When I first heard the incarceration of African Americans in the United States referred to as a "new Jim Crow," I thought it must be hyperbole. So did Michelle Alexander, a fact she discloses in the introduction to her book. As Alexander researched the concept, the more she learned, the more she changed her mind. She changed my mind, too.

In The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Alexander builds an unassailable case that mass incarceration through the (so-called) War on Drugs is the third large-scale caste system that holds Black Americans in a second-class status. This is true even in a society that includes Oprah Winfrey, Clarence Thomas, and, of course, Barack Obama.

The first caste system was slavery. The second was the laws and customs of segregation, discrimination, and terror known as Jim Crow. The third and current system is mass incarceration. This includes rules governing local policing, key court rulings, the court system itself, the parole and probation system, and laws that discriminate against former inmates.

* * * *

The numbers are staggering. More African Americans are under correctional control today than were enslaved in 1850. A greater percentage of African Americans are under correctional control now than black South Africans were during apartheid.

The US is 5% of the world population and has 25% of world's prisoners. Black and Latino Americans comprise one-quarter of the US population, but almost 60% of the prison population. African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of white Americans.

In terms of the War on Drugs, one might think these disparities could be explained by differences in rates of illegal activity. One would be wrong. The data shows that people of all colours use and sell illegal drugs at very similar rates. When there is a difference by skin colour, the numbers skew towards whites.
Thus, the very same year Human Rights Watch was reporting that African Americans were being arrested and imprisoned at unprecedented rates, government data revealed that blacks were no more likely to be guilty of drug crimes than whites and that white youth were actually the most likely of any racial or ethnic group to be guilty of illegal drug possession and sales.
The fact of incarceration alone is only one piece of the picture. Before incarceration, there is a series of court rulings that have gutted constitutional protections (especially the Fourth Amendment, the right to be free of unwarranted search and seizure), and make it impossible for citizens to argue racial bias in any criminal proceeding. There are draconian mandatory sentencing laws, which lead to the normalization of plea bargaining, in which people who have committed no crime plead guilty to some crime, in order to avoid a life sentence. There are huge financial incentives to municipalities to militarize their police forces, and to states for building -- and filling -- prisons.

After incarceration, the system prevents almost everyone who has been incarcerated from re-entering mainstream life. It is virtually impossible for anyone convicted of a felony to access housing, education loans, or jobs. In most states, formerly incarcerated people are stripped of voting rights and from jury rolls -- forever.

Former inmates, as Alexander writes, "will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits.” Right now, about 30% of African American men are automatically banned from jury duty -- for life.

There is a terrible circular logic to the system. As a former US attorney general explained:
Law enforcement officials often point to the racial composition of our prisons and jails as a justification for targeting racial minorities, but the empirical evidence actually suggested the opposite conclusion was warranted. The disproportionate imprisonment of people of color was, in part, a product of racial profiling -- not a justification for it.

In the years following the release of the New Jersey and Maryland data, dozens of other studies of racial profiling have been conducted. A brief sampling:

• In Volusia County, Florida, a reporter obtained 148 hours of video footage documenting more than 1,000 highway stops conducted by state troopers. Only 5 percent of the drivers on the road were African American or Latino, but more than 80 percent of the people stopped and searched were minorities.

• In Illinois, the state police initiated a drug interdiction program known as Operation Valkyrie that targeted Latino motorists. While Latinos comprised less than 8 percent of the Illinois population and took fewer than 3 percent of the personal vehicle trips in Illinois, they comprised approximately 30 percent of the motorists stopped by drug interdiction officers for discretionary offenses, such as failure to signal a lane change. [These discretionary offenses are often an excuse to search vehicles or to arrest people for "resisting".] Latinos, however, were significantly less likely than whites to have illegal contraband in their vehicles.

• A racial profiling study in Oakland, California, in 2001 showed that African Americans were approximately twice as likely as whites to be stopped, and three times as likely to be searched.

Pedestrian stops, too, have been the subject of study and controversy. The New York Police Department released statistics in February 2007 showing that during the prior year its officers stopped an astounding 508,540 people -- an average of 1,393 per day -- who were walking down the street, perhaps on their way to the subway, grocery store, or bus stop. Often the stops included searches for illegal drugs or guns -- searches that frequently required people to lie face down on the pavement or stand spreadeagled against a wall while police officers aggressively groped all over their bodies while bystanders watched or walked by. The vast majority of those stopped and searched were racial minorities, and more than half were African American. . . . . 
Although the NYPD attempted to justify the stops on the grounds that they were designed to get guns off the street, stops by the Street Crime Unit -- the group of officers who supposedly are specially trained to identify gun-toting thugs -- yielded a weapon in only 2.5 percent of all stops. . . .

Rather than reducing reliance on stop-and-frisk tactics following the Diallo shooting* and the release of this disturbing data, the NYPD dramatically increased its number of pedestrian stops and continued to stop and frisk African Americans at grossly disproportionate rates. The NYPD stopped five times more people in 2005 than in 2002 -- the overwhelming majority of whom were African American or Latino.
Perhaps the most surprising portion of The New Jim Crow is Alexander's history of the War on Drugs. The "tough on crime" stance that began under President Nixon and intensified under Presidents Reagan and Clinton was born when rates of drug use and crime were low.

Today nearly one-third of African American men are likely to spend time in prison. Once released, they live in a state of permanent second-class citizenship. Alexander builds a case that the War on Drugs was not a response to higher crime rates, but a deliberate plan to dismantle the gains of the civil rights movement. If this sounds unlikely, I highly recommend reading this book.

Alexander has clearly done exhaustive research, but she doesn't exhaust the reader with statistics. Although the numbers are extremely convincing, they are woven into a compelling, readable narrative. It's a disturbing book, as it should be, and an excellent one.




-----
* Amadou Diallo was an African immigrant living in New York City. In 1999, when stopped by the police and asked for identification, he reached for his wallet. Police later said they thought the wallet was a gun. The police shot 41 times. Diallo was 22 years old, and unarmed.

* The Wikipedia article about the Diallo murder contains this:
On March 13, 2015, Capital New York and other news organizations reported that 50 of the 15,000 IP addresses belonging to the NYPD were associated with edits, dating back to 2006, to English Wikipedia articles, including this article on the Amadou Diallo shooting. These IP addresses geolocate to NYPD headquarters at 1 Police Plaza. Detective Cheryl Crispin, a NYPD spokeswoman, said that "the matter is under internal review."

3.03.2014

lessons from wisconsin and michigan: tim hudak's threat to ontario workers is not over

Last September, when Tim Hudak announced that he intended to break Ontario's unions, it came as no surprise to labour activists. The head of Ontario's Progressive Conservative Party, cynically framing the issue as one of "choice," talked about "right-to-work" - a familiar euphemism for union busting - and repealing the Rand Formula. That 1946 Canadian Supreme Court decision ensures that everyone who enjoys the benefits of belonging to a union contributes union dues, which in turn ensures that union workplaces can survive.

And that, in turn, sets a standard for all Ontario workers, union or not. This is one time the expression "a rising tide lifts all boats" - usually applied in defense of regressive economic policies - actually does apply. Union work sets a standard in any community for decent pay and humane working conditions. Unions are a bulwark against the low-wage economy that has decimated working conditions in the United States. Without unions, the gun goes off on a race to the bottom.

Union workers throughout Ontario understood the threat and mobilized. Then, two weeks ago, Hudak rescinded his right-to-work plan. Activists throughout the province cheered, and with good reason. It was a significant win. But has the threat truly passed? And can we trust Hudak? Can we take him at his word?

First, we should acknowledge why Hudak changed his tune. He didn't wake up one morning thinking, How can I make life better for the average Ontarian? He took right-to-work off the table because of our resistance. Union workers and the a good portion of the general public made so much noise about right-to-work that members of Hudak's own party began to see the issue as an election liability. In other words, the fightback worked. And now, if we consider the battle won, if pack up our tents and return to complacency, we'll be blindsided when the next threat hits.

And what is the next threat? Hudak himself said (emphasis mine):
This ‘right-to-work’ issue just doesn’t have the scope or the power to fix the issues that are threatening 100 per cent of the manufacturing jobs in Ontario. So if we’re elected, we’re not going to do it — we’re not going to change the so-called ‘Rand Formula.’ Our agenda is a lot bigger, and a lot more ambitious, than that.
Right-to-work is only one torture instrument in the shock-doctrine toolbox of this anti-labour, anti-human agenda. Consider this New York Times story, "Wisconsin's Legacy for Unions," about Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's union-busting tactics:
Mr. Walker’s landmark law — called Act 10 — severely restricted the power of public-employee unions to bargain collectively, and that provision, among others, has given social workers, prison guards, nurses and other public employees little reason to pay dues to a union that can no longer do much for them. . . . . [Act 10] bars public-sector unions from bargaining over pensions, health coverage, safety, hours, sick leave or vacations. All they can negotiate is base pay, and even that is limited: any raises they win cannot exceed inflation.”
Now compare this to one slice of Hudak’s "Million Jobs Act".
The Tories say that, if elected, they would save $2 billion by freezing public sector wages across the board. In an earlier announcement, they said they would find even more savings by slashing 10,000 jobs in the education sector.
Exactly how does freezing wages and slashing jobs create jobs? Ontario is bleeding manufacturing jobs as corporations chase the higher profits gained from a low-wage workforce in countries without health, safety, and environmental protections. Instead of mounting a real response that would protect good jobs and strengthen our communities, our politicians can only talk about corporate tax cuts... which lead to cutting social services... which means squeezing the people who provide those services... who are more likely to be unionized workers. Corporate tax cuts don't create jobs. They weaken our economy.

Hudak can try any number of sneaky methods of union-busting, or, if elected, he can slap right-to-work back on the table. That's what happened in Michigan. The right-wing National Review ran a story called "The New Wisconsin," which details how Michigan quietly became a right-to-work state.
Yet before anything could happen in Michigan, the right-to-work movement needed to overcome at least one more obstacle: [Republican] Governor Rick Snyder, who had announced during his race [in 2012] that right-to-work would not be on his agenda. He called it “too divisive” — a label that must have seemed entirely fitting as he watched Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, his neighbor across Lake Michigan, suffer through 18 months of partisan strife. The unions thought they detected weakness and began to push for what would become Proposal 2, a 2012 ballot initiative to enshrine collective bargaining in the state constitution, effectively putting compulsory unionism beyond the reach of right-to-work reformers.

“This turned out to be a priceless gift,” says Mike Shirkey, a Republican legislator and right-to-work ringleader. “It gave us the entire summer to frame the debate and let us tell voters that we’re not out to destroy unions but to protect workers’ rights.”
Snyder was elected in November 2012, and right-to-work was passed the following month.

In Wisconsin, with unions out of the way, the drive to destroy the fruits of the labour movement has begun: state Republicans have introduced a bill to repeal the five-day work week.

Don't let this happen here.


-----
Thanks to Michelle for her amazing research and to James for continuing to keep me informed.

9.21.2013

hedges: "when harper passes right-to-work, you must go on a massive general strike, or you're finished"

Last night, I heard author, journalist, and activist Chris Hedges speak at the Bloor Street United Church in Toronto, sponsored by the excellent Canadian Dimension.

Hedges is a radical intellectual, in the Chomsky vein, also compassionate and fearless, in the mode of Howard Zinn. He touched on many subjects - and credited the work and thoughts of many others. I can only hope to impart a few snippets of the many threads Hedges wove.

"A seismic moment"

Hedges called the recent US debate on Syria a "seismic moment". The Obama administration pulled out all the familiar mechanisms used to sell wars to the public: the ruthless dictator, the weapons of mass destruction, the atrocities. It invoked the Normandy invasion, the liberation of Europe. It did the usual war dance... but none of it worked. The ploys, usually so effective, failed both internationally and domestically, blindsiding the Obama administration.

Hedges compared the distaste for war on Syria to the turning-point in the US's war on Vietnam. Remember, he said, that war enjoyed majority support for 10 years. Only after 10 years - the "quagmire", the middle-class draft - did the narrative shift from myths about war to the brutal facts. And once the myth falls away, the country wakes up from its drunken reverie and sees the war for what it is. Hedges says that shift has occurred in the United States today.

Hedges linked the total invisibility of the underclass in the US to the terror we should all feel about climate change: both are the products of uncontrolled corporate capitalism. At this moment, he said, we either transform our relationship to the natural world, or we die. And he pointed out that Harper has shifted Canada to that same relationship: a government dominated by the interests of the fossil fuel industry.

He spoke of how, after September 11, 2001, the United States "drunk deep of the intoxicating elixir of nationalism," along with heavy doses of nationalism's constant partner, racism. He spoke of the "plague of nationalism" - something I was very moved by in one of Hedges' books, which I wrote about here and here - and how the "virus that gripped the United States after 9/11" was finally broken by the debate on war on Syria. And with that debate, he feels the US may have woken up from its "long drunken revelry of war".

Hedges also noted that the US's plans for Syria would have dropped incredibly huge numbers of bombs, inflicting untold numbers of deaths. As he was a war correspondent for many years and has seen the devastation of war firsthand, Hedges always includes not only the dead, but the permanently wounded, the traumatized, the brain-injured, and the famine, the destruction.

The collapse of the liberal establishment...

Hedges spoke on several points from his book Death of the Liberal Class. The liberal establishment - the media, the church, government regulation, the social safety net - has been destroyed or has been rendered completely ineffectual.

Hedges - whose father was a Presbyterian minister, and who studied at Harvard Divinity School - lambasted the church (as an institution) for not denouncing the radical Christian right as heretics. He noted that one needn't have studied at Harvard Divinity School to know that Jesus didn't preach about how to get wealthy, and never talked about abortion, and that the gospel wasn't about "how to make everything good for me".

The media has been destroyed by corporate ownership and conglomeration, a consequence of deregulation.

The effectiveness of the US labour movement was destroyed by the purposeful purging of radicals from its leadership. And the same is coming any minute now in Canada. Hedges said, "It's amazing. We do everything wrong in the United States, and 10 years later, Canada copies us."

The US, Hedges pointed out, had the most radical labour movement in the world. The birth of organized labour in the US is the bloodiest in modern history. (I love US labour history, so this was exciting for me.) It was through radical politics that the US labour movement pushed back against the robber barons, and through those same movements, always opposed war. Compare organized labour's fierce opposition to the US entering World War I with its stance on the Vietnam War: "these colours don't run" and get the hippies out of the streets.

Hedges touched briefly - quickly, and a bit confusingly, tossing out a long ribbon of names and influences - on the roots of "manufactured consent" (Walter Lippman, Dwight Macdonald, Macdonald's work radicalizing Chomsky), and the "psychosis of permanent war", the state keeping the populace always on edge, always in fear, and the constant need to ferret out enemies both external and internal. There was no popular support in the US for World War I; Woodrow Wilson passed the Espionage and Sedition Acts in order to squelch dissent and make room for the war propaganda.

The liberal class, Hedges notes, is a safety valve. When pressured by radical movements, the liberal class can adjust the system to prevent further suffering of the underclass... and so, they save capitalism. (Think Franklin D. Roosevelt. Think New Deal. That was the closest the US had ever come to revolution... and FDR himself said his greatest achievement was preserving capitalism.)

Hedges said that the greatest difference between Canada and the US - universal health care - exists because in the US, the labour movement is divorced from its radical politics. From the Palmer Raids of the 1920s, up through the McCarthy era of the 1950s, radicals and leftists were systematically purged from the United States. The Hollywood purges are perhaps the most famous, but leftist intellectuals were rooted out and destroyed from every field and facet of American life.

And that, says Hedges, is how you get "freaks like the Clintons," supposedly liberal politicians who laid the groundwork for everything from which we now suffer. NAFTA and other so-called free trade agreements. (Goodbye economy, labour laws, and environmental laws.) The explosion of the prison population. (2.2 million, or 7 million if you count everyone on probation or suspension.) Deregulation of the FCC. (Media conglomeration.) Deregulation of the banking industry. (Robber barons gambling with citizens' money, and everything that led to.) The end of the federal guarantee of welfare. (Seventy percent of those thrown off welfare rolls were children.)

You want freaks? Hedges detailed how Obama, supposedly a liberal, has mounted "a far more grievous assault on civil liberties than George W. Bush did": the NDAA, the kill lists, the indefinite detentions, the unprecedented resurrection of the Espionage Act, the persecution of whistleblowers, the insane sentence for Chelsea Manning. About Manning, Hedges said, "When the true account of the country is written, she will be remembered as one of the most heroic figures in United States history."

Hedges, who covered the revolution in Eastern Europe for many years, said the current surveillance state dwarfs anything dreamed of by the infamous Stasi.

...not be confused with radical movements for change

The collapse of the liberal establishment should not be confused with a dearth of radical people's movements. Hedges noted that Howard Zinn always taught that radical movements never achieve formal positions of power, nor should that be their aim.

He talked about the need to recapture and rebuild the strength of radical movements, rather than put our faith in the political system. (Obama voters, please take note.) Hedges quoted Karl Popper (paraphrased here): The question should not be how to get good people in power, but how to make those in power afraid of the people.

Hedges related an anecdote from Henry Kissinger's biography (with a warning that we shouldn't waste our time reading it!) that sees Nixon in the White House, utterly terrified of the protests going on outside. And that is what we want.

Power, Hedges noted, is the problem. It's not what we should be after. We who care about social justice must accept that our goal is not to put one of our own in power, but to push power from the outside.

During the Q&A portion of the evening, Hedges had an opportunity to expand on this. He said he always votes for a radical party, but "voting is a small part of what I do," quoting Emma Goldman: "If voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal."

To my delight, Hedges talked a bit about how the Democrat party furiously tried to shut down Ralph Nader and the Green Party, and dismissed the ridiculous myth that Nader gave the 2000 election to Bush, mentioning briefly what really happened in Florida. He noted surprise at how many people actually believe that nonsense. Like me, Hedges is unable to say that George W. Bush was elected. He is not afraid of facts.

Mount a resistance

While talking about the differences between Canada and the US, and the relative strength of organized labour in each country, Hedges asked, "Do you have 'right-to-work' laws here yet?" The audience answered that we do not. And Hedges replied: "The minute Harper passes those laws, if you guys don't have a massive general strike, you're finished." He said, "You still have enough organized labour in Canada to mount a resistance."

When asked about the general strike during the Q&A, Hedges said that any and all civil disobedience is important. He mentioned the organizing fast-food workers as an important piece of resistance. "Anything that messes them up is good," he said. "Anything that interrupts the mechanisms of how they make money."

Again invoking the image of a terrified Nixon, Hedges wondered, what would happen if the French government announced that university tuition was now $50,000 per year? We don't have to look all the way to France for the answer: look at Quebec.

"At least they tried"

Hedges spoke a little about the Hedges vs. Obama lawsuit (Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg are also plaintiffs in the case), and spoke about despair. Climate change. Corporate capitalism. The largest surveillance state in history. Humankind on the cusp of the most catastrophic moment of its history. Hedges, who has four children, could only say that it is incumbent on all of us, especially elders, to stand up, so at least the next generation can say, "At least they tried."

"I CAN'T"

Hedges related some amusing anecdotes about road trips with Cornel West. He noted how we must destroy the Harper Government before it destroys Canada. And he closed with the People's Trial of Goldman Sachs, and linked uncontrolled corporate capitalism to the famine and death he has witnessed around the globe. He ended with a painful memory - he was too choked up to speak - of dying children, corporate capitalism's most vulnerable victims.

But for me, and perhaps for my friends from the War Resisters Support Campaign with whom I was sitting, the most piercing moment came a bit earlier. Hedges said: "Courage is not about saying 'This is wrong,' or 'We shouldn't do this'. The most courageous words we can say are: I can't."

7.27.2013

"sharecroppers on wheels": port truckers are organizing, and they are winning

When is an employee not an employee? The answer to this riddle is rapidly becoming the true face of employment in the North America today.

In her brilliant investigative book Bait and Switch, Barbara Ehrenreich writes about "jobs" that require scare quotes. These "jobs" provide no salary, no benefits, and no workplace. In most cases, the "employee" finances the most basic tools of the trade out of their own pockets. Real estate agents, insurance salespeople, and cosmetic salespeople often fall under this category. You might be surprised to learn that many truckers do, too.
From Change To Win

They are called "port truckers," and they haul freight from ports to stores like Wal-Mart and Starbucks. Since the deregulation of the trucking industry - under President Carter, a Democrat - port truckers have been classified as independent contractors. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters says that the majority of port truckers (more than 80%) are wrongfully denied employee status.

Employee status would lift port truckers out of poverty, and - perhaps most importantly - give them the right to unionize. Is it any wonder the companies that profit from the truckers' labour use the fiction of the independent contractor?

Josh Eidelson has been writing about this on AlterNet, The Nation, and In These Times.
As I’ve reported, port truckers charge that their status comes with all the downsides of employment — the companies they work for set their compensation and regulate their work — and little of the upside. Most port truckers pay for their trucks (sometimes leasing them from their bosses) and the fees and upkeep costs that come with them, get paid nothing for the extra time they spend idling in traffic and have no legal right to unionize. Such a “Who’s the boss?” problem has become increasingly prevalent for US workers, as increasing numbers are cast among the ranks of temps, informal workers or independent contractors lacking the legal rights of employees — including collective bargaining.

Citing a series of public and private sector studies, a spokesperson for the federal Department of Labor told The Nation in an e-mail that the “numbers suggest that misclassification occurs in significant numbers and, across the country, workers are finding themselves without the basic protections that Congress has enacted to ensure they receive fair pay, safe workplaces, and necessary supports when they are hurt or lose their jobs.
The old sleight of hand called independent contracting keeps each individual trucker powerless against the mega-corporation that pays him. Teamster Vice President Fred Potter calls them "sharecroppers on wheels".

From Change To Win

The Teamsters and organizations like Change To Win intend to change that. Change To Win's campaigns include Wal-Mart workers, warehouse workers, port truckers, and farm labourers - an increasingly huge portion of the North American labour force, most of whom also wear that unconscionable label: the working poor.

Port truckers are determined to change their working conditions, and to reach out to their sisters and brothers in the same situation, and help them change their lives, too. Eidelson reports:
"The same day that the Teamsters won their New Jersey election, workers at the Port of Los Angeles filed the latest in a slew of wage and hour claims against port trucking companies operating in California. The claims allege that companies have illegally misclassified workers as independent contractors, denied them the wages they would legally have been entitled to as employees, and subjected them to payroll deductions that could not legally be required of employees. Following know-your-rights meetings organized by the Teamsters and the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, over 400 such claims have been filed in California — some by the Teamsters, other by private attorneys. Combined with eight potential class action lawsuits, the union says the industry faces a potential liability of $100 million.

These organizing, legal and political efforts are designed to reinforce one another. Potter said that legal action “puts pressure on them to change their business model, and not misclassify workers. That will open the door for the workers, properly classified [as employees], to then seek union representation.” He predicted that evidence of rampant lawlessness would also hurt trucking companies’ relationships with the major chains that hire them. Votes to unionize by port truckers could also strengthen the case that members of the allegedly misclassified majority should have the chance to do the same.

The most dramatic attempt at such synergy took place in 2011, when port truckers staged a strike in Washington state, driving off the job in protest of alleged retaliation and massing at the state capitol to demand passage of an anti-misclassification bill. While the drivers successfully slowed the pace of Seattle’s port, the bill died in the State Senate after passing the House. Asked about that defeat, Potter said, “The industry showed up in force.” However, he said, “That bill is not dead to us.”

As new union members in an overwhelmingly non-union industry, Toll workers in California and New Jersey now have the opportunity to help organize peers at other companies. The campaign acknowledges that the higher standard it’s achieved in the Los Angeles Toll contract —w hich it says doubles workers’ hourly pay — won’t be sustainable unless some of Toll’s competitors follow suit. Indeed, that contract has language committing the Teamsters to organize currently non-union workers at other companies as well.

Schmitt told The Nation that as he and other Toll employees run into drivers from other companies at the Port of Newark, “they’re asking us questions. People are congratulating us on the victory. I guess once we get a collective bargain agreement, and the word is out, don’t be surprised that they would probably want to form a union too.”

a teenager's courage reveals the brutality of anti-choicers: "please stop calling me a whore"

This articulate and courageous 14-year-old girl says she wants to be a science teacher when she grows up. I hope she will also be a writer, because this is one of the best personal essays I have read.
I'm a 14-year-old girl who has lived in Austin, Texas, my whole life. I like art, music and talking on the phone with my friends. When I grow up, I'd like to become a science teacher.

I also believe in the right to choose and the separation of church and state. Or to put it another way -- to put it the way I wrote it when I was protesting at the Capitol last week:

"Jesus isn't a dick so keep him out of my vagina."

Yes, that's my sign.

I came up with it last week when my friend and I were trying to think of ideas for what would get people's attention to protest the scary restrictions that are happening in my state trying to take away a woman's right to safe and accessible abortions.

It worked.

When my friend and I took turns holding the sign, one of the pictures of her went viral.

Then my dad went online to defend the sign on Twitter and other online forums.

That's when people started calling me a "whore."

I'm going to be honest about what it feels like to be called that as a 14-year-old girl who has never had sex and who doesn't plan to have sex anytime soon.

I feel disappointed.

It's hard for me to understand why adults would be calling me this. It's hard for me to understand why anyone would use this term for a 14-year-old girl.

It's not anyone's business, but as I said, I am a virgin, and I don't plan to have sex until I am an adult.

But none of those facts make me feel any less passionate about fighting for a woman's right to choose and the separation of church and state in my home state of Texas.

I also don't think this makes me -- or any other 14-year-old girl who agrees with me -- a whore.

It simply makes us people. People who believe that abortion should be safe, legal and accessible for women. People who believe women should be in control of their bodies and should not ever have to put their lives at risk so that we don't go backwards in women's rights in this country.
Click here to read the essay.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Tuesday Cain! You are the future of choice, and the future of feminism - the future of change.

7.26.2013

hey mcdonald's: the working poor don't need financial advice or higher banking costs. they need higher wages. (updated)

Part 1: McDonald's version of company scrip (Part 2 below)

Any minute now we'll see the return of company scrip.

In the bad old days before labour unions forced reforms, companies - especially in industries where workers were isolated, like mines, lumber, and farming - would pay their workers in scrip. Scrip was a credit that was only accepted at the company's store - a store that charged wildly inflated prices. What a great deal for the owners, eh? They paid meagre wages, then recovered every penny, while ensuring they retained a steady supply of labourers who were (literally) hungry to work at any wage.

Now, in a digital-age capitalist remix, McDonald's, Home Depot, Wal-Mart, and other high-profit, low-wage corporations are forcing or coercing employees to receive wages paid on Big Bank debit cards. And - what a surprise - the debit cards are riddled with fees - fees for purchases, fees for cash withdrawals, even fees for card inactivity.

It's not quite company scrip, as these fees don't go back into McDonald's pockets, but once again, the workers who can least afford it are being squeezed for maximum corporate profits. [Please see update, below.]

Sometimes these schemes are a new version of scrip that is a bit less obvious. Sometimes it's the same old thing: in Mexico, Wal-Mart was paying employees in vouchers redeemable only at Wal-Mart. The country's Supreme Court forced them to stop. Either way, the poor grow poorer and the rich profit off workers' hardships.

The New York Times reports:
A growing number of American workers are confronting a frustrating predicament on payday: to get their wages, they must first pay a fee.

For these largely hourly workers, paper paychecks and even direct deposit have been replaced by prepaid cards issued by their employers. Employees can use these cards, which work like debit cards, at an A.T.M. to withdraw their pay.

But in the overwhelming majority of cases, using the card involves a fee. And those fees can quickly add up: one provider, for example, charges $1.75 to make a withdrawal from most A.T.M.’s, $2.95 for a paper statement and $6 to replace a card. Some users even have to pay $7 inactivity fees for not using their cards.

These fees can take such a big bite out of paychecks that some employees end up making less than the minimum wage once the charges are taken into account, according to interviews with consumer lawyers, employees, and state and federal regulators.

Devonte Yates, 21, who earns $7.25 an hour working a drive-through station at a McDonald’s in Milwaukee, says he spends $40 to $50 a month on fees associated with his JPMorgan Chase payroll card.

“It’s pretty bad,” he said. “There’s a fee for literally everything you do.”

Certain transactions with the Chase pay card are free, according to a fee schedule.

Many employees say they have no choice but to use the cards: some companies no longer offer common payroll options like ordinary checks or direct deposit.

At companies where there is a choice, it is often more in theory than in practice, according to interviews with employees, state regulators and consumer advocates. Employees say they are often automatically enrolled in the payroll card programs and confronted with a pile of paperwork if they want to opt out.

“We hear virtually every week from employees who never knew there were other options, and employers certainly don’t disabuse workers of that idea,” said Deyanira Del Rio, an associate director of the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project, which works with community groups in New York.

Taco Bell, Walgreen and Wal-Mart are among the dozens of well-known companies that offer prepaid cards to their workers; the cards are particularly popular with retailers and restaurants. And they are quickly gaining momentum. In 2012, $34 billion was loaded onto 4.6 million active payroll cards, according to the research firm Aite Group. Aite said it expected that to reach $68.9 billion and 10.8 million cards by 2017.

. . . .

Sometimes, though, the incentives for employers to steer workers toward the cards are more explicit. In the case of the New York City Housing Authority, it stands to receive a dollar for every employee it signs up to Citibank’s payroll cards, according to a contract reviewed by The New York Times. (Sheila Stainback, a spokeswoman for the agency, noted that it had an annual budget of $3 billion and that roughly 430 employees had signed up for the card.)

For Natalie Gunshannon, 27, another McDonald’s worker, the owners of the franchise that she worked for in Dallas, Pa., she says, refused to deposit her pay directly into her checking account at a local credit union, which lets its customers use its A.T.M.’s free. Instead, Ms. Gunshannon said, she was forced to use a payroll card issued by JPMorgan Chase. She has since quit her job at the drive-through window and is suing the franchise owners.

“I know I deserve to get fairly paid for my work,” she said.

. . . .

For banks that are looking to recoup billions of dollars in lost income from a spate of recent limits on debit and credit card fees, issuing payroll cards can be lucrative — the products were largely untouched by recent financial regulations. As a result, some of the nation’s largest banks are expanding into the business, banking analysts say.

The lack of regulation in the payroll card market, while alluring for some of the issuers, can potentially leave cardholders swimming in fees. Take the example of inactivity fees that penalize customers for infrequently using their cards. The Federal Reserve has banned such fees for credit and debit cards, but no protections exist on prepaid cards. Cards used by more than two dozen major retailers have inactivity fees of $7 or more, according to a review of agreements.

Some employees can also be hit with $25 overdraft fees, called “balance protection,” on some of the prepaid cards. Under the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul law, banks with more than $10 billion in assets are barred from levying overdraft fees on customers’ checking accounts.

Many fees are virtually impossible to dodge, some employees say. A Victoria’s Secret employee, Bintou Kamara, for example, said it cost her $1.50 just to transfer money from her Citi payroll card to her checking account.

“I just make such little money that it seems like a lot to pay just to get access to it,” said Ms. Kamara, 23, who works as a sales clerk in New York.

Naoki Fujita, a policy associate at Retail Action Project, an advocacy group for retail workers, said, “These are people who can least afford to fork over huge fees.”
When labour action groups like Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago circulated this story, 286,000 people signed a petition demanding McDonald's stop this practice. The McDonald's Pennsylvania outlet that was sued by a former employee over debit-card pay did reverse the policy: using the cards is no longer compulsory.

But McDonald's has not stopped the practice nationwide, nor have any other companies. Attorneys general in some states are investigating. We can be sure of one thing: nothing will change unless and until workers continue to make noise, both in the courts and in the streets.

Part 2: McDonald's solution to low wages: don't eat, don't use heat, and hold two full-time jobs

But let it not be said that McDonald's doesn't try to improve the lives of its workers. The world's largest fast-food chain recently formed a partnership with one of the world's largest financial corporations to help McDonald's employees survive on McDonald's wages.


Here I'll turn it over to Occupy Democrats, because I can't possibly improve on what they've written.
...this gesture of goodwill completely backfired when whoever wrote it proved literally incapable of putting his/herself in the shoes of a minimum wage fast-food employee. Instead, all it did is tellingly show how there is almost no way to scrape a living on a minimum wage salary.”

Not only does the budget clearly indicate a second job is a NECESSITY because it’s impossible to make ends meet with just the one job, it also gives wholly unreasonable estimates for employees’ costs: $20 a month for health care, $0 for heating, and the generally low $600 in rent. It also does not include any budgeted money for food or clothing or gas. No heat, no water, no natural gas bills, no food, just electric AND you must have a second job.

This isn’t even a proper low-income budget.

Let us assume a McDonald’s worker earns the Federal minimum wage of 7.25$/hour. If we calculate that amount into what McDonald’s says a worker earns in a month, that will be nearly 40 hours per week.

It’s absurd to think someone working full time has time for an extra full time job.

At the federal minimum wage of only $7.25 an hour, with just one job, a typical fast-food worker earns about $9,000 a year. Using the same wage criteria for the second job it comes in at almost 35 hours per week by itself, for a grand aggregate total of 75 hours of work per week holding down two jobs, or 10 hours per day.

Now, talk to an average McDonald’s worker (or other fast food for that matter) and see how likely they are to have anywhere close to full-time hours at one employer, much less all their jobs.

Even that overstates the annual earnings of most fast-food workers, whose managers typically limit them to less than the “full time” hours that qualify them for health care, vacation, and other benefits.

The minimum wage in America is an abomination. It is not a living wage by any means and it’s impossible to get by with such a low salary. If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation, it would now be over $10 an hour. If it had kept up with skyrocketing productivity as it lined employers pockets’ the minimum wage would be $21.72.
Paul Campos, writing in Salon, uncovers the grievously insulting assumption underlying this budget: poor people are poor because they don't know how to manage their money.
Critics have pointed out that the budget omitted such luxury items as food and heat, that it made absurdly low estimates for medical insurance — and that, most strikingly of all, it appeared to suggest that its workers should maintain two full-time jobs. (And indeed working two nearly-full time jobs would be necessary to produce the income in the sample budget, given the wages McDonald’s pays most of its employees).

These are all valid points, but an even more basic criticism of McDonald’s helpful advice to its workforce needs to be made.

The unstated assumption behind the McDonald’s budget is that the working poor must be educated about financial planning. And that assumption is in turn a belief that is deeply embedded among America’s cultural elites – including among many people who consider themselves political progressives.

That belief is: The working poor are poor because they are at bottom spendthrifts, who don’t know the value of a dollar. The working poor may have jobs, they may even work hard for their money, but they don’t know how to save for a rainy day. Instead, they squander their wages on overpriced impulse purchases, including fancy cellphones, cable TV, proletarian beer and unhealthy food that makes them fat.

. . . In fact nothing could be more preposterous than rich people giving poor people advice on how to stretch a dollar. The absurdity of this is captured perfectly by John Scalzi’s aphorism that “being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs.”

I have seen secondhand (like most members of the pundit class, I am not personally poor) a woman feed herself and her three children on a $30 per week grocery budget, for months on end. I’ve been amazed by her combination of discipline, creativity and self-sacrifice. (A commenter to Scalzi’s post writes: “Growing up poor means realizing twenty years later that Mommy was lying when she said, ‘it’s OK sweetie, I’ve already eaten.’”)

. . . The great legal historian A.W.B. Simpson once said to me that “the problem of the poor is not that they’re oppressed, but rather that they have no money.” Precisely. The working poor generally work far harder than their well-intentioned upper-class advisers, but they have no money.

In other words, the poor don’t need financial advice; they need higher wages. Yet apparently The Market – our all-seeing, beneficent Market, which declares that it is right and just that some men should have billions, while others sleep under bridges – has decided that higher wages for the working poor are an offense against all that we hold sacred.
Both posts are excellent and deserve your click-through: McDonald’s Very Own Suggested Employee ‘Budget’ Proves Need to Raise Wages, and Get a clue, McDonald’s: The other insult no one’s talking about.

Part 3: Some (formerly) local news

This past weekend, McDonald's workers in our old New York City neighbourhood of Washington Heights walked off the job after being forced to work without air conditioning on the hottest day of the summer. One worker collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. Her co-workers said: enough is enough.

Broken air-conditioning at a Dunkin' Donuts in Chicago caused similarly inhumane conditions, and a similarly strong response. People earning a miserly $7.25/hour cannot be expected to work in a kitchen without air conditioning as triple-digit (F) temperatures sizzle outside.

* * * *

You can support these workers struggles through movements like Fight for 15. You can also support them by boycotting McDonald's.

McDonald's food ruins your health, impoverishes your community, tortures animals in feedlots, exploits migrant workers, and destroys the environment. If for some reason you still want to eat fast food, at least take McDonald's off your list.

* * * *

Update. I wrote "It's not quite company scrip, as these fees don't go back into McDonald's pockets, but once again, the workers who can least afford it are being squeezed for maximum corporate profits." anticipating some nitpicky comments. But in my haste to post, I didn't take my analysis far enough, or I never would have written that qualifying sentence. Fortunately for us, wmtc readers were right on it.

M@ speculated that McDonald's undoubtedly has a sweetheart deal with Visa, and "the banks will make such huge profits on all these accounts that they'll be throwing money or perks at McDonald's left, right, and centre". We're hardly going out on a limb if we agree with that one.

Impudent Strumpet reminded us that McDonald's employees are making involuntary, interest-free loans with the whatever portion of their paycheque has not been debited. Here's how it works.

The discussion continues in comments; please visit.

I have to say this is one of the worst abuses of latter-day capitalism that I have ever heard of.

5.03.2013

jeju island and the constitution-free u.s.-canada border: empire and resistance, at home and abroad

I've been hoping to write about this for months, but the right post and adequate time never seem to arrive at the same time. Rather than put it off any longer, I'll pretend this is Tumblr or Pinterest or somesuch, and post it here without additional commentary.

* * * * *
From Save Jeju Now:
The Save Jeju Now website is an up-to-date record of the ongoing nonviolent struggle to stop the Jeju naval base construction project currently being forced upon Gangjeong Village, a tiny town located on the southern tip of Jeju, the Peace Island, in Korea. Since 2007, The South Korean government has been oppressively trying to build a war base, falsely and absurdly named the “Civilian-Military Complex Tour Beauty Port”, on top of the village and its precious environment despite the opposition of a strong majority of the villagers (94% of voters). The base will be used by the U.S. military in its strategy to contain China in the Asia-Pacific through aggressive US missile defense system equipped destroyers.

Jeju Island was designated as “The Peace Island” by the Korean government on Jan. 27, 2005 as part of a formal apology for the 1948 “4.3 Massacres”, in which government forces and rightwing thugs slaughtered 30,000 Jeju civilians and burned 70% of the the island’s villages to the ground as the people rose up against the U.S. lead move towards the division of Korea. Now the forced base construction is bringing renewed state violence on the people of Jeju in what some consider a 2nd ”4.3″. The people of Jeju and Korea aspire for Jeju to be a true peace island, with no war base, to set an example for the establishment of a truly peaceful Asia Pacific.

Situation updates, calls for action, pictures, videos, and news are posted regularly in English and sometimes in Mandarin and Japanese. Through this site we hope to battle the lies and misinformation spread by the Korean Government, the Korean Navy leadership, and Samsung and Daelim, the primary construction companies which are illegally operating. We hope to spread the real truth about the deception, violence, and cruelty which the residents of Gangjeong Village and thier supporters have faced since 2007.
The Save Jeju Now blog.

* * * * *

Living Under Drones

No Drones Network

No Drones New York State

Drones Watch


Living in a Constitution-Free Zone, by Todd Miller

* * * * *

Is the US a police state? That depends on where you live: what country, and what zip code.

1.21.2013

40 years old and already irrelevant: happy birthday roe v wade

Right now there are no American women who were of reproductive age prior to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. Yet reproductive rights in the US have never been more threatened. 2011 marked the passage of the most state-level restrictive abortion laws ever. 2012 saw the second-highest.

More than half of all US women of reproductive age (15–44) now live in a state that is hostile to abortion rights. Ten years ago, it was fewer than one-third.

The Guttmacher Institute has produced a series of infographics to illustrate the state of reproductive rights in the US. They are encouraging allies to share them widely.

















What happens to women who want abortions and can't obtain one? We're finally getting some actual data to answer that question. Annalee Newitz at io9 reports.
Public health researchers with the UC San Francisco group Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) used data from 956 women who sought abortions at 30 different abortion clinics around the U.S. 182 of them were turned away. The researchers, led by Diana Greene Foster, followed and did intensive interviews with these women, who ran the gamut of abortion experiences. Some obtained abortions easily, for some it was a struggle to get them, and some were denied abortions because their pregnancies had lasted a few days beyond the gestational limits of their local clinics. Two weeks ago, the research group presented what they'd learned after two years of the planned five-year, longitudinal "Turnaway Study" at the recent American Public Health Association conference in San Francisco.

Here's the short version of what they discovered, from a post they made on the Global Turnaway Study Facebook page:

We have found that there are no mental health consequences of abortion compared to carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term. There are other interesting findings: even later abortion is safer than childbirth and women who carried an unwanted pregnancy to term are three times more likely than women who receive an abortion to be below the poverty level two years later.
It's an excellent article about the study's preliminary findings. You can read more at The Turnaway Study website, along with their plans for further research.

Next week, Canadian women celebrate 25 years of legal abortion access. If you're in the Toronto area on Monday, January 28, come find out how Canadian women won the right to abortion, and what we must do to keep it. More about this soon: here's the event on Facebook.

And finally, one last thought about reproductive freedom, which I've lifted (and edited) from a Tweet making the rounds.
Do you support abortion? Only if absolutely necessary. Like when a woman is pregnant and she doesn't want to be.

9.11.2012

it is so time to be over 9.11

Enough about September 11.

Not for those who lost loved ones that day. Not for those who suffered serious trauma and need to mark the anniversary for emotional and spiritual reasons. That's a personal matter.

But for the US. For the world. Enough already.

On September 11, 2001, the people of the United States got a small taste of the terror and pain that so much of the world has lived with for so long, and continues to live with. The people of the United States got a small sample of what their own country has done to dozens of nation-states over decades and centuries of its history. That includes "its own people," as some are so fond of saying.

There are, and may always be, very real and unanswered questions about why the several official stories of what happened that day make absolutely no sense. (If you think "conspiracy theorists" are nuts, you should hear what the government says!) If you are interested in my thoughts and feelings about that, these posts might be a good start: part one, part two, part three, part four. See comments in those posts for more links. The search for truth should never end.

But as some kind of iconic day of remembrance, some touchstone of world history, September 11 is a teardrop in an ocean.

September 11, 2001 was one day. About 3,000 people were killed.

The United States invaded Iraq seven years ago. About 100,000 Iraqis and 4,700 occupying troops have been killed.

And that's just Iraq. How about this list?

As a New Yorker, I lived through September 11 in a way many Americans did not. Not the way people working in the World Trade Center that day did, or the people on the planes. Not the firefighters and their families. Not my co-worker whose uncle was a window-washer, working the moment the plane hit. Or the classmate of my niece who left for school that sunny morning and never saw her parents again. Despite my good fortune, the memory of the event feels deep and personal to me. I understand the gravity of the day; I witnessed the aftermath.

But what business do I have publicly commemorating the day, nine years later? And even more so, what business do I have expecting the rest of the world to do so?

On September 11, 2001 the people of the United States learned that war isn't only something that happens in faraway places. Then their government - predictably, inevitably - used that lesson as an excuse to advance a police state at home, and conquest and occupation abroad.

It is a symbol of United States arrogance and Americentrism that the US government, the media and so many Americans continue to mark the day.

8.05.2012

how prisons work, by brian mcfadden


Don't forget to visit Big Fat Whale for more McFadden funnies. Even better, subscribe to his feed in the New York Times' Sunday Review: The Strip.

7.31.2012

rtod: extremism normalized

Revolutionary thought of the day:
Remember when, in the wake of the 9/11 attack, the Patriot Act was controversial, held up as the symbolic face of Bush/Cheney radicalism and widely lamented as a threat to core American liberties and restraints on federal surveillance and detention powers? Yet now, the Patriot Act is quietly renewed every four years by overwhelming majorities in both parties (despite substantial evidence of serious abuse), and almost nobody is bothered by it any longer.

. . . The idea of flying robots hovering over American soil monitoring what citizens do en masse is yet another one of those ideas that, in the very recent past, seemed too radical and dystopian to entertain, yet is on the road to being quickly mainstreamed. When that happens, it is no longer deemed radical to advocate such things; radicalism is evinced by opposition to them.

Glenn Greenwald, "Extremism Normalized"